“Sometimes, we want to talk to someone. The main thing is, even now, you don’t have to go at it alone or bottle it up.”
“Sometimes, we want to talk to someone. The main thing is, even now, you don’t have to go at it alone or bottle it up.”
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
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.
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:
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!
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.