Growing & Becoming: A Resource for Reflection

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Friends,

In addition to continuing to share thoughts on topics related to mental wellness, personal growth, and therapy here, I am also excited to introduce an additional site for encouraging meaningful reflection. Growing & Becoming exists with the hope of engaging readers to “Find Solace. Connect with Meaning. Be Inspired.”  I created G&B six months ago with the desire to share weekly bite-size helpings of wisdom related to the following topics:

Acceptance • Beauty • Bravery • Connection • Creativity • Curiosity • Discovery • Empathy • Empowerment • Fun • Growth • Healing • Humanity • Humor • Insight • Love • Resilience • Wholeness

This month we are excitedly welcoming on several new Contributors –  friends and fellow professional helpers – with a desire to creatively celebrate these important matters of the heart & soul. To learn more and meet our team, please feel free to visit us here.

Warm regards,

Lydia

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

Journaling: Writing What You Feel & Three Tips in Starting

painting“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Carl Jung

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I love to write. With time alone and a blank piece of paper, I find that journaling gives me the space and freedom to do what for me is most necessary: give name to what I feel. I often recommend it to clients desiring to invest in themselves & their emotional well-being.

How is Journaling helpful?

paintingI believe that journaling can provide insight through self-exploration. If we are to paint a picture of what our inner world looks like on any given day, we may witness a flood of different shapes & colors – a swirling mass of faces, places, worries, fears, hopes, and a plethora of varying thoughts splattered across the walls inside our minds. Some aspects of a person’s painting have been there for a while – years, maybe even decades. Other images are newer, even fuzzy and incomplete. As we go throughout our days, these objects come in and out of focus, at times rapidly appearing and disappearing as various events trigger changes in feeling & thought. In some moments, difficult emotions – feelings of confusion, pain, guilt, sadness, or fear are elicited by specific images and we often find ourselves pushing these away. Still, there are many parts of the painting which have been covered-up; yet despite being hidden, they have significant impact on the way we move and breathe.

In a sense, journaling entails carving out intentional room to visit the whole painting in an attempt to better understand… Journaling involves making sense of the ever-changing inner world of our hearts and minds by writing out whatever comes to mind. For many people, however, journaling seems daunting. I believe this may be due to its open-ended nature. Questions of How do I get started?What should I write about? may prevent getting started. What I have discovered is releasing judment and opening myself up to the process – wherever it takes me on that particular day allows for the “dam to break” and the words to come. From my own experiences, here are some tips in beginning…

Three Tips in Getting Started:

(1)  Make it Private. I believe the best self-exploration comes in feeling complete freedom to be honest. Unlike blogging for an online audience, writing a paper to be graded by a teacher, or planning a speech – journaling is purely for the writer. It is for you and you alone. This is not to say that you can’t share your findings later with trust friends if you so desire. Yet, I believe that engaging in the journaling process with the intention of it being purely for yourself allows for the unlocking of more deeply authentic emotional expression. In a big way, the point of this is to delete the “person reading over my shoulder” sensation that many of us have, which contains all of the expectations, “should’s” and “shouldnt’s” that oftentimes hold us back from acknowleding what we truly feel.

(2) Be as Creative as You Want (This isn’t for School). Many of us have strong associations with writing – we relate it to English class, papers, and grades. Journaling is wildly different. Maybe you need to write in the typical sentence format, but perhaps not. Some days you may find jumbled words, all caps, drawing pictures in the margins, and any combination of wording feels right. Try out different color pens/markers/colored pencils. The beauty of journaling is that it will never look the same from day to day largely because you never feel the exact same from day to day. This is your time, make it what you need it to be.

(3) Let Emotion Lead. A great advantage of the journaling process is getting in-touch with underlying emotion. A great question to begin your journaling time may simply be: How do I feel? Try writing this feeling word(s) at the top and begin there. Further questions may include: What are your feelings telling you? What images, faces, places come to mind with this feeling? How are these things linked? What does this mean for you? Through journaling – much like in therapy – we try to understand the meanings underneath the circumstances. This is different from much of life in which we are instructed to “keep our emotions in check” in order to function appropriately at work, in class, at home, in relationship, etc. Yet, feelings are utterly important and affect the way we live – whether we acknowledge it and like it or not. Journaling can be a way to wrestle with difficult realities in an honest and safe way.

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

Acceptance & Empowerment: When Change Happens Deeply

sky photo“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”  – Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

Upon hearing the quote above, some individuals question psychotherapist, Carl Rogers’s message. You may similarly wonder, “How does that work?”

The idea of Acceptance preceding Change goes against much of the quick-fix/self-help/problem-focused culture we often find ourselves in. I must be ______________ (smart, “normal”, outgoing, thin, organized, well-off, educated, popular, confident, in a relationship, stress-free, employed, composed, attractive, spiritual, sober, “well-adjusted”, etc.) before I can be _______________ (accepted, loved, happy, respected, understood & okay). Yet, I question the depth of change possible when we try altering the outer behaviors and “problem areas” without also taking time to understand and attend to the inner person of who we are. Much like trimming grass at the surface only to have it grow back days later, there are deeper, much more complex roots that lie below and require understanding.

In my last post I discussed the idea of the inner Child – the part of each one of us, which is formed in childhood, and continues into adulthood, and which asks the question: “Am I Okay?” Related to this question, I believe change is what many seek when attempting to answer another quite similar question: “How Can I Be Okay?

Empowered to “Climb the Mountain”:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”  – Brene Brown

And why is self-acceptance, or self-love and the development of understanding one’s core self, so important and necessary for moving forward? Perhaps because in its absence, we often find shame. I find that shame can be explained as that gnawing, pit-in-the-stomach feeling that coincides with thoughts of “I’m bad,” “I’m hated,”, “I’m useless,” or “I’m uncared for…” Perhaps a specific event impacted the amount of shame you carry? Or maybe rather than the presence of something negative it was the lack of the positive (i.e. love, understanding, & validation) that resulted in your shame?

Regardless of what your shame looks like, carrying shame with us through life is similar to carrying added weight to one’s backpack and then attempting to hike – or sprint – up a mountain unsuccessfully. The weight is needless and unhelpful -pulling us backward – but we’ve carried it for so long. It has become “our normal” and we’ve become all-too accustomed to the aches and pains it provides. Stopping to unpack the extra load takes time and commitment. It also requires looking at difficult realities below the surface. Yet, it is an investment in ourselves and provides the empowering effect of standing and walking forward more free to create and enjoy the journey ahead.

Psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom, refers to therapist and client as “fellow travelers.” (The Gift of Therapy). I love this idea and I have found it to be true both in my role as counselor as well as in my own time spent in the client-seat. Traveling together in the reflective journey of counseling requires the difficult tasks of looking at the “weight” – the shame, the pain, and the confusion present. However, through the challenge it also provides the exciting experience of exploring what hopes are possible when a person begins to see him/herself through the lens of love rather than shame and encounters change happening deeply. ___________________________________________________________________________________ Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

On the Parent, Adult, & Child Within: The Voices that Guide Us

pacPsychotherapist & founder of Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne, is famous for creating P-A-C (Parent-Adult-Child), a theory about personality based on the idea that each person contains three psychological positions or “voices” that guide our interactions & choices.

I have found that this creative framework allows us an opportunity to better understand ourselves and the way we interact with others. Below, I hope to provide a basic overview of these three positions or “voices”:

the Parent: The “How-To” Recording

“Much Parent data appears in current living in the “how-to” category; how to hit a nail, how to make a bed, how to eat soup, how to blow your nose, how to thank the hosetess, how to shake hands, how to pretend no one’s at home, how to fold the bath towels, or how to dress the Christmas tree…” (Harris, I’m OK-You’re OK, p.23).

We can think of the Parent voice as the set of rules – the do’s & don’ts – naturally taught by our early caregivers. Dependent on our caregivers, these rules become ingrained as truth – what is right & wrong. In addition, the Parent involves not only the rules of right and wrong but also the manner of directing these rules. While the Parent voice can be nurturing and protecting, it may also be critical and controlling. When we recognize ourselves becoming stubborn & hypercritical (“My way or the highway!) OR overly protective (“The constant Hero”) of others in our lives, this is our inner Parent “coming out to play” in a potentially unhealthy way.

dad bondingthe Child: The “I’m NOT Ok” Recording

“Everyone has an inner child.” (Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK)

“On the basis of these feelings the little person early concludes, “I’m not OK.” Even the child of kind, loving, well-meaning parents. It is the situation of the childhood and not the intention of the parents which produces the problem.” (Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK, p.28).

Like the Parent recording, the Child recording is instilled early on in our lives. While the Child contains the potential for creativity & playfulness, it also consists of the “I’m NOT Ok” message. In reaction to being small & dependent on “big people” to survive, each little person’s insecurity arises here in the Child. Understandably, it contains much of the fear, guilt, and pain emotions we experience. It is normal to have a Child reactions, especially in shocking situations; however, when the Child continues to dominate into adulthood it can look like constant self-doubting, struggles in stating opinions, or consistently choosing the “easy way out” – escaping or numbing discomfort in the face of challenges. While comfort and support from loving caregivers can soothe and provide the necessary “okayness” for a time, building self-esteem & confidence is necessary towards positive growth and maturity in adolescence and adulthood. This leads us to the next position, the Adult…

the Adult: A Voice of Clarity

“Thus we see the Adult as the place where the action is, where hope resides, and where change is possible.” – (Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK, p. 67)

The Adult voice is the only one of the three that is not a recording. Instead, it is ours to create as autonomous, free individuals. Further, we must be intentional in forming it. The Adult does not neglect or ignore the Parent & Child voices but rather is aware of how the Parent or “taught concept” and the Child or “felt concept” impacts interactions and choices. The Adult position respects these initial thoughts and feelings yet is also open to the here and now – to being present & open to new information. The beauty of the Adult is in its empowering effect. Where the Parent & Child can leave us stuck – one in a place of dominant inflexibility (P) and the other in a place of personal insecurity (C) – the Adult moves forward with honesty and curiosity.

How P-A-C Appears:

An example of P-A-C may involve a scenario in which one’s boss giving an honest critique of lateness. The employee can respond in one of three ways:

  • the Parent may respond with anger & defensiveness, expressing “You’re one to talk about me showing up late! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you come into work several minutes late recently!”
  • the Child may respond with meekness & anxiety, stating “I’m so so sorry! I can’t believe I’ve been late…you probably want to fire me, huh?”
  • the Adult however responds with respect & honesty, responding with “Thank you for your honesty and I agree  – being on time is an area where I would like to grow. I’m wondering if I could can ask a few questions…”

What we can see here is an Adult who surely feels the same embarrassment & guilt of the Child & Parent yet responds from a position of remaining okay with oneself & open to change. This is only one example. You may notice your inner Parent or inner Child appearing in your life in more subtle ways – in interactions with friends, colleagues, family, or even strangers. The process of developing a strong Adult is not necessarily simple or easy. It is certainly a process and one that involves self-kindness, honesty, and genuine openness to recognizing personal patterns of dealing with strong emotions.

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

Healing & Uniting in Relationship: Three Keys to Constructive Communication

chairs beach“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” ~ Rollo May (late psychologist/psychotherapist)

Communication is key in not only healing from wounds in relationship but also – as Rollo May states (above) – it is essential in truly understanding another person, being understood yourself, and cultivating intimacy and mutual respect together. The following skills are helpful in gaining this awareness and seeking clarity in the midst of conflict:

[*I consistently use the word spouse in the following explanations but these skills can also be applied to other close relationships such as dating relationships, family relationships, & friendships.]

  1. Listen rather than Defend

When conversations become emotionally difficult, the normal feelings of anxiety and fear can leave us wanting to defend ourselves. We desire for our loved on to view us in a positive light. Therefore, defensiveness can be a typical response when discussions become heated. However, defending oneself often creates a wall, blocking our ability to truly empathize with the other person and genuinely hear his or her concerns.  Instead of defending yourself, “lean in” to this discomfort and accept it as normal. Then attend to your spouse, putting aside your own discomfort, and focusing on what his or her message is. Doing this for one another allows each individual to have the validating experience of having his/her voice recognized and valued.

  1. Ask rather than Assume

When engaging in discussions about tough topics, resist assuming. Assuming to know your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions impedes progress in communicating clearly. Our assumptions may be based on past experiences (even with other people) and can often be incorrect. Similar to defensiveness, assuming can be a near-automatic response when in the midst of an argument. Difficult topics often make us feel vulnerable. Out of fear of being hurt, assuming to know is a way of “having a leg up” in the moment of relational struggle. Yet, it typically causes more confusion and miscommunication by invalidating the other person’s true ideas and feelings.  Instead, approach your spouse with honest curiosity and a willingness to respect their response.

  1. Own your choices/thoughts/feelings rather than Blame them on your spouse.

Taking responsibility for your own choices, thoughts, and feelings is essential in promoting honesty and trust between you and your spouse. Use “I” and “me” statements rather than “you” statements when explaining your ideas and feelings. [ Example, saying: “When we discuss difficult topics, I feel misunderstood.” Rather than: “You never try to understand me when we have difficult conversations.”]. Blaming only further pushes your spouse away in tough conversations. Taking ownership of what you are personally responsible for cultivates a space for respect and compassion to flourish, enabling healthier, less aggressive dialogue to occur.

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

Un-plugging this Summer: 9 Fun Activities for Teens Offline

Summer can be a breathe of fresh air for both teens and their parents who have survived the grueling, hectic schedule of the school year. In a previous post, I discuss the realities of stress that accompany adolescence, often due to the sheer number of changes and challenges that occur during this time of growing up. So, of course summer can and should be a relief for the student (and hopefully for the whole family).

However, in working with families, I commonly hear of how in this Age of Technology – the primary source of entertainment involves being online. Along with typical social media outlets (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, & Youtube), gaming online as well as marathon t.v. watching (Netflix) can take up an overwhelming number of hours for pre-teens and teens during the lazy summer days in between school years.

There is nothing wrong with having fun online or watching television. However, what we find is that when entire days are filled with nothing but being “plugged-in” and depending on a screen, a person’s mood tends to go south. Staying stationary for long periods of time, especially when isolated, tends to cause feelings of sluggish sadness over time. The reality is that getting up, moving, and doing something – even if for only a portion of the day – leads to feeling more accomplished, motivated, and typically better about oneself.  In short, having fun online is like candy. Too much of a good thing can turn sour and leave a person aching in the end.

Below I’ve included a few suggestions for alternatives to time spent online or in front of the t.v. The activities below are relatively budget-friendly and available regardless of the age and stage of the child or teen:

1. Relax by the pool. If you live in a neighborhood with a pool (or close to a community pool), this option is perfect. Easy access for families allows for a relaxing alternative to being “plugged-in” with the added bonus of a chance to get some Vitamin D. Being outside in the summer can be challenging – especially with the kind of heat we have in Georgia…being near the pool allows for a quick relief from the sun.

2. Join a team. While competitive school teams lasts throughout the school year, the summer can be a chance for your child or teenager to have fun interacting with other peers in a sport without the pressure of intense competition. Places like the local YMCA provide a variety of activities, including basketball, martial arts, swimming, soccer, and dance classes.

3. Volunteer. Volunteering can be good for the community and the young person engaging to better it. Helping those in need can teach teens important lessons of compassion, humility, and putting others first.  Nursing homes, homeless shelters, animal rescue centers, and so many other facilities are in need of volunteers. Websites like Volunteer Match & All For Good can match a person with opportunities to volunteer in their area.

4. Consider camp. Day camp and away camps provide fun opportunities for children and teens to experience what it is like to get out of their “comfort zone” – to be in a new place with new people and learn to tackle fun challenges in a safe environment. In this way, going to camp cultivates time for the young person to grow in independence and confidence. Camps exists for a variety of interests and are not only limited to younger children. A listing of camps in Atlanta can be found here.

5. Read. It doesn’t have to be a classic novel – like the ones you read for English class. How about a fun mystery novel or the latest comic book? Unlike watching a movie or television show, reading allows a person to more fully engage in the world of the characters and enjoy a story in a different way. Take a field trip to your local Barnes & Noble, peruse the aisles, and find something that peeks your interest.

6. Get creative. Drawing, painting, & crafting: only a few ways to let your creative juices flow this summer. Maybe getting creative for you looks more like writing a song/ playing music or choreographing a dance to your favorite new song. If you enjoy being artistic, consider setting aside specific time in the day to invest creatively.

7. Learn a new skill. Knowing how to cook, change a flat tire, or mow the lawn – these may sound like chores (and they very well may be) but they are also important skills that every individuals needs to have before entering the “real world”. Teaching these skills also provides an opportunity for parents to bond with their teen and pass along important tools. Consider making it fun by getting creative. For example, determine a certain night of the week as “their night to cook.” They get to plan the menu and together you shop for ingredients to make the meal. You are there to help but they are primarily in charge of cooking the dinner.  Added bonus: supporting their independence in this way creates an environment for self-confidence to grow.

8. Schedule game nights with the family. Puzzles, cards, board games – the options are endless. Plan a night at least once a week for your family to get together and play a game. Simple and fun.

9. Go for walks. Growing up, my family loved to go on walks together. It was a great time to get some fresh air, exercise, and talk about the day. Take a stroll around the neighborhood or visit a park with a nice walking path.  You’ll feel great afterwards.

These are just a few ideas – but you may know of even better ways to unplug and have fun. Hope you and your family’s summer is a time of re-cooperating and relaxing!

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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.

The Stress of Adolescence: 3 Reminders for Parents of Teens

CRCT testing. SATs. Final exams. Finding a date to prom. Passing the driver’s test. Do I trust them? Do they like me? How do I look? My parents don’t get it…. My teachers won’t give me a break. Grades. AP Classes. Group Projects. Sports. Extracurricular activities. Parties. Dating. Sex? Fitting-in. Social media. Graduation. First job. College? Scholarships?? Future??? Choices, choices, choices.

…as an Adolescent Counselor, these are popular topics of conversation in my office.  Sitting with the teens I am privileged to work with, I find that one word most correctly describes the adolescent years: STRESSFUL. Surely this is a good description when we consider how these changes and challenges are faced within a mere 7 years (from the first day of middle school to the last day of high school). Further, if these hard choices, and milestones above are not enough, many teens face additional difficulties. The death of a loved one, separating parents, a diagnosis of ADHD, and cyber-bullying are just a few examples of more “wrenches” commonly thrown into an already-demanding plate of new transitions.

All of these things and more line the path of the relatively short time, which exists between childhood and adulthood.  Compounding these experiences and circumstances are very real biological changes: maturing physically and shifts in hormones that affect the way teens respond emotionally to their world of school, peers, friends, and families.

…Perhaps you are a parent and you are fully aware of this knowledge. You experience these changes and your teen’s reaction to them on a daily basis. You see the high’s and low’s of their anger, sadness, anxiety, and disappointment, and maybe you yourself have felt exhausted and even confused as to their behaviors…For this reason, I want to share 3 helpful reminders for parents – and other significant guardians-  of teens:

1. You will experience push-back from your teen. (It’s not a question of “If?” but “When?” and “How?”…)

As the adult and authority, you will experience some push-back and rule-breaking during this time of their expanding independence. This is normal. It does not mean your son or daughter is bad, and it certainly does not mean that you are a bad parent as a result. Also, it does not entail that they are trying to hurt or disappoint you. Rather, this is to be expected as they “try on” independence and test the limits. Not only is this normal, it is healthy. It can be a sign that they are gaining confidence and autonomy, which is important as they move into adulthood. We should expect growing pains to naturally occur during this time, and along with this growth comes some normal emotional tension between child and parent.

2. Rules & discipline are important. How you implement them is just as important.

Just as teens are expected to test some boundaries, you are expected to implement rules in order to protect them and help them move towards positive goals. However, oftentimes fears can leave parents worried of what is enough in relation to parenting. Too little structure can be confusing for teens (who are still in need of stability) while too much protection can leave them socially and emotionally stunted. Further, when teens cross lines and break family rules, it is important that parents discipline their behaviorwhile treating their worth and value as a person the same. Regardless of what they do, teens need to know they are unconditionally loved, valued, and secure as your son and daughter. This means that despite your (certainly justified) frustrations with them, firm yet respectful and calm conversations with your teen are the most helpful and productive.   

3. Their peers and friends may be their “world” but you are their Safe Place.

You may feel ignored and treated as if you were “annoying” or “a burden.” In fact, they may even voice this to you. This is, after all, an unfortunate side effect of the natural push-back, previously discussed.  However, do not be fooledthey need you. And not just for the basic necessities. You are more than the person who pays for the data plan on their phone or drives them to soccer practice. Teens need to know that after their friends have betrayed them (which they will), their first boyfriend/girlfriend has broken their heart (which he or she will), and after feeling rejected by a certain group at school – that you will be there to love them regardless. You are the safe place of needed understanding, and knowing that you are on their side is essential towards their development of a secure and grounded sense of self. On a daily basis, ask how they are doing and how they are feeling. Even if they give a short reply, they notice that you care.  You can never be a perfect parent; however, being a stable place where they can come to you and express emotions is invaluable in their journey towards adulthood.

Hopefully from these three points I’ve listed, the importance of your place in your teenager’s life has been highlighted. I feel privileged to walk alongside teens and their families as they face some of the ups and down of these difficult years together.

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