The Counselor's Bookshelf:
The Counselor's Bookshelf:
I have read a few books lately that I have loved because they are great books, and also because they are under 100 pages. In this era of information abundance I often find myself slipping into information overload. Sometimes I wonder if curiosity, untethered, can be a curse. So much to learn! So little time! Short books, done well, can share a lot of information in doses that are understandable, integrate-able and actionable. Abby Wambach's Wolfpack is a great example of this. She has a simple but powerful message and she shares it clearly and concisely so that we can take it and run.
Abby Wambach is an educator, leader, activist and one of the best professional soccer players of all time. Wolfpack is based on her 2018 commencement speech for the graduating class of Barnard College. The speech is addressed to women, but the message is for all of us.
In the Note To Reader she writes:
Since I identify as a woman, this book is written from a woman's point of view. The leadership ideas, however, are universal.
Recently, on a call with a company hiring me to teach about leadership, a man said, "Excuse me, Abby, I just need to ensure that what you present is applicable to men too."
I said, "Good question! But only if you've asked every male speaker you've hired if his message is applicable to women, too."
She asserts, and I agree, that women have the potential to bring qualities we all need to the table: dedication to working collaboratively and inclusively, commitment to identifying problems and fixing them so that the greatest number benefit, willingness to work incredibly hard to transform failure into achievement and, perhaps most importantly, an alternative to the masculine world view that has so long dominated our leadership. This isn't only about women being in leadership roles, it's about all of us, however we define gender, embracing the feminine perspective so long underrepresented by leadership in our society. Her analogy of the reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park is a descriptive example of the importance of balance in an ecosystem, whether ecological or social.
From the introduction:
As I focused on what I wanted to share with the women of Barnard- a directive to unleash their individuality, unite the collective, and change the landscape- my thoughts turned to a TED Talk I'd watched recently about the wolves of Yellowstone National Park.
In 1995, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone after being absent for seventy years. It was a controversial decision, but rangers decided it was a risk worth taking, because the land was in trouble...
Don't Give Up
I follow the Washington Post on Instagram and this article popped up in June:
This Mom Made a Few Don't Give Up Signs and Planted Them in Her Neighborhood. Soon, The Signs Went Global.
Saddened by talking to a friend about the rise in teen suicides, Amy Wolff came up with a simple idea for helping people find hope and connection: Print lawn signs with inspiring messages. It sounds so simple, and even trite, but it turns out they are helping people by reminding them of the worthiness, strength and beauty, often at the times when they need it the most. On her Instagram feed she shares quotes from people who have been inspired by the signs in their own lives, and those who heard from others what a difference the signs made. Every time one of these posts pops up in my feed I feel the power of the message in my own life and I'm grateful it is being shared in so many places. Isn't it amazing how often we need to be reminded of our own worth, strength and beauty? Internalizing this kind of message isn't a one and done. It's a practice that we must come back to, again and again, as we navigate the rough waters of life.
Follow Don't Give up Signs on Instagram, @dontgiveupsigns and visit the website to learn more, and buy signsm at https://www.dontgiveupsigns.com/
Here are a few posts from Instagram:
“A neighbor who has never spoken to me before in 12 years of living in an apartment next door to our home, who years ago I’d see shaking his head at my political signs as he walked by, walked by my yard a few months ago. I said hello. He said nothing in response, as usual. Then he stopped and said, ‘Is that a suicide thing or something?’ I just said, ‘What, the sign? It could be, or not. Just a reminder that you matter.’ He said, ‘This may sound weird but I wanted to kill myself yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, and walking by your house always gives me a boost.’ I said, ‘I’m glad you’re still here’ as he walked off. I was blown away.” #youmatter From July 31, 2019
Maybe you should talk to someone
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, A therapist, her therapist, and our lives revealed is a guided tour through therapy. Lori Gottlieb invites us into her office to observe the gradual, often subtle, shifts clients make as they spend an hour a week on her couch. But she doesn't stop there. She also invites us to join her at her therapist's office where she shares her own process moving from "presenting problem" (boyfriend dumps her) to becoming a wiser, more forgiving and empowered version of herself.
This book is an easy read. Gottlieb's clear and engaging writing kept me turning the pages even as I neglected my to-do list and stayed up later than I knew I should. Like a master weaver she integrates her clients' stories with her own so that it becomes clear, chapter by chapter, that we are all united in our humanity. She makes it clear that by taking the time to sit with each other in the raw, and often painful place of authenticity, we also have the potential to reap great rewards in the form of greater intimacy, forgiveness and ultimately peace.
Although the book travels through challenging territory, addressing themes of death, traumatic loss, abandonment and abuse, the overall message is hopeful and the book ends with a sense of satisfaction that everyone, thanks to therapy, is a little (sometimes a lot) better off than when they started. While this is not always the case in life or in therapy, and she surely intentionally chose case studies to present that would allow her to end on a positive note, I still finished the book with the overall sense that what we do in the therapy office, whether we are the therapist or the client, has the potential to be deeply transformational for everyone involved.
Here's an excerpt:
This- right here, right now, between you and me- isn't therapy, but a story about therapy: how we heal and where it leads us. Like in those National Geographic Channel shows that capture the embryonic development and birth of rare crocodiles, I want to capture the process in which humans, struggling to evolve, push against their shells until they quietly (but sometimes loudly) and slowly (but sometimes suddenly) crack open...
The Five Invitations
I've spent the past several weeks enjoying a beautiful book by Frank Ostaseski, co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. The Five Invitations: Discovering what death can teach us about living fully reads like a dharma talk, fluidly integrating Buddhist teachings with story telling and gentle reminders to come back to the richness of the present moment, no matter what is happening. He doesn't sugar coat death, promise that everything will be ok, or placate our fears that it won't. He simply reminds us, lovingly and persistently, to use our experiences with death to make the time we are living more rich and meaningful.
From the introduction:
"Life and death are a package deal. You cannot pull them apart.
In Japanese Zen, the term shoji translates as "birth-death." There is no separation between life and death other than a small hyphen, a thin line that connects the two.
We cannot be truly alive without maintaining an awareness of death.
Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most. And the good news is we don't have to wait until the end of our lives to realize the wisdom that death has to offer...
The Voices in My Head
If you read my blog post about SoulCollage®, you won't be surprised to hear that I have been collecting old magazines from family and friends over the past several months. Mostly I just cut out the images I want, but an article in a 2013 issue of Scientific American MIND caught my eye. In Listening to Voices: A student's journey from "normal" to "schizophrenic" and back highlights shortcomings in how our society deals with mental health, Eleanor Longden talks about her experience hearing voices, being diagnosed with schizophrenia, struggling with the treatment offered, and then finding her own way to a kind of mental health that she believes is possible for others experiencing symptoms our medical system often rejects and tries to suppress. By befriending her voices, listening to their (metaphorical, not literal) messages, and integrating their wisdom into what was coming from her "rational" brain, she found healing from trauma and a meaningful connection with her emotions. For those of you familiar with Internal Family Systems, I think you will find her conceptualization of the role of voices in her life to correlate well with the concepts in IFS. The article isn't available for free online, but her TED Talk is. Enjoy.
(Thanks to Ted.com for the above photo of Eleanor.)
A few months into my clinical internship, while a graduate student in mental health counseling, my back started to hurt. Just a little bit. It wasn't the first time my lower back had given me trouble and I brushed it off as a minor nuisance caused by my new therapist lifestyle in which work = sitting all day. I felt confident that a little bit of yoga, stretching and exercise would resolve the issue as it had in the past.
Two and a half years later, after seeing a sports medicine doctor, a DO, an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, engaging in physical therapy and daily stretching, the pain is still here. For the most part it is just a nuisance and it hasn't gotten worse, but it also hasn't gotten better in spite of everything I have tried. I'm still looking for solutions. Certainly stretching and exercise help and for now, I keep those self-directed (and free) exercises on board while I try different things. It occurs to me that I may find the most lasting relief from my own brand of movement therapy that incorporates the most useful of the things I've tried: basic pilates, yoga, stretching, core exercises, and better posture. Maybe a better chair? I'm aware that there may be a psychological component: trauma from breaking my leg twice as a child, attention to the pain leading to cognitive distortions ("my body is weak", "it's my fault I feel bad", "I'll never get better"), and even the possibility that I need to cultivate a sense that the universe "has my back" or I need to "grow a backbone" by cultivating greater confidence. There are a myriad of ways to approach physical health problems and the options can feel both hopeful and daunting.
The last few years have been a great teacher in understanding that, for most of us healing is a journey that we must rise to meet. We are supported along the way by friends, family, and providers, and sometimes the silver bullet arrives in the form of a doctor, a therapist, or another form of healer that cures us completely. More often, however, we spend months and years living in our own bodies and minds seeking our own acceptable degree of wellness.
My husband forwarded me this article by Julia Belluz of Vox the other day. I found it really helpful. She writes that lower back pain is really common and that often solutions are elusive. She has reviewed over 80 research studies and her conclusion, based on their conclusions, is that panacea remedies are hard to come by. Rather, it is a slow process of urging an ever aging body back into alignment, as best we can...
Like a Mother
Like a Mother: A feminist journey through the science and culture of pregnancy might not seem like an obvious book for a mental health themed blog. Or, on the other hand, maybe it does? Maybe it makes a lot of sense. We talk about postpartum depression like it's a discrete thing that happens to some people (yes, men get it too) after a new baby is born. What about the idea that pregnancy, with all of its physiological and psychological effects on the mother, and on the entire family unit, actually causes changes and challenges that exist on a spectrum continually evolving over time. Existential and often paradoxical questions about what it means to bring new life into the world, realities of physical changes in the body, a whole range of psychological experiences (often including many mood states, not just depression) as well as cultural expectations all play into each person's unique experience of growing a family. Also, we need to take into account the harsh truth that pregnancy, birth, and life after can be dramatically different for those who have money and access to resource than for those who are poor, live in under-served communities, and, the statistics on this are clear, are not white. Increasingly we are talking about gender non-binary and transgender people having children in a medical system that does not always understand their needs. All of this will have much to bear on the mental health of the entire family.
After hearing an interview on Fresh Air with Angela Garbes, I decided to buy the book. For some reason, perhaps the tone of the interview, I thought it would be a light and intellectually stimulating read. In the end I actually found reading this book to be both inspiring and fascinating, and also hard. Everything she covers from the dramatic, and sometimes long lasting, physical changes to the mother's body, to the scientific community's inattention and relative lack of funding for this critical aspect of women's health, is eye-opening and intense. She doesn't sugar coat anything, and thank goodness, because what we are left with is a deeply honest look at what creating new life really means. So much of mental health work is about giving people a space to be witnessed and held while sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of human life. It is resources like this book that help us feel less alone when things get weird (or slimy, oozy, sticky and stinky).
The following excerpt is a taste of Garber's writing. It shows how fairly simple and straightforward research helps us identify small interventions that can make huge differences in the lives of new mothers. If you like what you read, give the whole book a go. It will open your eyes, soften your heart, and hopefully help you, and your loved ones, feel less alone in the gritty, visceral, emotional and very human task of giving birth.
In the early 1980s, after fifteen years of working in labor and childbirth, [Penny] Simkin, a physical therapist by training, was considering a career shift.
I'm up for just about any creative activity. I love settling into the groove of stitching, drawing or shaping raw materials into something unique. Losing track of time, getting lost in flow, or generally just being in the moment, feels so good. And yet, in all of my crafty years, I never got into collage. Except for a few exceptions (I've made some pretty cool multi-media journals that I might write a blog post about some time), I have mostly stayed away from collage.
I always thought of collage as a free-form activity where you just cut stuff out and glue it together and Voila! you have, well, a poster board covered with a bunch of pictures. For projects over the years I have spent time picking out images and fitting them together but in the end, I'm not sure what to do with it. I know I'm simplifying things, and there are probably serious collage artists that are rolling their eyes right now, but I have to admit, this is where I was at.
SoulCollage, developed by the late Seena Frost, a therapist and social worker, in the late 1980s, provides a structure to collage that incorporates all of the things I like about being creative (it's relaxing, intuitive and fun) while adding a depth I didn't expect. This tool, while simple at the surface, offers the possibility of increased self-awareness, validation and inner and outer transformation akin to work done in psychotherapy. SoulCollage is a lifelong process that you can start at any time. Through the process of making a "deck" of 5 x 8 cards- as many as you want - you create a visual and tactile tool that facilitates awareness and integration of emotions, aspects of self, archetypes, and even shadow sides of ourselves that are begging to be acknowledged and validated. (For those familiar with IFS, this is essentially a process of making a visual representation of, and then entering a dialogue with, our parts.)
