A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

Thoughts on counseling, healing, and creating the life you want

The Importance of Nurturing your Inner Pollyanna

I have always been a bit of a Pollyanna. I say this affectionately about myself. Because, in my line of work, I happen to know that Pollyanna Syndrome is protective against all kinds of physical and emotional maladies. If you believe that the world is essentially good, and that the people in it are also pretty alright, (if sometimes kinda broken) than you’re not looking for the boogie man around the corner. And you also have the great luxury of thinking that when people screw your over, they didn’t do it because of any inherent evil. That means, in a nutshell, that you believe deep into your bones that no matter what, people can change. This is a helpful logic to have when one is a therapist–I would quickly feel defeated by my job if I didn’t have faith in our ability to transform terrible things into better ones. I have managed to maintain this worldview despite working with sex offenders, clients adjudicated for domestic violence and with folks in prisons. I think my Pollyanna gene is a gift from God and I try to nurture it and take good care of it.

But, this has been a hard week. I have been sorely tested. I got a call from the nice people at Dell Computers to tell me that they needed a few more details to process the order for my brand-spanking new $950 laptop. Say what? My what? After making sure that Dan hadn’t ordered us any fancy new electronics, I, the aforementioned Dell gurus and Chase sorted out that someone had stolen my credit card info. This person also clearly has my address and some other information about me. Dell won’t give me the physical address that the computer was to be delivered to because they are afraid I’ll exercise my other dominant gene–my hillbilly behind whoopin’ gene–and go over there and raise cane. But, what they did give me is the person’s email address. Now, isn’t that interesting?

So, what does one do now? I have been thinking of all the ways I could respond to this new bit of information. Should I send her (apparently her name is Melissa) a vitriolic missive dripping with the full content of my displeasure? Should I tell her that I am going to say a prayer to the universe for her that she heals her life and chooses a different direction? Should I respond at all?

That’s a question I will probably wrestle with for a while as Raleigh PD continues to try to track down the culprit. But, it has gotten me thinking about the emotional choices we make in life. Are we are better off when we choose to frame something in a positive manner? With the notable exception of circumstances in which you are being assertive (not aggressive) to maintain healthy boundaries, I believe the answer to that question is yes.

I have realized over the years that when I distill it down, the majority of my job as a clinician is to teach and model kindness. Clients come because their lives and their relationships have become devoid of compassion towards themselves and others. This happens when they blame themselves for things like depression, anxiety or PTSD. It happens when partners can no longer hear one another without lashing out in frustration and rage. Worst of all, it happens when you no longer believe that there is enough room in the world you currently inhabit to nurture your dreams and hopes for yourself.

So, how can you nurture your inner Pollyanna? I have a few ideas about that:

1) Do unto others: Yeah, I know. It’s hokey. But science agrees with me that acts of altruism boost wellness. If you can’t do anything nice for yourself, choose a day every now and again to do something for someone else. You can volunteer tons of places. www.volunteermatch.org is a great place to start.

2) Stop gossiping: Yeah, I know it’s fun. It seems like the original good, clean time. But, recreationally badmouthing other people is bad for your emotional and spiritual health. It’s a double-edged sword, you see. Sure, you may have the best zinger in the neighborhood about Sandra down the street. But giving voice to those kinds of things also lets you know something unpleasant about yourself that will come back to bite you in your self-esteem–you participate in meanness. If you spend your time practicing division rather than compassion you won’t reap the benefits of experiencing yourself as kind, tolerant and the sort of person with whom you would want to be friends.

3) Practice the fine art of liking yourself: It really does seem to be a lost art these days. We live in morally ambiguous times. The things we are able to do and experience through technologies like social networking (and blogging too) take us out of the real-life intimate audiences of the people who know us well, and thrust us onto an ever-widening stage of acquaintances. In part, that’s pretty darn cool. Otherwise, how would you be reading all these pearls of wisdom I’m dropping on you right now? But, it also opens the door for near-constant comparisons of our lives to others’ lives. I mean, before Facebook and Twitter, would I have really seen photos of a chick I knew only passably well in high school on her fantastic Italian cruise? Would I have known what gourmet meals everyone was preparing for dinner? Nope, we have unprecedented data on one another. Work just as hard to know and respect yourself. I firmly believe that the many ways we have of expressing ourselves publicly these days have in many ways stripped us of personal creativity and invited a kind of one-upping one another via the mirror of Facebook.

What are your ideas about cultivating kindness in your life? I’d sure love to hear them. Why don’t you come on in today so that we can talk about it?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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How to Choose Cars and Couples Therapists

Aside from my wonderful family, therapy is my great love. Seriously, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else all day. (Though, I did really want to be a flight attendant for a long time; I would love all that travel.) So, when potential clients call me up to inquire about my services, I can barely contain myself. I want to tell you everything right away. I have books to offer and pointers to share. I want to explain how cool my new office is, and brag on the many folks who have turned their lives around through the hard work they have done in the therapy room. But mostly, folks aren’t ready to hear that yet. When they’re in distress, all they want to know is if I have any experience working with their particular brand of trouble. I think that’s reasonable, actually. I mean, why would you want to bring your heart and your relationship to someone who hasn’t got the foggiest idea where to start?

So, let’s get down to brass tacks, as my grandmama used to say. I want to give you a few pointers on how to choose a couples therapist, because I think it’s actually a bit trickier than selecting someone with whom you’ll do individual work.

Let me set the stage for my own perspective a bit:

I learned to do couples therapy with couples that were deeply in distress. I don’t mean just a little bit on the outs, but folks who were knee-deep in systemic problems. These issues had landed them in trouble with social services, the legal system and just about everyone else who was a stakeholder in their lives. My couples were coming to renegotiate not just the small social contracts we have with our partners (we won’t scream until the neighbors call the cops) but also the large ones as well (we won’t beat one another black and blue in front of the kids). If anything stuck with me from those days, it’s a keen sense that serving as a couples therapist is a sacred role. When are we more vulnerable than faced with the loss of our partners? In the face of that kind of fragility, you need to have someone on your side that you can trust. Though we’re certainly not all mired in troubles as severe as those clients faced, everything is really relative to your own situation. So, do your homework before you sit down with just anyone.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m the best therapist in town or anything. Though, if you want to believe that, I can totally endorse it. Raleigh has a whole bunch or really well-qualified clinicians. Rather, my hope is always that clients go into the process as educated consumers. Looking for a therapist is like buying a new car. You want one that’s reliable, won’t leave you stranded without notice and one that is able to navigate extreme heat, ice and twisty roads. That’s why I offer a free 30-minute session; so you can take me out for a test drive before signing on for the long haul. Any therapist that you are considering should at the very least be willing to talk with you by phone to hear the particulars of your situation so that he or she can knowledgeably proclaim that your concerns are within his or her clinical purview.

So, how will you know that you’re riding with a keeper? Here’s the stuff I think that I, and every other counselor who wants to work with couples should be able to talk about and answer:

1) What’s your training? This question is very, very important. Counselors who view couples therapy as an individual session with more than one person present will not be effective. Therapists who want to work with couples should have received special training to do relationship counseling either via their degree coursework, or afterwards through continuing education seminars. It’s important that as clinicians, we have some strong ideas about how to shape sessions so that couples are encouraged not only to enact the problems they are having, but also to play out new behaviors. This is a complex task that involves a strong belief in clients’ innate abilities to change and a whole tool box full of skills. I am not overstating the issue when I say that I believe that an unskilled couples therapist can do much more harm than good.

2)  How does change happen? Couples therapists who are passionate about their work can probably talk for a long time about how they think change occurs in a couple. For example, I believe that my job is to help couples communicate with kindness and a sense of humor, coach them through articulating the parts of their shared history that hurt and need to be healed, and to work very hard to help couples rediscover the strengths in their relationship. It is always my goal to encourage couples to get out of autopilot and chart a course together. This involves discussing all kinds of things including family of origin issues (like the stuff you learned about how to be a partner) finances, sex and future hopes. I do this by asking clients to work hard with me in session, and to work hard outside of session as well by doing homework assignments to bridge our hours together.

3) Let’s talk about sex: I am continually surprised that there are therapists who do couples work that don’t talk about sex. Every couples therapist from any clinical orientation, even those who are counseling from a religious lens, should be able to comfortably discuss intimacy issues. In fact, it is probably even more vital that those who counsel from a religious orientation are comfortable talking about sex, because those therapists’ office may be the only places that their clients can talk deeply about sexual issues. Your therapist should be upfront about his or her comfort level in working with common sexual concerns and know who to refer to if the problem is outside the scope of his or her practice. In addition, therapists should be clear about how they feel about working with clients who have a different sexual orientation than their own, and should be honest and upfront about that. I am comfortable working with clients of any sexual orientation, and I am always happy to answer questions about my experience working with the LGBT community.

4) I think we’re alone now: In my practice, I do at least one whole or half session with each partner alone. I insist on this because it gives me an opportunity to really get to know each partner, draw on each person’s strengths and advocate for individual’s concerns much more effectively. Often couples–even embattled ones–protect one another from the depth and breadth of their feelings in co-joint sessions. This happens for a multitude of reasons including fear of alienating their partners further, worries about articulating one’s self perfectly and nervousness about how well the therapist understands. I want therapy to be as efficient and effective as possible. The individual sessions, particularly when done early in the course of treatment, always give us the edge we need to make progress. However, I do not generally do couples therapy for clients who have been in individual work with me for a long time. I think this is counter productive in most cases and can lead the parter who was not my client to be leery that I am truly neutral.

5) Keeping secrets: Your therapist should have a clear answer for how he or she will handle the keeping of secrets in couples work. I will keep what you say with me in individual therapy confidential, unless you ask me to help you share it with your partner. I must do this by law and by my own moral code. However, I will not do long-term work with couples in which one partner is maintaining an affair that the other partner doesn’t know about yet. It is my goal to foster honesty and emotional intimacy between partners, because I deeply believe that relationships are unsatisfying without those things. If you tell me that you are cheating, I will be sympathetic to your struggle and I will help you sort out how this happened and what you want to do next. I won’t tell your partner. However, if you continue to refuse to tell your partner I will refuse to do long-term couples work with you.

So, there’s just a few of the many tips I can share with you about couples therapy. Are you ready to get started putting your relationship on the right track? Why don’t you give me a call today so that we can begin the next phase of your lives together?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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The Weighty Issue of Telling Your Loved Ones You're Losing Weight

About a year ago, I gave birth to Bastian, one of the most wonderful, delicious human beings on the face of the earth. I had a glorious pregnancy with Bee (as we call him). My skin glowed, my hair had an unusual luster. I wasn’t as tired as I had been with Gabriel, and I happily worked right up until the day I gave birth to him. All was right with the world. And, let me tell y’all, all was right with Bojangles too. Because man, was I a hungry woman.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have traded my appetite for that of my friends who spent every morning of their pregnancies shaking hands with Mr. Toilet. But, I probably would like to go back, tap myself on the shoulder and advise some moderation in the milkshake and 24-hour drive through Mexican nacho platter departments. Now, due to some particularly unfortunate combination of pregnancy munchies and thyroid disease I still have about 50 pounds left to lose of baby weight. Yep, I’m not even kidding. Me–the yoga buff and Zumba freak. Me, the girl who went dancing at least 3 out of every 7 nights in graduate school. I have gotten myself in a pickle, and now I get to see how it has felt for all the clients I have helped lose weight over the years. It feels…well, let’s just say that in my clinical opinion, it sucks.

However, as I have gotten back on the road to wellness, I have found that many of my loved ones find my dedication to my healthy habits pretty irritating. It’s not that they wish me ill. Everyone I can think of wants me to feel better and reach my goals. Rather, it’s that they would like me to take a mini vacation from eating “boring” stuff whenever I am with them. I hear a lot of  this kind of thing:

“It’s Friday, can’t you have just one martini? I’ll feel weird drinking alone.”

“We’re on vacation. Are you going to tell me that you’re not eating any dairy or gluten when you should just be relaxing? Where’s the fun in that?”

“Seriously, it’s one meal. Do you have to be so rigid at every meal?”

Now, a lot of this stuff sounds harsh in isolation from the rest of the conversation. Really, none of it was offered in the sense of anything but conspiratorial merry-making. But, if you’re making an effort to change in a direction that requires discipline and behaving a bit differently from everyone else, I bet you’ve heard this too. In the past, when working with clients on losing weight, I totally misunderstood the social aspects of being on a diet. I thought it was mostly having the willpower to get past the food triggers. Nope, it’s that plus something else–managing the guilt, awkwardness and general feelings of difference when sticking to your plan in public. It’s not only managing your own feelings about eating and food, but also negotiating everyone else’s feelings about eating and food as well. Complicated! So, what should you and I do about this particular issue?

1) Emphasize Health: I have found that my loved ones respond better to addition than subtraction. That is, rather than talking about it as a diet in which I am bemoaning things I can’t have, I talk about it as an adventure in taking care of myself. It has taken me awhile to figure out what that roadmap looks like. I tell my friends that I don’t feel deprived, but energized by making good choices. I know that sounds cheesy as all right now, but words have the power of creation. Honor yourself by speaking about your life in terms of fulfillment and health.

2) Get good backup: Your loved ones may argue with you. But, they are less likely to argue with your doctor. It’s worth it to have someone on your side to check in with and guide you. Ask your doctor to schedule regular appointments to track your progress and keep you motivated. There are clinicians from a variety of fields that can serve in this capacity. I use a holistic doc skilled in acupuncture and nutritional coaching to keep me on track. I often mention what we talk about to my friends and keep her in the loop about how I feel about my weight loss.

3) Own your Health: At the end of the day, losing weight is harder for folks who find having good boundaries to be a challenge. This is true for a number of reasons. Our families of origin or other life experiences can lead us to believe that we have to make others happy before ourselves. Eating is a sacred act–one that embodies nurturance and care. When you get too good at taking care of others and lose track of taking care of yourself in a meaningful way, food can be a great partner. In what ways has food become a stand in for other things like love, sex and hope?

I am looking at this journey from both sides now. I would be honored to walk with you as you move ahead too.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

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