The Voyage To Safety

                                                    “Nuancing Our Emotions”

Bob woke up in the middle of the night with a start. His breathing was labored, his chest tight, and he was developing a mild headache. And he did not know why. In the morning when he got up he was on edge, anxious, out of sorts, a bit curt and sharp with those around him. When he was spoken to he gave one words answers, didn’t make eye contact, his focus was limited, and he was argumentative, and testy. Driving to work he became angry with the slowness of traffic. At work his door which was usually opened was closed. Phone calls went directly to his answering machine. Bob did not want to be disturbed. What was wrong? He did not know, and when asked said “nothing.” But those round him could see a marked difference in mood, and kept their distance. When they did have to speak to him they were on egg shells, waiting for a volcanic blast.

Bob simply was not feeling safe. Although he would not, or could not begin to nuance it emotionally.

Personal emotional, and physical safety is a voyage we have all been on since birth. Some would argue it begins in the womb when we begin to hear, or sense our mom’s emotions. Safety, it’s a precious commodity. It is the opposite of what we discovered with Bob in the paragraph above. Not only was Bob unsafe and did not know why, he made everyone around him feel unsafe too. But if he had stopped to think about it, and was able to nuance his emotions, he might have been able to discover why. He may have on his voyage to emotional discovery remembered that he was scheduled to have his annual work performance evaluation the following week. This always made him nervous and uptight. And it played deep in his unconscious.

The upcoming work performance evaluation was sending off alarm bells in Bob’s Amygdala affecting his mental health and of those around him. The Amygdala is the center for emotions, and emotional behavior. It is an alarm that will shout danger, danger, danger if safety is compromised! And it isresponsible for detecting fear and preparing for emergencies. It also detects unwelcome chaos in our lives. Bob’s brain was in fight, flight, freeze response. His body was communicating emotional danger. His symptoms were a full-fledged panic attack. Something about to affect him in the distant future was affecting him IN THE PRESENT. Bob was on a voyage and yet unable to nuance his emotions. If he had there would have been many coping skills at his disposable, to bring him to a calm place, and safety to those around him, and give his and their Amygdala a rest.

Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual distress, is a part of life. And if we are self-aware, and nuance our feelings correctly, we can be provided with a responsible answer to our safety concerns. Within the Christian faith there are many spiritual answers to distress. The Word of God encapsulates this from cover to cover. God is willing and able to walk with us when danger arrives. Psalm 20, verses 1 & 2 says; ‘May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.  May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.”

The Word of God promises coping strategies for emotional distress. The very best coping strategy is found in close personal relationship with God through Christ, and in his promises in the scripture. There is however our responsibility to act upon it. Incorporating key promises as truth into our emotional lives brings about calm reflection, leading to emotional safety. The old adage seems appropriate at this point;  “If its going to be its up to me,” holds true. James chapter 1(22-24) helps us to see the power of God at our personal disposal, and yet personal discipline to what we read and say we believe, is crucial.

“ Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

When we feel our body emote, our emotions have alerted it to danger. God’s Word is our safe place.

“ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

When The Glass Is Jarred, Put On The Others Shoes

John drove up to the drive through and ordered his drink. In a hurry for an important meeting, he was eager to get it and go. At the window he was mistakenly given something he had not ordered. In a rush, a bit anxious, he responded, “Oh no problem. This must be for the person behind me. (smiling) I’ll wait for mine. You must be cold in this wintry weather with the window open.” He could however have responded this way, (loudly, and scowling) “How could this be? I clearly ordered another drink. Do you have a hearing problem? Now I will be late for work! Could I speak to your manager?” Fortunately when John’s inner emotional glass was jarred, he chose kindness. Imagine how the barista felt. John had put on the her shoes.

Imagine your inner emotional world as a glass filled with all the raw emotions of life; anger, fear, kindness, joy, love, disgust, surprise, trust to name a few. At the moment your emotional glass is jarred one of those emotions will spill out. It may be reactive and negative, or responsive and positive. Given the stimuli you faced, this will say a lot about you, and what controls your inner world at that moment. It also speaks to how you choose in the moment. No matter how much time we have between stimulus and response, a choice is made. We can choose to put on the others shoes, or not.

