Tag Archives: change

When Relationships Fall Apart

hand shake in front of blinds by Lisa Blair, M.A. and David Bedrick, J.D.

Lisa and David are both Certified Process Work Diplomats. This article  first appeared here and is reposted with permission. 

Every relationship has two handshakes: one above the table and one below. The first handshake is a conscious agreement between the two people, saying “We’re going to support each other, care for each other’s needs, listen to and accommodate each other, and compromise when we need to.” These are important agreements, however they are limited. As time passes, it typically becomes harder and harder to keep these agreements because previously unrevealed aspects of each person will arise that will not be in alignment with this initial contract.

What conscious or unconscious agreements are you making in your relationship?

The second handshake is an unspoken, unconscious agreement between the two people that says, “We’re each going to put away those aspects of ourselves that would threaten the relationship in order to make our life work well together, to avoid conflict, and to make each other comfortable, so that we may reach towards an ideal vision of relationship.” This second agreement requires each person to suppress things about themselves—their personality, individual and cultural style, needs, and desires in order to not rock the boat. These aspects remain in the shadow of the relationship.

Suppressed aspects of each person may include: not wanting to be present or listen to your partner even though you think you ought to; taking alone time when you think you should always be together; following your own impulses (to travel, hang out with certain friends or family, watch your favorite TV shows, go skiing…the list is endless) even though your partner does not have the same level of interest in these activities.

Additionally, these things may include ways of expressing oneself or communicating in styles that are outside the comfort zone of the relationship or of the other partner. For example, one partner may naturally be more forceful, direct, or quick, in their communication style while the other partner is more sensitive, slow, shy, or quiet. The first partner may accommodate by suppressing their power and approaching the other with more gentleness. The second partner may suppress their softer nature and try to meet the other with more force. Neither is inherently bad to do, but these accommodations are not typically sustainable for long periods of time.

The Second Handshake Falters

At some point, the second handshake—which is not fully conscious—falters and the suppressed needs, desires, or ways of expressing oneself rise to the surface causing all sorts of problems. They come out in resentments, angerdreams, illness, moods, affairs, and other disturbing experiences. At this point, important questions appear: How will I deal with these problems? Will I get depressed and take anti-depressants in order to find a comfort zone? Will I ignore these impulses and revert back to the first handshake and say, “Okay, I found a way to settle in this relationship and I can do this for the rest of my life.” Do I have the desire, willingness, and courage to embark on a warrior journey of personal and relationship growth with my partner?

Common Roads Couples Take

What needs, desires and communication styles are you suppressing to not rock the boat in your relationship?

There are four common roads that couples take when faced with the challenge of addressing the unconscious needs, desires, and expressions that inevitably rise to the surface in all long-term relationships.

Road #1: We’ve found in our work with clients that if one or both partners aren’t open to working out a way for the newly surfaced needs, desires, or expressions to live, then the relationship will revert back to the status quo of the first handshake and develop coping strategies to deal with the disturbing aspects of the relationship. These strategies will inevitably be unsustainable and lead to more problems and pain. These individuals might in essence say, “I’m going to shop, gamble, take drugs, get depressed, or have an affair.” Or, “I’m going to put all of my focus, time, and energy into making more money and being more successful to avoid going home and relating to my partner.” Or as a couple, they might in essence say, “We’re going to go on more vacations so that we can pretend life feels good and our needs are getting met.” Reverting to the status quo of the first handshake is the most common road taken when suppressed experience surfaces in relationship.

Road #2: A second road that a couple may find itself on is that of their children having difficulties that require professional help to address. In effect, the children begin living out the disturbing behaviors that the couple is not making room for. The couple may send their child to therapy because they have problems, becoming the “identified patient”—the one who appears ill when it is actually the family system that needs healing. Why wouldn’t you want to send your kids to therapy? What’s wrong with doing that? Seems to make perfect sense. However, the couple’s avoidance of their problems is causing the child to act out and this will continue unless and until the child is no longer seen as the identified patient and the couple begins to take responsibility for their relationship difficulties. Of course, this may not be the case in every situation where a child is acting out, but it’s always something to consider.

