Staying Connected To The One We Love

The last two weeks I have been writing about a new way of understanding love relationships, based on the idea that we are meant to be bonded to our mate, and that the way we were nurtured, or not, in childhood, shows up in how we relate to our lover.

The really good news is that no matter how we were treated as children it is possible to heal. A safe, stable relationship in adulthood can be the salve that treats our early wounds. But how do we go about this?

The first step is to identify times when we go from feeling connected to our partner to afraid and vulnerable. These times are sometimes hard to see because often rather than experiencing the fear that our mate is not really there for us, we get angry instead. This is our brain’s ingenious way of trying to protect us. Fear is triggered and BAM! we are thrown right into the survival part of the brain and anger takes over. The wiser part of us doesn’t even get a chance to weigh in.

If the pre-frontal cortex had been consulted, we may have been able to see that rather than being angry at our partner’s inattentiveness or what seemed like criticism, we were actually afraid or sad. If this was recognized, then we could have responded in a different, more effective way. Perhaps we would ask for clarification about what was happening with our lover, what they meant or how they are feeling, or maybe we would request a hug or some other kind of reassurance.

For many of us, however, it is difficult to stop ourselves from saying and doing things when we are angry that actually end up making the situation worse and our partner more distant. As a result we end up getting exactly the opposite of what we really want and need, which is to be close and to feel safe and loved.

If this is happening in your relationship, start the process of healing by making a commitment to refrain from saying or doing anything until you no longer feel angry. Instead of reacting, take a break, go for a walk, splash really cold water on your face or hold an ice cube in your hand or on the back of your neck. Take ten deep, slow breaths. Do math in your head, or count all the rectangles in the room. Do anything that moves you out of survival brain and into a calm place where you can access logic and wisdom. Be sure to tell your partner ahead of time (at a time when you are not in conflict) that you will be doing this and tell them that you promise to return and be with them when you have regulated your emotions.

The next step is to identify what was under your anger. Something happened that irritated one of your “raw spots” as Sue Johnson calls them in her book Hold Me Tight. (Raw spots are places where, due to our own history, we are vulnerable and easily injured by someone we love.) What was it? Was it something your partner said, or did, a look or gesture, a failure to respond? Try to be as precise as possible about what rubbed your raw spot.

It is common to get into a never ending feedback loop with our significant other in which they rub our raw spot and we respond by either attacking or withdrawing, which then triggers their raw spot angst and they attack or withdraw, which triggers us again, and round and round it goes. Both people are responding to their own fear and pain in a never ending circle of disconnection.

Once you have identified what is going on for you, the next step is to tell your partner in a gentle and loving way what it was that affected you and to ask for what you need to feel close again. It is important in this part of the process that we take responsibility for our own reaction, our own raw spot, and at the same time ask our partner to be extra careful not to irritate it. If there has been a lot of disconnection, anger, withdrawal and hopelessness in the relationship it can take a long time to begin to heal and reconnect. But, it is possible. Keep trying, and let your partner know how important it is to you. Make the never ending circle of disconnection the enemy instead of each other.

It is often helpful to work with a skilled therapist during the initial stages of healing a relationship. Books and videos can also support the process. Below are links to one of Sue Johnson’s talks about attachment and love relationships, as well as a link to a how-to video that describes a style of embrace that seems to synchronize partner’s nervous systems and helps keep us more securely bonded to the one we love.

Sue Johnson speaks about attachment in adult relationships.

The welcome home embrace.

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Interdependency: The Key to a Successful Love Relationship – Part 2

When we are in conflict with our spouse or partner there is almost always something else going on underneath the anger and the details of the argument. We are not fighting about the kids or the laundry or the dirty socks on the floor, although these can easily be the catalyst for our rage. No, we are fighting about something much more basic, much more primal. As Sue Johnson, researcher and developer of Emotion Focused Therapy puts it, “Underneath all the distress, partners are asking each other: Can I count on you, depend on you? Will you respond to me when I need, when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you? Do you need me, rely on me? The anger, the criticism, the demands are really cries to their lovers, to stir their hearts, to draw their mates back emotionally and reestablish a sense of safe connection.”

