Monday, October 24, 2011

"Richard...Is There A Mark On My Face? It Hurts."

The title of this article may or may not have anything to do with the article, but I liked it. It comes from a scene in the movie "Tommy Boy" after David Spade hits Chris Farley in the face with a 2X4. The clincher is that they are friends, or at least trying to be friends and they get in a fight. How often do we do similar things?
I am not saying that we get hit in the face by others, at least I hope that does not happen. Rather, we invest our time, energy, and emotions into a relationship and get the proverbial slap in the face...or we get burned. These very situations came to mind recently when a friend approached me and asked for my thoughts on professional burnout. Burnout is a mental state of exhaustion and can be observed by "emotional depletion and a loss of motivation and commitment" and are usually associated with job factors rather than biological reasons" (Schaufeli, DATE, p. 7). It leads to physical symptoms (fatigue, muscle tension, G.I. distress, etc.), absenteeism, and job turnover. It can also be affected by a lack of social support in the work place. It happens due to job stress that exceeds an individual's resources. It results ultimately in the professional demonstrating behaviors of cynicism, apathy, and rigidity in the workplace. Overall, it affects the professional's capacity to function, especially in the helping profession.
It is a tiring place to be. My friend described his situation and it sounded similar to the definitions above. I can relate as I have experienced "burnout" or "compassion fatigue" as they now call it. Trust in human beings is depleted, you question your own self-worth, etc. But, rather than go into a slow spiral into the abyss of burnout, I'd rather talk about how to work through it.
By definition, it relates to stress and one's own personal resources. Therefore, it stands to say that if the resources were not sufficient or failed, then they need to be looked at. It may require a break from the career field, if possible, the professional will need to seek their own help (i.e. counseling). One has to make self-care the priority, rather than work. Activities, recreation, reading a good book, exercise, setting goals and completing them, and many more are just some examples. I know with myself, I have had to rely on others for a time to pull out of the burnout. I have had to take a good look at my own belief system regarding my role as a professional, a father, a husband, a friend, etc. and see what beliefs were adding to the burnout. The results can be liberating, but the climb out is uncomfortable, yet possible. It is easy to get stuck in it and become a victim of it, but relying on a Higher Power (to use the AA verbage) or God can result in fostering a sense of hope. Most importantly, relying on close family and friends as a resource can be the difference between success and continued burnout.

I hope this helps!


The above reference comes from:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Trauma and Resiliency, Responsibility, and Agency...What a Boring Title!

The following is an excerpt from an unpublished paper I wrote on psychological resiliency after enduring a difficult or traumatic event. I would love to hear anyone's thoughts

Focus on responsibility and agency.

Several clients come into our offices talking about their individual traumas and how they have made things difficult for them. They also talk about how it has affected their relationship with the perpetrator(s), other close people, the community, and God. Many of them have guilt and blame themselves and/or hold severe grudges and harbor anger and hate towards the perpetrators. At times they question why life has been more difficult for them than for others and how they were dealt such a poor hand. The following is going to be more of an explanation based on psychology and spirituality in hopes to answer some of the questions.

Traumatized clients’ relationships change and function on a level that deviates from the norm. Much of that is due to the trust that has been broken time and time again. In Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, their level of safety, love, and esteem have not been established or maintained. Therefore, their ability to self-actualize (Maslow’s hierarchy) is not possible. The only level that is actually, at times, maintained is their physiological needs (i.e. food, water, shelter, etc.), though that can be in question with neglected children/childhood as well. On the level of safety, an individual must feel comfortable and secure in their environment with minimal attack on their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self. If attacked, their capacity for moving to the higher hierarchical needs is diminished. They may struggle with giving and receiving love or having esteem for themselves and others. Thus, can be a large factor with esteem. When a client has been traumatized time and time again they begin to lose trust with initially the perpetrator, and then it can spread to others who are close to them, the community, and to God (depending on their beliefs). Recently, a client (whose name we’ll call Matthew) disclosed horrific traumas from his childhood. Much of it involved abuse and neglect from his family and a large part involved a neighbor who befriended then molested him time and time again. He did not trust his family for help so endured the continued abuse. He described other economic difficulties, physical health problems, and general loneliness. He asked why it is that he was given a difficult life. He felt that it must have been something he did to deserve the pain and suffering without much respite. To try to escape the pain he had attempted suicide many times, though without success. When asking why he had to suffer I explained something to him, that I hope will help others. First and foremost, everyone has the right to act (free will). Anyone can do what they want. Whether they are conscious of the results depends on each individual. Some people, however, have made the choices to act against others in a way that is harmful, degrading, and usually self-serving. Such acts can be considered abusive, because it is in an attempt to remove or negate another’s free will and control them or change their acts. Such self-serving acts do not serve the victim (the receiver of the self-serving acts) in any positive ways. It can change the victim’s life perspective (specifically on relationships) and attacks their general need for safety (Maslow’s hierarchy). Therefore, the abuser (the one who acts self-servingly) is responsible for their acts and how it affected the victim. Responsibility lies solely with them and none other, especially the victim. Therefore, the victim is not the guilty party. The guilty party in the technical sense is only the abuser. Guilty signifies “1 : justly chargeable with or responsible for a usually grave breach of conduct or a crime. 2 obsolete : justly liable to or deserving of a penalty” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Therefore, it is not possible for the victim to be guilty for the self-serving act when they were the individual being acted upon rather than acting. Matthew blamed himself as that was the only logical reason he could come up with. Why else would it happen if there wasn’t something so terribly wrong with him or his character–something innate that called to abusers “Here I am! Hurt me! That’s what I’m here for!” The truth of the matter is that each person can act in whichever way that they please, selflessly or selfishly.
That brings us to the next point that Matthew brought up, which is also a point other clients have made regarding God. If God was a merciful and a just God, how is it that he could let such terrible things happen to undeserving people and let the abusers go unpunished? At that point one can revert back to free will. If free will is truly something that exists, an ability given to all to act; and God is God–all powerful and all knowing with the ability to do what He wants, would he not allow the individual to exercise their free will “according to the dictates of their own conscience?” Any other way would be tyrannical, dictatorial and contraindicative of what free will is.

The power of free will is that many can exercise it in a way achieve Maslow’s highest achievement which is self-actualization. In spite of the difficulties one has faced, or the traumas caused, one can utilize and strengthen their ability to act to achieve safety and overcome the trauma–thus developing resiliency.

There are no guarantees with behavior, thoughts, or emotions. There can be guarantees with action due to agency and responsibility.

Is There Life After Graduate School? Well...

A few months ago I had the opportunity of having a student luncheon with Dr. Gerald Corey. Anyone who is a counselor knows who he is. He has written many of the books that we study in graduate school. Most of us have watched videos that he and his wife produced on group counseling. However, during the luncheon he focused mainly on what students can do to continue their professional and personal growth. The presentation was very personal as he shared his experiences in working with other professionals. Then, tonight I came across this article that parallels the luncheon subject.

The URL for the actual article is below, but in my review there are a few headlines from his article. He encourages students to have "courage" to become the person and professional they want. It is interesting that these are similar words we use with clients. He encourages students to not let setbacks or problems slow them down; to learn how to network; find volunteer opportunities in areas that interest them; and to attend local and national professional conferences.

As Dr. Corey gave these suggestions, he shared personal stories in his career when he had setbacks and disappointments, as well as how he continued through them. From my viewpoint, it was helpful hearing that he was just as human as I feel I am. Even if you aren't a therapist, the suggestions are universal. Check it out!

For more information, see the link below.

Mental Health In War-torn Afghanistan

It puts things into perspective when one reads how easy it is to go to a doctor and get antidepressants or receive a referral to see a therapist in our U.S. communities (generally speaking), when you read the following:

At one point, there was only a dozen or so therapists in Afghanistan, which is a war-torn and traumatized country. Read this brief message and/or watch the attached video to learn more about it. It does change the idea of how truly blessed we are in a free country.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Science Fiction Becoming Reality

Check out the link below. Scientists are growing neurons in petri dishes to see what they look like with patients who have schizophrenia, depression, autism and more. They then study how meds affect the neurons. Amazing stuff!

Monday, October 03, 2011


I am in the process of changing jobs. My new job includes working with individuals addicted to various substances and activities. My job is not only to help them with their addictions, but to work through the core issues that drive the addiction. I have been reminded that most, if not all of us are addicts to something. Whether it's chocolate, alcohol, cocaine, pornography, or Mt. Dew, there are many things that the mind and body can crave and will do anything to seek it out. In the process of working at this new site, myself and a few others are coming up with activities to do as part of a processing group. Below are some of my own thoughts. I began using the principles below and it appeared to be well-received by the members of my work community. Take a look, and tell me what you think.

Working With The Addict Ego-State: A mindful and strength-based approach.
The addict inside of us is egotistical, self-centered, and self-pleasuring. When left uncontrolled, it can run amok within the inter and intrapersonal system. It will begin to engage in activities that the true individual is not accustomed to, nor would normally do. One way of describing this is seeing the addict in a different light. If you were to look at an addict from a developmental standpoint it would appear to be a child. Most people only notice and focus on the negative characteristics, defects, and flaws of the addict. However, though children can be self-centered and egotistical, by nature they can be benevolent, loving, forgiving, and playful. They want and crave to be loved. They want to be special. They already believe that they are special and unique. They are confident. When we look at the addict as a child, we can see that they have many wonderful traits and characteristics. In fact, they are so loving that they are willing and able to accept pain and hurt from others and forgive them of it with a simple “I am sorry.” So, the question is, what would an addict do if he/she could extricate the addict part from themselves, sit it down in front of them, and learn from it. What would they see? How would the addict look, feel, behave, act, etc.?

The addict part inside may not be an addict at all. It may have become one to cover up pain and like a child sought out the first thing it could put into its mouth to pacify it. It might be afraid, just like a child.

Think of how you would take care of a frightened or hurt child…and do it.

Think of the needs of a child…and make it happen.

Help the child be aware of emotions and learn from them. Help the child develop to be strong and depend on others while it learns to depend on itself.

Use mindfulness techniques to train the individual on how to deal with and accept the pain and hurt and emotions that will crop up as the addict portion loses strength.

1. Awareness
2. Equanimity
3. Acceptance
4. Objectivity

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Psychiatry is a Soft Science? What?

The following is a brief article I received this morning on the CES-NET listserv. I thought it was interesting as it discusses counseling and psychiatry and its purposes.

"Not all of life's myriad problems are psychiatric illnesses. Not all psychiatric disorders are 'chemical imbalance' or amenable to simply taking a pill. There is no shame in admitting that we still don't understand the causes of mental illness- the rest of medicine deals with much simpler organs, but the causes of most illnesses remain obscure. Although we have general outlines that are valuable in guiding treatment, each person is unique and each treatment regimen must be something of a trial an error experiment to custom fit the needs of the patient. If patient and psychiatrist work and think hard and put their hearts into it, something good usually happens.

Psychiatry does best when it sticks to doing what it does well. Let's treat the disorders we know how to treat in people who really need help. The greatest problem in the past fifteen years of psychiatry has been diagnostic inflation and the over treatment of people who really don't need it. This misallocates scarce resources away from those who do most desperately need and can most use our help. I fear DSM-5 because it threatens to further medicalize normality and spread psychiatry too thin."

This was written by Dr. Allen Frances, chair of the DSM-IV Task Force. He sounds rather like a counselor.

The full article is at

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Heat Is On!

I recently had an opportunity that gave me an idea to write about. When working or dealing with individuals who are angry, upset, or otherwise emotionally compromised it can be difficult to maintain a level-head, keep perspective, not feel personally attacked, etc. The following are some ideas on how to deal with it in the moment.
1. The Heat Is On. A fire creates heat and when fed with more oxygen or fuel, it will get hotter. If an individual is already escalating, the best thing to di is to lower your own voice, speak slowly and quietly (not condescendingly), and repeaet back to the upset individual the feelings they are describing. Individuals who are upset at you or with you are usually already experiencing some kind of internal conflict. Their upset or angry behaviors may not be a representation of how they feel towards you. Even if it is, if you remind yourself that you can calm the fire down by maintaining a quiet tone, the fire will not be fanned and become white-hot!

2. Pain, hurt, and fear. Most people get angry because they are experiencing an emotion that causes pain, hurt, or high levels of fear. They may subconsciously feel that they cannot handle the emotion and that the only way to deal with it is by raising their voice, or dropping their problems onto you. Just be aware, as before, that their behaviors may be being fed by their own pain, hurt, and fear.

3. "Go sell crazy somewhere else...we're all stocked up here" (Jack Nicolson--As Good As It Gets). Remember that you do not have to buy into other people's problems. Sometimes they just need to vent and want emotional validation. It does not necessarily mean that what they say is an accurate representation of reality. To them, it might be at that moment, but in their emotional state they may not be able to see other points of view. Don't buy into it. Just support the emotions.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Get Out of My Room!

I am sure that many of you have heard the term “boundaries” before. How often have you wondered what exactly did this psychobabble mean? The above picture is a good depiction of what boundaries can be. It is a basic floor plan of a house with a family room, living room, bedroom, and kitchen. I cannot take credit for this boundaries depiction, but I will happily use it.

Boundaries are rules and limits that we individually set with our relationships in order to maintain interpersonal and intrapersonal respect and safety. In layman’s terms…it is how close or emotionally intimate we choose to be with every person we know. The illustration above is a visual example of how we can set boundaries.

Think about the symbolism of each room in the illustration. A living room in a home is very formal and conversations and closeness is very surface-oriented. The living room is where we let sales people in to our home to vacuum our carpets or to share a message. We do not disclose much about ourselves. The room is somewhat superficial.

The family room is much more intimate. It is where we sit down with family and friends to enjoy a movie, a football game, eat popcorn, and play games. In this room you will find light-hearted laughter and enjoyment, and even the occasional late-night discussion. It is intimately deeper than the living room.

The kitchen is where a family sits for meals and to share their day-to-day goings-on. Learning and teaching opportunities occur, and understanding is attempted. It is a much deeper place with relationships due to the nurturing and nourishing nature of the room.

Finally, the master bedroom. This is the holy of holies in closeness and intimacy. There, we expose ourselves to who we really are and it requires extreme closeness, vulnerability, mutual respect, and safety. Love is nurtured on its deepest level.

If personal boundaries were a house, we would be the ones to decide who is allowed in each room. We can allow people into rooms and even have them leave when they no longer belong. Sometimes, people try to push themselves in to rooms where they don’t belong. We have a right to kindly push them back to where they belong. It is our decision where people should or should not be. We set the rules, we set the boundaries. Think about it. Try it out.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Cowardly Lion Returns!

The poor Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz received a bad wrap! He explained to Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Scarecrow, and to the Wizard that he had no courage, because he had fear. How wrong he was! How often do we feel the same, though? We assume that in order to be courageous we maintain a level of feigned strength and Superman-like power; when in fact, we have to have fear in order to have courage. If we were not afraid of anything, then we would not have the chance to make courage active in our choices and behaviors. Little did the Lion know that every time he took a step forward with uncertainty of what would happen he was building courage and strength.
It seems that the foundation of many mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, phobias, PTSD is fear--fear that nothing will be better; that everything will remain the same; that discomfort and unwanted emotions will always remain. I wonder what would happen if we all, in our own struggles, began to exercise courage to hope for something different and to work for it with the knowledge that our efforts will not be perfect, but will be sufficient--and ACCEPT it. Most undoubtedly we would find an inherent capacity for growth, as well as an ability to deal with uncertainties as inevitable. The Cowardly Lion seemed to get it...

Monday, June 06, 2011

Be Your Child's Therapist! A New Concept, Perhaps?

How often has your own child struggled with something and you didn't know what to do? Kids come home from school with performance problems, bully problems, teacher problems, and even friend problems. And wouldn't you know that being a parent doesn't come with a manual! How often do we become confused or feel hopeless/scared that we can't help our child? Even as a therapist, I have experienced the same. When my precious little 6-year-old girl lost a dear friend, I did not know what to do. I was too close. I could not remain objective as I would with a small child in my office. I had to seek consultation from another therapist. He pointed me in the right direction, I followed his suggestions and it made a huge difference! I was and still am grateful for that consultation and that therapist's wisdom. He had the right tools for the problem. Many times, that is what we need--a tool and the wherewithall to use it to fix the problem. Such a tool is getting ready for production! A psychotherapist in Salt Lake City is producing a therapeutic toy set and manual for parents to use when their children are struggling with emotional, mental, and behavioral problems. It will be released, soon and be available for purchase. Are their issues that your child is having? What are they? I want to give feedback to the psychotherapist regarding the manual and the issues it addresses. Are their specific problems you would like to see in the manual? What are they? Respond and the information will be passed-on!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Desire and Change--by Dr. Larry Beall, PhD

The following is an article recently posted on a newsletter by my current employer. It's great stuff on desire and change! Check it out! Make comments!

Desire & Change

The number of years I have been working with people who are trying to change themselves and their circumstances is coming up on a quarter century. How people change is a subject of great interest to me. Usually a desire to change is born of practical things like pain (emotional or physical), serious problems caused by a personal flaw, threatened loss (“I can’t take this anymore!”), and an inconvenience or problem. It is more rare for an idea, vision, or dream for a better life to motivate someone to pay the price for change, but it does happen. “Divine discontent” is real. Maybe it happens more often than I think, but these kinds of folks don’t usually come to a trauma center for help.

When we are confronted with one of the above, or some other pressing need for change we have a decision to make: Are we going to change OR are we going to dull the pain (usually with some form of self-medication), deny the flaw or loss, or compensate for the inconvenience, often with something that makes a bigger problem. Our lives are made up of the accumulated fallout from that repeated decision: change or suffer in various self-defeating ways. Buddha had it right when he observed pain is legitimate or illegitimate. Legitimate pain is part of living. Illegitimate pain is the result of trying to avoid legitimate pain. As most of us have learned, suffering up front, as with the process of change, in the long run prevents a great deal of unnecessary pain. For some this is a lifelong lesson waiting to be learned. It is never too late.

Okay, enough philosophy. How do we find or create desires that lead to positive changes in our lives, and how do we engage those desires for real change? There are probably dozens of excellent books on this subject. I will keep it to two steps. First cultivate desire with vision. You may be motivated to change because of something negative, like off the charts stress, but you can create the desire to make needed changes in your life with something bigger, much bigger than the stress. For example, visualize or envision how your life could be very different if your life was less stressed, if you slept well at night, if you shared your burden with others, etc. You can make this vision bigger than life, vivid and colorful, something you feel and experience. Remember the subconscious cannot differentiate between real and imagined experience. The changes it causes in the body can be triggered by a graphic visualization just as easily as an experience in the real world. That may be one of the reasons Einstein said imagination is greater than knowledge. So visualize something that evokes feelings that inspire and encourage, that lead to change. Engage your vision daily, a few minutes will do.

Next, act. Once you have a desire being born with vision, start doing things to keep the dream alive. Here is where the application of William James’ maxim comes in: “It is easier to act yourself into the correct way of thinking, than to think yourself into the correct way of acting.” This is a challenging stage of change. A couple of suggestions here may help. Try to make the new habit you are implementing enjoyable enough to be self-perpetuating. If you are going to start exercising (strongly advisable by the way) make the exercise something you find fun, or at least do something enjoyable while you exercise, like reading a book or watching a movie. Make the behavior you do, in a small enough dose that you can sustain the behavior over the next month or so. That’s about how long it will take for the behavior to become part of you, a habit. Positive habits (or negative), and change, require repeated behaviors over time.

Dr. Larry Beall, PhD
Clinical Director
Trauma Awareness and Treatment Center
32 West Winchester
Murray City, UT 84107

Monday, May 23, 2011

Brain Scans and Mental Health. THE FINAL FRONTIER!

...These are the voyagers of the Starship, Enterprise. It's continuing mission to explore strange new worlds...

No, this is not some cheap trick to get you to read more about my obsession about Star Trek! It is about real-life stuff for real people.
I know that I have spoken in the past about Dr. Daniel Amen. He is a psychiatrist who provides treatment for individuals and uses SPECT imaging as part of the diagnostic and treatment regime. I cannot do justice to describing the work he does. I have friends who have used his work results to help their children and had great results. Dr. Amen has studied which parts of the brain are not functioning properly for ADHD, OCD, Anxiety disorders, depression, traumatic brain injuries, and so on. He then studies what happens to the brain as an individual receives mental health treatment, dietary supplements, and medications. The results are astounding. If you want to learn more, click on the link below. I just finished reviewing this portion of his newsletter. At the bottom is a powerpoint that he uses in presentations to discuss why he uses SPECT imaging.

Addiction and Fear Are Married!

Dr. Athena Staik, PhD posted this link on twitter today. I found the information beneficial, not only as a professional in the mental health field, but also personally.
She discusses how addiction is formed in the brain and how coupling a behavior, dopamine (neurotransmitter utilized in pleasure-center areas in the brain), and biological teaching components can pave the way to any type of addiction.
She then talks about how fear is at the foundation of addictions and how it is built into us as we go through developmental stages.
Check it out!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jamison Law is "The Beast!" So says a student....

The following is an excerpt from an assignment I gave to masters-level students taking a course on counseling skills. I asked the students to provide a short autobiography at the beginning of the term. I also asked them to have some "fun" with it. The student gave me permission to use this...I'm not sure how to take it, though.

Therapist: Hi there, Joanne. I’m very glad to meet you. . .

Client: Wow, I can’t believe I actually made it to your office.

