On Feeling Stuck & How Therapy Helps

In my time meeting with new clients, I often hear some variation of this shared: “I don’t know…I just feel stuck.” This experience of feeling stuck leads many people to consider and potentially try therapy.  I have a hunch that at some point most people find themselves in such a place…

But what does it mean? This stuck-ness, what is it? And is it as vague as it sounds?

imageSometimes, yes it is. Unlike other times when a very clear obstacle or event causes pain, feeling stuck can mean finding oneself in a more general, emotionally undesired and familiar place. This place may involve a mixture of feelings – of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, envy, and sadness. Like wandering through a forest, hoping to find a clearing, yet winding back to the same ‘ole stump, it may feel like you have traveled in circles.
Perhaps you and the stump look a bit different now and the surrounding landscape has changed some too. However, the underlying ground and root issues remain, bringing forth similar tension each time.

If we dig a bit deeper and put names to these often-vague yet familiar places of being stuck, the following may serve as examples:

• Stunted…restrained by self-doubt, fear, and lack of confidence
• Lack of closeness and authenticity in relationships
• General boredom & apathy
• Unclear boundaries with others & people-pleasing behaviors
• Avoidance of emotions (i.e. “pushing down feelings”)
• Unsatisfied and frustrated by school, career, or overall life direction

…just to name a few.

How Therapy Helps:

In response to feeling stuck, I find that it is important to seek understanding. We need to understand what keeps us coming back to our familiar places in order to ultimately head in a new direction…

Therapy invites you to take intentional time for this. It involves a commitment to self – a decision to pause amidst the chaos and choose awareness. In doing so, we can begin to gain insight into the patterns and tendencies which continue to re-emerge. By taking this step we also learn more about how heartache, rejection, and how other painful parts of our individual stories have impacted us. Due to this, therapy includes a leaning-in to the discomfort of our vulnerable feelings to know what our emotions are telling us. It also entails asking important questions such aswho am I, what causes me pain, and what do I hope for?

Finally, therapy is a brave step in the journey of healing. In the presence of a caring and focused counselor, therapy offers us a chance to go – at our own pace – into the hurting places of our hearts with purposes of being understood, seeking clarity, and finding new possibility. Along the way…perhaps we discover why we tend to return to “the stump” and with greater knowledge and comfort, find that we can move forward in a new way.

As a helping professional, I feel grateful for the chance to walk with people as they set aside the time to invest in their wellbeing and explore the depth of themselves in the hopes of growth.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

Noticing Vs. Judging Your Feelings [ A More Compassionate Way ]

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they may seem.” ~ Ann Frank

I have a paper tucked away in my office drawer that I like to pull out every once in a while with clients. On it you’ll find a list of several dozen “Feeling Words” – each listed under a specific sub category. This simple sheet of paper can often provide some clarity. For instance, I’m not just “happy”, I’m “hopeful” or I’m more than simply “angry”, I feel “bitter”. I find that this simple sheet of paper comes in handy when people find themselves stumped – unsure of exactly how they feel. Gaining this deeper insight also opens the door for better answering the questions of whowhat prompt these feelings within us and whyhow they occur. More so, beyond the use of any kind of “Feeling Words” cheat sheet, I find it important that in the safety of the therapy room that feelings are discussed and processed in a different sort of way. Honestly, I see a need for a kinder, more compassionate stance towards our feelings – and towards ourselves – than we often experience. And what do I mean by this? What I typically notice is that we can quickly get into a harsh cycle of (1) feeling our feelings and then (2) criticizing ourselves, even shaming ourselves, for experiencing these true feelings. An example of this may sound like:

“I feel jealous towards my co-worker for getting the promotion…and now I hate myself for feeing jealous when I should be happy for her.”   OR

“To be honest, I feel depressed today – like I really did not want to get out of bed. Man, I must sound pathetic.”   OR

“I miss my mom so much right now. I feel like I should be dealing with her death much better than I am.

