Category: Therapy

Why Do Farmers Never Name Their Cows?

I was working with a 6 year old client who was raising a calf for The Chelsea Fair. With the help of his dad, they would feed it and take care of its general needs until fair time. When the fair arrived they would take it there, show it, and hopefully get a blue ribbon. Then, various businesses or individuals would bid on the livestock. The child would get a considerable amount of money that usually is saved towards college or some other future need or want. What I learned from the dad, which probably most farmers know, is that you do not name the livestock. By naming the calf, you set the child up for becoming attached more easily to the animal. This will cause problems later on when it is time to sell their cow. The scientific term is Anthropomorphism, or “ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things.” This is why we name our pets such as dogs or cats. In our household we recently set up a fish tank and my daughter immediately named the koi fish “Carl.”
Humanizing pets or objects is a way to form an attachment to them. In psychological terms an object is something which a person can relate to. There is a whole subset of psycho-dynamic theory aptly named, “Object relations theory.”

Object relations theory differs from Freudian theory in three important ways: (1) it places more emphasis on interpersonal relationships, (2) it stresses the infant’s relationship with the mother rather than the father, and (3) it suggests that people are motivated primarily for human contact rather than for sexual …

-Sonoma State University

In the military, they use the opposite approach. They attach derogatory or dehumanizing names to the enemy in order to help soldiers be able to kill them. Occasionally when I have spoken to police officers they tend to call criminals, “Bad Guys or Knuckleheads.”

So you may be asking, “What does this have to do with my mental and emotional well-being?” When we feel rejected, abandoned, hurt, or abused by an individual who we have an attachment to, or desperately seek their love and/or approval despite rejected or in some way demeaned, it is easier on our psyche to dehumanize them versus feel the rejection from them. The sad part of this defense is we rarely are able to dehumanize someone with whom we have an intimate attachment to. Unable to do this causes us to continue to seek or crave their approval when it may never happen. This leaves us stuck in a chronic state of abandonment. I see this a lot in high conflict divorces. While the couple may state they are detached, actually their attachment turns to anger. In these scenarios, the anger boils over into rage. If children are involved they usually take the brunt of this by being put into the middle or encouraged to alienate from the other parent.
So the question is how do you detach from a relationship without it affecting you in a negative way? There is no specific or easy answer to this question. If it was a deep attachment then the first step is to grieve the loss. This is not showing weakness, but acknowledging that the person had touched your life in some way. Hopefully in a positive way. If it was abusive then you grieve the loss of a dream and move from being a victim to being a survivor.

The next step usually take time. Many confuse the opposite of love as hate. In fact, it is indifference. The state of mind and being in which the other person has minimal meaning in your life. Indifference is another way of saying detachment. You can care about the person, but they no longer hold power over your emotional state. Some try to do this the military way by dehumanizing them, but this rarely works.

There are relationships that we do not want to lose the attachment to. The death of a loving parent is a good example. While we have to grieve the loss and not stay stuck in a chronic state of depression (Toxic grief). We can still honor the memory through various ways. This can be comforting and healing. By honoring the memory of a loved one, we allow ourselves to accept the loss even through the pain. Obviously this is a simplistic answer to a complex and prolonged event.
There are many ways to honor the memory of a loved one. Rituals, markers in a graveyard, celebrations of their life. A year after my brother passed, his daughter held a small gathering and then floated paper balloons into the sky. The candles attached to the paper balloon ascended up to the heavens. It was a simple gesture yet very moving.

If you lost a loved one, don’t forget them. If they were abusive, survive and thrive. If the relationship was contentious, let your anger dissolve and if possible forgive them. Not for their sake, but for your well-being. But, if you own a cow and you want to take it to market, don’t name it.

Expressive Writing Is Good for Your Mental Health

We know that writing with a pen and paper is good for your brain. But it’s also good for your heart and soul. Researchers have found that people who practice expressive writing — that is, writing to help make sense of your thoughts and emotions — can experience mental and emotional benefits, including a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression and greater clarity and focus. They may even experience physical benefits. What better reasons to put pen to paper?

If you’ve been paying attention to paper trends, you already know that handwriting and journaling have made a huge comeback in recent years. Daily journaling can be calming and peaceful at the end of a busy day or in the midst of an emotionally difficult time.

“Especially with social media, a lot of people are recognizing that being digitally connected is eating up a lot of time and energy,” says Tammy Tufty, Domtar’s communications manager for paper advocacy. “They’re seeing that maybe we should go back to journaling, reading more books and just being more present.”

Why Is Journaling Good for the Soul?

James W. Pennebaker has a Ph.D. in psychology and is Regents Centennial professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His groundbreaking research on the topic of expressive writing showed that journaling not only improves our sense of mental wellbeing but also triggers actual physical benefits, such as improved immune function and faster healing.

