Rigorous honesty

Rigorous honesty I hope the title of this blog post doesn’t seem outright sanctimonious or preachy, like I am about to get on my high horse and cry “never tell a lie!”  If that is the case, give me a minute to explain myself.  And before I do that, I also want to qualify something.  This blog…

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The difference between abstinence and sobriety

The difference between abstinence and sobriety Roughly one-third of my clients at any given time struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. Sometimes my client has the addiction. Sometimes my client is a family member. I am often asked, “if I quit, is that enough?” The answer in every case is “no.” Quitting is “abstinence,” which…

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The better angels of our nature

I may finally have discovered a way to describe my own spirituality. I am calling it: “the search for the better angels of our nature.”  My enthusiasm for the ideas of two life-long heroes have influenced my core beliefs in the goodness of humans and my own ultimate aspirations. Socrates believed that our virtues (the…

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Grace, gravity and gratitude

I woke up this morning with the following riddle: I thought, it would be better if I could remember, as often as possible, these aspirations: “Grace and Gratitude,” but also thought something was missing here, and I wanted an alliteration, easier to remember that way, and might look and sound better, so what’s missing…. So,…

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Grief

When I’ve previously considered writing a blog post about grief, I felt like letting out a long, slow sigh.  “Grief,” I’d tell myself, “is a topic with such gravity, how can I ever offer anything helpful in the short form of a blog post.”  So, I avoided writing about it at all. None of my blog posts presume…

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Are people good?

Sometimes clients wait until the very last minute of their sessions to ask impossibly complex, even if brilliant, questions. In the last blog post, “What are your ‘givens’?”, I noted Diane asked me, “what is the meaning of life” quite literally as she was walking out the door. To find my answer (yes, I actually…

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A very brief guide for parenting

This blog post is an excerpt, with some additions, from the blog post “Other people, our moral mirrors: Part 1, negotiating needs.” I decided to make it a separate blog post as a quick resource for parents who might want to focus on the specific ideas here. When clients come to me seeking parenting support,…

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Other people, our moral mirrors: Part 2, developing our identity

Many years ago, when half of my clients were teenagers, I would often begin by asking them “What is your main job in your life right now?” Almost always, they would say “to do well in school.”  It was like a script.  They’d probably heard this question from many others—their parents, teachers, school counselors (or in some…

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Other people, our moral mirrors: Part 1, Negotiating needs

I recently published a blog post about “Social Anxiety,” concluding that excessive (beyond normal) social anxiety has nothing to do with other people—it is created by our own way of seeing ourselves which we then project onto the way we think others see us. Today, I feel dissatisfied with rendering other people such an insignificant…

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Social Anxiety

The problem of social anxiety is caused by a significant difference between how you think you are and how you perceive others think you should be.

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Love and Relationships

Love and Relationships I cannot for the life of me imagine why it has taken me nearly twenty years of therapy practice to finally write a blog post on something as “basic” and important as Love. I mean, I am not just a therapist. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist! You’d think I’d…

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Equanimity: Standing firm at the edge of your self

A few years ago, I attended a half-day meditation retreat. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d been going to this meditation center with some frequency. The center offered a weekly Buddhist-based 12-step support group that gave me some different perspectives on what has now become a tried and true but well-worn path to…

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Racism

“Racism…” he thinks, with a long, drawn-out sigh, filled with dread, despair, confusion, anger, sadness, pain, hopelessness. I am not talking about some hypothetical Man of Color. I am talking about me, when I think about racism, which is often, but probably not often enough. Now that I’ve narrowed it down for you, I will…

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Coping with social isolation during Covid-19

There can be no question that we are facing something almost none of us have ever faced before—a sudden and dramatic change from the way we are used to living our normal lives. I am not saying this to alarm you. I am saying this so you remember that whatever you might be feeling right…

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The benefits of limited self-doubt

Self-doubt is one of the most confusing and yet constant feelings we experience. It is everywhere, in nearly everything we do, big and small. Self-doubt is that little voice that says, “are you sure you should…? [have whole milk in your latte], or [text an old romantic partner who’s sent you a seemingly harmless text],…

