The Role Joy Plays In Our Emotional & Mental Health

Counseling Flow of Joy

Since it’s the season to bring “joy to the world,” I thought this might be an appropriate occasion to ask you to consider what brings joy to you. Somebody asked me this question recently, and I had to think for a few minutes.

I’d somehow forgotten that joy is something that’s not only important in terms of how we experience life, but it’s also a vital quality in terms of how we measure healthy emotional and mental well-being. I’m a therapist and I’d somehow forgotten that…hmm. I guess I’ve been too busy focusing on other people’s lives and haven’t stopped long enough to consider this important aspect of my life.

Counseling flow to increase joy.And so, do I actually experience joy in my life? Not the kind like “Hey, this is a great dinner,” but instead the kind where I can look back on special times and smile at the memories? The answer is “Yes,” and typically children and animals are part of my personal joy “quotient,” since both cause me to laugh and be silly in ways that I’m normally not during the everyday logistics of my life.

They also require that I stay in the present whereas, under other circumstances, I can sometimes get lost in the fog of the future, where life usually seems more complicated, and even more fearful, than it usually ever is. Children and animals teach me the importance of remaining “in the now,” and if they happen to not be available, then meditation almost always helps in that regard, albeit not in the same light-hearted, comedic, and spontaneous way, at least so far!

During moments of joy, I can almost feel the positive neurotransmitters, like serotonin, racing through my brain as they uplift me and allow me to escape from any stress or pressure that I might otherwise be feeling. But I realize there’s always room for more joy, so my task is to discover how I can create it for myself.

My job as a psychotherapist often involves helping clients discover ways of creating the lives they want for themselves, and I’ve often suggested that they identify activities that involve something we, as therapists, refer to as “flow.” The idea of “flow” is that we become so engaged in the activity that we have no connection to the temporal aspect of our day; in fact, time literally seems to stop when we’re engaged in this activity we love so much. It’s when life can be bustling all around us, yet we aren’t in the least connected to it, because we’re off in the space of “flow.”

It’s like taking a mental “time-out,” and the kind that pays untold dividends for us, but also for those who are closely involved in our lives. And, by the way, I’m not referring to an addiction to technology or any other such activity that has a negative impact on our lives, either personally or relationally.

Rather, it’s an involvement with something we feel is expanding us while at the same time, it increases feelings of satisfaction and personal reward within the depth of us. It results in a completely positive, and even joyful, experience.

Why is “flow” so important? Or joy? Well, because these experiences allow us to separate from the more stressful or frustrating aspects of daily life, no matter what phase of life you might be in. In fact, it’s during the most stressful and frustrating times of life when you’ll need to identify ways to offer yourself experiences of “flow” or joy that you’re lacking so much.

But typically, these are the times we’re somehow wired to suffer through whatever’s going on until it’s over before we begin to take care of ourselves in ways that will actually do the trick. By then, however, it may take considerably longer to recover from the impacts the stress has had on our lives because we weren’t paying enough attention to the inevitable internal scream for a “time-out.” Consequently, we usually discover that the damage of not listening to that scream resulted in even more stress. And so the cycle continues.

I’m not a believer in New Year’s resolutions – at all. In fact, I’m convinced that making them is more often than not a recipe for feeling terrible about oneself, mainly because we usually lack the commitment to maintain them for any serious length of time. Instead, I’d encourage you to begin thinking about the different ways that you might bring flow – or even more flow if you’re already engaged in an activity that results in it – into your life.

Flow often begets joy – in fact, it’s often through our experiences of flow that we ultimately discover joy. So, I’d like you to consider the importance of this for you, for your relationships, and ultimately for your emotional and mental health.

And rather than viewing this “search” for flow as optional, begin seeing it as something that’s as vital as the food, the rest, and the exercise you offer your body so it can operate at a much higher emotional and spiritual level than it has previously.

Make this a commitment to yourself, and not a resolution. Both are very different from one another; one is a form of self-love, and the other is a form of self-hate, or at the very least an obligation to attend to…until we decide we won’t, a decision that’s usually made by mid-February.

I wish you well in your (re)search, and take a moment to share with me what you discover. I’d love to hear about the path you’re paving towards your own experience of joy.

Courtesy of Therapy Tribe.

Counseling Homework Isn’t as Effective As You Think

‘Show Your Work’: Counseling in the Here and Now

Every now and then, someone asks me for homework as we end a therapy session. There’s nothing strange about this request. There are therapies where homework is a big part of the overall work. And because most of us have been getting homework since we were in school, we’ve been conditioned to see it as an inevitable part of learning and bettering ourselves.

Homework isn't effective for LGBT counseling Irvington.There are times I recommend that a person in therapy try something out on their own, but I generally don’t give homework. I have found that the most healing, most helpful, and longest-lasting effects of therapy are produced in the therapy room.

In my previous career as an actor and singer, I spent a good deal of time in classes working on the performance of a monologue or song. It was important to me to be “performance ready” all the time. My self-esteem was built around this—after all, at 18 I felt the only thing I was good at was performing. If I didn’t do this perfectly, then who was I?

I’d sing my ballad, play my part … and after I was done, there were always comments from classmates and the teacher. Caring critiques. This was expected. And it was usually wanted, at least by me.

