acceptance

The View from the Therapist's Chair: A Review of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb

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There’s an old adage in the therapy world that therapists are best equipped to help others walk through difficult experiences when we’ve done our own therapeutic work. It can seem strange to imagine your therapist getting help, but the truth is that many of us do. And when we do, it makes us better at helping others.

Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist who entered the field later in life. While she was a therapist in private practice, she ran into her own personal issues and decided it was time for her to seek out therapy for herself.  This is the story of her parallel process: what she was experiencing in her own therapy and personal life and how those were impacted by what was happening in her sessions with her patients.   

As a therapist myself, this book resonated with me deeply.  In some ways, it felt like my own personal diary.  Hearing her walk through her struggles and describe them in clinical language that is familiar to me from grad school helped me to relate even more deeply to the story.  This book reminded me of things I know but often forget about my field of work and practicing psychotherapy.

At the same time, there were elements that were tough and challenged me as a therapist.  Reading this book helped me humbly reconsider the way I approach therapy and run my sessions.

Whether you are currently in therapy, are considering beginning now, or are a therapist who is hoping to begin your own journey through therapy, I’d recommend taking a glance at this book.  Here are a few of my takeaways.

Good therapists are self-aware enough to seek out their own therapy when needed.

We all go through difficulties in life and moments of grief or trauma, including therapists.  Therapists especially need of extra support because we are holding the pain of the stories of the people we help. 

What therapists learn from their own experiences in therapy informs their work with you.  You can often feel it in how they hold themselves in sessions.  In fact, I recommend you ask your therapist if he or she does their own therapy to find out this fact.

Most of our problems boil down to relationships and connection (or lack thereof) with others.

Think about what you seek out help for in therapy.  How many of those issues are directly or indirectly related to relationships?  The therapeutic relationship becomes essential in healing when you realize this fact. 

Your therapist likely genuinely loves and cares for you.  You share a lot of vulnerable parts of your story with them, which invites intimacy.  I feel that way about my own clients.

The therapeutic relationship also provides a corrective process to “repetition compulsion.” Repetition compulsion involves looking to receive love in the same way you did from parents as a child, even though it may have been abusive or harmful, because that feels normal.  Therapy can teach you that it feels good to be cared for and loved in a healthy way.

Good work in therapy is slower than you might expect.

Patience is a skill that is both developed by participating in psychotherapy and also needs to continue developing as healing happens on its own timeline.  You’ll take many small steps toward health over a long period of time.  Gottlieb says, “A supervisor once likened doing psychotherapy to undergoing physical therapy.  It can be difficult and cause pain, and your condition can worsen before it improves, but if you go consistently and work hard when you’re there, you’ll get the kinks out and function so much better.”  Each of those small steps or transformations has a big impact. 

Most big transformations come about from the hundreds of tiny, almost imperceptible, steps we take along the way.
— Lori Gottlieb

Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerabilities.

Gottlieb says that patients often put on their best faces in therapy when what psychotherapists want is to see the real, human parts of who you are.  We want to see what’s not working, and that usually means you’ll have to engage with uncomfortable feelings and face the parts you’re hiding in the process. 

In a story Gottlieb shares about her own therapist, she says that his eyes communicate a clear message to her. “In this room I’m going to see you, and you’ll try to hide, but I’ll still see you and it’s going to be okay when I do.”  This is the essence of a strong therapeutic relationship, and it is what I aim for. 

I expect that there will be resistance in therapy: lying, posturing, hiding parts of yourself.  You’re going to be trying to maintain an illusion, and my goal is to break through it.  It’s okay if you resist this process: it can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Recognize the resistance when it comes, and be willing to talk about it.

Acceptance is the key to healing.

This book explores the concept of acceptance in depth.  She learns to accept the fact that she doesn’t always know why she does what she does.  Not everything will end with a neat and tidy bow, because that isn’t realistic.  In therapy, you’ll learn how to recognize and accept feelings, including anger, and what lies underneath those emotions.  You’ll come to understand your resistance, avoidance, and hesitancy.

You’ll learn about how you picked up coping mechanisms to survive when you were younger that may no longer be the best choice for you.  What are you using to protect yourself and avoid reality?  Instead of being afraid and denying these things, accept that they are there and be curious about what they have to teach you.

One pattern I notice in clients is that they beat themselves up for feeling pain when they compare their lives to how difficult others have it around the world.  If you have this thought, realize that it is not fair to you and not fair to your experience of pain to compare like this.  Gottlieb repeats several times in this book that, “There is no hierarchy of pain.”  What you’re facing is what you’re facing, and it’s affecting you differently than it would anyone else.  It’s fruitless to compare it to someone else and come up feeling bad about yourself for hurting.

You are the one doing the work of therapy.

Therapy is about a series of small steps you take to heal.  I, or any other therapist for that matter, can’t do this work for you.  It would actually hurt you if I tried.  I can’t save you – you need to learn to come to your own rescue.  I can’t make choices for you, and you’ll find that I often counter requests for advice with further questions.  Giving advice hurts rather than helps: you need to come to your own decisions. 

This book taught me to be more reflective about what happens in my sessions with my clients and to integrate who they are as a person into what causes distress for them.  When I have a good understanding of who is sitting across from me, I can allow them to do the hard work of therapy and simply gently guide them in the direction.

Rather than steering people straight to the heart of the problem, we nudge them to arrive there on their own, because the most powerful truths – the ones people take the most seriously – are those they come to, little by little, on their own.
— Lori Gottlieb

And finally, learn to be kind to yourself.

As Gottlieb reminds us, “Most of what we say to ourselves we’d never say to people we love or care about, like our friends or children.  In therapy, we learn to pay close attention to those voices in our heads so that we can learn a better way to communicate with ourselves.” Practice kindness toward yourself by changing the words you use to speak to yourself into ones you might share with a loved one instead.

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Are you interested in trying out therapy for the first time?  Have you had a hard time understanding the purpose of therapy and how it works?  Have you read this book and become curious about therapy for yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer individual and couples therapy to help you begin to heal.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

How Do I Stop Myself? Seven Ways to Cope with Triggers of Addiction

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Andrea is walking through the mall when she hears a familiar sound playing through the speakers.  She can’t quite make it out at first, but she notices a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.  She stops in her tracks and listens, finally making out the melody.  It hits her – this was the song she and one of her previous affair partners had called “their song.”  Flooded with emotions of fear, anxiety, longing, and dread, she turns on her heel and exits the mall at close to a sprint.

What Andrea experienced in that moment is what therapists who specialize in addiction treatment call a “trigger.”  Often sensory memories, such as the taste of a delicious meal, the smell of perfume, or seeing a beautiful view can remind you of fond memories.  However, for addicts, triggers like these can bring back thoughts, memories, or feelings that have to do with the addiction.  These triggers often cause an immediate, visceral response in the addict.  This response can be accompanied by reminders of the drug of choice.  Triggers become particularly impactful when the addict is facing stress.

If you often find yourself in a spot where you’re feeling triggered, what can you do about it?

While the ultimate goal of recovery from addiction involves identifying triggers and planning for them ahead of time, as well as reducing the effects they have, you may come across a time where you are triggered unexpectedly and wondering how to handle the ensuing emotions and memories.  Here are some ideas of what to do:

Stop and ask yourself the question: “Do I want to get well?” 

Marnie Ferree, in her book No Stones, references the story in the Bible recorded in John 5 of a crippled man who had been waiting at the healing pool of Bethesda to wash himself in the waters.  When Jesus approaches him to heal him, He first asks him this question: Do you want to get well? 

Marnie names this as the most important question for recovering addicts, adding, “Your recovery will depend on how you answer this question on a daily basis.  Your yes will simplify many of the choices you’ll have to make.  Let your vision of sobriety and healing motivate and encourage you."

Questioning yourself in this way is a technique that comes from the theory of motivational interviewing, which has been shown in some studies to change a nicotine addict’s response to the trigger of tobacco.  It helps you to connect with the delayed consequences of your actions, rather than just being caught up in the immediate gratification that addictive behavior gives.

Practice quality self-care.

In our driven and self-motivated culture, self-care strategies are very often pushed to the side or forgotten about completely.  In fact, lack of self-care can a contributor to addictive behavior, as cravings are often worsened by stress or a desire to escape from the realities of life.

While self-care can include such activities as exercise and journaling, a self-care strategy that is particularly potent for fighting back against addiction is gratitude.  Practicing gratitude helps to slow the deprivation mentality that accompanies addiction, instead replacing it with joy in response to the good things present in your life.