Therapist: Why do you say that?

Client: I got lost on the way and thought I was going to go crazy.

Therapist: (Chuckling) There’s no such thing as a crazy person in my office . . . you don’t need to worry about that.

Client: I’m really relieved, cause there have been times on my way to work that I knew that the cops were following me.

Therapist: Why did you think the cops were following you?

Client: Well, I work at a residential treatment center for teen girls, and I swear, every time I get on the road to go to work, a cop follows me. I think he is stalking me.

Therapist: Stalking you?

Client: Yeah, I mean, first, I hear him on the radio to his dispatcher, telling her that he just spotted me. Then I take evasive maneuvers.

Therapist: How do you hear his radio?

Client: Through my car radio, silly. The conservative talk radio guys are actually sending messages for the cops.

Therapist: How long have you been hearing these messages?

Client: Oh, since I had my twin boys about 16 years ago. But it got a lot worse after I had my last baby at age forty-one. That one really put me over the edge. You know, don’t you, that Rush Limbaugh is planning on divorcing his wife to run away with me?

Therapist: What evidence do you have for that?

Client: Well, I’ve been married to this terrific guy for 30 years, see? And had seven remarkable children. . .perfect really. Never done anything bad in their lives. . .

Therapist: You believe that?

Client: What’s to believe? They just are perfect.

Therapist: (Muttering and writing in his notes) Wow. . .delusional . . .

Client: Anyway, Rush said that all I have to do is to get my LPC from Argosy, and then he will leave his wife. So that’s why I enrolled. Hey, did you know that on my American Express account that Argosy is spelled ORGASY??? Somebody switched the letters of the university’s name on the bill. It’s a conspiracy!

Therapist: You pay for school with American Express? Whoa. . . (He scribbles another note)

Client: It’s true, I swear! My husband always collapses on the ground laughing when he sees the name of my school on the account . . . He can’t figure out how to pronounce it—Orgassy? Or--

Therapist: (Interrupting) So what does your husband think about this new marriage?

Client: Oh, he loves Rush, too. It’ll all work out. I only have about another year and a half of classes. My biggest hurdle is this class I gotta take from Jamison Law.

Therapist: Man, I heard he was a beast.

Client: Same. I’m really anxious. I just need a few sessions of therapy to calm me down and get through his class. Then I’m sure everything will work out.

Therapist: What do you mean by “everything will work out”?

Client: You know—I’ll get an “A”, get my degree, get my license, marry Rush Limbaugh, and start my own residential treatment center and be rich for life!

Therapist: I have a friend that might be willing to see you instead of me. . .

Client: You don’t like me? You’re trying to abandon me? (she crouches in an attack stance)

Therapist: Don’t think of it as “leaving” exactly. Think of it as, er, expanding your network.

Client: If you try to get rid of me, I’ll sic Jamison Law on you! You’ll regret this! (She lunges across the desk at the therapist).

Therapist: (Yelling) Security! Security! Get in here! She’s crazy!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Living the Pirate's Code to Become a Man! (or something like that).

As a therapist, I am always looking for new ideas on how to build a relationship with a client and help them to discover for themselves what they need to do to change. Back when I started I had all kinds of time to think up new creative methods. I was working mainly with children at the time and the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl had been released. I was amazed at how attractive the idea of being a pirate was to children. In fact, one little boy would use toy swords in our play therapy center and try to re-enact (with me) the scene where Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner dual in the blacksmith shop. He knew the scene word for word and even tried to do the footwork. It was fun, all except for the bruises I would get on my hands and fingers. When I say dual, I mean that I would stand there and try to not let the kid hit me.
This activity brought to mind the possibility to create a level-based play-therapy treatment program for kids who were struggling with behaviors. I began to research information on pirates and piracy (i.e. hierarchy on a ship; how money was divvied out; responsibilities of each individual on a ship; the pirates’ code, etc.). I found the information intriguing. So, I spent a few weeks writing up a treatment protocol for individual and group therapy based on the ideas of pirate hierarchy. I was only able to use some of the principles (due to funding) with some of the kids. They loved it, and I had fun with it! I wish I would have had more resources to do it at the time. It was specifically tailored for boys, rather than girls, but could have been adapted.
Below is some of the information and ideas I compiled. It was just a fun “idea” and anyone is free to read it. I think I had been in the industry only for about a year when I started thinking it up. If anyone takes any ideas from it, just remember where you got it from. If you use it, modify it, and turn it into something big, I will only require a 10% payment of everything you make. Just kidding.
The title of the program was “Becoming A Man.”
This program will serve teenage and latency age populations, both boys and girls. The concern is that many of the positive characteristics and traits from older generations are not being learned by today’s generations. The reasons are not important, nor are they an emphasis in this approach.

This program will involve an individual, group, and family therapeutic approach. The group therapy approach will be primary and the individual and family secondary. The goal of the treatment program is to provide a naturalistic therapeutic environment and activities that foster positive trait and characteristic growth, therapeutic healing, relationship building, and life skills training. It will be an 8 to 12 week program that is open/closed. Open, in that it will constantly be cycling through the objectives and activities so that anybody can join during any point of the process. Thus it is a continuous group without beginning or end. Closed in that once a person joins the group they and their parents or caregivers must sign a contract to complete the regime once it has begun. If a client misses a session then the group will hold a council to agree if the client should be allowed to come back into the group. The point of this is to teach the child the importance of loyalty to a group and integrity–fulfilling their word. It is recognized that there are valid reasons for missing a set appointment. It will still continue with a group council as this will foster growth for the group who will serve as merciful judges of the situation. The group must learn to work together and be compassionate in all situations.

The program will have three tiers or levels that a client can graduate from. The first is attaining and incorporating positive traits and characteristics. These include morality, responsibility, respect, integrity, loyalty, courage, spirituality, team work, and trust (this is not the final list). The objective is to provide activities and experiential interventions that foster growth and dvelopment of these traits and characteristics. Some of the desired activities will include ropes course, natural group dynamics, games (outdoor–capture the flag), wildernes survival skills training, campfire groups, drum circles, and various character tests that will be provided at random without notice. The tests will be done in a manner that appears natural and ordinary. One example will be to leave a large bill (money) out in the open where the kids meet for their group. They will be unsupervised at this point (as if the therapist had stepped out of the room). The test is to see what the group will do about the money being left out in the open. The therapist will not ask about the money upon return and act as if all is normal until the group starts. Then, the therapist will confront the group about the money, unless it is not brought up by the clients. This will test their integrity and honesty. Another example will be derived from the Parable of the Talents from the New Testament where they will be entrusted with an object and instructed to “make it grow.”
Other activities will be trust walks (preferably in a natural setting where there are trees and obstacles to challenge the clients. The clients will also be required to maintain an active exercise regimen which they will keep track of and be required to reach specific goals. Thus, they have many responsibilities to carry out. The main desire, also, is to provide an outdoor setting that has been purchased for the clinic that has natural resources, places to build a ropes course, and the capability of including possible farm animals such as sheep, etc. The purpose is to include animal care as a way to increase responsibility for others.

The therapeutic healing aspect will be incorporated as a part of the group process. Naturally, many clients will have specific traumas and difficulties that they have not yet been able to overcome. Sand-tray work, EMD/R, and other non-traditional trauma resoution therapies will be provided on an individual basis. Those treatment goals will be individual to meet each client’s special needs. Many of these clients will have witnessed difficult things to comprehend and thus will need a compassionate and empathetic therapist to guide them through this process. The individual appointments will be made on a client-to-client basis. The main goals of the individual therapy will be to decrease symptoms related to trauma and provide individual life skills training to maintain personal mental and emotional health. Thus, the program will maintain the general purpose of the Trauma Awareness and Treatment Center.

The purpose of this approach is to help young boys (ages 7-18) develop a strong foundation of attributes, traits, and characteristics that will help them survive as a strong person in society. The ideas were thought up after working with young boys and men who had been abused by a father figure, been through a divorce, or have never had a male role model. Most of these boys in this clinic have behavioral problems, lack of insight, past traumas, and other mental health problems. The hope is to help them become motivated through positive and negative consequences/reinforcements, achieving goals all while having a fun time in a positive therapeutic environment and a growth promoting home. The program ideas are not only based on helping motivate the child, but also to help the child’s primary caretaker become an integral part of the process.

1. Choose a male role model or more than one. Do research on them to describe what makes them a man and worthy of being emulated. 1 pg minimum. You may have the help of a parent or someone else that you choose.

2. Choose a few specific personal values and characteristics that define a man. (These attributes will be added to an already existing list to accentuate the personal values of the client). These attributes will be what constitute the treatment objectives–an increase in their ability to use and portray these values while decreasing negative symptoms and behaviors. The goal of the treatment is to create a foundation upon which the clients can build their own character.

3. The reward/consequence system will be progressive leading towards the final goal and objectives as stated in 2. The rewards will become greater with the client’s therapeutic progress and responsibilities. Therefore, the increase in rewards must have a positive correlation to the increase of positive behaviors and responsibilities as outlined by the treatment objectives.
The child will maintain a journal or “crew log” of his assignments, daily observations, and positive and negative consequences. Each week he will be given two assignments from the treatment objectives and will receive small consequences for his actions, be they positive or negative. There must be a certain percentage of his ability to complete the assignments for him to progress to the next level. Each new level will involve new responsibilities on top of the prior responsibilities. Therefore, with each rank he attains, we will receive a greater reward plus greater responsibilities. The rewards will be defined in the description of each level.

4. The child’s parent(s) or caretaker(s) MUST be highly involved and follow through with the reward/consequence system. It requires consistency and love. It may also be necessary to involve other systems that are influential to the child. I.e. teachers, schools, clubs, other therapeutic centers.

5. The negative consequences must be awarded at the moment of the negative behavior, but in a positive manner that will give motivation for continued change and growth. I.e. “Reproving betimes with sharpness...and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him when thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the chords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men...” Doctrine and Covenants 121: 43-45. Thus the caretaker’s job is to provide a safe loving environment that fosters healing and change. If this is not provided the progress WILL FAIL. A parent will need to follow a love and logic approach to the consequence and reward system. They must not reward the child with anger or demeaning words as this will cancel out any other reward or consequence. The parent must display patience and good faith in their child despite their behaviors. However, the parent will provide the appropriate consequence for negative behaviors. The consequence would be best if it were related to the negative behavior. Most importantly as well, the child needs to have positive reinforcements that outweigh the negative. The rewards and consequences must be documented by a simple tally mark every day, as well as the completion of specific treatment assignments and the display of objective completions.

6. The actual treatment interventions will be pragmatic to fit each child’s unique neds. It will involve, however, modeling, psychoeducation, trauma resolution (all methods), parent training, experiential therapy, personal journaling, etc.

7. Each level will have a meaning with value to the client. They will be ranked and must be something personal and of intrinsic value to give the client a sense of pride, honor, and growth. (Boys Scouts program). The program is to serve as a right of passage of growth into manhood. The pirate ship and crew system will be used currently as a description of levels. Also, Black Bart Roberts democratic-like system will be implemented, although modified to fit the program.

8. The program will involve outcome measures. The BASC or Achenbach will be administered before and after to measure symptoms/behavior progress. There will also be brief symptom/behavior measures filled out weekly by the primary caretaker (use Joe’s children’s group measure).

Attributes and Characteristics of a Man

What Makes a Man a Man?
A man...
1. Is respectful of others despite their age;
2. Does not take advantage of others or hurt others purposely;
3. Gives respect to other men, women, girls, and children despite their race, ethnic group, or religion;
4. Is honest;
5. Will emote (talk about what he feels and thinks in an assertive manner) effectively and not act aggressively;
6. Is responsible for the charges/jobs that have been given to him and for his own actions;
7. Kind and loving and knows how to discipline in a positive manner.
8. Works hard;
9. Can accept criticism (and knows that he is always growing and developing, therefore he can acknowledge his strengths and weaknesses);
10. Can provide for, and protect his family in an effective manner.

One example of a man that can be emulated is the 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln. Information on his life and character can be found from multiple sources. Not only was he the President, but he was a man who suffered from severe depression, but found the inner strength and motivation to maintain a strong quality of life. He overcame many downfalls and unsuccess.
The following is a beautiful poem written by Walt Whitman after President Lincoln’s assassination. It describes Lincoln as a Captain of a ship that had “weather’d every rack,” yet was victorious in its purpose and ended in his death.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Leaves of Grass. 1900.

193. O Captain! My Captain!


O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart! 5
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.


O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills; 10
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck, 15
You’ve fallen cold and dead.


My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

The level system of this program will be derived from the Pirate Code, mainly due to the semi-democratic nature of how their ships were run. Although their goal was to pilage and plunder, they had to maintain a “tight ship” in order to attain their ultimate design. The following is a brief explanation of their semi-democratic nature and a Pirate Code by Black Bar Roberts. The point of using this as a level system is to provide a fun nature to the process. Afterall, what child is not enthralled with the prospect of being like Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean?”

The Pirate Code: Democracy among Thieves

Though no universal code of conduct was acknowledged by all, many pirate captains established a set of rules with which each crew member was expected to comply while on board.

Many of these social contracts were remarkably democratic for their time and place in the world. As pirates, sailors had an unprecedented level of control of their destiny. In an assault to the traditional command structure at sea, pirate captains allowed the crew to vote in a new captain if a dispute warranted it. Good leaders gathered the support of their men, and many well-known pirates achieved their stature not by force, but by majority vote!

Another revolutionary concept was the pirate welfare system. Crew members injured in battle were given compensation for their injuries on a sliding scale of severity. A leg, for example, would have been worth more than an eye.

The eleven-article contract below was used by Black Bart Roberts. It must have been effective, for he was one of the most successful pirates of all time—capturing more than 400 ships over the 30-month span of his career.

The Pirate Code of Black Bart Roberts

1. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions...
2. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
3. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
4. The lights and candles shall be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
5. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
7. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
8. None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol...
9. No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
10. The captain and quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
11. The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day...

Level 1: Powder Monkey–scrub brush and crew log. This term was first used in the British Navy for the very young men who made up most gun crews in the 17th century. In contrast to a pirate officer who was elected, these men were forced to perform what was some of the most dangerous work on the ship. They were harshly treated and rarely paid, and if they avoided being mortally wounded in their service, desertion was probably as attractive as having very little hope of being promoted.

Level 2: Gunner–pistol. A gunner would be the leader of any separate group manning artillery. His special skill would be in aiming, but he would oversee the four to six men required to take the gun through the steps of loading aiming, firing, resetting, and swabbing for the next load. He would also work to ensure the gun crew’s safety in avoiding dangerous overheating or excessive recoiling of the weapon. A master gunner would help to coordinate the timing and accuracy of the individual crews especially when a broadside was ordered.

Level 3: Boatswain–bag of gold. This position may be compared to the modern chief petty officer. A boatswain’s whistle. A ship of any size would require the boatswain to oversee several junior officers who would share his responsibility for the crew’s morale and work efficiency as well as the maintenance and repair of the hull, rigging, lines, sails, and anchors.

Level 4: Quartermaster/First Mate. Some pirate ship crews had this position as the captain’s right-hand man and the one who would assume his role if he were killed in battle or could no longer perform his duties. This was often considered the job of a lieutenant in a regular navy, and most pirate crews chose a quartermaster instead of a First Mate. A large portion of the captain’s traditional role and power into the hands of an elected quartermaster who became second-in-command and almost a co-captain through his representing the best interests of the crew. As a foreman, he was in charge of maintaining order, distributing rations and supplies delegating work, and guarding and dividing plunder. In fighting, the quartermaster decided what ships were worth it and often led any boarding party, ultimately deciding what loot to keep. When discipline or punishment was necessary, only he could give it, but even then it was with the agreement of the captain or the vote of the crew. He was more or less second in command.

Level 5 and Final Level–THE MAN OF MEN!: Captain. He was elected as a sort of president of the shaky ship democracy, someone already respected for their leadership and navigation skills who would be level-headed and decisive in the heat of battle. He had to be cut from a different mold, because previous experience had taught most that life at sea was harsh enough without an inexperienced or cruel leader making it worse. It was during engagements that this man would be expected to rise above and help bring victory, but in most other occasions on ship, he was more or less another voting member, delegating most of the everyday tasks to the quartermaster or other junior officer. In these times, he was to be an even-tempered father who maintained the barest level of discipline necessary to hold the family venture together. This father could be voted out and even thrown off if he became passive or wavering, went against the majority vote, became too brutal, or simply no longer performed his duties to the liking of the pirate ship crew.


Finally, the following is one idea of how the consequence system can be tallied on a weekly basis. The desire is for the caretaker and the child to work together in maintaining a tally of the consequences and objectives that are completed during the week. The actual scoring system will be kept by the therapist. It is highly important for the caretaker to be objective during the weekly tallying.

Gene Roddenberry Missed His Calling!!!! Star Trek and Mental Health!!!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend and colleague over the weekend. We were traveling from Utah to Denver for a class and while sitting comfortably in our Southwest Airlines seats (this is not a sales pitch for them) we discussed our thoughts and feelings on Star Trek. I know, I know it sounds hokey. I will get to my point why being a Trekky can have many positive aspects to it. I will get to those in a minute, but first I will explain my point-of-view on how Star Trek can have a positive influence on people.

I was raised on Star Trek. I remember watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture with my dad as a young boy and finding the idea of trekking through space at warp speed, meeting new people and civilizations to be intriguing, exciting, and educational. Besides, what little boy wouldn’t like to have the capacity to sore through the sky and space in a spaceship—especially the Starship Enterprise?

My space fascination continued into adolescence and then adulthood as Star Trek gave way to The Next Generation. I loved this series and still watch the re-runs. You can imagine my excitement when the new Star Trek movie came out in 2009, with a whole new set of actors and ideas. Oh, how the boyhood space-aged fantasies were re-awakened! I recall that year perusing the internet for information on the movie, when one day I came across a website (that I cannot recall) that talked about the ideas of Star Trek—i.e. seeking out new life and civilizations; boldly going where no one had gone before; living the Prime Directive; bettering oneself just for the sake of betterment. While reviewing it, I came across an excerpt from the comment section. It was a man who said he was a police officer in Los Angeles (or one of the large cities in California). He said that coming home at night and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation renewed his sense of hope in people and society. He described how his job at times could dishearten his ideas on who people were, and that the ideas of Star Trek rejuvenated him. I could relate to that to an extent with the sense of therapeutic burnout always looming over my head. I’ve found that I look for things that rebuild my sense of hope, just as this man.

Now, coming back to the present, my friend/colleague and I revisited the idea of Star Trek. I expressed, somewhat embarrassingly that I found the ideas attractive; though I know they were not attainable any time soon (possibly even farfetched). I was pleased when he expressed the same sentiment. But, now as I sit writing, I wonder if it is NOT impossible. I know that is a double-negative and I placed it there on purpose. Society is not ready for a place like the United Federation of Planets where there is no concept of money, poverty, or inequality, etc. Where people can learn and better themselves how, where, and in whatever manner they wish. BUT, what are we doing in our own homes or with ourselves to make our own little relative world peaceful in such a manner? I watch many people in the helping profession trying to change the world, but I would ask, what are you doing with yourself? Are you living what you preach? Are you teaching your children and those around you how to live the way you feel the world should be? Are you meeting resistance with your own resistance when you feel that peaceful resolution should be the road? I know that in my own little Universe (i.e. home) that when I am trying to focus my attention on bettering my children or even my wife, my efforts can become self-serving and be met with resistance and unhappiness. But, if I am focusing on my own actions and on how my moods, behaviors, and examples are being seen by my children…and I am trying to better myself for the sake of betterment…my children follow suit, my home is peaceful, and my Universe is no longer in upheaval. A lot can be learned from watching an episode or two of Star Trek. Try it out!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

ACA Podcast on Carl Rogers--A Brief Review

This is a brief review of a podcast from the American Counselors Association (ACA). The ACA provides podcasts wherein they interview key professionals and specialists. This particular podcast was aired on February 8, 2009 with speaker Dr. Howard Kirschenbaum regarding the esteemed Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers was the developer of person-centered therapy which is now one of the front-running therapeutic philosophical approaches worldwide. Below you will find a few notes I took and a brief summary (some verbatim) of the podcast, as well as the URL where one can listen to the podcast. I recommend it!

HT007 -- CARL ROGERS, the Person-Centered Approach

Sunday, February 08, 2009 7:42 PM

Speaker Dr. Howard Kirschenbaum is the author of The Life and Work of Carl Rogers . He is Professor Emeritus and former chair of Counseling and Human Development at the Warner Graduate School of Education at the University of Rochester, in New York. Dr. Kirschenbaum is the author of more than 20 books on education, counseling, and history.

Dr. Kirschenbaum first talks about some of the personal issues that Carl Rogers had. Carl Rogers struggled with alcohol dependency for the last few decades of his life. It is one of several areas that show him as a more dynamic and “human” individual.

Kirschenbaum stated, regarding Rogers that “Person centered approach is a context of counseling and psychotherapy is an approach by which the relationship between the counselor and client is paramount. Rogers described the relationship as consisting of 3 necessary and sufficient conditions…core conditions. The therapist’s congruence or realness, empathy for the client (sensitive understanding of the world as the client experiences it), and an unconditional positive regard for the client (appreciation and respect as a person of individual worth and autonomy). If those conditions were offered by the therapists…and the client could perceive the conditions to a minimum degree, then a relationship would be developed that would enable the client to change in positive ways. The client-centered approach changed over the years, but the core is the three conditions.”

The counselor serves as a helpful and supportive person to enable the client to do their own work. The client is their own expert. Before Rogers, the therapist was the expert on the client. Rogers’ approach was “revolutionary.” Each person can arrive at their own answer.
Rogers never said that human beings were inherently good. He said that they are basically trustworthy when provided with the positive conditions for growth and self-actualization. Negative conditions bring about a warped individual. They will do what they must to meet their needs, even if done in a warped manner. Rogers was optimistic that if nurturing conditions were provided, a client would grow.

Person-centered approach is less of a theory and more of a philosophical means of being a therapist (in the U.S.). In other countries, it is the leading means of therapy. It is taught as a distinct approach and is empirically supported.

To learn more, listen to the full podcast.

Friday, May 13, 2011

All I Wanted Was A Diet Mt. Dew!

I went to the 7-11 to get a Diet Mt. Dew. It had been a very long day at that point. The cashier asked if I would be interested in buying a snack, which I did. Then, upon leaving, and feeling great about my purchase (particularly the Mt. Dew), I heard a loud high-pitched voice. I turned to see a scene of a mother yelling at her toddler child for not sitting on the ground while she browsed the movie section. I saw two other children, who I assumed to be hers also walking around. She appeared distraught or frustrated or a combination of the two. As I opened my car door, I began to wonder what that mom had experienced that day. By no means was I judging her for her actions with her toddler. I can't imagine the toddler enjoyed being yelled at, but I've been in her shoes...a long day at the office, grading lots of school papers, and returning home to disgruntled children and me wanting to "blow up." The amount of stress and anxiousness she must have been feeling was apparent in her body movement, her facial expressions, her actions with her child, etc. I can imagine her body is being flooded with stress hormones and adrenaline at those times, and that over time it will wear down her body, her capacity to think and react in a rational and emotionally constructive manner. It sounds exhausting. I only say this, because I have felt it before, just as most of us do. Rather than focus on the moment, though, I would wonder what might help this woman to feel more calm generally, so that when stressful moments come her fuse is not shortened. Some thoughts come to mind with how to deal with day-to-day stressors. Most of them are behaviorally and cognitive in nature.

1. Organize and prioritize: I know that we all have many responsibilities. Organize them and prioritize them according to importance. Sometimes, even important things need to be put aside for a time. Trust me, the world will not stop turning if we can't get everything done NOW.

2. Ask for help: Life becomes overwhelmingly stressful when we feel alone. I wonder who that woman had to turn to for help. At times it requires a little bit of creativity to provide ourselves with respite, even if it is only at night when the kids are asleep. However, there is usually someone to turn to. Some examples are having friends to trade off with for babysitting when needed. Family members, church or club members, etc. Find someone.

3. Take time for yourself: This is something that is not done enough in society. Life is too busy. Give yourself time to slow things down and take a few moments to read a chapter in a book; call a friend; write in a journal; drink a soda (or something else you like--preferrably healthy); or write a blog!

4. Self-inventory: Make a list of the things that you say to yourself or mutter under your breath regarding yourself. What is positive and growth-promoting? What is not? Negative self-talk must be replaced.

If you have any other ideas, share them in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Power of Music!

It is amazing what music can do to unite people from all over the world. Eric Whitacre, the renouned chorale composer developed the Virtual Choir where over 2000 individuals from all over the world recorded a chorale piece together. The music is moving and emotional. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Late Night Mumblings...

It has been a long day, but I have a few thoughts. A colleague of mine, Dr. Gray Otis (President-elect of the American Mental Health Counselor Association) and I were discussing how the mental health of life changed with the industrial revolution. With the advent of technology, the advancements of science and education, etc. distance has been gapped and information availability is possible where it used to be scarce. It has made life "easier" in a sense. However, as we discussed one day, it has had its side-effects. There is less one-on-one socialization; less outdoor activities; less agricultural activities; and just less physical movement in general. Rather than experiencing a horrific catastrophe or natural disaster, what can we do to have a more balanced lifestyle? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Simplify: Make your days and routines more simple. Learn to say yes to the things that are important and no to the things that are not. Being assertive is not a crime.
2. Go outside: Adults and children have forgotten the joys of being outside. Don't "think" about it. Just do it. I remember the days when I would strap my fishing pole to my BMX bicycle and ride three miles outside of town to fish in the Bear Lake Canal with my brothers and cousin. I remember fishing for "crawdads" in the local creeks with rolled-up jeans and wading barefoot through the cold water. I remember marveling (and still do) at how the sky seems to glow when it snows at night.
3. Balance Needs and Wants: We all want our toys. Learn to balance what is important as to not overwhelm yourself with the newest and best things. Make sure the needs are truly needs and not wants. If you are not sure, take a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for a few ideas. ('s_hierarchy_of_needs)
4. Laugh: Learn to laugh at yourself and to not take life so seriously. If things feel overwhelming, as yourself if what you are worried about is bringing you joy. Most likely, it is not.

Come up with some of your own ideas. What are they? Post them in the comments section.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean!

My family and I just returned from an extended vacation in Californa and Disneyland. My all-time favorite ride is Pirates of the Caribbean. The creativity, the music, the ghosts, and of course, the saying "Dead Men Tell No Tales" continues to ring in my ears even a week after leaving. At ofttimes while meandering through the cursed coves in the rugged boat I wonder what would happen if the ride broke down, the lights would come on, and what I might see. I am afraid that the fun illusions might lose their luster and appeal if I could see the ride in its true form. I might see more fully the warehouse walls and ceilings, faded painting and chipped characters. The lights would change my perception and beliefs of the make-believe world Walt Disney envisioned.
Many times, our life is similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We live with a certain beliefs in ourselves in the warehouse of our mind and hearts, believing them to be true. Our internal warehouse may be filled with shadows and meandering corridors that though comfortable, are not an accurate representation of reality. It is only when the lights turn on that we see the illusion. We can learn that the things we believe about ourselves and our value and self-worth are incorrect. We find that the dimness obscures our vision of the luminous people we are with infinite value and capacity. How often do we dim ourselves out or let others dim us to maintain in relative comfort that can actually damage our personal growth?
I had a conversation about this with an individual recently. We were discussing how their fear of change is like a shroud of comfort that kept them from moving forward. They even admitted, (quite wisely I might add) that fear is comfortable and safe, because it is predictable and stable. Facing the fear and trying something new can be even more frightening, because it requires looking into the unknown, trying new things, and even failing. I told the individual that when Disneyland first opened, the streets got so hot from the weather that the asphalt began to melt, and that attractions did not work as planned. It could have been considered a failure or flop, but somebody kept trying. Very similar to how Thomas Edison continued trying until he succeeded with making the first practical commercial light bulb (he wasn't the first to make the light bulb--just clarifying that). The only way to change is to try, which will require not succeeding the first time--and that is okay! It is only after trying many times that we discover more about how to do it correctly, and little by little the light turns on, the illusion fades, and we see who we truly are.
Although, I hope the Pirates of the Caribbean never breaks down. That's an illusion I enjoy!

Practical Ways to Begin Change

For those who want to work on personal change, here are some solution-focused steps.

1. Awareness: Be aware of what you want to change and have a final goal. How do you want to be when it's all said and done? Write it down!

2. Steps: What is the first step you need to take? Most of the time, it is just trying. The first step is the hardest, because we're afraid it will fail. However, the truth is (turn the light on now) that we truly never fail unless we try. It's part of the process. Failure is when we do not try or even begin.
Once you begin, work at BEING what you want to BECOME. William James said that it is better to act into the correct way of thinking than to think your way into the correct way of acting. It's hard to do, but it's supposed to be. You're exercising muscles you've never used. You'll be emotionally and mentally sore, just as you would after a few workouts.

3. Pat yourself on the back: Give yourself encouragement, even if you don't want to. Act into the correct way of giving yourself encouragement.

4. Endure: Don't quit. If you need to take a break, that is okay; however, don't quit.

Hope these are helpful. If you have any other suggestions that you have used, or want more specific information, let me know.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I Promise, It's Fun! Parent-Child Individual Time.

This is a continuation of prior blarticles (blog articles) I wrote regarding being more like our children and learning from them. Many times I have parents who bring their children into the office and say that they don't enjoy doing anything; they act bored; they seem ADD; they argue and don't show respect for adults, etc. After spending time with the kids I find that they are craving parent time. When I discuss it with the parents, they sometimes describe a life of stress and busy-ness with no time for rest or relaxation--let alone play with their children. This blarticle is about how to make small moments with our children to strengthen our homes and our children.
Much of this, I can say I have not learned from classes, or even counseling experiences, but rather from my own children. The other day I asked my six-year-old daughter what makes her feel happy inside. She said that she loves it when "daddy has movie night with us...and you make popcorn and we watch the movie together." My eight-year-old son will say that he is happy when daddy and mommy are happy and especially when daddy is not grumpy (woops!). He also gets excited when we have movie-night, play catch, or play a Wii game. I find it easy to forget these things due to the day-to-day stressors and business of life. I was again reminded of these important things as I listened to a young client describe the video games they play with their father. It was the first time I had ever seen this child light-up, stay on task and focus. They described in detail the games they play and how it feels when they do not play them together. It seems, as simple as it may be, that the little things in our children's lives make the biggest difference. If you have a hard time playing, then try to remember what it was like to be a child and the joys of playing. If you didn't enjoy playing as a child, watch children and mimmick them. It's easy, and the rewards are a happy home and positive developmental growth for yourself and your children. You can't lose!

Sacrificing Personal Control for Change.

What if the fabric of your life is made of dilemmas? What if change that is necessary violates your personal sense of control? How can one deal with that?
These are thoughts that come to mind when dealing with individuals that have personal perfectionist and protective values and beliefs that are no longer working. They experience certain levels of ambivalence with situations or subjects that are difficult to deal with or change. For example, a person may have the belief that they are required to achieve a certain level of grade in their schooling, but when not attained experience near debilitating levels of anxiousness, depression, or other psychological problems. The dilemma occurs when they realize that they have to change their idea of self-control and perfectionism, which to them may mean that they are losing a part of themselves. How do they cope with that? How would you cope with it, if you struggle with the same issue?
Here are a few thoughts. One could approach it psychodynamically by looking at the internal goings-on and the roots of the problem--start backwards and move forwards--how the past affects the present. This can be beneficial, but with some it may only explain the "why" and not the solution. With some, the "why" may be sufficient. Another approach is solution-focused. Picture what it might be like to not have the "issue" (look towards a future goal) and make small reasonable steps, much like Bob Wiley from "What About Bob." If you recall from the movie, though highly dramatized, his steps were often painful and frightening and required constant behavioral monitoring and adjustment. William James, a frontrunner in psychology might agree with this approach as he said "It's easier to act yourself into the correct way of thinking, than to think yourself into the correct way of acting." While acting into the correct way of thinking one will need to be aware of the thinking processes and how they feed the ambivalent thought and emotional patterns.
There are other ways at approaching this, but I do not wish to make this blarticle (blog and article put together--I just made it up) all about what I think. What are some of your thoughts? How can one be at peace with a change that challenges the very fabric of their values? What are other examples of intrapersonal struggles that you are aware of?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Oh, Mother!

With mother's day approaching, I would like all my readers (all 3 of you, one of which is my own mother) to reflect on the meaning of the word mom, or mother. What comes to mind? I'll give you some time for that..............

Okay, now that you've done that, I am truly hoping that there are positive emotions, thoughts, or images. If so, what are they? Do they reflect on your own mother, yourself as a mother, on another person you may have called mother, or on other women or mothers you know?

Now, narrow down the memories or qualities that you find in this or these individuals and write them down. If I were to do this, I would think of two main people--my own mother (see the picture above) and my wife. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on my own mother. When I think of her I remember her teaching me how to make my favorite meal, spaghetti. At a young age she taught me how to make it from scratch. It is still my favorite. I remember her playing music in the home: ABBA, Michael Jackson, and Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody was a favorite). I also remember her playing the piano and "forcing" us to sing as she played. I recall her showing up for my baseball games, school musicals, and doing all the "mom things" that I thought all moms did. I remember how she sacrificed everything she was and built a life around myself and four other siblings and my father. Now, she is a grandmother of over a dozen children. I watch her play with them, buy them gifts, and spoil them as grandmothers do. I watch my children's faces light up when they hear that they can play with "Mama-Law." I remember how she is nearly always the first to read and respond to my blogs. Most importantly, I remember the love she has for her family, and am grateful for it.

I hope all 3 readers had similar experiences when recalling what the word "mother" means to you. If you do, tell her what came to mind. If it's awkward, say that some guy who writes a blog thought it would be a good idea and I will take the fall for it :) Do it for her, and for yourself.

Happy Upcoming Mother's Day, Mom.

"Jamison, you're an actor!"

Today's blog includes some personal information. While completing my masters degree in counseling several years ago, a prominent professor told me over and over that I was an "actor." He would say it with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. However, the observation bothered me. I didn't know what he meant. Did he mean I was a fake? Did he mean that I was pretending? I don't know why the thought scared me so badly. Just with those questions one can surmise that I tend to lean to negative self-assessments. It's ironic that a therapist who strives to demonstrate unconditional positive regard to his clients struggles with doing the same with himself. That's a story for another day, though. Back to the story at-hand. Me, an actor! Sure, I had done some acting in high school. The occasoinal musical or skit, but that was not how I looked at counseling. I was striving for genuineness and honesty, and the professor's assessment seemed the opposite...until yesterday.

A friend I hadn't seen in 12 years contacted me online and asked for a referral for his child. I researched his area and gave him some contacts. A month later he contacted me, again thanking me for the information I had provided. He then shared some personal sentiments regarding the experiences we had in common. Much of his description was similar to how I had felt about the experience, which was painstakingly difficult to overcome. While reading, I found myself going over a fantastical scenario of how I might speak to him if he were present with me, rather than communicating electronically. (It's an exercise I do with frequency). I found that my emotions began to reflect more of what he was describing, as well as my mental verbage. I recognized this process, because I know for a fact that I had resxolved my issues that are similar to his and have been at peace with it for some time. I was in the roll as a therapist and a person who is trying to be empathetic. It makes me wonder if that is what the professor meant by his comment. I am more inclined to believe so. Perhaps "acting" means putting yourself in the position of someone to be able to reflect what they may feel or think and is a means of connection. What do you think?