Why Does It Matter if My Therapist is a Social Worker?

If you pay attention, you will notice that different counselors and therapists have different letters that come after their name. MSW, MA, MS, LMHC, LMFT, LPC, CDAC, PsyD, etc. No we don’t list these initials just because we can. They actually do mean something important, something that makes a difference for you the client. This article focuses on the social workers, the ones with MSW, LSW and LCSW after their name. Next week, we will have a post about LMHCs. It’s important to us that our clients are educated about the field and sophisticated in choosing the right therapist for them. Understanding professional backgrounds can be useful in meeting this goal. Why Social Workers? March, the month of social work awareness, just ended. During the month of March, our profession gets together to promote the visibility of social workers and celebrate the work that we do. In our professional roles, social workers are a diverse bunch. Many are in private practice, many work in public agencies of various kinds, and many are administators of non-profits or policy makers in different governmental bodies. Social workers are a unique part of the helping professions because we do not trace our professional roots back to Freud. The field of social work comes from two distinct places in the past. One professional ancestor is the Christian women’s movement of the early 20th Century. These women organized and visited the homes of those living in poverty to try and help them improve their lives. Another historical root of social work is the settlement house movement, which also sought to address poverty. The most famous... read more

Suicides Leave Two Questions Behind

Last week a prominent artist in a community I belong to committed suicide on Thursday. I know him only through stories from my friends and the amazing art he created for the Indiana CORE Project last year (see image below). Watching my friends reactions reminds me of just how terrible suicide related grief really is. Grieving Someone Who Committed Suicide Every death of a human being sucks, hurts deeply and shifts things for those who know them. Suicide, in my experience, is the worst of the worst for those left behind. No death is easy. No grief a cake walk or a happy experience. There are particular elements that make grieving a suicide particularly difficult and painful. Suicide has been a concrete part of my life since I was 16 years old. That year, one of my classmates committed suicide. He was part of my circle, my parish, but we were never really close. He wasn’t particularly popular either. Yet, hundreds of students came to the memorial service. People who sat next to him in class wondered if they had any responsibility for his death. It was crazy to observe, this massive ripple effect of one suicide. Since that first experience, I have lost more friends to suicide. Closer friends. Intimate ones. I have yet to lose a client, and I know it will likely happen. I nearly always have at least one client that is suicidal at any given time in my professional life. I myself came extremely close to committing suicide several times my senior year in high school. Despair is a powerful emotion to try and escape. The recent... read more

Internal Barriers to Dreams

If money, time or other commitments were no obstacle in 2014, what would you do? Describe your vision! A seemingly innocent question. If the obvious barriers were removed – money, time, obligations – what would you do? The trouble is, these external barriers are nothing compared to the internal ones. The internal barriers are the ones that really stop us.  jenny downing via Compfight What Are Internal Barriers? Internal barriers are the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves. The small voice in our heads that tell us what we want is impossible. The ready excuses that come to mind when we contemplate what we really want. The internal barriers might be a belief in a fore-shortened future or the idea that we won’t live to an old age. Or a belief that protecting ourselves from emotional pain is the only choice, closing out chances for love and connection. Internal barriers can be the chip on our shoulder, the defensiveness that protects us. It might be a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness or despair. The barriers might be the voice in our head that tells us we aren’t pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough, rich enough. Where Do Internal Barriers Come From? Internal barriers come from many places. They might be echoes of a parent’s criticism. Maybe the experience of being picked on, excluded or rejected when we we were young. Internal barriers can come from the messages of a larger society, the subtle ways that we learn who is worthy. Sometimes they are the beliefs that enabled us to survive and overcome the painful things we experienced. If we expect everyone to... read more

Therapeutic Humor

While therapy is serious business and hard work, humor transforms the experience. Frequently my sessions with clients include gigantic peels of laughter. Humor Is Medicine Laughter is common in our office, and I believe it speaks to our ability as therapists. Self-deprecating humor builds the relationship with a new client and helps him feel comfortable. By laughing at myself right away, I show clients I am human, and therapy isn’t scary. Using humor in therapy requires some skill however. Shandi-lee Cox via Compfight As the work and the relationship progress, teasing and laughter become milestones for progress. As I get to know my client, I learn when teasing can gently lead to insight or when it risks causing pain. I know my clients have made amazing progress when they start to laugh at their own stumbles. I have two clients who are very similar in many ways. Both struggle with “mind-reading” what others are thinking or seeing catastorphy around every corner. They are both aware of their tendencies, and they both slip into them again and again. Since this pattern shows up in nearly every session, I gently tease my client each time.  Their responses give me a sense of how far they have come. I believe that becoming emotionally healthy is about learning to accept our weaknesses, love ourselves anyway, and learn to live effectively despite them. Some of my clients remain fully determined to eliminate any flaw and make themselves miserable in the process. Some learn to tolerate and acknowledge their flaws. And some learn to view themselves with compassion and honor the “flaws” that make them who they... read more

Surprising Knowledge About My Ideal Weight Changes Everything

Learning about my real ideal weight was the biggest surprise this year. It wasn’t just a surprise – it was a massive revelation that changed everything. My Ideal Weight Back-story Like pretty much any woman in the developed world, I have had a rocky relationship with my physical form. Pretty much forever. I hit puberty early. I was in third grade. Suddenly I had hips and boobs while my classmates were still tiny. By 5th grade, I was standing around with the other “fat” girls at recess. My extended family is very weight and health conscious too, so it wasn’t much fun. My mom did her best to help me have a healthy body image. She showed me many magazine articles talking about how the images of women were completely inaccurate. She pointed out that my measurements (at age 12) matched Marilyn Monroe’s. She talked about how my ancestors were large people and the average American woman wore a size 14 (my pants size at the time). Enough of it stuck to keep me from becoming a basket-case, yet I still hated my body (except my boobs – big boobs are always a good thing!). My Evolving Ideal Weight Journey As a college student, I continued to devour articles criticizing the popular messages about body size. I claimed my identity as a feminist, and I pursued a women’s studies certificate in grad school. I believe feeling good about our bodies and the space we occupy is a hugely important and feminist issue. This belief inspired me to keep hammering away at my own toxic relationship with my physical form.... read more

Giving to Others Improves Your Mood

When our mood is low, giving to others can seem pointless and way too hard. Our impulse is to hide, avoiding others and withdrawing to soothe ourselves or indulge our bad mood. Yet humankind has known for centuries that helping others makes us feel good too. Understanding How Giving to Others Improves Your Mood Augustine of Hippo, one of the early church fathers in Christianity, fussed about this. He argued pure charity couldn’t happen because giving to others made us feel good. This link meant pure altruism was literally impossible. I doubt any of us are going to fret too much that our altruism can’t be without personal gain. Yet it is notable that a 4th Century theologian was aware of the connection. Trey Ratcliff via Compfight Fast forward to our present technology. Neuroscience can explain why giving to others makes us feel better. At its core, the human brain is wired for connection. Fundamentally our brains are designed to ensure that us human animals make connections with each other. One of the parts of our brain that makes this happen is the mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are responsible for reflecting or mirroring the state of mind of others around us. As soon as we interact with another person, our mirror neurons start to adjust our internal experience to harmonize with the other person. Don’t believe me? Consider the last time you came home after a great day, totally pumped and happy. Then your roommate or loved one came home completely frustrated and unhappy. How long did it take for your buzz to fade? That’s mirror neurons at work. When we... read more

Weird Responses to Richard Armitage Post

Reactions to my blog post about Richard Armitage caught me off-guard in good and bad ways. Ladies who attended the Social Media Dames Un-conference will recall my brief presentation on the value of good content, even when it’s about a celebrity crush. I ran out of time to walk about the weird and unexpected responses I got from others. Loving Richard Armitage The second Hobbit movie, the Desolation of Smaug, comes out Friday. Richard Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader and King of the dwarves. An immensely popular actor in the UK, the Hobbit movies introduce him to a global audience. I learned about him through my addiction to BBC TV shows and Netflix recommendations. I highly recommend the BBC version of Robin Hood and the mini-series North and South. Richard Armitage I am old enough that I am not quite a digital native. An early lover of the internet (anyone remember Live Journal?), I drifted away and missed the explosion of user generated content that has unfolded over the last 10 years. I discovered what I had missed as I began indulging my crush and seeking out all things Richard. I learned about his devoted fan following, the Armitage Army. I read fan fiction, watched endless YouTube clips, and learned how to navigate Tumblr. In the process, I started thinking about how all of the fan attention might help or hurt his image as a celebrity. What Happened My original post was a reflection of these musings. In an image conscious world, how does fan-generated content impact the celebrity? Are there types of content that impact the human dignity of the person? Does it matter?... read more

How to Suggest Someone See a Therapist

How to suggest someone see a therapist. We’ve all been there. Part of being a friend or a family member means that you support the people around you through challenges in their lives. But sometimes, we don’t feel like we can help someone as much as we want to. Maybe that’s because there are stresses in our own lives. Or maybe it’s because the trauma, the loss, or confusion they are experiencing is too unfamiliar. And sometimes, it’s simply because we don’t feel we know them well enough. It’s times like these that it’s best to suggest someone see a therapist. However, this is not an easy conversation to have. How to suggest someone see a therapist includes reducing someone’s anxiety about therapy in general. There are several key elements in broaching this topic with someone else. Aristocrats-hat via Compfight Therapy is For Normal People Many people have a negative view of therapy. Some think that the only thing mental health professionals do is talk to be who are “crazy.” How to suggest someone see a therapist if they have this view? Share the truth. In truth, however, the vast majority of mental health experts—from psychologists, to psychiatrists, to counselors and even licensed clinical social workers like myself—work with people who are able to function in everyday life. Most of my clients and most therapy the clients the world over have jobs, maintain relationships, and achieve success in many areas of their lives. Most people are in therapy because they see the possibility of improvement in their life and they are willing to talk to someone about making a change. A therapist is someone who... read more

Menagerie Macabre Invites Enjoyment of Horror

Menagerie Macabre beautifully, comprehensively lives up to the title. From the first notes of the opening solo being sung by a disembodies voice the audience is sweetly put off-kilter. There is a serious conflict between the sweet, soaring soprano and the old hag on the stage – yet they are the same. I watched this performance as part of one of my favorite events in August in Indianapolis, the Fringe Festival. Fringe is a theatre lover’s dream. Running for 11 days are 64 one-act shows at venues along and around Mass Ave. Each show lasts about an hour and costs $10 admission. 100% of admission to each show goes to the performers. IndyFringe  Festival has been running since 2005, and I have gleefully binged on live theatre every August since. A conversation with my friend after the performance started me thinking about the emotional value or role of horror in our culture. This fantastic play was not high on my list of shows I wanted to see, so our attendance was more of an impulse. The play included all of the classic horror film troupes: a mad scientist, a wronged lover, dismemberment, a witch’s cauldron, spooky music and loads of fog. Unlike horror films, which I do not enjoy, this theatrical performance reminded me of my long-held love of the darkness. Neurologically, we are all wired to pay attention to what is novel or different in our environment. Menagerie Macabreprovides plenty of that! In addition to novelty, scary movies or plays increase our level of excitement, creating more intense memories of the experience. In addition, those of us who like the... read more

“Getting By” Means Survival Only

A child growing up in chaos becomes a survivor. The reason for the chaos doesn’t really matter. There are many possibilities: an addicted or alcoholic parent, sexual abuse, unexpected or early death of a parent or sibling, poverty, physical abuse, bullying, distant and emotionally unavailable parenting, adoption, or physical illness. This child learns the world is not safe and becomes an expert at getting by. Getting by comes with a steep and invisible price. Getting by means we leave without leaving. We avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. We avoid life itself. sharyn morrow via Compfight Getting By is Survival As mammals, we are hard-wired to experience the adrenaline response. This is often called “fight or flight.” When our basic safety is threatened, our chemical processes are set in motion. This response is a reflex, not a choice. Cortisol pumps through our body, preparing us to fight for our lives or get the hell out. Wait – we were talking about children earlier. Childhood pain, or adverse childhood experiences as researchers call it, puts this child in an impossible situation. When we are young and life is terrible, our choices are limited. Under the age of 12, exactly where can a child run? Children depend on their parents for survival, i.e. food, clothing, and shelter. As a child, how successfully can he or she fight the person or situation causing the pain? A child is stuck. A child from hard places can’t run away or fight. The only choice is to freeze. To leave without leaving. This child growing up exposed to intolerable pain learns how to check out mentally and emotionally.... read more