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The Games We Play

by Tyson Kuch Ph.D.

You see and hear about it almost everywhere you go – the games people play with one another. Most of us just want to be liked, but whether it's between two people meeting in a club or two partners in an established relationship, a lot of us become entangled in a strange game geared mainly toward winning and maintaining the attention and affection of someone we like. So, while friends gripe about it and online profiles express disdain against people who "play games," why do most of us continue with the charade? Do we believe that playing hard to get will make us more desirable and seem less desperate? Why, when most people see someone attractive in a bar/club would they rather stare them down than walk up and start a conversation? Do we believe that pathetic pick-up lines work better than speaking from the heart?

And yet, it seems as though we have both a desire for – but fear of – being noticed. So, when it's attention and affection we so desperately want, why do we hide ourselves behind the games we play? Perhaps we're just afraid of being authentic – as if we have something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is a curious irony that as badly as we want to be liked, we feel compelled to play the role of someone other than who we are. We play games with ourselves and we play games with each other. When we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to standards that we constantly rewrite in our own heads...we will do the same things with others.

That said, I believe there are two factors which interact to fuel many people's behavior (1) Greed and (2) Fear. We become greedy for things we want, but feel we cannot have. We fear uncertainty, and go to great lengths to both avoid it and convince ourselves that we understand our lives and the people in them, rather than accept the fact that ambiguity is a natural element of life and we may not always have as much control as we would like. Faced with confusion and uncertainty, our pulse quickens and uneasiness sets in. We make up stories and excuses to write off the things we can't explain rather than deal with the fact that life doesn't always make sense. We complain about not understanding why people act the way they do instead of just accepting it as fact. We blame ourselves when our partners don't act the way we think they should and sometimes we try to change the people we love rather than just accept them for who they are – blemishes and all. We lust after pleasures we feel will make us complete and give us lasting fulfillment. We believe that guy/girl we've seen at the club will give us the happiness that's been missing for so long. We believe that a higher paying job would help us to feel more fulfilled and successful. We fear alienation and go to great lengths to avoid abandonment – real or imagined. And we believe that being single suggests some flaw in our own character.

The problem for most of us is that once we get what we think we need, we begin longing for something else, once we realize that our void has not truly been filled... that we are not truly satisfied. We lose interest in what we've accumulated and for some people, we lose interest in the relationships we've cultivated. And so the game continues. We wake up in the morning with a new list of desires and a new list of things we feel compelled to accomplish...and yet no matter how hard we work, we are often left feeling deeply unsatisfied.

The way out is simple – stop fighting the current. Relinquish the idea that you have total control over your life and that it will unfold the way you imagine. Things are never as good or bad as you might imagine. People will always surprise or disappoint you. The world is entirely too consumed in itself to really care about how you're dressed. You are your own lifetime companion so don't abandon your own company through fruitless pursuits like drinking, drugging, or mind-numbing television watching. Get over your own insecurities and push your boundaries by talking to that someone you've been watching. Risk rejection rather than pretend to be someone you're not. Get over the fact that you don't have control over everything that happens to you, but know that you do have control over how you react to it.

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I "Like" Doing Things

By Daniel M. Fisher Ed.S.

I like to tell my clients how, in order to overcome depression, they have to take action steps to accomplish this goal. Depression is an illness of the minimums. By this I mean it's an illness that takes away motivation, excitement, and interest in our lives for reasons we have a hard time putting a finger on and puts us in the mindset of "how can I get through my day by expending the least amount of effort or energy as possible." Some might disagree with this notion, but I find a lack of motivation and interest in once loved activities really shows up quite a bit and the rationale is "well I just don't feel like it." This is a very passive way of hoping to get out of depression and my question is always "Why would we aid in this process by succumbing to sometimes irrational ideas of avoiding the things we love or avoiding the social connections we crave?"

In pondering these ideas, I recently I found myself scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as I so often do, and "liking" things left and right. A friend of mine made a pithy comment about a celebrity, so, of course, I "liked" it. I saw a picture of a puppy licking an ice cream cone, so I "liked" it. Another friend posted about bicycles, so I "liked" it. Facebook, in its algorithmic wisdom, saw I had "liked" a post about puppies and then about bicycles, so naturally, they suggested that I "Like" the "I Love Puppies" page and "Bicycles" page in order to signify my undying support for these two aspects of my life. And you know what? I did it! I am not ashamed to admit, I love puppies and I love riding bicycles! What a wonderful turn of events! Now, all of the 312 people on Facebook who I've proclaimed to be my "friends" will now know even more about me and for some, our mutual interests will become even more intertwined. It's amazing. I have never felt so close to people in my life.

Only, no one is around. I haven't talked to many of these "friends," save for the occasional supportive "like," in years. I became a little sad in participating in my daily Facebook excavation and I got to thinking about this notion of "liking" things.

