In 1968 the Sunday Times announced they would give a prize to the first person to sail around the world, non-stop, alone. The newspaper would make a mint, covering the race. The prize they would give to one out of many who risked their lives, would be a relative pittance. The result was tragedy and a salty adventure tale that illustrates a choice we all make, even us landlubbers. Continue reading
You know what rose colored glasses are, right? People who are said to be wearing rose colored glasses are said to be seeing the world as only pleasant and happy. We scoff at people wearing rose colored glasses. They are naive, sanguine, and overly optimistic. But glasses come in all colors. They all distort your perception.
It’s important to know what color your glasses are, so that you know how you are misperceiving the world and the impact you have on it. The glasses you wear change both how you see the world and how the world sees you. Continue reading →
A man I talked to the other day seldom looked me in the eye. His gestures were not in rhythm with the things he was saying. At times, he skipped half the words in a sentence. Once, he disappeared entirely and went on talking as if we were still together. He seemed oblivious to many things I said to him. His face froze. Reactions were delayed. Was this a bizarre psychotic I was talking to? An individual with autism? Someone with something to hide? No, it was just an ordinary day in an extraordinary time of social distancing. It was what’s called a psychotherapy session thanks to the wonders of telehealth technology.
I’ve got to assume I was just as peculiar to him as he was to me. Continue reading →
You learn a lot quicker from negative experiences than you do from positive ones. The stick is more damaging than the carrot is enticing. There’s a good reason for that. If you get whacked hard enough by the stick, it won’t matter how many carrots you have. But the result is that you will continuously look for bad news, zero in on the negativity, and lose sight of the big picture. You take for granted all the blessings you have, are ignorant of your resources, and blind to grace.
When people come in for counseling, they can often see all their problems very clearly. They can talk for hours about the terrible things that happened to them, the effect the problems have on them, and why they can’t change. They make the same mistakes over and over again and believe that, if only they could feel badly enough about themselves, they would do differently. They don’t. Heaping guilt upon themselves and reproaching others does nothing other than burden them with guilt and anger, it does nothing to free them. Continue reading
Some milieux (the plural form of a fancy French word for social settings) are therapeutic, meaning they bring out the best in people; others bring out the worst. If you need an example of those that consistently bring out the worst, think of a maximum-security prison, a busy highway, the cafeteria of a middle school, or the parents’ bleachers at a basketball game. I wish I could give you a list of settings that consistently bring out the best in people, but I can’t. A home, a marriage, a gathering of friends, a workplace, or a church are all places that could be therapeutic, but often aren’t.
If you want to enjoy the therapeutic properties of a well-functioning milieu, you either have to be very lucky to find yourself in one, or you must create it, yourself. Fortunately, I’ve had a hand in creating a therapeutic milieu or two in my day, so I can tell you how it’s done. For many years, I worked in a program where almost two hundred people with serious mental illnesses and intense addictions came to spend the day together, every day. If we could make that kind of gathering therapeutic, then you should have no problem with yours. Pay attention to the following factors. Continue reading
Ordinarily, I avoid reading books and watching movies that portray head shrinking because I’m careful to maintain a work/life balance. But I couldn’t ignore Eleanor Oliphant. Too many people recommended the novel as a delightful portrayal of someone with serious troubles.
I soon saw they were right, and so was I. Eleanor is truly delightful, but the book did remind me of work. Over my years as a therapist, I’ve sat with dozens of Eleanors and many of them were delightful, too. By Eleanors, I mean disturbed and painfully lonely young women, awkward around people, scarred by horrifying secrets. The world is full of Eleanors. Continue reading
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 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
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
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.