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.



I was asked by someone recently, something I am often asked and something that I too often ask others. “How are you” It is on one level a relational question, on another a greeting of sorts, and yet potentially an opening for a deeper conversation. I must admit that I decided, rather mischievously, to discover if the individual asking would notice my response. And so I said, “not very well, having a very difficult time.” And they said, “great to hear it, have a wonderful day!”
This question, the one we are possibly most asked, is sometimes answered untruthfully. And yet we ask, again, and again, and again. And we are generally ok with it, because it has become a form of greeting in our society. In truth we don’t ask the question to discover how someone is, or do we?

Then to be asked the following question, and from someone who you are meeting with over coffee/tea; “how are things going on in your life?” shows a concern. And if they will not let you off with a trite untruthful response, you really have a friend. They care.
How many people do we know who dare and care, to peer into our heart and connect with how we really are? And who are ready with the answer? I remember a Seinfeld show many years ago where Kramer told the advisor of a mayoral candidate that an integral part of the campaign should be name tags work by new Yorkers, so people could greet each other by name. And build relationships. The candidate lost.
There are three points to this; 1) are we listening to the one we have asked “how are you?”, not just with the response but with the body language and facial expression. 2) Are we ready to answer with an answer that is truth for us at the moment? 3) Are we ready to get further involved when the answer is; “I’m having a very difficult day.”

Good mental health, is good emotional health. MQ = EQ. Even Einstein would agree.:)

“SO, HOW ARE YOU.” I do Skype. 902 471 7919.



Mango (my Nova Scotia Duck Toller) and I meet a lot of various dogs of all shapes and sizes on our daily walks. It is often the tail that gives everything away. Two wagging tails as two dogs meet, check each other out, smell the other for the first time, is a very positive first visual. Safety!  And I must admit there is always a bit of initial apprehension when another dog appears between both owners, especially for me if the other dog is a Mastiff, Great Dane, or a Dogue de Bordeaux. At this point rapport of some type is essential. Or, be to ready to run, and quickly.

Rapport is  “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” A great synonym for rapport is compatibility. This is the key ingredient for a successful client/ therapist relationship. Without it trust is undermined at the outset. There is generally just no way a client who is enduring a mental health issue, no matter how bad it is, is going to spend more than one or two sessions with a trained therapist if there is no rapport, and vice versa.

Rapport between two people in any context is never certain. However, when it comes to the healing process it is crucial. In part it is personal chemistry, in part the ability of the therapist to overlook everything and enter into the emotional world of the client. Not everyone can develop rapport with another and it should not be viewed as a failure if this is the case.

The compatibility between therapist and client allows for a free flowing, fluid conversation and professional relationship to develop and grow. The rapport is a trust characteristic. It emotionally emboldens the client to share at a deep, personal, open, transparent, vulnerable, safe level. Emotional health is advantaged. It does not wane between sessions. You just begin where you left off.

Rapport is a non-negotiable phenomenon. It is also a beautiful relational and emotional art form.

Need Therapy?  I do Skype. 902 471 7919.