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

Parenting Lesson #5093: Less is More and Letting Go

 

Prayers Into Space, by Chris Roberts Antieu, http://www.antieaugallery.com/shop/nature-night-sky-angels-collection/prayers-into-space/

Mindful Parenting of Teens = Letting Go

If you have a child over the age of ten, you may already know this. So good for you. My friends with much older kids told me this years ago and I didn’t want to hear it.

                     Parenting of adolescents sometimes means letting go, looking away, or stepping out for a beer with our friends. Sometimes less is more.

I see children over forty who are still unable to leave home, live their true sexual orientation, or change occupations. They feel stuck in their hometown or childhood role or vocation. They hate the thought of devastating their parents by being who they truly are. Adult children get depressed after decades of suppressing their desires.

I see adult children who drink too much as they try to numb the guilt they feel about disappointing their parents (or even wanting to).

I see parents who believe something is wrong because their 25-year-old doesn’t want to visit every week.

I see grown-ass parents who drive their 18-year-olds to rehearsal and wait outside in the car as if they must monitor their teen’s safety as they walk from the building. I relate, because I’d love to still be doing that.

But we can’t. We have to let go. Those young adults who still look like their baby pictures need LOTS of room to experiment with who they are.

. . . which is why Parenting Lesson #5093 matters so much. See if this list of ideas resonates, or if it makes you cringe. (I am cringing at the same time I’m learning.)

  1. Sometimes mindful parenting involves us being out of the room, out of earshot, across town, or at least in the backyard. Distance is our friend now.
  2. We give our kids more when we control them less. And we really can’t control them anyway. After about the age of 12, we could barely keep a stranglehold for a few years, but then they’d want nothing to do with us.
  3. Often, our teens need us to back off and shut up. Fewer words = better perspective.
  4. Although we have LOADS of good advice, earned through decades of living, and although we want to spare them our mistakes, our kids need us to do more meditating and less talking.
  5. Sometimes the best mindful parenting involves radical self-care: taking walks, getting out with friends, making art, sleeping well, doing yoga, getting our nails done . . . (This is NOT selfish. This is teaching by being.)

When we over-control our kids, we lose them emotionally (and sometimes physically). If we over-identify with them (note to self here), we disappear as the role models they need us to be and turn into heavy weights for them to carry.

Mindful parenting means taking care of ourselves and then meditating for our children’s safety, peace, and joy.

There’s good in all of it (even though it hurts like hell).

Contact Deborah

Our Flaws Make Us Interesting: EMDR Makes Them Funny

From Chris Roberts-Antieu, Monsters and Misfortune Collection, http://www.antieaugallery.com/browse/

Maybe our flaws even make us lovable.

My Flaws

I have a few characteristics of which I’m not proud. Most of them fall into the category of “uptightness” . . . fear and shame and rigidity. Before EMDR, I would not have written this post for fear of public ridicule.

First, I have this judgmental tendency that
springs up when I feel threatened or disoriented. I sometimes
pathologize, trying to make sense of something that
hurts or scares me (or that resembles something that hurt
me in the past). My job is a bit of a risk factor for this.

Second, I build walls that protect me from shame and
(imagined) physical and relational danger. The walls
started appearing back around 1970, but
I’ve reinforced them for the last several decades. They’ve kept me from having any broken bones, but they’ve prevented me from enjoying things like water sports or blowing a whole day on Outlander episodes. I always need to be productive.

I’d love to lose the uptightness. Just let it go, so I can be fully present to enjoy whatever’s happening in the moment. Then I’d be more like normal people.

But what if my shame and uptightness makes
me more . . . me?

Can defects of personality be lovable? Or at least
amusing?

Could something you loathe about yourself actually be the thing another person finds attractive in you?

People I’m very close to sometimes laugh at my uptightness – and they’re laughing WITH me. About how I’m reluctant to throw my shoes in a
big stinky pile with everybody else’s dusty
clodhoppers at the bowling alley. My true friends
like me even though I can sometimes be too driven
and exacting – and even though I have a hard time
winding down for fun (how I’d have to be dragged to the bowling alley in the first place). They love me even though I’m awkward.  Maybe they
love me partly because of all my awkward trauma residue. They
say, “It’s okay that you have a stick up your ass. We know why it’s there.” From these people, I learn self-acceptance.

Their Flaws

Then we laugh at THEIR flaws. And I love those
those dear flaws. They’re frickin’ hilarious. The one who interrupts – literally has to bite his lip to keep from talking over you, but then you know how exuberantly he cares for your conversation. The one with the “checkered past” who is so brave to share all her humiliating sexual moments with the rest of us, so we can feel better about ourselves. The one with no self control over food, and the one with a touch of agoraphobia, and the one who can’t touch public doorknobs or poop anywhere but at home.

I’ve spent too many years trying to appear flawless, and maybe I’ve fooled a few people. But I’m starting to think my embarrassments and scars, bad hair days
and unresolved hurts and relationship failures might actually
make me more interesting . . . At least to the right
people.

Oh, and EMDR helps moderate all of this: it changes my physiology around fear and shame, makes me kind of laugh at myself.

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

Visit Beyond Studio and Nurture Your Inner Crazy Aunt

Beyond Studio makes me appreciate my wild inner self. The one inspired by my favorite aunt.

You know that aunt of yours . . . the one your parents didn’t want you visiting because you came back from her house wanting to sleep outside in your hammock and you wore your plaids and dots together and your cowboy boots with your dresses and refused to eat red meat?

I think it’s time to be her.

Where did I Unlearn the Wildness?

When I was in the second grade, at Lipscomb Elementary in Nashville, Tennessee, I told my classmates I could write their names in Spanish. No, I didn’t speak Spanish. I took each of their names and scrambled the letters and gave them back with a little accent mark at the end. They loved it. They stood in line to have me write their Spanish names on little pieces of card stock and embellish with purple crayon swirls. Until after a few days, one of them figured out my secret and started writing everyone’s names in Japanese. The jig was up.

The memory mortified me at age seventeen and twenty, but now I love the pre-entrepreneurial spirit I showed in that enterprise, even if I was scamming my peers.

Later, this unconventional child got stomped out of me at Christian school. This excerpt from Wife Material shows a fourth-grade Elizabeth, the fictional girl based on my real self, learning to suppress everything natural about her personality as a new student at Waltham Academy.

From Wife Material . . .

Mrs. Crandall sat at her desk in the beige polyester, one of three outfits she rotated
through each week, watching the flow of children for several long seconds while my jaw locked
and my abdomen tightened. She cleared her throat as the last child exited to the hallway. Then
she swiveled her eyes to me.

“Lizzie,” she began, “I understand you’ve been making nasty noises.” Her voice thickened
with breath. “On the playground.” She clucked her tongue like she’d just eaten peanut butter. “Is
this true?”

Heat-rash at the backs of my knees. I memorized her beef necklace while blood beat
against the inside of my face. I sputtered stupidly. There was no air. My brain reviewed the
scenes of hysteria with Abbie, the loud, forced-air sounds, giggly confessions of Saturday
morning-fabric-store flatulence, following our moms at a safe distance, hiding behind bolts of
crushed velvet and muslin, the crotch-grabbing and the laughter and Mr. McHail. Crandall
cleared her throat and spared me.

“You shouldn’t be laughing about nasty things,” she said. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking of Bible story sinners who covered themselves in sackcloth and
ashes. My limbs wilted and wobbled as I fell off the moral high road. All those seventeen
classmates were no doubt disappointed in the new girl who drew horses and laughed at farts. I
wanted so much to be like them: muscled, perky, and pain-free. They had such exquisite control
of themselves.

What was good about me and my friend making rude noises on the playground? We were bonding in our hilarity and our humanness. Just like today. Therapists need to shake loose from the clinic, get a little crazy, bond over lemon curd, draw naughty pictures, hold meetings in the sauna, bring their dogs to work, and paint the floor.

Beyond Studio Team

 

Beyond Studio and My Inner Crazy Aunt

Bonding over the zany makes me appreciate Sesame Street and Tim Kreider cartoons. It makes me appreciate my wacky yet oh-so-smart therapist friends at Beyond Studio, where I get inspired to make finger puppets and decorate chandeliers with dangling Barbies and race cars. Beyond Studio is a place for combining the serious and profane. I love catching people in delighted confusion, especially when they think they’re supposed to be in a solemn office. And who cares about being correct? Skill can Kill. Rightness is overrated in its ability to produce joy. We lose so much when we try to be good. We (therapists) have more fun, find more love, and experience more exuberant life when we cut loose and open our silly, rude ideas to the world.

Thank you Auntie!

 

Note to Self: Write MORE that’s Real in 2018

MORE

More of Everything in 2018

I need to write, but haven’t in a while.

I got a little bogged down trying to create neat, unoffensive packages of psychotherapy. I sort of lost myself, and writing became a chore.

But I’m writing my way back home, thanks to a little rest and time with writerly friends. Now, my true self wants to say something . . .

  • more interesting,
  • more hilarious,
  • more gut-wrenching,
  • more real . . .

The stuff I’d want to read, that enlivens me and pushes me toward the edges of my comfort and into a new way to think.

Stuff that makes me want to get up early and write it.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

For years, I’ve flirted with more candid writing, but reined it in, choosing a safer, more clinical voice. In the therapist’s chair, I listen to your stories, all the while knowing we’re alike in ways that blow my mind. Almost nothing truly separates us.

More Honesty = Less Separation Between Us

. . . and less separation sounds great to me.

My last post, about dealing with a narcissistic mother, brought me closer to what’s real. It felt risky and imperative at the same time. Some of you said, “Oh my God, that’s me too.” We both struggle with how to handle people we love who bring us down. There it is. Just like you, I need help with my boundaries and I need to know that I’m not a bad person for protecting myself.

There’s a censor in my head who says, “Shut up and act like a proper psychologist.” But another voice says, “Trust yourself. Write what you know. Share what’s real for you. Trust the universe. Allow yourself to be known.”

Even though I sit in the therapist’s chair, I’m a work in progress. And although our sessions are about you, sometimes I need to write about me. That feels more balanced, more genuine, more honest . . .

 . . . and scary as hell.

(which is probably a sign I need to do it).

More Spiritual Growth

A few years ago, I wrote a novel about growing up and escaping fundamentalism. It’s fiction – but it hews closely to my emotional truth. Now, more than ever, I think you need to read my story. It’s part of your story too . . . Though you may not realize it yet.

We are spiritual beings who change constantly. We’re all moving toward more mindful spirituality, higher levels of consciousness, less restricted thinking, more love, more connection . . . whether we realize it or not.

I plan to share Wife Material in my 2018 blog, starting with this little scene of the 22-year-old bride, Elizabeth, straight from her Church of Christ wedding reception (Think receiving line, sherbet punch, mixed nuts, and pastel-colored mints.) Elizabeth is me. She’s the reason I’m for you getting free.

As always, I love hearing from you.

 

1988, from Wife Material: A Novel of Misbehavior and Freedom

The wedding night. My new husband looked like a mound of biscuit dough. He had a surprising lack of body hair and a pale form that slumped when standing or sitting. He had his mother’s hips. Unless you actually saw his private parts, you might not realize he was, in fact, a man. He waited for me under the hotel blanket as I tiptoed out of the small Vanderbilt bathroom in my white chenille robe, reluctantly exposing my skin to conditioned air as I slipped it off.

He smiled like a dimpled three-year-old about to eat pudding. The lights were out except for the fluorescent shafts that wound around the partially open bathroom door. I thanked God for darkness as I hurried into the stiff, clean sheets with him, a bit of moonlight misting in through a crack in the heavy sixth-floor drapes. The clock on the polished nightstand said 1:15 a.m. I missed my mother.

An hour ago, somebody else’s wedding party reveled in the lobby as we arrived at the hotel. The other bride still wore her finery, her updo falling in a sexy droop, and her friends laughed and glistened with perspiration in their cocktail dresses, like they’d been dancing for hours. They looked breezy and comedic, in the way of Eddie Bauer models. A hunky groom stood by her, joking with tuxedoed friends. Her gaiety gagged me—I had no idea why. At this moment in the sheets with Ted, I thought of that bride downstairs. She was happier than me.

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

Ready to Receive: A Valentine’s Mindset

I just learned something: getting more of what we want happens when we shift into the right mindset to receive . . . Receiving Mode. We want intimacy, creativity, close friendships, satisfying work, a healthy family . . . a healthy community, nation, and world. Receiving Mode allows us to draw the right people, situations, and energy to us, creating the opportunities and relationships that ring all our bells and generate happiness all around us. Life is chock full of miracles and love.

I sort of knew this part. But I forgot, in the heart-stomping of this historical moment.

Here’s what I just learned: we practice Receiving Mode by getting a scalp massage. When we spend time in Receiving Mode, doing easy, our feet in the grass – our faces to the sunshine, we get ready to receive. As we get ready, those happy outcomes, love, beauty, friends, and even money, flow naturally toward us.

So in honor of St. Valentine, patron saint of happy couples, I make a new kind of to-do list, to get us ready to receive love.

  1. Get a pedicure (doing this right now).
  2. Go outside and breathe.
  3. Meditate 10 minutes before bedtime.
  4. Walk for pleasure in a beautiful place.
  5. Sit with our furry friends.
  6. Get some EMDR therapy.
  7. Do nothing. Stretch. Do more of nothing.
  8. Stare at the moon and know it’s a personal gift.
  9. Do a little yoga.
  10. Get out the watercolors and mix a new shade.
  11. Close our eyes and listen to Mendelssohn.
  12. Make a list of our favorite people.

Get ready to receive your heart’s desire. Even if you can’t see it now. Get ready. It’s coming. You are loved. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Contact Deborah

Political Despair? Focus on the Journey.

lucabarberini.com

You’re safe. I’m writing to you: my Republican and Democrat and Independent friends . . . my companions on this journey. A series of conversations yesterday made me realize: We’re all stressed by the changes . . . yes, all of us.

If you lean to the right . . . you see masses protesting and feel disgust. Why do those people think they’re better than us?

If you lean to the left . . . you think, this cannot be! Does my voice matter? I need a martini. Let’s move to Banff.

You have trouble sleeping; your anger and hopelessness spike in public or when you watch the news. You watch your words. You have trouble tearing yourself away from social media. Waves of worry or despair get worse after dark. You lose friends.

If you have brown skin, it feels ten times worse. Your presence here is threatened (and threatening). You worry about being surveilled. You feel iolation and terror.

So, what I want to say is this: all the current events, all the devastation and disgust . . . none of it is real. Manipulation makes us fear each other. We’re not actually on different teams.

What IS real? The journey itself. The spiritual, relational space between us. How we treat each other. The rest is hologram, a stage set designed with challenges to grow us into maturity, if we stay awake to how we love.

A writer friend shared this poem with me today:

You have been telling the people,
That this is the eleventh hour.
Now, you must go and tell the people,
That THIS is the hour,
And there are things to be considered.

Where are you living? What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relationship?
Where is your water?
Know your garden …

It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community,
Be good to each other.
Do not look outside yourself for a leader.

There is a river flowing now very fast,
It is so great and swift.
That there are those who will be afraid,
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being pulled apart,
And will suffer greatly.

Understand that the river knows its destination,
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the river,
Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.

And I say; see who is in there with you,
Hold fast to them and celebrate!

At this time in history,
We are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves!
For the moment we do,
Our spiritual growth and journey comes to an end.
The time of the Lone Wolf is over!

Gather yourselves!
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done,
In a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are all about to go on a journey,
We are the ones we have been waiting for!

-Thomas Banyacya Sr. (1910-1999);
Speaker of the Wolf, Fox and Coyote Clan
Elder of the Hopi Nation

Contact me if you’re interested in a support group to deal with this leg of our journey.

Contact Deborah

Voice Medicine: Connect & Create Change

Saturday was Voice Medicine for me. Not only did I march and yell, I connected with thousands (millions) of others and said, We All Belong Here. It countered the heavy weight of worry and dread I’d been feeling for the last two and a half months (maybe longer), made me feel lighter, less alone, more powerful, more able to speak.

Voice Medicine lets me know I’m not alone in noticing what is not normal.

  1. I breathe more deeply.
  2. I feel hope and humor again.
  3. I sleep better.
  4. I stop eating sweets.
  5. I get my voice back.

. . . which is why you need your tribe: people who get why you feel the way you do.

Build community and find your voice.

Nasty Women, Be The Change

Right now, more than ever, voice builds community.

All those years of sitting silently in my childhood church made me confused, isolated, and mute. But standing up with other women and men, BEING LOUD, lets me hear my actual thoughts and lets others know I’m there for them too.

Here are some steps toward Voice Medicine:

  1. Join (or start) a support group for survivors of abuse.
  2. Meet a new neighbor; find out what they have in common with you.
  3. Volunteer at your local domestic violence shelter.
  4. Seek out like-minded people online. Ask them to tell their stories.
  5. Take a group of friends to a senator’s office to voice your concerns. Tell them you’re paying attention to how vulnerable people are treated by our government.
  6. Make eye contact with people begging for help . Ask them what they need most.
  7. Start an action group to end workplace bullying.
  8. Reach out to someone being harassed or abused; reach across the color or gender divide.
  9. Form a walking group in your neighborhood.
  10. Tell your kids, connection matters; talk to their friends and their friends’ parents.

Tell anyone who will listen: voice changes things.

Please let me know if you are interested in becoming part of an ongoing Voice Medicine group. Be the change.

Contact Deborah