The Counselor's Bookshelf:
The Counselor's Bookshelf:
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...
Full disclosure, I haven't finished this book yet. I'm only on page 87 but I read something on page 68 that I thought was awesome and I want to share it now. For those of you who aren't familiar with Brené Brown and her work, I recommend checking her out. Click HERE and HERE and HERE.
Brené writes, "What I've learned from the research and tried to put into practice in my own life sounds way simpler than it is: Give yourself permission to feel emotion, get curious about it, pay attention to it, and practice. This work takes practice. Awkward, uncomfortable practice." She goes on to describe how she actually writes permission slips for emotions and puts them in her pocket to carry into a meeting, or event, or new situation.
So let's think about this for a minute. What if we could give ourselves permission to feel what we're feeling at any given moment? I give myself permission to feel nervous about giving a presentation. I give myself permission to feel angry about a decision a co-worker makes. I feel guilty about saying no to a friend. Permission granted. I feel anxious for no reason at all. Permission granted.
This doesn't mean we act on those feelings. It doesn't mean we are right and someone else is wrong. It doesn't mean those feelings make sense. It just means that in any given moment, the way we are, what we're feeling, is OK. Acceptable. Respectable.
Once the permission slip is granted and we are able to allow what we're feeling to be what we're feeling, then we need to use our skills to figure out what to do about it. This is where some deep breaths, writing it out, going for a walk, or a myriad of other emotion regulation skills come in. But what Brené captures so simply here is that the first step is always to accept first and work through second. By allowing our emotions first we give them the respect and attention they deserve and we are able to learn the important information they impart.
One of the things I have noticed by practicing this myself is that I often ignore or reject emotions that seem to be contradictory and yet are arising at the same time. For example, I can feel happy AND tired after a positive social experience. If I think happy is the "normal" or "acceptable" emotion to be feeling I may ignore the tired feeling which also needs to be attended to. Here are some examples of ways I've given myself permission to feel everything...
Do you ever get a good idea and then watch it quickly mature and flourish in your imagination? You are reading from your newly published book to an enthusiastic crowd! You are being interviewed on Fresh Air! You are invited to give a TED talk or, if you're a therapist, you see your schedule full of beloved clients whose evolution and growth feels deeply rewarding while your bank account fills with well-deserved inflow of money. When the fantasy fades, you are back where you were when you started: full of good ideas, and with the glow of fruition still a long way off.
There's where you are now, there's where you want to be, and there's everything in between. It's in the space between the dreaming phase and the successful outcome phase where we spend most of our time, and where we can struggle to stay motivated, inspired, and focused. Lynn Grodzki's book, Building Your Ideal Private Practice: A guide for therapists and other healing professionals, offers a bridge between vision and final product. She guides us through the nuts and bolts of advertising, handling money, building an online presence, keeping clients, and other aspects of running a private practice. What is so magical about the book is how she integrates these practical tools with meditations, positive affirmations, and intuitive exercises that help to clarify vision, develop an abundance mindset and engage our creative, passionate, playful sides so often left out of the day-to-day realities of running a business. When I feel stuck, bored, discouraged, or unclear, I open this book and am reminded of the possibilities inherent in each moment, and the practical tools that will help make those possibilities a reality. I highly recommend this book.
Here's an excerpt:
Send Love to Your Practice
Years ago I developed a meditation to enhance therapists' feelings of goodwill and love toward their businesses. I teach this same meditation in almost every presentation or workshop I lead because it does so much good so quickly providing therapists with a quick antidote to fear-based thinking. In the space of the five minutes it takes to complete the meditation, I see therapists make a shift. As they contemplate sending love to their businesses, their faces change. Furrowed brows become smooth, tense jaws lift up into soft smiles, hunched shoulders relax. Here's a written transcript of the meditation. Ask someone to read it to you or make your own tape. Then sit back, listen, and send love to your practice...
I just finished reading Option B: Facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. The book tells the story of the sudden death of Dave Goldberg, Sheryl's husband, and her family's process of rebuilding their lives after. It strikes a nice balance between personal narrative and how-to manual for overcoming hardship and building resilience. Adam Grant's contribution, as a psychologist and educator, rounds out the story by providing research and relevant advice for moving through a period of pain and struggle and reclaiming joy.
One of the tools they talk about is the Three P's. The following excerpt explains how this tool can be useful in getting out of the stuck places our mind takes us in stressful circumstances:
We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P's can stunt recovery:
One of the tools we teach at the outpatient mental health treatment program where I work is G.L.A.D. Here's how it works: When you're feeling sad, depressed, in a rut, discouraged, or find yourself the guest of honor at tonight's Pity Party, give this tool a try.
Come up with at least one example of:
G- Something you're grateful for
L- Something you learned today
A- Something you accomplished today
D- Something that brings you delight
I like this technique because it goes beyond the simple gratitude list, which I can easily scoff at when I'm feeling down. It forces me to reframe my day into experiences and accomplishments that I can take responsibility for (Yes, I DID accomplish something today). It also forces me to move out of focusing on the negative and into a frame of mind where delight is possible.
Here's my GLAD list for today:
The Counselor's Bookshelf:
Sharing the books, articles, podcasts, and other resources I'm drawing from personally, and in my work as a counselor.