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?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Resiliency in Nature--As Explained by Bear Grylls?

Resiliency In Nature

Man vs. Wild
The following is an article I wrote a few years ago. It has some humor to it, because it is supposed to. I find that there are principles of psychological survival in day-to-day activities. Feel free to read and respond.

In searching for psychological and behavioral examples of how to develop resiliency, one can encounter natural examples and some that are made into entertainment. An example of survival resiliency is displayed on Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls. It is a television show aired on the Discovery channel that focuses on Mr. Grylls’ survival techniques in various climates and environments throughout the world. He is left in a wilderness area and has five days to get out of danger, survive, and find people or civilization. He has with him only his clothes, his canteen of water, a flint, and a knife. In one incident, he was dropped in the outback of Australia during the rainy season. Although rainy, the environment is harsh, dry, and hot. There aren’t many water sources for miles. The weather was roughly 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit with 100% humidity that increases the perceived temperature by about 10 degrees. After walking for several miles he was out of water. Before running out of water he mentioned that with the humidity and the heat it was important for him to keep his head cool, therefore, he had to cover it with something to absorb his perspiration. The camera cut for a moment and it showed him with his boxer shorts on his head. He said that it is vital to be willing to do what it takes and be open to any opportunity to survive, including using your boxer shorts on your own head. After running out of water he searched for more, but could find none. Therefore, he resorted to urinating in his canteen. He said that it is not poisonous and can be consumed as it is 95% water. Again, you must be willing to take hold of any situation or opportunity to survive. He also, in all of his shows, continues moving without stopping. His goal is to reach people or civilization. Therefore, he is constantly moving. As he is walking he finds things to eat along the way. He is familiar with the terrain and with what is edible and useable. When he gets wet, he immediately seeks shelter, tinder, and wood for a fire to dry off. As he was in Australia he spoke about the aborigines that are native to the land. He mentioned that they are ultimate survival experts. They live by the land. They treat it as an organism and an entity separate from everything else. They use what the environment “gives,” “provides,” or “offers” them. If it provides water they drink and load up. If it doesn’t, they find ways to stay hydrated through other means. If they’re hungry, they eat what is offered and they use it all. As Bear was walking he came across a spider that is edible. He ate it. He came across a snake at one point as he was preparing to sleep for the night. He killed it, cooked it, and ate it. He said that the aboriginals adapt to the environment and the situation it presents. They are positive thinkers. He mentioned that in order to survive you must find small positive aspects of the environment that bring joy and relief, even if momentary and fleeting. At one point in the Ecuadorian jungle he came across a single purple flower hanging from a green vine. He stopped to enjoy it and stated that nature could not help but to just place a single flower and that he was probably the only person that would ever see and enjoy that flower for the beauty that it was. Another aspect of survival is knowing your strengths, limits, and the dangers. Bear Grylls is athletic, strong, and in good physical and emotional shape. However, at times even he has to turn back and find another route. At times even his ideas and plans fail. He mentions that it is part of the survival journey–plans will fail, but you must remain positive, keep your head and not panic (Donahue & MacIver, 2006).

(I don't have the references on here. If you want them, let me know).

Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, the renowned developer of Logotherapy and holocaust survivor described several examples of resiliency in his book.
Frankl mentioned how being in Auschwitz and other concentration camps could rob a man of his values due to the devaluation of human life. He said, “If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this in a last effort to save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value” (p. 60) though everything in the camp fought to steal that from him. He indicated that despite the difficulties in the camps, man still has the “choice of action...can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind...” (P. 74). He recalls the men that would walk through the camps giving comfort to other prisoners (no small task), giving their last piece of bread, and exercising their last freedom, “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (p. 75). He said that choices are made every hour of every day. They may be small, but they helped to maintain that final freedom. He emphasized that a prisoner could decide what kind of person he was and that it was not determined by the camp or situation. He indicated that there was meaning in suffering–that life had afforded him and others suffering to endure and to learn from–to develop character, purpose and to realize values. Thus, through suffering and even death life could not be complete as it is necessary. Suffering brought the chance of achievement (p. 76-77). To endure, a prisoner had to look beyond the current suffering to a better future, and to exercise faith in that future. Those who gave up hope and faith stopped living and died (p. 83). In order to survive, a man had to be shown a possible future. Frankl frequently remembered Nietzche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how...” (p. 84). In focusing on those words he eventually came to understand a meaning to him in life.
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life–daily and hourly...Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual (p. 85).

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Trauma and Recovery by Judith Hermann. Brief Review

Dr. Judith Hermann authored a book called Trauma and Recovery several years ago. It contains great information regarding the study of posttraumatic stress disorder starting with its roots and ending in 1990's. It includes new definitions of psychological trauma or complex trauma that may be included (hopefully) partially or in-full in the DSM-V. Here is some of the information found in the book. The following are notes that I took in studying it for the second or third time. See below for the reference.

Steps of Treatment to Trauma Recovery

The first aspect of recovery is establishing what “recovery” means on each client’s individual level. Some may require a sense of returning to a prior level of functioning, while others may just want to “feel better” or “like themselves” more than they do. At this point, it is important to find out what they client values and how the trauma has affected it and changed their views of the world. This helps in establishing a baseline of functioning and beginning the first step to recovery.

Safety is an umbrella term and has multiple inferences. It is more subjective than objective as safety is different amongst clients. Some types of safety, such as safety from physical harm is more universal; however, other types are not.

What does the client want from the treatment?
Trauma resolution means reintegration of the self. When trauma occurs, the body goes into fight/flight/freeze response. The more often trauma occurs, the more sensitive the body becomes to traumatic arousal. The more often traumatic arousal occurs, the higher the level of adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones are in the body. PTSD symptoms occur and the individual experiences an almost disintegration of emotions, cognitions, behaviors, and the five senses. Resolution occurs when these four aspects of the human experience are reintegrated (i.e. the client doesn’t have panic attacks/anxiety when exposed to an aspect of the trauma, though there is no memory or rationality for the anxious symptoms). Much of resolution can only happen when a certain level of individual perceived safety is established and maintained.

Many times, survivors of trauma have become isolated and the traumatic symptoms and responses have affected their capacity to function in society. Reconnection is getting back into life.

Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence--from domestic abuse to political terror. NY: Basic Books.