Even therapists need a therapist...here's what I learned from trying to find my own

Man, finding a therapist is hard - in an effort to practice what I preach - that everyone should have a supportive therapist to practice mental hygiene (it's like dental hygiene but y'know less widely accepted!) I recently decided to get back in to attending my own therapy after a break. But uh-oh my past therapist is no longer in practice!

Cue me reading 4 billion therapist profiles on Psychology Today and googling “Therapist + Mar Vista” multiple times in the vague hope that some new, perfect option would appear in the search results the 4th time I did the search (eternal optimist, that’s me!)

Here’s what I’ve learned from the process of searching for a therapist so far:

The good….

- PsychologyToday.com and other therapist directory sites, are great places to start the search if you don’t already have a recommendation to go on (or like me, all the therapists you know are already personally or professionally part of your circle and thus not appropriate as your therapist. Except under quite specific circumstances, your therapist should not be someone you already have a non-therapeutic relationship with).

- There are a lot of therapists in Los Angeles, so there’s definitely one that’s right for me and right for you. That's a big deal 'cos if you don't feel comfy and connected with your therapist that's a massive roadblock to a successful therapy experience, whatever your goals are (unless I guess, your goal is to be uncomfortable, disconnected and pay for the privilege? No - that's not my goal either).

The not so-good…

- After a while of reading, all the therapist profiles start to sound the same in those directories, it’s so difficult to tell if that person is right for you just from the profile….

- It’s even harder to tell because we loooooooove to use ‘therapy speak’ in these profiles - phrases that seem to not really mean much, or acronyms (CBT, DBT etc.) that are mystifying unless you studied psychology or counseling

- And then, when you reach out to a therapist to try and find out if they are a fit for you, you get slow and in some cases, even no reply.

Basically, I found being on the 'client' side of the finding a therapist experience, to be tough. So, here's my pledge to anyone seeking a therapist...

…I will return your call or email within one business day

... I will always make time for a free, no obligation, phone consultation so you can figure out if I'm a good fit for you

…I will not assume you speak ‘therapy’ and will do my very best to talk like a ‘normal’ person

…If we are not a fit, for whatever reason, I will help you find the therapist that is.

And if there's something else you have found super annoying and hard about finding a therapist, please let me know so I can add to this promise and make it easier for everyone to find their perfect 'mental hygiene' fit!

Thought Patterns That Suck: Stop 'Shoulding' On Yourself

The way we think, feel and behave all interact on each other – a positive thought might make us feel happy and that in turn makes us smile and that makes a passerby smile back at us, which might create another positive thought and the cycle continues. However, we’re (literally) wired to recognize negatives more powerfully than we recognize positives so it’s much more common for us to experience an unhappy cycle of thought, behavior and feeling.

A specific style of thought – ‘shoulds’ – can make us feel crappy about ourselves. ‘Shoulds’ are the rules and laws we hold internally, think of them as a little internal dictator. Sometimes the rules this dictator wants us to follow, make sense, for example, we should signal when changing lanes.  But other common ‘shoulds’ – “I should be a size 6”, “I should be the perfect parent or partner”, “I should never get angry”, “I should always be productive”, on and on they go, are largely bullsh!t. These ‘shoulds’ are sticks with which our inner dictator beats us. And the dictator rarely lets us question the truth, relevance or real importance of those rules, to the lives we want to live. And so we keep on ‘shoulding’ on ourselves.

This week I challenge you to rebel a little!

Take 10 minutes and sit quietly. Ask yourself, what are the areas of life that you feel unhappy with yourself in. Then ask yourself, what are the rules you and your inner dictator hold for yourself around that area. (For example, someone might feel unhappy about the amount of exercise they’re getting, and they uncover that the rule they are holding is ‘only exercise sessions that last more than an hour, count’. That rule, arbitrary as it is (it doesn’t meet any particular health requirement that I know of), dictates that person’s sense of self-esteem and respect).

Write down the ‘shoulds’ you discover from your own inner dictator on a piece of paper or as a note on your phone. Then for the next week, attempt to monitor when those ‘shoulds’ present themselves to you – keep a tally.

Why? Before we can undo thoughts that hurt or hinder us, we need to recognize when they’re present. So this is the first step…. And trust me, we all have some ‘shoulds’ we could do without! Give it a try.

5 Really Good Reasons to Combine Yoga and Therapy

I specialize in using a combination of yoga and mindful movement within my psychotherapy practice – sometimes I use these techniques as part of a session to further the work going on ‘there and then’, and often I’ll create a bespoke yoga practice for an individual that they’ll do in between sessions, to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the work we do together in session, or to process our session once it ends.

