Daring Greatly [by Brené Brown] Book Review: Wholehearted Living Vs. “Culture of Scarcity”

Daring GreatlyIn the month of February, I had the pleasure of reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, & Parent, by talented writer & research professor, Brené Brown.  I consider Daring Greatly to be a fantastic – and important read for anyone who has felt or currently feels stunted – perhaps relationally, professionally, or emotionally – by the experience of rejection, shame, and the pressure of perfectionism.

A few months ago, I shared a video by Brené Brown on my blog, entitled The Power of Vulnerability.  In this 20 minute talk, she outlines the research she conducted for 6+ years on the topics of shame, vulnerability, and what it means to live Wholeheartedly.  She also candidly admits to her own personal struggles with perfectionism, her honest disdain for “messy” emotions, and the journey she endured in therapy to truly “lose the fight [for control] but win my life back.”

Daring Greatly showcases in much more detail the research and findings Brené touches on in her TedTalk.  It is difficult to summarize 250+ all-noteworthy pages of insight into a brief book review. However, I want to share one of my favorite points Brené shares, which is what she calls “Wholehearted Living.”

Wholehearted Living vs. the “Culture of Scarcity”

After years of collecting the stories of real men and women with real hurts, pains, struggles, and joys, Brené noticed a common theme in one group of research participants who she noticed lived “Wholeheartedly” or from a place of worthiness.  These “Wholehearted” persons who experienced a deep sense of love & belonging were only different in one way from others.  The difference was not in financial status, race, profession, gender, or age. The difference existed in one area: they believed they were worthy of love & belonging. Living from this place of worthiness did not shield them from heartache, disappointment, or loss. They experienced pain like any other person. Neither did they possess some kind of super-human ability to always say and do the right thing. They were flawed, made mistakes, and felt normal guilt just as any person does. However, Brené explains that the defining difference involved how these “Wholehearted” people viewed themselves. When life threw them a curve ball or they themselves made mistakes, they offered themselves grace & understanding rather than harsh criticism. Rather than reacting to life from a place of “scarcity” – (a fear of not being or having enough), Brené notes that Wholehearted living involves “digging deep” and seeing themselves in a realistic and compassionate manner.

Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem…Everything from safety to love to money and resources feels lacking” (Brown, p. 27).

“What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it” (Brown, p. 26).

“The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness…[which] at its core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough” (Brown, p. 29).

After reading Daring Greatly, I believe the idea of living Wholeheartedly is not a mere Self-Help idea like the “Power of Positive Thinking.”  It goes much deeper than patting oneself on the back. Neither does it involve sticking our heads in the sand and denying problems in our lives or within ourselves. Furthermore, to say, “I am enough” does not denote a narcissistic belief system or idealism that assumes “I can do anything” or “I can be everything.” Instead, it simply means that I can accept in essence my humanness – of feeling pain, of experiencing brokenness, and of battling shame and accept these parts of me as instrically human. To be enough, also means to be able to look into our hurts and our fears and see them for what they are, and to allow ourselves the freedom to exist with these things under the umbrella of kindness rather than under the umbrella of contempt and disdain.

“Leaning into the Discomfort”: Stepping off the Zipline

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” (Brown, p. 27).

Brené Brown speaks of “leaning into the discomfort” of emotional messiness in her TedTalk as well as in her book by embracing vulnerability. As I read Daring Greatly, one image kept crossing my mind: I imagined a child preparing to experience a zipline for the very first time. He’s on the edge of the platform, strapped in to the harness, and ready to jump. However, his heart beats fast in his small chest as his legs shake beneath him.  The fear is real. Walking off the platform means leaving the security of what is known behind and facing a thrilling yet risky challenge…he literally must lean in to the discomfort of the reality of his adventure. What boldness it takes to respect the fear, experience it, and embrace the challenge regardless.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path” (Brown, p.27).

I believe facing our fears – emotional fears- feels like this. I sit with courageous clients who dare greatly by sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences they have carried for years – and even decades alone.  Leaning into that kind of discomfort is powerful. It can also feel intimidating for the person exposing their truth. Further, it is a process to be done with a safe person (aka, a “secure harness”). One of the most true messages that Brené makes clear in Daring Greatly is that not everyone is worthy or capable of sitting with you in your place of vulnerability. I believe that especially with deep hurts and sensitive struggles, finding persons who can be with you in your discomfort to provide support and compassion – rather than judgment, advice-giving, or a legalistic “finger-wagging” is essential. A safe person allows the space for your story to be told without interruption and respects the uniqueness of your story as your own.

I learned a great deal from Daring Greatly and hope to share more  of what I gleaned in future posts. If you feel that the topics of the book I discussed speak to your own personal story, I encourage you to check-out Brené Brown’s books here.

Brown, Brené. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, and parent. New York, New York: Penguin Group Publishing.

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

 

The Power of Boundaries for the “Highly Sensitive”

Boundaries 2Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own & take responsibility for gives me freedom.” – Henry Cloud in the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes & How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. [ A book I highly recommend. ]

If you are like me, the word boundary may feel a bit worn-out. Similar to being repeatedly told not to worry,  we have all been directed – likely countless times- that establishing boundaries with friends, family members, and co-workers is important. Most of us have experienced hearing more than a few of the warnings below, including…

“Don’t be a doormat and let them run all over you.”

“Stand up for yourself!”

“People will take advantage of you, if you let them.”

“If you give them an inch, they’ll try and take a mile.”

“Sometimes you just need to show tough love.”

I find myself cringing a bit when I read this list above. While the deeper message holds true [ setting boundaries is important in protecting ourselves ],  these statements sound a bit cynical, carrying almost a sense of  “us-versus-them” attitude.  For many of us – and especially those of us who tend towards being highly sensitive – these challenges can leave us feeling stuck in the fear of hurting those we love and care for. Perhaps the idea of defining boundaries feels like a daunting/near-impossible task as a result.  And this is exactly why I believe boundaries get a bad rap

Messages like the ones listed above may mistakenly teach us that boundaries represent “walls to keep the enemy out”, promoting an almost-aggressive and certainly defensive mindset.  However, as revealed by the portion of the book Boundaries quoted at the beginning, relational boundaries are not mean or a threat to others. Instead boundaries that encourage emotionally healthy living focus less on the actions of others and more on what your individual needs and capabilities are [ “knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for…”]. Valuable boundaries do not box us in, and neither do they entail rejecting the people in our lives. Rather, the opposite is true. Healthy boundaries mentally & emotionally set us free, allowing us to not merely survive but thrive personally & in connection with others.

“Boundaries are a part of self care. They are healthy, normal, & necessary.” ~Doreen Virtue

The Highly Sensitive (aka “Feelers”)

According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, those with a preference for  Feeling (over Thinking) as a function for making decisions tend towards believing,  “I can make the best decisions by weighing what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation. I am concerned with values and what is the best for the people involved. I like to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony.”

Establishing and sticking-to relational boundaries can present more of a challenge for the highly sensitive, or what the Myers & Briggs Foundation would define as “Feelers.” I can say this because, well, I am one.  Being sensitive to the needs, values, and emotions of those around us can be a beautiful gift and tremendous benefit; however, pitfalls include potentially loosing sight of “where I end and someone else begins” [ Boundaries ].  As a defining feature of “Feelers,” such sensitive persons are more inclined to allow the reactions of others to influence the choices they make. This presents problems when we notice the following tendencies developing:

  • Inability to say ‘No’ to requests, even when physical, emotional, & mental resources have been exhausted.
  • Sacrificing personal [ and reasonable ] goals out of a fear of the reactions of others.
  • Moving past healthy expressions of empathy and taking-on the responsibility of others’ decisions & problems.
  • Failing to structure personal ‘re-charging’ time into one’s day, in order to regain emotional & physical energy. [ And this involves more than merely time sleeping ].
  •  Refusing to notify close friends and family when in need of support & help.

