What’s Being Exposed is What Will Help Us Grow: Racial Bias and Trauma.

The world feels like a hard place to be in right now.

I’ll go ahead and say it.  The world feels like a hard place to be in right now.    We’re all tired of this pandemic, of racial injustice, of anger, of people just not hearing each other or themselves. Tired of being tired.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  That sounds great.  It is definitely something to strive for. But sometimes, we need to step back and acknowledge the lemons. So said Donna Oriowo, educator, therapist and author, at a recent webinar I listened to.

The lemons haven’t been the same for everyone. The death of George Floyd ignited international outrage.  It laid bare the kind of treatment that People of Color have told me they have often been aware of as a possibility, or a reality, but it has rarely entered the consciousness of most White people in this country.  It was one brutal incident that was filmed, among many others that weren’t.

Even if you haven’t been physically brutalized, maybe you have still experienced trauma, humiliation, or stereotyping on the basis of your skin color or ethnicity.  The events of this past month may have triggered past traumas that are the result of racism on systemic and interpersonal levels.  That is your story, your experience, and I don’t want to tell it or interpret it for you.  Nor do I want to assume that that is even the same story for everyone.

But I am here to listen your experience, whatever it may be.

What ARE your lemons?  That’s what we take time to look at in therapy.

The lemons are the bumps. The hurts, the stressors.  The roadblocks that get in the way of us being fully present in our lives. They could be experiences you’ve had with being sized up and treated a certain way, and as a result, you felt ashamed, powerless, or humiliated. 

It usually doesn’t help when someone asks you, “Are you sure that’s what happened?  Maybe it wasn’t (racism, sexism, harassment, ageism – insert your own perspective here).”  This likely well-meaning person is coming from the premise that it’s your own distorted perceptions that are keeping you stuck, and if you only changed this perspective, you would feel and do better.  

But when we are hurting, that’s usually not helpful.  It makes us feel more alone. Unheard. How do we trust someone if they can’t even hear us out? So we push that lemon down deep into ourselves, and keep on with our lives.  No judgment there – we do what we do to get through our days. But over time, with all those buried lemons, it’s kind of hard to make lemonade, isn’t it?

When I think back to the times when I was really hurting about something, and someone tried to be helpful, you know what meant the most to me?  When someone really listened.  Listened, without judgement, without trying to change my perception or my feelings.  That felt like compassion. 

And that meant the world to me.  It made me feel less alone. 

I think a lot of us need more of that, nowadays. People who can just acknowledge the lemons without trying so hard to make us “get over” them.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of racism, you have probably felt this for years, at different levels of intensity, but to survive, you may have had to suppress the parts of yourself that hurt or were angry because of this.  (And maybe you still do, at times.) Maybe those are your lemons.

If you have high-risk people in the home and are feeling anxious because you have committed to social distancing and/or isolation, while others around you have not, those might be your lemons right now.

So what do we do?

First of all, acknowledge the lemons.  The frustration, the pain. Accept that they are there, with compassion for yourself.

Some great authors to help you get started with that:  Tara BrachBrene Brown.   Resmaa Menakem.

Give yourself time for this.

Then, get help. I know I am not the only therapist out there.  There are options that are more affordable, and therapists whose way of working and being may be your preference right now.  But if you want to work on your stress and trauma in a structured but centered-on-you-in-the-moment way to get relief, that’s what I do.

I’m not here to decide what is “real” or not.  That’s not how trauma therapy or life stress reduction work. 

In fact, if you have done therapy before, you are probably used to a therapist giving you their opinion or interpretation of what’s happening in your life, and what to do about it.  That has its place, and if that’s the approach you prefer, go for it! 

It’s just not what I do, generally.  We will work to determine your lemons, YOU will decide with me, what they are and which ones you want to work on, and we will go from there.  It’s a process, and we will work on it together. 

It starts with acceptance of ourselves.  We don’t have to like every part of ourselves; just accept that these parts are there, lemons, lemonade, and all.   That’s where compassion starts.

Take care of yourself this month. You are worth it.

 

 

 

 

“When someone really listened… without judgement, without trying to change my perception or my feelings.  That felt like compassion.  “

 

Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier: Seven Strategies to Improve Your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19

 

 

Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier; Seven Strategies to Improve your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19


It’s mid-May, so those of us in Virginia are entering week 6 of stay-at-home orders.  Many of us have parents or close relatives that we cannot visit, either because they or we are isolating due to COVID-19.  First of all, give yourself credit for all the changes you have adjusted to.  It’s a lot, whether you are at home by yourself or with other family members, roommates, or friends. 

Your parents may be older seniors in various states of physical and mental health, of the company of others, or desire or ability to see people. Some of them may be extroverts who are having a very hard time coping with staying at home and social distancing.

Some of them may not be social distancing the way that they need to, or that you think they need to.   If you have already had the conversation with them about why this is important, you may need to come to terms with the fact that at this point, you cannot control their behavior, only your response to it.

 If you need to set limits on seeing them because their behavior puts you or another loved one at risk, it may help to state this, not as a judgment (e.g., “I’m not going to visit you because you are being stupid” is not heard as well as, “Mom, I understand that playing tennis is important to you and your friends. You understand those risks, and I may not like your decisions, but I need to accept them. Please likewise understand that I need to stay isolated due to my health concerns, so we can look at other ways we can connect that are not in person.”  If they accept this, obviously that’s easier than if they don’t.  But ultimately, we need to acknowledge our own needs and own these decisions.

