Cure with Compassion: Relief for Every Day Perfectionists

Perfectionism is a common form of suffering today, and manifests in several ways. According to researchers of perfection, these manifestations include holding very high standards for

Young man cuts English lawn with a nail scissors

ourselves, and judging ourselves harshly for perceived failure. They also include holding very high standards for others and judging their failure, or believing that others are judging us for standards we are not living up to. Although some people experience perfectionism differently than others, and in different contexts, the end result of each of these judgements is shame. Shame gives rise to depression, stress, anxiety, and strained relationships.

The antidote to perfectionism entails practicing compassion. We practice compassion when we hold high standards for ourselves and use these high standards as aspirations to reach for, rather than a mark of personal worth. Rather than shaming ourselves when we fail, we accept our best efforts, and try again the next day. We do the same for others when we allow them to have their own standards, and trust that they are trying their best. We also practice compassion when we do not allow ourselves to take on the judgement of others, but rather allow others their own opinions. Judging others harshly hurts everyone involved, and is incredibly difficult to do accurately.

All of this takes practice. Working through perfectionism is not easy, but is possible. It requires self-awareness and honesty. We can ask, “Do I set unrealistic expectations for myself?” If the answer is yes, perhaps trying to set more realistic goals may help. Allow yourself to be a human being with real limitations and weaknesses. Also remember that setbacks are normal. Life consists of lesson after lesson. Learning from our mistakes creates peace, and helps us feel ready to do things differently next time. For those struggling with other people not meeting their personal expectations, try asking yourself, “Are these expectations realistic for this person?” or “Is it my place to have this expectation?” Setting standards for others often leads to frustration for everyone involved. We can only change ourselves, and holding goals and standards for others only leads to resentment when they can’t or won’t measure up.

For those who feel they can never live up to the expectations of family, friends, or even strangers, learning to let go helps. Exercising compassion for who you are while doing your best will bring you peace. Using self-talk that reminds you that you are okay and cannot lose value based on what anyone thinks, may offer some relief. It can be hard to let go of what others think. The truth is, we are all on our own journey, and need to make decisions for ourselves. When personal choices do not win approval, finding common ground and accepting how personal decisions may affect others is helpful.

Try to find a way to feel compassion for the very real, very human people in your life. Everyone, the perfectionist included, is fully worthy of love, acceptance, and happiness. Try to understand, the stress perfectionism causes takes a toll on the perfectionist as well. Practicing self-reflection about the fundamental worth of ourselves and others can bring joy through learning with those we love, becoming better versions of ourselves together. This growth tends to unfold when we accept our weaknesses and take responsibility for how we affect others, even when it is difficult. Health is found in balance, in the ebb and flow of life, not in still waters.

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Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Play Therapy: What is it, and How Will it Help My Child?

 

When adults come to therapy, they can adequately express themselves

using their words and having discussions with their therapist; however, when children come to therapy this may not be the case. Many children do not have the words to express what there are experiencing at home, at school, with friends, etc. Further, children may not be aware of what they are feeling because they do not yet understand what different emotions feel like. Therefore, they would need an outlet which allows them to talk without using words, and without being restricted by a lack of cognitive development. Play therapy helps eliminate these barriers that children face when they come to therapy.

Play therapy allows children to express themselves with the use of toys and actions. It occurs in a safe and caring environment where the child is allowed to play freely with minimal limitations (e.g. safety precautions). Sometimes a therapist may prompt the child’s play during a session; however, most therapists allow children to play with the toys they want, how they want. Play therapy should not make a child feel that they are in therapy or that they are being analyzed. Sessions can last anywhere from 30-50 minutes, depending on the child. A play therapy session can include just the child, the child and their parents, or the entire family, depending on the situation that brings the child in for therapy.

One question to consider when seeking a play therapist for your child is, “Does my child feel comfortable with the therapist?” Because the child will need to express himself/herself through play, it is important for your child to feel safe and comfortable with the therapist. If your child does not feel safe, then play therapy will not be effective.

For parents, this random play may appear to be pointless, because it is “something that children can do at home.” But, when play is done in a therapeutic setting, it will allow the child to process through their experiences and then begin to heal. One explanation for this is that children unconsciously (or consciously) act out whatever they are experiencing in their life, and when a therapist is present, they can reflect back to the child things that they notice (e.g. it seems like the doll doesn’t have any friends to play with, that’s lonely). This reflection helps give the child words to express their experiences, as well as helping the child feel understood and validated.

