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Tag Archives: Feeling

And ignorant became cool…

Today’s observation isn’t amazingly deep, I’m afraid. Nor is it packed with interesting facts or filled with pictures (although I’m working on a post with lots of pictures soon, as soon as I get them all loaded onto the computer!).  Today’s post is regarding a personal pet peeve, and what might be the exact moment that being ignorant became cool.

To be fair, there has never been a time recorded in history when there were not people who felt that ignoring facts, figures, or details was a perfectly reasonable way to live. And every time and place that holds a population of relative safety, the numbers of ignorant or selectively ignorant people rise. It’s totally logical. In something like a small frontier town in the old west, or a military base somewhere in nowhere, or a tiny village perched between harsh seas and unforgiving mountains, people kind of have to be aware, and very well-trained in the details of not only their work, but many other bits and pieces merely to survive. When one of these small populations becomes a bit larger, people can afford the time and energy to learn for the sake of learning, and many do. (And to be fair, many don’t.) Once it gets much larger, there is considerably more safety margin for people to focus on details, and more safety margin for people who really don’t want to focus at all. Just because they aren’t likely to be eaten by a bear if they don’t do everything exactly right, though, doesn’t mean I really like it. My opinion is more along the lines of someone who has that much going for them already ought to be able to reach amazing heights!

So that’s my pet peeve (well, one of them – I like pets 😉 )  I don’t mind, really, if your level of expertise and mine don’t live in the same neighbourhood. I can have a great conversation with someone who’s interested in the same things I am; and I can have a great conversation with someone who has totally different interests. I get really frustrated by people who don’t know any of it, who forgot the basics they learned in elementary school, and who kind of even take pride in this!

On New Year’s Day I was at the grocery store, and I believe I accidentally stumbled across one of the major transition pieces between a culture that had lived through two world wars and the great depression and had a strong belief in the importance of knowing their whats from their whats, and getting it right; and a population that really figured it was safe, secure, and time to stop worrying.

This bit of information wasn’t on one of the shelves – not even in the books. It wasn’t a conversation – it was late and cold and I just wanted to get my groceries and go home, not converse. The few other people in the store seemed to feel the same way. I did stop to check out the few items left on the really good after-Christmas sale. I got a bit too much candy and a new travel cup. This revelation wasn’t there, either. What I noticed was a song.

The store radio, in a fit of post-holiday-‘we don’t know what to play’ was going with classic rock. (Another pet peeve – the rules for Christmas, set up in the Middle Ages, very clearly denote Dec 24th as Christmas Eve, the 25th as Christmas Day and the 1st day of Christmas, and the succeeding 12 days leading right to January 5th as the 12th day, Twelfth Night, formerly the biggest celebration. With January 6th as Epiphany – the day set aside for the Wise Men.) For practical reasons, I suppose starting to clear up decorations and songs on the day after New Years works, but they really should  still have had Christmas music – or Epiphany carols -Yes there are too!  ‘We Three Kings’, anyone?

But in any case, they didn’t. They had a mix of ‘classic rock’ ranging all over – it seemed to contain anything from the 50’s to through the 70’s, and might have had an even broader scope – I wasn’t there THAT long!

One of the songs was ‘What a Wonderful World‘. The one that goes on with the guy who doesn’t know much about history. Or biology. Or science or French or algebra or what the heck he needs a slide-rule for. And so forth, all crooned endearingly to his supposed sweetheart. He knows ‘one plus one is two’, he knows he loves her – stay tuned for a post at some point about love. Teaser: love is an action, not an emotion – and if they both love each other it’ll be a wonderful world.

I’ve never particularly liked that song. part of it is that I go for much harder rock, if I’m going to listen to rock. Part is that almost none the couplets in the verses actually rhyme.  ‘Science book’ and ‘French I took’ are the only rhyme outside the chorus. Other than that; ‘Algebra’ and ‘rule is for’ are maybe the closest, as an assonance? ‘Biology’ and ‘history’ are hopeless. Maybe mystery & history?

So there, as I see it, is the critical moment. A song recorded in 1959 and released in 1960 hit big enough to still be playing , with lyrics, in 2016.  It’s about the world being wonderful if she loves him – and no science, math, or foreign language required. April 14, 1960 is the day at which it was announced musically that remembering all that tedious stuff just wasn’t important.

Fast forward to me buying groceries on January 1, 2016, and many, many people I know complaining (before and after that particular grocery-moment) about the demise of people who can punctuate. Plenty of people chiming in on pet-peeve lists about the difference between sail and sale, or there, their, and they’re. A lot (still a minority compared to people in total, but a lot) of people are out there, well-versed in geography and biology, trying to stop an overwhelming climate change, and maybe save a few endangered species while they’re at it. Other people who did manage to remember their algebra and trigonometry not only working on things like making sure the repairs they did to the overpass near my house this past September are put together in a way that holds cars up, but they’re designing computer stuff that, among other things, makes it so that the ‘love only’ group doesn’t have to actually think, their phone is smarter and does it for them.

I have teacher friends complaining regularly that the plain old paper notebook their student is using will NOT highlight a misspelled word, and that just perhaps their classes could check the book open right in front of them for how to spell terms and names In The Book. The conditions are amazingly right for successful adoption *sigh*, if you want to try making a pet out of this peeve yourself.

So. history, traditions, ecosystems, spell-check, overpasses that stay over… maybe my pet peeve isn’t that small after all. And anyone, ever, who has tried to make friends (let alone more) with me by bragging about just how much they forgot from high school? Yeah. They haven’t made the cut.

 

 

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How’s your dashboard working? More on trust

Soooo… a few posts back I promised to write more about trust.  It’s a huge topic, and I don’t think I’ll get to the end of it any time soon. But here’s the next installment…

I believe I stated previously that so-called ‘negative’ emotions like fear or anger aren’t actually bad things – they’re like all emotions, and emotions are signals to tell you what’s going on – like emotional dashboard lights.  Are you in the right gear?  Do you need to add oil to your car? Is the door shut?  Emotions are designed to work the same way; they ‘light up’ when there’s a ‘go ahead’ or ‘don’t do that right now’ or ‘proceed with caution’.  That’s a good thing, and even when we wish the situation was different, knowing what’s ahead is usually better than stumbling in with no warnings.  However, emotions don’t always work properly, and even when they do, they don’t always agree with the emotions of the guy next to you.  When that happens, it can be a problem.  It can be a BIG problem.

Continuing with the ‘indicator light’ analogy – have you ever driven a car that has a permanent indicator light on?  Or one that flickers on  off regardless of what’s actually going on in the engine?  (If this has never happened to you, feel free to buy me a new car whenever you want 😉 )  For those who haven’t driven older cars, or who don’t drive (or who never bother with looking at the dashboard); cars have a LOT of potential indicators. Nearly everyone relies on things like the speedometer & gas gauge.  Many years ago when I was just old enough to be out on my own, the car I drove had a broken speedometer. As far as it was concerned, you weren’t going any miles (or kilometers, for that mater) per hour at all.  That meant you had to pretty much guesstimate based on how fast other traffic was going, and slow down just in case if there was a cop around.  Things like the speedometer & the gas gauge tend to be passive – if they’re broken, they simply don’t register anything.  Emotions like that are more like some kinds of depression – everything is flat, and it’s hard to know what’s really happening, because not much is showing up.

Cars also have a bunch of lights &/or sounds telling you things like your oil is low, your engine is too hot, you need to get the engine looked at (nice vague warning there).  They might make noise if a door is open or a seat-belt unfastened – some even have a recorded voice telling you just what’s happening.  My current car has the ‘check engine’ light permanently on.  In this case, it doesn’t mean anything except that the car is coming up on being old enough to vote and over time even cars that are well cared for get some quirks. I can ignore that light. It’s small, it’s unobtrusive, and I know it’s not a problem. But what if…

What if I was driving a car that had Every Single Light on? Or if every light randomly went on & off many times in even a short drive? That would include the turn-signals, that also make a click-click-click noise, and the ‘open door’ dinging sound, even if the door was closed.  Add a random beep or a voice that was supposed to signal a loose seat-belt (my car doesn’t have this, but many cars do) – but did it just on a whim, regardless of seat-belts actually in use?  I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a short trip, just a mile or two away, would be driving me nuts.  I kinda think I wouldn’t want to go out in that car unless it was an EXTREME emergency.

This is what it’s like for people whose emotions are too sensitive.  Instead of useful spikes & drops & flows of feelings that help gauge a good (or bad) day, it feels like EVERY day is flickering and dinging and beeping and pretty much, you just want it to stop!  There’s currently two common diagnoses for this kind of feeling. One is Anxiety Disorders – situations where all the worry lights, fear sirens, anxiousness beeping are all going off – and you really don’t know why.  It could be in the middle of the frozen foods or at the park or in church – often the emotions don’t seem very related to actual problems at all.  What they do relate to is messages from way back in the brain that made sense at one time.  There are different kinds of anxiety disorders, but they all refer to having a brain that’s not giving emotional feedback properly & usefully.

The other common diagnosis is ADD, which stands for Attention Deficit Disorder.  It used to be called Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) if lack of attention made someone hyper, and ADD if it made them zone out.  Then the powers that be changed the name, and now it’s all ADD, with different subtypes (hyperactive is one, lack of attention is another, and so forth).  There’s a lot of controversy about whether ADD is real, if it’s overdiagnosed (especially among children who naturally need to run around and whose attention spans aren’t very big yet).  However, for people who do have it, it’s more like different indicator lights going on & off.  Instead of overwhelming emotions on full force, ADD is described more like ‘okay, I’m interested in math… no, wait, I’m tired.. no, I’m too hyper, and anxious… and so forth.  Interestingly enough, some research suggests that kids & teens who have anxiety disorders often act more like someone with attention problems than anxiety problems.  If you’re anxious or can’t trust your own signals, you’re going to be pretty distracted!

Bringing this back to the real world, feeling emotions instead of a dashboard full of lights – what do we do about it???  This is a situation that isn’t about a rational way to trust someone else, it’s about trusting yourself.  How do you trust yourself to know what you need and want when your ‘dashboard’ is that screwed up?  Where did it start?  Why is it doing this?

My own perspective is that most people start with something that actually does provoke a real emotion.  There are theories that all anxiety or ADD are entirely based on brain chemistry and can be fixed with medications, but I think that most often, a real incident came first.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for example, is considered a type of anxiety disorder, and it is by definition cased by going through a traumatic situation. That’s a fairly obvious example, even if the recovery part isn’t nearly as simple. There are other situations, though, that can provoke ongoing anxiety without being as obvious.

When I was a kid, my mom gave me a strong lecture on not trying to catch bees.  I was young, I was interested in bugs & birds & animals & plants and was in general just the kind of kid who would try to catch a bee and end up stung.  So she told me not to catch bees, that bees would sting, that stings were ‘ouch’.  I developed a bit of a phobia of bees for a while. It was like my emotional ‘look out for the bee’ light went off if there was a bee anywhere nearby, not just if it was close enough to cause a problem.  Eventually I worked at getting over that fear (aided partly by being a teenager who didn’t want to look scared in front of my peers).  But a mild phobia of bees was also likely very helpful when I was a child.

What if it hadn’t stayed mild?  What if my brain had decided that beetles look kind of like bees (and start with the same syllable), so I should be scared of them, too?  What if I had then noticed that an awful lot of bees, and beetles, were found outside and decided I shouldn’t go outdoors?  If events in my life had gone in a different direction I could have all-out agoraphobia (fear of being outdoors), and I wouldn’t have any idea where it came from.  My ‘warning system’ would be going off too often for too many reasons; but it would have had a starting place, and things that bumped it up along the way.

Dealing with an overwhelming ‘dashboard’ of emotions is NOT easy!  By the time everything is signalling, it’s pretty hard to trace it back to one bee.  Sometimes people can, and need to, and other times they can’t, and shouldn’t. There are quite a few tools to help, but it treatment can still be like a baffled mechanic trying each thing in turn to see if it makes a change. The important thing is, you aren’t crazy, you have some very sensitive emotions, and even better, your brain can help fix itself!  A car has to rely on a mechanic, but a brain can learn to re-work its emotions. Some people need to know what caused the problem, and others just need to work toward the solution.  Both methods are okay, and when I’m working with someone whose emotions are overwhelming them too much, we can do either or both – whatever seems best.

Part of that process ends up dealing with trust.  There’s knowing why things got screwed up, there’s helping the brain learn or re-learn how to give feedback in ways that are useful and functional. And then there’s learning to trust yourself – both to trust your emotions, and to trust that if you have a bad day it’s not the start of a bad life.  Healing from anything is going to involve some times that feel all wrong. Sometimes you even learn more when things go wrong, because you can see what they are and what happened NOW, instead of trying to untangle possibilities from way back when!

Trusting yourself to trust.  That’s an awfully big job, but it’s one that’s so very worthwhile.

 

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Reflections on therapists; Reflections to clients

Today I’m writing in response to something I read on another blog that hit home in several different ways for me. It’s not the first time I’ve heard something similar, and while I wish things were different, it won’t be the last. At the same time, I can put myself on the other side of the situation. The issue was between a client and a therapist, and while I don’t think I can put myself into the other therapist’s shoes, I can definitely put myself into the seat next to her in a classroom or at a seminar.

Rephrasing this in my own words, the issue involved the therapist telling the client that she might feel less stress if she didn’t make herself do so much so often. While I believe the therapist meant well and certainly had a point that people are often stressed by doing more than they can or want to do, the client was understandably upset by this. The stressful things she makes herself do involve caring for her children, taking care of herself, managing household chores, and similar issues. The therapist followed this up with telling the client she is very self-aware, very good at using coping skills, and that she, the therapist, can’t really do anything else for the client, so she will stop seeing her.

The client writes that she felt rejected, that she was already having problems with depression (hence seeing a therapist) and that the rejection didn’t help, and that she really wonders if life just doesn’t ever get better – that she will always feel too tired, too sad, to stressed.

Reading this reminded me of two other instances. One happened in the town I now live in, where someone told me that the local county mental health clinic basically looks at people’s ability to meet day-to-day needs, and does not push farther. They want clients in and out in 8 sessions, ideally, and do not want to take the time if a client comes in asking for help to look at past baggage that they have been carrying for years. The attitude is ‘you’re functional. Leave it alone’.

The second instance happened to me several years ago. I was seeing a therapist who professed to work with some of the issues I wanted to deal with at that time. Within a few weeks of seeing her she told me that I acted very differently from most people she’s treated with the same issues. This was a neutral statement, and she wasn’t either willing or able to explain it further, so we went on. After a few months she was very upset by some of the things I told her. She wasn’t upset on my behalf; she was upset that I had talked to my then fiancée instead of talking first to her. At the time, my fiancée had been accompanying me to sessions when he could so that we could talk about how things that affected me affected him, and vice-versa. She told me that she would no longer see me if he was present. That sent up a red flag to me, and I pushed the issue. Although she wouldn’t say so in so many words, she essentially felt either threatened that I trusted him more than her, or she felt that he was a bad influence on me (how?? I don’t know), but she wasn’t willing to say either of these things directly. Instead, she said she could no longer work with me.

I felt incredibly hurt. I felt rejected. I felt like I couldn’t even have a problem in the right way! When I hear these stories, I hear an echo of the same feelings. They are part of the reason I decided to become a counselor – so that I could be the kind of counselor I wanted to have.

Because I am a counselor, and have been through lots of school and continue to attend seminars and conferences and such, I have to take a moment and step to the other side of the situation. In classes about working with clients, therapists are told that when they are not able to continue to help a client, they need to stop seeing that client. They may need to refer the client to someone else. They may need to tell the client specific things they believe the client needs to do in order to continue therapy. There are so many reasons that a counselor could feel unequipped to help or that they are not meeting the client’s needs, but a counselor who is not helping the client does need to stop seeing the client.

This is not just a suggestion. In most places it is a law, and it is certainly an ethical rule. It stems from the need to protect clients. It is unethical to keep inventing issues for a client to work on just to keep the client coming to therapy, and paying the fee. It is unethical to try to help a client with a difficult issue that the counselor feels unequipped to work with. It is sometimes important to nudge people to try their wings, to rely on their own skills. As counselors, we have these considerations repeated over and over, and good counselors keep them in mind.

Going a step further, counselors are human, too. Counselors feel worried, nervous, and out of their depth sometimes. They do have times where they need to put self-care first.

However.

However, there are times where counselors are not truly seeing the needs of their clients. In school, I noticed that most of my classmates spoke a language of relative wellness and safety. They did not speak the language of trauma. They did not automatically check doors and windows to know where to escape if necessary. They did not have a small voice in the back of their head that suggested that someone in charge, like a professor, could do very painful or demeaning things to them if they did not behave correctly. They did not consider inside or outside, tiny halls or large auditoriums, people with a certain hair or skin colour, facial hair or lack of facial hair, a certain pitch of voice or accent to be a potential threat or to raise the heart rate just by existing.

When we talked about things like trust, emotional safety, or ability to speak about difficult issues, I knew that many of the people I sat next to were imagining a very different scenario than I was. As just one example: When we had guests to speak to a class about trauma, it seemed that some of my classmates had not given a thought to ideas like whether a veteran would want to be able to see out a window or request a tour of the building with emphasis on exits before being comfortable to speak to the class.

With that in mind, I am addressing this primarily to my fellow counselors.

When you meet with a client who has been abused, or has anxiety, or depression, or has been through a very traumatic situation, especially an ongoing one, you are meeting with someone who comes from a different place than you are at. You look around your office noticing a comfortable place to sit, your diplomas and certifications speaking of your credentials, your sincere tone and calm demeanor; and you think you see safety and reliability. Your client looks around to see how many doors and windows are there. Most likely, she wants to be able to escape through all of them if necessary, but doesn’t want anyone to be able to look in. She considers the furniture. Can it be thrown? Used as a barricade? Do you have anything hiding behind it? She thinks about how you talk to her. Are you really hearing the fear? The pain? Can you understand it if you do?

You’ve been trained in a variety of tests and tools and routines. You can diagnose if he’s suicidal, eating disordered, depressed, fearful. You have a strong sense of ‘normal’, and you see your client through that lens. It’s normal to have enough energy to wake up, care for kids, make and eat breakfast, get dressed. It’s normal to feel sleepy, to forget something you were supposed to bring along or to take an hour to feel fully awake. Your client speaks of the fatigue of getting ready for the day, of the scramble to get self and/or family ready, to get going, and you think you’ve experienced what he expresses.

You don’t know. Your client is not talking about needing an extra cup of coffee, your client is talking about sincerely wondering if anything today is actually worth getting up. Your client talks about feeling forgetful, strained, bogged down. You think of the notebook resting on the table at home instead of being at work. You think of hunting down a child’s shoe, of not being sure what to make for dinner tonight, of having to fit in a meeting after work.

Your client is talking about wondering if they actually plugged in the coffee maker, or if it was an iron. Or maybe they touched nothing at all. Your client noticed today that their child’s shoes are different from the ones they remember, and would like to ask you if that kind of memory loss is normal.

Your client jokes that she might get more out of therapy today if she just napped for the hour on your couch. You don’t know she’s perfectly serious.

  • Before you ask, your client is perfectly normal, in her world, his world, my world. Your client is not demented or schizophrenic or delusional. Your client is trying to cope with an enormous amount of stress and fear and pain and frustration; and every tiny thing that goes wrong adds to that load.

For a checkpoint, think about the last time you were very, very tired. Too tired to remember that if you saved the outline of your paper onto a thumb drive, it’s likely still on the computer you were working on if you can’t find the thumb drive. Tired enough that you caught yourself waking up here and there from micro-naps. Think about the last time you felt like everything in the world was riding on one, difficult maneuver that you didn’t think you had control over. Maybe it was a test to be licensed, or to be accepted into school. Maybe it was a tricky place in a relationship. Think about that.

Think about the last time you were emotionally very hurt; a fight, a death, a major disappointment. The last time you didn’t think that anything could really make you happy again.

If you can, think about all these feelings – tired, stressed, anxious, and sad – all rolled into one. Think about how futile everything seemed. Think about how difficult it was to remember to eat – or how eating was the only think that made you feel connected to the world for a minute. Think about how you seemed constantly tired but sleep just made you think things you didn’t like, or made you toss and turn. Think about the feeling that a huge rock was balanced above you, and you had so little control over when it would fall or what it would hit on the way down.

Now: remember that most likely, this was not a usual feeling for you. You felt happy and calm and productive before it, you had an idea that you would feel good and centered and meaningful after you got through it. Think about the ideas you had – that you could always become a truck driver or a guitarist if school didn’t work out, that is the sadness never lifted you’d channel it into art or poetry. Think of the little things – a massage, a walk, a song that you found for yourself, and gave yourself, to remind you to get through.

And think of how much it helped if someone was with you, not making you do anything, but just experiencing the same thing, offering an ear or a hug or being willing to make that trip to the store so you didn’t have to.

Your client doesn’t have many of those last things. Your client doesn’t remember when it felt better. Your client doesn’t have the idea that dreams can come true; or if one dream falls through, it’s a shot at realizing another. Your client may not quite, actually, feel real.

  • Your client is still not crazy, still not hallucinating, still not schizotypic or autistic or, worst, exaggerating or making it all up.

Your client has not learned HOW to be happy, safe, comfortable, fitting. Many of us, even counselors, think that being happy, feeling safe, fitting in is simply something that happens. It isn’t. It’s something we learn IF we have happy role models, a safe place to grow up, people who accept and encourage us. If we don’t have those factors, we don’t learn those lessons.

Forget, for a moment, the details of the abuse, the level of depression or anxiety on your handy test, their current estimated level of functioning. Just think about leaning, for a moment.

Learning starts at the moment you become aware. Learning starts as soon as you can see or hear or taste or touch or smell or feel or think. Learning starts as soon as you start to be.

Someone who has not been shown much happiness doesn’t learn to recognize it, to feel it, to know it.

Someone who has not had stability does not learn how to make plans and count on them.

Someone who is punished for exploring starts to retreat. Someone who is told, or shown, or both, that the world is a scary and unreliable place starts to feel anxious. Someone who does not know that it is safe to express becomes depressed.

As a metaphor, consider comfort as a cup of hot cocoa. You could have all the hot cocoa in the world, with whipped cream and marshmallows and candy sticks and cinnamon; and if you had never seen or heard of anything resembling a mug, you would have no idea how to acquire and drink a simple, soothing, comfort of a cup of cocoa.

Your client has no mugs. Your client has not been raised with mugs. Your client is uncertain of stores, because they don’t know how to look for a mug or how to tell if it’s the right kind.

All around them, people are rolling their eyes, pointing out that cocoa is available in so many places. Good cocoa and average cocoa and excellent gourmet cocoa and flavoured cocoa and the kind that’s in a packet and has been left too long – but at least it’s cocoa. And your client not only lacks a mug. Your client lacks the idea of a mug.

Most of the time in school, in supervision, in workshops and books and articles and discussions; we as therapists are learning how to improve our clients’ mugs, or cocoa, or both. We’re helping clients notice the cocoa. We’re helping clients consider the best brand for them, their preferred flavor, whether they like marshmallows or cream or plain. We’re going out on a limb, sometimes, and suggesting they may prefer coffee, or tea. We’re taught to help clients to consider how often they can and should drink cocoa, if they should drink it with others, what that want to do if someone continually takes cocoa from the break room and never brings any in.

And then we have a client with no mug come in, and they’ve been through a LOT of therapy. They’ve been in groups and read books and done their homework. They can prepare cocoa starting with cacao beans, and they have 6 years of notes that they took on the subtle differences in every brand and additive and comparison on cocoa, and how they feel about it all.

But they have no idea how to use a mug.

At this point, my analogy breaks down, because it would be so easy if we could just hand a mug and say ‘you’re cured’. And it is a bit more involved than that… or maybe not. Because they need to learn to select a mug; To tell if a mug is clean or dirty, whole or broken. They need to know if it’s okay to get more than one mug, where to get it. They need to know when it’s okay to share with others or not.

We need to model using a mug, yes. We need to keep on modelling it. We need to let the client talk and talk and talk about the same story of wondering what a mug was, because they need to speak of it.

While we’re at it, we need to model spoons and straws, saucers and cream pitchers. We need to show them how to use hot water, how to heat water. And no, that isn’t all. A lot of therapists figure that they have it pretty well complete after they’ve shown the client what they’re missing and how to use it. We’re specifically told we aren’t supposed to be ‘professional friends’. We aren’t supposed to keep treating clients who can ‘do it on their own’ or who are ‘healthy’ now. We’re not supposed to treat outside of our levels of competence.

Our Clients Need More.

Our clients need someone to sit with them as they practice their skills. Our clients need someone to sit with them as they practice their skills again. Our clients need a place that has come to feel safe, because they do know where the exits are and what’s behind the chair. And they know they aren’t alone. Our clients need to know that it’s not enough for us if they know how to use the tools, and the tools to care for the tools.

It’s not enough until they feel safe, serene, and happy as a standard part of life.

For some people this means working with several different therapists. This can be sequential, or it can be congruent. A client can certainly see one therapist for DBT and one therapist for art therapy and one for life coaching. Other times it means seeing the same therapist for a long time, even when the therapist isn’t really seeing change. You, my colleague, are not seeing change at these times because you ARE the change.

You feel comfortable with yourself. You feel happy when happy things happen. You worry and feel sad, but you aren’t consumed by worry and sadness. You wake up, get dressed, get to work, take care of your family and interests and hobbies without losing your grasp on your rope. Your client is learning how to do this from you. You don’t have to adopt the client or tell them about your life in detail. But every session, you model hope, and you are teaching your client how to get it… as long as you don’t ruin it by telling them that they can’t do it, that they’re wrong, that they should be doing something else, that they’re too damaged, to scared, too hurting.

So… how are you teaching it, and how do you keep it up, and where is the line between pushing your bird to fly and dropping them off a branch unsupported?

No, I can’t tell you exactly where it is for every person. But I can tell you the basics. For one thing, we have mirror neurons. Go look them up, really! They’re awesome and more is being discovered all the time. Mirror neurons fire when someone else does something. When you feel happy, calm, and content – your client’s mirror neurons fire and they feel happy or calm or content. When you do something, someone watching has mirror neurons firing helping their brain understand what it’s like to do that thing. That’s right. You don’t have to be the guru of happiness or the lama of serenity. You have to be you, and your clients’ mirror neurons will fire off their own happiness and calm and learning.

You keep it up by keeping yourself cleaned up from your own mirror neurons hurting you. All along, when your client is feeling tiny bits of hope and health and confidence, modeled and passed on by you; you’re noticing their anxiety, their stress, their fear. Your mirror neurons are starting to wonder if there is a problem, and are trying to bring you down and downer. Self-care is NOT a luxury for therapists; it’s a part of treating your clients. Massage or a long shower or a yoga class or working in your garden or whatever. Anything healthy that makes you feel good and cleans out the negativity is essential, so you can keep reflecting the positive, literally.

You keep it up by telling your clients they can do this. You can and should let some of your feelings show when they share with you. It is terrible when children are abused. It is scary to have awful dreams. It is stressful to be trying to build the life they never had while hanging on to what they’ve got. It’s also possible and doable, and you need to express that, too.

You cannot tell your clients that they are too damaged, too traumatized, too abused; or that they already know enough, that they can do this as well on their couch at home as in your office. If your client is able to make it to your office, they are able to make it through. There are times and places for intensive or inpatient work. I wish more of us had the opportunity to have people reflecting hope and confidence and health at us for hours or days or weeks, instead of one appointment every week or two. But if they were too damaged to make it, they wouldn’t be in your office.

If they’re ready to fly solo, there’s a good chance they’ll know, and they’ll be suggesting it. In fact, a lot of us are so used to our lives that we’re more likely to shy away from committing to working deeper and try to leave anyhow, or we’ll take one tiny bit of relief as an amazing change and assume it doesn’t get any better. It doesn’t matter if they’re self-aware, know all the tools, meditate and journal and draw and use affirmations – in isolation, all of these reflect from the client to the client. That limits change. We’re social creatures. We’re not meant to live in isolation. We’re hopeful creatures who desperately want to feel good, and good enough. If we’re alone, or living with people who don’t feel good, then our mirror neurons aren’t reflecting good, and it’s not nearly as helpful as it is when we experience being with someone who gives positive reflections.

You are not being a professional friend or encouraging a malingerer. You’re acting as a reflection of who they want to be. Therapist, therapist, on the couch, show me how to stop the ouch. Counselor, counselor in the chair; show me how it feels to care.

Really lousy poetry, I’m sorry. I can do better, but it doesn’t follow the theme 😉 Your biggest role is not to do, it’s to be. Your client can get to better. They need someone to walk alongside them on their journey there.

You are doing enough. They are not too damaged. They can feel better – and so can I – and so can you.

 

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I hope I don’t see my shadow

I hope I don’t see my shadow

When I look out into my garden, I feel a lot of sympathy with my plants.  In most of the Northern Hemisphere, nearly everything is dormant, resting and waiting. A lot of it is even growing roots, some slowly, some surprisingly quickly. When we have a week like this one, I imagine my plants are just desperate to peek out and feel sun and sky. To grow. Colorado tends to be all over the place, weather-wise.  If you study geology & meteorology it’s because of the mountains. Different kinds of weather roll down the peaks just like water does, so we have weather coming and going rather quickly around here.  If you think a different way, well, the Gods of Weather get a big box of weather delivered each day, and they parcel it out to each area. At the end there’s 5 minutes of rain, a handful of snow, a few cups of wind, a pinch of sun… That all gets mixed and dropped on Colorado; especially the part right along the foothills.

Even without mountains, though, somewhere around the final week of January or the first week of February there’s a warm week or so. A thaw that makes you think spring.  A time that has been known for centuries as a standard part of winter. It’s the thaw that makes groundhogs peek out to see what kind of weather it is, and if the warm week is right around the 2nd, we’ll probably have more snow after. If it’s finished by the 2nd and back to being snowy, maybe it’ll be done sooner. It’s the thaw that makes people impatient to see growth.

I don’t know what day or time to look for any indications of growth for me, but I wish I did.  I, too, am waiting to push through, to leaf out and grow taller.  I can actually label some of my growing roots.  The physician who wants to send some clients my way, but wants to meet first so we’re on the same page… and just had to reschedule.  The organization that I was supposed to meet with on Wednesday who also had to reschedule. A group I’m running that’s in the ‘struggling to get a good day and time worked out’ phase.  A phase that was not helped at all by last week’s weather, which was the kind of snow that made everyone want to stay home and warm, and which made me hope no one did come to group, because I worried about them on the roads. I’m betting there are other roots, too, that I can’t see clearly but are growing all the same.

Lots of roots growing, and I itch to put out shoots, leaves, even flowers.  I don’t know if other therapists feel this way (although I hope they do), but I didn’t choose this for a lot of benefits – it’s not that kind of calling. I chose it, or it chose me, because I need to be there for people. To listen, to walk with them on their journeys, to sit with them when they cry, to laugh with them when they laugh. To explain things in a new way. To teach ways to cope, to express, to grow.  I want to see more clients, work with more groups, go to more retreats or lead more workshops.

Right now, I don’t feel like I’m doing much of that. I know that a good root system is essential to have strong growth. But just like my garden, I’m waiting for warmth to coax me out into growth. I hope I don’t see my shadow next Monday, so that my own spring gets here faster. I’m ready for more leaves.

 

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What I need you to know about therapy

What do therapists know that clients don’t? What do therapists want clients to know? What do therapists not tell clients? The answers could fill years of blogging even from one therapist, and fill many more posts if every therapist, counselor, pastor, life coach, and psychologist were asked! Right now I’m narrowing it down to one answer that I want you to know; from my dual viewpoint as a therapist and as a client.
Many therapists are also in therapy, and in my experience this is a very good thing. It helps me stay balanced, to know where my own worries and stresses are and to deal with them so they don’t come up in your session. It also means that I can sympathize with your point of view as a client.
As both a counselor and a client, my answer to ‘what do I want you to know?’ is ‘You won’t always feel as connected in some sessions as you do in others. Your therapist won’t always feel as connected, either. And therapy is still happening.’ If you have a good connection to your therapist, therapy is still happening even if you don’t feel as connected, even if you feel like you didn’t say much, even if.
I did put in the caveat ‘if you have a good connection to your therapist’. Therapy is a relationship. It’s a very specific relationship. This is why therapists can’t do therapy with their family or close friends. It’s why therapists are forbidden from having sexual activity with clients, and from doing therapy with anyone they ever had a sexual or romantic relationship with. The therapeutic relationship has to be itself, not a part of another relationship. It’s okay if you see your therapist in the grocery store. It’s often okay if you go to the same church or belong to the same organization. In fact, many people want a therapist who has the same beliefs, or who has gone through the same things. In my practice, my business cards read ‘Flying Free Healing Arts – Alikina (Allie) Iubhar – Therapy with someone who’s been there’. Because I am a survivor of abuse, and many survivors want to know that their therapist really ‘gets it’.
Even so, therapy is a specific relationship. And like any relationship, it needs to be healthy. When you feel a sense of connection, feel like your therapist cares, that you matter, that’s the start of a good therapeutic relationship. When you can say whatever you need to, when you therapist isn’t upset or confused, but understands most of what you’re saying and listens when you explain the rest, that’s the next part. When you can feel all your emotions (yep – even anger & fear & grief) with your therapist and know you’re understood, and that you and your emotions are okay with your therapist, you and you therapist have built the foundation that therapy comes from.
Even when your therapist understands, and when you can talk about whatever you need to, and when your therapist will ask insightful questions and explain things and suggest directions for you to consider, even when you have a very good therapeutic relationship; yes, you can have a day where you just don’t feel as connected. If you have a lot of those days, it might mean that you’re having some problems with your therapist. It for sure means you need to talk to them, and to say what you’re feeling, and what you need. But now and again, if you don’t feel like your therapist is as close today, or that they don’t seem to understand… that’s okay.
Therapists, counselors, when you feel like you aren’t as in tune with your client that one time… that’s okay. Again, if it’s happening a lot you need to address it. First, that’s why you have your own therapist. You can and should talk to your therapist about it. A lot of us have ‘supervision’, where we talk to someone with more experience, or we get together with a few colleagues, and we talk about things that concern us. And if it’s happening a lot with one specific client, a therapist should address it with that client. But every now and then feeling not as connected is a part of therapy.
(A note to clients: If your therapist talks to their own therapist about you, your confidentiality is still safe. For one thing, any therapist your own therapist talks to has to keep everything confidential. For another thing, unless you’re being treated by several therapists, like in a hospital or intensive program, therapists don’t usually name names. When I talk to my therapist about my own experiences, I say things like ‘my Wednesday afternoon client’ or ‘my newest client’. I’m talking about a worry or feeling I’m having, not giving out details about you.)
Back to talking about connection: That’s right – feeling less connected sometimes is a part of the relationship. It’s a part of therapy, and not only is it okay, I think it’s good. Up above, where I talked about it being important to be able to have all kinds of emotions and feelings with your therapist? Feeling less, saying less, having less connection is one way of having a feeling. If it’s okay to feel more in therapy; to say things you don’t say to anyone else, or to bring out all the upset, uncomfortable, extreme thoughts and feelings for therapy, then it’s also okay to have the opposite.
Feeling less connection is a level of feeling. It’s not a very comfortable level for a lot of people. Most people need connection. We’re social creatures. Therapists are in a profession where we work with a lot of feelings. We might feel even less comfortable with a lack of connection. All of us – clients, therapists, people who aren’t in therapy – need our relationships, our groups, our connections. But it’s still okay to be connected enough to someone to not have to feel as much just then. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, to be connected enough that you can feel less connected. But it’s a level of feeling. It’s okay to feel less connected for that session.
So that’s what I, as a therapist and as a client, want you to know today. I want you to know that it’s okay to have different levels of connection. For clients, less connection once in a while means your therapist still cares, they’re still paying attention to you, you matter just as much. Therapists, just reverse that. You still care, your client still matters, and you can feel different levels of connection and know you haven’t done anything to damage the therapeutic relationship. Not only is therapy still going on, but I think it’s an important part of therapy. I think it’s the level of connection where we can feel differently, and know that the therapist will still be there. If we, as clients, can feel less connected sometimes and know our therapists are still there, we’ve traveled another few steps on a path of trust and communication. That’s a pretty good thing.

 

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