Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Voices — September 2020
Last week, LA-CAMFT hosted a Therapist Roundtable Discussion titled “Anti-Racism as a Movement not a Moment,” which included much needed conversation about issues related to racism and inequality. Thank you to those of you who were able to attend and demonstrate courage by bringing your voice to the table to be heard.
Creating the roundtable discussion took a lot of time and effort to establish a safe space and structure for all attendees. I want to thank everyone in the Diversity Committee and on the LA-CAMFT Board of Directors for their roles in organizing the roundtable. It truly was a team effort. LA-CAMFT’s mission to combat racism will not stop here, as we plan to create workshops, panels, and more roundtable discussions about specific topics identified during last week’s roundtable.
We hope you will join us in our mission and look forward to seeing you at upcoming events.
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: To Have an Office or
Not have an Office—That's the Question
on Many Therapists’ Minds Today
While some therapists continue to work with clients face-to-face in a therapy office as a result of stay at home orders across the country, a majority of mental health professionals find themselves working virtually with the clients in their practice doing video or phone sessions. This has caused many clinicians to wonder if they still need an office for private practice and if they should keep paying for an office when they only work with clients virtually now.
Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Craigslist, and other therapist forums are full of postings by therapists who are vacating their offices and terminating their leases or who are looking for someone to take over a full time single or group office space lease. There are also numerous for sale postings for therapy office furnishings—couches, therapist chairs, desks, end tables, lamps, waiting room furniture, and wall art.
The therapy office landscape has definitely changed.
Months ago, therapists who sublet their office space and were only working virtually with clients, made the decision to jettison their offices as they quickly gave notice and stopped paying rent. Since office space has been plentiful in the past these therapists weren’t worried about subletting an office in the future should they desire to resume in office therapy sessions with clients. About 40% of clinicians in private practice usually sublet office space. Time will tell whether subletting an office will be as easy and inexpensive as it has been in the past since no one can predict how many therapists will retain their physical office space after practicing virtually.
Those therapists new to practice who leased their own office as well as those clinicians who depend on subletting office space to others to pay their office rent each month let their offices go and terminated their leasing agreements right away, too, since they no longer had the funds to pay their office rent while working virtually. About 10% of therapists were in this category of reluctantly, but necessarily, sacrificing their offices.
For about 10% of clinicians, there is no question of them giving up their office or not paying their office rent whether or not they are working with clients in person or virtually. They made their decision right away, too—they're keeping their offices. This group seems to have it the easiest when answering this question, as it’s a no-brainer for them to keep their physical office.
Currently many clinicians with longtime practices and full caseloads are questioning themselves as to whether they should continue to pay rent for an office or if they are wasting the money. A full 50% of therapists, with or without a full practice, are currently in the process of figuring out whether it’s prudent to give up their office space and eliminate their office rent expenditure.
This is an agonizing decision-making experience for this group of therapists who have a lease agreement with them as the sole signatory. This is the question that is on many a therapist’s mind and is being discussed with colleagues and in many therapy forums online. The answer comes after a lot of soul searching, number crunching, and scenario planning.
How does a therapist go about deciding whether or not to continue paying for an office location for their practice when they’re not working with clients from the office premises?
By reevaluating your practice.
A subgroup of therapists has decided that after doing virtual work with clients these past few months, their practice will remain virtual, no office space needed. This will be about 10-15% of therapists, overall and 10% of those who rented space full time. The answer to the question of an office for these therapists is an easy one, no physical office just a virtual one.
As therapists ask themselves whether to keep paying rent for an office or to relinquish it and stop, most are focused on the financial aspects. “Why should I keep paying for an office if I’m only seeing clients virtually and tele-sessions are either free or low cost? Isn’t money being wasted.”
