Tuesday, June 17, 2014

On the brink of a PTSD breakthrough

Today I was talking with two different clients about the research done at the VA in Minneapolis in veterans experiencing PTSD - finding in brain scans that traumatic memory seems to "reside" in the right hemisphere of the brain, right above the ear. So happy to have located a story on this research, and want to pin it here :-)

Thanks to Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos for his continuing research!

On the brink of a PTSD breakthrough

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In The Therapist's Office (now)

Every so often patterns seem to emerge from the diverse clients I see. Here's what I'm noticing now:

1. Couples in my area are coming to counseling at higher distress levels. In our initial conversations, they easily say their problems go back years, not months. This often translates into one or both of the couple completely emotionally "finished," and only coming to counseling out of a sense of obligation or the expectation that the divorce process in their county will expect some kind of counseling to occur.

Very often, men in these marriages are slow to agree to get counseling help. They may view the marriage differently, or be reluctant to reach out for support. When the wife begins to seriously talk about separation, the husband wakes up and says he's ready and will often make the initial phone calls to therapists.

2. Couples have less confidence in counseling. Perhaps it comes from more choices for treatment (online, email therapy, coaching, prescription drugs) or a growing reluctance on many people's part to give permanent change the time and energy it requires. I wonder if more people are willing to try therapy but quit when it gets hard to schedule or invest in, or if more people are choosing therapists by price alone. Many people will start therapy with less experienced counselors, but stop attending when the process gets bogged down.

Each of these issues makes helping couples heal and grow a true challenge. Therapy works best when there is less damage to heal, and works best when everyone is ready to invest themselves. Sometimes these factors don't happen between partners at the same time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Saturday reflection 2014


I contribute to a regular newspaper column every couple of months for the local paper, and have done so since 1997. That's well over 100 different Spiritual Reflections on faith, the world, church and us. 

This round, my column is being published on Holy Saturday. Because I agree that the newspaper has first shot at publication, I can't print the whole thing here. But I am going to print out my last two paragraphs because, well, I want to. The whole thing will be in the Savage Pacer tomorrow, and on their website Monday. 

Here's how the essay ends. For any and all who may read what I have here, I wish you the grace and faith to see yourself as one for whom this resurrection happened. Happy Easter. 

          Easter, which will be celebrated in countless churches around the world tonight and tomorrow, and for weeks afterward, is the celebration of a completely improbable rebirth. The experience of the early disciples that this very dead and gone young Messiah was, by the unique action of God, raised up. It doesn’t make sense, this dead body given new life, but our scriptures tell several stories of encounters, of conversations, of visions, of meals that person after person had of a newly alive Jesus. At least some kind of life that was touch-able, converse-able, and physical in the way that bodies are physical things. Something happened to Jesus that dozens of different people in different contexts experienced, and the only words they had to tell of their experience was to call it being raised from the dead, of his resurrection. Christ is risen, they said. He is reborn from the dead.
            Easter celebrates this miracle, this unique intervention of God upon the physical world, to bring dead Jesus to life again. We don’t understand it. But we cling to it as a promise: that in Jesus, death doesn’t win. Not finally, not in the end. And that he leads any and all who would follow to new life at their death, too. Which is why there will be lots of singing about our own deaths in Easter songs and hymns tomorrow. Why we will remember with full, hopeful hearts those we love who have died. Why we will smell lilies and see new hats and share meals with loved ones tomorrow. In these bodies, death appears to win. But in God, death is a big, fat loser. That’s what all the fuss in church tomorrow is about. As Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we be. Hope and faith sing together: Alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, February 28, 2014

When To Get Marriage Therapy

Most couples come to therapy when they have completely run out of steam. While there is a great deal that MFTs can do to help, it's not a time in the family when people feel resilient, optimistic or energized. In order to create permanent change, one needs a good deal of hope and energy. And so does one's partner.

I've observed that for many couples (especially those who have had a less-than smooth relationship history, full of stops and re-starts, difficult emotional turmoil, previous long-term partners and/or huge life stress) there are much better times to come to couples therapy and have a much bigger chance for successful growth.

They are:

1. Before marriage. PLEASE consider pre-marital counseling, whoever you are. There are fabulous tools available to me as a therapist to assess your relationship as it is now, help you understand your unique partnership in basic system and personality terms, and help you enter the marriage more awake to your strengths and weaknesses.

2. After the FIRST really big, painful, emotionally threatening argument. Happier couples, those whose likes and dislikes, personality styles, family of origin patterns and conflict themes are more similar to each other may never even have one of these blow outs. Ever. That would be ideal. The moment a frightening, threatening, abusive fight happens, think: Help. We need help.

3. When one of you feels as if you are drifting away from your partner and couplehood in a big way : a job that takes you away from home for days or weeks at a time; when new parenthood strains the closeness; a crisis of faith or health or employment. Couple relationships are always managing their own sense of healthy emotional distance from one another. But the marriage should always feel quietly, confidently connected. If it doesn't, don't let it drift without comment and professional support.

These are the times I have noticed in marriages of change and opportunity, when both partners may be open to learning new things about each other and themselves, and still see the relationship as positive, life-affirming, permanent. These are the points at which relationships can be strengthened, renewed, matured. Don't wait until you can't stand it any more to reach out for counseling. Chances are, your chances of recovery get lower with every week you wait.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Now I've Done It: Saying Yes (Almost) to a PT Therapy Job

It was a huge surprise, and really flattering.

A lead psychologist working for the Minneapolis Veteran's Administration Hospital Center called a couple of weeks ago to recruit me for a part-time job. I am exactly what she wanted, she said: a licensed therapist who is/was also clergy. No one, other than myself and my smallish circle of family, friends and clients, think that my double expertise is anything remarkable. To have someone outside my circle seek my particular set of education, experience and interest and ask me to work for them was, well, a first.

After days of thinking, reading, talking, prayer and observation of my own reactions, I've said yes to the work. I'll be trained in a research protocol, leading a small group of soldiers who are suffering with PTSD to use their own spiritual resources to assist in their recovery. I will lead the group in a church in my area of the cities, and go up to the VA weekly to join in consultation group of the therapists who are also leading the various protocol groups in this research study. I expect to bring all my experience to bear, enjoy helping meet the needs of soldiers and building new relationships with colleagues I will come to know.

What has me a bit unsure is how the rhythm of these new hours of work for the VA will fit into my private practice. I have imagined the best I can how to work that out, and requested those hours as those hours I can work. So far, every effort has been made to honor my request. I trust that experience will continue as the groups get scheduled, and I go through my training. You can probably imagine the pile of paperwork that is required to join - even at a 6-8 hours a week - the VA as an employee. 40 pages of repetitive information sharing paperwork and fingerprinting are the start. Online web-based ethics workshops, protocol review, and recruitment of soldier participants follow. Wow. Our government at work!

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish me continuing good health, the joy of something new, and the energy and flexibility to enjoy the professional challenge. I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: The grant contract, as it turns out, was written in such a way that I couldn't just work a few hours a week as planned. I did do the training, but ended up turning the work down. Oh well. It was an interesting interlude. LSB