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A Friendly Way to Understand Mindfulness

Posted: September 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

One of the key ways to move from reactivity to thoughtful intention is to engage in mindfulness.  This set of skills is intended to help us step back from a situation and determine what factors are contributing to our emotions and how best to respond in a way that is both in line with our values and healthy.  The following article is a wonderful overview that will help turn reluctance into motivation.

Mindfulness: 5 Secrets To Making Your Mind Happy


Making the Most of Donations

Posted: August 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

It is hard to fathom the kind of devastation people are facing in Houston.   There have been so many pictures and stories of people trying to wrap their heads around everything they have known and built literally washed away in just days. Many of us are looking for ways to help, with the particular need for both immediate needs and the long-term efforts to rebuild whole communities.  For those interested in offering financial support, please go to Charity Navigator, a site that helps determine the quality of the organizations available.  They research which charites are known to be effective, particularly minimizing overhead so that the majority of the money goes to those in need:  https://www.charitynavigator.org/

Here is hoping that this is a time that when our divided nation can be our best selves for those who need many, many helping hands.


Deafening Silence

Posted: August 21st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Over the last week I have been dumfounded by the events unfolding on the national stage.  This is not due to Trump. Although his behavior has a bizarre, chaotic pattern, statements in recent days are no different than rantings he has made before.  Nor am I surprised at the bigotry and hate we have seen reported and recorded.  Minorities have been dealing with this in various forms all along.  The only change is how emboldened hate has become with Trump’s permissiveness, allowing it to leap out of the shadow and into the lime light. My shock, my pain is about the silence from our representatives and other governmental leaders.  Where is the outcry?  Where is the unified disgust over Trump trampling on our constitution?  This document is the basis of our democracy, not some quaint relic.

I have sought to make sense of this moral vortex we are stuck in but my research and hunches are disturbing, not comforting. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the CNN poll that reflected 66% of Republicans still stand behind our President.  As a therapist, my role is to not only provide care to those in distress, I am also called to advocate for my clients and community.  Therefore, we must stop all attempts to use some mythical hierarchy to judge genetics. It is time to embrace the fundamental truth that there is only one race- the human race.  Until we do, it is all too easy to devalue, demoralize, and dehumanize each other.  Take action: call your governor and state representatives and implore them to take a stand. Break the silence, shout from the streets to the mountain tops that we are unwilling to tolerate this behavior.  This is not about partisanship. We are fighting for the health of our democracy and more critically, our country’s soul.

For those in Colorado, here are the numbers to call  Feel free to reach out daily and ask anyone willing to do the same:

  • Senator Michael Bennett:  719-328-1100
  • Senator Corey Gardner:  202-224-5941
  • Governor John Hickenlooper: 303-866-2885
  • Congressman Ed Perlmutter (7th District): 202-225-2645

If you are unsure about what district you are in, or live outside of the 7th district, you can find out your representative here:  https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/CO#representatives

As Robert Kennedy said, “Each time a person stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring.  Those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”  Let’s ban together and make waves!

For examples of Trump’s challenges to the constitution, hear a professor at Brown University share reflections at http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/2016-donald-trump-constitution-guide-unconstitutional-freedom-liberty-khan-214139

 


The Newest Manufactroversy

Posted: July 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

A few days ago, there was another attack on human rights as President Trump spoke of banning transgender people from the military.  With a growing number of minorities being labeled and legally stripped of their constitutional rights, this is one more assault on individual freedoms.  It is a mind-boggling stance, rejecting and insulting citizens who want to protect our country.  Because there are numerous reputable and disreputable responses emerging, I choose to instead, passionately ask that we begin arming ourselves against the growing number of distortions confronting us and the dangerous implications of swallowing what we are told.  It is time to become educated.  It is time to engage in meaningful dialogue to understand who we are and what it means to live in a civilized society.  We cannot afford to function on autopilot or respond out of our emotions.

In a time filled with blogs (the irony that I am writing a blog as I lament about them is not lost on me), opinion-based programing and the internet, it is harder than ever to know what is trustworthy and valid for consideration.  As Professor Steven Novella stated, “nobody is filtering information for us, so we have to provide our own filters to assess which information out there is reliable and authoritative and which is biased and perhaps even malevolent” (p. 164, 2012).  He and I agree:  critical thinking is imperative.

