TEN TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OUT OF THERAPY

There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people.

People go to therapy for various reasons certainly. Some are coping with stress or anxiety; others with depression or grief. Couples may seek counseling for infidelity, communication, or intimacy deficiencies. Perhaps others may go to bolster self-esteem and/or confidence.

No matter the reason, there is a distinct difference between those who get the most out of the experience and those who decide that ‘therapy didn’t work’.

Here are my tips for getting the most bang for your buck.

Find a therapist you like.

Obviously, you won’t ‘know’ the therapist but it is imperative that you feel as though you connect to that person. You will be sharing your deepest self with them and a certain level of trust and comfort is needed for you to experience the kind of vulnerability that will ultimately help you. It may take a couple of tries with a few therapists to find one. Be patient and persevere through the process. Most therapists will refer you to someone ‘different’ than them if you let them know it’s not a good fit.

Be honest.

A therapist can only work with the information they receive. If you don’t lay all the puzzle pieces on the table, you are wasting your money and their time. If it is too difficult to throw it all out there in the beginning – say that. Let the counselor know that the story is hard for you to open up about but you hope to tell the whole of it as time goes by. We are trained to be patient and guide you gently to the truth.

Keep a Therapy Notebook.

And take it to your appointments. You only have an hour and in that hour your therapist may share some important information with you. It’s difficult to remember everything when you get home especially if the session was emotional. In addition, there may be ‘homework’ and you’ll have more success if you know exactly what is recommended. If you can’t write in the session for some reason – when you get to your car – write down your thoughts; as many as you can while it is fresh in your mind. In addition, keep the notebook near you in between sessions so that you can write down thoughts and/or questions you want to discuss at your next meeting.

Do the Work.

Not only is it important for you to do the ‘homework’ but you only spend an hour (on average) a week with your counselor. What are you doing the other roughly 150 – 180 hours in between therapy appointments? It’s vital for you to *think* about your situation, your growing opportunities, and the ideas / suggestions that your therapist makes after you leave the office.

Read.

There are thousands of books about various mental health topics and a few of them are excellent in each subject matter. Your therapist has one perspective that is beneficial and either supporting it or gaining another by reading is often valuable. Many counselors recommend supportive reading, so ask. Read, underline, earmark, highlight the parts of the book that resonate with you – ignore the parts that don’t. Not every paragraph or chapter applies to your particular scenario so don’t let the parts that you don’t connect to rob you, deter you from the parts that speak to your heart. Furthermore, if you find you are stuck on something, make a note and bring it up in therapy; perhaps it is a point that you can pull apart and digest in session.

Keep Going.

One of the biggest mistakes people make regarding therapy is that they stop going when they begin to feel a little better. However, lasting change needs reinforced and cemented into place. Clearly, the frequency of sessions can decrease as you improve but maintaining change is a supportive process and your therapist is the key support person.

Be Patient.

Change takes time! Sure, you want to feel better now; we understand. Realize though that true change, the kind that lasts longer than a few weeks – happens slowly. In many ways, you are learning a new language; a new way of being. Chances are your situation didn’t evolve over a short time span and so it’s irrational to think that it can change right away.

Be Kind.

Going to therapy is one of the best ways to practice self-care. You are making time to look at yourself and make a change. That’s great! It’s incredibly important for you to express internal kindness – be a friend to yourself – throughout the process. Many, many people struggle from time to time because no one is perfect and no one can go it alone ALL the time and stay healthy. Make learning to love yourself part of your growth.

Get Support.

Let your peeps – those who know and love you – know about this important step you’ve taken to feel better about yourself and your life. Again – no one is without some element of hardship or challenge from time to time. Working to make positive change in one’s life is an extremely respectable step.

Offer feedback.

Therapists don’t know everything. Sometimes, we hypothesis as we collect information from you and our suggestions don’t work or need to be reworked. Let us know what is helping you and what isn’t. If we make a recommendation and it feels really ‘off’ to you – say something. Our job and our passion is to help you feel better.

There are dozens of different therapeutic ideologies that counselors practice from. Some are solidly positioned inside one frame (i.e., Psychodynamic Theory) and others are eclectic – pulling strategies from a variety of platforms. There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people. For the best result – first and foremost – find someone you like!

Feel free to share and distribute as long as this source is credited.  www.ThisIsLeslyn.com – author Leslyn Kantner

 

Sharing is always appreciated. If you liked what you read just now, please SHARE it with friends and family by using one of the buttons below (Facebook, Twitter, Email & LinkedIn) and know that I am grateful for your effort.

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Damn Those Expectations

We generally expect that if we are willing to do something for someone, they would do it back.

