I am pleased to now be offering my services through Valley View Counseling. My new address is 1652 NW Hughwood Ct. Roseburg, OR 97471. Call (541) 673-3985 to inquire or to schedule an appointment.
I still remember the first time I felt deeply listened to. In retrospect, for me this was a profound experience, opening my awareness of another way of relating to another that was more intimate, and soul satisfying than I had ever experienced before. For me it was also the beginning of a life-long interest in what has become a formal and informal practice of listening.
I love to listen to people’s stories – I find these narratives rich and meaningful. To me, stories are the colors in the tapestries of our lives. However I also have learned to listen for what’s under and in the story – to the emotion, meaning, and the physical experiences expressed and embedded in story. These are like the actual threads of our tapestry.
There is an art to listening well. I have been inspired by many teachers over the years. Here is one of my teachers, Frank Ostaseski, speaking on the power of deep listening:
Loss, and the grief that results from loss, is a part of everyone’s life. We each suffer loss in a variety of ways, from separation, divorce, unemployment, relocation, immigration, natural disaster, trauma, illness and death. On some level we know that we will not leave this life without first losing relationships that matter. Still, loss can rock your world.
My own experience with grief began with a pregnancy loss when I was a nurse in a birth center of a large metropolitan hospital. Initially my grief affected me in so many ways – personally, interpersonally, and professionally. Grief affected my appetite, my interests, my sleep, and my dreams. This single loss event was like a stone thrown into a heretofore calm pool that was my life. The stone caused huge ripples, beginning with emotional pain deeper than I had never known before, and moved outward in ways that impacted the course of my life.
My grief has been a soul journey, and my guide was a wonderful therapist who inspired me. In the gentle holding container of the therapy relationship, we can deepen our experience of healing. We begin by pausing, and just being with grief, feeling it viscerally in our bodies. We move toward our suffering, finding a gentle way to be with it. Eventually we open to inquiry, deepening the meaning of our loss. Through spacious inquiry we ask, “What can we learn from our losses? What inner and outer resources do we have to help us cope with our grief? How do we go on? What treasures lie in the mire and muck of loss? What are the spiritual gifts of grief?”
The experience of loss and the deep inquiry that resulted continues to ripple through me, revealing tenderness and vulnerability in place of naive self-assurance. Grief awakened me to the preciousness of life, and resulted genuine compassion for others and myself. This compassion opens my heart each time I sit with another who grieves. Sharing the richness of this common bond makes us both more whole.
Gail Caldwell, author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, writes, “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.”
So true. Grief rubs our rough edges, softening and opening us to the mystery life. One of my beloved teachers, Frank Ostaseski, says, “Grief is our common ground, and healing is always found by moving toward the suffering. The journey through grief is a path to wholeness.”
As a therapist, my day begins with self care. The mornings have been beautiful here – balmy and fresh, so I have been beginning my day with a brisk walk in the countryside near my home. Afterwards, I am rewarded by a warm shower and a healthy breakfast. It is a wonderful way to begin my day – refreshed, well nourished, and peaceful.
My drive to town and the tasks of opening up my office are routines I enjoy. To make sure I am ready for my first client I pull up notes from our last session. I enjoy the quiet pace, the fragrance of my tea, and the “Good Morning” calls from my colleagues of this first hour of preparation in my office.
During the next seven hours I will often see up to six individuals, couples, and/or families. One of the first things I find myself doing when another person sits before me is to take a breath, and feel the energy of the space between us. I find something lovable about the person or people placed before me. My heart softens as I feel our connection.
As I sit with people, I listen. I listen deeply for the meaning under the words, and I observe for non-verbal communication as well. I ask questions to deepen the inquiry, and invite other ways of perceiving and naming experiences. While I am engaged and active in the listening process, I also am still at times, observing and waiting to sense what might be most helpful.
Sometimes I hear stories that are sobering, painful, and angst-filled. And sometimes I hear about the funny things that happen, and the success people discover. When people are grieving, for me it’s like listening to a love story of the deepest kind. It’s not unusual that I feel the pain of another in my own heart.
In the end, I don’t usually solve anyone’s problems for them. I have a deep belief in the innate capacity of the individual to move toward wholeness, to health, toward equilibrium. In therapy, I am simply a companion, an active listener, and sometimes a guide. During my session I may teach some skills, explore alternatives, reframe negative beliefs, notice what’s working and what’s not working, challenge assumptions, acknowledge the struggle, guide mindful self awareness, and always, always support hopefulness.
At the end of the day, I complete my chart notes, tidy my workspace, and reverse my morning routine to close up my office. As I turn out the final light and close the door I head for home fatigued, but oh-so-enriched. My profession as a therapist is the most satisfying job of my entire working career. It is a special privilege to witness courage, strength, trust, and growth. And daily I realize that change is not only happening for my clients – the therapy encounters profoundly change me as well. I have gratitude for everyone I serve.
We all have strengths, including resources, creativity, and a measure of resilience. Often we can benefit by simply turning our focus from problems to strengths. A friend, Sue Sherrier reminded me that the ‘Strengths-based Perspective’ asks, “How were/are you able to cope with difficult situations? What went well today? What went well this past week/month/year….and what part did you play in that?”
One of my favorite poets is David Whyte, and one of my favorite poems of his is “Sweet Darkness”:
When your eyes are tired the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.
You must learn one thing: the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.
– David Whyte,
House of Belonging
If you enjoy this poetry please join my Facebook Group – David Whyte Poetry at https://www.facebook.com/groups/95724917816/
by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.
There are literally hundreds of books on how to improve relationships. Relationship difficulties are the most often cited reason that people decide to come into therapy. While relationships are one of the most rewarding things in life, they can also be one of the most challenging and heartbreaking. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned from some of those relationship books and from almost 20 years of doing couples therapy. (The primary source for the research cited is The Marriage Clinic by John Gottman, Ph.D.)
Research has found that the most significant factor in determining satisfaction in a relationship is the quality of the friendship between the two people — and this is equally true for women and men. Obviously that makes it important to devote time and energyto strengthening the friendship between you and your partner. How? Spend time together, listen, be empathetic about sorrows and enthusiastic about joys, tolerate foibles, forgive faults, support dreams, be available when you’re needed – in short be a good friend.
Conflict is a natural part of any close relationship. People have different needs, wants, values, priorities, temperaments, histories, energies, moods, rhythms, styles. What is unusual is not that people have conflict, but that they ever manage to work through it sufficiently to actually want to be in each other’s company for any length of time.
That magical, wonderful, knock-your-socks-off feeling of being in love will fade. It’s inevitable. There’s no feeling like it, and it’s wonderful while it lasts, and it will fade. Ideally, the “pink cloud” feelings you have for each other can mature and grow into a beautiful, lifelong loving companionship – but that takes work – keep reading.
Be careful how you confront your partner. Remember the difference between a complaint and criticism. A complaint is an objection you have to how something is going – or not going. Criticism is an attack on your partner’s personhood. Example: a complaint might be, “I get so aggravated with you when you don’t call when you’re going to be late.” That line can be turned into a criticism by adding, “How can you be so selfish?” or “What’s the matter with you that you always do that?”
Old saying – still true: YOU GET MORE FLIES WITH HONEY THAN YOU DO WITH VINEGAR . Remember when you have a complaint that you’re asking your partner to change to please you. Chances are they’re going to be more likely to accommodate you if you act like you like them!
Be “influenceable”. Research also shows that happier relationships are those in which each person is open to being influenced by the other. Don’t hang on to being so right that the only place left for your partner to be is wrong.
Examine your beliefs about what you think couples and families do for one another? If you believe, as I do, that loved ones supportone another in “becoming” what one wants to become, then the attitude you bring into partnership is likely to be one that will help both you and your partner grow and flourish.
Power: Only in relationships where both partners have equal, open power can true intimacy exist (meaning the experience of being open, vulnerable, and able to share one’s innermost thoughts and feelings). The old topdog/underdog setup may have worked in a way, but the result was NOT intimacy.
Even the best relationships have some irreconcilable differences . Not all problems can be solved. If you want to keep your partner (and your sanity), you might have to decide that that quirk that drives you mad is actually an endearing idiosyncrasy. If that’s impossible, keep working on the irreconcilable differences, but with gentleness, respect and good humor. (Though this is a tangentialremark and fodder for a different article, how can we possibly expect nations to live peaceably with their differences if we can’t even manage it in our closest relationships?)
Repair attempts . This is a term coined by John Gottman that I particularly like. It refers to the times one or the other partner makes some conciliatory gesture. It could be a joke to lighten the mood in an argument, a gentle touch, a request to table the conversation till there’s time to cool down, a silly grin, an “I’m sorry” or “boy did I screw up”. Sometimes the timing can be off, and the receiver is just in no mood to hear it, but it’s helpful if the attempt is at least acknowledged. Take a second to smile at the joke or return the touch. Repair attempts can lower the volatility and improve the atmosphere in the room. It doesn’t mean the disagreement has been resolved; it’s just a little breather to remember you love one other.
Accept that reality is subjective. We can only see the world through our own eyes, and not all eyes see the same . Studies on eyewitness testimony attest to the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. When I was a campus counselor years ago, I once counseled two people individually for two months before it became evident that they were roommates in conflict with each other! Their respective descriptions of what was going on was so different that the accounts bore no resemblance to each other. I’m still having that experience with couples today.
How do you know when your relationship could benefit from couple’s counseling? Two clues: (a) if your disagreements keep having the same flavor and you feel like you keep going round and round and getting nowhere, and/or, (b) if you’ve tried everything you can think of and it feels like nothing works. Sooner is also probably better than later. Relationships with a long history of hurt, resentment and hateful words are difficult to heal. John Gottman’s research highlighted four indicators that a relationship is in serious trouble: the presence of high levels of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. These things are deeply corrosive to a relationship and can leave it eroded beyond repair if not addressed.
This list is obviously not exhaustive – I haven’t even touched on sex and money. If you would like to read more about relationships, some books I recommend are: Soul Mates by Thomas Moore; Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver; Getting the Love you Want by Harville Hendrix; Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner; Conscious Loving by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks.
A group of students was asked to list what they thought were the present Seven Wonders of the World. Though there was some disagreement, the following list had the most votes:
1. Egypt’s Great Pyramids
2. Taj Majal
3. Grand Canyon
4. Panama Canal
5. Empire State Building
6. Washington Monument
7. China’s Great Wall
While gathering the votes, the teacher noticed that one quiet student hadn’t turned in her paper yet, so she asked the student if she was having trouble with the list.
The student replied, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there are so many.”
The teacher said, “Well tell us what you have and maybe we can help.”
The student hesitated, and then read, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:
1. To see
2. To taste
3. To touch
4. To hear
Then she paused, thinking. Quietly she added:
5. To feel
6. To laugh
7. And to love
The room was so full of silence you could have heard a pin drop. Those things we overlook as simple and “ordinary” are truly wondrous.
This is a gentle reminder that the most precious things in life cannot be bought.
Welcome to my Therapy Blog! I am busily preparing to begin my private practice the second week of January, 2014. I will be located at Umpqua Counseling Associates at 770 SE Kane, on the corner of Kane and Lane in Roseburg. See the Contact Me page above for contacting me for appointments. I will be happy to chat with you about my services, and if you’re interested, we can set up an appointment to meet together.
Let me know in the comment box what you’d like more information about, and I’ll will try to develop this blog into a further resource for you, my valued clients.