Monday, June 15, 2015

Epic Fail

The Talmud says that the true measure of a person can be understood by 3 things:

1.       How that person uses money
2.       What that person does when he is angry
3.       What that person does when he is drunk

I’d like to humbly suggest one more thing. Failure.

How a person responds to failure is an intriguing barometer of self esteem, confidence, and hope.

Photo Credit: Paxson Woelber
Working on succeeding is great but working on failure is really valuable because as Winston Churchill so beautifully pointed out, “success is going from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”

If you are deciding to read on in the hopes that I will uncover secrets about how to fail well, I am not a diet plan and therefore have no expensive secrets to uncover. I may provide an approach though, a different perspective through which to view your failures.

A great man named  Rabbi Noach Orlowek, once said: “hard is not bad, it just means it takes time”.

In my parenting of my children and in my psychotherapy work with children (not the same children) I have discovered a tendency for some kids to say sometimes, “I can’t do it”. This is because they’ve tried to do something whether it be related to a therapeutic challenge, building something out of lego, or climbing a rock (or on to my car), and they’ve failed. They fall, they can’t build it, or they’ve failed to control anger yet again. I enjoy when this happens because it is a wonderful opportunity for children to build self esteem.
The first thing is to remove the word “can’t”. I tell the child, “I expect you can and you need to work on it some more in order to do so.” In therapy this often works well because I am not the child’s parent so she is less likely to argue with me or throw a tantrum. She tries another few times and maybe she gets stuck in a rut trying to do the same thing over again.

While I’m sure this line is already ringing in your ears, I will present it here anyway because it is one of my favorites. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” (This line is often attributed to Einstein but I have heard that it is a misattribution).

If she gets stuck in a rut then my job as a parent and therapist (yes there is dangerous overlap to these roles) is to help her get herself out of the rut, but not do it for her. This teaches the child that she has the ability to do it herself and it also teaches her that sometimes accepting help is necessary.

The lessons of working with children can be readily applied to our own lives. When I’ve failed yet again and I am tempted to say, “I can’t do this”, let me remember that I don’t let my children say that. When I have found myself in a rut and doing the same thing over and over again and seeing failure each time let me remember that when I see children doing this it is an opportunity to facilitate imagination and growth. Let me also always remember that it takes a great person to not need help from anyone, but one who asks for help when it is needed is a much greater person.

If you want to fail better get in touch and I'll help, but you know I won't do it for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rules for my clients (and a special one for teenagers)

Photo credit:swong95765
I have rules.

Big ones.

Scary ones.

They’re actually not that scary but I like the look on people’s faces, especially teenagers, when I tell them I have rules.

One of the most important parts of the therapy relationship happens right at the beginning before any counseling is done or healing is facilitated. It is called informed consent.

Informed consent means that you (the client) and me (the psychotherapist) are on the very same page as we enter in to this relationship together.  You will know what I expect from you and how much you will pay for the service I provide. You will know what kind of behavior is ok and what kind is not ok from both of us. You sign a piece of paper indicating that you understand what we’ve discussed and I sign another copy of the same piece of paper and we trade. 

Informed consent has legal and ethical implications and it also represents my desire that you do not enter in to this intimate therapy relationship with me unless you are doing it with intention and awareness.

There are legal rules covered in informed consent and those include confidentiality and its limitations and the fact that sexual intimacy is never appropriate in a professional relationship.

Then there are my rules:

 1.  I expect you to work hard.
I don’t want my clients to waste hard earned money and valuable time coming to therapy so they can say they have a Jewish therapist who has a funny looking hand. I also don’t want my clients to think we’re going to just shoot the breeze. We might do some breeze shooting and we might talk about my hand but when you come to therapy with me I will challenge you. I will say things that might shake your foundation a little or maybe even a lot. Sometimes therapy is fun and sometimes I will challenge you. You always have the option to accept or deny a challenge but if you accept it I expect you to work it hard. Failure is always an option and I won’t try to make you feel guilty if you fail (you are good enough at making yourself feel guilty, I don’t need to do it for you). I will initiate a discussion about it and we’ll talk about it. We’ll talk about what it feels like to fail and succeed and we’ll talk about how to make it work better next time. My challenges are gently strong and I try to push just hard enough to the point of discomfort but not pain. If you feel like I’m pushing too hard then I want you to tell me to stop.

      2. I expect you to tell me when I’m wrong.
When I was a teenager my therapist who is a great guy and a good therapist said something that was so off, all I could do was stare at him. This therapist has a particular affinity for Freud and sometimes he flies that flag big and tall. I had told him about a dream I had which I don’t remember now but was probably pretty mundane and did not include my mother at all. He responded, “Ari, I think this means that you want your mother to                       .[do something really inappropriate]”
I was amazed. I didn’t quite know how to respond but I think I just started laughing and said, "I think you are completely and totally off and you’re a pervert." We had a good therapy relationship and he owned it and apologized. I understand that the therapy relationship needs to build before you will feel comfortable telling me I’m wrong but it’s really important that you do. I am not an expert in you. You are. So if I say something and it feels incorrect for you then it’s important that you let me know. We’ll talk about it and I hope you’ll be patient enough to give me another try because just like my therapist, sometimes I’m wrong too.

3.  I don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer
This is a special rule I use for teenagers but sometimes for adults as well. In my years of experience as a psychotherapist I have found when I ask a question that needs some thought or causes some discomfort I often get the response, “I don’t know”. This is not true. You probably do know but either the topic makes you uncomfortable or you don’t want to take the energy to think about it. If you say “I don’t know” I will still like you and I won’t get mad at you, I will just ask you again or remind you that “I don’t know” doesn’t work. I challenge you, my client, to instead tell me, “Ari, that question makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want to talk about it.” I will gently thank you and applaud you for being honest with me and for advocating for yourself. The only time I accept the answer “I don’t know” is if I ask a math question because the chances are that I don’t know the answer either.

If you’ve read through these rules and are totally turned off then give me a call anyway. I know some other great therapists you might want to try. However, if when you look through these rules you find yourself getting excited about the possibilities of growing yourself in therapy with me then please drop me a line. I look forward to working with you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What you really want to know about a psychotherapist

One might think that the most common question asked of a psychotherapist might be, “what was your wildest case?” If so I might answer with the story of the woman who enjoyed putting cream of wheat in her hair or the angry five year old who attacked a police officer.

Another question someone might ask of a therapist is “do you ever get really bored with your client’s problems?” If so I would answer that I’ve never been bored, I’ve had other reactions but I find people and how they deal with their problems fascinating and I’ve never been bored.

Photo Credit: Eamon Curry
No, the most common question I hear from friends about my job as a psychotherapist is, “how do you deal with hearing everybody’s problems?”

It’s a great question and an important one. It’s a question therapists are often asked when they are applying for a job which will likely be high stress. In that setting the question is changed to, “what do you do for self care?”

When I first started my career as a therapist I would say something really healthy and wholesome like, “I eat well and I exercise and sometimes I meditate.” There is some truth to that. I do try generally to eat well and I do exercise a bit, though certainly not enough, and I probably meditate once or twice per month even though I wish I did it more.

My honest answer to this common question is, “I don’t really know”. It depends on the day and how I’m feeling physically and mentally.

I’ve had more and less healthy coping mechanisms in my life but in general I do something that makes me feel good and when I’m being more healthy I engage in something I find beautiful and/or fun.

The less healthy stress relievers in my life have generally been food oriented. There was a time that on my way driving home from work I would stop at the grocery store and buy a jar of pickles and finish them by the time I got home about 20 minutes later. You can imagine my doctor was not particularly happy about this. I can proudly say that I haven’t done that in a long time but I do drink soda sometimes or buy a candy bar. Less healthy stuff also includes watching movies and playing video games. These are not inherently bad for me but I count them in the unhealthy category because I sometimes feel kind of grouchy afterward.

In the healthy category I include exercising but more as a prophylactic. It is somewhat rare that I will have a tough day and go for a walk or run to chill out afterward. However, I have noticed that I am a better therapist (and husband and father) in general when exercise is a normal part of my life. I feel the same way about sleep. Sometimes I listen to loud music and play the drums. Yes, this therapist is a drummer (sometimes I even wear a long hair wig so I can make believe I play for an early 80’s band). Even the healthy category includes eating but it’s something more nutritious than a jar of pickles. My wife makes many delicious foods and among my favorites are Israeli salad with tons of lemon juice and garlic salt (my mouth is watering already), and she also makes a wonderful hot & sour soup which is nothing short of brilliant.

So there you have it, you’ve been wondering how I could possibly handle listening to people’s pain and suffering all day and now you have a little more insight in to how it all works.

If you have more questions for a therapist send me an email and I will publish your question and answer anonymously so no one will know you asked it. I’ll do that right after I finish eating my pickles and watching Das Boot.