Guest Blogger, Melissa Howard: How to Combat Suicidal Thoughts through Emotional Wellness

July 16th, 2019

If you or a loved one suffer from suicidal thoughts or attempts in the past, it is important to know the signs and how to take appropriate action. If you are actively having thoughts of suicide, the only thing to do is to get immediate help. However, if you are suffering from ideation, there are ways to build up your emotional wellness.

Warning Signs to Know 

There is no comprehensive list of signs that every single person who suffers from suicidal ideation will definitely have. That is why it is imperative to be aware of many of the signs, as you may not experience every one. If you begin speaking of wanting to die, feeling hopeless or confined, it’s time to take action. Don’t wait until you are desperate. If you notice you feel like a burden, have a change in sleep patterns, have withdrawn from loved ones, experience violent mood swings, or have the desire to begin using substances to numb pain, then put your pre-made plan into action. You may be at greater risk of suffering from these thoughts if you have a mental disorder, a history of trauma, or have suffered from alcohol or substance abuse in the past. Drug addiction may increase your likelihood of suicide by up to six times.

Self-Care Plans 

You should create a plan before you begin feeling the effects of depression or have suicidal thoughts. Creating an emergency self-care plan or routine may help prevent spiraling. Decide what works best to make you feel emotionally well. There is an infinite number of healthy activities you can do to boost your mood. It is important that your list is a practical guide. Rather than putting down “attend a yoga class,” it might be a good idea to simply write down “yoga.” You may not be up for interaction, but you might still benefit from the activity. Include things that will get you outside, such as going for a walk while listening to upbeat music. To further ensure your safety, make sure you have a list of phone numbers of people or services you can call. Add more than one person in case your primary selection is unable to assist you in the moment.

Treatment Options 

We all need help in life. Sometimes, that help is professional. There are two kinds of professional help, each with their merits.Outpatient treatment is where you receive support outside of a treatment center. You may attend therapy, have medication, or go to various groups. At the end of the day, you go home. Inpatient treatment is a program where you live in a center for a specific period of time. Often, inpatient treatment is the better option of the two. The environment is curtailed to be warm, supportive, and provides specific assistance for what you need. If you have had issues with addiction, it offers a safe place to work through your issues with the help of trained professionals and others experiencing similar things. You receive individual and group treatment and support, and you are allowed to have family and friends as involved as you choose for them to be. Fortunately, there are numerous facilities throughout Los Angeles for those who are serious about seeking treatment, and this comprehensive list can help you find one in your area/neighborhood that suits your needs.

Plan for the Future 

Find any reason at all to keep going on, even for one more day. Planning for the future by creatinggoals is an excellent way to keep yourself focused beyond today. It’s good to have long-term goals, but don’t discount the power of smaller ones as well. If you can incorporate short-term objectives into an overarching plan, even better. If you want to run a marathon by next summer, your first priority isn’t going to be completing the marathon. That’s the end goal. The first goal might be something simple like being able to run for one minute without stopping. Try to involve loved ones into your goals as a way to keep yourself motivated and supported.

It’s important to act quickly when you notice signs of trouble. Know how to support yourself, but also to whom you can go for help. Seeking help can be difficult, but you deserve a happy life.

Guest Blogger, Melissa Howard


the homestretch

April 20th, 2019

It was October 2014. I received a LinkedIn message from the acquisitions editor for Central Recovery Press in Las Vegas after she read my workbook, From Now On: Seven Keys to Purposeful Recovery. I was surprised to say the least. I had no idea that editors actually look for authors on-line, but this is how Eliza Tutellier found me. She was coming to Los Angeles to attend the Evolution of Addiction conference so we decided to set up a meeting. Our dinner  turned into a three-hour meeting of the hearts and minds, and Eliza fully encouraged me to  continue writing my book focusing on long-term recovery from sex addiction. In addition to sharing an inspirational dinner together, she also suggested I interview others in recovery to add real stories and voices to the book. And so I did. I’ve learned to take direction well.

Shortly after our meeting, I named the book It’s Not About the Sex, and I set out to interview some program people who brought a new dimension to the heart of the book. The interviews began to illustrate themes such as grief, shame, narcissism, perfectionism, nervous system regulation and positive psychology, just to name a few. Because this book was based on both personal and professional experience, I wanted to infuse a little bit of my own story but keep the emphasis on others. As I wrote the proposal, I leaned toward the stories of others, but as time went on, I decided it would be disingenuous not to mention elements of my personal story so I selectively shared personal bits and pieces along the way.

I put together my proposal with Central Recovery Press (CRP) being my first choice. Unfortunately, they rejected it the first time around which surprised me, but also gave me more incentive to find the right home for the project. I began the process of re-writing the proposal with the help of my consultant, Jean-Noel. We worked intensively for several months sharpening up the proposal to a much higher quality, and after contacting many agents and a few publishing houses, CRP actually reconsidered it and gave it the green light! Of course I was thrilled, and the final deal was negotiated with the publisher.

After the proposal was accepted, I met with the managing editor and senior editor in June 2018 as they described the lay of the land. Although it was a phone meeting, I felt welcomed as they expressed their excitement about my passion project. I now had my first-choice publishing team in my corner—truly an honor.

Finally, in September 2018 my editor, Dan Hernandez contacted me. It was such a gift to have an editor working with me because my first book was simply me and my virtual assistant. Not that there is anything wrong with self-publishing, but this brought the editing process to a whole new level. One of the first things Dan told me was rather startling but honest. He let me know that he would not have time to give me much positive feedback, but instead, he would be focusing on what needed revision. So I grew thicker skin and our 5-month editing hibernation began. We went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with the material, and Dan was a sculptor. I had never experienced anything quite like it, but he demonstrated the artistry of fine editing.

Recently, I went to dinner with the marketing and communications director which finally made the book more real. Again, another inspirational meeting with three like-minded individuals. Patrick and Jeffery laid out their vision of how we can collaborate both pre and post-publication. As I continue scaling the steep learning curve of social media, podcasting, you tube channel, blogging , etc. I get to stretch and expand into the 21st century. I’ve learned to ask for help from a team of coaches and experts, and for the most part, I’m sticking with things I tend to enjoy—speaking, writing, sharing ideas and offering new perspectives.

It’s been almost five years since I met Eliza, and finally, we are in the homestretch.  This has not been an easy process, but I’ve learned a lot about myself as I persevered with the project from conception to birth. This week I’ll be traveling to Vegas to meet the CRP team in person for the first time. Then, the release date is set for June 11th.

It’s Not About the Sex: Moving from Isolation to Intimacy is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Please stay tuned for more details as these next chapters unfold.

tis the season (2018 update)

December 5th, 2018

The polarities in this country are indisputable, and there can also be canyons and disputes in families, circles of friends and in the workplace. In spite of the differences and conflicts, the holiday season is here once again, and you have options for how you choose to participate in it or not.

For those of you 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. You may find yourself regressing when you have additional contact with family, and instead of feeling like a grown adult, you may find yourself feeling or acting like a child. Instead of getting down on yourself, here are 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 curious about your “inner critic” (aka your inner Grinch?) and practice acceptance of yourself and others.
2. Be patient with yourself instead of treating yourself with harshness (i.e. give yourself the gift of self-compassion). By accepting yourself fully, you can catch yourself before you go into shame and self-attack and try to replace it with understanding. The Acceptance prayer on page 449 in the Big Book can be a lifesaver and a valuable tool now and always.
3. Be of service to others. The holidays can be either a time of self-centeredness or other-centeredness. By practicing your generosity of spirit, you will automatically feel a sense of belonging and possibly lighter and more buoyant. Volunteer. Be courteous to those less fortunate. Smile or say hello to someone who least expects it.
4. Practice gratitude—both giving and receiving. Look out for the little things–a kind word someone shares, a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal. Savor the moment.

As you lean into gratitude, acceptance and understanding, do your best to notice regrets and resentment without becoming attached to them. It’s up to you how you choose to design this holiday season. In theory, this can be a time of unity and respect for your fellows, and by practicing some of these elements, there is more likelihood that the contagion of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” will flourish one moment and one person at a time.


gratitude of tragedy

November 12th, 2018

It’s been a tragic week here in Southern California with the Thousand Oaks bar shooting and then the Woolsey fire burning. I feel compelled to share an article I wrote ten years ago after the “tea fire” in Montecito and Santa Barbara.

The Gratitude of Tragedy (November 2008)

It seemed like just another November morning.  Listening with half an ear to Good Morning America, the news reported wildfires that had broken out once again in Southern California—my home for the past 20 years.   This time one had been burning in Montecito—an exclusive community nestled close to Santa Barbara. Somehow, I’ve grown accustomed to the fires—every year they arrive like unexpected guests but always seemed to stay at a safe distance from my sheltered life here on the westside of Los Angeles.

Diane Sawyer reported a wildfire in Montecito called the Tea Fire.  It sounded like a gentle fire with such a civilized name, and it seemed far enough away from Mt. Calvary—my retreat home up the canyon in Santa Barbara that I wrote it off as yet another tragedy that struck others.  For a brief moment, I realized that the monks might be in danger, but I went on with my day as usual.  My phone rang at 10:30am with a number I didn’t recognize.  “Mt. Calvary burned in the fire.  We don’t know how badly it was affected but it was part of the Tea Fire. We’re waiting for more information, but the brothers all got out ok.”

Numbness and disbelief.  How could this be?  The monastery is miles from Montecito, I thought to myself.  I held on to a small thread of hope for the rest of the morning as limited knowledge of wildfires kept me momentarily safe from the reality of what happened.  By noon the news reports confirmed it—”Mt. Calvary destroyed.”  That’s all the information I needed, and the tears began to flow.

It was May of 1995.  In retrospect I’m not sure how I made it up the mountain the first time around, but I remember asking someone about the retreat and mustering up the courage to make my first trek up the mountain.  This turned out to be one of the finest decisions I ever made. Driving up to Mt. Calvary was always an adventure because of its remote location.  Once you get to the Santa Barbara Mission, you wind your way up the mountain until you reach Gibraltar Road—apropos of such a cornerstone of healing.  Mt. Calvary has been home to an order of Benedictine monks since 1947, and the brothers’ generosity of spirit is unparalleled.  Capacity for the retreat is thirty participants, and almost every retreat has been full.

Having participated in more than twenty retreats at Mt. Calvary, I’ve seen myself grow up there and witnessed so many others grow up beside me.  We’ve shared meetings, workshops, meals, the “Great Silence”, hikes, stories, movie reviews, tears and laughter.  An opportunity to slow down, listen to my natural rhythm, commune with Mother Nature and be embraced by the brothers of the Benedictine order.  All the while cradled on the Mt. Calvary mountaintop with panoramic views of magnificent mountains and endless ocean vistas.

Mt. Calvary touched us in so many ways that words can’t quite capture.  It seemed to have its own heart and soul. To me it symbolized love, serenity, unconditional acceptance, connection, sharing our true selves, growing and deepening.  It became my ritual to leave behind the overly-scheduled, frenetic life in Los Angeles and take a few days to retreat to a sanctuary I came to call my home away from home.

I did make a final pilgrimage to Mt. Calvary a few weeks after the fire to witness the ruins of this vibrant structure.  With the support of two close friends who share similar devotion to Mt. Calvary, we visited the site and checked in with one of our beloved brothers displaced to St. Mary’s, a convent near the Mission.  We honored Mt. Calvary and attempted to say goodbye the best way we knew how.

Yet, Mt. Calvary really hasn’t gone anywhere because it lives on inside of me.  This is the gift.  I showed up for it, and it was there for me to receive.  My gratitude to the brothers of Mt. Calvary and all of my retreat family is immense, and the future remains to be seen.

Update, November 2018: The monks moved to St. Mary’s and eventually purchased it from the Catholic diocese, and the one remaining nun at the retreat house returned to Wisconsin. It’s been renamed Mt. Calvary and carries the spirit of the original site with a slightly different vibe. I remain so grateful to the monks who have kept the retreat house alive. And I still make the trek at least once a year for sanctuary and serenity.




Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder

October 24th, 2018

A few months ago, the World Health Organization recognized and included “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). This is the first time that anything close to “sex addiction” has been validated as a diagnostic code. For many years there has been an effort by sex addiction therapists to include “sexual addiction” as a classification/diagnosis, but to no avail. Sexual addiction was coined by Patrick Carnes in the 1980s, but it’s always been a controversial term accepted by some clinicians and rejected by others.

Here is a brief example which recently opened my eyes to the contrast between the terms sex addiction and compulsive sex. My friend, Carol recently told me that she was sexually abused as a teenager and then found herself being sexually compulsive in her twenties. She felt completely isolated with this shameful behavior and didn’t know where to get effective help half a century ago. Carol found a compassionate therapist but didn’t know how to help her heal from the leftovers from her sexual compulsivity.

Regardless of what we call it, the most important thing is that people get the support and healing they need regardless of labels or diagnoses, but Carol’s perspective opened my eyes.  In addition to those who have found recovery in the twelve-step rooms, there are many others who have out-of-control sexual behaviors who never make it to a twelve-step meeting.  As someone who feels eternally grateful to my twelve-step healing, I’ve always leaned toward the term “sexually compulsive” rather than “sex addict” for several reasons:

1. The term sexual addiction was borrowed from AA and the Big Book which calls alcoholism a disease and looks at alcohol abuse through the lens of the medical model.

2. Sex addiction has never been a clean parallel when we are considering compulsive sexual behavior. In my upcoming book I try to steer away from anything that pathologizes sex or describes it as a disease.

Professionally, I have always walked a line between sex addiction therapists and sex therapists—with respect for both specialty areas.   There is a necessity for both approaches—sex addiction treatment and sex-positive approaches to human sexuality–and nowadays, the gap seems to be diminishing. The ICD classification is a breath of fresh air and represents a profound change in the language that encompasses a group of individuals who don’t identify as sex addicts and may never step into a twelve-step room.

I look forward to continuing this dialogue and welcome any and all questions.

professional home

September 3rd, 2018

It was October 2008. I recently signed the lease on a brand-new suite in a brand-new building on Overland just south of Pico in West Los Angeles. Not only was I a first-generation leaseholder, but I also had the opportunity to design the suite detail upon detail. It turned out to be a rather precarious time in our country, but I kept my focus and ten years later could not be more pleased with my professional home.

Recently, we had some turnover in the suite leaving some space available. In a nutshell, I’m looking for a few part-time therapists who love the space as much as I do and would like to make it their professional home. Here is a description of the suite:

Part-time office space now available in psychotherapy suite designed by therapists for therapists. Full/half days in windowed offices now available in 2-story, modern building. First generation tenants, tastefully-furnished offices, excellent soundproofing, ample parking options, call lights, separate exit, wireless. Call 310.281.8681 or email


2550 street view

waiting roomoffice 2 (2)office 2 (1)office 3

rest and relaxation

August 22nd, 2018

Rest and relaxation is a lost art. When I was a kid, I had a BFF in my neighborhood who was always available to simply hang out. I would call him on my red rotary phone and ask him, “What are you doing?” and he would typically answer, “Nothing.” So I would respond, “Wanna do nothing together?” and he would always enthusiastically say, “Absolutely. Let’s do nothing together!”

lighthouseNot only was this a true sign of friendship, but it was also an opportunity to hang out together, discover our next adventure and sometimes do very little. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have friends like that anymore, but the principles remain the same. How do I hang out with myself (or with others) and practice R&R in a quality way on a regular basis?

Recently, I spent time with my family of choice in the San Juan Islands off of Seattle. It’s become a summer retreat where I get to do nothing for a week. As a matter of fact, I work really hard to do as little as possible. Because I tend to be a to-do list kind of guy, it takes mindful effort to decompress and truly relax. And this has become an integral part of the rhythm of my yearly calendar.

You see, I don’t see these retreats as optional anymore. They help me push the re-set button so I can do what I do as a healing professional. I know this goes against the Puritanical work ethic many of us learned so well, but unwinding and decompressing is a necessary part of my work which gives me the capacity to be more present and more refreshed when I return to the office.

In the rooms of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, they refer to top-line behaviors as anything that feeds the soul and encourages emotional sobriety. It’s not just an exercise to develop a list of possibilities, but a mandate to start practicing them on a consistent basis.

For example, one of the top-line behaviors I regularly practice is daily meditation. For many years I dabbled in meditation but never found traction with a regular practice. What finally worked for me was enrolling in a Mindfulness Meditation class with a focus on stress reduction (aka MBSR). And this class provided structure, accountability as well as the motivation of a financial investment. All of these things worked well for me, and after a few months of practice while having a teacher encouraging me, it finally stuck.

My morning ritual is simple. I sit quietly on my cushion in a designated space in my home. Then I read one page from an inspirational book as well as a morning prayer that resonates with me. I then sit for ten minutes. As a recovering perfectionist, I try not to beat myself up for not sitting longer, but instead I try and honor myself for the time I do commit to sitting.

This is the tone-setter for my day. I feel the difference when I skip my morning ritual, and my day tends to flow easier when I engage in this sacred morning space. For me, mindful meditation is one way to regulate my nervous system and to breathe into the knowledge that I’m simply a living, breathing organism just like all the other human beings on our planet. Humbling, but true.

I forgot to mention that my cocker spaniel, Bowie sits (or sleeps) in the room with me as he patiently waits for our morning walk, and his presence is also quite regulating for me and my nervous system. Whether you find ways of self-regulating or mutually-regulating, your system relaxes when you feel more trusting of yourself, others and your environment.

Another simple tool is to monitor your work habits. As a recovering workaholic, I try not to do anything work-related on Sundays. That is my day to rest and relax, and I encourage you to stay away from your computer, work-related activities or anything task-driven.

These are simply a few tips to unwind, decompress and push the re-set button. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I truly prioritize R&R, but now I know it’s a requirement to live the life I choose to live. You may stumble and fumble along the way, but give yourself the space for rest and relaxation and see what happens.

the positive psychology of sex addiction

July 24th, 2018

Traditionally, twelve-step programs describe addiction with borrowed language from the medical model such as disease, illness, and even the word addiction itself. Yet, there’s less shameful and stigmatizing ways to talk about it.

In 1998, Dr. Marty Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania coined the term Positive Psychology, and a like-minded, international community of researchers came out of the woodwork. Not only did they open the door to expanded research in this brand-new field, but they also paved the way toward its application toward addictive and compulsive behaviors.

Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with clients, Positive Psychologists began to talk about what’s right. Exploring strengths became center stage, and existential-spiritual questions such as “What gives you a reason to wake up in the morning”? and “What makes life worth living?” became part of the new dialogue.

Positive Psychology is a future-focused, action-oriented, wellness model focusing on purpose, resilience and regulation. Rather than solely focusing on deficits, resourcefulness and signature strengths get fully explored. And these are essential ingredients for long-term sustainable recovery.

As a recovering sex addict, you chose to stop your out-of-control behaviors and began to experience a bigger life with greater possibilities. In early recovery, you acknowledged your tendencies to self-attack and self-sabotage, and eventually, it was time to leverage your resources and identify your deeper wants and desires. Milestones of long-term recovery include: emotional sobriety, meaningful connection, gratitude, joy and contentment—all elements related to Positive Psychology.

Sex addiction fellowships tend to be smaller than established groups like AA resulting in fewer old-timers in the rooms. As a result, newcomers often focus more on the problem rather than the solution. Taking the lead from oldtimers as well as Positive Psychology, it would be remarkable to see what would happen if meetings would focus more on purpose, priorities and possibilities.

I once heard a chaplain describe spirituality as “whatever gives your life meaning.” Because Positive Psychology describes meaning and engagement as pillars of happiness, those in recovery are challenged to investigate this territory. As recovery deepens, ask yourself, “What brings meaning and engagement to my recovery?”

In addition to traditional resentment inventories, develop a joy and gratitude inventory to counterbalance your fourth step. Begin with an early memory of joy or gratitude, and list as many memories as possible. Focus on positive life events to carve out new neural pathways as well as greater awareness of pleasant life events.

Deepak Chopra’s book Overcoming Addiction states that the absence of joy is the cause and the effect of addiction. This reminds us that joy can be a safety net from future problematic behaviors. As joy becomes a practice, here is a litmus test for you. Does this person, place, thing or experience nourish or deplete you? Ask yourself this question, and it will reveal what belongs in your life or not.

Twelve-step wisdom reminds you that there are Three S’s—service, spirituality and self-care—all fundamental elements leading to greater contentment. Being of service is an antidote to the self-centeredness of addiction. Because addictions are narcissistic by definition, shifting toward other-centeredness breaks the cycle.

Spirituality does not have to be a place of worship or any type of dogma. I believe there are more questions than there are answers so keep asking the big ticket questions, and don’t feel pressure to have specific answers. Keep it simple and try not to pressure yourself to clearly define what gives your life meaning.

Impeccable self-care might seem to contradict the idea of being of service, yet how can you be there for others if you don’t take good care of yourself? Just like on a plane, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Because you’ve had gaps in the parenting you received, now is a time to re-parent yourself and receive loving parenting from others.

Celebrate your sexual self. Because any type of touch could be sexualized in the past, it’s essential to discover ways to touch and be touched safely. Hugs, cuddling and therapeutic massage are just a few examples of practicing safer touch, and each of these possibilities can help you experience safe physical intimacy and body awareness rather than keeping you in old patterns. Discuss your options with a confidant.

“What matters most to you”? “What is something that puts a smile on your face”? By identifying core values, passions and priorities, you’ll develop purposeful action steps. Once you establish your vision, find an accountability partner to stay on track with your heart’s intentions.

Neuroplasticity describes how synaptic connections in the brain expand through focus and attention. For example, if you get stuck in shame and resentment, synaptic connections multiply around these well-worn paths. If you focus on joy, gratitude and well-being, your brain creates brand-new neural pathways pointing you toward deeper contentment and connection.

Positive Psychology opens the aperture to endless possibilities. It’s not meant to be a stand-alone approach, but it adds a fresh dimension to explore and develop happiness and purpose. Now apply it to your recovery and see what happens.

the evolution of brainspotting

June 12th, 2018

When I finished graduate school in the early 90’s, there was a shortage of clinical tools to effectively treat trauma. Many times, clients would share their stories of anguish, and instead of feeling better, they would end up feeling worse. As a newer therapist, I felt helpless alongside my clients as we often hit a wall together.

Most of my clients came to my office with a history of some type of trauma, whether they knew it or not. Sometimes they would experience relief, but more times than not, we would end up feeling stuck. In the 90’s, a tremendous paradigm shift began that changed the way many therapists now look at trauma. With the introduction of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) developed by Francine Shapiro and SE (Somatic Experiencing) created by Peter Levine, trauma healing and the regulation of the nervous system became center stage.

In 2003, a New York psychologist named David Grand founded Brainspotting, and this brain-body approach added a brand-new dimension to the trauma healing community. Because I come from a “talk therapy” background, I never envisioned myself doing “somatic therapy”, but for my clients and my practice, it’s been transformative.

Several years ago, some of my favorite colleagues completed the SE training, and I witnessed their practices and their nervous systems change. So I registered for the first weekend module, and three years later, I became certified in SE and finally felt more equipped to effectively work with the nervous systems of my clients.

More recently, Brainspotting was strongly recommended to me so I added this to my somatic toolbox. On a flight to the East Coast, I read the book Brainspotting written by Dr. Grand, and I was convinced. He was an early proponent of EMDR until he stumbled upon Brainspotting which utilizes a fixed point of processing rather than eye movement. For more information, visit Dr. Grand found out that “where you look affects how you feel,” and his approach utilizing the visual field created an exciting, new tool to complement SE.

Brainspotting, a user-friendly book by Dr. Grand, is recommended for both therapists and clients. Now that I’ve been utilizing Brainspotting with my clients for a few years, I see the tremendous healing my clients experience. So what exactly is Brainspotting?

With brain-body based therapies, you’ll find an opportunity to build somatic awareness and to regulate your nervous system. As a result, you’ll gain greater capacity to feel more like yourself more of the time and address all kinds of mental health challenges.

Talk therapy engages your neocortex–your thinking, conscious brain–while somatic therapy (e.g. Brainspotting and SE) accesses your subcortical system where trauma and distress is often stored. Current research in neuroscience reveals that painful memories can get stuck in the non-verbal, non-cognitive subcortical brain which gets in the way of living fully in the here and now. In other words, if an event is too much to process at the time, it gets shelved in the subcortex. Brainspotting harnesses the brain’s natural healing process by utilizing the visual field to accelerate healing.

In addition to specific and developmental trauma, Brainspotting has also shown effectiveness with issues such as:
• anxiety — including OCD, panic attacks and phobias
• depression
• addictive & compulsive behaviors
• unprocessed grief
• chronic pain and injuries
• creativity and performance blocks

Dysregulation describes the disruption of the nervous system: up-regulation refers to internal states such as panic attacks or rage, and down-regulation refers to internal states such as depression or dissociation. Either way, it’s an imbalance in the nervous system, one of the greatest challenges in our culture because dysregulation often becomes the norm.

Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing and author of Waking the Tiger reminds us that any disturbance to the nervous system requires focused attention to regulate once again. When you’re dysregulated most of the time, you’re more likely to develop persistent, systemic symptoms such as fibromyalgia, migraines or irritable bowel syndrome.

Somatic therapies offer portable tools such as tracking sensations, grounding and orienting to help you build nervous system awareness. The nervous system is divided into two parts —the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic branch tells you when to fight, flee or freeze, and the parasympathetic system focuses on resting and digesting.

When your nervous system becomes over-activated or under-activated, your inner state tries to find its equilibrium. When you feel dysregulated, it’s understandable that you want to do anything to get out of emotional pain. You’ll start to look for more ways to escape painful feelings, and the cycle continues.
In order for balance and regulation to become a safe, productive choice, you’ll need to experience resiliency and buoyancy as pleasurable, and it needs to become a daily self-regulation practice. You might begin with meditation, journaling or spending quality time with your pet.

Finding your way back to a regulated state more efficiently is a powerful antidote to dysregulation. From a regulated state, you’ll experience deeper contact with yourself and others. On the other hand, dysregulation results in isolation and disconnection. Because humans are biologically-wired for connection, regular contact with emotionally-dependable people is a key toward intimacy, deeper connection and mutual regulation.

If you’re interested in more detailed information about SE or Brainspotting, visit or On these websites, you’ll find directories with certified practitioners in your area. And you’ll be on your way to a cutting-edge approach to trauma healing and more.

group therapy revisited

May 11th, 2018

“Since I joined group, I don’t feel so alone anymore—now I know there are others who want the best for me.” I hear this sentiment over and over again from clients who commit to weekly group therapy—a place to both learn about oneself while helping others learn about themselves. Clients typically come to group because they have longings for deeper contact, and group is where they get to take risks, be vulnerable, and as a result, experience deeper connection.

In the early ‘80s, my dad was part of a men’s therapy group in Philadelphia. I was in high school at the time and didn’t really understand why he attended these mysterious meetings. Because we lived in a somewhat sheltered suburb in South Jersey, it seemed quite revolutionary that he would travel into the city every Tuesday night to meet with a diverse group of men. All I knew is that he was devoted to this weekly ritual, and he returned home with a more optimistic outlook. After five years of going to his men’s group, my father built up the courage to separate from my mother and start a new life for himself. Discovering his true voice allowed him to make a bold decision after thirty years of marriage, and this was a formative event in the history of my family and my life.

In the late ‘80s I started graduate school at UCLA to study clinical social work, and in 1992 I became an associate in a busy private practice in Los Angeles where I was asked to lead a men’s psychotherapy group. How ironic—I was now leading a men’s group after my dad’s influential experience as a group member just a few years earlier. Although I felt as if I was treading water at times, I slowly built up clinical muscle and returned every Wednesday night for eight more years—and this turned out to be one of my most significant growth experiences both personally and professionally.

Through the course of my career, I’ve led several long-term therapy groups, and today, I call them interpersonal process groups with an emphasis on here-and-now relationships in the room. As a former group leader of many types of groups, I firmly believe in the therapeutic nature of the group experience, but nowadays, I view the groups in my practice through a process group lens.
With that said, here are some of the typical themes that emerge during a group session:
• Relationship Challenges
• Trauma
• Anxiety and Depression
• Addictions and Codependency
• Career and Money
• Shame and Loneliness
• Sex and Sexuality

When I meet a client for the first time, I’m already assessing his eventual appropriateness for group. Once a client has identified and started to explore the issues that brought them into therapy, it may be time to introduce the possibility of joining a group. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to the timing of a client considering group therapy, but I always hold this possibility for the client if my instincts tell me that they would benefit from a group experience. Because most of my individual clients know that I lead groups, they may initiate interest, or I may plant a seed about future group membership. Although I may be eager to transition a client into group, I always need to check in with myself to make sure that the client wants group more than I want it for them.

Here are a few questions that may reveal whether a client is ready to participate effectively in a group:
• Is the client able to offer empathy and attunement?
• Is the client able to receive empathy and attunement?
• Does the client appear enthusiastic about a group experience?
• Is the client interested in developing more honest, satisfying relationships with others?
• How does the client respond to conflict and/or anger?
• Is the client willing to comply with group guidelines?

In order to foster longevity in therapy groups, the following ingredients will promote greater trust and safety:
• Cultivating honest relationships with the members of the group and the group therapist.
• Giving and receiving clear, honest feedback.
• Understanding one’s impact on others.
• Accessing and articulating one’s internal world.
• Exploring deeper longings and desires.
• Assessing sexuality and sexual expression.
• Expressing anger safely and productively.
• Acknowledging and processing shame.

Bringing together a therapy group requires perseverance from the group therapist, but it can also be one of the richest clinical experiences. Clients learn how to be more fully themselves with one another—a rare transformation that far transcends the challenges group formation requires. Having led therapy groups since 1992, I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow along side my clients. As my dad shared with me many years ago, “my group helped me reclaim my life.”

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