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The Beauty of Together

The Beauty of Together: The importance of face-to-face therapy in an era when technology is king.

Recently I saw a commercial which featured famed Olympic athlete Michael Phelps talking about his transformative experience in counseling. It’s truly a remarkable plug for therapy coming from such a prominent figure. He states something to the effect of: his success wasn’t enough. He was unhappy. He needed to get out of his own head and learn to truly connect with those around him. Beautiful. Awesome. I love this message so much!

The commercial was actually for an app-based therapy service where you can pay a flat fee per week and instantly have access to a licensed therapist at your finger tips through messages or video. (And for the record, Mr. Phelps didn’t say whether he used this method of therapy vs. a traditional therapy model.)

You’re never going to hear me discourage anyone from getting the help they need, by whatever form they have access to. I’m sure for some, an app-based therapy service is a wonderful means for therapeutic support. But I think we need to be careful when considering options that further encourage our connection to the outside world to be primarily through our smart phones.

The research is clear that our connection with our smart phones and particularly our connections with each other through social media lead to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s this simple: unfettered access to unlimited people on our electronic devices is not the answer to our deepest needs for connection and closeness. What we all need to feel truly known and connected is to put down our phones and connect with those around us.

Therapy is no different. There is no substitute for a face-to-face connection in therapy.

Here are seven truths worth considering when it comes to face-to-face therapy:

  1. The relationship itself is healing.
    Despite what therapy model a therapist uses (and I have written about my preferred models here) a degree of healing, freedom, and forward progress comes through your connection with your therapist. This is why I always say in intake sessions, “sometimes finding the right therapist for you can feel a bit like test-driving cars. If, after this session, for whatever reason you feel like you’re ready for therapy but you’re not sure if I’m the right fit for you, then I’ll work with you to find someone who would better meet your needs.” The quality of the connection between you and your therapist goes a long way to foster health and healing in the therapy process.
  2. When you’re really upset, you are probably going to want someone in the room.
    One thing that’s unusual about being a therapist is that people cry with me…a lot. Having someone stay present with you in your pain can be really validating. Someone else is seeing first hand the hurt you’ve experienced. It’s remarkable what healing a silent presence can bring to deep sorrow. And I’m not talking about the silence of your phone between text alerts.
  3. Many issues aren’t safe to handle over the phone. For therapists, the safety of the people we work with is priority. The reality is that safety issues regarding mental health and physical health may need to be addressed with some clients. There are certain safety precautions that simply can not be provided when you’re not in the same room as someone.
  4. A therapist models healthy interaction with others. A common reason people present for counseling is anxiety, specifically social anxiety. While doing the work of therapy, a good therapist will be demonstrating first hand what healthy and proper connection with others looks like: listening skills, attunement cues, body language, proper question asking, and more. To experience a reduction in anxiety while in the presence of another live human goes a long way in overcoming social anxiety. The same can be said for depression. The therapy room functions as a safe place to try new things socially which can result in a boost of confidence as well as a reduction of symptoms.
  5. There is value in actually getting dressed and having some place to be.
    While having a therapy session in your pj’s may sound inviting to some, for those struggling with depression for instance, there is intrinsic value in having something to do that will get you outside of our isolation, even if just for an hour.
  6. A lot goes on in the therapy room that can be missed on the screen.
    Body language, quick glances to others, etc. as well as physical signs of health or lifestyle. If you’re a hundred pounds over weight, this is an important thing for your therapist to know and see. Does a client appear bored in session? Is the client subtly laughing at something they said to the therapist? Turning red? Breathing quickly like they’re starting to get nervous? I need to observe that and respond accordingly. You can’t always trust people to report that accurately or even to know that type of physiological or non-verbal sign needs to be reported to a therapist.
  7. Your story deserves to be experienced, not just read or heard through a medium.
    Our wounds occur in relationships. Our healing comes through relationships as well. And our deep hurts and negative experiences deserve more than a technology-based therapy process. They deserve face to face, eyeball to eyeball, soul to soul care and connection.

As stated above, my intention is never to discourage anyone from getting the help that they have access to. If you live in a remote location or have some sort of extenuating circumstance, a media-based therapy relationship may best fit your needs. But for the rest of us, there is no substitute for face-to-face connection. We don’t need more media based relationships through our phones. We are all desiring and deserving to be known in person!

If you’re ready for a face-to-face therapeutic relationship, contact me today! Offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

When God Gives You Crumbs

A belief that is inextricably part of who I am is how, with God, nothing is wasted. This doesn’t mean that everything is intentional or planned, but that nothing will be without purpose to one degree or another.

I think we can go a little overboard on the meanings we ascribe to things, but just hang with me here: God is not random. Nothing is wasted.Sometimes in my life, and I bet I’m not the only one, God will plant a seed of an idea…it will have the hallmarks of the Father…but it goes untouched for years, often forgotten, until the moment that God resurrects it.

I had one such experience when my husband proposed marriage to me. Something quietly spoken over my heart when I was 13 and had just started getting to know God on my own, that I never told to anyone, was lived out right before me in the certain way he asked me to marry him. To me, it was this message of, “it’s always been me and you, and it’ll always be me and you, but I’m bringing you two together to follow me side by side.”

Another instance that’s happened to me lately was when I was asked to teach a class at a women’s prison. As random as this is, the little seed for this idea was planted in me nearly 20 years ago. I was in high school and we spent a whole semester writing an in-depth research paper. The topic was of our choosing. I couldn’t really decide on a topic but kept coming back to the issue of the importance of providing educational opportunities to people in the penal system to reduce recidivism rates. No one…and I mean No. One. saw this idea as a natural fit for me. My friends questioned me about it. My teacher questioned me about it. Even I questioned myself about it. Was there Any other topic I wanted to write on? Was this something I was passionate about and just hadn’t mentioned to anyone yet? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what possessed me to pick the topic other than to say that it was very clear to me that that’s what I was to write on. So I spent a whole semester researching the role education plays in keeping people from returning to crime and ending up back in prison. Random.

Flash forward all these years later and a friend asked me to teach a psychology and counseling college level class at a women’s prison. I honestly didn’t feel like I had the time to give to it. I went back and forth about what my answer should be. But ultimately I just felt the sense from the Lord that it was something to say “yes” to.

I agreed to do it and taught the class this summer. I poured out my best for the women and enjoyed my time doing so. I can’t say it changed my life or opened up this new calling of my life…nor was I expecting it to do so. It was obedience. I felt like God was glorified in my obedience, that I was used by God to facilitate growth and healing, and I happened to enjoy it, which is always a bonus.

It wasn’t until after I said “yes” to that opportunity did I remember that random paper from years ago.

I felt like the whole point of this little exercise in obedience was this sweet message of the Lord again to my soul:

“You’ve always heard me and followed me for a long time until now. This is another breadcrumb. Keep walking with me.”

What about you? Has God spoken something to you that you’re still waiting to see why or how it will come to fulfillment? Pray today for God to give you eyes to see His activity in your life. I challenge you to write down the things you feel like God has spoken so that you won’t miss the blessing of noticing God’s subtle leading over time.

As always…for further discussion on this or any counseling topic, I’m reachable here!

Connecting: When is it Too Much of a Good Thing?

Last week we discussed the three different types of relationships that healthy people have: a relationship with God, with themselves, and with others. This week we will look further into relationships with others and how finding the right balance in connection with others can sometimes get a little tricky.

Think of connecting with others (friends, significant others, family members, co-workers, etc.) as a continuum. On one end is the idea of isolation, where one doesn’t experience much meaningful interaction with anyone. On the other end is the idea of being over-connected with someone, where one doesn’t experience much difference between where you start and another begins. Like most things in life, health would be somewhere in the middle of that continuum: not isolated yet not overly connected to the point of losing your sense of self.

A Swedish Proverb reads: Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.

But have you ever had someone in your life that feels more like the opposite of that proverb? Half the joy and twice the grief? That type of relationship is what we’ll be talking about today.

Sometimes in relationships there comes a sense of being “too close” where the boundaries get blurry and you feel responsible for someone else’s behavior, well-being and outcomes. This type of relationship can be with an adult child, a friend, a coworker, a parent, a sibling…with anyone really. If there is anyone in your life who you regularly experience anxiety over, you may be a little over-connected with that person. These types of relationship can feel simultaneously life-giving and suffocating. A person in this over-connected state would experience extremes of euphoria, purpose and joy when you’re connected, followed by anxiety, frustration, irritability or even anger.

Here are some signs of an over-connected relationship:

  • Sharing a roller coaster: what happens to them feels like it happens to you as well
  • Frequently talking about expectations for the relationship
  • Feeling the need to have a “define the relationship” conversation
  • A sense of responsibility for the other person’s happiness, wellbeing and choices
  • Experiencing anxiety about the consequences the other may face and possibly intervening so that he/she won’t have to face them
  • Overanalyzing what was said and reading into what was “meant” by this or that
  • Giving (money, gifts, efforts, or otherwise) to a point that outsiders would feel uncomfortable about it
  • Image maintenance: feeling like you have to minimize, defend or explain your friendship to other people
  • “We” talk: Speaking on another’s behalf or as a unit (exceptions: your spouse or when your kids are little)
  • Jealousy when other people get attention or discounting the other person’s connection with others outside your duo
  • A general sense of anxiety or unrest unless you’re getting the person’s undivided attention
  • Feeling depressed when the other person is not around
  • If you’re obsessing about the friendship at the detriment of other things in your life
  • If you feel more concerned about their life than your own

The goal would be to have one or a few significant people (some might call these people “best friends”) in your life where you feel comfortable being yourself, get a sense of a reciprocal friendship with trust, love and support, where you can speak the truth and hear the truth about your life, where you feel respected to be yourself and to make your own decisions.

