Emotional A, B, C’s

The power of a name. Do you remember naming things when you were a kid and first learning how to read or write? Teachers would teach the alphabet with the aid of the quintessential A – Apple, B – Boat, C – Cat, etc. It was comforting to have these visual aids to help with something so abstract and new to us at the time – which was language! Now language is second-nature and it feels like something we’ve known how to do since birth.

 I wish our education system would go further and use this same format to teach the naming of our emotions and how to incorporate emotional fluency into our life the same way they teach language fluency.

Sure we know happy, sad, and angry. But things pretty much stop there at the basics. There are many more complex emotions that we don’t get acquainted with early on and don’t get taught how to approach and live with them. Not only that but we aren’t taught about where these emotions might stem from. Or how new emotions, like fear, terror and trauma responses might come from experiences that we may encounter. Even further, we are not taught how to work with these emotions once they grow within us.

Not one of us is immune from the human condition, and not one of us will make it out of life without experiencing unpleasant emotions, unpleasant relationships and unpleasant circumstances beyond our control. Since these things are certainties we should make it a rule to strengthen our mental capacities to face these inevitabilities with confidence.

No doubt, learning these skills from a young age would do a great deal of preventative care, but as adults, even if we might have missed the bus on learning these things at a young age, it’s never too late to try out a different way of thinking about, and interacting with out emotional selves.

Is there an emotion that you’ve been trying to put your finger on lately but it’s been alluding you? Do you feel a general unease or confusion with your feelings? Do you find yourself over using one or two words to describe your emotions when you feel that doesn’t entirely fit the bill?

If so, I want to challenge you this week to sit with that puzzling feeling. Go inside yourself and see if that feeling has a shape to it, maybe a color, maybe a sound. See what that feeling wants to or needs to tell you.

We can’t escape our emotions, so the best thing to do is get acquainted with them. It may be scary, but give it a try.


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Little Magic Moments

I have always loved space and everything that has to do with science and science fiction. I credit this affinity to my early years watching Star Trek and all other manner of sci-fi with my dad, as well as my dad’s own history of working at NASA.

It’s only taken me this long to get into hobby astronomy and I’m wondering why I didn’t do it sooner! In the world of hobby astronomy there is a range of equipment and I thought I’d start out with the smaller model reflector. I did some research and had an idea that this was a pretty good beginners telescope, but had no idea really of what to expect in terms of views.

When it arrived the “tabletop” telescope was MUCH bigger than I imagined, and my excitement began to grow. It rained for probably a week after I got it so finally the night came to break it out and take a look at the sky.

It was a dark night and a new moon so we scoped out stars and even saw a tiny glimpse of mars from our light polluted area.

But it wasn’t until we had a near full moon on a clear night that I was really wow-ed.

Do you remember the last time you really let yourself get excited about something? As adults we can get curmudgeon-y pretty easily. It makes sense, we have a lot of responsibilities and have been disillusioned by much of what life actually is.

Yet – we can succumb to this notion that everything is dull in the end, or we can expand our childlike capabilities that still live within us and allow ourselves to be astounded by everyday things.

Looking at the moon that night was one of those moments. Seeing something in a new way, when I’ve seen it every night since I can remember was particularly wonderful and whimsical in a way.

Precipitated by a somewhat frivolous purchase, I had an experience that was pretty darn magical. I think that these moments make life wonderful, and we should seek these moments whenever we can.

Where can you look for wonder this week?

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Mind Control (our own)

Mind Control. Is it real? Would you be shocked if I said it was? Of course, I’m not talking about MK Ultra or reading other people’s minds, but we have LOTS of control over our own.

Spirals and Loops

When we get into thought spirals and rumination loops we tend to believe the lie that we do not have control of our minds, but rather our minds have control of us. It’s easy to see how we can believe this, and trust me I’ve been there. But we are the authors of our thoughts, and when automatic thoughts pop up we are stuck in them only out of habit, not out of necessity.

Over the course of our lives, starting from a young age, we are not taught very much about our thoughts and how we can interact with them. In fact, we’re not taught we can interact with them at all! By default, our thoughts become a thing that we believe we just have to be subjected to – good or bad. So as a result, we get into the habit of just believing everything we think and settling into the idea that we have to ride along on any thought train that comes rolling into the station. We assume we have to board these thought vehicles that chug along without a conductor, wreaking havoc on our sense of wellbeing.  

As adults, if we’re willing to examine this process, and practice something new with an open mind we can begin to see a different way. We realize that we, in fact, are equipped to conduct this train. That conductor booth is empty because we were never shown the door, but we need only open that door, get in the seat, and direct these thoughts where we do and do not want them to go.

This doesn’t mean we will never have unpleasant thoughts, but it will mean that we have more agency to interact with them rather be held captive by them.

When you have a thought that is unpleasant, or enter into a rumination loop that is tiresome, I challenge you to imagine yourself as the conductor of that thought. The CEO of your mind, making decisions and calling the shots. Remember, your thoughts are just thoughts. You have the power and the agency to have a healthier relationship with them.