Road #3: The third road that many couples take is one with a dead end. In this scenario, the couple’s relationship terminates because it can’t accommodate the changes. That’s as far as it could go. It reaches a limit. The newly risen suppressed material is more than one or both partners can hold. It is too threatening or causes too much pain. The container is not strong enough and the relationship comes to an end.

Road #4: The fourth possible road that a couple can take requires significant changing and growing. The arms of the relationship get wider allowing it to move forward with the formerly suppressed experiences now integrated into the relationship. This is the least common of all possibilities because it requires that both partners want to learn and grow individually and in the relationship. It means each partner has to be willing to self-reflect, recognize their good intentions as well as their unconscious priorities, communicate honestly and openly with their partner, work through often painful conflict, and live closer to their individuated and more authentic self. This is not an easy path and typically requires the outside help of a therapist to facilitate the relationship transformation.

This path also requires that both people in the relationship are genuinely open to whatever specific change is presenting itself. If it is truly not right for one of the people in the relationship to be open to the change on the table, then to stay true to themselves and their deepest nature, they must remain closed to that change and the relationship may indeed end. There is no judgment, no blame here. Both people are open to learning and growing, but their nature says “no” to that specific change and so, ultimately the person has to choose to be true to themselves over keeping the relationship in tact.

When One Partner Is a Grower and the Other Is Not

Painting of figures leaning against opposite sides of a tree
Source: Leonid Eremeychuk/123rf

In long-term relationship, such as marriage, there is sometimes one partner who is more of a grower (a person who loves learning, growing, and changing over time) and one who is not. In our experience, in heterosexual relationship, the grower is more often a woman than a man, but of course, this is not universally true. Women are more likely then men to go to therapy and pursue personal growth in general. Sometimes, we have found, a woman partner will call to make an appointment for couples therapy with her male partner. When we ask her, “Does your partner want to come to therapy?” she says, “Well, I’m going to check with him, but I think he’d be willing to.” In situations like this, it’s invariably the case that the woman alone wants to go to therapy and the man is really not interested in doing therapeutic work. She wants to look at the relationship and interact about it, figure out who she is, learn new things, and become a new kind of person. But her male partner may be saying, “This is hard work and it costs a lot of money and it’s taking away from my life.” For her, the therapy is life giving; for him, it’s not.

In this case, couples therapy is counter-indicated; the woman would benefit more from individual therapy. It will not be wise for her to embark on a path of trying to change him. Either she’s going to find a way to create meaningful “separations” from her partner without actually terminating the relationship (e.g., following a career that she never pursued, hanging out with friends that she never made time for, not caring so much if her partner is in a bad mood, or separating herself emotionally and potentially financially) or she may eventually need to leave all the way.

The Tao in Relationship

While there is certainly much to be said for our personal efforts to grow and develop in relationship and the fact that these efforts have a significant effect on the resiliency of our relationship, the truth is—what happens in our relationship is not only up to us. What happens in our relationships, including how long they last, is also subject to the Tao, nature, the universe, God—whatever name you wish to give it, it has its own timing. Relationships have their own course and we cannot only control the outcome.

In a public lecture, author, activist, and seven-time NAACP Image Award recipient Nikki Giovanni explained the Tao in relationship in a most amusing, creative, and accurate way. She said (we’re paraphrasing), “Remember those fortune telling machines, like Zoltar at Coney Island? They spit out a ticket with your fortune.”