What stands out most to me in these three examples can be summed up in one word: JUDGMENT. I can picture three separate individuals bravely and honestly speaking these truthful emotions outloud and then upon recognizing the discomfort, isolation, or sorrow that these feelings bring, swiftly judging themselves.  Perhaps they deem themselves not “strong enough” or not “normal enough”. Further, how often have we – you and I – responded the same  to our own feelings. The danger about this judgment is that it provokes a third part in the cycle mentioned above. First (1) we feel our feelings, (2) we judge our feelings, and then as a result (3) we get stuck in the “muck” of self-loathing. All of the sudden we are trapped, our self-condemnation preventing us from the necessary work of digging-deepeer and seeking awareness and possible healing in the midst of the initial feeling that brought us here. A Better Way?: Perhaps a better response to our feelings can be found in replacing Judging with simply Noticing. As the initial quote by Ann Frank so accurately states, “feelings can’t be ignored” – especially the bad ones. Furthermore, there is something so incredibly important in recognizing that we are not “bad ones” for feeling these natural human emotions. Anger, guilt, desperation, sadness – it’s all there for any one of us to feel. How completely human we are when they touch our hearts. As psychotherapist Stephen Howard (in his book Heart & Soul of the Therapist) explains, we are much better off approaching our feelings with honesty and curiosity than avoidance or disdain. The reality is that our feelings are important. Though not always easy and rarely simple, our active feelings tell us something. How vital it is to listen to them with openess, ready to be aware of what direction they may be leading, truth yet to uncover, or acceptance needing to be had. __________________________________________________________________________________ Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Meeting as Equals: The Value of Person-Centered Therapy

In an earlier post, I discussed the counseling style I adhere to: person-centered therapy. Today, I’d like to share a short video clip from an interview with the founder of person-centered therapy, the late Carl Rogers.  To me, his thoughts at minute 1:20 & 3:00 highlight the essence of this particular psychotherapy style.

“I think that some of what I have done professionally in my work has been a reaction to my early upbringing. Where I was not heard, I really wanted to hear people. Where I didn’t dare to expose what was going on in my own world, I would really like to hear from other people – I would like to make it safe for them to reveal their own inner worlds.” ~Carl Rogers (at 1:30 of interview).

“What I learned was – if I want to seem very smart and very expert, then I will continue to diagnose and tell you what’s wrong with you and tell you what should be done. But If I really want to be of help, perhaps the thing I should do is to listen to where the pain or the problem or the issue is within you. And that had a profound effect on my later experience.” ~ Carl Rogers (at 3:00 of same interview).

“Perhaps the thing I should is to listen…”  My own personal experience sitting in the client seat along with professional experience working with individuals as a therapist has highlighted this truth: “meeting as equals” is invaluable towards the process of true self-awareness, understanding, and healthy emotional healing.  Like Rogers explains, we all have an inner world. Perhaps your inner world is composed of guilt, fear, worry, or pain. Perhaps it is filled with regrets – choices you wish you could undo, experiences you wish you could erase, and questions you long to ask . To sit with another human being who travels to that inner world with you – not in a prideful, demanding, or pressured way but rather in a humble, empathetic way – is a powerful and potentially transforming experience.

And why is it so impactful?

…likely because being completely alone in one’s inner world – in the hidden and dark places is scary.  Similar to being trapped in a deep, dark pit, being alone in this way can result in feeling emotionally “stuck.”  Fearful of being “found out” and nervous that we will be misunderstood or punished by those around us, we may be left with the feeling that there is no way out. Yet, seeing that another person can sit with you in that world and in your distress provides incredible relief. When we allow a safe person into that place, we begin to see ourselves and our circumstances differently. No longer am I so different, so weird, or so horrible when I feel the comfort of someone else’s presence there with me in the reality of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Knowing that I am not hated, pushed away, or rejected for these things provides a way for me to begin the crucial acts of self-compassion, self-forgiveness, understanding, and growth towards perhaps new choices and greater self-acceptance.

As a counselor, this is my heartbeat – my highest hope for the people I sit with: that they would know they are not alone. That they would feel the comfort and strength that is offered from sitting with another equal – a human being who is able to travel to those dark places with them in a safe and kind way.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Why Counselors Welcome Silence in Session

I have found that people often hold one of two fears about counselors:

(1) Counselors exist to tell me what to do and what not to do. (In essence, the belief that counselors exist as advice-givers i.e., An extension of your parent, spouse, or boss.)

(2) Counselors just sit in silence, nodding, and writing notes while I spill out my heart and then hand over a check at the end of the session. (i.e. The belief that therapists are mysterious and aloof, adding little to the therapy session.)

Coming from a person-centered approach, I believe both of these approaches to psychotherapy can be largely unhelpful. Thankfully, I work with a team of counselors who similarly believe in a different way of meeting with clients…

The kind of psychotherapy that I personally and professionally believe in involves cultivating a place of safety, freedom, and honesty. Meeting with another human being and providing both empathy and sensitive challenge to their unique way of being requires more humility than advice-giving and greater mutual cooperation between counselor and client than “lounging and listening”.

As human beings, we as counselors naturally carry our own experiences and perspectives with us, which color they way we see circumstances and those people we sit with each week in session.  However, we are also trained to acknowledge “our stuff” and strive to discern when it is appropriate and helpful to vocalize our insight (for instance, offering tools and strategies to help clients in dealing with stress and managing moods) and when it is necessary to “get out of the way.” “Getting out of the way” simply means to ethically allow the client time to explore the spaces of their mind and heart, which often go ignored or avoided until an opportunity of safe silence is afforded…

“Sitting with” Silence

In a culture & time in which there are endless distractions, readily available to sweep us away from emotional discomfort, it can become rare that we are faced with moments of “sitting with” our stories and acknowleding how we feel about our relationships, our jobs, our past, our future, and simply stated-our lives.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?:

Immediately turning on the radio when I get in the car. // Flipping through Facebook when I’m stressed and take a break at work. // Swiftly changing the topic of conversation when someone asks how I’m really doing.

I have been guilty of allowing some of these behaviors to become distractions. How about you? Do you find yourself escaping, minimizing, or numbing emotions?

How about the times when you don’t – when you allow yourself to feel and sit with the reality of the moment. What is it like? Until we allow ourselves to sit with and process our feelings with a safe person & in a safe place, it can be challenging to accept the reality of the struggle, problem or loss we have experienced.

…And this is exactly why I believe that silence can be “golden.” I notice that when silence is constantly “rescued” by my noise, that clients can become stuck in the therapy process. Further, their story is not being told if I fill it with my own opinions. Opening up space to think, evaluate, feel, and deal is not only helpful, it is healthy. However, it is not necessarily natural in a world in which so many interferences reside. Therefore, we must be intentional in seeking it out.

As someone who can attest to the deep value present in allowing silence to produce natural and authentic expressions of true feelings, I am ready to begin banning the presence of “awkward” before silence, and instead allow for silence to be exactly what it is: a needed, quiet space that offers the chance for honesty and freedom.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

When You Change…

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ E. E. Cummings

beachI recently went to the beach with my family. We returned to an island we hadn’t visited in many years. Being back there – a place of my childhood summers – granted me that lovely nostalgic feeling of returning to a place that I love and know well.

I realized that the beach, the homes, and the striking scenery of that place were very much the same. It kept its serene, subtle beauty. Barefoot strolls on the brown sand gave me the same comforting feeling I knew many years ago, and the refreshing touch of the calm ocean tide against my ankles presented me with the similar experience of feeling renewed by cool, salty water.  Looking out at the expanse of the large, far-reaching ocean in front of me again left me with the similar awe-inspired realization of how small I am in this big world.

However, as much as this beautiful beach seemed unaffected by time, I know that the same cannot be said about me. I have changed-I am no longer fifteen and wondering what I want to be “when I grow up.” And I expect that ten years from now, I will look back and say something similar about who I am today…

Perhaps it is for this very reason that so many of us are drawn to the beach, the mountains, and other naturally beautiful and seemingly unchanging scenic sanctuaries. As humans, we cling to those places and things that are constant in our lives. The ups and downs, twists and turns that life presents us with can be wearing – even the ones we know are healthy and important.

Yes, change is often hard.

Most new clients pursue therapy desiring, expecting, and needing positive change in their lives.  Discovering the beauty of it, of course, looks different for each person – perhaps it includes learning a better way of communicating with one’s spouse, acquiring new strategies for coping with the stress of balancing work & home, or developing acceptance of one’s personality and identity.  Each individual and situation is unique, and making changes can require varying amounts of intentionality and patience. Furthermore, each individual’s personal change can also mean incurring varying responses from family & friends.

Yep, sometimes your friends will not like it when you change.

And why is this the case? Probably for the same reason that we return to the same beach, fear ordering something different on the menu at our favorite restaurant, and tear-up when we finish the last page of an amazing book with characters we adore: change in those we love can unexpectedly create feelings of confusion, sadness, and possibly even loss. And this can be true even with knowledge that the change is helpful, positive, and good. Those precious loved ones in your life must get accustomed to your changes just as you are beginning to spread your wings and adjust to a different outlook and a new way of life.

Why else?

Some friends may not like it when you change because it challenges them to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Possibly, it forces them to look at their own ‘elephants‘ they’ve kept hidden.

Going back to the quote by E.E. Cummings above the picture, courage is an essential ingredient when following the path of growth.  It often requires exposing oneself to new territory and being vulnerable to the reactions of others. Yet, without it, change is impossible.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~ Frederick Douglas

So, what does change mean to you and how do you experience the tension in managing the common stretch marks that often accompany it?

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Embracing the Elephant in the Room [ My Heart for Psychotherapy ]

You simply cannot ignore an elephant in a room, especially not in a small room.  Well, you can for a time. Maybe you take special precautions to sit in the corner of the room, furthest from its large flopping ears and gray trunk. Perhaps you cover your ears when it lets out a shrill trumpet sound, close your eyes, and even hide behind your nearest friend as its large stocky legs draw nearer.  However, eventually elephants will make themselves known.  They may tear up an entire room doing so, but regardless, you’ll be forced to acknowledge them.

Most of us like real elephants but hate the metaphorical ones. The elephants in our hearts, minds, and lives that disturb us most often enter in uninvited. Psychologically we become experts at denial, pushing these problems and issues to the outskirts of our minds. “Out of sight, out of mind” becomes our philosophy. However, who are we kidding? Certainly not the elephant and probably not ourselves. The truth remains that the concern is still very much present, firmly standing its ground.

I passionately believe that one of the most important features of therapy is to allow a safe space for these elephants to be ‘unearthed’ and better understood. In other words, being vulnerable to the realities in our lives that we tend to dismiss-perhaps because they feel too large or too threatening-is a critical part of the process of personal awareness, growth, and healing.

Allowing clients a safe space to face these emotional elephants at their own pace lies at the heart of my passion for counseling. And why?

Because I know the personal impact it has made in my life.

I am so thankful for my first-ever counselor who challenged me to forge past my meticulously crafted and comfortable ‘topics to discuss’ list each week.  I’m so grateful for my therapist’s willingness to sit with me in the discomfort and tension [ and oftentimes uncomfortable silence ] which existed in the shrinking space between my elephant and me.  Finally, I am forever thankful for that time when I was allowed to move at my own slow pace towards the large, messy animal on the otherside of the room.  And by the time I found myself face-to-face with it, there was a certain inner peace and strength I gained from embracing the tension, crossing the divide, and vocalizing its reality in my life.

“Tension is the great integrity.” –Richard Buckmeister Fuller

I love this quote by R.B. Fuller who was an American architect, author, and inventor. As an architect, surely he understood the importance of literal tension in the building and structures he created.  For instance, even those of us with a minimal understanding of architecture recognize that that a bridge will collapse unless tension exists between the two base structures on either end. I similarly view the importance of recognizing and pressing-in to the emotional tension we may experience.

Pressing-in toward the tension requires vulnerability [ if you read my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I strongly believe in this word ] and humility. It can be difficult and even painful-perhaps comparable to taking off a bandaid, which has covered a deep scar for the first time. However, I feel that it is essential in wholly embracing who we are and where we are at.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Counseling Q and A

So, in the beginning of last week I shared a post [ Questions ], in which I prompted readers to ask any and all questions regarding counseling [i.e. the process, purpose, risks, rewards, etc. ].

While I may not have received many questions, the two that I got were fantastic.

Question #1: What makes counseling any different from simply talking to a good friend?

This is a great question because I believe most people who consider entering into therapy will likely ask this. Afterall, it takes time, energy, and resources to begin the process of looking for a counselor as well as attending counseling.  The normal fears and feelings of nervousness, which often accompany opening yourself up to a new person and exposing your hurt, struggle, and pain, may also be present. You may ask yourself, “Wouldn’t it be simpler to just talk to my best friend?”

And to this, I would like to emphasize that counseling & the counselor-client relationship should never replace relational community in an individual’s life. Brilliant author, researcher, and LMSW, Brene Brown, explains that “We are neurobiologically wired for connection” [from her Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability ]. In other words, we need community. We are emotionally starved without it. Even the most introverted and content-to-being-alone persons amongst us will still experience this need to be with others and enjoy emotional intimacy. Again, counseling is not meant to a substitute for this. Instead, the therapeutic relationship is an altogether different kind of connection.

The counseling relationship is indeed a unique type of connection with another human being. I like to tell my clients that it is perhaps the one space for them to be 100% free to bring whatever emotion, thought, and experience they have to the table. In other words, nothing is off limits. If you are angry, be angry. If you are sad, hurt, bitter, or questioning-okay. You can be just that. Wherever you are at-fell free to be exactly that.

Oftentimes, this is not afforded in our outside worlds where we maintain certain roles and have specific responsibilities to fulfill. Even in our closest relationships and friendships, the freedom to be wholly you may not be afforded. Others often have expectations, after all. This is especially true when our thoughts, words, and actions can deeply affect another person. And this is not necessarily a negative thing-it is simply the reality of our lives.

The therapy relationship is purposed to be a safe & sensitive place, where an individual can bring the deepest parts of themselves – to be explored, processed, and understood. It is a space all about you. Further, a competent helping professional has not only been trained to provide this space but also has a passion for helping and keeping the focus on the client.

Question #2: How does a counselor help someone with an issue, which they personally have never experienced (i.e. abuse, trauma, addiction, loss of a loved one)?

This is another great question. Perhaps it is one you have asked before. “How can my therapist relate to what I’m going through…what I’ve been through in the past…and where I am at today.”  This is a normal and justified concern. After all, when we experience pain, we want to receive understanding and support from those who truly understand and have walked in similar shoes.

Many therapists provide support and counsel for persons with specific needs. While all counselors are trained in the knowledge of symptoms, causes, and treatment/recovery process for a variety of emotional difficulties, many therapists focus on a specific clientele.  Oftentimes, a counselor develops their counseling niche due to their own personal experiences, the struggle they have been through themselves, as well as the healing and recovery they have personally experienced. When searching for a professional helper, those who are competent will likely provide their specialities in their personal bio.  One great website, which provides Counselor Listings for specific areas of concern is TherapyTribe.

However, knowing a counselor’s client focus does not necessarily denote his or her personal experiences. Therefore, being honest and voicing what you need and desire in a counselor is important in the therapist-search stages.

Ethically, counselors are held to a high standard when providing treatment. According to the American Counselor Association’s Ethical Guidelines, “While developing specialty areas, counselors take steps to ensure the competence of their work, and to protect others from possible harm” (ACA, C.2.b.).  Futhermore, “The primary responsibility of counselors is respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of the clients” (ACA, A.1.a).  In other words, counselors who are upholding professional and ethical excellence in their field are honest about their abilities and strive to provide excellent services in their specialties. The most important purpose of counseling is to benefit the client. Compassionate and successful counselors recognize and act on this truth.