Practice acceptance.

If you have struggled with addictive behaviors, your brain has been trained to respond to triggers by turning to the addictive behaviors.  Part of the reason this connection is so strong is because often, addictive behaviors met what they promised, even if it was only for a moment. Rather than shaming yourself for that tendency, offer yourself grace and remind yourself that these thoughts are normal for people in recovery.  Remind yourself that you’re re-learning new patterns, and take time to engage in those new patterns right then and there.  Accepting the past and making a choice to live differently puts you in a position one step above the addiction, as you reclaim your power and strength over the behaviors.

Engage with your desires.

Often, the underlying cause of addictive behaviors is a desire to fulfill a legitimate need, but the fulfillment is carried out in a way that is destructive.  The acronym HALT is often used with addiction: that triggers are more likely to affect you if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.  Instead of choosing to run to addiction, take some time to slow down, name the desire (even if it’s just for a delicious meal!), and find ways to meet that desire in a healthy way.  For sex and love addicts, the underlying desire behind addictive behaviors is often intimacy and connection, which is why relationships with others in 12-Step groups or therapy groups can often provide a healthy way to meet that desire.  For Christians, engaging with desire can look like connecting with God in prayer, naming the desires you have, and seeking to trust him with the desires not yet met.

Reach out to your social support.

If you are in recovery, it is important to link yourself up with people who can support you and who know the whole story.  While this support network may begin with just your therapist, your therapist will likely encourage you to join a 12-Step group (like Sex Addicts Anonymous) or support group in order to find others with whom you can empathize and receive help.  If you notice a trigger, call your sponsor or a trusted friend from your support network to be able to talk you through it or be with you in it.  The most effective way to interrupt your addictive cycle is to talk through it with someone.

Take a mindful moment.

Mindfulness helps you to re-center yourself on the present moment, rather than getting caught up in memories of the past or desires for the future.  Practicing mindfulness forces you to slow down, pay attention to your emotions, and acknowledge what you’re experiencing.  It also helps you to identify how your thoughts and actions are being influenced by those emotions.  Take some time to practice this grounding exercise that engages your senses: notice five things you see, four things you hear, three things you can touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste in the environment around you.

Use affirmations to remind yourself of truth.

As you begin to walk through recovery, you’ll realize how your self-image and negative core beliefs about yourself have influenced your behavior as well as your response to triggering events.  Find words that you can repeat to yourself in the moments where you feel weakest that are in direct contrast to the negative self-talk you use in moments where you are triggered.  These statements can be something along the lines of “I am strong enough to overcome this” or “I am loved.”  Scripture can be used as affirmations as well, with verses such as Philippians 4:13 (“I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” NLT) or Psalm 23:1 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” NLT)

 

Ultimately, you will not be able to avoid or eliminate triggers altogether in your recovery from addiction.  You cannot control the sights, sounds, and smells that are around you on a daily basis.  What you can do instead is learn to cope with those triggers and put supports in place so that when you are facing a trigger, you know how to best handle it.

This article was originally posted on April 20, 2017.

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If you’ve been fighting back against triggers toward sex and love addiction for a long time, or if you are realizing you don’t have the support system in place to handle those triggers that come up, we are here to help.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based counseling office that specializes in treating sex and love addiction.  We’d love to help you on your journey of recovery to find freedom and healing from addictive behaviors.  To hear more about how we can support you, give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to contact us.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

How Recognizing Grace Transforms Counseling

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I’ve been a traveling therapist these past few weeks, jetting off around the country for various conferences. Some have been counselor-focused, and others have been for personal growth and healing, because in order to offer the best care I can to my clients, I need experience my own healing.  I sat in on a talk given at a conference by a favorite speaker of mine, Mark McMinn, who taught my graduate school professors and was influential in my educational experience as a result.  He spoke about integrating grace in his counseling sessions and the impact of the message of grace.  This message felt like a personal devotional time of reconnecting with the grace in my own life.

Here were a few reflections I’ve since had from that session.

How do we define grace?

When I first became a Christian, I had no idea what grace meant.  I’m sure I heard sermons about it, read about it in the Bible, and heard other people talk about their experience of grace, but I was clueless as to how it affected me.  It wasn’t until I read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning that the true message of grace sunk in.  I learned that no matter what I did, no matter what mistakes I made, no matter how many times I failed, I could rest in the love that God had for me and know that it was enough.

McMinn talked about grace in this way: Grace is a free gift of love, forgiveness, and God’s favor with no strings attached.  It is above and beyond all we could ever want or need.  There is no hidden agenda or any way we could pay God back for the grace we receive.  It isn’t contingent on how we respond.  It is unconditional and is given to us before we decide to receive it.  It doesn’t make sense.  It changes us.

Ultimately, grace is about believing that I am enough.

In my personal retreat this past week, I engaged with the question of “Am I enough?”  This is a common question we face, and we often answer this question one way or the other based on what we see in our lives.  But what grace tells us is that our actions cannot add to or detract from our fundamental worth and value.  If I am going to experience grace for myself and extend it to my clients, I must rest in the truth that we each have individual and inherent worth and value, and that because of that, we are enough.

Grace allows us to practice acceptance.

As I talked about in an earlier post, there is a surprising freedom that comes as we take stock of our circumstances and give ourselves grace for how we are handling them.  Often we are plagued by the “tyranny of the shoulds,” where we wonder about how we “should” be facing a certain circumstance, or we fret over how our circumstances are not working out as they “should.”  However, the energy spent on “shoulding” all over ourselves and others simply increases our distress.  As a therapist, one of my goals is accept and love you in the middle of your circumstance, offering you grace when you aren’t able to offer it to yourself, with the hope that you will learn the path to offering grace to yourself.

Our values are incredibly important.

While we may accept our circumstances, that doesn’t mean throwing our hands up in defeat.  Accepting our circumstances doesn’t magically fix them. What it does is provide clarity on what actions we can take to move toward our values.  In the urgency of the day-to-day, we can lose sight of the things most important to us.  If you make a list of all the things you value and compare it to your current schedule, you would likely find some inconsistencies.  Identifying and reminding yourself of your values and choosing to act in accordance to them even amidst chaotic circumstances allows you to experience peace.

Addiction treatment is vastly different with an outlook toward grace.

Manning, the author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, suffered from a lifelong pull toward alcoholism.  Alcoholism and addictions of any kind are driven by shame: as the addict feels shame in their life, they will choose to medicate or run away from that shame with addictive behaviors.  However, addressing shame with grace removes the fuel for the fire of addiction.

Resist shame by befriending the thoughts that are plaguing you.  Accept them, normalize them, and allow them to be there while also making decisions based on your values.  Imagine a sex addict feeling the urge to view pornography.  In the moment when she feels that urge, she may experience shame and “should” all over herself, which will lead her to medicate that shame with the most effective tool she has – acting out in her addiction.  With an approach of grace, however, the addict can choose to normalize her urges (“Of course I’m wanting to view pornography, I’m an addict and there’s a chemical imbalance in my brain.”) and then choose to act in a way that is in alignment with her values (“Sobriety is important to me, so I’m going to choose to call my sponsor instead.”)

Grace is humbling and helps us admit we are wrong.

Grace offers us the opportunity to admit that we don’t have it all together.  Over the years, McMinn named that he had adapted his counseling style from one focused more on concrete thoughts and emotions (cognitive behavioral therapy) to a method that involved more mindful awareness and acceptance of the present state of circumstances (acceptance and commitment therapy).  He even wrote a book about the first style of therapy that he admitted to his audience was not in alignment with what he currently practices.  Grace gives us the humility to adapt and change our response.

We develop empathy as we connect with our personal brokenness.  Accepting grace requires us to admit that we are human, that we’ve failed or done wrong or made a mistake.  It makes it easier to forgive others when we see how broken we are ourselves.  Imagine the difference this could make in marriage if couples extended grace to themselves and to one another.  Imagine the effect this forgiveness could have.

Where do you need grace in your life today?  Are you ready to ask for help?

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Are you crippled by shame and addiction in your life?  Does the concept of grace or giving yourself a break feel completely foreign to you?  Are you exhausted with trying to keep up with all the things you “should” be doing?  At Restored Hope, I approach healing with grace in mind.  I offer counseling sessions at my Ann Arbor office to help you begin to extend more grace to yourself and experience a changed life as a result.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear about how I can help.