Every Therapist Needs a Tribe

Memorial Day Weekend, by Chris Roberts Antieu, http://www.antieaugallery.com/art-collections/americana-collection/

How do you do it? . . .

. . . People often say. How can a therapist sit with people who are in pain, hour after hour, day after day, and concentrate on how to help them feel better, while keeping themselves balanced?

I usually say, “Tons of self care.” And that’s true. To break it down a bit, I need good sleep and exercise, clean food and daily meditation time, creative outlets galore. But there’s another piece I haven’t written much about. My tribe.  Without a tribe of mutual support, all the green juice in the world won’t make me effective at helping people.

If you’re a helper, you need a tribe. Our close, inner circle keeps us balanced, supported, and in touch with reality. In fact, Relational-Cultural Theory posits that isolation is a major source of suffering on all levels: individually, culturally, and globally.  I think therapists are especially vulnerable to invisible forms of isolation . . . which is why we need our own support group.

My tribe has three parts.

  1. My Go-To People: I have a couple of seasoned clinical colleagues to whom I go on a regular basis to talk about stuck spots, mysteries, ethical dilemmas, and stressful conundrums in therapy. These people have heard and seen it all, so they’re unruffled by what I bring them. They have boundaries of steel, so they protect the sanctity of our mutual supervisory relationship.
  2. My Group: I also have a larger cocoon of safety in the therapists, artists, coaches, and teachers who work at my offices. We consult with each other – though we may not always discuss our work directly. We keep tabs on each other, we see each other between sessions, and we have a general knowing about the work we each do behind closed doors. We encourage each other to take time off.  We work on our shared space to create beauty. This contact gives us a common culture and companionship in a line of work that would otherwise be  isolating.
  3. My Spiritual Guides: These people do different kinds of work in the world – but we connect on a spiritual or energy level. My minister/shaman friends see things from a broader perspective. So when we talk about our lives, I naturally get something I can use to see my clients differently. We might sit out under the trees and talk about the meaning of existence, consciousness, and universal wisdom. I emerge from these visits with more clarity about why I do what I do. The older I get, the more I quote these spiritual mentors/friends in therapy. People in distress seek answers from a bigger picture perspective – not just instructions for how to prevent a panic attack.

Who’s In Your Tribe?

Who helps you get grounded when your world is wobbling? Who listens to your confusion when you don’t know how to be helpful? Which colleagues can you turn to when you’re burned out and overwhelmed? Let me know if I can help you create your tribe.

Contact Deborah

Listen to ReConceive: a Healing Podcast

 

ReConceive: a Podcast about All Kinds of Healing

Melissa Sundwall, Deborah Cox, and Shauna Smith-Yates, The Cast of ReConceive

My dear friend, Melissa Sundwall, a great therapist who also happens to be a lot younger than me, says: “Let’s do a podcast.” And I say, “What’s a podcast?” That literally happened. About a year ago. So we teamed up with Shauna Smith-Yates, owner of The Bodysmith, and hatched a bunch of deep conversations about healing. All kinds of feeling better and living better.

Now, we’re nine episodes into the creation of ReConceive – a conversation between  two trauma therapists and a fitness coach and all kinds of interesting healers. If you work in the helping/healing arts, you might be our next guest on ReConceive –  or you might just hear that next new idea you need to keep you moving forward on your path to joy.

Here’s how that path has been unfolding for me.

Getting Out of Ruts (Learning to Think Differently about Healing)

I used to be a therapy snob. I thought you needed a Ph.D. to be helpful. I thought only psychologists understood human behavior. Only psychologists should test our true inner states. The DSM held the truth about distress and non-distress. Behavior, thoughts, and emotions were the only focal elements to produce lasting change. I really believed that.

Sad.

I’ve been making fun of – and letting go of -that paradigm a little bit every day for the past twenty years. Leaving snobbery and separateness. Exiting jail. Changing clothes.

I moved my psychology office into The Bodysmith – nearly two years ago. It felt like my happy place. My place of movement and laughter. I started wearing workout clothes to do therapy and nobody objected. It was like a conversion experience.

Then, I became a patient and started sampling therapies:

tapping

neuromovement

EMDR

traditional nuts-and-bolts behavioral counseling

craniosacral therapy

cardio workouts . . . Core Barre . . . Pilates . . . yoga

energy therapy

neurofeedback

neuromuscular therapy

nutrition coaching . . .

. . . Each kind of work produced a benefit I could feel: more energy, less worry, vanished pain . . . just like taking antidepressants, except better.  And as I placed myself into the capable hands of these practitioners, I realized: THESE PEOPLE KNOW STUFF. And, it’s all the same work. We’re multidimensional beings who need attention to all our dimensions. While at one moment, you need to talk about it – the next moment, you just need to sweat it out.

Working Across Disciplines to Feel Better

Me, Shauna, Melissa, and all our boxing coach massage yoga energy healer spiritual guide family counseling chiropractic friends are all doing the same thing. We each focus on our particular piece of the puzzle: one foot, one heart, one trauma story at a time. In each part lives a tiny whole person and a tiny whole world. In other words, Pilates teachers are psychologists. Yoga instructors are physicians. Neuromuscular workers are spiritual guides. It’s all one thing.

That’s what ReConceive is all about. Conversations about healing from every different angle: The art angle; The spiritual angle; The brain angle; The muscular angle…..

Do you teach or mentor? Do you help people meditate or pray? Do you tend a community garden? Do you run with six-year-olds? Do you get middle-aged people to dance for the first time? Please write and let me know if you’d like to be part of this conversation.

Contact Deborah

What’s Your Spiritual Story? (And why it matters to your life.)

flowersreborn7
I purged my childhood belief system and started over. I ran to psychology. It explained everything, including all those simple minds who still drank the Kool-Aid. Continue reading

Write your Life Story and Heal from It.

Flowers Reborn

Flowers Reborn

Wife Material, my new novel, started as a memoir before it became a work of fiction. I wrote it because I could not- not write it. In the beginning, I tried to expose the dark side of a religious sect – the one in which I spent my childhood. In the end, I’d made up whole scenes from scratch. I made up characters that fit, emotionally, with the true life events in my memory. I made up events that fit, emotionally, with the culture that shaped me. And pretty soon, the made-up story felt more accurate than my facts-only version.

But what compelled me to put my life on paper in the first place? Why go to all the trouble, take a decade, weep over pages of trauma, keep a notebook handy at all times, put paper drafts in the freezer for years (in case of a house fire), sit at the computer thousands of hours, subject myself to critical feedback and revision and rejection and multiple rounds of editing?

Because. My history exists for a reason. And getting it into a readable story form allowed me to turn nasty experiences into art. Someone reads my shameful pit of despair and says, That happened to me too. Then, suddenly, I’ve reached a person with my words. I have an art piece instead of a bad memory. A whole room full of sculptures instead of twenty-three years of mistakes and trouble.

My dad hurt me, physically and emotionally and spiritually. As I put him in context, story him as a suffering person who acted out, I see myself as an innocent child – not a worthless object or a bad thing, undeserving of protection or nurturing. I remember the moment I realized this shift, as a stared at a page in my journal where the handwriting convicted him of child abuse. I held that journal out away from my body. I threw it to the floor. I put it in the trash. Then I got it out, rewrote the event in the form of scene, on the computer. Now there was distance between me the person, and that true-life trauma that left me drenched in shame and loathing for so many years.

I suggest Life Writing for my trauma therapy clients. Writing allows us to lay claim to our experiences in ways we can’t otherwise. It forces us to make sense of events that were confusing. It re-orders scattered clumps of memory and draws them into meaningful wholes. It takes trauma and externalizes it, there on the page, so it moves outside us.

Life Writing also facilitates the process of EMDR therapy and adds to our overall health and well-being.

Especially with child abuse, your story informs you as it informs the world. How you were handled as a child lives in your body. Putting that experience on paper, seeing it in words, in black and white, sharing it with trusted others, even fictionalizing it, helps to get the horror out of you and into a piece of intellectual property. That creative property helps you see yourself as a character in a story – one who deserves empathy and love.

Call me if you’d like to learn more about writing and healing from trauma, EMDR therapy, or how writing improves our mental health.

Contact Deborah