Another aspect to consider besides the financial one is what a clinician actually needs a physical location and address for. Many therapists are opting for a low-cost P.O. Box address as their practice and mailing address when they don’t want their home address listed. For most professional things this works out fine, however, there is concern that some insurance companies may not pay therapists or reimburse client superbills for sessions without an actual physical address. Rumors abound. It’s always good to check with the insurance company for their requirements.
More concerning for private pratitioners is how the internet search engines rank practices and websites without a physical address. Current information is showing that Google searches show results in a searcher's local area first, so the concern for therapists is whether or not their practice listing is being included in as many search listings if they don't have a actual physical address. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
Overall, the biggest things to consider when evaluating whether or not to continue renting an office are time, money, and effort. How much time will it take to find, furnish, and set up an office that works for my practice if I give this one up? How much will I save if I give this office up and set up a new one later—include costs for moving, internet, cleaning, insurance, parking, etc.?
A clinician who has a month-to-month agreement with a low rental rate with an office that’s the right size, in a good location with easy and inexpensive parking, good ventilation, and soundproofing, may find it’s less costly and time consuming to pay office rent for a full year or even two, than to move out and find and set up the office again a year or two later. Crunch your numbers for this answer.
Another clinician, one who’s looking to make a change and find a better office space with more fitting parking, soundproofing, and ventilation, may find it’s much more beneficial and cost-effective to end their lease and look for a new office space when the time comes.
Think about what fits best for you as a clinician and business owner, your clientele, and your practice. The world is full of options for you to have the practice you desire. Take some time to figure out what’s best for you now.
Enjoy this opportunity to reevaluate your practice.
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.
Pandemic Loss — The Surreal World of Grief:How It’s Impacting Our Clients and Our Own Grief
Debi Jenkins Frankle, LMFT
Debi Jenkins Frankle, LMFT, is an expert in the field of grief, working for over 25 years with clients suffering from lifetimes of loss. She and husband, Mark Frankle, LMFT, are the co-founders of the Calabasas Counseling and Grief Recovery Center. Debi is the founder of Private Practice Grief Workshops and Trainings for Mental Health Professionals, as well as the Private Practice Grief therapists FB group. She has provided Pandemic Loss and Grief trainings to executives, and was a national trainer for The Grief Recovery Institute. She is a past president of San Fernando Valley chapter of CAMFT, a past committee co-chair of the Crisis Response Network for SFV-CAMFT, and is a member of the Association for Death Education (ADEC).
Friday, September 11, 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.
Gina Balit, LMFT, ATR
Member Spotlight — Gina Balit, LMFT, ATR
For each month’s Member Spotlight, we reach out to our members to write about their connection to our chapter.
This month I’d like to introduce Gina Balit, who's not only a member but has been the LA-CAMFT Expressive Arts Group Co-Chair and is the LA-CAMFT Co-Administrator. Enjoy reading more about Gina in her own words.
I recently celebrated a year of licensure, but it feels like yesterday. It still brings tears to my eyes nearly every day knowing I actually passed that darn exam but also because I can finally work with my little kiddos in peace and with so much gratitude.
Many who know me know that my licensure journey took longer than expected. I watched all my colleagues pass their exams and reach their goals and dreams, while I had to take a break from practicing and kept wondering “Why me? Am I supposed to learn a lesson?”
Patience and timing were big factors, but above all, I had to understand what failure meant to me. I had to fully surrender to the test and not give in to the negative thoughts I began to believe, such as “I’m not good enough” and “I’m not meant to be a therapist.” I had to accept that I was still strong and a great therapist, despite how weak I felt from going through this traumatic testing cycle. I had to learn how to bounce back from repetitive setbacks and failure. I was being tested to see if I was going to give up—boy, was I tempted.
I set a strong goal to not let this exam define me and to not throw in the towel no matter how many years it took me to pass. Well, I survived the beast—I persevered, opened my own private practice in January (my silver lining of the pandemic—my home away from home) and now see kiddos as a licensed therapist both in-person and also by providing teletherapy. It’s not easy sharing my journey, but it’s made me a stronger therapist and is now exactly why I want to promote hope and resilience in children.
