The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi


The Guest House may be my favorite poem ever written. I have been known to call it the holy grail for emotional well-being and general happiness in life.

More often than not, our suffering is caused by trying not to feel uncomfortable. It makes sense, right? We are human beings. We are built to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hurt, sadness, fear, and shame receive a big, “NO,THANK YOU!” Happiness, elation, love, and passion are welcomed with, “YES, PLEASE! In fact, give me seconds!”

Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is human nature. We gravitate toward what feels pleasant, and even call these things “good” and reject or run away from the unpleasant, that which we call “bad”.

Let’s take a moment to remember what Rumi is telling us.

“Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.”

Nowhere does this imply we should hunker down, shut our eyes, brace ourselves and hope that anything uncomfortable ends quickly. Instead, let’s WELCOME and ENTERTAIN every emotion that comes. Oh, Rumi, you crazy 13th-century poet, why on earth would we want to do that?!

This poet is on to something here. Something I call the secret sauce of emotion regulation. Something huge, important and completely life changing. In fact, if I could teach anyone I reach to do one thing, it would be this: Welcome your emotions regardless of whether or not you like them.

“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.”

What a HUGE change in perspective this requires.

We must shift from an – “Oh no! Make this feeling go away!”  – perspective, to a – “Welcome! Come on in! I’ve set a place at the table for you,” – perspective.

To change our stance in this way is no easy feat. It is a daily practice, something we must do as often as showering or brushing our teeth. Remember, we are hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, so we are going against our nature here. Good thing the rewards are great: EMOTIONAL FREEDOM!

If we learned to practice welcoming our emotions on a daily basis in this way, my prediction is that we would eradicate depression, anxiety, and many, if not most, disorders. That is a bold statement, and I stand by it! I have not yet, in over a decade of seeing many clients come through my office, witnessed anyone suffering from depression or anxiety while simultaneously welcoming their emotions. This is not a failure on anyone’s part. This is a skill we’ve got to learn, and unfortunately, usually aren’t taught as part of the growing up process. Be encouraged though, because no matter your age, this skill can be learned.

As always, your life will not change by reading this article or thinking about it. Rather, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and then more PRACTICE will help you build emotional resilience. If you would like some guidance practicing welcoming in your emotions, listen to this 8-minute audio, CLICK HERE. This is perfect to listen to when feeling a painful emotion, or as a daily exercise.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Questions or comments? Email them to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, she may address your question(s) or comment(s) in a future newsletter.

 

 


How to Love Your Emotions (and why you want to)

I was browsing my YouTube feed recently and noticed a number of videos about “getting rid” of your emotions. There seems to be a lot of talk and instructions on how to control, master, and avoid having to feel those pesky and painful emotions. Tap this point on your body here, say this “positive” statement there, and make that pain and unpleasantness go right away.

I started to get worried.

You’d think I would be delighted, and that I might think, “I don’t have to feel painful or unpleasant emotions?! Great! Let’s get rid of them!” The thing is, I know better.

What I know, in my years of experience of helping people regulate their emotions, is that trying to get rid of or push emotions away increases pain, suffering, and misery in the long run. Avoiding emotions or trying to make them vanish makes things much, much worse. In fact, viewing any emotional experience as “negative” sets the stage for emotional buildup and suffering.

Well then, what do we do?

LOVE our emotions!

Now, I’m not just talking about those mushy, gushy, gotta love ‘em emotions like joy, amazement, thrill, infatuation, delight, and all of their friends. I’m suggesting even loving emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, despair, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy.

Here’s the deal: our emotions exist and they aren’t going anywhere. Emotions are a human experience, and all of us experience the entire range of those emotions. Whether we want to or not, we all experience emotional pain. That is just part of life. If we didn’t have unpleasant emotions, we wouldn’t have empathy, gratitude, connection with others, deep appreciation for art and drama, understanding, and the list goes on.

In other words, all emotions, even painful emotions, have great value. They give us information about what is happening in our environment and ourselves, help us understand what we need and attend to it, and connect us to others. Pain is not something to be pushed away. In fact, when we push away painful emotions or try to mask them or just be “positive,” we actually suppress the painful emotion, which leads to emotional buildup.

The way to truly and freely experience life is to welcome in and feel whatever emotion comes. In other words, love your emotions.

