Blog Posts

  • Developing the Ericksonian Mindset

    I had a nice time speaking with Courtney Armstrong about developing an “Ericksonian Mindset”. Courtney has many great ideas and products designed to assist therapists in finding the potential in their clients:

     

  • Present and accounted for

    As therapists we are taught to focus on our clients and be as present as possible to their needs. This one aspect of therapy is one of the most important things we can do to activate the potential in our clients.

    It has been shown many times that it is the relationship between the therapist and the client which aids in creating real change not simply theories or techniques. The best gift therapists can give to their clients is the gift of their presence. In our culture, which has become a constant stream of distractions, people are rarely aware of the importance of simply “being” with someone. By the simple act of connecting with another human being we can foster incredible transformational changes.

    But we have to be present in order to be present.

    It is not uncommon for us to drift off and focus on other things as our clients are speaking with us. We begin to wonder about things that do not pertain to the person who is courageous enough to share their life story with us. It doesn’t mean we are bad therapists, it just means we are not present. If we can catch ourselves drifting off and return to embrace even the most mundane parts of what our clients are telling us, we may find that our effectiveness expands.

     

    presence

    Recently I had a situation in which I learned first-hand how important being present was to assisting others heal. I had a client, who I will call “Tony”, who had come to see me for anxiety issues. He had been having panic attacks which kept him from performing at work and at home in ways he would have liked. He also suffered from a variety of health issues which caused him to dip into depression from time to time. We had done some good work together in his first few sessions and his panic attacks were gone and his attitude toward his health issues had improved. He was doing so well that I had even attempted to terminate the therapy. He declined to terminate and told me he felt he need to continue coming. Most of the time when I saw him, he mostly talked about his day to day life which I thought had little serious content to it. I would often find myself drifting off and slightly dreading his visits as I was getting bored with our interactions.

    One day he was talking and I found myself drifting off and focusing on things that I had to do later that evening. He pleasantly talked and shared many things about how he interacted with others in his work place. I began to watch the clock and ponder how soon I could end the session. Finally, it came the time to stop our session and I let Tony know that we had come to the end of our time.
    As I stood up to walk to the door, I noticed Tony’s eyes were a little moist with the beginning of tears. He looked at me and told me with a slight quiver in his voice, “Doc, I really appreciate our sessions so much. Since I lost my father and brother I just don’t have any other male I can talk to and be myself around. Being in here with you has really helped me in a lot of ways. I don’t know what I would have done without our talks.”

    I was shocked. I told him that I was honored to work with him and that it was all part of the job. Inside myself though, I felt horrified by my behavior of not being present in our sessions. I felt like I was a phony. I had not really been listening. I had thought that since Tony’s initial problem was mostly gone there was not much reason to stay as focused. I was ashamed by my lack of insight. I was just too busy in my own little world that I had, unknown to the client, cheated him out of my presence. I learned a lesson in that moment.

    From that point on, when Tony came to see me I worked very hard to focus on him and stay as present as possible as this is what he needed more than any technique or theory. He taught me a wonderful lesson without knowing it. The more I am present with my clients, the more I can help my clients. I have always known this idea but yet I had forgotten. It is good to be reminded.

  • BOOK REVIEW: The Therapeutic Aha!

    Lately it is rare that I get to read a good book on counseling that makes me sit up and say, “YES!” But this is exactly what happened when I read the latest book by Courtney Armstrong entitled, “The Therapeutic Aha!: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck” . Courtney has written a wonderful book which is easy to read and easy to implement in your practice.

     

    Therapeutic Aha

    The focus of the book is how our clients often need novel experiences within the therapy session to create a shift in their lives. While praising the effective treatments of Cognitive based therapies, Courtney also points out that many times clients may be already challenging their thinking but still need something else to create a change in how they interact with their world. The needed “something else” is a new experience. This book gives an easy to understand explanation of how the emotional/reactive brain works and fun, creative strategies on how to help it change. The case stories in the book are really interesting and the lessons they contain are worth re-reading.

     

    In essence, this is a book which will teach you how to help others heal from trauma while igniting (or re-igniting) your passion for being a therapist. I highly recommend it and I have personally told Courtney that I wish I had written it. I look forward to much more fantastic work from Courtney Armstrong.

  • A Letter From My Future Therapist Self

    Last night I was thinking about the journey of self-discovery I have been on as a therapist over the past few years. I have learned so much and am still learning every day. Truths that I once held dear have fallen away to be replaced by new ideas and concepts which often seem paradoxical. I wish I could have saved myself some trouble over these past few years by avoiding some silly mistakes. These mistakes were part of my journey and in the end I am grateful for them.

    Having said that, how different it would be if I were able to go back in time with the things I know now? It would be very different! I thought about what if I had the ability to save myself some trouble by writing a short letter to my younger therapist self. What would I say in the letter? I decided to write out my advice to my younger self and share it here.

    letter

     

    Dear Younger Paul,
    I hope you are doing well. I am writing to you in the hope that I can save you some time and trouble in your therapy work. I know you are doing the best you can right now so I hope that this information from your future self will be of benefit to you as a therapist.

    1. Stop trying to “fix” people.
    I know how much fun it can be to look like a wizard but you end up just giving clients a short term fix which does little for them in the long run. Seeking solutions to their problems only causes you to burn out and get frustrated when they end up showing you that they never really wanted to solve the problem to begin with. Allow people to be where they are and who they are in the moment. Even in really bad cases you need to remember that the person in front of you is a human being with an issue and not a problem to be fixed.

    2. Don’t worry so much about giving the client insight.
    I know it is a wonderful feeling to connect the dots of a person’s present behavior to his or her past history but it does little to change anything. Knowing why you do something is nice but changing that something is better. Digging deeply in the psychological dirt to get someone to change only gets you tired and dirty. When clients have access to resources they can change much easier than relentless searching for etiology. “Understanding” gets you little mileage outside the therapy room.

    3. Don’t feel the need to take credit
    Sometimes people change and it is due to your influence but yet they think they alone are the reason for the change. Let them believe this as it will help them heal more than you realize. They gain confidence from thinking they alone are responsible for the change. Confidence is one of the best resources to have. Put your ego’s need to be recognized for your skill to the side and congratulate them. Let them know how proud you are of them and thank them for coming to see you. It is about them not about you.

    4. The latest, greatest technique means little compared to a therapist who is genuine, empathic and caring
    Stop sweating having to learn every little new technique or idea which comes your way. I recommend checking them out but in the end it is really the relationship between the therapist and client which allows change to take place. Even if you have the best technique in the world, if the client doesn’t feel safe, trust and like you it is not going to work. Be who you are and accept your clients as humans who are worthy of love in spite of the crappy decisions they made. The rest will take care of itself.

    5. Work on yourself.
    Don’t think you have it all together. You are human and have your issues as well. Stop trying to preach and start working on yourself. Go get more therapy if you need it. The more you grow, the more you can help your clients. You are not as smart as you think you are when it comes to your own life. Shake up those well-worn patterns which have limited you in the past. Anything you do to help yourself will eventually help you become a better therapist.

    That is it for now, Paul. I hope you take these lessons to heart and see what can happen when you apply them. I will let you in on something that is going to happen in your future as a therapist: You are going to make a lot of mistakes and you also help a lot of people transform their lives. I have found that you can’t have one without the other. Funny world, isn’t it?

    Hang in there as I know you can do great work if you put your mind to it.

    Sincerely,
    Future Paul

    P.S. Don’t sweat that situation that is happening to you right now. It will all blow over and no one will care in a year or so.

    P.P.S. I would recommend saving more money than you are doing right now.

    P.P.P.S. I love you.

  • Three things I learned about therapy from studying Hoodoo Doctors

    I recently wrote a book about the magical and healing practices of the Coastal Southeastern United States called, “Low Country Shamanism”. My goal in writing the book was to give readers an overview of the practices of the art of hoodoo/conjure as practiced in the low country areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. I researched the shamanic practices of the traditional “root doctors” and offered personal narratives from modern day authentic hoodoo/conjure practitioners and those influenced by the art. I enjoyed learning about these indigenous practices and got to meet some really interesting people.

     

    low country

    From this work I also gained insight into how to structure a good therapy session for my psychotherapy clients. Now before you think that I am going to bring out voodoo dolls and magical potions, let me assure you that these aspects of a hoodoo healing are quite practical. By adopting these ideas into your session I think you will find that you are more effective and creative.

     

    1. The Hoodoo Doctor already assumes from the beginning that you will be healed.
    The ability to project absolute confidence to your client is so important. If your client does not feel you have confidence in your ability to help them then they may feel they are unable to change. No matter what the client brings to us we need to project confidence in our abilities as therapists. Even if we do not know if we can assist them, a big part of healing is the “acting as if” we can assist the client. We are not making wild claims or offering 100 percent guarantees that clients will be healed but we are giving them hope by not giving up before we get started. People go to therapists and hoodoo doctors for hope as they have usually done everything they know how to change.

     

    2. The Hoodoo Doctor will often insist on odd rituals to aid in the healing process.
    Rituals can be a very powerful way to create change in therapy. If nothing else, it causes a shift in the patterns in which the client has been consistently using. Once this shift happens the client can see that he or she has more resources in how to respond to situations the previously thought. For example, a hoodoo doctor may ask someone who feeling depressed to carry as special amulet designed by the hoodoo doctor and walk around his or her house 15 times a night at a specific time chanting, “Spirits help move me to healing”. This simple act may be enough to alter the person’s pattern of staying inside and ruminating on all the problems in his or her life. This small change could bring about larger changes. We as therapists also can create new rituals and patterns for our clients to use for surprising results.

     

    3. The Hoodoo Doctor is involved in the healing as much as the person seeking help.
    Once the person approaches the hoodoo doctor for help, then the hoodoo doctor is an integral part of the whole healing process. They don’t do healing, they ARE healing. The hoodoo doctor is as much a part of the process as the person seeking help in that anything the hoodoo doctor does will have an effect on the person suffering. This is second order cybernetics in which the observation of the healer influences what he or she sees as the process of healing is influenced by the realities of all parties involved. If we, as therapists, recognize that we are not observers of our clients’ therapy process but are active participants in the process, what remarkable changes can we create when we begin to change ourselves? Instead of expecting therapy to move as a set model of interaction we can create marvelous new interactions that are not limited to academic theories. If the hoodoo doctor begins a spontaneous ritual to heal his or her client, this ritual will be new and unique to the client. The act of someone doing something can create change in surprising ways. Don’t wait for a set time to do a set technique. Become alive and create!

     

    Now go do that hoodoo that you do so well…..