There are whole workshops based on this skill set but I’m focusing on two core components that are badly needed.  First, we must determine the merit of a given position separate from the person presenting the idea.  Too often, bad leaders seduce us to follow them because of their authority or ability to charm.  Any worthwhile idea should be able to withstand questions and have supporting evidence.  If there is discouragement to challenge, we should already be suspicious.  We must start by looking within our own circles.  For example, how many times have we absorbed the mores of our parents, partners or family without really determining if they are healthy or fit with our individual circumstances, or even true?  There are also institutions that provide further input: schools, churches, and social norms.  Bucking the system will often cause discomfort and resistance but please persist until the informed, wise answer is found.

Secondly, enjoy some good old fashioned skepticism!  Our greatest ally is curiosity.  Find out everything you can, including origins and context.  It is imperative to withhold drawing conclusions until some core information is know.

  • Where does the source come from?  Is it reliable and trustworthy? If a person, is the input in the area of their expertise or an opinion about something else   For example, just because Mel Gibson is an academy award winner does not mean he has good marital advice.  Do other experts share the view or are there conflicting perspectives?
  • What evidence is being used to substantiate the claim?
  • Is there an attempt to persuade?  Does the claimant use inflammatory or emotion to make their case?  This suggests that there might be an underlying agenda that would benefit the source.  I am especially suspect when someone tries to tell me how to perceive them.  “I swear I’m a nice person!”  Why don’t you trust that I would come to that conclusion on my own?
  • The biggest challenge: do I have a bias coming into this? Is there an agenda I’m hoping this reinforces?According to numerous examples in the book “Sway”, we look to confirm what we already know. Even in the face of opposing evidence, there is a human tendency to rationalize our position and dig in our heels.

Our understandings should be fluid and ever-evolving as new information becomes available.  It requires work but we are the greatest protection against blind allegiance and harmful ideologies.  As for our transgender brother and sisters, it is disgusting that you have been made the victims of a manufactroversy.  The allegations are made up but the painful repercussions are all too real.  Here is hoping that masses of wise citizens will stand with you and defend the rights you have struggled for so long to have.

 

To ensure I practice what I preach, here are the sources that I have used to determine my viewpoint: 

The World Professional Organization for Transgender Health  http://www.wpath.org/

American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/07/transgender-military.aspx

Steven Novella’s Course:  Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills.   Found at www.thegreatcourses.com

Brafman & Brafman (2009).  Sway: the Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.  New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing.

Aronson, E (2007).  The Social Animal (11th edition).


Making Communication Even Better!

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Being Able to Still Like Each Other Even When We Disagree

It can be so frustrating to try to use the core skills of communication  and still feel like the conversation is stuck.  “But I’m using eye contact, open posture, and reflections!”  It’s because they are not enough.  Communication can be a maddening, complicated mess.  Usually  both parties want to connect but walk away from the interaction feeling, at minimum, disappointed.   Luckily, the following provide ideas to go that next step.

First, let’s address a common mindset.  Most people go into a conversation wanting to be heard and believing their side is right.  If we try to convince the other that we are “correct”, the other person knows it and will respond in kind.  This is not a conversation; it is a debate.  We spend our time arguing, defending, and focusing only on  perceptions that support our side.   Each person becomes an opponent, not someone we care about.

The antidote can be summed up in one word: humility.  Most situations are not about what is right or wrong but about perspectives.  Each of us have a set of experiences that shed light on the topic.  If we genuinely want to connect, we must be open.  Listen to what is important to the other person and elements that may have been overlooked or even unknown.  As we demonstrate receptivity, we invite others to do the same.  By the end, we can walk away with more information and greater awareness of the beautiful ways we can be unique.  Here are some questions to enhance humility?

  • What do I hope to gain by asserting my view?
  • How might my view be limited? Even wrong?
  • Do these differences matter in the big picture?
  • Am I tuning in to how the other person is responding to me or am I focused on my point?
  • Am I treating the other person in the way I want to be treated?

Next, we have to be careful that common bad habits do not sabotage our intent.  For example, we have all had moments when we engage in monologues where we talk at rather than with our audience.  Then there are tangents, which can be so disconnected, we can even forget our own point! Interrupting happens so often that it almost seems normal.

