5 Myths About Couples Counseling

1) The therapist is a referee, with the task of weighing in on who is right and who is wrong; the clinicians are there to take sides. Weigh in, rip me a new one and point out my numerous shortcomings. False. In reality, therapists rarely “offer advice” and there is rarely a right side and a wrong side, unlike Judge Judy. Most of life’s difficult is in the gray area. Between adolescent and parent, each side usually has valid points, between two partners, each has a position and unique experiences that are worth acknowledging. With Dr. Phil and other popular tv shows that introduce the idea of “counseling,” it’s understandable how lay culture has Jerry Springered the view of the counseling office; what is intended to be a safe and sacred space for sincere pain and recovery to occur. 
2) Counseling cannot possibly help. In fact, counseling may make things worse. It is often the case that bringing issues into the light may feel worse in the short term, with long-term pay off. If anxiety and panic attacks have shrunk my world, and now I am exposing myself to those triggers (crowds, stores, driving), necessary steps to recovery will be provocative. Taking stock of our lives, reviewing past events, is often walking into the lion’s den, and avoidance has kept the angst to a manageable level but the cost has been great. With guidance and a collaborative treatment plan, the short-term distress will diminish with great rewards over time. Therapy absolutely helps. People who are motivated to learn about who and what they are make the most satisfied –and enjoyable! – clients. 

3) Female therapists side with women. False. Males don’t stand a chance in the therapeutic environment. False. Tongue lashings and confrontations ahead. False. Effective treatment does not include male bashing. I can make a strong argument that a good therapist is hyper-curious: why else would we ask a million questions? In other words, inquiry about your experience in this challenging world is the trailhead of being helpful to you. Counseling should not be aggressive, harsh, or disrespectful.  Counselors should be quick to admit where they are wrong, may be off in their perception, or are not adequately grasping the problem at hand. After all, any business model that disrespects a paying customer is a short-lived endeavor. Therapist behaviors that make everyone present feel heard and respected are communicated via expressions, body posture, vocal tone, and verbal reflections that indicate comprehension (“Am I hearing you correctly?”) as well as therapist’s own self-awareness. 
4) Therapists are anti-religious and will not honor our values. A good clinician will work in alignment with your values, towards your goals, in this highly collaborative treatment process. Period. It is irrelevant what customs and values the clinician holds; in fact, anything else is poor patient care. Busy clinicians work with a wide range of clients, ages, stages, cultures, and communities: that is what makes our job so fabulous. Standard business practices assumes cultural and religious humility with a position of counselor equality; not superiority.
5) We can’t afford counseling. Divorce costs more. Moving out and establishing a new home costs more. Breaking up families and sharing custody of the children costs more. There is low-cost counseling available. Additionally, there are weekend boot camps, couple’s day retreats, and several other options (i.e. Gottman Apps, Marriage 365) that can educate a couple on how to better get along, communicate, and re-connect. Most couples want a new marriage with the same person and statistics indicate that 50% of divorced couples regretted their decision to leave the marriage. Never underestimate how difficult divorce will be. 


Setting Limits With Your Counselor

Made a new video about how clients can best steer therapy towards topics that feel helpful. 

Video Here


Holiday Volunteer Opportunity

Interfaith Services  


If you are looking to combine the exciting experience of travel with that wonderful feeling of purpose, this group may be perfect for you.

My lovely neighbor recently lost her adult son, and, as part of her grieving process, she chose to fill her cup through volunteerism. Throwing a garage sale to supplement the cost of airfare, she spent 10 days on Matangi Island, Fiji on a helping mission.
No medical experience needed; just willing hands and an open-mind. http://www.lolomafoundation.org/


Optimal Mental Health in 2018 // The Invitation

2018. Start the New Year off with a great class. Dedicate yourself to optimal mental health. Here is one suggestion; anything offered by UCSD Center for Mindfulness (suggest the self-compassion or stress reduction class). Or perhaps the highly recommended workshops coming up soon with Kristin Neff.

Guided Meditation Affectionate Breathing (audio)


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a free 12-week class for family members living with a mentally ill loved one. 

North Coast Calvary Chapel will be hosting NAMI – Family to Family Education Program.
This is a free, 12-week course for families and friends of adults living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorders and borderline personality disorder.  Course participants gain vital information, insight and understanding of their loved one that many describe as life-changing. Registration is required and limited to 25 participants. To register or for more information, contact the office at info@naminorthcoastal.org or 760-722-3754

Here is a powerful poem I heard read at a funeral recently:

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Ted Talk - Being a Misfit

The Long Shot on Netflix


Avoiding "Cutting Off" Our Loved Ones

*Emotional "cut-offs" are not the optimal way to manage stressful or toxic relationships with our loved ones.

Many years in social services has convinced me that biological family members experience an overwhelmingly powerful draw to one another, even at great risk to themselves or others. Our human will-power is weak, and we hold fantasies of relationships and reunification that could be. For this reason, and the observations that others have made, both personal and clinical, it is (mostly) a losing bet to completely alienate people from our lives. We simply cannot resist the powerful urges to revisit those hopes and dreams.

Examples of cut-offs ( which usually fail).

1) A narcissistic parent compels us to move across the country. Living close is just too chaotic.

2) An adult drug-using son. Closing the door and shutting him our permanently.

3) Emotionally fleeing a family because they are "so screwed up" by marrying someone they hate.

4) Deciding to never speak with a sibling again after another blow-up.

Unhealthy alliances and family dissension cause deep pain and strife, even destroying marriages and once-close relationships. 

Asking one person to disavow another family member rarely works; instead, deceit and dishonesty often ensues (For example, pressuring mom to break off contact with her financially abusive adult-child rarely works. Her guilt or overcompensation is greater than her desire to please her spouse or other children).

Some relationships are worthy of termination; however, over the course of our lifetime, it is unlikely that we will stick to the conviction of never speaking to them again.We are powerfully drawn to our biological relatives, whether we should be or not.

The solution lies in better boundaries with those people that cause us great emotional turmoil. 
Allowing natural consequences to others' bad behaviors, without feeling punitive or resentful can be a huge step in the right direction.

Learning how to stop rescuing the person that has made a bad decision.
Avoiding making threats or ultimatums.

Avoid unreasonable expectations.
Set time limits in advance of exposure to the disturbing party ("We will have one hour for lunch, then I have a doctor's appt").
Create escape valves in advance, in the event that your time with this challenging person needs to be cut short.
Choose safe places to be together, where a disturbance is less likely to occur.

Remember that each family member has a unique and different response to the identified loved one's behavior.

Family therapy, with all present, can be very effective. A well-thought out treatment plan towards unity is often quite successful. 

Staying psychologically healthy while also maintaining some form of manageable relationship with our loved ones is the ideal goal, and while not easy, and it can be achieved.

*This post is referring to emotional challenging relationships with difficult people, Not abusive persons (i.e. physical abuse, child or elder abuse, or those with dangerous or criminal behavior are not addressed in this conversation).

Book Recommendation

Meditation Retreat in Scottsdale


Stick to the specific issue that makes you mad. 

e.g. "I really hate it when you look at other men/women," 


"You are such a flirt. You crave attention with that big ego.

The hardest part is to stick to the original complaint. 

Do not follow your partner/child/friend down the rabbit hole with digressions and further, piling on, character complaints. 

Repeat, like a mantra, "I don't like it when you look at other people." 


Adolescent Females in Therapy & Body Image

When I sit down to chat with adolescent girls and young women, I will almost always ask something like "How do you feel about your body?"

The answer is typically, "Oh I hate my body!" 
My response then goes to, do you hate your feet? 
No, I don't hate my feet. 
How do you feel about your ankles? They're OK, laughingly.
How about your legs? Well my thighs are too muscular. 
OK how do you feel about your rear end? Oh I hate my rear end. Why? 
"Well, hmmm..." and now in almost every case she will actually start to think about her answer. 
I move onto all the other body parts:  what do you think about your face. Oh I hate my face. Really? How do you feel about your nose. 
My nose is OK. What about your cheeks. OK eyebrows. I hate my eyebrows. They're too light. How about your hair. My hair is I like I really like my hair. 
Then I moved to a bigger scope question. Do you think you're cute? Pretty? Ugly?

 This exercise is not intended for me to get anywhere specific or to provide an analysis; only to give words and language to thoughts and beliefs that are knocking around in her head, perhaps causing self-hate, feelings of inferiority or low confidence. 
The questions are very specific and will allow her to give voice to something that she's thought or felt without consciously understanding...these are negative, low-level background self-criticisms. 
So, in the case of a very poor body image were able to break it down, right-size her subjective and highly critical body image. 
A positive shift may look something like this at the end: "I think I'm attractive but I really dislike one of my specific physical attributes that, most likely I have no control over i.e. shape of a nose or color of  hair.
This line of inquiry is revealing, valuable, therapeutic - and will begin the process of seeing one's self from a more objective position, even self-compassionate! 
And, it is much more effective than simply complimenting her ("But you are so beautiful. Trust me!"). Those words are meaningless if she has not internally challenged her own belief system.

Calling All Worry Warts

Are you addicted to worry in? Worrying is a mentally habitual behavior.  
In some families, to say "I'm worried about you" means I love you. 
It can be a value- I really really love you therefore I'm really really worried about you. 
But, in fact, worrying is a useless feeding frenzy, a marinade of toxic internal stress. 
Have you ever seen a couple experiencing a huge external stressor (home loss, death of loved one, addiction, illness), in a family crisis? 
One is the worrier and one is not. 
Yet, you can visibly watch the worrior age before your very eyes, while the non-worrier, although he is concerned and engaged, often looks fresh as a daisy. It's a rapid aging process behavior, much like we joke about our presidents graying hair during their term.
Find new things to do with your beautiful vibrant brain!


Depression 101

Asking about someone's feelings or thoughts about suicide does not plant the seed. In fact, it feels like a relief.

Sadness may be nature's way of forcing us to retreat and recoup, which is different than a clinical paralyzing depression.

Signs: Psycho motor retardation and loss of interest in things that used to be pleasurable, Agitation , Insomnia, Oversleeping, Weight loss/gain, Irritability, Numb, Disconnected.

High level of mortality occurs for the person with severe depression.

Neurocognitive assessment to rule out dementia is often required.

Some cultures (military, etc) value self-reliance. This must be respected.

For the support system: I give you permission to not feel the obligation to cure your loved one's depression.