While Pennebaker and his colleagues are focused on the scientific evidence of the benefits of writing, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that the act of journaling helps people better understand their emotions.

“Writing has a healing effect, like a nice massage,” wrote a blogger for ADDitude, a magazine and website that focuses on ADHD. “It is comforting, like a cup of tea or a warm fireplace on a chilly night. … Journaling helps me make sense of happy and sad moments.”

Journaling can also help people with ADHD solve problems more efficiently: “Typically, we problem-solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. Sometimes the better answer is found by engaging the intuition that comes from the right brain. Writing unlocks this side of the brain and brings an opportunity for unexpected solutions.”

The benefits aren’t limited to writing full sentences, either. Doodling on paper can also provide a sense of calm and help improve concentration.

“I’ve seen it with my own kids and with other professionals,” Tufty says. “While they’re doodling or drawing, it seems like they’re not paying attention, but actually they are because that activity is helping them stay focused.”

Begin Your Expressive Writing Journey

Whether you’re actively working through some emotional trauma or you just enjoy the calming effect of expressive writing or doodling, it’s clear that putting pen to paper is a great way to improve your mood.

Start your journaling journey by choosing your pen and paper. You don’t need anything fancy, but you should choose tools that make it easy and enjoyable to sit down to write. Maybe it’s a gel pen that writes smoothly in a color you love, or perhaps it’s a leather-bound journal that makes you smile when you touch the cover.

You might even choose a new journal with a cover design that uses Pantone’s color of the year: Classic Blue. “Blue is a really calm color,” Tufty says. “I find it interesting that Pantone chose it in a year where everything seems so unsettled. But it could be really helpful to choose a journal design with a calming color that inspires creativity and encourages you to connect the pen to paper for journaling.”

Pennebaker, whose work on expressive writing and healing continues to influence psychologists, counselors and other mental health professionals, offers some practical advice for expressive writing.

Find a time and a place where you won’t be disturbed. Pennebaker suggests picking time at the end of your workday or before you go to bed, but really any time of day can work as long as you can write without interruption.

Commit to writing for at least 15 minutes every day.

Once you begin, write without stopping to correct spelling or grammar. If you run out of things to write before your time is up, you can repeat what you’ve already written.

What you write and how you write it is completely up to you. There are no rules.

When you have finished your expressive writing, you can save it, burn it, erase it, tear it up or shred it. Since your writing is for you and you alone, you can decide what to do with it.

SOURCE: CSRWire Submitted by: Domtar

Harmony, Balance and Walking Your Dog

I have a border collie named Lucky. He insists on getting my full attention. He will whine, push his head under my hand as I lay on the couch, smile at me or use is puppy dog eyes to elicit sympathy. Oh, he gets a lot of attention. But I guess if you were to ask him he would surely say “it’s not enough.” To be honest, he really does not ask for much. Good dog food and occasional human food. A soft bed or couch to lay on. Lots of hugs and petting. And he loves to go out on adventures. How does he pay for this? Well, He does let us know when someone is at the front door. He listens. He gives unconditional love. He models how to be calm and be in harmony with his world. It is so easy for him. As long as a family member is with him, he is happy.

A friend of mine had a health scare about a year ago. He has taken up hiking in the woods with an almost obsessive passion. He had to retire from his business due to his health condition. At first, this was very difficult for him as he felt a loss of purpose in life. Hiking the trails around his home has brought back a sense of accomplishment and vitality to his life. Not to mention it helped him to drop 70 plus pounds. About two months ago he was down in South Carolina. He just took off by himself to try a section to the Appalachian Trail. He texted me a picture when he reached the top of a small mountain. I called him when I received the picture. I heard in his voice something that I had lost. Pure joy and reverence for the beauty that surrounds us if we just go looking for it. Later on, he talked me into training to hike a five-day section of the Appalachian Trail in late summer or early fall. So we meet about once per week to hike together (he kicks my butt right now). On other days I go out alone on the trails that surround my home or are close by. I am blessed in living near two state recreation areas that have a good trail system. Some days, when I can have Lucky off his leash, I take him with me. As with any exercise regimen, the first fifteen to twenty minutes are the most difficult. My mind goes through this ritual of identifying every ache and pain, questioning why I am doing this at my age. And how comfortable cozy my couch is. Once I finish this mind ritual I get into the rhythm of the trail and the harmony of the forest. I have noticed that Lucky does not suffer from the agonies of the mind. He goes right into harmony mode. He will smell every smell, see every tree, hear every bird or squirrel, and of course let all the other animals know he has been there by marking his passing. How does one bladder hold so much pee is beyond me?

I am blessed in living near two state recreation areas that have a good trail system.

Many years ago I saw a book titled Chop Wood, Carry Water. I never read the book but I always remember that title. For me, it tells how to find joy in simple activities. I found this to be true when I scrape paint off of wood. Most find this work tedious. I found it calming. I loved to be outside up on a ladder leaning against the side of my century-old house, scraping the multiple layers of paint off of the old wood. With music playing or just the rustle of leaves dancing to the rhythm of the breeze, the sun peeking through the shadows onto the surface of the wood. I found peace. I found simple joy.

Making an effort to do the simple things in life can bring a sense of harmony and peace when you are feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed out. It is easy to make excuses to not go outside, meet up with close friends, scrape and paint wood, or go for a walk with your dog. But then you miss out on simple joy, harmony, and the balance of a life well-lived.

Michael Patterson LMSW

What is Reality Therapy?

When I did my graduate work to become a psychotherapist I was introduced and trained in three theories of treatment.

1. Psychodynamic.
2. Family systems.
3. Cognitive Behavioral.

However, my undergrad major was social work. The basic tenets of social work do not rely on the above psychological beliefs. The beginnings of social work can be traced back to Jane Adams (September 6, 1860 – May 28, 1935) and her work in Chicago with immigrants and families who were impoverished. The basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, hygiene were paramount to survival. In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote the paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In this paper, he proposed that humans have a “Hierarchy of Needs” starting with the basic needs mentioned above. This was further defined in his book, “Motivation and Personality.” Once these needs are met, individuals can go to the next level, which according to Maslow is Safety, then Social, Self Esteem, and Self Actualization. At any point in a person’s life, they may have to descend the hierarchy to reclaim the original needs. For example, the loss of a job puts in jeopardy the ability to obtain basic necessities. This doesn’t mean that an individual regresses in their personal growth, but their priorities change. Another example is when

you lose a close friendship or have to move and lose the community you had developed for your social needs.
William Glasser, MD defines Reality Therapy as, “…A therapeutic approach that focuses on problem-solving and making better choices in order to achieve specific goals. …Reality therapy is focused on the here and now rather than the past.” ( Reality Therapy-borrowing from Maslow’s hierarchy-uses problem solving to help the client address the specific blocks that are hindering their ability to resolve the current dilemma they are facing.
In my practice, I blend the different psychological approaches to address the difficulties my clients are facing. Reality therapy techniques are used when an obvious solution is visible or a client is stuck in faulty or fantasy beliefs. An example of the use of reality therapy is in the couple’s work I do. On rare occasions, I will have a partner who is emotionally abusive or controlling their partner. Many times, the may not recognize how they are abusive. Directly addressing the abusive behavior is essential in these cases in order to save the relationship.

There are two basic tenets of Psychotherapy. The first one is the Hippocratic Oath which is summed up in the phrase, “Do no harm.” The second tent is, “Meet the client where they are at.” When a client seeks counseling they are at various stages in their life. From developmental to psychological, to specific circumstances. Understanding and having empathy for a client is paramount to developing a therapeutic “healing” relationship. In the initial stages of therapy, it is usually not effective to be using reality therapy until trust has formed. For some, their ego or sense of self is not stable sufficiently to use problem-solving skills as it may overwhelm them. An example is when someone has recently lost a loved one. Problem-solving is not effective during the initial stages of grief. Developing a safe, nurturing environment during the sessions allows a client to gradually address concreate problems. However, in an urgent or crisis period, the client must change, avoid, or remedy specific dilemmas or their emotional or physical health may be threatened if not injured.

Reality therapy can be as simple as gently pointing out how a person communicates to others may be considered inappropriate. Or, it may be as complex that it needs to be addressed in specific concrete steps laid out in a logical order to achieve the desired outcome.
The most effective way to use the techniques of reality therapy is with compassion, empathy, and timing so that it can be heard and utilized by the client. Unfortunately, there are times when I have had to be blunt with a client because their actions are hurting the physical or emotional wellbeing of others around them. Or their actions are seriously hurting themselves. This is the most difficult time for a client. And once the intervention is completed, a return to empathy and compassion can negate the sharp edge of reality.

Throughout my training, I was told that I must not induce my opinions or emotions into the session. This is sound advice for 95% of all therapeutic issues. However, when I see a client drinking themselves to death, or their hostile actions are hurting those around them, it is my belief that it would be unethical to not confront it with the force directly needed to alter the actions of the client. This is the hardest part of the job. I have seen many a therapist avoid and thus collude with the negative behaviors. An example of this is when a husband berates or belittles their spouse in the session and the therapist sits back without intervening.
In short, reality therapy is a technique that is used when appropriate for the clinical situation. It needs to be delivered if at all possible with caring compassion. Timing is critical. It does not replace the use of other therapeutic modalities but rather blends in with them to enhance the effectiveness of the client’s work.