“With relationships,” she explained, “it’s as if the fortuneteller spits out a card telling the person how long their relationship is supposed to last. For example, the card might read one night, two months, twenty years, or a lifetime. Not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime. When the relationship goes longer than it’s supposed to—which is the most common occurrence—all sorts of problems occur and if the relationship does end at some point, each of the people typically feel terrible about how it ended, they hate the other person, and there’s a lot of pain. When the relationship gets cut short for some reason, the two people often forever imagine how perfect the other person was and how they could have been the love of their life. However, when the relationship ends exactly at the time predicted by the fortuneteller—the least common experience in relationships ending—it is typically bittersweet. Each person feels love and kindness towards the other, gratitude for what they shared together, and at peace with the knowledge that it had to end.”

Managing Fear After the Election

hope
Photo Credit: HOPE by Gedalya AKA David Gott via Flickr CC BY 2.0

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

Managing fear has been difficult for many people in the days following the 2016 US Presidential Election.  No matter which candidate you supported, you may find yourself overwhelmed by distressing news reports, tense conversations with loved ones, and your own complicated feelings.

LifeWorks is an explicitly inclusive therapy practice that welcomes all people. We know how painful the past few weeks have been for many individuals in the populations we serve. Whether you are feeling frozen and frightened, angry, apprehensive, saddened, emboldened, or an intense and unpredictable combination of various emotions, here are a few things you can do to help yourself stay grounded, resilient, and open—now and in the future.

1. Know that You are not Alone with Your Feelings.

Fear and helplessness can be extremely isolating, especially if it seems as though those around you don’t understand your experience or share your perspective. Remember that you are not alone. Your emotions, however enormous or volatile, are valid and yours. There are many in the US and around the world who share your feelings.

2. Seek Company with Friends and Family with whom You Feel Safe.

Surround yourself with supportive, compassionate loved ones. Cultivate a community that allows for safe dialogues. During periods of uncertainty, time spent with those you care about can provide you with a renewed sense of energy and remind you that you have others to lean on.

3. Engage in Building Your Community.

Look for ways you can get involved in your neighborhood, your city, or even your state. Your community is larger than your circle of friends, co-workers and family members. No matter where you are, there is likely an organization nearby that needs your support and can provide volunteer opportunities in line with your values. If you can’t find the organization or volunteer role you’re looking for, consider ways you can fill that void in your community. Many people find positive, community-building work to be deeply validating and empowering. Every little bit counts.

4. Get Involved in Productive, Life-affirming Activities. 

Focus on activities that allow you to feel purposeful, engaged, and fulfilled. Regardless of the news or your perspective on politics, you always have the ability to stay connected to your inner sources of strength.  Involve yourself in activities that give you a sense of vibrancy and hope. For example:

Move Your Body.

Dancing, hiking, physical exercise, yoga, meditation, and other activities that directly involve your body can help you harness and release anxious thoughts and feelings. Give yourself time to engage in the physical activities that help you feel grounded, dynamic, and calm.

Do Something Outside.

Nature is deeply soothing for some people. If you feel pent-up and on edge in an urban or suburban space right now, try spending some time in nature. Allow yourself to fully engage your senses, enjoy the present moment, and find wisdom and peace in the outdoors.

5. Speak about Your Fears with a Professional.

You may be feeling stuck and unsure about how you can look to the future with optimism. Therapy is a safe space for you to express what’s troubling you and to learn effective strategies to cope with feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety as they arise.

THE WORLD NEEDS YOU!

No matter who you are, you are important. Your self-care matters. Fear can cloud our capacity to see a way forward. The steps listed here may help you return to yourself and gain a new sense of clarity about who you are and what comes next for you. The world needs your voice however you choose to express it.

Take time to process your experience alone or with some one who cares.  Resist the urgency to action, if action does not feel right for you. Even in silence or meditation, your awareness is important for the wholeness of the world.

You may be experiencing many different emotions right now. Remember that believing that you have the capacity to navigate whatever comes your way or to find help and community to support you in doing so may be the most important thing you can do right now.

Cultural Competence and Bias

IMG_3718

by Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D.

As therapists, we recognize our ethical obligations to know and acknowledge the limits of our training and skills. We know that our expertise grows over time with experience and supervision, training, reading, dialogue and further training. These activities contribute to our mastery of specialized areas, methods or skills. But what about cultural competence? How do we become culturally competent? Does it just happen naturally or is there something we need to do?

I think of cultural competence as an evolving set of attitudes, knowledge, skills and awareness that supports my ability to relate to “other-ness” or the unknown in myself and those around me. Other-ness can also be thought of as experiences, ideas, practices, beliefs, and so on that I do not identify with, believe, do practice, or endorse.   In thinking about cultural competence, I focus on my connection to other-ness.  For me, it is less about achieving a level of proficiency as measured or defined by someone else and more about an ongoing process of refining the skills, attitudes and awareness practices that support my capacity to relate to and work with other-ness in myself and others.

In developing expertise in an area of practice, I might study, write and do research to deepen my knowledge base.  In mastering a particular treatment model, I study concepts, clinical vignettes and research. I also practice basic skills (or interventions), learn to identify particular patterns or signals and seek out supervision to help me perceive and respond to what I can not yet completely behold, understand and articulate.

In cultivating cultural competence, I rely heavily on my ever-changing ability to develop new attitudes and relationships as well as the capacity to use my awareness in new ways  to relate to ideas, practices, identities and other information I may not yet fully understand. I challenge myself to identify places where I am blocked from understanding or relating, instead of glossing over them and using my privilege to ignore or forget the experiences of others I do not in that moment connect to. Developing attitudes and growing awareness sometimes means exposing myself to and relating to people, practices and ideas that may feel foreign to me.  It may mean looking at deeply held beliefs and subtle biases that are not easy to identify or that are embarrassing or troubling. This can be a very difficult process!

Everyone Has Bias
One of the reasons the process of cultivating cultural competence is so difficult is bias. None of us want to have prejudices or biases but they are inevitable. In our work at LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center supervising and training therapists, we begin with the premise that every therapist, and in fact everyone, has bias. Bias starts with our experiences and the information we gather in life and gets filtered thru our identity and culture. Some of our biases are known to us, while others may be unknown or hidden.

Every therapist, no matter their identity or background, has bias. We define bias as anything (for example, any idea, belief, opinion, reaction or emotion) that limits one’s capacity to relate to another as whole and equal, or that which creates a tendency to marginalize aspects of another’s experience.

Therapeutic bias, if unexamined, can hinder or even endanger the therapeutic relationship but it can also be a looking glass into experience that can enlighten, deepen and transform our connections to our clients.

Observations from Our Practice
In our practice, at LifeWorks, we work with diverse clients, who identify across a variety of religions, genders, sexualities and relationship constellations, including: lesbian, gay & bisexual (39% of clients); trans, queer and genderqueer (13%); non-monogamous and polyamorous (40%), and clients who are kink and/or BDSM-identified (23%). And many clients endorse more than one of these identities.

A recent informal sampling of therapists in our practice revealed that approximately 25% of their clients had explicitly indicated that they had had previous therapy experiences where their therapist’s bias regarding kink or non-monogamy was an obstacle to their care, or hindered their experience in therapy.  In our recently reported research (See: “Social and therapeutic challenges facing polyamorous clients,” Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Henrich & Trawinski, 2016), 50% of clients identifying as polyamorous had seen therapists that they felt lacked cultural competency or were biased.  Participants in that study reported that therapists were uninformed about polyamory, or biased toward monogamy.

Even therapists who themselves identify as marginalized in some way – for example, those who are LGBTQ, kinky, non-monogamous or polyamorous – may have subtle or not so subtle biases about the groups with which they identify.  These biases may show up in therapists as reservations, judgments, concerns, worries about their clients or as strident beliefs, one-sidedness and even extreme positive regard.  Neither being inside or outside a given community offers immunity from bias towards that community (or towards any other).  Our experience and research confimrs that bias affects us all.

