The Question

Question

There are times in a session when the answer to just one question turns on the light and the darkness flees from comprehended truth. Nothing changes but everything is different.

A beautiful young woman came in for therapy with concerns about tackling the challenges of her college assignments and trying to decide what direction to take after graduation. She was a former model from Europe, in her mid twenties, creative, and academically excellent. During the initial assessment, I heard her life story. She spoke about her childhood, high school years, and modeling career. In the process, some common themes became apparent ~ like her love for children, her passion for art and her struggles in relationships.   Through several sessions, we talked about ways to handle her tendency to procrastinate with assignments and about how to concentrate in class. She also disclosed that she had professional opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. However she felt that either choice would cost her personally and affect other people’s perspective of her.

While she reflected on her choices, I suggested a simple exercise, to which she agreed. First, I asked her to imagine this was the only time in our lives that we would meet; we would never see each other again. I would have to form a memory of her from what she said and did in this brief moment.

She was intrigued by the idea and said she was ready to proceed.

I then asked, “What would be the one thing about yourself that you would want me to know about who you are?”

Her answer was instantaneous. “That I am not stupid!”

In the following silence I looked at her golden blonde hair and beautiful face and comprehended again the impact that stereotypes can have on a person’s life. This woman’s choices ~ the compelling drive ~ was the concern that how she looked dictated what others thought about her and so in every circumstance or relationship she tried to dispel the myth that she was stupid. It is not that she believed she was stupid; on the contrary, she knew herself to be an intelligent and accomplished human being. Her constant battle was against prejudice, ridicule, and dismissal based solely on her physical appearance.

As we continued to unpack this idea she was able to see that many of her past choices and actions with her family, intimate friends and career were a reaction against public opinion. She was screaming back at the world that she was not who ‘They’ said she was and her actions would prove them wrong. Paradoxically, this need to be seen as an individual and the corresponding need to deny the stereotype had been hindering her from making the choices she genuinely wanted to make. She needed a divorce from ‘public opinion’ and to develop the courage to make choices about her future based upon what she was passionate about.

Nothing of her circumstance actually changed in that moment  but her realization that she did not have to live according to these stereotypes took away the fears that haunted her every choice. That was over ten years ago. From that moment, she started following her own path, making decisions based on her own needs, desires, and inherent abilities.

Society still ogles the outside ‘package’ and makes a snap judgment about a lovely woman, but that woman no longer cares. Her choices are based on what she knows to be true about herself, and about what she decides she needs to be a whole and healthy Self. For a time, that included modeling and the financial gains that accompanied being an ‘animated robot modeling expensive clothes,’ because that opportunity created others. Today she is ‘Mom’ to two beautiful little souls and uses that intelligence she always knew she had to make the world a better place.

©sjs2013

What would be your answer to this question? What are your actions and choices saying? Questions like these can help us to learn about ourselves and about the reasons we do things. Sometimes we do the same things over and over even though they cause us pain. Then we need to ask ourselves; ‘Why do I keep doing this again and again?’ Sometimes, a better question is; ‘What am I trying to say by that choice?’

Therapy really works.   By reflective listening, empathy, and unconditional positive regard a therapist can help you see what is going on inside.

(Story used with permission)

 

Therapists Can’t Fix Clients

If your therapist is giving you advice, you need a new therapist. Giving advice is not counselling. It’s not therapeutic, and it doesn’t help you, the client. After almost 30 years in counselling, though, this is probably the single most common request from my clients. “Tell me what you would do.” Or, “Just tell me what the right answer is here.”

I usually ask some variation of, “What do you need to hear?” Or, “Why is it important what I would do?” Or, “What do you think is the thing to do?” Only in very rare instances do my clients not know (or don’t at least have a really good idea) what is best for them. What they really want, is to hear the solution from me. There’s lots of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that if I do offer solutions or advice, it’s not therapy.

Angry client

If a client thinks s/he is actually paying me for advice, or to offer solutions, then anger is often the response. And clients do get angry. Sometimes, “enraged” is a better adjective. One of my clients became so irate that I wouldn’t tell him which option I thought was his best choice, that he stood up, shouted at me that I was “useless,” and then stepped over me on his way out the door. (At 6’7” this was not difficult for him.) I was so stunned I didn’t even think to duck.

As a new therapist, I was pretty shaky, but after debriefing with my clinical supervisor, I knew two things – I am not responsible to solve my client’s problems, and, never sit between a client and the door. I’ve not always remembered not to take responsibility for my client’s problem, but I have always remembered not to get between my clients and the door.

Today is National Psychotherapy Day.  Alexandra Stevens, via Elephant Journal, offers some reasons why clients become angry with their therapists. Worth the read.

From Where I Stand

Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves. ~ George Gordon Byron

I have a standup desk. Bill made it. I mean really made it for me. I found a picture on Pinterest, showed it to him, and he magicked it into existence. We usually try to upcycle or recycle when we make stuff for ourselves, but this time, we just didn’t have the resources or the time to hunt for appropriate materials. So we trotted off to Home Depot and bought the lumber required. Bill did his usual amazing job of crafting something from nothing and voile! I have a standup desk, a filing cabinet, and shelves, all made by my husband and installed by him and a son-in-law.

I am always awed by what they can do.