I’ve known since I was a little girl that I want to help other children in need. I started my undergraduate studies with a major in Art because it was a big part of my childhood. While I’ve always known how much I love children and art, it took me a while to have an “AHA!” moment and realize that I can work with both together. I knew something was missing in my first year of studies.
The “little me” knew she wanted to help other children in need because she was a child of divorce. I grew up doodling in my room, but mostly drew and traced Disney characters, especially Mickey Mouse. I always say that he is the reason I became an Art Therapist. Yes, it might be cliché to say that Disneyland is truly the “happiest place on earth,” but for me, Mickey Mouse and Disneyland taught me so much—that it’s possible to feel happy and be free of sadness, that I’m strong enough and good enough, that I have a forever place to feel safe at, and to never stop believing and having hope.
I had no idea that at that time, I was expressing myself through art. I was just doing something I loved. It wasn’t until adulthood I began to look back and understand just how powerful having art as a form of expression was in my life. I knew that I wanted to give that feeling and knowledge back to the world, especially to other children. They no longer have to hold feelings inside; there are ways to explain their ache inside when words are not enough. Once I heard the words “art therapy” from a classmate during my second year, I knew I had to look it up and do some research. I quickly changed my major to Child and Adolescent Development and kept Art (graphic design) as my minor. The rest was history.
From that moment on, I’ve been personally and professionally grateful for so many things. I’ve had the privilege to help many children and families. I’ve worked in school-based settings, in-home settings, agencies, transitional homes, shelters, as well as private and group practices. I’ve supported and treated mood issues, behavioral challenges—not only with psychotherapy clients but also with Autistic clients using Applied Behavioral Analysis, relationship matters, and traumatic experiences.
Gina Balit, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Art Therapist, and SoulCollage© Facilitator, is in private practice in Woodland Hills. She specializes in working with children of divorce, abuse, and domestic violence, helping them heal from fear of abandonment in particular. Gina is bilingual in Armenian (western and eastern dialects) and is passionate about helping her community. She is a forever coffee, blue, and Disney lover. To learn more, visit www.theartofmft.com.
If you would like LA-CAMFT’s Member Spotlight to feature you and why you’re a member of our chapter, just email Lynne Azpeitia, Voices Editor at newsletter@LACAMFT.org.
LMFT, NMP, CGP
Bumping Into Clients
When I meet a client for the first time, I carefully review my confidentiality policy and I let them know that everything that is said in our sessions will remain confidential. I explain that I would need to break confidentiality if I felt they were at risk of harming themselves or another person. Next, we talk about how I will respond if we see each other outside of my office, which is currently a virtual office. I let them know that I won’t acknowledge them unless they greet me first, and that I do that to protect their privacy. Often clients respond by saying “It’s fine, of course you can say hi if I see you.” I’ll ask them how it might feel if they were out with a business associate or a friend who didn’t know they were in therapy and asked who I was. At this point people start to understand the importance of confidentiality.
Earlier this year, prior to the pandemic, I saw one of my clients in the bathroom at my yoga studio. We were the only two people standing at the sinks and she started talking about something personal; I suggested we discuss it “next time.” We processed our encounter during our next sessions, she already knew I practiced yoga and was excited that we shared the same studio. Fortunately for me we took different classes and I changed my bathroom habits so that I could protect her privacy and mine.
Although my yoga studio has reopened, I currently practice yoga online and attend 12-Step meetings virtually. I haven’t seen any clients in my yoga class yet, but I have “bumped into” several of them in 12-Step meetings; these meetings offer me community and recovery. This kind of support is important to me, especially since our work is so isolating. I attend small meetings where I can honestly share about what’s happening in my life, and if a client shows up at one of my regular meetings, it makes it awkward for both of us and impossible for me to get what I need.
