How Often Do You think: “I Just Want To Be Happy“
…only to keep feeling crappy (or worse)?
Ready for meaningful change?
I can help you.
Imagine the feeling of having new tools, skills, and creative, solution-focused resources to confidently navigate the living & loving challenges of your present.
Imagine beginning to free yourself of the hurts, burdens, and repeating patterns rooted in the past.
Imagine (re)-discovering who you really are and starting to co-create the future you desire.
Imagine real change that lasts.
Questions? Want to feel sure about working together before committing? Book a FREE 30-40 MINUTE CONSULT (phone, video, or in-person) now.
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Call (615) 915 3892 today or fill out the form below.[And scroll down for a “deep dive” into my thinking on therapy, change, life…]
“We cannot live better than in seeking to become better”
Therapy is about many things. Ultimately, it’s about possibilities.
As in the possibility of not only feeling but becoming better; of making changes that last; of being seen for who you really are, and creating a life so rich it resembles an [imperfectly unique] work of art.
All possible. Is it not?
The many amazing transformations I’ve witnessed over 20 years doing therapy makes that an easy yes for me.
From releasing old fears to making peace with something long unresolved, or cultivating the courage to say “no” once and for all…to a deeper capacity for healthy intimacy and more meaningful work– all the way to literally saving our own lives. With the right guide and a readiness to engage, the possibilities are virtually limitless.
But we have to start where we are…
Usually, it’s that point where we can no longer ignore what’s happening in our lives, our relationships, our innermost thoughts and emotions. The point where we must start moving towards what we’ve been turning away from, as opposed to “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” as the saying goes.
Beginning can be the hardest part, not knowing what will happen or if it’ll help. With all the unknowns, it takes faith and courage, for sure. To start therapy is to enter new and difficult territory.
But not alone.
Having traveled the path many times, experience (both personal and professional), knowledge and wisdom (not the same!), effective empathy (both cognitive and emotional), intentional presence, flexibility, creativity, curiosity, imagination, humor, humility, keen perception, sharp intuition, and other traits and competencies are the therapist’s tools-of-trade.
This is more about who a therapist is than what they do, or how they do it.
Being in capable and compassionate hands helps dissolve self-doubt, encourages healthy risk, and illuminates the path forward. More often than not, when all aligns, we quickly find ourselves leading the way. And what we can do in the process of therapy, we can do in the process of life.
We need only to intentionally decide to begin. Intention is the seed containing within it the whole of what we’re seeking.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu).
This decision is that step.
Therapy is like polishing a diamond. Initially, we may need help just believing (or remembering) that we even possess a diamond– an Immortal Diamond, to borrow a phrase from author Richard Rohr.
That diamond is, of course, our Self. The real us.
Once we see it for ourselves, we can learn to clean it, care for it, and not neglect it. Then we can appreciate its beauty, and value.
Then polish, and polish, and polish some more…
THE WAY OUT IS THROUGH
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”
F. Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby)
“If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
There are some poignant sayings about grief and loss. One is that there’s no way around grief, only through it. The upshot being, the cure for grief is to grieve.
(Simple truths pack a punch).
But this wisdom pertains to more than grief. It’s basically a prescription for human struggle in any form.
Summoning the courage to simply acknowledge a problem, in whatever form it may be taking, is always task one. (Seeing as you’re reading this, mission accomplished).
And in getting this far, we’re probably beyond the point of total reliance on things that have offered only temporary relief (denial, people-pleasing, isolation, drinking, shopping, television…).
Realizing the need for change has come, on some level, we also probably know it means work. This itself can be distressing. I’ve been there.
Enter: Shame (aka “the master emotion”).
Shame is that underlying, insidious, sometimes overwhelmingly dominant feeling that we’re fundamentally not okay.
It tends to kick in hard when on the verge of accepting that we can’t handle or change something alone. Why? Because many of us have been well-conditioned to think we “should” be able to handle most everything on our own, without help. This reflects a much deeper problem in our culture, and hints at the universality of shame.
(More on that later).
But letting shame stop us from doing what we know is necessary robs us of a precious opportunity. It keeps us in the dark where it only grows, limiting both our potential and the possibilities.
It may help to know, as shame researcher and noted author Brene’ Brown puts it:
“We are not our shame. It’s not who we are. It does not even belong to us.”
Therapy helps us begin to see shame (and other bogeymen) for what it really is.
Many things in life we can let go on our own. With other things, there’s no easy out. No bypass. Such things force us to shift our perspective from symptom-problem to challenge-opportunity. For it’s only in getting through them that we’ll grow.
There is wisdom at work here.
Can we trust it?
“The cure for pain is in the pain”
There are some indispensable things I’ve learned as both receiver and facilitator of psychotherapeutic work.
One of them is a basic reality of human nature. It’s also one of the biggest obstacles to change and growth we all face…
We are hard-wired to avoid pain.
As in, wired to try to prevent however we can the pain that results from difficult or traumatic events and the unpleasant emotions they’ve imprinted upon us. It’s human nature.
We all know how to defend, deny, distort, rationalize, minimize, distract, suppress, repress, dissociate, or project it outward when we get too close to pain (or it gets too close to us).
Quite a toolbox at our disposal!
We’re also socially conditioned to avoid leaning into the memory of a once painful event, naturally fearing it will hurt as much or worse than it did when it happened. And the fear of what we think something means about us (the meaning we’ve assigned to an event) is often enough to cause us to keep turning away from ourselves and our emotions at all costs.
In short, these are reasons why we develop symptoms. And, why we suffer.
“A terrifying symptom is usually your greatest dream trying to come true.”
-Dr. Arny Mindell
The good news is that while working to understand how past experience has helped shape who we are today (an essential part of any good therapy) it’s not always necessary or productive to go back and dredge through the muck repeatedly.
To do so can be like sharpening the knife on the stone too many times.
When we do unpack experiences that were painful in therapy, we do so safely, skillfully guided by sound therapeutic principles and grounding methods, with a focus on developing a meaningful narrative. In so doing, we come to understand our past, liberate the present, and empower our future– actually rewiring our brain in the process to move us towards greater security and vitality, within ourselves and our relationships.
Therapy can be hard at times. But we do not have to become re-injured all over again in the process. That’s definitely not the purpose!
And that’s important. Because it’s in facing and learning from past painful events and unearthing our conditioning–within the safety of affirming therapeutic connection– that we can activate our inner resources to begin to thrive.
Then our pain can become just something else we’ve experienced, instead of who we (think we) are.
Point being, we all have various hardwired evolutionary strategies to protect us from feeling pain, and help us manage it. But as Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul points out:
“If you are always doing something to avoid pain, then pain is running your life…any behavior pattern based upon the avoidance of pain becomes a doorway to [reinforcing] the pain itself.”
We do need– have needed– protections and defenses. They’ve helped us get by – emotionally, psychologically, sometimes physically.
Walls keep us safe. But they can also keep us trapped.
Therapy helps us understand the difference.
By early adulthood, I think we all have at least a faint awareness that with living and loving comes a certain degree of pain inevitability. The nature of human existence, no?
Pain in all its forms, including grief and fear– up to a point– can be necessary agents of growth in our lives; signals.
To begin accepting this, to safely become acquainted with it, slowly relaxing the impulse to avoid, finding new and better methods of coping in emotionally literate ways– to cultivate the character qualities, emotional patterns and habits of mind that enable us to transcend the catastrophes of life, from personal heartbreak to professional crises, and emerge not only unbroken but more whole…
This is radical resiliency. And it’s about as close to bulletproof— pain proof– as we can get.
If psychotherapy had but one universal aim, this might pretty well be it.
Vitality > Pain.
Does this triumph of vitality over pain– of thriving over surviving– happen for everybody?
No. it doesn’t.
There are many reasons why any process of growth and change can fail to deliver. No two people respond to any treatment the same way. That’s one. Sometimes, it’s to do with the person guiding the way. Plain and simple. In therapy there can be an organically poor “fit” between a therapist’s and an individual’s personality, or their philosophy/approach and an individual’s needs.
This is why it’s a good idea to at least talk with a few therapists before deciding. Gut feeling is key, as is how much perceivable humanity and presence the therapist brings to the process. (In the end, this is likely what will be remembered most).
Therapy can also be an uphill battle against another universal, hard-wired tendency– to see things as we are, not as they are, as ancient wisdom taught.
Dale Carnegie illustrated it thus:
“Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.”
To the degree that we are fused with the “story” of our pain– convinced we are our pain (over-identified with it)– at worst, clinging to the idea that there’s no us (Self) without it… then, in truth, nothing may be able to free us. In other words, if we truly believe we are the problem, then getting rid of the problem is akin to getting rid of you!
Fortunately, when we de-familiarize, or dis-identify with a dysfunctional pattern or story, it becomes easier to separate from it. And we can therapeutically reframe “pain stories” in a number of different ways.
So let’s be… Possibilists!
A highly qualified therapist + a strong desire to change, risk, grow…to see things as they are with new eyes puts the odds squarely in our favor.
TO HEAL, FOR REAL
“We do not receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us, or spare us.
Most of us come to therapy when the crap hits the fan– a job loss, a relationship crisis, a panic attack, worsening depression, a habit that’s become compulsion, or some other collision with something or someone that feels too much to handle alone.
Understandably, we may come in feeling desperate for “an answer.” A tool or technique we can apply to everything; an all-purpose salve for our predicament…
In beginning my own journey this is what I wished for.
What I received was far more profound.
Answers, I came to realize, are to be searched for within the problem itself (see Rumi quote above). Once we have an intuitive sense of that, and learn to begin trusting our own inner knowledge and resourcefulness, we can start to clarify and resolve all kinds of problems of living and loving, in more creative and effective ways.
But at the outset, we might be less than invested in this kind of process. We may care little about developing a complete understanding of our issue, about self-knowledge, or exploring how things got so bad or why they keep becoming so.
And who could blame us? Life is complicated enough. We just want change.
That’s why we need to know this:
True, lasting change requires that we truly heal.
We can make changes without healing, this is true. But have you noticed they don’t all last?
Problems in living and loving– those that have gone unresolved despite our efforts– those that are patterns in our lives, exist for reasons. They have roots.
Often, until we expose the source of a pattern, what function/purpose(s) it serves, the forces enabling it to continue (often unconscious), as well as what it would mean to disable those forces (exposing our real fears) our patterns usually resurface [in the same or a new form] and repeat…as is the nature of patterns.
Being a depth-oriented process that promotes true healing, psychotherapy helps us identify, understand, and override these patterns. We can then work toward updated, consciously empowered re-decisions, resulting in changes that last.
Take anything we wish to overcome– an oppressive emotional state (depression, anxiety…) a powerfully limiting belief about ourselves (core unworthiness or defectiveness…) distorted perceptions of others or the world (“everyone is against me,” “the world is a hostile place”…) or self-defeating patterns of relating or behaving (addiction, passive-aggression, people-pleasing…) the remedy is simply to begin the healing process.
Simple. But not easy.
Feeling is healing. Speaking of simplicity, it’s really that simple…and that complex!
Emotions are energy in motion. When we stop feeling, our emotions become trapped. If kept there long enough, they will eventually transform into solid form (transmute into dis-ease).The idea here is feelings that cannot find their expression in either words or tears will eventually find an organ and make it sick.
Said another way: Feelings buried alive never die.
We can also look at our emotions as signals– either that a need has been met (i.e. satisfaction, love, enjoyment…) or hasn’t been (i.e. fear, anger, despair…). Signals can get crossed of course, but our emotions, especially those that we routinely encounter, are still a good guide to what is lacking in our life.
Depending how much emotional pain we have accumulated, how much imbalance it has thrust us into, and how this is expressing in us, healing on levels beyond the emotional/psychological/interpersonal– including physiological (nutritional, metabolic, endocrine, immunological) and, if we’re so inclined, spiritual (etheric, energetic, vibrational) may be required.
Because it’s all connected. And this isn’t just mystical hippie wisdom. Modern neuroscience is continuously confirming it.
This doesn’t mean we must tend to each area simultaneously. That would be pretty overwhelming to most. Rather, as we make progress in one area, the next greatest need is often revealed by our infinitely wise and inseparable bodymind. It will tell us exactly what we need to know, if we learn to pay close attention.
Therapy helps us listen better for these cues.
Let’s go further…
The word heal comes from the Anglo Saxon root Haelen, which means to make whole.
But healing (as alluded to above) is at once a simply and complex, far from fully understood process, and widely open to interpretation. The very concept of what constitutes a “healthy mind” in fact varies greatly from one culture to another.
