Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Best Books of 2015....

Happy New Year from The Shrink Rap and Stages Counseling (www.stagescounselingmn.com). Here is my annual post about self-help and memoirs that I have read, and found helpful, this past year. Please note that this is only MY opinion.

 For those in a relationship that needs a little tweaking... 
 Snap Strategies for Couples: 40 Fast Fixes for Everyday Relationship Pitfalls
Snap Strategies for Couples: 40 Fast Fixes for Everyday Relationship Pitfalls Staheli, Lana
This book is easy to read, not boring or too research-laden and has great tips to try for all couples. I loved how it was not too long, and if a particular "fast fix" was not a problem area for you, you can just skip over that section, and move on to the next one.

For biography lovers... (Or for those who loved SNL in the 90s)

The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts   Tom Farley, Jr.
Not a self-help book, per se, but a biography written by Chris Farley's brother about his rise and fall, due to anxiety, low self-esteem and addiction. He interviewed those close to Chris, so it is his own info, then commentary mixed in from others who knew Chris. A great biography.

For those who have had a connection with birth trauma...

Heal Your Birth Story: Releasing the Unexpected   Maureen Campion
This is combination memoir, combination self-help for those who have lived through a traumatic birth, and their partners. It would also be helpful for those, like myself, who are helpers of those who have experienced a traumatic birth. It has great tips and exercises at the end of each chapter. Not a book to sit and read, but rather to digest and use to heal.

For those with a narcissist in their life... 

Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed    Wendy T. Behari
Whether you live with one, work with one, or were raised by one, narcissism is everywhere in many forms. This personality type can leave people feeling quite helpless and hurting. This book is one of the better ones I have read on this subject, and felt very helpful.

For those who wonder if there is any good left in the world... 
Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them
Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them  Randy Christensen
Dr. Christensen in a doctor in Arizona who creates a mobile medical unit to help the homeless youth living on the streets. A great story of hope and a reminder that there are people in the world that really want to make the world a better place.

For those who want something different in their parenting style...
The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children
The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children  Shefali Tsabary
Mindfulness is a big buzz word. But do you use it in your parenting? When you feel like you have exhausted your last nerve, this book has some wonderful ways to help you feel empowered as a parent while also empowering your children.
For those who question their value...
Look up for Yes
Look up for Yes Julia Tavalaro
Another memoir written by a woman in her early 30's who ended up paralyzed and unable to speak. Those around her figured she was a "vegetable", but boy, she proved them wrong. A look at how we all have value and worth!

For parents of tween or teen girls...
The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today's Girls
The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today's Girls  Louise Greenspan
I mostly read this because I have a 10 year old daughter!! But there was great information in it that contradicted a lot of what is out there. Girls are developing earlier, but it's not just about the hormones we are putting in our food. Evidence-based information and great tips for parents while navigating this stage of life.
For those who need to SLOOOOOOW DOOOOOWN...
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives  Richard A. Swenson
We are all SO busy, busy, busy these days. How do we even try to have balance? Read this book- you will be glad you made the time. 

For postpartum parents who need to know they are not alone...
Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers
Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers  Marritt Ingman
A memoir about Ingman's experience with motherhood and a postpartum mood disorder. With perinatal mental health being the bread and butter of my therapy practice, it is so important to have real, raw information to recommend. This was a good one. 

If you have read any books that you found helpful this past year, please send me an email at stagescounseling@gmail.com. I will do my best to read it! Thank you, and happy reading!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Making meaning of your wounds

This blog post was inspired by this Video. Worth the watch...

This speaker was talking about cancer and about how we process and making meaning of the challenges in our lives. This speaker is a chaplain by training, but also went through her own experience with cancer, and spoke about how we can either learn from our challenges, or become defined by them.

In my counseling practice, I see this happen frequently. People get stuck in the process of wading through the mud of the horrible things that have happened in their lives, and trying to move forward, but feel powerless to do so. And some have an unwillingness to do so.

In the video, the speaker talks about her training as a chaplain, and learning "The Three C's: comfort, clarify and challenge (or confront)". She uses examples for how this applies to her work, and it occurred to me that this is exactly what is done, or should be done, in the therapy process.