Emphasizing Wholeness
Our work on bias is shaped by the concepts and methods known as process-oriented psychology or processwork. Developed by Arnold Mindell and others, processwork is both a depth psychotherapy paradigm and a phenomenological approach to working with human problems that emphasizes wholeness, the flow of experience and awareness and the importance of all points of view Mindell coined the term “deep democracy” to describe the idea that all voices are important to the well-being of the whole.

Using process-oriented methods and awareness, we have been teaching psychotherapists — and learning ourselves — to detect and identify bias, unfold its meaning, and learn to relate to aspects, attitudes and behaviors of clients that they may find difficult, disturbing or troubling.  In our experience, therapist bias is often a reflection or expression of some quality or trait that the therapist has a tendency to marginalize or overemphasize in themselves.  Something important, and often subtle or outside of awareness, may need to be known or understood better, and can be uncovered by looking closely at spontaneous or troubling reactions and perceptions.

From our perspective, it is probably impossible to get rid of bias entirely but we have found that it is possible to embrace and transform therapist bias into something that enhances the capacity to experience and support clients’ wholeness. It takes time and practice to develop the skills, awareness and attitudes that support the capacity to learn and grow from our bias — and in so doing, to increase our ability to understand, relate to our clients and to support their process of change.

There is no quick fix that we are aware of.  In our experience, the awareness and transformation of therapist bias is more like a lifelong endeavor.

Returning to Therapy — A Profound Act of Self-care

returning to therapy
“Spiral” by Khairul Nizam, licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D., Dipl. PW & Rami Henrich, LCSW, Dipl. PW

“I can’t believe I’m here… again.”

Some people returning to therapy for the second, third, or fifth time often wonder “why do I need to go back to therapy?” “was there something I should have handled the last time around?” “maybe I am not really getting to my issues…is it me, my therapist, the approach, or the entire endeavor?”  

Some clients say they feel as though they’ve “failed,” that they weren’t “strong enough” to take care of themselves on their own.  Sinking into self-reproach, they feel wonder if they are somehow fated to repeat a cycle of false or temporary solutions to a problems that seem intractable. Maybe a previous, positive experience in therapy imparted a sense of resilience or well-being that now seems shockingly absent. “Didn’t I already go through this?” They ask themselves. “Isn’t that part of my life over?” 

For others, returning to therapy is a natural part of their self care and personal growth regiment as getting a haircut, going to the dentist or eating three meals a day.

Clients come back to therapy for many different reasons. Recent trauma, loss, or significant life events—such as a change of relationship, job, move, or other transition—can create inner disturbance or bring up patterns that have not been fully resolved.  Questions about one’s identity, sexuality, or spiritual beliefs can prompt deep-seated uncertainty. Relationship conflicts or disappointments can leave us feeling in need of support.  Ongoing issues like depression, anxiety, addiction, and self-harm can interfere with daily life and relationships. All of these difficulties, worries and questions can motivate a person to make a change and seek help.

This brings me to my main point: returning to therapy is a profound act of self-care—even if you don’t realize it at the time. If you are thinking of returning to therapy, consider the possibility that you are responding to a deep awareness that you want or would benefit from help, support or guidance to find or create a new sense of yourself.

In her article “Starting therapy, again…” San Francisco therapist, Carly Earnshaw, MFT, explains that “[r]egardless of whether your last therapy went great or awful, you have an advantage over the first time you tried therapy.” Here are the some of the reasons she gives for why:

  • You have a better idea of what therapy is about
  • You have a clearer understanding of what works and doesn’t work for you in therapy
  • You’re aware of the investment and the payoff

I encourage you to read her article in full, as it speaks to the different mindsets and assuages the fears I often see in clients who are returning to therapy.

Considering seeing a mental health professional again? Below are a few quick ways you can prepare to make the most out of your next time in therapy:

  1. Understand that you are not alone. It is not uncommon for clients to return to counseling when it has worked for them in the past, or out of a desire to find something that will work. Countless people come back to therapy throughout their lives, building on each experience. In fact, your therapist is likely one of those people!
  1. Take your time. If you have decided to seek help, you do not have to book an appointment immediately or stick with the first therapist you find. Allow yourself the time to research and explore your options—remember, you now have a stronger sense of what you’re looking for.
  1. Be mindful of your therapist’s responses and attitude. Whether calling to get in touch or engaging in your first session, pay attention to your intuition and comfort level, as well as how your therapist reacts to you. Listen to how she interprets your words and recognize that, while she intends to help, she doesn’t have all the answers. Again, take your time and be patient until you find someone who you feel hears and appreciates you on your terms.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If a certain approach works best for you, or you need to speak to someone who understands specific issues—such as PTSD, polyamory, kink/BDSM, the experiences of racial and/or gender minorities, or religious convictions—speak up. Your therapist may not be qualified to provide what you need, but chances are she can refer you to a colleague who can.

If you have been there before, what do you look for in a new therapeutic relationship? We would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and stories. Feel free to leave a comment below, or reach out to us on TwitterFacebookTumblr, or LinkedIn.

A Primer on Growth and Change

PIC-0020-225x300What is growth? What kinds of changes do face?  How does growth and change occur?  How long does it take to change?  Trainer, consultant and author, Julie Diamond, Ph.D., offers insights into change that should resonate with therapists and clients alike.  Julie is author of Power: A User’s Guide and A Path Made by Walking (with Lee Spark Jones).

by Julie Diamond, Ph.D.

The older I get the more I realize that many of the things I found insurmountable when I was younger changed when I wasn’t looking. In my early twenties I struggled with intense jealousy. It was crazy. If two of my friends even just talked on the phone I would feel insanely left out. And I hated being alone, to the point where the thought of having to be alone for extended period of times sent me into a panic. I spent 99% of my energy working on those two things.  They felt permanent and overwhelming, and seemed to define me. I look back on them now and not only are they gone, but I don’t even remember when they left. It’s as if, one day, they just packed their bags and left.

But now I know they didn’t just leave. I got bigger. As I explored myself to find why spending time alone was so bad, I grew in self-awareness. As I wrestled with a nasty inner critic (that fanned the flames of jealousy) I grew in confidence. My sense of self grew bigger in relationship to my fears and anxieties.

When I work with people on their personal and professional development now, I think in terms of this distinction: What kind of change process is this? What needs to change, the behavior or the attitude towards it? Will this change of its own accord, and if not, what kind of efforts are needed? I find it helpful in working with people to parse their problems into types of issues and types of change.

So here’s my little Primer on Personal Growth and Change, and it starts with the question: What is the nature of the thing we’re tackling?

Is it a complex, trigger, or edge?

We all have scars forged in life’s battles and sometimes they get aggravated under the right conditions. These “triggers” or complexes create zones of non-navigability, and in some situations, they make us insecure and ineffective. These things rob us of our freedom. They are fears that inhibit us, triggers or emotional reactions that hijack our behavior, and moods that makes us feel dejected or dispirited.

These things can and do change, but only with sustained effort and awareness. Their roots are often tangled in past experiences. And sometimes the process of working on it is its own solution. Like me in my twenties, working on jealousy and phobias, unpacking, examining, and working through my fears and complexes changed me.   While you’re distracting yourself by focusing on these triggers, you’re also growing a solid sense of self. In fact, these things take hold only to the degree that your sense of self (Big “S” Self) is small. Working on these old patterns and stories increases your self-awareness, and helps you carve out a deep and abiding center, capable of facing of life’s challenges.

Am I struggling with my nature?

Sometimes we struggle not with a complex or fear, but with our own nature. We don’t like ourselves, or some part of ourselves. We all grow up in a context that prizes some behaviors and disavows others. And so we grow up wanting to fit in, and be like others. We think we’re too loud and try to be quieter. We struggle being an introvert in an extroverted family. We’re called hyperactive, so we try to chill out. It’s in the nature of a culture to prize some behaviors over others in order to socialize its members to adapt and survive.

Yet some things won’t, and can’t change. They belong to us, like white on rice, part and parcel of our incarnation. These are our unique traits, and like them or not, they are the raw material from which you form yourself. Your traits are the hand you are dealt in the poker game of life, and learning to play that hand is the only option you have.

Traits become a great source of strength and wonderful talents, once we grow comfortable with them and use them to their fullest. If we are comfortable in our introversion, others will be too. If we come to appreciate our bossiness and see it as potential leadership, it will be a great ally for us. If we can discover what’s good about being easy going and conflict avoidant, we can make it work to great advantage.

So, changing, in this regard, means acceptance, changing our attitude towards ourselves, or maybe changing what we do or who we socialize with, so that our traits more naturally fit in, and are better appreciated and put to use.

Do I need to learn something new?

Learning isn’t for the faint of heart. The more I work with people on their personal and professional growth, the more I appreciate the complexity of learning.

Learning is a behavior we have to learn! But we aren’t taught how to learn. In fact, many of us were taught how not to learn by focusing on being right and avoid making mistakes. And then we make it worse by trying to compensate  against that, and defensively embracing ourselves as we are, seeing doubts or challenges as a threat or injury to our self-esteem.

When change means learning something new, it can be straightforward, but often it’s not. Because to learn, and learn well, we need a loving ability to hold ourselves at the edge of discomfort. Learning requires a good mix of muscle, self-love, and endurance. And we need to set ourselves up for success by breaking things down into manageable bites so we don’t get overwhelmed. We need the freedom to make mistakes, but also the discipline to examine them and learn from them.

Change and growth isn’t just a straight path from A to B. It’s a process. Thankfully. There’s a lot to discover along that path, as long as we take time to discover what kind of change process we’re in.

Julie will be in Chicago in April!

On Friday, April 1, Julie will be talking about power and reading from her new book, Power: A User’s Guide, at the KPACT event, 6-8 pm, at Tribe Healing Arts Center. 2 APA-approved CEs available.  

On Sunday, April 3, LifeWorks will host a day-long workshop with Julie for psychotherapists, entitled Beyond Ethics: Power in the Helping Relationship. 4.5 APA-approved CEs available.

Beliefs and Success: What Box Did You Crawl Out Of?

Julie-Leaderlab-2015Beliefs and success – are they connected? How much do your expectations influence your ideas about success? And where do those deeply-held beliefs originate?

My friend and colleague, Julie Diamond, has written extensively about these issues, and we would like to share the following article, which originally appeared on her site.

Julie is an executive coach and leadership consultant who helps individuals and organizations create cultures of learning and growth. Her clients have ranged from Fortune 500 companies to law enforcement agencies to nonprofits. She is also one of the original founders of the Process Work Institute (PWI), a not-for-profit graduate school dedicated to research and training in process-oriented facilitation. Julie’s upcoming book, Power: A User’s Guide, is due for publication early next year.

by Julie Diamond, Ph.D., Dipl. PW

One day, early in my career as a therapist, I complained to my colleague about my struggle being effective with certain kinds of issues. In particular, I easily felt defeated by chronic issues. Each week, my client would come to work on the same set of problems, without any indication of improvement. I know, I know. Now I know—and can appreciate—that we all pretty much have the same set of issues our whole lives, but at the time, I found it difficult. My colleague looked at me and asked, “What box did you crawl out of?”

I must have looked pretty baffled, because she quickly added, “I mean, what did you study first, at the university?”

Unsure what that had to do with our discussion, I said, “Education.”

“Ah,” she said, “that explains it. You’re probably most engaged with clients and issues where there is a sense of progress related to learning.” A lightbulb went on for me at that moment, and has been on ever since.

Each of us comes into this world with particular, even peculiar fascinations and interests, passions and proclivities. Some of it comes from what we’re exposed to, but some of it is already pre-programmed. For lack of a better word, I call this our orientation, our approach to life, and to people, learning, and ideas.