Anyway, all that to say that as I stand at my desk, off to the left is an original painting by Reham Al-Reshaid. There are all sorts of reasons why I like this painting, but mostly, I love that every time I look at it, I see something different. Add to that, I know the artist and some of her ‘back story’ which adds a depth and poignancy to the painting that keeps me intrigued.

reham1

It’s not a large painting, but it’s striking. Regretfully, at the time, Reham didn’t make it a point to sign her work, and I didn’t manage to connect with her again before we left for Canada. When I shut my office door, the painting is just outside the line-of-sight for a client, but the colours often capture their attention, and they will turn to look at it directly.

The interpretations of meaning have been varied and interesting. Sometimes, the meaning-making of my client adds to the therapeutic process, sometimes, it’s a distraction or deflection from a painful internal process, and sometimes, it’s a trigger.

All from observing the same object.

My favourite response (so far) was from a client (looking for a distraction to the moment) who said, “That’s a religious symbol. I don’t think that’s appropriate in your office.”

reham2To which I replied, “Well, it’s possible that painting could be a bit of self-disclosure if I were pushing some sort of religious agenda, but I’m pretty sure the Muslim artist didn’t have Christian icons in mind when she painted that.”

His response? “Oh.”

We find what we’re looking for, see what we expect to, and hear very little of anything that contradicts our internal belief framework. Every individual on the planet is subject to bias confirmation. It’s a human trait. It is in refusing to acknowledge this universal truth, and to intentionally and consciously make room for the possibility of error, distortion, or misunderstanding in our thinking that we go awry.

While in Kuwait, I was privileged to be part of a fairly large social group, all professionals,reham3 some expats, some residents, and some Kuwaitis. What made this group so enjoyable were the debates and discussions held over Friday lunches at various restaurants in Marina Crescent. Just name any global issue you care to mention and the opinions, experience, and knowledge around the table were as varied as the countries we hailed from. It’s quite the thing to put forth an opinion about some topic and have it vociferously challenged by people equally intelligent, educated, and passionate. Cultural assumptions, biases, and blindness soon became apparent. We all soon learned a universally-held truth or self-evident fact clearly wasn’t so ‘universal’ or ‘self-evident!’

The lesson in all this?

So much of our worldview is entirely subjective. Not a bad thing unless that subjective perspective is held to be absolute truth. This is the stuff of dogma. Fanatical investment in a position that has no foundation other than personal interpretation of an experience, idea, or situation. Development of extremism in the name of the deity, cause, or faction to which one adheres, whether Fundamental Baptist, Radical Islam, or the Jim Jones’ of the world begins with, “I’m right and there’s no room for doubt.”

We fool ourselves so much we could do it for a living. ~ Duma Key (Stephen King)

Amongst my psychology friends and colleagues, it is not unusual to hear, “Now that’s diagnostic behaviour.” Sometimes we’re being funny, or dry, or sarcastic, but often, it’s a genuine reflection of what we’ve observed. Individuals who have a close-minded or rigidly inflexible approach to life situations tend to exhibit behaviour at odds with the circumstances. We cannot hide the basic framework of our internal landscape for long, and never completely. When the words and the actions don’t match, go with the actions. They tell the truth.

My point?

reham4The subjective interpretation of life makes it interesting – unless that subjective perspective is imposed on the subjective experience of others. You experience a painting as glorious; filled with layers of meaning, intriguing, and captivating. Your partner thinks it’s the most ridiculous thing that the painting is even considered ‘art’ and even worse, that the gallery paid for it. With an open mind and a listening heart, the discussion over wine at the local tapas bar could be scintillating, energizing, and thought-provoking. As it would be with any subject in the same circumstances.

Or that discussion could be an argument; shrill, and hurtful as one or the other demands that the his/her  view be adopted with implicit judgment of the other for a contrary position.  It doesn’t matter the topic, the experience, or the circumstance. Rigid and inflexible perspectives lead nowhere good.

Is there objective truth? Absolutely. The world is round; gravity exists; the moon influences the tides …but the experience of those tides? Something else entirely.

When I move into my new office tomorrow, Reham Al-Reshaid’s untitled work is moving with me. It’s too glorious to leave behind.

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Feeling Chuffed

cover_issue_1_en_usThis week, after a year’s worth of work (and even longer time discussing) an article I’ve been working on with some really stellar professionals, has been published. Though I write much and am regularly published online and in magazines, this is different.

Collaboration with some very stellar peeps in the psych field produced a wonderful finished piece, much better than I could ever have done on my own. Thanks to Louise Lambert, Ed., for the idea, the encouragement, and the persistence in shepherding this idea from mere discussion to a published article.

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Not really cheating …or is it?

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Building connection through shared activities.

Couples often come for help because there has been infidelity, or the mutually acknowledged imminent risk of an affair. Also often, in completing a clinical interview and exploration of the history of the relationship, it becomes evident that ‘cheating’ was happening in significant ways before the physical affair.

The research data out of The Gottman Institute is long term, and unambiguous, encompassing multitudinous couples. Sometimes, something apparently innocuous grows to become A Thing which can threaten the health of an already existing intimate relationship. When individuals within a committed relationship begin to make emotional connections with a degree of intimacy that rivals their primary partnership, trouble brews

3 ways we may be cheating

It is a myth of epic proportions (and a completely unrealistic expectation) that one individual is capable of meeting all of another’s need for emotional connection and intimacy. Paradoxically, it also a reality of being human that we need to experience a degree of intimate connection with another individual that is mutually exclusive; to be known and accepted as is. This need is what makes the pain of betrayal so significant. When an individual, as part of a couple, discovers that this degree of intimacy has been extended to a third party, emotional and psychological security evaporates.

In what ways might you be unintentionally or inadvertently jeopardising the health & happiness of your relationship?