Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Help! My Teeth Are Falling Out!!!!

Dream Analysis

Teeth falling out...
Feeling like you're back in school and you're naked and you can't find your clothes...
A shadow or someone following you that hides in the shadows...
Apocalyptic and violent dreams...

These are common themes that we hear about in nightmares or dreams. Naturally, clients will tell me about their dreams, and not the happy fluffy ones where they fly around the world like Superman or are otherwise a hero. Typically, as counselors we hear the dreams that cause discomfort or fear. Some of them may be reoccurring. Some people want to understand them. Others even want to control them. Though I'm not a dream expert and don't analyze dreams from a particular theoretical model such as Gestalt therapy (i.e. "step into the dream or become the dream"), I have found that dreams can be easily understood, especially when they are of the nightmarish quality. Therefore, I'll give a brief explanation in this short article.

1. Examine the dream for its process first, NOT its content.

Many of us look at the dream for their exact content and try to find hidden meanings or revelatory information. Rather than that, look at the process of it. What does the dream feel like? What emotions are going on? What are the five senses that are experienced? Put aside the loose teeth and the school nakedness and look at the dream's emotional processes. There, you may begin to find commonalities such as feelings of shame, worthlessness, fear of the unknown, fear of vulnerability, etc. Write those emotions down as you review the emotional process. For example, a dream of the apocalypse is not likely a foreshadowing of doom and destruction. It actually can be a representation of fear of the unknown or fear of being harmed by the unknown.

2. Review your current life and what is going on and compare it to the dream emotional processes.

Let's face it, though life is good it has its downs. During those times we tend to fall into feelings of worthlessness, fear, anxiousness, depression, etc. This is a normal process and doesn't necessarily mean that something is terribly wrong. Sometimes, our dreams can be a reflection of our thinking and emotional processes. Sometimes, the dreams can teach us that "hey, you're not feeling okay right now!" You may already know that, but some of us do our best to ignore it. In this case, the dream is just trying to process your subconscious thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, our mind tries to figure things out for us or to bring subconscious concerns to our awareness for us to figure out. Nightmares may not mean that there is something wrong. It may just mean that you are human and have some work to do.

As you review your current life circumstances and compare them to the dream process, make sure to write them down or even say them out loud. This helps to make it real and can even decrease the anxiousness or fear surrounding it.

3. Ask yourself, "What can I do about it?"

If you learn that there are things that need to be worked on, make goals and follow through with them. If it's something you can't do yourself, ask for help! There's no shame in it. We're here to lift and buoy one another up.

In the case of severe nightmares that come about from may require professional help. If that is the case and you're looking for help, the database on is great! You can find a local compassionate professional to help you through it.

That's all for today.

Dr Law

Monday, March 07, 2016

I SUCK! But, at least I'm predictable...

Today's tagline is: I suck...but at least I'm predictable. 

Psychology is not the study of the mind. Rather, it is the study of the soul. As we delve into the soul we begin to find that human beings, despite how busy they become and how complex their lives are, they are fairly simple creatures. I tend to lean to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a template to gauge why people do what they do. It's fairly simple, actually. If you think about it, all behaviors have a purpose and typically they can fall into one of the 4-5 categories in Maslow's Hierarchy. Starting at the bottom there are PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS and going up from there is SAFETY, SOCIAL/ESTEEM, and finally SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Today, though, I want to speak briefly about Safety.

Safety, in my experience, is an umbrella term that encompasses all aspects of a person's life that makes them feel that life is comfortable, predictable, consistent, and stable. With a foundation of safety, which means that turmoil is minimal the individual believes that all is well. They feel and believe that their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual needs are aligned and sufficiently under their control.

