Category Archives: therapy

LGBT Counseling Can Help Men With Loneliness

Why Do So Many Men Feel Lonely? Counseling Can Help

Most people crave social connection. While social media, endless apps, and new technology promises to connect more people, many people feel lonelier than ever. While isolation can be a trigger for loneliness, loneliness and isolation are not identical. A person can feel lonely even when surrounded by others, especially if they don’t have deep connections that feel meaningful to them.

Loneliness doesn’t just feel bad. It can have profound implications for health. Some research even suggests that chronic loneliness can be as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.Why men are so lonely and how LGBT counseling can help.

Research on gender differences in loneliness is mixed. Some studies show that women are lonelier than men; others show the reverse. Most researchers, however, agree that single men tend to be especially lonely, and that certain social norms governing masculinity may increase the risk of loneliness in men. Some early research on loneliness also suggests men may be less likely than women to admit to feelings of loneliness.

SOCIAL ISOLATION IN MEN
Studies consistently find that women are more likely to have dense social networks than men. From childhood, women are socialized to value friendship, confide in their friends, and to foster deep intimacy with close friends. Even when men have many friends, they may feel uncomfortable sharing emotions or airing feelings of vulnerability.

A 2018 analysis of people living in rural regions found that 63 percent of men felt comfortable opening up to friends, compared to 74 percent of women. Women were also more likely to participate in activities, such as church gatherings, that foster friendship and a sense of community.

Although social isolation is a serious concern among single men, research suggests that emotional feelings of loneliness are even more important. A 2011 study tied social isolation to reduced life satisfaction, but the link was even stronger for emotional loneliness. Researchers also found that male university students were significantly more likely to report emotional feelings of loneliness than female students.

HOW STIGMA CAN BE A CAGE
Masculine social norms teach men that vulnerability is weakness. Homophobia is also prevalent. Straight cisgender men may fear being labeled “gay.” These two forces can make it very difficult for men to reach out to others in friendship. Even when men have friends, they may fear judgment if they display weakness or ask for help.

Heterosexual male friendships often feature a boastful sort of masculinity, in which men brag about their sexual prowess, their financial success, or their independence. This culture can make it hard for men struggling in their relationships to share their challenges. It also shows men that the ideal man is one who uses others—not one who invests deeply in interdependent relationships.

This isolation can be a self-replicating intergenerational cycle. Men may discourage sons from showing weakness or emotion. Boys also witness their fathers modeling stoic behavior and may mimic it. In this way, the stigma of emotionally connecting to other men passes from one generation to the next.

THE MARRIAGE EFFECT
Men in most studies are more likely than women to have long-term partners. These partners can ease some loneliness. Indeed, many men rely on their partners as a primary or sole source of emotional support. This increases men’s vulnerability to loneliness when relationships end or partners die. A 2017 survey found women are more comfortable being single than men. Sixty-one percent of single women in the UK reported being happy, compared to just 49% of single men.

In addition to supporting their male partners, women in long-term heterosexual relationships may help them socialize by building and fostering social networks. Emotional labor like remembering birthdays, sending holiday cards, planning family get-togethers, and scheduling outings with friends has traditionally fallen to women. When a man loses his partner, he may lose an important social lubricant. That may mean losing friends and social opportunities.

HOW TO BUILD BROMANCE
Building friendships with other men can be challenging, especially when a man is no longer in school. A few strategies may help:

Join communities and organizations that foster intimacy. Churches, volunteer organizations, and support groups may offer groups specifically for men looking for closer relationships.
Seek friendships with men who value alternative forms of masculinity and who are willing to talk about the need for human connection.
Consider working to turn acquaintances into friends. Invite a social media friend who speaks out against toxic masculinity or male loneliness to an outing.
Take a more active role in family efforts to grow relationships. Don’t rely on women to plan all social outings or reach out to others.
Try starting a new group or organization. Ask other dads to meet up once a month or invite acquaintances from church to start a group for men who want to grow meaningful relationships.
Identify any harmful beliefs you have about friendship or masculinity. Do you believe that crying indicates weakness or that real men don’t need others? Work to understand where these beliefs come from and actively correct them.
Practice conversations with other men ahead of time. Think about questions to ask them about their lives or opinions. Consider what you hope to share about yourself.
Don’t rely on social media as a sole or primary source of socialization. While social media can bring people together, it also relies heavily on brief interactions rather than the sustained, meaningful connection that grows lasting friendship.
Model vulnerability to other men and boys. Men who see that strong men can be vulnerable may feel more comfortable being vulnerable themselves. Sons who see their fathers invest in friendships may be less reticent to do so themselves.
Counseling can help many men practice and master new social skills. Men may also benefit from counseling when social anxiety impedes relationships or when loneliness is so severe that it leads to depression.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty with loneliness, contact my Irvington office to make a counseling appointment.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

References:

Henning-Smith, C., Ecklund, A., Moscovice, I., & Kozhimannil, K. (2018). Gender differences in social isolation and social support among rural residents [Ebook]. University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. Retrieved from http://rhrc.umn.edu/wp-content/files_mf/1532458325UMNpolicybriefsocialisolationgenderdifferences.pdf
Neville, S., Adams, J., Montayre, J., Larmer, P., Garrett, N., Stephens, C., & Alpass, F. (2018). Loneliness in men 60 years and over: the association with purpose in life. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12(4), 730-739. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131432
Salimi, A. (2011). Social-emotional loneliness and life satisfaction. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 29, 292-295. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811027029
Sex differences in loneliness: the role of masculinity and femininity. (1998). Sex Roles, 38(7-8). Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1018850711372#page-2
Yarrow, A. (2017). All the single ladies: 61% of women in the UK are happy to be single, compared to 49% of men. Retrieved from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/social-and-lifestyle/all-the-single-ladies-61-of-women-in-the-uk-are-happy-to-be-single-compared-to-49-of-men

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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What Makes Therapy Good: The 4 Pillars of Counseling

How to Begin Healing in Counseling

pillars of good counseling take the past into account.What is good therapy? I recently wrote about tips for identifying the best counselor for you. I’d like to shift the focus a bit and talk about the role of relationships and what I call the four pillars of counseling: trust, respect, positive regard, and open-mindedness.

While these concepts may seem straightforward, fostering them within a healing therapeutic relationship can be challenging depending on the quality of previous relationships you’ve
experienced, whether you’ve been able to form trusting relationships in other areas of your life, how open you are ready or able to be, and how truthful you can be with yourself. I believe these  things form the foundation of the relationship needed to help you meet your goals.

I’ve been a counselor for a long time, and I’ve had counseling with many different therapists. Some of it was very good and helpful and some wasn’t. None of it was bad or meant the therapist wasn’t qualified. I believe the connection between the counselor and the person seeking support is the most important part of a therapeutic relationship. Creating a strong relationship with a counselor is affected by personality, age, gender, race, life experiences, and other factors. There must be a good fit in order for therapy to be effective.

While the relationship between the counselor and the counselee is important, the relationship you have with yourself is equally important. From the moment we are born, our relationships begin to form everything about us—from our beliefs to our behaviors, traditions, and rituals. The strength of our earliest relationships directly impacts the strength of our relationships in the here and now, which directly impact the relationship with the counselor you choose to work with.

When relationships in early life aren’t nurturing and supportive—which can happen for many reasons, including abuse, neglect, or the inability of parents to emotionally bond with a child—the impact can be long-lasting and prevent people from developing healthy connections. It can take a long time to experience trust in a relationship if you have experienced broken relationships or abandonment, especially in childhood.

Whatever the challenge in a relationship, the first step of therapy must be to identify and name that pain. That takes courage, regardless of how scary it may feel.

Good therapy addresses the pain that brought you into therapy and helps you develop solutions to the issues you are experiencing. It focuses on the goals you have set and the challenges and limiting beliefs that may prevent you from reaching those goals. Recognizing these beliefs can occur when there is trust and respect between you and the counselor. If you sense the counselor is open to your challenges, you may be more open to addressing them using tools the counselor provides.

When early life relationships are inadequate, a person’s ability to trust can be severely impacted. Without trust between a counselor and a person in counseling, therapy can be ineffective. It is the counselor’s responsibility to work with you to develop trust though open-mindedness, communication, consistency, and compassion. Your responsibility is to try to meet the counselor in this process as best you can.

Because you are so deeply impacted by your relationships, both past and present, you must examine them as a part of the therapy you seek even if you believe they are unrelated. We are interconnected to everyone we have ever interacted with in a good or not-good manner. Like it or not, our relationships help determine who we are and how we are in the world. This truth must be acknowledged and honored in order to begin the journey of healing in counseling.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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