Tag Archives: psychologists

finding your way through grief

grief is not something that i have a lot experience with as a counsellor, so it was interesting to read through psychologist roberta temes’ solace – finding your way through grief and learning to live again. the book’s no-nonsense, empowering tone is set right in the first paragraph of the introduction:

you are experiencing this death in your unique way. your experience is valid for you. your response is right for you, for now. don’t let anyone suggest that you are mourning the wrong way. you are your own expert.

that resonates with me. there was a time when i felt ashamed that my father’s death had not affected me as much as my dog’s did; it would have been lovely to have heard these words.

like any good book about a specific subject in psychology and therapy, the principles used apply to more than just the topic, like this, for example:

trends come and trends go. philosophies are in vogue and out. stop listening to bereavement experts; they will change their minds and what is considered abnormal today will be obligatory tomorrow.

for example, there was a time when experts claimed that you must talk about the death, cry about the death, wail about the death. you were instructed to go directly to a psychiatrist if you were unable to loudly express your grief.

today we know better.

in line with this down-to-earth approach, temes peppers her books with a wide variety of suggestions from people who survived the death of a loved one, for example

suggestions from marion, a dog lover

my pets saved my life. when i couldn’t pull myself out from under the covers for anything else, i did for my pets. i recommend you get a pet or two or borrow on from a friend or a neighbour.

these suggestions are supplemented by people’s stories, told in their own words. i prefer these little biographical vignettes over the long-drawn-out narratives that often spike self-help books. you know the one: “one day, babette walked into my office. she was a tall brunette and worked at a prestigious bank in downtown san francisco. when she took off her jacket, i noticed her well-manicured hands shaking …” etc., etc. so thanks for getting to the point, roberta.

chapter 3 immediately drew my attention: “helping yourself” this is where you can really see roberta temes’ practical, life-affirming approach. the subheadings read

work is therapy
socializing is therapy
organizing is therapy
taking action is therapy
food is therapy
planning is therapy
religion is therapy
writing is therapy
art is therapy
learning is therapy
reading is therapy
sweet moments

she also doesn’t clobber the reader with simplistic “think positive” advice; in fact, in her appendix, where she lists more authors to read – something that i always appreciate in any book – she promises that the list will not contain anything that will estrange readers through overly confident and positive “smugness”.

the last page contains these words:

i wish your days to be filled with kindness and goodness and many reasons to smile. i wish your nights to be filled with secure sleep and sweet peace. i hope you follow a life-affirming path and i wish you a fine life ahead, full of good memories and laughter and love.

blogging yourself home – the books

for the blogging yourself home workshop at MentalHealthCamp, i had referred to a number of books in addition to leon tan’s fabulous article on MySpace and blogging as a form of self therapy.

here they are:

writing from the heart – tapping the power of your inner voice, by nancy slonim aronie

love the friendly, welcoming, comfortable tone of this book. an excerpt from one of the many writing exercises she proposes:

which story in your life do you want to feel on a new level? write a story that begins with “the last time i saw …” write only the first page and leave it. go back later, and don’t censor anything. begin adding to it. be gentle with yourself. no one has to read this but you. each day for two weeks, add to the story. keep everything you write. don’t throw away any of it. save everything; you’ll need it for later. you may need distance to hear some of your best lines. keep writing from your heart. keep coming back to “i”.

writing from the inside out by dennis palumbo

from the jacket:

writer’s block. procrastination. loneloness. doubt. fear of failure. fear of rejection. just plain … fear. what does it mean if you struggle with these feelins on a daily basis? it means you’re a writer.

one of the treats of reading these books is that they are – guess what, well written. often they have intriguing chapter headings, like this one in palumbo’s book: “lately, i don’t like the things i love.” doesn’t that resonate?

with pen in hand – the healing power of writing, by henriette anne klauser

this book is written around klauser’s client’s stories, which really speaks to me. there is very little, “do this, do that” – she simply presents powerful, powerful stories and then comments on how they use simple yet impactful writing techniques. a story that touched me in a special way was by a vietnam vet who after years tells for the first time the tale of surviving the war and coming back to an unwelcoming home country.

i could tell you stories – sojourns in the land of memory, by patricia hampl

one of the things that this book did for me was to show me st. augustine’s confessions, written in 397 C.E., in a totally new way. “he was the first blogger!” i kept thinking. he describes himself as “a man who writes as he progresses and who progresses as he writes”. hampl goes on

not to write was not to think, really not to live.

the confessions are, among other things, the desperature gesture of a writer blocked from his work, seeking again the intimace embraceand healing intelligence of language.

here was a book, most likely written by hand in private, but intended to be read aloud y small groups of educated christians (and open-minded erudite pagans), a book handed around in a kind of samizdat circulation. it was greeted by the intense, if rarefied, buzz we might recogniaze from a coffeehouse poetry reading where aficionados know an original voice if they hear one.

finally three more books i referred to were ones that i had already mentioned here before. they were louise desalvo’s writing as a way of healing and james pennebaker’s opening up – the healing power of expressing emotions, mentioned in the post journaling for healing: 15 tips. james pennebaker is one of the leading psychologists writing on and researching the topic.

and then of course there is kimberley snow, whose book “writing yourself home” inspired the title of the workshop. i had written about the book here.

my virtual bookshelf

i’m still battling this cold, so i’m just playing around. this personalized bookshelf from shelfari is something i found on virtual wordsmith today. i played around and stocked it with a few of my favourite books, trying to choose some that i hadn’t mentioned here much yet.

what a great waste of time!

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shelfari: book reviews on your book blog

more on professionalism: insurance, education and organizations

i’d like to follow up on evan’s guest post yesterday, entitled, why professionalism is of the devil. evan blogs at wellbeing and health – this is a topic he’s passionate about.

evan says that his problem lies with professionalism, not with professionals. they lie with professional organizations and all that comes with them.

i think evan raises a number of interesting points. i’m going to address three here.

professional organizations

professional organizations are made up of professionals. granted, the professionals who actively participate in professional organizations are usually just a very small fraction of the professionals they represent. but then this is really similar to democracy, isn’t it? there are only a few people who bother to get involved. and yes, a good portion of those who do get involved are power hungry, busybodies or control freaks.

but not all of them are. many of the people who get involved seriously care about the issue, and seriously want to make something really good happen for the constituency. almost always, there are not nearly enough people to make it all happen, and things turn out to be less-than-ideal.


insurance is a double-edged sword and i keep dancing around it all the time. we’re talking about risk here. here are the categories i see:

mitigating loss and suffering through making prudent provisions for adverse events

  • that do not happen often but do happen once in a while (car insurance and health insurance are good examples) and which carry small to very large costs
  • that happen very rarely but when they do occur they carry enormous costs (e.g. malpractice suits)
  • that happen very rarely and when they do, they carry small to very large costs (e.g. many forms of home insurance)

of course insurance is much more complicated (just think of all the mind-boggling small print that excludes a myriad of circumstances) but i think the above can be a good first guideline.

i think the operative word above is “prudent”. going without professional insurance that is the equivalent of the first instance is silly. but reaching for insurance in all categories will often hamper the delivery of good service to the patient – simply because often, for all intents and purposes, the client has ceased to be the patient. the client is now the insurance company/companies. we hear a lot of horror stories about that from the U.S. i’m glad i live in canada, where it’s a bit better.

continuing education

evan says, “professions prevent the learning of practitioners.”

i’m not sure about that. all the professional organizations i know require continuing education. this is a topic i’ve often thought about, to a large degree, i think, because of my work with people with chronic conditions (e.g. chronic pain, or depression). medical doctors tend to be quite ill-informed about these health issues. the question, however, is how to help them learn more about it. doctors are helplessly overworked (one could say that being a doctor is in itself a chronic health condition). like anyone else, they want to have leeway in terms of what they do for continuing education. the things they CAN learn more about are endless. so they’re going to pick their battles. and if one of the continuing education courses comes sweetened by a conference – literally sweetened, with rum and cakes – who can blame them for going for it?

what i would like to see there is more patient groups that aggressively go out and find ways for professionals to get continuing education.

is that a pipe dream?

why professionalism (not professionals) is of the devil

this is a guest post by evan hadkins. his blog is wellbeing and health where he writes about all aspects of health (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social) with a bias to psychological health and a focus on practical things to do that can make a real difference. he also has a membership course, living authentically, that begins on monday 13th of october – an eight week course to finding satisfaction through authenticity.

this is probably a bit of a contrarian view to the prevailing one in the healing arts so i want to make two things clear at the outset:

1. i’m not talking about individuals. those i know who practise the healing arts are well motivated and competent. i am not attacking any individual, i am talking about a system of organisation.
2. i’m talking about professionalism as it exists. some people regard “professionalism” as meaning practise that is both ethical and skilful. i naturally have no objection to “professionalism” understood in this way.

what do i mean by “professionalism”?

it is a system of organising practitioners (my interest is in the practitioners of healing arts) that is characterised by conferences, insurance policies, meetings, codes of conduct and associations.

why is “professionalism” of the devil?
1. the devil lies. the prestige of the professions, rather than those who just ‘hold down a jobs’, is meant to be due to the profession being dedicated to the care of the client first.

in fact professional associations are dedicated to looking after their members first. (this is not a bad thing – it is just a bad thing to lie about it and say that they are dedicated to clients’ needs first.)

if the professions were dedicated to clients’ needs first we would see the healing arts primarily given for free. we would see practitioners on the same incomes as those their clients.

anyone who has brought a complaint against a member of an association will have experienced the hoops that need to be jumped through. it is by no means the rule that the person in the first instance is supported – sometimes they are not believed.

2. the devil doesn’t heal but destroys. the processes used when a complaint is brought are usually legalistic and often enough abusive. for these kinds of processes to be used in the healing arts is scandalous. it is inconsistent with the mission to heal.

3. professions prevent the learning of practitioners. members of professional association are constrained by rules. it is usually necessary to abide by these rules in order to obtain professional practise insurance.

these rules are based on past experience, sometimes called ‘evidence based’. for an art to progress it needs to learn. but these codes are not devoted to the encouragement of innovation. they are instead devoted to encourage routines. (what else could be codified?) this is hardly the way to put first the needs of individuals.

when a professional is asked to defend their practise (say in a court of law) the defense is mounted in terms of consistency with others and the prevailing rules. this clearly is not a learning process.

4. which brings us to all those conferences.
if they are so worthwhile and necessary why are professional development points necessary? how many professionals have had their practise revolutionised this year by what they learnt at a conference? ok then, five years? ten? during their working life?

it is ok for people to get together with those in the same profession. gossip and so on can oil the wheels or interaction. it’s great to get together with those with common interests. but the idea that this is the way to improve the practise of healing is an altogether different claim.

if the professionals are so dedicated to learning and the information so valuable then their should be no reason for compelling people to attend – by requiring people to earn professional development points.

which was the last professional conference in the healing arts that was a genuinely healing experience for those who attended? they may exist, they are very far from being the general rule.

neither are these conferences particularly good educational practise. the gluteus maximus is not the primary organ of learning. sitting around listening to someone read a paper is not the best way to learn. that the healing arts, which want to present themselves as wholistic, adopt this approach is so ludicrous that it defies belief.

professionalism is of the devil because:

  • it puts the needs of the professionals before those of the clients’ while claiming to put the clients’ needs first.
  • the structures and processes of professionalism impede learning and stop improvement in healing.

my hope in writing this post is to encourage thinking about better ways to organise healing and healers. contrary views are very welcome. looking forward to seeing your comments discussing ways forward.

albert ellis: empirically, logically and self-helpingly

the other day i was listening to a little audio clip of an interview with albert ellis, the no-holds-barred founder of rational-emotive behavioural therapy (REBT, also known as RET and RBT). ellis was one of the grandfathers of cognitive therapy; he wasn’t too enamoured with the theories he said freud “made up” and jung’s “mystical nonsense”.

but just like jung and freud, ellis’s ideas made their way into mainstream and pop psychology, forever entrenched there – for he is not only one of the grandfathers of cognitive therapy but also one of the people who helped midwife the psychological “arm” of the self-help movement.

in the interview, ellis was asked how he helps people. his response (slightly paraphrased):

we dispute people’s irrational beliefs which lead them to become neurotic. individuals upset themselves, they tell themselves nonsense and then they blame it on their early childhood!

it works usually within the first 5-10 minutes.

they come in with anxiety, depression, rage. so i ask them, what happened? “well so and so did this and that and i got enraged”

and we say, “let’s assume you are right and they treated you unjustly. what did you tell yourself after that?”

“he was wrong and he shouldn’t be doing this!”

well, they may be wrong alright but that doesn’t matter. the problem is that people say this should not be, this must not be.

and here comes my favourite part

so we get them to think about this. and first they think about their thinking and then think about how they think about it – which human beings, being constructivists, can do, but rarely do.

and then we help them to realize, empirically, logically and especially self-helpingly, that it’s unrealistic to say someone should not or must not do XYZ. and that it doesn’t follow that they are no good as a person; just that they act no good.

finally, ellis tells us

then we say, “it’s too bad that he treated you this way – now what are you going to do to change that or to live with it?”

we show them that they’ve become anxious or depressed because of what they told themselves about this event.

then we use cognitive, behavioural and emotional techniques to act help them act otherwise.

i already mentioned some of those techniques in my eulogy to albert ellis back in june. another one is a shame-attacking exercise, and i’ve certainly used that in my practice.

example: a client, let’s call her marion, is always nervous of what people think of her. she doesn’t even want anyone to know that she’s in therapy, and that troubles her a lot. we decide to allocate a whole session to that. i ask her for a list of people who she thinks might think ill of her for being in therapy.

we then pick a person from that list – usually one who is not too “scary” – and i support marion as she calls that person and casually mentions that she’s just come from a therapy session.

after that we debrief. marion is surprised and delighted to shed a light on her thoughts, beliefs and feelings around the experienced – and she is relieved because she knows she’s starting to put down the burden of always looking over her shoulder to see that “they” think.

interested in experiencing how this works? email me at moritherapy at shaw dot ca, and i’ll give a free taste of it.

for a post i wrote on the occasion of albert ellis’ death at 93, go to don’t should on yourself: albert ellis dead at 93

(this post was mentioned in the carnival of quotes)