If they don’t, or they get defensive, try not to get hooked into an argument that doesn’t change their behaviors.  Yes, this is hard.  But, do you want to spend this time in a tug-of-war with them, or do you want a different relationship with them?

  They may be in varying degrees of digital ability or access. They didn’t grow up during the digital age, after all. Come to think of it, neither did I! But here are some ways you can stay connected with them, regardless.

What is most important to many of our parents, is their legacy. What they feel they have accomplished or valued in life?

The larger portion of their lives is behind them, not ahead. This does not mean they don’t have meaningful days or plans; of course,  we all need to have that!  But it means that a big way to connect with them now is through their sense of legacy. So these are ways to do it.

First, ask yourself this:  When I look back on this time, during this crazy year when I couldn’t see my parents like I wanted, what do I want to know that I did? What do I think I’ll be happy I did (or didn’t do)?

 

  • Start with the Practical:  Work out a daily “check-in” plan with them, such as texting or calling you daily by 12noon, so you all know you are ok, conscious, and that if you don’t hear from each other, you’ll give a few hours grace period before calling another person they have regular contact with. If you still get no answer, the next step will be 911. Again, discuss this with them as good planning.
  • Work out a contingency plan for “if you (or they) get sick”, with a list of who to call, what medications to pack, and a list of medications, doses, and doctors that they can share with you.  In the event that they do become unwell, you will be prepared and will have this on hand.  
  • Now that that’s done, work on increasing the satisfaction quotient of your relationship.  For example recount an important memory you have with them. Something you experienced, learned from them, or was impressed by. Even the sarcastic and not-exactly tender folks will still find this meaningful. I’ll never forget the time I told my Dad, years ago, years before his Alzheimer’s took over, “I not only love you, Dad, but I like you”, to which he replied, “Uh…Well, that’s your problem!”
  • Ask them something about their personal history. (What’s significant about the place they grew up, a job they had, etc.? Ancestry or family stories that are important? A musical instrument or sport that they played?) Even if you were not particularly close, you can still recall something about a car, work day, object that you both remember.  It’s something you can do to connect with them.
  • Ask them about a particular time in their life that was meaningful or game-changing for them. A time they got out of a pinch, got a great job or travel opportunity, relationship, or even an object like a car or tool that they were able to do things with. You’d be surprised at how much information you’d get out of them.What was your favorite activity together, dish that they cooked, vacation you took? Let them know what it was, and ask what their favorites are or were.
  • Send them a care package. That is, if you think they will take care to wash their hands after they open it. It may contain favorite foods, books, a gardening kit, or something else that they value that they can do or enjoy.  Skip the mug or tote bag, or plant unless that’s something they will particularly love. One more thing to take care of or to add to clutter, may not be as appreciated.
  • Ask for advice. Yes, the thing that most parents give, unsolicited, in spades, our entire lives, right?   Whether it is advice on how do they make that particular soup, what can they suggest for painting or fixing your home?  Career advice – what was the best thing they did that helped them advance in their job, or keep it at the right time? And just let them give it. (Yes, there are times their advice may have driven you crazy. That’s the nature of things!)  If they can walk you through making a recipe, fixing an appliance, or some project while you are both on the phone or video calling, so much the better. This often drives their sense of purpose and gives you both an activity to do together. Which can also help to give them something to look forward to doing, in an area where there expertise or interest lies. 
  • Ask what would they like to be known for.  By you, people in their line of work or faith community, their grandkids? And if you can, get some (or all) of this on tape or write it down, even in bullet-points. 

Granted, you will still be concerned about your parents.  But these strategies will likely bring you a more satisfying relationship with your parents these days.  You may find that if you make these strategies your project, stress and conflict with your parents may go down quite a bit.  Instead of a power struggle, your relationship may have a renewed sense of purpose.  As hard as this may be, ask yourself, “where is the opportunity here?” 

Stay in touch with your supports in the meantime.  Take care of yourself, and see you next month!

 

Changes to my Website and my Practice

We’ll connect this way. And yes, it works!

And to the whole world in the last month, right?  So much has changed since my March post.  In Virginia we have been on stay-at-home orders for the past month.  It’s been challenging to adapt to this surreal period, but most of us are doing it.

The good news is, I am still here!  But with the lockdown, the definition of “here” has changed a bit.  During this time, I won’t be doing therapy at the Fairfax office. I’m doing teletherapy for all current and new clients.  This has been the case since mid-March, so at this point I’ve been seeing everyone through my online therapy platform. And you know what?  I’ve been pleasantly surprised that everyone has done an amazing job in handling this transition.  I know it’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around, the idea of doing therapy through a screen. Many of us are missing more human contact as we’ve been on lockdown. And we like having a separate space to go to, away from our work, home, etc. to be able to discuss our issues.  I get that.  But, right now, in-person is not the safest option.  I’m taking this lockdown seriously and have been pretty much on lockdown myself, save a few needed trips to the grocery store.  So in keeping with the goal of flattening the curve and lowering risk, it’s teletherapy. 

The plus side?  First of all, reduced risk of COVID-19 between us.  Secondly, you don’t have to spend time or energy commuting to see me.  Third, the research shows that one-on-one therapy is just as effective online as it is in person. And individual therapy is my specialty, so that works well.

When will I go back to seeing clients in person?  Good question. There is a lot of uncertainty around this pandemic, and I can’t be sure, but I would estimate some time in June.  The situation is evolving rapidly though, so what I can say is, I plan to be available to you via teletherapy as long as that seems to be the best option. 

