Couple Family and Sex Therapy NYC

COUPLE FAMILY & SEX THERAPY NYC

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Gracie Landes, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist will work with you to build solutions that fit you when you have:

the desire to improve any aspect of your life •  trouble adjusting to a new situation or life transition • conflicts that keeps you from being closer to people you care about • anxiety, lack of information or embarrassment about sex • questions about relationships or sexual health...

and you want to work with someone who is dedicated to providing counseling that is brief, respectful and effective, and to discovering what works

Disarm Your Disagreement-Related Habits

The following ideas come from a workbook I use with many of my clients*.  I have summarized the main points below:

While there are serious offenses that fracture relationships, such as lying, stealing, cheating, acting unilaterally, and of course physical violence, researchers* have discovered that the following disagreement-related offenses can seriously erode your relationship. They are surprisingly destructive when they go unaddressed.

These disagreement-related offenses are:
 - concluding your partner is wrong when they aren't
- jumping to negative conclusions about your partner, or failing to give them the benefit of the doubt
- dismissiveness
- defensiveness
- refusing to compromise
- putting them down or acting condescending or "better than" them
- blaming your partner instead of taking responsibility for standing up for yourself.

If you are honest with yourself, you are likely to see that you do some of these things, and when you do, you are ineffective at getting your partner to cooperate or treat you well.

You can start to disarm these relationship killers using the following six disagreement related habits :
- stop erroneous fault-finding
- find the understandable part (of their argument)
- identify the underlying values, needs or what's at stake for each of you
- offer reassurance
- offer and ask for equal regard
- stand up for yourself without making a big deal about having to. 

Here's how:


1. Avoid erroneous fault finding


Even very compatible partners will have different preferences that influence what they each want in a given situation. Realize that your partner having a different viewpoint doesn't make them wrong. It can be hard to do this when you are on different sides of an argument, but it's when you most need practice this habit. 

Trying to get someone on your side when you haven't understood theirs is a losing strategy. Your partner can sense when you are judging them. They will get defensive and become less able to be flexible and cooperative. You can and should be able to disagree with someone without communicating they are wrong to feel that way. 

 

2. Find the understandable part


In disagreements, most people think their position is the more reasonable one. Until you can genuinely convey to your partner that you can see at least some part of their argument, you will not be able to gain their cooperation. Sometimes people mistakenly think if they back down, they will lose the whole debate. In reality, both people have legitimate points of view about things that matter to them. The only way to achieve a compromise is to acknowledge them both.

 

3. Identify the underlying needs, values, and concerns


When someone gets stuck in a position they can't abandon, it's because they think that strategy is the only or best to solve their problem. When you or your partner can identify what's bothering you, you can see more than one way to achieve your goal.  More importantly, you can avoid getting sidetracked in arguments about strategies that may or may not work anyway. 

 

4. Offer assurance


Assure your partner that want to repair any damage done by an argument between you, that you are not judging them, that you are willing to be flexible.

Sometimes your partner will feel misunderstood or hurt by you, whether or not you meant it. Face it; there are arguments between most couples where mean things get said. Being able to assure your partner you didn't intend to, and are sorry you did something to hurt them is crucial.  It's even more vital to offer them your assurance you will work to make sure it doesn't keep happening. Letting your partner know you are willing to work with them frees your partner to be more open and flexible with you. Repairing damage done in past arguments is a great way to head off future ones. 

Noticing when your partner seems upset and defensive, asking why and letting them know you are not judging them are peacekeeping habits all couples need. You may not always understand your partner, but your willingness to learn how they feel and what's important to them will make it easier.

 

5. Offer and ask for equal regard


One person, one vote. It works in democracies and relationships. There will be times when one or both of you want something the other doesn't.  Neither of you should have to justify feeling or wanting something. You still have to take the other person into account. Successful couples are equal partners who treat their partner's interests like their own. That contract is part of what makes it safe, and desirable to be part of a couple. 

Winning at your parter's expense is one of the surest, most short-sighted ways to lose them.  If you want you partner to care about what's important to you, you must offer them the same care and concern. People fail at relationships when they fail to treat their partners as equals. When you can demonstrate to your partner you will act in good faith and ask the same of them you are on the way to a successful long-term relationship. 

 

6. Stand up for yourself without making a big deal about having to


While the first five habits are important, #6 is essential. Giving up on something that's important to you, or worse, blaming your partner for being difficult will erode your relationship. Learning to stand up for yourself gracefully will vaccinate it, and you. Skillful people will stand for what they believe in without making their partner wrong. 

When someone's needs go unmet, both parties contribute. Skillful partners take responsibility for themselves. They go back and resolve conflicts that are still bothering them, using the first five skills. They give their partner the benefit of the doubt, let them see what's at stake, ask them to work together. 

Only if their partner won't listen, work with, or take them seriously do they refuse to continue to do business as usual. Then inform their partner they need to distance from them temporarily. Taking distance is not done in anger. It is not a threat. It firmly and quietly refusing to stay in a situation where you don't think they are treating you as an equal. It is showing you are willing to be open and flexible with your partner when they are willing to do the same with you. It is letting them know you don't want distance yourself from them, but you must take care of yourself if they are not willing to work with you.

Refusing to back down while refusing to accept aggression shows that you are sincere about giving and receiving respect. This habit helps keep both people stay calm. It saves them from wasting time and effort trying to persuade, cajole or override each other. It provides their partner time to consider their point of view without feeling pressured. It works because it preserves your dignity and theirs.

In the next post, I will describe the friendship habits, which solidify and protect relationships.

 

*  Brent Atkinson, (author Developing Habits for Relationship Success) 

 

What Successful Couples do, You Can Too

I remember the sinking feeling I’d get early in my career when a couple I thought was improving, broke out into a fight that seemed to come from nowhere. It would even happen just before the end of what looked like a good session. Though my success rate with couples is better than I ever imagined, the memory of that sinking feeling keeps me motivated to grow and learn.

Frustrated as I might have been with the situation I just described, I knew I couldn’t blame my clients. They were looking to me to help them learn what they couldn’t yet do other own. I knew it was up to me to find more ways to help them when they didn’t do what the textbooks said they should.

In grad school, studying family and couples therapy, I read everything I could about family dynamics and couples counseling. Most of the books at that time had a theory about what works with couples, but it seemed to me that entire books started out stating their idea, without ever proving it, then spent hundreds of pages justifying something that might or might not work. Naturally skeptical anyway, I felt frustrated. I wasn’t interested in a theory that didn’t have proof behind it, one I couldn’t explain clearly to another person no matter how carefully I studied it and tried to make the logic work for myself. I wanted to know what worked. 

The best of those books challenged unproven assumptions about what couples need to succeed. Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (originally published in 1999) is to this day one of the best books on what makes for a successful couple. I read that book in grad school, and many times after that. 

What’s great about Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is that it’s based a long term study by author John Gottman, his colleagues, and grad students, who set out to find out what successful couples do so that they could use it in their couples therapy work. They took a long time to discover the principles, over fifteen years. The prerequisites for succeeding in a long term relationship were not what What Gottman and colleagues expected to find.

Gottman’s work stood in stark contrast to the other ideas out there: what passes for common sense, observations from one person’s private practice or small clinic, anecdotal notions about what should work.  I knew my clients deserved better; I badly wanted that one book to be a cornerstone for effective work with couples. In some ways, it can. 

While the book is easy to read and makes sense to most people, that was not enough for my clients. They got it, got excited, but wouldn't go on to do the exercises in it. I got frustrated trying to implement the lessons in Seven Principles. Having spent years as a corporate trainer and adult ed instructor, I knew that people learn by making sense of things for them selves, having new experiences they learn from directly. Having a new experience is what motivates people to change how they act. That’s the essential part. I wanted my clients to succeed by having these new experiences with their partners.

Thinking one book couldn’t do all I needed for my couples counseling clients; I started obsessively testing it. While the ideas made sense to me intellectually, my real life observation was that people needed to be relaxed enough to practice the suggestions, and too often they weren’t. I turned to my study of Zen, mindfulness meditation, yoga and exercise for answers to how to stay calm and connected to others, especially under stress. I knew from experience these practices allowed me and others to do just that. 

I eventually found and studied with a mentor who'd answered my questions before I’d asked them. That mentor, Brent Atkinson, developed a way of working called Developing Habits for Relationship Success, which is based on Gottman’s research but adds the self-self regulation skills people need to be able to perform the good relationship habits that seem so hard at first. 

Atkinson keeps developing his method, and I keep studying it, along with other ideas in stress reduction, positive psychology, and optimal human functioning. In this and future posts, I want to explain in plain language what Gottman, Atkinson, and other colleagues working in various areas of psychology have discovered. What’s so great is that these are not static ideas, but the subjects of living, ongoing research that I am excited to share. 

I’ve spent so much time with people who struggle desperately to persuade their partners to change. Doing that is a recipe not just for disappointment, but for ever increasing strife.

The good news is that much what of what you need to succeed in a long term relationship is under your conscious control: physically, mentally and emotionally. The habits you need are individual ones that don’t rely on your partner changing. And paradoxically, when you stop trying to get them to change they are much more likely to change on their own. More about that later. 

The habits I will describe in future posts are ones that, when practiced well and consistently will give your partner the space to decide to change on their own. You are then free to enjoy a more functional relationship or, conclude the relationship (even at its best), is not what the one you want. Either way, you win. You’re not wasting your time on the same stupid fight.

Research shows these two things you might not expect:
- people tend to believe their partners are in the wrong about a variety of couples' communication problems when they aren’t
- bad reactions about this lead to more, and even an escalation of the behavior you don’t want.

Thinking your partner needs to change because they are behaving in ways you don’t like might seem logical, but it just won’t work. If it’s has been going on between you for more than a few months, your relationship is most likely at risk. That means it’s time take it seriously and fix what you can. Couples counseling can help, by showing you what to do differently. You will have to do the work. 

Many people object to the idea that they have to change when their partner isn’t, but learning some of the habits I will describe in later posts. There are ten specific habits you can develop, 6 to use when you feel frustrated with your partner, 4 for when you’re not. 

The best thing to do with your partner is to respond effectively to them when you feel provoked. Some people just seem to have these skills naturally, but it’s possible, and necessary, to cultivate them. If you practice good relationship skills, over the long run, your partner is much more likely to become responsive to you. How people react when their partner does things they find frustrating is directly related to how flexible, and considerate their partners learn to become with them.

If you’re like most of us, you will need to lay a firm foundation and give your partner enough time to notice the changes you’ve made. Most of us pay much more attention to what’s wrong more than what’s right. The fact that our nervous systems evolved to scan our environments for signs danger makes it hard for us to notice improvements. 

Under stress, our human nervous systems can respond to our partners as if they were predatory animals or lightning bolts about to strike us. Being on such high alert is dangerous to your health and your relationship. That means it’s important for you to cultivate skills to rapidly soothe and calm yourself down on your own, along with patience and the ability to notice small changes that you consider improvements. 

Any habit you learn can be unlearned and replaced with another. You really can train your brain and nervous system to calm down. Think about how you know just without thinking how to drive your car to a familiar location or take the subway to work. Any action you often do is readily available to you. If you fight regularly, that’s available to you. If you take time to calm yourself, that’s available to you. Developing a relaxation reflex will help you shift from focusing on what you can't change to managing your reactions and taking good care of yourself. When you learn to do that reliably, you become more flexible, connected and responsive, more competent dealing with your partner. 

You can a use combination of simple daily mindfulness, breathing, and cardiovascular exercises to develop a reliable relaxation response in your nervous system. So, however it works best for you, learn to calm yourself on a regular basis. 

Learn to trust your own experience when you are relaxed, flexible and connected. Once you’ve created response often enough, you will notice yourself acting more effectively with your partner.  You will also see them becoming more responsive to you.  Then, a whole new world will open up to you.

I will be writing more about the habits of effective couples in future posts in this COUPLES COUNSELING blog, and more about stress reduction in my STRESS REDUCTION blog.

 

Open Realtionships: working with the unintentional polyamorist

Sometimes a person who truly feels wired for monogamy winds up with a partner who just doesn’t operate that way. The person who tries polyamory but doesn’t feel wired for it usually spends a lot of energy figuring out how to be polyamorous and may or may not take to it. For the person who truly experiences polyamory as an orientation, no matter how much they value or even prioritize one relationship, multiple relationships are rewarding enough to be worth the time and effort. They don’t experience it as a conflict or diminishment of one relationship to have others. They perceive there to be enough love and attention to go around. 

One way to think about this difference is that most people have a variety of friends, each of whom they share different aspects of themselves with: some share hobbies, some history, some an emotional or intellectual connection. Most people wouldn’t expect any one friend to be their only one, though some will be closer or easier than others. Some people prefer to have a wider circle of friends, some a few close ones. Yet there’s often an expectation that a spouse or primary partner fulfill the majority of the other person’s friendship and relationship slots. If both parties want that focus and are satisfied wth it, theres no problem. Then the biggest risk is that one person is no longer available, the other, having invested so much, feels truly bereft without them. 

Having the more polyamorous partner drift away can leave the more monogamous partner feeling bereft. For most people, regardless of orientation, the early stages of a new relationship are heady. Intense feelings of excitement and attraction aren’t easy contained. This phenomenon, called New Relationship Energy, will run course, but while it’s happening, the more monogamous partner is likely to feel left out, as more than likely they are being left out. Think about anytime you became very interested in something new and intriguing, be it a relationship, book, hobby, job. You likely spent a lot of time thinking and talking about it, looking forward to it, being happiest when you were involved with it. People around you were probably happy for you also feeling sad to be less important to you. The pull of new relationship energy can be obsessive enough to push out other interests. This is usually where the other person’s hurt feelings come form. Think about how easy it is for feel slighted when you are excluded from a friend activity you usually get invited to a nd suddenly you’re not. 

Sometimes, though, the person who’s drifting fails to realize how much loss the other person is experiencing. No one responds enthusiastically to being in a one-down position, especially when it’s not recognized as such. That is why early and ongoing negotiation are so important. Trouble can also start when the boundaries aren’t made clear, shifting too fast without re-negotiation. A classic example is a new relationship that seemed like it wouldn’t intrude on the existing one, but starts to. Maybe the new partner wants more time or energy than first expected. Maybe feelings change: the attachment become stronger than anyone expected. It happens. Everyone involved can feel it. 

Many polygamous people are able to divide their attention between more than one partner. For them, having more than one partner takes the pressure off one person to share everything with them. The person who isn’t interested in particularly hobby or practice isn’t forced to share it. But what if the more monogamous partner wants to share more? What if they are just more togetherness oriented, more inclined to focus on one person?

Knowing what a relationship is based on and the unique kind of energy that 's particular only to it, then feeding that energy is much more useful than a set of restrictive rules about what can’t be done. If you put enough of the right attention into one relationship in, you don’t have to take away from another. Most relationships are based on some combination of friendship, companionship, sexual chemistry, respect, affection, admiration, fun, common interests, shared goals, mutual support. People stay in a relationship to the extent that get as much or more out than they are put in. When that balance tilts, there’s likely to to be trouble. Better to think about what advantages can be brought to bear early on than struggle to repair damage after it’s been done.

The wise polyamorous partner learns to listens without defensiveness. They will find ways to invest in their relationship to avoid hurt feelings and wasted time processing events that needed more time, care and negotiation up front. They find what can be done to manage the imbalance and create a mutual exchange that feels fair, remembering that people enter into and stay in relationships that feel fair and mutual. Fairness is a reasonable thing for anyone in a relationship to expect. 

It does’t have to, and probably can’t be an exact exchange, but it should feel equivalent. The person a accepting the bargain must feel it was worth the price they paid. Maybe the more togetherness-oriented person wants more family time, more time to see other friends, so they don’t feel lonely. Maybe they need to be relieved of some chores. What’s important is that they gain something they value enough to compensate for their loss. That fairness is what fuels success. The person who wants less sex, but more of something else something else can request that their need for something else be met, just a the person who wants more sex but isn’t getting it in one relationship can, with the consent of all involved, get it elsewhere. 

The more careful listening, the more you  convey that you understand and and value other person’s point of view  the more likely you are to succeed. Then, no one is a relationship that requires them to cut off part of who they are.

--

Open relationships mean ongoing negotiations

As a therapist who often works with non-traditional lifestyles, I get a lot of calls from distressed clients struggling to navigate new relationship structures. The most common of these calls is from someone who thought they were in a monogamous relationship until their long term partner suddenly changed the game, unilaterally declaring the relationship open, their orientation polyamorous or something similar. To be clear, (which sudden game changers aren’t) polyamory is experienced by many people as a legitimate orientation and lifestyle...when it is practiced ethically, by mutual consent and ongoing negotiation. Real open or polyamorous relationships can exist only with trust, openness and ongoing negotiation. 

I work with many clients in open relationships because not enough therapists are familiar enough to work competently with this relationship structure. Such clients come to me with a variety of issues, often unrelated polyamory, simply because they know I won’t judge them.