I dealt with this by saying thank you, dutifully writing it all down in my notebook—and then incorporating everything later on while I was in the practice studios or my dorm room.

After a while, this did not fly with my teacher and director. She wanted to see me incorporate the notes on the spot—to “show my work,” as they say. I didn’t want to. That would get in the way of my perfectionism.

Still, I learned to do it. It was scary. I felt exposed and vulnerable. But it was amazingly helpful because I learned to do the work in relationship with someone else. There was real-time, moment-to-moment exploration of what I preferred to more comfortably work on by myself.

This was a powerful lesson. Today, I extend it to the work we do in counseling.

As I said, I’ll occasionally encourage people to journal, make a gratitude list, or become more aware of the physical signs they’re getting upset, but it’s not a large part of the work—and in my view, it’s not the most effective part, either.

When we take the pressure off of you, the person going to therapy, we allow for the emotions that exist within relationships—including the therapeutic relationship and your relationship with yourself—to come to the forefront. Therapy is not coaching. Therapy is not something you’re supposed to do on your own.

It’s about relationships.

Therapy is about learning to trust that the work you do in session will enter your life when it is needed. The work you put into your relationship with a therapist sees its real fruition in the relationships with your friends, children, partner, parents, and coworkers. Your people.

It’s not a straight line from we learn this, we incorporate this, and the outcome is this.

We may want it to be. I do (all the time), but I’ve come to see and strongly believe that’s just not how change—real, lasting change—happens. When the change I want is to move out of constant anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc., I need to trust that I can’t just think myself out of it.

It’s not about finding new ways to approach a situation with a new script. That can be part of the journey, maybe even an entrance, but it’s not the whole story.

The courage that comes with exposing your uncensored feelings with a therapist provides you with the freedom to be who you are with the people who matter most in your life.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

Three Principles For Loving On Purpose

Characteristics of a Good Relationship

Hey, welcome back! The last post I started a conversation about conscious loving on purpose. I told you that there were three things you needed to know to be successful in a committed relationship or marriage.

3 Characteristics for Couples Therapy PortlandIn case you missed it or just forgot, first you have to learn the basic principles of successful relationships. You also have to consciously practice until those principles become habits. That’s a key thing you’re going to be hearing from me in this space. Conscious, on-purpose practice or action is the key to a powerful, empowered life, whether you’re in a relationship or single. So remember this! Finally I said that you will need to experiment and innovate using some of those principles you’ve learned and practiced. In other words you’ve got to put some funk in your style! Your love relationship should be like a jazz, R & B, hip hop or gospel set.

The best Soul musicians always know the basics of the music they are playing, but once they get the basics down they feel free to innovate. That’s where the funk is in the creative innovation as they allow themselves to play off of the other people in the group. Wow, wouldn’t it be fun if you could riff and funk and create with your love partner like that? Well hold on, we’re going to give you some good stuff to make that possible right here, so keep coming back.

Back to Principles
In this post I want to share the principles that will help your relationship work right. We’re starting with the stuff you can do to make it good. We’ll come back later to share with you the things you might be doing to mess stuff up, but we’ll begin with what works. I’m betting that a lot of this will be familiar to you, even if you don’t think your relationship is going well. Even a broke clock is right twice a day right? I’m certain that even if things don’t seem to be going right today, there have been some days when you got it right. One of the things you have to get good at is learning how to notice what’s good and nurture it with each other. In other words you have to start remembering the good times on purpose. We’ll come back to that later.

Your Love Should Not Be an Accident!
I focused last time on the idea that a lot of folks approach relationships like a bad accident. We even call it “falling in love”, ouch! Then most folk after falling in love, wander around blindly trying to figure out how to make it work. The really good thing is that over the past fifty years or so, there have been real efforts to research, study and understand what makes intimate relationships work and what makes them fail. The overwhelming evidence points to the fact that relationships succeed or fail based on the practical things people do. The other thing that I can say with a little bit of confidence is that relationships today in the twenty-first century can not succeed using the expectations and ways of being in relationship that our great grand parents, our grand parents or even our parents had in the twentieth century!

Marriage Ain’t What it Used to Be
Let’s be honest, even as few as fifty years ago most marriages were based on a principal of commodity exchange and unequal gender balances where most women were told to perfect her cleaning, cooking and child care and seduction skills in the hope of finding a man who would take care of her, bring home the income, and be her representative in the public world. In exchange she agreed to be obedient, submissive and make sure that his home was well kept and he and the children were nurtured and healthy. It was an exchange based in built in and assumed inequality guaranteeing men the privilege of being real heads of the household, unchallenged. If a woman wanted the social protection and access without conflict to the social sphere it was important that she played the commodity exchange game. This was a game that was pretty much rigged and set for the benefit of men.

Look for Your Friend
Well that was then, but now, because women have legal access to the education, skill training income possibilities and social capital that used to belong to men, it’s a different game. Built-in inequality no longer guarantees men access to unlimited choices of women. Though it’s painful to hear for some men, women no longer need men for social survival. That means that twenty-first century relationships have to be built and maintained on a different principle. The research shows that the most successful relationships today are based not on unequal commodity exchange but on egalitarian friendships. That’s right, your best chance of having a good stable and happy marriage today is to make sure your partner is your friend!