Relationships with others are some of the best thing about life! They can bring joy, acceptance, laughter, support, a sounding board, hospitality, and much more. To feel known and loved is one of life’s greatest blessings! I sincerely hope you get to experience relationships with others as one of the deepest joys in your life.

If you want to talk further about how to remove unhealthy aspects of relationships out of your life (be it codependency, enabling, or something else), please feel free to reach out to me here. I’d love to coach you through this process! It’s truly one of my favorite topics because so much freedom can come by addressing this area of life.

Improving Your Health Through 3 Types of Relationships

John Donne is credited with a meditation that includes this often cited line, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

This quote reflects the inter-connectedness of all humanity and how false it is to consider your own life and choices apart from the whole. Along these same lines, a model of therapy known as Reconciliation Focused Counseling submits that healthy individuals are connected in three relational domains: to God, to oneself, and to others. The higher degree of connection in these three types of relationships, the healthier a life an individual will enjoy.

This concept is also reflected in Jesus’s own words in Mark 12:30-31 and several other places throughout scripture,  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

In this verse we again see the three types of relationships noted…love for God, love for neighbor, love for self. The bottom line is this: the higher degree of connection in each of these three types of relationship, the healthier the person. Today I want to show you what connection in each of these relationships looks like, and provide a way to assess your own degree of connection in each area. As a bonus, this is a great tool to asses how you can target encouragement in the lives of those around you as they purse health and fullness.

Let’s look at what a strong connection looks like in each type of relationship.
Connection to God:
Hallmarks of a strong connection with God begin with things you can observe. Do you spend time in prayer with God? Do you attend church? Do you read the bible? But connection with God also goes so far beyond these easily observable traits. Do you feel like you have the right to talk to God? Are you angry or frustrated with him over something? Do you feel like you have to earn the right to be heard by God or accepted by him? Do you sense disappointment from him? The list could go on but the main idea here is; do you enjoy God and look to involve him in your life? Resting in the love of God is the picture of a rich connection with God. Everybody has room for improvement in this area, but some have more trouble than others when it comes to resting in God’s love for us.

Symptoms of not connecting well with God: this can look like anxiety because a lack of trusting in God’s goodness (note: this is not the source of everyone’s anxiety), anger problems, a melancholy disposition because you don’t believe that God has your best in mind. Aside from relational friction with God, some people just don’t connect with God at all and aren’t sure what the point would be. To this point I would say that all of the happiness research of recent years indicates that connecting with something bigger than yourself is imperative to health and happiness, and beginning to incorporate God into your life could be a rich source for strength, balance, meaning and love.

Connection to Self:
Hallmarks of a strong connection with self look like awareness of your own emotions and a lack of self-judgement. People who experience a strong connection with themselves know what they are feeling and often why they are feeling that way. They don’t stuff emotions down, ignoring them. And they don’t make too much out of their own experiences either (idolatry). They give themselves permission to be human and enjoy the freedom that brings.

Symptoms of not connecting well with yourself can either stem from under-connection or over-connection.  Under-connection with self looks like not checking in with yourself or being aware of your feelings. You just keep your head down and trudge through life. This generally leads to symptoms of depression. Over-connection with self often presents like anxiety or self-centeredness. You’re too connected with yourself and sensitive to everything that comes your way in a day or what might come tomorrow.

Connection to Others:
Hallmarks of a strong connection with others look like having a few people that you can count on, who know you well, and who you make an effort to support in their lives as well. You feel both known and loved, and feel like you know and love a few others as well. The importance isn’t placed on the number of people who you know and who know you, but on the depth of connection.

Symptoms of not connecting well with others can again fall into the categories of under- or over-connection. If you’re under-connected with others, you have a very limited social support that probably involves surface level communication with those you come into contact regularly. You may make conversation with the people in your life but you don’t feel like anyone really knows what goes on internally for you. Over-connection with others is also problematic because you can make an idol out of a relationship(s) in your life. The lines are blurred between where you stop and where another begins. You may feel taken advantage of or like you don’t really understand how boundaries and relationships really work.

So how does this apply to you? Maybe as you read, you already sensed some feedback regarding which type of relationships are strengths for you or which needs to be strengthened the most. Be responsible with that feedback and begin to make a plan to increase the quality of connection in that area of your life.

Do you have an area of under or over connection in your life? Do you need some help removing roadblocks to a particular relationship? Does looking at your life through the three relational domains help bring any clarity? Are you looking for resources in how to best strengthen a relationship? I’m here to help! Please always feel free to contact me with questions like this or anything else!

Check back soon for how the order of the three types of relationship is no accident, how and why self-love can be unfortunately overlooked, and how the relational domains are all inter-connected.