Noticing the Conditions

One of the great felt experiences that continues to stay with me over a year after my last seven day meditation retreat is what it feels like to lower the chatter in my mind. We are conditioned to live a certain way. We experience conditioning everyday whether we like it or not. There is a price to pay when we do not follow certain social norms. This is a form of conditioning. I'm not here to preach dogma, I'm just saying that I noticed that when I was on retreat there was a subtle, but fundamental lifting of that conditioning for most of the retreat and the freedom I experienced is something that continues to become accessible when I am able to sit for 40 minutes or more. This is a huge blessing in my opinion. Not only am I able to rest my body, I am able to rest my heart, and mind. When this settled feeling becomes the forefront of my experience, humor becomes the first, most genuine, and easiest reaction to life's minor annoyances. And compassion is easily accessed for those around me. The flow of life is no longer a fight. This is what I hope to experience all the time, but alas, I am still a young student, always a student of course of the practice. What better reason to practice mindfulness is there? There are perhaps more and better reasons, but for me this is plenty, and yet suffering continues to be a highly observable and reported phenomenon in the human experience. It is said in "Being Nobody, Going Nowhere" By Ayya Khema that suffering is something to appreciate because if we did not suffer then we would not be able to achieve enlightenment. We would have no reason to practice mindfulness and wake up to the true nature of human experience. For this I suppose I appreciate suffering, but for now I am still taking her word for it. Ayya Khema also quotes the Buddha who suggests not to take anyone's word for it. Never believe me, see it for yourself. And so, I continue to practice and experiment for myself and as the Buddha suggested, you should not believe me either. Try it for yourself and see if you experience this as well. It may be worth it. For instructions and suggestions read Ayya Khema's book, it's a great one for beginners like me:)

What is trauma and how does EMDR help?

The topic of Trauma in the human experience has become an incredibly popular discussion among fellow clinicians and the amount of content available to learn about the topic can seem overwhelming. A few months ago I attended the weekend trainings at JFK University in Berkeley to get trained in a technique (and now also considered a therapy) to treat trauma called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, aka EMDR. I found the training incredibly profound, enlightening, and exciting. Here is a link to the website of the founder of the technique, Francine Shapiro, Ph. D: http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/

Her website can provide you with more detailed information and perhaps answer questions you may have about trauma and EMDR. She also has an excellent book with the same title: EMDR: The Breakthrough "Eye Movement" Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma.

The brain science that has come out to describe trauma and it's effect on memory, stress, our perceptions, our attachment style, and our ability to navigate in the world as a successful adult shows that many who suffer from trauma may be able to process that trauma with the help of EMDR. In many cases, EMDR can help clients gain an adult perspective in a relatively short amount of sessions about topics and issues that they may struggle with for years. To know that this form of therapy is available and not give it a try seems tragic. I encourage folks from all walks of life to find out if this form of therapy is something that might help you. Whether you do EMDR with me or with another clinician, don't wait any longer to give it a try.

Do you live far from Oakland? Feel free to call with requests for EMDR clinicians in your area. I may be able to recommend someone near you. 

A Well Rounded Internship

After I passed the MFT licensing exams in July 2015, an MFT intern friend of mine who had just graduated asked me, “How can I be sure to have a well-rounded experience so that when I am licensed I feel knowledgeable about the mental health system?” The result of that conversation seemed to be very valuable to my friend so I thought I would write down my responses for the possibility that others might benefit.

 

Vary the setting and population where you intern:

My recommendation for MFT interns is to stay open minded about where you get your hours of clinical experience. When I was earning clinical hours as an intern I worked at a non-profit grief counseling center, a summer behavior camp for children age 5 to 18 on the Autistic Spectrum (three summers in a row for continuity), an elementary school in an upper middle class neighborhood, a university counseling center, and an in-patient locked facility for adults who are severely mentally ill, where I still work part-time. All of these settings had their own unique benefits and challenges for learning effective helping skills. Now that I have completed my hours I am so glad that I had so many different experiences to pull from when the time came to pass the exams. Only two of my internships paid me for my time and from what I have heard from fellow interns this was typical. On average I have found that most internships do not pay, but they do provide supervision, physical space for seeing clients, and most trainings for free. When I had an internship that did not pay, I supplemented my income by working at Trader Joe’s part-time.

 

Stay long enough to get a sense of the population:

For each setting that I earned hours I stayed a minimum of a year (or a school year, which was about 10 months). This allowed me to build relationships with clients and clinicians at the setting, make an impact, and have a felt sense of what it would be like to have a career working with this population. Sometimes it takes three to six months to feel comfortable in a new placement; if it’s been three months and you still don’t feel like you understand the population or culture, don’t give up, stick with the placement for 10 months or so before moving on so that you can know for sure that you gave each setting your best effort. If one population is not a fit for you, that’s okay of course, but sometimes the most important lessons take time. Spending 10 months to a year at each setting also gives enough time for clients to open up to you about their real issues, so stick with it before dropping out after 4 to 6 months.

 

Make the most of supervision:

Each placement for MFT interns has a different culture and style for how supervision occurs; ask for what you need, but also try to look for the positive in each situation. Some settings have group supervision only, some have individual only, some have both, and sometimes your assigned supervisor seems so busy it’s hard to get any face time at all. If you feel the need to get extra supervision other than the one provided by your placement, search through you local association for a supervision group outside of your setting (get your placement supervisor’s permission before doing this of course). Similar to psychotherapy, you get more out of supervision when you put more into it so don’t rely solely on your supervisor to make your experience a valuable one.

 

Conclusion:

The road to licensure is a marathon, not a sprint, so stay patient, be optimistic, and learn what specific self-care techniques work for you. I am very proud of all the settings where I was able to help different populations; I met incredible clinicians who continue to be part of my support network today. To those MFT interns just starting out, I hope this helps you and I hope your road to licensure is as inspiring as mine was!

 

 

93% of Communication is Non-Verbal? Can this be true?

You may have heard or read somewhere about this statistic, "93% of human communication is non-verbal..." and it comes from research done by a man named Dr. Albert Mehrabrian, author of a book called Silent Messages, where he summarizes all his research on the topic. He found in these studies that 7% of any message from one person to another is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal sounds that were not distinct enough to be described as words, and 55% through things like facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. So if we do the math, 100% minus 7% is 93%, so 93% of how we communicate is through a form or forms other than words! Pretty amazing right?!? Well, it turns out that since then we have discovered this to be both true and not true. Since communication is so variable between different people, cultures, ages, languages, IQ, ...there is more of a spectrum of how we convey what we want to convey to others. In other words, the take away is more like, the majority of what we communicate is non-verbal, but 93% is probably not an exact percentage of the amount all of the time. 

What to do with this information? Whether we like it or not, we communicate our mood to the world. That's the point I hope to get across. This is a good reason to take care of ourselves. If we take care of ourselves, stay compassionate during times of stress, find out what helps us feel fulfilled, happy, loving and lovable creatures, then what we communicate to the world through our nonverbal communication tends to be those positive things. Learning how to take care of ourselves can be challenging, especially when many of us are trying to make ends meet financially. This is where I would introduce the concept of successive approximation. What does success approximation mean? It means taking a shot! It means shooting at your target (or goal) over and over until you get closer and closer and closer. Then when you have take enough shots you finally hit you target! This is one way to think about self care. You don't have to do all your self care techniques all at once to change your level of happiness; just start with one, then another, then another, one week or one month at a time. 

For more reading on the topic of non-verbal communication check out these links :)

The Nonverbal Group

An interesting Journal Article