How we nuance all human situations, no matter the jarring of our emotions without exception, is key. What spills out after being jarred speaks to who we are. And stepping into the shoes of the other frames our response.
Consider humor. This is a wonderful way of provoking laughter and amusement. It can be found in a simple comic book, a comment, a joke, simple irony, a comedic routine. Humor helps to release healthy emotions which might be pent up, and frozen, relaxing us. However some of humor can be defined within the scope of passive aggressive behaviour, which puts something or someone down, or is insulting. Comedians are the best at this art form. Not all humor from comics is passive aggressive. Passive aggressive comments come in the form of sarcasm, rudeness, insults, shaming words, guilt. Individuals known for this characteristic, are kept at a safe distance. It is for the most part maladaptive behaviour. Some of the worst bullies use this form of humour. They insult the shoes the other wears.

How we relate and communicate to others, and inwardly to ourselves, can come from a source of adaptive or maladaptive functioning. Another way of looking at it could be emotional maturity vs childishness. It can come in how we nuance comments, relationships and life in general. Gossip is a form of maladaptive behaviour. It murders another’s reputation and integrity. Maladaptive behavior can also be very manipulative. It occasionally speaks through covert comments, or double entendre. Foul sarcastic humour also serves a maladaptive purpose. It keeps others at bay. Adaptive people are the ones we like being with. They live within a world bounded by great integrity. These are the people we want to be around, and desire to emulate.

In the Christian experience, relationships are key. This is the Jesus way. For example; Paul said, “In all humility, consider others better than yourselves.” Empathy is about taking your shoes off and “putting on the others shoes.” When we have an advance sense of how the other will feel, we will want to moderate our comments. This is because we will have worked out what it is like having put on the others shoes. And we want the wearing of their shoes to be an emotionally comfortable fit. So when the glass has been jarred we want the response to be something we would want for ourselves. An important adage is, “talk to the other as you speak to a deeply loved person.”
When Jesus’ emotional glass was jarred God spilled out. Jesus always put on the shoes of the one he was addressing. The Fruit of the Spirit can be our response. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Self-Control. Under this influence, and like Jesus God can spill out.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15

Euphoria. Do You Hear It?

“ Euphoria. Do You Hear It.”