Our clients are in pain, both physically and emotionally at times, and need us as a source of comfort. Often that comfort comes in the form of giving them a space to talk, vent, cry, yell and purge their pain to someone who is non-judgmental, and a neutral person. As therapists, we have an obligation to provide this. Many are stuck because they feel they have nobody else in their life who can comfort them, or people just don't know how. Or perhaps they have exhausted the people in their lives. This is a great first step to connecting and building trust in therapy, and in healing for the client.

Things get harder here. We have to work through the client's experience, and either clarify for ourselves, or help them better see how things really are. Sometimes they are stuck in the perception of their story, or how others see them. Helping them learn how to fact check can be very powerful and healing. It can help them feel understood, and help them take the first step in finding meaning of their experience.

The speaker admits that this is the hard part. And it is also a part where many therapists either don't get to- because clients discontinue therapy- or they don't feel comfortable with this part, so never do it full with the client. And this is a disservice to clients. How many of us therapists have heard stories from clients about previous therapy, where all they got was "smile, nod, and 'tell me how that feels'"? This is not thoroughly helping our clients heal.
But confrontation is hard. It means taking a risk- that your client might get angry with you. That your client may not come back. And perhaps your client isn't ready for this phase yet, but if you don't get to this point, your client will likely never learn how to define him or herself as anything other than a victim.

One of my favorite books ever is "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl, who was a Holocaust survivor. He talks about this same process- how in order to heal, and be resilient, we must make meaning of our traumas. Therapists- you can be such a powerful part of this journey. And clients- you can achieve true healing and find a way to define yourself in other ways than your trauma. Because you are so much more, and you deserve it!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Old Wounds

As a marriage therapist, one of the biggest reasons couples present for counseling is because they say they want to fight less, and learn how to fight fairly. Many times, they think the solution is just about communication- reducing black/white/all/nothing statements, namecalling, stonewalling... all that good stuff. And while that is important, a bigger part of therapy that will result in deeper connections and healing is uncovering what is beneath the scars, and being vulnerable with each other about those old wounds.

Think back to your common conflicts in your relationships. Really observe what happens- like creating a flowchart in your mind. Where is the breakdown? What is the moment when all hell breaks loose? That is generally where an old wound has been triggered. That is where people will engage in negative behaviors, or shut down. When something from the past, whether childhood or previous relationships, or both, has been reopened. All of your insecurities, worries,
and fears come bleeding out, and you don't know how to stop it.

How to break this painful cycle? Here are some techniques that I have found helpful in my practice:
  • When you are both hurting, picture your partner as a child. When old wounds are sliced back open, we emotionally become a much younger age. In fact, many survivors of trauma find themselves stuck at the age they were originally wounded. Instead of holding on to that anger, attempt to connect with the vulnerability that your partner is showing, even in what is sometimes very ugly behavior. This visualization can often result in a much-needed emotional break for you both to regroup and reconnect in a better way. (Note: This does not apply to abusive behavior. If your partner, male or female, is harming you physically, emotionally, or sexually, that is a different topic, and one that requires seeking professional help). 
  • Sit down with your partner and make a timeline of the events in your lives that have wounded each of you. This will help you both see where you are vulnerable, and will help you be more aware of what to keep in mind when needing to have emotional conversations or conflict. Share each others events, and help your partner understand why this hurts you- even if it doesn't make sense, or seem logical. When we are in conflict, we are rarely logical. 
  • In conjunction with the timeline exercise, have a discussion about each of your families of origin. Talk about events, how conflict was handled (or not handled), how emotions were expressed, if there were emotions that were not allowed to be expressed, abusive behaviors, and other topics that you feel have shaped you. 
  • Read the book "Hold Me Tight" by Sue Johnson. It is just SO good, and all about attachment in relationships. It helps couples stick together when they want to push each other away. Enough said.

The key is awareness. Learn what your old wounds are, and be honest- not just with yourself, but with your partner. Take a chance to let him know what has happened that has contributed to that response. This is when true healing can begin.