Your Emotional Immune System

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

There are germs everywhere; but most of the time, you don’t get sick because of your physical immune system, consisting of everything from the tough hide of your skin, to the snotty mucus of your nose; the white cells of your blood, to your ability to sneeze and vomit all the bad stuff out of town. Fever, too, is part of an immune response, as your body cooks the germs out of existence.

The body’s immune response is as wonderful and useful as it is disgusting and often uncomfortable. Thank God you have it. But you should also thank God, or whatever you choose to thank, that you have an emotional immune system, as well. For, while there is stress everywhere, most of the time you don’t go mad. Continue reading

Evidence-Based Therapy

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In the peculiar land of shrinks, evidence-based therapy is a phrase we use a lot. It’s supposed to refer to therapy that’s backed by scientific evidence. But what they call evidence-based therapy is not evidence-based therapy. It’s a term for a standardized, manualized, commoditized therapy protocol. It’s not necessarily the best therapy for you. Continue reading

A Bad Mood

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A bad mood is when your feelings get stuck in a terrible place and you can’t change them, no matter what. You’ve been in the doldrums for weeks, sad and depressed, even though you have nothing to be sad and depressed about, except for being sad and depressed. How do you shake that feeling and experience the joy you have every right to claim?

Imagine a radio dial with many frequencies along a continuous range. When you tune into one station, you get one genre of music, Country-Western, say. When you tune into another, you get a different kind, the Classical station where they play Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Your moods are like that. When you’re depressed, you’re thinking depressing thoughts, talking about depressing things, watching depressing movies, and counting your losses. The food you eat is plain and filling. The curtains are drawn. You stay in bed and never do anything. You are tuning in to a particular feeling, so that’s all you feel. No wonder you’re depressed. If you weren’t depressed already, everything you’re tuning into would make you depressed.

It looks like it would be easy to change your mood. People tell you to stop thinking depressing thoughts, talking about depressing things, watching depressing movies, and counting your losses. Eat food with flavor, they say. Pull open the drapes. Get out and take a walk. Doing those things is almost impossible because you’re depressed. If you try doing them, or someone makes you do them, it feels forced or you feel nothing at all. Even joy is jarring and uncomfortable. How can you ever get out of this pit? Continue reading

Turning Black by Turning White

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My twenty years as a ghetto shrink made me a guest in the world of inner-city Blacks. I miss parts of that world. I admired the rhythm of my clients’ speech, the words they had for things, and the stories they told. They got me started writing fiction because writing fiction is a way of living more than one life at a time. I wanted to sound like them. I wanted to tell stories the way they told them. Turning White was one short story I wrote, back in 2000. It was my way of turning Black.

I submitted Turning White to a literary magazine called New York Stories, published out of LaGuardia Community College, in the heart of it all. The kids at the college said I got it right. Somehow, they thought I captured the experience of an inner-city Black without being anything but White and without my ever setting foot in a Bed-Sty project. It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me.

The story got nominated for the Pushcart Prize, which is the thing to win if you’re a writer of short stories. It didn’t win, but the encouragement of it all kept me going with my writing.

I have re-published the tale on Medium. You can read it here.

Joy

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

According to a Jewish myth, Genesis didn’t tell us the whole story about how God made the universe. When the world was created, something went horribly wrong.

The story goes that when God decided to bring this world into being, He made room for it by withdrawing Himself a little. The result was darkness. When He said, “Let there be light”, His light filled the darkness like little beakers of sunshine.

Unfortunately, the beakers, being created out of darkness, were flawed. They shattered, scattering the light everywhere. The myth says, whenever you find a spark of that light that had been lost from that primordial accident, you feel joy. In fact, that’s why God created humans, to help Him find the missing sparks amidst everything that’s broken in the world. Joy guides you towards your life’s purpose.

Joy is closely related to and often synonymous with happiness, bliss, charm, exhilaration, gladness, delight, glee, elation, satisfaction, pleasure, and wonder; but it’s different. Many have thought it might be useful to reserve one of those positive feelings for when we find something good in a bad place, the silver lining of a cloud. Joy is the word they use for that. You can be happy in Disneyland, but when you’re feeling positive in Peoria, that’s joy. Continue reading

Free Therapy During the COVID-19 Emergency

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Thanks to COVID-19, people with insurance in New York State do not have to pay copays, co-insurance, or deductibles for telehealth sessions for as long as the state of emergency lasts.

That’s one thing to be grateful for.

This is a state mandate. Insurance companies haven’t advertised it, and I haven’t seen it in the news. So, spread the word. Even among us shrinks, there’s been a lot of confusion in the past two weeks. Many of us have been collecting these copays, co-insurance payments, and deductibles because we didn’t know, couldn’t believe it, or were puzzled by the impenetrable prose of bureaucratic pronouncements. But I have it from the horse’s mouth. Free therapy. Read it yourself.

The catch is that it must be a video or phone session with an in-network provider. If you insist on meeting your therapist in person, or if she is still expecting clients to do so, then you still must pay those fees. I guess they’re trying to encourage people to stay home so they don’t spread the virus. That, and to get the help they need before they go stir-crazy in their homes, ready to kill someone over a roll of toilet paper.