Play therapy allows adults access to a child’s world. Using toys and actions the therapist can communicate with the child wherever the child is at in their cognitive development. Further, it allows the therapist to help facilitate the healing process by understanding the child and responding back in the way the child needs. Children need to feel validated and heard as much as adults do; play therapy is one way to do this. Children deserve to have a life where they are not burdened by life’s problems, and play therapy is one way to help unburden your child.

Written by – Lexi Lee, MS, LAMFT

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Strength in Weakness: Connecting as a Couple When Life is Hard

 

Hispanic Couple Viewing Potential New Home

A couple I once worked with in therapy some time ago—let’s call them Kevin and Gloria—seemed to have a lot going for them: Kevin had a good job and Gloria was active in her community, and they were raising four healthy kids. They reported, however, that as family pressures had built up they had felt a growing distance from each other, and each time they tried to talk about their individual or family challenges, criticism and defensiveness soon followed, and one or both of them would get hurt or angry while nothing was resolved.

Through therapy, they learned how to create a safe space for each other to open up and go a bit deeper. A big breakthrough came when Kevin started sharing about intense criticism he had felt as a child. He talked about his fear of his own children going through the same thing. This helped explain why he felt so strongly about a particular issue. Gloria then shared her own experiences as a mother, comparing herself to other mothers, and her fear of failing to live up to expectations. This helped Kevin better understand the challenges Gloria faced every day.

Although they still disagreed on many issues (and probably always will), they deeply understood each other. They felt a desire to support each other, and suddenly some of the issues didn’t seem so big anymore. Each expressed a feeling of relief, like a weight being lifted off of their shoulders, and more confidence in their relationship.

One of the main goals of relationship therapy is to help couples (1) open up and (2) learn to be ok about the messy details of their own and each other’s lives. Trying to be perfect, individually or as a couple, can add a lot of pressure, which can turn a couple against each other and create a cycle of fighting and withdrawing that hurts the relationship. If, in the middle of all of this mess, both partners can learn to really listen to each other and just be there for each other, things will get much better. To do this, we need to listen, and open up.

Listen

Have you ever tried to talk to someone about something you are struggling with, only to have them ignore what you said and start rattling off all of the pressures they are facing? How useful was that? But how often does this happen to partners under stress! It can be hard to listen to your partner’s troubles when your mind is so full of your own, but when two people are both trying to be heard, it means neither of them are listening.

Listen to your partner. Set aside, for a moment, your own issues and give them as much space as they need. You will disagree with some of what they say, I can almost guarantee it, but this isn’t the time for resolution or debate, this is the time to show your partner you care and that you want to understand them. After all, the best research we have says that 70% of all relationship differences are never resolved anyway, so let’s stop beating our heads against the wall, and start listening with the intent to understand. The goal is just to listen, not to resolve.

Opening Up

Opening up is more than just sharing our complaints and opinions. Sometimes we will need to do a bit of self-exploration first. Maybe when your partner arrived home late without texting and you were angry, underneath that was the memory of your own father arriving home late or not at all, and the hurt you felt associated with that. The anger will push your partner away, but the painful memory may help him or her connect with you and want to support you.

There may be many other secrets or hidden thoughts, feelings or memories you hold back from your partner out of embarrassment or fear of rejection. However, consider the power of feeling loved for who you are, even though there are some parts of you you’re not especially happy about. When we stop holding back the messy parts of ourselves, we are showing trust for our partner’s capacity to love us unconditionally.

Made Strong Through Weakness

Strong relationships aren’t created by perfect people—they become strong when we are willing to drag all of our imperfections out into the open and say, “Here I am, in all of my mess, can you still love me and stick with me?” This is the glue that holds a relationship together, even in the hard times: needing someone, and feeling needed at the same time.

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Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Communication Problems?

 

When I ask couples what I can help them with, the most common

response is “communication problems.” In my mind, this term has become a catch-all expression for couples who aren’t really sure what is wrong or who haven’t yet been ready to face deeper issues. They don’t realize they are actually communicating through non-verbal body language, yelling, or even the silent treatment. Problems arise because, as individuals, they don’t recognize the message being sent to them or even the message they are sending to their significant other. After exploring their situation further, I often find that there is much more going on than simple communication problems.

Let’s break down the idea of “communication problems” to see what could really be lurking underneath:

  1. Uncomfortable emotions– Our primary emotions are often difficult to feel because they are uncomfortable (hurt, loneliness, jealousy, etc.). Because they are uncomfortable, we often cover them up with another emotion. Enter: Anger. Anger loves to disguise what you are really feeling. It gives us the illusion that we are dealing with the issue, when in fact, we are getting further and further away from it by trying to satisfy and quench our anger. When you find communication breaking down and yourself getting angry and lashing out at your spouse, ask yourself this question, “What am I really feeling?” This will help you dig deeper in order to recognize, feel, and cope with what’s really going on. Anger obviously leads to communication problems because it masks the real issue.
  2. Displacement– You have heard of Dad coming home after a bad day at work and kicking the dog in the driveway because he almost tripped over him. The dog did nothing to deserve it other than being alive, but still got the brunt of Dad’s frustration. Similarly, we often displace our difficulties onto our partner. Sometimes we don’t tell them what’s really bothering us and sometimes we do. But either way, communication problems arise because we are struggling with work, children, in-laws, money, self-esteem or other issues not related to our partner. I suggest that when you find yourself displacing issues on your partner, recognize that you are doing so and talk to your partner about what you’re really struggling with. You might find a helping hand waiting for you.
  3. Past Injuries– We carry past problems and emotional injuries with us through life. What happened to us last week, during the first week of marriage or even when we were a child can impact how we relate to our partner today. If our partner has hurt us in the past, we are less likely to feel emotionally (or even physically) safe. In our attempt to guard our emotions, we put up walls or distance ourselves, which increases communication problems. I suggest that when a past injury is lingering, address it with your partner. If you are unable to solve it, then seek professional help. When your leg is broken, you go to the doctor; when your relationship is broken, you go to a therapist. They are trained to help you through these difficult issues.
  4. Lack of communication skills– Sometimes we don’t communicate well because we simply don’t know how. Learning basic principles of communication will empower you to express yourself in a healthy manner. By going to school, we learn how to be doctors, teachers, or lawyers, but we don’t learn the basics of human interaction and communication. The learning process doesn’t just come naturally to everyone. Deliberate learning and application will help you become an effective communicator. When it comes to marital communication, John Gottman (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) and Susan Johnson (Hold Me Tight) have paved the way through research and practice. Read these books and practice with your partner. You will get better.

When communication with your partner becomes difficult, remember that the underlying problem may not simply be that one of you lacks communication skills. Think about what could be hiding beneath the growing anger or distance between you. As you search this out, you may discover deeper issues that you can discuss and deal with together or that, if necessary, you can receive help with from a therapist.

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Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Secrets to Being a Happy Mom

 

I have a love/hate relationship with blogs, Instagram and Facebook. They’re great because they keep me connected with people I care about, but not so great when they intensify my perfectionist tendencies. On rough days, I often catch myself comparing myself to other moms—I scroll through their photos and think to myself, How on earth is she keeping the house clean with four kids? or I don’t get how she looks good all the time whereas I can’t find time to brush my hair,or How is it that her kids all look like they came out of a Janie and Jack catalogue?Logic goes out the window as I become fixated on what I perceive the world views as the “perfect mother” and I slowly feel myself becoming unhappy.

As a therapist, this unhappiness sets off an internal alarm saying that I need to stop and process what’s happening. In moments of weakness, we often doubt ourselves. We lose confidence and forget about our unique capabilities and needs. We get caught up in what we perceive the world thinks our needs and capabilities should be. We believe we have to be perfect, and when we fall short of that unachievable standard we experience shame. The truth is obvious, but can be difficult to accept: we will never be perfect and that’s okay.

There are several things mothers can do to work through this damaging mindset:

1) Stop the comparisons. It’s easy to compare yourself to others, but it is important to note that we all come from different circumstances. Our upbringings, personalities, and hardships are different. Not only is comparing ourselves to others a bad idea that often leads to shame and despair, but     we fundamentally lack the context to make an accurate comparison.

2) Adjust expectations. Take a deep breath and relax. Re-evaluate and figure out what is realistic and what isn’t. Before becoming a mom, I spent many years studying and working with families professionally. I had wonderful imaginations of how I would be as a mother. Then, when I became one, I discovered the bar was set so high I couldn’t even see it. It was overwhelming, so I had to compromise. 15-20 minutes a day of one-on-one quality time with my kids is fine. It’s okay if I go out once a week with my kids instead of 4 or 5 times a week. Those things are still accomplishments. Re-assessing what is realistic and planning to do less was a welcome relief; I discovered that I actually accomplish more because I’m in control.

3) Be kinder to yourself. It’s okay to have a moment when you are frustrated with your kids. Allow yourself to be imperfect and accept it with open arms. Fight the natural inclination to feel shame when you slip up—you’re only human.