It’s not hard to discover your orientation, but often times we take it for granted. Ask yourself, what box did you crawl out of? As a kid, did you collect bugs? Read fantasy or science fiction? Cook with your grandmother? Organize other kids into sports teams? Go off by yourself and look at clouds? What was your first area of study?

Why is this important?

As a coach and supervisor, I am in the people business, and I work with a lot of practitioners in the people business, in the business of human change and growth. Outcomes for progress in these areas are fuzzy, at best.

Along with the complexity of defining change and growth, whether we’re aware of it or not, our orientation defines progress and success.

Think about it. If you have an orientation towards health and healing, your sense of progress is tied to your client’s overall sense of wellness. Yet if your orientation, like mine, is to education, then your sense of accomplishment is tied to learning. Things like insight and understanding make you feel you’re doing a good job. If your orientation is art or creativity, your sense of doing well may be tied to your client’s ability to express herself, or to feel creative and impactful in her life.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we carry an orientation to life that influences not just how we work with people, but our feelings of success. This orientation is a mishmash of things we’re born with, things we’re exposed to, and things we develop and cultivate. It’s reflected in our interests, values, temperament, and cognitive style. And it exerts subtle and not-so-subtle influences in our work, defining our choice of focus and our preferred methods, biasing us towards some outcomes more than others, even creating preferences for some issues over others. Ask yourself, when you work with someone, or with a group on their process of development, what kinds of responses make you feel successful? Do you look for verbal appreciation, such as a thank-you? Or do you feel complete only when an issue is resolved or solved? Or does the client’s increased understanding and learning trump the resolving of the issue?

Even though you are, as Marshall Goldsmith calls it, mission neutral, no doubt some problems or processes excite you more than others, while others exhaust you, or stress you out. And what about methods? Which ones do you gravitate towards and which do you avoid or feel awkward doing? Which ways of working feel more natural, fun, or interesting for you?

Those of us who work with people tend to attract particular kinds of clients; this isn’t random, though it may be in the beginning, but is often also a reflection of our style and method. Who tends to seek you out? Who doesn’t?

For more about Julie and to read an excerpt from Power: A User’s Guideclick here.

Communication Challenges: Yes, That Again!!

communication challenges

by Rami Henrich, LCSW, Dipl. PW

Have you ever fallen into the pit of communication challenges? Or should I say miscommunication? What an interesting phenomena it can be, if and when you have the detachment to notice you are in the pit and are able to name it as interesting!

More often it is experienced as a quagmire, an endless spiral into the depths of frustration and at times hopelessness.

Here are a few tips to keep from falling, or at least to catch yourself when falling, into the pit.

1. First, tell the person you’d like to talk.  Ask if now is a good time, or set up a time that isn’t rushed to have a chat. Don’t just launch into your frustration or complaint without the agreement of the other person.

2. Begin your interaction by bringing forth good will. Start by letting them know your big picture intention.  Hopefully, you want to work through the current issue to improve the relationship, or to expand the feelings of closeness between you.  Say something like, “I’m bringing this up because I really care about you and would like to get closer.”

3. Agree together that one person will be the speaker and one will be the listener. And that you will switch back and forth so each will have a chance to speak and be heard.

4.  Speaker take your side fully…by that I mean say all you need and want to say.

5. Listener tell the speaker what you’ve heard them say. You can ask for short communications as too much can feel overwhelming. This is an incredibly important step as we all, at least the all that I know, crave being heard and understood.

5. In addition to hearing what the other has said, the listening partner tries to express back to the speaker what you’ve heard, venture a guess as to how the speaker is feeling. Being vulnerable, sharing yourself deeply, calls for feeling responses too. Not just the “I heard you say” responses. Both very important.

6. Then switch. Speaker become listener, listener become speaker.

Keep going until you feel a shift in the atmosphere between the two of you. I know the pit can feel bottomless but there really is hope!