There’s actually no agreement within psychology (which literally means the study of the soul) or related fields as to the true nature and causes of psychological disturbance/dis-ease. There’s no consensus as to what healing really means, how it’s facilitated, and why it doesn’t always happen. Each branch of the tree has their own views and methods of trying to arrive at the same somewhat elusive end.
Add to this the numerous cases of well-documented, apparently “miraculous” healing events the world over– including spontaneous remissions of even fatal conditions for which western models have no explanation.
Thomas Edison spoke to this when insisting “We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything.”
Great. We don’t know jack. Comforting, right?
Yet spiritual luminaries and various ancient healing traditions have taught for centuries that our emotions, thoughts, beliefs and intentions directly affect the world we live in. And modern science is catching up. Study after study, experiment after experiment, demonstrates that simple observation (i.e. the observer effect) is enough to have a measurable impact on the physical world.
Herein lies a clue (in the “quantum” sense) as to how and why the participant-observer nature of the therapy relationship is a catalyst for healing. Observation alone is enough to measurably change that which is being observed. Think about that.
Most of us may not experience what we would consider a “miraculous” healing event, either during therapy or otherwise in our lifetime. (Or we might, but may not recognize it as such!). But in setting an intention, entering a healing partnership, and beginning to discover just how much power we actually do posses to effect change in our lives, the seeds of possibility– and change– are planted.
Simply committing to the work while letting go of the outcome (awakening to present-moment awareness) is one of the paradoxical recipes for achieving what we envision. It sets the process into motion.
It cues the Energetic Universe, if you will, to meet us in the middle.
The World’s Great Wisdom Traditions appear to converge, as well, on this singular idea:
The real healer is within.
This is to say, everything we need (to change, grow, heal) already exists– not out there, not in some thing, some place, or any other person… but as untapped potential residing within ourselves.
Here’s the rub. Nothing is capable of healing ourselves for us. We have to do it ourselves. Darkness in whatever form is the boogeyman that comes to teach us our most profound lessons. And since we can’t kill the darkness, we might as well learn to turn our attention and curiosity toward it.
Shadow is part of Self. And Self is part of all.
There is nothing to “fix.” Only listen to. Only to dare to understand.
The question is: Can we cultivate the intention and harness our innate power in the service of self-discovery and growth– to heal for real?
The answer I believe is always yes– if we truly desire it, are willing to allow it, and work for it. Willingness, it seems, is the prerequisite for all healing.
But it can’t happen alone, in a vacuum.
This is where a good psychotherapist can come in handy.
WHAT THE BLEEP DO THERAPISTS KNOW?
“Life itself still remains a very effective therapist”
Here are some thoughts on what makes for a truly qualified therapist, why therapy is (still) the road less traveled, and the role of the therapist in modern culture.
It’s generally accepted that therapy is rooted in connection. We’re wired for, and can only thrive within, a state of secure attachment. The therapeutic relationship, overlapping with the more universal territory of how to be profoundly present in any important relationship, can help us get there.
And being a relationship (albeit a unique kind) it often involves experiences of genuine warmth, spontaneity, celebration, joy, and laughter…
At the same time, doing therapy is serious business. It’s laden with risk and unpredictability, even in the hands of a highly skilled and self-aware practitioner.
So we should take care in choosing a well-trained, clean licensed (infraction-free), experienced guide.
These things are fairly easy to verify.
What we also need when entrusting another with our entire psyche is someone deeply committed to practicing what they preach. Someone who does their absolute best to live it. Only then we can place complete trust in the guide to confidently and safely navigate whatever the process brings up, for all involved.
It might be tempting to think of therapists as wise old owls who just sort of magically have it all together, or else make their own healing and growth top priority. But to assume either is hazardous.
This is not so easy to verify. There’s no credential that guarantees any therapist looks within themselves fervently and consistently enough so as not to confuse (or worse, act out) their own bogeymen with those they’re entrusted to help.
This is the critical “behind the scenes” work of being a therapist. Rigorous self-reflection, depth-oriented personal therapy/mentorship, clinical supervision, and other ongoing growth-oriented self-care practices. But not all training programs encourage these. Some schools of therapy training place no focus on this whatsoever.
Bad therapy; harmful therapy, in most cases, can be reduced to this gross oversight.
The truly qualified therapist is a committed inward traveler. Knowing they are the primary tool of their trade, they approach their work from the inside out. Like good athletes, they’re spontaneous, adventurous, courageous. But not reckless. They’re not gamblers. The risks are too great.
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society”
The path of therapy is one of self-development, self-knowledge, self-compassion, and awakening. For sure, it’s the road less traveled.
You may have noticed there’s still a profound lack of cultural acceptance – a suspicion even – surrounding the need for help and the pursuit of self-improvement, of the emotional and psychological variety especially (self-help movement notwithstanding). This social culture of taboo still trends toward quiet devaluation of much of inner human experience.
Emotional literacy is still far from the household term it should be.
Legitimate suffering, engaging our emotions, being okay as we are, seeking self-knowledge, questioning status quo values, and almost any form of self-expression that runs too far afield from “norm” all still tend to cue the societal sideways glance.
We’re conditioned instead to fear, conform, suppress, to manufacture and live out idealized images of who we think we “should” be. Today more than ever we’re seduced into substituting virtual contact for real relationship, numbing out on celebrity, 24-hour fear-generating “news” cycles, and other endless forms of diversion and distraction from what really matters. And from who we really are.
Studies show social media can amplify both insecurity and narcissism, leading to a warped sense of self esteem. It can also rather brutally reveal the depth of users emotional neediness, because it’s so irresistibly easy to trawl for praise and reassurance.
The price? For many, it’s digital addiction-fueled discontent…disillusionment…disconnection… disharmony… and other “dis-es.” Basically, emptiness.
And this is merely scratching the surface of the cultural and environmental conditions directly affecting our personal power and capacity to awaken, not to mention fulfilling our potential.
To the extent that our potential is not being realized, we’re in a state of alienation from our own minds, from our truest selves, from making real contact with others, and manifesting what our lives could truly become.
Much of this boils down to shame on the grand scale. And we’re all affected, however subtly, no matter how immune we think we are. Therapists included.
Maybe this is why Ralph Waldo Emerson said “To be yourself in a world that’s constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
A qualified therapist lights the way on the road less traveled (their main road), acutely aware of the empty promises and trappings of the modern world and it’s contributions to our condition. He or she helps us awaken– insofar as they strive to see things as they really are, remaining awakened themselves.
But what the bleep do therapists know?
ONE INSULAR TAHITI
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”
There’s a place inside us that’s infinitely whole. Pure, innocent, full of love.
The great spiritual traditions speak of it as essence, original nature, or seat of consciousness. Psychology does too, but by different names, like Self.
The idea is that whatever damage we’ve incurred, and however disconnected we may have become from our Self, this wholeness remains– untouched, intact, and awaiting contact…
How do we know when we’re really in, and are responding from our Self?
Richard Schwartz (founder of an approach to therapy called Internal Family Systems) describes it as a distinct quality of openhearted presence, characterized by “The 8 C’s”:
Calm, Confidence, Connectedness, Creativity, Compassion, Clarity, Curiosity, Courage.
Therapy promotes and helps enhance these qualities by (re) introducing us to our Self.
In the classic novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville says:
“…There is in the soul of man, one Insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known [lived] life…”
Drink that in a minute.
It makes me recall the late great psychologist, author, and spiritual teacher, Dr. Wayne Dyer.
Dyer frequently referred to this striking passage, imploring us to make contact with this place he viewed as our source of inspiration as he compassionately cautioned against the ultimate tragedy:
Dying with our music still in us.
Many of us come to therapy with at least a faint awareness that we haven’t really been living, or an increasing anxiety about getting to the finish line gobsmacked by “What If’s?” or “Why Didn’t I’s?”
How do we escape the horrors of the half-lived life, and manage not to die with our music still in us?
Truly, there are infinite ways. Find a passion that won’t shut up. Militantly follow it wherever it leads. That’s one.
Simple… but not so easy!
It takes conviction. The kind born of cultivating genuine curiosity.
To help awaken curiosity and conviction, and inspire others to passion-driven action as if one’s life depends on it (it does) is one of my passions.
Can you hear your music?
Have you experienced your Insular Tahiti?