“Why would I make excuses for myself?” is a common response I get from clients when I talk about self-compassion. My response is normally something along the lines of “would it be OK if you COULD excuse yourself?”.  Or, “What if in order to find the change you’re looking for you first have to learn to unconditionally love all parts of your self–including your “flaws” non-judgmentally with kindness and patience?”.  

So much of our pain is derived from the critical voices in our heads. That critical voice may remind you of a certain time in your life when some terrible thing happened to you, or maybe it convinces us that things have always been this way and there’s no change in sight. We may feel ashamed, isolated, or sad because we have failed to live up to our own, our parents, or society’s expectations and believe that we won’t be lovable or acceptable until we do. 

Self-Compassion is the recognition that no matter what is happening in our lives, we are lovable. When things are going well, we give ourselves permission to experience that joy–instead of anxiously waiting for the next bad thing to tell us that we should not be experiencing joy. Or, when we are suffering, self compassion becomes a kind of supportive voice from within that helps us find beauty and meaning. It is a reminder that we are all universally connected in this world through our experience of suffering — we are not alone!

Self compassion is NOT self-indulgence, self-pity, or passivity. Self compassion includes an understanding that learning, growth, and failure are fundamental parts of life; it is the desire to relieve suffering and that in order to do so a concrete change may need to be made in our lives. It provides us with an internal source of emotional regulation and resilience. It is the belief that we are inherently worthy of love and respect. 

If you or someone else you know in the Atlanta area could benefit from cultivating self-compassion please contact Isom E White, LCSW of Counseling Associates for Well-Being – Smyrna/Vinings for an appointment today!

Isom E White, LCSW

3050 Atlanta Rd Smyrna, GA 30080

P:706- 389-1708

E: Isom@ca4wellbeing.com

We are so happy to announce that on May 1st, 2019  Isom E. White LCSW will be opening his new office in Smyrna / Vinings Georgia.    We will be sad to see him leave the Athens area, but he will be a tremendous addition to the Atlanta area. Isom sees a variety of clients. He is excellent with the young adult, college age group, and also has experience with professionals struggling with high pressure careers, or those in life transitions.   Isom is in-network with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser and Medicare, and he can also file with other insurance plans for out of network benefits if needed. He is ready to schedule you an appointment, whenever you are.  Call him at 706-425-8900 or email him at Isom@ca4wellbeing.com

Isom E. White, LCSW

Aaron Kirkwood, LAMFT, with Counseling Associates for Well-Being in Athens, GA talks about the importance of checking in with your stress level throughout the holiday season and why you might not want to skip self-care.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you would like to set up an appointment do discuss how to manage stress, deal with family, or other relationships during the holiday season please reach out today.

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.  Before the month slips away let me share some tips for improving your mental health.  Check out my latest Youtube video on ways to improve mental health here.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you would be interested in setting up an appointment and discussing ways to improve your own mental health give me a call or send an e-mail.

Aaron Kirkwood, LAMFT

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

Therapy is exercise for the brain

If therapy is exercise for your brain, that makes me a personal trainer.  Time to rethink my work wardrobe!

I have a confession to make.  If you promise to keep it just between us I will tell you.  Agreed?  So, sometimes my clients will say to me “Hey, this was really helpful.  I appreciate what you’re doing for me.”  My response is generally, “I’m so glad you found our session helpful.”  But inside?  Inside I’m thinking “I have no idea why this was helpful.  I really thought we didn’t get much done today.”  Rest assured, I’m not some dope who’s faking his way through being a therapist.  Every therapist I know has a similar story.

There’s an excellent book on the subject that has eased my mind and helped me make sense of what might be happening for my clients in therapy.  It’s called Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains by Loius Cozolino.  It has to do with the concept of neuroplasticity and how thoughts actually change our brains functioning.  According to Cozolino neuroplasticity “refers to any changes among, between, and within neurons as a result of learning or the natural processes of healthy development.  It is the ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience and to encode that experience into its structure.”  In other words, our brains literally change in response to our experience.  I liken this change to the growth we see in our muscles because of exercise.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around with some serious weightlifters you might have seen them nudge each other in the ribs, give a head nod towards someone walking by, and snicker.  Then in a conspiratorial whisper one says, “Someone skipped leg day.”

Your brain is not a muscle.  In fact, it is the fattiest organ in your body.  It makes up only about 2 percent of your bodies total mass but is uses 20 percent of your body’s energy.  No wonder it’s so exhausting when you’re anxious all the time! (For more brain facts click here)

Okay, but what does that have to do with your brain and therapy?  Well, therapy is exercise for your brain.  If you have had depressive thoughts for a while your brain has developed to easily have those thoughts.  Meanwhile, your ability to experience “happy” thoughts is undeveloped.  You might say that you’ve been skipping happy day.  When I’m asking clients in therapy to describe what they would like to be doing differently, what they might prefer their life to look like, I am like a spotter in the gym encouraging them “C’mon!  You can do this!”  At first it can be very hard for someone who has felt depressed for years to even imagine what “happy” is for them.  However, with practice they can literally change the structure of their brain so that it becomes easier to bring to mind those “happy” thoughts.  The same concept applies to people who are anxious all the time.  They are well practiced at having anxious thoughts.  Their brains have been shaped by these experiences and so they come “naturally”.  Through therapy we will do the work necessary to reshape the brain.