Want practice? Check out this short audio meditation that you can listen to anytime, anywhere and start practicing loving all of your emotions today.

 

 

A practice in loving your emotions.

Take a moment to settle in wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you are standing, sitting, lying down, or any other configuration, bring your attention to this very moment.

Begin to notice that you are breathing. Notice your breath coming in and out. Where in your body do you notice your breath? When you bring your awareness to your breath, where in your physical body is your attention drawn? It doesn’t matter if you notice your nose, throat, belly, or tips of your toes. There is no judgment about this, just simply noticing where your attention is drawn in your physical body as you notice your breathing.

Now, let’s take a few moments and notice physical sensations. What physical sensations are present in your body in this moment?

When you notice thoughts coming in, either distracting you or analyzing why you are feeling what you’re feeling, very gently, bring your attention back to your physical body and notice what sensations are present in this moment?

See you if you can lay out the welcome mat for whatever physical sensations are there – pleasant, unpleasant, static and rigid or shifting and changing, it doesn’t matter. Welcome in whatever comes.

You might turn the palms of your hands toward the sky, opening your posture to help you welcome in and allow whatever sensations are present in this moment.

See if you can put words to the sensations you are noticing: like, a presence in the center of my chest, a tightness in my neck, a warmth in my belly. Take the next few moments, notice physical sensations in your body and try, as best you can, to briefly describe them to yourself.

Now, I am going to ask you a couple of questions while you continue to breathe and notice physical sensations in your body. I don’t want you to search for an answer or try to come up with a way to answer these questions. Instead, simply notice, what, if anything you notice, when I ask you a question:

  • What emotion is present in your body in this moment?
  • Where is emotion present in your body in this moment?
  • Where, in your physical body, do you feel an emotional sensation in this moment?
  • Take some breaths as you notice emotional sensations or lack of sensations. Remembering to welcome in whatever is there.
  • Breathing in and out and welcoming whatever emotional sensations are present or absent. Welcoming your experience in this moment.

Now, bring both hands to rest over your heart center, or the center of your chest, one hand over the other. Breathing in and out, notice the sensation of your hands resting gently and lovingly on the center of your chest. Know that by tuning into your breath and your physical body, you have just participated in a practice to nourish, cleanse, and love your emotions. Your emotions, even when painful, are friendly and here to inform you. The more you practice loving your emotions in this way, the more peace and ease you are inviting into your life.

Acknowledge yourself for putting the time and attention into this loving practice.


Release Emotional Buildup

In a recent newsletter, I discussed affect labeling or putting a name to an emotion you’re experiencing (e.g., anger, love, happiness, fear, sadness) as a way of regulating them. Name your emotion and change your brain chemistry, in essence. (Read the full article) Then I introduced you to emotions being a biological, physiological experience. In other words, we feel, we don’t think, emotions. (Read the full article)

When you practice feeling into your emotions, you may start to develop a greater sense of peace, relaxation throughout your day, a release of physical tension, and the ability to feel what is happening in the moment, and then let it go, without hanging on and ruminating. The key here is PRACTICE. To reap the benefits of any of these concepts, you must practice, practice, practice. Notice, the word is “practice,” not “perfect.” You do not have to perfect these skills. (In fact, perfectionism leads to avoidance. More on that another time.) You just have to practice when you can, and for the length of time you are able.

To really learn how to feel into and process our emotions, we can’t just understand, we must practice. In this video you will be guided through noticing, feeling, and labeling your emotions in a very specific way. Check it out here:


Keep practicing and  see what benefits you start to notice. If you have questions or want to share your experience, please email them to contact@drbando.com. While I will not answer personally, I plan to expand on these concepts and practices in future posts, and I may address your question(s) or comment(s). I would love to know what is working and what questions you have.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


Let’s get Physical

How are you feeling? Really, how are you feeling? In this very moment, what are you feeling? Take a moment to answer this question before reading on.

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What did you describe? A situation you are involved in or thinking about? Who said what to whom? What happened or is about to happen that resulted in feeling like you are now? If you are like most of us, you probably described thoughts about how you are feeling, and not the actual feeling itself. Well, guess what?

Emotions are a physiological experience.

This means that emotions happen in the body, not in the mind. We don’t think emotions, we feel emotions. That’s where the question, “How are you feeling?” comes from.