You’re out of luck if you have insurance that originates outside New York State because your company’s headquarters is in Chicago, Kansas City, or some other place, unless that state has ordered it, too.

Video counseling is preferred by therapists over the phone variety. But you need a good cellular signal or Wi-Fi connection to see a therapist by video, as well as a private place to talk. That can be hard when you’re all cooped up with other people. I’ve had clients talk to me in their cars or from the bathroom. You can read more about video counseling here.

If you have been particularly anxious these days, or depressed, or if the bonds between you and your loved ones are beginning to fray, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. This is also a perfect time to change bad habits. We therapists can’t do much to change the state of the world, but we can help you with your response to it.

When You Need Your Space

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Some days, you just need your space.

The trouble is, your partner is there, too, and if you try to get some space, they may take it personally. You don’t want to get into a long discussion over why you need your space when you need your space. It may not be good to get into discussions when you need your space. They seldom go well, then.

What you need, at times like that, is a hat.

Not just any ordinary hat, but a hat that is easily recognizable and officially designated as the I Need My Space Hat.

So, some time when you don’t need your space, pick out a hat and talk with your partner. Put the hat in a common area where both of you can find it. Whenever you need your space, put on the hat. Only use this hat for that one purpose. The hat communicates something to your partner, so you don’t have to. It says, I need my space. It’s not about you, it’s about me. I’ll tell you why when I take off the hat.

It’s important that you have this discussion first, before you need it, so both of you understand what the hat means. It’s also important to obey the hat, no matter which one of you is using it. Finally, it’s important to talk after you take the hat off. Tell your partner why you think you needed your space and was going on with you.

Some days, you just need your space and it’s hard to get it. Unless you use a hat.

Is it safe to go to counseling during this pandemic?

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I’m sending this letter out to all my clients prior to their appointment.

 

In this age of the coronavirus, you may be wondering if it is safe to keep your counseling appointment. I’ve thought about that, too; and here is what I came up with.

My office does not get a lot of traffic. Compared to a grocery store, a school, a church, a doctor’s office, or a coffee shop, few people go in and out and there’s little physical contact. Moreover, they are generally in good health.

I’m also in good health. I’m experiencing my environmental allergies, but I have no fever, cough, or shortness of breath, the symptoms of coronavirus. I have not knowingly been exposed to anyone with the virus. Nor have I recently been to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea. I’ll let you know if any of that changes.

If you don’t have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath; have not been exposed to anyone with the virus; or have not recently been to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea; then you are welcome to come. I have no reason to be afraid of you.

In between sessions, I can easily clean the places in my office people touch. If you want, you can see me do it. We don’t have to shake hands.

If your kids are home from school and you have no one to watch them, you can bring them with you, provided they are old enough to stay in the waiting room or young enough not to understand anything if they are with us.

So, come to my office, if you can. But, if you can’t; then keep your appointment anyway by phone. It’s not optimal to have a psychotherapy session by phone, but doing so, permits us to maintain progress you’ve made and address any problems you’ve encountered.

I just got clarification from the insurances I take that phone sessions are fully covered. That didn’t used to be the case. So, contact me if you would like a phone session, beforehand preferably.

I’ve done video sessions in the past; but stopped because there were too many problems and not enough demand. I can begin doing video sessions again and try to solve the problems if there proves to be a need. Let me know if that would be important to you.

So, please, keep your appointments if you can, either by phone or in person, but preferably in person.

If you have any questions about the coronavirus, here’s where I’m getting my information. From the World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

Keith

Note: Within one day of posting this announcement, it was already out of date. On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, I stopped seeing clients face-to-face in compliance with the Governor’s recommendation that non-essential businesses close. Counseling is often essential, but it is not essential that I see people in person.

Today, March 18th, I’m just having phone sessions. I’ve signed up with a video provider, but they haven’t set me up, yet. They’re probably swamped. Tomorrow will probably be different.

The Shink’s Links on Twitter

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If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may remember a series of mine, called the Shrink’s Links. In this, I posted interesting things I’ve read, seen, heard, or helpful tools I found on the web. If you were a fan, you might have missed it when I discontinued it. Well, weep no more; the Shrink’s Links is back; but to find them, you’ll have to go on Twitter.

If you subscribe, you’ll get a more intimate access into parts of the inside of my writerly head. No, not everything I ever think; I’ll still rope off large parts of my brain for privacy; but you’ll see me at the moment of inspiration, when I encounter a concept, play with a tool, or conceive a metaphor, long before the gestation period is complete, and the blog post is born. You may also be inspired.

I’m always leery of getting caught by the addictive properties of social media. You should be, too. My rules are:

  1. Prioritize the rest of life over social media.
  2. Turn off notifications and go on no more than once or twice a day.
  3. Set a timer when you go on. Get off when the timer goes off.
  4. Never go on just before bed.
  5. Don’t squander time on crap.

I’ve found that by adhering to these rules, I’m able to utilize social media to learn new things and increase my visibility without wasting time and pissing off my family. They may work for you, too.

The address is @theshrinkslinks. See you there.