Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

How Can NLP Improve Your Life?

      Many still don’t know what Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is, or for what purposes it is used. NLP is a very broad field and tends to be linked to many concepts and various settings. Despite the numerous long definitions, I like to think of it as a “pool of tools” to bring more life fulfillment. NLP stipulates that our habitual patterns (mental or behavioral) are highly linked to our neurology; hence, create our habits and programmed responses. Its techniques instill new neurological patterns to replace unhelpful thought or behavioral process; thus, reprogram “the willing to change person” to be more empowered and efficient. It, also, relies heavily on the use of language and this is when it becomes all too therapeutic. Language can trigger a shift in thinking; hence, behavioral change. The proper use of language, also, facilitates more effective communication with people we want to have a positive influence on.

      As an NLP practitioner, how can I possibly help you implement positive changes? And in which life areas can we apply NLP techniques? The use of NLP spreads to effectively dealing with dissatisfaction in many areas of day to day living. The procedures work only if one is really motivated to make the changes and expends the proper and required effort. Most techniques involve visualization giving this free reign at times, and controlling it at others. The following are only a few examples targeting specific areas of concern you may encounter:

–       Like to dislike: Change something you like or desire to something you don’t like (or vice versa). For instance, you have the continuous urge to eating chocolate, but you know it negatively affects your health (e.g. being over-weight or having high cholesterol levels). Broccoli is one vegetable that is very healthy, but many dislike it. Both patterns can be changed in few minutes through a simple exercise of visualization.

–       Change a limiting belief: If you have a limiting belief (e.g. I’m not good enough) that cripples your actions or decision making abilities, a similar exercise can be undertaken. A more empowering belief can be substituted in no time. The technique can help you deal with issues of low self-esteem, hesitation, lack of control, etc….

–       Eliminate contextualized habits through the swish pattern: create a substitute action for a habit you want to get rid of (e.g. nail biting, grabbing a chocolate bar after dinner,….). Only habits that are relevant to specific contexts can be eliminated through the swish pattern, not more general ones (e.g. smoking may require a different tool). It also makes use of visualization and an alternative action needs to be well thought of.

–       Putting yourself in a resourceful state: This could be used for particular situations when someone needs to feel more empowered, relaxed, happy, or confident – to name a few (e.g. presenting to a large audience). We work on creating an anchor (e.g. an action like pressing your own knuckle) that fires up the desired state when needed.

–       Dealing with major negative emotional events: Past traumas and acquired phobias can be overcome through Time Line Therapy. It’s based on the idea that people have a Time Line in which life events (past and future) are organized. You are taken on an amazing mental trip during which memories just pop out there while you’re in a conscious state. Distressing memories are dealt with through letting go of the relevant emotional baggage, reflecting on the lessons learned, and detaching from the distressing event(s). Time Line Therapy can also be used to remove distressing memories all together, change memories, or even create future memories.

–       Conflicting parts integration: It’s used whenever you have a conflict towards a specific issue. It could be inconsistencies in emotions towards something/someone, or a conflict in making a decision. The process is based on the idea that we have different parts within us and they all serve our best interest in becoming whole. This technique reduces the conflict among two opposing parts, integrates them into one, and a new state of “ease” is created.

      NLP is used in psychotherapy and life coaching. These two areas capitalize on the proper use of language (with self and others) and use many techniques to help people overcome obstacles and limitations. Mastery in effective communication extends, also, to better outcomes in interrelationships and even the business setting. Hypnotherapy is another area that extensively utilizes NLP. Hypnosis deals with problematic behavior (i.e. phobias, anxieties, smoking cessation, insomnia, etc…) or to change negative mental patterns (i.e. low self-esteem, concentration, procrastination, etc….). It branches out as a leading “change” tool and relies heavily on the use of language that is most comprehensive to the unconscious mind.

       Any certified NLP Practitioner can guide you through the processes of positive change. The practitioner acts as a facilitator of reprogramming the mind and behavior; the motivation to change and the effort rely on you. If you follow the steps proposed by the practitioner wholeheartedly, you will enjoy the transformation. The techniques are said to work like magic because they take very little time and the results are amazing. And best of all, it doesn’t have to be called therapy (if that makes you a bit reluctant). You won’t be labeled a patient. I’d like to think of it as “empowerment” to move forward. So go on, have a taste of NLP. You do want to improve your life in more than one area, don’t you?

Tearing Out Pages from Your Life Book

During my recent hypnotherapy practicum, one particular tool (more like a metaphor) drew my attention. It was in line with my future book project on “Coping with Realities”. The tool was an aid to deal with past painful emotions or memories. If not properly dealt with, these become heavy baggage with a grave negative impact on one’s personality, emotions, and behavior. The general gist of such a hypnotic exercise is to bring awareness that whatever already passed is past; and cannot be changed. What we can certainly change is what we can do now. The exercise works best if you are a visual person and have the ability to imagine taking a trip through your mind’s eye into the unconscious mind. A hypnotist can guide you through, but you can also do it alone. It goes something like this:

Take some time to relax a bit, relax, yes, breath, relax, more and more…..

Close your eyes, and then imagine you could scan the inside of your mind. You’ll have all sorts of ideas that flow in and out; come to the spotlight then fade. That’s your conscious mind. It has only a limited amount of information lying in your immediate awareness. Scan your mind further. You’ll find a corridor leading to a closed door; one that only you have the key for. As you open that door, you’ll find a big dark room. You can barely see that its walls look like a vast library with books arranged all over. You can smell antiquity in that room. You can hear very faint voices from your past echoing. You feel cool in that room; not cold, not hot. Look around. That’s your unconscious mind. It’s your whole life kept in record in there; organized perfectly in order. You can hardly remember all the details each small book has, but in these, all your past experiences are documented. These have shaped your present automatic habits of thought, behavior, feeling, skills, reactions and even your perception. All constitute your implicit knowledge. Whatever you’ve learned in the past was largely at this unconscious level. Your unconscious mind is very secretive (it wouldn’t easily disclose the books to your conscious mind; hence, the locked door). It is also very clever at disguising and distorting many experiences (especially traumatic ones). You can, nonetheless, access all this data; albeit, with some difficulty.

 Keep imagining…. There’s a long reclining chair in that room. Next to it, a big hard cover book rests on a side table. That’s the summary book of all your life experiences. It includes all past episodes assembled in chapters. Lie down on that chair. Hold that book and look inside. Flip through those pages. What do you see? Some pages are probably colorful carrying many wonderful memories. Others are dark and gloomy involving hurtful experiences. Pause a bit on those. Do you really need to leave those dark pages in there? They spoil the whole book of your life. You’d rather have it all colorful, don’t you? They’ve had their negative impact, but that’s long gone now. Look thoroughly for these episodes and decide that you don’t want to see them as part of your life any longer. Let’s tear out those pages! Yes, each and every one of them. Do it with force! Are you through? Your book is missing some pages now, but you have many more white pages to fill with colorful bright images and memories from now on. Wouldn’t you want to do that? Close that book now and carry those torn pages as you walk out of that room. Lock the door and choose to dispose of these in the closest recycle bin you can see in your mind’s eye. Come back from your short journey to where you are now gradually. Slowly open your eyes. You’re fully alert at this moment and feel fantabulous in every possible way, aren’t you?

 There….. If you follow these steps while taking your time, I bet it brings you much relief and drastic life changes. This is how you deal with harsh realities that are past and gone. You can’t change these, but you can eliminate their negative impact by dragging them out of that store. They don’t need to define your life. You choose to let these go and free yourself by forgiving. Look at you! You have reassumed control over your life course at present. No such past episodes matter any longer. Your unconscious mind wants to be your best ally; befriend it. It’s only the vast library that helps you easily act, feel, perceive, and react. How else do you think you learn? When what you learn sabotages your growth, revisit your unconscious mind and do what’s necessary to remove that imprint from your life book. Tear out those dark pages. What’s important now is to author the rest of the blank pages with only good memories and bright colors….

Voila…. Just by reading this, you have indulged in some sort of self-hypnosis 🙂 and if you had let yourself imagine the whole scenario, it would have definitely put you in a more empowered mind set 🙂

Coaching Is Definitely Not Therapy!!

Many people still don’t know what coaching is. It is even often confused with therapy. Although there are many similarities between the two professions, they diverge in core ways. I, myself, practice both; and find myself switching in mentality and even posture when I wear my coaching hat on.


So how is coaching similar or different than therapy? Coaching and therapy are based on similar theoretical constructs and practitioner-client issues (e.g. one on-one on going confidential relationship). Masterful coaches use skills from solution-oriented therapy approaches, cognitive behavioral psychology, and recent advances in positive psychology. Like therapy, coaching belongs to the helping professions. It is based on effective listening, empathetic understanding, a sincere desire to assist the individuals feel better about themselves and their lives. They similarly implement a variety of tools and strategies to facilitate progress. In addition, both professions bring about positive behavioral change and help people understand how their emotional and cognitive reactions interfere with performance, personal effectiveness, and well being.


A key difference between the two professions is the time orientation. Coaching is more focused on the future; while therapy focuses on resolving past issues. One aims at discovery; the other aims at recovery. There are several other differences between both practices in terms of: focus of attention, level of activity, and type of conversation wit the clients. On one hand, the coaching process is characterized by a focus on strengths, goals, untapped potential, and on interactions that are more active, self-disclosing, and more tied to business and work objectives. On the other hand, the process in therapy is focused more on malfunctioning, deficits, and exploring feelings and emotional processing. The course is more like an undefined wandering progression of digging everywhere. Additionally, unlike therapy, coaching has looser boundaries with clients, more use of humor, and a less care-taker role.


There are also differences in the sessions’ setting and length. While sessions in coaching can be flexible in timing and include various means like the telephone, the internet, in person meeting, or through video-conferencing, therapy sessions are normally 50 minutes, face-to-face in the therapist’s office and only in emergencies over the phone. As for the training required for either profession, therapists undergo an extensive and demanding training typically far in excess of coach training.


Recently many therapists have incorporated coaching into their practice. The other way round can’t be true for coaches. It raises a “red flag” and coaches are advised to refer their clients to therapists when any signs of mental concerns are detected. It is beyond their professional ability to handle. Other therapists have abandoned their therapeutic role all together for coaching. This is because dealing with human suffering can be draining if the therapist does not take time to routinely self-energize. I wonder if with time I will end up making such a move despite my passion to be there for those who need help in any way. Only time can tell….





Accepting vs. Resisting (Power Tool) -(1)

I have earlier written a short post on “Moving Forward” through accepting or resisting our life situations. I found it an empowering tool to use in the coaching process. I, therefore, decided to elaborate on it and submit it as a “Power Tool” (part of my certification process in coaching). It is somewhat lengthy, so I will post it on two occasions for an easier read. Enjoy and empower yourselves in those areas where you can do little to effect positive change:

Topic 1.  How do we deal with difficult life circumstances? 

What We Resist, Persists, Accept, And It Just Dissolves” ~ Carl Jung

 Many of us have a “fighter spirit” and we succeed in assuming control over many of our life circumstances. We get that promotion after working hard enough. We adopt a new life-style and are glad to have that ideal self image we always aspired.  We are repeatedly encouraged to move forward and celebrate achieving our goals. Sadly, often times, we face specific life situations whereby “change” is extremely difficult, very costly, or sometimes practically impossible. For instance, how is it best to cope with the misfortune of being born with a physical handicap? Or in trying to survive the commitment to a partner who’s much loved, but has difficult personality characteristics beyond control? Consider someone else having to tolerate a newly assigned arrogant supervisor on the job because no better alternative can do at the time? In such thorny situations, one is faced with either of two options: accepting versus resisting those situations. 

 According to Merriam- Webster Dictionary, the verb accept is defined as “to endure without protest or reaction; to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable; and to recognize as true”. Applied to our difficult life experiences, “accepting” refers to the realization that we can not change what is disliked or that which is perceived as a psychological threat. We stop our behavioral and mental attempts to change, deny, or oppose it; and go with the flow. The Webster dictionary, also, defines the verb resist as “to exert oneself so as to counteract or defeat”. It entails fighting, pushing back and putting in some energy to change what currently exists. Applied to difficult life situations, mentally “resisting” a situation involves imagining over and over again what should be the case, the better scenario, and efforts to resolve difficult situations one way or another. Through out our lives, we either resort to “accepting” or “resisting” as coping strategies to handle many of our arising concerns; be it on personal or professional levels. Let’s reflect for a moment:

Reflection and Application

 1. Identify the areas in your life that you have grown to accept on both your:

    a. Personal level

    b. Professional level

 2. Identify the areas in your life that you have resisted and succeeded; and others you have resisted and could not change on both your:

    a. Personal level

    b. Professional level

Topic 2. Compared to “resisting”, why is it that “accepting” the healthier coping mechanism in difficult life circumstances?

 “What can’t be cured must be endured” ~ Robert Burton proposed it wisely. The idea of “accepting” is prominent in Eastern philosophy and in different religions like Christianity and Islam. Life subjects us to its own terms. In extreme scenarios, it puts us under different losses, vagaries of fate, vicissitude of evil, illness, traumas, aging, and the inevitable idea of eventually facing death. “Accepting” things that already happened in the past or those that are foreseeable is comforting. We can’t undo the past; what’s done is done. We certainly can do a lot about whatever future remains even under the most difficult circumstances. When we accept things as they are, we become open to new possibilities; to areas beyond our distress. We stop feeding adversity with energy. Our mind is freed to finding solutions; and that energy is directed in a more empowering manner. The sooner we do that, the better. Sometimes, we need to learn to befriend our “tough calls” (come to terms with them). Only then are we able to overcome whatever set-backs we face. 

“Resisting” can be viewed in a positive light in many situations. It is a driving force to do the best we can; to go beyond our comfort zones; to change to the better. What we need, however, is to discern between this type of resisting and that which is futile. “Resisting” can take the form of denial, avoidance, or even rumination over negative feelings (e.g. sorrow, guilt, injustice, etc….). It is these negative experiences that sometimes exacerbate our life situations; and not always those situations per se. Harboring bitterness, for instance, renders us eventually in an unpleasant place or state. Similarly, if we keep on brushing our negative feelings under the carpet by denying or avoiding these, they’ll creep back up again to get us. It is no wonder, then that in psychotherapy, emotional healing involves “accepting” past ordeals; as they truly were (not as one wished them to be). Accepting rather than avoiding painful emotions, in fact, alleviates the suffering. And this is how the individual eventually moves to a healthier form of functioning. “Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery” ~ Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

Reflection and Application

 1. Have a look at the areas you identified earlier. Compare the feelings that arise as you contemplate accepting or resisting each. Which do you find more empowering?

 2. List the ramifications of resisting on your actions, your emotions, and your future vision.

 Stay tuned for the follow post on accepting the self, others, and our hurt in more details.

Make Me Feel Important!

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ”Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life” (Mary Kay Ash).  What a life philosophy to adopt! Indeed, as a customer, you would like to feel important, so would you as a family member, a student, a hard working employee, and even as someone providing an ordinary service. It feels so good to be noticed and valued. Wouldn’t it hurt YOU if you felt ignored or neglected? Wouldn’t YOU feel blessed to be noticed and appreciated? You can be the most confident human on earth; you can be the most self-sufficient and independent person in the world; but, still, there’s always room for external appreciation that needs to be occasionally filled.

 It would be a mistake to assume that others are OK without your acknowledgement. In many instances, people resort to psychotherapy or coaching just to create the space to feel important. Let’s not wait for this to happen. Go out there and make others feel important no matter what their social status is. You’ll make their day a better day; and consequently yours. You will feel important because you made a difference. It comes back ten fold. It really is so rewarding. Go ahead, try for yourself and notice how it will make you feel.