When my clients attend one of my “home” meetings, I’ll ask them if they would be willing to find another meeting. Most of the time this works out fine and it’s followed by a fruitful session where we discuss boundaries and self-care. I’ve been attending the same meetings for years, so I am unwilling to change meetings. If I’m attending a new meeting where I see a client, I will volunteer not to return.
I rarely self-disclose to my clients but usually it’s no surprise to them when we happen to meet in the 12-Step rooms. Right now, people are attending meetings from all different parts of Los Angeles and 12-Step members who live in the Valley and normally wouldn’t drive to the Westside can now join meetings through Zoom; I’m “bumping into” more of my clients and we are talking about it in our sessions.
All of us have our own way of handling these situations, it depends on your frame and your personal boundaries. The process was more straightforward when I saw my seems clients at a restaurant or shopping, two things I am doing less frequently these days. I’m interested in hearing about how you handle these situations; feel free to reach out to me via email or social media.
Maria Gray, LMFT, NMP, CGP, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Century City, she is a Brainspotting Specialist and specializes in trauma and addictions. Maria is a Certified Group Therapist and currently offers three online groups in her practice. She enjoys working with adults who grew up around mentally ill or addictive family members. To learn more, go to www.mariagray.net.
Barry Davis,Divorce Mediator
Can Our Clients Get Divorced During COVID-19?
Let me start with a direct answer to the question in the title. Yes, your clients can absolutely start the divorce process while we’re in the middle of a pandemic. However, the answer to the next question is a lot more complicated. This is the question of how clients decide to proceed with their divorce. This decision will significantly impact whether they are actually able to functionally move forward with their divorce or will be stuck in an overwhelmed, underfunded court system that is scrambling to figure out how to address the public’s needs during a pandemic.
For those of you that don’t have much interaction with the Family Law Courts (count yourselves blessed if this is the case) you may not be aware that the courts were effectively shut down from mid-March through mid-June. Some of the courts have now started to get back to work by using videoconferencing, but even that is coming in fits and spurts.
Trying to update a massive, technologically unsophisticated bureaucracy is not something that happens overnight. Especially when you combine this with the fact that the Family Law Courts have a massive backlog of critical cases that they need to address—adoption and dependency issues, child abuse issues, restraining orders, etc. My understanding from many of my attorney colleagues is that a ‘typical’ litigated divorce probably won’t get started until at least 2021.
This means that people who decide to go to court probably won’t be able to functionally get started with a divorce for another six months or so. Which means that they will be stuck in limbo and will be unable to move forward with decisions regarding their short-term finances, a parenting schedule for their children or even whether it’s a good idea for them to move out before they come to some conclusions regarding these critical issues.
This is why even more clients than normal are deciding to use divorce mediation to address all the issues necessary to get divorced. I have had a landslide of new clients since things started opening up in June (July was my busiest month in 17 years as a divorce mediator). And because divorce mediation is about parties working together to come to practical decisions, we are able to move forward quickly while also coming up with creative solutions that address many COVID issues that parents haven’t had to address previously.
Divorce mediation is an extremely flexible, client-centered process so we can tailor what we address to the specific needs of each individual client. For example, I’ve recently started helping my clients jointly address the COVID precautions they will be taking now that the children will be residing in two households. We discuss what each parent is doing to keep the children safe and address any discrepancies between what each parent believes is appropriate for the children. This way we’re dealing with real-world issues that are impacting both the parents and the children during these difficult times. Even if clients were able to go to court at this point, the courts generally don’t address these types of proactive, real world issues.
The bottom line is that the vast majority of clients who recently started mediation will finalize their divorce before the court-based clients even get started. For example, I have some clients who started with me in May and by mid-July had already come to all the necessary agreements regarding their house, the husband’s business, long-term retirement plans such as 401(k)s & pensions and come up with a detailed, comprehensive Long-term Parenting Plan for their children.
When you consider that even pre-COVID a litigated divorce typically takes 2-3 years and costs approximately $150,000 in attorney and forensic accounting fees, you can see the significant difference in time, cost, stress and damage to the children between a mediated divorce and a litigated divorce—all of which adds up to everyone being able to move on with their lives more quickly and in a more constructive manner!
More information on different ways to go about getting divorced is available in this YouTube video “Understanding the Divorce Process.”
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.
Are Your Habits Holding You Back?
We’re in our fifth month of Coronavirus now, and nothing is the same.
Now is a good time to check in before things get too far out of control. All indications are that many societal changes will be sticking with us for the foreseeable future, so it’s a good time to assess where we are now and think about where we want to be heading. What are our “good” habits that have fallen by the wayside? What are the “bad” habits that we have picked up during the quarantine?
Back in March, when you still had some hope that the quarantine would only last a couple of weeks, you may have figured that you would work out again when the gym re-opened. Now it hardly matters how fit you are—everything you wear has an elastic waistband and no one sees your bottom half anyway!
Remember when you would drive home from work, change clothes, and go to the gym before kicking back? Now you can go for a run in the middle of the day and at 5:01 be cracking open that bottle of chardonnay. And now you find yourself a frequent visitor to the BevMo pick-up line…
What are the ways we can escape these traps and make our habits work for us instead?
Many therapists both practice mindfulness and promote it to their clients.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood; it’s hard to find a reason not to develop a mindfulness practice! If you have trouble sitting still long enough to meditate, you can still develop a practice of mindfulness by picking one regularly recurring activity (e.g. brushing your teeth, making coffee in the morning, or washing the dishes) and practicing keeping your mind focused directly on the sensations of that activity. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to the activity again. The more your mind wanders, the more you get to practice returning to mindfulness!
Building a mindfulness practice will make all of the subsequent steps much easier, so keep up with your meditation or your mindful activity throughout your period of habit change. If you struggle to stick to your mindfulness practice, then maybe this is the first habit you want to try to build!
Keep a journal or a note on your phone where you track whatever habit you are trying to change. Studies have shown that just tracking your habits will make a significant difference in your ability to change them.
Ultimately you want to experience the stimulus, have a different behavior, and experience the same reward. It’s straight from Psych 101, but it’s not easy! The trick is to be extremely clear on exactly what the stimulus is, and what the reward is. If you don’t pinpoint these correctly, you won’t be able to change the habit.
First pinpoint if your stimulus is based on time, location, emotion, a specific event, or another person.
In your habit journal, each time you start the habit, record the time, the location, the feeling, what happened just before, and what people were involved.
After a week or so, look at your journal to see which stimulus is constant. If you feel the craving to eat a doughnut every morning at around 10:00am no matter what else in the scenario is different, then the time is the trigger. If you start thinking about happy hour whenever the kids start yelling at each other, then that’s the preceding event that triggers the craving.
Now determine what the reward is for this habit. You can do this by experimenting with different routines that deliver different rewards.
Is your reward for the doughnut the energy that comes from the sugar rush? Is it the break you get from work when you stop to go to the kitchen? Is it the connection you get with your partner who is working on the kitchen table? Is it the game you play on your phone while you are eating the doughnut?
Try eating something different that will also deliver the sugar rush, like a glass of orange juice or a banana. Try taking a break to read the news. Try talking to a friend or taking a short break with your partner in the living room. Try playing a game on your phone from your desk or a room other than the kitchen. Notice which one of these alternative behaviors is satisfying; that will tell you which reward is important to you.
How do you know if it’s satisfying?
Each time after you test a new behavior, immediately jot down the first three things that come into your head. Then set an alarm for 15 minutes later. When the alarm rings, note down whether or not you still have the original craving. Later you can assess patterns—the 3 words will help you remember your state of mind—and the existence or absence of the craving will tell you if you got the reward already.
We know that it is extremely difficult to eliminate a habit; that it is much easier to replace it with another, more desirable habit instead. Once you have all your information, you can create a new habit that will give you the intended reward.
