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.
Here's to a new year. Out with the old, in with the new. A clean slate. A new beginning. And often a perfect time of year to include psychotherapy as we work to change ourselves and our lives for the better.
I recently found myself in a discussion of new year's resolutions and the comedic and often fatalistic connotations they have come to imply. How long until you break your resolutions? How long until you fail? There is something lovely about a new year that lends itself to thinking of a clean slate, however the all-or-nothing thinking implied in our usual discussion of resolutions leads us to think that when we falter we might as well throw in the towel completely. Perhaps a better way of framing our best intentions involves a "theme" for the year, rather than a resolution. This could help you see the new habit, new relationship style, etc. as a work in progress that allows for up and down days, and improvement over the course of a year.
Psychotherapy is a great place to discuss these themes and how you plan to strive towards improvement and self-understanding over the coming year. Even the process of ending of therapy, known as termination, provides an opportunity to experience a happy ending (for more on this, see Dr. Ryan Howe's discussion on Ghosting Your Therapist: 4 Reasons not to Disappear). This happy ending, relationship closure done right, can be a therapeutic experience in and of itself.
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.
The work of psychotherapy often involves uncovering themes and patterns in our lives. Where have you had a similar feeling, desire, or relationship before? Tracing the roots of current difficulties in work, love, and play, can often reveal unfinished business and unresolved feelings. Drawing connections between the stories of our past and present can ultimately empower us to choose to write new and better stories in the future.
Margarita Tartakovsky, in an interview with psychologist Dr. Ryan Howes, explores the role of self-fulfilling prophecies in perpetuating these themes and cycles in our lives. Dr. Howes gives examples from his life and practice of our desire to "right" past wrongs, and how self-fulfilling prophecies dampen our insight and hopefulness that we can make positive changes.
"Often self-fulfilling prophecies are an attempt to guard against grief, failure, disappointment, rejection or any other upsetting outcome. It’s an attempt to “pre-grieve something,” Howes said. “We have a belief that if we see something failing now and start grieving that loss before it happens, it won’t hurt so much.” But that's rarely the case. "A loss is a loss." Trying to grieve before a supposedly painful outcome doesn't reduce our pain. It only creates more of it. And we grieve just the same as if we'd expected success, Howes said.
Click here to read the article in full.
Mental health practitioners speak of and research common symptoms of depression including avolition and anhedonia. Avolition refers to the loss of motivation to initiate and carry out purposeful activities (e.g., cooking dinner, balancing your checkbook, keeping a dinner date with friends), while anhedonia describes a loss of pleasure in once valued activities. Journalist and author Anneli Rufus published a piece this week which appears on Psychology Today eloquently describing the lived-experience of these losses: depression's theft of one's passion, pleasure, and awe.
Depression is a cruel thief that raids your heart, your home, your future, your present, your past. It steals your most precious possessions not to keep or use or give away or sell but just because they're there. Those loves for which you lived become loot burning by the wayside. This is stealthy, silent theft that masquerades as aging, failure, sulkiness, stupidity, ingratitude, unmindfulness, unwillingness to try. This is a monumental crime that masquerades as just another day. ~Anneli Rufus
Those who have not endured or born witness to depression often struggle to understand the experience beyond what we think of as ordinary "blues." Rufus's poetic voice speaks to the depth of loss that is at the heart of depression. Her words may move you to a better understanding of those you love who have been robbed by depression, or it may give voice to your own struggle and help you know that you are not alone.
Read Anneli Rufus' full piece here.
Take a moment to check out the newly added Resources page (under the Patient tab). There you will find links and information on recommended books (for adults, adolescents, and children), local and national organizations that support mental health, and emergency and crisis numbers.
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.
In anticipation of the 4th annual National Psychotherapy Day, September 25, I invite you to check out this article on why psychotherapy is needed, effective, and lasting. The authors provide links to research on the efficacy of psychotherapy: supporting the science behind the transformative therapeutic relationship. If you or someone you care about is considering psychotherapy, this is a great place to start.
On September 10th, join with others around the world who are working towards the common goal of preventing suicide. Check in on someone you may be concerned about, listen to what they say, how they say it and show them kindness and support. Investigate ways of linking in with others who are trying to prevent suicide in your community, your country, or internationally. Show your support by organizing or taking part in a WSPD activity in your area and/or join in with IASP’s Cycle Around the Globe.
Brené Brown is a wonderfully authentic and moving researcher/storyteller. Her new book, Rising Strong, explores how we find the inner courage and compassion to rise up again when we have fallen. We all fall. The secret is in rising up again. And in the realization that in doing so we are not alone.
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.