It occurred to me how Facebook and other "social" networks help create an illusion of activity and inclusion but accomplish, in many cases, the opposite. For me, sitting and "liking" something is similar to avoiding the actual real life social participation so many suffering from depression describe. It's not on purpose and social networks are a wonderful way to stay connected but, like anything else, it can't be our only form of social activity if we expect to maintain interpersonal relationships and activity levels necessary for overcoming or preventing our depression.

What does it all mean if I don't actually do any of the things I "like" to do? So what am I doing here sitting in front of my computer "liking" things and getting depressed about it when I could be out DOING things? I can only answer that with: "See you later, I'm going for a bike ride."

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Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

By Alexis Honeycutt

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Bungee Jump
OK, so maybe not bungee jumping specifically. Any activity that is new or exhilarating would qualify for this category. Studies have shown that couples who participate in novel and arousing activities with one another, are happier. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but the most prominent is that novel activities aren't boring, and boredom is the mortal enemy of romance and a relationship killer.

It's easy to fall into familiar patterns of dating. I had some friends who lived their entire life within a three mile radius of their house, and who dated like planets in orbit around the same seafood restaurant. While they probably saved a fortune in gas, they probably didn't do their romantic life any favors.

2. Fight constructively
Conflict, miscommunication, and even arguments can (and do) happen within healthy relationships. However, without a clear set of rules, arguments can lead absolutely nowhere or worse, they can do long term damage to the relationship. Here are two ways to avoid the most common argument fouls.

A. Ask for clarification
During an argument it's easy to assume what the other person is thinking, and then to react to what you think they actually meant (we call this mindreading). In the heat of an argument it is very easy to assign, often mistakenly, malicious intent to something a partner is saying. Instead, practice listening to your partner and paraphrasing what he or she actually said instead of what you think they meant. Again, if you aren't sure, ask for clarification.

B. Specify the offense
Your partner forgot to take out the garbage (again). You yell "The garbage from Tuesday is still in the kitchen because you never take it out. You don't care! You're so selfish!"

Instead, pinpoint a specific behavior (taking out the garbage), and the way it made you feel using an "I" statement. Say "When you forgot to take the garbage out on Tuesday, I felt uncared for." Now instead of insults, the partner is presented with the way in which their actions caused distress, along with the specific action that caused the distress. It is much easier to work with a concrete concept such as "remember to take out the garbage" than it is to change an abstract notion like "so selfish" or "don't care".
By using these two rules couples can drastically improve the outcome of what could otherwise turn out to be a nasty (unproductive) fight.

3. Share their dreams with one another
Couples who share their wishes, hopes, and dreams, extend a symbolic invitation to their partner to support them in their endeavors. Couples who know each other's life dreams, who support one another in their realization, and who have mutual life dreams, stay together more often than those who do not.

Try this exercise developed by family therapist Virginia Satir: Sit across from one another, knee to knee. Hold hands and take turns sharing 1 statement on each of these topics:

A) Appreciations –

Name something you appreciate about your partner. Do you love the way his eyes sparkle when he is telling a joke? Is she a good Mother? Say so!

B) New news –

What's new in your life? This can be as simple as "I bought a new dress for the company party".

C) Puzzles –

What are you wondering about that is connected to someone significant in your life?

D) Complaints with request for change –

This could get tricky. Limit the complaint to one specific behavior and be sure to ask for change at the end. For example "You left the door unlocked when you left for work the other day, would you mind making sure it's locked when you leave from now on?"

E) Wishes, hopes, and dreams –

Here you have the opportunity to inform and enlist your partner in the fulfillment of your dreams, whether it be a vacation you'd like to take, a meal you would like to have next week, or the fact that you'd like to have another baby. This exercise is intended to create a safe space for the sharing of such ideas.

4. Develop a sense of autonomy
Couples also need time (without the other) to pursue their goals, and to maintain a sense of personal identity. After all, it's difficult to cultivate a sense of desire for someone who is attached to you all the time. So, if you are an aspiring chef who has been meaning to sign up for that cooking class, go for it. Partner not into it? Do it anyway. By doing so, you honor your unique self, give yourself space to develop your talents, and allow your partner room to do the same.

5. Have realistic expectations
Recent research suggests that when it comes to happiness, the key is not necessarily whether things are going well, but rather that things are going better than expected; and the lower the expectation, the higher the likelihood that the outcome will exceed the expectation.

So, communicate to your partner that you expect a card and flowers on Valentine's Day, but don't be heart broken when they fail to deliver a personalized, sky- written love poem, complete with fireworks. After all, they need to feel like they can be human, and still be accepted by you.

Bungee jumping anyone?

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Accepting Change

by Joel Christie

Quick show of hands: how many of you like feeling uncomfortable or being in pain? For most people, change can be painful, scary, or even downright terrifying. Change often pushes us into the unknown, and though it can of course be positive, most of us still tend to resist it because it disrupts routine, moving us into a place of uncertainty where we are forced to adapt and learn anew.