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
― Alexander Pope

When my birthday was approaching one year (I think it was my 33rd), my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. My reply was “I can’t ‘think of anything”. Now, to me – this means ‘Oh I don’t know – pick out something you think I will like’ – but that’s not what I said. Because what I said and what I meant – exactly – were two different things… on the day of my birthday – there were no presents.

“I don’t have ‘anything’ to open?”, I said. “You said you didn’t want anything!”, he exclaimed. Aside from the fact that his interpretation of “I can’t think of anything” transformed into “you said you didn’t want anything” – which, is an entirely different post about communication…. In my mind – the way ‘I’ would have treated that situation… would have been to find something – even a little token gift – so that he would have something to open on his birthday. Who doesn’t like opening presents??

How many times have you found yourself thinking… ‘that’s not what I would have done?’ or ‘why did they do it that way?’ or ‘they should know me by now’.  We typically make the assumption that people who are similar to us in one way must be similar to us in most ways. The assumption is so strong in fact, that we fail to talk about very basic needs; assuming they will be met because the people who love us – “know” us. Even more frequent are the assumptions we make when we have been in a partnership for a long time… ‘after all this time, you should know.’

You remember the golden rule right? ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. And then there is the biblical reference in the New Testament, Luke 6:38 – “Give and it will be given to you.” And Confucius said “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” There are similar quotes that permeate throughout social media, posters, and books such as “treat people the way you want to be treated” and “Be a reflection of what you’d like to see in others.” And we make general assumptions along the parameters of ‘What comes around, goes around’ and ‘What you put out there, comes back’.

I believe the general premise of these ideas are helpful. I believe that they are meant to guide us and stimulate positive intent. However, I believe they also set us up with the expectation that people are paying attention to how we treat them – literally – and then we anticipate that we will be the recipients of similar treatment.

I’m not talking about the generalities such as doing nice things or speaking kindly. I find that we develop expectations of specific behaviors and I see examples of it across my life and the lives of almost every client I’ve talked to. Examples are almost boundless… (names made up)

Joyce speaks her mind and is quite opinionated. She has a strong point of view about almost everything. Bob cooked dinner for her the other night because she had to work late. Joyce was appreciative of the meal and commented that if he ever were to make it again, he should add more spices so that the flavor was more intense. Bob was insulted that Joyce would comment about the meal. His comment… “I’d never tell her how to cook, I’d just eat and enjoy.” Joyce’s thought process was very different… she would want him to tell her if something needed more flavor. She didn’t understand why his feelings were hurt.

In this example, Bob decided he was inclined never to cook again because it would open him up to what he believed to be criticism of his cooking. Since he would never think of commenting on her cooking, he was insulted that she did.

Pete and Chris had a small apartment and when Chris’s parents came to visit she thought that they would sleep in the bedroom and she and Pete would use an air mattress in the office. Her thought was that her parents should be as comfortable as possible. Pete had never given up his bed for anyone and resented that he was being asked to now. His thought was that if her parents wanted to sleep in a bed, they could get a hotel room. Chris knew her parents could afford a hotel but she wanted to spend as much time as possible with them. She would make the same concession for Chris’s parents and didn’t understand why he wasn’t willing.

That’s the crux of the issue here – ‘I would do this for you – why won’t you do it for me??’ – no matter what “it” is. We generally expect that if we are willing to do something for someone, they would do it back. We subconsciously ‘expect’ it. Sometimes, we count on it.

Lucy was home on bedrest with her third baby. It came about suddenly and she didn’t have time to plan for the downtime but wasn’t concerned because she was very active in the neighborhood and had cooked for other families often throughout the years. In fact, she was often the organizer for helping other moms when there was a need. After a week, it was apparent that no one was coordinating efforts for meals or childcare help and she felt abandoned by the people she thought were friends. She never reached out specifically with a request for help but she didn’t believe she needed to… couldn’t they ‘see’ that she needed support?

In this case, the fact that Lucy jumps up to the plate to direct and facilitate services when someone needs help dictates her expectation that the ‘like-minded’ people (other moms) from her neighborhood would surely know to reciprocate the efforts.

Kevin is the kind of guy who pays really close attention to the times when his wife says “I wish I had…” and makes a note to add that to a ‘gift list’. For birthday’s and Christmas he always gets just the right thing and she is amazed that he knows her so well. She, on the other hand typically comments that she “never knows what he wants”. Kevin feels unappreciated and unimportant to his wife. He fails to see that she fixes his favorite meal once a month and always has his favorite ice cream in the freezer – her way of saying ‘you matter’.

