Not Doing Christmas This Year

I was at a Christmas party last weekend, and enjoyed a terrific conversation with someone I don’t know very well; a lovely older woman. 
She told me that due to a recent difficult family circumstance she has decided "not to do Christmas this year." 
It was painful for her to get to this emotional resignation, the deep acceptance, that she just didn’t have it in her this peppy holiday season to provide food, purchase gifts, socialize, mail Christmas cards, cook, or decorate. 
She said, "I have given myself permission."
 It was such a graceful and self compassionate (she was not boasting in a selfish manner, and I could still hear some longing) but it was mature and wise and intelligent. 

Three points for the holiday that have been made clear to me recently, and you certainly don’t need my permission but, just in case...
1) December 25th is just another 24 hour day. Of course, it may have significant religious or spiritual meaning for you but we still have 364 other days of the year to celebrate our faith. 

2) If you were invited to a gathering, you can simply say "No, thank you for thinking of me." And if you choose to say yes, you don’t need to say,"May I bring something?" I don’t know about you but when I bring food or gifts there is always an over-abundance of food these days. 
Sometimes it’s smarter to show up empty-handed (I learned to say this after I had my second baby: "May I come empty-handed?" Otherwise, I began to dread the social commitment, and would cancel altogether). 

3) And finally, may be the greatest act of celebrating the end of the year is maintaining a small footprint, giving yourself a present, laying in the sun for 20 minutes, ordering a fancy meal to go and taking it to the beach, planting some flowers, writing a silly poem to an old friend, giving the dog a bath and a pretty red bow. 
Honestly, if that’s all you do on December 25th, or December 31st, or January 1st, those are extraordinary, lovely, meaningful, gestures. That's enough.

My youngest son and the crazy man, 2004


Common Myths About Therapy

By Christina Neumeyer

 Therapy takes years: I will lie down on the couch and we’ll talk about my mother – a lot. This is a hold-over from the psychoanalytic days of Freud and often satirized in Woody Allen movies. I don’t know any therapists that have clients lie down on a couch. Most clients want to get in and out of therapy as quickly as possible. Having said that, earlier events in one’s life often have meaning - maybe not all of the meaning - to the current dilemma at hand; how we have been shaped by our experiences and how we live and breathe in the world. Therapy can always begin with the here and now.
A counselor can talk sense into my son/spouse/mother/son-in-law. Bringing the substance abusing adult son into therapy is a worthy task, but magic isn’t sold there. The most painful situations, those that heavily weigh one down with sadness and grief, are those hours spent with the loved ones of someone who is refusing help. We help the helpers and always remember that therapists are one humble instrument in the orchestra of healthy living.
  Counseling is an intense self-analyzing, navel-contemplating process. Self-reflection is what separates lizards from humans; we are designed to ponder our meaning on planet earth, but, it is not an exercise without a goal in mind. Efficient therapy combines action steps (behavioral changes), with verbal processing (“How did it go?”), sideline cheerleading (“I remember how difficult that might have been six months ago. Great job!”), and the occasional different perspective offered from an unbiased party.
 I’ve tried it before. It doesn’t work. This may be the hardest distrust to overcome, but, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. With any event, whether it’s finding a good handyman or hiring a math tutor for your kid, coming to believe that help is available becomes a critical leap of faith. If my neighbor has a good mechanic, and I need a mechanic, I will likely begin believing that Bob the trusty mechanic can fix my car problem. In much the same way, if I can emotionally somersault into “I think there are people who understand my condition,” I am veering towards improvement. For this reason, once the phone call is made, recovery often begins in that moment. Therapeutic techniques matter, but the relationship between client and therapist equally contribute to positive outcomes.
 A counselor will only tell me to find my passion/quit my job/walk away from my relationship. The sixties heyday of me-me-me, when therapy developed a reputation for not taking anyone else’s feelings into consideration, are over. Individual needs are best served within context to what we know brings us meaning and purpose. Freedom of choice is soundly measured against decisions we can live with; abandoning our families and emotionally cutting off from those things that challenge us do not produce peace of mind. Human beings are social animals that seem to do well when paired up, enjoying warmth and well regard from others. Any intelligent clinician will be helpful only when taking into consideration the ecosystem that the client inhabits - this is of primary concern.
 Only people with severe problems need to see a counselor. I don’t know how to defend this misbelief, and even my dearest friends will comment along these lines. To them I say, all great leaders had counsel to sort through what was troublesome; even the strongest knife cannot sharpen itself. Counseling helps the 84-year old widow who lost her spouse of 62 years, with wonderful but busy grown kids that forget to call enough. She has led a great life, but has a story to tell; her siblings have passed and her life-long friend has beginnings stages of dementia. Gracefully accepting of life’s short road, we might review old photos together and discuss the many chapters she experienced. How wonderful! Or, the young couple navigating another deployment; a young mom with a new baby and no familial support nearby. The 19-year old college student that was assaulted; or the executive couple that has grieved four miscarriages, now making a decision on how to best move forward. Normal people fighting a good fight benefit from outside professional help from time to time. Psychotherapy is a healing art, and a lot like midwifery; silent observers, willing the very best outcome to present itself.
Therapy is all about feelings. Well-balanced people are able to identify their inner emotional landscape (“name it to tame it”), and language skills paired with an emotion is the most direct way to get one’s needs met (“I feel so appreciated when you bring me flowers at the end of the long week. I feel loved and remembered.”). While we often encourage folks to “get in touch with their feelings,” (the opposite of expression is depression) that is simply one part of self-understanding and personal growth. With solid research showing us that beliefs matter too, there can be a fair deal struck between how we feel and how we think (they are not the same). Personal insight is critical to optimal mental health. Tolerating gentle prodding and curiosity of one’s internal world is a sign of a healthy system. In fact, present-day therapy is a good fit for the thinking person. With the popularity of best-selling authors Daniel Pink, Daniel Khaneman, and Malcolm Gladwell, and advances in sports psychology, there is a blossoming marriage between corporate leadership psychology and interpersonal intelligence that should earn respect from any project manager or critical thinker. 
We can’t afford counseling. I know it may seems as if all roads begin and end with the mighty dollar, but I remain convinced that there is both low-cost counseling as well as free counseling in most areas. In my neck of the woods, several non-denominational churches offer free counseling, without being a church member. Often times the church has partnered with well-seasoned agencies and therapists (NAMI, for example) to offer free support groups. A second low-cost option is utilizing registered interns - they are trained but not yet fully licensed (even to be an intern, one has several hundred hours under his/her belt and a graduate degree). Interns are overseen by supervisors within an interdisciplinary format (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers) collectively participating in the case management. This is good news for those wanting to deal with big problems at an affordable cost. An intern opening up their first private practice often provides 1970’s rates as their practice is building. The third option available are low-fee clinics who are granted funding for affordable care and counseling, with sessions as low as $15 per session or as much as $50.00. Many local low-cost medical clinics have incorporated an integrative behavioral health section in their effort to wholly meet the needs of the community. I have interfaced with a few of these and they have been great. Never give up on striving for a healthy life. Be persistent.