Empowered Transwoman Summit A.M.A.

As part of my talk for the Empowered Transwoman Summit, I’m offering an AMA to answer questions about how somatic work is an important source of support for the trans community.

Please note that while I am a licensed psychotherapist, my “Ask Me Anything” forums are not therapy, but are intended for your education and enjoyment. You can view this AMA on Reddit.

Come on over and ask away!

“Atypical”

I believe that this is a hugely important show. Whenever a population is under-represented in popular culture, the stakes are really high for how their characters are portrayed. So while Sam can only be one representation of someone on the spectrum, I think the show does a very good job at making one extremely important point: autism brings with it many gifts, and they should absolutely be understood and honored.

I think it was a great writing move to give us a bunch of information about Sam by allowing us to hear what he says both in therapy and to himself in thought. Therapy is intended for the express purpose of allowing someone to be exactly who they are. That makes it a great place for us to gain insight into a character, and I often wish writers would take advantage of this more often. But while we do get to learn a lot about Sam in this way, what actually happens in Sam’s therapy sessions is the stuff of my actual nightmares.

If the aim was to show what it’s like to have an empathic break between therapist and client, I understand. That most definitely happens sometimes in therapy, and it can have an enormous impact on our lives. However, I worry that much of the audience will walk away without knowing that what they just saw was a very unskilled therapist. It’s a bummer and a missed opportunity, because solid therapists are also a population that’s grossly under-represented in our entertainment. But beyond just my own disappointment as a professional, I worry that any lack of insight into Julia’s mistakes will work against the message of the show. So let’s unpack a whole bunch of moments.

S1E1

We’re introduced to Sam while he’s in session with his therapist, Julia. After a rich and meaningful sharing on Sam’s part, the first thing we hear from Julia is a misattuned, “Great. Well time’s almost up. Good session today, Sam.” How confusing for us. What was good? Is she addressing one of the many things he just said? Which one? And by the way, a pretty safe test for realistic writing about a therapist is whether or not they have the therapist comment on how well the session went, state that the time is up, or disclose information about themselves with no awareness of the impact.

When Sam comments that he can see Julia’s bra and that it’s purple, she looks surprised and uncomfortable. She tucks in her bra strap, raises her eyebrows for a moment, and says nothing. I was ready to forgive this until we find out that she specializes in autism. She should be used to that sort of blunt honesty, and she should definitely be comfortable with it, or willing to process it. If she doesn’t want Sam to comment in such a way, she can tell him that and they can work it out together. That’s kick ass practice for communication in relationships, which is a huge part of anyone’s therapy. Personally, I really enjoy those moments. One of my favorite things about being a therapist is that it keeps me on my toes about what I’m bringing into the room. Sometimes it’s an emotion; sometimes it’s a wardrobe malfunction. Isn’t she kind of amused by that moment? Ok, but so now we know that Julia isn’t all that insightful into how she impacts her clients and maybe she’s not so comfortable with herself either. Was that on purpose?

Then she dives into asking if he’d be willing to donate his brain to research after he dies. While that is theoretically acceptable, she doesn’t process with him the impact of being asked such a huge question. We find out later that he doesn’t care, but it was her ethical responsibility to ask. Autistic folk get a wealth of disparaging comments about their brains and they also get a lot of odd fascination about them. Sam could easily have felt like Julia was more fascinated by than dedicated to him. After all, she seemingly ignored most of what he just said.

Clearly the interaction between them was intended primarily to plant the seed of awareness that it’s completely possible for Sam to date, which is the premise of the show. She did well to let him know that it’s not only doable, but is being done by others, and that it’s his choice. We could have gotten that without the mess if, at the end of his sentence, she’d immediately inquired about his statement that he can’t have a girlfriend, and then planted that seed. Perhaps she’d even get to learn where that a big part of that belief came from, and she’d have been more prepared for the protest of Sam’s mother (Elsa) later on. A therapist specializing in autism, with Sam as her client, should also know not to drop a colloquialism on him about a new topic. “You just have to get out there,” is pretty meaningless for anyone hearing it for the first time, let alone someone who just said that he can’t always infer meaning. I’m glad that Sam asked where, and I wish we knew how she answered, but she didn’t even seem ready to explain. Explaining slang and colloquialisms is a swell part of therapy with autistic folk. It makes you realize how often we make assumptions in our communications. It’s a barrier to understanding that is highlighted in communication with a lot of autistic people, but it affects absolutely everyone. One of my earliest supervisors would constantly remind us to ensure that we understood our clients’ definition of non-literal words and phrases. This negotiation of meaning is some of the richest work we do in therapy, as it’s an excellent vehicle for self-understanding and interpersonal connection.

Oof, we’re only at minute two of this episode and my word count is over 1,000! You might want to refresh your beverage.

So, when Elsa goes to speak with Julia regarding her concerns about Sam and dating, I went from worried to very worried. We overhear Julia teaching an introductory course on the autism spectrum, and she offers an example of “persistent preoccupations” from one of her clients. “I have a client who came up with 95 different ways to cook an egg,” she says. We can assume that she got permission to disclose this, but I’m still left very concerned about the way she said it. It seemed to have an undertone of, “Isn’t that crazy?” when I’d really like to hear an autism specialist have the sentiment, “Isn’t that wonderful?” behind their words. Is it not wonderful? The next time you wonder who came up with some incredibly unique and intricate way of doing something, allow yourself to consider that the answer might very well be an autistic person. The way that Julia spoke to her class so stood out to me that I assumed Elsa was about to lay into her for it and find a new therapist for Sam. But ok, the intention was not to make a comment on the availability of good therapists, but for us to see that Elsa’s struggling with protectiveness over Sam.

On to the conversation between Elsa and Julia, which may have been a problem in and of itself. We know at this point that Sam is 18, so Julia might not have needed signed consent from Sam’s parents and she therefore may not be permitted disclose anything about their work together. But we can assume that, as Sam’s in high school, his parents are probably paying for his sessions and thus would have signed the consent form. Were that the case, she still should have checked with Sam because he’s more than mature enough to make that decision on his own. This is extra important when a teenage client is about to embark on something as adult as dating. As Julia mentioned, it can be really hard on parents, so it’s typical to ready everyone before these unannounced visits occur. What Julia did handle ok here was to offer support to Elsa through a referral. I liked the way she said, too. It really is about having a space that’s just for you, and that’s why it can be so great. But her suggestion would have gone a lot better if she’d begun by meeting Elsa where she was instead of trying to fix it through a statement of what commonly happens. It’s pretty much Therapy 101 to begin an interaction with someone by ensuring that you understand where they’re coming from. It’s then that they can hear you in return. No one likes a, “Yeah, but…”

The second of Sam’s sessions that we see is one of the ones I find the most upsetting. Sam wants to go over his tactics for dating, and again Julia seems surprised and uncomfortable by the content. When he hands her his notebook and she spies the phrase “insults = chick on dick,” she’s certainly right to bookmark it to come back to later, but she seems so unsettled. Knowing Sam as we do, it makes sense that he might not have a red flag go up for him about this particular piece of dating advice. When most social tactics aren’t very relatable, it can be easy for them to be indistinguishable from each other. The only part of this I don’t quite buy is that Sam would trust a non-scientific source. But that’s mostly dealt with by his commentary on how unscientific dating seems to be in the first place.

The worst part of this session is the “smile training.” When Julia inquires about how Sam scared a girl away, he demonstrates for her the smile he used. Again, she looks surprised. I suppose it could be that she’s managed to never meet an autistic person who’s been told to mimic common facial expressions, but it would very likely have been included in her education and training. But even if we extend her all the possible flexibility here, her approach to supporting Sam with his smile is just plain offensive. She calls him creepy, for goodness’ sake. And then she goes on to walk him through what to do with his mouth, and offers her own very unnatural example of intermittent eye contact. No one effectively learns how to smile by being coached through how to hold their face. It’s that sort of “Show your teeth, honey” advice that results in a rash of second graders bearing their teeth like they’re at the dentist. A smile comes from the inside out. And it’s not as though Sam never smiles. We’ve seen him smile already at this point in the show. If he truly wishes to practice, Julia can support him by pointing out when he’s smiling about something so that he can really notice the sensation. But even this walks a fine line. There are a whole bunch of ways that people who struggle with social communication can find a way to express themselves and connect. Faking a smile can be disingenuous at best, but at worst, it sends a message to the client that they need to be something other than themselves in order to be attractive. Fuck that noise. If Sam genuinely wants to learn how to smile more spontaneously, he can practice by tapping into an emotion that makes him smile. That’s what’s actually happening when we smile at each other. Impulse, signals to the muscles, and bam: natural smile.

This same principal goes for all supportive approaches, especially when it comes to dating. There are no tactics; there are only ways to find authentic expression and connection. Any good dating advice isn’t advice at all, but rather information on interpersonal dynamics. From there, it’s up to each of us to find our place within a social setting. The factors that are at play in a dating scenario are often relatable to just about everyone. That initial smile, for instance, communicates something specific. It’s generally something like interest, pleasure, and safety. Everyone is out to feel comfortable being themselves, and to experience intimacy. Beginning with that awareness helpfully informs us as we figure out how to do that, because intention acts as a guide.

S1E2

The first session we see in this episode will make an excellent tutorial called “What Not to Do With Self-Disclosure.” Sam realizes that he’s attracted to Julia, so he begins to ask her personal questions. If you’ve ever asked your therapist a personal question, you probably know what to expect next. (S)he should invite you to explore what exactly you’re asking to learn, why, and what it might be like to hear the different possible answers. That can be an annoyingly long process for the client, but it’s some of the most important work a therapist and client can do on their relationship. This is largely because it’s excellent practice for all the rest of our relationships. Other people affect us, and can really understand how and why when we get to have a process with it. If you’ve had your therapist actually answer a personal question, you might know what a big impact even a little bit of information can have. In Sam’s case, when he asks Julia what her favorite winter sports are, he learns in one fell and unprocessed swoop that she has a boyfriend. Mind you, this is after three other personal questions that she answered with a shortage of thought but a wealth of exasperation. If she’d gotten interested in his questions, she could have helped him to understand their professional boundaries, and to process his feelings about them. She wouldn’t even have had to answer his questions in order to do this, because nearly all the important pieces are in exploring the whys and what-ifs. That is exactly why it’s so important to not immediately answer a client’s questions. Once you do, you’re necessarily moved on to processing the impact. But Julia didn’t do that either.

Fortunately, Sam gets a lot of what Julia ought to have provided in that session from conversations with his dad. He knows how to navigate literalness in communication, which we see when he asks Sam, “Do want to talk about it? [Sam says yes] Now?” Doug’s approach to Sam is pretty darn lovely in general, and I love that we get to witness some really sweet and important moments between them.  Not only does he fully support Sam’s desire to date, he does a lot to encourage Sam to be himself and to focus not on Julia, but on “girls who are going to like you, too.” It’s important to note here that it isn’t actually a conflict of interest for Sam to have romantic feelings for Julia, even if he tells her about them. It’s very common and perfectly healthy to develop romantic feelings for your therapist. I mean, what could be more appealing than a person who allows you to be completely yourself when you’re around them? Good therapy means experiencing a lot of intimacy and connection. Even without unconditional positive regard coming from Julia, Sam gets to have a lot of sustained attention from a beautiful and intelligent woman. That alone could be pretty appealing. But what else might he like about her? Why? Where else might he able to have those feelings? When you explore these aspects of attraction, you can learn a whole lot about yourself, what you need, and how to get it.

We can give Julia a quick break while we look at Elsa’s group therapy experience. There aren’t a whole lot of red flags that go up for me with this until Doug joins in later. I want to include it, because whenever a client seems to get “dropped” in a therapy setting, I’m compelled to let people know that that shouldn’t happen. Being dropped is when you express something and you either can’t tell if it was heard or don’t know what impact it had on the listener. When Elsa finishes sharing something very vulnerable, she’s responded to with an automatic round of applause. I suppose this could be a rule in some groups, especially if they are support rather than process-focused. But know that a support group therapist would at least be giving Elsa a warm and supportive look, or she’d approach her after group to ensure that she’s getting enough one on one support (as Julia suggested).

S1E3

It was useful that Julia immediately supported Sam in his desire to attend to his wardrobe. As before, it was what seemed to be behind her words that I found troublesome. It struck me as pretty infantilizing. When he asked why clothes seem to matter to girls, her feedback was fair, but she lost me with her manner of response when he made a comparison to iguanas flaring their dewlaps. She said, “Exactly like that,” and then frowned and murmured, “I think.” If she isn’t sure, she shouldn’t have said so, or she should have explained her backpedaling. Therapeutically, it’s not a huge deal, because the comparison he made was indeed a helpful one. Clothes can be a social cue that others are attracted to or not. Her advice to “pick something that feels like you” is so-so, but she said, “just pick something that feels like you,” as though that’s a straightforward task. Just like with colloquialisms, these things sometimes need to be explained. And while Sam’s mom has been picking his clothes, we learned that Sam has had a role in that, because she buys him shirts that he finds physically comfortable. This is very common for people on the spectrum, and it’s a very important desire to honor. Frankly, couldn’t a lot of people do with putting a heavier focus on comfort than style? An uncomfortable piece of clothing can affect your whole day. Without attending to all these important aspects of choosing one’s clothes, Julia’s attempt at cheerleading with her “stylish dude” comment is pretty unhelpful. Had this gone differently, maybe Sam could have avoided that future baloney with the leather jacket.

S1E4

The main concept I’d like to focus on here is the phrase “higher functioning.” For many years now, our field has been trying to do away with that term and its counterpart, “lower functioning.”  Like any of the terms one can find in the DSM, the aim is to point to an experience. I get that. What gets sticky is the suggestion that something like being nonverbal is somehow a lower level of functioning. Who the hell decided that? Nonverbal communication almost always holds more information than words. If we’re really going to place one above the other, I vote for nonverbals. I know, I’m biased as a somaticist, but look at us with our emoji use these days. We very much crave all that information that is offered in between and outside of words. So why are we so focused on their importance? One of the superpowers of autism that some people possess is the shutdown of verbal communication in situations of extreme stress. Can you imagine how much better some situations would be if, when someone’s reasoning skills have gone kaput, they just stopped talking? It’s like a social seismic shutoff valve. So we need something that more effectively points to what ever it is that we really mean to express when we speak of functioning. That these terms continue to be used so frequently tells us that we have much work left to do on how much neuropsychological diversity we are able to hold in high esteem.

Next I’ll cover episdoes 5-8, which will be a bit less dense with commentary, as many of the problems I’ve covered are repeated (though holy cow, not all!). I’ll also say a few more things about what I really like about this show, because there are a lot of gems to highlight, too. I want to make it clear that alongside all of my disappointment, I am very grateful to everyone involved in the making of this show. I don’t expect just anyone to be able to write a skilled therapist into a show. Like any profession, it takes expertise to portray it accurately. Any attorney, for instance, will tell you that they really don’t have that much tufted leather in their office. I do expect a television series to consult with and listen to an expert when it comes to writing for a main character whose profession is a central focus of the show. There are actual autism specialists out there, and better yet, some of them are autistic themselves. If the intention was to show how some therapists can be really sloppy in their work, I’d like to have seen some acknowledgment that other sorts exist.

We badly more emotional intelligence in our world. Weaving role models of it into our entertainment is a great way to bring that about. And the necessity of understanding, insight, and empathy is such a big part of this show.

So it’s fortunate that running throughout the series is that message I mentioned before: autism is beautiful in a great many ways, we have autistic minds to thank for a wealth of our art and science, and we absolutely must honor people on the spectrum. And anyone who is learning this for the first time gets to apply that knowledge to future portrayals of autistic people. I think people will be talking about autism more often and more in depth because of “Atypical,” and that is long overdue.

A huge thank you to one of my clients who put this show on my radar right away. I sure am a lucky therapist to have such incredible people as clients.

Catharsis

Like many people, I used the use the word “catharsis” in such a way that implied that it’s the ultimate goal of emotional expression. It means to purge ourselves of an emotion. Often we do need to dispel something that’s been hanging around for too long, but that’s only part of the process.  I remember well the occasions when one of my professors or my mentor would speak with some disdain about how heavily we sometimes lean on catharting. I would sit there wondering why they seemed so worked up. Wasn’t getting rid of built-up stuff a huge part of our work?

The term’s history in formal therapeutic settings lies primarily in psychoanalysis. Traditional psychoanalysts believed that by outwardly expressing traumatic events, the patient would be relieved of their symptoms. Take a peek at the therapeutic uses on the Wikipedia entry on catharsis, if you’d like a little more history or references. It’s been a few decades since the broader field of therapy has understood that catharsis is only one part of what assists us in reaching actual renewal. Anyone who has had a long overdue conversation with someone knows the immediate relief that venting can have. The harder we push against something (by keeping it to ourselves, for instance), the more tension that is created. So when we stop pushing or restricting, a lot of energy is freed up. It is at this point that we have more potential to process the emotion.

But again, catharsis alone does not necessarily bring closure or sustainable satisfaction. It has a higher chance of doing so if and when we emote the very first time we have a particular experience. For example, let’s say that I stub my toe, and I let out a little yelp. There would likely be no reason for me to later revisit that experience with an attempt at experiencing catharsis, because I had it right there in the moment. If, however, I was made fun of when I stubbed my toe, or I was told not to let out any cry of pain, then the tension would stay and build inside of me. Later, when attempting to find catharsis, it would be necessary for me to also deal with the problematic relational dynamic that was at play before. Letting out a cry of pain for my younger self would definitely be useful, but I’d also need the reparative experience of another person showing me empathy. I may also need someone else to help me know when I’d cried enough. Expressing unfamiliar or long-bottled emotions often requires the modeling or support of another person. Fortunately, when that’s a hard-won experience with our family or friends, there’s a whole group of professionals who have the training, experience, and desire to be there for us.

Make no mistake, the goal is not to get rid of an emotional experience as quickly as we can. It’s actually quite necessary to sit with an emotion for as long as it is useful for you, and sometimes that’s on the scale of weeks, months, or years for the more intense experiences. This too is where the presence of another person can be very necessary, as “sitting with” an emotion takes active work. Someone else brings a wider perspective to what’s happening, and that can help to guide us. But always, what we are returning to is the ability to listen to our own prompts.

I like to think of it like drawing a bath for yourself. You get into the bathtub to relax and soak up what ever you’ve poured into it. You can’t really know what you’ll feel, but the intention is always to feel better afterwards, and that intention acts as a guide. So when the water begins to get cold, you get out and it is then that you allow the tub to drain.

Therapy in the Media: “Amélie”

Beginning my series with a movie in which there is no therapist? Yep. I’m starting with the French film, “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” by Jean Pierre Jeunet, because it is beautifully rich with psychotherapeutic concepts. It has long been a favorite film of mine, but the first time that I watched it sans sous-titres, my heavier focus on the nonverbals helped me to really see what it has to offer. I suspect that that was no coincidence. As with much of what I will cover in this series, this work is full of what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos.

Let’s start out with the lovely introductions to the characters. We are invited to know each one of them through these little distilled moments about how they experience themselves and the world. These are the little things that tell us far more about a person than most anything else. Jeunet uses these richly sensory-based moments to give us years of history in one fell swoop. These peeks into such private moments quickly build intimacy between us and the characters. For me, this is reminiscent of the rapport-building that occurs between therapist and client over the first few sessions, and the understanding that deepens between us over time. As with any relationship, it is witnessing each other which draws us closer. And one of the fastest ways to do that is through learning about how someone experiences their body. This is the essence of somatic work. Amélie’s mother experiences the creases in her cheek from her pillow as unpleasant. We relate or we do not, but we also begin to decide what this might mean about her. Amélie surreptitiously dips her fingers into a sack of beans. We relate or not (many of us super do), and again, we have ideas about what this means. It is also these yummy little sensory moments that are why I have called this film very autism-friendly. (If you didn’t know, autism often comes with the superpower of heightened senses. Just like Catwoman.)The film’s visual style is also very important. It seems to give reverence to everything, which affects us throughout the film by keeping us very present and thus tuned into every part of an experience. This mindfulness which Jeunet so easily induces is a large part of the therapeutic process. In order to move through anything, we must be present for it. That makes it very important to have plenty of lovely things to tune into. And for the love of the accordion, is that soundtrack magical. Someone once said to me that it’s as though it makes everything feel important. This too is a quality of the therapy space. Everything is (or is aimed to be) treated with importance, because it often is. During grad school, we learn to become therapists by practicing the therapeutic process on each other. Because the environment is intended primarily as educational, we are encouraged to pick real, but relatively surface-level vignettes to share from our lives. Regardless, things inevitably deepen. You realize that the way the bus driver spoke to you irked you because she sounded like a critical voice from your past. You find that the soft touch of the person who gave you your change at the coffee shop brought you into the present moment. And it is all these snapshots of the Self and of experience that I am after as a therapist.

One of the aspects I most appreciate about this film is the therapeutic relationship between Amélie and Dufayel. It is the nearest to an accurate portrayal of the therapist-client relationship that I have ever seen. It even demonstrates a specific modality in art therapy. Dufayel invites Amélie’s interpretation of the girl with the cup, asking gently investigative questions along the way. This pulls from her more deeply articulated thoughts, making her own process of relating to others a more conscious one. When he offers an accurate but risky interpretation, “You mean she’d rather imagine herself relating to someone who’s absent? ” she’s a bit miffed, as any client might be. But the seed is planted, she considers it moving forward, and it later blossoms into a deeper understanding of herself. This happens constantly in the therapy room. Dufayel is also a therapist to Lucian. He beautifully demonstrates somatic work by having Lucian express his anger at Colignon through a little rhyming. putting his body behind his thoughts. What’s more, he helps him to contain it. He cuts it off when Lucian begins to spiral, for catharsis without a holding space is nearly useless. We also get to see what happens when Dufayel pushes his agenda a little too hard- something we therapists work hard to avoid. When Lucian won’t stop talking about Lady Di, rather than following that thread, Dufayel explodes with frustration. Luckily their relationship is strong enough that Lucian returns to it, as does Amélie. Therein lies most of the healing in therapy- the experience of repair after a rupture in a relationship.

Amélie shows us how others are sometimes unable to join us on a new path. Inspired by the discovery of the cigar box, she tries to engage her father in a conversation about it, but she’s met with the same ol’ clueless reaction he always seems to have to her. Just as we all feel when a parent disappoints us in a familiar way, Amélie’s enthusiasm wanes a bit. Fortunately, she trusts her gut and moves forward with her idea regardless.

As we grow, we often become bolder and welcome new experiences. Amélie demonstrates how we sometimes we misuse our strengths as this is happening. This can occur pretty easily if we haven’t yet become aware of our go-to defense mechanisms. When she is pushed over the edge with anger, she uses her cleverness, creativity, and insight to cause Colignon distress. We even got to see her do this as a child. Powerless, and without her parents to step in, she found a way to defend herself. That was pretty ok for her as a kid, but as an adult, its passive aggressivity is not very appropriate. A child meddling with someone’s cable connection is one thing, but an adult meddling with all sorts of things in another person’s apartment is straight up illegal and unethical. Now, perhaps it was a catalyst for change for him, but I never advocate for abusing someone. And inadvertently causing pain is the sort of thing that happens when we try to use the defenses we learned as kids on an adult scale. Rather than scaring someone out of their comfort zone, in therapy we aim to invite them out. This can happen through various means, and I’ll share a tried and true experience articulated by psychoanalytic theory.

With Mr. Poulain, we see the concept of a “transitional object” in action through the well-crafted little lawn gnome strategy Amélie uses on him. In short, a transitional object is something that links us with the external world in a safe way. We can use it for both comfort and fantasy, and it helps us to move through a difficulty and develop some part of ourselves. We learn early on that Raphaël feels an affinity with the gnome, and we surmise that there may be something to the timing of his pulling it out of the garage. Knowing this and that he wishes but fears to travel, Amélie makes use of the connection and shows him what’s possible. Through this and at this own pace, he is able to come to traveling himself.

Onto a big one. Sometimes we can’t yet handle what we ask for, and this can leave us feeling like a shell of a person. We do a bunch of work to get something, and then find that we don’t know how to move forward from there. Amelie’s “strategies” work for Nino. He’s intrigued, and he comes to see her. But she finds she doesn’t know how to be seen, and she loses herself a bit. In psychotherapeutic terms, we call this fracturing. It’s the experience preceding what we call “pulling ourselves together.” One of the reasons that this fractured feeling occurs is that our strategies often do not extend from our true selves. We aren’t actually being authentic, and sometimes even we don’t realize this. So when our attempts to connect with others work to draw someone in, there can be a real sense of having tricked them. We worry about what will happen if we ditch those strategies. Do they love us for us? Or because of only what we show them? It cheats us out of getting to actually experience what we need even if it’s right in front of us. So we often choose to go on wearing a mask of sorts. And Amélie even wears actual masks! When Nino asks, “Is this you?” it doesn’t feel right to say yes, because it isn’t her. Not really. When he tries to call her on it, it’s worse. She can’t know yet that he doesn’t need her to wear the mask. Frankly, he might not know yet himself. But we suspect this to be the case, because like Amélie, Nino has a deep appreciation for uniqueness and authenticity. So we feel for her all the more when having rejected being seen by Nino, Amélie melts into a puddle. We’ve all been there.

Even with all the empathy we have for her, notice how even we begin to tire of her strategies. We want her to find love, so watching her use the same old technique becomes upsetting for us and everyone else who loves her, because we know it won’t work.

That brings us to a really big one about relationships. Having similar childhood wounds help us to bond to each other. I find it to be one of the most beautiful aspects of a healthy partnership, though sometimes it can cause a lot of strife. But we get to see a heartening example of it in Amélie and Nino, who are known to have similar childhoods. The line is, “When Amélie had no friends, Nino had too many.” Both of their experiences are versions of being unseen. Amelie is somewhat invisible while Nino is seen inauthentically. Both experiences can leave a person preferring solitude, or to be an outside observer of others. They can also cause a person to be tuned in to the unique expressions of others. Their coming together has so much to do with their respective recognition of the need to be seen and known by another person. And just as it is with real live people, one of them (Nino) is willing and able first, which can helpfully pull the other in as well.These last two pieces- the masks we wear and wounds we share with our loved ones- are two of the central points of focus in therapy. It is eloquently outlined by just what my favorite Rumi quote describes: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I could go on about this brilliant film. There’s the metaphor of Dufayel’s fragile bones, Nino’s externalized inner monologues, and the projection onto the photo booth repairman. There are examples of stimming, splitting, somaticizing, agency, and all sorts of other goodies. It truly is a rich layering of allegories within an allegory. But watching it is far more fun than my covering every aspect of what I believe it has to offer. If you have questions or further interest, I welcome your comments.

New Series: Therapy in Entertainment Media

For a few years, I’ve been itching to write about the portrayal of therapy and therapists in movies and television. This was initially fueled by the desire to correct a lot of what I see. More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing therapy get some solid representation and airtime, particularly within a few of the newer television shows. We seem to have self-funded studios to thank for that. Isn’t it cool what happens with more creative freedom? We get more depth and authenticity. So now I have the pleasure of beginning my series with plenty of great examples to highlight.

Also, it has come to my attention that while psychoanalysis has long since been replaced as the primary form of therapy we use, it remains pretty firmly rooted as what most of us think of when we hear the word “therapy.” This misunderstanding is often reflected in media therapists’ choice of interventions and/or the setup of the therapy room. So it’s no wonder! This will be a particularly important part of my commentary, because it’s often the portrayals of psychoanalysis that are the most off-putting. (If you ever thought, “What an asshole!” while watching something, it was probably a portrayal of psychoanalysis… and probably a shitty one, at that.) There are reasons that analysis was a building block, and reasons that we kept building.

Also and of course, I’m irked at seeing the work I am so passionate about be so poorly represented. The field in which I work was born out of our need to be ourselves, and to love and connect and produce and play. Therapy helps us to do that by helping us to know ourselves and to act accordingly. We are served so well by being honest with ourselves. It takes a whole lot of practice, and that’s why it’s worth it. But the timescale of the work is a big part of why it’s often clumsily depicted. A dear colleague of mine resignedly called it “too quiet” for the entertainment industry. And here is where I get heated about the industry, because it is art, isn’t it? Shouldn’t our art push and prod and delight and frighten and uplift us? In an elegant and paced way, art pushes us to expand our experience of the world. And if it isn’t art, then what are we doing making or watching it?

Entertainment media is often a primary way that we get to see someone else have an experience. It’s a place outside of our own environments where options are modeled for us. It ought to include plenty of healthy ones.

It is my belief that emotional intelligence should be a subject in school. While this would not negate the need for therapy- the work is an experience, not an exercise- we would be afforded earlier opportunities to know ourselves and to choose useful and rich paths. As a therapist and as a client of therapy, I have experienced so much that I use every day that sometimes I can’t believe anyone would deny themselves such a thing. So, I’m here to interject your own daily experiences with some of these psychotherapeutic concepts. Many of them are blessedly simple and universally applicable. Wherever you are in your personal process, you can learn to recognize emotional intelligence (or lack thereof) in what you encounter everyday. Let this awareness always bring you back to yourself and your internal experience. That is always where all the best work is done.

I absolutely take requests, but know that I mostly write about what I watch of my own volition and whims. Below is the current list of requests. Feel free to comment with your own desires, or with any comments or questions. If your interpretations differ from my own, I would especially like to hear from you. Then we both get to know more about how we perceive the world.

  • “Ordinary People”
  • “In Treatment”
  • “Grosse Point Blank”
  • “The Sopranos” (Dr. Melfi)
  • “What About Bob?”
  • “Law and Order SVU” (Dr. Huang)
  • “Prince of Tides”
  • “The Bob Newhart Show”
  • “Good Will Hunting”
  • “Running with Scissors”
  • “Shrink”
  • “Friends” (Phoebe’s boyfriend, Roger)
  • “The Royal Tenenbaums”
  • “Analyze This”
  • “Hannibal”
  • Woody Allen’s many references
  • Feiffer cartoons (depicting Rogerian work)
  • “Hope Springs”
  • “Meet the Fockers”
  • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
  • “Girl, Interrupted”

A Guide for Effective Journaling

Therapy is where we learn to cultivate our inner sanctuary. It’s where we can get what we need in order to be present with ourselves when no one else is around. Because relationships are our holding space for being ourselves, it is getting enough practice at that with others that allows us to become our own safe space for doing whatever delightful baloney we choose. Journaling is a thread between those inter- and intra-personal spaces.

Consider your diary to be a log of your honesty with yourself. From honesty comes our best explorations and our best art. Know that the work is to move towards increasing depths of understanding of yourself and of the world. Work to be honest to the extent that your diary becomes a sort of photo album of your living experience- but one no more organized than a dream.

Here is my guide to making your experience pleasurable and useful…

Remember the intention: What do I need in order to be willing to see the truth of myself, and of the world?

Flow with your materials.

The richest explorations are done in a relaxed but alert state. That begins by being physically comfortable and supported. Ideally the sensations of the journaling itself are pleasant and draw you in so that you can focus on pouring yourself out.

So, use the path of least tension. Unlined paper, a writing implement you like, and a quiet room are usually considered the most suitable. Somatically speaking, it’s very useful to see how your words are written. Writing is a form of drawing. Our muscle tension or relaxation, our speed of writing, the slant of our words or lines- all of it expresses something beyond the letters and words themselves.

However, it is most important is to honor whatever particular things you need at this point in time. If lined pages help you not to worry about straight lines, then lined pages it is. Typing instead of writing is also fine. Use whatever means keep you from physical distractions, but also work to get rid of any physical barriers in order to give yourself incrementally more space. Challenge yourself to try a new setting or technique so that you can keep expanding. Work to stay relatively comfortable as you do so.

Once you find something like a flow, you can move on to attending to the more complex distractions. That’s where the good stuff is.

Be alert for all manner of distraction.

Because this is a practice of burrowing into oneself in order to explore one’s depths, it’s vital to notice what gets in the way. What is the blockage made of, and what is needed to move past it?

Notice your willingness or reticence to write something down. Write down as much of what you notice about this as you can bring yourself to do. These are some of the richest moments of potential for noticing what you are and are not yet willing to know or to do.

Zoom out, and take a look. Every now and then, perhaps at the end of each paragraph or page, slow down and consider your writing. Ask yourself questions-

  • What am I feeling (sensations and emotions) right now?
  • What am I afraid of happening?
  • Who am I writing this to?
  • Who am I afraid will read this?
  • Who do I hope will read this?
  • What am I really trying to express?
  • What do I want to feel- now, or if I reread this?

Use your answers to increase the realness and honesty of your entry.

Honor your reticence.

We tend to suck at this. We are far too practiced at telling ourselves, “If I just…” or “All I have to do is…” Practice not doing that. Replace those moments with honest reflections about what is making something difficult. When you dislike something, it’s for a reason. Listen to yourself about it with kindness. The reason helps to point to what you need. Often you won’t know what you need, but paying matter-of-fact attention to what you’re feeling will often get you there, if only after you’ve enlisted support in the process.

And expect your hurdles to increase in size and complexity for some time. Keep your process moving along the way. Eventually, you’ll move through to deeper work. And then you’ll hang there for a while. And then you’ll deepen again. Eventually the practice becomes the work. The practice is the work, and this becomes apparent after a few times of moving through something tough or lovely.

Before I move on to particular ways of writing, notice how much of this is about paying attention. This is the bulk of the work of journaling, just as it’s the bulk of the work of therapy. You are working to get out of your own way by paying attention to what’s in your way. And paying attention indeed requires paying something. The practice of doing this is the work itself. The technique is what allows you to create something. So return to these reminders often. Now onto the ways to create entries…

Explore from different angles.

  • Have conversations- with yourself now, with yourself at past ages, especially childhood, with your imagined future selves, and with others. Focus on emotions and needs.
  • Log your experiences. Go heavy on sensation-based descriptions. These entries are great for important experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, and are a big part of creating an album of your life that is rewarding to make and to read. But logging can also bring the needed reverence to minutia.
  • Track yourself and your surroundings in the moment. You can do one or the other, or both at the same time. Go heavy on sensation language here, too, and be as grammatical or un-grammatical as you please in the moment. Our experiences go beyond words, so breaking free of their form becomes very important during tracking.
  • Draw. Sketch, paint, scribble, whatever. Being able to draw as you journal is a huge step in being willing to put anything down. It’s a great way to get at the aforementioned wordlessness of our experiences.
  • Write down your dreams. Dreams are a wonderful peak into the deeper chambers of our unconscious, which are typically closed during waking hours. Often just describing them in your journal will cause you to remember more of them, and to dream in a richer way. You can choose to explore them on paper or not, but be sure to notice what emotions you felt during your dreams.
  • Store precious items. Be careful with this one, and really curate what you add to your collection. The intention is not to increase your diary’s show quality (at least not for others). These items are for recounting visceral reactions, and for exploring these reactions. It needn’t even be a special item, but simply one that evokes a sensation or emotion.

Whatever arises, attend to it. If you don’t know how, ask for help. Happy journaling.

How to Speak Out Effectively

The current political climate is tumultuous to say the very least, and in the wake of a few conversations I’ve had online, I was asked to share what I do to effectively manage difficult conversations. So here are a few important factors to consider, which I included in a previous post and have expanded upon for you here.

Ride your anger; don’t let it ride you.
Anger towards an oppressive force is an early stage of healing. While you’re in it, direct your anger as specifically as you can. Do not let it turn to shaming others. Avoid speaking in absolutes and making generalizations. Be mad as hell, just not at everyone. That feels crappy anyway.

Ask permission.
Ask if your feedback is willing to be received. This isn’t necessary in an original post online, but it is in any conversation- especially ones with strangers. Before you get into it, ask the other person if they have a few minutes to hear your experience. If they say no, you’ve wasted no energy on them, and that’s a win for you.

Respect feelings.
There isn’t a thing that anyone can do to avoid the surfacing of an emotion. What can be controlled is what one does with them. Heated conversations are filled with emotions, and most of the time they aren’t being named. Even so, if you respond accordingly to the emotional tone, you are much more likely to be heard. They aren’t very difficult to see or hear, if you’re open to understanding. Just take a moment before you respond to see if you can pinpoint what the other person is feeling (you can always try asking!), and then guide your response accordingly. This prevents the dialogue-killer where everyone is stuck in that feeling of, “But you don’t understand!”

Every emotion stems from a need. Get clear on what you’re dealing with, and why.

A big one to remember: anger stems from fear, and it aims to set a boundary. Respect that. Respond in a way that shows that you hear them, and that you’re safe.

Make it personal.
Speak about your experience only, and attach your experience to facts. A point is not made stronger, but weaker by exaggerating or using absolutes. Tell the person what you feel, and why, in response to the situation at hand. That will indeed mean being somewhat open, and that’s exactly what’s needed in order for someone to hear you. If you can’t communicate with at least some openness, that’s ok. Wait to say your piece until you can, or find someone who can say it for you.

Jump at opportunities to speak up.
Especially when you can use privilege for the good. It is easiest for a person to hear something from someone they consider an ally or the same as they are in some way. When that’s you, it creates a beautiful opportunity for change if they say something with which you disagree. Remember that what you say can be very simple. “Something feels off about that, ” or, “My experience has been different than that,” are brief and safe, but very powerful statements that can get others thinking. This isn’t easy either, but it’s easier. And it feels really, really good.

This Thing That We’ve Been Calling Masculinity

For a few weeks, I’ve been wanting to write about what I’ve been seeing and experiencing lately amongst males. What happened tonight in the election helped me to make it happen. I know most of us have little room to take in anything more right now, so just hang with me for a quick personal story, and I’ll get to the bigger picture.

I recently had an experience that surprised me by surprising me. I went to the birthday party of a friend who is new enough that I didn’t know most of her other friends. Late in the evening, upon leaving a drink with one of her male friends while I walked outside, I realized that I felt completely safe to do so. Not unchecked safe. Full presence and awareness safe. While feeling safe with men is not at all new to me (and while that’s not been without plenty of challenges, I feel very grateful for that), somehow this stood out to me. This man and the others were strangers. And yet I had absolutely no doubt that they were safe. I know that that is a packed statement in itself, because plenty of people have been hurt after being sure that they were safe. That crossed my mind, too. But I could feel it viscerally, and potently. And it was awesome. And as I said, I was surprised. Feeling that safe in vulnerability with strangers was new to me. And through that novel experience, I realized how often I’d actually felt unsafe with strangers.

If you’d asked me a few weeks ago how safe I feel around people I don’t know, I’d have said, “Quite.” And that’s how it goes. It is safe to assume that the fish has not yet discovered water. Only when I felt a change did I realize what I’d been swimming in. This is what happens when change occurs. We become aware of what was before.

I felt terribly grateful that evening. I was teary. It was like a big ol’ game of trust and I felt caught and held perfectly. This is the current state of gender relations, I thought, if only one newly sprouted branch of it. For me, feeling safe in a group of strangers is hugely about how much more complexity we have invited into gender notions.

As I began to write tonight, I reflected on my post about the hashtag movement “#MasculinitySoFragile.” What I realized more than ever before is that it is. It is fragile. As fragile as any other construct that is too rigid and too small.

But we have been rapidly expanding what masculinity (and femininity) means. We’ve been dissolving gender norms and expectations. This work goes back decades, but in the last several years, we seem to have almost caught up with reality. People of all genders have become far more vocal about sexism than ever before. Conversations turn more quickly to internalized -isms and the need for intersectionality than ever before.

But even when the oppressive force is gone (or is becoming defunct), we are left with the way we organized ourselves around it. Absolutely everyone can relate to this, regardless of privilege. At some point in our lives, we all experience another person’s attempt to restrict our self-expression. When that experience comes from a caregiver or other powerful entity, we organize ourselves around it in order to tolerate and survive it. So even when it’s removed, we find ourselves struggling with the same limits. Therapy revolves around this dynamic. We interrupt ourselves where others interrupted us. The work is to become conscious of those patterns, so that we have some choice in the matter. We re-organize in a way that’s uniquely suited to us, and then we constantly practice, refine or restructure it to keep to stay calibrated with our evolving needs.

As we move out of this old gender binary, look who appears: all the ickiest parts of toxic masculinity wrapped up in one individual. And only a narcissist could be such a caricature of it: no self, all artificial structure. A monster created by male socialization. Thinking about Frankenstein’s monster? Yep, Shelley knew her shit. It’s a miserable situation, and the monster is as plagued by it as the rest of us. Don’t ever think he’s not. He can still cause harm, yes. But remembering that he’s trapped inside his own tight constraints is a necessary awareness for maintaining empathy and clarity.

Ultimately, this can help us move forward. By exaggerating the character, we can see clearly its severe limitations. He is an example of what not to be, and of the dangers of trying to crush oneself into a tiny little concept. Seeing what not to do is a great way to learn boundaries when we are testing them by growing and expanding. With progress always comes regression. That’s how we integrate the progress. We move way outside of the emerging paradigm so that we can really see it before we feel able to comfortably step into it.

Even amidst my disbelief about what was happening, when I heard, “That’s it. Donald Trump is the President of the United States,” I thought, “Wow. That makes sense.” I don’t want it to. But that’s where we are. As a group, we can’t move too much faster than our slowest members. And therein lies much of our collective work. When you feel willing and able, help others to feel safe enough to speed up a bit. When they show you glimmers of authenticity, reflect it to them. And remind them that it’s ok to be afraid. We all struggle with unfolding.

So as I sit here reading and feeling about the outcome of this election, I take great comfort in the fact that I know very few people like Donald Trump. We are progressing. We don’t produce nearly as many “Trumps” as we used to. But sometimes there’s still too much fear to integrate what we’ve learned. And so we have before us the final stand of toxic masculinity before we blow it out the god damn airlock. It is the beginning of the very end of this deplorable construct. If you are already taking concrete steps towards abolishing the fear of self-expression, keep it up. Steady your hand at your post and help to provide the safe space for this country-sized tantrum. Be firm and also be warm. Work towards more critical thinking and more emotional intelligence. Constantly do your own healing work. Inspire it in others. And at every possible junction, teach it to children. Help to make it safe for people to express themselves. And in the meantime, soak up the presence of those around you with whom you feel safe and like yourself.

show your bleeding heart: A Guest Post from Tulasi Adeva

Tulasi Adeva is a therapeutic mentor and embodiment facilitator who lives and works in beautiful Hanalei, Hawaii.

I had the honor of working with her at the Oakland Center for Holistic Counseling. She has a fiercely open and clear heart, and I was often speechless when I would hear her talk about the way she knows people and the world. She is often able to articulate what is deep down inside of us all, and this article is no exception. She wrote this beautiful, perfect piece in response to what happened in Orlando this week, and I have the honor of sharing with you here. This applies to everything, and I believe it’s terribly important to realize how vital this work is. I challenge you to allow her words into your body. Try them on and see what shifts, or what would need to.

“maybe vulnerability is the greatest key we hold to our collective healing. not vulnerability held close like in a poker game we are trying to win, but vulnerability revealed, vulnerability laid out for those around us to see.

this is not an easy thing. as humans we grow good at being guarded. we learn all too well how to hold our emotional cards close in. we learn to navigate the hazardous terrain of relationships by defending and protecting. the brain is so sophisticated and complex it manages our whole strategy in such a way that it feels like a second skin, like this is just the way it is.

but when you hold a baby in your hands, a fresh being newly breathing air, you know that our essential nature is vulnerability. and with vulnerability comes unconditional love. with vulnerability comes our capacity to trust. with vulnerability comes our capacity to fully be all the way here.

because let’s be real. this being alive is VULNERABLE.

we may try to hide away, and defend against, in order to protect ourselves, but that protection cuts us off from what we truly want… to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated, LOVED.

we are a complex system of beliefs and cultural conditioning. we are a store house of generational trauma and instinctual survival. amidst all this we are evolving at such a rapid rate, individually and collectively, that we don’t entirely know how to keep up. we are boiling inside.

with our deep desire. with our own fears. with confusion. with pain. with rage. with longing. with heartache. with a calling for more.

without a firm grip on our inner compass, a deep connection to our own heart, a tender acknowledgement of our own vulnerability we get locked into a stance of defense. we resist what is.

we want to hold on to what we know, we want to have it all figured out so we can avoid risk (vulnerability) and play it safe.

part of my teaching is about feeling what’s here to be felt. going all the way in. this is not an easy task, often it feels like the pain or discomfort will never end. but inevitably on the other side we meet our vulnerability, our tenderness, our hearts. and there we come to know ourselves more completely.

there is a teaching in relationship work to take 100% responsibility for what is going on in a relationship. in akido when practicing with another the resistance you feel, is your own. both of these teachings are pointing us toward self responsibility, personal accountability, toward a recognition that how we move and what we choose to do impacts the space and outcome of what unfolds.

but as david whyte says we have to take the close in step. before we can take 100% responsibility, before we can identify the perceived resistance in another as our own we have to know ourselves. i mean really get to know ourselves. look in the mirror and look deep. what are we hiding, what have we tucked away, what don’t we want others to know and see?

our pain is the catalyst for our creative expansion if we have the courage to face it and the willingness to see what’s there to be seen. when we meet and greet our own vulnerability it opens up space, it opens up compassion, it opens up a renewed relationship with responsibility – to ourselves and the world around us.

because no matter how we come in, what we’ve been told, each one of us is a sovereign being with a calling and a purpose for being here at this time. but until we get that, we are flying blind in a selfish charade of pleasure seeking and self protection.

amidst all that the world is reflecting back to us these days it is so easy to be broken hearted– especially if you are in touch with your own tenderness, with your own vulnerability. on countless occasions the intensity i have seen or felt or heard has knocked me to my knees. i’ve wanted to scream but i have kept my mouth shut. i have wanted to cry and so i did behind closed doors. i have wanted to pretend that this was not real and not going on, so i would look the other way and let life go on.
to be a vulnerable human being means to walk through the world with your heart broken open. it means to hold it bleeding in your hands because it’s yours and it’s rhythm matters. to be vulnerable means to be courageous… to move and live with heart. it means we must see ourselves- the light and the dark. it means we acknowledge who we are – divine beings with a greater purose and fallible humans figuring it all out. it means that we appreciate the path before us – the one we have chosen, with all the challenges and triumphs it provides, for this life is our teacher calling us back home to our whole-hearted-ness. it means we bring forward love – for ourselves and for each other, as often as possible, just as we would love that brand new, completely vulnerable baby.

when we are in touch with our own vulnerability and we see it in another, we are opened, connected, changed. today i watched a raw filmed video of a woman speaking the potent truth of something that touched and moved her deeply. she shared the healing of a vulnerability she has been carrying most of her life. and though it was not my story, i felt her in hers. though it was not my story i felt the healing happening. though it was not my story i understood that her healing is my healing for we are never alone and on our own, we are both that baby, we are both vulnerable to all that is unfolding.

lately every sign i see is a call for deepening. a soul dive beneath the surface of the way things seem and the labels and stories we can read. it is a tap root connection to the truth of our own soul. it is a willingness to be vulnerable and speak from that place, to share from that place, to lead from that place.

this world is changing. so rapidly. every day. there is so much more to it than big money and good branding and how many likes your posts receive. it is a life or death battle for the earth, for humanity, for heart. and the only way i can see to get through to the other side is to be all in. take your heart out in your hands and show it to the world.

what if we were courageous enough to be raw and real? what if we no longer held ourselves back? what if we practiced compassion for ourselves and each other, even when we disagree, because we remember and honor vulnerability?

i am still learning. i am practicing. i am afraid that you will hurt me, not see me, not care. i am afraid you will say it doesn’t matter, that i don’t matter and that i shouldn’t share. i fumble all the time. i do not have it all figured out. but when i tend to that still small voice within, i know i am 100% responsible for all of this and my voice matters, my heart wants to be felt. i am letting all of us down when i don’t let the truth of own vulnerability come out.

and so i offer it to you. i offer you a seat here with me, in a wide open space where all that needs to be said can be said. where all that you feel is a welcome expression of the truth of your experience, where all that i feel is a welcome expression of mine. and in this field i know we will meet and see each other again for the first time and remember that we are one. we are tender, vulnerable, open hearted love.

here we will change the world.”

Find Tulasi and her incredible work here.

Originally posted by Tulasi Adeva on June 14th, 2016. Source: http://www.rockyourjuicylife.com/inspire/2016/6/14/show-your-bleeding-heart. Reposted with permission from Tulasi Adeva.

What It’s Actually Like To Be A Therapist

Spoiler: It’s awesome.

From time to time I’ll get little peeks into what people who’ve never been in therapy, or who went briefly, think it’s like. It’s usually off-base in some way, sometimes minor and sometimes pretty unsettling. A bunch of this is surely due to the many misconceptions and goofy portrayals of therapists in our entertainment media.  So I try very hard to be quite vocal about the reality of it, with the hopes that more people will allow themselves to find out. The work is incredibly beautiful and fulfilling. But its authenticity, and how that extends far beyond session time, comes up too infrequently. Even those who are clients of therapy probably don’t know a bunch of this stuff, which I realized when I began to have conversations about it with friend of mine. So I thought I’d share a few things that the general public might find fun, funny, helpful, relieving or maybe even a little scary.

I want to answer very thoroughly the question, “Is it hard not to ‘take your work’ home with you?” The short of it is that no, it’s not, because I know my role, and I’m pretty awesome at boundaries and self-care. I’m not a fixer. I’m a witness and a supporter. The work is entirely about healing and experiencing and growing. It results in the ability to enjoy way more pleasure, because you get to learn how to manage pain and complexity. And for any of that to happen it means I get to have deeply intimate connections with a bunch of people. It’s pretty awesome.

Now, keep in mind that this is about only me as a therapist. While much of what I will share is universal, that won’t be the case for all of it. Let’s start with a big, fun one…

I dream about my clients.

All.the.time. And how could I not? I spend hours with them engaged in deeply intimate, difficult and moving explorations. My dreams are part of those explorations, because they can inform me about what’s happening in my unconscious and subconscious in relationship to my client. They tell me things I may have missed, they inform me about what I’m thinking or feeling about someone, what I’m feeling about myself as their therapist, where their material overlaps with my own, etc. Sometimes I’ll dream that a client has met someone from my personal life, which opens up a whole other bag of possibilities: Is that about something they need in their life? Is it someone I would or wouldn’t want them to meet? Why? All of those things further inform me and our work together. It’s like free case consultation with my subconscious. Our subconscious is very smart, you know. It’s like the Oracle in “The Matrix.”

I think about my clients outside of session all the time.

It’s not just during my sleep that a client will pop into my mind. A song will remind me of them. I’ll see their favorite food and think of them. I’ll hear a joke that I want to share with them. I’ll see a store I think they’d like. I’ll remember a story they told and I’ll giggle or worry or feel proud. I’ll suddenly have a question or insight about them. The same goes for my old clients. I wonder how they are, what they’re doing, how our work together is or isn’t serving them now. And I often miss them like crazy.

I bring things from my clients lives into my own.

As with any interaction we have with others, I learn more about the world through my clients. I read books they read, watch movies they have mentioned, try restaurants they like. Sometimes I do it primarily for their sake as a means to deepen an exploration by having more information about it. Sometimes it’s just because it’s of interest to me personally. But even then, I enjoy thinking about my client, imagining their experience and thereby learning more about them in that way, too. And I get to learn more about myself, because I have my own, different reactions. In exploring those differences, I learn things about both of us.

I learn things from my clients’ processes.

I’m inspired by and learn from my clients all the damn time. If someone paid all my bills and supported my knitting and vintage clothing habits, I’d do this work with only that as payment because it’s a huge source of nourishment and reward. Because this work is about what’s best for the individual in front of me, I have to constantly look at my own stuff to keep it out of their way. And sometimes I’ll encounter a place where I have a blind spot or an unconscious agenda. Sometimes just recognizing that is enough, other times I have to take it to my own therapist to get her support in processing the material. Sometimes (and this is a fun and challenging one) a client will come in with something that I was just exploring in my own life. If the material is too painful or I can’t keep my agenda out of it, I refer out. But because therapy isn’t about advice-giving, and especially because I work somatically, the work stays clear. It very often doesn’t matter if I’m still working on the same explorations. So many of them are life-long, anyway. I think that’s beautiful. We are masterpieces that get to be attended to over an entire lifetime.

A client once asked me what the difference is between therapy and the outside world. As you can see, not a whole damn lot. That’s why you can and should trust it. It’s the safest possible version of the outside world, because we therapists are trained to be awesome at making it that way for you. It’s incredible what people are capable of when the environment and the relationship is right.

We affect each other. That is the point of therapy: to find healing in a relationship, and to master being oneself (in all its complexity) while in a room with another person so that you can move through the world in the same way.

If you have a therapist and this is bringing up a few questions for them, don’t be afraid to ask. Be ready to process what you learn, or even the question itself, but you can always ask. While we’re on it, the same goes for hugs. Little known fact: hugs are a-ok by a whole lot of us. Ask for them. See how cool this work is?