Denial, repression, and how to keep from losing your mind

I’ve always had a fear of dementia. It started on a visit to my great grandfather in the nursing home and I heard him mistake his daughter (my grandmother) for someone named Betty.  Fifteen years later, the same thing started happening to my grandmother and I watched her un-become herself over a period of six or seven years. Forgetting to turn off the stove led to forgetting to go to the bathroom and then forgetting the face of her daughter.

Horrified, I wondered why my relatives “lost their minds.”  Was I destined to do the same?

Now, I have a theory.

Denial

Fast-forward to 2017, sometimes I deny what I’m seeing and feeling. I hear you doing it too.

I could be reading too much into this.

It’s probably just my imagination. I have a tendency to overreact.

He says _____, so I need to believe him.

We pretend things are fine when they’re not. Sometimes the truth of my own feelings frightens me more than the shared pretense that all is normal. I keep a straight face to avoid conflict. I may even hide exuberance.

But suppression is costly. Denying emotion compromises our cognitive ability. When we stifle our thoughts and feelings, our mental processes turn against us – like the auto-immune system in overdrive. Denied emotion distracts us and prevents clear observation. It gobbles up energy needed for mental and physical processing. More here on denied anger in particular.

If we make a lifelong habit of denying what we feel, we end up in old age staring at The Price is Right, locked in fragments of our past, unable to learn anything new. I can’t prove this, but a review of my deceased relatives (especially the Christian fundamentalist ones) shows a strong correlation.

If I want to stay as lucid as possible as I age, I’d better say stuff out loud, show it on my face, let the tears fall, admit I’m uncomfortable, walk away from stifling conversations. I better swing at a punching bag and yell obscenities. And I better sing and dance and flaunt my joy as well.

Contact me to learn how EMDR therapy promotes clearer thinking and access to our true emotion.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Transition and EMDR: No such thing as a wrong turn.

 

By Khunkay (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring brings rebirth and color and joy. It also brings pollen, tornadoes, and allergies. My life transitions like the seasons, and even though it scares the crap out of me, I know it’s a good thing.

Something gets stale, stuck, or sour and I know it’s time to think differently. I get an urge to do something – an urge I ignore at my own peril. If I ignore my urge, the message of my higher self, I tend to get sick or depressed. EMDR helps me clear the cognitive clutter and make a change.

Maybe I need to:

Cut my hair

Nurture a child (fur baby or human)

Say yes to a trip

Leave a job

Leave a relationship

Lose my religion

Seek the company of a certain friend

Start a new venture

Get rid of things I’m not using

Change my behavior in relation to someone

Change my behavior in relation to myself

Get into therapy

Complete something I’ve postponed

Abandon a task I thought was essential

Trade couches with someone

Grieve and let go of an old belief that blocks me from growing

There’s always a reason for the urge. It comes from a place I can trust.

Over the years, I’ve learned these transitions always pay off in joy and growth and prosperity, even when it feels like I’m being shoved through a revolving door and lose my shoe. In fact, even when others disapprove of my change, I grow and my life gets better. I have no regrets for any of the detours or U-turns or shocking, hair-spiking, neon-sign-wearing changes I’ve made. Through EMDR, I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how my higher self talks to me, how transition shows up, and how I can allow it.

There’s no mistake, only my path. I welcome the change.

Read Wife Material

Calm Receptive Mode: Get calm and find the good stuff inside you.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

Your higher self knows how to calm you.

We all want to find calm receptive mode. But not everybody wants to get a massage (although we should – there are people who can make us feel safer and less awkward). Some of us need action. We need to be out in a kayak or running a trail. Some of us meditate and we know it works. We may need some yoga or tai chi. Some of us tap. Or we turn on some Fauré and close our eyes. And I know at least a couple of people who get barefoot and put their feet in the grass and feel the earth beneath them and take big breaths of outside air.

Maybe you’ve tried to get away or go out in nature or just sit still and you got scared. I’ve been there. You started to feel lonely and edgy, even though you knew you needed solitude and quiet.

What am I doing, anyway? Shouldn’t I be doing laundry? I’m wasting time. I can’t do this. I’m full of crap.

So you gave up, started cleaning, turned on the TV . . .

But your higher self knows what YOU need in order to get into Calm Receptive Mode . . . and it may be different from what your spouse or best friend needs.

Calm Receptive Mode = calming our minds enough to know what’s inside us, struggling to get out.

. . . The good stuff we’re waiting for. The part of us plugged in to divine energy understands us completely and wants us to get access to this good stuff: our creativity, our ideas, our epiphanies about how to live more joyously.

Try this tapping exercise:

  1. Tap the sides of your knees, lightly, left-right-left-right, etc., on the spots that feel most sensitive.
  2. Repeat these phrases:

It’s okay for me to be calm.

My higher self knows what I need to quiet my mind.

There is good inside me.

  1. Take some deep breaths. Repeat as often as you can tolerate it.

. . . Let me know how it goes for you.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Why You Need a Higher Power Right Now

 

We all need higher powers.

I went through a hard-core atheist phase. In my 20s. I ran from organized religion and chafed at any mention of a higher power. This was it. Just the here and now. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade that liberation for anything. Throwing off all my childhood spiritual training meant tossing the baby AND the bathwater. It allowed me to start over to find my own sense of ultimate reality.

So I get it. And I appreciate your honesty. You don’t believe there’s anything out there that/who cares. You can’t imagine how a higher power could allow such domination, such violent inequality, to exist in our world. I feel you. In fact, I sometimes feel so estranged from “God” that I can’t give thanks or meditate on the healing of the world. That’s when I feel dull inside. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus. I relate to the void.

And yet . . .

Something like an invisible cord pulls me back to an awareness of presence . . . an indescribable sense of life force . . . a sense there’s more, a bigger picture just beyond my view. Then I’m awake, breathing again, in touch with my senses.

Having a Higher Power Means We’re All Going Somewhere Good

. . . and this is the main reason you need one.

Evolution Means God.

Evolution happens, whether we believe it or not. I see it in my clients, who learn and change: their faces look a little brighter, their energy more focused, with each new week. I see evolution in teenage boys, who deftly solve my bluetooth problems and show a generosity that will change the world. Evolution suggests presence. Presence suggests mind, learning, and growth. Good things are in the works. We are not standing still. We are moving forward. Toward higher consciousness and love.

Every morning, I write a letter to the Great Creative Force. I got this term from writer Julia Cameron, who says we don’t have to believe any particular thing, but we do need some sense of a presence that is larger or more encompassing than our own individual reality. Wise mind. Higher wisdom. Universal consciousness. However it makes sense to you.

Your higher power provides a listener for your thoughts and helps you trust them. It prompts the questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? If you answer, I don’t know, you may feel unsettled, untethered, in free-fall. I recommend experimenting: pretend you had a higher power. You can borrow mine if you want. Try it on for size. Speak to it. Imagine yourself in the presence of wisdom. Just pretend. See how it feels. Go from there.

Here’s what having a higher power does for me right now:

  1. Assures me the universe is moving toward higher consciousness, in spite of what looks like de-evolution.
  2. Gives me hope that today’s horrors are part of something larger that is ultimately good.
  3. Allows me to trust each person’s healing process and know it comes from a place of wisdom. We heal in spite of ourselves.
  4. Gives me patience for people who seem immature or willfully ignorant: even very mean or destructive people have good in them.
  5. Hints at how EVERYBODY evolves, so I can see myself, not as a big disappointment, but as a work-in-progress.
  6. Hears my disjointed morning ramblings; answers my questions; reassures me there’s a reason.
  7. Sends me dreams chock full of clues about who I am and what I need to keep growing.
  8. Calms and centers me. Reminds me, All is in Divine Order.
Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Leadership Monologues: Take Back the L Word

Take Back Leadership

By presta from Tufts University’s Cohen Auditorium. (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Leadership (said with a sneer)

I hate the word, “Leader.” It’s lost every shred of meaning it once held for me. Leadership once meant authority and concern for the welfare of everyone in its reach. Now it sounds like a fake word with fake facts to support its nothingness. A poser, posing as a real idea. Maybe I’ve seen one too many bad leaders come into power and spoil the essence of what it means to guide a group of people toward a shared goal.

When Leader falls into the realm of fakeness, every part of society suffers in ways that are hard to identify. People go hungry for what’s real and they get depressed and panicky and eat too much sugar. Then we get fat and we judge ourselves for losing control. Emotional health epidemics have everything to do with dysfunctional leadership, or A Failure of Nerve.

So, I want to take back the word. Remember the Vagina Monologues? Remember how those actors reclaimed the various words used to insult women’s genitals? Like, C – U – N – T. They spoke it and saturated it with specific, positive meaning. I need to do something similar here, for my self, my family, and my clients, with the word, “Leader.”

Because I have to be one. And so do you.

Because, if you parent, teach, counsel, advise, or instruct, you lead. And thank God you do. We starve for your good leadership. Everybody needs a healthy leader (even if they don’t know it and try to sabotage it).

But look for one and you realize how few good leaders there seem to be in the world. The good ones don’t grab the microphone and make themselves obvious. They live in libraries and work in battered women’s shelters. They labor behind the scenes.

We confuse and conflate leadership with a bunch of other things.

To target this confusion, I give you a short list. I hope that by separating Leader from these other things, we can see more clearly what Leader is and cultivate Leader in our selves.

ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Leadership. Does. Not. Equal:

  1.  making money or fiscal policy. But healthy leadership fosters creative growth, which, in time, helps more people generate income. Healthy leaders are patient for this.
  2. politics. Enough said.
  3. a quick fix. Leadership takes a long view of progress (see #1).
  4. controversy. Yet . . . good leaders take unpopular stands when necessary for the good of the whole body. These unpopular stands tend to bring out all our better natures by modeling wisdom in action.
  5. scaring the wits out of – or using people. It isn’t a tirade. Healthy leaders help us calm down and think rationally. Picture good parents here. A wise elder puts things into perspective so we can breathe more easily. “It’s going to be okay.”
  6. focusing on issues. It’s not driven by the anxiety or the problems in the group. Healthy leaders take care of themselves and keep the bigger picture in mind. They listen calmly to the issues of their people, but keep pointing to the transcendent goals of the community . . . what really matters in the long run (e.g., how we treat each other).
  7. neutrality. A healthy leader sees how the system works and calls out any dishonesty or bullying. Real leaders see and address dysfunctional behavior in a responsible way. They prohibit intentional and/or unnecessary violence.
  8. divisiveness. True leaders foster unity, because at some level, we are all one. They help us appreciate each other.
  9. self-aggrandizement. Healthy leaders exude humility in confidence. Yes, that’s a real thing. It says: I don’t know everything, but I can listen and learn.

In conclusion, we need to know the difference between: (A) health-promoting leadership and (B) health-compromising leadership. We need to distinguish between Leadership and the grab for power. We can learn this and do this. Like choosing broccoli over Cheetos. Like telling your kids, friends are more important than money. Like talking to your mate instead of shopping to fill the void. We can exercise our leadership muscles and take back the L-word.

Contact Deborah

The Air We Breathe: Panic, Mental Health, & Misogyny

,woman-with-mouth-covered

Woman-Hate=Mostly Unconscious Fear of Women’s Empowerment.

One day, in 1992, I had a panic attack. It came out of nowhere. I got up early and dressed for work, made breakfast and started a load of laundry, turned on the morning news while I finished my hair and my (ex) partner snored peacefully. I stood in front of the TV as a string of commercials hypnotized me.

In one commercial, an attractive young woman mopped her kitchen floor, wearing an outfit cute enough for a dinner party or church. She looked so satisfied. Next thing, I was on the floor, my heart hammering. The apartment spun and the oxygen disappeared. I tried to yell for help, but nothing came out. I thought I would vomit or die and I grabbed desperately for cold table legs to stop the flames in my face and neck.

Ten minutes later, nothing. I got in my car and left for the day, wondering what the hell had just happened. Years later, I connected the dots.

A Woman’s Distress and The Fear of Women

Misogyny (woman-hate) comes from fear: fear of change, fear of disruption to the existing social order. Misogyny fills our cultural consciousness right now, because people fear the change that comes with women’s power.

How do I know?

Here’s how: These signs show up in my office and social life every day. A woman’s panic attacks, her sense of being flawed, her belief she is ugly . . . all point to a bigger problem. She is surrounded by other women just like her, with those same panic attacks, that same guilt.

Symptoms of Woman-Hate Culture

Misogyny is a mental health issue. Notice how many of these symptoms apply to you. Now, more than ever, I see the problem of gender inequality and panic in the presenting problems of my clients. Cultural woman-hate creates individual distress.

  1. Child sexual abuse in our family history.
  2. Hating our bodies.
  3. Not being perfect enough.
  4. “Family Values.”
  5. Depression that comes and goes throughout the lifespan.
  6. Post-partum depression.
  7. Guilt about not being nice enough.
  8. Fear of our sexual desire.
  9. Not having any sexual desire
  10. Resenting other women for looking better or accomplishing more.
  11. Panic attacks or anxiety that’s sort of always there.
  12. Fear of telling him how we really feel; fear he’ll leave if he knows how strong our feelings are.
  13. Being called crazy and believing it.
  14. Thinking we’re too sensitive, too easily triggered, too selfish.
  15. Focusing so much on fashion that we don’t have time to write.
  16. Taking care of everyone else, but not getting enough rest.
  17. Fear that we’ll be one of those bitter women.
  18. Fear of aging.
  19. Being bullied by other women. Not trusting them anymore.
  20. Thinking, “I expect too much.”
  21. Thinking anger makes me ugly.
  22. Believing a good leader acts like a man, looks like a man.
  23. Feeling that my very nature is broken, fallen, sinful, and unlovable.
  24. Forcing ourselves to wear clothes and shoes that feel bad, because to refuse them would mean we’re not feminine.
  25. Believing our gut feelings are silly, our emotional responses irrational, our intuition untrustworthy.

Evolution & Health

My list barely scrapes the surface. But you know what I’m getting at. Those perfect images make us feel sick, but pressured too. We panic because we breathe the fear and loathing of women in the air; not because we’re weak or paranoid or mistaken about the world. We didn’t make this up.

But. On the Upside. We Evolve. Whether we intend to change or not. A pendulum drags us through the whipping wind. We feel afraid. And we change. In spite of ourselves. This change is the heart of my novel, Wife Material: one girl’s evolution and empowerment.

Every empowered woman helps us all evolve. She makes the world a healthier place for all of us.

 

  How to Cope with Woman-Hate Right Now

  1. Know that change is happening for the better.
  2. Try to relax, breathe deeply from the belly.
  3. Look for good in the women you know. Even the ones you don’t trust.
  4. Repeat this mantra: I embody goodness and love.
  5. Make eye contact with as many people as you can, regardless of their gender. Send them love.
  6. Meditate on all the art and music being made in the world.
  7. Focus on something beautiful.
  8. Do physical anger work. Whack a punching bag and hurl obscenities. Let it out of your body.
  9. Get as much rest as possible.
  10. Know that it’s all going to be okay.

 

Contact Deborah

 

Read Wife Material

 

Managing the Mirrors: How to Stay Calm When the World is in Chaos

 

500_F_81359870_DiuWhPcB9Y4kdPOT51E06dESfbeHqtit

People ask me, “How do you do what you do and stay calm? How do you not go crazy with all the stories you absorb from people who are hurting?”

I say, “Sometimes I do go crazy.” I’m not immune to people’s stress and it can make me crazy tired…..Which is why I have to limit my intake and do a bunch of other self-preserving things to calm myself and make sure I’m rested and ready to listen again each Monday.

We all have mirror neurons that allow us to empathize with each other and even mimic each other’s behavior. With mirror neurons, we literally pull people’s pain (and joy and dance moves and fashion sense) into our own nervous systems. Children do this automatically with their parents: we feel the stress and impact of our parents’ emotional lives, as if it were our own.

To deal with all the flashing internal empathy mirrors, I have to be mindful of my intake, deliberate about my self-care, and awake to what I need at all times.

If I’m not mindful, deliberate, and awake…..I get sick from too much mirroring.

Here’s a partial list of ways I (sometimes) accomplish mindfulness, deliberateness, wakefulness. Consider it a work-in-progress. I learn more about calming and self-care every day.

  1. I have to move, every day: A walk or a cardio class or a yoga session. Movement lets me metabolize information and it prevents depression.
  2. Some of my favorite people tell me they can go on three hours of sleep and a few cups of coffee, but I still need a good eight hours every night. Sleep probably helps us process information. When I’m taking in lots of new stories and ideas, I need more mattress time.
  3. Art (visual) and Music. Colors and shapes and notes create a kind of medicine for me. I need them like I need to eat greens. I need to see, hear, and make them myself. I need to surround myself with people who work in textures and tones. I need Bach and the comingling of magenta and lime.
  4. Although it feels like a chore at first, I need to write something in my journal every morning. If I skip this, I pay.
  5. My Own Therapy. I get my own EMDR therapy, to help me sort and utilize all the incoming data that can seem so cruel and disconnected. Like many of you who work with people, I’m exposed to a steady stream of Type II Trauma (little t trauma) in the experiences of others. Just watching the news leaves me with enough material to fill an entire therapy session. This stuff has to go somewhere. EMDR helps clear the sidewalks of my brain, so I can move about again.

I hope this list gets you started on your own self-preservation journey. I’ll be back with more…..Because we need you in this world. We need your clear heart and mind. We need your calm spirit. We need your ideas and generosity. We need you to care for your body and soul, so there’s more of your goodness available to the world.

 

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about caring for and protecting yourself in this complicated world.

How to Know when it’s Time to Say Goodbye

The necessary edges between things.

Every creation requires sacrifice.

I have trouble letting go. Mostly when it comes to saying goodbye to unbalanced relationships. You know, the kind where you feel you should be helpful but no amount of help seems to make a difference? So here are some thoughts about change and letting go of what no longer serves us.

Change is constant. We learn and gain insight – so we’re not the same people we were last year. We have more skill, experience, and sense of our true selves. We see our goals more clearly. We crave new experiences and the company of people who have knowledge we need. This is normal and good.

But: One, how do we know when it’s the right thing to push ahead and say goodbye? And: Two, what does it mean to walk away from people or institutions that no longer help us grow? First, here are some signs it’s time to go.

  1. You feel resentful. The colleague or partner you’ve been with is a decent enough person. But you no longer feel positive feelings about the collaboration or relationship. You feel exploited or dragged down by it.
  2. You dread contact. The group or institution that once fed your spirit now makes you want to stay away.
  3. You feel guilty, sad, stuck….and more resentful. There’s a sense of obligation you have toward your partner/friend. It’s like feeling sorry for someone but also tied to them like a conjoined twin you can’t shake off. When you think of stepping away, you see yourself as a terrible, selfish, mean-spirited person. This is the Pity/Anger Paradox.
  4. You feel drained. Thinking about the person or group distracts you from creative work – it drains your productivity and energy. You get sick more often than normal. You have trouble exercising. You want to crawl into bed and stay there for a week or two. Your projects languish….

If any of these is familiar, consider talking or writing about your situation. Get your worst fears onto the page or spoken aloud to a trusted confidante. EMDR therapy can also help us let go of tired, old requirements that no longer serve us.

Does this make us selfish? Good question. Maybe it does. But I’m learning that if I don’t behave somewhat selfishly at times, I drown in other people’s needs. Just like some organism dies every time I eat (and I’m a vegetarian!). To survive and breathe, I have to say:

NO, THANK YOU.

I AM UNAVAILABLE FOR THAT.

PLEASE GO NOW.

I NEED SPACE.

I WILL NO LONGER BE GIVING TIME TO THAT.

This kind of “selfish” work frees us to rest, create, and move forward with grace. I often use EMDR to help clients envision their true goals and desires, so they can achieve them. Sometimes this entails saying goodbye.

But Goodbye brings Hello. For all parties. Every time.

Contact me if you’d like to talk more about letting go of what you no longer need. The result will be good for everyone involved.

 

Letters on the Life of the Therapist, Chapter One: Vessels

image

 

Dear Dr. Cox,

I’ve been thinking about our last supervision meeting and I have some questions. You always seem like you have it all together. You know your stuff and never appear distressed. Like an Olympic athlete who trains and trains. But what happens when the trained athlete pulls a muscle? We expect these unfortunate events to happen to athletes from time to time – we don’t look down on them when they get hurt. But what about therapists? Why do people expect us to have all our crap together? What if we get depressed or experience a trauma? We are only people too, right? Or should we “know better?”

Think about an oncologist who develops lung cancer after smoking for 25 years. We can all easily say that this doctor knew the consequences and therefore he gets no sympathy from anyone. He knew better. But he too is only human. I guess people hold us to this higher standard because of our experience and training. We know how PTSD develops, so we should be able to avoid it, right?

Last week when your client relapsed and almost killed a whole family with her drunk driving, you cried. You said, Sometimes I hate this job. It startled me at first, but then I felt relieved. How are we supposed to deal with that kind of news? After working so hard to help someone help themselves?

Dana


Dear Dana,

I’ve confessed that I (sometimes) hate this job. Glad to hear you weren’t too disappointed in me. In truth, I have a love/hate relationship with this work. Miracles happen every day and I get to be a part of that. I feel humbled and grateful because, as jobs go, this one is actually making the world a better place, one marriage, one family, one person at a time. And if I have to work for a living (as I’ll have to do until I literally go phlunk like a sandbag on the floor, at the very end), I might as well do something that forces me to learn, constantly, to layer concentration upon education, upon self-awareness, upon compassion, upon mindfulness and continued training and an ear for the ethics of every moment. It’s all good.

And it’s completely exhausting.

We are vessels. And, as such, we absorb and contain the troubles of others.

At the end of the day, I can’t stand to hear anybody talk, even my own family. And if I work a five-day clinical week, as I’ve done lately, I feel utter despair by Friday afternoon and fantasize about an empty, white room or a secluded cabin in the woods with no television, no phone, no mail, nobody needing me for miles.

I need to empty out again.

A question fizzes in my gray matter: Shouldn’t the therapist have a therapist? Someone tough enough and awake enough to track our feelings? After logging thirty psychotherapy hours in a week, don’t we deserve somebody to donate one hour to us? Sit and listen? Really try to understand? Does anybody care about the stories the therapist needs to tell? Or are we a class of persons who must perpetually suck it up, forget we have needs, be constantly available to other people’s needs, to make a living? A class of people who must always protect others from our own stress?

Many of us cannot afford the very service we provide so skillfully to others. Or if we can afford it, we  often have trouble finding someone who can stay just a bit ahead of us, get a 360-degree perspective on our work and trauma stories, offer wisdom and guidance, and tolerate the complexity of our moods and longings.

Will the good therapist soon evolve into a kind of receptive being who lives a shorter lifespan but is built for listening only – not venting – like some aboriginal with twelve toes.

How are we supposed to deal? I’m starting a list for you. More later . . .

DC


Dr. Cox,

It’s hard to stay empathic 24/7 when no one asks about my problems. Friends ask for free advice like a family member would ask a doctor to diagnose their runny nose. We’re all work horses even though we do no manual labor. Our jobs never stop. But listening to negative and traumatic stories day in and day out brings up my own monsters. Is this normal?

I’ve written a poem about the therapist’s dilemma. Hope you like it.

She Matters

Her life is a never ending chapter of pain, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness. Why did she choose this road? The road of endless heartache, it goes on and on, it never ends once it has begun. She chose this road, this life that she knows all too well. The trauma, the pain, the empathy, the compassion. Her life is important. She matters.

She sits in an all too familiar leather chair, soft, yet tattered. The company she keeps is not dissimilar to herself, she feels their pain, yet they know nothing of her own. Her words come easy, as if she is an actor who has memorized a script. Her script is her life. She is not unlike a fireman pulling a child from a burning building or a surgeon making a vital transplant to save a life. She saves lives. Her life is important. She matters.

 She smiles, an all too easy smile. It’s a practiced grin that has taken many years to perfect. She feels discomfort in other’s words as the words bring back her own darkness. Her darkness that has seen light but always returns to shadows. She invites the shadows to bring others light. Her life is important. She matters.

Dana Christian, M.A.


Dear Dana,

Your poetry hits home – like having a sidewalk artist sketch your caricature. And yes, I do think it’s normal to have your own monsters sneak out of the closet as you listen to your clients. Some say they go away in time. But do we really want them to? I think the monsters keep us connected to the people we serve. My monsters – depression, childhood trauma, money stress, disconnection from my partner, on and on and on – keep me awake to the suffering of my clients. They motivate me to care.

The problem, as I see it, lies not with the fact that you and I need our own therapy. The problem lies at the intersection of psychology and the marketplace.

Some research shows we’re less effective after 25 client hours per week – and I know that’s true for me. But when I cracked open my APA workforce survey a few years ago, the definition for full-time practice included 40 or more client-contact hours per week! Who decided that and what kind of garden vegetables did they have stuck up their rear ends?

But do we know anyone paying the bills, saving for retirement, and living comfortably, who sees only 25 clients a week?

This path chose us. Not the reverse. Now we have to survive the path, and nurture ourselves well enough that we can be effective on it.

As promised, here’s my list: Self care for therapists.

  1. EMDR. I think all mental health workers need EMDR therapy. We witness so much pain that we must somehow metabolize in order to sleep, get up the next day, and be present for our families and our clients. EMDR jump-starts the nervous system to process disturbing information and find it a home in the filing system. It calms and balances. It promotes clear thinking. It helps resolve long-term trauma and restores empathy for the self.
  2. A clean, green diet. I’m not a nutritionist, but I’ve learned a lot from my friend and health coach, Meg Worden, who once told me that greens are the lungs of the planet. We need to detox from our addictions to things like refined sugar and dairy products – and replace them (at least for the most part) with plants. As with EMDR, eating green promotes clear-headedness and calm.
  3. Daily Exercise. This one goes without saying, but when you’re working so hard just to survive graduate school, you might skip your cardio routine and collapse on the couch some days. I understand that first hand. And I know now that past the age of 35, I could not function without daily exercise. While I walk, my brain works on these complex cases, in the background, leaving me free to smell the lilacs and listen to 80s funk.
  4. Your right amount of sleep, solitude, and down time. This can’t be overstated. You’re good – and when people discover this, they will refer clients to you and ask you to testify in court and fill out their FMLA forms and see them on Friday night and call them on Sunday and read their long emails and rush a report and reduce your fee so you need to see an extra person and go over your session time and be there for them endlessly. Which you simply cannot do. Guard your schedule ruthlessly. Go to bed by 10:00 consistently. Stop working when it’s time to go home. Ignore email on the weekend. Let the phone answer itself. You are more important than all of it.
  5. Peer and friend support. We need a circle of trusted people who will take the therapist chair with us and let us vent. We need a professional mentor, a best-friend type of listener, a therapist type of listener, a priest or rabbi, a significant other, and maybe a business coach. We need to luxuriate in being the speaker – at least once a week with someone. We need people who consider the big picture and look out for our health, who remind us our mission and purpose, remind us our services are worth money. We need people who cock their heads when we start to sound “off.” We need advice, guidance, sounding boards, and second opinions. We need friends who make us talk about other things besides psychology.

More later . . .

DC