SoulCollage Evolving is a light read that explains the how-to of this technique clearly and concisely. The book describes the different suits we create in our deck and outlines a technique for speaking through the images so that their wisdom is heard and internalized. Although I recommend reading the book and keeping a copy on your shelf for ongoing reference, I more highly recommend finding a SoulCollage workshop near you to give this process a try in a group setting. I will be completing a SoulCollage facilitator training at the end of August so check back in this fall for facilitated group offerings in the Portland area!
If this blog post piques your interest, let me know! I'd love to talk more about this technique and perhaps collaborate in a shared SoulCollage experience.
My Stroke of Insight
Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD. gave a TED talk in 2008 that went viral. You can watch it HERE if you're interested (it's totally worth the 18 minutes). I watched it around the time it came out and kept thinking about what she said over the years. I knew she had written a book, but I never made a point of reading it until I came across a copy a couple of months ago. Wow. I wish I hadn't waited so long. This book is an incredible personal story of tragedy turned into opportunity. It's also full of surprisingly accessible brain science. Most importantly, it's an invitation to take advantage of what we know about the human brain to make out lives better.
On December 10th, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist, woke up to a find that she was having a rare form of stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. The books details her observations that morning as she loses the function of her left hemisphere and is overwhelmed by having, for the first time in her life, a primarily right-brained experience. She notices that the without the left brain she feels fully in the present moment. The boundaries of her body dissolve and she experiences herself as being at one with everything and the universe. As her left brain's logical capacities come in and out of focus she experiences first hand that the left brain is responsible for linear, logical thinking, while the right brain is responsible for a sense of peace, oneness, and presence. Ultimately she is brought to the hospital and begins a journey of recovery that takes eight years. As it turns out, living entirely in a right brained experience is not realistic in human society- and she finds herself conflicted at times about letting go of that expansive experience. Today, having fully recovered her pre-stroke capacities, she has dedicated her life to sharing the wonders of the two hemispheres of the brain and of using this knowledge to demonstrate how accessible peace and connection are to us if we just choose to quiet our left brain and listen to our right.
This excerpt for the end of the book shares some of the insights Jill gathered from her experience of having the stroke, and of eight years of recovery.
"Having taken this unexpected journey into the depths of my brain, I am grateful and amazed that I have completely recovered physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually. Over the years, the recovery of my left hemisphere skills has been tremendously challenging for many different reasons. When I lost the function of my left brain's neurological networks, I lost not only function but also a variety of personality characteristics that were apparently associated with those circuits of aptitude. Recovering cells of function that were anatomically linked to a lifetime of emotional reactivity and negative thinking has been a mind-opening experience. Although I wanted to regain my left hemisphere skills, I must say that there were personality trains that tried to rise from the ashes of my left mind that, quite frankly, were no longer acceptable to my right hemispheric sense of who I now wanted to be. From both an neuroanatomical and psychological perspective, I have had a fascinating few years.
One day, as I was innocently browsing the internet for something I can't remember now, Jenny Lawson's blog popped up. I knew right away that I had come across something special. She's bold and at times crass. She is completely unafraid of offending you or of grossing you out. She's also incredibly funny and deeply honest about life in this crazy, hard and inspiring world we live in. If you want to read her blog, The Bloggess, click HERE. I ordered her memoir, Furiously Happy, to give her irreverent sense of humor a try, and I loved it. She writes about silly things, and serious things in the same breath. She's honest about her crippling experiences with depression and anxiety, and she is honest about the time she inadvertently crashed a funeral. She merges levity with depth in ways that will make you laugh and cry and feel less alone in your own wild and woolly life.
Here's some advance praise for the book:
Here's an excerpt:
Right now you're holding this book in your hands and wondering if it's worth reading. It's probably not, but there's a $25 bill hidden in the binding so you should just buy it quickly before the clerk notices.
You are welcome.
Furiously Happy is the name of this book. It's also a little something that saved my life.
My grandmother used to say, "Into everyone's life a little rain must fall- rain, assholes, and assorted bullshit." I'm paraphrasing. But she was right. We all get our share of tragedy or insanity or drama, but what we do with that horror is what makes all the difference.
The Counselor's Bookshelf:
Sharing the books, articles, podcasts, and other resources I'm drawing from personally, and in my work as a counselor.