Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Voices — July 2020
After the sad and tragic death of George Floyd, our city and many other cities across the country responded with thousands of peaceful protests calling for racial equity and an end to police harassment and discrimination towards the black community and people of color. Every person, no matter their ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, SES, etc., should be treated with fairness and equality. Racial inequality related to police profiling and harassment is a critical issue, which has plagued our country for generations. How many more people need to be harassed or killed before we make a change? The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. We must become a nation that expresses love and acceptance of our differences rather than hate and aggression. It is the duty of all white individuals to look inward at our own implicit and explicit bias and be more aware of our actions and behaviors towards people of color. It is our duty to stand together to say enough is enough. I stand with the peaceful protesters in calling for an end to racial inequality and systemic oppression not just within law enforcement but in all aspects of life.
Over the past few years, LA-CAMFT has made numerous efforts to address systemic racism and oppression through working with CAMFT leaders and chapter leaders throughout California during our leadership conference; facilitating difficult conversation about race and ethnicity with these leaders and colleagues; shining a light on mental health issues that impact marginalized groups through our monthly speaker series and workshops; and the long standing Therapists of Color (TOC) Support Group. The mission of the Therapists of Color (TOC) Support Group is to provide a safe and brave space for therapists of color to process and heal from their experiences of discrimination, structural racism, implicit bias, racist injury, microaggressions and/or aggression. These support groups are offered on a monthly basis, alternating between Atwater Village, Inglewood, Santa Monica, and Studio City. We welcome any TOC interested in attending these support groups to contact Janaki Neptune at firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.
Matthew Evans, LMFT
Matthew Evans, LMFT, utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in his work as a Primary Therapist in Resilience Treatment Center’s PHP/IOP program for adults.
Matthew may be contacted at email@example.com.
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT
Getting Paid: Guiding Reluctant & Resistant Clients into Teletherapy
Most psychotherapists now have telepractices and conduct video and phone therapy sessions instead of face-to-face ones in an office because the majority of mental health providers switched to all, or primarily, Teletherapy sessions as a result of stay at home orders. While these types of online video or phone services are not for every client or practitioner, many therapists are reporting that, after moving their practices online and doing therapy with clients over several months, they find video or phone telesessions not only effective but convenient—and plan to keep offering some form of Teletherapy along with in-person sessions when they’re once again feasible.
However, clinicians are also reporting that when some new prospective clients find out in-person sessions are not an option they seem reluctant, resistant or unsure about beginning or making the switch to virtual therapy.
When this type of client reaction occurs, it causes psychotherapists to feel conflicted because client consent is needed in order to work virtually—and in-office sessions aren’t an option. Therapists also then wonder if it’s okay to influence a client towards Teletherapy when the client doesn’t seem to want it or is less than comfortable with it. Should therapists address the issue further when this happens or just refer? What's a therapist to do?
While there are many good reasons that people are reluctant to do teletherapy—no private place, no equipment but their phone, etc., it’s important to remember that when in-person services are not available some individuals may initially find it hard to switch to or commit to therapy that’s different from what they’ve thought about, imagined or come to expect. Teletherapy is that kind of different. No couch, just a screen.
While clinicians know that some reluctance or resistance to beginning therapy is usually present in any intake, and are used to addressing that, what counselors aren’t used to is handling intakes where the reluctance is around Teleservices--video or phone--when it's the only option available.
The truth is that many of the issues that are initially expressed as client reluctance about Teletherapy, they aren’t actually about the telesessions at all but are really just another manifestation of the client’s issues that are inherent to therapy—and these same types of objections or complaints would come up even if the therapy was face-to-face.
While it's important to keep in mind that online services are not right for every client or practitioner, a client’s reluctance, discomfort, and resistance is most often not about Teleservices, but about entering a new world where they are moving from a familiar way of operating to the therapy context where different rules apply. Our job as therapists begins with helping clients enter, become familiar with, and safely navigate the therapeutic context. We are, and need to be, their guide.
As you read the following information, be sure to remember:
What’s the best way to respond to a potential client who seems reluctant or resistant to engage in video or phone therapy when a therapist isn’t seeing clients in person in the office?