Now, let's see how this principle of safety is not without a sense of irony. Take, for instance, an individual who is struggling with self-esteem, depression, anxiousness, obsessive compulsiveness, or ANYTHING where they feel that they are out of control. Here, you may find an individual who engages in covert behaviors (i.e. internal) that include self-berating, self-doubting, self-flagellation, etc. Their internal dialogue may be "I suck at this...I'm a failure....I'm not good at this....I'm a terrible person...etc." Not only do they say these things, but they may even seek out internal or external evidence for it. For example: "I suck at playing the trumpet, because I screwed up in the concert....I am a failure as a mother, because my child is struggling in school and I should have done more with him/her at home...I am a terrible employee, because my boss gave me negative feedback...etc." This internal process added to the seeking and finding of evidence leads to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and even sleepless nights. One would think that the results of this process might logically push a person to move away from such negative behaviors; thus enabling them to move up the hierarchy and work on their esteem, their social life and moving towards actualization. In some cases it does! However, in the cases that end out in my office it does not always look like this. In my opinion, this happens because the behaviors (internal and external) have a predictable and consistent result, thus logically maintaining a sense of ironic safety. After all, safety is a sense of stability and predictability. Therefore, why would the individual change when they know that their outcome will be the same and they have power over it?

Now that we've briefly unraveled this ironic sense of safety, one can see how it might be comfortable to remain in their unhappy state. So, one might ask how to help a person move from that state to a new state of safety. Truthfully, there are many ways. CBT or Gestalt therapy can help, person-centered therapy can help, existential therapy can help, and much more. Typically, it requires an empathetic ear that can help a person to become aware of their internal goings-on. Awareness can be a breeding ground for change that is brought on by the individual's will to seek a higher level of safety. Once they begin to move in that direction, then they need to be able to identify the progress, celebrate it, give themselves the proverbial pat on the back and develop their own self-efficacy (i.e. confidence). Then, their motivation to continue the new behavior can be internally driven. Finally, the new results can be just as predictable; just as stable; and just as consistent as the prior behaviors. Who wouldn't want that?

Dr Law

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Anybody Wanna Take a Selfie? Thoughts on Social Media and Texting

Oh my gosh...does everyone want to take a selfie with me?

I read an article today (see link below) that brought some raw feelings, as well as some opinions that I decided to blog about. Social Media is a fairly new concept for many of us (i.e. ten years old or less), but to the upcoming generations it is a daily influence. Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or blogging it is something that the newer generations will continue to use. For starters, I don't want any of my three readers to believe that this is an anti-social media blog. I use social media for my personal and professional life. Over time I have learned which subjects, topics of discussions, or people that I prefer to follow or to have follow me. I have also learned, by sad experience, that the ability to communicate effectively is not supportable by social media.

Many aspects of the human experience and how we communicate are lost in text. It is difficult to convey true emotion and even intention with mere words. Body language, facial expressions, context, mood/affect and much more are lost. There can also be a diminished sense of accountability when using social media as a means to convey opinions or feelings. People tend to be less afraid of conveying their thoughts, no matter the consequence, when there isn't an actual voice behind it. It's easy to write out opinions without worrying about how others might receive it. We tend to believe we are protected because there is no eye-contact with the communication.

However, this can be both helpful and destructive. I once had a client who had experienced severe trauma. She didn't feel comfortable talking about it, so she preferred writing it out in text. After a session of this, she was able to express herself verbally. It created a bridge for her and she was able to work through and resolve a lot of difficult experiences.

On the other hand, I have witnessed how social media and text can be very destructive, particularly with teens. Young teens may not have the social and emotional developmental capacity to judge what is appropriate or inappropriate to say over text or social media. It can lead to unexpected, unwanted, or even purposeful harm to others including bullying, social isolation, and much more. Once again, this is because social media and text can serve as a bridge to communicate things that normally would be very uncomfortable to say to someone's face.

When this is occurring, there is a very simple solution. If you are a parent or caretaker of a young teen, set specific rules and boundaries regarding text and social media use. Make it specific, make it individual to each person, and be consistent with rewards and consequences. Also, monitor  their text and social media use frequently. This is not an invasion of their privacy. They are young adults, not full-fledged adults. Guidance and boundaries will not harm their developmental growth. In fact, research shows that it helps them. Finally, know the applications that your teen is using. Some of them have specific settings that allow them to send direct messages or even quick messages that are deleted after viewing them for only a few seconds. You never know what they're being exposed to.

Well, I think that's all for today...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

SELF-CARE! It's What's for Dinner!

I know, I know....

It's been quite a long time since I've posted anything in this blog. I'd like to chalk it up to being very busy with Faculty work, Counseling work, writing a fictional novel, or spending time with family...and while that's true, I know there have been many times over the past few months where I thought to myself, "Hey, I just got a great idea to blog about...I'll do that tomorrow." I say the same thing about exercising, too. So, as a comeback message, I want to talk briefly on the value of selfcare. Yes, I made those two words one word, because it fits the need for it. The idea of selfcare is so paramount as a mental health practitioner that it deserves notoriety.

What is selfcare? I'm glad you asked. It is the time out of every day that you take or set aside to selfishly care for your mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual self. It is what recharges your batteries, fills your emotional bucket, aligns your Chi, etc. It is also one of those things that many of us just don't do. Why, you ask? Because, that whole "practice what you preach" thing for mental health counselors is not a strong point. We tend to follow the Westernized value of "work, work, work" for tomorrow we die. One might say that we can be the antithesis of the 7 Dwarves who try to whistle their way through working to make the day a little brighter. We forget the whistling and just work. What can it result in? Burn-out. Compassion fatigue. Bitterness. Loss of relationships to name a few. Or, it can lead to a feeling of drudgery.

Oh, this doesn't just happen to counselors. It can happen to anyone who doesn't take the time to care for themselves. So, whether it's reading a book, watching your favorite show on Netflix at night, taking a hot bath, or just relaxing, make sure to put as much effort into your selfcare as you do your work. Do it every day, even if you don't believe you have the time. Then, after doing it for a few days, reflect on how it affects your day-to-day. You may see the difference.

Until next time...

Dr Law

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

LGBTQ Community and Marriage... and Rocky Road Ice Cream???

Well, typically as a mental health professional I stay out of subjects that are controversial on a social scale. Naturally, I see individuals and these subjects arise, though it is my ethical responsibility to work from their value system and perspective. However, as the subject of the Supreme Court ruling is being discussed heavily in the media (both professional and social), I felt that I may pipe in with my own two cents on the matter.

Firstly, as is discussed in my blog profile, I am a mental health counselor by trade and follow the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. As such, I am required to provide services that are multiculturally sensitive, as well as to practice in my areas of competency. Being multiculturally sensitive does not mean what many think it means. I have heard some ignorantly say that it means mental health counselors must put aside their personal beliefs and values and advocate for values within the societal and individual system that may go against their own. Thus, it would make the profession amoral, as in it has no moral system that guides it on an individual basis as the professional would be required to give up their belief system. That couldn't be further from the truth. What it actually means is that we, as professionals and individuals maintain our personal value system, we work to become self-aware of our value system and how it may interact with other value systems that may not coincide with our own. Thus, we are able to skillfully competently control our value system and how it might influence others on a conscious or subconscious level. We are held accountable for our value system and how we essentially push it onto others. For example, on a simplistic level and only for the purpose of explanation, my value system may say that the best and most enjoyable flavor of ice cream is Rocky Road (which it is); however, my client's value system is such that Neopolitan is the most enjoyable and flavorful. Let's say my client is struggling with their spouse whose favorite ice cream is also Rocky Road. They have heated arguments about it and it results in marital discord. My natural inclination is to agree with the spouse as I also love Rocky Road. Without being aware of my bias, I can inadvertently side with the spouse, thus causing more stress and anxiety to the client and affecting the therapeutic relationship. On the other hand, if I am able to skillfully identify my own bias to Rocky Road, and to focus on my client and their struggle with their spouse and the resulting discomfort they have, then I can be empathetic to them and demonstrate my empathy through reflective listening and other skills. Thus, I would maintain the integrity of the relationship with my client, helping them work through their own struggles (which really have nothing to do with ice cream) while simultaneously maintaining my own personal conviction about the deliciousness of Rocky Road.

