Rooted & Grounded


Letting Go | When I Want Others to Grow

And When They Might Not


My husband and I spend a lot of time outside in our backyard.  For an urban yard, we’ve found a way to grow quite a lot:  fruit trees and herbs and tomatoes and pumpkins and leafy greens and squash.  I never really imagined that I would enjoy yard work so much, and I always thought that gardeners were exaggerating when they talked about a love of things that grow. But I am constantly drawn back to the soil and the mulch and the seeds, like there’s some source of truth there that I have to uncover.

 

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Letting Go | Confessions of a Holder of Expectations

What I Did + Didn't Think This Would Be About


 Several months ago, I decided on this particular blog theme and topic and now that I sit here writing it, I am at an unexpected loss for words.

 

My plan wasto share all about the damaging effects that other people’s expectations can have upon you, especially if you ingest those as gospel truth.  My plan was to offer a few relevant, insightful suggestions about how to shrug off and let go of living according to someone else’s “shoulds” and standards for what life is supposed to be about.

 

My plan wasn’tto share all about the ways that other people’s expectations still plague me like gnats that buzz around your ears.  My plan wasn’t to admit that I am as much in need of those relevant, insightful suggestions as I think others might be.

 

My plan wasn’tto acknowledge that I doubt myself, my work, my abilities or my importance, on a nearly daily basis.  My plan wasn’t to say that I often succumb to believing that how others live and structure their lives must inform my own, and that if I dare do something different, then somehow there’s something wrong with me.

 

I guess I had my own expectations for myself, in how I would share with you about the triumph of letting go of expectations.

 

But somehow the honesty might be exactly what we need to let go of what we think we should be doing, and actually live into what we know is genuine, meaningful and important.

 

In this with you,

Alair

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Families | Growing Gratitude

How to Plant Seeds That Produce Real Thankfulness


 Within the last several years, I’ve noticed a dramatic surge in all things “natural.”  Have you?

 

We eat at “farm-to-table” restaurants, we spend time on DIY projects, and we spend more money on “non-GMO” products.  We shop organic, drive electronic and buy local.  

 

There seems to be a strong resistance to all things processed and manufactured and packaged. And personally, I have both feet planted in the natural camp.  I think most everything in life is healthier, more sustainable and far more rewarding when made by hand or given the time, space and care to grow.

 

I also believe that the same principles and perspectives apply to the parts of our lives that are not tangible:  our values, personalities, character and dreams.  When I work with families, I often hear parents describe the ways they long for their children to be, and oftentimes that includes being more grateful.

 

But gratitude isn’t a product to be manufactured; forced thankfulness doesn’t do justice to the giver or the receiver.  Gratitude must be grown.  True appreciation develops over time and becomes a way of life, not only a response after getting a birthday present or a trip to Disneyland.

 

I think of a few seeds that families could plant, that often grow into real gratitude:

 

Empathy:  can you have conversations as a family about how different people feel at different times?  About how our actions impact others?  About how the lives we lead are far different than those of others?

 

Celebration: as a family, could you build in regular times of celebration that go beyond the usual birthdays or holidays? Someone achieving a goal that was a long-time coming, someone doing something brave, someone making a hard decision, etc.

 

Structure + Discipline:  can your children learn how to say no to some things so they can say yes to others?  To have to wait and endure something challenging to feel grateful when it’s over?

 

True, genuine gratitude is a way of life – a posture of approaching life with humility and openness, so that when you receive all that life has to offer, the fruit is appreciation.

 

In this with you,

Alair

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Couples | Let's Scrap Valentine's Day

And try a different approach for you and your partner


A few weeks ago, the majority of our society “celebrated” this thing called Valentine’s Day, which I believe is meant to honor and affirm loving relationships.  However, I often find February 14thto be a day full of pressure and stress and expectation about howyou’re going to try and show the world that your relationship is awesome.  Even if it doesn’t feel that way.

 

If you and your partner enjoy celebrating this holiday together, that’s fantastic; I’m glad you can make an intentional effort to be together or remind yourself of how much you love and value your partner.

 

If you find yourself dreading Valentine’s Day because you don’t know if your partner is going to come through with his or her romantic responsibilities, or if you don’t know if your efforts and gifts and sentiments are going to be better than last year – I think you might need to scrap this holiday all together.

 

To me, the anxiety and stress and pressure around Valentine’s Day hovers over two deeper questions:  “Do I matter enough to him/her?” and “Am I enough for him/her?”  Do I matter enough for him/her to plan a date/buy this gift/set aside time?  Am I (and my gifts and efforts and intentions) enough for him/her?  These questions are real and valid and genuine, and Valentine’s Day is never going to give you a sufficient answer.

 

This is where I believe a simple practice like gratitude comes into play.  I wholeheartedly want couples to spend time affirming one another, valuing one another and cherishing their time together.  What if we started from a place of gratitude?

 

What would your attitude and your posture toward your partner be like, if you started from a place of thankfulness and appreciation?

 

How would your words change?  Your actions? Your willingness to invest in the relationship?

 

And what would it feel like to receive gratitude from your partner?

 

My guess is that the answer to all these questions would be something that is sustaining, rich, and meaningful.  Something that draws you closer to one another and leaves you a little better off than before.

 

Something way better than a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

 

In this with you,

Alair

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Helping Professionals | What Are You Chasing After?

And will it benefit your clients?


How many times have you been talking with a group of colleagues and thought to yourself, “%*&#!! I haven’t been trained in that! I haven’t even heard of that certification but it sounds really important.  Will I ever be successful if I don’t go to that seminar?!”

 

If you have, then you are certainly not alone.  Happened to me today, in fact.  I hate when suddenly I question my career and value as a therapist because someone mentioned the latest conference they attended or book they read or technique they tried.  Why does that scatter me in ten different directions, rather than prompt me to celebrate what my colleague learned or enjoy hearing about a new development in the field?

 

Generally, this happens to me when I’ve lost sight of what I’m really going after in my work, or when I’m doubting that I have what it takes to go after it.

 

As helping professionals, I believe that a part of us genuinely wants to do just that: help.  But I believe we still have to hold a strong, clear vision of how we are each uniquely gifted to help in our own unique ways.  I could attend every seminar and training and workshop imaginable, but if my intention and vision for my practice is non-existent or underdeveloped, I’ll be chasing after certifications and titles without doing much helping.  And chances are, the way I see myself as a therapist will ebb and flow depending on how skilled I feel.

 

What if each of us clarified and nurtured and chased after a vision and intention for our work, for the sake of truly serving our clients?  Yes, trainings and workshops and the like can support that vision; I caution against using those to define your vision.

 

Chase after what matters in your work and set intentions that are worth pursuing because others need that.  Clients don’t need a helper who is well-versed in every methodology under the sun; clients need a helper who has a vision and intention of how healing is possible and holds out a clear hope for a better life.

 

Let’s chase that together,

 

Alair

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Intentions | Why I'm terrified of mediocrity

And why you might be too


I think the last thing I want to do in this blog is to tell you how to live.  I know that this is one of those cardinal rules of being a therapist – don’t give advice.  However, when I see something over and over again that is killing relationships and ruining families and sabotaging lives, I think I need to say something.

 

I believe that mediocrity is one of the most dangerous things in our world today.  And here’s why:

 

1.  The very definition of mediocrity says it all:  “not very good,” “average,” “uninspired,” “indifferent,” “forgettable.”  Mediocrity is the pull to settle for what is good enough – what isn’t bad enough to be a real problem, but what isn’t great and excellent (which often require a lot of hard work and effort).

 

Mediocre says that the relationship you’re in is “ok” or “tolerable” or “better than being alone.”  Mediocre is the family that survives a busy schedule and a jam-packed day, just to wake up and do it all over again.  Mediocre is the person who waits around for the good things in life and finds enough distraction to pass the time.

 

2.  Mediocrity doesn’t alert us to do anything different; it lulls us to sleep.  When we find ourselves in a crisis or a really difficult place in life, oftentimes that’s when we take action.  When we feel fulfilled and inspired and challenged and affirmed, oftentimes that’s when we desire to keep heading in that direction.

 

But mediocrity is the powerful lullaby that tells us life won’t get any better, can’t get any better, so just settle in for the ride and find a way to get by day to day.

 

I want something more than that:  for myself, my family, my clients, my friends.  Want to come along with me?

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Choosing: The Hallmark Family Doesn't Exist

But does that mean we just give up trying?


I have a horrible confession to make:

 

I have been watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies for the last few weeks.  I know, I know- they are incredibly predictable, horrifically staged and completely pointless.

 

But I keep watching.  Like they're a train wreck.

 

I think the holidays create some sort of expectation that our families should be magical, drama-free, and full of fun traditions and laughter.  I also think that we all know (to varying degrees) that no family is perfect, regardless of how much we love each other or celebrate together.

 

And then we stop there.  It's almost like saying, "Well, my family isn't anywhere close to a Hallmark movie.  So that's that."

 

Why does the pendulum have to swing from trying to have the perfect family, to giving up any intention or effort to create a healthy family?  While we may not expect to have a "perfect" family, I see that too often we resign ourselves to the family life that we have in front of us and allow our families to be pushed and pulled by busyness and culture and societal pressures and demands from others.  I often hear that "this is just how life is right now," assuming that one day life will decide it's ready to stop making you run around from one activity to the next, neglecting time with your kids or settling for family relationships that are strained or disconnected.

 

Once again, we have a choice about the space we create as a family - the values we hold, the way we spend our time, how we spend our money, the ways we interact with one another.  It won't ever be perfect, but it certainly deserves (and requires) our choice and our action.

 

What will you and yours choose this holiday?

 

With you and for you,

Alair

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Choosing: The Golden Rule for Marriage

What would happen if I treated my partner the way I want to be treated?


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Choosing: The One Thing Your Practice Needs

I'm currently sitting at home, waiting for the dishwasher repair technician to show up and fix the magical appliance that cuts down my kitchen work (and why we think that giving "windows of time" makes the waiting easier, I have no idea, but that's a different topic).  If I had the tools and the knowledge to fix my own machines, I would do that in a second as opposed to putting myself at the mercy of someone I don't know from the hours of 12-5pm.

 

As a clinician in private practice, I have often found myself in a very similar place:  waiting for that next magic training or webinar or conference or coach, to come to me and "fix" my practice.  Sometimes I even have the tools and the knowledge I need, but I set them on the figurative (or even literal) shelf and let my practice go on in a less-than-ideal way.

 

But that is how our world operates today, especially when we see ads like this one:

I think that the real work of building, growing and sustaining a thriving practice is not how many certificates you can get your hands on, how many hours you see clients or how many referrals you get each year.  Quite the opposite, I think the real work is learning about what gets in the way of doing what you know you need to do, and choosing something different.

 

What keeps you from charging your full fee?

 

What is difficult about setting limits on how many hours you work each week?

 

What gets in the way of allowing yourself to be fully present with your clients?

 

What would you have to give up to ask colleagues for support and consultation?

 

What do you fear would happen if you named your own insecurities as a clinician?

 

I believe that we expect more tools and knowledge to save our practices, and then even once we get them, we may think that just by having them, they will somehow engage in a kind of osmosis and magically show up in our practices.

 

But unless we are aware of why we resist and deny and avoid, and then choose something different, we may be waiting for the dishwasher technician for a long time.

 

In this with you,

Alair

 

** A great next step could be to join me for the Corner Co-op:  A Year in Review!

Creativity | It's a Family Affair

Making Space for Creativity

I’ll admit that some time has passed between my last blog post and now, partly due to being on vacation and partly due to a new season of working and teaching and getting a rhythm in place.  Thanks for your patience!

 

Despite the lapse in writing, I still come back to this theme of “creativity” and I’m going to carry this out for a few more weeks.  Let’s consider what creativity might mean for families.

 

One of the most repeated complaints that I hear in my office is that families feel deprived of time together, of time away from electronics and screens, and of actually having fun together instead of arguing or driving from one thing to the next.  There is no space for creativity in a place packed with commitments and full schedules and sitting in traffic.

 

I truly believe that given the time and space, families can come up with a hundred different ways to spend time together, so ideas and activities are certainly not in short supply. What is lacking is the margin to enjoy those activities and make those ideas a reality.

 

So, with that, a few questions for you and your family to talk about:

 

- What are we doing too much of?  Not enough of?

- What do we need to say no to, in order to create more margin for fun and creativity?

- What gets in the way of setting boundaries to protect our family time?

- When our kids grow up/get older, what would we regret not doing with them while they were younger/living at home?

 

Chase after this- it means too much!

 

With you and for you,

Alair

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Creativity | An Inside Job

What does creativity look like for you?

 

I think there is a huge amount of value in being intentional, and so each month we're going to look at and consider and question and explore one particular theme.  And the first theme that came into my mind to begin is Creativity.

 

I am a firm believer in the power of creating, whether that is a meal or a relationship or a tangible piece of clothing or furniture or art.  There is something healing about making something out of (seemingly) nothing, and using our own hands and skills and intellect to do so.  It actually changes our brain chemistry and enhances our mental capacity.  

 

So for you as an individual, what might "creating" look like?  Every day, we have the opportunity to create or to consume.  Of course, we must consume certain things in order to survive.  But is that all?  Do we just take and take and take, without considering what we are giving?

 

Here are a few questions for you to consider if you'd like to pursue more creativity in your life:

 

- What energizes me?  What gets me up early and keeps me up late?

 

- What is my personality drawn to do?  (For more insight into your personality, consider completing an assessment like the MBTI or the Enneagram.)

 

- What keeps me from spending time creating?

 

- Where could I stop consuming and do more creating?

 

With you and for you,

Alair 

 

Swimming Upstream (for us as helping professionals)

A little work revival

 

For those of us working in various helping professions, we often find our jobs and careers to be meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling.  I bet there are times during the week when we say to ourselves, "This [interaction, experience, client, etc.] is WHY I do my job."  At the same time, I'd put money on the reality that we have just as many (if not more) moments when we feel burned out, stuck, overwhelmed or even apathetic.  We have little to no desire to do our jobs or care for others or offer hope and encouragement when we are feeling completely depleted.

 

And then we look around at colleagues or supervisors or friends in similar fields and they seem to be just thriving.  So we hide our insecurities and exhaustion for fear that we don't have it all together the way others do.

 

As in the last post, I want to suggest a few "pillars" to put in place for your work and your practice, so that you can feel revived and remember why you chose this vocation in the first place:

 

Values.  What are the vision, mission and values of your practice?  Why do YOU work the way you do?  What defines your work, and what do you want to be about as a helping professional?

 

Self-Care.  What steps are you taking to actively care for yourself?  We tell our clients this all the time but are we living this out?  What boundaries do you need to set?  What can you say no to so that you can say yes to something else?

 

Soul Friendships.  Who do you lean on when you feel disheartened or discouraged?  Who do you call/text and say, "I felt like an awful therapist/pastor/teacher/leader today" and know that you will be heard and loved?

 

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on these three areas, not only for your health and wholeness, but for those you serve as well.  This is vital; definitely not easy, but vital.

 

Stay rooted and grounded,

Alair

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Swimming Upstream (for us as couples)

A little relationship refreshment

 

If we know that families are assaulted daily with messages of how they are supposed "do more" and "be better," I believe that couples face an even greater onslaught of "shoulds" and "oughts."  Let's imagine the variety of movies and TV shows and YouTube channels we watch on a regular basis.  How many of those fantasies (and let's be real, they're mostly all fantasy) include a romantic couple that overcomes any argument, plans the perfect dates, has the most fulfilling (and perfectly timed) intimate moments, and looks ageless.  We can all say that we know this isn't real life, but I believe we're taught to want the fantasy.

 

But that's the problem with fantasy:  it was never meant to be reality.  The origin of fantasy is from the Greek word for "imagination" or "phantom."  Life is not meant to be a hollow ghost, and relationships are not meant to be fake.

 

As in the last post, I want to suggest a few "pillars" to put in place for your relationship so that you can withstand the pressures to become some ideal that was never actually real:

 

Values.  What are the core values that define you as a couple?  You might want to spend time together creating your vision and mission as a couple.  What do you want to be about?

 

Self-Care.  How are you pursuing health and wholeness?  Are you taking time to rest and engage in healthy habits (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually)?  Are you doing this both together as a couple and separately as individuals?

 

Soul Friendships.  Who is cheering you on in your relationship?  Who knows the ups and downs of your relationship, and reminds you to chase hard after a meaningful relationship?

 

I encourage you to take some time and reflect on these three areas of your relationship, and I hope this keeps you grounded in the real, not the fantasy.  This is vital; definitely not easy, but vital.

 

Stay rooted and grounded,

Alair

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Swimming Upstream (for us as families)

A little reminder to return to our family

 

I think families are constantly assaulted and bombarded by the current of cultural messages:  "sign up for more activities," "go on better vacations," "earn more awards at school," "do this all while looking perfect and happy."  Moms and dads are swept away by the pressures from school and sports teams and fellow parents and their own expectations of being a "good parent."  Kids and teens are pushed and pulled by social media, peers, teachers, coaches and their own internal doubts and insecurities.  And the end result is often families who are fragmented, disconnected and distressed.

 

As in the last post, I want to suggest a few "pillars" to put in place for your family so that you can withstand the pressures of the current, and continually return to the closeness and comfort of being a family together:

 

Values.  What are the core values that define you as a family?  You might want to spend time together creating your vision and mission as a family.  What do you want to be about?

 

Self-Care.  How are you pursuing health and wholeness as a family?  Are you taking time to rest and engage in healthy habits (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually)?  What would it take for you to instill self-care into your family?

 

Soul Friendships.  Who is with you on this journey?  Are you spending time with other families or just competing against them?  As parents, who is supporting you and encouraging you along?

 

I encourage you to take some time and reflect on these three areas of your life.  Maybe you can think of one or two other areas that feel like strong pillars in the midst of rushing water.  This is vital; definitely not easy, but vital.

 

Stay rooted and grounded,

Alair

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Swimming Upstream (for us as individuals)

A little Life Renewal

Picture a current:  A stream, a rushing river, water running down the storm drain after a rain.  Have you ever felt the pull of a current?  No matter how strong or how large the body of water, a current has force and momentum that pushes and pulls.

 

Now picture the current of the world around you:  your family, your friends, a religious community, your workplace, your social media, the parents of other kids at school, your neighborhood.  Have you ever felt the pull of that current?  Oftentimes, it feels something like this:  "Do more.  Accomplish more.  Sign up for one more activity.  Go to that tenth birthday party in one weekend.  Make more money.  Look better.  Have more fun.  Work harder.  Be busier.  Be more relaxed.  Be like everyone else, but be yourself."

 

No wonder we feel so hurried and anxious and dissatisfied and depleted most of our days.  And the more we are guided by this current, the greater the (usually negative) impact on our relationships, our families and others around us.

 

So first the bad news:  this current isn't changing anytime soon.  When my husband went to summer camp as a kid, his camp counselors made up a game for all of the squirrely middle school boys:  if you can dam up the creek, you get pizza for dinner instead of whatever food the counselors were cooking.  These kids worked their hardest for an hour, but they never got pizza.  We can't dam up the current of culture around us.

 

But now the good news:  we can make a bridge across.  We can anchor some pillars in place in our lives that keep us connected to what is most important to us regardless of the current swirling around our feet.  For us as individuals, I have a few suggestions:

 

Values.  What are the core principles, beliefs or values that guide your life?  If your life had a mission statement, what would that be?  Without a vision in mind, we become aimless and waste the precious life we've been given.

 

Self-Care.  What are the things in life that get you up early in the morning and keep you up late?  Do you give yourself time to do what you enjoy, not what you think you should be doing?  

 

Soul Friendships.  Who are the people that know the very best and worst of you?  The people who you can count on and lean on, and know that they will journey with you in the highs and lows of life?  We aren't meant to do this life alone.

 

I encourage you to take some time and reflect on these three areas of your life.  Maybe you can think of one or two other areas that feel like strong pillars in the midst of rushing water.  This is vital; definitely not easy, but vital.

 

Stay rooted and grounded,

Alair

Q&A: Talking with kids about tragedy

My kids have been seeing and hearing a lot about the recent tragedies in our country and around the world, and they’ve been asking a lot of “Why?” I don’t want to say the wrong thing or tell them too much or too little. How do I answer their questions?


A:  I really do appreciate this question, and I'm sure many other parents can relate to your situation.  First, I want to point out how asking this question is a great first step to caring for your children because it shows your heart of love and concern, as well as your attentiveness to your children's needs.  

 

Our reality is such that children do hear and see and witness and learn so much about the world around them - the good, the bad, the scary and the confusing.  We do them a disservice to either minimize or amplify the reality of what they experience around them.  However, we do need to be very wise and thoughtful in how we respond to their questions.  I want to look at some different ways that we can care for and support our children in the midst of our world's tragedies and losses.  As you decide how you want to answer your child's questions, here are a few considerations:

 

Name and validate the emotion.  Children feel a wide range of emotions, yet they may not know how to name and express them.  In hearing their questions about crises or tragedies, you can help give language to their feelings.  "It's really confusing when these things happen and you want to know why."  "This feels scary and you want to know that you're safe."  "I know, I feel really angry too when awful things happen and people are hurt."

 

Share what is age-appropriate, not what is easy to say.  For younger kids, parents often want to cushion the hard truth of a situation.  However, this can lead to greater confusion down the road and it does not model how to have difficult conversations or deal with pain.  At the same time, you also want to monitor the amount and kind of information you share with children of different ages.  Consider these disclosures for younger children:  "There was a [name the tragedy] and some/many/a few people died.  A lot of other people were hurt, and so doctors and nurses and police are all trying to help."  "A man/woman/group of people did some very bad things- they hurt/killed/robbed/burned/destroyed/etc. and a lot of people are working together to make sure things like this don't happen again."

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Tools for Couples: Practical help for getting unstuck


I want to offer some simple, helpful tools to support you as you rebuild your relationships.


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Our Blue Print: How do we get unstuck? (Part 2)

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples, families and helping professionals.


Let’s continue with our example from the last blog post and take some time to dive a little deeper into this pattern.

 

To recap:  we looked at a couple’s negative pattern and how they get stuck going around and around with the same argument.  One partner feels and thinks and then reacts, and the other partner sees that reaction, feels and thinks and reacts, and thus we go another turn on this merry-go-round.  Or as my husband calls it, the “crazy-go-round.”

 

So how do we stop?  I want to show you the crux of this pattern and to do so, we have to wade into some vulnerable and possibly uncomfortable territory.

 

When couples are stuck in this pattern, there are three really significant things happening

  1. Each partner is experiencing some core emotions (i.e. sadness, fear, loneliness, hurt), and
  2. These emotions are ALWAYS in relation to their relationship feeling threatened (i.e. I feel sad because I don’t think my partner cares about me, I feel scared that my partner is so upset with me that she’s going to leave me)
  3.  We refuse to talk to our partner about these core emotions, and so we react in other ways (i.e. If I tell him how sad I am, he won’t understand.  So instead, I’ll just get angry because at least then I feel stronger and can protect myself)

 

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Our Blue Print: How do we get unstuck?

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples, families and helping professionals.


I think one of the worst parts about feeling “stuck” in our relationships is when we can’t make sense out of why we’re at a standstill.  I hear phrases like, “I just don’t know what to do when she blames me,” or “I am so confused about why he doesn’t understand what I’m saying,” or “I don’t know where we go from here.”  In fact, I hear these about every day, and the stuck-ness is agonizing.

 

From my experience, in order to get un-stuck, we need to understand just how we got into this place anyways.  Why does this nasty pattern keep taking over our relationship?  Sure, I could give you ten tips on “how to resolve conflict,” but I don’t think that will be sustainable.  It’s the difference between giving fish and teaching fishing lessons.

 

So let’s start unpacking these patterns.  To do so, I like to imagine an iceberg and for today, we’re only going to examine the part of the iceberg that is above water.  Really, we’re looking at the part of the pattern that we “see” on the outside through words and actions.

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Q&A: "We're stuck."

Q:  Why is it so hard for my partner to understand me?  I think I’m pretty good at communicating, but I just can’t seem to get through to him.  He thinks I’m too emotional or I’m just making a big deal out of nothing, and that makes me even more upset.  How do I get through to him?


Q:  Why is my partner always upset at me?  I can’t seem to do anything right.  I know a lot of other husbands out there who are really lousy and I know I’m not like that.  But nothing ever seems to be good enough.  I don’t know what else to do.

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Tools for Helping Professionals: How to Get Unstuck with Clients

I want to offer some simple, helpful tools to support you as you rebuild your practice.


In reading my last two posts, I hope you’ve experienced three things:  relief in knowing you are not the only helping professional who may feel “stuck,” desire to grow into a new way of being with clients and with yourself, and courage in taking some bold new steps toward that direction.  For the final post in this series, I thought I’d share a few tools I’ve picked up along the way that relate to these three themes.

 

Relief:  we are not meant to do this work alone

 

- Team Up.  For the last three and a half years, I have had the privilege of meeting monthly with two colleagues who have now become close friends.  We started meeting with the intention of supporting one another in clinical and business matters.  However, what actually happened was walking alongside one another through the ups and downs of life while being helping professionals.  These friends are invaluable to me.

 

- Learn From Others.  One of the best books I have read again and again is Lynn Grodzki’s Twelve Months to Your Ideal Private Practice.  She is encouraging, inspiring, challenging and insightful, along with providing numerous practical exercises and suggestions as to how you can become the kind of helping professional that you want to be.

 

Desire:  name what you want

 

- Vision, Mission, Values.  Have you taken any time to name the kind of work you want to do?  The kind of helping professional you want to be?  The dreams you have for yourself and your clients?  When I feel stuck, I have found incredible strength and insight by simply naming what I desire for my practice and myself.  Does your practice have a vision statement, mission statement and values?  How many clients do you want to see each week?  What kind of clients do you want to see?  How much will they pay you?  I used to believe that naming these desires was too risky because (I would think), “What if it doesn’t happen and I get disappointed?”  But after practicing this, I have come to experience that naming our desires energizes our will, and actually invites these good things into our practices and our lives.

 

- Roadblocks.   As we’ve discussed in the last few posts, we all find ourselves getting stuck in different situations and with different clients.  With the help of trusted others in my life, I’ve been able to identify the exact places where I get stuck.  These realizations weren’t necessarily new but they were profound to identify and to learn from.

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Our Blue Print: As Helping Professionals, Why We Get Stuck

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples, families and helping professionals.


As a helping professional, there will be a place along your vocational journey where you feel stuck.

 

Now, this may feel like a relief to read.  It may also feel discouraging, unbelievable, or maybe a bit interesting.  Regardless of how this sits with you today, I believe that we will find ourselves in stuck places:  with out clients, our businesses, our colleagues or (perhaps the worst) ourselves.

 

Oftentimes, these “stuck” places revolve around our “self-of-therapist” struggles:  the strengths, insecurities, gifts, capabilities, issues and baggage we bring to our work.  We all have patterns in our lives that are both positive and negative, and these patterns typically show up in our relationships with others and ourselves.  So don’t be surprised when these self-of-therapist patterns emerge in your work because, after all, you have relationships with your clients, colleagues and even your practice.  If we don’t work through our personal struggles and learn how to use them as assets, we can easily find ourselves stuck and reacting in ways that may not be helpful.

 

Let me share a few personal examples that may feel familiar:

 

Example #1:  clients (specifically parents) are frustrated that my work with their child is not “progressing” faster.

 

Self-of-therapist struggle:  my unhealthy pattern with parent-type figures is to quickly feel disappointed in myself and back away in shame and fear.  I can even feel myself withdrawing in session, even though I intellectually know that my work with the child is on track with our treatment goals.  I become more distant within session and doubt myself, thus feeling stuck in my work.

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Q&A: I'm a helping professional and I'm feeling stuck.

Q: I am a helping professional and I am feeling really stuck in my work with my clients. Some days I’m motivated and energized to help people, and other days I am exhausted and drained and have little compassion. And then other days I just wonder if the work I’m doing is actually making a difference in my clients’ lives. I feel awful admitting all of this, but it’s the truth.


I know this might sound odd:  it is so refreshing to hear someone else say the very things I have thought to myself so many times and wondered if anyone else could relate to me.  You are certainly not alone, and that is the first thing I want you to know.

 

The job of a helping professional is such a unique one:  we have the privilege of sitting with clients in some of the most painful, excruciating times of their lives, and we hold the space for them as they grieve or protest or process or keep pressing on.  And even after they leave our offices, we continue to hold that space by ourselves.  In large part, that is due to confidentiality; in small part, that is because we are too busy to give ourselves a moment to breathe, too scared to confide in a colleague or too focused on looking like we “have it all together” to be real with ourselves.

 

The reality is that we too often tell our clients to do things that we aren’t doing for ourselves.  Self-care.  Invest in important relationships.  Be honest.  Love ourselves.  Rest.  And when we neglect to do these things for ourselves, it shows in our health, our families, our friendships and our ability to care for our clients.

 

I thought of a few familiar myths that I hear about why it’s difficult for helping professionals to find the support they need, along with my two cents about each one:

 

Myth #1:  I know all of the good therapists.

 

I’m sure you have a list of great referrals you know for your friends, family members, colleagues…but that’s the problem:  you know them.  I know it can be difficult to find a therapist whom you respect and trust to walk with you through your own personal struggles. 

 

My Two Cents:  expand your search to people outside the role of your “therapist.”  Perhaps what you need is a peer support group, a spiritual director, a consulting supervisor, or a friend.  I think we become so accustomed to the work we do that we forget that help and healing can come from a variety of places.

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Our Blue Print: Getting on The Same Parenting Page (Part 2)

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples and families.


Research shows that one of the best predictors of a child’s overall health and well-being, is the relationship between that child’s parents.  This is true regardless of whether parents are married, separated, divorced or have some other kind of relationship.  I have worked with many children and teens who feel anxious, depressed, angry, traumatized or scared because their parents argue in front of them, tell them to keep secrets, unload emotional burdens onto them or make transitions from one house to the other just plain miserable.

 

I understand that marriages and romantic relationships can hold a lot of hurt, pain and strife.  Your co-parent may have done, said or caused serious damage, or perhaps you made decisions that you regret.  To me, it makes perfect sense why parents have such a hard time trusting one another, communicating with each other and making decisions together.

 

However, the stakes are high here; the ability to co-parent well is for the sake of your child.

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Our Blue Print: Getting on The Same Parenting Page (Part 1)

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples and families.

As always, I hope the questions from the last blog post were thought-provoking, helpful and an encouraging step toward getting on the same parenting page.

 

Over the next two weeks, I want to look at why it can be so difficult to feel unified with your co-parent (regardless of whether you are in a romantic relationship with that person or not).  There are two parts that make up this struggle:  the “parent” side, and the “partner” side.  Let’s take a look at the “parent” side today.

 

In her book Raising Parents, Patricia McKinsey Crittenden writes, “Parents are children’s primary attachment figures and, as such, they function to promote children’s survival and well-being as well as to prepare children to become attachment figures to their own children.  As with any primary attachment figure, they are irreplaceable…and more dedicated to their children than are any substitutes” (p. 3). 

 

I believe that 99.99% of parents care deeply and fiercely about protecting, preserving and caring for their children’s well-being.  These parents desperately want their children to grow up into mature, responsible, rational and thriving adults.  They inherently know the weight of being a parent and the love they hold for their children.

 

And I also believe that when 99.99% of parents see their children misbehave, act inappropriately or do dangerous things, their care for their children turns into a frantic fear that can cover up our best intentions.

 

“If my child keeps acting this way, will s/he end up homeless and using drugs?” 

 

“If my child doesn’t learn that being aggressive is wrong, I’m so afraid s/he will turn out to be some horrible person who winds up in jail.”

 

“If my child hangs out with these people, what will s/he become?  How will other people see her/him?”


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Q&A: How do we get on the same parenting page?

My partner and I cannot get on the same page about parenting.  I think my partner is just too hard on our kids.  I’m not about throwing away all of the rules, but sometimes I think it’s ok to figure out how they’re feeling or not make a big deal of things rather than come down hard.  How can we get on the same page?


Thank you so much for asking such an honest and difficult question, and a question that is asked about twice a week in my office.  I work with a lot of kids and families; in fact, more than half of my practice is made up of parents and their children.  And even though the kids and teens come in with a wide range of struggles, the number one consistent complaint I hear from parents is that they find it nearly impossible to be on the same “parenting page.”

 

It becomes a nasty cycle:  child/teen is having a particular problem and hasn’t learned how to manage in healthy and appropriate ways, so parents have to step in.  Parents don’t agree on what/how to step in, so they start arguing more.  That conflict exacerbates child/teen’s struggles so that behavior gets worse, which of course means parents have to step in again and have yet another opportunity to fight against one another.

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Tools for Divorcing Families

I want to offer some simple, helpful tools to support you as you rebuild your home.


The transition of divorce/separation is monumental, affecting every aspect of life and requiring attention and care to a multitude of details and variables.  Custody, visitation schedules, dividing assets, moving, deciding who gets what, sharing the news with family and friends and schools and the random strangers who ask what your family is doing for the holidays or summer break.  Any one of those pieces can feel overwhelming and exhausting.  With all of the families I’ve supported who are dealing with this transition, I always encourage them to surround themselves with lots of support.  We aren’t meant to do this alone.

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Our Blue Print:  A Divorce Narrative

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples and families.


I hope the questions from the last blog post were helpful in considering how you want your children to hear the news that your relationship is ending/has already ended.  I think this is one of the last conversations a parent wants to have with his or her child.  However, when children are left to wonder why their parents are moving into separate homes, they can easily become confused, scared, resentful or anxious.

 

One of the most important tools in discussing divorce with children is a “divorce narrative.”  Simply put, this is the story of what happened to your relationship.  Children need a way to organize and make sense out of what is happening to their family, and since we as humans are story-telling beings, stories often provide an avenue for understanding complex concepts and ideas.

 

Here is one example of a divorce narrative (for a heterosexual couple) that could be shared with a younger child:

 

“Do you remember how Mom and Dad met?  [Either child answers or you share a brief version] We met a long time ago and fell in love and decided to get married.  And then we had you!  That was one of the best parts of us being together.  [You may decide to share a few reflections of the day your child was born] 

 

We really, really loved being parents, but we were having a really, really hard time loving each other.  We would argue a lot and had a really hard time figuring out how to stop arguing [This is where each partner can take responsibility for certain decisions/behaviors/etc.] 

 

I said some really mean things to Mom/Dad. 

 

And I did some really mean things to Mom/Dad.

 

We tried to get some help to try and figure out how to stop fighting.  But I didn’t want to make things better/we gave up trying to make things better/we decided that being married wasn’t a good idea any more. 

 

So we’ve decided not to be married any more.  We’re going to live in separate houses and do things apart now.

 

BUT [and this part is KEY] we will ALWAYS be your parents.  That never stops or changes.  Even though Moms and Dads can stop being married, they will NEVER stop being Moms and Dads.  We love you so much and know that this is going to be hard to not see Mom and Dad married anymore, but we will always be here for you.”

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Q&A:  How do we tell our kids we're getting a divorce?

We’re getting a divorce and we haven’t told our kids yet. When should we do that? And better yet: how should we do that?


I’ve worked with quite a few families who are entering (or in the midst of) the process of divorce, and I think this is the first question that parents ask me when we meet.  To me, this shows just how much parents care about their kids – they know that a difficult, painful transition is on the horizon and they want to protect their children from any unnecessary hurts or struggles.

 

However, the reality is this:  your family, as you know it, is changing drastically and permanently.  And your kids need to meet this new reality.

 

In essence, you as parents have the challenging task of telling your kids about an upcoming loss that will inevitably affect them, which can feel similar to telling them a loved one was dying or a dear friend was moving or a treasured home was up for sale.  The loss is coming, and how we prepare our children is crucial to how they move through this transition.

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Tools for Making Therapy Worthwhile

I want to offer some simple, helpful tools to support you as you rebuild your home.

During my first session with any new client, I always pose this question:  “Let’s say we’re at the ‘end’ of our time working together (whenever that end date may be).  We look back at our time together in therapy and you say, ‘Wow, that was worth all of the time, money, effort and energy.’  What would we need to have done to make this process worth it?”

 

I always want to make therapy a worthwhile process for my clients, and I believe that each therapist will have his/her own perspective on how the therapist can help to make therapy as beneficial as possible.


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Our Blue Print:  Factors That Affect Therapy

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples and families.  


One of the more frequent questions I hear from new clients is, “How long do you think therapy will last?”  I think this is a perfectly legitimate question:  you’re investing a great deal of time, money, energy and effort into this process and (let’s be honest) therapy isn’t meant to last for the rest of your life.

 

When I respond to this question, I usually say, “Well, that depends; everyone’s process is different.”  I know, how cliché.  However, that is the most honest, realistic answer I can give.  The truth is, we all have different backgrounds, life experiences, desires and defenses, and these will all come into play during your therapy process. 

 

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Q&A:  Why does therapy seem to take so long?

Every month, I want to take some time to respond to a real, honest and authentic question that I have heard in my work with individuals, couples or families.  My hope is that reading these questions and responses will give you encouragement for your own situation and reassurance that you are not alone. 


Q:  I've been in therapy for a long time (or at least what seems like a long time to me).  While some things in life feel better, I don't feel quite ready to end therapy.  Why does therapy take so long, and how do I make it go faster?

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Rooted & Grounded

 

 

New on the blog:

Letting Go | When I Want Others to Grow

 

The pile of truth you can find when

you spend time cultivating the earth. 


In the neighborhood...

Please check back for updated information about speaking engagements and other services that I will be offering!

 


Around town...

Spring Survivor Group

Hosted by Erica Thompson

 May 8th, 15th, 22nd + 29th | 2851 Camino del Rio S. #300 San Diego, 92108


 

Alair Olson, M.A.

 Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

(MFC#86504)

 

South Mission Valley | San Diego, CA  92108

858.634.0302 | therapy@alairolson.com