Thoughts From A Psychotherapist

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  • Scared Cat

5 Ways to Cope While Living in a Culture of Fear

It seems to me that right now we are living in a culture of fear. Much of the news we see is about how someone is going to take away something from somebody, freedom, money, safety, etc. Recent world events have only seemed to worsen this propensity.

I believe that this culture of fear is leaking into our daily lives more and more. I see people finding themselves constantly competing with others, ending up in a no-win cycle of trying to have or be enough.  It perpetuates our already scary propensity for doing more rather than being. The culture of busy to me is an effect of the culture of fear. Fear drives us to constantly try to do more and be more. No wonder our country has such a high rate of anxiety and depression. It is hard to live a life where you never feel safe or good enough.

There are no easy answers here. We each have to find our own ways to happiness. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me.
1. Don’t compete with others. You will never win and quite frankly you don’t even know what you are competing with. Few people show the depth of their pain when they are suffering. Lots of people look really good and together on the outside but the inside is very different.
2. Be kind to others. Whenever you can. Smile at people, compliment them, open the door, offer to carry groceries, there are so many ways to do this. It helps you and it helps them.
3. Limit your daily news intake. This amount may differ for each of us and change on any given day but don’t allow yourself to be sucked into more than you can tolerate.
4. You can make a difference so do it. Give to a veteran’s organization this holiday season, take a neighbor’s garbage out or plow their driveway. Small acts make a difference too. We can’t all win Nobel Prizes but we can all do what we can to make the world a better kinder place.
5. Don’t let yourself get mired in anger. I have struggled with this as I have seen some responses to world events recently. But on my best days I find my compassion and move on and on my worst days I try to keep it to myself and not perpetuate it.

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November 20th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments
  • Morrie the cat

Duct Tape and The Water Bowl

So I found myself sitting on my kitchen floor duct taping my cat’s water bowl to the pad underneath it at 10:30pm the other night. I could do nothing but laugh at myself. I have spent the last few weeks trying to outsmart an overactive kitten that I have diagnosed with OCD. Yup therapists diagnose our pets too. Little Morrie has decided that his newest game is to move the water bowl across the kitchen floor leaving a nice trail of water along the way. If I go in and clean it up and then leave the room Morrie goes right back at it again and again and again (you can see where I got the OCD diagnosis).

I have tried about six different bowls and then yesterday I read about simply taping the bowl to the mat. So I did that. And I have had some success with that. See I think along with the OCD Morrie may have a touch of ADHD and if something becomes boring then he doesn’t want to do it anymore. So once the bowl was affixed then it became boring and problem was solved. Until it wasn’t. Tonight as I was working on the computer I heard that familiar bowl moving noise. I didn’t get up because any Morrie attention is considered good attention and it only reinforces the behavior more.

Of course when I went into the kitchen the floor was sopping wet and that is how I found myself duct taping the bowl down again. I thought I have got to make a blog post out of this because it would be good to write about something a little more light-hearted then grief and care-giving. But here I am at the end of the post wondering what the point of it all is? That I can’t outsmart a kitten? That in every relationship you have to deal with some spilled water along with the love? That life can bring challenges in unexpected ways? Maybe all of the above maybe it is just that sometimes you just have to laugh and clean up the water, again.


October 22nd, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|2 Comments
  • Elderly Woman

Coping with Aging Parents

One of the issues I see people facing both in my personal life and my professional life is coping with aging parents. There are inevitable issues such as health and losing them that we all have to face. I recently met an EAP counselor that specialized in these issues and we talked about how challenging these situations are and how easy it is to become overwhelmed and lose focus on your own life. We also talked about how ill prepared people are for death in general.

When faced with coping with these situations I encourage people to be proactive. It is so much easier to get supports in place ahead of time rather than when the crisis hits. That being said it usually doesn’t happen for a variety of reasoning including denial of the situation, resistance on behalf of the parent, or inability to access services. If you are facing a crisis I would encourage you to use all available resources. If you work for a company with EAP benefits most offer a counselor who can help you navigate the system and get support. It is a great resource that is generally under utilized because people do not know about it. Also depending on where your parents live there are usually local Offices of Aging that can offer support and referrals. Many times they will even do a home visit to assess what your parent needs and what they are eligible for. There are also paid case managers that do this work if there are resources available to pay for it. As a social worker I always encourage people to get a social worker involved in these situations whenever you can. Social workers know how to navigate systems quickly and understand benefits. Anyone who has tried to help his or her parents with Medicare can understand the value of that.

If you become a caregiver I would also encourage you to use the resources to establish counseling for yourself. Whether it is individual therapy or a caregivers support group it is important to also take care of you. Remember what they always tell you on an airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first.

If you lose your parent I would encourage you to also establish a support network of people that understand that loss. Grief is a crazy ride and it is better to share it with someone else who understands that.

If your parents are healthy and doing well be sure to take the time to ask any questions you have of them. Get the stories out of them. Consider taping them or video taping them. Often after a loss there is a wish to know things and taking the time to hear the stories while they are doing well can be a gift to both you and your parent.

Finally if you are estranged from your parents then try and find some support to cope with any issues that may come up around that. You may still feel like you have to step in and help if they are ill or perhaps you can’t. I encourage everyone to make the best decision for themselves and to get support for it.

I would also encourage people to talk about these experiences with others. We can only receive support if we share our experiences. You will often be surprised by who will step up and be supportive to you.

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  • Vulnerability Word Cloud

Power and Pain of Vulnerability

A few months ago I read this article. This woman talks about a day when she confided in another woman about the problems in her marriage. She and the woman ended up becoming fast friends. She took a risk and showed her vulnerability and it paid off. It is a great story.

I am a big fan of Brene Brown. She talks a lot about vulnerability. I often think that if we were more open with our struggles then people would feel less isolated in their struggles. I hear from clients often that they feel they are the only one struggling with depression or anxiety. I know they are not. There is such pressure for all of us to present our best selves all the time. However, we have our struggles and rarely do we share those. We feel like people don’t want to hear it or we don’t want to be a burden. So we carry our struggles alone or share only with a small group of friends and it makes it harder to cope with our pain.

I recently have tried to be more open with the challenges in my life. Maybe it is a matter of aging and no longer feelings like I care so much about other people’s judgments. My results in showing my vulnerability have been mixed. I have experienced three different results. Some people are amazing and stay amazing. They check back in with me to see how things are. They listen and they share things going on in their own lives. The next group of people is amazing for a moment in time and then seemingly disappears. The last group doesn’t respond at all.

I will say that the positive responses far outweigh the negative ones. I would also say that the positive responses are worth getting even with the risk of receiving a negative response. I always try and remember everyone has a story and part of those stories include unhappiness. We often cannot see what weight each person carries. I try to keep that in mind in every interaction and I try to be the person who checks in and follows up. I don’t always succeed, but that is the person I want to be. Our lives are busy but it doesn’t take a lot to reach out and listen and be kind and there are rewards for us when we do it.



Word Cloud made at Word Out
September 26th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|4 Comments
  • Beauty is the small moments

Gratitude as a Reframe

I was having one of those days. Filled with disappointment in people. No one it seemed was living up to my expectations and I felt cruddy. I was ruminating over being done wrong When I woke the next morning I wanted a different day. I am all about having negative feelings (well in theory anyway) but I didn’t want to stay in a pity party. So I started my day in bed thinking about the people that had hurt my feelings and all the things they had done for me over time. All the things I was grateful for. Everything I would miss if they were no longer in my life. It totally changed my attitude. I got out of bed and I was in a better mood. I had a good day.

What I have learned is that it is okay to be disappointed. It is good to be able to express those feelings and get your needs met. At the same time dwelling in them doesn’t help. It can create a spiral of negativity that can be hard to shake. Life is tough enough without creating my own obstacles. If there is one thing I have learned this year it is that there is never enough time. It is hard but important to stay focused on the present and what is good. Not ignoring what is bad but not staying there either.

Today I started wearing a new necklace. It says “Beauty is found in the small moments”. That is how I am trying to live.


September 5th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments
  • hands holding

Holding the Hope

Not that long ago I was talking to a friend and they said “sometimes you just look back and think how did I get through that year?” When we are in pain we often just find a way to hunker down and just push through. Eventually there comes a day when we realize things are better, maybe not great but okay again. When we are in that terrible time we often forget that we have been there before and made it to the other side. We are in pain and it feels like we will always be in pain.

As a therapist when I am working with someone who is in that awful time I feel like often much of my job is to hold the hope for them. If I have known them a while I can remind them that they have been on difficult journeys before and they got through them. I can tell them when I see them getting better and that I believe that they will get better. I hold the hope for their recovery when they can’t see it.

Now that isn’t to say another part of my job isn’t to acknowledge the pain that they experiencing. It is always important to not move to quickly to it will get better when someone is suffering. The balance is to both acknowledge the pain and help people believe that things will shift again. A delicate balance to be sure.

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July 27th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|0 Comments
  • Three rocks

How Do We Cope With The Randomness of Life?

I have posted a lot about grief lately. I specialize in working with both grief and trauma and part of the process is dealing with the randomness of life. On any given day everything in our life can change. That sounds so dramatic and of course when it happens it is. One day someone is told they are sick, or pass away, or get into an accident. Of course everything can also change in a positive way with a marriage,  or having a baby or winning the lottery but those are generally less random. We all like to think that we have some control over our lives. If we constantly lived in a state where we acknowledge our lack of control for many of us it can be stressful. We like to believe that if we do the right things then good things will happen. Sometimes it works out that way and sometimes it doesn’t.

So how do we deal with the days that is doesn’t work out the way we want. I have been talking to almost all my clients about finding a mindfulness practice. That can look different for everyone but it is about finding a way to be present in the moment. I have worked really hard on finding my way to my own practice. I will be honest. I have had a hard time committing to it for a long time and then one day I did. Now I have a daily practice. It can look a bit different every day but there is something I do everyday. Then on the days when things aren’t going right I am better able to stay in the moment and cope with what is in front of me and not my fears about what is to come. Of course with being present comes coping with painful emotions. But allowing ourselves to stay present and walk through them is the only true way to heal.



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  • Grief Sign

What I Have Learned About Grief

In recent months grief has been a challenge I have been facing both personally and professionally. It has seemed like so many people I have known have experienced a recent loss. A few things I have learned from this experience

  1. People want to do the right thing and help but many will not be able to. I have watched many people struggle with how to help someone grieving and want to reach out and somehow not be able to. I think fear of doing the wrong thing paralyzes many people from doing anything at all.
  2. Everything you do matters. Every card or text or ride or hug or shared memory makes a difference to the person grieving. They may not be able to articulate it when they receive it but it does matter.
  3. When you extend a sympathy sharing a memory is a wonderful gift. Happy memories are always welcome.
  4. People want to make it better for you-what is more appreciated is if people just acknowledge how bad it is. Grief is hard. There is no getting around it. Yes most people will move on with their lives and may even be happy again but in the beginning it is hard and it hurts. Just acknowledging that is very validating to people.
  5. Some people will surprise you. There are those you will expect to step up that won’t but there will also be unexpected people that come to help you.
  6. Grief is unpredictable. You may be going along okay and then be brought to your knees in sadness. The best you can do is to be aware when it hits you.
  7. There is no way around it. You can only go through it. Our tendency is to want to avoid pain but with grief the only way to move on is to go through the pain. It is hard and often horrible but it does get easier. Grief is always with us it just may become less prominent in our thoughts and actions.



Photo Copyright: 72soul / 123RF Stock Photo
June 11th, 2015|Thoughts From A Psychotherapist|6 Comments
  • cat sleeping

You can love again-Coping with the Lost of a Pet

Last year my beloved cat was diagnosed with cancer. He was 13. I have had many cats over the years and I have loved them all but this one was was special to me. He was devoted to me. When I found I out he had cancer I was devastated.  We made the decision to do chemo in pill form as the right treatment. Chemo for cats is different than for people as it’s goal is to extend life not save it. My guy lived 9 good months and had no side effects from the chemo. When we lost him I was numb. As a therapist I told myself that grief looks different for everyone but I wondered why I didn’t cry when I lost him.

I worried that I would never again have a cat as special as my Sammy. Fast forward a few months and one day I came home and said ” I need a kitten now!”  We had talked about the timing of adding a new cat. There were some good reasons to wait for a bit. But I just hit the point where I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. The laws of the universe cooperated. We looked online and saw a little girl cat in San Francisco. We got up early the next day and went to SFSPCA with all the paperwork ready. As soon as I saw her I knew. I fell deeply in love with her instantly.

She has been with us for 2 weeks now and we are working on integrating her with the other cats. She has a bold little personality and is a super-duper lap cat. I didn’t think I could love a cat as much as Sammy but I do. It’s different and it doesn’t take away from the love I had from him-in fact I think it is because of him that I love her so much. She is filling a hole I had in my heart. It is hard to be sad when there is a kitten in the house.

Everyone experiences grief differently. Not everyone will get another pet. But for me having a new little girl has helped me heal from the loss of my boy.

  • Invisible Disabilities Word Cloud

4 Ways To Support Those with Invisible Illnesses

I recently wrote a blog post about the “Spoon Theory”.  That is a way for people with disabilities to explain how they allocate their energy during each day. I got a lot of positive feedback on that post and wanted to further expand it to ways to support people with invisible disabilities.

1. Never say “But you look fine.”. You may mean it as a compliment but to a person struggling in pain in can be instead construed as invalidating. Looking okay to the world and feeling okay in side are two very different things.

2. Offer advice judiciously. Everyone has access to Google. That means whatever diet or exercise plan that, you have read about that cures these illnesses the person with it has read also. Healthy living is good for everyone, but most of these illnesses do not have a cure. Hearing about such things can again come across as a judgment. The person hears that if they had only done this thing they would be okay. This is something they have thought about and they are trying to live the best they can so be careful with the advice.

3. Be flexible. When you are living in chronic pain or with fatigue you don’t know how you will feel day to day and sometimes minute to minute. It is hard to make plans that way and many people just stop doing it because they don’t want to cancel at the last minute. Let people know that you are okay with being flexible in regards to the plans. If they can’t go out offer to come over to their house. It can feel very isolating to live with an invisible disability so any way you can connect with people is great.

4. Ask them. What you can do for them or what they need. Many people can be prideful about asking for help but if they know you mean it maybe then they can ask for things. Ask them what is hard in particular and see if there is something you can do to help.