Tag Archives: psychotherapy

validation therapy

many years ago, i learned a little about validation therapy but i keep forgetting about it. it is a form of therapy that works with very old people, especially people with severe alzheimer’s. of course, the types of therapy that work in these situations always have something in it that can be very powerful in other types of therapy, as well. today, my friend barbara posted a video about it. can you watch it without crying?

blog post #1000: possible dreams

this is my entry for joanna young’s newest mission impossible group writing project where she challenged writers to push their blogging boundaries. i had asked you, my dear readers, to suggest what i should do. all kinds of interesting ideas came up and i’ll definitely try to incorporate as many as possible in my blog in the coming weeks.

a podcast was something that i had wanted to do for a long time but never go around to (that was a suggestion by raj, by the way). i needed to move out of my comfort zone for it – simply in terms of overcoming the procrastination of trying it for the first time; and also because i certainly don’t feel as comfortable speaking as i do writing.

so here we are: my first podcast (see the fancy tingamajig at the end of the post).  not quite sure that the technology works the way i want it to, so just to be on the safe side, here is another link to the audio file.

by the way, this is also my 1000th post.   last year around this time i had my 1000th entry (including all the pages, the archives, etc.).  but this is the 1000th real post.  yay!!!

aaand – here is the text version:

i thought i should also discuss a topic i don’t usually discuss here. quite a while ago, one of my blogging friends, pete quily, who, by the way, is one awesome authority on adult attention deficit disorder (or attention surplus, as he often likes to refer to) – so good ol’ pete asked me what topics i am interested and do NOT write about. that’s a question that’s tumbled around in my mind for a long time now.

so one of those topics is dreams. i am very interested in dreams but for some reason i never blog about them. here’s one i wrote down a little while ago.

biking to haedy’s in the middle of the night. i turn the corner along some row houses and can’t find her house for the life of me. instead, i see a huge starship hovering over vancouver, surrounded by lots of lights.

later it turns out that is a threat. i and a few others from a theatre troupe are spies. we get locked into a barrel-like wheel and spun off somewhere.

later: a basement theatre. it takes a break in the afternoon. it’s hot. i try to close it but enemy type people keep trying to get in. i have a hard time closing the right door and even there: one is just a bamboo screen, the other a very flimsy lock.

in the basement theatre. i need to take a shower. i step into the shower and detect that i can communicate telepathically with the shower. i ask about the threat associated with the starship. something big and apocalyptic will happen. i ask the shower a bunch of questions about it (it’s a bit like pendulum divination). in the end, i ask the shower whether it has good intentions towards me. it doesn’t. i immediately step out.

i know something apocalyptic is going to happen. maybe just one more day to live for everyone. i want to be with loved ones, very much. but they are all difficult to reach. i’d even settle for someone called tony, a questionable actor who at least doesn’t want to kill me.

later, my husband, my youngest daughter and i talk. we now know that there is going to be a massive earthquake. what is the safest place to go? an inland plain, i decide. definitely not by the sea, and not by the mountains. maybe a place like langley? how will we get there?

if a client brought this dream into a session, what would we look at?

first of all, the client might have something come up immediately; i’ll always take the client’s lead.

often, though, a client brings something that she or he doesn’t quite know what to do with. in that case, i might ask a question about the part that had the most energy. when people tell a story, their faces, body language and voices tell a story, too. their eyes might light up at a certain point, or they might cross their legs and look out the window all of a sudden. there might be a long pause somewhere or a feeling of uncertainty.

in this case, the shower scene seemed significant. “interesting,” i might say, “you were communicating with the shower.”

and so we could have a conversation about that. what does it mean to talk to a shower? what’s a shower? is it about rain? cleanliness? oh – there’s a connection to the shower scene in hitchcock’s psycho? yes, right, the shower has evil intentions. and you stepped out of it right away. do you always do that – remove yourself when there is danger? no? that was unusual? in what other ways was that dream unusual?

