Friday, August 25, 2017

3 Bravery Hacks you can do Today

Let’s start with a bit of a disclaimer:
I’m often scared.
Every. Single. Day.

I’m not talking to you from some Ivory Tower of Bravery and even if it existed I don’t think I’d like to be there, it sounds stuffy and not fun. 
As you’ll soon see, it’s not about not feeling scared…

I’ll illustrate the 3 ways to grow your bravery with 3 examples:
Source: IDA
First, Nelson Mandela. Mandela served 27 years of a life sentence for trying to overthrow the white, apartheid South African government. Mandela continued his work from prison pushing every day against the resistance of the entire white world from his jail guards to the top of the government.
I have seen Mandela’s cell and the prison yard where he spent much of his time, stark doesn’t come close to describing it. Mandela slept on a mat for most of those 27 years.  And then he got out and was elected president of South Africa.
Mandela's cell on Robben Island. Credit: Samantha Marx

Nelson Mandela said something very deep. “Bravery is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.”

When I get in a kayak my mouth goes dry and I have to pee. I get really scared. The last time I went kayaking I said this quote over and over to myself. It helped a lot.

Don’t wait until you’re not scared to do something. Not being scared is not a prerequisite for doing brave things in fact if you wait until you are totally confident you might be dead before that happens.

Be scared. Do that thing anyway.

The Chasm
Second, Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indie is trying to find the Holy Grail to save his father’s life and he has to pass a number of tests. The final test finds Indiana next to a sculpture of a lion’s head at a stone doorway which steps out on to a drop of thousands of feet in to a deep chasm. 
The prompt for this test is “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” (I can hear Sean Connery saying this in my head. So awesome.) Professor Jones Sr. (played by Connery) yells in pain and Indie, with a contorted face expressing obvious terror and preparation for death, takes one step off the ledge…and on to the invisible bridge.

I’m not going to say something silly like there’s always a bridge when you take that first terrifying step because it’s not true. Sometimes you’ll take the step and you will fail and that failure will not be pleasant. Sometimes you have to take that step anyway. 

Just one step. 

Just one step toward your goal, toward something that is important to you.

And if you already took that step then take the next one. I find that sometimes the step I’m most hesitant/afraid to take is the very one that I really need to take.

So pick up your foot, make a terrified face like Indiana Jones, and…

Third and finally, be an idiot. 

I am a particular fan of the new Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp. In one of the final scenes of the movie Alice is standing in front of the Jabberwocky holding the Vorpal Sword and she counts off the six impossible things ending with “I will slay the Jabberwocky.”
One of the particular things I appreciate about this scene is that even though she has the magic sword that the Jabberwocky feels threatened by she still has to do something incredibly brave to cut off the monster’s head.

You and I have that voice that says, “you will not succeed in your business, adventure, relationship, goal, etc. You are totally unrealistic. Why don’t you just not be an idiot? Sit down before you hurt yourself.”
While that voice is sometimes the embodiment of the wisdom that discretion is the better part of valor; on the other hand sometimes we just have to say, “I don’t care if I’m being an idiot, I’m going to do the impossible.”
Sometimes I have to just go for it even when it feels idiotic and impossible. And then when I’m successful I can do the futterwacken, maybe I’ll even do it if I fail...especially if I fail.

Here’s to bravery.

Want to work on your bravery in the face of trauma, challenging relationships, apathy, anything else? Click below and get in touch.

Monday, August 14, 2017

3 Ways to Grow Your Bravery - The Prologue

When beginning a private practice the wise psychotherapist will probably open up a few books to learn how to actually build said practice. In some places the old adage of them coming when you build it is probably true. Denver, CO, however is not one of those places. The Denver Metro area is saturated with therapists and a lot of them are very good.

If this entrepreneurial therapist is in Denver he is likely reading in the book about starting a private practice that it is important to choose a niche. The book will suggest something along the lines of: figure out your favorite client and/or that one theme that really gets your heart pounding, or the one topic or diagnosis that really makes you excited. And then use that information as the basis of developing your niche.

I have gone through this niche-finding process time and again, to no avail. This is not because I don’t have favorite clients (“I love all my clients equally”) or because no particular topic lights my proverbial menorah. No, it is because I am fascinated, enthralled, and enraptured by so many things and I thoroughly enjoy working with so many different types of clients – couples, families, parents, adults, adolescents…the list goes on. 

I have maintained a strong part time private practice since 2011 and experimented with assigning myself different niches at different times none of them fit and none really speak to my heart. I am well trained and experienced in working with kids, families, couples, trauma, teenagers, and more. My hobbies are airplanes and being in the wilderness. I like reading mystery novels and books about quantum physics. My favorite foods include pickles, barbeque chicken, and pizza with mustard (not usually all at once).

Creative Commons. Photo by Jeremy Keith
I thought about specializing in traumatized teenaged pizzas on airplanes flying in black holes (advertising slogan: “When your tomato sauce and cheese are being pulled in to separate dimensions, call Ari Hoffman”) but I felt this was a bit too specialized.

Over the course of the last few months as I prepare for full time private practice and business building I have been thinking again about this well-worn question. This time I got an answer. It’s not a population -  it covers almost all of them and it’s not a diagnosis – it’s beyond diagnoses but still relevant to most. The answer that came to me is bravery. I am passionate about bravery.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

3 and a half easy ways to deal with Airsickness

I have been a pilot wannabe since I was about 6 years old and abandoned my train engineer fantasies for dreams of flight. I had my first flying lesson when I was 11 years old and told everyone that I would have my pilot's license before I had my driver's license.

Things did not quite turn out that way.

I still have dreams of flying and take a lesson every year or two. It's all about the persistence.
I also take advantage of any available opportunity to be around airplanes which led me to a season de-icing airplanes at DIA which easily qualified as one of the best jobs I've ever had. Here is a blog about self-love I wrote while waiting on the tarmac in a de-icing truck in the middle of the night.

In spite of my love of flying I often got sick when I would take flying lessons so I learned a few different ways of getting through a lesson without using the inadequately sized sick bag. It was with these methods in mind that I responded to a request by a Readers Digest reporter for tips on how to defeat airsickness. I wrote about 3 and a half easy tips you can use if in that predicament. Read about how you can deal effectively with air sickness in that article.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Let's talk about (blank), baby. Or, "why can't I smoke weed on New Year's, mommy?"

At some point in the life of a parent, he or she will (hopefully) have a conversation about sex with his or her child. This is frequently a terrifying experience for a parent as parents believe that this conversation will dictate whether the child will have a healthy sex life or not. Effective communication WITH (as opposed to ‘at’) children about sex and other things does have a strong influence on how functional those dimensions are in a child’s life. This blog, however, is not about that initial conversation. This is about the little things that come up in everyday life where a parent has to set boundaries because the children are not old enough for one thing or another.

In many households the discussion about which activities, words, and movies are appropriate or inappropriate has happened already or is happening right now. Often we as parents portray this as, “those are bad things (or not good for you) that you can’t do until you’re older”.
A child once asked me why his parents were allowed to watch movies with violence and cursing but he was not. It’s an awesome question and here is why: We work so hard at making sure our children are living within the boundaries that have been established in their lives. Those boundaries might be set by us, their parents, by their school, or by other authorities in their lives. Then all of a sudden when our child reaches some point where we feel like we’ve lost control then he is allowed to do all these sorts of things that we have told her are bad. I suggest that the message we are sending is that you have to behave, work hard, have morals, refrain from bad things, etc. until you are 18 or so and then it’s a free for all of debauchery with no self-control necessary. In other words, “be good until you’re 18 then you can be as bad as the devil.”

I have found in my work that people are afraid to impose their own boundaries without backing them up with some external source. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just call customer service of your least favorite airline and they will say, “I’m sorry but our system does not allow us to do anything that would make your life even marginally easier.” Instead of just saying, “I don’t want to help you, even though I could, I’m just not going to.”

In my experience parents do this as well. In spite of all of the self-help books and amazing blogs by Ari Hoffman that you have read, there are extremely few hard and fast rules to parenting or life at all. Parents can establish boundaries based on what they think they are supposed to do or they can take a step back and think about it. Have you ever asked yourself why you don’t allow your child to swear? Or why you don’t allow your child to watch violent movies? Or why you would make your child cover her eyes during a semi-erotic scene that seems to fill PG-13 movies nowadays? 

Instead of just saying what you remember your parents saying, think about it. Why make these boundaries? Is it possible that a lot of these things are not bad? Maybe they’re even good, but maybe they’re not good for kids? Maybe your kids who still lack life experience, are still learning good decision making skills, are working on being a little less impulsive, are not ready for the stuff that we as adults allow ourselves to enjoy. These things are not bad. They’re good. They just might not be good for everyone. Just like I can very safely sip a shot of Laphroiag but should be careful about playing video games because if I owned a video game system my family would never see me again, so too someone else can buy an Xbox but doesn’t drink because he knows that one shot might quickly lead to an unhealthy amount.

Good decisions are made, not because everyone else made the same one and so should I. No, good decisions are made with consideration and attention.

Photo credit: RetinaFunk
So I call out to you, my fellow parents, you will contribute to your children's dysfunctions and you will contribute to their most beautiful qualities. Make your parenting decisions with intention and exercise them with confidence. There is no need to say that “smoking weed on New Years Eve is bad and so I’m allowed to and you’re not because you’re a child.” Rather, “when you are older and have more wisdom and experience then you can make your own decisions too, and for now I make decisions for you and I want you to have more life experience and wisdom before you get baked.”

If you or someone you know might benefit from working with me on increasing your confidence and efficacy as a parent, you can contact me by phone at 303-803-4832 or email at
I look forward to hearing from you and happy new year.

Yours Truly,
Ari Hoffman MA, LPC

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In Preparation for the School Year or How to Avoid Homework-Induced Apoplectic Fits

As the summer comes to a close emotions are generated in special intensity. Children experience a formidable mixture of excitement, apprehension, and dread as the beginning of the school year draws near. A similarly potent mixture of relief and some regret is building in the hearts of parents as the knowledge that soon the days will be theirs again competes with “I can’t believe that little Sophie is going in to 5th grade!”

In my years of working with children throughout the pages of the calendar I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Psychopathology is often school specific. This is sad to me and it suggests that schools need to pay attention to what might be making kids crazy, or worse, what might be causing them so much pain. But that is a conversation for another time and place.

The matter at hand is what can kids and parents do now, a few days before school, to prevent the development of that pathology.

A great man, Rabbi Noach Orlowek, suggests that we prepare in advance for the crisis so then when the crisis happens we will be able to respond calmly and not be totally reactive. 

Photo Credit: Johansena16
Let’s take a page out of the book of firefighters. If you have ever been in a fire station when the alarm goes off you may have noticed that the firefighters don’t run around flapping their arms like a bunch of prepubescent girls screeching, “Fire!! Fire!!”. They calmly and quickly get their boots and pants on, grab their coats and helmets and get on the truck ready to do their jobs. This calm and proactive reaction to the alarm is the result of many hours of training and study so that when the emergency occurs they know exactly what to do and they don't panic.

It is therefore my personal and professional recommendation that parents and caregivers find a moment before school starts to initiate this type of conversation. Take your kid out for some ice cream and start like this, “Johnny, do you remember that when you get assigned homework you often have an apoplectic fit that usually ends up in one of my ornamental unicorns getting broken?”

Johnny nods with his mouth full of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

“Do you enjoy apoplectic fits?”

Johnny predictably shakes his head.

“When you’re done with your ice cream can we talk about ways you might avoid apoplectic fits and I can keep my unicorn collection intact? I’m happy to help support you but you know I can’t do it on my own because I only have apoplectic fits when my lacrosse team loses. You can only help yourself and I can support you.”

Johnny nods his head again.

A meaningful conversation ensues where you both discuss ways that Johnny might be able to proactively address his issues with homework and ways that he can effectively implement these changes in his life.
If you or someone you know would like support in this area please don’t hesitate to contact me. or 303-803-4832

My Children Are Perfect Because I am a Psychotherapist

My children are perfect because I'm a psychotherapist.

Of course.

You didn’t know? 

All therapists have perfect children because we are perfect parents.

Photo Credit Dan Dilworth
My father is a therapist and I and my brothers were perfect children (I hope no one who knows my family is reading this)

I have a bridge in New York I think you should buy.

I often wonder if the parents of the kids I work with are curious about my children. Do you think my children are perfect? Do you think my children never talk back or misbehave? How about this dastardly thought…do you think there are never times that I’d like to drop my kids at the firehouse?

If you were, in fact, wondering. My children are not perfect.They often talk back and misbehave, and there have definitely been times I’ve thought about the firehouse (I would give them a ride though. I wouldn’t make them walk there, that’s just mean.).

At the initial psychotherapy session I assure the parents of kids I am working with that I am not winning any parenting awards. I also often commiserate with them and tell them my kid did the very same thing they are expressing their concerns to me about.

I heard a great line many years ago that, when repeated to parents, never fails to garner knowing head nods. “There are two different types of parents, those who beat their children and those who don’t. But we all think about it.” 

It occurred to me one day that in spite of the fact that I am not winning any parenting awards I am doing a great job connecting with the kids that I’m working with. Then the next thought that occurred to me was, “I find it so enjoyable to connect professionally with children who are not my own, why do I have to work so hard to connect to my children? I don’t want to be that therapist who does great with everyone else’s kids but can’t deal with his own. But that’s what it feels like sometimes.”

I also sometimes feel guilty in session when I am playing or talking with a child or teenager and her father or mother is in the room and I accomplish more in a 45 minute conversation than his parents have accomplished in the last year with regard to establishing rapport and getting the secrets out. I wonder what I would feel like if I was that father. Would I be so sad that my child decided to let everything out in front of a stranger who says he can be trusted but he wouldn’t tell me half of that stuff? I think I would be sad, I might even cry.

And then I go home and my 10 year old seems to not really want to talk and when she does I find myself zoning out.
Oh my gosh! I didn’t want to be that dad! The dad who does not make himself fully present and mindful for every word his children say!

I’m working on an idea that I would like to share with you, my dear reader.

I think that when children open up and tell their secrets it is less about the child and more about the listener. When I sit down with a young person I make eye contact, I show her that I genuinely care, and I also convey the message that she can say anything she wants to and I will not judge her. “It might be too tough for your parents, teachers, and friends to handle, but not me, I got it.”
I can handle it because she’s not my kid. I care about her as I do all of my clients but she does not represent the future of my hopes and dreams and so I am able to open up more and be less critical of what she says. 

When my daughter complains I think to myself, “why is she always focusing so much on the negative? Why can’t she focus on the positive? I need to teach her to focus more on the positive.” And then I open my big mouth and start responding whether or not she is done with her sentence. When a 10 year old client starts complaining I lean forward and use non-verbal cues to indicate that not only am I listening but I’m understanding and empathizing with him. I am making him feel like he is the only person in the world and the last thing I want is to change him. I also don’t interrupt him. These are the ingredients that compel anyone, child or adult, to open up and confide. 

“Hooray! Someone is just listening to me, not trying to change me and not judging me! It’s awesome!”

A great Rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, when he was alive, would often use the formula of “I bless you and me” implying that he wanted or needed the blessing as much as the benedictees he was speaking to. I will take the liberty of doing the same thing here.

I bless you and me that we should be able to really open our hearts and minds and listen to our children. There are times when parents must direct their children, that is a big and important part of our job as parents. And then there are times when we must pull back a bit and listen with mindful attentiveness and convey to our children the message, “I love you just for who you are, I want to hear from you, I recognize that you are a supremely beautiful being and I don’t want to change your essence at all.” And through that open and empathic listening our children should understand that their parents care more deeply for them than any therapist ever could even though the therapist is sometimes helpful and even necessary.

When a child is opening her heart to me in front of her mother I could feel guilty but that would be completely missing the point. This moment represents an opportunity. In about 45 minutes this experience will be over and this family will go back to their home, work, school, life. I may or may not see them in a week or two. While the child may remember the nice feeling of being able to open up to me it is only half of my job. The other and even more challenging half is to slowly remove myself and replace me with mom or dad or whomever loves this child. The opportunity is that I can move from being the primary recipient of the open heart to being a conduit that guides the beautiful soul material from the child to the parent because in the end I don't heal or fix anyone, my job is to facilitate healing that can be self promoting and self perpetuating.

If you or anyone you know could benefit from further exploration please contact me at or 303-803-4832.