Chances are if you’ve been in therapy before, your therapist may have worked with you on a technique called “thought reframing.” It’s a common practice in modern psychotherapy, rooted in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tradition (CBT). A therapist trained in CBT will guide clients to identify, challenge, and reframe unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs that lead to BIG, unwanted emotions (e.g. if you go to a party and think ‘no one here likes me,’ chances are you will not be brimming with confidence and, hence, won’t party at the party). A therapist trained in CBT would prompt a client who thinks “nobody likes me” to consider alternative ways of thinking about the situation—e.g. ”I was invited to the party by ____, and I had a good time talking with ____ the last time I saw her, so I’ll probably enjoy myself this time as well.” Likewise, even if you’ve never set foot in a therapist’s office before, there’s a good chance that family and friends have intuitively utilized aspects of CBT to support you…perhaps by encouraging you to consider alternate ways of looking (i.e. thinking) about a difficult situation, with the intention being to “cheer you up.”
CBT is a widely accepted treatment for one simple reason—it works. But…in the spirit of CBT, which cautions against seeing the world in absolutes (i.e. always, never, all the time, etc), I would clarify that CBT works…some of the time…
When I was in school studying to be a therapist and during the early years of my practice, I learned and often incorporated elements of CBT into my work with clients. The treatment was often effective, but I noticed that amongst a certain segment of clients, it proved strikingly less so. Clients that possessed high levels of shame and self-criticism tended to intellectually get the concept of thought reframing, but their insights didn’t produce significant changes in how they were feeling. For example, a client might acknowledge being equally, if not more, qualified than other applicants when considering whether to apply for a job, but would remain mired in doubt and anxiety and still revert back to the old familiar pattern of self-criticism—so much so that maybe they wouldn’t even apply for the job they expressed an interest in in the first place.
To my mind, shame is that deeply felt sense of not measuring up—of not being ____ enough (for perhaps the most vivid description of shame I’ve ever heard, take the time to watch this Ted Talk by noted author and social theorist Brené Brown). Shame is an intense, multi-layered emotional experience (think embarrassment times a thousand) that we all feel from time to time, but some of us, particularly those with early childhood experiences that contain abuse and neglect, experience high, problematic levels of it. The rumination that often accompanies shame tends to be filled with self-criticism and, in turn, contributes to frequent reoccurrences of depression and other mental health issues. Shame…or the anticipation of feeling it…is like a vampire, draining us as we consciously (and unconsciously) avoid experiences that might otherwise bring vitality and purpose to our lives.
I was elated to come across a wealth of scientific research that backed up my initial observation regarding CBT “thought reframing” techniques not being particularly effective for individuals with high levels of shame and self-criticism. As it turns out, British psychologist Paul Gilbert has devoted much of his life’s work to this very topic, and he has developed Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), in part, in response to that gap in care for individuals who struggle with shame and self-criticism (for a review of just what compassion is, see my previous post). Although CFT incorporates elements of CBT, it differs in that CBT targets emotional suffering through reframing thinking, while CFT seeks to cultivate emotion-focused experiences that elicit the innate, self-soothing capacities we all possess. In other words, as Dr. Gilbert points out, “In order for us to be reassured by a thought (say) ‘I am lovable’ this thought needs to link with the emotional experience of ‘being lovable’” (citation here)
If you tend to be someone who struggles with shame and/or self-criticism, the felt sense of “being lovable” may be unfamiliar, even scary territory. In my practice, I utilize Gilbert’s CFT techniques in conjunction with other treatment modalities that also emphasize compassion (the work of Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff in particular…more on their good work here and here). All of these treatments blend centuries-old meditative practices (the “old wisdom” I mentioned in the title) with evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience. My hope for all my clients who struggle with shame-related issues (frankly, I don’t know anyone, myself included, who doesn’t) is to reach a point where one recognizes they are lovable and can offer compassion for themselves and others. Unlike self-esteem, which is contingent on us doing “stuff” (i.e. determining our worth through our accomplishments), self-compassion emphasizes that we have inherent worth…just because we exist. It’s our birthright.
In the weeks to come, I’ll be sharing more about the cultivating a “compassionate mind” on this blog. If you are interested in learning more about the healing potential of compassion, and cultivating a deeper sense of it for yourself and others, please call me at (706) 425-8900 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Modern science is steadily corroborating what many spiritual traditions have known for centuries. Compassion—the recognition of human suffering coupled with the courage to do something to alleviate it—is associated with greater levels of life satisfaction, happiness, resiliency, improved immune system functioning…possibly even increasing lifespan. There’s even actual science that backs up the timeworn cliché “it’s better to give than receive” (click here for a great article highlighting recent research into the mind and body benefits of compassion).
My practice is informed by many of these exciting developments in the field of compassion studies, and one of the things I always stress to clients is that we are all hardwired for compassion—it’s innate (e.g. think about how a parent responds to an infant’s cry…that response doesn’t happen without compassion). We are already compassionate beings, but just like going to the gym, we can train our hearts and minds to make our capacity for compassion stronger.
A fundamental piece of compassion is developing an awareness of interdependence—the sense that as a species we are all connected. I came to a deeper understanding of this practice when attending a foundation course for Emory University’s Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) program recently. Dr. Geshe Lobsang Negi, a former Buddhist monk who is the founder of the program (and founder of the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta) led the training. CBCT was created at Emory University in 2005 in response to an alarming increase in depression and suicide amongst the university’s undergraduate population. The implementation of CBCT has been instrumental in promoting wellbeing amongst the student population at Emory, and CBCT researchers are extending their focus in a variety of settings to studying the beneficial aspects of compassion practice on human health. For more info on the CBCT program, click here:
Here’s an approach that Dr. Negi teaches for gaining a deeper sense of interdependence. Take a moment and consider a talent you have. It can be anything…maybe something as seemingly simple as cooking a pot of spaghetti…or some exceptional feat of derring-do like tightrope walking—doesn’t matter…just something you have gained a sufficient level of competency with and also something that brings you a sense of satisfaction and/or purpose. Then, reflect on ALL the individuals who had a role, either directly or indirectly, in making that talent a part of your life.
Actually, before you do, I’ll share an example from my own life to illustrate this concept…
I love to play the drums. I’ve played since I was about 14 years old. When I reflect on the idea of interdependence—the idea that we cannot thrive in life without the support of others—in relation to this love of playing the drums, it becomes so apparent to me just how many people have supported me in helping me cultivate this talent.
At the age of 14, some friends and I wanted to start our own band. We even had a name for the band. BLATANT DISREGARD. With a name like that, we figured we were well on our way to rock and roll stardom!
There were only a few barriers (somewhat significant barriers mind you) to making Blatant Disregard a reality. For starters, most of us had no actual musical ability. I mean zero talent. Also, only one of us I think actually owned an instrument! I think because my dad had been a drummer, and there was still an old pair of drum sticks that had been lying around the house, I appointment myself as the band’s would-be percussionist. I approached my dad with my idea of taking up the drums, and he was very open to the idea (I think one motivation for him, beyond supporting his son, was to have a drum set in the house that he could play as well). He agreed to help with the purchase of a drum set, with the caveat being that I would take some lessons.
The lessons led to another person who was instrumental in developing my talent. Willy. I have to admit…I never actually got his last name. Willy was my drum teacher. If you are at all familiar with “the look” of 80s rock-n-roll, particularly the hard rock or heavy metal genres, you’ll be able to get an approximate visualization of Willy’s fashion sensibility—e.g. BIG, frizzy hair, ripped, acid washed jeans, tank tops, moon boots (white Reebok hi-tops). I remember he drove a gold corvette with a compact disc that hung from the rear view mirror. Willy had style for miles.
I only took lessons for a short time, just enough to learn the rudimentary basics of playing, but I still am very grateful to Willy for what he taught me. In addition to being musically talented, he was patient and also very enthusiastic—attributes that, to my mind, are essential for a good teacher. I still have fond recollections of stumbling through songs like the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”—songs I don’t think I had even heard at that point in my life—with a pick up band of similarly-skilled students (Willy taught every instrument at the music store where I took lessons). Willy would serve as our little pick-up band’s lead vocalist and keyboard player, conducting the band and throwing himself rapturously into the performance as if he was on stage at Madison Square Garden.
There have been so many others, like Willy or my dad, who have played vital roles in supporting my love of playing drums. Some I’ve known closely…some I’ve never met. Countless bandmates (sadly, Blatant Disregard’s career was short lived) shared their talents, each inspiring me in their own way and playing a role in shaping my own musical sensibilities. I also have to be thankful for exceedingly tolerant family members, friends, and neighbors—all the individuals who have put up with hearing the same tune played over and over (and over ad infinitum) as I developed my skills. Less directly, music store clerks or fellow musicians selling the instruments I’ve purchased and, by extension, the designers and manufacturers of said instruments, have all been essential to my musical development. And just think? Someone had to own the stores where I purchased the instruments, and city planners, developers, architects, and construction crews all had to devote time and energy to the building of those stores. Oh, and what about the individuals responsible for producing the materials that built those stores? As well as the trucks that transported those materials? Not to mention the roads that the trucks drove on? See how this goes? Once you start “down the rabbit hole” in this examination of interdependence, it’s hard to find an endpoint…
Isolation and a distinctly felt sense of otherness (feeling alone and apart from the group) correlate with high levels of anxiety, depression, and other poor health outcomes. Compassion offers a way out. When we start to closely examine the contributions others have made on our lives—particularly aspects of our lives that our dear to us—the illusion of separateness (and the pain which accompanies it) subsides. We feel less alone and energized to enrich our own lives by, in part, a deeply felt appreciation of others. If you are interested in learning skills to develop your sense of compassion, both for yourself and others, then contact me, Robert Lomax, at email@example.com or call (706) 425-8900.
Life based on gratitude, optimism and meaning is presented in this video: http://www.learning2connect.com/node/2074
Under dire circumstances, Alice Herz Sommer kept her focus “where it is good”, knowing that both “bad and good” are simultaneously on-going, and yet consciously choosing to keep her focus toward the good; in that place, everything is a present. And when you see and hear her laugh, you know this is genuine.
From birth she was optimistic and she wanted to have fun ; almost like she’s received the optimist gene at birth and passed it on to her son as well!!
Her love of music seems to be an intrisic part of her life and her love for life. At the time of her life when she and her son were in concentration camps, music, in theses circumstances, was not an entertainment; “music was a much bigger value: it gave people moral support… The music gave us undescribable beauty”, may be satisfying the need for Inspiration or Meaning, like Viktor Frankl proposes in his book “Man’s Search For Meaning”.
I so enjoy her simple determination and clarity about her focus in life. It appears that she has practiced theses for ever, and I cannot help but believe this comes from the way she was raised, from parents who mirrored her with joy. I’d love to get your feedback about how this touches you. And contact me if you feel inspired and want to explore this further, at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 706 425 8900, ext 705.
I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I find them to be similar to diets in the way they create a setup of unrealistically harsh expectations for one’s self that are bound to fail. However, there is one resolution I would suggest and celebrate for anyone to make, and this resolution improves outlook and mood, health, relationships and all other aspects of life. This resolution would be a commitment in the year 2014 to improve one’s relationship with self. The relationship we have with ourselves is the longest and most important as it forms the basis for how we see the world and make choices for our behavior.
How does one improve that relationship? One way we improve it is by becoming aware of and improving our self-talk. Many of us have developed a strong inner drill sergeant that seeks to motivate us to “be better” and “do better”. I would argue that we get a lot further with compassion for self and treating ourselves as we would a dear friend. Compassion for self does not mean denial or dishonesty, but looking at situations in our lives with the understanding we are human and deserve unconditional emotional support first and foremost. With compassion and honesty with self, we are more likely to make choices such as better self-care or reaching out for help when it is needed-and we all need help as human beings.
I would suggest mindfully starting with this intention each day. Take a few quiet minutes to meditate on the intention to be compassionate toward one’s self on a daily basis. This alone could create quite a lasting change this year. Contact me at email@example.com if you would like to work on a new approach to making changes and dealing with challenges. Happy New Year!
Most people enter into marriage with dreams of a lifetime of love, partnership, family, security, and happiness. Many times, it is the loss of these dreams that is the most painful aspect of the dissolution of a marriage.
Going through a divorce elicits a myriad of responses: anger, frustration, confusion, sadness, feeling of failure, exhilaration, worry, hopelessness, panic, euphoria, and guilt, just to name some. Navigating these can feel overwhelming, especially while negotiating new households, financial challenges, and heart-wrenching custody arrangements.
It is true that a divorce can be one of the hardest, most painful, and most stressful events in a person’s life. It can feel like a volcano has erupted, burning and destroying everything you have known. The wonderful news is from that springs an opportunity for tremendous insight, clarity, and personal growth. After the ash has settled what remains is a fertile soil, primed for the growth of your new, fresh life.
If you are in need of compassionate support during this difficult time and would like to see your way to a happier future, I would love to talk with you.
Susanna Rains Moriarty
706-425-8900 ext 709
There was a lot of discussion in the media this past week about the world of football when PBS’s aired the chilling report, “A League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis”. http://to.pbs.org/1c8cP3W One of the questions that were raised in this focus on the NFL was, “Is football destroying the brains of its players?” It also raises the question for me, what about the brains of college players, high school players and the 10 year old players?
As a neurofeedback practitioner, I have worked with clients who have complaints of anxiety, depression, attention/focus, addiction disorders and migraines. Often these are disorders that can result from head injury. The effect of head injury can be traced to repeated hits to the head which occur at all levels of football—professional football, college football, high school football and youth football leagues.
Neurofeedback can work to retrain damaged parts of the brain. Focus can be regained, anxiety diminished, depression decreased, addictions conquered and migraines eliminated.
Contact Pamela Key, Neurofeedback Practitioner at Counseling Associates for Well-Being for a free consult to find out how neurofeedback may help you maintain or regain a healthy brain—a healthy life.
I am excited to announce that I have completed my 200 hour training as a Certified Hatha Yoga instructor. I am passionate about combining yoga skills and techniques (no mat or flexibility required) with traditional talk therapy to enhance healing from grief, trauma, anxiety, and depression. In addition to the scientifically verified benefits for anxiety and depression, yoga and mindfulness also increase our ability to be present in relationships and in our daily lives, increasing our quality of life. Call me at 706-425-8900 or email me at Suzanne@ca4wellbeing.com to schedule an individual or group session today.
Yoga skills can enhance healing from grief and trauma by increasing body awareness, improving emotion regulation and self-soothing, and by strengthening the connection to the self. When our mind and body are shaken by the loss of a loved one or a traumatic event, our nervous system may go haywire for a time.
Breathwork and other yoga skills can be powerful aids to grief therapy work as well as for anxiety and depression. In her book, Eastern Body, Western Mind, Anodea Judith describes, “It is important to remember that the point of grief work is to regain connection with the self inside rather than increase our attachment to what was lost.” In other words, we do not dig into grief just for the sake of it, but we purposefully learn about our emotions and how to work with them as a means to feel connected to ourselves again and to be more present in our lives.
For more information about individual and group therapy opportunities that incorporate the use of yoga skills, please contact Suzanne McLean at 706-425-8900 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.