psychology is still unclear about the cause and function of dreams. one way to look at dreams, though, is to take them as narrative – a way for a person to tell a story about important aspects in their lives. “everything is autobiographical,” says freud, a quote that can be used in so many ways. a dream is autobiographical, the way it is told is autobiographical, and how the person talks about it autobiographical. sometimes a telepathic shower is just weird, and that’s it. but to me – to my biography, my life story – it was meaningful. i don’t need to consult any dream books, though. all i need, and all so many of us need, is just an hour of talking to someone about it.

morita therapy, the psychology of action

once in a while i tell people that the name of my company is moritherapy and they say, “oh yes, i know moritherapy!” what they usually mean is morita therapy.

it’s about time i explore what that is. the information here comes from the ToDo institute.

morita therapy is sometimes referred to as the psychology of action.

morita psychotherapy was developed by japanese psychiatrist shoma morita in the early part of the twentieth century. he was influenced by the psychological principles of zen buddhism. his method was initially developed as a treatment for a type of anxiety called shinkeishitsu but in the latter part of this century the applications of morita therapy have broadened.

if we find out we have won the lottery, we may be excited. if we hear about the death of a friend, we may feel sadness. such feelings are natural responses and we need not try to change or “work through” them. this is acceptance of reality as it is (arugamama).

thus, if we feel depressed, we accept our feelings of depression; if we feel anxious, we accept our feelings of anxiety. we can then direct our efforts toward living our life well, coexisting with unpleasant feelings from time to time. it is not necessary to change our feelings in order to take action.

“trying to control the emotional self willfully by manipulative attempts is like trying to choose a number on a thrown die or to push back the water of the kamo river upstream. certainly, they end up aggravating their agony and feeling unbearable pain because of their failure in manipulating the emotions.”
shoma morita, m.d.

often, taking action leads to a change in feelings. for example, it is common to develop confidence after one has repeatedly done something with some success.

in western psychotherapy there are a great many labels which purport to diagnose and describe a person’s psychological functioning – depressed, obsessive, compulsive, codependent. many of us begin to label ourselves this way, rather than investigate our own experience. if we observe our experience, we find that we have a flow of awareness which changes from moment to moment. when we become overly preoccupied with ourselves, our attention no longer flows freely, but becomes trapped by an unhealthy self-focus. the more we pay attention to our symptoms (our anxiety, for example) the more we fall into this trap.

when we are absorbed by what we are doing, we are not anxious because our attention is engaged by activity. but when we try to “understand” or “fix” or “work through” feelings and issues, our self-focus is heightened and exercised. this often leads to more suffering rather than relief. how can we be released from such self-focused attention?

“the answer lies in practicing and mastering an attitude of being in touch with the outside world. this is called a reality-oriented attitude, which means, in short, liberation from self-centeredness.”
takahisa kora, m.d.

the successful student of morita therapy learns to accept the fluctuations of thoughts and feelings and ground her or his behavior in reality and the purpose of the moment. cure is not defined by the alleviation of discomfort or the attainment of an ideal feeling state but by taking constructive action, which helps with living a full and meaningful existence and not being ruled by emotions.

what do you think?  would this sort of therapy work for you?

the depressing (side) effects of antidepressants

the following is a guest post by kat sanders, who regularly blogs at MRI technician schools. she welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: katsanders2 at gmail.com.

the opinions expressed in this post are kat sanders’ – i personally don’t take as strong a stance as kat, mainly because, as i say time and time again, psychoactive drugs have different effects depending on dosage, circumstances and who takes them. i don’t think we are at a point (yet) where we can say that there is “a” truth about any psychoactive drug, antidepressants or otherwise. similarly, while i obviously think that psychotherapy is useful, and that it’s a good idea to try it before, while or after taking antidepressants, like anything else, it’s not a magic pill that works for everyone.

having said that, i think kat offers good points for discussion.

have you taken antidepressants? have they worked?