Since both monogamy and polyamory are orientations (meaning the person didn’t choose to be that way), no monogamous or polyamorous individual should be criticized, shamed, belittled or coerced to change something they experience as innate. As therapist I think it’s important to make distinctions between a true orientation and sudden, unilateral or what could be called faux-polyamory, because of the harm it does, to unwitting participants and the concept of polyamory itself.

What follows is a typical scenario I see in my practice. A client comes in alone, trying to learn "how to become polyamorous” because their partner suddenly informed them of a wish to live that way. The client is a relationship they value, invested in and thought was stable. Now after learning otherwise, they:
- don’t know what to think, do, or or feel
- need a way to handle strong emotions they didn’t expect to be feeling
- are hurt, confused, especially if their partner was rational and persuasive about why they should accept this new arrangement
- want to find a way to hang on to the relationship
- don't want to be stigmatized, seen as uncool, controlling, inflexible or otherwise out-of-touch
- don’t want to feel stupid
- don’t want to be judged
- don’t know where to find reliable information
- read the book “Sex at Dawn" at their partner’s urging and are to open, if nervous, to see if can work.

Remember I said it can. Let’s start with how it fails though. Someone who sincerely invests their energy in a monogamous relationship by definition forgoes other relationships that could offer them other advantages. Entering into monogamy is an act of faith. It assumes neither person will break the agreement. There’s a tacit expectation that each person recognizes and accepts the opportunities gained and lost. When one person in such an agreement changes the game without warning, it’s a betrayal to this basic understanding and all that went with it: a lack of regard for their partner’s lost opportunities. In addition to the emotional toll taken, these lost opportunities might include housing (should someone now need to find a new place to live) finances (loss of shared resources), reproduction (when a woman loses precious time finding an appropriate partner to have children with), companionship (losing the time, attention and affection of a partner) and status (losing their position as primary partner). Most people wouldn’t accept such a loss without negotiation. The game changer appears to win by changing the rules mid-game. In most other contexts that’s recognized as cheating, and the person who breaks the rules doesn’t get to score. 

Shy should the winner take all when when they didn’t earn it? And why should there be such confusion, so many books, movies and internet site devoted to infidelity? Certainly It has become an common event, one that is no longer hidden, but talked, worried and obsessed over with great energy. For some the forbidden is thrilling and sexy. I know that there are a variety of relationship arrangements that can be compelling, sexy, and all the more energizing for the hard work, relentless honesty, competence, skill and self-knowledge they require of people.

Ethical non-mongamy involves confronting ongoing change, issues of fairness, shifting relationship dynamics, and a solid relationship with yourself. These are all skills one needs in any relationship, friendship or family. Whether you choose to leave a relationship that’s no longer working, or navigate a rapidly changing one, you will still retain your most important relationship, the one you have with yourself. Sometimes working with a therapist who gets all that can really help. 

In future posts I will write about people who made the right decisions for themselves, how they managed to practice ethical non-monogamy in ways that were right for them.

slow down your sex life to speed it up

Couples who eventually make it to see a trained sex therapist have usually been down the road of failed date nights, hokey mood music and sexy lingerie. They make to our offices discouraged and skeptical. Because of that and because the Internet is full of quick fixes that don't actually work, I'd like to discuss a slow one that does. Sensate focus exercises, designed by sex researchers Masters and Johnson, have been helping couples achieve greater sexual intimacy for decades. They do this paradoxically, by slowing people down and taking intercourse off the table for a while.

Here’s an broad overview of the steps:

- Disconnect from distractions like chores, TV, pets, children

- Refrain from recreational drugs or alcohol

- Spend about an hour alone with your partner 2-3 times a week, taking turns touching each other, focusing on your own sensations while you touch them, gradually adding in more mutual touch, more erotic touch, slowly building up to intercourse (or whatever you do that you call having sex, usually, but not necessarily some form of penetration), only when you are both ready, comfortable and confident. If that sounds hard to schedule, think about how you much time spend watching TV or surfing the internet looking for ways to spice your sex life.

- Between sessions, journal about what you are learning, talk to your partner about it, and notice how you are becoming intimately and erotically connected as a team in this joint project.

- Repeat and refine this process as directed by your sex therapist.

The actual instructions are very detailed, and with good reason: people easily get stuck in negative thoughts, misunderstandings and self-criticism. Slowing down and following instructions builds success into the process. It's best to work with a certified sex therapist who understands the process well enough to coach you through it and troubleshoot any difficulties you may experience.

Here’s why it works so well:

By allowing you to rediscover your natural curiosity in an an open, exploratory, non-pressured way, free from negative evaluation, you experience touch in a new way. Disconnecting sex and touching your partner from negative evaluation, you can become more able to enjoy pleasurable sensations again, negotiate how each of you does and doesn’t like to be touched and associate your partner and sex with openness and freedom. Think of it as mindfulness meditation for your sex life.

On just another mardi Gras day

The more things change the more they stay the same. Here's some classic music to appreciate this Mardi Gras day. Oh so long ago, the only way black people in New Orleans could mask at Carnival was to dress as American Indians. The connection between them was strong. Listen and be amazed at how Big Chief Jolly (George Landry) and crew made this classic recording that sounds so perfect in one take, all the musicians together in one room playing off each other. So grateful this moment was preserved:
https://www.wwoz.org/blog/201101

:

 

OUT OF CONTROL SEXUAL BEHAVIOR vs. "sex addiction"

I am heartened that I have  colleagues who continue to find ways to address this contentious issue, who are not willing to accept easy answers, who are dedicated, like I am to discovering what works, and to being opening to new information:

http://www.self.com/story/sex-addiction-treatment-therapy

Shame doesn't work

This  New York Magazine (published 1/31/17) is an important contribution to the conversation about how to treat sexual compulsions, especially about the fact that shaming people is counterproductive. While that may seem obvious, a lot of providers haven't caught up to the research:

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/01/should-shame-be-used-to-treat-sexual-compulsions.html?mid=fb-share-scienceofus

Now more than ever people need the facts about sex

Marty Klein's article on how facts should shape public policy especially about sexuality is worth reading. I spend a lot of time in my practice undoing the damage done by ignorancee about human sexuality:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexual-intelligence/201701/president-trump-here-are-actual-facts-about-sex

Where i came from

The sounds of the fife and drum pulled me away from what I was doing like the insistent memory it was - one that keeps saying "don't forget where you came from". So, like I first did years ago, I left to follow the sounds of my ancestors. 

Long ago, a kindly neighbor, (perhaps sensing my dilemma) took me to see my first St. Patricks Day Parade. I was a quirky 5 year old who sensed, but couldn't know the closet my parents were trapped in. All I knew was that something was off at home, that I adored art, music and dance, and that no one around me looked or acted like me. So I was beside myself to see people whose skin and hair looked like mine. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sight red haired men wearing skirts and making music.

Days ago, just like years ago, a marshall at a bandstand said to the crowd: "We need to know our history so it can be told correctly." Years ago when I wanted to know where I came from, I would learn that "in this house we don't discuss those things". The day my mother slapped me for asking where the red hair came from was the day my I resolved to keep asking questions, despite the consequences. Why don't I look like anyone else in the family? What's wrong with dying the slipcovers purple? Why shouldn't men wear skirts? 

I would go on to make friends with people who like me, who were not easily categorized: artists, odd balls, queers, trans and other mixed-race kids. It would take years to discover the family secrets, years to put what l discovered to good use. 

An accident took me from a career in the arts one in psychotherapy, a career I was reluctant to enter, not for lack of a desire to help, but from a deep discomfort with the privilege it conferred. I cringed at the mainstream cliches of psychotherapy, unable to accept that being gay or kinky were diagnosable conditions requiring treatment. Once I entered the field, without ever asking for it to happen, kinky, quirky, queer, trans bi and other not easily categorized clients found me. Some of my colleagues judged me harshly for my support of sexual minorities. 

I found solace and legitimacy in research. Deeply uncomfortable with popular image of the psychotherapist as a distant, judgmental expert and still obsessed with finding my ancestors, I found them in Family Therapy, a discipline separate and distinct from mainstream psychotherapy, its roots in biology and systems theory. Within the lineage of Family Therapy I found Solution Focused Brief Therapy, a way of working that matched who I am and how I think, characterized by curiosity, respect for clients and an unshakeable faith in their ability to discern what works for them. I was relieved to learn that Solution Focused therapists asked useful questions like:

- What really helps clients?

- What do they want?

- What does it look like? 

- What differences would it make in their lives if it happened? 

Using these question meant I didn't need to be an expert in anything but asking questions. Work got easier. My own history started to make sense, and can be told correctly. 

I absolutely love a parade.  

Partly French

It has been a week. I've been watching the the reports from France and remembering.

Out to dinner, one of my companions, surveying the menu asks "what is gateau?” Cake, I say without hesitation.  Some one else asks are you French? Partly, I say, also without hesitation. I explain that I grew up listening to it, and try to stop there. It’s complicated and I don’t always want to explain how I developed an ear for language listening to my partly white, partly black, french-speaking English teacher father, who sometimes spoke proper French, sometimes a partly-French partly-German version spoken in Alsace-Lorraine. 

I remember one day teaching, during a first day of class introduction exercise a young woman introduced herself saying she was nervous to be speaking in class, because she is French. Another young woman jumped up to admonish her “What kind of French girl are you, saying you are nervous? You have to be strong and show people what we are all about!" They became fast friends and represented their culture well all semester.

Watching the people of France surge back to cafes and restaurants as an act of defiance, I remember some of my father's defiance.  I remember how he refused to compromise his integrity to get ahead.  I remember his admonitions: always do your best, don't settle for mediocrity, but also manage to...enjoy the moment. I remember going with my father to small, good restaurants for fresh crab, or clams, to a good play or an exhibit that wasn't well known. I remember how a raised eyebrow from him conveyed that certain popular books, music or films I was eagerly consuming were somehow not all they could be. I learned not to make a statement I couldn't back up, not to accept a theory that couldn't be explained in plain language, not take things at face value.  I learned to be skeptical and discerning, without losing any of my enthusiasm. 

I learned growing up in a household with one biracial parent and one bisexual one that few things are as they seem, and that people who are not easily categorized must be careful who they reveal their identities to. I remember the first time client called me in tears to ask if I could work with her without judging her sexual practices. I remember wondering what was wrong with my (then new) profession that she had to ask such a question.

Today as I eagerly consume research to understand what really helps clients, I must remain skeptical that some theory is all it claims to be. There is too much at stake.  I can't forget how my parents, friends and clients have suffered defying easy categorization. There are many ways to be defiant. Mine is to not accept things at face value, to always do my best and to...enjoy the moment. I am partly French after all. 

Being a champion in your own life

It’s championship season, and I have been thinking and reading about athletic performance. I have long been fascinated by the concept of the champion. I just finished the book The Art of Mental Training by DC Gonzalez and want to share some of what’s in it.

Champion athletes know that after enough physical skill training, their best performances come from having the correct mental attitude, which includes working with disappointment and failure.  A champion performer in any field is one who has learned to control their mental attitude, knows what they are feeling (good and bad) but does not give in to negativity.

Any event you engage in will have it’s own event-energy that will mix with what is already going on in your head. The more consistently you exercise effective self-belief, positive internal self-talk, focus, and create a proper mental climate, the better you will be equipped to handle whatever event energy comes at you. An ideal mental climate means understanding how your mental state effects your performance, and being able to shift into mental states that help you perform effectively.

Effective mental states help you achieve control by creating an expectation you will succeed. This means understanding and taking the necessary steps to succeed, focusing on the things that need to be done more than the end result. Doing this creates optimism and positive mental energy, energizes you to take action. This is not wishful thinking, it turning information into action, to create a mental edge.

In order to work with unwanted emotions like nervousness, anger, or fear, anyone wishing to become a champion needs a mixture of knowledge, tools and techniques they can draw on instantly.

When things seem stressful:

Remain task-focused, interrupt any negative self talk and images as soon as they arrive. Shut them down at once, replacing them with positive self talk, showing your brain exactly how you will  achieve what you want. This should include recovering from any setbacks. This earned self belief is real, as it comes from you concentrating on developing your own competence.

When you experience a disappointment:

Don’t brush it aside. Allow yourself to feel the emotions run through your body in real time, so they won’t keep coming back at you later. Your emotions will surface and subside like waves, so let them run their course, then let them go. Learn something from what happened. As you get more proficient at surfing your emotions like this, you will develop the facility to recognize what you need to do to work with disappointments and losses.

When you experience anger:

Recognize you don’t need to act on it, and often you shouldn’t. Use the energy it give you to focus on positive actions.

 

What distinguishes average players (in any realm) from champions is that champions have trained themselves to do execute these skills as a reflex. To create a mental edge, you must also consistently practice mental skills and pre-event routines to tap your full potential so the are available when you need them.

World soccer champion Pele had a pre-game routine that helped him redefine the sport of soccer. 

Pele’s pre game routine:

- Arrive an hour early and relax in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Close and cover  your eyes.

- Find an internal place you can go to rehearse, visualize, and prepare to perform by playing and watching your own mental highlight tapes of past (and future) successes.

- Watch a film in your mind’s eye of your past successes and happy times, vividly recalling the sensations, emotions and most important, the love of your endeavor.

- Allow yourself to experience a flood of positive emotions, enthusiasm, and engagement.

- Connect with love you feel for your goal, the physical sensations and positive emotions associated with developing competence, and succeeding at something you love.

- See yourself overcoming any adversity by visualizing the specific steps you took to manage your anxiety, recover from mistakes, remain focused and in control.

- Then, visualize what you are about to do well, practicing specific moves and actions again and again, feeling the sensations that go with them, allowing yourself to physically and emotionally experience your own hard won competence.

- If you do not yet feel competent, visualize yourself taking steps to get there.

Here is a more detailed routine you can use to train yourself to keep doing what you need to do.

The big 3Breathe, Relax and Imagine

Breathe deeply

- Draw the air in through your nose, taking it in slowly and deeply to the bottom of your lungs while expanding your diaphragm to make room for it.

- Hold the air for a moment.

- Then slowly let allow it out of your lungs by drawing your diaphragm in, with you mouth slightly open and your tongue on the roof of your mouth, resting just behind your front teeth.

- Just observe your body while doing this, and, if thoughts come to you, let them go and focus on your breathing. The thoughts will subside as you continue to let them go. 

- The more you focus on your breath and body, the more quiet your mind will become. 

With practice, you can focus on your breathing without effort, even in the midst of other activities. With practice, you can achieve mental control at any moment in time. Once you build this habit, it will be available to you for as long as you continue practicing it. 

RELAX DEEPLY

Your practice of deep breathing will allow you to enter deep relaxation whenever you choose.

- Move to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted.

- Be sure you can maintain a comfortable state (no tight clothing, temperature not too hot or cold) before proceeding.

- Lie down your back with your feet apart and your hands slightly away from your body.

- Fix your eyes on point above you on the ceiling.

- Staying as still as you can, remembering how you learned to relaxing breaths, take 3 long, slow, deep breaths, inhaling each through your nose, holding it briefly before you exhale it through your slightly open mouth.

- As you gently let go of each of the 3 breaths, allow your eyelids to slowly close.

- For the next 10 breaths, imagine your eyelids getting heavier and heavier as your relaxation deepens. 

- Mentally repeat the word “deeper” to yourself each time you exhale, letting letting any thoughts and tensions that may arise dissolve with the breath as it leaves your body.

- Allow your self to go deeper into relaxation with each exhalation.

- Should your mind drift, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

- Continue breathing and repeating “deeper” slowly to yourself until you have finished these 10 deepening breaths.

- Next, focus your attention on relaxing the muscles of every part of your body.

- Start with you toes, and begin slowly moving up your body, as total relaxation takes over.

- Focus on relaxing each muscle in your body from your toes, to your calves, thighs, abs, chests, back, arms, shoulders, neck, face, head and scalp.

- As you visualize each muscle relaxing, allow yourself to feel a deep wave of relaxation flowing deeply into all your muscles, though your entire body. Allow yourself to go deeper into relaxation with each breath you take. 

- Don’t try to rush or force anything, just allow your muscles to become loose, and yourself to relax naturally as you drop into total relaxation. 

IMAGINE

Deep breathing and relaxation, when used in conjunction with mental imagery (see the Pele Principle, above), allows your wise inner or subconscious mind to help you get what you want. Show your mind through images and feelings what you seek to accomplish. As you feed you mind these movies of success, it will set out to help you accomplish your goals by keeping you motivated and focused. 

- As you allow yourself drift in a the state of deep relaxation for around twenty minutes, imagine watching a movie in which you are the main character.

- See yourself immersed in doing the work, taking the steps that will result in your achieving your goals. See yourself practicing what you need to learn to get there, making adjustments and improving your skills. Focus in detail on the process you must take to achieve outcome, not the outcome itself.

- Accept this image of yourself working towards your goals diligently, with focus and enthusiasm, as the truth. Show your deeper mind the images and feelings associated with what you want to achieve. 

After 20 minutes of this success conditioning, you can slowly bring yourself back to full awareness by letting your eyelids open, inhaling, and stretching. Then, imagine a staircase with 5 steps going up. See yourself slowly walking up each of the 5 steps; at each step becoming more awake, alert and refreshed. At the top step, imagine yourself ready to go on with your day.