Saturday, July 8, 2017

Been There.

I've been there. Where you are right now, I've been there. Depressed, anxious, sleepless, even a little manic. Maybe you are afraid you need meds.  Maybe your Dr. has already prescribed them and now side effects are bothering you. Maybe your relationship is stressed and you are afraid you won't make it.  Maybe you are having trouble performing at work, you're worried about your job and what people think, and what your spouse thinks. I've been there.

I've been there, sitting on the phone talking to a stranger because my spouse said I had to get help.  Walking into my office, certain everyone could see through me, could see how near collapse I was. Crying at the drop of a hat.  Panicking for no reason at the thought of taking a short trip, or just going to the grocery store.  Unable to enjoy the slightest thing. Making myself go to a therapist every week.  Wondering how long it was going to be before I got relief, wondering if I would ever get relief, wondering if our conversation was doing any good at all.  Feeling like I was falling apart and everything was going to come crashing down around me.

I've worked in the hi-tech corporate world for 30 years. I've been married for 27, and a father for 20. I know what its like out there. I don't live in an ivory tower, nor do I live in a world in which everyone talks like therapists and is perfectly emotionally healthy and content (I don't really know any therapists who do). I'll speak to you in plain language about the problems you are trying to solve in life.  I'll listen to you and pay attention to your values and needs. I won't read your mind or tell you how you have to change yourself.  I'll help you find how you need to change in a way that makes sense to you.  And though I will never know exactly what your life is like - that is the one thing you know that no one else does - I won't forget how hard it is for you.

'Cause I've been there.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Every 8 months whether I need to or not..... Also couples counseling.

Here we are in April.  I will turn 51 soon.  I'm certainly feeling many of the shifts that seem to come with this age.  I am lower energy, I have less concentration, I don't learn as easily, etc. But on the plus side, I find that I am less and less concerned with pleasing other people.  I have fewer effs to give, if you will forgive the expression.  The field in which I grow them is barren as they say.

I am lowering my hours at Capital Area Counseling, which continues to be a wonderful place to learn and get experience with kinds of therapies and kinds of clients I haven't encountered before.  I may take on some couples at Capital Area Counseling to get some experience with them under my belt.  I have counseled many individuals on relationship issues, but helping a couple is an animal all its own.

To orient anyone who may be reading, when we therapists counsel a couple or a family, there is a way in which our client is none of the individuals involved, but the relationship itself.  The point is to help that relationship become more functional.  Many come to couples counseling looking for a therapist to be "on their side" or to "fix their spouse" - but this is not what you are going to get from most therapists. Even if after sufficient experience with a couple, we may privately think that one or the other members is behaving in the most problematic ways, that is not something we would probably bring into the therapy room or into the relationship with the couple.  The more relevant question than "Who is at fault?" is "How can this relationship heal itself and thrive?" and that almost always involves effort and skill building on all sides.

If you are approaching your relationship as a question of "my partner either fixes this list of things about themselves or I'm out of here" then you might as well call it quits.  Human relationships are hard.  You have to learn to deal with what is in front of you - not the thing you wish you had.

Still - if this is how you feel - I encourage you to seek counseling for yourself and for your relationship rather than quitting.  It might be possible to shift your perspective to see your challenges in a new way.  It might be possible for you and your partner to learn new skills that will shift your experience and make that list irrelevant.

All of this is about relatively safe relationships - not abuse.  That's a topic for another day. If you think you are being abused, please seek help, and if necessary sanctuary and physical escape.

In any case - you can see that relationship counseling isn't just about educating a partner who is at fault on the error of their ways.  It is about building new relationship habits and new skills to cope with the places in your life that the relationship isn't working. This is almost always something both partners need to work on.  Feel like your partner is too aggressive?  Maybe you are being too passive in response.  Feel like your partner is overly emotional?  Maybe you are relying too much on logic and failing to offer the emotional responses your partner needs.  Its usually two-sided, a dance the both of you have created and are having trouble finding a way to change.  That's when you need help - just someone to look at your steps from the outside and help you try new things.

I have slots available on weekends and throughout the week, including convenient evening hours for the real working schedules people have.  Give me a call or an email and lets get to work.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wow is it August already?

Judging by the way my house begins to bake at about 2pm I think there can be no doubt that the heat has arrived.

I wanted to drop a note here to say that I haven't completely forgotten about this.  The downside of a blog vs a website is that you really do have to keep touching it or it starts looking stale - while a website, I could put it up and not touch it for 3 years.  Its all just where you want to put your effort.  I vote neither!

I'm settling in to my practice.  I've been doing this for about a year now.  I think I can now say that rather than an aspiring therapist - I'm a therapist. Whether I'm good or bad, great or mediocre, perhaps that is yet to be seen.  :)

I have a wonderful slate of clients all working on real difficulties in their lives. Everything from relationships to business to anxiety to family conflicts, etc. I enjoy my clients so much and I'm looking for a few more - so if you know someone interested in some evening weekday therapy, keep me in mind.  I do well with men, anxiety, depression, polyamory, existential issues, and life-meaning.  That's not *all* I do - but it seems to be a pattern I'm developing.

Have a great last few weeks of summer - and I wish I could fool myself into believing its going to get cooler as soon as school starts.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The United States of Therapy

As you might discover by noting the post dates - I am a feckless blogger.  Or else I am simply very busy (who isn't)?  Its been an interesting Fall season as I've taken a big bite out of my professional internship. As I've said, I'm an LPC Intern - which is a way of saying that my license is provisional and I need a certain amount of supervised practice before the state lets me loose on the world on my own. Part of this fall has been focusing in on my initial direction as a therapist.

Its funny how we get in our own way and refuse to let ourselves see the obvious choice.  This is certainly true of me anyway and I'll bet its true of a lot of people. We ignore the career staring us in the face, the lover, the passion or pursuit.

So, I've been noticing a confluence of several themes in my life and in my education as a therapist. I'm noticing many healing techniques that are built upon states of consciousness and manipulating them.  I know people practicing NLP and hypnotherapy.  I have been treated via Somatic Experiencing and EMDR.  I have a general background in mindfulness through my own struggles with anxiety and my studies in Wilber's integral theory. And I have a long personal interest in brain states induced through binaural beats - which an acquaintance and colleague of mine used in his own life to resolve deeply traumatized reactions.  So - in short - I'm going to focus on states.  Emotional states, states of consciousness. There's some kind of evolving practical knowledge in the therapeutic world that states really can be used effectively.

Its almost a rebound against a rebound against mindfulness.  For awhile last century it seemed like everyone (or at least a certain kind of West Coast therapist) believed that meditation leading to some kind of enlightenment would beat Western theories of psychology - that the Zen master or the Dalai Lama didn't suffer from the limits of our Westernized psyches.  It turned out that this was a pipe dream, which in retrospect seems pretty obvious.  But there are definite benefits to meditative practice and even to the experiences of the path to "enlightenment" in the meditative traditions. For the most part though, in therapy, we are using the early benefits of meditation to just loosen up our fusion with our thoughts and feelings and present experiences.  Paradoxically, by going mindfully into our present experience we can begin to tell the difference between it and us. So, there was this enthusiasm for meditation, then a disillusionment, and now a practical engagement.  Isn't there some kind of technology adoption curve that looks like that?

But another way of looking at mindfulness and different kinds of meditation, is that it induces different states of consciousness - literally different "modes" of operation in your mind/brain. Your brainwaves look different.  Your emotional responses and thoughts are markedly different.  Your sense of identity shifts out of your verbal, thinking self, and into something else, something open and witnessing, something bigger than our petty concerns and worries.

And there seems to be something about certain ways of reaching for these state changes that are healing in themselves - and they all seem to have something to do with cross-hemispheric stimulation - something to do with making your brain hemispheres talk to each other intensely.  EMDR seems to do this. Binaural beats seem to do this. "Tapping" or "EFT" seems to do this.  And I'll bet mindfulness does it too.  For that matter, I'll bet yoga, dancing, running, and any number of athletic flow states affect us this way as well. Probably music too.

So that's what I'm after.  Healing states - navigating them - invoking them - finding the underlying unity in all these approaches.

Its strange that this wasn't obvious to me months ago - and in some ways it was - but somehow over the past couple of weeks it all came together and I became sure.  Weird how it all comes together sometimes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I had an interesting conversation with my therapist today.

Yes, I go to therapy regularly.  If your therapist doesn't, or hasn't had extensive experience as a client, get another therapist.  Therapists aren't supposed to give advice - but I'm pretty comfortable with that one.  Your mileage may vary, yadda yadda.

We were talking about some events in my life and I mentioned maybe I should have done something differently.  My therapist said "There is no such thing as 'should'".

To which I said - "yes, of course there is such a thing as 'should'" because I think there is a lot of crap floating about the self-help, self-development, and therapy community about how everything is created by our intentions, or how everything is a cultural construct, etc. etc.  My opinions on these ideas are complex, at least several paragraphs worth, but I think I can very simply state that no, our actions really can hurt others in ways we are responsible for and therefore there are some actions we have a responsibility to avoid.  In other words, "shoulds" are real.

At the same time, I, like many people, have an over developed sense of what I am responsible for.  I take too much personal responsibility for the suffering of others.  I am too ready to pick up the need to apologize or to take on guilt or shame for something that often is not my fault, responsibility, or personal business at all.

So after spending some time picking this idea apart with my therapist it became clear that what they were trying to help me understand is that "should" is an abstraction, divorced from the moral facts of a situation.  "I should do X" doesn't really help us understand exactly what is the moral situation with X.  It is a summary - a conclusion - not a starting point.  So in that sense, yes, there is such thing as "should".  It is an abstract concept that is ungrounded in circumstances.  It is easy enough to say "I shouldn't kill people."  but its also easy to see there are times when yes, actually you should kill people.  So what is this "should" if it has all these exceptions and qualifiers?  Its an idealization - an abstraction - something without a direct correspondence in our lives.  It is a real object - but its a real thought object - a different kind of thing than say "kill" which much more directly represents choices, actions, and consequences.

So instead of saying "should I do XYZ?" , "should I apologize?", "should I intervene?" you get closer to the real quandary if you try to ask what is really going on.  What harm has been done?  What kind of intention was behind the harm?  How are those harmed reacting to it?  Are they suffering?  Are they aware of it? Are they over-reacting?  Are they under-reacting?

All of which is just a really verbose way of saying its a good idea to question ourselves whenever we say "should", about ourselves or others.  Make sure we understand what is really happening.  Don't be satisfied with an abstract intuition of obligation.  That intuition is a guidepost - an invitation to reflect - it isn't the answer or the truth.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How I work, part III: Development

This is one of the things that brought me to a counseling career, an interest in development. It kind of started with a new age and/or progressive political interest in what it means to be "evolved". You hear people throw this word around a lot. An evolved person. An unevolved person. Often there is an association with some personality feature or other. To some, being evolved means to have outgrown childish things, to buckle down, hold down a job, raise a family, stop partying every night and going to work with a hangover every Monday. To others being evolved means to meditate and do yoga and eat vegan and compost. To even others, it might mean having a very logical and scientific view of the world, that you aren't taken in by all that church and sandals and yoga beads and homeopathy stuff. I'm sure you can come up with your own examples, which often seem mutually exclusive.

People are often quite proud of whether or not they or some person they know or some person they read or listen to is evolved. It seems to be a pretty desirable quality. And people who aren't evolved get some kind of disdain or at best grudging sympathy, bless their hearts. Some people might put it differently. They might use words like aware, mature, grown up, enlightened, realistic, etc.

So I wanted to know what people meant by all this. It seemed like there was something true there, even if some of it was just clearly in-group politics. I mean, people like you and me are obviously the best kind of people, right? And so I came to learn about adult human development.

One way of looking at development is that it is simply learning. We all learn things all the time and that new knowledge, even if it isn't factual knowledge necessarily, changes us, expands our capacities, while constraining others. But it's also a way of describing exactly how that learning changes us, changes our attitudes and beliefs and behavior.

In some ways there are some pretty predictable patterns of development. They were studied by people like Kohlberg, and Gilligan, and Loevinger. In other ways, human development is a crazy fractal pattern with as many variants as there are people who have ever lived. Still, there are some predictable thresholds that we cross in life, and though they have common life events as catalysts or harbingers, they aren't as simple as the signposts of college, marriage, career, parenthood, midlife crisis, mentorhood, retirement, etc.

Developmental stages are often enough a part of the reason clients come to me. Maybe it's something relatively common - adjusting to a new job or a new marriage. Sometimes it a massive shift that completely reorganizes how you see the world. The kind of shift that has a wealthy investor giving most of his money to charity and taking up work with the poor and hungry, or a shift that changes a drug dealer into a minister, or a nun into a professor.

As a counsellor it is a privilege to be involved in these shifts. Sometimes they are small harbingers, early scent on the wind of a gradual process. Sometimes they are something of a crisis, a massive upheaval in a client's life. But which ever it is, these encounters are different from the medical/clinical model. There is no diagnosis, or at best we might call it a phase of life adjustment difficulty or something like that. There is nothing to "fix", no symptom to help a client cope with or lessen. Instead we get the privilege of standing next to someone who is transforming. Like whispering words of encouragement to a butterfly while they're crawling out of the cocoon. Some would say this is true of almost all counseling, but I think it's true of adult development in a special way.

So, I stay on the lookout for developmental processes. They can easily be confused with disorders or life problems, and they certainly can cause problems - can you imagine the difficulty of your entire worldview shifting? The meaning and importance of things can change radically. Your family and your peer group will likely think something is very wrong. You quit a church, a job, a career, a marriage. Or you suddenly start a very new and different one.

Right now I can see developmental processes pretty obviously at play in some of my clients. I'm excited to work with them. It's the difference between foundation repair and doing a major renovation or expansion on a house. Or helping an athlete heal an injury vs helping them break through to a new level of performance.

And sometimes, we start building on to the house, only to discover we need that foundation repair before we can proceed - which is part of why my job is endlessly interesting.

Monday, September 7, 2015

How do I work? Part II: trauma

If you have anything to do with the psychotherapy world, then you know that trauma is the watchword - its on everyone's lips.  Its the in thing right now.  I think there's very good reason for this.  We're getting some good results with some innovative therapies - developed over the last several years (and longer) - that focus on trauma and our theoretical understanding of what trauma does to our nervous system.

To put it really briefly, we've all got trauma of some form or another.  Maybe its trauma, or maybe its Trauma. For example - I still have unreasonable emotional reactions to things that remind me of certain childhood situations, long past adverse experiences, and difficult relationships.  That's trauma - it left scars, and the scars influence how I feel, think, and behave even today.

Now - when someone is in a horrible accident, or survives a war, or a horrific near experience with violence, or are chronically abused or neglected as children - that is Trauma with a capital "T" and people sometimes develop PTSD as a result.  Not always, interestingly. Not even most of the time.  But too often. The lesser traumas our lives present us with can cause us to develop responses that seem related to PTSD even if it isn't the full horror that some of us suffer.

On the one hand, as adults we often feel as if we should put on our big people pants and get over it. But the truth is that there are some things we just can't seem to get over easily and even if they seem trivial and childish, they still have a lot to do with some of our most painful emotions.

Now I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking about Freud and the couch and "tell me about your mother." And about some poor soul discovering that their fear of asparagus comes from the awful accident they had in the garden when they were three - and poof, they're cured.  Funny enough, even though that kind of scene is still a staple of film and TV - Freud abandoned that theory in about the second year of his practice.  He was certain he had found the scarring event in a patient's past, and the insight could produce a kind of relief-through-understanding in his patients - but it didn't cure them.  Their problems persisted in spite of knowing the apparent cause.

And yet - the trauma therapies that counselors are using now are remarkably similar to that fictional "eureka" scene.  I won't really try to explain what the different therapies are or what they do here - I'm getting long winded enough.  But the key is that there are certain kinds of emotional reactions we all have, that bother us deeply, often to the point of a diagnosable disorder, that seem to derive from trauma and the reactions our brain and nervous system have to the flight-or-flight response.  The new trauma based therapies work with inspirations from neurological theory to help us unlearn those responses, often quickly, and often without the long verbal psychodynamic inquiry into our past that we all associate with therapy.

So - when people start talking their emotions feeling out of control, and stress, and anger issues, and even anxiety and depression - I start looking for trauma.  It isn't always trauma - but often it is and it helps to treat it that way.  I've benefited a great deal from trauma based therapy and it is clearly an area I need more training in - because many, many people who walk through my door need it.  They need it yesterday.