here’s kat’s article:

the depressing side (effects) of anti-depressants

life has its ups and downs, and while we’re all able to enjoy the ups, most of us are unable to handle the downs. some of us bounce back to normalcy soon enough; but for the others, they sink into a mire of depression from which there seems to be no escape. when this situation continues for a while, they are taken to see a psychiatrist and prescribed anti-depressants. the truth about these drugs is that while they may have a calming and uplifting effect in the short term, they’re not advisable after a period of time because:

  • they have been proved in clinical trials to work only 50 percent of the time.
  • they cause you to gain weight. while the initial increase is not much, you do tend to put on a lot of weight over a period of time.
  • they are likely to cause a relapse when you continue to take them over a period of time. so there’s a high probability that you will slip back into depression just when you think you’re getting better.
  • they cause sexual dysfunction, mostly in women. you feel yourself losing interest in sex and anything related to it. relationships suffer as a result of this side effect and your depression worsens.
  • they cause some people to experience insomnia, intense somnolence, and other sleep disorders
  • they cause you to feel tired all the time. the fatigue prevents you from doing any worthwhile work.
  • they may also cause nausea and diarrhea.
  • they increase anxiety.
  • they cause you to fee mentally dull and uninterested in anything.

we need to realize that depression is something that cannot be managed only with anti-depressants. it’s an emotion, one that is brought on by a set of circumstances and that affects us mentally. instead of resorting to drugs, we need to understand the reason for our sadness and attempt to resolve it. that’s the only way we to treat depression – face it head on and tackle the underlying reason for it. anti-depressants must be used only for a certain time during which we need to find the strength to deal with the problem and get over it.

the problem with anti-depressants is that they cannot be stopped cold turkey, because when they are, they bring on the same symptoms as those caused by long-term usage. the dosage needs to be minimized and the patients weaned off them as slowly as possible. it’s not advisable to discontinue anti-depressants without consulting your medical practitioner.

walking away from guilt: a conversation, part 2

dealing with guilt, walking away from guiltthis is a continuation of my blog post a little while ago on helping a person overcome guilt.

clara’s and my exchanges were a conversation, with a thread going through it of questions (on my part) and replies (on carla’s). at the end of our process, i asked clara to tell me which questions were most useful to her in helping her lift most of the burden of guilt that she had been feeling, and to say a bit about those questions. (of course, names and identifying characteristics were changed.) i will also make some observations. so let’s continue:

how exactly have the people in your life been harmed by the specific things you feel guilty over, e.g. your eldest witnessing you taking getting drunk?

much of the guilt i carried over this particular incident has been reckoned with. i now understand (and accept) that what my children choose to do as adults has little (or nothing) to do with that isolated event.

comment: one of the reasons why i asked that question is that when we are plagued by guilt for a long time, there is usually what i call a “movie” associated with it. i call it a movie because it often has that intense and clear quality, with a complete memory of colours, details, even smells and textures. it is also often a “movie” out of context, i.e. just a snippet. paradoxically, what perpetuates the guilt is keeping that movie inside, never talking about it. so telling another person about it AND putting it in context are often very healing moments.

you weren’t even 18. how well prepared for motherhood do you think you were? how well prepared do you think ANY 16-year-old is?

i have looked at myself (objectively) as a 16 year old who was quite immature emotionally, even for the average 16 year old. i was looking for acceptance and love through sexual contact, probably due to the crisis in my family when i was 12. in retrospect, being a parent at 16 was an unbelievable challenge for me, as i also worked a full time job to take care of us. i was literally a child who was suddenly thrown into an overwhelming situation. though i do (somewhat) carry guilt over what my daughter had to go through. though i always wanted to be a good mom, i just didn’t have the skills i needed to make that possible

comment: when we look back at our behaviour in horror (and guilt), we often assume that we should have known then what we know now. we’re usually not aware of that assumption. so we walk around with thoughts like “how could i have done that! what an awful mother i was!” when really, in this situation, for example, it was a case of not having been ready at all for the task.

the words “objectively” and “in retrospect” show that now, carla is able to look back at the situation with much more balance and compassion for herself.

did you know about the abuse your children were experiencing?

i truly did not know about the sexual abuse. the guilt is over how i handled it afterwards, because though i did believe my children when they told me about it and turned it over to the authorities, i feel i should have left my husband then, instead of putting the family through years of counselling only to have him attempt to reoffend. i feel i gave the wrong message to my children, two of them who have struggled with abusive relationships.

comment: as indicated before, our conversations, while significantly lessening the burden of guilt, did not magically resolve everything. this seems to be an area that needs a bit more resolution.

have your children forgiven you?

this is a question i have thought a lot about. in my heart, i know that they have forgiven me, but i also hear from my youngest child different references made in regard to their upbringing, for example she was talking just the other day to someone about issues with her husband regarding their relationship and her children. she made the statement that nobody will ever come before her children. a few months ago, she told me that she felt i put my husband before her and the others. while i am glad she is able to be outspoken about her feelings, it does hurt that she feels this way.

i am still working on this. thanks for bearing with me, isabella. and by the way, the last time you wrote, your words were so encouraging, and i will never forget how much they helped me. i can now visualize myself sending guilt to the back of the bus (along with all the other riff-raff!)

comment: again, this is an example about an issue that hasn’t “gone away”. and many of them will never completely vanish. i don’t think that is the goal of therapy. therapy cannot erase scars, and it can rarely prevent or take away pain. what therapy can help with is to live with the scars – at times even proudly – and to remove or reduce suffering. it’s one thing to say, “geez, i guess i still feel guilty over that”, and another to lay awake at night playing the scenes of guilt over and over again, going down into an ever deeper spiral of suffering. it is the former that is normal – a quick pang of remembered pain, perhaps even the healthy guilt that serves as a reminder to avoid certain behaviours. the latter is torture, and torture serves no one. we could say, then, that one important goal of therapy is to end self-torture.

image by floato

therapy and creativity

this is a guest post by sarah luczaj, a british therapist and writer, living in poland. she runs an online therapy practice  at mytherapist.com and has a poetry chapbook, “an urgent request” coming soon from fortunate daughter press.  sarah and i met through the counselling resource blog at counsellingresource.com.

i never quite manage to concentrate on one thing at a time, but often the things i do turn out to have something essential in common. relating with young children and translation. writing poems and doing therapy. i could go on, but let’s go back. writing poems and therapy. what do they have to do with one another?let’s take one definition of therapy – to attend. it’s like being a midwife, you are not doing the work yourself but your presence is facilitating, even if you do not need to use the practical skills you have at every birth. you are there and you have accompanied many people on this journey before, you create a feeling of safety which allows the natural process to occur. nine times out of ten you just have to be skilful to stay out of the way and not impede it. and sometimes you need to get right on in there and intervene.

as you can see, i have problems even sticking with one analogy! so what does being a midwife have to do with writing a poem? it’s a similar thing. you are being with something which is about to be born. you need to stay out of the way of its process of coming into being, and that is very difficult, because you want to steer it, make it say this or that, make a good impression. you have practical skills, too, and sometimes you need them, sometimes not.

but therapy is much more like writing poems. first of all the material, your life, has a habit of  spilling out all over the place. next comes the job of reading through, sifting, finding the essential bits, the core, the bit which is meaningful or feels raw and real.

it is as if your whole life is a rough draft for the poem. all of a sudden you just have to write that poem, which once you didn’t even know was there. some sense of discomfort has driven you to make something out of the scribbled mess with your own will, and at the same time some sense of hope gave you the intimation that in the midst of that chaos there is something fresh, alive and trying to speak to you.

sometimes the page is crawling with intellectual understandings, sometimes there is a rigid form imposed on the prose and all the spellings and punctuation have been ruthlessly checked. sometimes indeed the entire text has been twisted to suit the will of the teacher or the reader. yet hidden inside there is a little poem which brings joy, release, revelation, comfort, any or all of these things. or something else.

and the therapist is there to feel which of the words are the freshest and the closest to the bone, to feel where the rhythm is, to help the poet find the poem. the poem is an interaction between the sense of it and the thoughts and feelings and words and the language it is written in. therapy is an interaction between all these things, in two people, the client and the therapist, who is allowed into the creative process, and usually finds that her or his own creative process starts to resonate with the clients, like –  why not throw another analogy into the mix? – musical instruments.

sometimes of course therapy is not like that because the client does not believe that he or she is a poet. and the best efforts of the therapist cannot lead them to feel the spark, which has usually been forced out of them in cruel ways. a poem is a triumph of control, and a complete lack of control.

some people’s life experiences are such that the nearest they can get to exerting control, and losing control, is to rewrite their story according to a different teacher’s rules. but while not everyone can write words on paper so that they dance, so they reveal a thing that feels totally new, and at the same time as if we had always known it, i believe that in therapy, in skilfully attending to our own lives in creative dialogue with a compassionate, curious other, we can all expect a new kind of life to emerge, in its own exact and original way.


psychotherapy: understanding versus explaining

today, let me point you to an article i wrote at counselling resource, with the title psychotherapy clients as … humans?

here is the excerpt:

is psychotherapy about “cases” to be explained, or about individual persons who need and benefit from understanding? in this review of an article by psychotherapist janet l. etzi, we look at therapy and counselling as a complex interaction based on understanding the client as a human phenomenon, an interaction that is informed by both the client’s and the therapist’s emotions and thought processes.

etzi’s article is very interesting; it’s one of those situations where i feel it’s a shame that blog posts need to be so short; one could write a whole paper about her article. i’m looking forward to reading more material written by her.

if you find concepts such as “diagnosis” and “symptoms” interesting to think about, please come on over and join the discussion! (btw, you’ll also see that my blogging friend evan, a frequent commenter here, also writes for them).

letting go of guilt: a conversation

earlier this year, i wrote a few posts on guilt. this turned into a case study with one of my readers where over the course of a few months, we sent emails back and forth. this reader, let’s call her carla, has agreed to publish some of our emails. of course, we’ve changed some of the identifying characteristics of the story to protect carla’s identity.

we hope that this will help some people who are dealing with guilt to find inspiration, and i also hope that this can be a bit of an illustration of how i help people in online consultations.

we’ll present this in a series of two or three posts.

carla, tell us a little about yourself:

i am a married, 60 year old mother of three, and grandmother of ten. i am a christian, though not in the traditional sense. i work full time, and i love to spend time with my with my grandchildren.

what interested you in the initial blog posting about guilt in the first place?

my own battle with guilt, for over a year of my life prior to reading the blog posting i was plagued with feelings of guilt.

how would you describe your state of mind when you first read that post?

plagued with thoughts and feelings of guilt which made it difficult to think of much else. that caused me to feel pretty depressed, and overshadowed any feelings of happiness. i felt extremely sad, and cried a lot.

how would you describe your state of mind now?

i am definitely a happier person, more at peace, feeling like i may finally be able to forgive myself for the mistakes i made with my family. however, i still struggle with placing blame on myself for mistakes they are making in their own lives, like they really didn’t have a good foundation to build upon. i have come a long way toward accepting my failures, but i still try to make up for my failures as a mother, in whatever way i can.

what changed?

i am able to see myself more objectively, with a degree of understanding that i didn’t have before, and would not have thought i deserved to have. i can now accept that i failed, not because i wanted to (on the contrary, i always wanted to be a good mother to my children). i now see that i didn’t have those skills i needed to be as nurturing and loving as i wish i could’ve been. a lot of that was through no fault of my own. (my mother left us when i was 10, and my father was emotionally distant). i think i may have struggled with some degree of mental illness, and perhaps still do.

this is part one. in the next post about carla’s progress we’ll show you some of the questions i asked carla, and how answering them was helpful for her.