In her work Johnson recommends that we learn to identify patterns of behavior that keep us from feeling safe and secure with our partner. Once we have identified the patterns those patterns themselves can become the enemy, rather than our loved one, and we can fight against them together. What are the typical patterns? Here is a primer:

The Protest: In this type of disconnection one person becomes critical and aggressive and the other defensive and distant. The couple is usually caught up in the content (the details) of the fight and who is right and wrong. In this scenario the more one party blames, the more the other withdraws. This often leads to louder blaming and more rigid and frigid withdrawal. Protest can also quickly turn into a round of finger pointing and blame that goes in both directions. Johnson calls this, “Find the Bad Guy”. When we are stuck in this kind of interaction we are often only able to see how our partner is affecting us and unable to be aware of our impact on them. All that seems to matter is who is right and who is wrong.

Freeze and Flee: Often after the protest phase of a relationship has been going on for a long time, both partners give up. There is no more protest or defense, everyone just retreats to their corners and a deep, dark winter descends on the relationship. There may be no fighting, and on the surface all may seem well, but under the ice and snow of withdrawal both people are in great pain, feeling disconnected and very alone.

So how do we begin to unravel the patterns of behavior that lead to disconnection? The first step is to identify the most common ways in which the disconnection begins. Does one person criticize and the other defend? Do both try to determine who remembers a specific situation correctly or try to prove their point is the only correct perspective? Have both withdrawn and given up?

The next step is to identify what Johnson calls, “raw spots”. These are signals sent by our partner or the environment that set off alarm bells in us. Often they are automatic responses that can be just below our conscious awareness (until we begin paying close attention), and are echoes of past hurts and rejections born in childhood or in later relationships. Our brains and body believe we are in danger and the survival part of us leaps into action.

If a raw spot gets activated, we may feel angry and attack, if fearful retreat, if ashamed we may hide, if sad we could give up on our partner.  None of these are effective if we want to stay connected and loving in our relationship. All lead to more pain and suffering.

Join me next time when I share some of the ways to intervene in the patterns discussed here. Until then, consider what the patterns are in your relationship. Who protests? Who retreats? What attachment style do you bring to your relationship? Do you know what some of your raw spots are?

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Interdependency: The Key to a Successful Love Relationship

Our culture is steeped in the idea that to be successful in love we must be independent and strong. Neediness can be seen as a dirty word, and relying on our partner is often considered weak or co-dependent. But what if reliance on our mate is exactly what evolution has primed us for? What if self-reliance when it comes to love relationships is really a recipe for isolation, loneliness and despair?

In between the two extremes of co-dependency and independence lies another way of being called interdependence. This is the idea that we can rely on each other in a mutuality of dependence and connection. We can be attached to our partner and both give and receive the support and comfort we need. If this can be achieved, it is from such a secure base we can then function most effectively in the rest of our lives. From the love and security of our partner’s arms we can face the greatest challenges of life including illness and loss, aging and perhaps even death.

Sue Johnson,  author of the book Hold Me Tight and a ground breaking researcher in couple’s therapy, has discovered that we all bring the attachment style we learned as young children into our love relationships. So, if we had good-enough parents who came when we cried, fed us when we were hungry, comforted us when we were sad or scared, and were warm and generous with their attention, we grew up finding it easy to connect with a lover and to rely on them. We trusted them and let them into our world with ease. If, on the other hand we were born into a chaotic or alcoholic family, if we were abused or neglected, then were learned that important people would not be there for us when we needed them, we learned to be afraid of abandonment and to protest at the smallest hint of it, or to avoid connection all together to try to protect ourselves.

The good news is that even if we learned an insecure or avoidant attachment style as children our spouse or partner can help us heal and we can learn to be securely bonded to them. It is possible to repair the damage and create healthy interdependence.

One of Johnson’s key revelations is that fear of abandonment is part of being human. If we think about it from an evolutionary point of view it makes a lot of sense since being excluded from our family or tribe would have meant near certain death when we were a hunting and gathering people. Our brains still retain a direct route to the primal terror ignited when we believe the one we love is rejecting us, retreating from us or throwing us over for another. The first step to securely bonding with our love is to recognize this as normal.

However, just because its normal doesn’t mean it is effective to act on this fear. Instead, if we can recognize it for what it is, an automatic warning signal that may or may not be based on fact, we can make wise choices about how to proceed. For example, the look on my husband’s face may mean he is annoyed with me, but it could also mean he is tired or in pain or annoyed with someone else. If I assume he is angry with me I may move away from him emotionally or pick a fight, in both cases making the situation worse and our connection weaker. On the other hand if I can realize my own fear and ask for clarification about what is really going on with him, discuss any real concerns or upsets he has, and ask for comfort and reassurance from him and give him the same, then we can move closer together and avoid disconnection.

Join me next time when I will discuss more of Sue Johnson’s work including the ways we disconnect, how to recognize when that is happening and what to do about it.

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Write Your Way to Healing

When many people think of writing, they unfortunately often think of their dreaded high school English class or the research paper they suffered through in college.

But, what if writing can be used to transform your life? What if writing can heal?

Journaling is effective, low cost and efficient. It is a way to understand yourself, a way to hold a conversation with yourself, a way to gain clarity and a way to work through grief, set goals and access your creative nature. Here are four journaling strategies to change your life:

1. Write a letter you will never send. Letter writing has long been used in counseling as a way to say the things you have never said to those who have hurt you. Use your journal to write a letter to a parent, a lover, a sibling, an abuser, and say everything you have ever wanted to say. Don’t edit yourself. This letter is not meant to be sent, instead it is meant to help you release long-held anger, grief, fear and sadness.

After you write the letter, you may choose to read it to a safe person who can witness your experience and feelings. Or, you may decide to burn it, rip it to shreds or plant it in the ground with a new tree or rose bush sending its roots down through your words, allowing the pain in your letter to be transformed into beauty.

2. Ask the kid. Another technique helps us get in touch with the child part of ourselves. It works like this: Using your dominate hand, write a question, you think your child-self might have insight about. Use your non-dominate hand to write a response. For more information about this kind of journaling check out the work of Lucia Capacchione

3. Get to sleep. When you wake up at two in morning with your mind in a swirl and anxiety clutching your gut, use journaling to do a data dump. Keep a pad and pen by the bed, turn on a soft light and spill out everything you are thinking. Don’t edit yourself. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation, or if any of it makes sense. Just dump it on the page. There is something almost magical about externalizing your fears. Try it. It works.

4. Rev up creativity. In Julia Camaron’s book, The Artist’s Way, she recommends a simple strategy to help increase creativity and reduce blocks. The process includes three, long-hand pages of writing every morning. Julia says these pages can or even should be whiny and full of mundane concerns. They are not literature. I used this process for several years myself and found it to be every bit as helpful as Camaron claims. Hear her talk about this process.

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Do You Long to Write?

Writing has been one of the ways I’ve made meaning, and sometimes beauty, from the things that have happened in my life. For many years I belonged to a women’s writing group where every week we would read our work, talk about writing and share our lives. Before that, I was fortunate to have skilled and passionate writing teachers who helped me learn how to put words together in ways that were pleasing and powerful. Earlier still, my mother bred writing into me by reading to me, sometimes the same book I loved over and over again, taking me to plays and writing herself, every day, in journals I wouldn’t read until years after her death.

Writing has been healing, revelatory, satisfying, frustrating, lonely, and yet it connected me, to my readers and loved ones. But most of all, it has connected me to myself, helped me understand what I had been through and sometimes seemed to help me breathe through what I was still going through. Somehow through writing I have been able to bear more than I ever imagined. Through deaths, illness, separation, loss, renewal, hope and joy I have found a way to hold it all more gently by transmuting the pain into something I find beautiful, into a story, a poem or even a blog post.

Now, after allowing writing to fall away for a time as I returned to school for a masters in counseling, began a practice and shored up my love relationship with new vigor and insight, now, I am ready once again to embrace writing beyond these pages, and you, dear reader are invited to join me.

A new writer’s group is forming to accommodate writers of all levels and genres. It will meet once a month for three hours and offer the chance to receive feedback on your work in a supportive and committed atmosphere. There is a limit of ten participants and the first meeting will be held next Sunday, January 17th at 6pm in Medford. Contact me for more information or to sign up. There is no charge. 541-621-6739 lois@lifeinbloomcounseling.com

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Blaze a New Trail in the New Year: Ways to Change Your Life that Really Work

This is the season when many of us are taking stock of our lives. The Christmas holiday and another year is behind us and the new year looms with all its promise and possibility. On New Year’s we may make resolutions, to lose weight, stop drinking, follow a budget, spend less time watching television and more time learning Spanish, focus more on our primary relationship, communicate more effectively or look for a better job. But most of us will fail in our attempt to let go of old habits and begin new ones. Why is it so hard to change and why don’t New Year’s resolutions work? It all starts in the brain.

Anything that we have done over and over again has created a strong neuropathway. The saying goes, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” What this means is that over time our habits have created powerful connections between neurons in the brain that make doing what we have always done more comfortable, easier, than doing something different.

It is as if we have taken a walk in the woods every day and stayed to the same trail. Eventually that path has become very easy to follow. There are no branches or brambles in the way and no grass growing where we walk. The path is clear and well-trodden. Changing our behavior and thus our neuropathways is, at first, like bushwhacking a new trail through the forest. There is brush to clear and weeds to pull and if we aren’t consistent the branches and weeds will quickly grow back.

So, changing behavior is a process. This why resolutions don’t work. Making a decision to change and expecting yourself to just wake up the next day and do things differently is denying the powerful pull of the well-worn trail in the brain.

So what does work if you want to change behavior?

1. Taking small steps towards a goal works much more effectively than an all or nothing approach. This is called shaping. For example, research has shown that a strict diet which totally eliminates certain categories of food almost always fails in the end. After some initial success, we feel deprived and go back to old eating habits. We tell ourselves, “Well I’ve already blown it, so what does it matter?” A more effective approach is to gradually reduce portion size and keep healthy, low calorie foods within easy reach and high calorie foods in a place that requires some effort to access.

Simply taking a few potato chips out of the bag to eat, putting them in a small bowl and then returning the bag to a high shelf, can help deter over-doing it. It is like placing a log across the well-worn path in the woods. Yes, we can still scurry over it, but chances are the new path looks easier, so we are more likely to follow it.

2. Research has taught us that what is within easy reach is what we will gravitate to. So, if you want to learn Spanish and watch less TV, hide your remote and put your Spanish text next to the chair you sit down in regularly. If you want to go for a run in the morning, put your running clothes out the night before right beside your bed. Make your new behavior the path of least resistance.

3. Reward yourself. Small rewards can help reinforce behavior. Something as simple as making a check mark on a calendar or crossing something off a list can be rewarding. For dieting and exercise, tools such as My Fitness Pal, an app for smart phones, can also help reward your efforts, by recording what you eat and your activity level. Devices you wear that track number of steps taken throughout the day have also been shown to be helpful in increasing activity levels. Rewards don’t need to be elaborate or expensive, they only need to be consistent and give you a tiny feel good boost of endorphins each time you engage.

4. Get support. It is often easier to accomplish something if you have a buddy doing it with you. Will you cancel if your friend is waiting at the gym to work out? Or, if the teacher you hired has given you Spanish homework, will you be more likely to follow through? If you are like most of us having another person involved will be motivating. Enlist a friend, colleague or family member to be your trail buddy.

5. Don’t give up. Changing behavior takes time and persistence. But the good news is that no matter your age your brain is able to develop new neuropathways that support new ways of being. You can blaze a new trail.

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Holiday Cheer? Coping with Stress and Sadness this Time of Year

There is an old saying that goes something like this, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” No time of year is that more true, than at the holidays.

Everything in the public environment, in the media and in our own history can conspire to create unrealistic and idealistic expectations for the holidays that few of us can possibly live up to. The specter of the perfect family gathered around the perfect tree or holiday table is often in stark contrast with the reality of our own lives where relatives may be absent or dysfunctional. Beautifully wrapped gifts in abundance, Christmas cookies baked with compliant and rosy-cheeked children and sleigh rides through the snow are often either financially or practically impossible.

Instead, the reality is often stress about money, fears about interactions with relatives, melancholy about holidays past when childhood excitement may have made this time of year a joyful anticipation, and sadness when we deeply miss those who are gone from our lives. Wrapping this all up in a neat package of despair can be feelings of failure, and envy towards those who seem to have all these things.

We therapists know that depression and suicidality peaks at this time of year. Not only is it dark and cold outside (which can affect many who are sensitive to these things) but the weight of unmet expectations for ourselves and others, the sadness that arrives when we compare our lives to the lives of our neighbors and friends and characters on TV, all work against us unless we can take hold of our own mind and direct our thoughts and actions more effectively.

But how, in the midst of the holiday frenzy can we possibly do that? Here are some suggestions that might help:

Take a step back. Just because you have always had a big Christmas dinner or purchased presents for everyone in your extended family does not mean you must continue to do so. Examine the traditions you have cultivated and ask yourself honestly if they still fit for you. Are you still able to participate with joy? If so, continue on with abandon. If not, consider scaling back or ending traditions that no longer fit for you, whether due to a change in circumstances such as reduced finances, or a change in values as when purchasing yet more toys or unneeded objects seems like excess. You are allowed to change how you feel and what you do.

Ask for help. Be willing to ask for and accept help with planning and executing holiday celebrations. Many of us feel we must do everything ourselves and make the holiday perfect for our loved ones. Not only is this impossible it is also a recipe for burn out and resentment.

Connect with your reason for the season. Whether you are a religious person or not, re-engaging the meaning holiday celebrations hold for you can create a deeper experience with family and friends. Why do you bother with it all? If there are values at the core of the celebrations for you, how do they play a part in what and how you celebrate? What would it look like to be more aligned with those values?

Stop comparing your insides with other’s outsides. When we drive past a beautiful home, lit with Christmas lights, or see Facebook posts of smiling families gathered around a sparkling tree, it can be understandable to think these people’s lives must be filled with ease. However, what we present to the world through those curated avenues is rarely the whole story. Everyone experiences loss, falls short of their ideals and struggles to make meaning out of difficult situations, which befall us all.

Looking into someone’s life through a small window such as Facebook, we see only the surface of things and cannot know what challenges and pain those people are facing. You know your own story intimately, your self-doubt, self-consciousness, failures, struggles, sadness, illness, family problems. Rest assured that most people have their share of similar issues.

Be here now. Cultivating mindfulness can make any experience easier to both tolerate and/or enjoy. Mindfulness can help us endure anxiety and the pangs of loss. When we bring ourselves into the present moment we let go of past and future and focus our attention on just this moment. What is happening both inside and outside of us is what matters and when we can be in this present place we get to truly be in our lives and with those we care about. Practicing mindfulness is a skill and much of it involves noticing that we have gone into the future or the past and gently bringing ourselves back again and again. Try it. It just may be the best gift you could give yourself.

Let go of expectation. More joy and less misery is possible when we accept what is. It might mean accepting (though not liking) difficult things. Sages throughout the ages have reminded us that life is indeed filled with pain, but suffering is a product of ordinary pain plus resistance to that aspect of life. It is this denial and rejection of a basic element of the human experience (pain and loss) that creates misery. Work towards making peace with what is. This can be a process that lasts a life time, but the holidays and all your days will fall upon you more gently if you can begin.

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Getting Help: It’s Legal, So Now What? Cannabis in the Age of the Corner Pot Store – Part 2

Last week we discussed some of the possible downsides of using Cannabis on a regular basis. If you resonated with any of the concerns offered and would like to quit or reduce use, here are some ideas that could work for you:

Attend a Marijuana Anonymous meeting. In our area there is an in-person meeting held weekly (Wednesdays at 6pm) in Grants Pass at the United Community Church 480 SW I Street (enter the meeting through the rear of the church). A weekly video chat meeting takes place every Monday at 10pm. You can listen and participate in this meeting without being seen. Click here for a link.

Get treatment. Receive evidence based out-patient treatment using a mindfulness and skill-based approach at DBT of Southern Oregon. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been shown to be effective at treating many addictions as well as mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, anxiety and OCD.

Urge Surf. Practice harm reduction by gradually reducing the amount of Cannabis you use, or eliminate it entirely. Learn about urge surfing and practice it when you feel compelled to smoke. Here is a video that walks you through this technique.

Get to the root of the problem. Use of a substance such as Cannabis can often mask a problem such as depression, unresolved grief, anxiety or chronic pain. Find a counselor and/or physician who can help evaluate the underlying issues and treat them.

Get busy. Finding meaningful ways to fill your time can be a powerful way to move away from any behavior we want to reduce: volunteer, help a neighbor or friend, clean up one small area of your house or one small part of your yard. Do a load of laundry, write an email to an old friend, remember your dreams for the future and take one small step towards them. Take a walk, write, draw, sing, dance. It’s not too late to find purpose in your life.

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It’s Legal, So Now What? Cannabis in the Age of the Corner Pot Store

Like so many things in life Cannabis is a duality. It can be valuable as a tool for healing and pleasure, or a catalyst for aimlessness and mental illness. It can provide an occasional evening of enjoyment with friends, or become a lonely prison that saps motivation, adds to depression and ruins your life. It is useful as a treatment for pain and nausea, and components of it can treat seizure disorders untreatable by other means, and it can also become an addiction fraught with all the hallmarks of despair addiction brings with it.

Yes, Cannabis is many things to many people. And, now that it is legally available to the masses, it is important to have accurate information to guide use or determine abstinence.

The purpose of this post is to raise awareness about the possible negative effects of a drug that we still know too little about, due to draconian federal laws that have hampered scientific research. But there is data out there, much of it from other countries such as Israel and the UK where more inquiry has been supported. So what do we know so far? Here are some of the concerns that are backed up by substantial research:

Cannabis is much stronger these days: Experts say it contains 2-3 times the active agent THC than in times past, (due to a genetic selection process that favors more THC) and creates a more intense, quick acting and long lasting high. It is also more likely, in its current strength, to induce hallucinations, paranoia and other temporary psychotic symptoms. For many people these experiences are short lived. However, Cannabis, like alcohol, has many troubling long-term consequences when it is used regularly and in excess:

Anxiety: Many people use Cannabis to relax. It is true that in small amounts it works. Unfortunately, in higher doses it has the opposite effect, creating often dramatically increased anxiety. In my counseling practice, I have worked with clients who began using Cannabis to ease their nervousness but after a while instead of helping them, their anxious symptoms increased to the point where they can barely drive, interact with people in public or even leave the house. According to much research, this is a common occurrence amongst heavy, long term users of Cannabis.

Thinking and Motivation: We now have considerable evidence too that Cannabis use over a long period of time has a depressant effect and can significantly reduce motivation and cause cognitive deficits. It can also affect memory and the ability to organize, integrate and use information.

Mental Illness: There is more and more research pointing to a strong link between use of Cannabis, (particularly in adolescence) and schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and other psychotic illnesses. The link seems to be “dose related”, in other words the more used the more likely it is to develop such an illness.   Read more about it here.

Problems in Living: In the past it was thought that Cannabis is not addictive. But recent research demonstrates that it is. How do they know? Addiction is present when tolerance develops and withdrawal symptoms appear when use is reduced or ended. (Tolerance is defined as a having to use more and more to get the same effect.) Cannabis withdrawal symptoms include:

• Craving
• Decreased appetite
• Sleep difficulty
• Weight loss
• Aggression or increased irritability
• Restlessness
• Strange dreams

These withdrawal symptoms usually appear about 10 hours after last use and peak at about a week after use is discontinued. Another strong indication of addiction is a compulsion to use, and life being taken over by the need to seek, buy, and use Cannabis, even when these activities are damaging relationships, work, health and well-being.

Cancer and Breathing Problems: If Cannabis is used by inhaling its smoke, some of the same health problems can occur as with cigarette smoking. Like cigarettes, Cannabis is a carbon based substance that when inhaled regularly has the potential to create lung cancer, COPD or other breathing problems. If you are using Cannabis to relieve pain or for another medical problem, consider switching to a topical application or other delivery system. Talk to your health care provider about the safest way to use it.

Join me next week when the topic will be getting help when Cannabis use is a problem.

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Find a Counselor That is Right for You

• Look for a good fit. Many practitioners offer a free 30 minute consultation. Take advantage of this by setting up appointments with two or three different therapists. Meet and talk with them about their approach to counseling and typical length of treatment for your situation. What is their training and experience? What are their strengths? How do they collaborate with others on your health care team?

• Ask lots of questions. For example if you are interested in treatment for anxiety, ask your therapist if they provide an evidence based approach. (This is a treatment that has been researched and shown to be effective.) Ask how much experience and training the therapist has in providing the treatment you are interested in.

• Get recommendations. For example, ask your primary care physician, your chiropractor, family and friends to recommend a counselor. Ask them why they believe in that person’s abilities and how they know about them.

• Confirm eligibility. If you will be using insurance check to make sure the counselor you have chosen can accept your insurance.

• Ask about sliding scale. Many counselors offer a reduced rate to clients paying out of pocket.

• Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. While it is normal to feel some anxiety when beginning counseling, the counselor’s task is to put you at ease and build trust and rapport. If that isn’t happening consider switching to a different practitioner.

• Advocate for yourself. If you are not getting what you want from counseling but have developed a string relationship with your therapist, ask for what you need. Most counselors will be happy you have spoken up and given them the opportunity to be more effective.

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  • About The Author

    Lois Schlegel

    Lois Schlegel, MFA, MS, mental health therapist at Life in Bloom Counseling in Medford and Ashland, has 20 years of experience providing services to individuals and families. She has taught parent education and life skills classes to adults and ... Full Profile
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