Some are lucky to have people in their lives that are so like-minded that there is an effortless symbiotic flow between them. My friend and her family lived with us for a month while they were house hunting – many years ago. Even though we had eight children in the house (7 of them under the age of 8) dinner and bath time were amazingly calm and harmonious because we were of the same mind… we were so precisely in tune with one another that speech was barely needed. This same person and I drove through a fast food restaurant one day, attempting to pacify the cranky toddlers in the back seat with French fries. Each of us grabbed a couple of hot fries that we intended to hand back to the kids when I noticed that we were both holding them out the window to cool off. It was a funny moment although, reading this… I guess you had to be there. In regards to those things… we thought the same way.

Of course, we don’t want a world filled with people who are exactly like us – that’s not the point here. We need to acknowledge and honor our differences. We do, however, need to become aware of how WE think… what assumptions am I making? What are my expectations? Have I communicated them in a clear and concise manner? Am I asking questions? Have I sought to define and clarify?

One thing is clear… many, many times, if there is disappointment… there is a failed expectation because we ‘assumed’ that someone would do ‘what we would have done’.

Owning Your Control Issues

Who wants to think of themselves as a ‘freak’ of anything?

Continued from The Birth of Control Issues

“Surrender to what is. let go of what was. have faith in what will be.” ~ Sonia Ricotti

Yesterday’s post laid out how control issues are born and manifest. When people accused me of being a ‘controlling’ person I would get defensive because I knew in my own mind that my intent wasn’t to manipulate other people. I just wanted to control for the ‘uglies’… I wanted to manage the bad feelings – the sadness – the fear. When we speak about controlling behavior we use derogatory words such as ‘control freak’. Comments like that foster shame and embarrassment. Who wants to think of themselves as a ‘freak’ of anything?

When I notice that someone has the propensity to seek control of their circumstances and/or environment, the first thing I help them do is to understand why the need to control exists for them. And then we talk about managing it with a few simple thoughts.

OWN IT

Just OWN it! Acknowledging and understanding your ‘control issues’ is the first step in coping with them well. Accept them, love them, honor them. They are there because at one time you had a reason to believe that your emotional safety was in danger. We need to love the imperfect parts of ourselves just as much as those things that make us loveable. If one of the ways to soften your hard corners is through compassion… offer it to yourself! Seeking reassurance and comfort from the outside world is fine but if it isn’t available or frequent enough – you need to know how to give it to yourself.

REASSESS

Take a careful look around at the things that ARE within your realm of control. Many things are… you always have a choice unless you are being held captive or are in some way incapacitated… you have choices; even when you feel you don’t’. I remember many times feeling like I didn’t have a choice but that only left me with a sensation of helplessness.

Sure, sometimes we don’t ‘want’ any of the choices that are available but then we must be honest with ourselves and recognize – in that – we are still making a choice.

Can I control whether or not someone drinks? NO. I can only control whether I continue to share space with that person. If I chose to stay with someone who isn’t sharing the load with me, who doesn’t have the same vision as I do… then I have made a choice to accept the load myself and I have to redesign my vision. Understand that many choices are ‘package deals’ – they are bundled with a series of ‘consequences’… make sure you are consciously accepting the entire bundle because unbundling it – is OUTSIDE of your control.

LET GO

More often than not I find that we need to let go of fixed or rigid thoughts – the way we think things ‘should’ be or how things ‘should’ be done. Expand your thinking by eliminating words such as right/wrong or good/bad and replace them with ‘different’. There truly is more than one way to do most things.

Understand that in YOUR emotionally safe world things look a specific way. Responsibility, for example, may be represented to you in the form of a fixed blueprint that is achieved by doing x, y, & z precisely. But… we know – logically – that there is more than one effective building design. People demonstrate responsibility by using a, b, & c too. Letting go of an XYZ design and being open to trust that ABC will work is important.

Keep in mind that letting go is NOT a one and done thing. Thoughts don’t automatically disappear just because we want them to. We may need to let go of something over again every day until our mind remembers that we are simply not accepting that thought anymore. Be patient.

DISASSOCIATE

The things that happened in our past which, contributed to our current control issues are over. Just because the first man I loved died, doesn’t mean that the next man I love will, even though that is the fear. If your parents were horrible at parenting – if they were abusive – it doesn’t mean that other parents are abusive or that you will be as a parent. If someone you love died in a car accident, that doesn’t mean others will as well.

Certainly, bad things happen. But… the things that are creating your control needs are in the past and they need to stay there. Disconnect what HAS happened to what MIGHT happen going forward. Remind yourself… that was then, this is now. Stay present. Focus on THIS moment.

TRUST

“Let go and let God” is about trust. Letting go in general is about trust. We have to trust that if we let go – we will still experience emotional peace / security.

Sometimes I just repeat the word over and over in my mind as a reminder that I must surrender to trust. Generally speaking… things have always worked out in the end and I am reminding myself of that fact.

I find that most of us with control issues have simply learned to DIS-trust that people are working with us in the pursuit of emotional safety. I often remind myself that my children want to arrive where they are going and so they will make every effort within THEIR control to do so. I must trust that.

Trust is easier when we are constantly checking in to make sure that we are on the same page with those that are invested with us. Be sure that you are each moving toward the same vision and trust that you can get there via different avenues.

PLAN B

When all else fails, it helps to have a Plan B. People with control issues often have anxiety – the fear of not being able to control manifests physiologically. If we create an escape route – in case owning it, reassessing, letting go, disassociating and trust don’t completely satisfy our fears… having an alternative plan helps. It many never happen that you use Plan B but just initiating a design for another option allows your mind to experience a sense of relief.  Draw it out, make lists, save money, know where the exit is.

Having an active Plan B allows you to feel in control of something even when you have none.

If you liked what you read just now, please SHARE it with friends and family by using one of the buttons below (Facebook, Twitter, Email & LinkedIn) and know that I am grateful for your effort.

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The Birth of Control Issues

We have a vision in our minds – we all do – of what a comfortable, safe life looks and feels like

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” – Kahlil Gibran

If you’ve been a reader for a while you know that I have a special place in my heart for those of us with ‘control issues’. I am one of those people who get anxious when I am faced with a lot of things that are outside of my control because it means that my emotional and/or physical safety is at risk – or at least that’s what my mind thinks.

Remember – we developed control needs when – at some point in our life – there was a perception of chaos or we somehow perceived that we were emotionally threatened. In an effort to calm down, relax, reduce anxiety… we searched for ways to create a sense of safety. To do that, we pulled in and engineered the circumstances in our environment to the extent that we were able.  If someone was inside the sphere under influence – they were also pulled in.

I’ve been accused of needing to control. It’s true. I do occasionally attempt to over manage, govern, inflict authority, etc… in situations where not doing so may leave my emotional welfare up for grabs.

I will not apologize for this – it is my survival mechanism. It is how I manage risk and make it through difficult times.

I will acknowledge though, that in this effort to create emotional safety in my world I am sometimes overbearing and unthoughtful about the other people in my space. For that – I am apologetic. Please know that I am not interested in mastering YOU. I am only seeking resolution for the risk that I am unwilling to take.

Here are how control issues manifest:

When I was married and my husband drank a lot I would feel as if he wasn’t there for me. He would either get sloppy or emotionally distant. He was unable to take care of responsibilities and I felt as if the weight of the world fell onto my shoulders. – NOT A DESIREABLE FEELING. To get rid of that feeling, I would beg him not to drink. I would hide the alcohol. I stopped wanting to go out to dinner at any restaurant where there was a bar. I never wanted to entertain or go over to friends’ houses if there was going to be beer. In my mind – if he didn’t have access to alcohol, I had a partner and someone to share the responsibility. I was fearful of being the only one accountable… what if I failed?

When my kid’s friends started to drive, they wanted to transport my own children around town. Of course, the idea of having driving freedom is a highlight of all teens – a rite of passage. But… I didn’t have any control over my children’s safety if they were in the car with someone else. In an effort to control for MY own fears and feelings, I’d take the kids anywhere they wanted to go – I’d drive carloads of young women around town all afternoon and wait – sometimes at the expense of my other commitments so that I wouldn’t have to cope with the risk of them driving with someone else which stimulated my fears of them being unsafe – ultimately MY fear of feeling loss.

When I was married, I paid all the bills. (surprised?) I had a lot of fears that revolved around not having enough money. If we didn’t have enough money for the mortgage or the car payment they could get taken away (my parents had a car repossessed and a house foreclosed on when I was a kid). As long as I was the one paying the bills, I could ‘control’ how and when the payments were made. If my husband spent money without my knowledge it immediately triggered my fear that we may not have enough and ultimately that we would be homeless which, might be a little dramatic but that’s where my mind went.

Notice that in each case the underlying component is FEAR. In each case, I am attempting to mitigate the negative feelings that I WILL FEEL if things don’t go smoothly. I become afraid that YOUR actions may generate a problem for my emotional safety. Somewhere along the line I’ve adopted the idea that if you do … (this)… , I will feel … (that)… usually based on some historical event that either personally happened to me or that I witnessed.  Consequently, I have surmised that if I can keep you from doing (this) – I won’t feel (that). The most fundamental problem with this instinctual strategy is that I CAN’T CONTROL YOU and it leaves me vulnerable.

