Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tips for new therapists

I was visiting an internet forum this morning (what are we supposed to call those now? There are forums, boards, sites, subReddits, groups, lists... just use what you want) and someone asked about tips for new therapists. Even though this blog is aimed at people who GO to therapists, for the most part, I thought you all might get some insight out of what I wrote. If not, then go me for being lazy enough to cut and paste a forum reply and call it new content!

I work with early-career therapists, and I've found over the years that a lot of advice I give them is pretty simple stuff - the same things I try to remember when I work with clients. Here are some of the things I keep repeating:

Slow down and listen. Seriously. Let your client pause and feel without lobbing an intervention in there. Just shut up sometimes.

ALWAYS ask yourself if what you're doing is about you, or about your client. Are you saying something so your client will like you? That's not bad in and of itself, if it's for the client and has to do with relationship-building and gaining trust and openness. If it's so they'll simply like you, shut up and listen. :)

You're doing more than you think you are, simply by listening without judgment. That doesn't mean you don't have work to do, but don't do work simply to do work.

The beauty is in the work. Your journey with your client is what it's all about. You might end up somewhere, but there's a good chance it won't be where you thought you were going.

Clients learn when you don't think they are learning. They feel when you don't think they're feeling. A year later, they'll tell you that something you said changed their life, and you won't even remember saying it. You'll be too busy remembering that amazing intervention you came up with that you were SURE was going to change everything.

You're better than you think you are. Your client is more resilient than you think she or he is. The world is a more complicated place than either of you can fathom, and your job is to simply exist in that moment with your client and do what you can. Be genuine, and keep that in mind.

Therapists aren't perfect. They're humans with some knowledge and skills that others can use. Go easy on yourself.

Boundaries are everything. If you find yourself doing something for your client that you wouldn't do with another client, think seriously about what that is about. Always remember to think about whether your actions are for you, or for your client.

Approach everything with love. Everything.

That's it. Now you're a therapist! Well... almost.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Three quick ways to lift your mood RIGHT NOW.

Change, as you know, can take time. It takes practice to un-learn things, to relearn things, to work at finding the path and staying on it until the changes come. The journey can be a long one.

Sometimes, though, you just want to feel a little something RIGHT NOW. Long term sustainable change is awesome, but every once in a while there's nothing wrong with making a little mid-course correction that you can feel right away. Here are three things you can do that will help right now.

Give a call. Everyone, I mean everyone, has a call they can make to someone who could use it. A friend, a parent, a coworker - someone could really use a call from you that simply says, "I was thinking about you. How are you doing?" The trick here is to not expect anything in return. Call with the simple goal of listening, and caring. Truly listen. Truly care. The rest will follow.

Lend a hand. Unexpected help lifts the mood on both sides of the equation. Carry a grocery bag. Open a door. Take a minute to find a volunteer effort that could use your help. Write a check to a charity and mail it. Donate online to a friend's fundraising walk. It should be pretty easy to find an opportunity.

Drop some praise. "Your yard looks amazing." "I love that coat." "Your smile always brightens my day." Just say something positive to someone. If you're the shy type, push yourself a little. Or, leave a note for the restaurant manager to talk about great service someone gave. Write a letter to someone you admire. The way you do it doesn't matter. The fact that you give appreciate and praise without any expectation of return is what counts.

All of these decidedly little things can do decidedly big things for your mood, but here's the big secret: they can also be completely lame. The key is in your approach. If you're just making another obligatory phone call, that's lame. That won't do a thing for you. If, on the other hand, you decided to completely engage in that moment, if you can find yourself completely in love with that little piece of the path, if you can give all the love you have within yourself through the act of making that phone call, then you're onto something.

It's like everything else - nothing has to be boring, or worthless, or stupid, if we choose to engage in it to the peak of our abilities. Flow is flow, whether you're doing brain surgery or cutting up a piece of celery. Find yourself there, give of yourself, and watch your mood change for the better.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quick practice: non-judgmental listening

Here's one of those little mindful things you can do no matter where you are.

Listening is one of those things that is simple to learn and nearly impossible to master. I spend my workdays listening, and even with all the practice I have had, it's still tough sometimes to separate myself from what my client is saying. My goal, when really listening, is to get rid of that "how does this impact me?" thing that we've been conditioned to do to survive. I want to really open up to what my client is saying - sometimes feeling heard is just what they need to move forward.

Here's your task: whether you're at work or at home, next time someone speaks to you, really listen. As those "hey, what about me" thoughts come in, notice them and let them go. Ask a question about what you just heard, rather than passing judgment or offering a solution or sharing a fear or... you get it.

The opportunity might not come up immediately, especially if you're at work. "Yo, Bob, I'm going to go to the bathroom" is NOT your opportunity to dig in. However, "I'm worried about getting this done on time" is. Think about that scenario, and how quickly we'd say something like "me too... in fact I think we're really getting piled on here," instead of "what do you mean?" or "why?" or "are there other things you're worried about?"

People ask me all the time about social skills, and how to get better at interacting with people. People like to be heard. If you truly listen, you will get your chance to speak. And, if you don't get a chance in that interaction, it simply means that that person had a need to be heard that exceeded anything else. And how can giving them that chance be anything but good?

So, nutshell version: just listen. Ask a question. Indicate that you're willing to hear more. I'm here to tell you that REAL listening saves lives. And, while that might not happen at the office, you might be surprised at how quickly being a great listener pays off in other ways.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A one-minute method to help move past old hurts

When people come to therapy to see me, they're often trailed by an almost-visible string of old injuries - a hypercritical parent, a missed opportunity, a horrible breakup. And, when I point out to them that they've got some past pain stuck on their shoe, their reaction is almost universally the same: "I've been trying to understand why that happened."

I've worked with clients, sometimes for months or years, whose stated goal is to UNDERSTAND. Why did mom act like that? What could I have done differently?

Here's a little secret. Often, when we spend our time trying to understand things in the past, or the things that people have done to us, or the breaks that haven't come our way, what we're really doing is STALLING. Rumination is a defense mechanism that trades little doses of low-level pain to avoid the thing we're really afraid of - moving forward. When we're working on change, maybe it doesn't matter so much WHY your mom treated you like that, as it does HOW to accept it and move forward. Whether she was controlled by aliens, tortured from within by forces you'll never understand (and my money is on this one, by the way) or simply a crabby person, the fact is that it's unlikely that even a crystal-clear understanding will do a whole lot to move you forward. That's your job.

So, here's your one-minute task. Next time you catch yourself in a rumination about the past that has some impact on your present life (as do all ruminations), just do this: Trade a why for a how. Instead of "why did that happen?" just say "How can I move one step forward?"

Approach, don't avoid. Rumination is avoidance, and you'll likely never get the answer you think you so badly need. Pretend like that part of the hard drive is wiped. The question is how, in this beautiful moment of life I've been granted, do I take a step forward? Just one step, not the whole path. Just one moment, not the whole day.

Take your minute. Use it to move yourself forward. Then tell yourself you are beautiful, strong, and capable. Because you are.