Choosing to Moving Forward (3) – Accepting Versus Resisting

Is in it so uplifting when you set your mind to moving forward on specific personal areas and actually succeed? You pick up the habit of exercising; you find your soul mate; or move into that more spacious apartment you’ve always dreamed of. What a joy it is to effect some positive change! Sometimes, however, change or the move forward may apparently seem impossible or impractical. You try different ways to make things change, but nothing seems to work. You find yourself in a difficult life situation and become even more frustrated by locked doors as you seek your way out. It must be real hard on you to persist despite unsuccessful attempts. Do you keep trying, or do you surrender disappointed into a depressed state?

Neither of these two options is a healthy coping mechanism. Both entail resistance though both vary in the “how”. Even depression is anger turned inward. You might still be resisting the idea and shaming yourself for your inability to deal with a pressing need. When things seem so bleak, accepting the difficult to change becomes the wiser mental attitude. It has been said: “What can’t be cured must be endured.” Resistance entails spending a lot of energy at what you’d like changed (even if you just whined, or became depressed about it). That energy is better off being channeled in other directions leading you forward. So, in the end, we still have a choice in responding.

 For instance, you have major disagreements around specific ideologies with your parents, siblings or spouse. You might be tempted to change their attitudes. You argue, you shout, you give them the silent treatment, or you try to force your own stance. All these attempts may deplete your energy reservoir until you feel drained. Accept their attitudes as just being different; then let go. You can still share fundamental other beliefs that bind you together.

 In a similar vein, you might have conflicting characters with close others you deal with; do you try to change theirs at no avail? Do you keep trying? Maybe it’s just wiser if you worked on changing yourself, or the way you look at things. I am not saying that you mimic others to fit in; just spend that energy educating yourself with what you need to know to handle these differences better. Again, accepting others for who they are, as opposed to resisting the differences, can save you a great toll. The more you refuse to give in, the more you get frustrated, so choose your battles by examining the costs they entail. Move in a different direction.

 I can relate the idea to instances of fighting too hard when you experience injustice in some life situations. You get bluffed (ridiculous, but could happen at any point in ones’ life 🙂 ); do you attempt revenge? Do you take others to court? STOP! Would you consider forgiving? Yeah! Go for it! Save yourself the inner turmoil and the external hassle. So much has been said about forgiveness. Learn your lesson and re-direct your energy to areas that can make you feel good. Don’t stay stuck in trying to save face at that mishap. Get your chin high somewhere else. ‘Whatever you focus on expands” so it’s been said. Why not focus on moving forward in other directions. It just might be the better way out!

I Am My OWN Priority

I was wondering about our tendency, sometimes, to lose sight of what we truly want out of living, of the future we want to construct, and of what really matters to us. I am not living in vacuum, I must admit, and therefore, find myself subject to external pressures of all sorts. These could be other people I interact with, situations I am put in, or general life circumstances. I live only once, why not squeeze the juice out of life? I reckon the best way to do that is to set myself as my own priority. This needs to be my hallmark. I was shaped enough in my upbringing and I am an adult now. From now on, it’s my life, so let ME do the “defining”; why should I let someone else do the job for me when I’m wise enough to do it on my own?

These thoughts crossed my mind’s eye when I observed several clients who although dealing with different types of concerns, share almost analogous bases (e.g. dealing with relationship issues). They seem stuck into considering how “others” are relating to them. Almost every question I ask is answered in terms of what “others” have said, or done; or “what if” others will say or do. Where is the “you” in all this, I consistently ask? What do “you” really want? What are “you” going to do about it? Why be reactive? Where is your initiative? Clients like these, and other people I know, seem to subject their desires to the periphery. They assume the stance of a victim, a martyr, or get trapped into complying with the needs of others. They forget the “me” – as responsible and liable – in the whole interaction process.

Such cases make me go back in thought to my repeated attempts in telling my students: “The most important ‘date’ you could ever take is that with your own self. Just take sometime to know more who you are; and what you really want out of life. Get to know both your strengths and limitations; yet, capitalize on your strengths. Get clear on your values. These are guidelines for your behavior; and constitute what’s important for you. They eventually shape your decisions; hence, are bases for a solid vision of your life satisfaction. Get a sense of the direction you’re heading in. Follow your passions, set your priorities, and build your resources.” Whenever you have a clear idea about who you are and what you want to be, or achieve, life would not look like the very difficult puzzle it seems to be (at times). Possible confusion or distress would have little room then in your lives. Set your self as a priority. Everything else would seem to flow more easily afterwards.

I am not suggesting that we are to focus on our needs at the expense of disregarding the whole ecological system we’re engulfed in. It’s just that, at times, considering the “me” in the context may require more focus. Even if the “me” was defined in terms of others, we gain clarity as to where we fit. For instance, one client would finally admit that: “I am a martyr for the sake of my family”. When she clearly defined the framework of her true self, it was a leap forward in de-mystifying her role. I appreciated her sacrifice to keep the family intact. We then worked within the confinements of that role. Imprisoned for the sake of the family; yet, doing the best “She” could to still vivify other aspects of her life. She, then, prioritized herself within that system and she ardently embraced a new attitude of mind. She, then, started to be more giving.

How can you give when you don’t fill up your reservoir? All sorts of machinery need some sort of recharging. Although by far we are more unique, our survival entails more than just physiological nourishment to operate. We need to feed our spirit, our mind, and our passions. The options are varied to summon up our spiritual energy. Seize the opportunity to fill up your psyche and stretch your horizon. Dream on; and make life worth living. Develop a purpose to work on, or mark a blueprint to leave behind. With enough determination and focus, we remain true to ourselves and foster our well-being. Oh yes! Without such a vision, life would seem bleak and not worth the effort. And oh yes! We’d find our selves faltering and vacillating at the mercy of the dictations by others.

Let me be my OWN priority. This will inevitably feed into everything else in my life. It is only then that I can be the giving person I yearn to be….

Stress-Free Life?

I am well in touch with the notion of stress. I believe roughly everyone is. I read a lot of research examining this construct and its relevance to many others: multiple definitions, coping mechanisms, underlying bases for most physical and psychological disorders, etc…. Fascinating topic; and very broad indeed. I was very aware of the detrimental effects it has on ones’ welfare and never claimed knowing it all. Recently, a colleague – Louisa Chan- offered me a chance to participate in a 4 session program to live a “Stress-Free Life in 30 days”. I felt honored to be selected as a participant. The title of the program appealed to me. I lead a life loaded with stressors of all sorts. I do handle most constructively; and attempt to transcend those that persist, but a “stress-free life” is beyond my comprehension! How can it be? It’s like stripping life of its lure.

Being a passionate learner, I enrolled as a participant. Already born a female, I and my kind, become vulnerable by imposed and ongoing societal role expectations. If I could do anything to buffer myself against the incongruence arising, then let it be undertaken. We all assume multiple roles. The challenge is satisfying all ends; yet, remain in control. What is stress, but a perceived inability to cope in face of excessive demands physically or psychologically? Here I am with a conflicting identity: purely me, a career woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a student, a friend, a manager, etc….. and the list goes on. So many labels and each require specific duties, aspirations, and above all TIME. With so many passions to explore new venues, with choosing so many “roads less traveled”, I was constantly being pulled by different forces and in different directions. How can I possibly accommodate myself to all without any stress experience? By definition, I am a living example of stress. It may not manifest fully, as I make use of various defense strategies. Why not learn more, and bridge whatever gaps still loiter?

Over a period of one month, the sessions of the program slowly unfolded with full flexibility, Q/As options, field work, and numerous down-to-earth analogies. Some readings confirmed my knowledge and practices of few de-stress techniques: Deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, de-cluttering, pouring out your heart in writing, etc… At the same time, I was on the track of more discoveries. So many new insights: we are by design programmed to float not sink in face of set backs, we are advised to assure ourselves that hard times will be overcome, we need to consciously change the energy of any distress to a driving more productive and healthier force, we are to act by priorities, and so much more…. Further strategies were suggested that despite their simplicity and power, many would fail to utilize.

I looked at my life and noticed a pattern there: high achiever, too many goals, list of endless things to do, aggressive pattern in working, a sense of urgency, etc…. It seemed to me I liked the trend, but these are some features of a Type A personality. Gosh! It is known that these people are more prone to coronary heart disease with excessive stress being an underlying factor. Why the rush (I told myself)? Are these goals worth dying for? Too many roles, too many things to do, too many ambitions, but too little time to fit all. I am always in a race to get things done. I earlier set lengthy deadlines; why not stretch them out further? A reverse in the trend of “over-delivering” is necessitated now before it is too late. Everything I do is feeding into my life experience as a whole. It looked like I had myopia on being over-productive. A take it “slow and easy” approach is a requirement if I willingly immerse myself in multi-tasking, or else stress would kick-in ending with strain and consequently burn-out. But can I do that? Or is it just an endowment I have to live with? Can I regulate this tendency of incessant role clashes? There is no reason why I shouldn’t.

Another enlightening aspect the program dealt with was emotional stress. The concepts of “seeking closure” in unresolved relationships and “feeling complete” were not utterly new to me. I’ve always read about the debilitating effects of physical and psychological traumas and how to handle these. It is only when the trauma is processed, its pain closely felt and accepted, and the notion of “forgive and forget” is adopted that the victim is able to transcend the trauma. In the process of growing and maturing, I have had my share of disappointments with people I considered so dear. Mini-traumas, as such, most likely surface for all of us. Emotional stress precipitates when, for example, we are let down, get frustrated, turn our anger inward or outward, and then move on. If our setback took place with someone really close, seeking completion entails confrontation and clarification of standards; then finishing up with setting boundaries and turning a new page. It is one wide spread strategy people use in varying intensities and degrees.

Sometimes, however, the hurt would be either too out of proportion for any reconciliation, or it could be that we are in no position to wage a battle for other considerations. It is in these cases that emotional distress lingers on, so what do we do in such cases I asked? Louisa answered by an ingenious technique. Write about it and describe all your feelings. Express your grudge, maltreatment, or injustice. Pour it all out on a piece of paper, think it over, get in touch with how it makes you feel, then decide to let go. Tell yourself: I’m not going to let that bug me no more, it’s gone, finished, then set your letter on fire. Watch that episode rage in flame then dwindle in enormity to become only ashes. Believe firmly that the magnitude of this event will diminish in your psyche; and it will. That is closure of all the negative feelings you carried. Visualizing the process happen and believing it will just be gone have potent effects on making it resolve. The power of visualization and that of belief have been demonstrated over again to be powerful sources for accomplishments. Let’s make use of these then to de-stress.

Stress-free life in just thirty days? Nothing is impossible and everything has an antidote. Louisa’s voice still echoes: by design, we are resilient. Keep an eye open to our attempts to resist too much. Strategies to de-stress on all levels are out there. It is entirely up to us to discover what works for us and what doesn’t. Never mind how many trials it would take to make it happen. To me, first, come awareness, assessment and a conscious decision. Second, follow sincere attempts and commitment. Lastly, results show us if we are on the right track. Any outcome we do not aspire is only feedback that something ought to be revised. This is a process only those determined utilize in all their ventures. It does not only pertain to alleviating the stress experience per se….

Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional

We have a consuming passion to have things our own way since infancy. Real life, however, is full of uncertainties. We are faced with unexpected events that could be either pleasant, or horrid. Nice surprises or lucky encounters make us love life, energize us, and brighten up our frame of mind. At other times, things go astray: Dreams collapse, loved ones die, failure strikes, or we get betrayed. All sorts of negative feelings spiral us downward to the experience of inevitable pain.

As humans, we are honored to have such distinct emotions: honored, as these lift us beyond the physical experience shared by other species. We welcome with grace positive feelings and take these for granted as the proper state of affairs. When pain strikes us, we indulge in self-blame, or blame the whole course of being. We forget that pain is an essential component of our growth journey. It’s a powerful educator of the truth that nothing is absolutely within our control. We can never be totally in charge of our surrounding no matter how hard we try. What we can control, though, is our emotional reactions to what life brings us.

So, instead of despairing in face of setbacks, we have a choice between ruminating over our helplessness or empowering ourselves with added knowledge about reality: We are only masters of ourselves. Our choices pertain to our handling our own responses. We are what we choose to be: happy or hurt; filled with gratitude or denial; passionate learners or mediocre passives. When we sober up and look back at our past sufferings, we often come to realize that we unnecessarily let it dominate us for a lengthier time than needed. Life goes on with all its ebbs and flows. The cycle persists. We cannot totally eliminate the pain experience, but we surely can shorten our suffering. In the end, all it takes is serious attempts at remaining open to considering healthier possibilities……..

On Empathy

It was a rainy and gloomy day, but a day I was so excited about: my first day as a clinical trainee. Here I am, among colleagues with a similar mission (so I hoped): alleviating the pain of those suffering.

The distressed lady sat there with eyes gazing in disbelief at an awkward situation she found herself in. A dozen other pair of eyes scanning her; waiting in silence until she pours out what she had burning inside. Medical students, other clinical trainees, one main interviewer located next to her, and an expert therapist heading the closed meeting.

Assuring her of utmost confidentiality, the main interviewer proceeded in trying to find what was behind the insomnia the lady was struggling with. Gently he probed in dissecting the circumstances she was facing and inquiring about any piece of information that could unravel the main causes of her discomfort.

With great unease, the lady spoke. In a tone smothered by humiliation she shared her most personal fears, problems, experiences, & most embarrassing life incidents. She tried hard to stay focused on communicating her message while late comers arrived to the meeting. Repeatedly another medical student would squeak open the door; thus, breaking the silence of her attempts to collect her dim thoughts from everywhere.

One observation struck me. One of the medical students came in late with a rather wide smile on his face. I thought he had a cheerful character, or he was merely trying to greet everyone, or even maybe attempting to apologize for his lateness. I expected that smile to gradually fade. To my surprise, it stayed there, as he started exploring the faces around him. I assumed he was keeping track of what that lady was saying. I was so wrong. He couldn’t have been listening; probably hearing voices, but not listening. I was so sure he wasn’t because that smile persisted. I refrained myself from frowning at him several times. I wished I could yell at him to STOP! Show some EMPATHY! Are you mentally there???? I’m happy that you’re so joyful, but can you PLEASE postpone showing that? How about having the heart to show some concern to the lady’s distress?!!

I noticed myself trying to exaggerate my empathetic facial expression, and even shaking my head in disapproval of her sad circumstances as she kept talking about her misery. I was trying to counteract that smile in any appropriate means possible.

The interview came to an end after a series of questions from the audience. That smile would always compete and win over a very brief enforced grim. As everybody started leaving, I wanted to do something, draw his attention, remind him that empathy is one tool he lacks for successful therapy; but he left before I could take action. Did I stop there? No, I expressed my concerns to the main interviewer & hoped the latter liaises my message to “smiley face”. I bet he will hate me for the rest of my life, but I just couldn’t be inactive.

What does it take to show some empathy? Veeeery little effort. How would it feel to you if you were put in the others’ shoes? You can’t undo that past, so what would you do now if you were that person, and held all that person’s values? Just reflecting the same concerns, in many instances, would constitute 50% of therapy. A fact many would miss….

Update: I ran across “Smiley face” two times before my second session; and in both times he had that smile on his face. This made me realize that, indeed, he just had a cheerful character. At the beginning of my second session, I saw his colleagues (among which was the main interviewer I talked to earlier); and asked whether my message was delivered. Their reply was “yes”, but time didn’t allow further discussion.

Again, “Smiley face” came in wearing that wide smile, and the session started. He sat next to where I was, and I expected to smell some hatred or negativity towards me, but I didn’t. Towards the end of the session, I opened up again and shared my genuine concern regarding his attitude towards those distressed patients. I just wanted to assure that I was not criticizing. Amazingly, he kept smiling. I reasoned that in such a profession, empathy wanes gradually as therapists become sensitized while encountering an increasingly greater number of distressed cases.

What did I conclude then? I warned myself not to lose sight of the uniqueness of each suffering case. I also predicted that life just cannot beat “Smiley face”. He simply cannot help his overwhelming positive attitude. But would he succeed as a psychiatrist? I doubt he would ever choose to end up along that path. As a physician, he’d be brilliant at any other specialty requiring great guts. One that cannot breed intimidation no matter how high the risks were….

Categories: Therapy
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