Regardless, this much is certain: change happens. Changes are happening right now while you're reading this and drinking your coffee. Indeed, every second of every day, we are undergoing changes as our cells form and die, while new cells are made, replacing the old ones. These types of changes might not bother us much, because we probably spend little time pondering cellular reconfiguration. Yet this is nevertheless illustrative of the nature of life, pointing towards truths that may make us quite uncomfortable to dwell upon. (Like the fact that all of us are going to die someday. There's a rosy thought.) I don't mean this to sound ominous, but change is inevitable and inescapable. I might imagine I can prevent change, but ultimately I can't. And if I allow myself to believe I can prevent change, my brain may expend considerable mental energy trying to generate ways to stop change from occurring, only to discover again and again that changes happen anyway.

Now, certainly some changes are more within our control than others; changing my career, changing where I live, or changing my hair style. But then again, those same things might not be within my control if, for example, the company I work for downsizes and lays me off, or a hurricane destroys my house, or I lose my hair as a result of cancer treatments. And so often life seems to happen that way, tossing aside our carefully-made plans. How inconsiderate, right?

Here, like this: Our son's due date was September 25th. Well, apparently nobody told him the game plan, because late on the night of August 3rd I rushed wife to the hospital where we learned she would need an emergency C section, rendering the old due date instantly irrelevant. Our son Jack was here, and just like that everything had changed.

I wish I could tell you I handled this situation with zen-like calm, coolly reminding myself that change is a natural and ongoing part of life, and that there is no use yelling at God and the universe that things turned out unfairly, but basically I ran around like my hair was on fire, frantically checking with any doctor in sight to make sure my wife and child were okay, while intermittently crying and pacing around in small circles. You know, that sort of stuff. Because the truth is, I wanted to control the situation. I wanted guarantees that everything was going to be fine. And I didn't want to deal with all this sudden jarring change. The whole situation seemed wrong to me, and I hated the fact that my wife and son were stuck in the hospital, instead of getting ready to come home where they were "supposed to be."

But honestly, that was near the center of the problem: the notion of how things were "supposed to be." I had this cuddly, happy picture in my mind of a glowing new mom and dad heading home with their new baby. That was "supposed to be" us. But it wasn't. People told us over and over "It's not gonna be easy," and "Get used to the idea of never sleeping again. Ever." But nobody said anything about our son staying in the NICU for a month.

Frankly, it wasn't until I accepted that this was how things were that I started to feel a little more grounded. "Supposed to" didn't matter. I could ask my brain a million different ways why things had happened the way they did, but it wouldn't undo anything. On the other hand, accepting the situation would allow me to face what was happening rather than letting my mind spin through endless unanswerable questions about how things were supposed to happen. Don't get me wrong: I think it's okay to look back and ask why questions when we get steamrolled by the unpredictable hardships of life, and I think it's okay to wonder what implications the changes we are going through have for the future. But eventually, our minds also need to return to the present to face the here and now, no matter how scary it might be.

When our focus is on the present, we are able to ask different questions, questions that can ultimately leave us feeling more empowered since we can actually do something about the here and now. What can I do right now to care for my wife and son? I can offer love and support. I can go and bring meals back to the hospital. (As it turns out, hospital food isn't great, just FYI. What flavor is this Jello?) I can pray, or call friends and family, or run errands. And as I begin to see myself not only surviving but actively engaging this present state of life, my fear will gradually diminish. I may still feel sad or hurt or angry, but I can also be comforted and strengthened by the knowledge that I am facing this hardship, not shutting my eyes and wishing this wasn't happening. The change has already happened. And more changes will come. And since this is the reality of the world we live in, I want to move forward with these changes as they happen rather than wasting brain power trying to unmake a situation that cannot be unmade.

Oh, by the way, a month and a half later my wife and son are both home from the hospital, doing well, which is a change that I like very, very much.

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What is the Point of an Apology?

By: Joel Christie

What is the point of an apology? It's not a trick question: seriously, what is meant to happen when someone apologizes? Certainly there are numerous different reasons, beginning with the obvious: he or she hopes to help repair the relationship by acknowledging something he or she did wrong. But there are plenty of other reasons: he might want someone to shut up and quit bothering him. She might be compelled by someone in authority to apologize. He might be trying to manipulate someone, or just get out of trouble. It's easy to imagine all the insincere reasons for an apology, so let's tweak the question slightly to: "What do I want out of someone else's apology?"
Ah, suddenly I'm thinking of a classic scenario where one kid is mean to another kid on the playground and feels bad about it. So she tells him, "I'm sorry I called you a bad name. That was mean of me." And he says, "That's okay," and (hopefully) means it. Isn't this fairly close to what we want too?
Let's put on our lab coats and hyper-analyze these kids for a minute. In this instance, she acknowledges that she did something wrong: she called him names. And assuming she is being sincere, she also let him know that she regrets it. (At its roots "I'm sorry" is exactly that.) Now, he might still be hurt, but her apology seems like it could have a decent chance of connecting with him. Why? Because she is letting him know that it makes sense why he's hurt, and that it was her fault. She understands! She wishes she hadn't done that, which presumably means she doesn't intend to do it again. That should give him a sense of relief because now he doesn't have to worry so much about her taunting him. (Assuming he believes her, of course.) And now maybe they can be friends once more.
True, kids might not cognitively be aware of these layers of communication, but they still experience them, especially on an emotional level. Very early on we can sense the difference between being validated, and being invalidated. It's the feeling of "You care about me" vs. "You don't care about me."
This explains why certain "apologies" ring so false to us: "Well I'm sorry your feelings were hurt because you can't take a joke." "Look, I apologize if you thought I was being rude." "Sorry I can't seem to live up to your perfect standards." And so on. None of these are likely to repair the relationship because they all indicate that really, my joke at your expense wasn't the problem; no, the problem is that you're too sensitive and therefore in some way defectively. "I'm sorry you're defective." Nope, doesn't work.
Working with couples, I hear these kinds of apologies all the time. And the strangest part is, people seem to think these kinds of apologies should work! They insist, "I don't see why she's still so angry. I can only apologize so many times! We won't be able to move forward if she can't forgive me." But this begs the question, what's to forgive unless YOU can acknowledge that YOU were in the wrong? This attitude treats an apology like a magic formula that is supposed to somehow compel the other person to forgive you, basically putting it in the same category as "open-sesame!" "abracadabra!" or "These are not the droids you're looking for." Well duh, these generally don't work in real life.
It gets tricky though, doesn't it? Because it's not one sided; both people have done things to hurt each other. And we certainly remember the apology we didn't get the last time something hurtful happened, so why should I have to apologize? And thus it often becomes a subtle negotiation where we want to coax the other person into admitting that he or she hurt us FIRST. (Or sometimes not subtle at all.)
What's this really about? I mean, if I am in the wrong in THIS specific instance, why do my thoughts and protective instincts seem to gravitate towards all the things she has done to hurt me in the past, rather than being able to acknowledge my fault in the current problem when that is what would help me and this person get back on track? My guess? A lack of trust.
And I think this is what's so hard about an apology: we understand why saying "I'm sorry" can work for the two relatively innocent kids on the playground. He might actually be able to believe she'll try to be nicer to him, and better still, she might really mean it too! But it gets harder when someone has already hurt us many times before. Why should I accept this apology, when he will probably just hurt me again? Or, why should I bother saying I'm sorry when she is just going to hold it against me anyway? Trust has been worn away, replaced by anger, doubt, and the desire to protect ourselves. But unfortunately, these ingredients sabotage not only an apology, but our ability to even want to mend a broken relationship.
In order for an apology to do what it's supposed to do, a very specific connection must happen: I must communicate that I care about your pain and take responsibility for the fact that I hurt you and don't want to hurt you again, and you must believe me. This isn't a guarantee that our relationship will be right as rain forever more after that, but it should set us moving back in the right direction. And of course each party can only do one part of the apology, either sincerely offering it, or graciously accepting it. But returning to our original question, this really is the point of an apology: to make a sincere effort at mending a relationship. And indeed, anything short of this will likely feel counterfeit to everyone involved.

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Take Some of the Teeth Out of Failure:

by Joel Christie MA, IMH #10972

Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

Ever seen one of those competitive cooking shows? You know, where Gordon Ramsey or some other celebrity chef goes around berating the hapless contestants as they scramble and fail to meet his or her expectations. “What’s wrong with you? This fish is as bland as paper! It’s [expletive] disgusting!” And then of course the celebrity chef takes the dish and smashes it into the trash, as though it was so horrible that not even the plate could be salvaged for future use.
Granted, much of this is just camera play, with people being coaxed to act ridiculous so we can have a good laugh in our living rooms. The producers of these shows know that if the celebrity chef tasted the food and simply said, “It could use a little more seasoning, but basically, it’s pretty good,” they wouldn’t have many viewers. But I think there’s something to be gleaned here about how we see failure in this culture. Whether it’s talent shows, or fail blogs (a little “2012,” I know), or just office gossip, I believe there is this pernicious infatuation with failure that has steadily become infused into much of our culture’s mindset.
Or maybe I’m modernizing this too much, spinning this failure obsession like it’s a new development when it’s really not. Because on some level, failure has always been a big deal for humans, hasn’t it? Let’s dial it back 10,000 years when people were really into hunting and gathering. What might failure have meant back then? Well, if Og goes hunting and comes back empty, that’s bad news for the whole tribe, right? And it would actually be a huge problem if Og just shrugged and didn’t care one way or another whether he brought home a deer or not. No, Og realizes that failure matters. He needed that deer, and he didn’t get it. “Dang it. This sucks.” This part of us certainly hasn’t gone away: we still know that there’s something significant about failure. But I wonder if we have grown out of touch with what that “something” is.
Let me toss this idea out there: failure is normal. No, let me go a little further: it’s an unavoidable, inescapable part of life. Yet often failure is depicted as this life-ruining juggernaut which must be avoided at all costs. When someone screws up on one of these competitive cooking shows (or numerous other kinds of reality TV shows, for that matter), he or she did not simply “make a mistake”; no, they are exposed in dramatic fashion as a loser and as someone who does not have what it takes. “You are an idiot. You are pathetic. You are a failure.” And then the person is generally kicked off the show, almost like someone being banished from a tribe. (On “Survivor,” the producers take pains to showcase this as literally as possible.)
Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s just faraway TV Land, which generally doesn’t look or feel a whole lot like my life. (Gordon Ramsey isn’t going to chase me around the kitchen to chastise my subpar cooking.) But what about that anxiety I’m feeling over the report I have to turn into my boss? What about this worry I have about my upcoming test or presentation? Or what about those sales figures I’m not on track to meet? And on, and on.
Maybe the internal dialogue runs something like this: “If I don’t perform well and succeed, other people will realize that I wasn’t up to the task! And I’ll know it too! The evidence is all there! I failed! I am a failure!” (Hopefully the exclamation marks hammered home some anxiety.) Often when I have conversations with clients regarding what they feel anxious about, it feels like they’re trying to convince me that they really truly are hopeless failures; a kind of bizarre anti-resume. And my hunch is that they came to see themselves this way by gradually believing that the failures they experienced define who they are, or, perhaps even more importantly, what they are unable to do.
Let’s get back to Og, our hunter/ gatherer friend for a minute. I get the feeling he might be a likable enough guy. Okay, so Og didn’t get his deer. What’s that mean? Well, from Og’s perspective it’s probably pretty straight forward: “That sucks that I didn’t get the deer. I’ll have to try again because we still need to eat, and have clothes for the winter.” Seen this way, failure simply highlights the urgency of the situation. Action is still needed, but Og’s efforts haven’t paid off for the last few days, so maybe he decides to try something different. Or perhaps, Og remembers other times when he struggled to catch game for a few days, but was patient and eventually got back on track. Maybe it’s winter, and Og knows that winters are just sparse. He doesn’t panic because he’s failed before, and he knows he’ll fail again in the future. But he also believes he’ll eventually bring in some deer, and that keeps him going since he’s also experienced success in his life. The reality is that Og’s situation hasn’t changed: maybe the people in the Nuts, Roots, & Berries Division have been pulling double shifts to get everyone by, but Og knows the tribe still needs him to bring home deer.
Failure informs us that we are facing something challenging, which, paradoxically, should immediately create a spark of hope, since the mere choice to face a challenge requires courage and strength. We can recognize that in facing this challenge we have gained not only the opportunity for personal growth, having allowed our minds and ourselves to be exposed to this difficult problem. Problems are a workout for the brain and can make the brain stronger and more capable of handling discomfort. They can teach us to delay the need for immediate gratification, which in turn allows us to work through harder problems in the future. Unless… unless we start to see this process as pointless, or hopeless. Unless we start to believe that nothing useful or valuable is happening as a result of these problems, setbacks, and failures we’ve experienced. In that case we can become tempted to say it’s not worth it. Not just with this specific problem, or that one—because sometimes it’s good to walk away—but rather we can begin seeking to avoid challenges and risks altogether, since they might lead to that fiendish monster, Failure.
But when we stop facing challenges, I think that's when we really start to feel afraid. Then we no longer have the evidence in front of us to tell us we were strong enough and durable enough to face this difficult situation. Instead what we see in ourselves is someone who shrinks away from many of the things we want in life, and as someone who allows our fear of failure to act as a barrier, limiting us and boxing us in. We may come to resent ourselves for being weak, in which case we will have fallen into an unfortunate trap, believing that the only way we could feel good about this challenge was if we were strong enough to conquer it and be “successful.” But since we believe we're likely to fail, we instead run away, which only reinforces our belief in our own weakness, when in reality, failure is just a necessary part of growing stronger as human beings.
Being able to survive failure is what proves to ourselves that we’re resilient. Success may give us warm, happy feelings and convince us that we’re strong, but realizing that when we get knocked down we are also tough enough to get back up is what allows us to stare at problems and hardships without being petrified that these things will destroy us. “I’ve failed before,” Og thinks to himself. “But I’m still here. I’m still going strong. And tomorrow I plan on getting a deer.” (To cook for Gordon Ramsey. Sorry. Had to.)

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

By Brandon Vieira, MA IMH #11609
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
EMDR Clinician

The Basics

For those of you who didn’t look at that title and immediately say, “NOPE,” let me congratulate you and then break it down.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a counseling treatment used to treat victims of trauma, anxiety, and phobias.   

Let’s focus on trauma, specifically.  When something overwhelming happens to us we call it a trauma and that memory gets stuck in our brains.  Smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings can bring that memory back and make us feel like it is happening again, or remind us so strongly of that memory that it feels awful, unsafe, or like we are out of control.  EMDR works to change that, so you can think of the trauma itself without feeling like you got pulled back in time to the moment it happened. EMDR actually puts the memory into focus, so we can make meaning out of what happened and move forward as a stronger person.

 The basic idea is that with eye movement, tapping, or sounds on alternating sides of your body, both halves of your brain are working at the same time.  Then the stuff that is hard to talk about, and the horrible memories and feelings that come with it, or the “yuck,” is discussed.  This reprocessing can be a bit uncomfortable, but the EMDR clinician will provide you with so many tools to work with it that you will be prepared for the discomfort and be able to cope with it.  As you talk or even think about this event, and the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs surrounding it, you will find yourself thinking about it in a new way.  

Sometimes this happens immediately, sometimes it takes multiple sessions, but the trauma feels less threatening, and it becomes clear that it happened in the past, and is not happening again and again every time you are reminded of it.  Finally, you can even grow from the experience in ways you wouldn’t think possible.  You will make new discoveries about who you really are while overcoming a major obstacle to reach your full potential, which is what counseling is all about.  

Breaking it Down

The E and M stand for Eye Movement because this treatment literally involves moving your eyes left and right continuously while focusing on a specific  event, emotion, or belief. It is usually one that is disturbing to focus on.  This can be replaced with tapping the back of each hand, or a noise alternating from ear to ear, or some mix of all of these.  The D stands for Desensitization, which means to take the sting away or to become a bit numb to the trauma.  Try saying “Refrigerator” twenty times.  By the twentieth time, you may find it is losing all meaning and it’s just sounds.  This is basically what happens initially with EMDR.  

The R, for Reprocessing, means we go a step beyond just becoming numb to what happened, we work to change the way we think about the event, ourselves, and all other potential traumas in the future, to see the opportunity for growth, for learning, for strength, and for survival.  We also are able to celebrate that this tragedy, this terrible event that seemed so insurmountable can no longer rule our lives but rather, we have become stronger, more self-actualized individuals because we have been through it and come out the other side.  We may even change the way we think of who we are, gaining more insight into our nature, purpose, and potential.  

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Thoughts from Relationship Land:

by Joel Christie MA, IMH #10972

Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

                You know that lovely Hollywood idea of “your soul mate,” or “the one?” Not just Hollywood of course, but romance novels, magazine checklists, and perhaps that cozy place in your own imagination. It’s the belief that there is a single special someone out there waiting for you, someone designated by God or the universe with whom you are destined to be with, that person who is the absolute perfect match for you and with whom you would share a romance so smolderingly wonderful as to make all other romances seem drab and maybe a little embarrassing by comparison. What a nice idea, right?

Here’s what I’m proposing: ditch the idea of “the one.” Hold on, hold on. I’m not saying lasting romance is unrealistic or childish, and I’m not putting down monogamy or relational stability. I promise. No, I’m saying this because I actually think the cosmic concept of “the one” is a huge detriment to stability within relationships. I work with couples for a living, and I want them to have long, happy, healthy relationships. Seriously, I do. So let me explain why I think it’s worth ditching the idea that there is a single special someone out there in the world waiting just for you.

Generally, when I hear people start daydreaming about “the one” it’s when things in their current relationship or single life are not very satisfying. Something like, “She can be so annoying sometimes, and she doesn’t like action movies any more: maybe she’s not ‘the one’ after all.” Or, “He’s really messy. I just feel like there’s no way my soul mate is supposed to be this messy. And arrogant for that matter! He can’t really be ‘the one.’” So, “the one” becomes a whimsical escape hatch for all the frustrations a person is currently facing in his or her relationship, replacing these problems with notions of a loving, caring person who always understands me and accepts me for who I am. And puts away the dishes, of course. And has great abs, etc, etc…  There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things to be part of your relationship, by the way. But here’s what I rarely hear—scratch that; here is what I virtually never hear when people talk about “the one”: any mention of working through problems, dealing with conflict, or what to do when the cosmic angel you’ve found at last still somehow manages to piss you off occasionally because, well, you are a human being after all.

The objection to this is certainly natural: “But I don’t even know him/her yet, so how could I possibly know what kind of problems we might have?”

                “Ah-ha!” replies the cruel, romance-hating therapist. “So you agree that you and your undiscovered soul mate will have problems together? Now we’re making some progress!” Or perhaps, “Ah-ha!” cries the devious, mean-spirited therapist, “So the universe has given you clear access to the wonderful positive qualities of this as-of-yet-unnamed soul mate, yet given you no insight to prepare you for his/her flaws?”

I get it. Why invite Negative Nora into the otherwise delightful daydreams of my soul mate? It’s no fun to talk about the possibility of hardships, and it seems impractical to imagine such things, because, well, how would I possibly know that yet? On the other hand, we have no problem allowing our minds to wander off and imagine all the positive qualities this person will surely have. An alarm bell should be going off that this is a good indicator we may not be dealing with reality.

This may come as a surprise given what I just said, but I’m not against must-have lists. I actually think being aware of what we’re looking for in a mate is extremely useful. But here’s the problem with linking your list to “the one”: put to the test, your list would likely match you up with thousands or even millions of people on this earth. Unless the list you have concocted is one of those: “He will be between 6’1” and 6’2,” have deep brown eyes that remind me of my grandmother’s gingerbread cookies on Christmas morning, a radiant smile that makes flowers bloom early in spring, with cute dimples,” and 143 other very specific qualities that actually eliminate every human being on earth by the time you’re finished.

Again, I’m not saying having some non-negotiables is bad. I’m saying we will always have the ability to conjure up a new list of perfect qualities when things get challenging no matter who we’re with. It will probably be very comforting to imagine someone better out there right after a huge argument about finances with my partner. Unless I know that I would certainty have other problems in a different relationship because problems and challenges are an inescapable part of all relationships. If I really know that, it pops the happy “soul mate” bubble pretty quickly, replacing it with the understanding that struggles are part of the price of admission into Relationship Land. Some relationships have the potential to last a lifetime­—with lots of work, while other relationships may be pretty toxic from the start. But we will always have the ability to imagine we would be happier with someone else if we open that avenue of our minds. And so long as this perfect soul mate remains safely inside my imagination, I may even be able to entertain the idea that if I could just find him or her, “This kind of thing wouldn’t happen!” He would do the dishes. She would ask me about my day more often. She would come to my softball games. He would be better with money. And the truth is, you might find someone who indeed fixes these flaws your current partner has. But they will have their own flaws. And then you’ll be stuck pining for your true, true soul mate all over again.

Unless… unless I stop allowing my mind to crave the easiness of being with the “the one.” Unless I don’t need the concept of “the one” any longer. Unless I accept the fact that all relationships take work. Hard work. Unless I remember that relationships have seasons of growth and excitement, and periods of doubt and disappointment. Unless I believe all people need to continue to discover better ways to be with one another, and that the challenges I face within my relationship are not necessarily proof that we are doomed, or that I am with the wrong person, but rather that these challenges are places where growth and change are needed, and hopefully are real possibilities. If those things are true, then my relationship—and indeed the nature of relationships in general—is vastly different. Relationships can still be wonderful, romantic, life-giving, fun, sexy, and amazing, but with the knowledge that they will all have challenges imbedded into them as well. Because? Because when you put two people together things eventually get messy, and that is simply part of the price of admission into Relationship Land, even if I’m with my soul mate.

 

 

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Psycho-education: The Secret Weapon in Mental Health Care.

Psychotherapy, or counseling as it is very often known, is a very effective tool in helping individuals solve problems, explore the motivations and history behind their current behavior and emotions, and generally becoming a stronger, more well-grounded person. Psychotherapy is a great avenue to explore stress.  It can help an individual reduce stress levels, more effectively deal with the stressors in their lives, and be happier.  A therapist might approach the process of helping a client work through stress in many different ways. Some therapists might take a solution focused approach, which is to say that the therapist helps clients identify stressors, analyze the effectiveness of their current coping mechanisms, and then improve upon or replace them as needed.
Others might use a cognitive-behavioral approach or a Rogerian approach. The truth is, whatever the approach the therapist uses is probably going to be effective not because of the skill of the therapist, but because of the actions of the client. Clients have to be the ultimate change agents in their lives. It’s like Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, you will. If you think you can’t, you won’t.” Clients must have the motivation to make changes in their lives in order to see the results they are looking for.  No one can do that for them.

Many times the first step in the process is to begin a course of psychoeducation. What is psychoeducation? It is education with a psychological component. Psychoeducation serves as a way for therapists to educate their clients on the facts, statistics, treatment methodology, symptoms, and other factors that contribute to a mental health issue. As part of an initial intake session or really the first few counseling sessions, a therapist might spend some time talking with their client about what to expect from therapy, teaching them about whatever mental health concern they might have, and allowing clients to learn about themselves before delving into the issue at hand. It is a case of “knowledge is power,” where the more accurate and helpful information a client has, the more effective their treatment will be because they understand the process clearly.

This is only part of the story, though. Psychoeducation has applications that go far beyond the therapist’s office. Many therapists, as a core component of their practice, go out into the community to present to groups about mental health issues. It’s a form of community Psychoeducation which broadly disseminates information about potential mental health issues that could be affecting the community. A great example of this is when a therapist visits a local business to give a talk on dealing with stress in the workplace. The business owners and staff learn how to effectively navigate the day-to-day operation of the business from a more relaxed and centered place in order to help the business run more efficiently.

Notice, there is no mention of “mental illness” anywhere in this piece. The reason for that is because a mental health issue, like becoming overwhelmed with stress, is not necessarily an illness that must be treated like a disease. The focus is to illuminate the benefits of Psychoeducation as the secret weapon in mental health care because, as stated prior, knowledge is power. The more an individual or group understands about certain issues, the more effective they will be in dealing with those issues.

Daniel M. Fisher Ed.S. IMH #9914
Registered Mental Health              
Counseling Intern

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What is Counseling?

As counselors, we utilize a language full of words that people understandably call “psychobabble.” This article will explain what we mean by these terms: empathy, nonjudgmentality, confidentiality, unconditional positive regard, and active listening. These are the skills counselors use to create an environment that fosters positive growth and improvement. The self-growth of clients is the aim of all types of counseling.

What is Empathy?

The best explanation of empathy begins by contrasting it with sympathy. Sympathy is the expression of “feeling bad” for someone; think of sympathy cards people send to each other.
There are no empathy cards available because empathy is not telling someone you “feel bad.” Instead, empathy is relaying the message, “I hear you and understand you.” An empathetic person does not try to make someone feel better. Rather, expressing empathy lets someone feel validated. Think of the adage, Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Whereas people readily offer sympathy, empathy can be difficult to come by.  Counselors are specially trained to keep their wants and desires out of session so they can provide clients with a listening ear focused on the client. Counselors express empathy by understanding and validating the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of their clients. This empathy encourages clients to be honest, as they sense a nonjudgmental attitude from their counselors.

What is Nonjudgmentality?

Counselors also suspend their values and judgments for the sake of clients. This is not to say counselors do not have values and judgments; we are only human. However, counselors recognize their potential judgments and work to not allow those judgments to influence their clients. For instance, as a human being I am a devoted single father who, for a period of time, was the primary caregiver. Therefore, being a parent is very important to me. However, I have had clients who value independence over family. As a counselor, there is nothing to be gained by expressing my values; in fact, if I told these clients that being a parent is a major part of my identity, it would likely end the counseling relationship. Rather, I must continuously ask myself, “Who am I to judge?” Everyone’s story is unique, and counselors provide an environment where clients can be genuine because the air of judgment is suspended.

What is Confidentiality?

“What happens in session, stays in session.” In the example above where I talked about my clients, did you notice how there is no identifying information? See how vague I was? Counselors hold an obligation to protect their client’s confidentiality. If clients feared that their counselors would tell others about what happens in session, why would they say anything, let alone those deeper, darker parts of themselves that they usually keep hidden? They wouldn’t. It is an ethical code of counselors to keep the sanctity of the counseling relationship.
Counselors also have what is known as the “duty to warn.” This means that if the counselor has reason to believe that their clients will hurt themselves or others (suicide or homicide), or if there is report of child and/or elder abuse, the “duty to warn” overrides confidentiality. Aside from those instances, though, the counseling relationship will always remain confidential.

What is Unconditional Positive Regard?

Unconditional positive regard is basic acceptance and support of clients irrespective of what clients say and do. This helps clients to feel accepted and valued even when failing, when confessing their worst thoughts and feelings, and when removing the pretenses that they typically have in society. Counselors offer acceptance and understanding to promote honesty. Again, if clients do not feel supported, then why would they risk being completely honest? They would not. Therefore, counselors provide positive regard (“You are valuable”) with no conditions (“You are valuable no matter what”).

What is Active Listening?

In our usual interactions, when one person is talking the other person is awaiting their turn to respond. This distracts the listener from truly paying attention to the speaker. Counselors actively listen, which means they restate what it is they hear from clients to make sure the clients are fully understood. Clients have the opportunity to correct the counselor’s paraphrases in order to reach a common ground. Counselors can do this three different ways: (a) repeating, or saying exactly the words of their clients said; (b) paraphrasing, which is restating the words of their clients with similar words; and (c) reflecting, which is when counselors use their own words to relay the clients’ messages. In all of these cases, the counselors focus their full attention upon their clients.

What Does It All Mean?

Counseling is both an art and a science aimed at providing clients a nonjudgmental environment to explore opportunities for growth and improvement. Counselors engage in “active listening,” which is the technique of listening to what clients say and how they say it, then reflecting the information back to the clients. In other words, counselors pay attention to you. By empathizing with you, counselors seek to help clients reach a better understanding of themselves. Counselors are not advice givers. Rather, counselors join alongside clients through their journey of positive growth and self-improvement. This is ultimately why counselors choose their careers: to witness and assist their fellow human beings becoming better human beings.

Joseph M. Graham, MA, IMH #10123
Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern
PHD Candidate

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