The 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.


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)


Fixin’ to Make a Change


I was thinking recently about the process of lifestyle renovation. For many years, when one heard about ‘lifestyle change’ or ‘turning over a new leaf,’ the town rumour was that the person in question was a problem drinker or had given up some unsavoury activity. I thought, when I was growing up, turning over new leaves was something only people who did bad things needed to do!

These days, the buzzwords in vogue are all about lifestyle change, life renovation, renewal, rejuvenation, or restyling. Upscaling, downsizing, going green, vegan, bohemian, or organic. All of which make sense in the right context. There is a commonality underlying these concepts, and it’s not new. Leaving aside possible issues with political correctness and the gender police, Coco Chanel hinted at this when she made her famous observation. There are stages of change and a significant action is evidence of a decision. Evidently, a woman cutting her hair qualifies as “significant.”

We humans tend to follow an identified, and much researched pattern when considering  making a big change in our lives or circumstances. The Stages of Change are Precontemplative (not ready) Contemplative (getting ready) Preparation (ready) Action, and Maintenance. This process seems to be true particularly when the change is perceived as difficult. Most often, the impetus to shift from “not ready” to “ready” is a deadline or crisis of some sort.

The majority of the world lives on autopilot, following those routines which require the least amount of cognitive investment allowing us to mentally live somewhere else while we go through the motions of existing. Why do you think Red Bull Sports is so popular? We park on the sofa, turn on the TV, and mentally go elsewhere, vicariously living an adrenalin-filled life.

So the point of this post is this… where are you stuck in life? When do you wish things different? When do you contemplate what it might like if _________ happened? Or stopped happening?  Using the model of the Stages of Change, where are you with relation to that issue? If you’re in the Precontemplative stage (not ready), what would it take to move you along to getting ready (Contemplative)? To taking action?

Sometimes, all we actually need to do is sit down for 10 minutes and really look at the thoughts we usually brush aside; Those wishes, unexpressed yearnings, and raw spots of dissatisfaction in our inner landscape. Asking questions about those thoughts – ‘Do I really want to hike to Macchu Pichu?’ ‘Why am I wishing for ________?’ ~ and then taking the time to figure out the answers. This is, by itself,  action which can move us past the stuck place.

With apologies to Coco Chanel, it isn’t necessary to cut your hair to signal a change. Just get on with it.


If you’re inclined that way, there’s a helpful app available on iOS and Android called “Unstuck.” It’s free and the Unstuck peeps maintain a groovy website.  More good stuff on the Stages of Change here

DSM-5 And Somatic Symptom Disorder | Reblog

DSM-5 And Somatic Symptom Disorder | Mad In America.

This has been my experience with too many clients to count or remember. I find it incredibly scary that many of my clients come away from a visit to a psychiatrist with a label, a prescription, and only occasionally, a referral to a therapist of some flavour.

I am often amazed at the courage my clients exhibit in their pursuit of a healthy mind and peaceful life.

More stories here, here, and here (this one raises more questions about the whole business of diagnosis and might result in another post…)