Category: Therapy

The Fallacy of Change

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “life will be better when…”?

It seems the grass is always greener on the other side despite your circumstances.

In my clinical experience, I often here statements such as: “Life will be better when”…

“this test is over”

“this class is over”

“I graduate”

“I find a real person job”

“I get a significant other”

“I get married”

“I have a family with kids”

“I get a raise or promotion”

“I go on vacation”

“I retire”

 

People tend to have these thoughts on a regular basis. The problem with these thoughts is that when we accomplish those achievements, we don’t ever reach a point where we say, yes, life is better now, so I can be happy! You might finish a difficult exam and think, gee I’m so glad that’s over, but then there’s another condition to take its place standing in the way of your happiness or contentment. Essentially, we play a game of whack-a-mole with our happiness, and no one wins that game.

Now don’t get me wrong, life could feel easier with extra money or supportive relationships, etc., however, we often have many positive life circumstances existing in our present that are being neglected or ignored when it comes to letting yourself feel good in the here-and-now.

For example, you might have felt overwhelmed in high school and looked forward for those years to be over. Then you start college because you successfully made it through high school. In college, you begin to have the same types of doubts. Do you think to yourself, “I made it through high school, so now I can be content. I am glad to be struggling in college because it means I made it through high school and am now privileged to face a new challenge”?

Most people don’t let themselves enjoy their achievements or savor the present moment. The focus tends to stay on the future and what needs to change.

In truth, you wouldn’t get anywhere at all without the present moment. Life is a series of continual present moments. While it is important to have goals to strive for, all of the magic in life happens in the here-and-now.

So you might think that change is the key to your happiness, but that belief does you a disservice. You ALWAYS have everything you need to be content and the only thing standing in the way of that is your mindset. Even if you are having a bad day, you can change that by putting on some good music, chatting with a close friend, watching a funny video, spending quality time with a pet, taking a soothing bath, going for a nature walk, etc. Sometimes doing something you feel talented at can elevate your mood. Life will always throw challenges at you, so you’d be better off tackling them head on and being thankful for those challenges, since you probably worked hard in order for those challenges to pop up. Being frustrated at having to clean your house means you worked hard enough to be able to afford that house. Studying for a really difficult exam reflects the effort you put in to be able to take that class. If you’re single, then it reflects the other things in life you can nurture while you hold out for a match you deserve.

In other words, stop looking at your life in terms of what you don’t have. Instead, reflect on what you DO have and be thankful for it.

The Danger of Shoulds

Should is used in many languages with varying degrees of unhealthy consequences. The first type of ‘should’ has to do with expectations.

For example:

“I should be in a relationship”

“I should be working a 9-5 job”

“I should be getting married”

“We should have kids”

“I should have a real person job”

“I should have more friends”

The examples listed above are frequent statements I have heard with my clinical experience. People express that they feel inadequate or lacking in some way because in comparison to others, they do not meet the same circumstances. But where do those expectations come from? Is it a fact that everyone needs to be in a relationship, work a 9-5 job, get married, have kids, or have more friends?

The answer is no. There is no concrete rule, law, or human compulsion, that would force a person to fulfill the aforementioned criteria. So then why do people immerse themselves in misery and anxiety if they feel they are not meeting those criteria?

The truth is, we are all subject to long-term brainwashing. Starting from a young age, we take in various messages from our family, school, peers, the media, culture, zeitgeist, etc. Similar to a sponge, we absorb messages and ideas from what we are exposed to and internalize them without meaning to. I am not saying that we have no choice in the matter and that we just repeat everything we experience (because I’m sure you could disprove that pretty quickly). I am saying that those mediums have an influence and can lead to perceived expectations or social rules that ‘must’ be followed. When those social rules or expectations are not followed, it often leads to feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, or despair. Social media can make those matters worse because it encourages comparisons based on false representation and selective sharing. You aren’t seeing posts about everyone’s misery, poor life choices, loneliness, failures, or stress.

The second type of ‘should’ has to do with guilt and unsuccessful goal setting. This occurs when we tell ourselves that we ‘should’ be doing something else.

For example:

“I should be doing my work/homework right now”

“I should be washing the dishes”

“I should exercise”

“I should quit smoking”

If you think about it, most of the time ‘should’ is used in this way, we already know we aren’t going to do that thing. Such as, “I should be doing my homework right now but I’m watching Netflix because I need a break”. But instead of just leaving it at that, many people turn that into a battle. They might still be watching Netflix but are stewing about feeling guilty over not doing their homework. They aren’t being productive OR allowing themselves to enjoy their Netflix break. That doesn’t make any sense and it certainly doesn’t help anything. This concept is not intended to provide encouragement for procrastination, rather serves to encourage healthy self-care and realistic goal setting. Let yourself have your Netflix break without guilt or self-deprecation. But then set a concrete goal to follow for when you will do your homework (and it must be realistic so as not to set yourself up for failure).

“I will let myself watch Netflix tonight and relax because I have worked very hard this week and deserve a break. However, I will spend three hours doing my homework tomorrow at 12pm, broken up into two 1.5 hour periods with a snack break in between”.

In the words of Albert Ellis, we need to stop “shoulding all over ourselves”. That’s right, stop shoulding yourself! It doesn’t help anything except fueling unnecessary misery and stress. So whenever you catch yourself using the word “should” “should have” or “shouldn’t”, think about what you are really saying to yourself and if it is realistic, unrealistic, productive or counterproductive.

Ultimately, be kind to yourself. After all, you will be the longest friend you will ever have.

 

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Part I- The Pensieve

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very popular treatment modality for difficulties such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. The premise behind CBT signifies that events/situations do not cause us to feel the way we do, rather it’s our thoughts about those situations that cause us to feel the way we do. In essence, if we can change our thoughts to become more realistic and positive, then our feelings will also improve.

For example:
In Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts, Professor Lupin conducts a Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson using a boggart. Many individuals in the class had an opportunity to face the boggart and earn points for their house. Harry was eagerly imagining how his boggart would turn into a dementor and pondered how he might transform it into something funny or amusing. Before Harry had a chance to face the boggart, Professor Lupin stepped in front of Harry, blocking him from doing the exercise.

The following reflects a likely corresponding thought for Harry:

Negative Thought: Professor Lupin must have thought I wasn’t skilled or brave enough to face the boggart so he jumped in front of me. I am not good enough and I must prove myself or else be viewed as weak or incapable.

Distorted Perception: What is irrational about Harry’s potential negative thoughts?
1. Harry is assuming that he understands Professor Lupin’s motives to intervene with the boggart.
2. Harry equates not having a chance to face the boggart with being perceived as a failure or inadequate in some way.

Note: Harry’s interpretation of the situation was likely influenced by his past experiences of being repeatedly belittled by his aunt, uncle, and cousin.

Cognitive Reframing: This is the step where real facts and evidence are used to directly contradict the negative thought. Remember to start with a validation of your feeling in order to acknowledge your experiences.

1. Harry feels sad or disappointed that he was not given the chance to prove himself.
2. Although it felt as if he were being singled out as incapable,
a. Harry has no way of knowing Professor Lupin’s motives or rationale for interfering (excluding use of truth serum or legilimency). Even if Professor Lupin were to tell Harry about his motives (he did), Harry is still trusting his word at face value and would not know for certain.
b. Harry is not a failure nor inadequate from that one missed opportunity because his worth and capabilities have been shown many other times: including, facing Voldemort version 1.0 (aka Professor Quirrell’s head parasite), Voldemort version 0.5 (young Tom Riddle self-preserved in a diary), escaping a forest full of giant spiders, killing a Basilisk, and performing well in all of his DADA classes, despite having questionable teachers (all before turning age 13!).
c. Harry’s abilities do not have to determine his self-worth and value. If Harry had grown up with a loving and supportive family, he would likely feel more secure with his identity regardless of his performance. Self-worth can be derived from many areas in life, such as, relationships (family/friendship/romance), adventure, learning, growth, helping others, spirituality, connecting with nature or the environment, etc. Most of all, it is his own opinion of himself that matters most. After all, he will be his own life-long companion.

The truth of the situation was that Professor Lupin assumed that the boggart would turn into Voldemort in front of Harry, therefore, he did not want a fake Voldemort roaming around the classroom. Voldemort could logically have been Harry’s worst fear, and Harry did consider that, but he realized that the dementor’s were scarier to him. Harry’s negative thought assumptions were wrong on all counts. Professor Lupin was actually concerned for the other students and if they could handle whatever fear Harry would bring into the room, given the intensity of Harry’s experiences that others had not experienced. If anything, Lupin believed that Harry was very capable but that his classmate were not, thus reversing Harry’s fear entirely.

While we can’t all say we’ve faced Voldemort 1.0 or 0.5 (no matter how scary your boss gets sometimes), there are always logical or realistic points that can be used to contradict negative thoughts, even if you have to get very creative or specific. Think of it like a measuring scale in potions class. On one side you have your negative and irrational thoughts. They weigh much heavier than the side holding your positive or realistic thoughts. We want to keep adding as many facts, evidence, or rational points possible to that positive side in order to either a. balance the scale for a more realistic perspective of how both sides compare, or b. tip the balance of the scale to the positive side so it has more weight, therefore allowing you to feel better.

**More to follow in future posts regarding specific common types of irrational thought patterns**

The CBT Pensieve Exercise:

Remember from a previous HP Psychotherapy post that a pensieve is a rare stone basin that can store memories for later to be re-watched or re-experienced by that witch or wizard.

Journal or Visualize the following sequence:

  1. Imagine that you have a pensieve in front of you ready for use.
  2. Think of a memory that caused you to feel upset (it could be recent or from the distant past).
  3. What was occurring during that memory?
  4. What were your thoughts at the time about the situation occurring?
  5. Visualize using your wand to cast your memory from your mind into the pensieve. Watch the wispy memory float into the basin and swirl into a familiar image.
  6. You are looking at the beginning of your memory. You inch your face closer to it and feel yourself being sucked in like a gravitational pull.
  7. As you fall to your feet, you notice that no one can see you, hear you, or has awareness of your presence as a witness in this memory.
  8. Use your five senses to observe the scene going on as a witness of your memory (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound).
  9. Who is there and what is happening?
  10. Do you notice any specific details about your memory?
  11. Are you watching yourself in your memory?
  12. What are the feelings experienced by individuals in the memory?
  13. What are your feelings as an observer of your memory?
  14. What is important about this particular memory?
  15. What are your thoughts about the situation occurring in your memory? Compare the different thoughts between yourself as an observer to what you remember yourself thinking while you were presently experiencing your memory.
  16. How do those thoughts impact your feelings?
  17. Are those thoughts positive, negative, or neutral?
  18. Are those thoughts helping you feel better or making you feel worse?
  19. Are they productive or counterproductive? Why?
  20. If you decide the thoughts are irrational, what makes them irrational or distorted?
  21. How would you feel either without that thought, or replaced with a more positive thought?
  22. Think of specific examples of real facts, events, or situations, which directly contradict your negative thought(s).
  23. Would the measuring scale be equal yet? Which side is heavier now?
  24. Keep adding more realistic and positive facts and evidence to disprove your irrational negative thought(s).
  25. How does it feel to realize this new way or thinking?
  26. How does it impact or change your perception of what is happening in the memory?
  27. If you could go back and tell your past self in your memory something, what would it be?
  28. Imagine that this process has now helped you to accept, let go, and move past this negatively draining memory. You can feel the weight of it lift off of your shoulders and dissipate with the now shrinking memory. You are flying upward out of the pensieve and back into your present self’s body. You feel relieved to be back and thank yourself for the newly attained clarity and growth with the situation. You vow to use this process again when new negative thoughts or memories threaten to make you feel lousy.

**Be sure to check back for a new post about Negative Core Beliefs and Horcruxes to accompany this post in the near future**


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

 

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Categorization and Personality

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Categorization

It is human nature to understand your world in terms of categories. In the NPR podcast, Invisibilia, they discuss Rize Coffee Shop in Midtown Manhattan. Rize Coffee Shop tapped into people’s need to categorize objects for a sense of understanding and belonging. They set out two tip jars every day with different categories to compete. One day they would have kittens vs. puppies, Apple vs. Samsung, cassette tape vs. vinyl, etc. They quickly discovered that putting their tip jars into two categorizes increased the number of tips received. This ties into the human innate desire to differentiate themselves and declare a category. When customers were asked for explanations for their chosen category, they would make comments such as, “dog people are chatty” or “cat people like to stay home”, etc. Those customer comments bring Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory to the forefront. Social Identity Theory suggests that a person’s sense of identity is based on their group membership. People tend to increase their self-image through promoting the group they belong to and criticizing the groups they don’t belong to, creating an “us versus them” mentality. Through this process, there is a tendency to exaggerate differences between groups and similarities within the same group. Categorization helps us to understand objects and identify them, thus helping us to understand ourselves through our group memberships. Perceived knowledge about certain categories often guide responses to that thing, serving as a mental shortcut to save time and brain power.

Categorization is a very important factor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students are sorted into one of four categories on their first day before they even get a chance to sit down and eat after a long journey on the Hogwarts Express. From the moment the Sorting Hat makes his decision, your fate is sealed in how you will understand your personal identity, behave toward others, make friends, and succeed in your 7 years as a student. The following are various characterizations associated with each Hogwarts House:

Gryffindor: Brave, daring, adventurous, determined and chivalrous. Often associated with heroism and “doing the right thing”.

Hufflepuff: Hardworking, dedicated, patient, loyal and fair. Often associated with “doing what is nice”. They are welcoming to anyone who feels they do not fit in the other three houses.

Ravenclaw: Intelligent, witty, creative, clever and quirky. Often associated with “doing what is wise”.

Slytherin: Proud, ambitious, cunning, resourceful, intelligent and determined. They are often associated with evil due to the witches and wizards who choose a dark path, yet many Slytherins choose a light path. Their motto is to “do what is necessary”, including selective loyalty and intelligence used with specific intent.

Each house develops a picture of personality traits and corresponding behavior for each member. For example, a student who might have been difficult to place (a hatstall) could have modified their actions based on placement. Hermione Granger was placed in Gryffindor even though she was the cleverest and most intelligent student in her year, thus qualifying her for Ravenclaw. Had she been in Ravenclaw, one could expect that she would not have turned into the rule-breaking, brave, and daring witch she turned out to be. Severus Snape could have done well in Gryffindor at a young age, yet he was sorted into Slytherin and utilized his traits to get ahead and fit in somewhere instead of “doing what was right”.

The question to consider is this: Does personality exist?

This dilemma was discussed in yet another NPR Invisibilia podcast. According to scientific contributors in Invisibilia, many experts in the field reject the existence of personality. Research has shown that people are predictable only because we see them in situations where their behavior is guided by that situation and the roles or relationships they are occupying at the time.

For example, Peter Pettigrew was very close with James, Sirius, and Remus, when at Hogwarts. He was loyal to them at the time because their friendship provided a situation for him to feel protected, popular, and successful. Upon graduation, Voldemort gained more power and the situation seemed less hopeful for Voldemort’s opposition. Although we do not know much about Peter’s childhood, it is likely that he learned from family at a young age that he needed to look out for himself and adapt to situations to survive. Peter did not view this as being good or bad, it’s just what he learned and valued. Therefore, when the time came, he betrayed his friends to survive and succeed in life. In his new situation as a death eater, Peter adapted to each change, such as nursing Voldemort back to health, cutting off his arm for Voldermort’s resurrection, and even that split second of remorse at the Malfoy Manor dungeon with Harry, which ultimately cost him his life.

Another example is Severus Snape. As a Hogwarts student, he became friends with future death eaters within the Slytherin house, mostly due to being a victim of frequent bullying by others. He felt that he fit in with the would-be Voldemort supporters, therefore, he became a death eater after graduation. In hindsight, if the sorting hat had put him in Gryffindor, it is likely that James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, would not have bullied him. There would have been no need to become friends with the pre-death eaters in Slytherin house. Therefore, Lily would never have been angry with Snape for his choices and they might have ended up together. With Lily’s love and respect, Snape would have acted entirely different and would not have succumbed to his abusive nature learned by his own abusive childhood upbringing.

What does this mean for you?

People limit themselves based on their perceptions of their personalities or traits. I often hear people make self-deprecating comments such as: “I’m a lazy person”, “I’m not smart”, “I’m bad at math”, “I’m a terrible person,” “I’m unlovable”, “I’m ugly”, or “I’m a failure”.

These are beliefs people have internalized over time due to various situations and circumstances. Some take cues from the media, society, negative comments from family or peers, etc. Those self-deprecating thoughts not only make people feel miserable, but they brain-wash individuals to believe they are stuck with those labels and will always be that way. If you believe that you’re hopeless at math, how likely is it that you will challenge yourself to get better and prove yourself wrong? If you think you’re lazy, how likely is it that you will choose to be productive instead of staying on the couch? If you believe you’re a terrible person, wouldn’t that then influence you to respond negatively to others?

Any of us can choose to make different decisions at any time. If we believe that our personalities are fixed, then we make excuses not to grow or change for the better. Take a good look at your negative thoughts and see if you can challenge them. Be willing to break your self-imposed glass ceiling to reach your goals and make choices you want to be proud of.

Seek out a mental health professional for cognitive behavioral therapy, because it’s our thoughts that cause us to feel the way we do.

*Check out this Daily Thought Log from Therapistaid.com for monitoring your negative thoughts.*


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

What to Expect from Counseling?

If you are reading this, you must already have some preconceived notions about the potential benefits of mental health counseling. You might be thinking that you’re interested but aren’t sure what comes next?

Read the following article on What to Know Before Starting Talk Therapy: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201301/what-expect-in-psychotherapy

To summarize:

  • Counseling can’t be successful unless if you are personally invested in attending.
  • Counseling doesn’t fix people, it teaches/guides people to help themselves.
  • Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. “Aha moments” and mind-blowing realizations are great, however, not every session will feel that way. Counseling is hard work and it will come with peaks and valleys just like many other challenges.
  • Manage your expectations for counseling. We will work together to set realistic and attainable goals.
  • The therapist-client relationship is a unique bond but it is not like friendship. The therapeutic alliance is successful as a result of the clinical objectivity and unbiased feedback.
  • Successful counseling requires that you are comfortable with your therapist. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable at the start when first meeting and sharing your story, however, we work through that process together and maintain open dialogue in order to foster a comfortable therapeutic environment.

What comes next?

Contact me to schedule an intake appointment. We will discuss payment options and potential health insurance benefits. Once we have scheduled an appointment, you will meet with me for a 50 minute session to fill out required paperwork and answer necessary questions for coordination of care and treatment planning.


jmorrismhc@gmail.com

248-923-1408

The Fallacy of Change

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “life will be better when…”? It seems the grass is always greener on the other …

The Danger of Shoulds

Should is used in many languages with varying degrees of unhealthy consequences. The first type of ‘should’ has …

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Part II- Horcruxes and Negative Core Beliefs

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic …