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Archive for the ‘therapy’ Category

First let me say that I am fully aware that psychiatric medications can save lives. My concern is not their existence, but their abuse. All too often people in emotional pain are prescribed medication by their physicians without even the suggestion that there are other treatment options. For example, If your doctor has prescribed an antidepressant, did he or she also mention exercise, diet, counseling, psycho-education, support groups, exposure to natural light, journaling, etc.?

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I’ve been neglecting this blog as I continue to work on my book, “Dancing in the Dark: Lessons from our Darkest Nights.” And because I still can’t seem to manage to create a new entry today, I want to share a piece that I wrote several years ago.  Although it isn’t new, I feel it flowing after all of these years still straight through my heart.

You sit before me now, head down, while your face seeks shelter in your hands. “I failed,” you confess, sounding hollow and broken. I attempt to comfort and reassure you. When you finally look up at me, I’m not seen, and not heard. You’re so lost inside of your pain and disappointment that my words can’t find you. I can’t find you. And so we sit silently beside one another for a time, both feeling inadequate. You’re hurting so much right now, feeling lost and more than a little sick inside. In my silence, I try to communicate to you that you’re not alone. I’m here. Right beside you. And I still believe in you.

Later, I decide to write you a letter – one you can carry in your pocket to remind you of my caring. A note to read when you’re more open to my message. I know it won’t take your pain away or magically transform your beliefs, but maybe it can hold a seed, one that might eventually emerge from the rich and fertile ground in which I so lovingly planted it.

And so you failed. And this failure wounds you so profoundly that its penetrated deep into your psyche.  It may have even become an integral part of who you believe yourself to be today.

Today, you look into your mirror and see a failure. I look into your eyes and see the wisdom born of pain. And it hurts, this learning. I know. I know. I’ve felt its sting before. I’ve been thoroughly haunted by my own mistakes, miscalculations, and self-judgement. I’ve fallen too. Again and yet again.

Just like you, I forget during those moments when my folly is first discovered – what I know. What we both know. Defeat isn’t the theme of our unique stories, it isn’t what defines who we are, where we’ll go or who we’ll become. It only reminds us that we’re not alone. That we share the legacy of all human-kind, that we all will fail from time to time. Each of us stumbles and gets wounded in the fall. Failure, my dear, dear, friend, is a natural offshoot of growth. We churn in it, learn from it, and we become stronger as we struggle to recover from it.

In a commencement address delivered at Moorpark College in 1989, James D. Griffen remembered John Kennedy O’Toole, a young writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Imagine what it would have felt like to him to achieve this coveted award. How successful, how triumphant, how wonderful he would have felt. I say “would of” because we’ll never know how he might have felt. He’ll never know. We can only imagine on his behalf, because he never lived to claim his prize. After being rejected by seventeen publishers, he committed suicide. What a strange term, “to commit” suicide, when the act is above all else, a lack of commitment.

We must all hold fast in the darkness, for regardless of the blackness which may surround us – light always eventually illuminates our path. Always…

Experience fully the pain of your failure. You must, bless you. I know you must. But when your body and soul grows weary of the sadness, the recriminations, the “what ifs” (and they will), accept the compensations, (however modest) that accompany your misfortune. Learn the lessons that follow behind them. They’ll serve you well. You’ll be wiser, stronger, and more prepared for the rest of your journey if you take them with you. Rest now if you need to. Grieve if you must. And when you’re ready to collect them, let me know. I’ll gladly help you gather them up.

So what’s the moral of this story? Your story? It’s not a story about loss, deficiency, and flaws. It’s a story about lessons learned, overcoming, moving forward and onward, and most importantly – it is a story about hope.

Some of my most cherished tales have touched my heart and at the same time they have made me weep. And though I’m sad for you right now, I want you to know my weary friend, that I love your story still…

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“There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”
Author Unknown

Being a proponent for strength based therapies for the past twenty years, I was extremely receptive when positive psychology was first introduced to the world. Like so many therapists, I’d experienced that terrible sense of hopelessness that periodically emerged during my early years as a therapist as I and my client become entrenched in the muck of pain and pathology. There in my light filled office, muscles tensed and heart heavy, gazing into the eyes of someone whom I had come to care deeply about, I all too often came perilously close to developing tunnel vision. I had witnessed the pain, listened compassionately, and carefully gathered up the shattered pieces of a broken story, while failing to truly see the
epic tale before me

I had come close enough to not only touch the wounds, but to hold them closely, and yet I had allowed precious and essential aspects of my client to move beyond my immediate reach – all of those experiences, lessons, wisdom, and unique strengths and gifts that my client possessed which absolutely guaranteed a successful (though never without risk or pain)passage.

When I learned to adapt my lens so that I could readily shift my focus back and forth between pain and possibility, pathology and promise, I not only improved my effectiveness and enhanced my vision – I discovered an inner voice. This voice has sustained me through many difficult, frightening and even heart breaking journeys with clients, and while this voice still expresses self-doubt and even despair, it is never without hope. And with hope in tact, we can go on. I can go on.

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I just learned that Theodore Roszack died this past July in his California home at the age of 77 from liver cancer.

I’ll miss him. I’ll miss his wisdom, his perspective, his call to therapists everywhere to respond to the “madness involved in urban industrial society that has to do with our lack of balance and integration with the natural environment…” He urged us to join those ecologists and environmentalists who warn that we’re on a path of self-destruction. He implored us not to remain so focused on our clients’ individual issues that we failed to confront the wounds inflicted by a “deeply toxic” culture. In an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove on Thinking Allowed, he encouraged us to find out why ordinary people are engaging in behaviors that are so destructive. To ask, “how did we lose our intimate connection to the natural world?” And “what drives us so fiercely towards material gain at the expense of community, spirituality, health, morality, and so very much more?” And he adviced us to listen very carefully to the answers as closely and as genuinely as we listen to the stories of our clients.

He pointed out that while our mental health system was focused on trauma, pathology and illness for so long, there have always been those who’ve maintained that, “the deeper you look inside, the more reason you find for joy, for celebration; that the foundations for human nature are clean and good and innocent and creative.” He asked us, as mental health professionals, to lead the way in helping people move away from the burdens of shame and guilt and original sin and towards what psychoanalyst Eric Fromme called, biophilia — the love of humanity and life. If we were to fall in love with the beauty that’s contained both within the natural world and within ourselves, we’d be far more proactive in caring for ourselves, our planet, and one another.

In an interview on PBS which focused on ideas from his first book, an examination of the revolutionary youth movement of the sixties entitled, “The Making of a Counter Culture,” Roszac suggested that if the ethos of the sixties had prevailed today, “it would be a world, where people lived gently on the planet without the sense that they have to exploit nature or make war upon nature in order to find basic security. It would be a simpler way of life, less urban, less consumption-oriented, and much more concerned about spiritual values, about companionship, friendship, community. Community was one of the great words of this period, getting together with other people, solving problems, enjoying one another’s company, sharing ideas, values, insights. And if that’s not what life is all about, if that’s not what the wealth is for, then we are definitely on the wrong path.”

He called on therapists such as myself in his book, “The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology,” and he called on boomers such as myself in his last book, “The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation,” to relaim the spirit that was very much alive in the sixties, the one that “questioned rather deeply the cultural standards of the time. He asked us now that we are becoming elders to revive the energy and commitment we had back when we were young to work to birth a better and more just world.

I will miss you Theodore. I took you for granted. I was too self absobed to fully hear your message. And now, as is all too often the case with we humans, you got my full attention only when I found out that you had left me. I’m listening now with both a sad and grateful heart….

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In “How We Choose to be Happy,” Rick Foster and Greg Hicks describe a process they call ‘recasting’. In order to learn how to recast:

1. Identify a problem that you’re currently struggling with
2. Next, ask yourself the following questions in regards to the problem that you’ve identified:
• What am I feeling?
• Have I allowed myself feel all of the emotions that might be associated with the problem I’m currently facing?
• In spite of how hurtful this problem has been, what have I learned about myself or others as I’ve struggled with this problem? What have I learned about my life in general?
• Has this problem led me to make any positive changes in my life?
• Are there meaningful changes that I could make in my life that would make me more effective in dealing with this problem or happier overall?
• If this problem is unlikely to change, how can I improve other aspects of my life?

Take your time as you answer these questions, you may even want to come back to them more than once before you consider this exercise complete. Recasting provides you with greater perspective and will help illuminate the lessons that are invariably contained within any challenge that we commit to responding to thoughtfully and consciously.

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