Alongside finding a therapist with a specialty you desire, it is perhaps most important to seek the counsel of a professional who can provide genuine, empathetic support. Through studying aspects of successful therapy, psychologist Carl Rogers was able to identify 3 critical, core characteristics of truly helpful therapists. These include:

1. Congruence [or Genuineness]– the willingness to transparently relate to clients. [In other words, does the counselor hide behind a mystical facade, or does he or she make intentional effort to genuinely relate to you as another human being?]

2. Unconditional Positive Regard – the counselor willingly offers acceptance and positive consideration of the client. [i.e., does the counselor provide a safe, non-judgmental environment in which you can thrive or does he or she simply exercise interruption, advice-giving, and judgment from a ‘superior’ position?]

3. Empathy – the therapist communicates a desire to understand the client’s experience, feeling, and thinking. [In other words, the counselor makes significant effort to understand where you as the client are coming from and what you are feeling.]

In order for a counselor to truly help an individual with an experience (which he or she as the therapist has never endured), these three characteristics are in my frank opinion necessary. The counselor should bring to each session a foundational humility in order to connect with you and allow your voice to be heard and your pain to be understood. This is the ultimate task of every therapist, I believe: to allow the client to be seen, his or her voice to be heard, and his or her hopes to be recognized.

I enjoyed answering these questions and I deeply appreciate those who took the time to ask. Please know that if you have any questions or concern in regards to counseling or me as a counselor, I’d love to chat. You can find me here.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Questions

questions

Hi friends! I would love to provide a Blog Post where I address any and all questions people may have concerning Counseling [ the purpose, process, risks, rewards, etc. involved ]. Please feel free to email me at lminear@eastwestpsych.com or comment in the Contact Me page with any questions! I will be responding via the Blog at the end of the week on Friday July 12th. Thanks so much & I appreciate your taking the time to read the blog 🙂

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Vulnerability in Counseling: The Face of Courage

A few days ago my sweet sister gave me a book entitled Let Your Spirit Soar.  Inside, it holds a compilation of inspiring quotes from famous as well as anonymous writers.  Each page holds a gift as well as challenge to the reader-for example: to recognize the beauty and the blessing that is life, to embrace the responsibility of being a human with freedom and choice, and to accept and love the person you are, “warts & all.”

vulnerability, therapy, counseling, mental health

One of the pages, which most struck a chord with me is by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who spent a great amount of time working with patients facing death…

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“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle & shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.” ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Working with a variety of clients from different backgrounds, families, and life situations, has solidified a few sustaining truths in my understanding of people: we all hurt, we all attempt to hide this hurt, & we consistently view our pain as a weakness in the eyes of others as well as ourselves.  As Mrs. Kubler-Ross might explain, we all face periods of life when the sun seems to stop shining and darkness has crept in.

The vast majority of us attempt to live day-to-day under the façade of “all is fine here, nothing to look at…” regardless of whether or not we truly are okay. The pain, the fear, the confusion is bubbling underneath our seemingly calm, cool, & collected exteriors as we attempt to drudge through life as “business as usual”.

However, pain is real and tends to boil-over when we attempt to ignore it.  Perhaps it seeps over into our work, our marriage, our friendships, or our spiritual lives.  We may try to “put a lid on it,” pushing it back into the abyss of our minds; yet, the pain often pushes back harder as if to say, “Remember me? Yep, still here…”

The most humbling encounters I have in therapy exist when clients allows themselves to peer into their hurting and damaged souls and give voice to their truly aching hearts.  What a courageous act it is when individuals give themselves permission to be vulnerable with the reality of their emotions.  So much of the time we deny ourselves this basic need: to truly be where we are and who we are in the given moment.  Maybe where we are and who we are is not “business as usual.”  Perhaps what we need is to allow ourselves to hurt and recognize that it’s okay.  Or in the words of a helper who had a significant impact on my own healing: “Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel.”

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.