Three Characteristics of a Good Relationship
Now I know some of you out there are slapping yourself up-side the head and giving me a big “Duh” because for you I’m stating the obvious, but I’m telling you, you’d be surprised at how many couples forget to be friends after the first year or so of a relationship. They just sort of let things run along on automatic pilot trusting in the magic of falling in love. In my practice I teach couples that good relationships often have three characteristics that reflect that you and your partner are be-friending each other. And just in case you haven’t got the point yet, successful couples are always, consciously befriending each other. So what are these characteristics of a good befriending relationship?

  1. Multi-Level Intimacy
    First relationships that work well usually have multi-level intimacy. I’m not talking about just sex here, though that’s really important (and we’ll talk about that on another posting) but intimacy is that thing that insures good sex long before you get to the main event. Couples who do well share physical intimacy like caresses, holding hands and hugs and kisses throughout their day. These couples share mental / intellectual intimacy by having ongoing conversations and check-ins to keep up with each others lives. Remember when you first got together, and you talked about everything all the time! Well couples who have good relationships keep doing that on purpose even years into the relationship. Finally couples who practice multi-level intimacy share emotional intimacy together. That means they allow themselves to be vulnerable and to share their inner lives, emotions and thoughts with each other. They are emotional risk takers with each other in an attempt to know and be known (yeah, that’s a hard one but it’s worth it).
  2. Reciprocity
    The second characteristic of couples who have good relationships is that they practice reciprocity with each other. There is a give and take in the relationship and sharing of responsibility. They also compromise and make sure that each partner feels valued and valuable in the relationship. When they have problems to solve they make sure that both their voices are heard and respected and decisions are based on knowledge, experience and the context of the moment for that issue and not on predestined privilege based on gender, age or some other intangible root of authority. Now I know that’s going to be a hard one for some of you out there, especially some of the brothers, but we can revisit this idea later.
  3. Mutual Meaning and Purpose
    Finally, couples who do well together and find success in their relationship, work on a mutual sense of meaning and purpose . These couples share the experience of going in the same direction. They have a sense of US-ness between them. Now this does not happen overnight. In fact it takes time and patience before you can get there. I mean it’s not easy bringing all of your own family stuff to this new relationship and deciding what practices and meanings and rituals you keep and which ones you can give up and which ones of your partners you decide to share in and then which new practices, meanings, and rituals you create together. It takes patience, compromise, physical, emotional, and intellectual intimacy, reciprocity and more to build that protective wall around your relationship that sets the boundary defining the Us in Y’all as we say down here in the South.
    These three characteristics of couples who are doing well and consciously loving each other on purpose are just a few of the principles I hope you will be open to learning as we continue sharing in this forum. If you’ve got questions or comments or if you have a topic related to relationships or mental health that you’d like to see me write about leave me a message and I’ll be happy to follow up with you. Until the next time, remember to keep loving each other on purpose!

Courtesy of Therapy Tribe

How Can Therapy Address Depression Associated with Chronic Illness?

Ways Therapy Can Help You or Someone You Love With Chronic Illness

People who have chronic illness are more likely to develop depression. People with depression are more likely to develop chronic illness. But did you know that depression is treatable even with chronic illness?

WHAT IS CHRONIC ILLNESS?
A chronic illness is loosely defined as:

  • A condition that lasts 3 months or longer
  • Is not preventable by vaccination
  • Has no existing cure

Portland life coaching for individuals with chronic illness.Some of the most common chronic illnesses (diseases) include heart disease, stroke, and chronic pain. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans are living with at least one chronic illness, and most are living with at least two illnesses. Many chronic illnesses are not diagnosed correctly or right away. It can be incredibly taxing emotionally to know something is not right with you physically, and yet, not to be able to get a diagnosis and treatment.

Once diagnosed, additional problems can arise. Typically, treatment most often focuses on the physical part of the disease; meanwhile, the emotional aspects may not be given appropriate attention. In the beginning and throughout the course of a chronic illness, it may be hard for you to define how you are feeling.

PROCESSING A CHRONIC ILLNESS DIAGNOSIS
A chronic illness diagnosis can lead to a feeling of loss of sense of self. You may be told to cut back on or eliminate certain activities. Changes in diet and exercise might be necessary. Surgery could be mentioned, and maybe you’ve never had surgery. Many things can change once you are diagnosed.

But you look the same. Most chronic illnesses are invisible, and this can make it more difficult for you to feel as if you are being understood. It can be confusing, as well. What you see in the mirror is not always a correct representation of how you feel on the inside.

If it is difficult for you to process, you can guarantee it is difficult for many others. Feeling as though you have to explain your symptoms to others can be exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to function daily with chronic illness, and those who don’t have a chronic illness can have a hard time understanding this. It may feel like you are constantly having to defend yourself.

Emotionally, you may wonder if you will ever feel like your old self again. You may worry loved ones won’t understand. You may have to change some of your habits, decrease responsibilities at work and home, and your social life may take a hit. Some changes may be relatively easy to implement, and others may prove to be more difficult. Depression can develop as a result of having to make life-altering changes, even when making these changes will increase your chances of surviving your illness.

HOW THERAPY CAN HELP WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS AND DEPRESSION
If you have been living with chronic illness for a while, depression may develop for a variety of reasons. You may feel as though you can’t participate in life as fully as your peers. You may find it difficult to date or to conceive children because of your illness. You may feel like your friends, family, or spouse/partner are tired of hearing about your symptoms. Long term management of chronic illness can cause feelings of isolation and lead to depression.

If you have been living with depression, you may find it hard to maintain good physical health. It can be difficult to eat well, exercise, and get the right amount of sleep when you are depressed. Some of the medications prescribed for depression have side effects that impact physical health such as weight gain and an increase in cholesterol. Not maintaining good physical health could also increase the chances that a chronic illness may develop. Depression may cause you to delay seeking treatment for a chronic illness.

Therapy can play an important role in managing chronic illness and treating depression, offering hope and a place of healing. Therapy can:

  • Help you explore your feelings about chronic illness and depression.
  • Allow you to develop coping skills to manage the emotional and physical aspects of chronic illness.
  • Teach you about how your thoughts affect your emotions and behavior.
  • Help you uncover underlying beliefs about chronic illness and depression, allowing you to develop new beliefs and thoughts about your illness.
  • Support you in learning how to advocate for yourself.

By improving the ways in which you think about your illness, you may improve the physical aspects as well. Therapy can help you manage chronic pain in part by helping decrease stress, which is a contributing factor to heart disease and stroke. In general, therapy can help you find your lost sense of self, handle overwhelming feelings, and improve your confidence when it comes to managing day-to-day struggles with chronic illness.

Finally, it can be even more beneficial to find a therapist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with chronic illness. It is likely these therapists have a personal or deeper understanding of what it is like to live with chronic illness. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more on how therapy can help individuals with chronic illness, make an appointment at my Portland area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

How to Protect Transgender Kids from Bullying at School

Counseling Can Help Trans State University Students

Ways to help your trans student from bullying with counseling.Transgender kids face alarming rates of bullying and abuse. GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey found 83.7% of trans and 69.9% of gender nonconforming (GNC) students experience bullying at school.

Bullying can erode self-esteem, increase isolation, and make it more difficult for a child to assert their gender identity. Some bullied children become depressed and suicidal. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that any involvement with bullying—whether as a victim, bully, or both—raises a child’s risk of suicidal behavior.

Parents, educators, and other adults have significant power to reduce bullying and support trans kids at school.

TRANSPHOBIA STATISTICS
Transphobia is animus toward transgender people. It can cause bullying, physical aggression, and other forms of abuse.

Research consistently finds that gender-related discrimination is a problem in schools. GLSEN’s annual National School Climate Survey looked at over 23,000 children in grades 6-12. The study found 42.1% of trans and GNC kids are prevented from using their preferred pronouns. Nearly half of these kids (46.5%) are forced to use the wrong bathrooms.

Other research has found high rates of transphobic bullying.

Research published in 2017 found trans kids are two to three times more likely than their peers to be bullied.
A 2016 survey of adult transgender individuals found 60% have avoided public restrooms because they feared confrontation and bullying.
A 2012 survey found 61% of students have heard peers make negative remarks about gender expression. The same survey found 27% of students face physical abuse because of their gender expression.

CREATING A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR TRANS KIDS
Many parents and educators worry that there’s nothing they can do to stop transphobic bullying. Yet research consistently finds that creating an inclusive, gender-affirming environment can greatly reduce bullying. Even when kids are bullied in these environments, they may feel more comfortable reaching out to an adult than they would in less inclusive environments.

According to GLSEN, students at inclusive schools with curricula that feature LGBTQ-affirming content are less likely to experience bullying, hear transphobic remarks, or feel unsafe at school. They are also less likely to be forced to use the wrong bathrooms or the wrong pronouns. Inclusive curricula can also raise self-esteem, reduce the risk of depression, and even improve grades.

Some strategies that promote a safe environment for trans kids include:

Creating a trans-inclusive curricula. Schools can participate in LGBT History Month, feature notable transgender historic figures, and discuss transgender history and civil rights with students.
Asking students about their preferred pronouns or names and then using them. Educating teachers, school counselors, and others who work with students about transgender issues. Establishing safe spaces, such as counselor’s offices, where students can safely discuss gender issues and bullying.
Refusing to tolerate any bullying or transphobia, even from teachers or other adults. Parents who want to support a transgender child should urge their child’s school to promote an inclusive environment that actively works to prevent transgender discrimination. At home, parents can help by allowing children to assert their own gender identity in a safe, judgment free zone.

It is important to let the child determine what gender means to them. Parents should avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes or rigid gender ideologies. For example, a trans girl does not need to turn her entire wardrobe pink in order to “prove” she is a girl. No toy or clothing should be off limits to anyone solely because of gender.

Parents can also support their trans or GNC children by introducing them to the wider LGBT community. They may read books with their child that feature people of many gender identities and presentations. They may identify trans or GNC role models for kids to learn about. They may also help their children meet other trans kids through support groups, trans camps, and other communities.

Lastly, parents may wish to educate themselves about transgender history and issues. Children pick up on what parents believe, not just what they say. Parents who are uncomfortable with their child’s gender presentation may inadvertently stigmatize their child. Education can help parents reevaluate their own ideas about gender and become better advocates for their children.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR CHILD’S RIGHTS
Federal, state, and local laws determine a student’s legal rights. Trans students in some states have more protections than students in other states. Individual schools may extend additional rights to trans students.

Many courts have ruled that transgender individuals are protected under Title IX. This federal law forbids schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or gender expression. Under Title IX, transgender and GNC students have the right to:

  • Be protected from bullying, harassment, and violence.
  • Use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
  • Be called the correct name and pronouns.
  • Dress and present themselves according to their gender identity (so long as they follow the general school dress code).
  • Access the same educational opportunities and school events as other students.
  • Maintain their medical privacy, including the right not to disclose being transgender.
  • However, not all states share this interpretation of Title IX. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only 17 states have laws explicitly protecting transgender students from harassment and discrimination. These include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia also has anti discrimination laws.

Even between these states, the extent of civil protections can vary. For example, only California, Connecticut, and Washington currently allow transgender students to join school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. School districts within a state may also vary in their policies.

The rights of transgender students at school are continually evolving. Parents who worry their child is facing discrimination should consider consulting a lawyer who specializes in educational law or who has experience with transgender issues.

HOW THERAPY CAN HELP TRANSGENDER KIDS
Therapy can offer immense support to transgender kids and their families. Family counseling can help a family identify strategies for supporting a child’s gender identity and fighting back against bullying. When family members do not fully understand or accept a child’s trans identity, family therapy can educate them and encourage acceptance.

Individual counseling can help transgender kids who struggle with depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety due to bullying. The right therapist can also affirm a child’s gender identity and point them toward trans role models and literature. In therapy, a child can learn that being trans is not a mental health problem or a weakness, but an important component of a person’s identity that should be respected and celebrated. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about trans counseling, make an appointment at my Portland area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

How to Make Relationship Conflict a Springboard for Growth With Couples Therapy

Tips for Dealing with Conflict

When a partner needs space and we need intimacy; when we’re spontaneous and they like to plan; when we’ve done well with our abundance mind-set and they account for every penny, conflicts can erupt. We tend to pair with people whose way of being in the world is different from our own, sometimes dramatically. Reframing conflict as a helpful indicator of personal and relational growth opportunities can reduce anxiety and propel a relationship forward. Approached from this standpoint, conflicts are starting points for deeper awareness.

Talking to your partner about ground rules for your disagreements when both of you are calm can help you co-create parameters that will serve you later. It’s much harder to be constructive and positive when emotions are running high. This is a part of developing what Terry Real calls “relational esteem,” which he defines as “the capacity to hold the relationship in warm regard in the face of its imperfections and limitations, to cherish the relationship as the union between two flawed human beings.” Because couples tend to repeat old, defensive, or reactive patterns in the midst of conflict, taking conscious steps to undo these patterns sets the stage for a new way of relating.

It makes more sense to prepare for inevitable conflicts and discuss how to go about disagreeing constructively than to pretend conflicts can be avoided. How will you speak when you’re angry or sad? What tone of voice will you use? Is sarcasm off-limits? Will you avoid bringing up unrelated incidents from the past to hammer home a point? What constitutes criticism? Can you agree to use “I-statements” and feeling language, or to go into another room and take a 5-minute break if you’re too upset to listen? What sign will you both agree to respect if one of you begins to feel emotionally overwhelmed? How will you express your needs and boundaries in the heat of the moment? How will you take care of yourself when the other person can’t help or reassure you?

Relationship conflict tips for couples therapy in Portland.When we feel scared or threatened, our minds often work in polarities—right or wrong, good or bad, fixable or hopeless. In the heat of conflict with a partner, it’s hard to live in the gray area of not knowing and to tolerate that ambiguity for as long as it takes the conflict to evolve into a larger, more inclusive relational picture. And yet it’s precisely in that gray area of our vulnerability, when our convictions and certainties take a back seat to our partner’s truth, that we can relinquish judgment for a little while and open our hearts. A broader perspective becomes possible—if we let it. The more we understand, the easier it is to collaborate.

Using conflict as a springboard for growth takes practice. Here’s a cheat sheet of tools and techniques you can use to develop and improve this skill:

Pay attention to your body. Whatever your thoughts, beliefs, or convictions, you are an embodied being. Pay attention to the movement of energy in and around your bones, joints, muscles, skin, internal organs, and extremities. Notice the prickling, crawling, tight, hot, cool, or tingling experience you are having at any given moment. Body awareness can help you tune in to how conflict with your partner is impacting you physically. It can give you important information about what you may need to do to self-soothe and regulate your feelings and reactions.

Recognize your need for connection. It can be hard to admit needing someone. Needing another person can feel scary, shameful, or even dangerous. Sometimes, we organize our lives so others are the needers and we are the needed, unconsciously trying to protect ourselves from hurt, disappointment, and rejection by creating a one-side-vulnerability dynamic. Recognizing you need your partner (even if, ultimately, you can live without them) can help connect you to your humanity and soften rigid defenses.

Explicitly ask your partner if they’re available to talk about something, and respect their “no” if they’re not. So often, we assume if we’re in a relationship with someone, they owe it to us to be available to connect on our terms. When there’s a conflict, our sense of urgency can increase. This issue is so important that it can’t wait. It has to be resolved now. This assumption can doom a conversation from the start. If you can humbly recognize your partner doesn’t owe you their availability and instead request it, even if you need to request it multiple times, you are helping to create a safer shared psychic space within which to talk about something difficult.

Avoid trying to resolve a conflict when you’re feeling triggered. When you’re upset, you are more likely to have success changing yourself and your own perspective than you are to change your partner’s behaviors and beliefs. Practice using self-soothing techniques such as counting, breathing, giving yourself some space and distance from your partner and the charged topic, listening to a guided audio meditation, taking a shower or bath, going for a walk, attending an exercise or yoga class, or connecting with a friend.

Use a thought-challenging technique to identify and question your triggering belief on the spot. One part of the inquiry process developed and outlined in Byron Katie’s The Work involves “turning around” your beliefs to examine them from other angles. It can be an effective way of releasing thoughts and beliefs that fuel destructive anger. For example, if you’re about to criticize or yell at your partner because “she never listens to me,” try turning this belief around to another possibility: “I never listen to her.” Consider how that statement may be true. Or turn it around to “I never listen to me” and consider how you don’t listen to yourself when you get angry and out of control rather than self-soothing. Notice how your feelings change as your beliefs change, and how the energy of your conflict shifts when you stop blaming your partner.

If you are having conflict in your relationship and are interested in couples therapy – contact me to make an appointment at my Buckman office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

10 Good Reasons to Seek Relationship Coaching

Is Your Relationship In Crisis & Looking for Coaching in Portland?

One of the main reasons people seek therapy is for help with intimate and close relationships. And while couples coaching tends to be viewed as something for only relationships in crisis, there are many reasons people in relationships might pursue it. Some are small, some larger, but all are important and deserve to be explored and worked on.

Here are 10 good reasons to look into relationship coaching:

1. COMMUNICATION ISSUES
10 reasons to seek relationship coaching in Portland.Communication is the foundation of all relationships. Communication comes in many forms, both in person and over the phone, text, or social media. Therapy teaches couples how to communicate with each other in a positive manner that works. The type of communication a person grows up around tends to strongly affect how they communicate in their adult relationships. coaching can help couples make a conscious choice of communication style and not just fall back on what they know from their history.

2. PREMARITAL COACHING
There are many issues couples face before they tie the knot. Premarital coaching is a place to discuss many things. One example is finances. Will bank accounts be shared? What about making decisions about what to purchase? Another consideration is household duties. Are children part of the picture? What role(s) will in-laws play in your life? Couples coaching can be a safe place to start the conversations that need to be addressed.

3. SEXUAL ISSUES
Sex can be something that heals and brings a couple together, or it can be a battleground fraught with anxiety, embarrassment, anger, and hurt. Coaches encounter sexual issues frequently and can help.

4. INFIDELITY AND UNFAITHFULNESS
Infidelity within a relationship can be the most hurtful and damaging thing a couple ever goes through, but it does not mean the relationship has to be over. Couples coaching provides a healing space to begin the journey toward resolution. It can help find practical and meaningful ways to navigate the treacherous waters of unfaithfulness.

5. ASSISTANCE MANAGING OTHER RELATIONSHIPS
Couples have relationships with people outside of their relationship together. Friends, extended family, children, coworkers, and supervisors/bosses/professors are just a few. These relationships can be either healthy or unhealthy. Some things that can be discussed are boundaries with members of the opposite sex or same sex, communication with exes, and together and alone time.

6. NONTRADITIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Nontraditional intimate relationships, such as polyamory, open relationships, and swinging, can have problems and struggles—some of which are specific to their lifestyle and identity, some that all couples deal with. It can be intimidating to seek relationship therapy for fear of not being valued or understood because of the type of intimate relationship one is in. Many relationship coaches are comfortable and have the background and understanding to work with people in nontraditional relationships and can provide an open and safe place to work on the struggles a couple is having.

7. BLENDED FAMILIES
When one or both partners have children from another relationship, blending has its own specific struggles and difficulties. Parenting differences, the role of the other parent, and the new identity of the family all need to be explored.

8. THE END OF A RELATIONSHIP
When a relationship has ended, whether by mutual agreement or otherwise, managing life can be difficult. Often, individuals need to express anger, sadness, and grief. There may be practical issues to sort out as well, such as housing and children. Agreeing how and when to communicate is another example of a matter to be discussed in couples coaching.

9. DIGITAL-AGE ISSUES
Facebook. Twitter. Texting. Sexting. Instagram. YouTube. Snapchat. These are just a few ways technology can infiltrate and affect relationships. Communicating via social media has its own pros and cons. Couples often have conflict regarding who to “friend,” what to “like,” and who to text, block, or chat. Communicating that is not done face-to-face or even on the phone is hard. No matter how many emojis are used, words can be misconstrued and misread. Tone of voice and body language are important to understanding what is being conveyed. Relationship coaching can help couples work through problems technology has caused, and create boundaries with each other to help restore trust when social media have hurt the relationship.

10. TRUST ISSUES
After trust is broken, relationships can be harmed or even destroyed. Part of having a solid and healthy relationship is to be able to trust one another. Learning to trust again is a slow and hard process, and it can be painful and frustrating when it doesn’t happen quickly. Coaching can educate and assist couples with understanding the process of regaining trust, and provide tools and direction to help.

All relationships are difficult in some form or another. There will be disagreement, conflict, and hurt even in the best of times. Relationship coaching can help individuals and couples grow and heal. Like all types of therapy, the lessons learned and behaviors changed will continue to serve each person for much longer than the therapy itself.

It takes work to have a solid and positive relationship. Couples coaching is worth considering for any couple and can promote mutually beneficial change for years to come. Contact me for more information and to schedule your consultation.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

Counseling When Your Loved One Comes Out as LGBTQ+

How Counseling Can Help In Understanding LGBT Identity

The movement toward accepting and celebrating sexual and gender diversity has been a long, slow journey, but it has picked up speed in the past decade or two as more research and social activism has changed perceptions and beliefs about LGTBQ+ people. Punctuated by prejudicial ideas that sexually and gender-diverse people were mentally ill, morally corrupt, sinful, or a health and safety risk to the community, many dangerous and harmful beliefs were common in cultures around the world.

Counseling Portland Oregon area for those coming to terms with a loved one coming out LGBT.As a therapist, I still see some of these beliefs arise when I work with people who are coming to terms with the coming-out process of a loved one who identifies as LGTBQ+. It can be a stressful and emotional time for everyone. It is critical for the safety and well-being of all involved that loved ones be as supportive and affirming of those coming out as possible.

COMING TO TERMS WITH YOUR LOVED ONE’S IDENTITY
For many people, fear of the unknown is the biggest hurdle to overcome. If you have not socialized with sexually and gender-diverse people, or you have ingrained prejudicial beliefs as noted above, you may be confused about what an LGBTQ+ identity means. Stereotypes, inaccurate assumptions, and misinformation may increase your fear and worry.

If someone you love comes out, here are some ideas for better understanding what their identity means:

Do some research about what different terms might mean. For example, you may think you know what “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” “queer,” “pansexual,” or “bigender” means, but do you understand what those terms mean to people who identify as LGBTQ+? For common terms, you can look at the Human Rights Campaign’s glossary.
Make a list of questions you want to ask your loved one to understand who they are more clearly. Before you ask these questions, consider how they may be received. Are these questions coming from a place of judgment or from a place of curiosity? Do these questions have a goal of trying to change the person’s mind? You might start with simply asking your loved one how you can support them, what they need from you, and how they want you to treat them in regards to their sexuality and gender.
Check out resources for family and friends of LGBTQ+ people that are affirming and supportive. The organization PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a great option for finding resources and support from others who have LGTBQ+ loved ones.
It is important to learn and reflect about your feelings, attitudes, and ideas about gender and sexuality so you can be supportive and loving to the person coming out. Sometimes people inadvertently hurt loved ones by using inaccurate language, accepting prejudice from others or making prejudicial jokes, or suggesting their identity is sinful, disordered, or temporary.

IDENTIFYING AND QUESTIONING YOUR FEELINGS
As noted above, many people carry faulty beliefs about sexuality and gender that have been instilled through culture, media, religion, or experience. These beliefs can stir up a great number of difficult feelings when someone you love comes out. Although each of us is entitled to our emotional experience, it is important to question where these feelings come from, and to process and understand them in order to be as supportive as possible. Being supportive to loved ones throughout their coming-out process increases the likelihood they will experience better physical and mental health, as well as increased self-esteem (Travers, et al., 2012).

For some people, the feelings they experience when someone comes out to them are confusing and complicated, and it might be helpful to seek support from a therapist who is knowledgeable and affirming about sexuality and gender.

CHALLENGE MYTHS ABOUT SEXUALITY AND GENDER
Some common myths about gender and sexuality that have been challenged by an ever-growing body of research are:

Myth: Normal people are heterosexual and cisgender.

Reality: There is a large spectrum of sexual and gender identities that are healthy and normal. In fact, some research suggests many people fall on a continuum of sexual orientation (American Psychological Association, 2008).

Myth: People who are LGBTQ+ have a mental health disorder.

Reality: This myth seems to stem from the past classification of homosexuality and gender identity disorder in mental health diagnostic manuals. However, in part because of overwhelming research findings, homosexuality and gender identity disorder are no longer considered mental health disorders. The challenging mental health outcomes that can be experienced by LGBTQ+ people are connected to how they are treated by friends, family, and society, not to their identity or orientation. The more support and encouragement someone has, the less likely they will be to deal with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. One study found that the rate of suicide for transgender youth is reduced 93% when their family supports them (Travers, et al., 2012).

Myth: If my child is gay, bisexual, or transgender, it is because of something I did.

Reality: People are born with a genetic predisposition toward who they will be attracted to, and toward a personality and traits that impact who they are as people, including their sexuality and gender. Gender identity and sexuality is a multifaceted part of someone’s overall identity, and is likely impacted by biological, social, genetic, and psychological factors (American Psychological Association, 2008). Nothing you say or do as a parent will change whether your child is gay, cisgender, or transgender. What it will change is whether they feel supported and happy, how they feel about themselves, and how resilient they are to stigma.

Myth: It would be better for an LGBTQ+ person to keep their identity private; no one else needs to know.

Reality: The coming-out process is not only important for LGTBQ+ people to experience greater happiness, self-esteem, and improved mental and physical health, but to fight pervasive prejudice and stigma about sexuality and gender (Herek, 2017). For their sake, encourage openness and support your loved one to be public with their identity if and when they are ready to do so.