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Introspection Part 12, Ideals for self-discovery

Some time ago, before writing the last couple of Blog posts on introspection, I had decided that there would be exactly twelve posts in this series. Twelve is such a nice, complete number. There are twelve months in a year. In the Bible, there are the twelve tribes of Israel and Twelve Apostles (okay, now…

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Introspection Part 11, Ambivalence and balance

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass   Having the capacity to hold and experience two opposing or contradictory feelings, thoughts and desires at the same time is human, very human. It is both a blessing and a…

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Introspection Part 10, Avoiding Narcissism

Having spent the last several months writing about “going inside yourself” (introspection), it occurs to me that I should take a breather and answer the question, “is there such a thing as too much introspection?” I want to say “no” because introspection is so much a part of my life as a therapist and a…

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Introspection Part 9, Being interesting

In the last blog post, I described the difference between existence (you as you are right now) and being (you in the process of becoming what you want to be).  Being is preferable.  Being means frequently asking yourself where you are headed in your life, your head, your values and morality.  Being isn’t just about goals, although…

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Introspection Part 8, Self-awareness and being

  “Skynet… becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th.” From the Movie, Terminator II, 1991   I was on a bus at the age of 14, headed toward work. I was looking down at my hands. I was probably bored, and maybe high on something. I started to move my fingers, watching my…

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Introspection Part 7, Intersubjectivity

There’s this scene in the movie The Elephant Man that was transformative for me.  I saw the movie in my late teens.  In the movie, the main guy has a disease which disfigures his whole body, including his face.  In this particular scene, he is running from reporters.  I think he’s in a hospital.  At…

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Introspection Part 6, Self-acceptance

Introspection Part 6, self-acceptance I recently said the following to a client struggling with shame: “The opposite of shame is not pride. The opposite of shame is self-acceptance.” Moving toward self-acceptance requires self-knowledge, which in turn requires introspection. In Part 2 of this series of blog posts on introspection, I attempted to lay out the…

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Introspection Part 5, Your inner narrative

Now that you have some tools for accessing your inner self (See the previous blog post, Introspection Part 4), what are you supposed to do once you are “in there” (looking around within yourself)? Answer: find your “inner narrative”—the story you tell yourself about you and your world. That’s really it. Sounds simple, and it…

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Introspection Part 4, Tools for self-discovery

It occurs to me that in addition to all the negative reasons one might not engage in self-exploration I noted in Part 3 of this series on introspection (fear of emotional pain, family or gender negative messages, avoiding  responsibility), some of us do not engage in self-exploration because we just don’t really know how to do…

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Introspection Part 3, Why do we avoid our inner lives

I hope I made a convincing case in Part 2 of this discussion on introspection—that exploring your inner life has some very tangible (and intrinsic) benefits, including predictability and flexibility (in how you interact with others). I hope I also made it clear that, without introspection, there is really no way for a person to…

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Introspection Part 2, the value of self-discovery

Every once in a while I run into a person who tells me they think introspection and self-awareness are a waste of time. I have even on occasion been told that introspection encourages negative feelings about ourselves, by causing us to dwell on difficult issues. I am almost universally so surprised by these ways of…

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Introspection Part 1, What is introspection?

A friend recently read my book, Firewalking on Jupiter. He liked it. He thought it was useful in a variety of ways. He thought the book did a pretty good job of explaining how to address different issues you might need to address depending on who you are and what you discover about yourself—things like…

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Relationship Communication Styles

Communication Styles The way we communicate with each other is usually based on our perceptions of a situation that tell us how we need to express ourselves to get what we want from that situation. Communication “styles” (or approaches) can be broken down into four categories: “passive,” “assertive,” “passive-aggressive,” and “aggressive.” You can see from…

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Hypervigilance

I am always thrilled when a client brings an insight to me that reflects an understanding of their issues at a fairly deep level, especially when they are able to use language they find helpful to explain how they use their insights to address their own difficulties. So, please, if you are either a client…

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When does a healthy feeling become unhealthy?

A client struggles with self-doubt. Don’t we all. Yes. Of course we do. In this case, though, the self-doubts were emotionally devastating for her. She asked, “how do I get rid of it, this self-doubt?” Fair question, in light of her present difficulties with it. I pointed out that, like all feelings, self-doubt is a…

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Moral Conviction

Where does moral conviction originate? Does it come from within? Is it instilled in us from something external? How does it arise? Do we need to pay attention to it, foster it, grow it, encourage it, for it to gain strength? Or, does it exist of its own accord, making itself known when the time…

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Getting unstuck

Being stuck in your life is nearly always the result of making a decision to do nothing to change your circumstances. I say “nearly always” only to account for those very rare situations in which you are really completely unable to change anything about your current status (like, say, you’ve been in a car accident…

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Grace and post-victim status

In my most recent blog post, I charted some of the course of moving into and then out of the victim role as an essential and healthy process for dealing with trauma. I wrote this in part due to a conversation I had with a few therapy colleagues at a conference about trauma and healing.…

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Being a victim

When is a victim truly a victim, as opposed to when someone merely thinks they are a victim? Why do we question this? Probably because, often enough, we hear someone claiming “victim” status when they may not actually be a victim at all. Their justification for claiming “victim” status comes through blaming someone or something…

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Power

Power is morally neutral. Power is neither good nor bad. Power just is. It is part of the universe in which we live, part of the human condition, part of life. Power is: the capacity to influence a process to achieve a desired outcome. One way to think about power is to compare it to…

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Obligation

Morality is about other people. If morality is about other people, then our obligations to other people and their obligations to us plays a very central role to morality.

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Coasting

“You can only coast in one direction.” In case the meaning of this statement doesn’t sink in right away, take a moment and think about it. Imagine you’re on a bicycle. You’ve stopped pedaling. You’re coasting. This won’t last long unless you are going down, only down. Going straight or uphill, you’ll stop coasting pretty…

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Defining Morality

In a recent blog post I discussed the process of “Defiant Morality” leaving for another blog the related process of “Defining Morality,” which will be the topic of this blog post. Defining Morality might be described as the opposite side of the spectrum from Defiant Morality. Defining Morality is this: “in any given situation, do…

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Defiant Morality

I have for some time been considering how to approach more directly my thoughts on morality—on what is “good” and “bad” when it comes to human decisions, including their behavior, beliefs, attitudes, and judgments. I have wanted to write about this topic directly, but have hesitated. The problem has been that is in my nature…

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Pride

People fear pride, which is weird, and a bummer. Pride is good. It even seems a little sad when someone tells me they fear letting themselves feel pride. Pride is simply a way of telling ourselves we have done something worth doing, and maybe we have even done it well. So why do we fear…

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Judgments

We all say we don’t like to be judged by others, and yet, let’s face it, we all judge others. Does this make us hypocrites? Not necessarily. It depends on what you judge and how you use judgments. There are a couple of different ways to judge and to be judged. There are also different…

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Responsibility and blame

Desire for personal growth, and the kind of change that comes with it, is usually driven by a recognition that things as they are now are somehow unsatisfactory, problematic, or just more difficult than we want them to be. Somewhere there is a situation that needs changing, a problem to be resolved, a challenge to…

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The Location of Morality

I am in the mood to offer a very ambitious thought and then try to explain it, knowing the thought is far too broad and complex to have any hope of an adequate explanation in just a few pages. It is likely that the subject will occupy my thoughts to some degree for the rest…

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Empathy

Empathy is a very important part of my role as a therapist. Without it, the therapy relationship would feel and even be, robotic, mechanistic. What makes therapy human, connected, real, interesting and therefore valuable to the client (and me) is my ability and willingness to try to imagine what it would be like to be…

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My Book Firewalking on Jupiter is Available at Amazon

It’s done!  I have finished my book.  The official title is “Firewalking on Jupiter: A Therapist’s Guide to Fearless Self-Discovery.” I have published it through CreateSpace, which is part of Amazon. This announcement might seem like a shameless plug. I suppose in a way it is. I want people to buy the book because I…

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Goal-setting by imagining being “there”

Setting goals is something is an important and early part of the therapy process.  As part of the goal-setting process, I ask questions like these: “How will you know when you are ready to be done in therapy?” “How will things be different in your life?”  “How will you feel about the problems that brought…

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A thought for the Holidays, let others be who they are

Let’s say you find a sibling, an in-law or some other family member you have in the past found particularly irritating; maybe you disagree with their values, politics, religion, or their lack of filters (e.g. when they drink).  Now let’s say you only see them once or a few times a year, like during the…

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Therapy with couples, Part 2, the process

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, it probably comes as no surprise that a significant portion of clients are couples who want to resolve issues in their relationships. Although the kinds of issues that couples bring to therapy vary greatly, there are certain common elements to the process of working with couples that are quite…

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Therapy with couples, deciding on the structure and format

In this first of a two-part discussion of therapy with couples, I will explain some of the options for arranging the structure of the couples therapy. The second part of the discussion will delve into the process of working with couples in therapy. I will explore some thoughts about why couples therapy works and sometimes…

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The Power of Tenacity

A search for the definition of the word “tenacity” first brings up “stubbornness.”  It works for a starter—except we think of stubborn as a mostly negative trait and I want to write about the positive aspect of tenacity. Sometimes, though, there is also strength in stubbornness. While on a walk a few years ago with…

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Therapy, Part 3, the process of therapy (with me)

The process of therapy is different for every client.  All clients have different needs, goals, issues, personalities, levels of development, self-awareness and expectations.  It is important for me to cater my approach and processes in therapy to the individual needs of all unique clients.  No one approach fits everyone. At the same time, there are…

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Therapy Part 2, the kind of therapist I am

What kind of therapist am I? There are many different kinds of “therapy.”  There is “physical therapy,” “massage therapy,” “art therapy,” and the list goes on.  Technically speaking (and I do not like this term because it is sounds so weird), I am a “psychotherapist.”  Would you want to call yourself a “psychotherapist?” I am…

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Therapy Part 1, what is therapy

What is therapy? As a therapist, I continually ask myself basic questions about therapy.  What is “therapy?”  When does therapy work?  How do I know it is working?  What is the ultimate point of therapy?  Am I doing all the things I should be doing to help make the process as valuable and beneficial to…

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Personal Heroes

This is a modified version of a chapter in the book I wrote about my childhood. The book is called, “Twelfth Child.”  It is not published, but now and then I use parts of it when I speak and bits and pieces of it have shown up here as part of blogs and in other…

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Our Christmas Miracle

This is a story of a Christmas Miracle about our precious little dog, Julian. For those of you who do not celebrate Christmas, either because it is not consistent with your culture or belief system, or because you for other reasons simply choose not to participate in this holiday, please bear with me. I actually…

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12-Step recovery, Part 1: its influence on my identity

Kurt Vonnegut, that great American writer and thinker, once said that humanity’s greatest inventions included the United States Constitution and 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (he also included Robert’s Rules of Order—but that seems really weird and isn’t relevant to this blog’s topic).  As someone who was engaged in a legal career for over 15…

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The Relief of Humility: “I am just some guy”

Several years ago, I started saying to myself “I’m just some guy” in therapy to remember I don’t know more about my client than they know about themselves. The phrase was also a reminder that there are other therapists who are just as good or better therapists than I am, and a client is always…

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How important is your past in therapy?

Clients are often (justifiably) concerned about getting stuck or dwelling on their past for months or years as part of the therapy process. Sometimes clients have a concern that therapy might encourage them to rely on their past as “an excuse” for whatever their issues might be in their current lives (“I can’t get my…

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Feelings, good and bad, make your choice

One of the most important things I think I do as a therapist is to remind clients that their feelings are almost never either all “good” or all “bad.”  When I discuss feelings with clients, I do not merely ask, “how does that make you feel.”  I ask, “what does that feeling tell you?”  “What…

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A Tribute to Abraham Lincoln

With Lincoln’s birthday coming up, I want to thank him for his great influence on me, my life, and my therapeutic philosophy. It might be a bit of a cliché or just plain obvious to be a big fan of Abraham Lincoln.  I mean, who isn’t, right?  Hating Abraham Lincoln would be like hating cute…

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The Holidays are your time too!

For many of us the Holidays are a time of happy memories and family-focused fun. The planning of extended family get-togethers can be a chance to see people we miss and love and only see once or twice a year. For others, it is a time of difficult memories, of disappointments, or just general stress,…

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Effective Management: Balancing the Key Ingredients

Several of my clients have been sufficiently successful in their careers that they are required to manage other people, even when, in some cases, they did not want to have to manage others.  In discussing with clients the difficulties and issues of managing other people, and in my own experiences managing others, I have learned…

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Depression and Anxiety: Flip sides of the same coin, Part 3

In part 1 of this series of blogs on the relationship between depression and anxiety, I discuss how they are often related by their both being a response to a difficult task or issue.  In Part 2, I describe how depression and anxiety become such problems when dealing with difficult tasks or issues. Finally, in…

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Depression and Anxiety: Flip sides of the same coin, Part 2

In part 1 of this series of blogs on the relationship between depression and anxiety, I discuss how they are often related by their both being a response to a difficult task or issue.  In Part 2, I describe how depression and anxiety become such problems when dealing with difficult tasks or issues. Finally, in…

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Depression and Anxiety: Flip sides of the same coin, Part 1

In part 1 of this series of blogs on the relationship between depression and anxiety, I discuss how they are often related by their both being a response to a difficult task or issue.  In Part 2, I describe how depression and anxiety become such problems when dealing with difficult tasks or issues. Finally, in…

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What is “Mental Health?” Part II

In my first installment on this topic, I described the current model of “mental illness,” which seems to be the dominant focus of the mental healthcare profession. Rather than focusing on what constitutes a “healthy” mental state, the medical model and insurance driven services have led the mental health profession to identify “what is wrong”…

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What is “mental health,” Part 1

During my first session with clients, I often suggest to them that while they are thinking about which therapist might be a good fit for them, they ask themselves this question, “how does this therapist define what constitutes ‘mental health’?”  I wonder to myself, if asked that question during an initial session or phone call…

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A word about confidentiality

 In the following blogs there are numerous examples of clients in therapy struggling, coping and overcoming different mental health issues. I offer them to illustrate points, to add some interesting ideas, to make the whole enterprise of working in therapy become more real for you, the reader. None of the examples use the names of…

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Authenticity

“Authenticity” has become a frequently cited goal in discussions between therapists and other healers. I am often confused by what other practitioners mean when they talk about wanting to “be authentic.” This is just not obvious to me. So, I want to take a crack at explaining what it means to me for “me” to…

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Gestalt Prayer by Fritz Perls

Yesterday, I visited with my mother for a few hours, showing her a bit about how to use the internet beyond email. She recited a line from a poem to offer some insight into a relationship issue we were discussing. She only knew one line, but didn’t know the rest of the poem, or who…

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ADHD and Therapy: beyond medication

ADHD and Therapy: Beyond medication, giving a voice to distraction As a family therapist who works with parents of children with ADHD, I often stop and ask myself, “what am I doing with my clients in therapy that medication is not doing by itself.” My clients with ADHD benefit greatly from therapy even when it…

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Anxiety–a story of two powerful mistakes

Why do we have anxiety? We experience anxiety when we want control over outcomes that are important to us. In this sense, anxiety itself is not a problem. A professor back in graduate school had a saying about anxiety: “without anxiety all rabbits would be dead on the railroad tracks” (if they didn’t jump like…

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Anger: is it ever a good thing?

Of course it is, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it by what clients tell me during their narratives of how they feel about themselves or other family members who become angry. Listening to an interview on NPR a few years ago, a psychologist said, “anger is a moral feeling.” I can’t remember anything else he…

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Abuse and Self-Love: stop the myth

Clients often express either doubts about not loving themselves or outright inability to feel love for themselves, which in all cases has been related to physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse.  Its as if they’ve learned that experiencing this kind of trauma prevents them from loving themselves, which in turn prevents them from loving others and…

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Boundaries

I can safely say nearly all of my clients have issues that would be far less important to their daily feelings of well-being if they were able to establish more consistent and healthy boundaries with the people they are close to in their lives.  What do I mean by “healthy” boundaries?  Boundaries in which you…

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