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“I’m not doing Get Help”

If you’re a Marvel super-fan like I am, and have seen Thor Ragnarok you may remember a scene where Loki and Thor are breaking out of a prison of sorts and resort to a ploy called “Get Help”. Long story short (spoilers here): Thor and Loki pretend that Loki is hurt in order to catch some guards…off guard…and then Thor subsequently throws Loki into them (as super heroes do) and they make their escape. The lead up to the scene is Loki recognizing that he’s about to get thrown through the air and tells Thor “I’m not doing ‘Get Help'”, indicating that this is a well known tactic they’ve used before.

Getting Help For Real

In an effort to link my love for Marvel to mental health this is actually a great metaphor for how we can look at our own problems! Often times we are in prisons of our mind (or circumstances). Life can deal us severe blows, and our own mental habits can torment us. We feel helpless, but we are not. Still it takes work and risk to break free from these emotional confines.

One way is to…get help. Like in the movie, when we try to work out a way to free ourselves, it’s seldom through pleasant or painless means. We have to do a lot of introspection, we have to have courage, we have to explore parts of ourselves that make us vulnerable – and we often times see these steps that we need to take and we say “No Way” or… “I am not doing ‘get help'”.

Even though help is the things that is needed, it doesn’t come for free. Any challenge worth undertaking is going to require effort, risk and perseverance. We can always choose to stay where we are. We can choose to not risk the discomfort of getting hurdled through the air that is our recovery journey, but the result of not taking these steps is that we remain in the prisons we are encased in.

I often remind my clients, and implore any of my readers, to take heart. The journey to healing is challenging, scary and uncomfortable. We don’t want to Get Help, but we know we need it.

If you’re going through something right now, and you recognize your own avoidance to getting help, then I encourage you to be brave, take that step, and see what it teaches you.

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time to deal with time

Are you the kind of person who, if you have somewhere you have to be at 3pm in the afternoon, you feel like you can’t do anything the entire day leading up to it? It’s like the day is a wash and you have to lay in wait, immobile and ready, for that planned “thing”. Me too!

I’ve noticed this about myself in recent years and I have to say, it’s pretty inefficient. As we have busy professional and family lives, we should be aware of how we organize our time and events.

My professional life is where most of my time is allocated these days. I know this will not always be the case, but while I work two jobs (one at an agency for families and children, and the other my private practice), I’m finding less and less time in the cracks.

Personally, as my schedule is getting busier with clients in private practice and as I approach having to implement a waitlist, I’m finding that it’s not the best self-care for me to not use my in-between times during the workday.

Let’s say I have a client at 11am and then at 3pm. My initial impulse is to feel rushed and agitated that from 12pm-3pm I have “dead time” where I “can’t do anything”. This is a fallacy and a thought error. In reality, that’s two whole hours where I can get things done or do some self-care!

So lately I’ve been challenging myself to take advantage of these times and it’s been a nice exercise in flexibility and seeing that behavior change is possible. The excuse that “this is just how I am” doesn’t fly in the therapy circle and it shouldn’t fly in our personal lives either.

If you’re like me and feel like you’re stuck in a weird schedule, try to look at things a little differently. Where can you truly open up space for yourself?  

What kind of thoughts do you have around time management, and what kind of behavior and thought changes can you put in place to make the most of the day?   

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Its all in our mind

Over the last year+ I have really begun to love the act of meditation. I was put off on the idea for so long because I thought it was fruity or hippy and not scientific at all. Boy was I wrong!

As humans we get stuck in thought habits and it’s only through training our mind to unstick us that we can find peace with our thoughts and ourselves. Mindfulness and meditation are simply the tools to unstick us.

This week in one of my guided meditations the narrator discussed how bringing awareness to our troublesome thoughts will not make those thoughts go away, but what it will do is allow us to witness those thoughts from a different place.

In that act, we get space from the thought and ultimately engage with it in a healthier way. I loved this image and love this aspect of meditation. Sometimes it’s helpful to visualize these kind of mental practices to get a better hang of it.

In my mind I see this stepping back in awareness as riding in a glass bottom boat.

My thoughts are on the sea floor swimming around, weaving in and out of coral, but I’m safe and dry in the boat, watching what is going on instead of stuck under water being pulled by the currents.

When you think of observing your thoughts from a different place, what comes to mind for you?   

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The Importance of Social Groups

In one of my social media posts this week I discuss the benefits of a social group. This week I began meeting with a group of therapists for peer-supervision and after a year of social desertion it was a wonderful thing to take part in.

More than that it reminded me how important it is as adults for us to meet regularly with people who have similar interests, or are in similar area’s of life.

That can be found in a church group, a mom’s group, a community sports team or a hobbyist group. On more than one occasion my husband and I have been dreaming of all the ways we plan to find new friends, groups and social connections this year after a depressing year of poor social cohesion.

After this last year we’ve seen how social connectedness is more important than ever, and it’s exciting to look forward to times where this can happen again. As adults, this can be difficult. We don’t have the natural landscape of college to meet people at, and the only source of connection that leaves us is usually work. Yet often times co-workers and friends don’t make a good mix, so below I’ve listed some possible ways you can incorporate a more rich social life in coming months – once it’s safe to do so!

  1.  Book Clubs
  2.  Audobon Society
  3. Local sports (Kickball, Soccer, Tennis, Martial Arts, etc.)
  4.  Interest Groups (Board Games, Dungeons & Dragons, Photography, etc.)
  5.  Art classes
  6.  Religious Groups
  7.  Support Groups
  8.  Parenting or Mom’s Groups

These are just a few. What kind of groups have you been thinking of joining? Where can you fit in?  

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We all have them. Some habits are good, some are not so helpful, some are downright bad! What we may not realize thought is that most of our thought life is dictated by habit too.

habits of thought

The way we zone out, process stressors, or analyze social input is all habitual. Our brains are pretty lazy at the end of the day (even though they can do amazing things) and when our minds find the path of least resistance, they don’t have much incentive to change. If we have delved into a pattern of believing the worst in people’s motives then we will see most interactions with a negative tint.

If we cope with being overwhelmed with tasks by procrastinating then that’s likely what we will do in the future. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Research shows that habits can be broken but it takes time and effort. We know that if we make it a habit to wake up early and run it may be difficult the first few weeks but after that it’s our new normal. The same thing happens in our thought life.

If we believe the worst in a situation now and we’re not happy with how that makes us feel, try switching gears. Look for the truth in a situation rather than your initial perception – then do it again. The more you interpret something with a more neutral or positive spin, the more likely you will be to see things in a brighter light moving forward.

Our brains are powerful and plastic and the power to change lies within us – all there is to it is to do it!

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Reduced Fees and Pro-Bono Work

In this last post of this financial series I want to discuss pro-bono work and reduced fees. Therapists are encouraged by our ethics boards to provide a portion of our sessions at a lower cost or, if possible, some free or “pro-bono”.

Therapy is a service that should be accessible to all, and these are the means we get to offer this service to those who couldn’t otherwise afford our fees.

The Limits

Since we have limits to how many services we can provide at a reduced fee or for free, there is usually a cap on how many clients can receive this benefit at a given time. It depends on the individual therapists finances and choices, but most therapists will have a line on their business page stating whether or not they are open to “sliding scale” fees. This means that therapists will work with clients to determine what they can afford.

Sometimes this sliding scale comes with stipulations like a set-number of sessions, or a set frequency but talk with your therapist about what they can do for you.

Pro-Bono work works in a similar fashion. Therapists can provide some services for free, either directly or in a more generalized setting like providing services for a charity, school or church.

If a therapist does not currently have any open slots for reduced fee work, don’t lose hope. Whenever those clients graduate, or phase-out those spots may become available again so be sure to keep asking your therapist to be put on a waitlist for such services.

If you are a therapist and you don’t provide these services I highly encourage you to reconsider. I offer several reduced fee spots on my caseload and I am glad that I do because, as stated before, therapy should be accessible to everyone.

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Why Many Therapists Don’t Take Insurance

This week on therapy money talk, we discuss therapists and insurance. While it’s true that you can find therapists who take insurance it may not always be the case. In a previous post I explored some of the reasons for the fee’s that therapists charge. In this blog I’m going to explain why we don’t always accept insurance as a way to cover those costs.

The Insurance Process

If a therapist wants to accept insurance there is a considerable time and cost associated with this form of payment.

To begin with a therapist has to apply to an insurance company in order to take their insurance. This process is complicated and lengthy. It can take anywhere between 4 months to a year to get approved. An insurance group will only approve you if they recognize a need in your area for your services that isn’t already filled by another provider. It is common to be denied because there are already enough providers in your area.

If you are among the chosen, the process gets more complicated from there. You must sign a contract with them and agree to a fee schedule. While I can’t share the specific fees that insurance companies pay a therapist it is almost always less than what a therapy session costs. It can be anywhere from a third to one half of what a therapist charges for their services. Additionally, therapists are not paid when they render the service to the client. A therapist would have to have the session then complete a time-consuming process of medical billing to submit a claim to the insurance company to request that they pay us for the service we just provided to one of their users.

Depending on a number of factors the insurance company can deny the claim. In that case, the therapist has then worked for free. If an insurance company does approve the claim, they pay the therapist weeks later.

Mental health therapy agencies and group practices that have specific medical billing and coding teams have the time dedicated for this complicated process. Providers who work with these agencies are also usually paid a steady salary so the delays in insurance payments are not felt as acutely. It is for these reasons that it is more likely that you will find providers that take insurance in these settings.

In contrast, private practice therapists will usually forgo these challenges because the cost in time and money does not make the most efficient business practice. Self-pay among private practice therapists is just a lot easier. Not to mention, insurance companies require therapists to diagnose the client in the first session and submit that to the insurance company or else services will not be covered. Not all therapists (or clients) agree with this practice, so for some this is another barrier to accepting insurance.

No surprise this is a broken system and there should be alternative affordable systems in place to make therapy accessible to all people who want it, and feasible for all therapists to provide it.  

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