groups as a change agent

January 20th, 2017

Tomorrow I will be fortunate enough to be part of a faculty of four very seasoned and passionate group therapists as we will be teaching a 2-day course called Principles of Group Psychotherapy. The title of the weekend may be a bit dry but the deeper implications are not.

When I was in the graduate school of social work at UCLA in the late 80′s/early 90′s I was a member of a group of 75 students with a passion for making some kind of difference. At the time I don’t think many of us knew exactly what that difference might be, and I certainly didn’t know either, but something was instilled in us that spoke to the idea of being change agents–social workers who would bring about change in others whether that be intrapsychic, interpersonal or in larger groups and systems.

I’ve chosen to devote my career to helping others learn about themselves, and as a result, hopefully bringing that growth and wisdom to others one person at a time. Group therapy holds that same principle–learning about oneself and helping others learn about themselves–as a result, it may seem like a pebble being thrown into a still pond, but I believe it has a super meaningful ripple effect one person at a time (e.g.families, friends, colleagues and loved ones).

During the unfortunate series of events these last few months, I’ve been deliberating on what to do, how to do it, when to give my time and energy, and it feels like the time is here. Whether it be giving my all in my practice every single day or showing up at a rally or donating to my favorite activist organization or signing a petition, it all counts. As a group of sane, loving, respectful and sometimes angry people, we can make a difference. Bernie Sanders said that it’s not about going into despair, it’s time to fight for equality of all kinds. And the magnitude of our majority group will prevail in spite of the speed bumps ahead.

2017

December 31st, 2016

On this morning of New Year’s Eve 2017, I sit at my desk wondering what the new year has to offer. Or better yet, I can choose to turn it around and decide what I have to give to the New Year. Sometimes the inner child in me wants to throw a tantrum about what isn’t being offered to me, but one of my New Year’s intentions to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and focus on what I have to bring to this world, to my clients and to my loved ones.

Because New Year’s Eve sometimes brings back mixed memories–fun, joy, hope as well as loneliness, isolation and depression, it can be a challenging time. In recovery it takes an intention every day to ride the waves of emotions that will inevitably arise in all shapes and forms, and today is simply another day.

I encourage you to consider the possibility that we are truly here to bring all of who we are to others and to our communities. In an unpredictable time in our country and possibly around the world, we can be change agents one person at a time, one community at a time.

I wish all of you a very safe, pleasant and resilient 2017!

tis the season

December 8th, 2016

This year is unlike any other year. Regardless of your political inclinations, the polarities in this country are indisputable and look like the grand canyon between progressives and conservatives. There can also be canyons and disputes in families, circle of friends and in the workplace, but in spite of the differences and conflicts, life goes on and so does the holiday season.

In recovery it’s often a challenging time as the broken-heartedness of the past can creep into the present tense when you least expect it. Additional contact with family can cause regression and instead of a grown adult, you may find yourself feeling like a child or even an infant. Instead of getting down on yourself, I have a few suggestions:

1. Observe yourself without judgment. Not an easy thing to do in the best of times but more of a challenge during the holidays. Be mindful of your “inner critic” (aka your inner Grinch?) and practice acceptance of yourself and others.
2 Be patient and gentle with yourself instead of treating yourself with harshness (i.e. give yourself the gift of self-compassion). By being self-compassionate, you can catch yourself going into shame and self-judgment and try to replace it with understanding and acceptance. The acceptance prayer in the Big Book is a valuable tool with this practice.
3. Be of service to others. The holidays can be either a time of self-centeredness of other-centeredness. By practicing your generosity, you will automatically feel better.
4. Practice gratitude. Look out for the little things–a kind word someone shares, a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal and savor the moment.

As you lean into the gratitude and acceptance, let go of the regrets and resentment. It’s up to you how you chooses to design this holiday season. In theory, this can be a time of unity and respect for our fellows, and by practicing these elements this holiday season, there is more likelihood that the contagion of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” will fluorish.

sexual health

November 24th, 2016

When I was in graduate school, we were required to take one course in Human Sexuality to fulfill the national curriculum requirement, but it was sorely lacking in the bridge between theory and clinical application. As an addictions and trauma specialist since the early 90′s, I admit that my training in “sexual health” has been intermittent at best. I’ve learned a lot about problematic sexual behaviors but not as much about the true integration of sex and intimacy as we help clients feel more liberated with their sexual identity and sexual health.

I have been very fortunate through the years to collaborate with Patti Britton, a local clinical sexologist, sex coach, sex educator and author. Dr. Britton (Patti) and Doug Braun-Harvey recently gave a 6 hour workshop to the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles which was very well-received and a breath of fresh air for those of us who don’t specialize in this area. At this particular time, it seems like it’s even more important to express oneself sexually with freedom, expansion and empowerment.

As I continue to expand my personal and professional journey in this area, I invite you to consider the limitless possibilities for learning and opening a dialogue with those in your life. It’s an often overlooked discussion, but my hope is that we will continue to integrate sexual health into addiction recovery as a vital element of finding one’s recovery voice.

For more information, feel free to contact myself, Dr.Britton, Doug Braun-Harvey or someone in your area who has the expertise in this specialty area. AASECT, the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists is the largest and most reputable organization for training and resources. I wish you all a very safe, pleasant and fun holiday on this day of gratitude–gratitude for all of the limitless possibilities that exist within us regardless of external circumstances.

group institute in review

October 16th, 2016

This weekend we had seven courageous participants in the Group Institute–a 12 hour group therapy experiential process. With my colleague, Maria Gray, LMFT we hosted this weekend group immersion which was sponsored by the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles (www.gpala.org).

Having been in a Group Institute for the past 7 or 8 years at our national conference (AGPA), it was an honor to be asked to co-facilitate this group learning process and witness all participants learn and grow in a very short period of time. We saw the phases of group development unfold before our eyes as group cohesion, trust, visibility, loss, and finally goodbyes were all naturally demonstrated.

Because I’ve been leading groups for many years, I sometimes forget about the power of Group Institutes for newcomers, and it’s hard work but quite gratifying for group members and group leaders as the honesty and the emotional risks expand in the room. By the end of Day 2, we were all quite tired (“spent” as one participant shared), but also gratified that something significant happened.

apples ‘n’ honey

October 4th, 2016

Yesterday marked the Jewish New Year (aka Rosh Hashanah) which begins a period of the High Holy Days as we reflect on the past year and hopefully look forward to being “written into the book of life” and a sweet, healthy new year. As a symbol of the sweetness, apples and honey is a long-standing tradition to share the ritual of ringing in the upcoming year with loved ones.

This has been a bittersweet year with the loss of our beloved cocker spaniel, Cooper as well as a close family member, but it’s also been a time of new life with our adopted spaniel, Bowie and a birth in the family. Being present for the beginnings and the endings is a gift of recovery and healing–a gift of living in the here and now and living life on life’s terms.

Whether you celebrate the New Year in October or January or any other season of the year, I wish you a very sweet, healthy year with love, gratitude and laughter.

polarities

September 28th, 2016

Without getting too political, we are living in a country of polarities as exemplified by our two presidential candidates and the people who support them. Addiction is also about black and white, rigid “stinkin’ thinkin’. It leaves people polarized and often isolated from one another.

On the other hand, recovery is about humility and tolerance of the “gray” rather than the extremes. It’s an opportunity to be open-hearted to other’s opinions and perspectives without reacting or retaliating.

Polarities divide and recovery fosters community. Which do you choose to practice today?

group institute

September 20th, 2016

My colleague and talented group leader, Maria Gray, LMFT and I are hosting a two-day “Group Institute” on October 15th and 16th from 9:30 – 4:30PM in our West Los Angeles office.

This is a chance for clients and/or clinicians to get their feet wet and immerse themselves in a group therapy experience without having to sign up for a longer commitment. This is a finite, short term weekend experience, and this institute is open to anyone who is interested in delving into the world of group therapy—

For more information, please visit www.gpala.org and we hope to see you there.

east vs. west

September 16th, 2016

Last weekend I was in Provincetown, Mass. for the first time in 30 years. My memories of my previous visit were rather vague but it all came back to me once I arrived. For those of you who are not familiar with this historic town where the pilgrims settled, it is on the very end of Cape Cod so it feels like it’s at the very end of the United States as we know it.

Because I went to college in Western Massachusetts, it has a very fond place in my heart that will always feel like home. The east coast, in general will always feel like home even though I’ve been a transplant to the West Coast since 1988. But what is home? For me– home is where the love is. I’ve learned through the years that the broken-heartedness of addictions can only be fully healed through the love that we give and receive.

In essence, it doesn’t matter whether I am East or West, it only matters how I carry others within me and how I cultivate the love in my life. I am very fortunate to have love on both coasts and I try not to take that for granted. We are biologically wired for connection and we are biologically wired for love. It’s a lifelong healing and a healing that is part of our daily mindfulness if we choose to live there.

rejuvenation

August 19th, 2016

Recovery is hard work. And working in the addiction and trauma recovery field is also hard work. Day in and day out it may not feel like it, but it is like a slow erosion as compassion fatigue can set in–sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But it’s part of the environment and part of the by-product of being a caring soul.

This presents the greatest challenge and opportunity for those of us in this precarious position. I know that vacations are actually part of my work. They allow me to do what I do the rest of the year with more focus, attention and aliveness. After spending a week in the San Juan Islands, it reminded me how crucial the down time truly is for me. A time unlike any other. A time of camaraderie with friends, tranquility with nature, and a full eight hours of sleep every night!

I return once again with a recharged battery and the desire to be the best healer I can possibly be. Impeccable self-care is something I encourage my clients to do and it will only be authentic if I am walking the walk which I try to do more and more.

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