5. One Last Thing–Plan for Trouble!
Studies show that if you brainstorm possible obstacles, and then create a plan to overcome them should they arise, you are significantly more likely to be successful.
It is important to remember as therapists that our clients can have habits that involve not only their behavior, but also their ways of thinking and feeling. Time and time again I have seen clients get stuck in obsessive thoughts or feelings out of pure habit. Habit re-training can make all the difference!
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.
Andrew Susskind,LCSW, SEP, CGP
Is Love Addiction Real?
Lori arrived for therapy with tears in her eyes. “I did it again. I fell for another guy who was totally unavailable and once again convinced myself that he was the one. I don’t know if I can go through this again. I am so humiliated.”
I had been treating Lori for the past year, and we’ve been exploring her tendency to merge with guys she didn’t know very well and proceed to build elaborate fantasies about them. Although she was well aware of this painful pattern, Lori kept falling into this emotional quicksand.
“My parents split up when I was eight, and my dad quickly started a new family. Ever since my parents divorced, I felt like I was the stepchild as he paid way more attention to my stepmother and her kids. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad the fighting between my parents finally came to an end, but I was also extremely jealous of my stepsiblings. They got way more of my father than I ever did. Nowadays when I get involved with a boyfriend, I tend to take him hostage and secretly hope that he will be my knight in shining armor who has arrived to rescue me.”
The term Love Addiction can be deceiving. It’s really not about love—it’s about the fantasy of love which often snowballs into obsession. Here are some of its primary characteristics:
During a full-blown romantic fantasy, the brain gets hijacked as it latches on to the idea of being rescued. The brain gets stuck in an obsessive loop and cannot break free from it. Although Lori is a capable, competent woman in other areas of her life, in love relationships her unmet longings take over and she turns into a heat-seeking missile. In her most recent scenario, she finally broke out of the obsession when she learned that her supposedly monogamous boyfriend was sleeping with several other women throughout their 6-month relationship. Her fantasy bubble burst.
When Lori turned thirty, her desire for intimate relationships was growing and her brokenheartedness was palpable. Our therapeutic relationship became a touchstone for her, and she intentionally sought me out as a male therapist because of her abandonment feelings related to her father. Although Lori wanted to trust me, she often tested me to see if I would criticize or even leave her. I viewed this as necessary ways for Lori to experience a reparative attachment experience with a consistent, reliable man and to know that we could talk about all of her feelings. We made a pact that if she felt disappointed or fearful in our relationship, she would let me know. It was vital for her to know that inevitably I would let her down one way or another, but most importantly, we could process her reactions and feelings together.
Andrew Susskind, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Somatic Experiencing and Brainspotting Practitioner and Certified Group Psychotherapist, based in West Los Angeles since 1992, specializing in trauma and addictions. His recent book, It’s Not About the Sex: Moving from Isolation to Intimacy after Sexual Addiction joins his workbook, From Now On: Seven Keys to Purposeful Recovery. For more information visit his websites westsidetherapist.com and brainspottinglosangeles.org.
The Journey Through Chaos to New Hope
Do you ever feel like you are living in the Twilight Zone right now? So many things have changed. There is a virus running rampant in the world, we have been told to “shelter in place.” The US economy was shut down, offices closed, millions of people were forced out of work, small businesses were forced to close their doors . . . many of them permanently. We watched as protesters took to the streets of major cities, calling for police reform, while hoodlums used the protests as an excuse to invade business districts, destroy shops, loot, set fires to stores and shops, attack the police and literally terrorize neighborhoods.
So how does all this relate to my work as a practicing psychotherapist in the summer of 2020? Are clients more anxious, depressed, confused, unsure of the future and bored out of their minds with sheltering in place? YES!!! How do I help them? How do I paint a picture of hope, resilience, faith, and confidence in a positive future both personally and for the country as a whole?
As I pondered that thought, I remembered the beautiful adage . . . “Physician heal thyself.” An eternal profound truth stated so simply. If we therapists and counselors have not healed ourselves through a most rigorous path of self-examination, how may we possibly help others to heal themselves? Well, it’s pretty damn impossible.
In my over 30 years of practicing psychotherapy, I have learned through trial and error to live by that simple yet most wise advice. I can only be a source of wisdom, healing, comfort and direction if I have done the hard work of exploring and healing myself.
A few months ago I wrote an article forVoices about Finding the Silver Lining during this time of upheaval and change. I shared this article with many clients, former and present, colleagues, family and friends. I received such a positive response as people reached out with comments, questions and some with a desire to enter therapy as they were so overwhelmed with the need to adjust to this Twilight Zone. They wondered if we would ever return to “normal,” living daily life without the fear of contracting a possibly fatal virus. Would the children and teenagers ever be able to return to school?
How about those of us who had offices which are now closed as we struggle to learn Zoom, Face Time, TeleTherapy, Venmo, and Pay Pal. In addition to all this uncertainty, there is the constant upheaval of protests re: the death of George Floyd, civil disobedience, calls for defunding or eliminating the police, the toppling of statues, the formation of autonomous zones in at least one major city. What has happened to this beautiful experiment in freedom and democracy?
I have faith it will continue and be better than ever. But where does this faith come from? How can I possibly believe this? Where does this positive attitude come from?
In addition to earning a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family therapy, years of my own personal therapy and over 30 years as a LMFT, I remind myself each and every day that there is a center of wisdom and peace within me which will support, sustain and guide me through the chaos. I call it my Higher Self, Infinite Intelligence, the Divine Mind. It is that quiet place within where we find the guidance needed to navigate this school room called Life.
Who are you without all the outside trappings of your world? Is what you are within enough to sustain and inspire you during this challenging time of chaos and change? What resources have you developed through the years which you can turn toward to support you and inspire you to weather this storm and come out of it stronger, better and wiser?
It is always that inner journey which opens up our hearts and minds to alternate ways of being in the world . . . personally, professionally, and spiritually. It is especially important now that we use this time of shut down to take an inner journey of exploration into who we are, what our philosophy of life is and what we can do to live life “open at the top,” a beautiful quote from one of my spiritual mentors.
A dear former client of mine texted me a few days ago, frantic to talk to me as the world she had created these past 4 months had come tumbling down. Samantha worked with me in therapy for around 10 months last year. She is a beautiful woman in her mid-30s, well-educated with a Master’s Degree in her field. Samantha was not happy in her job, was underpaid and horribly overworked, as well as discouraged and disappointed by too many years of failed relationships. She really committed to the therapeutic process by courageously diving into her family of origin issues, learning the dynamics of that dysfunctional family and how it still controlled her. She began to see how her lack of self-esteem and success professionally and personally could be attributed to the negative, cruel messages she received from her very troubled mother.
Fast forward to her life right now. She was fired from her Senior VP position, lost her health insurance, could not pay her mortgage, and had to move home with mom and dad. She decided to create her own consulting business and had negotiated good contracts with 2 companies which needed her expertise . . . then it happened again. Los Angeles businesses were partially shut down and she lost both contracts!!! She really needed an infusion of hope and confidence that she would be able to pay her bills, create her successful consulting business and stay physically healthy during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I encouraged her to get out of her mom’s house and move back into her condo which she had made into a peaceful, gentle and safe haven in our busy city. And . . . just as important, she needed to be able to sit quietly and connect to her inner voice which would guide her to make the best decisions re everything in her life. I shared some affirmations which I find especially helpful. “God or the supreme wisdom gave me these desires and the Infinite Intelligence of the Universe is now backing me up, revealing to me the perfect plan for their unfoldment.” This is turning away from the constant onslaught of fear, uncertainty and doomsday prophecies to a place within which will gently guide and inspire us to “step out on the promise.” Sometimes it is only a whisper but we must carefully listen. That place is the calm in the center of the storm. We humans are resilient and strong, but we must everyday remind ourselves of our inherent wisdom and courage and not give in to old fears and lack of confidence in ourselves, our country, and the world.
