Friday, December 4, 2009

"Finding the Right Therapist"

At least once a month, I get e-mails from forlorn people who have read my book LONGING FOR DAD: FATHER LOSS AND ITS IMPACT. In one such letter, a woman told of her husband's ongoing battle with depression. After reading the book, she finally had an explanation for his debilitation depression. As I read another letter written by a man in Dubai who was pleading for help, tears rolled down my cheeks. Soon to be a father himself, he realized that he would not be up to the task unless he dealt with his father's abandonment of the family when he was 2 years old.

The e-mail I got today told of having just finished reading LONGING FOR DAD. He recognized the need to get help to heal his father loss, because of "its unexpected continuation into adulthood.... I have tried to get help with a couple of therapists, but they fall very short of actually understanding my issues and helping me to deal with them. How do I find someone to talk about these issues [with] that understands the issues you've discussed in your book?"

I have maintained for years that whom people choose as their therapist is second only in importance to whom they choose to marry. How does the average consumer of psychotherapy services know whom to choose as his/her therapist? This is a particularly important question when issues are old and cut deep such as father loss.

Here are my top 5 suggestions for helping you determine who is the best professional to see.

1) Don't be afraid to ask the prospective therapist if he/she has had personal experience with your issue. Of course, don't expect for him/her to go into chapter and verse. But knowing a subject from a textbook and knowing it personally are two totally different things.

2) Ask the prospective therapist his/her beliefs about the place for feelings in his/her therapeutic approach. If you need to heal trauma such as a father's death or abandonment, it is not possible to truly do that without experiencing your emotions about what happened. If the proepective therapist indicates a theory of therapy that doesn't allow for feelings, you are in the wrong place.

3) Ask yourself how it feels being in this person's presence. If his/her demeanor detached and intellectualizing, it's not a good sign. Did you feel like you clicked? What does your gut tell you? Then trust your intuition to tell you if you are in the right place or not.

4) How good a listener is the potential therapist? Is he/she attempting to really tune into what you are saying, or is he/she looking around, watching the clock, or otherwise preoccupied? One of the most therapeutic tools a therapist can possess is the ability to create a "holding environment." This is a safe place for the expression of strong emotions. And in order to accomplish this, you need to be able to feel like the potential therapist is with you and not elsewhere.

5) Don't worry about whether the professional has an M.D., a Ph.D., an LICSW, a marriage and family therapist, or a master's in counseling. The degree matters far less than the 4 elements I have listed above.

If you would like a free consultation on choosing the right therapist for your issue, especially if it's sensitive, I invite you to call my toll free number (888-546-1580)for a complimentary consultation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“Managing the Holiday Blues After Divorce"

Expect the first holidays after a loss of any kind to be difficult. In fact,any “first times” can be expected to be hard, for example your first anniversary or birthday without your spouse. That’s just the way it is. Even if the divorce were your idea and you’re glad the marriage has ended, you probably will feel like a fish out of water during the first holiday season you spend apart.

Since childhood, we wait expectantly for holidays as a time of surprises and togetherness. Most families overtly or covertly agree to ignore Aunt Bernice if she were too much “in her cups” at the dinner table. And everyone colludes to not encourage Uncle Fred if he holds forth too long and heartily about the next year’s elections, high taxes,or corporate greed. Family is family, and any misbehavior generally is ignored in favor of family unity,harmony and preserving the family's Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell holiday pictures.

Extended family members also can have difficulty with a former family's absence. If a family member sides with your former spouse, as my mother did for a time when I divorced my first husband, the pain is intensified. And even if no one does, you can expect to feel like a fish out of water when it seems like everyone else is coupled and celebrating together.

Ten Tips For Being Single Again For the Holidays

1. Don't push yourself to go out and fake being sociable. Give yourself permission to do what feels good to you. If that means going out but coming home when you have had enough of pretending you are not hurting and are having a good time, then do that. If it means staying home and taking a bubble bath by candlelight, do that.

2. Don’t get prematurely involved with someone just because you don’t want to face the holidays alone. At the least, you will be bored and waste your time. At the worst, you’ll get hurt again because this is a vulnerable time when you are susceptible to choosing someone out of desperation.

3. Don’t sleep with anybody just because you are lonely. That will only confuse you at a time when conflicting feelings are swirling around you anyway.

4. Don’t expect people who have never been divorced to understand why this is such a difficult time. This is especially true if you initiated the divorce. They just won’t get it unless they’ve faced that prospect themselves.

5. Don’t go on a wild, break-the-bank spending spree to make yourself feel better. You’ll only feel miserable when the bills come.

6. Don’t change the subject away from your grief. The sooner you reckon with and resolve your feelings about the divorce, the sooner you genuinely will be able to more forward.

7. Do use New Years as a time to take stock of what is good in your life despite the divorce. Set your own goals to aim toward in the coming year to help you make sure it’s a better one.

8. Do ask for support when you need it. Sometimes that means crying on a friend’s shoulder. Sometimes it means taking a long, cleansing walk with a trusted advisor. Sometimes it means having a cup of tea and talking about anything but the divorce or your former spouse. You’ll know what you need. Honor it.

9. Do make your own plans for the holidays themselves. Plan fun activities with people with whom you feel safe. Go visit special relatives or friends with whom you can be yourself.

10. Do realize that this, too, shall pass. Your life will normalize. You will feel like yourself again.

In the meantime, be patient with yourself. Love yourself a little.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Magical Daily Minutes That Will Improve Your Marriage

If you are like most married people, you work, take care of your children, worry about paying your bills and staying healthy, and spend a lot of your “free time” on laundry, grocery shopping and home maintenance. Working on your marriage and strengthening your bond as a couple may not even make your to-do list.

But what if I told you that devoting just ten minutes a day to your spouse can produce magical results?

As a marriage and family therapist, I know how important this “couple time” is, not just to husband and wife but to children who gain when their parents are in a happy and stable relationship that centers on them and not on their children.

Everyone has ten minutes to spare, whether at the beginning of the day or after they come home from a day of separate activities to reconnect with their spouse for what I call “the daily magic ten minutes.” Doing so will set the remainder of the day or the evening right for everyone in the family.

Couples with toddlers and very young children can do this too. Of course, they will need to make sure their children are safe when they plan their alone time. If your children are slightly older, you might make this new habit into a game. I urge parents to tell their children playfully, “Unless the sky falls in, or a whale eats you up, or there’s blood, please don’t interrupt us. Mommy and Daddy need to take a break. But we’ll be done in ten minutes.” Put a timer where they can see it so your kids will know when the time is up. If you have children who are old enough to watch their siblings, you can pay them to baby sit while the two of you go off to seek a quiet place to chat with each other.

Daily Magic Ten Minutes Rules
You and your spouse are taking the time you deserve and need in order to keep in touch as spouses and as people once again – and not as parents or employees. As a result, certain topics are off-limits.

No talking about what the children did that day or what happened at work.
This is precious time you are taking for yourselves, perhaps in your bedroom with the door closed, perhaps over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

Talk about whatever you want unless it's problems. If the ten minutes allotted turn out not to be enough, pick up the discussion again the next day right where you left off. Or contract for more time later in the evening.

Some topics you might want to explore together as you get used to this new habit are: books you want to read, trips you’d love to take, hobbies you would like to pursue, purchases you would like to make, thoughts about where you would like to live when you retire, and what you might like to do when you reach retirement age.

Whatever you talk about with your spouse, I hope you have fun with this new time together. Sooner or later, children leave home. And when yours do, you will find that your empty nest will not be a problem. Instead, it will present a continuation of your ability to deepen your relationship with your best friend, the person you married.