Tag Archives: growth

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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utopian fantasy

It doesn’t really matter, though, because you’re comparing apples to oranges — universities today are not what they were even a generation ago. If diversity of thought is a problem on American campuses, it’s not because kids at Yale can’t dress up in naughty costumes for Halloween. It’s because if you’re putting yourself in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to attend university, your primary concern is getting a return on your investment. The idea of studying a subject out of interest, or for the love of knowledge, is a utopian fantasy in 2015. If everyone at your university is there to do whatever’s necessary to pass their exams, collect their degree, and get themselves a well-paid job with which to pay back those crushing loans, then you’re not exactly creating an environment conducive to intellectual growth.

From an article on Flavorwire about the Yale Halloween/race crisis.The article itself is pretty good, but this paragraph just resonated with me.

I mean, I’m glad I used school as a means to a career. But I’m interested to know what it would have been like to…not do that.

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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 quote from a blog from a blog

“This morning I’m wondering what my life would be like–what I would be like–if I could appreciate everything as fully as I am these days. If I lived each season as I’m living this one, with the idea that it is my last one here, in this place, this time, with these people.

Sounds sort of grim and heart-breaking, but I’m seeing that it is just the opposite. In this time of change and loss and possibility, I feel my heart swelling, and mending. Yes, there is a sadness permeating all the joy of these days, but I’m seeing that it is always better to feel grief from loss than from emptiness.”

Wanting this perspective kthx.

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The Importance Of Gender Neutral Toys – A Reblog.

This is an article published originally on the New York Family by Dr. Joe Taravella, a licensed clinical psychologist at NYU Langone Medical Center–Rusk Rehabilitation. His personal website is: drjoetaravella.com. I love it. Gender identity – especially gender fluidity/flux/queer/etc. are finally being given conscious attention, which is good considering it subconsciously affects every facet of our lives. Dr. Joe’s article teaches parents to give their kids a chance to learn who they are without [this one aspect of] society’s programmed expectations.

“While our society has moved away from traditional and antiquated gender roles, such as the model of a mom who is a homemaker (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a dad who works outside of the home, how far have we really advanced in the area of gender segregation with children’s toys and clothes? Children learn early on in their development that certain toys and particular colors are intended for specific genders, and the princess fantasy culture becomes enmeshed with girls’ playtime in the blink of an eye. And while we all prefer to make choices and have control in our lives, do we really to want put a pink or blue stamp on our child’s forehead and limit their choices of toy and play preferences?

In this ever-changing world, we are seeing an increase of families with diverse family structures, two-income households, and all family members sharing in household responsibilities. So why are we still stuck on trucks for boys and dolls for girls?  We need to move away from the notion of gender-specific toys and create a nurturing environment for children to freely discover and play that’s aligned with their innate interests.

Outdated gender roles hinder exploratory play, stifle creativity, create a roadblock to sharing among boys and girls, and deny children the opportunity to develop skills across genders.  And while the well-intentioned parent may believe they are saving their children from being teased by their peers, over time, children believe they are not allowed to express themselves and that who they are is not as important as how they compare to others in society’s eyes. So if we look at life with ‘gender-goggles,’ are we truly giving our children equal opportunities in life during their formidable years? As we fast-forward to adulthood, we see women thriving in their careers but not earning equal pay, and men become more lonely and depressed (resulting in higher rates of suicides compared to women), so how do we counteract traditional gender roles?

Creating a gender-neutral environment can foster gender identity and gender expression. According to a 2005 study by Judith Blakemore and Renee Centers, “Characteristics of Boys’ and Girls’ Toys,” the authors concluded that, “children of both genders would benefit from play with toys that develop educational, scientific, physical, artistic, and musical skills.”

Parents can foster and support a gender-neutral environment in their home and encourage their children to be anything they want to be. Parents can be as creative as wish and include gender-neutral toys into their homes such as play-doh, toy telephones and cash registers, building blocks, play kitchens, tossing games, puzzles, sock puppets, musical instruments, and board games to name a few. Children should be allowed to discover and explore their gender preferences, gender identity, and gender expression. Developing this strong sense of self will enhance their overall self-esteem and allow them to be creative, imaginative, and feel capable. As parents, we want to give our children the key to the world; so giving children the opportunity to play across all gender roles helps them develop skills they may ‘traditionally’ not be encouraged to explore. In doing so, boys can be more nurturing and verbally expressive, which can lead to having better interpersonal relationships with girls and women and being better fathers. Girls can develop spatial skills when engaged in non-traditional roles and grow up feeling more confident in careers relating to science, technology, engineering, math, and construction.  Ultimately, fostering your child’s innate preferences of what interests them will be most beneficial to their overall growth and development. And kudos to those companies who organize children’s toys and apps by category of play or age, instead of gender in an effort for children to develop their own identity regardless of their gender.

So, are boys and girls different? Sure, but so are girls from other girls and boys from other boys. What I tell each child is that they are unique and special in their very own way, as there’s no other ‘you’ in this entire world; so just be your special ‘self’ and reach for the stars, no matter what color of the rainbow they happen to be.”

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how to.

“But I don’t want to be alone,” we often exclaim. Be alone. Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself. Wait for it. Please, I urge you to wait for it, to fight for it, to make an effort for it if you have already found it, because it is the most beautiful thing your heart will experience.

From Thought Catalog.

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just breathe.

It’s amazing how sometimes we need kids to teach us how to be adults.

By Wavecrest Films, as seen on Amy’s Smart Girls (.com) and Upworthy.

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complete mess.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes.  To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

Cynthia Occelli 

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