When an emotion fires, our physiology changes: our heart rate, temperature, breathing, and blood pressure (and possibly other functions like digestion) changes! We also experience physical sensations in our body resulting from this biological, emotional experience.

Have you ever become fearful and held your breath? Maybe you could feel your heart pounding fast in your chest. Think of a time you became angry and noticed short, rapid breathing and a strong energy surging through your body? Perhaps you felt heat in your face or the tips of your ears. What about a time you felt dread and couldn’t shake that feeling of a pit in your stomach or a nauseous sensation? These are examples of feeling an emotion physically in your body.

 

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Emotions happen in the body.

Although this statement is true, most of the time, when I ask someone how they are feeling, they tell me what they are thinking. It goes something like this:

 

Me: How are you feeling?

Holly: Eh, I’m a little stressed. I was stuck in traffic longer than I expected and I have a lot to do.

Me: That does sound stressful.

Holly: Yes, and you know it doesn’t help that my boss just upped my deadline. Well, at least I have a job to complain about, right? How are you?

 

Do you notice what is missing? I know very little about what Holly is feeling emotionally, and more importantly, she probably doesn’t know either. You might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. She told you she was stressed. What more do you want?”

THOUGHTS:

Being “stressed” is a thought. To have the thought, “I am stressed,” something had to happen to give me that information. Think about the last time you were “stressed.” How did you know? Your first inclination may be that you know you were stressed because there was a lot on your mind and you have a long to-do list. Those are thoughts. There may have been other times where the same factors were present (a lot on your mind and a long to-do list), and you didn’t feel stressed.

EMOTIONS:

What really happened is that you sensed some sensation in your body (an emotion) and your brain interpreted this as “stressed.” You may have noticed tension in your shoulders, the feeling of your heart pounding in your chest, your stomach doing flips or tightening, or many other possible sensations. In my work, I have never met two people who experience emotional sensations in exactly the same way.

Emotions are like snowflakes. When you get specific and describe how you are experiencing a particular emotion in your body, you will discover that this is uniquely your experience.

I will expand on these concepts in a future newsletter, but for now, how about having some fun with a practice? After all, we don’t learn or change from thinking and reading about concepts, we learn, change, and grow by taking action!

 

PRACTICE:

Over the next week or two, practice this for about a minute or so. If you make the practice session short, you will be more likely to do it more often, and the more you will learn. (Consistency counts! The length of time doesn’t matter as much.)

  1. Briefly scan your body. See if you can put words on sensations you notice in your body. (E.g., I can feel sweaty palms; I’m noticing some energy or movement in my upper chest; My jaw is slightly clenched; I notice my feet moving and fidgeting around.)

What do you notice? If it helps you put words to your experience, jot it down.

NOTE: This step is hard and may require repeated practice over and over and over again. When most people try to start describing the sensations they notice in their body, they struggle. It can be like learning a foreign language. Keep practicing and trying your best. Even if you notice something like, “a sensation in my chest but I can’t really describe it any further,” that’s great! Keep noticing and practicing and you may be surprised at how this skill develops.

  1. Now, without searching, without looking for or actively trying to come up with an answer, notice what happens when you ask yourself the question: What emotion is present in this moment? See what comes up and if you sense a particular emotion. (E.g., dread, excitement, nervousness, sadness, joy)

In my last newsletter, I discussed affect labeling or putting a name to an emotion you’re experiencing (e.g., anger, love, happiness, fear, sadness) as a way of regulating them. In essence, if you name your emotion you will change your brain chemistry.

  1. Now, again without searching or forcing an answer, ask yourself: Where do I feel ________ (insert emotion from #2 here) in my body?

Keep practicing and see what you notice. If you have questions or want to share your experience, please email them to contact@drbando.com. While I will not answer personally, I plan to expand on these concepts and practices in future posts and I may address your question(s) or comment(s). I would love to know what is clicking and what questions you have.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

 

 

 


Name that Emotion

We’ve all got things to do and people to see. Who needs unwanted emotions slowing us down? Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away. Right?

