Productive therapeutic experiences are an excellent way to invest in yourself. Effective therapy can save you thousands of dollars and hours/days/years of frustration and emotional pain.
Therapy is a safe way to explore and talk through your pain because you can speak freely without worrying about:
Therapy is a safe way to:
Three ways to get more bang for your therapy buck:
Make sure that the psychologist you choose is licenced/registered with an accredited association—for example, the College of Psychologists of British Columbia.
I strongly recommend you DO NOT seek help from someone who is not a member of an accredited association.
Word of mouth is an excellent way to find a competent therapist who has integrity.
My husband and I built two homes, and I learned something from those experiences that has helped me.
Everyone, no matter what their training/expertise, makes mistakes. When we were building our homes, the lawyer made mistakes drawing up the legal papers, the architect made mistakes designing the homes, the blaster made mistakes, the electrician made mistakes, the plumber made mistakes, etc.
My point is, no matter what training and experience someone might have, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how many they make and how they handle the mistakes that counts. Therefore, do not assume everything a psychologist does is perfect. It’s ok to question your therapist.
Before the session:
Prepare the evening/night before you go. Spend about 30 minutes in thought about what you might want to talk about and/ or explore. Write down any thoughts, images, dreams, memories that come to you during that time. Recurring dreams and thoughts are especially important to share with the therapist.
During the session:
After the session:
Clients often say to me:
“I was in a fog most of the day after our last session.”
“I don’t remember leaving your office last time.”
“I felt like I’d been run over by a semi-trailer truck after our last session.”
“I had a headache that started during the session and lasted the rest of the day.”
“I felt nauseated for quite some time after our last session.”
Not every session can be productive. Sometimes even frustrating, seemingly unproductive sessions can generate movement. But most sessions should feel they were worth your time, energy, effort, and money you invested in them.
How productive was the session?
Not at all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Extremely
How invested in the session was I?
Not at all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Extremely
How much has my life changed since starting therapy?
Not at all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Extremely
The only person to be honest with is yourself.
Maybe you need to “pretend” to do therapy until you trust your therapist. That’s okay. (Feeling safe with your therapist is important, especially if you were not safe with the parents/caregivers who raised you.)
Note: Do not start out trusting your therapist.
Tell your therapist some of your problems and see what he/she does with them.
Let the therapist earn your trust.
When Should You Go to Therapy?
If you are in a good place, i.e., you are not particularly stressed or bothered about anything, you may think there is no reason to seek therapy, so you cancel the session.
However, I encourage you not to cancel.; When you have nothing pressing, issues can come to the foreground that needs addressing. I often find those are the most productive sessions my clients have.
Canceling sessions: Clients often unconsciously cancel sessions when they do not want to face their struggles. If that is true for you, allow the part of you that does not want to face the issue or feel unpleasant sensations to say so. In other words, allow expression from this part of you.
You are conflicted – part of you wants to face certain issues and part of you does not. Often this frees up the energy to realign, – creating new neural pathways with different pleasant/calm sensations.
Procrastination: arriving late for sessions is another unconscious way to avoid dealing with issues.
If you are late, let go of being late and settle into what time is left of the session.
Take two minutes to breathe and shift gears from being in the outside world to being in therapy.
Sometimes you can be even more productive when you do that.
One time, a client of mine came rushing to her session. She was late.
She apologized profusely for being late, explained why she was late and berated herself for being late and wasting my time. She said she had something important she wanted to address, and now she would not have time to do it.
I listened to her for 3 minutes, and then I said I want you to put the issue of your lateness aside; we will revisit it at the end of the session. I would like to see what we can accomplish in the time we have left. Do you think you can do that?”
She nodded, and we focused on her issue for the remaining time.
At the end of the session, I asked her how she felt about what we had done. She said she felt good about it. I asked her if she had gotten what she wanted and needed from our work together. She responded, “Yes, more than I thought I would.”
If you’re late, make use of whatever time you have.
January 29, 2017, Roger Federer lifted his 18th Grand Slam Trophy at the conclusion of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. He is a great champion because he exemplifies what great champions do – time and again they overcome adversity to rise to higher levels of performance.