More positive changes:  I have revamped my website so that it is up-to-date, and I have a Facebook Business Page

Newsletter:  I have decided to update the date of my monthly blog/newsletter to the second Tuesday of each month. I’ve found that this timing just makes more sense.  So if you already subscribe to my newsletter, please keep an eye out then.  Or, feel free to subscribe now.

And finally, I have added some videos to Facebook and my website, where I chat about your concerns and how I can help you.

To start seeing me via teletherapy:

Call me!  You just need to be 18 or over, have a laptop, smartphone/tablet with internet connection, and be in the State of Virginia to do this therapy.  (That last part is a requirement of my State Board.)  Plus a private space you can go to in your home, to do this therapy.  By the way, please don’t worry about what your space looks like to me. I get that we are mostly in our homes during all this.  The important thing to me is that you and I both show up. 

So with these changes, I’m still here. When you are ready, I’ll be here for you!


You may be on stay-at-home, but you can still get some relief.

 

Staying Connected in the Time of Coronavirus

Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses.

” Do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.”

Staying connected in the time of Coronavirus: It’s a change, but it’s not the end.

 

Do you think this concern about Coronavirus is a load of hooey?  Then you aren’t going to like what I am going to say, and I am probably not the therapist for you. 

Before I get into that, let me apologize for this post being a week late.  I was out of town, and then I got mildly sick, which delayed things. Thankfully, I’m better now.  All of this coincided with the unfolding news about Coronavirus, aka, COVID-19, which has been disruptive to most, lethal to some, and very annoying to virtually everyone.

Depending on where you live or where you (or people you know) have visited, you might be rethinking vacation plans, festival outings, public transportation. It’s calling into question how, exactly, we are willing and reasonably able to stay connected right now.

Mainly, right now, most people seem to be in a low-grade anxious, watchful waiting pattern. A lot of people feel, if not like rats that are trapped, at least like ones that being blocked and poked at, not sure which way to turn, or exactly what to do. We are told that the virus is mostly mild, but we are told to take important steps. We are told it is spreading and we can’t test everyone who wants or needs it, but containment is a goal. We should practice social distancing, but we aren’t sure for how long, or exactly how.   Do we want to cancel that ball game, this work meeting, or that outing? Is it worth the lost opportunity, lost pay/professional gain? How do we decide?

To date, those of us in Virginia have not received definitive, clear guidelines from community or national leaders on how to proceed. Without official quarantines, work and school closures or even widely available testing, next steps have been left largely up to individuals.  For better or worse, that’s the reality right now.

Are you in the defiance camp, determined not to change anything about your routine? Or are you panicking, afraid to go outside at all?

For most of us, we are somewhere in the middle. We don’t like what is happening, and we know we need to do something. I am speaking to the second and third group.

Those in the first group will not like what I have to say.  In fact, I would advise caution in being in physical proximity to those in the first group.  If such people live with you, I know it’s tough, but keep reading anyway.

For a lot of us who are caregivers or professional providers to elderly people and/or to people with underlying health issues, we know it’s not just about us. We are worried about them. Yes, for MOST people, the virus has cause mild to moderate symptoms.  But there are some vulnerable groups, mainly, adults over 60 and/or those with underlying health issues, for whom this virus may be life threatening.  

We may also have young children, so we are trying to balance their needs, too.

And let’s face it.  The other issues in our lives are still there. It’s not like those issues are going away.  So, what do we do?

I’m not a doctor, and the situation and knowledge about the virus is changing daily, so I’m going to list what my personal and professional takeaways are right now.

How you can proceed:

Respond mindfully

This is very different from reacting, which is purely emotional.  Responding is done with some level of reflection and intent.

Regarding COVID-19: Get the facts, not the opinions that are circling around online.  Stay in touch with health departments, medical doctors, and yours or your family’s specialists on their guidelines and recommendations.

The best take on this issue that I have found to date is this article (scientific American) on what to do, and why. If you read nothing else, though, read this article .*

Practice mindful hygiene, especially around vulnerable people.  Wearing a basic mask may not protect us much, but evidence suggests that it helps reduce the chances of infecting them.  They may need to stay quarantined for a time, and definitely, social distancing, avoiding crowds, busy places.  Washing hands thoroughly is important, especially just before you come in contact with them.  Have others in their environment do the same thing, especially other caregivers with close contact.  In fact, this is a good practice right now in any environment.

What if you have defiant types in your home?  I’m thinking stubborn teens, partners, or other housemates. Now may be the time to practice some logical consequences, such as saying, “If you want me to make that dinner or watch that show with you, please wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.” If they have a respected friend, online resource who can back up what you say to them, it may help to ask that person to rally and talk to them, or to read up on that resource. I repeat, you do what you can.  Or show them this article and let them know that I am telling them, please don’t be a jerk. Let Cleopatra be the only Queen of Denial, and do your part to help out.

Remember that, for the most part, this flu has not impacted children too badly, for the most part.  So we keep them practicing the good hygiene, such as washing hands, especially at home and near their vulnerable loved ones.  With positive reinforcement and encouragement, of course.

Stay in touch with your friends as you are reasonably able or willing. Your supports are still important, but for now, modify how you interact with them. Use telecommunications like Facetime, texting or phone, keep interactions one-one on or smaller groups, stand farther apart.  If your friends are in the first group that I mentioned above (that is, determined not to change anything, even hygiene habits), now is not the time to worry that you are offending them by social distancing.  Minimize or avoid contact with them in person if you can, calmly explaining your need to do so. Did I mention, wash your hands?

Change your greeting style:  Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses, especially at work or for the vulnerable folks in your life.

Take advantage of the outdoors.  Are you or your family going stir-crazy? Go outside. At least the weather in the DMV area is getting milder.  Whether you walk around the block, go up a driveway, or walk in a park, the green space will definitely help your mind reset.  If you work late, take a stroll around the block or stare at the sky before turning in for the night.

How I will proceed:

As you probably know by now, I specialize in working with anxiety, trauma, and caregiver issues in adults.  This means that I work with many caregivers and some immuno-suppressed people, so I will be regularly cleaning my office and washing my hands.  If you have special health concerns, I will wear a (basic paper) mask or sit at least six feet from you during sessions.  I do this out of care and concern for us both.  Mama don’t play, as they say.

 If I am feeling ill, I’ll let you know, and I will not come into the office.  It would be really, really helpful if you do the same thing. We can talk about other options during this time period. For people I have met at least once in person, we can look at teletherapy options. It may delay our work, but it will be better in the long run.

Keeping things in perspective:

Many things are being shaken up right now, but this too, shall pass. Not as quickly or as predictably as we want it to, but it will, hopefully with minimal impact.  

If you want to stay connected, contact me.  I am here to help you process whatever is on your mind and in your life.  And while gave advice to you here, I don’t give opinions or interpretations for the most part, in session. That work is about you, and that’s what a therapist is for. 

So do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.

*More resources:  

Fairfax County Health Department

World Health Organization

Center for Disease Control

Sawbone, a podcast about health issues.

Talking to kids about Coronavirus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Tension in Your Workplace Triggering Past Trauma?

 

“I’m having a lot of tension with my team supervisor lately.  Our interactions remind me of some things I went through way back when.  I thought I had gotten past it.  I worked through how I was treated in middle school already, and now this issue with my supervisor is reminding me of what I went through back then.
“She says things to me like, ‘Can’t you do anything right?’  She rolled her eyes when I asked an important question in a meeting last week, and said something sarcastic. People giggled, and I felt humiliated.  It’s to where I avoid consulting with her, because I want to avoid being on the receiving end of this treatment.  I want to do a good job and get along with people at work.  
“I’m tired of feeling like a bullied kid. I want to be able to feel differently and be valued.  I know I am smart and hard-working. The worst part is, I keep wondering how much of this is something I am really doing wrong, and how much is not me, or even about me? Am I too sensitive, making a big deal out of a stupid comment, or am I really being treated badly? I’m a hard worker, but it’s starting to affect my performance.  And I want to be a good worker and team person and feel positive about my workplace, like I did when I first started here.”
Work issues can be tricky, right? Because unlike our friendships or other people we actively choose to be with, we usually only have limited control (if any) over who we work with.  Just like school.  And what happens when someone we work with is behaving in a way that feels adversarial?  We can feel helpless or ostracized, just like we did as kids. 
 You aren’t in this for more meaningful connection, like you (ideally) would be with friends. It’s great if it happens, but that’s not the main reason you and your supervisor are in each others’ lives. It’s a working relationship, with different goals. But that doesn’t make it okay for you to feel like this.
There are many ways you can deal with this. Checking in with trusted friends, coworkers, or other folks you have experienced as honest and reliable are great starts.  There are resources for dealing with work conflict.  It can occur because of anything from different communication styles, all the way to actual bullying or abuse.   Often there are channels through your Human Resources office or legal channels to go through in that instance.  Or even a job change.   
That speaks to concrete steps.  But the other piece is coping with the distress you are feeling personally.
Might it help to talk to a therapist? You know I’m a big proponent of talking to someone supportive, non-judgmental, and trained to help you work through it.
“Oh, come on.  These things were not such a big deal, and I’m not such a snowflake.  I get it. We were kids. I’m a grown-up now.”
You know something? That’s not even the point.  It’s true, you are not a kid anymore, and your coworker or supervisor is not the same person who put you through a bad thing or things in middle school.  Yes, middle school is (thankfully, for many) over.   Does it help relieve your symptoms to know this? Does it really help to give yourself negative talk and call yourself a “snowflake”?  Maybe that gave you perspective, and that’s great.  But if you are still feeling these unwanted feelings, or replaying these memories, this type of self-talk probably only made you feel worse.
When something is very distressing, whether it is happening now or it triggered something from before, it’s how it’s popping up in our lives now that we want to address.   For instance, you may be feeling the following:
 The memories and images (whether from an earlier incident or from last week)  play over and over in your head. Strong feelings (or body sensations) pop up – in dreams, in moments during the day,  or in a particular location at work.
Your stomach went in knots when you went down that particular hallway. 
You feel like you are breathing fast, or not well, at certain points, like the start of a meeting.
You want to not feel these things, but “pushing” those feelings down only helps for a minute, and then they come back.
These memories, sensations, and feelings can be like annoying gophers popping up, all the way to charging bulls that get in the way of how you want to live life.
 And this thing going on now with your supervisor has really triggered these memories/sensations into high gear.  
So what can you do?
Step back and examine the situation.  Go through the steps above, checking in with friends and trusted colleagues. If the situation merits more formal workplace intervention, you may want to go through the appropriate channels, such as Human Resources, to address this.
Assess your symptoms. Do at least some of them match with this checklist?  If so…
Accept help.    Sometimes we need concrete guidance and resolution to this here-and-now issue with your supervisor.  Do the steps above, if they apply.  
But when it comes to what’s being triggered for you, that’s where some deeper work can happen, too. 
It doesn’t make you weak to admit that this is really bugging you. It takes courage to admit something in your world is not right and you want to work through it with a professional. By the way, I’m also talking to the guys out there who are being told that.  Or think that.  Or have been told to think that.  This process is effective on people regardless of gender, gender identity, or other such factors.  The idea is to get you to a place where it is NOT impacting you so much, and you can start finding ways to deal with these issues, past and present.