I also suggested she read Dr. Murray Bowen’s works on Differentiation from the Family Ego Mass. We all had to write a paper on that many years ago in my Masters’ program. I still use Dr. Bowen’s theories in all my work with clients. Dr. Bowen explained in such a clear, creative and grounded manner the power of the Family System and how a dysfunctional system will block us in all areas of our life.
Leila Aboohamad, LMFT, is a psychotherapist practicing in Brentwood, West Los Angeles, and Santa Monica. She works with clients in person or through teletherapy. She specializes in helping individuals and couples heal the trauma from their Family of Origin so that they may create successful, committed, and loving relationships. Leila also works with gifted, talented and creative adults, helping them to identify and share their special gifts, talents. and passions with the world. Website: www.leilalmft.com.
A Few Thoughts About Apology(A Short Talk for Toastmasters)
Over the years I have mediated various types of conflicts. There is one thing that is common to all types of mediations that I have conducted, whether the issues involve trees, real estate, divorce or other matters. Frequently, a simple, “I’m sorry” is enough to bring parties together in a resolution of their conflict.
In this talk, I will explore a few thoughts about apology focused on the words, “I’m sorry,” the contraction, “But,” and the concept of accepting responsibility.
1. Let’s begin with the words, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry can go a long way to repair a strained relationship. However, is it enough to simply say, “I’m sorry?” Sometimes.
Let’s consider two types of apologies. The first is simply, “I’m sorry.” The second is, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you and hurt you. I was unkind and thinking only of myself.”
The first example may be enough if the speaker’s body language and tone of voice express regret. However, often the speaker is mouthing the words, “I’m sorry,” to avoid conflict not to resolve it. He is not concerned about any effect his action had on the other party. It is an empty apology.
The second example is explicitly expressive of regret and will be much more powerful if deliver with a body language that expresses remorse.
Putting together explicit language and appropriate, non-verbal elements such as body language and tone of voice, can make the words, “I’m sorry,” explode with meaning.
2. Speaking of meaning, “but” is a word that can destroy meaning.
When we use the contraction, “but,” we run the risk of nullifying the phrase that comes before it. “But” is a powerful three-letter word. An apology with a “but” is not really an apology, is it? Let me give you an example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you but you make me so frustrated with your whining and complaining.”
In this example, the speaker makes an empty apology and attempts to blame the receiving party for the wrong. The person who is wronged is robbed of an apology and is hurt once again by the insincerity of the excuse.
3. We have taken a look at how “I’m sorry” and “But” relate to apology, now let’s consider how accepting responsibility can affect an apology.
To do this, here is another example of an apology: “I’m sorry that I yelled at you. I was wrong to blame you for the late delivery. I was only thinking of how it was going to affect me and I took out my frustration on you.”
In this example, the speaker is accepting responsibility for her actions. There is no qualification or justification, just a simple apology. What makes this apology so powerful in its simplicity is the phrase, “I was wrong . . .” Arguably, the words, “I was wrong” are the ultimate in accepting responsibility and beginning to make amends for a wrongful act.
Marvin Whistler, Mediator, guides couples through the unpredictable waters of divorce and helps them resolve their differences in dividing property and debt, planning for the care and parenting of their children, deciding on support and their future relationship as well as other issues that will be important for their future relationship. His mediation practice also covers various types of disputes including but not limited to family, real estate, landlord-tenant, and community. Marvin provides online mediation throughout Southern California, is Treasurer for Southern California Mediation Association and a member of Academy of Professional Mediators and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Website: MarvinWhistlerMediation.
This article was originally published here.
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