Some of my clients choose to work with me because they already have a yoga practice and want to use it to support them on their therapy journey, others have no idea why yoga would be useful to them in psychotherapy or have never tried yoga before in their life. The wonderful thing is, it doesn’t really matter which group you hang your hat with – yoga is beautifully democratic and works no matter who you are or what you are bringing to the table.

Here are five big reasons yoga is a kick-ass addition to psychotherapy: 

1)    Yoga can quickly alleviate symptoms of the two most common mental health challenges

From my experience with hundreds of client, specially selected yoga practices can provide an energy boost for people experiencing low mood or energy, or offer a calming, grounding effect for the more anxious, in as little as a few minutes. Stress, depression and anxiety are the leading presenting problems in medical or psychotherapy appointments and teaching a basic yoga practice could provide some symptom relief in many of these cases.

2)    Yoga helps us think more clearly

We do our best intellectual processing and decision making when we are calm, and yoga helps us get there. Simply put, the most intelligent, analytical part of our brain gets switched off when we’re experiencing strong emotion. The nervous system shuts it down and starts to funnel decision making to the brain’s more primitive parts that trigger our survival responses of fight, flight and freeze. It often doesn’t matter if that strong emotion is fear or completely ‘positive’, say happiness and joy, the nervous system experiences a peak of feeling in the same way. Given therapy taps in to all sorts of intense emotional experiences our nervous system can often benefit from a helping hand in calming back down and bringing our ‘smart’ brains back on-line.

3)    Yoga heals body, like talk therapy heals mind

Our life is experienced and stored in both our body and mind, talk therapy helps clear out negative thoughts and unhelpful patterns from our mind and yoga can be a way to do the same for our bodies. If a person has been depressed for years, you’ll often see it in their body posture perhaps manifested as slightly rounded shoulders, dropped chin or shallow, chest-based breathing. These postural expressions of depression – or any other mental health condition – can outlast the more mental aspects of the condition and they continue to send messages of depression throughout the body.

4)    Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies

The ability to listen to our body is a lost skill for many of us. This unfortunately, contributes to a whole host of physical and mental health challenges, in which we don’t listen, and then eventually can’t listen, to things our bodies are trying to tell us.  For example, our body naturally tells us when we’re hungry and when we’re full, but if we don’t listen to these cues for long enough, by under or overeating, they begin to disappear (remember that time you got so hungry you stopped feeling hungry?) and our bodies’ needs become lost to us. Or we may feel a bit ‘off’ at the end of a day, and rather than ‘listen in’ to that feeling and learn its specifics – asking ourselves am I feeling anger, sadness, loneliness? and what does that feeling need me to do to truly make it feel better? - we might immediately reach for our cure-all coping tool – chocolate, wine or binge watching TV, to numb out. Part of the practice of yoga is paying attention to very subtle movements and sensations, honing the skill we all need to be able to actually hear and make use of the intelligence our body is continually trying to share with us.

5)    Yoga is ‘therapy in your pocket’

Yoga tools are easy to learn and implement, they don’t need any complicated accessories (except your amazing self, of course) and can be used anywhere, anytime. Going on vacation? Away for work? Moving house, state or country? Take your yoga practice with you and use it as needed. The work we do in the room together is important, but the efforts you make every day are even more so – regular yoga exercises and meditation experiences, designed for your unique situation and goals, can keep you moving forward between sessions.

Self-Care 101 for New Activists

In the wake of the inauguration, amidst continuing grief, anger and disenchantment, there is also a palpable sense of awakening.

Those of us blindsided by the election result back in November – who could not imagine that such vast numbers of people would support what we considered to be unsupportable – now stumble in to a realization that others have been forced to reckon with for years. That widespread racism, sexism, nationalism and fear of anything ‘other’, is alive and well in the United States of America.

This ‘new’ awareness feels devastating. We are in shock and grief for the world we imagined ourselves to be living in. There is no clear path through grief, no timeline to hold on to with a ‘grief will be completed by’ date, no universal expression that we all share and understand, just an acknowledgement by those of us that study grief, that it involves multiple stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

For many of us, in the post ‘Trump-win’ world, ‘acceptance’ won’t mean apathy, it won’t mean ‘rolling with it’, it will mean acceptance that the world is darker than we hoped and that whatever we had been doing to support our values, might not have been enough.

It’s this form of acceptance – not apathy –that I believe is at play in the massive increase in subscriptions to legitimate news sources, to donations to the ACLU, to the hundreds of thousands of people that are gathering in streets to demonstrate their concerns across the nation and the world and to the number of planned parenthood donations that have already been made in Mike Pence’s name. This presidency may bring with it a whole new ballgame for activism, a whole new generation of activists. As a direct result of this presidency, some will engage in grass roots efforts for the first time in their lives, others will up the ante of their previous activities in light of the perceived threats.

Community activism, often comes at a personal price of mental and physical health tolls. Activism in its many forms can take dedication, long hours and little sleep, it can put us in to confrontation with others and sometimes even put us in danger, resulting in physical and mental harm. Stress, burn-out, depression and PTSD are frequent amongst the activist community, as they are amongst many fields that are driven by passion. So, as we push forward with our agenda for a more loving, open, and kind America, it’s important to remember, that we must also provide that for ourselves.

It’s easy to put our own needs aside when fighting for a bigger picture – but think of it as affixing your own oxygen mask first. If you are struggling, if you are exhausted, if you are unsupported, you are not at your best and you cannot put your best foot forward for the causes you are passionate about.

Here are some simple self-care strategies for activists:

Breath:

Balance your nervous system before, during and after confrontations to ensure you are always coming from as grounded and calm stance as possible. Do this by inhaling through your nose for a count of 4 and exhaling out of our mouth for a count of 4. Repeat 3 times.

Muscle Tension:

Unwind from long days by deliberately tensing and then releasing muscle groups to create greater release from tired muscles. Start with your feet, tense all the muscles of the feet, squeeze them for 10 seconds, then let them relax. Continue to do this for your calves, then thighs, stomach, arms, shoulders and face.

Sleep:

We lose physical and mental energy when we have not had enough sleep. Not everyone needs the traditional 8 hours, but be sure to make time for the amount of sleep you do need, no matter what the situation. Lack of sleep makes us more prone to burn-out and less resilient to stress.

Community: Work with a community that shares your values. Having a team that believes in your goals and that you can work alongside to reach them, will create a level of buoyancy and energy that we often cannot maintain in isolation. Isolation can also be a breeding ground for depression. Even if you prefer to work alone, it’s important to connect with others who share your values from time to time, to stave off negative thinking and hopelessness that can arise during long battles and contribute to depression.

Emotional support: Connect with loved ones who care about you, and allow yourself to be taken care of and relax from time to time. It’s not selfish, its self-care.

 

Positive Psychology: What's that all about?

If you’ve ever considered therapy, you likely are only too aware that we therapists do love to use ‘catchy’ terms like attachment theory, somatic therapy, CBT, DBT, family systems, solution oriented, interpersonal and psychoanalysis, when describing what we do. In this, series of blogs - the 'What the f%@! is that?' series - I'll be explaining some of the approaches and terms I use.

Next up: Positive Psychology

What is it?

Contrary to popular belief, positive psychology is not about being annoyingly upbeat and pollyanna-isa at all times. Trust me, that would drive me crazy too! Positive psychology is actually the study of what makes happy, successful or particularly resilient people, the way that they are! Armed with that information - which has been gathered through scientifically rigorous research and details how these people think and approach both the good and bad stuff in their lives - I can then help others become their happier, most successful and most resilient selves.

Why do I use it?

The foundation of positive psychology is in identifying and using strengths to solve problems and increase our fulfillment and I love that. So much of traditional psychotherapy is based on ‘fixing what’s wrong’ - and of course, I would never ignore that, but in everyone’s life there is so much that is right. We can use that right stuff for so much more than we typically do. I firmly believe that by only focusing on the negative we are blocking out a real sense of our own power and brilliance and that when we are in our strengths, our flow, we are at our very best. I love to find someone’s strengths and help them harness those strengths to blow through any pesky challenge that might be presenting itself.

How does it work?

There are many techniques and skills that I use in session with my clients that draw upon positive psychology, too many to mention here but here are a couple of classics to give you a sense of what this might look like in practice.

Strengths Assessment - using a strengths assessment developed by the godfather of positive psychology himself (Martin Seligman), we identify your 10 most prominent strengths. Once we have this information we can use it to brainstorm how each of these could be used more in upcoming situations of concern, allowing you to be in a position of strength even when facing something new or nerve wracking.

Gratitude Practice - identifying and journaling about things we are grateful for once a day for a two week period is proven to significantly improve our sense of happiness and satisfaction with life. 

Ideal Self Inquiry - through a series of specific prompt questions, create an image of your future ideal self based on your dreams, desires, strengths and values. Hang out mentally with this ideal self for a few minutes. This exercise is proven to aid people in taking action toward who they want to be and living in alignment with their values, which again, is proven to make people feel happier and more satisfied with their lives.

Want to check out how the practices of positive psychology could be applied to your life? Email me to schedule your free 20 minute consultation now: kim@hffwellness.com

EMDR Therapy: What's that all about?

If you’ve ever considered therapy, you likely are only too aware that we therapists do love to use ‘catchy’ terms like attachment theory, somatic therapy, CBT, DBT, family systems, solution oriented, interpersonal and psychoanalysis, when describing what we do.

Now, (hopefully) we know what these terms mean - but there’s no reason why non-therapists would. They certainly weren't terms that I bandied around the boardroom in my non-therapy past career and so I’m going to assume some of the terms might be new to you too.

In this blog, and others to follow, I’m going to break down a few of the therapeutic approaches I work with. I don't believe therapy is a ‘one size fits all’ experience so I draw from several approaches and techniques including EMDR, somatic therapy, CBT, Mindfulness, Family Systems, Imago couples therapy and more, according to what my years of experience, tells me will best match each individual’s needs. 

First up, let’s talk about EMDR.

What is it?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and is, in therapy terms, a relatively young technique. But its already stacked up an impressive resume with research proving it effective in the treatment and reduction of a wide range of symptoms, particularly depression and post traumatic stress reactions.

Most commonly, EMDR sessions involve identifying target memories and stimulating each side of the brain alternately (bi-lateral stimulation) as we remember them to help alleviate disturbing emotions and sensations attached to them. Bi-lateral stimulation is achieved by asking you to follow a moving finger or light back and forth with your eyes.

Why do I use it?

EMDR research findings were enough to make me curious to know more, because if there really was a short duration technique that could help people free themselves from unhelpful past experiences then I wanted in.

But being a cynical Brit at heart I needed to experience it for myself before I’d accept it’s usefulness and begin offering it to my clients. And that’s exactly what happened. I took off my therapist hat and became a client, and in less than an hour I was recalling memories I hadn't thought of for years; identifying how these memories related to current challenges in my life, and most importantly, reducing their impact on my current life. I couldn't dismiss that! 

How does it work?

When we experience a disturbing event - it could be anything from a small but hurtful experience with a friend, to a near-death traffic accident - it can get locked in the brain with the original images, sounds, thoughts, feelings and body sensations, in a different way to neutral or positive experiences.

EMDR procedures can help us ‘sniff out’ memories that may be stuck in this way and then stimulate that information to allow the brain to reprocess the experience. It may be the same thing that’s happening in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or dream sleep - the bilateral stimulation i.e. the eyes moving back and forth, helps to reprocess the frozen material. And once the frozen memories are reprocessed and stored optimally, it gives you an opportunity to move on from it in a way that wasn't previously possible.

I offer short term work using EMDR for tackling specific events or memories that just wont leave you alone. I also use EMDR within broader therapy sessions - say for example, we’re working on a goal of building self esteem but we come across an experience that has contributed significantly to your experience of low self esteem. Using EMDR techniques we can work on that specific memory and reduce its power, sothat we are free to work on building more positive self regard without the memory constantly holding us back.

If you’d like to know more about how EMDR might be able to help you, please call or email me for a consultation.

What's Your Movement Identity?

We all tell ourselves a story about who we are in relation to movement, activity and sports. This story becomes our movement identity and can have a significant impact on our health and happiness if held too tightly, particularly if we’re also struggling with disordered eating.

Whatever movement identity we developed in our childhood, it’s possible to hold on to that with little update throughout our life. A lot of emotional pain is caused by trying to force our current selves in to old identities that no longer fit us or our bodies. We are all so much more complex than these over simplified movement identities we gain through the years and it can be so relieving to really identify the labels you have been carrying with you and check if they are relevant to your life now.

So what’s your movement identity? Is this identity even current or a throwback to some distant time when you were labelled the college track star? the clumsy kid? or were consistently picked first (or last) for team sports?

When it comes to disordered eating and body image issues – movement often plays a part in the disorder. Perhaps it’s a behavior we have relied upon to maintain weight and ‘purge’ calories, punish ourselves or prove our worth, or perhaps exercise is something we’ve avoided all together, missing out on the great mind-body benefits it can offer due to fear, body shame and comparisons to others.

So, what's your movement identity? Do you want to alter it or the way it effects you? I can help.

The Necessity of Alone Time

Wherever we think of ourselves on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, there’s a lot to be gained from spending some quality time alone. But getting that time alone might be easier said than done, as its pretty common to feel uncomfortable voicing a need to stay home alone or have some quiet time when your friends, family, or even that little judge-y voice in your head thinks you should be out partying. Social media and the minute by minute update of everyone’s seemingly oh-so glamorous lives can give us an almighty FOMO (fear of missing out).

I was chatting with Bethany Ramos of SheKnows.com about this recently and here’s a little reminder on the benefits of time alone – perhaps these will help you set aside the time for yourself with more determination! Check out her article (and of course, a little soapboxing from me) right here