The great news is that these behaviors are not set in stone but it can be difficult because they often happen when we are on autopilot.  This means the first step must be awareness.  If you had an “ah ha” moment when you read the types mentioned, you’re already on the right track. It is then important to make a commitment to change.  It may help to express the goal and practice with loved ones.  They can kindly point out when the habit is active before we can catch it ourselves.  Meanwhile, these are the new behaviors we are building towards:   work on being a listener.  Provide space for the other to share their point.  Make statements that ensure you fully understand his/her position and then add your two cents.  Stay on the main point.  Consider what elements enhance the story and what details muddy the waters.  Share in short segments.  After one or two paragraphs, check in.  Look to see if the other person is giving input or sharing empathic stories.  Be wary when the other’s body language suggests disinterest such as looking around, flat eyes, or monotone responses.  Finally, create a reasonable pace by taking time to pause and breathe.

Finally, if we truly want to connect on a personal level, the main focus must be emotion.  Emotions are the most vital information.  We can learn about personal context like history, culture, environment, and modeling that demonstrates the foundations behind a person’s views.  There are also values, meanings, needs, and vulnerabilities that have a chance to surface.  People tend to share more when they are not having to defend a position and genuinely feel like the other person cares.

“But I don’t agree with her!”  Luckily, you don’t have to.  It’s possible to be empathetic and validating and still have a different stance.  Here are some examples to show you what I mean:  “You seem stuck.”  “How frustrating!”  “It’s daunting to go through so much change.”  “You sound hopeful.”   On the surface, this may sound easy, but it is actually trickier than it looks because it is largely foreign in our culture.  We are usually mired in the details, problem solving, or responding with personal stories that take the focus off the speaker.  I’m not saying that there is not room for these responses, just make sure emotions are the top priority.

I have seen these strategies at work and can attest to their impact.  Crossed arms change to hugs and from yelling to talking.   With a little patience and a lot of practice, we can converse without needing to retreat to our corners and can become a little wiser and a little kinder in the process.


Side By Side Is Moving Up- Literally!

Posted: April 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m excited to announce that the office is moving to a new suite!  Don’t worry, it is in the same building, just on the top floor.  Clients will soon enjoy expansive views of the mountains and Arvada, along with an internal waiting area!  So when you are ready to meet, come in to the suite and enjoy relaxing ambiance until I’m able to greet you.  The original move date was set for May 1st, but due to some unforeseen delays, the official opening will be May 9th.  I look forward to enjoying the new space (Suite 550) with you!


How Therapy Helps the Grieving Process

Posted: April 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I am delighted to respond to a request about grief.  The specific question was based on the statement from Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” He wanted to know how that fits with modern counseling.  This is an important question because many people see no point in examining the past.  It’s over and they just want to move forward.  This is tempting but it is shortsighted.   A void exists that must be adjusted to.  Grief allows us to recognize what this missing piece meant in our lives and invites a revision of the ways we see ourselves and the world.  Our life is a story- shaped by the people and experiences we encounter along the way.  Refusing to grieve is like forgetting whole chapters.  Although you might be able to jump in to a new section, we will not understand how your current lives are connected to the past nor how they contribute to the meanings embedded in the journey.

There is no straightforward path when it comes to therapy and grief.  Each person’s experience is unique based on numerous factors.  The amount of unfinished business, the circumstances around the loss, and the level of support are just a few examples.  Still, the following are general themes of how therapy can be valuable for getting through this tough time.

First, grief is work!  It requires more than passively experiencing our reactions, many of which are intense and overpowering.  As Bridges (2008) notes, the way we deal with change develops into a habit.  If the main tool is avoidance or minimization, this will most likely be the form of coping for every subsequent struggle.  The more we stuff it away, the more it oozes into our lives, leaving us stuck and confused.  Alternatively, if we learn to move into and through pain, those strategies will only strengthen.   We are able to move towards acceptance and the chance to let go.  Here’s where therapy comes in: we are provided with skills so that the process is made as manageable as possible and leads to heling. Not only will this help with the present crisis, it will also embolden us with tools for inevitable future losses.

Second, grief requires that we feel what we feel, as long as we need to feel it, with someone to validate us.  Sadly, most people lack one or more of these ingredients.  Consider the challenges in FEELING WHAT WE FEEL.  Sometimes not all emotions are allowed because they have been seen as destructive or disloyal.  When these emotions surface, they are either pushed away or tolerated with the added pain of guilt.  This leaves grief work incomplete.  Other times, the individual is met with hostility because his/her grief does not match what another person feels.  (Ex: what if dad was tyrant to some and loving towards others?)  Then there are losses that no one recognizes like retirement, childbirth, the death of a pet, etc.  How can one progress if there is no recognition of the validity of the whole experience?

AS LONG AS WE NEED TO FEEL IT:  There are so many misunderstandings about how long the process takes.  Some people think it should be completed in a few weeks.  Others believe a year is plenty of time.  Yet, that is rarely reality.  A year means one Christmas, one anniversary, one season, etc.  For many, the work has just begun.  In therapy, there is no pressure to be at certain stage of the work nor an expectation that the feelings have to take a predetermined course.  It is what it is for a reason, and no arbitrary rule can take into account all the complex factors at work.

WITH SOMEONE TO VALIDATE:  Not all support is the same.  The Bible has a book devoted to this in the Old Testament.  Job is a man who has lost everything.  His wealth is gone, family dead, he’s estranged from the community, and endures physical pain because his body is covered in boils.  Three “friends” visit, and offer advice.  All tell him, with varying degrees of intensity, that the suffering is punishment for his sinfulness and the only way this will end is through repentance.  Needless to say, this is not helpful and we hear that Job feels angry and attacked.  While most people do not tell someone they deserve their grief, I have heard countless stories of people hurting because of well-intended responses.  Loved ones offer platitudes, try to cheer them up, suggest quick fixes, or simply give them space (without asking if that is needed).  These bring no comfort- instead they leave the griever alone no matter how many people are in the room.  A therapist knows better.  We are ready to sit in the feelings so it is possible to feel heard and understood.  We also have tools to help- whether it is learning safe ways to express feelings, figuring out how to get unstuck, or dealing with the other parts of life that can only add to the stress.

Finally, therapists do not forget that grief evokes an examination of beliefs and the potential for a spiritual awakening.  Sometimes this is painful because long held ideas that may have been sources of comfort are falling apart.  For example, most of us have a distorted sense of control, of fairness/justice, and a hope in long-term stability.    As pain pokes holes in these ideas, we are invited to develop new, deeper understandings about life.  Eckhart Tolle states, “Underneath the lay of opposites.. is an abiding presence, an unchanging deep stillness, an uncaused joy beyond good and bad.  This is the joy of Being, the peace of God.”  (1999, p. 183).  Here there are no absolutes, so we must beware of anyone who tries to impose what this is supposed to mean.  A therapist, however, works to create room to question and in time, for new connections to emerge.

Grief is not an easy journey for so many reasons.  But it is the work necessary to be able to have peace moving into tomorrow.  Some people are able to do this without support of a therapist; others appreciate the added help.  Whatever is right for each of us, I hope we all can rest in the fact that this is a time we do not have to go it alone.

_____________________________________________________

Bridges, W.  (1980)  Transitions: Make Sense of Life’s Changes.  Reading, MA: Perseus Books p. 8

Tolle, E. (1999).  The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.  Novato, CA: Namaste Publishing and New World Library.


Depression: More Than Just An Attitude Problem

Posted: November 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Every year, I am struck by how far we still have to go to learn what is going on in the depressed brain.   7.6 % of US citizens ages 12(1) and up suffer per year, and medications are unable to help at least 1/3 of those afflicted.

Part of the struggle is the sheer complexity of this phenomenon.    For example, Duman et al (2015) cited nutrition, sex sterioids, cardiovascular VEGF, stress, and the immune system all effect and are impacted by depression and anxiety.(2)   Others have noted how brain activity shifts so the sufferer struggles to remember, make decisions, and feel motivated.  The following article adds another component.  It describes how the very structures of the brain are changed, possibly minimizing the ability to recall positive memories while more strongly linked to areas associate with punishment.

http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-say-they-ve-identified-the-physical-source-of-depression-in-the-brain

Of course, these are not taking into account the environmental factors like trauma, social isolation, stressors (like financial, employment, relationship conflict) that also play apart.  In all, I never want to forget that a sufferer cannot easily solve this problem.  Hence why therapists like myself work with the person, and sometimes a team of people, to rebuild and repair.

 

________________________________

1  http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/depression.htm

Synaptic plasticity and depression: new insights from stress and rapid-acting antidepressants, Ronald S Duman, George K Aghajanian, Gerard Sanacora, & John H KrystalNature Medicine, 22, 238–249 (2016) doi:10.1038/nm.4050  Received 11 March 2015, Accepted 21 January 2016, Published online 03 March 2016

 


The Orlando Shooting

Posted: June 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m still reeling from the news in Orlando that a devastating decision led to the worst tragedy since 9-11.  Someone, fueled by justification and hatred, deemed that the lives of over 100 people no longer mattered.  The victims were people out on the town, enjoying music and friendship, when this stranger burst in and brutally murdered 49, wounded 53, and altered the lives of the survivors and loved ones forever.

Sadly, the LGBTQIA community is no stranger to violence.  Paul Brussard (killed by 10 men in Houston), Matthew Shepard (tricked, beaten, and left to die in Laramie, W), Harvey Milk (shot in California) are just a few of a long list of hate crimes.  And the transgender community has so many murders each year that they have created “The Day of Remembrance” to annually honor their deceased brothers and sisters.  As we come up on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same sex marriage in all fifty states, this recent atrocity is just one more reminder that we still have so far to go before the community can ever feel safe, let alone accepted.

I hope that one day, diversity does not mean different or dangerous.  Where unfamiliar is no longer frightening but is approached with openness and warmth.  For no matter our uniqueness, we are all part of one race- the human race.  We are all part of the same family.  We should celebrate those who are bravely trying to live authentically, and cease turning the one you love into an issue.

We now must make a choice- do we now use recent events to fuel our hatred for the Muslim community?  Do we allow ourselves dangerous permission to dehumanize other people so it is gets easier to be cruel and inhumane?  Do we support institutions or doctrines that teach us that one group of people is better than another?  We must stop the contagious hate that is like a cancer.  We must stop waiting for others to take the lead and instead practice each day to work against bigotry and prejudice.  Finally, we must show solidarity with those who have been brutalized.  Please, consider making a financial contribution to a place dedicated to being a loving force to our traumatized brethren or to those organizations working to eradicate hate.

Meanwhile, may this tragedy offer us the opportunity to change.  May it bring us together, instead of apart.  May we take the challenge to make this world a safer and kinder place for all to live in.

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Mindfulness In a Nutshell

Posted: June 14th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The following article does a great job of introducing us to mindfulness, noting some key benefits and complementary exercises:  http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/01/mindfulness/.  Some people get intimidated by the term, envisioning success only by donning a monk’s cloak and meditating for years in a cave.  It does not have to be that way, there are levels of practice and intensity that can range from general stress management to spiritual awakening.  

For those people who want to take a break from the frantic pace and constant noise of our day to day lives, brief meditation is a wonderful tool.  It encourages deep breathing and focused attention, reconnecting us with our bodies, the present, and the rhythm of this life-giving action.  Counting, visualizations, and calming phrases also distract us from nagging pressures that can keep us escalated.  By the end, it’s like the mind’s reset button has been pushed, and we have fresh perspective and a greater sense of center.

There are others who hope to take this a step further, working to become less mired in the constant stream of thoughts that are as persistent as a stalker.  Through specific exercises, a skill is created to observe the inner world with more detachment.  Instead of being controlled by the thoughts and the corresponding emotions, we can consider the health and value of what we see.  It is then possible to determine how the information can help us find positive trajectories and cease reckless reactivity and defensiveness. 

Finally, mindfulness has the ability to change the way we see and approach our life and those we encounter.  It is a spiritual practice, where one has long gaps where the thoughts are quiet, allowing one to tune in to what if feels like to just “be”.  This opens the way for connection to be felt with all living things, creating a blend of humility, gratitude, and contentment.  The ego has little importance here- instead, the focus is on how to be a positive influence in the world, using a sense of peace, wisdom, and compassion.

What you decide to aim for is whatever works for you.  Hopefully the article above can be a welcome introduction and give you a taste of something that could be a powerful balm for the challenges that come with each day.



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303-915-5597

Side by Side Counseling.

Tania Henderson
M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.