And if you have fit one or most of these criteria at some point in your life [ perhaps even now ], you are not alone. When I consider a man or woman described by the bullet points above, I get an image of a water pitcher.  The pitcher of water continuously pours without stopping to re-fill.  After a period of time, it simply runs dry.  I don’t know about you, but when I am thirsty, I get cranky, frustrated, and even a bit resentful of those around me.  I may even expect others to magically know my pitcher is dry and understand how I am in need, without voicing my emptiness.  Over time, my anger & anxiety may build under the surface, erroding away my peace.  Yet who is in charge of re-filling my water pitcher?  Who is responsible for creating (or not creating) boundaries in my personal, relational, & professional life?

Boundaries = Advocating for My Needs & Respecting Yours:

How do boundaries set us free? If we establish wise boundaries in our lives – from how often we check our email, to the major decisions we make with our children and spouses – we can find ourselves leaving behind unneccesary and damaging feelings of guilt, frustration, & disappointment. And this is where I believe “Feelers” get stuck.  The highly sensitive may fear that advocating for needs appears selfish and is a sign of not caring for others. Yet, nothing is further from the truth. By taking care of myself, I enable my “water pitcher” to re-fill. I am my best for others when I am emotionally and physically healthy and strong. Putting in place boundaries is a form of self-care. It means we appreciate and respect who we are: human beings, rather than perfect beings.

So, how do you re-fill your heart, mind, and spirit? And how are you respecting & loving yourself by drawing lines and acknowledging your limits?

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

 

The Good News of Being “Messy”

“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”  ~ Carl Rogers (Psychotherapist)sunset

Break-throughs, as most therapist will tell you, are those beautifully authentic, & at times surprising events that occur when clients reach new levels of self-awareness and understanding. We may think of them as the “Ah-ha!” moments.   Oftentimes, tears foreshadow these precious moments as emotional stretchmarks are taking shape – the result of leaning in to the discomfort and being present with the anxiety, the fear, the anger, the sadness, and whatever feeling is taking hold. Much like digging through the mud to find that precious gold nugget within the depths & yelling “Eureka!” at its sight, breaking through normally involves a great deal of effort, which in-turn makes the prize that much more valuable.

As with most aspects of our lives, we love the result – the product, the knowledge, the “goodie” – but we tend to despise the process. The getting-there is the hard part. The messy part. The rolling-up our sleeves and delving into the muck can be emotionally exhausting as it requires that we allow ourselves to be transparent with our very imperfect, human qualities.

In reality, this messy process occurs when we let our truth seep through. And truth may feel scary. It may even shock and disrupt the normal ebb-&-flow of our day-to-day lives, which has long adjusted to concealing our emotionally vulnerable parts as we operate under the false assumption of “I’ve got it altogether.”  In the process of facing the challenges of living, we  often experience the need and pressure to present ourselves to the world as flawless, shiny boxes with neatly-tied bows, in which our worlds are perfectly & cleanly organized.  We may falsely believe that “cleaning-up” our spills & stumbles and fitting ourselves within the tightly-closed box of both outward & inward perfection will protect us from harm and even propell us towards success. I believe this is false.

I tend to believe that this “perfect box” is not only unreasonable but it also thwarts rather than motivates our growth. We were never meant to fit inside the confines of perfect parameters. Furthermore, I think Carl Rogers [quoted above] was on to something when he compared people to sunsets. Perhaps messiness is not only intrinsically human but also wonderfully beautiful & valuable.

Valuable how? Valuable in the way that accepting our messiness can. . .

(a)  bring us to a place of humility,

(b) teach us about reality [ after all, the world is messy too ],

(c) free us from the trappings of impossible expectations,

(c) promote a healthy love of self,

(d) encourage greater kindness towards others [ no longer requiring perfection from them either ], and

(e) challenge our anxiety & worry by acknowledging [ & perhaps even welcoming ] events that color outside the line.

Now, people may reject this good news of being messy.

Some persons may reject it out of a fear of allowing themselves to settle and become complacent in possible areas of needed improvement. I certainly understand these concerns.  However, I remain faithful to the power of unconditional self-acceptance. In fact, studies of mental health (including this one: Self-esteem and Self-Acceptance: An Examination into their Relationship and their Affect on Psychological Health, 2006) confirm that discovering self-worth and gaining self-acceptance not only provides greater stability in mood [ managing depressed and anxious emotional affect, for instance ] but also results in improved functioning at work and at home.  