If you or someone you know is wanting to understand LGBT identity, or is having difficulty with a loved one coming out; contact my Portland, Oregon area office for more information.

References:

American Psychological Association. (2008). Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.pdf
Glossary of Terms. (n.d.). Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms
Herek, G. M. (2017, April 23). Counting hate crimes: A Brief History of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. Retrieved from https://herek.net/blog/category/sexual-prejudice/
Travers, R., Bauer, G., Pyne, J., Bradley, K., Gale, L., & Papadimitriou, M. (2012). Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. Trans PULSE.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laura Turnbull, MC, CPsych, therapist in York, Ontario

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

Mental Health Issues Rising Among University Students

Counseling Can Help Portland State University Students

Portland state university counseling can help rising mental health issues for students.More than 75% of mental health conditions appear before age 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). For many people, symptoms first develop in college. Now, research suggests the frequency of mental health difficulties among college students is rising. According to Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health, the number of students seeking mental health assistance increased by 50% between 2015 and 2016.

Depression and substance use issues are common among college students. Twelve percent of freshmen say they are depressed. For some students, the stress of college life—being away from home for the first time, struggling to make friends, and juggling work and school—can trigger mental health difficulties.

Students typically have access to college counseling centers. These centers can help with diagnosis and treatment, and they can offer students the coping skills they need to manage their mental health. When they leave college, many students face a post-college mental health gap. Access to affordable, quality care is limited. After college, graduates may face high co-pays or insurance restrictions on which therapists they can see.

If you or someone you love is having mental health problems at University, contact me at my Portland area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

How to Create a Couples Communication Playbook Together

Learn to Communicate With Your Partner In or Out of Couples Therapy

Mindfulness is needed for communication in couples therapy When working with couples, the first thing I assess is their communication, as this is usually a defining reason why they have walked into my office. Without clear boundaries and guidelines around communication, it is virtually impossible to dig into any issue. The WAY a person says something always trumps WHAT they are saying. In other words, STYLE always trumps CONTENT. Learning to communicate—and to communicate with care—may seem like a trite concept, but it is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship.

We learn to communicate from our caregivers. Since we were each raised differently, our communication playbooks are all different, too. When two people enter into a relationship, there are usually different playbooks in action fighting to emerge as THE playbook.

If, for example, you grew up in a family that was loud and boisterous, you likely learned to do one of two things: become loud and boisterous or avoid loud and boisterous. The way you adapted to that communication style became a part of your communication playbook.

My goal is to help you and your partner come up with a common, collaborative playbook that feels good for both of you. Here are just a few suggestions and recommendations:

  1. There MUST be care in your words. This is a deal-breaker. Figuring out how to speak with care when angry, sad, shamed, or guilty requires vulnerability and accountability. It takes mindfulness and practice.
  2. Overt no-nos: yelling, name-calling, bullying, threatening, and attacking.
  3. Covert no-nos: nagging, pouting, stonewalling, lying, being a martyr, and zingers.
  4. No sarcasm. Sarcasm is a passive-aggressive (indirect) way of saying what you feel without being clear and direct. The Greek translation for the word sarcasm is “tearing of the flesh.” It is hurtful. Being funny and using sarcasm are two different things. If something is funny, you both laugh. If it is sarcastic, chances are only one of you is amused.
  5. Don’t start talking about an issue until you have “contracted” with the other person. Too many times, you may begin delving into an issue before the other person is ready, able, and available. It may be as simple as, “I would like to talk about ‘X’; are you available?” Contracting sets the tone, creates intention from both parties, and lets you know you’re both present and attentive. If, for example, you want to talk in bed at night, be certain the other person is agreeable and not falling asleep. Setting a time limit is another aspect of contracting. If it’s not a good time to talk, in addition to saying so it’s a good idea to provide some alternative time options.
  6. If a conversation gets heated, take a time-out. If you take a time-out, it is your responsibility to say when you will come back to finish the conversation. Leaving a conversation without a restart  time may be interpreted as abandonment and lack of care. If someone needs a time-out, respect it, stop the conversation, and don’t push or punish. Knowing there is a restart time may allow you to look at what has happened to get the two of you into a time-out situation. Both parties should ask, “What is my part in the dysfunction in this conversation?” and be willing to own it when you resume. It’s much easier to point a finger at the other person, but does nothing to get closer to solutions.
  7. Listen. You will know you are listening if you can tell the other person what they just said. If you are evaluating their content and waiting for your turn, you aren’t listening. Think of listening as the most caring thing you can do for your partner. Put your needs on hold. Try to gain an understanding of their perspective. Communication is not about convincing. Listening is an act of love.
  8. Remember, you are on the same team. When teammates have conflict, the energy of the conversation is much different than when adversaries go at it. Again, it goes back to care with your words. Sometimes I will ask, “Would you talk to your next-door neighbor the way you are talking to your partner right now?” This is actually a parenting tip from Foster Cline’s book Parenting with Love and Logic, but I use it frequently with couples. It’s called the “good neighbor policy” and is an effective and easy way to help reset communication during a conflict.

These are just a few suggestions for helping couples create a common communication playbook. Having rules and guidelines both partners have had a hand in shaping allows for more accountability and collaboration, which can increase satisfaction levels when working through issues.

Start your couples therapy journey by making an appointment at my Grant Park area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.