Think about it. When you are ready, give me a call.

Some guidelines on next steps:
When you call me, leave me a message.  (If you don’t hear back right away, hang tight! I will usually call you back during my office hours.)  When we connect, we will do a 10-minute telephone consultation about yourself and what is happening right now.  You may want to pick a good time and place to call me, so that you can speak freely to me about your concerns.
If I am a good fit for you, we will schedule your appointment. I look forward to hearing from you!

Wouldn’t therapy be worth it?

 

 

 

If therapy could…

-help you feel less anxious, more calm

-add a supportive, non-judgmental person to your life

-help you get help with a trying life situation

-and, most importantly, give you tools for you to make some positive changes in your life

So that…

Instead of walking around feeling overwhelmed, alone, rudderless, you can feel calmer, supported, and focused on the here and now…

Wouldn’t it be worth it?

 


I’ve never heard anyone say they regretted doing therapy.

So you’ve been thinking about a particular issue, person, or big life change that may be on the horizon.  It’s weighing on you, occupying your mind, making you question yourself and your decisions.  You are thinking, you could use some help, maybe in the way of therapy, but you’re not sure therapy is the way to go.  Here are some reasons people say they are reluctant:

“I can’t afford therapy.”

Is that what you are thinking?  Most of us have spent money, time, and energy this Holiday season, or at many points throughout the year.  Understandably, you are trying to be watchful of your budget.

If the Holidays were fun and meaningful for you, I’m truly glad. Even if they were, maybe old issues, difficult relationships, or memories resurfaced with one or more people.  Maybe you used tips from my November blog post to get through the holidays, or other techniques to help you get through the tense times.

Maybe a big transition just happened or is on the horizon.  Job change, concerns about a friend, partner or relative?  You are worried about it, and it would really help to talk about it, but you aren’t sure these are concerns you want to lay out with someone in your personal life.

Maybe you did talk to friends, and it helped to get their support.  That’s something! But you may still be confused and this issue is hanging over you. You really don’t have huge amounts of time or energy. So for now, you are just hanging on, going with the flow and seeing what happens.  That can work  — for a while.

But sometimes it is MORE costly to put therapy on the back burner.  Namely, in quality of life and in the frustrating things that never seem to change, so that you lose sleep, or feel irritable, less energetic to deal with what needs dealing with.  This is especially true of trauma and severe stress. We actually spend more energy trying to “push down” our strong feelings. Or, they come out in a way that is not helpful, like temper outbursts, body/headaches, chronic distraction.

If therapy could help you feel less anxious, add a supportive, non-judgmental person to your life, get some ideas for help, and, most importantly, give you tools for you to make some positive changes in your life, so that instead of walking around feeling overwhelmed, alone, having no idea how to proceed, you can feel more calm, mindful, supported, and focused on what you need these days…Wouldn’t it be worth it?

“I’m super busy.  Who has time?”

It’s true.  You, like so many people, have work, parents, kids, school, and any number of responsibilities. 

You may want to try a person close to your home or work (or other place that you frequent often).  I typically see clients once weekly, but may see someone more frequently than that for trauma sessions.  It’s best to find someone close to your comings and goings. I’m in the City of Fairfax, Virginia, not far from George Mason University.

Pick a date and time with your therapist and make it part of a weekly routine. This will actually make it easier to stick with it.  Look at this as part of your “healthcare” routine and as something necessary you are doing for yourself.  And by the way, you send a very good strong message to your loved ones when they see that you are making this time for something important to you and that you stay with it.

For those of you who travel a lot or have health issues that make traveling difficult, teletherapy might be the way to go.  I don’t offer that at this time, but it is out there.  I’d rather you get the help you need and be honest with you about where to get it.

If your schedule needs to change, by the way, discuss this with your therapist. Most of us know that can happen. We try to work with you on this.

“I’ve done therapy.   I already know what my problems are. There are some things I just can’t change, and they are in the past, so I really don’t want to talk about them.”

I am not offering a “magic wand” that will make all your problems go away.  (And if anyone is doing that, they are not being straightforward with you, especially if there is a complex or ongoing life situation like a chronic illness in a loved one, chronic workplace upheaval, and such.  These things happen and I get that they don’t magically disappear.)   But I DO offer methods that will help you deal with these problems in a way that is calm and proactive, instead of dealing with them being terrified and reactive.  And those things that happened and are in the past?  The trauma therapy I do works on changing the memory, so that it does not affect you the same way.  It works.

Imagine having a game plan or a shift in your attitude in dealing with a person in your life who has often caused you stress or worry. Imagine how that would change things.  Instead of feeling like a powerless, out-of-control person, you will begin to feel more centered, deserving of good treatment and respect. (Respect is not fear, by the way.  Many people are in therapy because important people in their lives have confused these concepts.)  And when we believe we are worthy, things often begin to change.

So as you start out into the New Year, bearing the colder temperatures and looking ahead, think about the issues you would like help with.  If you read through this article all the way to this point, odds are, you are seriously considering therapy.  You know what it’s like not to do it. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

When you feel ready, call.