Here’s the hitch: emotions are hard-wired into our human experience. In other words, emotions are part of us and the more we push them away, the louder they become. When we deny and try to block out emotions, we starve them until the emotional hunger pains are so strong, we become overwhelmed with unruly, overbearing, unable-to-control feelings.  You know, that moment someone asks you something harmless like to pass the salt, and you completely lose your cool? When we suppress or don’t acknowledge emotions, they bubble up, and like water boiling in a covered pot with the burner on high, eventually they’re going to blow.

The solution? Don’t ignore the monster!

Emotions grow to become monsters when we ignore them, push through them, judge them and just plain do whatever it takes to try not to feel them. There is a better way! The next time you feel an unpleasant emotion, try noticing it and putting a name to it.

Scientists call this affect labeling. It goes something like this:

  • I am noticing a feeling of butterflies in my stomach. I’m nervous.
  • I feel a lifting, light feeling in my chest and shoulders. I’m happy.
  • I feel like it’s hard to move. I notice that I’m slumped and don’t feel like doing anything. I’m sad.
  • I can’t believe that guy just cut me off. I’m irritated.

When we give our emotion a name, it starts the process of calming it down. Instead of pushing the feelings away, we pay attention and engage our intellect to give it a name. Once emotions are acknowledged and paid attention to, they start to digest and let go of their grip. Relief can get his foot in the door, and we initiate the process of regulating emotions and feeling more in control.

 

Brain imaging studies explain the science behind affect labeling: When we experience an emotion, a part of our brain called the amygdala, gets activated. When our amygdala is very active and fired up, it is hard to access the reasoning part of our brain, the frontal lobes.

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When we use techniques like affect labeling, we begin to activate our frontal lobes (the organizing, planning, thinking-through part of the brain) and de-activate the amygdala (the “OMG!” emotional part of the brain).

 

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PRACTICE:

The next time you are “freaking out” or “stressed” or just “feeling off,” try getting specific. What emotion are you feeling? Can you put a label on it?

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Now, reinforce yourself by checking out the Reinforcement Practice Sheet and get some suggestions on how to reinforce yourself. You’ve just taken the first step toward processing and letting go of that unpleasant emotion.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


Nonjudgment for Emotion Regulation

Earlier this month, I sent out a call for nonjudgment. In this time of chaos, violence, fear, and confusion, nonjudgment can be a place of refuge. Practicing nonjudgment gives us three profound gifts:

  • complete understanding
  • the power to move into compassionate, effective action
  • the ability to defuse our emotions

Let’s focus on that last gift, the ability to defuse emotions. In over a decade of working with clients, I have never once seen anyone be able to let go of and regulate an emotional response while clinging to judgments. Only when practicing nonjudgment, can regulation and emotional freedom begin.

Example:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Imagine the emotions you might feel if you were in this situation. Anger and a sense of injustice and self-righteousness, maybe? Every time you interact with this manager, you might feel like rolling your eyes, sighing and throwing up your hands in this hopeless situation.

Now try to feel better about it. Look at the situation detailed above and attempt to calm your emotions and let it go.

Not working? Impossible? Let’s try an easier way.

Look at the same example, with a line drawn through each judgment:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Without using judgment words, how would you describe this situation? Before you attempt, remember that nonjudgment is describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. It does NOT mean pretending you like or want something that you don’t. In other words,

nonjudgment = truth.

Let’s look at a nonjudgmental way of describing the same situation:

You are quite unhappy with a manager at work. You do not understand why she makes the requests she does and how they improve the function of the department or the company. After you engage with this manager, you often feel frustrated. Your peers have commented about feeling a diminished sense of morale at work due to interactions with this manager. You are disappointed by your daily interactions with her.

Notice that I don’t have to ask how you feel (as in the first example) because you’ve already described it – frustrated and disappointed. Now we’ve got something to work with!

 You might ask, “How does this help me regulate my emotions? The manager is still difficult for me to work with and I still don’t like the situation.”

This is true, AND you have gone from overwhelmed and hopeless to frustrated and disappointed. When your emotions are not bogged down by judgments and the helplessness or unrelenting anger that judgment creates, you have POWER. When we become aware that we are making judgments, we give ourselves choice – choice about whether or not it is helpful for us to proceed with our judgmental thinking, feeling, and behaving, or whether we would like to choose another path.

I teach my clients many emotion regulation strategies. Tools include step-by-step skills to come up with creative solutions to solve the problem, strategies to release the grip of the emotion and feel differently, and at times, complete and total acceptance (which often leads to emotional and environmental changes we previously didn’t know were possible). Practicing nonjudgment is a required prerequisite to these changes.

Nonjudgment does not eliminate the pain. It takes it down a notch so that you can breathe, get a bit of distance from the intensity of emotion, and regulate the emotions and/or solve the problem. If you are interested in further developing the skill of nonjudgment, try the practice suggestions below:

  • Practice noticing judgments throughout your day. When you are aware of yourself (or someone else) making a judgmental statement, or you have a judgmental thought, say to yourself “judgment.” (Over time, noticing and labeling judgments helps us become more aware of them and gives us a choice about the most effective way to proceed.)
  • Plan to sit and focus on your thoughts for 30 seconds to a minute. Imagine two different boxes, labeled “judgment thoughts” and “other thoughts.” For the next 30 seconds to a minute, notice any thoughts that come into your mind and imagine placing them in the appropriate box.
  • The next time you notice yourself being judgmental, see if you can describe (verbally or in writing) the same situation nonjudgmentally. That is, truthfully and descriptively, without judgment.

Notice the effect(s) each of these practices have on your mood, emotions, thinking. Feel free to share them on my Facebook page or in a private email. (While I may not be able to respond to all emails, I will read them and appreciate the feedback and being able to share in your experience.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


HOW TO FIND A RESULTS-ORIENTED THERAPIST

Maybe you have never been in therapy. Perhaps you have been in therapy, and it hasn’t gotten you the results you’d hoped.  This time, you want to try something a little bit different. You may even have a particular goal(s) and know what it is that you want to change. Now come the questions, “How do I get the results I want?” and, “Who is the best person to help me?” Despite the consumer-savvy world we live in, there is little information on how to find a therapist, let alone how to find a therapist who will truly help you achieve real results and change your life in the way that you want.

Here, you will find a five-step process to help you find a therapist who will help you achieve the goals you want to reach. Stop wasting time, money and effort with treatment that doesn’t work. Set yourself on the path to success today!

 

  1. Get COMFORTABLE. – Going to therapy can be a hard process, requiring courage to step outside of your comfort zone and ask for help. At times, therapy asks you to be quite vulnerable, talking with another person about your deepest, most private experiences. Treatment often requires you to be super uncomfortable, and even want to temporarily squirm out of your skin or run for the door. After all, you are in therapy to get help with areas that are likely challenging and possibly, quite painful. To venture to feel this awkward and uneasy, you must first be comfortable! It is so important that you are at ease in the presence of your new therapist and feel understood and not at all judged. In other words, think about whether this is a person to whom you would want to open up.
    • Ask for a PHONE CONSULTATION to get a feel for the therapist. Most therapists will agree to talk to you for a free, 10-15 minute phone consultation. During this meeting, you can give the therapist an idea of what you want help with and hear his or her response. It is important to ask questions and leave time for the therapist to talk so that you can start to assess your feel for this clinician’s competency and ability to help you. Trust your instincts. The therapist should give you a choice (or you can ask) whether you want to schedule an in-person appointment right then and there, want time to think about it, or do not believe that this therapist is a good fit for you.
    • MEET IN PERSON with the idea that you are still evaluating whether this professional is a good fit for your needs. During the first session, the therapist will likely ask you questions about why you are seeking therapy and many other detailed questions about yourself and your treatment goals. The more open you are will help you to experience how the clinician responds to you and gives you the opportunity to evaluate your comfort level with this person. Their response will provide valuable information about whether you would like to proceed or seek another’s help instead.

 

  1. Ask for a CASE FORMULATION. – A results-oriented therapist will be able to discuss their conceptualization of your problem(s) and what is currently missing for you to reach your goals. Likely, this won’t be obvious information that you already know. Rather, it should add more information to your understanding of your stuck point(s) and show you that this person has the education and experience to understand your particular problem area(s) expertly. Think of the analogy of visiting a medical doctor (M.D.). You may report your symptoms (e.g., poor digestion, feeling light-headed) and the doctor will not simply repeat your symptoms back to you: “You have poor digestion and feel light headed. That must be hard.” They will tell you, based on their evaluation (e.g., examining your vitals, blood tests), what is wrong (e.g., “You have high blood sugar.” “Your thyroid is malfunctioning.”). You can expect this same kind of expert information regarding your psychological and emotional health as well. A results-oriented mental health professional will not only repeat your complaints back to you; they will add information to fully conceptualize what is contributing to the problem and why you need help in solving it. For example, you may report repeated over-eating and sudden emotional outbursts. The results-oriented clinician may suggest after their assessment (e.g., conversation with you, standardized questionnaires), they believe these problems come from deficits in understanding how to change behaviors and regulate emotions successfully.1 The results-oriented therapist will explain this to you in detail and discuss precisely how this affects you. This explanation will be in language you understand, and the conceptualization should make sense to you. If you think the therapist is off-base, does not accurately comprehend your problem, or cannot communicate in a way that you understand and agree with, openly discuss this with him or her. If you still cannot come to an agreement, it may be time to interview another therapist for your treatment needs.

 

  1. Ask for a TREATMENT PLAN, including TREATMENT GOALS, prognosis, and length of therapy. – Just as your general medical practitioner will give you an idea of your treatment options, likely results, rate of recovery, and time needed to achieve these results, you can also expect this from a results-oriented therapist. For example, a clinician may tell you that in the first three sessions2, the two of you will collaborate to reach a case formulation. At that point (by the third session) the therapist will make a treatment recommendation. They will talk with you in detail about how the treatment he/she is recommending addresses your particular problem(s), will help you reach your goals, and the time you should expect to devote to attain this outcome, including frequency and length of sessions, and expected length of time in therapy. Alternatively, at the third session, the therapist may refer you to another professional with the expertise to help you meet your goals if you and the clinician have determined that is what is needed. Again, think of the M.D. If blood tests reveal you have a thyroid problem that is relatively simple and straightforward, the doctor may express this to you and lay out a treatment plan. If, however, the problem seems more complicated, the M.D. may then refer you to an endocrinologist or another specialist to help you achieve your health goals. Defining treatment goals in therapy is important because these goals will help you know if you are making progress and whether the therapy is working.

 

  1. Understand how you and your therapist will MONITOR TREATMENT PROGRESS and ask for HOMEWORK. – How will you know whether you are moving toward your treatment goals and making progress? This is a question a results-oriented therapist will be able to answer with clarity.
  • Together, you and your therapist may choose to use standardized measures of symptoms or progress and chart them on a graph, making sure your symptoms are decreasing, and skills needed are increasing. You may also choose to track behavioral markers, such as how often per week you are engaging in a particular behavior or have the urge to do so. Successful treatment would show a decrease in those behaviors (and possibly urges) the therapist has agreed to help you decrease (e.g., over-eating). You will also see an increase in the behaviors moving you toward your treatment goals (e.g., taking three breaths before a meal, stopping eating your meal when you experience a feeling of satiation regardless of the quantity of food left). Your therapist may ask you to chart each time you have the urge to or actually engage in these behaviors in between sessions to track your progress.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then, you guessed it, more PRACTICE is needed to make changes and reach your goals. Homework will always be present in results-oriented therapy. Homework doesn’t mean that you will be sent off to write a 5-page paper about what you learned. Rather, therapy homework is a way for you to put into practice what you are learning in therapy. Typically, therapy sessions last about 50 minutes once per week. What about the other six days of the week and 24 hours each day? 50 minutes is not going to change your life in the way that you want. A results oriented therapist will send you home with something to practice (e.g., filling out a worksheet about a skill you learned at your session, practice saying “no” and noticing in detail the thoughts that come into your head or sensations in your body). If you want results, you must practice. Change does not happen in our thinking. Change happens when we do things differently over and over and over again. If you want results, ask for homework!

 

  1. CONTINUE TO EVALUATE, on an on-going basis, whether your treatment is helping you move toward your goals and achieve the results you want. A results-oriented therapist will regularly review treatment progress with you using the techniques described in Step 4. Therapy is not meant to be life-long. Remember, you are hiring a professional to help you reach specifically-defined treatment goals. At some point, if therapy is working (as you are carefully monitoring), you will have achieved those goals and will either want to develop new treatment goals or decrease the frequency of your contact with this clinician or terminate your treatment.

 

Therapy can be an enriching, life-changing experience if you choose an effective treatment. Use the five steps above to help you get the help you need and deserve, and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 

NOTES

 

  1. This is provided as an example only and does not imply that all causes of over-eating or emotional lability come from the same source. These statements are meant to clarify the topics addressed in this article, not to assess or diagnose.

 

  1. Not all clinicians assess within one to three sessions. This is meant as an example only. Please check with the therapist you plan to see about their individual policy and of course, ensure that it makes sense and is reasonable to you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • What is the difference between a Ph.D., Psy.D., LMFT, LCSW, MFTi, etc., and will it affect the quality of my treatment?

A Ph.D. and Psy.D. both have doctorate degrees in psychology. LMFTs and LCSWs have a  master’s degree. A Psychological Assistant (someone with a doctorate who is not yet licensed) and MFTi (Marriage and Family Therapist intern) indicate this person is still in training and under supervision before they can become licensed. While the degree itself may show different types of training and specialties, what is usually more informative is how the therapist works with their clients. I have results-oriented colleagues with LMFT and LCSW licenses who work similarly to myself and other contemporaries who have doctorate-level training. I also have met professionals with doctorates who are not results-oriented and do more of a supportive-type therapy. In my opinion, if you follow the five steps laid out in this article, you will significantly increase the likelihood that you will work with a therapist who will help get the results you want, regardless of their type of license. Trainees can also be good options. I personally would choose to work with a Psychological Assistant or MFTi if they met all of my requirements in the 5-steps to finding a results-oriented therapist. The quality of work a therapist demonstrates to me is more important than where they are in their education and whether they have a master’s or doctorate degree. One caveat: if your problem is quite complicated and you have been to several clinicians before who haven’t helped, you may need a skilled and seasoned eye and choose a therapist who has some years of experience under his/her belt.

 

  • Should I look for a therapist with a particular theoretical orientation?

Some of my results-oriented colleagues may argue that it is imperative to receive treatment from someone doing “evidence-based therapy,” such as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). I like to be careful about making this generalization. There are certainly CBT practitioners who are results-oriented, and there are those who are not. Because someone professes to work under a particular modality is not an assurance that they do. More relevant is whether the therapist helps you develop treatment goals, assigns homework, monitors your progress, etc. I am less inclined to be concerned about the modality and more interested that the therapist can give you evidence that their treatment recommendation(s) works (has been researched to be effective) and the way the therapist is applying the treatment to your problem makes logical sense to you.

 

  • What if my therapist tells me that being uncomfortable with him/her or wanting to leave therapy is as a result of my problem(s) and I should not act on this?

This answer is not a straightforward “stay” or “leave.” Rather, it is a more nuanced answer: Use your WISDOM. On the one hand, if this is a new therapist, it is important to be comfortable and feel at ease in his or her presence right away. (See Step 1.) You will already be challenging yourself to grow in various ways throughout your treatment; no need to do this with the relationship with your therapist. I have talked to countless people who have stayed with a therapist they didn’t like or felt uneasy around because they assumed they (the client) were at fault and there was something wrong with them that they felt this way. I previously had a personal experience visiting a therapist with whom I was uncomfortable. I told her so, and she stated that she thought this meant I had significant problems with intimacy and needed to sit physically closer to her than I was comfortable with and work through the problems in my relationship with her. At that moment, I felt ashamed and unsure of myself. After leaving the session, and discussing it with a loved one, I determined that the only relationship in my life that I was having a significant problem with and wanted to get out of was the one with my therapist. I left, found a new therapist who I was immediately comfortable with, and therapy was successful. I have heard some version of this story from many clients about their past therapy, and often, once they remove themselves from that clinician, they find much success moving toward their goals with much more ease. On the other hand, it could be useful to ask yourself if your therapist has a point. Does this reaction toward your therapist happen in many other relationships? After visiting a few therapists, do you feel this same way about each of them? If so, you may want to consider whether this is something you want to target (work on) in therapy and may decide to stick with this therapist. You may want to consult with a trusted loved one and get some help tuning into your WISDOM to make this decision. Also, remember Step 5 and to continuously evaluate whether this treatment is helping you.


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

I heard that you might want to make some changes to become happier and more fulfilled.

Well, what are you waiting for?! Just do it! Do it now! Go! Start! Fast! Come on! What’s wrong with you?! Get it done!

That approach of hammering and berating yourself is not effective. In fact, it is quite unmotivating, especially in the long-term.