When we can be content and happy with ourselves, our whole selves, there is magnificent freedom to live wholheartedly – unafraid to exists in our own skin.  So, what parts of you overflow and spill outside of “lines of perfection”, and how can you love yourself not only despite it but for it?

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

Recognizing Yourself as a Friend

friend

I love this quote (left) by Elizabeth Gilbert, an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer.  I believe it to be an often-dismissed yet critically important reminder.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about accepting and loving oneself, entitled: Being Kind To Yourself [ Shaking Off Comparison].  In it, I discussed the common struggle of negative self-talk & self-degradation in the light of not meeting our own highly-set expectations.  In that post I also asked this question: Are you as kind to yourself as you are to your family members, your friends, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers? In other words, do you offer-up to yourself the same kindness you freely give to others?

Sadly, for many the answer is no…

In this post I wanted to continue-on in this important topic of how we treat ourselves. Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote brings up an important question we should all ask: Am I a friend to myself?

Perhaps we should begin with defining friendship…

friend: (1) a person with whom one knows, likes, and trusts; (2) a person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade

This definition is in no way ground-breaking.  True, genuine friends see you – all of you. Friends know and adore your funny sense of humor, and laugh at your corny jokes as well as the stories you’ve told three times already. Close friends can see and admire your unique personality and way of being – your strengths and talents. Perhaps most importantly, true friends recognize your rough spots – your mistakes and challenges – and fully embrace you regardless. Through the thick and the thin, they are there with you: companions, loyal comrades.

The question, then, is: Do we embrace, cherish, and celebrate our own unique personality, abilities, and passions? Furthermore, can we recognize our own rough spots and embrace and allow ourselves grace regardless? Are we as loyal and compassionate to ourselves as we can be to the friends we love and cherish so dearly?

Returning back to the quote by Gilbert (above), I am struck by the words “in an unguarded moment.” What comes to mind when you read this? For me, I imagine a very young child spinning carefree in his parents’ backyard. In the summer heat, mom and dad have turned on the outdoor sprinkler for relief and he is now skipping back and forth in nothing but a now-drooping diaper. His smile stretches from ear to ear, covering his small face as his contagious laughter fills the air and warms the heart of his parents. He lives completely in the moment – entirely occupied by the coolness of the streaming water and the feeling of his bare feet in the green grass below him.  He lets out a high-pitch squeal as he jumps over the sprinkler head – running now as fast as his little legs will take him. How can he be anything but unguarded & unashamed in this moment? How can he be anything other than his own trusted friend?

And most of us can think back to these type of moments in our own lives – before designer clothes, cliques, GPA’s or career aspirations every mattered. Before we so quickly measured others up and ranked ourselves “accordingly”, looking for some defect in them to be satisfied with ourselves. Before we were damaged by the careless words of others, which we buried in the moment but left long-lasting scars. Before the world became tough so we got tough right back – built some walls, placing guardrails along the exterior of our heart and caution signs near the soft spots in our minds. Before  we turned against ourselves – no longer seeing ourselves as a friend but rather as a let-down, a failure, or possibly a desperate work-in-progress. Before all of that – we once upon a time saw that it was okay when we fell down because it only meant that we were just like everyone else: human.

Can we return to that child, that once-unguarded person who loved himself  and enjoyed his own company unashamedly? I believe we can… this time different, of course. Perhaps we are wiser now and sure, appropriate boundaries should be in-place. After all, the world can still be mean and circumstances of life can feel like ever-changing waves.  However, maybe we can begin letting ourselves in – giving ourselves a break and whispering “it’s okay” when we feel hurt and have had a bad day. Because it is okay. It is okay when you cry, and it is okay when you feel angry. It does not necessarily mean that you are wrong or a failure – but merely reflects that  you are a human with thoughts and emotions. And that is not only okay – it is healthy that your heart beats and you experience emotion.

How can you be a friend to yourself? Possibly by treating yourself as you treat your best friend…with understanding, compassion, and free of expectation of perfection. My prayer is that these words give hope and peace to those in need today.

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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.