Independence from fear

On this Independence Day as we celebrate our 240th birthday, our festive celebratory mood is tempered by the solemn events of mass carnage that our world is facing. Our collective being is ravaged by fear of the base instincts of hate all around us. How can this not effect our psychic well being as we try to move forward and enjoy a special day for all people who love their individual freedoms as well as a desire to see social justice in the world? I can’t offer a magic pill to bring us some sense of inner peace but I can remind us that our entire time on this planet is filled with contradictions. Call it the Yin and the Yang of everyday existence or just the constant decisions that we must make daily in order to have a healthy and pleasurable life.

No, we cannot guarantee that we will always be safe out there in the world but avoiding the journey of daily experience will never be the answer either. We must accept the risk to our existence as we take reasonable precautions while soldiering on each day with appreciation and fortitude while carving out a piece of happiness for ourselves and the people around us that we love.

There is a Peanuts cartoon that I keep on my website that sums this up for me. As Charlie Brown and Snoopy sit on the dock looking out upon the water, Charlie ruminates that “Someday we will all die, Snoopy” and our wise little canine philosopher responds, “True, but on all of the other days we will not.”

For all of those other days ahead we must make the healthiest and most enjoyable life possible while taking precautions for a sense of control over the unknown. There are no guarantees for our safety but living within our private universe in constant fear and trepidation will never provide us with a life worth living.

Just a thought as I read the news of our world events on this wonderful sunny afternoon celebrating both out national independence as well as our interpersonal independence from fear.

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How to chose a therapist

Selecting a Therapist: Likeability, Intelligence and Lifestyle

Once you’ve established that a therapist is appropriately licensed, there are three major factors you ought to take into consideration before working with that person:

LIKEABILITY
The first is likeability. What do I mean by this? Simply that you are going to be spending a significant amount of time with your therapist, ranging from a period of weeks or months to years in some cases. There’s never ANY reason to work with a therapist for whom you don’t feel a basic liking. For that matter, you all should know you’re entitled to feel this way about anyone whom you’re “hiring” as a healthcare provider.

How do you know if you like a therapist? The same way you gauge whether you like or dislike any individual: basic chemistry. We usually have the ability to know within a short time whether or not we like a given individual. It is a grave error to tell yourself that it’s okay to work with a therapist whom you don’t like. It just doesn’t work, and also, you’ve got to wonder if that therapist likes you. Usually when we dislike a given individual, they are not too wild about us either. The whole situation will not be conducive to constructive therapy unless you feel comfortable with the therapist you choose.

Likeability is a very subjective experience; many people, especially when they are in the throes of despondency or anxiety, have a hard time trusting their own gut reactions. I’ve often had clients come to me after one or more unsuccessful therapy experiences and as I’ve listened to them, it became clear that they didn’t like their therapist. Whenever I have asked about this, I get a response reflective of the kind of self-doubt that people experience when they are in trouble. They second-guess themselves, and convince themselves that their not liking the therapist is their problem because they’re “crazy”. If you don’t like your therapist, it is NOT because you’re “crazy”. Please, never ever continue to see a therapist whom you don’t like.

INTELLIGENCE
The second major area of importance when assessing a therapist is whether or not you think they are as intelligent or more intelligent than you are. Never continue to see a therapist whom you feel is not sufficiently intelligent. If you have any sense that the therapist is perhaps competent, but not that “with it,” you should look further. Again, I’ve had clients say to me, “I didn’t think that therapist was all that smart, but I figured he was licensed and knew what he was doing anyway.” There is never any point in second-guessing yourself about a therapist’s basic intelligence. You also need to remember: Our unconscious minds are very tricky and crafty; part of therapy is learning to not let us outwit ourselves by a lack of consciousness. Although no one has a way to assess this, you need to feel that you can’t outsmart this therapist. If you feel that you can, your treatment is doomed to failure.

LIFESTYLE
The third criterion that is crucial for you to explore is your therapist’s basic lifestyle. A therapist learns a great deal from living through life’s ups and downs. If you are someone who embraces a variety of experiences in life, you may very well be uncomfortable with a therapist who is a staunch academic and who spends most of their free time in intellectual pursuits. If you’re looking for a therapist to help you to manage a marriage, you might not get the kind of help you need from an unmarried person. If you need help managing your children, a therapist who is also a parent may best understand your feelings.

There are no clear cut guidelines about how to pick a therapist whose lifestyle is consistent with your own, or who can at least value and appreciate your lifestyle. There is no hard and fast rule on issues such as ethnicity, race, lifestyle, or sexual orientation. There are “straight” therapists who work well with “gay” clients, African American therapists who would be compatible with White clients, or Jewish therapists who work well with Catholic clients, for example. Again, finding a comfort level with a therapist’s lifestyle is a subjective experience, but the bottom line is that you must experience the therapist as being able to be supportive of YOUR lifestyle, and knowledgeable enough, in an experiential way, to help you find the kind of solutions you seek

The Haagen-Dazs Principle

I am always struck by the varied ways we learn to cope with stress in this complicated world in which we live. Is it imposed by the circumstances of our daily lives? Is it based in early childhood experiences that shape the way we react to stress? Or perhaps, it is that delicate balance between the two that keep us always seeking out remedies for coping. Haagen-Dazs anyone?

 

Our lives consist of circles of relationships, many concentric some standing by themselves. At our very first breath we meet our parenting figures that guide us through the early stages of development. They establish boundaries for safety as well as create an environment for exploration of the world around us. Along the way we are taught about caring, reasoning, self respect and love. We work our way through the proverbial sandbox as children learning to share with others and forming relationships that escort us through our entire educational and emotional life cycle.   We develop attachments to friends in school, then on to the workplace and if we’re lucky enough, to a significant other with whom we can share a life and begin the cycle anew with children of our own. Or at least we are told that this is the way our lives are supposed to play out, a predetermined roadmap to happiness.

 

But what if these circles of relationships don’t always proceed according to plan? What if a parent is ill equipped to provide unconditional love or their own emotional deficits preclude the ability to provide the guidance we so crave as children? And what if friends and family let us down at times when they are most needed? Our job may vanish in this precarious time leading to financial insecurity, or a loved one leaves us and we experience the devastation of personal loss. What if we perceive all of this as a betrayal and resort to the “art” of acting out through injurious behaviors: the use of substances like drugs or alcohol, inappropriate sexualizing, an overdependence on food, gambling and other potentially risky behaviors that help us feel better in the moment, numbing the pain, be it ever so briefly. And trust me on this, the perfecting of these behaviors, these addictions, are indeed an art form that take years of practice to get just right, and ever so wrong!

 

All of us, men and women, be we straight or gay, learn behaviors that we feel are necessary to compensate for a perceived loss of self-esteem. So the young boy who feels he is a disappointment to his parents by not excelling in the classroom or on the playing field, the young girl who doesn’t feel that she looks as pretty, or as thin as the fashion norms tell her that she must, or the young gay child who develops feelings of attachment to others of their same sex and draw inwards for fear of disclosure…all of them learn to cope with these perceived deficits through a lifetime of devaluing behaviors.

 

A healthy course of Psychotherapy can offer a meaningful corrective through insight and understanding of our misguided perceptions of self. We can learn to live our lives with self-respect and personal regard even as everyday battles rage on around us.

 

Perhaps, with a little work, we really won’t need that extra helping of Haagen-Dazs after all.

June, 2016