4) Own your mistakes. Be an example to your kids of what it looks like to make mistakes and bounce back from them. Your kids don’t need a perfect mom, they need a happy mom who teaches them how to deal with reality. Show them that making mistakes is a part of life—this is a profound lesson that will serve them well. Living this lesson will empower you, too.

Perfectionism is a trap that can catch even the best of us, but when we recognize we’re stuck, we can take steps to get out. We’ll never be perfect, but with work we can be perfectly happy with that.

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Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Our Brains, Our Bodies, and Our Relationships

 

Relationships are everywhere. We have relationships in our individual lives, in our corporate lives, and in our virtual lives. We are wired for connection. We yearn for that feeling of intimacy and bonding in romantic relationships and in friendships. Interestingly enough, our brains are wired for that, too! Our brains are wired for us to feel, to sense, to understand, and to remember, especially as we experience relationships. As our brains are wired for connection, they interact with our surroundings in such a way that we respond, both positively and negatively, in our relationships accordingly.

Our Brain and Our Body

Our brain is designed to protect us and to allow us to engage relationally and socially, and our brain has different systems that are activated that do just that. When both systems, the autonomic nervous system and the polyvagal system, are working together, social engagement is achieved. However, we live stressful lives and find stress at every turn in our daily routines. We know that stress impacts us; it can make us irritable, anxious, and can create health problems. Stress can also activate systems in the brain that impact the way we relate to friends, spouses, and family members. When stress occurs, it activates the parts in our brain associated with the fight or flight system, activating our brain and our bodies to respond. Often when this occurs, we feel our heart rates increase, our skin becomes clammy or sweaty, and we often become anxious.

This process is a good thing, but when we are unable to deactivate the system to bring us back to a calm state, there are long term effects. Activating the parasympathetic system quickly reaches the prefrontal cortex, the front part of our brains associated with problem solving and critical thinking. The prefrontal cortex does not have a quick access back to the emotion center of the brain to help calm you down, so the cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex shut down. This has important implications for relationships we desire.

Our Relationships

As your brain and your body respond to a stressful stimulus, different systems activate in your body that decrease the ability to engage relationally and socially the way that we would like to engage. We become unable to attend to our partners or our friends, and our ability to problem solve also decreases. In addition, we lack active interest in others and have a reduced ability to process information. As different experiences take place, neurons fire together in the brain and wire together. This means that the more similar experiences you have, the more likely the similar response will take place for that memory/experience. This wiring together regulates how the systems within us interact and how we interact with others. Heightened and chronic states of stress create more constant states of less engagement, less problem solving, and less capability to process information. We like to think that we have control over the emotions that are triggered; however, the emotions occur, but the reactions we have to the emotions is what we have a chance to correct.

In order to reduce the (almost immediate) impact of the reaction to the fight or flight response being activated, enhanced emotion regulation capabilities provide more room for someone to experience the immediate firing to the prefrontal cortex so that a better, more positive interaction can take place.  Engaging in tools and skills that increase the ability to emotionally regulate can increase the positivity in relationships.

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Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

What You’re Fighting About Is NOT What You’re Fighting About

This is a pretty mundane example of the type of things married people argue about. It seems like a pretty simple matter on the surface. The discussion was about doing chores. So why did I feel cornered? Why did something as simple as cleaning the kitchen make me feel so much anxiety? This argument was about more than simply cleaning the kitchen. I felt torn between two demands of great importance: my career or my wife’s good will. I keenly felt the burden of my family’s future resting on my shoulders, and what seemed like an endless to-do list. How could I stop working on that to do something as trivial as cleaning? What good was a clean kitchen if we were drowning in student loan debt? But not cleaning the kitchen meant the evaporation of marital bliss. How could I focus on my work with an upset wife on my mind? Either way, I was in trouble.

Any fly on the wall seeing our argument probably would have thought the issue was as simple as a lazy husband not wanting to do chores. But as in almost every argument, there was something deeper going on below the surface. To my wife, this was not merely a matter of having a clean kitchen. For her, it was about peace of mind. Coming home to a messy house after a hard day adds more stress. When the house is messy, it makes her mind feel chaotic and disordered too. Not only that, but a dirty house reminds her of the instability of growing up with a father who had bipolar disorder and refused to take his medicine. The issue of cleaning the kitchen was proxy for some deeper concerns. For me it was about earning enough to take care of my wife and to prepare for children. For my wife it was about feeling safety and peace in her own home.

Arguments can draw a couple closer together, or they can drive a wedge between them. What makes the difference? That question has a few answers, but one of the big things is whether we ever get to the deeper meanings under the surface of the fight. If we stay on the surface, we may have conclusion, but we won’t have resolution; whether I did the cleaning or not, I would have had stress and felt disconnected from my wife. That’s because what I needed, and what every person needs, is to know and feel that their partner understands and respects them. The reason we had an argument had nothing to do with cleaning at all, it was really about her basic need for safety, and my basic need for competence. We couldn’t fix the problem until we acknowledged the source of our strong emotions and what the fight was really about.

The moment we feel understood by our partner, we can think clearly, and then it’s easy to do problem solving. Next time you’re arguing and feeling upset, ask yourself about the deeper issue behind the disagreement. Find out from your partner what their position means to them. Empathize with their thoughts and feelings, and see how much easier it is to resolve arguments.

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Written by: Kenneth Jeppesen, LAMFT, MMFT

Kenneth is a therapist at the American Fork Center for Couples and Families and is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist. He enjoys helping individuals and couples find peace and happiness and spends the rest of his time learning about everything!

Emotions 101: The Basics

Most of us try to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Who likes to feel sad, depressed, lonely, hurt, scared or betrayed? Don’t we try to NOT feel this way? Some may even engage in unhealthy behaviors to avoid their emotions.  I encountered this as a common theme in my work at drug and alcohol rehab facilities.  Though it may be unpleasant, I propose that if we want to feel the comfortable emotions in life, we have to get good at feeling the ones that are not so comfortable.

It is important to realize that uncomfortable emotions are not bad.  We all experience a myriad of emotions; some make us feel better than others.  Because of the discomfort that comes with some, many try to avoid them all together, take them out on others, or deal with them in unhealthy ways.  The trick to dealing with emotions in a healthy manner is not to get rid of them, but rather to embrace them and then let them go.  As I work with couples or individuals in therapy, I often review three simple steps to dealing with emotions:

  1. Recognize: Identifying what we are feeling is the first step. If we don’t know what we are feeling, then we will not be able to do anything with it. It will unwittingly control us. When I ask a client what they are feeling they will often reply, “I’m angry.” Anger, however, is what I call a false emotion. It only exists as it attaches itself to what we originally felt. For example, if someone were to post something mean about you on social media it might make you feel hurt. What is our natural reaction to something like this? We might want to lash out at that person. This is us embracing anger instead of hurt. In this case, the anger covers up the hurt and offers the illusion that it is protecting us—that it is keeping us safe from future hurt—when all it is doing is making it so that we remain hurt. Anger is insatiable. It can never be satisfied. Have you ever felt good after embracing your anger? No. We feel even more angry. That is why I call anger a false emotion. Let anger be the first sign that you are actually feeling something else. Ask yourself the question, “What am Ireally feeling?” in order to recognize your true emotions.
  2. Feel: This is the hardest step. After we have recognized that we feel hurt, for example, we usually don’t want to embrace that feeling. This goes back to not wanting to feel uncomfortable feelings. When we allow ourselves to feel these emotions, we then have power to do something with them. Consider the following example: You have a couch in your house that you really detest. This is the ugliest, most horrible piece of furniture ever created. It is so ugly that no one will touch it. How do you handle it? You can’t magically make it disappear—you actually have to pick it up and move it yourself. It seems ironic that in order to move something out of your house that you don’t like, you actually have to get closer to it and touch it. The same goes for our emotions. When we feel them (get closer to them, touch them, pick them up) then we have the power to do something with them.
  3. Cope: This is the step most people want to skip straight to. We want to cope with or let go of our emotions without feeling them. But doing this can get us into trouble. When we try to cope with our emotions without first picking them up, what we are really doing is distracting ourselves from feeling something uncomfortable. This is similar to taking a blanket and covering the ugly couch in our house—it’s still there! What we choose to distract ourselves with (i.e., social media, pornography, substances, food, work) then becomes our go-to every time we feel uncomfortable, and an addiction is born. Coping with an emotion involves not forcing it to leave and not forcing it to stay. We let it go after it has run its course. Then we can do something that helps us recover—such as reading a book or talking with a friend.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions can feel counterintuitive at times. Our initial response may be to react with anger or push them away.  But, as we practice embracing our feelings in order to let them go, we will develop habits that will improve our emotional health and overall internal peace.

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Written by: Triston Morgan, PhD, LMFT

Dr. Morgan is a director and co-owner of Center for Couples and Families, a counseling center, in Utah Valley. He is licensed as a PhD marriage and family therapist, and is originally from Oregon. He and his beautiful wife, Cristina, love to travel and see the world.

Seven Principles for a Healthy Marriage – Triston Morgan PhD, LMFT

In movie theaters, we love the thrill of sitting on the edge of our seats watching as a suffering character gets the antidote to their trouble in the nick of time.  Whether it’s a fairy tale princess waiting for true love’s kiss, Harry Potter and his friends casting spells, or a poisoned superhero anticipating the arrival of a healing solution—we love our struggling heroes to succeed in the end.  But the excitement is not the same when we, as the heroes and heroines of our own lives, struggle and wish for a solution in our own marriages.

Luckily, many great marriages are successful due to antidotes that you can use, too.  In our last issue, I outlined six signs that your marriage could be in trouble.  The solution to these symptoms is provided by John Gottman and his 40 years of successful marital research.  Follow his principles (or antidotes) and you will be on your way to a happier and healthier marriage.

HealthyMarriagePrinciple 1 – Enhance Your Love Maps

Become “intimately familiar with each other’s world,” as John Gottman would put it. Knowing each other’s goals, fears, desires, story, and history will go a long way in creating a marriage that lasts. Do you know your partner’s best and worst childhood memories? Do you know what stresses them during the day? Do you know the important people in your partner’s life (friends, potential friends, rivals or enemies)?

Principle 2 – Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

This is the antidote for “contempt” that I spoke about in my last article. Fondness and admiration for your partner includes having respect and love for them. It isn’t a complicated process—simply increase your positive feelings towards your partner. Fond memories and interpretations of what is happening presently in your relationship is key.

Principle 3 – Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

If you want a key to romance and a good sex life, here it is. Turning towards your partner means to emotionally reach for and lean towards them in difficult and easy times. When your partner sends you the message “I need you” – do you reach out for them? If not, then start reaching out for them emotionally and physically.

Principle 4 – Let Your Partner Influence You

This one is more for the guys (although it’s important for the gals too). John Gottman found that when a man in a relationship accepts influence from his partner, they are more likely to have a happier marriage.  Making decisions together, showing respect for each other’s opinions, and sharing the power will increase the ability for your marriage to succeed.

Principle 5 – Solve Your Solvable Problems…(read the rest of the story)

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Spirituality and Therapy: Five Benefits of Spiritually Integrated Therapy – Daniel Colver, M.A., LMFT

Spirituality-300x300The two preceding articles in this three-part series recognized the resurgence of spirituality in therapy, identified a need for psychotherapists trained in spiritual and religious competencies, provided tips on how to find a licensed clinician who is right for you, and explored three domains of spiritual wellness.  This third and final article will address five potential benefits of spiritually integrated therapy.

I recently listened to both a psychologist’s lecture on integrated healthcare, and a book on parenting written by a world renowned researcher/therapist who devoted her career to understanding guilt, shame, vulnerability and whole-hearted living.  Both scholars spoke of spirituality as being a resilience factor.  This got me thinking about how spiritually integrated therapy may serve some of my clients, so I came up with a list of five potential benefits of spiritually integrated therapy:

  1. Enhancing Protective Factors: A so-called “protective factor” is anything a person incorporates into their life which effectively decreases the likelihood of harm.  You can think of it as the opposite of a “risk factor.”  A growing body of research has shown that spiritual health and positive religious practices can in fact serve as a protective factor for a wide variety of issues across populations (i.e. hazardous substance use, suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, etc.).  In therapy, exploring how spiritual practice can serve as a protective factor may be beneficial.
  2. Increasing Stress Resilience: Those who manage stress effectively have incorporated resilience practices into their regular lifestyle.  Spiritually integrated psychotherapy recognizes spiritual health as an essential component of whole and complete living.  Therapy may explicitly discuss spiritual or religious coping strategies the client uses to solve problems, elicit a sense of meaningfulness to stressful life events, and/or learn skills to “weather the storm” in a profoundly purposeful way.  A common element among various faith traditions is an active willingness to practice non-judgmental acceptance.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) suggests stress-resiliency is enhanced as we actively challenge our experiential avoidance of unpleasant emotions (i.e. anxiety, fear, pain) by engaging in value-based action while accepting that meaningful living does not begin when discomfort ends… it begins now.
  3. Using Culturally Relevant Language…(read the rest of the story)

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness