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Therapy is not just for the wearisome…

Many of us believe counseling and psychotherapy are only intended for those exhibiting serious pathology or for individuals, couples, or families that are somehow “weak,” “sick,” or “dysfunctional.” While psychotherapy and pharmacological therapies can and do significantly improve the quality of life for those dealing with more serious pathologies—name any one of the more acute or chronic disorders you hear on the television every day followed by the latest miracle pill advertisement; those participating in some form of consistent counseling or therapy are far from weak, feeble, or ill!   

Unfortunately, therapy has long-held a social stigma reflecting images of disturbed, ill, or helpless patients or victims.  Thankfully, due in part to high profile clients (no names) and the spotlight that is cast upon their lives because of their positions of fame or power, the general public is becoming more sensitive to topics related to pathology, mental health and sustaining healthy wellbeing.  Advancements in our neurosciences have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that pathologies such as depression, anxiety, alcoholism, behavioral addictions, personality disorders, obsessive or compulsive thinking, etc. are just as real as any medical illness.  Like diabetes, the flu, cancer, or heart disease, mental illnesses are all too real and should be treated as such.  Modern technologies and the internet have also helped those in the field of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy communicate to and educate the public on what it means to live with certain disorders; thus, helping the public to have more empathy and respect for individuals battling with certain pathology.  But, most influential of all, YOU are helping to breakdown the negative stigma and social disgrace that once closely followed psychotherapy and mental health counseling.  

Each time we learn about someone courageously reaching out to find resources, support, and education to help assist them and their loved ones through difficult and challenging times, we become a little more receptive to the idea and benefits of psychotherapy.  As our influential leaders seek support [our bosses, managers, parents, CEOs, CFOs, teachers, our President!, our preachers, the list goes on…], and as we seek support, we let others around us know that it’s not only okay to reach for a helping-hand during challenging times but it’s admirable.  

Working on our intrapersonal or interpersonal issues takes fortitude, self-awareness, great strength, flexibility, wisdom, patience, and a certain level of self-worth and self-care.  Those are certainly not negative, weak, or feeble characterological traits in any fashion; rather they are traits that prove a level of responsibility and maturation.

The mental health industry has proactively embraced the ideology of “prevention” rather than “treatment.”  As we enter a new decade, I challenge us to see therapy not as a consequential treatment for the weak or ill-minded, but to instead see it for what it is: a resource and a tool for sustaining resiliency, evading more serious circumstances, and becoming self-empowered—characteristics of impassioned, strong, and reasoned individuals and couples.  


Here’s to looking forward instead of backwards!

As 2009 comes to a close, it’s tempting for many of us to look back and to dwell on the hardships, the struggles, the turmoil or the uncertainties that we faced.  After-all, for many, we lost loved ones or we suffered the loss of a job.  Families watched as their loved ones went off to battle, and we all observed the devastating personal, economic, and global aftermath of fighting two wars.  For others, we battled the anxiety and depression that comes after struggling for years to hold on to a relationship or to a marriage that wasn’t meant to be or that we just couldn’t “fix.”  With our economy struggling to come back from a recession that hit everyone hard, it’s easy to sit and stew-over monies lost or retirements that dwindled over night.  And, with the hope of “change,” (despite the already observable many accomplishments of our new President) also came the reminder that “politics as usual” is deeply ingrained in our government and legislative stagnation can and does occur even in times when so many desperately need movement.    

However difficult 2009 might have been, I challenge all of us to dwell not on the hardship or struggles but rather relax into the idea that “it was what it was.”  In whatever ways you want to categorize 2009 (I can imagine the harsh descriptive words being used at this very moment), it was our reality.  For many of us, we had no control over such painful circumstances; for others, we may believe that somehow we contributed to or created our own suffering (that’s for another blog).  Regardless, we can’t go back and change what has already occurred.  

The more time we spend focusing or dwelling on the past, the more time we remain stuck and in turmoil.  I’m not suggesting that this is an easy task or simple exercise to accomplish; it certainly is not.  I am suggesting, however, that in order to move forward into the new year and in order to be present, we must try and let go.  Accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly for what it is and for what it was allows us to free up space and energy to feel and experience anew.  Remember the old saying, “Energy flows where attention goes?”  The more time we spend thinking, contemplating or hashing over what was or what could have been, the more time we spend stuck in the past with our focus derailed from the present and the future.  In that sense, we remain stuck in a hypothetical past (an unreal fantasy world) and we miss the real world moving forward with or without us.   

Acceptance is the only way that we can refocus our energy, attention, and consciousness toward what is happening now and what will come next. Accepting the difficult emotions that surfaced, the anxious thinking that kept us up at night, the compulsive or impulsive behaviors that masked difficult situations, and the grim experiences themselves will allow us to let go and to live more at peace in 2010.  Simply by stating and restating, “It is what it is,” or “It was what it was,” we allow acceptance to creep in and fill the space that was once occupied by pain, fear, resentment, or frustration. Calmness will follow as we find peace in what was—for many—a very difficult and trying year. 

My hope for all of us that faced some type of adversity in 2009 is that “acceptance” will be part of our New Year’s resolution.  It will allow us to move from thinking or believing that we somehow created, deserved, brought-on or became the victim of hardships and struggles; instead we will begin to see ourselves again as the resilient individuals that we are (in spite of the challenges that we face), and we will find renewed energy for a new year!  

Happy 2010!


The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference 2009

I have just returned from The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference hosted in Anaheim, C.A., Dec. 7th-13th.  The conference, hosted every five years, offers the largest gathering of mental health professionals from around the world and brings together the pioneers and geniuses of psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, and psychotherapy.  This year’s conference was wondrous, prodigious, and mind-blowing!  

Keynote speakers included the provocative Deepak Chopra, Aaron Beck, the legendary Salvador Minuchin and Irvin Yalom, Robert Sapolsky, Andrew Weil, & Philip Zimbardo.  

In addition, clinical presentations and lectures where given by the literate and fascinating minds of clinicians and theorists such as Meichenbaulm, Linehan, Weiner-Davis, Johnson, Burns, Madanes, Gottman, Rossi, Polster, Zeug, Kernberg, Hendrix, Siegel, Sue, Amen, Glasser, & many others. 

After hearing directly from some of the greatest philosophers, clinicians & physicians from around the world—many of which I had only read about, written about, or studied through my research and clinical experience during my Masters in Counseling, I am both humbled and emboldened.  It is such an amazing and exciting time to be engulfed in the field of psychotherapy!  

The physiological discoveries of our mysterious and once thought static and hardwired brains are now proving to be fluid and changeable.  Neuroplasticity (the ability of our brains to change in response to our experiences and by utilizing the power of the mind) is now considered not only possible but the “norm” in scientific circles. For all those naysayers who love to say “watch out, people never change,” they couldn’t be more misguided.  Through evolution in the studies of the humanities, sociology, and psychology, we are seeing that no matter what the situation an individual is born into or regardless the experiences they live through, trauma and suffering can be turned into resiliency and strength.  Individuals have the ability to change unhealthy behaviors and self-defeating thoughts and crippling emotions; couples have the ability to enrich their relationship after infidelity or after years of dissatisfaction; and, communities have the ability to reshape disastrous situations and entire environments through altruistic actions.  In the darkest or bleakest of times, anything and everything is possible!

I am excited, energized, humbled and grateful to be in the field of psychotherapy.   

Click on the following link to learn more about The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference 2009, to read bios and excerpts from the conference, and to listen to free audio & video from some of the greatest thinkers of our time!        

Here’s to resiliency in 2010!


Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and your loved ones a calm, cool and relaxed holiday season.

Ryan Lewis