Now, I know that this is simplistic, and that many would argue that I am minimizing the importance of the public arguments about the Supreme Court ruling on the lawfulness of Gay Marriage. However, it is a likeness that I would like to use as a demonstration of the process that is going on. There are those who say that this Supreme Court ruling is Constitutional and others say it is not. By the way, this is not a political article. (If you want to argue politics, do it with someone who is much more adept at it). Those that say it is Unconstitutional may also say that it is wrong, and/or immoral or something else. Those that say it is Constitutional may say that it has nothing to do with being moral or immoral, but rather it is a person's right to show their love to an individual through marriage whether their orientation be straight, gay, bisexual, etc. Thus, the argument results in heightened levels of emotions and then philosophical, religious, and politically-lined debates to prove who is right and who is wrong; or to justify one's position in a logical manner. Either way, it ends in the same thing...judgment, anger, and hurt. Now, being a counselor, I would say that there is nothing wrong with being hurt. Hurt feelings and pain can be a breeding ground for change. My old boss used to say "Out of the ashes of pain, beautiful things can grow." I agree. I'm not justifying bullying or people being mean, because that is wrong. As you can see, I'm taking the side of the survivors and victims of hurt, and not the dealers of it. But, I digress. The point I am trying to reach is that one may have personal conviction and evidence to support their value that this decision was good/right or bad/wrong. And living in the US of A, and having their Freedom of Speech gives them the right to voice it. As such, they are accountable and responsible for the words they say. Furthermore, an individual has the right to have their opinion. Yet, it is possible for people to become aware of their values and biases and even though it may go against another, they can still support and love the individual WITHOUT compromising their own value. It is possible to love all people, yet not agree with an opposing belief systems and value. Yes, that may cause some discomfort, but once again, I believe (this is my value) that discomfort can be a growth-promoting tool. Once again, a person can maintain their own beliefs WITHOUT compromise and still love a person. Notice, I did not say that they must necessarily advocate or support the other person's belief system. I only mean to say that they love the other by simple virtue of them being of the same Human family. It does not mean you agree with, advocate for, or support compromising values. Just love or care for the person as that is a quality that does not require agreement. In fact, a person who can express love for someone that they don't agree with shows an even higher level of love, in my opinion.

That's all I have to say for now...

Friday, May 22, 2015

To Hate Or To Forgive...That Is the Question

Reality Show: 19 Kids and Counting

This reality show was recently brought to my attention, more specifically, the news that is rapidly spreading throughout social media regarding Josh, the older child of this family. It was indicated that a few years ago he had admitted to molesting a few of his siblings, and in turn, received counseling services. Furthermore, it was also stated that the survivors of the incident also received treatment. These types of scenarios are not ones that any one person enjoys reading about, as it opens up a realm of ridicule, doubt, judgement, and fear. I was amazed at many of the social media responses and comments made about Josh, as well as the survivors in addition to their family and religious beliefs. Therefore, I, like many others are undoubtedly doing decided to write a few remarks on scenarios such as these. 

It is difficult to be an outsider looking in when we hear about children having been sexually abused. As a counselor, I have heard over the years that one in four or even as high as one in three girls are sexually abused. One in four boys are, as well. It seems to be more commonplace than we know, yet it continues to be the frightening elephant in the room. Rather than look at it from a judgmental place, I’d rather look at it from a place of understanding. 

First, not all people who act out sexually in an inappropriate manner have been victims themselves. There can be a small correlation to this idea, but it is not a cause-effect relationship. There are many factors that play into a person acting out. Therefore, jumping to a conclusion that someone does this because it was done to them is not accurate. Also, religions that call for sexual purity or sexual abstinence do not lead to someone acting out. There is no cause-effect relationship, though on social media I have seen this said. Research does not support statements like these. Third, saying that the victims must come out into the open and tell their story is not always helpful, nor is it therapeutic. In fact, it can do the opposite. It can foster hate…and we all know what happens when hate is encouraged. 

Now, on to the victims or survivors of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can be a developmental life changer. I want to reiterate what I just said—it CAN be a developmental life changer. That means and implies that other factors must be involved such as support, age of the individual, psychosocial stage of development, cognitive development, etc. Sexual abuse introduces a very mature idea into a small mind and body that is not cognitively or socially ready for it. It also introduces strong physiological responses in a small mind and body that may not be ready for it. This can lead to confusion about sex, relationships, identity, and much more. However, it doesn’t have to be a game changer. Again, it is not a cause-effect relationship. Much can be said about the victim/survivor who comes out and talks about it, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more or less healthy than those who keep it quiet. Much can be said about those who keep it quiet and work on it on their own without creating an environment of anger. The reason I say that, is because one social media responder indicated that the victims need to have a voice and be represented and speak out loud. This type of behavior can actually lead to ongoing symptomatic and behavioral problems, as well as fostering self-loathing, hatred, and mistrust. Anger and hate beget more anger and hate. Helping a person find meaning in their life after the abuse can foster inner peace, healing, understanding, and forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness for the one who did the abuse. 

In the many hours I have spent working with people who have suffered through many types of trauma, I have yet to meet a person who fully healed that did not forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that one is okay with what happened to them or what they did to someone else. Forgiveness means letting go of all hope of a better past (not my saying, but a good one), and allowing the pain, sorrow, and suffering to go. Holding on to the pain and suffering only brings more pain and suffering. Again, I return to my prior statement that we all know what happens when hate is encouraged.
Finally, true healing can happen for both the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. It requires empathy on both sides. Empathy is being willing to walk with the individual, side-by-side, and to support them, not to enable them. Empathy can empower a person to have hope for a better future. A better future does not mean that they will be free from the memory of what was done, but rather that they can grow and develop into something stronger. They can find meaning from the suffering (yes, that is a very existentialist statement—for more information read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning). The path to recovery from victimization or perpetration is not comfortable, but it is doable. Most of the time, you won’t find those stories in social media. Those people keep their stories to themselves, because they are sacred and personal. If a story fosters hate and confusion, there won’t be much healing there. 

If anyone has questions or comments, feel free to leave them…if they are negative and degrading, they will be deleted. My blog is not a place for that.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Negative Psychology? Or Is It Focusing on People?

A few nights ago, I was up until a far too late hour with a sibling discussing various topics regarding mental health, addiction, trauma, etc. As can happen, I found myself going into a monologue about the subjects. This happens due to a passion that I have for them. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to attend trainings and supervision on various subjects. What I find fascinating is when two seemingly unrelated subjects or ideas come together in a correlational fashion. Therefore, I was discussing these types of experiences with him. As we continued our discussion, I did not find myself enlightened by the topic as I had heretofore experienced; but, rather, I found myself becoming saddened and despondent. I remember the moment when I was aware of my mood change when I had finished talking about the effects of pornography and other addictions on the brain and my brother asked, “Is it possible for the effects to be reversed? Or for the person to experience some kind of full recovery?” At that point was when I had realized that I had backed myself in a corner. I had been focusing on the psychological research that I had studied, which is very negative. In fact, that is one of the complaints of the psychology field is that it can be negatively focused, which is why Positive Psychology became a movement. We finished the conversation and I went to bed. The next morning I was still feeling despondent. I meditated on the “why” of my mood and realized that I had, once again, focused so heavily on the research that I forgot about the human aspect of this field. The study of people does not take into account the people as it looks for correlations in variables. Now, I’m not saying that research does not carry importance, as research is highly beneficial, but the people no longer become the focus as the variables and how they interact with other variables carry more weight. But, I digress. 

As I was reflecting on what we had discussed and the sense of sadness it brought due to the negative results of mental health problems I had a very strong impression come to my mind. It was simply put “What are you going to do about it, Jamison?” At that moment, the sense of hopelessness disappeared and I experienced a feeling of empowerment and I asked myself the question, “what can I do about it?” The answer, then, was simple. I can keep trying. I can keep trying to work with people to help them see that despite their struggles, traumas, addictions, disorders, negative experiences in all of their forms that they have inherent value just by virtue of being alive and being a member of the human family. Is that not what counseling is about? Our clients struggle with various maladies of the human experience which bring them to question their value. We call these struggles disorders as a means to classify and measure. But, at the end of the day, do we not all have moments of depression, anxiousness, traumas, addiction, behavioral outbursts, etc.? Therefore, what I can do is engage anxiously in a positive cause to try to help where I am able and hope that my interaction and interventions will result in an increase of self-awareness. I can provide treatments that are intentional and purposeful that help give others an idea of the direction they hope to go that they might liberate themselves from “disorders” with which they are plagued. And, maybe, along the way I too can learn more about myself, have more self-awareness, and learn (piece by piece) of my own value as a member of the human family.