No matter how hard I might try to control for my own fear – in the examples I’ve provided they require something from another person – who may be feeling as if I am attempting to dominate their behavior. Superficially – I AM trying to control the situation but…

… not because I am interested in having control of YOU – but because I am trying to have control OF ME.

The crux of this whole effort – and where everyone gets stuck is – that we HAVE NO CONTROL OVER OTHERS! People are not puppets – nor do any of us want to be. We are designed for self-mastery… to want to make decisions for ourselves.

We have a vision in our minds – we all do – of what a comfortable, safe life looks and feels like. We have an idea of how to accomplish that vision. When we have experienced successful collaborations, we generally learn to accept that there are many roads leading to the achievement of that ideal. However, people who have been abandoned, betrayed, and left to their own devices learned that they were solely responsible for reaching the objective and therefore, develop a premise that they must go it alone and have to have command in order to be successful.

My mom said a thousand times if she said it once… “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” That statement all by itself is probably enough for me having learned that ‘I had to have control’. Remember – if something is done ‘right’ – that’s good. We will do anything to create more ‘good’ feelings… they create a sense of emotional safety. Indirectly, and I’m am sure without any obvious intent, it was one of the ways that I was taught that to do it yourself – to have personal control – was the way to emotional safety.

However, we do not live in isolation – nor do any of us really want to exist all by ourselves. We come together in pairs or groups with the intent of achieving a joint vision and we must learn how to achieve emotional safety without the deleterious effects often produced by the ‘control issues’ that formed along the way.

Tomorrows post will address that problem.

If you liked what you read just now, please SHARE it with friends and family by using one of the buttons below (Facebook, Twitter, Email & LinkedIn) and know that I am grateful for your effort.

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Choosing Love

I picked up the phone to call him, just to remind him that I was excited to think about what lay ahead for us.

Continued from Falling

“The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry lifetime after lifetime.” ― Alex Collier

After Harlan told me he had been treated for melanoma I was a bit heartbroken. I didn’t want to go through that again, I couldn’t imagine setting myself up for loss one.more.time. I struggled to find some peace with the idea of letting him go – before he ‘really’ got under my skin and into my heart. I felt disappointed and a little defeated because I had finally met someone worth allowing myself to fall in love again and he is telling me that he had thought he was going to die a few years prior.

He had said the only treatment he had was excision of the mole… no radiation or chemotherapy. One would think that it couldn’t have been too serious and yet, a cancer diagnosis is terrifying no matter the circumstances. Every time I thought I could overcome my fear, the memories of my step dad’s journey with melanoma crowded my vision and then I could see myself again as a widow sitting in the front row of a funeral service. I just couldn’t do it.

I picked up the phone and called my Aunt. We had been close since I had settled my grandparent’s estate and she was like-minded in spiritual philosophies so it was easy to talk with her most of the time about this existential stuff. I needed to think out loud and bounce my thoughts off of someone.

“I met this guy”, I started telling her the story of Harlan and our instant connection. I shared with her, the prophecy from my mountain trip and gave her a general description of how things had transpired so far. I told her about his melanoma and how scared I was to take the risk of loving him.

“So, let me get this straight”, she said. “You are going to throw away the opportunity to love a person whom you are describing as a ‘soulmate’ because he MIGHT die?”. She sounded incredulous. “I thought you believed that everything happened for a reason”. She was challenging me.

I recalled an evening she and I were sitting on the porch at my grandparent’s farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania overlooking the amazing acreage there in the Blue Mountain region. The beauty of it was always intense, no matter the time of year. It was one of those places where you sit and observe the perfection of God’s work, of creation. It is one of those places where the paragon of color, texture, and shape are apparent. We were sitting there talking, taking a break from the emotional aspects of our losses; she of having lost a sister and her parents and me – my mom and grandparents. It was a lot to process. The conversation had turned metaphysical. We talked about the lack of coincidence, cosmic design, divine intervention, universal intent… all of the things that inspire me deeply…

Suddenly it was clear. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, then I had to deduct that

THIS moment

In its intention

Is perfect.

That meant – every moment of my life – each one… in its overall intention for the rest of my  life was perfectly designed.

The intensity of the meaning of that realization took me by surprise. Whether it was God, the Universe, Mother Earth … it didn’t matter – each moment of my life was moving me toward the next… perfectly. It was a concept that we both internalized and committed to memory – feeling quite satisfied that we had discovered something so profound.

She was reminding me of that now as I questioned the value and or the validity of meeting Harlan, of falling in love with him. She reminded me that there are never any guarantees. She asked me if I would have married Rocky even if I knew that our time together would have been short. I knew I would have – those short three and a half years were precious to me and had produced Frank… I would never have given that up. She asked me if I would have married Hubby even if I knew the outcome and as much as I wanted to say a resounding ‘no’ – I knew that the girls were a product of that union and nothing on earth would have me regret those blessings. I wouldn’t change anything about my life.

She asked me to think about whether I was willing to reject even a day of love, of being loved, the experience of the joy that being in love brings for the sake of safety. So, “in other words, she said, “you would rather feel nothing – no pain, no joy, than to feel love and potential pain??”

Hmmm…

I didn’t ‘want’ to feel ‘nothing’ but I was afraid. I was afraid of the pain that loving someone -and losing them- entailed. I was terrified of the darkness that ensues when love ends. The idea of experiencing that again panicked me but then again, the idea of never loving again wasn’t what I wanted either. Crap. Shit. What do I do now?

I appreciated the phone call even if it didn’t solidify a decision to end my budding romance. Rather, it did just the opposite I was more clear on the emotions that I experienced when he told me about the melanoma. I realized that when I noticed the potential for emotional pain, my response was to shut down, turn, and run away. That’s normal, right? Who ‘wants’ to feel pain? I understood then that the ‘fight or flight’ response we instinctively use wasn’t only for our physical protection – it was for our emotional protection as well. In our efforts to preserve our emotional integrity, we avoided or fought back emotionally.

My desire to run away from Harlan in case he died was an instinct to avoid the pain of losing him. The mature adult part of my brain that held on to rational thinking knew that there were no guarantees even if he had never known the word melanoma; after all… Rocky believed he would live to be one hundred years old. Nope, no guarantees at all. With very little conscious thought from that point on, I allowed myself to love.

I picked up the phone to call him, just to remind him that I was excited to think about what lay ahead for us. I looked forward with a little apprehension but less fear by knowing that right now… here… in THIS moment I was choosing love. At some point, I noticed that I always choose love.

Soul Theory and Chances

I was about to find out if I had any ‘flirting’ energy left in my spirit.

Continued from Stepping Out

“The purpose of our journey on this precious Earth is now to align our personalities with our souls. It is to create harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for Life.
It is to grow spiritually.” ~ Gary Zukav

Taking classes online meant that almost all my work was writing – probably 98%. We had discussion questions to post and respond to, as well as papers to write, in most classes, weekly. The discussions were designed to generate critical thinking. Why?? We were always asking why. Why do you think that way? Where does that originate from? What are you trying to accomplish? The student body was much more diversified than the undergrad scene I had just come from and so it was a pleasure to have in-depth conversations with people who had some life experience under their belt as well.

By Spring, I was deep into learning different counseling theories. As it turns out, mental health counseling was a rather ‘new’ profession – not derived from psychology – as most of us probably assume as I did. It morphed from the Parsons vocational counseling efforts which began just after the turn of the twentieth century. Up to that point, Psychiatrists and Psychologists gave mental health advice – predominately at the doctorate level and they are trained in a ‘medical model’. Essentially, a medical model attempts to determine what is wrong or broken physically (i.e., brain chemistry) and then works to ‘fix’ it. The counseling profession today is mostly designed to address mental health from a ‘strengths’ perspective. We consider all the things that are good – what skills, attributes, resources, etc., do you already possess that can help you move through the challenges that you face on a day to day basis?

There are a half dozen or so mainstream theories on human behavior in the counseling field and very few therapists today use one of them exclusively. Most of us begin by utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in its core form – looking at how we think and then encouraging supportive behavior to reinforce new / improved thoughts. Along the way, we will inject tidbits from other ideologies such as…. humanistic, existential, and transpersonal concepts.

One of my final papers was to conceptualize and present a new, personal theory of counseling. I called it Soul Theory. It was complete with a view of human nature, therapeutic goals, anticipated client experience, and therapeutic techniques. It also outlined therapists function and roles along with a guide to direct the relationship between the therapist and client. The basic tenant was this:

In soul theory, it is postulated that an individual is comprised of not only body and mind, but also of the soul.  It is the soul’s purpose to guide the human existence on a journey toward the ability to experience complete unconditional love at all times.  When the soul is in balance with the body and mind – in a state of love – behavior is normalized and absent of maladaptive patterns or pathology.  The human experience of emotional states is the result of an imbalance between the soul and one’s behavior or thoughts.  Soul theory is based on the premise that the soul is connected directly to the divine and is all knowing.

I’ve added the paper in its entirety as a page for anyone interested in reading and thinking about it.

I was more fortunate than many and didn’t have to do anything except concentrate on school. When the girls left for high school each morning, I grabbed my coffee cup and headed into my home office where I was able to sit in a comfortable chair and work on a recent model desktop computer. I stayed in my jammies most days until mid-afternoon. Occasionally, I would grab a textbook and head out to the hot tub to study. It wasn’t a bad life and I expressed gratitude for it on a daily basis. The one thing that ex-Hubby always deserves credit for is making that deposit every month that allowed me to educate myself and raise our daughters. I am grateful to him for that privilege. It was a solitary life, though. I was in the house alone or with teens all of the time. Once in a while I would go to lunch with a friend or talk with a neighbor but it wasn’t ‘company’ or ‘companionship’ and I am a social creature… I wanted to meet someone. I wanted to hold hands and kiss and… well – I was craving camaraderie with someone of the opposite sex.

By now it was late October and the quandary was still the dating thing – it just wasn’t my style really and yet, how does one meet someone in Suburbia? I meditated on it for over a week, I prayed and allowed my mind to be open for an answer. I sat quietly during the day for a month or more and ‘heard’ that I needed to put myself out there. I knew I needed to ‘open the door’ at least so that the Universe could send people my way. A month had gone by and Thanksgiving had passed, Christmas was around the corner… time was passing and I was still lonely. I decided to do it in the least aggressive, least intrusive, and least risky manner… I refreshed my Match.com profile and promised myself that I wouldn’t sit there for hours looking through profiles but I would wait. That was the open door – a picture and a paragraph that offered a glimpse of myself, of my life. I vowed to respond to anyone – everyone who made an effort to reach out to me after all, I didn’t know who they might be and I secretly self-pledged not to judge the people knocking on the proverbial door.

And there was nothing for a solid week. I was beginning to feel like a true loser. I asked the Universe again… “what’s going on”? I would whisper to myself in my thoughts / prayers and I got busy preparing for the holidays.

Just after the first of December, I received an email notifying me that there was a message in my Match.com inbox. The tagline of the message was ‘You have a nice smile’. Ahh… that’s cute – a bit corny, but cute. I liked the idea that someone noticed ‘a smile’ and that it prompted him to mention it. I clicked on the profile of the person who had messaged me and saw a man in sunglasses, sitting down but looking kind of ‘up’ toward the camera. He was wearing dark clothing and had a grin – not a smile – on his face. Crap. I couldn’t see his eyes. I put a lot of stock in what I saw in someone’s eyes.

I could tell by reading his personal paragraph that he was eight years older than me, was divorced a few years ago, and bought his clothing at EMS. I’ll admit that I had to look up what kind of store EMS was and I thought it was a bit strange that someone would tell me – actually, the world – where they bought their clothes, but o.k., perhaps it was an identity thing. After researching EMS, I got a handle on a guy who was probably athletic and ‘earthy’. Simple.

I could tell by his photograph that he had blondish hair and a HUGE mustache. That would be different for me – I never got too into facial hair but hey… I was on an adventure. He claimed to be six foot four inches – Yay for me! A tall guy. I ‘winked’ back at him. I had no idea what the proper ‘protocol’ was and I had asserted to myself that I was NOT going to be aggressively pursuing a companion. I wanted to be chased a bit.

I was about to find out if I had any ‘flirting’ energy left in my spirit.

Trancendent Study

I hear enough critique in my own mind, in the real world, and I didn’t need it to come from the afterlife too.

Continued from Such Diffidence

“Learning the lessons of life can be so simple if you believe in immortality.” – Brian Weiss

There is a phenomenon of picking the same seats, day after day in college classrooms. It is a psychological mystery. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t just happen in college and it was apparent there, in the conference center at Omega, full of adults ranging in age from 25 to 80 – that we were also subject to this tendency. The good part was that I could ask that guy next to me – eventually known as Michael – about his regression yesterday.

The resolve I had started the day with, the resolve that quickly waned as I went relatively unnoticed at breakfast, had not walked into that room with me. I sat there, silently, as Dr. Weiss asked us all if today was in any way special. I wanted to say “It’s my birthday” in hopes that he would use me to demonstrate a regression; something I had fantasized about ever since I began reading his books. It was a simple gesture to just raise my hand and make that factual announcement but something heavy and solid inside of me prevented my arm from lifting away from my side and the day got started. I sat there, of course, interested in the unfolding of what I could learn but also disappointed in myself again for not being willing to take the risk, for not allowing myself to be vulnerable. I was still not convinced that my voice, my energy, my input – was worth hearing.

We broke off into groups of two or three several times that day, offering me an opportunity to talk with people and yet even then, I waited for people to come to me or I waited to see ‘who was left’… it was a self-fulfilling continuation of those many times in grade school where I was the ‘last pick’… relegating myself to the benchmark of my youth. There was a woman behind me who appeared as quiet and as low profile as me, she became my go to… my escape when it was time to pick partners. If I chose her, I didn’t feel unchosen. It was a good compromise. What I really wanted was to choose Michael but he had already formed a ‘group’, the popular people… the ones who were bold and confident. I didn’t belong to that group no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t find the moxie to wedge myself in there. It was one of those adult moments that seemed as though we (or at least I) had transported back to middle school for a short time and who in their right mind would do that?

This woman who had become my serendipitous partner was so ‘in tune’ with the Universe that when it came time to practice listening to our souls, she read me like a book. We had the task of taking an item from our partner and holding it – concentrating deeply on the story of the item, it’s history and then share any insight with the owner. I handed her a ring that I had been given from my Grandmother’s estate. It wasn’t old fashioned looking, in fact, I’m not sure it was old, only that it had been hers. She gave me a bookmark. Dr. Weiss directed us through a process whereby we were to consider the object and its energy. I felt way, way out of my league at this point. I was still an infant on the regression thing and reading energy was for Spiritual Masters, wasn’t it? I tried to concentrate on his voice, on the direction but my feelings of inadequacy were too strong. They overruled almost everything that came through my mind. The only thing that I could say I ‘felt’ was God. That is the word that kept coming to me.

When the challenge was finished, we shared with our partner the information we had received about the item we had been holding. I told this lady that I wasn’t very good at this yet, that the only thing I sensed was “God”. She smiled softly and informed me it was the bookmark from her bible and pulled it out of her backpack. It was a worn, King James version that appeared to be well read. As she slipped the bookmark back into the pages, I felt a shiver run up my spine. ‘Whoa’, I thought. Next, it was her turn. She informed me that the ring had belonged to an old woman, perhaps my grandmother – she asked with a question mark. I nodded in agreement. She said that my grandmother had come to her and spoke about all the sadness in our family, that there had been too much loss but that they were all together – the shivers intensified dramatically. And then, she said, “your grandmother said to forgive your sister.”

I sat there stunned and silent. Why would I always have to face this? Can’t Abee just be a non-issue for a while? “Wow, that’s amazing,” I said. “Thank You”. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea that people could talk to me from the grave. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say, actually. Isn’t it odd, perhaps misfortunate, that we only want to hear the things that are supportive and validating?? I hear enough critique in my own mind, in the real world, and I didn’t need it to come from the afterlife too.

We spent a fair amount of time hearing more from Dr. Weiss, details from his sessions with Catherine, in the early regression years. She had channeled some spirit masters who spoke about love, learning, and the ultimate goal of serenity. Those masters indicated that sometimes, we stay in soul form so that we can be guides for people we’ve left or for future generations. Other times, we reincarnate into the same family to continue working on growing in an environment we know is ripe for us. He led us into a regression where we were to connect with our spirit guides, asking them to come to us in an identifiable form. I saw a picture frame on the wall with three ‘windows’ – room for three photos – but they were blank. The more I focused on the frame, I came to realize that there were forms in the squares but they were blurry. I stayed with it. One of the frames became clear and I saw a face. It wasn’t a face that I knew completely but it appeared to resemble my oldest daughter. When I looked closer, I experienced a distinct knowing that it was indeed her. There was something about the eyes that make it obvious and believable. I was a bit confused because she was here… in my life, not just existing in the spirit world somewhere. Was it possible she had come into this world to guide me? I was pleasantly surprised at the prospect.

We watched a couple more regressions that day and by the end of the afternoon, I was tired. I ate a quick dinner and headed back to my room where my roommate, was resting. I tried to be quiet but of course, she woke as I came and unpacked my bag. She was from Pakistan and spoke very broken English but we made it through conversation pretty well. It turns out she was known, in her country, as a medium and was there training with someone renowned in the US. When she discovered it was my birthday she offered to ‘read’ me. She used only my date of birth and jotted down several things. The one I specifically remember is that I would meet a man sometime between holidays, before Christmas; I took that to mean after Thanksgiving. It was still only July so I didn’t get too excited but it was fun to have something to look forward to – maybe.

I had to drive off the mountain in order to talk with the girls who had been waiting all day for me to call so they could wish me a happy birthday. For a few minutes, as I sat by the river in a park across the bridge from Poughkeepsie, I missed them terribly. I considered just leaving, going home to my kiddos and forgetting all this transcendent stuff but I continued to be pulled toward the things I could not rationalize. The week had just begun.