Teletherapy reticence, reluctance, discomfort, and resistance are clinical issues. The therapist needs to take charge of any conversations regarding teletherapy issues. Yes, it’s part of therapy and it’s the therapist’s job to aid-educate-facilitate pre-therapy (intake) or Teletherapy resistance conversations
New clients don’t really know what teletherapy is or what it’s like if they’ve never had therapy or online therapy before. They only have an idea of what it’s like or the description of what someone else told them.
Teletherapy with a clinician who is a good match can be a great option when in-person therapy is not available and many clients are great candidates for video or phone therapy.
Use your clinical skills to address and respond to a client or prospective client’s Teletherapy issues when they come up—just like you would address anything else. Treat the issues that come up about teletherapy sessions the same way you’d treat any other client issue.
Taking it personally = Countertransference!
Don’t take a client’s Teletherapy reluctance and resistance talk personally when clients demonstrate their issues and skill level in dealing with them—take or use a therapeutic stance just like you would about any other topic or issue. Under your guidance clients can then make an informed decision about beginning, continuing or ending Teletherapy.
It’s important to remember that it’s normal for the clinician and new client to experience an adjustment period with remote care. New clients might need extra guidance if they’re unsure about how to navigate teletherapy when working from home with family members, roommates, or small children around. Portions of sessions can be used to formulate solutions and manage creating a physical and interpersonal zone that works to provide a safe space for therapy.
Teletherapy is definitely here to stay. Its effectiveness is equivalent to face-to-face sessions and the flexible nature of video and phone sessions benefit both clients and clinicians. Add in the ease and convenience of scheduling a video or phone therapy session and talking with a mental health practitioner from the privacy of your home or another convenient location, and you find that these virtual services are a huge draw, especially for many people who are seeking therapy for the first time.
Telepsychiatry, teletherapy, telepsychology, and video therapy are more than just trends. In fact, a good number of mental health professionals are finding they prefer working with clients using teletherapy video and or phone sessions and will not be returning to in-office sessions. Yes, these therapists are reporting that they plan to keep their therapy practices solely virtual when in-office services become available again on a large scale.
Both in-person therapy and Teletherapy have advantages. Some view office sessions as a way to get some distance from problems at home and find it easier to see and deal with challenges objectively. Some clients prefer phone therapy, which works fine in many situations.
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT, AAMFT Approved Supervisor, is in private practice in Santa Monica where she works with Couples and Gifted, Talented, and Creative people across the lifespan. Lynne’s been doing business and clinical coaching with mental health professionals for more than 15 years, helping develop successful careers and thriving practices. To learn more about her services, training or the monthly LA Practice Development Lunch visit www.Gifted-Adults.com and www.LAPracticeDevelopment.com.
Addressing Anxiety: A Narrative Therapy Perspective
David Marsten, LCSW
David Marsten, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and director of Miracle Mile Community Practice. He is on the faculty of the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy and teaches internationally for Dulwich Centre. He has coauthored several articles and the book, Narrative Therapy in Wonderland. For more information, visit www.mmcpla.org.
Friday, July 17, 9:00-11:00 am
Where: Online Via Zoom
After you register you will be emailed a Zoom link the Wednesday before the presentation.
Register today by clicking the Register Here button below.
White Privilege, White Guilt, and Mental Health
You can’t be a privileged white person* and not screw up. You can’t. You were raised in a culture where racism is so pervasive that no matter how hard you try, you will undoubtedly say something that comes across as thoughtless or even cruel. I’m sure you will read at least one such offensive statement before this article is finished, because I, too, am unaware of the right way to say so many things. This is entirely my own fault.
*NOTE: It was pointed out to me on social media that “privileged white person” is redundant and insulting in that it assumes that you could be white and be anything other than privileged. I decided to leave this expression in this article, and write a note here, so that other white people like myself can see how this expression is offensive.
After decades and decades of adulthood on this planet, while enjoying all the benefits of being a privileged white woman, and only randomly having deep discussions about racism, oppression, prejudice and microaggressions, I am only now embarking on a systematic plan of becoming an anti-racist ally. It’s embarrassing.