So What Kind of Therapy Do You Do, Anyway?

 “So what Kind of therapy do you do, anyway?”


“So what kind of therapy do you do, anyway?”

Because I am a therapist, people come to me seeking guidance and support on issues that are troubling them.  I work mainly with individual adults coping with trauma, caregiver stress, and life transitions like changing jobs, grief, or job and career changes, or relationship stress, especially with unresolved family issues.    Then they ask me my opinion about what they should do about the issue at hand, and I tell them, “We will come to that, but know that I work a little differently than other therapists.  I don’t evaluate, I help people process whatever is on their mind, and come to a conclusion.”

That is completely true, and yet, it sounds really vague. Or maybe it sounds like I am a slacker who just wants to collect a fee and let you rant, while not really doing anything myself. (I promise you, that is NOT the case!) They scrunch up their foreheads and look at me like I just said I came from the planet Neptune.  They seem really doubtful, worried that talking to me will be a waste of time.  In some ways,  I don’t blame them. What good is a therapist if they don’t weigh in and give you their take on what is going on with you, right? But then, some of them are willing to try a session or two with me, and then they see how it works.

Most people are used to having a therapist interpret or evaluate what they are doing.  This does have its  

benefit, and if that is what you want, I respect that.  But I roll a bit differently these days.

Maybe you have already had therapy, and it helped.  It’s been months or years, though, and your stress is up, conflicts are happening in your life, old triggers are acting up, and you are considering therapy again.  But you aren’t sure if this is the right time, or if the therapist you choose will be the right fit.  You may especially feel this way about me right now, because on top of not knowing me apart from anyone else, I am describing something that sounds kind of unconventional.  You want something a bit more, well, familiar.

Or maybe, it’s the opposite.  You say to yourself,  “I’ve done my therapy!  I already KNOW what my issues are. I don’t need to learn anything else or get any more insights that I don’t already have.  I don’t want to hear yet another person lecture me about what to do to change or feel better.  I just need the problem to go away.”

Well, then, how about a therapist who works a bit differently than most? If you decide to work with me,  we will still work on the issues that are distressing to you, whether you deem them little or big.    And as you do this, you will likely begin to see and feel changes. The most incredible thing is, it’s not because of what I tell you, but because we are peeling away the layers of awareness that are already within you. This is Traumatic Incident Reduction and Life Stress Reduction, all part of Applied Metapsychology, which you can read more about here

Maybe this sounds “out there”. Had I not had a respected colleague tell me a while back about this method and train me in it, I would feel the same way.  This is a SAMHSA-approved method of working through trauma, anxiety, and most types of life stress, and it really helps you unload and get some peace, relief, and resolution.  I know this, because in my training, I had to be on the receiving end of it, and it improved my own distress around some issues.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was effective.

Even if you just do a few sessions, you will likely find it helpful. 

If you want to give it a try, and you are 18 and over, call me, and we can get started. 

Is this month too hectic?  I understand. I’ll be around in January, too.  In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter/blog.  And in the meantime, take care of yourself in the ways you know best.

A Pit in my Gut about Turkey Day!” -How to Cope with your Challenging Sibling Relationship over Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s November, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Are you ready?

Hopefully, you have some gatherings or events that you can look forward to:  Seeing family or friends, preparing for a big feast, or maybe a simple day spent at home. Maybe you are on call at work, and you are planning around that.

Whatever your situation, this holiday can also trigger all sort of intense situations and feelings. Even beyond the extra planning and extra work of food and home prep, there is the people stress. It seems we all have at least the one person in our life that we love, or is attached to someone we love, who will be coming. Or wants to come.  And can be really difficult to be around for too long. And we are trying to figure out how we can have them over and still stay sane during Thanksgiving and the weekend. Do you have a pit in your gut when you think about seeing them on Turkey Day?

Maybe it’s your adult sister, Jules.  You’re not that close to her for any number of reasons, and normally, this is ok because she lives far away and you don’t see each other all that often.  But, suddenly, you learn that she will be in town, and your parents want her to come over.  You are torn:  She’s your relative, and our families, everyone, it seems, tells you that you are sisters, so you should be grateful to have each other and make an effort. Because Thanksgiving is about being thankful!   You get that.  Of course, gratitude in life is important.  But when it comes to this sister and you, it’s not just not that easy.  You have probably had a challenging sibling relationship for a long time, now.  It seems to you that she just sucks all the air and attention out of the room with her issues, her stories, her emotions. And you end up feeling put upon and resentful.

You may not even want to talk about it, because other people give you pat answers, like “well, just ignore them”, “it’s just one weekend”, or “you don’t have to get hooked into an argument”. It would be great if that sort of advice made things better, right? But you can’t just wave a wand and change your feelings.

So what do you do?

Well, if you’re lucky, you have friends and family that care about you and that you do want to spend time with. So if it helps, by all means, set up time now to hang out with them and talk about this or anything else that feels supportive.

But if you have a challenging sibling relationship, you may feel you need more.  This is where it helps to talk to someone who has empathy AND training.   Sibling issues can feel especially sticky, don’t they?   If you have issues with your sibling, sometimes you can only discuss so much with your mutual parent or siblings. They have their own relationship with this relative, after all, and their own strong feelings about them, so in talking to them, you are aware of what to say (or not) because of how how they feel or react.   With effective therapy, that’s not an issue. You can pretty much lay everything out on the table and work through it.  Even a few sessions of therapy can help you sort through what you want and need in dealing with this complicated relationship, and in what led to it being complicated, either since childhood, or over time.  Maybe there was trauma involved:  A betrayal of trust between you, bullying, or feeling the effects of how your parents may have treated you, the effects of which can still linger.  If this feels like the case, seriously consider working this through in therapy.  Because even if you don’t see this sibling, you may still be carrying the emotional baggage around, and it rears its head in your life when you don’t expect it to.  Therapy can help you work through these issues and help you see what’s going on, and make some changes that feel helpful in dealing with your sibling.

But in the meantime, Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, and here comes your sister Jules!  So here are things to keep in mind till then.

Be honest with yourself.  Do you really WANT to see this sibling?  Maybe not.  That’s an ok thing to feel.   You don’t have to share this with anyone until you are ready to do so, but allow yourself to the space to feel it.

 Or maybe you would want to see them sometimes, just not at this big holiday gathering, where there is enough intensity going on already.  I think we need to dispel the myth that everyone needs to be together specifically during the holidays.  If that happens for your family, and folks enjoy that and are able to do it, great!  But it may not work for you, and if that’s the case, it doesn’t mean you or your relationships don’t measure up.  There’s more than one way to do a Holiday.

So on that note, it helps to be open to other options that will help YOU feel more calm and relaxed.

First and foremost, remember that you cannot control someone else:  Not Jules, not your parent, not your spouse or kids.  You can only manage your own behaviors and responses. 

So start with yourself, and make a list. Before the event, get a notebook (or start a folder on your iPhone/android, computer, etc., and jot down the following:

  1. Five things I am thankful for.  (Yes, this does help you feel empowered.)
  2. Five people, groups, or interests that are my biggest supports.
  3. Five of my great qualities. (I am creative, good at math, good cook, caring, etc.)
  4. Five cool things about sister Jules. (This might be tough, but it will help you see them as a whole person instead of “all bad.”)
  5. Five things I wish I could say to her about what is hard or hurtful about this relationship.
  6. Five things I would like to have more of when we interact. (Instead of “I want no yelling”, think, “I’d like more of talking calmly.”)

You can add or subtract items in each list as they occur to you.  This list can be a great compass in helping decide how you want to spend Thanksgiving, and in fact, your relationship with Jules going forward. 

Delegate:  I am a big proponent of delegating tasks. This can mean anything from ordering a prepared Thanksgiving meal, to asking another friend or relative for help. Is there a supportive friend or relative who can distract Jules during the time she is there, maybe by taking her out for a walk or engaging her interest? That can help, too.

Set some limits for yourself, too. What energizes you, and how can you build that in to the Holiday?  Maybe it’s alone time:  Block out time to go for a long walk or watch a fun movie over the weekend, or on Thanksgiving.  If you are feeling triggered around sister Jules, building in some good breaks for yourself during her time there will help you relax.  It would be healthy for you to do this.

 What is it you want to get from having Jules coming over?  Maybe you just don’t want to upset the other people coming.  Your parents really want to see sister Jules, and you don’t want to upset them by saying she can’t come.  Is this a typical pattern in your family relationships? You play “good child”, while helping to manage the “challenging one”?  This can be about your personalities, but how much of this is due to your parents’ expectations of both of you? Most important:  How is it helping you or your adult relationships to keep doing what has been expected of you since childhood? This book will also help you see how this happens, and how to make effective changes for yourself.

 Think about what you are willing to confront, even gently?  Do you feel bullied, manipulated, or super anxious in their presence?  If so, this relationship definitely needs changing.  If a conversation starts getting heated,  just saying “I prefer to discuss something else”, can be powerful. If the other person insists, you can say, “well, I already said what I’m willing to discuss, and the answer hasn’t changed”.  If it keeps going, you can calmly excuse yourself for a walk. That, in and of itself, is a powerful change.   They may tease, criticize or cajole, but maybe this is how it’s always been with this person, or maybe even your family. You can still go for that walk, even if they do this.    And that’s change.   And here is a great book to help you hone those skills and stay calm and focused: The Dialectic Behavior Skills Workbook.

And as you are ready, do think about talking to someone who can listen and help. If any of this hit home with you, chances are that you have been wanting to work through this for a while. You will know when you are ready to look at this more.  At that point, contact me or someone with whom you are ready to do some good therapy.

In the meantime, all the best to you for a meaningful Thanksgiving, no matter what happens with your sibling!

“I love my Mom, but sometimes I feel like I’m the grown-up. – Being the Adult Child

I often hear things like this:

“I love my mom, but it’s hard for us both as the years go on. It’s hard, being the adult child of your parent.

“I want to help her, but it’s overwhelming. She tells me ‘I’m just fine, don’t worry’, but then she asks me to help with a million things, from trying to log into her bank account to helping her out of her chair to finding her that spice that nobody even sells anymore.  
She tried to call five times yesterday.  I was busy at work, so I when I finally could, I called back, alarmed that there was an emergency. It turns out, she just wanted to know if I was at work or not, because she needed help remembering where she put her canned veggies. it’s just hard. I have two teenagers, one with his own health issues, one who is active and needs me to be there for her.  
I feel like these issues are a floating satellite, and I have no idea when and how they are going to crash.  With a sudden illness, or a crisis with her house, or something else.   Then I feel guilty, because she did so much for me my whole life.  Even when I was mad at her, she was the adult.
“I never imagined that I’d be so responsible for so much. I’m not even sure where to start with how to talk to her, or how or when to set some limits. Sometimes she gets mad and goes on these tirades about how no one gets what is like to be getting older and ill. I feel like I have to be careful what I say, because I just don’t want to get into it. She’ll just get more upset and berate me more. And she was often critical of me while I was growing up, but she can’t hear it back, now. It’s like she’s a child herself, and I’m the mom. I hate that. Part of me wishes I could help her, but part of me wants to RUN AWAY.”
You are not alone if you are feeling this way.  It’s not uncommon with caregiver stress.  Often the stress of coping with parents’ needs can go hand-in-hand with parenting children, be they very young, teenagers, or young adults.  Now that you are a “full adult”, yes, life with your parents has its tender moments, but it can also be frustrating. You feel like you need to walk on eggshells, even as you want to explode.  Some days are harder than others.  But when mom (or Dad) starts to get wrapped up in her own anger, sadness, and frustration, you wish you had something you could do or say.

But there are steps you can take to help you grow compassion even as you both face challenges.  They actually start with one simple step.

Sign up for my blog newsletter, and I’ll tell you a secret that can help you communicate with your mom…

“Why can’t I get over this?” – When Trauma therapy Can Help

Happy September! 

Labor Day was yesterday, and summer is, for all intents and purposes, over.

You can feel the transition in the air. School has started, traffic is heavier, and the vibe is…well, stressful.

Yet, this can mean positives, too:  The weather is a wee bit easier to bear, especially for those of us in the DMV area, making it less of a chore to go out and about.  The structure of school gives many kids structure and purpose, so parents have some welcome relief from trying to plan activities all summer. 

And at work, Fall can be a time when projects that have been in the works come to fruition. Such has been the case for me:  After a few months of planning, I am officially practicing at a new location, The Growth and Recovery Center.  This is quite a transition.  The new location is ADA accessible, so there are elevators and accessible restrooms.  Beyond just the physical space, the psychological change opened up channels for my practice, and my goal is to share my “growth process” as a clinician.

I am especially interested in trauma and how it affects us. Most of us are familiar with the concept, and we often think of trauma as resulting from a big, obviously terrible event.  No doubt, this is often true:  If you survived or were in a war, an act of violence, or assault, you may very well be suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  But there are less obvious, more hidden forms of trauma.  It may have been bullying in your childhood, a betrayal you witnessed or experienced.  As Sydney the psychiatrist from M*A*S*H said, “It’s the little battlefields….The ponds, the bedrooms, the schoolyards…That can leave the worst scars.” 

The big question is, what do we do with it?  Well, talk therapy can be a good start.  You’d be surprised at how healing it can be to have someone listen to you.  I do this, but I do this in a slightly more structured way than you may be used to, if you have had more conventional talk therapies.  I still want to form a therapeutic relationship with you, of course. Yet I do this with something called Life Stress Reduction Therapy.  I’ll look at what is worrying or upsetting you together with you, no matter how big or small your issue is.  

Okay, so let’s say you have done conventional therapy and it did you some good. That is excellent. But some things that have happened either recently or ‘way back when, you just always have tucked away in the back of your mind.  Here are some “red flag” thoughts with trauma:

Or, “I know rationally this person/thing/situation can’t hurt me anymore.   I still don’t believe it.  It doesn’t help when people tell me that.  I still have nightmares or get anxious out of nowhere. I feel so stuck.”

“I am so tired of feeling awful about this thing that happened so long ago/last year/last month, so it feels stupid.  Maybe it wasn’t really that bad.  I want to move on with my life and get it out of my head. Why can’t I just do that?”

I’ll tell you why.  It seems like it’s just in your head, but the thing is, it’s in a deep part of your brain, and probably, in your body, too.  Trauma is stored in the deep, fight/flight/freeze part of your brain, and it affects your nervous system.  As Besser Van Der Kolk said, “The body keeps the score”. And  although you don’t realize it, you are probably spending a lot of emotional and even physical energy trying to “push down” these strong reactions, just to get through your day.  Understandable.  But maybe it’s time to do something else.

So you may want to consider targeted trauma treatment for this kind of thing, even if you think it’s stupid.  If you are in or around Northern Virginia, know that I and other practitioners do this therapy in the form of TIR (Traumatic Incident Recovery). What is hard about trauma therapy is that we will view the traumatic event. I know you don’t want to do that.  That feels intense, hard. But we will do it in a structured, safe way, so that you begin experiencing it differently and not feel so “pulled down” by it.  Plus (and here’s what I love about TIR specifically, and trauma therapy generally), I am not going to be telling you MY opinions, reactions, or interpretations about YOUR trauma.  I will be present, I will guide, but I will do it with YOUR stuff.  

It is worth doing, whether the issue is that you were yelled at when you were three, 10, 20 or 50 years old, or whether you experienced an assault of some kind.  The point is, it’s still often there.  If it bugs you, it’s worth looking at.

Many of you who have mustered up the courage or trust enough to talk to others a bit about your trauma know that you have heard things that were meant well, but are just not helpful:  “Don’t think about it”, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”, or “It’s over! Let it go.”  If anything, these statements activated your anxiety or feelings of isolation even more.  You felt like a freak because the thing was still affecting you.  Or, those responses may have made you not want to deal with sharing the trauma more with people who just didn’t get it.

I get that.  And during a TIR session, I’m not going to do that.  I will work with what does come up, instead of trying to push it down.  That way you “discharge the dynamite”, rather than push it down.

So, as you transition into this Autumn state of mind, think about what might be on your mind and emotions that you might want to work through in therapy, whether it is a current stressor, or a past one.