Religion in Therapy

I had a conversation with my father the other day where he asked me about alternatives to therapy for those who would prefer a more religious route. This question confused me, as I don’t believe that religion and therapy are mutually exclusive, any more than I believe that one is necessary for the other.

As a former practicing Catholic, I understand the desire to engage in a faith-based approach to healing; faith is often what keeps a person grounded and gives them hope for better things and that they serve a great purpose and/or entity. Many therapists practice faith-based therapy, and intertwine their personal religious beliefs into their work with clients. Many clients seek out therapists whose religious beliefs and/or practice coincide with their own. When the clinician and the client are on the same page, it works. When they are not, it doesn’t go so well.

I have had many clients over the years tell me that they’ve had therapists in the past who have tried to push a religious approach when it was not welcome. My stance as a therapist when it comes to things like this is based in the teaching of Carl Rogers. He said that there are three attributes needed to form a healthy therapeutic alliance. The first is congruence, which necessitates that the therapist be authentic with their clients by letting them see that although they are an expert in their field, they are human and have struggled, too. This facilitates the second, which is accurate empathy, or the ability to sense and understand the client’s world and their experiences in it, while refraining from judgement. That lack of judgment leads to the third principle, which is unconditional positive regard. It is not the therapist’s job to approve or disapprove of the client or their choices, and by expressing unconditional positive regard, the therapist expresses a complete lack of judgement and creates an environment of acceptance.

In my experience, those who advocate religion to others sometimes do so because they feel that religion will provide some moral compass that they believe the other person lacks, which is based in judgment. That’s not the only reason, but even when that’s not the intention, it is often the received message. But that’s not our role as therapists. If you are not interested in faith-based therapy, most therapists (whether they specialize in faith-based counseling or not) will do one of two things: proceed with the type of therapy best suited to your needs or refer you to someone who can. Same goes if you’re looking for faith-based therapy.

My personal practice in regards to religion in therapy is this: I don’t bring up religion until my client does. I don’t advocate my personal views to the client. If they express that they believe something particular, I ask about it. If it is a religion I’m unfamiliar with, I learn about it. Even if it is one I feel well-versed in, I do my best to learn from my client what their beliefs are and work within those. Often, religion never comes up at all. And although I personally do not currently ascribe to any particular religion, I govern my life and my practice by this simple rule: let he among us without sin be the first to condemn.

David and Goliath

Like most of you I, was devastated after the results of the election because it felt as though the majority of the country voted to spread hatred. I felt angry and stifled because as a member of many minority communities it felt like I was being forced to assume the role of underdog; a role that is assumed to be less than.  As I was thinking about the plight of the underdog, I remembered this quote from one of my favorite authors:

“Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty…we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might oth­erwise have seemed unthinkable.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book all about the role of the underdog called David and Goliath. In the book he examines what happens when normal people challenge influential opponents, including mighty warri­ors, armies, misfortune, oppression, and disability. Through many stories Gladwell presents the idea that much of what we believe to be valuable during these great battles is insignificant because “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” Gladwell illustrates this by challenging the role David plays in the story of David and Goliath.

For those who are not familiar, the story of David and Goliath is a biblical story of a gigantic and mighty warrior being defeated by a young shepherd boy.

Gladwell challenges this idea by explaining that though David was no match for Goliath in traditional hand to hand combat; he was able to succeed because he knew when to employ the talents and skills he had learned guarding his sheep.

As we face an uncertain future, it is more important than ever that we understand our natural gifts and strengths and spend time nurturing those skills. We must also remember our strengths as a community have always included our sense of unity through diversity, individual intelligence, creativity, courage, movement, endurance, our ability to unite, share hope and our determination to continue to try harder. As with all minorities in this society, we have been strengthened by decades of strife and are better and more capable because of it.

 

 

Common Mistakes Couples Make

As human beings, we engage in patterns. No two humans’ patterns are exactly alike, but there is a great deal of overlap and many similarities to be found, particularly in relationships. What I’ve found through much of my couples’ work is that often we perpetuate patterns that are more hurtful to our relationships than they are helpful, and many of those hurtful patterns are not exclusive to any one couple. Here are some common mistakes I see couples make, along with some helpful tips:

  1. You think the goal is to win. I hate to break it to you, but you don’t get to win anymore. I tell couples that all the time: if you’re “winning” that means the person you love the most is “losing.” How exactly is that productive? I like to use my co-worker Danny Adam’s analogy for this: you’re not on opposing teams, you’re on the same team. You may have two different strategies for how to win the game, but you’re trying to win TOGETHER from the same side.
  2. You aren’t touching each other enough. If you’re having constant or reoccurring conflict, I guarantee you’re not touching each other anywhere near as much as you should. Touch is something that we need as infants and children in order to feel soothed and safe; that doesn’t go away in adulthood. We need the touch of those we love to feel connected, and touch facilitates the production of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Hold hands more, kiss more, hug more, sit closer together on the couch, cuddle before you fall asleep. The conflict won’t necessarily go away, but it’s a lot harder to be mean to someone by whom you feel soothed.
  3. You think your perception is the ONLY perception. Have you ever had the experience with your partner where you feel like you each remember something that happened completely differently? That’s because it you experienced it differently. Each partner filters the things that happen during a disagreement through different emotions, body sensations, timing, etc. Of course your recollections won’t be the same. But don’t get caught up in the details. It isn’t important if you were 15 minutes late or 30, or if it happened two weeks ago or three. Each person has their own version of events, and both are valid because they remember that event through their own filters. Focus on the solution, don’t get caught up in the minor details of the problem.
  4. You think your partner hates/doesn’t want you because they say mean things during conflict. Sometimes, we hurt those we love to see if the hurtful things that we say and do will actually cause damage, because if those things do cause damage, that means the other person still wants and loves us and that is somehow reassuring. Human beings aren’t perfect by any means; put us in a relationship, and we’re that much more likely to be seriously flawed. Of course the mean things we say to each other hurt, they’re usually meant to. Trying to see your partner as hurt and scared rather than hateful can change the way you respond to one another.

Fear- the ultimate superpower

When I was eight, I earned the privilege of watching a movie alone in my room; I chose Ernest Scared Stupid. The beginning of the movie was filled with the funny, silly humor I loved the Ernest franchise for.  However, by the middle of the movie, things had taken a turn for the worst; the trolls were winning and Ernest’s sidekick had been turned into a small wood figurine. Worst yet, Ernest had no idea how to fix it. I was hiding under my blankets completely terrified with my heart pounding and unable to catch my breath. As the movie continued, it felt like it was taking hours for Ernest to figure out how to stop the trolls, though I knew it couldn’t have taken that long because my mom never would have let me stay up past 9pm. Eventually, Ernest saved the day and turned his friend back into a real human, which meant all was right in the world. That was until I got out of bed to use the bathroom and remembered I had a collection of 20-30 troll dolls, which thanks to the movie, I was now afraid would come to life and try to turn me into a wooden figurine.  This was the first time in my life that I realized that something seemingly normal could turn into something scary.  Since the Pulse massacre, many people have experienced this feeling; atmospheres where they once found solace, now elicit feelings of worry and fear, such as, going out with friends. Many of my client’s tell me that they feel like “fear is winning.”

 

So what is fear?

 

Fear is also the most crippling of emotions because it is seated in our natural instinct to protect ourselves and those we care about from perceived harm. Generally speaking, our fears fall into two categories: Innate fears and learned fears.  Innate fears are fears we are born with, primarily the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.  Learned fears are fears which are usually developed at a young age and are often influenced by our environment and culture. Most fears fall into the category of learned fears, for example, evil enchanted troll dolls.

 

I am a Whovian, which means that I am a fan of the BBC TV show Doctor Who. There are many reasons I love the show, but one of the main reasons is that the hero is a humanoid alien, who above all else, believes that that the human race is intrinsically good. Because of that belief he often questions beliefs about human nature, which provided the best description of fear I have ever come across:

 

“Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you could fight harder. You could jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower. It’s your superpower. There is danger in this room and guess what? It’s you. Do you feel it?”

 

For me, this description of fear serves as a reminder that in the moments, when we feel most weak or vulnerable, we are also strong because we are accessing the greatness within ourselves. Fear is not our adversary; it is simply, one of the means by which we activate our superpowers. Thinking about fear in terms of it’s function helps us to feel less out of control of our bodies and our minds. I wish I could go back in time and explain this to my 8 year old self, because it would have eliminated the thought that I was broken because something I loved had literally become the thing nightmares are made of. Lucky for me, this particular fear was short-lived and approximately a month later, I was back in troll heaven.

Are You a Candidate for Hair Removal?

I’m so excited to be writing my first blog entry about my profession. For those of you who know me, you know this is something I’m truly passionate about. I love helping people feel better about themselves! For those who don’t, let me tell you a little about myself and why I am passionate about what I do. I am a single mom of 4 amazing sons. One is married and lives in Winter Springs and the other 3 live with me. I haven’t always had a lot of confidence. I have rosacea and have always been extremely self-conscious about my skin. To top it off, I have extremely sensitive skin. We live in such an appearance-driven society, that anything different or out of the ordinary can make you feel like you just don’t belong. I knew I wanted to get into the medical field and choosing a profession where I’m helping people feel better about themselves just seemed like a natural fit for me.

The lasers of today sure have come a long way. You no longer have to have pale skin and dark hair to have a successful laser treatment. Lasers are attracted to melanin, which is contained in all brown and black hair. We can treat all skin colors and ethnicities successfully and safely. For those who have red, blonde, grey or white hair, laser won’t work because those colors don’t contain melanin. There is another option, however. Electrolysis has been around for a long, long time and is what we use to remove hair that the laser cannot. It is needle guided hair removal and is another safe and very effective method of getting rid of unwanted hair.

I always tell my clients to avoid sun exposure one week before and one week after laser treatments because it can cause adverse side effects. There are certain medications which should be avoided when taken in conjunction with laser, so always check with your practitioner before beginning treatments. We will review and go over your medical history before beginning to make sure we discuss any medications which could pose a potential problem.

Whether you’re tired of dealing with unwanted hair or have skin complications from shaving or waxing, you DO have options to help you. I would love to talk to you and help you begin your journey to being hair free!

As A Girl Who Has Always Struggled

As a girl who has always struggled with her own self-esteem issues, this topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. We all have something (or many things) that we are insecure about. Some are easier to deal with or hide than others. One question I get asked often is, “What made you choose to pursue this career?” It’s simple, I love, love, love helping others feel their very best. We can look at someone and see this beautiful person, but if they don’t feel it, then it means nothing of what we think about them. We live in a world where we are judged harshly by what we look like on the outside. Too often, people don’t get a fair shot because assumptions are made by the outward appearance. So what are we to do? Well, there are certain things we cannot control, like height, the size of our hands and feet, etc… But there are plenty of things we can fix. I have so many clients who come to me because they are so self-conscious about the unwanted hair on their faces or bodies. I always tell them, “NO. You are not stuck with that hair and YES I can help you.”

I once had a client who had just moved here from Russia. She had a lot of facial and body hair and was far from happy about it. She brought her husband so he could translate for her. After the initial consultation, she left hopeful that I could help her tackle a lifelong problem that she had been struggling with. When she came in for her second treatment, no translation was needed. The smile on her face told me everything. She walked a little lighter, stood a little taller and had a confidence that she didn’t previously have. It was so heartwarming to see her transformation. When she was finished with her treatments, you would have thought she was a totally different person than the one who first started with me.

I see it every day, but it never ceases to amaze me how much removing hair can affect a person’s self-esteem. Those who don’t struggle with this issue cannot begin to understand the magnitude of what it does to you, and how good you feel about yourself when you have hair removal treatments.

Whether you’re a woman in menopause, a transgender woman, a teenager who is tired of being teased because they’re “too hairy,”or anyone else who doesn’t want to shave anymore…I can help you get to a place where you like what you see in the mirror. Call me to schedule a consultation.

 

Laser Hair Removal or Electrolysis…which one is right for you?

I have so many clients who come to me saying, “Well I’m not fair skinned with dark hair, so I guess laser just won’t work for me.” Wrong! While the lasers of yesteryear may have been designed to only treat fair skin, the ones of today have come a long, long way. We can successfully (and safely) treat all skin types from 1 (the whitest white) to 6 (the darkest). The only prerequisite to doing laser is that your hair color be brown or black. The laser is attracted to the melanin in the hair, which is contained in brown and black hair. That does not mean if you do not have dark hair, you are stuck sporting that unwanted hair you so desperately want to get rid of. This is where electrolysis comes into the picture. Although it is a longer process because it is a different method of hair removal, electrolysis is extremely effective in destroying it. What about the people who have both light and dark hair? They’re the ones who utilize both methods. We usually start with laser because it destroys 45-60 hairs each time it’s fired, so it’s a very quick process. We then either do laser and electrolysis in tandem, or we finish laser and then begin electrolysis.

Laser destroys the course hairs first and since the finer and thinner hairs are harder to eliminate, electrolysis is sometimes needed to finish clearing an area. They’re both very effective methods of hair removal and work very well together to eliminate unwanted hair.

I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me and said “Oh laser doesn’t work for me. I’ve already tried it and had little/no results.” I always tell them that not all lasers are created equal. I have worked with plenty of lasers that I was not satisfied myself with the results. I can honestly say that our laser has given me the best results out of all the lasers I have used. This is one of the reasons I often offer a spot test during consultations. I love being able to show people that they can get the results they desire. As someone who used to have to shave just about every day, I cannot tell you how nice it is to not have to waste time each morning dealing with that. When I recently had a house guest, she said “do you have a razor I can borrow?” and I actually had to search for one. That’s not a bad problem to have!

I would love to discuss your options with you and how I can help you on your journey to becoming hair free. Call me for a consultation and we can discuss which method is right for you to get you on your way to being hair free!

One of the Main Questions I Get Asked During Consultations

One of the main questions I get asked during consultations is, “Is hair removal permanent?” That’s not a cut and dry answer and there are many factors involved. Women have 3 times in our lives in which we grow hair; puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Remember when our moms told us, “Don’t shave because you’ll make the hair grow”? Well, that’s a fallacy because hair was going to grow regardless of whether we shaved or not. Shaving does not affect what happens at the root of the hair. It just makes it more blunt; therefore, feel more stubbly.

Our hormones were out of whack because so many changes were happening in our bodies, and hair growth was just one of the most obvious ones. With pregnancy, many women grow hair on their face and abdomen that they didn’t previously have. And the dreaded word of menopause not only brings on hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings, but also hair on the face that was never a problem. The last thing any woman wants on her face is hair.

Before beginning hair removal treatments, I always advise my clients to speak to their physicians to make sure their hormones are in check. We can begin treatments at any time, but if your hormones are out of whack, then it’s like shoveling the sidewalk in the middle of a snowstorm. In other words, the root cause of the hair growth needs to be addressed in order to get the best possible result. I’ve done treatments on clients with PCOS and thyroid imbalances and although they’ve gotten good results, optimal results cannot be achieved if what’s causing the unwanted growth is not taken care of first. With transgender women who begin HRT, the success rates of their treatments increase tenfold. The testosterone that is causing the unwanted hair is blocked, and therefore they are able to achieve the desired results of being hair free.

Once hormonal imbalances are corrected, then either electrolysis or laser, or both, have the best possible chance of achieving the optimal results. About 2 years ago, I had a client who came to me with PCOS and had grown a beard as a result. Once she got her hormones in check, she began her laser treatments. After about 6 months, she had very little hair left. What was left was light colored, fine and thin so we used electrolysis to complete the clearing of the area. Now, she is hair free and feels better than ever. She was not only balanced on the inside, but her appearance now reflects that as well. There’s nothing better than seeing people looking and feeling their best!

Polyamory 101

If you would have told me when I was in graduate school that I was going to wind up working with polyamorous relationships as a specialty, I would have laughed in disbelief. I didn’t know much about polyamory back then, or even until the last year or two. They don’t exactly teach you in graduate school how to work with polyamory. I learned how to work with these clients in two ways: the first was trial by fire. They showed up on my couch and needed help. I don’t turn anyone away simply because their relationship structure differs from the societally programmed structure to which I was taught to apply my graduate school knowledge. For the most part, the same rules, tools, and theories apply. When they don’t, that’s when the second way of learning comes in: I let my clients teach me. They gave me books to read, websites to peruse, articles to research, etc. They were more than willing to answer my questions. They appreciated having a therapist who was not judgmental about their lifestyle, willing to admit that she didn’t know much about it, but eager to learn and ask questions in order to better help them.

Polyamory is defined as the “non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously” (Franklin Veaux).  For those of us who have only ever really been exposed to monogamy, this can sound foreign, complicated and exotic. And it is certainly not for the faint of heart. Polyamory is based in the idea of compersion, which is defined as “the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves, especially taking joy in the knowledge that your beloveds are expressing their love for one another” (Franklin Veaux). As a couples’ counselor, I see it like this: in order to achieve true compersion, you have to be capable of a level of emotional maturity that many human beings have never achieved. I wouldn’t call that a fault; I would call it a preference. Franklin Veaux, co-author of “More than Two” and a well-known polyamory expert says that “Polyamory doesn’t mean an inability to commit. We are often taught to view commitment through the lens of sexual exclusivity, but a more nuanced view of commitment to building lasting relationships that meet the needs of the people involved. If those needs don’t include monogamy, then commitment doesn’t have to be tied to exclusivity.” In order to do this, one has to let go of possessiveness, ownership, and for the most part jealousy. There can be no double standards, honesty is key, and transparency is a must. Some experts would say rules and boundaries are absolutely necessary, others would say not at all. I say each relationship is different, and you have to decide what’s right for you and your partner, often through trial and error. Seeking counseling to help you navigate that path is never a bad idea; I’ve helped several couples who decided to give polyamory a try and needed help figuring out what that looked like for them, and it’s never the same for any two couples. There is no shame in exploring something new, as long as it is mutually consensual and it enhances your relationship.

How to Grieve Correctly

Trauma and loss collided for many in the community as this episode of mass violence unleashing a wave of public emotions ranging from common emotions like anger and sadness; to feelings of numbness, which are often associated with shock and trauma. In the weeks that have followed the Pulse massacre, we have been continually reminded of the fragility of life and as a community, have entered into a collective process of grief.

Collective grief or mass grief is distinct because it stems from a shared circumstance, yet, the experience is completely unique and individualized for each person. As we learned of the 49 innocent lives taken from our community, the process of public mourning began. It quickly began taking the form of 24-hour TV coverage, blood donation lines that wrapped around blocks, the candlelight vigils, the public memorial services, the placement of rainbow flags throughout the community, monetary donations and hashtags spread through social media; all which fostered social connection among people who vitally needed it and helped move the community towards healing.

During collective grief process we experience the emotional and physical symptoms of grief without necessarily having shared a close personal relationship with the deceased. Regardless of our level of connection to the deceased, we are commanded by our hearts and the physical manifestations of grief to remain present and experience the pain associated with the loss in our community.  This process is further complicated because our natural human instinct to empathize and reach for connection also makes us hyperaware of our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. This hyperawareness, coupled with the violence surrounding the events of the pulse massacre and the news of other recent acts of violence has evoked a secondary traumatic response for many.

In the weeks since Pulse, I have heard many people expressing their struggle with the idea that that they are not in the right place in their grief process, questioning; what grief is, how they should go about grieving and frequently asking themselves, “Am I grieving correctly?” Then one day, I was reading through my social media feeds and came across a quote from Patton Oswalt, which I believe perfectly described the confusion, longing and loss experienced early in the grief process:

“102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel ‘wiser.’ You will not have ‘closure.’ You will not have ‘perspective’ or ‘resilience’ or ‘a new sense of self.’ You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe.”

I think it is important for us to accept that grief is a very individualized and personal experience, which happens gradually and should not be hurried. In the wake of Pulse, we must have grace and accept that in order to heal we must be present in our emotions and be patient and kind with ourselves and each other.