The Counselor's Bookshelf:
The Counselor's Bookshelf:
I've been thinking a lot lately about sharing. Not the kind of sharing we teach our children when they cling to their toys. I mean sharing less tangible, but equally substantial, pieces of ourselves. I'm talking about sharing our thoughts, personal stories, histories, and identities.
I listen to a lot of podcasts (The Moth, Death, Sex and Money, Modern Love to name a few) where people share their personal stories with large audiences. I listen to so many of these stories that it seems completely normal that someone would want to express themselves in this way. Then I find myself in a position to share something personal about myself and I get scared. Sometimes really scared. Why? Because sharing our histories, our viewpoints and our values is a deeply vulnerable thing to do. We are social creatures and we share without knowing how our most personal perspectives will be received.
If you think about stage fright, fear of public speaking and any other social anxiety, it doesn't make sense why the brain's fear center would fire when physical safety is almost entirely guaranteed. And yet, we can all relate to the quickening of the heart, the flush of heat to the face and the sweaty palms that go along with taking social risk. Remember the first time you asked someone out on a date?!
On Edge: A journey through anxiety by Andrea Petersen is a fantastic merging of personal narrative and journalism. As someone who is fascinated by anxiety (for both personal and professional reasons) I gobbled this book up in a matter of days. As I was reading, I was continually impressed with the author's candor in sharing her personal experience with the world. And I was grateful. It is through sharing our deepest selves that we risk rejection, and also where we find connection. As I read her book I felt resonance with her struggles and her triumphs. In sharing a piece of herself, she has given a world of people companionship in suffering from one of life's most isolating and painful conditions. If you want to feel less alone in your anxiety, and understand it better from a scientific perspective, this book will be a resource and a balm.
Here's an excerpt:
Fear ambushes me.
It is early on the morning of December 5, 1989. At least early for a college student, which is what I am. A sophomore at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a bucolic campus of creaky A-frame houses, earnest politics, fraternity sweatshirts, and dollar pitchers of beer...
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 love beautiful things, especially beautiful art, so I get excited at calendar buying time (aka, December). It's a chance to purchase 12 prints of images I like and hang them on my wall to enjoy throughout the year. Usually I try to stick to one or two calendars I hang in my home and office... but this year, I found myself buying a third. This one, Nikki McClure's 2018 offering, had to come home with me. I'll tell you why: The art is beautiful and inspiring; but more than that, the words chosen as a theme for each month remind me of what I do, daily, in my therapy practice. (Click on the calendar image to follow a link to Nikki's website).
Here are my thoughts on each month's theme:
January: RECTIFY- We repair our mistakes, apologize, make right what we made wrong. We let other's know where they have harmed us. We heal our relationship with ourselves, halting self criticism and embracing a more loving way of relating to our experiences.
February: RENEW- We let go of what is over, set free what needs releasing, and clear out our closets to make room for the new. We forgive. We shed our skin so our new, bright, shiny coat can be seen. We plant seeds, dream, scheme and find inspiration in life's incessant insistence on creation.
I can't remember how I heard about this book. I think it showed up while searching online for something else. Regardless, I bought it on a whim and put it on my Books-To-Read pile. When I finally picked it up, I was hooked by the first page. In honest, compelling, and remarkably lucid language, Keira Van Gelder tells the story of her evolution from self-proclaimed "mentally ill, suicidal drug addict" to grounded, self-aware, hopeful, connected woman. The book is sometimes fun to read, and sometimes hard. She doesn't pull any punches as she shares candidly about suicide, self-harm, anger, depression, overwhelm, broken relationships and powerlessness. Her experience navigating the mental health system is challenging, and even harrowing, until she finally finds a diagnosis, treatment center, and modality that fit her needs. Most importantly, Keira's story shines a very human light on the possibility for recovery from one of the most feared and stigmatized mental illnesses: borderline personality disorder.
Here's an excerpt:
In DBT group Simon explains that emotions serve a purpose. "Despite how horrible they feel or how much trouble they seem to cause, they do important things for us: They communicate. They motivate. They self-validate. They give our lives richness and meaning." As the season turns, I try to find meaning in my intense loneliness without concluding that I'm a pathetic loser. My work at the office remains steady, challenging, exhausting, and occasionally satisfying. My walks to work become my mindfulness practice.
I recently stumbled upon this article by Carolina Gonzáles in the On Being blog. It talks about the decision to have children, or not, and also about the roles we play in our extended families given those decisions. She looks at assumptions we have about what the nuclear family consists of in the United States, and in her native country of the Dominican Republic where family lines extend well beyond the immediate family. We are moving out of a period in history when having children is expected if you have a partner and the biological ability, and into one in which we can choose to be parents, to adopt, foster, or otherwise play supportive roles (or not) in the lives of the next generation. I appreciate this thoughtful, expressive and honest piece about the bittersweet nature of the decisions we face today, and the ways we can and can't be there for each other as we create 21st century families.
Here's an excerpt from Carolina's essay:
In mainstream U.S. culture, aunts and uncles have no special status. The focus is on the sanctity of the nuclear family, with some indulgence granted to grandparents and their doting.
I recently came across a collection of letters to The Atlantic in which people shared their experiences with anxiety. Readers were prompted to write after the magazine published an article by Scott Stossel, author of the 2013 book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind. I read this book a few years ago and found it to be exceptionally good. It reads like an encyclopedia entry/memoir hybrid. He artfully melds research, history, and anecdotal musings from famous people with his own challenging and inspiring personal story. I'll do a blog post on this book soon- it's one I recommend.
In the meantime, I'm sharing this collection of letters to The Atlantic because they are a beautiful expression of the ways we experience anxiety in our lives. Anxiety is a tenacious, idiosyncratic, sometimes agonizing, other times energizing, and often downright baffling malady. It affects each of us in different ways and the stories that come out of our experiences are diverse. I hope this will help you feel less alone in your own struggles. Check it out HERE.
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:
Tattoos on the Heart is one of my favorite books of all time. The authenticity, clarity, humility and compassion that Father Boyle brings to his work with Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles, is deeply moving and inspiring. I cried and laughed equal amounts as stories of loss, hardship, courage and profound transformation flowed seamlessly from one to the next.
Here's an excerpt:
I'm working at my desk one day, eyes pouring over something. You know how you can feel when two eyeballs are staring at you. I look up and it's Danny. He's a short, chubby ten-year-old who lives in the projects and is one of the fixtures around the office...
Lately, as I have felt pummeled by the rapid fire news coming from all corners of the Earth, a sense of sadness and powerlessness arises in the face of the enormity of the problems we face. It is at moments like these that I am finding myself, more and more, soothed and supported by the words and images of poets, artists, philosophers and otherwise authentic, engaged and deeply feeling human beings who grapple with these issues. Their ability to find peace, love and possibility woven into challenge reassures my worried heart. John Donohue was one of these people. Here are some excerpts from one of his last interviews ever, with Krista Tippett of On Being:
I mean I think that — and it’s the question of beauty, I mean you’re asking, essentially — as we are speaking, that there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they’re able to sustain it, because there is, in them, some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way...
The Counselor's Bookshelf:
Sharing the books, articles, podcasts, and other resources I'm drawing from personally, and in my work as a counselor.