We live in a fast paced world, wouldn't you agree? We are bombarded by so many things during our day, that it is hard to not be affected by the numerous excessive stimuli coming at us. At some point, we might tell ourselves that we can "handle it", but how successful are we at actually doing that anyway? I know for myself, that if I don't find the time to gather my strength to move forward with all that I have to do, I will be impacted by the many different directions of negative energies from events and people. This is where having time for ourselves plays a real part in our ability to deal with day to day life. Most of us tend to ignore such an idea that promotes self-care, and just power through the day. But at what cost? Yeah, sure, we get things done. Yet, we likely tend to feel as if we just fought a battle with the wind and ultimately lost (in whatever way we are keeping score). We may even find ourselves exhausted and occasionally sick.
The title of this post denotes an important idea in taking care of ourselves. That space of quiet...that time of non-doing, should not be pushed aside. Rather it should be embraced as a way to refuel or connect back to ourselves after a day of constant activity. Whether we call it meditation, a retreat, a camping trip, or even five minutes sitting in our home with the electronics unplugged, we need to be able have some space where we are doing nothing but going within to find our center again. For many people, the concept of seeking that inner sense of balance is quite foreign. Western society does not teach us to take care of ourselves in this way very well. If we want to be successful, we are taught that we have to push ourselves to the limit - and show no signs of weakness or inability to prevail. It is just not practical, nor is it mentally healthy. Eventually, we face the consequences of that level of engagement with the world, and it is usually not in our favor.
What I have often taught my clients, is to find five minutes each day, or even two five minute periods (one in the morning, and one in the evening), where we find a place of solitude. Even if you have to go out to your car and lock yourself inside. Turn off your radio, phone, and anything else that could distract you from going within yourself during this time. Just be. Allow the silence to come to you. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly. Deep slow breaths. Clear your mind of all thoughts, and all concerns. (They will be there when you come back, but for now you are putting them down and giving yourself permission to take time out for your own needs of self-care). Allow your ears to hear the sound of total silence. Silence can in a way be very loud for the first couple of moments. Your mind might feel like it is being deprived of the noise you are use to hearing. You are causing a shift in your level of mental and auditory stimulation levels. This is a gift you are giving to yourself. Some ambient noise will still be heard, but not noise you normally hear like the TV, phone, or screaming kids.
Once you have found that you are relaxed and feeling a little more centered, you can open your eyes and gather your thoughts for the next things you need to do. But the point is that you took time out for yourself, and created a few moments of silence. Your mind and body will thank you if you do this regularly, and you will find that you might be able to add time to this process (10, maybe even 20 minutes per session of quiet time). I have sat with clients for whole sessions in total silence. Sometimes that is what they need that day. It can be a real marker for improving your way of dealing with stress and life as a whole. This is something I suggest to anyone seeking even small ways to increase their level of self-care. I am willing to assist you in developing this coping strategy, if you would like help. Please feel free to reach out to me to explore this opportunity.
Depression is one of the biggest issues dealt with in therapy. Clients who come to therapy seeking help with this condition, often have a hard time even getting out of bed to attend the session. If you are suffering from depression, you should know that you can overcome it. Between taking prescribed medications and going to sessions to explore the issues that are causing the depressive symptoms, you can learn strategies to bring yourself out of the depressive state of mind. It is challenging to think yourself into a new way of acting - especially when your mind is telling you it isn't worth it, or shows you all the reasons it will fail. This will only fuel the feelings and emotions that are keeping you at bay from making changes. So rather than listen to those thoughts running in your head that are often dictated by negative feelings, why not try to act your way into a new way of thinking? Rather than feeling indecisive in figuring out if you want to go for a walk (for example), why not simply put one foot in front of the other and begin moving forward? If you can only walk along your neighborhood street, then that's great! If you can try to go farther, then gently and lovingly push yourself to try a little more. A walking exercise routine can be a great way to clear your mind and help center you as you focus on what needs to be done next.
Depression often comes from feelings of being overwhelmed, or at a loss of knowing what action to take about some concern we hold, or simply not feeling that we have worth. All of these are valid emotions, but they do not have to remain our reality. You and I can choose what we embrace into our minds and hearts. Those beliefs about ourselves and how we see where we are in this life can have a major impact on where we go and what we do. We have choices, to stay where we are and focus on those things that we do not have, or to create movement for achieving better. This too will have an impact in taking down some of the bricks around our feelings that depression creates, allowing us to feel like we can breathe and begin to enjoy a full life again.
Counselors are typically well trained to deal with issues of clients suffering from depression. They recognize that it can be a dangerous condition that can lead to extreme negative actions, like drug use and suicide. If you suffer from depression, counseling can be a supportive place where your thoughts and feelings can be examined in a safe environment. As a counselor who has worked with many clients suffering from depression, the key element in making progress with a prospective client like yourself is the honesty and openness you bring to the sessions about what you are feeling. Don't be afraid to say, "I feel like harming myself", if that is how you feel, or "I have no motivation to do the things I use to do" if that is a present feeling. Often times acknowledging that we have these feelings can be a key factor in taking away some of its power from your life that prevent you from living it fully. Consider how counseling might benefit you with an opportunity to explore the effects of depression you might be dealing with now - however mild or severe. Be willing to say "Yes" to the opportunity of having more energy in your life.
Therapy can be a place where we allow ourselves to reflect and examine the issues that we have avoided for any length of time. Sometimes we do not know where to begin in this process. Clients in this practice, are treated with unconditional positive regard. You are clinically supported to explore the deepest fears, emotions, concerns, struggles, and even shortcomings in your life. This is not a time to self-ridicule or demoralize yourself. It is a time to find the strength to turn your challenges into moments of growth and change. In therapy, we often think that if we are seeing a counselor, then we must be crazy, or defective, or just plain damaged. This simply isn't true, and more so not even likely to the extent that you might have created that idea in your own mind. Yes, people go to see a counselor when something is wrong. When was the last time you heard someone say, "Oh, I have no problems at all, but decided to see a counselor anyway"? It doesn't usually happen. Sure, we have friends and family that can be there for us, and those supports are invaluable. But sometimes, you need to have the insight of someone who has the ability to be objective and clinical in the assessment of your concerns.
When you elect to participate in the therapy process, you are in fact giving yourself permission to chart a path that has the potential (often based on your own effort), to lead you into a life where you see yourself differently, and you see your life differently too. Maybe you quit smoking, or drinking, or gambling. Maybe you find the ability to forgive, to move forward and direct your focus into things that bring you joy. Or perhaps you discover something about yourself that was the one missing piece in your life that answers so many other questions in explaining who you are and how you engage your world. The path of seeking therapy can do those things, if you give yourself the chance to risk yourself in developing a new life of opportunity.
Fear can hold us back from pursuing what we know is of benefit to us. Our inner voice, (call it insight, higher power, deity, or some other word of your choosing), might be trying to speak to you. That inner voice is trying to let you know that there is something good for you if you work at getting out of your own way and can let go of where you are now so that you can arrive at the place that is better. I encourage you to listen to that voice. Follow it, and know that if you can agree with where it wants to take you, and you know that it is for your highest good, then likely it is a road to consider. Call it finding a path to healing, a way to journey into something different that can change you into the person you want to be in life. If you find that therapy can be of benefit in this journey, I stand ready to go on that adventure with you. Reach out. You will indeed find a hand reaching back, ready to help.
Counseling can be a scary proposition for many people. The idea of going to a place to meet with someone you don't know, and to be expected to open up to that person about who you are and what is going on with you, is no easy task for most people. You want the experience to go well, but fear may hold you back. What might be helpful to keep in mind, is that the counselor by and large is often just as nervous to meet you. They want you to feel comfortable meeting with them, and they are trying to put their best foot forward in providing you with an experience that is warm, friendly, and done with an understanding that you might be scared of being judged or seen as crazy. Counselors are well trained, and many tend to understand what it is like to be a client because they have done their own work in seeing a therapist.
So in coming to therapy for the first time, one of the things you can do, is begin a conversation of what you expect from your counselor and what you need from them in the counseling relationship. This is your time, and since you are often paying for that time, you want your needs to be met by someone who will listen to you, and be guided by your concerns in working with you during the course of therapy. This conversation will also often involve the rules the therapist or counselor has in their practice, so that you know what is expected of you regarding payment, cancelling appointments, scheduling, and other issues. In this way, you and the counselor are developing your interaction, and establishing rapport - a connection, that can build trust and mutual respect.
Counselors want the best for their clients, and clients want a counselor who will listen. When you meet your counselor for the first time, make sure you let them know what you need to help you feel comfortable, and what you need during the course of therapy. The counseling relationship is stronger when there is open communication that is formed by both you and the counselor, working together to meet your mutually set goals.
Shawn Thomas Berthel M.S., is the owner of Life Path Counseling PLLC, and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He lives in University Place, Washington.