One thing I’ve learned recently is that over-apologizing can easily make the story about me.
My goal is not for you to know that I am well-intentioned so that I can feel good about myself. When it comes to this subject, I don’t feel good about myself, and only I can change that. I’m working on it.
You, too, may have recently heard stories in your therapy practice and your life that are similar to mine. I have heard many young people of privilege agonizing over how to best be an ally, and then feeling guilty even for their own anguish on this subject. They well understand that today’s anguish belongs to someone else.
I am writing this article because I have had this discussion over and over, sent out and received lists of resources over and over, and again and again explored the question:
“What Should I Do Right Now to Best Show My Support?”
Here Is a Template for 3 Ways to Be an Anti-Racist Ally
Again, my unconscious errors have been pointed out to me on social media. “Three ways to be an anti-racist” is reductive and can be seen to minimize the issue. My intent is rather to organize some of the information out there in a way that is less overwhelming and more accessible.
Below are the themes and ideas that have come up over and over in my research for the best ways to be an Anti-Racist Ally.
1. Educate yourself
Research, ask questions, study history, listen to the people around you.
Here is a great list of Anti-Racism Resources to read, watch, and listen to.
Read How to be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi.
Watch Emmanuel Acho’s video series Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.
Watch CBS interview Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo about White Privilege and Racism.
2. Be Aware
Look for prejudice, racism, injustice and oppression, and notice the ways they are being denied, minimized, or justified. Learn how to talk to people about what you see.
Learn about Micro-aggressions
You probably don’t need to be told about many of the thoughtless things some people say but what about these more subtle actions:
1. Don’t apologize in order to make sure someone who is discriminated against knows you are not a bad person. Apologize quickly for the hurt you caused and focus on seeking to understand.
2. Don’t ask your BIPOC friend to tell you what you need to do—own the responsibility of finding the correct behavior yourself.
3. Don’t say you are not racist, when what you mean is that you are not prejudiced.
Prejudice is an attitude based on stereotypes. Racism involves the policies and practices that perpetrate notions of white superiority and inferiority of people of color. Over and over, BIPOC are telling us that if we are not actively anti-racist, we are racist. As privileged people, we have been the benefactors of an unjust society for our entire lives.
4. Don’t be enraged about destruction of property when you are not enraged about police murder of BIPOC.
Here is a great article about how to respond to microaggressions when you see other people perpetrating them:
3. Stand Up
Build networks, protest, donate, vote.
As a therapist, I love this organization, The Love Land Foundation which helps black women receive counseling from licensed therapists.
Make sure you are registered to vote!
Know who your representatives are. In Los Angeles, you can search here. Know how to get their attention- email your representative or call the office; don’t waste time commenting on social media.
Sign the petition to make it possible for everyone to vote by mail
Kristin Rogers tells us on CNN:
“Donating to activist organizations and protesting injustices are definitely good starts to becoming an ally. But that's not enough. Actively rebutting prejudices in your own circles is key to lasting change, as those ideas and beliefs — unless challenged — are what our children absorb and are woven into the fabric of our culture.”
For more info on how you can stand up as an ally, read this thoughtful article.
WHAT YOU SOMETIMES CAN’T DO
There will be people you can’t convince. One of them may be your mother.
This is a story I’ve heard over and over, and many well-meaning privileged people are brokenhearted when they are unable to change the racist beliefs and behaviors of those who are among the people they care most about.
It is entirely possible that you will not be able to change the ways of some people in your family. Maybe the best thing you can do in this instance is speak your truth and then set an example that one can openly disagree with someone and still love them. Tell them your response to their beliefs, and provide them with resources if they want to learn more later.
If you can teach your clients to have some self-acceptance in this crazy upside-down world, then you are absolutely rockin’ it. Take a bow.
Amy McManus, LMFT, helps anxious young adults build healthy new relationships with themselves and others after a breakup. Amy’s blog, “Life Hacks,” offers practical tips for thriving in today’s crazy plugged-in world. Learn more about Amy from her website www.thrivetherapyla.com.
LMFT, NMP, CGP
Online Somatic Therapy:
Does This Kind of Therapy Work Online?