Having entered the local drive through the other day, I made my order. The coffee was strong and yet satisfying, as was the warmed up oat bar. I had made a choice, an habitual one nonetheless. We face similar personal choices everyday. Some choices are automatic, intentional, reflexive, unconscious, instinctual, random, habitual, and easy. For example, buying that coffee, giving a smile, extending a handshake, paying bills, daily chores and routines, various disciplines, work responsibilities. Others are more nuanced and perhaps even at times very difficult dependent upon our mood coupled with will. For example; exercise, pushing away from the table, responding kindly to a comment instead of rudely with a reaction, or overcoming a habit. Then there is the execution of the acts of the Spirit; love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Self Control. These last 9 can be hard at times.
Robert Schuller, an American Pastor once coined a phrase, “If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me.” This attitude, choice, can make decision making and life either debilitating or liberating. Active will verses inertia can equal despair. When one understands the outcome of personal choice it can be a liberating thought. You could argue, difficult choices are difficult because they are difficult. This is a reminiscent reframe of John Locke’s basic argument against miracles, “miracles don’t happen because miracles don’t happen.” But and again “difficult choices are difficult, because they are difficult. “ They are not impossible or necessarily improbable. They are just tough. But an argument could be made that in the execution of a positive difficult even moral choice, a liberation of sorts is the response. You did the right, difficult almost impossible thing, and as a result you feel exhilarated. That right thing may have been worked out in a process but nevertheless. A PHD does not appear in the National Library of Canada, suddenly.
Choices that are very difficult often are preceded by a strategy. This is the nuance. I want to overcome a desperate seemingly impossible addiction, and I don’t think I can do it. I want to exercise, initiate specific coping mechanisms to distract myself from an emotional trauma. Choice. Difficult. Process oriented. Will vs inertia. A necessity of disciplined will. I love the story of the little engine that could. A little engine was given a task. Shunt a loaded train to the top of a mountain. The thought was at first daunting, and seemingly impossible. But once connected to the train, the little engine began his task. Soon he/she began to recite a mantra, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And she/he did. How do you spell euphoria? Can you hear it?
The strategy being, one step at a time, or better still one roll of his/her little trucks a revolution at a time, the goal getting to the top of a mountain, having pulled a long train. No runner sets out on a goal with the “I can’t do this” attitude. No mountain climber even for a second allows for a doubt that they will reach the ascent. The goal one step at a time. But the goal is divided into short small stages.
Many years ago I climbed Mt Kenya, 18,000 feet. The people who did not succeed, did not have the will to succeed in the beginning. Built into their narrative was, “I’ll try, I hope so.” You know where that led. And too when climbing a mountain you have to be ferociously willful. “I will do this.” Then at the peak, euphoria. Can you hear it?
All this to say this. A difficult choice begins with a determined strategy. A strategy that when broken down into small pieces, that is doable. When you look at the end goal you might walk away. But when your goal is one step at a time, the possibility becomes a plausibility. Once a difficult goal is achieved the next one is better understood for what it is. A marker has been set. “I can do this because I did this before.” A Client comes in with a problem. Imagine the courage, the despair. A strategy is worked out. An outcome reached. Euphoria. Can you hear it?
Spiritual integration into a set goal, a choice, is the best additive that helps confirm the intended outcome. A choice conceived, is received and becomes a reality in its full when God is the driving force. And the choice that aligns with his purposes for us has real traction. But knowing how to spiritually battle emotional inertia is key. Paul seems to have a solution in Ephesians 3:(20-21); “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
So to add onto Schuller’s phrase. “If it’s gonna be, its up to me to accept and harness God’s power as a source for a desired outcome.”
Euphoria. Do you hear it?
St Paul’s Outreach Counsellor

Listening and Muscle Memory

Listening and Muscle Memory

The ability to listen to, and remember what has been said in a conversation, are two qualities a successful clinician needs in their tool box in order to become a good therapist.
Both therapist and client have created a safe emotional bubble around themselves. Therapists do not multi-task in a session, they listen. In the therapeutic milieu the therapist listens for key words, self expression, observes for emotional content, including body language. Both tell him/her what is going on in the life of the client. Carl Rogers believed that “listening could transform people. “ An aspect of that transformation is that the one who has come to therapy may have no one else to talk to, or certainly no one else to share their deepest thoughts, and feelings with. This singularly explains the desperation of their situation. The listening ability, and non-judgment from the therapist frees the Client to go deeper. Suddenly they are pulled into a vortex of emotional expression. They are able to say things that they have never said before to anyone, and hearing themselves communicate these thoughts becomes a crucial part of the recovery process. Self-trust deepens too.
Listening is more than just looking at the individual communicating. The therapist is observing, communicating empathy, remembering what is said, and has been given the awesome privilege of being brought deeply into someone’s secret emotional space. This must not be taken for granted. It is a gift a client may give no one else.
In order to remember what the client is saying the, the therapist will restate, either word for word, or give a brief synopsis of what they heard. The client will be empowered through this process, and it adds integrity to the conversation. It is not only important in staying connected in the conversation, but it helps the clinician to develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is when we habitually remember how to do something as a result of repetition. We remember how to ride a bike, drive a car, use a computer, sail a boat. In each instance the muscle memory develops over time, and in time becomes second nature/old hat. For example, people who have not spoken a previously learned language in years, are often able to re-enter that process reasonably well, and because of muscle memory.
For the therapist, retaining what someone else has said while intensely listening, develops and grows as they listen. They develop listening skills muscle memory. It becomes second nature. Both have strongly converged, enabling a therapist to become more successful. And the Client is the beneficiary of this learned skill. Someone who is listened to, and who knows it, is on the road to emotional transformation.

At The End Of Your Rope? Find A Road!

I know its sounds a bit alarming, dramatic and perhaps a bit Hollywoodish, but some people with mental illness do reach a place, where they are no longer at the end of their rope, or at their wit’s end. In fact they end up and the end, with no rope. At the end of that rope and wit’s end, they often find two roads. One continues on to hopelessness and despair, and paved with no good intentions or happy ending. The other leads to help. Two very different paths.

But I have this visual. It is the visual of someone in deep agonizing pain with just barely the strength to feebly reach up with weak hand to grasp a strong steady hand reaching down. The one reaching down is the hand of God. We know who the other one is. This connection, two hands as one, signals new hope and help. It leads back to a path rarely taken. The importance of deep spirituality in discovering help for mental illness must not ever be underestimated.
For the one searching for, or already who believes in God, who is creator, sustainer and lover of our souls, there is always hope. His path for mental health, beginning with prayer, and under the guidance of a professional is the route leading away from the wits end.

Robert Frost in his poem “The Road Not Taken “ gives us a good illustration of the best path.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Assessment Verses Judgment

Assessment verses Judgement

The task of a Therapist is at the forefront, and through the process, to assess the Client. The assessment is based on the concern of the Client’s emotional state at any moment, even from session to session. The therapist begins with the emotions as he/she perceives them before moving forward in a session. The assessment is situational and observations, and based on conversations with Client and of his/her body language emotional state. The assessment helps the Therapist to not only come to terms with a diagnoses, but day to day care, at the moment.

A Therapist assesses but never judges. No matter what a Client tells a therapist, the response will never be one of cold judgment.The Therapist/Client moment is one of utmost safety. A Client must have the ability to feel that they can say anything in a session. Judgement in any form will put an end to the Client/Therapist process. The Client will shut down. Often a client comes to therapy because they have been judged.

The Therapist in his/her own life may have a completely opposite value system to that of the client. But the client will never know this because that is not the issue. The issue is always the client’s wellness. “Do No Harm” is the therapists first motive in therapy. Judging is harm. Inflicting one’s value system on another is harmful.Even whenasked a personal values based question a Therapist takes a neutral position. The Therapist is not the one on the couch. “ The Therapist At Large. “ 902 471 7919. I do Skype, and I care.

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward

The other day my son and I were going through the drive-through at a local Coffee Shop in the city to collect our drinks and a snack. When we arrived at the window to receive our order, the nice lady said, “ the man in the car in front of you, paid for you.” I must admit I was stunned at first. I had heard about this before, and yet this was the first time I was a recipient of what we in this neck of the north woods call, “Pay It Forward.” It was a wonderful gesture, and it made us feel very good. Touched in fact. Now I want to do the same thing for another. Hope they don’t ask for the lobster bisque.:)

“Pay It Forward.”

Genograms show us the history our family tree, our ancestral line. They allow us to know personal information about our ancestors. Upon first glance we might not be that happy at the lives lived by some of our previous ancestors. As we look carefully at them, we might discover the issues people faced before us, we might be shocked, even bewildered. We might find criminal behavior, a chronic addiction, a life-style that is in conflict with our own, serious diseases, suicide, various mental health issues. And we may see a repeat of things that are going on in the present in our family tree.

If we have Mental Health issues, and take action, our Genograms can show a positive way forward and more importantly for the future of our children and their children. Our children and their offspring can become the beneficiaries our own mental wellness. This means that we have paid It forward. A new life-giving Genogram path is being set. What a great gift for our, and their (children) future loved ones! 902 471 7919. “The Therapist At Large.” I do Skype. And I care!

I Understand Your Pain

“I Understand Your Pain!”

A few years ago we heard President Clinton claim that he understood someone’s pain. The great communicator President had a way with words, and with facial empathy. There is no doubt that he cared. But and to be fair, how many times have any of us stated the, “I understand?” phrase as we have first attempted to help an individual in pain?

The fact is, as none of us see the same rainbow, none of us have felt the same pain, even if the circumstance was the same as that of another. And it does not help the other when we make such a claim. In fact. it may be an automatic turn off to the aggrieved, and two, the one in pain may at that moment not hear us anyway.

Job’s friends from centuries ago, began to help the great man in his utter despair by saying nothing. As Job sat in the ashes scraping himself, amidst his deep pain and grief, they were quiet for several days. Then they began to pour out the reasons behind his pain. In remaining quiet they were a great source of help. In speaking out, they poured gas on the fire of his torment.
No, we do not understand someone’s pain. Neither should we say that. And perhaps the best form of empathy is the face of compassion, the service of love, and the quiet that allows for reflection. “I have been there,” “I understand,” is well-meaning, but it is an unhelpful and inconvenient/inappropriate comment. I am sorry, I am here, a hug, a quiet presence, a servant attitude, is a great beginning. That will not be forgotten.

“I don’t understand, but I am here!” 902 471 7919. “The Therapist At Large.” I do Skype. And I care!

“Ubuntu, I Am Because Of You.”

Ubuntu “I am, because of you”

Ubuntu, is a Southern African “Nguni Bantu” term meaning roughly “ I am because of you.” With this comes the illustrative story of an adult elephant that was born with front legs shorter than the back legs. Trying to get up a steep incline one day was impossible, in her attempt to follow her herd. Two male elephants noticed, and got behind her, slowly pushed her forward up the hill, not unlike a railway engine. Another problem was presented when she wanted to go down the other side. In danger of toppling over the two elephants got in front of her, and with their bodies as a breaking system guided her down.

This wonderfully illustrates “Ubuntu, I am because of you.”
The goal of therapy is to help another who for one reason or another is emotionally handicapped in moving forward. And it does take a community. The issue may be anger, depression, anxiety, fear. No matter, the individual in question, young or old, male or female, has an issue that needs attention. They may not even know what the problem is, but they do know that it affects their relationships with others. They probably go to therapy on the advice of another who cares for them.

The therapist upon listening carefully helps the client discover the why behind the emotional immobility, and the relational problems brought on as a result. Through more listening, trust building, empathy, a partnership develops. The partnership moves to agreed upon goals and objectives, coping strategies, leading towards emotional health.

The “I am because of you” becomes a reality. The you in the narrative is made up of the various people helping the client reach a place of health. They are, the friend or loved one who advised towards counseling, the therapist, the Dr who may have prescribed counseling or medicine, and the individual themselves who took the risk forward, those who encouraged along the way. As humans we exist and learn to thrive best in community.

So, “I am because of you.” Where can you fit in that healing narrative today? I am, “The Therapist At Large.” 902 471 7919. I do Skype therapy.

Body Language

Body Language

Sigmund Freud famously once said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” By saying that he was asserting that not everything we see, think, or say, in concert to another, is a projection on something else. To coin a common saying today; “it is what it is.”
There is however a science on body language. It is a science that has been studied for years and generally it is quite accurate. Generally. Certainly there is some nuance here. And given the context to a situation we can generally discover what someone is saying by their body language. It may even be something they do not know they are saying. The rolling of the eyes, arms/legs crossed, eyebrows raised, leaning toward someone when you talk, hands placed on the hips with elbows out to the sides, walking beside someone, walking in front of someone, touching the throat when talking. These are all signals that we may give off when in the company of another.

The body talks? Yes it does!:) And it has a lot to say. In fact the words of the human body can speak more authentically and truthfully than, well, the human mouth. It can communicate pleasure, doubt, cynicism, distrust, anger, superiority, uncertainty, fear, derision, compassion.

Therapists go to school on a client when it comes to words said, vs body language. Sometimes they are in conflict. Without words the language of the body is all that is left to be observed. The observation can say a great deal more to the therapist that the mouth does.
But and again one must be careful not to normalize everything a person does with their body. Sometimes, “it is what it is.” But in context, the body can say something profound, even give something seemingly hidden away.
What does your body say? Need a therapist?

I am, “The Therapist At Large.” 902 471 7919. I do Skype.