Is it easy?  No.  Is it fun?  Sometimes, but it can also be painful just like any other workout.  Is it worth it?  DEFINITELY!

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’re constantly plagued by depressive or anxious thoughts, contact me today and let me be your personal brain trainer.  I can be reached via telephone at (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.

five-magic-hoursThe Magic Five Hours is not a brand new concept from Dr. John Gottman.  After reading about it, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about it sooner.  Just like so much else that has been developed by the Gottman Institute over the years the idea behind the Magic Five Hours is quite simple.  Yet it is immediately impactful to almost any relationship.  This was not surprising as I have come to expect nothing less from the Gottman Institute and their research-informed strategies for improving relationships.  At its core, the Magic Five Hours is about enhancing, or re-establishing, the emotional connection in our most intimate relationships.

How many of us have felt time slipping past while our best intentions for ourselves and our relationships seem to be neglected and put off until tomorrow?  Guilty as charged.  The Magic Five Hours is a way to illustrate that you don’t need to spend a lot of time to make a big impact on your relationship.  Just five hours a week can help you feel more connected to your partner.  The Magic Five Hours are actually broken up into blocks of minutes so that it becomes much easier for even the busiest couple to understand how they can incorporate these connection enhancing techniques.

The five magic hours Small investments in time, big relationship return
1.) Partings 2 mins/work day X 5 days/week = 10 mins- Find out one thing about your partner’s plans for the day
2.) Reunioins 20 mins/work day X 5 days/week = 1 hour 40 mins- Find out how your partner’s day went
3.) Admiration/appreciation 5 mins/day X 7 days/week = 35 mins-Find one thing to admire/appreciate about your partner
4.) Affection 5 mins/day X 7 days/week = 35 mins- Find time to kiss, hug, touch, laugh with your partner
5.) Date 2 hours/week = 2 hours- Find time to spend alone with your partner
Small daily investments  Add up to Five Magic Hours!

 

Check out this video for a discussion of The Five Magic Hours.

If you follow this simple formula you should feel more connected with your spouse.  You will each be more aware of what the other is experiencing on a daily basis.  The Five Magic Hours can also be a great stress reducer because it makes time in your schedule to share with your partner what might have bothered you about work.  The reunions act as a buffer between work stress and time at home with your partner allowing you each an equal opportunity to get things off your chest as you transition out of “work mode” and into “home mode”.  The 2 hours of alone time can be particularly important for couples with children.  It’s not always easy to make arrangements to have that alone time but it is a clear signal, a way of saying to your partner and yourself, that I value our relationship and I am willing to invest time into “us”.

I prefer to think of the Five Magic Hours as a general outline that can be tweaked to suit your relationship needs so long as the spirit of enhancing your connection is maintained.  As an example, if you are a couple who does not have children it may be less necessary to find two hours a week to spend alone.  If you feel that your “love life” is suffering, you might put more emphasis on the affection component.  One of the suggestions from Gottman is to try a six second kiss.  Six seconds does not sound like a lot of time but if you close your eyes and count out six seconds while imaging that you’re kissing your partner you will see that six seconds is pretty substantial for a kiss.

Aaron D KirkwoodDo you feel your relationship could use a tune up?  Please call me at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com and let’s set up an appointment to help improve your connection using the Five Magic Hours.

Active listening sounds like a pretty simple and easy thing to do yet when I work with couples it’s one of the skills that we spend a lot of time on.  I often have each partner roleplay what I call the two roles in any productive conversation.  One partner is the Speaker and the other is the Listener.  Your role as the Listener, and this is the most crucial role I believe, is to make sure that you have really “heard” what your partner is saying.  I don’t just mean that you can parrot their actual words back at them.  Anyone can do that if they are half-listening.  The role of the Listener is about making sure that what the Speaker intended is what the Listener understood them to be saying.  As the Listener you have to give the Speaker your undivided attention, that means no only turning off the TV and putting away the cellphone, it also means blocking out your own mental distractions.  You cannot simultaneously be listening and formulating your response at the same time.

Active listening doesn’t just help with intimate relationships.  You will find that if you practice the skills in this blog it will help you get along better with co-workers and friends and maybe, if you’re lucky, your in-laws.active listening

Check out this post from the Gottman blog about active listening and read their tips for improving your communication, which will likely improve your relationship.

Their tips include:

Focus on being interested, not interesting. – Don’t sit the entire time the other person is speaking in anticipation of telling your own story.  Absorb what they are saying and know that you will get a chance to express yourself as well.

Ask questions – Don’t just leave it up to the Speaker.  Instead actively engage them by asking questions.  Ask about their thoughts and feelings so that you can clarify what they are trying to get across to you.  If you want to build your relationship, ask about their desires and future plans.

Respond with an occasional brief nod or sound / From time to time, paraphrase what the speaker says – This lets the Speaker know that you actively engaged in the conversation and helps them feel they are being “heard”.  It also helps the Listener stay with the conversation when the Speaker has a lot that they need to convey.

Let go of your own agenda – Again, you cannot simultaneously be listening and formulating your response at the same time.  You will have a chance to express your own thoughts and feelings and when you do you will appreciate the same level of attention that you are showing to the Speaker.

Do you need help with active listening skills?  I’m glad to work with couples as well as individuals in developing this essential skill for improving your relationship with almost everyone from a romantic partner to a business partner.  Please contact me today and let’s set up an appointment to get started building this essential skill.  I can be reached at (706) 534 – 8558 or by e-mail at aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.  I look forward to working with you!

Aaron D Kirkwood

 

Couples counselingI would love to say that couples couseling is always successful.  The question of whether it will work or not is determined by a number of factors including whether the couple is willing to put in work towards repairing and improving their relationship.  There is no easy answer to such a complicated question and each couple may experience a slightly different result.

The truth is we don’t often “solve” a couple’s problems in couples counseling sessions.  Instead what we do is give them the tools to address their problems and deal with them in a more productive way.  According to findings from the Gottman Institute who run the “Love Lab” in Seattle, Washington only about 31% of a couple’s problems are “solvable”.  What couple’s counseling is really about it is developing skills for effective communication so that a couple can learn to live with these problems by acknowledging their partner’s thoughts and feelings and in turn feeling that their own thoughts and feelings are being validated.

Imagine a scenario where you have gotten your way when a conflict has arisen in your relationship and your partner throws their hands up in exasperation and exclaims “Fine we’ll do it your way but I still think I’m right!”  You’ve gotten your way, sure, but how satisfied do you feel?  Now imagine a scenario where your partner says “I hear what you’re saying and I know why you would like to do it this way but I really think it’s better if we do it this other way and here’s why…”  Now you may not get your way in this second scenario but you’re likely to feel much more positive about the situation because your partner has truly heard and understood your point of view.  Through the use of roleplaying and modeling these strategies couples counseling can help you learn how to be a better partner and what you should expect in return from your partner.

My own work with couples is heavily influenced by the work of the Gottman Institute.  They have spent decades researching what makes for happy, lasting relationships and what leads to the inevitable demise of other relationships.  Using this research, I help couples develop the skills (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) that bolster healthy, loving relationships while avoiding the pitfalls (The Four Horsemen) that mire couples in patterns of conflict and ill communication.

Are you willing to work to change the unhealthy patterns that have developed over time?  Are you open to constructive feedback about what you already do well and what you can do to improve?  Do you desire to get back on track and live a long and fulfilling life with your current partner?  If so, then couples counseling may work for you.

If you would like a better idea about the kinds of communication and conflict resolution skills that I assist couples in working on you may want to watch this excellent video of a presentation given by Laura Heck, who is a Master Trainer for the Gottman Seven Principles Program.

Please contact me today and let’s setup an appointment for couples counseling to help get your relationship back on track.  I can be reached by telephone at (706) 534-8558 or by e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.

Aaron D Kirkwood

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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.

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Adding yoga as a complement to therapy for depression, anxiety, grief, and trauma can prove more powerful than talk therapy alone.  “Ancient yogic practices are now evidence-based strategies for mood management”, writes Amy Weintraub, author of “Yoga Skills for Therapists”. One does not have to be flexible or able and willing to get on a mat and practice the physical poses called “asana”.  Powerful breathing practices called “pranayama” as well as guided meditation and other skills are adequate for gaining the benefits of calming the nervous system and elevating or calming the mood.

I have observed these benefits as a professional, but I also know the research rings true for me personally.  Yoga was instrumental in my own healing after suddenly losing a spouse 11 years ago. Over a decade later, yoga remains an integral part of my self-care. Currently, I am completing a 200 hour yoga teacher training to continue bringing these powerful practices to my clients.  I am especially excited to announce my “Healing From Loss through Mind/Body Awareness” therapy group. This group will utilize yoga skills as well as group processing to heal from painful losses. I have specialized for many years in helping those who are grieving (in groups and individually) and am thrilled to offer this special opportunity.  Please contact me at 706-425-8900 or email me at Suzanne@ca4wellbeing to learn more.

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