Federer has overcome a lot of adversity. One significant example is his performance at the 2008 Roland Garros final against Rafa Nadal. Federer won only 4 games over three sets. In terms of the survival skills of flight, flight or freeze, he was frozen in terror during the match. He could not play. When he hit the ball, it would go all over the place because he was so tight. At the end of the match, Nadal had a puzzled look on his face as he stretched his winning arms up in the air and walked toward the net to shake Federer’s hand. At the final ceremonies, during his speech, Federer apologized for his level of play and promised to perform better next time.
I don’t know what emotions Federer felt during and after that match. I can only guess he felt frustrated, bewildered, shocked, ashamed, bitter, disappointed, out of control and more.
He experienced another devastating loss at the 2009 Australian Open when he lost to Nadal again. This time he was going for a record-breaking 14th Slam title to equal Pete Sampras. He was expected to win because Nadal was tired from playing a long gruelling 5 set match in the semi-final. Again, Federer played badly. His emotions were evident during the final ceremonies as tears streamed down his face and he struggled to speak. Nadal, his friend and tennis arch-enemy, put his arm around Federer’s neck, expressing caring, warmth and friendship. I’m guessing it felt bittersweet for Federer.
Most people tend to avoid bad experiences. No one wants to experience painful difficult feelings if they can help it. It is common for people to try to avoid any situations where they might feel awful feelings, especially the sensations of the feelings. They become invested in avoiding. They try to control the outcome. By doing so they behave differently than they would behave if they didn’t try to control the outcome. They do behaviours, which limit their abilities. The byproduct – their performance level drops and they are more likely to fail. For many people, the fear of feeling the difficult painful sensations of failing become more important than the exhilarating sensations of winning and success.
How has Federer overcome these (and many other) difficulties? He is not afraid of feeling difficult feelings. (That does not mean that he likes it.) Somehow he processes the emotions so that if they happen, he knows he can get through them and survive – well. It takes courage and strength to process emotions.
As well, he has enough successes in his career and in his life that make the risks worth it. He knows the best way to win, and win big, is to play at his best. That means not controlling the outcome. The answer mostly lies in his attitude –
Quote from Roger Federer at the pre-match interview at the 2017 Australian Open: “There’s only one match left. I found it’s so great already. Just like – Let it [the ball] fly off your racquet and see what happens.
He let go of the outcome.
Anger Is Energy
Anger expressed positively can convince a lover or child that he or she is loved. It can help you get a job done when you’re tired. It can be motivating. Tiger Woods, one of the top golfers, says, “I sometimes lose my temper on purpose to fire myself up.”
Anger expressed negatively can devastate a child of any age, but especially when they are very young. Anger can destroy relationships and ruin things of value. People can hurt others when they get angry, but they often hurt themselves.
There are times when it is appropriate and productive to get angry. But often, getting angry can be dangerous, even embarrassing. It is helpful to know the difference and have the impulse control to carry out the choice. Most important is how a person acts when angry.
Scenario: Sam pulled into her garage after a long hectic day at work. As she got out of her car, she heard glass breaking. She went around the corner of her home and saw the shattered living room window. Her son and his friends stood on the street, frozen. One of the boys had hit the baseball through the window. Sam was enraged! Last time, it was the neighbour’s bedroom window. She’d told them many times to practice in the schoolyard nearby. She wanted to scream at them and slap them silly!
Sam knew that she was too angry to deal with the boys right then and told them so. She sent her son to his room and sent his friends home. She changed into her jeans and a T-shirt, went into the backyard, and chopped some wood. As she chopped, her rage dissipated. She was still angry but not enraged. Then she got her son to help her put some plywood over the broken window. Later that evening, she and her husband sat down with their son to deal with the problem.
Sam did not blow-up, nor did she block her anger. She allowed her muscles to do what they needed to do—attack. But she did not attack her son or his friends; she attacked the wood. She destroyed and created something simultaneously.
When people get angry, their bodies pump adrenaline into the bloodstream, preparing their muscles for fight or flight. Their muscles are primed to act, and as they do, the adrenaline is processed. However, if the anger is blocked, then the muscles do not do what they naturally do. The adrenaline stays in the muscles, often causing side effects, such as shakiness until it is eventually processed. Blocked or unexpressed anger builds up over time. The brain and the body need to deal with it in some way. Some people blow-up because they can no longer tolerate the tension. Others suppress and repress their anger, which can lead to physical and emotional illnesses. Depression is often the symptom of repressed anger. Neither is healthy, and both can cause a lot of harm.
It is not easy to find wood to chop, but there are many other ways to express anger constructively and productively, like throwing a rug over a railing and whacking it with a broom.
Every couple needs to develop a good working relationship that enables them to resolve differences and solve problems. Some couples do this well while others do not. When problems are addressed rather than ignored, resentment and tension do not build up. When couples have the tools to address problems, they are more likely to use them. This results in less conflict and more good times together.
Avoiding conflict is a common mistake. One way couples do this is to dismiss issues that crop up as too small to deal with. However, small issues that are dismissed tend to build up over time. Often, a big fight breaks out due to the backlog of small issues. In the long run, it is much healthier to deal with small issues as they come up.
The following exercise provides a guide for couples to quickly, easily, and effectively address issues Sooner Rather Than Later.
When these instructions are followed as given, the exercise will help you and your partner:
It is recommended that couples use a time-limited format to listen to each other’s issues, stay on track during a discussion, avoid bringing up past hurts and failures, avoid deflecting from the issue in focus, and use the creative resources of the relationship to solve the issue.
You will need about 30 minutes.
STEP ONE: PICK AN ISSUE. SET A TIME.
One person chooses an issue to be resolved. Choose only one issue and leave other issues that may come up to another time.
The person who has chosen the issue invites their partner to engage in the Sooner Rather Than Later exercise.
Together, set a time when both of you are free to devote 30 minutes to your relationship.
Make that time a priority in your relationship. Do not cancel it unless it is necessary to do so. If you have to cancel, make a new date that you will be able to keep. (If couples treated their spouse/partner as their best client, best student, best customer, best patient, best contractor, best supplier, best employee, etc., relationships would be much better.) In a healthy relationship, couples make their spouse/partner a priority in their lives.
Do not expect or demand your partner to address an issue right away. Your partner may or may not be ready. If necessary, give yourself some time to think about it.
Deal with issues when they are small and when the resentment in the relationship is minimal.
They are much easier to resolve Sooner Rather Than Later.
STEP TWO: PLAN FOR AFTER.
Plan something fun/pleasant to do after the 30 minutes is up. (No sex.)
STEP THREE: OPEN UP. LOOSEN UP.
Open your mind to the process.
Keep in mind the following:
STEP FOUR: EXPRESS YOURSELVES
5 minutes each.
Each person takes 5 minutes to express his/her concerns about the issue without being interrupted by the other. Allow for periods of silence during the 5 minutes of talking. (Often, after a period of silence, the concern deepens to another level.) Do not take longer than 5 minutes. Some people tend to repeat themselves and lose the effect of what they are trying to get across.
STEP FIVE: REFLECTIVE LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.
2.5 minutes each.
Each person expresses what he/she thinks the other person’s concerns are, that is, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours relevant to the issue. Allow for clarification.
Say – “You think . . . (about the issue) . . .”
and/or “You feel . . . (about the issue) . . .”
and/or “You do . . . (describe behaviors) . . . because . . .”
NOTE: “You feel that . . .” is not a feeling; it is a thought.
STEP SIX: BRAINSTORM – Write ideas down.
Brainstorm together, allowing each person in the couple to suggest as many solutions as he/she can think of. Do not evaluate or judge any suggestion during this process, as fear of criticism will shut down the creative process. Be aware of your non-verbal communications, as partners and spouses are very sensitive to non-verbal messages.
Allow each other to suggest silly, impossible and exaggerated solutions. Have fun with this. It stimulates the creative process. A silly solution may generate a plausible solution.
Add in what you know about how other couples handle this issue without thinking that any one way is the right way. You are exploring all possible ideas. The right way for the two of you is whatever way works for both of you. How you decide to resolve this issue may differ from any other couple, and that’s okay.
STEP SEVEN: AGREE ON A SOLUTION TO TRY.
From all the solutions, choose one that you think would work. Look for a solution that each person will be 80% satisfied with. This is not an either/or situation. Look for a win-win solution. If one person is unhappy with the solution, it won’t work. If one person tries to press his/her solution on the other, it won’t work.
A new solution may emerge out of this process.
Say what you are willing to do, not what you’re not willing to do.
If a solution looks possible but isn’t quite right for your spouse, ask, “What would you need to have happened or changed to get this solution to work for you?” (Caution: do not try to force a solution on your spouse or try to manipulate your spouse into accepting a solution – it will likely backfire if you do.)
Do not refer to past times when things did not work. This format is for now and the future.
If you cannot agree on any solution, pick one that you agree to try.
STEP EIGHT: PLAN HOW YOU WILL PUT THE SOLUTION INTO ACTION.
Agree to do this solution. Plan how and when you will do it.
NOTE: Be prepared to work out bugs in the plan along the way. Set another time to give and get feedback about how well or not it is working.
STEP NINE: IF YOU ARE NOT IN AGREEMENT.
If you still cannot agree on a solution, decide on another time and set another date and go through the process again. Until then, get more information about possible solutions. For example, read books, ask other people how they handle this issue, etc. and bring this information to the next brainstorming session.
STEP TEN: GO AND HAVE FUN.
Let go of the issue for now. You know there is a time set to address it again so that it will not get ignored. It will percolate while you are involved in other activities. When you come back to it, you will both be fresh about it.
Repeat this process until you’ve reached a solution that works for both of you.
If you are unable to find 30 minutes to do this, consider that it means you are avoiding dealing with important issues in your relationship. If this is the case, your relationship may be in deeper trouble than you realize. Seeking professional help may be a necessary next step if you intend to stay in your relationship.
Avoiding issues creates more problems than it solves.
NOTE: These procedures are a guideline. Customize this format to your unique relationship.
© Dr. Bea Mackay 2007
Scenario: James watched as his son, a talented goalie, let in a goal that lost the game. Exasperated, he let out a cry of disgust. After the game, James berated his son for not trying hard enough. His discouraged son tried to convince his father that he had tried as hard as he could. Both felt bad.
There is another feeling under the anger—sensations of vulnerability—that act like an engine fueling the anger and driving the behaviour. Any vulnerable feeling can fuel anger. Some people get angry when they feel out of control, hurt, threatened, pressured or even hungry or tired. There are many sensations of vulnerability, including feelings of abandonment, belittlement, shame, embarrassment, disappointment, hopelessness, rejection, and more.
In James’s case, there was disappointment underneath his anger. When his son did well, he felt proud and important. When his son did not do well, he felt like a failure. He hated the sensations of failure, so he shifted into anger and got on his son’s case.
Vulnerable feelings can range from slight to extreme. No one likes to feel the sensations of vulnerability, so most people avoid or deflect from the sensations by talking about something else, focusing on a task, or worrying about aches or pains they have.
Or they may get angry.
Why get angry? When people shift into anger, they stop feeling the sensations of vulnerability. The sensations of vulnerability do not go away; they go into the background. Feeling angry is better than feeling the sensations of humiliation, rejection, or any other vulnerable feeling. When people feel angry, they feel sensations of power, not vulnerability. With anger, it may be possible to change what is going on for better or worse. Anger has a purpose.
When people get angry, they are looking for a specific outcome. James needed his son to do well so that he could feel good about himself. He got angry at his son, pressuring him into trying harder. Most children feel uncomfortable when their parents are angry, so they try to do whatever it is that will stop the anger, whether it is good for them or not. They become more focused on what their parents are feeling than on the activity, making it harder for them to do well.
What could James do to achieve his goals? First, James needs to be aware that he feels disappointed. He probably shifts into anger so quickly that he does not realize it. Secondly, he needs to realize that his disappointment is about himself, not his son.
Once James is aware, he can:
1) Do things in his own life to achieve a sense of accomplishment and importance.
2) Give his son positive feedback about what he is doing well so that his son stays focused on the sport. This way, his son is more likely to enjoy the activity and perform at his best.
What is the result? They both feel good. His son feels good about his performance, and James feels good about his parenting.
When parents figure out the engine (vulnerable feeling) driving their anger, they have more choices. They may continue to handle situations in the same way or find more effective ways—without getting angry—that are positive for everyone concerned.
Explore the feelings underlying your anger. What did you feel before you got angry? What is the purpose of your anger? Is there a better way to go about it than getting angry?