I am amassing quite a collection of therapy memes. Who knew this would be a thing? My favorite part of this trend is that most of the images you see above are screenshots sent to me by patients. I say this as an inroad to breaking down some of the anxiety around entering therapy. Especially if you are entering therapy for the first time, that anxiety typically occurs in the face of the unknown. What will therapy be like? What can I expect? Will I have to lie down on a couch? Will my therapist say "tell me about your mother?" Will my therapist just silently stare at me?
Colorado therapist Kelsey Shane says of therapy:
You may cry, you'll probably laugh, you'll definitely grow!
Therapy looks a bit different for each individual, and for each individual therapist. I do have a couch, but it's really more of a love seat. Most people are comfy but do not actually lie down. Sometimes people come to therapy for help in dealing with a very specific situation, for example, coping with a loss, making decisions about moving forward during a time of transition, or managing anxiety related to social situations. Others seek therapy to understand and shift long-standing problematic behavior or relationship patterns. Sometimes we do in fact talk about mom. Sometimes we game-plan how to resolve conflict at work or at home. Sometimes we practice mindfulness and specific breathing exercises to reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks. Sometimes we unpack puzzling dreams. Sometimes we draw connections to books and films (our cultural mythology). I know a perhaps surprising number of my patients' Hogwarts houses and how others relate their own origin stories or redemption arcs to characters in the MCU. We do sometimes cry, we often laugh, and I am privileged to witness growth on a daily basis.
If you have more questions or would like to learn a bit more about the process of therapy, you might enjoy the video below by psychologist, Dr. Ali Mattu in which he answers commonly Googled questions about therapy.
Facebook executive, Sheryl Sandberg, is an enormously successful technology executive (named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2012), author and speaker. Over the past few weeks, she has been making the rounds on day and nighttime talk-shows promoting something much closer to her own heart, her new book, Option B: Facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. The book, written with Sheryl's friend, psychologist Adam Grant, is at once a deeply personal reflection on Sheryl's sudden loss of her husband Dave to heart failure at age 47, and inspiring call to find meaning, purpose, and develop resilience in the face of adversity. As Sandberg writes, we are not born with a set amount of resilience, after which small and large challenges threaten to overwhelm us. But rather, resilience is like a muscle, that can be strengthened and developed throughout our lives.
Sandberg and Grant worked together to write the book and to launch Option B, an organization with the mission to bring people together to support one another and share resources from experts on building resilience.
OptionB.Org is dedicated to helping you build resilience in the face of adversity—and giving you the tools to help your family, friends, and community build resilience too. Here, you can read and share personal stories, join groups for solidarity and support, and find information from experts.
Option B, the book and the organization, promise to be excellent resources for those coping with loss and adversity, and all those searching for meaning and joy.
Here you can read excerpts or listen to the full recent interview on NPR in which Sheryl discusses her new book and advice on how to help someone who is grieving.
Below you will find the full video of Sheryl's moving 2016 commencement address at UC Berkeley in which she discusses her own grief and advice on developing a spirit of gratitude and resilience.
Heads Together is a UK campaign, spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to end stigma around mental health. This week the campaign released a video of the Duke, Duchess and Prince discussing their support of the mental health initiative.
The Heads Together campaign has partnered with this weekend's London Marathon to help raise awareness and encourage people to speak up about and prioritize their mental health (all the runners will be given Heads Together headbands, modeled by the Royal Family above).
“Since we launched Heads Together last May, we have seen time and time again that shattering stigma on mental health starts with simple conversations. When you realise that mental health problems affect your friends, neighbours, children and spouses, the walls of judgement and prejudice around these issues begin to fall. And we all know that you cannot resolve a mental health issue by staying silent."
Here in the US, the OK to Say campaign has been working to encourage people to talk openly about mental health. So often people do not ask for or seek out the help that they need because of stigma. Sharing our stories and working as a community to encourage one another and share resources can improve and save lives.
If you are interested in continuing this conversation and showing your support, consider joining the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) annual Dallas NAMI Walks 5k coming up in on May 13.
As Spring makes its slow but steady way to us, it calls to mind the newness and oldness of things. New leaves on trees, new buds blooming in gardens. There is a difference, though, between the buds freshly planted in gardens and roadside parks, and the re-emergence of perennials or blooms on trees that have come to be old friends. New-new, and old-new.
Some of these new-new flora are placed and planted at the moment of perfection, at the height of their bloom. Then, too, they are whisked away at the first sign of fading to be replaced with the fresh and the new. This process, indeed this industry, grows in line with our consumer culture which seems to forever chase the new, the next.
This is a very Western approach to our surroundings, and to ourselves, We value the young, the new, and we relentlessly pursue perfection. When something is broken or imperfect, we find it useless and ugly. Rather than refurbish or repair, we are quick to replace. Psychically, this takes its toll. If we find ourselves imperfect or broken, we feel unworthy, unlovable, ashamed. We attempt to hide our faults and imperfection from one another and often from ourselves.
The Eastern philosophy of wabi-sabi. can help us see and relate to ourselves in a different way. This philosophy cherishes the simple, unpretentious, and aged. The Eastern craft of kintsugi takes this idea from philosophy into art form. Literally golden (kin) joinery (sugi), this practice involves the careful repair of broken ceramic pieces with a combination of resin mixed with gold. The result is that the fractures in a piece are highlighted by the gold, making the object more beautiful than it was before. The object (vase, teapot, bowl) that was valued is understood to be worth the care and love expended to repair it, and is in fact more beautiful for having survived.
The fresh buds on a cherry tree are to be cherished not just for their beauty in the moment, but for visually reminding us that the tree, our old friend, has survived the winter. Similarly, the laugh-lines on a grandmother's face are a sign of life well loved and well lived. We do a disservice when we try to hide our brokenness, our past, or our flaws, or pretend they never happened. These were (and are) pivotal moments in our lives that, when looked upon with care, can begin great transformation in our lives.
With the holidays fast approaching, this can be a good time to pause and reflect on why this season of thanksgiving and joy can often be so stressful. Do you find yourself anxiously working to anticipate every detail or need in attempt to orchestrate the perfect holiday, the perfect family get together, the perfect scrapbook moment? Or are you pulled by the gnawing suspicion that no matter how hard you try, how badly you want this year to be different, that things will go wrong. Again. Just as they have so many times before?
When you find yourself pulled between these two intense emotional states and expectations, it can be easy to blame yourself for what has or what will go wrong, to feel or anticipate feeling blamed by others, or to blame others for behaving in what feels like a predictable destructive pattern.
Author researcher and storyteller Brené Brown offers wise words on the underlying meaning and fallout of this tendency to rush to blame. By blaming ourselves or others we attempt to regain a sense of control, but we also lose out on opportunities and relationships in the process.
Today is National Psychotherapy Day, a day to reduce stigma and draw awareness to the effectiveness of therapy.
"People who support psychotherapy – therapists, clients, academics, policymakers, or any other interested party – are encouraged to talk about their own experiences with therapy, contribute to low-fee and community mental health clinics, share therapy effectiveness research, and wear turquoise to show support and start conversations."
If you haven't seen the Moments of Meaning series, they are definitely worth your while. Dr. Ryan Howes, founder of National Psychotherapy Day, and his team released this video series featuring therapists speaking from the heart about the transformations that take place between therapist and patient in psychotherapy. The whole series is well done and provides an insightful and moving glimpse into real therapy sessions (all stories are shared with the permission of individual patients, and altering identifying information).
You can read more about National Psychotherapy Day here, and find the Moments of Meaning video series here.
Dr. Brené Brown is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and a researcher who has spent years studying, writing, and speaking about vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. The video below of her 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with over 19 million viewers. If you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it lately, it may be the most inspiring and best spent 20 minutes of your day.
Brené's latest book, Rising Strong, is scheduled for release this week. In describing Rising Strong, she writes, “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.”
The Pixar team has honed their ability to combine humor and creativity without shying away from deeper human emotions. Their new film, Inside Out, centers on the emotions, memories, personality and meaning found by the young protagonist as she tries to cope with moving to a new city and school, while on the verge of adolescence. The film offers insight into the value of sadness, one of those human experiences (along with anxiety, fear, and anger) that many people would rather live without. Our tendency to overvalue positive emotions, often shows itself to be inadequate when we (and those we love) face difficult times and transitions. Sadness, in particular, cues us to the fact that we have lost touch with something or someone important to us. It helps us empathically connect with others, and lets others know that we need their help. Sadness and anxiety often lead people into therapy, but it is important to know that they are not the enemy. As one viewer notes, the film reminds us of the words often repeated by therapists, "it is ok to feel sad." A life without anxiety or sadness is likely also a life without contentment or joy. They are a part of the greater human whole.
The film also explores the role of memories, and in particular "core memories" that help shape our personality, experiences, and identity. We see how core memories fall away when their meaning no longer holds in our present reality. In those times, new experiences, memories, and the full range of emotion are needed as we work to re-understand, and sometimes recreate, ourselves, our relationships, and our world.
Treat your children, nieces and nephews, neighbor kids, or your own inner child to Inside Out. Don't forget the popcorn... or the tissues.
Dr. Ryan Howes, founder of National Psychotherapy Day (9.25.15), and his team released a video series last week entitled Moments of Meaning, featuring therapists speaking from the heart about the transformations that take place between therapist and patient in psychotherapy. The whole series is well done and provides an insightful and moving glimpse into real therapy sessions (all stories are shared with the permission of individual patients, and altering identifying information). If you have ever wondered about the benefits, process, or new perspectives that psychotherapy might offer, take a look at this Moments of Meaning video featuring licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. John Dilley, as he shares his experience of entering psychotherapy as a patient himself.
Psychologist Guy Winch's message on the importance of prioritizing emotional health is a great way to wrap up Mental Health Awareness month. We all understand the importance of taking care of our bodies, seeing the doctor for regular check-ups, and quickly seeking proper treatment for wounds or illness. However, we all too often fail to recognize or seek proper and timely treatment for emotional wounds. Loneliness, anxiety, failure, depression, rejection, and loss all take an emotional and physical toll. No one expects you to "shake off" a broken arm, but we often expect others and ourselves to "shake off" these emotional wounds. Guy Winch gives practical advice and examples of ways to improve our awareness and treatment of these issues with what he terms "emotional first aid."
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.