Listen to What You are Saying to Yourself

Listen to what you are saying to yourself.

I went to a training a while back.  The training was on working with chronic pain and opioid addiction.  I don’t treat addiction, but I love the trainings that this center puts on, and I always get something great out of them.  This one, in particular, gave me something that I use over and over and over again in session, and with myself.

The speaker, Dr. Mel Pohl of the Las Vegas Recovery Center, was discussing the patients that he works with in the clinic.  They experience very real chronic pain from real circumstances and have become dependent on opiates to control their pain. The goal of the clinic is to help patients detox from the opiates and then gain a balance in their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual selves.

The training was full of good stuff, but the thing that stuck with me to this day was this….

The Dr.Pohl recounted the patients that came into his office day after day saying

“Doc, I’m dying here, I need my meds.”
“Doc, my pain is a 15 out of 10, I can’t do this!”
“Doc, my pain is KILLING ME!”

Dr. Pohl paused, looked out into the audience and said

“Listen to what you are saying to yourself.”

“If your pain was a 15 out of 10, if it was killing you, could you even be in my office right now? Could you even be speaking? No.  Listen to what you are saying to yourself.”

Here’s what I took from this.  This patient was obviously not a 15 out of 10 on the pain scale. Their physical and emotional addiction was telling them that they were, and they were listening.  And when they listened to that voice, they told themselves a lie, which felt like a truth, and then that lie became their truth.  Their minds and bodies listened to that truth and they began to act on it, tricking themselves into “needing” the medication.

We may not all be struggling with addiction, but we all let that voice inside lie to us, and that lie sure feels like truth, and if we aren’t careful, it can become our truth.  When this happens, it begins to influence how we act, feel, and even filter new information.

Here are some examples I see a lot

  • I’m socially awkward/don’t know how to talk to people
  • I’m not loveable/worthy
  • I can’t do it (public speaking, test taking, healthy confrontation)

Let’s use the first one as an example.  If we have the belief that we are socially awkward, this will obviously affect how we think and feel going into social interactions.  Our mind will begin to over think things or self judge, causing us to be, in fact, socially awkward.  Our central nervous system will kick in, we will feel nervous, fidgety, or panicky.  We might then begin to avoid social situations because of this anxiety and awkwardness.  In a drastic case, this could lead to isolation and withdrawal from friends and family members, thus confirming the belief that we are socially awkward.  One might even begin to believe that they aren’t loveable or worthwhile.

We told ourselves something, and our body and mind listened and reacted accordingly.

So, what can we do about this?  Well, a lot of things really.  It all depends on what works for you.  I will write future posts about thought challenging, affirmations, and, of course, mindfulness.  But a great place to start is to listen to what you are saying to yourself.

Don’t take everything that goes through your mind as truth.  If you think about pink elephants running through your neighborhood it doesn’t mean they exist.  Your mind is able to tell the rest of you that that is an unrealistic thought.  You can use this process to filter through some of the more difficult thoughts and feelings you have.  Your mind is a powerful thing, it’s time to put it to work for you, not against you!

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Pohl, visit his website.

My Go-To Resource for All Parents

Now that we’ve gotten past that personal stuff in the first blog, let’s get down to the good stuff… the resources.

When I was planning there may have been (read: there was)  possibly (definitely)  a little panic about where to start.  The first few seconds of panic went something like… “This is a big decision; this will set the tone for the blog; where could I possibly start?” Enter seven thousand ideas.

But the following 3 seconds went like this… deep breath… “Let me start where I started”.

And so, I will.

When I began grad school every professor was so different. Different in their personalities, teaching approach, theoretical approach, names, addresses, social security numbers… you get it… but they all agreed on a few things.  One of them being that we needed to read Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell, like, immediately.  What a great place for me to start my blogging journey, right where I began my therapy journey.

Before I really dive in, let me tell you one thing.  I do not love when I am reading blogs, say a food blog, and I have to scroll down through cutesy anecdotes and tales of triumph and tragedy until my fingers bleed before I find even a hint of an ingredient list, or for heaven’s sake, the recipe itself.  I’m not going to do that to you folks, with the exception of this useless paragraph, which I hope you’ll forgive me for.  I want to give you useful things in a format that is quick and easy to read so you can focus on using what I’m saying, not reading until you’re holding your eyes open with toothpicks.

So, back to the point.  This book was groundbreaking!  This was one of the first parenting books out there that asked parents to look into themselves to be a better parent!  I just listened to Dr. Siegel give a talk where he mentioned that something like 25 publishers turned this book down.  They all said that parents want action points, things that they could do to work on their kids.  No parent would buy a book that asked them to work on themselves first.  Thank goodness for the 26th publisher!

Dr Siegel and Mary Hartzell open the book with the sentence “How you make sense of your childhood experiences has a profound effect on how you parent your own children.”  Notice that they are not saying your childhood experiences effect how you parent your own

children.  Rather, it is how you make sense of them. The book asks parents to take a look at their own experiences and form a coherent narrative in order to assist their children in forming coherent narratives of their own experiences.

The book relies heavily on neuroscience to explain how to form this narrative and why it is so impactful in how we engage with our children.  Neuroscience can be a scary word, even for someone who studied it (please don’t quiz me, it’s been a really long time).  The great news is that Dr. Siegel is a master at making it accessible.  The book does a wonderful job of explaining our complex brain in easy to understand ways, and then linking that knowledge to the parenting portion of the book.

The book explores so much, but my main takeaway (which may not be yours) was to choose how I react to my children, rather than to just react.  The emotions that come up initially in reaction to something are informed by our past experiences, and we have the choice to react upon those emotions in the moment, or to be mindful of the role those emotions play in our narrative and make a different choice.  It is truly liberating to know that that choice is out there for all of us.  And if your kids are like my kids, we get the chance to make that choice many times a day!

Dr. Siegel has written many wonderful books which demonstrate how being mindful, combined with some knowledge of how our brains work, can lead to much more compassionate and in-tune parenting.  Parenting that is really meant for the child.

And this brings me to my last point.  I value this book because it asks the parents to do the work first.  So many parents drop their kids off at therapy without even checking in on how they are doing or giving the therapist an update.  And often when family sessions are held, there is a lot of resistance towards any work on the parents’ part.  Listen, I am a busy, tired, and occasionally (read: often) overwhelmed parent myself.  There is no judgement here.  But, what a great model to give your child in therapy… to say, I’m willing to do the work too, we’re in this together.  If we are asking our children to look into themselves through therapy, it is amazing modeling to take the first step yourself.

If you’d like to read a sample of the book or buy it, click the link below:
Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive: 10th Anniversary Edition

If you’d like to read my disclosures click here.

Enjoy the read!

A Little Human, a Little Therapist

Welcome to my very first post (GULP!).  Actually, this is truly more like my third post, because truth be told, I wrote two before this one.  But, I was reading a really lovely blog tutorial, and the author encouraged newer bloggers to be story tellers, and let people into their world.  I loved this idea, and thought it would be a great place to start.  There’s just one problem with this…

As the therapist, it’s never about you.

So, telling a “me” story seems quite unnatural.  It took me forever just to write the four or so paragraphs on my “It’s me” page.  But, as a human, who also happens to be a therapist, I have a lot to say.  I would like you all to get to know me, and the therapeutic process very much; so please bear with me as I venture into making this blog a little about me too.

I guess I’ll start with this and see how it goes. 

The Therapist in her Natural Environment

When most people outside of the field find out what I do the reaction is usually one of two things. First, the cheesy response, something to the effect of “Can you figure out what’s going on with my friend over here” (cue awkward laughter).  Second, some derivative of “Woah, that must be hard”.  I don’t know what to tell you about the first reaction, except I wouldn’t miss it if I never heard it again.  However, I have plenty to say about the second.

Being a therapist can be many things; inspiring, humbling, funny, frustrating, exhausting, uplifting, and yes, hard. But probably not in the ways you think it might be.

The truth is that being in a caretaking profession is hard because it is never about you.  You give of yourself all day and then, if you have kids or a partner, or both, you go home and keep giving.  The tank can empty quickly if you aren’t taking care of yourself.  And believe me, it has.  Self care and your own therapy (Yes, therapists go to therapy too!) is vital in this profession.

I always say that it can be a weird profession, you’re there to assist others, and they aren’t supposed to be worried about your needs.  However, at times when clients truly don’t realize you are a person too, it can be very difficult. For instance, when a client demands a later or earlier appointment they may not realize that you have children that need to be dropped off at school in the morning, or require your help with homework in the evening.  In these situations, it can be tough to not give everything of yourself and your family, or to become a little resentful.

Conversely, being in a caretaking profession can be the most uplifting, inspiring career in the world.  Difficult moments in session can be a gentle reminder of the blessings in your own life.  Watching a client make little bits of progress can make your heart soar.  Sending my graduated seniors off to college each summer fills me with joy and anticipation for the experiences they will have and the growth that will take place. 

As a therapist, you invest in peoples’ lives.  I have had a few clients question my genuine care and appreciation of them because it’s my job to care.  I can only speak for myself here, but even the prickliest clients have a place in my heart, they are all humans who are struggling with something.  I can connect with that; so I invest in them and their progress.  It can be hard to watch a person you care about struggle, or cling to their anxiety/depression because it’s familiar and getting better is scary, or remain in an unhealthy relationship, or not be able to see the amazing person that you see when they are sitting across from you. 

Yes, these things are hard, but there is hard stuff in any job.  And I’d take the tough stuff in mine every day because it also comes with incredibly brave, unique, cool humans sitting on my couch each week, letting me into their world.  That’s pretty awesome.