Did you know that it is scientifically impossible to simply change and create a whole new way of being suddenly and without practice?

Imagine you want to become a professional golfer. You decided one day that would be something you would like to do. So, you told yourself, “Just do it! It’s a matter of will. If I want it bad enough, I can have it. Just do it!” What then? Would you expect yourself, never having hit a golf ball, to go out the next day and successfully compete against Tiger Woods? Of course not. You know that is impossible.

Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time. We decide that we want to eat healthier, exercise more, act differently in our relationships, and we tell ourselves to “just do it!” Then we slip into behaving the same old way that didn’t work before and believe we have done something wrong and somehow should have gotten different results. What we are missing here is that change requires skill and

DEVELOPING A SKILL REQUIRES PRACTICE!

 Not just practice, but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then some more PRACTICE.

You can start PRACTICING new behaviors to start to change your life today. Here are FIVE STEPS for successful practice:

  1. Think about what you want and make sure it is something that YOU want. (Not something you think you “should” want or a way that others believe you “should” behave.)

EXAMPLES: You want to feel healthy and vibrant in your body and want to change your eating to achieve this. (You do NOT set out to change your diet because someone told you that you should.)

  1. Now, think about some action steps that might be needed for you to be on the path toward what you want. Keep these actions steps simple and easy enough for you to do them in real time.

EXAMPLES: mindfully eat a nourishing meal, go for a walk, take a breath before responding when irritated, go to bed before midnight

  1. Write these action steps into your personal Reinforcement Practice Sheet (CLICK HERE).
  2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then PRACTICE engaging in these behaviors whenever you can.
  3. Rather than focusing on or mentally beating yourself up for when you are not practicing, focus your mind on when you do PRACTICE, and reinforce it. (Use the Reinforcement Practice Sheet for ideas.)

Most importantly, give yourself a break! Smile, laugh, understand that you are human, and revel in the imperfections along the way. (More on this in a future newsletter.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

If you know or have worked with me, you have most probably heard me say that REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change. Years of research and over a decade of my own professional and personal practice have shown this to be true again and again. When you want to change behavior, define steps toward your goals (that are possible for you to take) and reinforce them over and over again. Then what? Well, then it gets interesting.

As it turns out, change is not a linear process. Progress does not happen in a straight, upward moving way. It does NOT look like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

 

Even powerfully reinforcing a behavior does not produce change in an upward, no mistakes fashion. We do not go from eating processed food that drains our energy to reinforcing whole foods eating and suddenly, in 10 days, reform our eating for life, with no going back. Change just doesn’t work like that.

Rather, change is messy and looks more like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

What this means is that we will inevitably slip back into old, ineffective behaviors. Most of the time, you WILL go back to engaging in behaviors that you would like to stop. Even if you follow behavior-change protocols to a perfect “T”, you will find yourself engaging in old, ineffective behavior at some point. You will eat that food that drains your energy, blow off that walk to watch TV, stay up later and get less rest than you know you need.

My message to you is this: Be ENCOURAGED by this part of the change process!

Let’s look back at the messy model of change. The green line going through the graph represents the slope of the line or the rate of change. Notice that although there were setbacks in progress along the way, overall, progress is upward moving!

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

Going back to old behaviors is part of the process of change, not failure! Going backward momentarily can mean that progress is happening. You are headed in the right direction and engaging in old, ineffective behaviors is part of making the changes you want. Now that you know this, you can give up on the illusion of perfection.

Isn’t that empowering?!

You can anticipate this process and give yourself a break when it happens. Instead of judging yourself, giving yourself a mental slap with harsh self-critical thinking, or giving up, you can reinforce yourself for noticing when you’ve gotten off track and decide the most effective step to take next. “Failure” is an opportunity to notice, reinforce, take a small step toward the path you want to be on, and reinforce! Practice this over and over and over until the practice becomes what you automatically do.

The more you engage in this cycle,

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

the sooner you will notice lasting change happen and stick. Remember, going back to your old ways is a part of change, not failure! What happens is that the more we notice we’ve reverted to old ways, reinforce our noticing, and get back on track, the sooner we will get back on course and more quickly reach our goals.

Keep going, keep practicing and try to enjoy and laugh in the process.

Remember, life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando