Category Archives: favorite blogs

can I get a redo?

My experience with psychotherapy supports the findings that we can “rewire our brains.” In cognitive therapy, I learned to stop negative thoughts and suicidal ideation, rewrite those thoughts and replace them with more accurate ones. In therapy I’ve learned to reframe my life experiences as meaningful – as preparing me to be a better mother, wife, and daughter, […]

via Bipolar Disorder and Neurocounseling — Kitt O’Malley

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walking

“it’s days like this i wish to be walking with his arms around me through the city streets feeling like i have love, not seeking or letting go or learning lessons or being content without.”

 

This is exactly what I was thinking this morning as I walked to work. It’s frozen here, and the Chrysler building is perfect, and I loved my first patient. And this is exactly what I was thinking.

(From romantic tuesday wakeup).

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Aha! Moments

Neuroscience is now suggesting that in order to change recurring emotional and behavioral patterns, we can’t just talk about change at the cognitive level, we have to evoke an emotional experience that changes patterns in the emotional regions of the brain. Creating these emotional experiences not only triggers profound transformation, but it can also be fun and uplifting for both you and your clients.

Okay, heads up: this entire post is a re-blog from PESIinc., a company that provides continuing education for a variety of professions. I kind of love them, even when they spam me four thousand times a day with courses I might like to take.

10 Ways to Help Stuck Clients Move Forward

posted Nov 24, 2015.

“I know it’s irrational, but I can’t stop the extreme anxiety I feel around people because I’m a 6’3” tall woman and fear they’ll think I’m a freak,” said Natalie, a 35-year old nurse. Though she was comfortable working with patients, was happily married, and had two very close friends, she couldn’t shake the anxiety she felt around colleagues and large groups of people.

“My last therapist taught me relaxation exercises, how to talk back to my negative thoughts, and encouraged me to get out socially with small groups,” Natalie added. “But none of that seems to work. The anxiety just hijacks my brain.”

She’s right. Sometimes, no matter how we try to outsmart it, our emotional brains are primed to override the rational mind with patterns that persist until we intervene with something this feeling brain can understand: a compelling emotional experience that completely changes how we feel, not just how we think.

Orchestrating such felt experiences with your clients is easier than you think. In this post, I’ll share 10 strategies from my book, “The Therapeutic ‘Aha!’” that you can use to engage the emotional brain and help stuck clients move forward.

Strategy #1: Align, Lift, and Lead

Most of us were taught to validate our client’s feelings. However, if you spend too long merely validating your client’s pain, it can amplify negative feelings in the emotional brain. To help your client access positive states of mind, you have to find a way to lift and lead them emotionally. To make this transition, I recommend a language pattern that I call “Align, Lift, and Lead.”

You align with the client by reflecting your understanding of the problem, and then you lift the client by affirming her strengths, and lead her by suggesting her desired response to the situation. Here is how I used this language pattern with Natalie:

 “Natalie, I understand that you’ve had these experiences where you’ve not felt comfortable around large groups of people because you’ve not been sure how they would react to your height. Being a nurse, you’re obviously an empathic person and are probably pretty good at helping people feel at ease. I’m seeing you using these people skills in other social situations, too, realizing that a person’s reaction just tells you something about them, and you can sense how to put them at ease.”

Reframing her problem in this way helped Natalie feel more socially competent and encouraged.

Strategy #2: Visualize the Desired Response

Because the emotional brain learns better through metaphor and imagery than it does through words, another strategy you can use is to have your client visualize her desired response. I suggested Natalie visualize herself successfully navigating a social situation and imagine feeling curious, secure, and calm. Then, I asked her to imagine something in nature that could represent her mind working this way. Natalie smiled and said, “Muir Woods with the redwood trees.” Visualizing the peacefulness of the tall trees in this forest helped her feel calmer and gave her a sense of belonging.

Strategy #3: Identify Inspiring Goals

Instead of setting dry, lifeless goals like, “Client will practice relaxation skills and talk to two new people per week,” explore potential goals that have real value and meaning for your client.

When I explored inspiring goals with Natalie, she began talking about her desire to have lunch with a group of colleagues. They’d been inviting her to lunch for several weeks, and she liked the idea of connecting with fellow nurses. Targeting a small group of people she wanted to be around felt more intriguing and doable to her and less like a task.

Strategy #4: Locate the Root of an Emotional Conflict

Even though Natalie felt encouraged by this goal, she still felt a knot in her stomach at the thought of going out to lunch with these colleagues. I asked Natalie to follow the sensations in her stomach back to the first time she could remember having a similar feeling. Her eyes widened as she recalled being teased during lunchtime in middle school by a group of kids who called her names like “Amazon” and “Sasquatch.”

She had coped by avoiding the school cafeteria and doing her homework in the library during lunch. As a result, she avoided her bullying classmates and was praised by her teachers for being studious. Natalie gasped as she realized she was doing the same thing at her job­—skipping lunch with peers to avoid fears of being ridiculed and getting praised by her boss for being so dedicated.

Once Natalie made this connection, she understood her emotional brain had simply continued the pattern because it had been adaptive for her in the past.

Strategy #5: Reverse Traumatic Memories

Natalie was excited to have made this connection, but just having cognitive insight into the cause of her social anxiety didn’t change it. In fact, recent neuroscience discoveries have shown us that in order for the emotional brain to change a response that was once adaptive, we have to recall the old memory while eliciting a new experience that invalidates the beliefs that got attached to the disturbing memory.

Strategy #6: Change Beliefs With Imagery and Metaphor

To change Natalie’s negative self-concept, we revisited her imagery of the redwood tree­—tall, beautiful, and majestic. I suggested she imagine the smaller trees laughing at the redwoods for being so tall and see the absurdity of it. Imagining this scene made Natalie laugh and realize every tree had its natural place in the world, and so did she.

Strategy # 7: Conjure Up Compelling Stories

Another way you can reverse the meaning of a traumatic event is to have your client finish her story with a new ending. For instance, she can finish it with a later moment in her life when she was out of danger, in a better situation, or felt competent or empowered.

The first time Natalie told her story about being bullied at school, she ended the story with an incident where a boy asked her to dance, then brought out a chair to the dance floor and stood on it so he could be as tall as she was. Everyone laughed, which made Natalie cry.

When I prompted her to consider a new ending to this story, she said, “Well I’ve been happily married for 15 years, and my husband said he was attracted to me because I was tall. He thought I looked like a graceful dancer.” She smiled and realized that ending her story this way suddenly caused the experiences she had with the boys in her youth to seem trivial.

Strategy #8: Prime With Play and Humor

Using play and humor are also great ways to dissipate anxiety and trigger new perspectives on events. Natalie and I acted out a role-play in which I let her play a woman with a snobby attitude teasing her while I played Natalie. She began the role-play by wrinkling her nose and saying,

“Who invited you to lunch with us, Amazon lady?”

I answered by simply saying, “Linda invited me.”

“Well I hope you don’t think I can be seen walking next to you, Sasquatch,” Natalie continued. And you should really consider doing something different with your hair.”

I smiled and replied, “Oh, what a shame. I fixed my hair this way just for you.”

Natalie laughed and we continued the role-play for a few more minutes. Letting Natalie play the character she feared reduced her anxiety because she realized how insecure a person would have to be to make such insensitive comments.

Strategy #9: Rouse With Rhythm and Music

Music can influence mood and neurochemistry, and it can entrain the brain to calmer states. One activity many clients enjoy is creating a playlist of tunes that evoke desired responses. Natalie started her playlist with “Creep” by Radiohead, which reflected her fears of being a social reject. Then we added “Everyday People,” by Sly and the Family Stone, which was more upbeat and affirmed that humans come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Natalie ended her playlist with “Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down,” by Mary J. Blige, which helped her feel empowered.

Strategy #10: Integrate Mindful Movement

Movement can also engender desired states of mind. Dancing to her playlist helped Natalie shake off anticipatory anxiety, but I also suggested she could place her hand on her abdomen to calm her stomach and invoke a sense of self-compassion. She practiced this gesture while she slowed her breathing and imagined the beautiful redwood trees. Over the next several weeks, Natalie reported that her anxiety completely dissipated and she was able to comfortably enjoy lunch with her co-workers and other social situations.

Closing Thoughts

Neuroscience is now suggesting that in order to change recurring emotional and behavioral patterns, we can’t just talk about change at the cognitive level, we have to evoke an emotional experience that changes patterns in the emotional regions of the brain. Creating these emotional experiences not only triggers profound transformation, but it can also be fun and uplifting for both you and your clients.

I hope this post has given you ideas for new techniques you can use, and that it leads to many “Aha!” moments for you and your clients.

Courtney Armstrong, LPC, MHSP, is a licensed professional counselor in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the author of “The Therapeutic ‘Aha!’: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck.” She also offers training and free resources for therapists at her website: www.courtneyarmstrong.net.

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faking it.

When we have a skill or talent that has come naturally we tend to discount its value.

Why is that? Well, we often hesitate to believe that what’s natural, maybe even easy for us, can offer any value to the world. In fact, the very act of being really good at something can lead us to discount its value.

Great article on the Impostor Syndrome in the NY Times. The way I’ve always dealt with – the way I tell all of my friends/clients/patients to deal with it – is that literally everyone feels this way. Everyone I know who isn’t a sociopath feels like they are faking it. So what is even the point of feeling that way? No one is looking to find you out. Just because it’s easy for you doesn’t make it less valuable. And lastly, as always, what’s the worst that could happen?

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monday.

Lately everything I try to say I find has already been said but in much better words. Came here to post, and at the top of my feed was this post from Michelle Bloom. Amazing words of truth and growth.

 just because a relationship ends or is messy and hurtful, does not mean it was wrong, does not mean your instincts were off.  we are not just here to experience happily ever after.  that’s the lie.  we are here to engage in messy mistake ridden unions so that we learn how to love better.  every man i have loved, i have loved with all my heart.  and when i broke it off or he did, it’s cause it was not right to continue.  it was not a mistake.  there is only the feeling of mistake.  and this feeling is to be used to grow.

Grateful someone else is pondering things on this chilly October day – a beautiful chill here in NYC. Beautiful, painful, chill.

“I don’t want to fake my way into it or try to make it happen with a crumb giver, anymore.”

Truth. A crumb is better than nothing except that it isn’t.

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a a a a a a a

I want to read this so badly and all of the articles it links to, but I’ve had it open in a tab on my computer for weeks and haven’t done it. One day, guys. One day.

An 80th Anniversary Tribute to AA

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i’m not ready.

I couldn’t digest that he could fall in love with someone else while I still loved him. At that point, I didn’t understand love could be one-sided like that. I couldn’t imagine he told her the things he told me, or looked at her the same way.

In my deluded state, I actually felt sorry for her. This poor girl’s boyfriend is in love with his ex, I thought. It’s funny how easy it is to believe the unbelievable when it hurts less.

When do you fall out of love with your ex, when you break up because of reason and not because you don’t love each other? Which of you gets to move on first, and when it happens, does it mean the love has gone or just that we’ve chosen to go forward and hope it fades away completely?

The internet told me a lot about her. It told me she was beautiful and smart. It told me she was social and her smile made her seem kind. I wanted to hate her, but I couldn’t.

She took pictures with children and smiled wholeheartedly in photos. She laughed in a way that seemed authentic. She looked like the kind of girl who didn’t take long to get ready.

She’s perfect.  Probably not perfect, I mean, but people love her and it seems like they should. The same people who love me love her, so she must be special.

I noticed when she became friends with his sisters and took a photo with his mother. I saw him wearing the watch I bought him as he stood next to her on a vacation they took together. I saw them driving in the car we kissed in — the car we broke up in.

I saw their relationship go the places ours had gone and to places it had not.

I’m not ready for the places it has not.

A beautiful, tortuous essay, published on Buzzfeed of all places. Read the full, painful post here: I watched my ex fall in love with someone else on Facebook.

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ana.

I’m not good at very much: I wasn’t very good at ballet, and I wasn’t very good at being a girlfriend, but for a time, I was good at being skinny and that felt really, really good.

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happiness.

When you reach the point that you can appreciate the wonder in every one of your feelings, you will start realizing that there is more to life than just “happiness.” Every part of it has its wonders. What’s better than “happiness” is fascination, and interest, and commitment to maintaining light and love within yourself. Every situation is dimensional, and when you start realizing the possibility in any given situation, you will start understanding what it means to be alive.

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truth.

I would like to live in a world where I am not judged by the wholeness of my hymen.

From My Freed Roar.

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