Lately when I get a call from a prospective client, the first question I get is “Does this kind of therapy work online?” My answer is a resounding “Yes.” I was offering my clients phone and video sessions prior to the Coronavirus outbreak and I was happy to find out that we could do deep work together using ZOOM. I do prefer working in person, but I’m grateful that we have other options.
When I meet with a new client, the first thing I teach them is how to track sensations in their bodies. Clients learn how to notice pleasant and unpleasant sensations in their bodies and put words to their experience. Most of my clients are very good at tracking unpleasant sensations and emotions, building their awareness of pleasant sensations can sometimes be a challenge.
The combination of the client tracking their own experience and my awareness of what I see, hear and sense creates a powerful frame, even through Zoom. I’m trained in the Neuro Affective Relational Model (NARM), a psychobiological approach for addressing attachment, relational and developmental trauma. NARM combines a top-down and bottom-up approach. Learn more about NARM here.
During sessions, I encourage people to let their eyes look around the room rather than trying to focus on me through the screen, I explain that they don’t need to feel pressured to try and make eye contact through the screen and that this is not possible anyway. Often, I’ll ask people to move their bodies and see what they notice. Some clients like to stand up from time to time during our sessions, while others prefer to remain seated or lying on a couch. I use tracking to assess what’s happening in the moment and to help people “land” in their bodies. If you are interested in learning more about tracking and other somatic techniques, I recommend Elaine Miller Karas’ Trauma Resiliency training (TRM), which is based on Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing. TRM is an affordable training that is scheduled over two three day weekends, it’s currently being offered online.
Brainspotting and EMDR are two modalities that I use regularly with my clients. Both work well online and there are many free resources available on social media through the Brainspotting and EMDR professional networks. Several prominent leaders in these communities like David Grand, Lisa Larson and Laurel Parnell have offered free webinars on working online. Feel free to contact me directly if you need help locating these resources.
I offer group therapy in my practice and I’ve studied with Haim Weinberg, PhD, a legendary group therapist who has written two books on working online with individuals and groups. I’ve been a participant and a leader of online groups and have found them to be quite effective. When my group members get upset about Zoom freezing up and missing our in-person experience, it’s a good opportunity to explore some rich clinical material.
Finally, be sure to note your client’s physical address and emergency contact information before your session. Prior to the pandemic, several of my clients traveled frequently, and I wrote down their hotel address and room number at the beginning of each session. It’s important that the client has a private place for their session and that all phone and computer notifications are silenced. I encourage people to find a spot in their home or office where they can get comfortable and I encourage them to take a few moments to settle in and arrive at our session before we begin.
These are challenging times for all of us, I’m hopeful that expanding our ability to work online will have a positive impact on our industry in the long run. I try and remind myself to be flexible when a neighbor’s dog disrupts my session, or the Instacart delivery person knocks on my door. My clients usually laugh and it’s all grist for the mill.
Maria Gray, LMFT, NMP, CGP, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Century City, where she specializes in trauma and addictions and leads groups. She enjoys working with adults who grew up around mentally ill or addictive family members. To learn more, go to www.mariagray.net.
Anais Munoz Kelly,Psy.D, LMFT
Tips for Helping You Engage with
and Support Your Children During This Time
I hope everyone is doing okay and is healthy. Most everyone is getting into the groove staying at home.
Here are some tips for making sure you are connecting to your child’s emotional well-being during this quarantine.
Using feeling words such as afraid, mad, disappointed, happy, helps further emotional connectedness.
2. ChoicesSince being in quarantine is limiting our choices, try wherever possible to allow your child choices. It can give them a sense of freedom which we don’t have much of right now.
3. HugsSometimes when we are scared we isolate. Make sure you make time to give your family hugs. This can help regulate their system. Even virtual hugs (i.e. Zoom or FaceTime) seem to be comforting.
4. DoDo something for others. Whatever you feel safe doing. We have decided to call or write to someone we know to check in with them daily—especially people who we know live alone.
5. Prayer and GratitudeIf you and your family members pray, this is a good time to pray together. I find it helpful at night to pray with my child. We pray for those we love and for people who need our prayers. Make sure this prayer is age appropriate and that it instills peace and gratitude and does not churn up fear. See if there are things you are grateful for during this quarantine time you can say with your children.
6. EngageIf your child says, “Do you want to learn this TikTok dance with me?” or “Do my PE with me,” whenever possible, take them up on it—even though you still have work to do or you are tired. Don’t miss out on the invitation.
Anaïs Muñoz Kelly, Psy.D, LMFT, is in private practice in Marina Del Rey and Venice. She works with children, adolescents, and adults dealing with transitions of all kinds. A bilingual (English/Spanish) multi-cultural therapist, she focuses her work on getting to the root of problems so people can live more fully in the present. She’s also a parent who is too tired most nights to learn any hip hop routine her child wants her to learn. Website: https://dranaismunozkelly.com.
"What Are You?”
Considerations for Therapy
with Mixed-Race Clients
Sunday, July 26, 2020
2:00 pm-4:00 pm
"What Are You?”:
Considerations for Therapy with Mixed-Race Clients
Leanne Nettles, LMFT
Leanne Nettles, LMFT, is passionate toward working with disenfranchised populations, and currently works as a Clinical Supervisor at D’Veal Family and Youth Services. Growing up mixed-race, Leanne has also experienced many facets of multi-racial identity development. Leanne hopes to improve understanding and culturally-competent therapeutic practice with mixed-race individuals and families.
Sunday, July 26, 2:00-4:00 pm
Where: Online Via Zoom
Once you have registered for the presentation, we will email you a link to Zoom a few days before the presentation.
What Are They and How Do They Influence Our Lives?
The first time I heard the term “Life Scripts,” I was in my Master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy. At that time in the ‘80s, Transactional Analysis was one of the foremost therapeutic models being taught in graduate schools. It was and is a great tool in understanding our roles and rules in our Family of Origin system. According to Eric Berne, the Canadian-born psychiatrist, who created the theory of Transactional Analysis as a method of explaining human behavior: “A Script is a life plan based on decisions made at any developmental stage, which inhibit spontaneity and limit flexibility in problem solving.”
Our Life Script is being written from the moment we are born as we unconsciously respond to the messages from our parents about ourselves, others and the world. It is how we interpret these messages that creates the blueprint for our lives. And each child in the family will interpret those messages differently. One child may be a disciplined individual, a self-starter eager to succeed in any chosen endeavor, while another may be terrified of using her many talents because she interpreted her parents’ emphasis on the importance of education as an indictment of her tremendous gifts as a dancer, singer, artist and decorator. She would often say, “What I am good at is not OK with mom and dad. I was never great at school but boy when I entertained others, I was so happy and so were my audiences.”
Every movie, TV show, play and news report has a written script, which contains the plot, the subject matter, the philosophy of the writer, the main characters, the supporting players, etc. No matter how good the actors, news anchors, reporters, producers and directors are, if you don’t have a good script as a foundation, the project will be a failure. That’s how the “script doctor” came into being in Hollywood. That’s why book and article writers have editors who are skilled in helping the writer develop a story which successfully conveys what the writer wishes to express.
So why does knowing about the importance of having a positive, supportive, loving Life Script so necessary in a client’s healing and growth? Why is it imperative that clients know that they are living the script which they wrote all through their childhood and adolescence? Because their script is the blueprint, a map for their lives. As I said above, a bad, poorly written script will never produce an excellent book, TV sitcom or Broadway play.
So, it is with our real Life Scripts. Imagine growing up in a family with loving, supportive parents who listen to their children, watch what interests them and know where their talents lie. These parents are writing a Life Script grounded in love, optimism, encouragement and the type of guidance children need to succeed in their endeavors. Unfortunately, most of my clients have Life Scripts filled with so many negative messages that they end up in my office in pain from the disappointments and hurts in their lives.
Most clients are amazed that they are making choices in their lives from the Life Scripts which they unconsciously created. They just know they are hurting and want to feel better. If I want to help my clients, I must discover the causes for their pain. And one of the best tools for that is the Life Script. I must gather as much information as possible about their very early years in their family of origin.
The Life Script Questionnaire that I use is a great tool as it asks 72 very basic questions like “Describe your father/mother as you felt as a child.” “What did your father/mother want you to be?’ “How did your mother/father compliment/criticize you?” “What was your father’s/mother’s main advice to you?” “What did you decide about life when you were little?” “What happens to people like you?” “What do you like/dislike about yourself?”
These are such basic questions that must be answered in order to know who we are now, because we are shaped and molded by those early years when, like sponges, we soaked up the atmosphere, the words, the actions, the philosophy, the successes and failures of the family in which we grew up. Our understanding of those early years is the key to unlocking the door to an entirely new life anchored in optimism, mental and emotional strength and unexpected areas of creativity where one’s talent will shine and inspire all with whom we come into contact. It’s a great journey. Do you want to jump on board?
Leila Aboohamad, LMFT, is a psychotherapist practicing in Brentwood, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, California. She specializes in helping individuals and couples create successful, committed loving relationships. She has studied and practiced spirituality and mindfulness for over 35 years. Leila also works with gifted, talented and creative adults helping them to identify and share their special gifts and passions with the world. Website: www.leilalmft.com.
Barry Davis,Divorce Mediator
Building Parenting Plans that Survive a Pandemic
One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the current COVID-19 pandemic is that it is causing major issues between divorced parents who are trying to co-parent their children. Parents are either: 1) Sincerely concerned about children going back and forth between households or 2) See this as an opportunity to manipulate their custody order by unilaterally deciding to keep the children with them and denying the other parent their parenting time—and sometimes it’s difficult to tell which one is motivating their behavior. Attorneys and the courts have been bombarded with custody cases that need to be addressed and all at a time when the courts are completely shut down—leaving these parents with absolutely no recourse in the short-term.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. If parents invest in building a comprehensive, proactive parenting plan on the front-end, they are equipped to: 1) Focus on their children’s well-being, 2) Find creative ways to deal with situations that arise, and 3) Develop a pattern of goodwill that promotes flexibility and working together over knee-jerk, adversarial approaches to dealing with problems.
Some of you may think that I’m painting too rosy of a picture regarding the benefits of a mediated parenting plan so here’s my body of proof—in the two months we’ve been sheltering at home I have not received one call or email from a past client regarding the other parent manipulating this situation. When you consider that over my 17 years as a mediator I’ve had close to 1,000 clients, this demonstrates the power of providing parents with structure and focus early on that enables them to effectively manage their strong negative emotions and keep their focus on their children’s long-term interests. Serendipitously, a focus on meeting the children’s needs often helps parents work through other divisive issues simply because they’re focused on their children’s best interests rather than on their conflicts and feelings about their soon to be ex.
So, how do we build these types of comprehensive, proactive parenting plans? Of course, there are a lot of elements, but some of the most important are:
Working with divorcing clients to create a customized, comprehensive parenting plan that is specific to their children’s needs—and provides the sense of order and consistency that children crave—does take some time (usually just 1—2 two-hour sessions). However, it is an investment in reduced conflict for the remainder of their co-parenting relationship (with young children it could easily be 10—15 years before they graduate from high school). It is also an investment not only in the well-being of their children, but also in minimizing/avoiding future mediation and/or attorney fees—less than 1% of my clients ever return to mediation after their divorce is finalized because they are so well-equipped with a combination of goodwill and specific structures to deal with issues that come up.
Specific aspects of comprehensive parenting plans are covered in this three-part Davis Mediation “Fundamental Elements of a Good Parenting Plan” YouTube Video Series.
Barry Davis, Divorce Mediator, Founder of Davis Mediation, has been helping clients get through the divorce process in the most amicable, affordable manner possible for 16 years. His passion is keeping children out of the middle of divorce so they can grow up healthy. As a divorce mediator, Barry holds Masters Degrees in Clinical Psychology and Conflict Management and has served on the Torrance Family Court and Second Appellate District mediation panels. For more information and resources, visit www.DavisMediation.com or Davis Divorce Mediation’s YouTube Channel.
Is Perfectionism Getting in the Way of Your Writing?
1. Don't compare your writing with Quentin Tarantino's.
If you fall into the category of so-called "neurotic perfectionists," (and I feel that all writers share some of these traits), you may be thinking in black and white. That is like, "I'm either a total success or a complete failure. There's nothing in between."
Don't start off comparing your screenplay with "Pulp Fiction." You'll come up short. You'll feel like a "failure." Remember there are six million shades of grey.
2. Don't just sit down at the computer and start writing.
It's overwhelming. Break your overall goal into small, doable (preferably one day) projects. Start with a character description. What is the protagonist like? Then, day two, what is the antagonist like? Write a brief plot summary, with a beginning, middle and an end.
Then flesh out act one. Give act one a beginning, middle and an end. Make sure it sets up the major characters, with character arcs. Remember characters change through conflict. Don't rewrite randomly, stick to the plan. Allow the characters to grow.
3. Make lots of mistakes.
As a creative professional, you're going to make mistakes. You've got to take risks if you're going to be original. Without risk, when you play it safe, everything turns out bland. Bland characters. Bland story. And so on. No surprises.
You've got to be willing to try something new. You've got to be willing to make mistakes.
4. Don't be perfect. Be yourself.
Find your voice. Don't try to painstakingly craft perfect dialogue. It'll seem stilted. You want conversational dialogue. How does it sound to your ear? Keep it natural, but not boring.
Stay authentic. Steal from real life. Pattern characters after people you know. Write dialogue that’s entertaining and feels real. If you write what you know, you'll have a lifetime's worth of original ideas.
5. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Some of my writing clients will write a sentence, and then start rewriting. They're not following a plan. They're not moving on. They'll rewrite that sentence six different ways.
Don't get hung up on details. Perfectionists tend to over-write everything. Remember, it's the whole screenplay that matters, not every word. Keep the big picture in mind while you're writing. But don't get overwhelmed. And don’t obsess over every decision, you’ll make yourself crazy.
6. Don't be judgmental.
Perfectionists write something, then look for flaws. They’re highly critical of their writing, and everybody else’s writing. The idea here is to take it easy on your friend’s work. Cut them some slack. And go easy on yourself.
If you’re less critical of others, you may find yourself being less critical of yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't judge, yet. Leave that for the second draft.
7. Remember, nobody’s born talented.
Some people think talent is something you’re born with. They feel that you either have talent or you don’t. You can’t afford to think that way. You want to think that your writing gets better with time.
The more you practice writing, the better it will be. Keep a journal with you. When you have time, practice writing scenes. Practice writing dialogue.
Watch how people behave. Observe them in action. Write down your observations. How do these people look, dress, and sound? Write down bits of dialogue. Your writing will improve.
8. Don’t take everything personally.
Perfectionists tend to take every setback or criticism personally. Setbacks are supposed to be part of the process. For the perfectionist, though, setbacks can stop the process. They lose confidence in themselves.
Don’t let setbacks kill your enthusiasm. They’re going to happen. You want to be resilient. Set the screenplay aside and come back to it in a better frame of mind.
Don’t give in to the perfectionist’s worst nightmare; thinking your errors are evidence that you “aren’t good enough.” You don’t want to lose interest in the project. You want to take another look at your outline, stay the course, and bounce back.
9. Trivialize the process.
Perfectionists tend to over-think the importance of their screenplay. They might see it as the first step in their screenwriting careers. Their expectations grow. They imagine life as a screenwriter.
All their hopes and dreams rely on writing their first screenplay. Some perfectionists will never finish one project. They'll get bogged down with details. Especially when it feels like their entire future depends on it.
If you’re a perfectionist and you start off thinking “the rest of my life is riding on this screenplay," every detail is going to haunt you. If you say to yourself, “I’m just moving words around on a page” the process becomes less threatening.
David Silverman, LMFT, treats anxiety and depression, especially in highly sensitive individuals in his LA practice. Having experienced the rejection, stress, creative blocks, paralyzing perfectionism, and career reversals over a 25 year career as a Film/TV writer, he’s uniquely suited to work with gifted, creative, and sensitive clients experiencing anxiety, depression, and addiction. David received training at Stanford and Antioch, is fully EMDR certified, and works with programs treating Victims of Crime and Problem Gamblers. Visit www.DavidSilvermanLMFT.com.
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California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter