What Therapy is Not

Last month, I tried to convince you to go to therapy. Call me biased, but I truly believe it can be helpful when you engage in the process. However, I also know that we are often bombarded with media portrayals of therapy and therapists that can give lots of wrong information about what actually happens during the process. Hopefully, I answered some of your beginning questions in my previous post; this time, I want to talk about what therapy is NOT.

1. Therapy is not a quick fix: Sometimes, people have the expectation that after one session of therapy, you will feel better. Though you may experience some relief simply from getting things off your chest, your problems are not likely to be resolved after just one session. It takes time to build skills and strategies that will help you work toward your goals. Be patient and trust the process. Most therapists will check in periodically to ensure that you feel you are still working toward your goals and making progress. I often have people ask me how many sessions I think they will need- this is a really hard question to answer because people are so different and have different needs. It might be helpful to just acknowledge that you can’t be sure exactly how many sessions you will need, but you can pay attention to your symptoms and notice when you are starting to feel better.

2. Therapy is not done to you. Your therapist does not have a magic wand or fairy dust. Therapy doesn’t happen “at” you. In order for it to work, you have to put time, energy, and interest into the process. For some people, that might mean homework, reflecting during the time you are not in session, and practicing new skills. Your therapist can’t fix you! Their job is to provide you with some perspective and resources to live the life you desire. Your job is to put in the work, enact the skills and focus on the strategies provided to reach your goals.

3. Therapy is not boot camp. Your therapist doesn’t set a goal of seeing how many times they can make you cry in an hour. It is not our intention to make you feel bad. We don’t want to push you beyond what you are capable of. However, negative feelings can sometimes be a part of the process. Our job is to be there as support, help you to understand and explore what you are feeling, and hold you accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself. Sometimes, that means you won’t like what we say, but you should always have the sense that you can trust your therapist’s intentions are in the right place.

4. Therapy is not a friendship. The best therapeutic relationships are ones where there is a deep sense of mutual care and respect between therapist and client. However, they should not be confused with friendships. Therapy is a professional relationship where the focus is on you and your needs. That means there should be certain boundaries in place: therapists don’t share about their lives the way a friend would; we don’t spend time with clients or talk extensively outside of the time spent in therapy; we don’t take on people as clients if we interact with them socially in other circles. There is a reason for this: therapy should be a protected space and you should feel free to share anything and everything about your life. If you interact with your therapist in other ways, it could complicate the safety of the relationship. This does not mean that you don’t care about your therapist and they don’t care about you- it just means that there are rules for keeping the relationship healthy.

5. Therapy is not a cure all. Sometimes, people feel completely better after going to therapy. For others, there might be a longer term diagnosis that does not totally go away. For those folks, the goal is to build skills so that they can manage their symptoms and live a happier, healthier life. Because we are humans, we have symptoms- sometimes we might feel anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or frustrated. The goal is not always to get to a place where you have no symptoms at all. Sometimes, the goal is to get to the place where those symptoms don’t take over your life or stop you doing the things you want to do.

So, hopefully this helps you to manage your expectations. Therapy is a wonderful experience, and it can be a little different when you try it for the first time. If you are ready to start the process, go to http://www.PsychologyToday.com to get started.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!


So you think you want to go to therapy?

One of the things I intentionally do is talk about therapy and how helpful it can be. In faith communities and especially in black faith communities, mental illness and it’s treatment are still highly stigmatized. We tend to try to pray away our emotional concerns, or go to pastors and other faith leaders for a quick fix. While these are good steps, some issues also require the attention of a professional. So how do you know when it’s time to seek out a professional? Here’s a list of signs it might be time:
– if you’ve been tired, sad, nervous, overwhelmed, or “off” for more than a couple weeks and nothing seems to help
-if you notice you have difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach issues, or problems with concentration that can’t be explained
– if you are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in your relationships
– if you are having difficulty managing the different tasks in your life
– if you have frequent crying spells, find your self lashing out at others, or have noticed an increase in substance use in an attempt to cope

These are just a few; the reasons I hear most often. But I should probably provide a disclaimer here: I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO THERAPY. Everyone. EVERYONE! Whether your concerns are mild, moderate, or severe, therapy can be helpful for you. One of the great gifts of therapy is that it is an invitation to take a brief hiatus from the hustle and bustle of your life and dedicate an hour of time totally to yourself. You get the opportunity to sit with a person who cares about you, but who won’t share their opinions, tell your business, or insert their own desires in the way they provide support. I can’t think of another place in life where all those things come together. It’s a peculiar and wonderful space! Yet, I understand how scary it is to enter a room with a stranger and bare your soul in such a way. So, I honor that it is a big decision and thought it might be helpful to demystify the process.

First, do some introspective work.

Why do you want to go to therapy? What do you want to get out of it? Ask yourself: If I woke up tomorrow and things were all better, what would be different? What would be the signs that my life had taken a shift?

Your answer to this question is the beginning of your goals for counseling. It’s ok if it’s not crystal clear, but it’s important to have at least a sense of where you want to go. Once you have at least a vague goal in mind, it’s time to begin to search for a therapist. Some logistical questions to consider:

– if you have health insurance, does it cover mental health (behavioral health)? Do you have a deductible that requires out of pocket payments before sessions will be covered? How much is your copay per session? Call your insurance company (or check online) for a list of therapists who accept your insurance. This gives you a place to start.

– if you don’t have insurance, how much can you afford to pay? Frequency of therapy is variable- you can go weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, depending on what you need and how much you can afford.

– what characteristics of a therapist would help you to feel ready? Similarities in gender, race, or religious affiliation? Maybe you can check with a pastor or a friend to ask for a referral

-Do your research: Just like dating, or finding the right furniture, or buying a new car, it’s helpful to get some information before you make a decision. One of my favorite websites is PsychologyToday.com because you can search by a myriad of characteristics and specialty areas, as well as insurance provider. In addition, you can hear, in the therapist’s own words, what they believe about therapy and how they like to help people get better.

Once you decide on a therapist, take a deep breath, and give them a call. You may have to call multiple people- sometimes people aren’t accepting new patients, or maybe your schedules don’t align. That’s ok! Keep making calls until you find someone. Most clinicians will be happy to answer a couple of questions over the phone- how the process will go, what the first session will be like, how you can pay, or something of the sort.

At your first appointment, you will have paperwork to fill out, just like when you go to your medical doctor. Give yourself a few extra minutes to get all that done and arrive a little early to your appoinment. Generally the first session is focused on information gathering- there will be LOTS of questions- your therapist is just trying to get to know you! They may take notes, or have some papers they go through as you explain what’s going on with you. The goal is to get a good picture of how you’re functioning right now and where you want to go. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions about how the process will go, how your therapist does treatment, and what you should expect. At the beginning, you and the therapist are getting to know each other and getting comfortable with each other. The role of a client will be different than any other relationship you’ve had, because you won’t really know a lot about your therapist. While this may seem odd at first, it’s actually a good thing, because it keeps the sessions focused on you!

A note: At the beginning (and often throughout the process), therapy can bring up a lot of emotions. It’s normal for you to feel nervous, sad, or overwhelmed. We therapists have a special tool for if those feelings come up: TISSUES!! We are not scared of your emotions, you will not be “too much” for us, and we can handle it. That’s why we went to school! Remind yourself that discomfort can be a part of the process, and that it can produce change if you stick with it.

Therapy can be scary, but working with the right therapist is so worth it! If you’ve been wondering about it or considering a visit, take the plunge and make the call! It is a great step to take for you and your mental health. You deserve it!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Naming our Pain

In my clinical practice, I often see a lot of black adult women. I think a part of what draws them to me is that they can look me up and see that we have at least two things in common- I am black, and I am a woman, just like them. Black womanhood is a peculiar place of residence. Black women have a unique experience that bonds us together, but also makes us different from many of the other people we interact with. An academic term for this identity is “intersectionality.” This term, coined by scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, describes the reality of black women’s double minority status in the sociocultural world. Black women deal with the racism that all black folks deal with, AND they deal with the painful demeaning realities of the power of patriarchy. This distinguishes us from the journey that we work to support black men in, and it also separates us from the reality of prejudice and misogyny experienced by white women. Because our experience is unique, we have developed some unique strategies for surviving as black women. Many of us are familiar with the term “strong black woman.” I believe that this identity is our way of coping with the singular experience of black womanhood. Here are some characteristics I often see as components of this way of being for black women:

1. Taking care of EVERYBODY. In my conversations with my clients, friends, and colleagues, I notice a pattern of black women feeling responsible for so many people in their lives- parents, partners, kids, friends, etc. Some of these people, they really are responsible for. However, there might be times when they take on things that those people can do for themselves, perhaps to the detriment of their own needs and wants. We do it because we saw our mothers and grandmothers do it. Sometimes, the people in our lives are telling us to step back and do less, but we can’t hear it. Sometimes, the people in our lives love all the work we do, because it makes their lives easier. Either way, it seems that the implicit message for black women has been, put yourself last- make sure everyone else is OK first. While this is a noble way of being and taking responsibility for our community, it’s not sustainable when we don’t take any time for ourselves.

2. Pretending we are fine. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked a black woman how she is, she replied “fine” and I didn’t believe her. A part of this “strong black woman” syndrome has been a tendency to deny or ignore when we are struggling, even with people with whom we have very close relationships. I will never forget a session I had with a client who was visibly in pain, had been feeling the effects in her daily life, but simply could not find the words to explain to me what she was going through. It occurred to me how many of us have become so good at putting on a show that we don’t even have experience describing ourselves in authentic ways. We don’t even have language to name our pain because we have never taken the opportunity to do so. We can’t keep this up. Part of being of psychologically healthy is being able to acknowledge when you are well and when your are not well, being able to share your experiences with others, and being able to get what you need.

3. Not asking for help. I was having a conversation with a good friend and was stopped in my tracks with four simple words. “You are not superwoman.” We were talking about all the things I have going on, and the friend asked if I had people around me who would be willing to help me. My response was “Yes, but….” and then I named all the reasons I “needed” to do these things myself. I was so convinced about this, but it’s just wrong. It’s no good having people around you who offer to help you if you don’t take them up on it. In supportive relationships, you should not have to feel like superwoman. The reality is, you cannot do it all. When you admit that you cannot save the whole world, you make space for people to be in authentic relationship with you and offer you help and support. Be brave- ask for help!

If you are a black woman, I imagine that at least some of this feels familiar to you. If you love a black woman, you can probably help her by offering support and reminding her she doesn’t have to do it all. Think about ways that you can pay attention to your self in addition to all the people you love and care about. This is not about being selfish or choosing yourself OVER them (though some might decide to do that). It’s simply about putting yourself on your list. Just because we have been conditioned to do these things doesn’t mean we have to continue. Make a choice to live a happier, healthier life! Be honest about your experience, relinquish some of your responsibility in the lives of others, and use that energy to care for yourself! You can do it, sis. You deserve it.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

When the Path Isn’t Straight

I hear a common sentiment in my clinical and vocational work that goes something like:

I didn’t do things the “right” way so I was delayed getting to the point I’m at now.

I really struggle with this sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I have heard SO MANY people say this! Almost every single person I know has at some point felt this way about our journey. If all of us feel this way, is there a possibility that there simply isn’t a right way?? I think a big pice of this is the issue we have with social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others in ways that aren’t helpful. A wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” For me, that sentiment reveals a truth about the way we make evaluations about our own lives. We often compare what is happening in our lives to what we see of the lives of others. The difference is, we know our WHOLE lives- all of our shortcomings, mistakes, etc. However, when we look at the lives of others, all we see is the curated version of them they want us to see. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of blaming social media, but social media. Most folks don’t share about their bad moments to the extent they share about good ones. It’s human nature to actively present ourselves in positive ways. The danger of using only what people tell us as a method of comparison is that we inevitably end up viewing ourselves as less than, based on what is at best a half-truth! Someone posts about a new job they’ve received, and we don’t hear about the 15 or 20 rejection letters they got before that one yes. A friend shares wedding photos, but not mugshots of the breakups that came before. A new mother shares pictures of her maternity photo shoot, but may not have shared about a miscarriage that came a year before. Let me be clear; this is NOT a criticism of a positive-only social media presence. That is each person’s prerogative and right. However, I am suggesting that we should keep this reality in mind and work against not comparing ourselves to another’s social media avatar. Perception is not real life!

Second, who decides what is the “right” way? Are you actually talking about the expectations of the people around you? Is someone telling you that you “should” have done it one way or another? Psychologist Albert Ellis was famous for telling his clients that they were “should-ing all over” themselves (pun intended). If we were to critically evaluate the “shoulds” in our lives, many of us would find that they are really implicit and explicit messages we’ve received from others about how they believe we should do life. And, just because someone else told us to do something, doesn’t mean we have to! One of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood is that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions. We get to decide how much influence other people we have in our lives. Sometimes, that we means we block out the opinions of people we love and care about when those opinions are not in our best interest. They cannot walk in your shoes. They do not live your experience. They do not live with the consequences of your choices- you do! You deserve to create a life for yourself that matches YOUR wants and desires, not those of another person, regardless of how much you might love and admire that person. Does that mean you might make some mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But does that mean that, if you pay attention to yourself, you might stumble upon something that only you could have discovered about yourself and for yourself? Absolutely. Run your own life. Don’t give away your power to anyone else!

Lastly, consider that the “straight” path might not be the most fulfilling path. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one right answer. Most of us, without much work, can think of a time when we experienced an unexpected surprise; something we didn’t know was coming, maybe didn’t even want, but it ended up being exactly what we needed. I am a firm believe that even those things that seem like detours can have a powerful purpose in our lives. This is not the cookie cutter “everything has a reason” response. Sometimes, we have to work to find the purpose in detours and distractions. Every time you hit a wall, make a mistake, or feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself a simple question:

What is there for me to learn in this situation?

You might find that what best positions you for your end goal is the lessons you gleaned from the experiences you thought you weren’t supposed to have. You have an opportunity to make the most of the long road, and even celebrate it, rather than viewing it as a failure. A familiar scripture is a clear reminder remember that something can be gained form any situation:

“ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

So, when you are tempted to think less of yourself because you didn’t have a direct route, consider what you learned along the way. Consider that most of us are figuring out this windy path together. Consider that no matter what you have experienced, you still have the opportunity to live the life God crafted just for you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

An Educated “Yes”

Lots of us in the world have a problem with the word “yes.” We say it too much! Most of us like being helpful, but sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have offered more than we are reasonably able to give. Often, it comes from a good, but sometimes dysfunctional place. First, I want to explore some of the reasons we might have a “yes” problem, and then I’ll offer some simple strategies for pulling back.

Many of us say yes because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no. Maybe we would disappoint the person who asked, or they would be mad at us, or worse, they would end the relationship. Whether we are talking about friends, romantic relationships, family relationships, or even work colleagues, a lot of us have a hard time tolerating when people are unahppy with us. So, we try to avoid those moments where we might upset the people we care about. The desire to avoid rejection is a powerful motivator!

We also get “rewards” for saying yes. People pat us on the back and say we did a good job. They use nice words to describe us such as “dependable, hard worker” They might even tell us how much they appreciate all we do. The tricky part, however, is that people are creatures of habit. So the more you say yes, the more prone you are to say yes before thinking, and the more people assume that you will say yes. If this pattern continues, a dynamic can develop where they are always asking and you are always saying yes. When a relationship is one-sided, or you say yes in times when it costs you more than you are really willing to give, it becomes a problem.  When saying yes causes you to over-extend yourself or deny your own needs, it is probably coming from an unhealthy place. Over time, you might start to focus less on your own needs to begin with, and develop a self-sacrificing or “savior” complex in your relationships. You have the right to protect your time, your space, and your spirit. In healthy relationships, you don’t have to let those things go completely.

Not sure if you say yes too much? Ask yourself some questions:

Are there times when you want to say no, but anxiety and fear cause you to go back on that first hunch?

Are you concerned that if you stop meeting a person’s requests, they will reject you or spend less time with you?

Do you have relationships where people feel comfortable asking your for things, but when you ask for something people often say no?

Would you describe yourself as a “caretaker” who prides themselves on making the lives of others easier?

Do you put your own concerns or desires on the back burner to make sure you can follow through with requests made of you by others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider working to make an “educated yes” rather than an “automatic yes.” Notice, that I’m not suggesting that you say “no”. There are times when that might be the best choice, but this isn’t just about saying no, because there are times when a “yes” is just right. However, this is about making active decisions rather than doing things out of habit. I am encouraging you to think carefully about when, how, and to whom you say yes. When someone makes a request of you, there are some things to consider:

  • do I want to do this/am I willing to do this?
  • how much time or energy will this cost me?
  • am I willing to expend the time and energy it will take?
  • can I do it in a time frame the works for me and the requestor?

If your answers to these questions lead you to “no,” Don’t be afraid to say it! It might feel weird. That’s OK. The requestor might be unhappy. That’s ok too! Just because someone is unhappy with a choice that you’ve made, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice! And if you have made a choice that is supportive of your own sanity, you will thank yourself later. If no feels like a little to much, try a delay tactic: “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” This gives you time to really think about your answer before jumping in.

Hopefully, this helps you to give an educated yes, rather than one motivated by fear or habit. Healthy relationships allow people to set their own boundares without worry about the consequences.  Next time someone makes a request of you, think before you answer!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

One Step at A Time

Recently I was meeting with mentor of mine, and I was telling her about the mayhem that has been the last few months of my life. As we talked, she shared that her strategy for managing when she feels overwhelmed is this: “One Step at a Time.” It doesn’t really seem like a ground breaking revelation, and I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase before. But for some reason, at that time, it really resonated with me. Think about all the times you are simultaneously trying to manage many things all at once. How often are you successful at managing all those things the way you want to? I’ll answer for myself: very infrequently.

So, I had been thinking about this simple suggestion: One Step at a Time… and then, I heard a podcast, that solidified the concept for me.  The episode is title “Deep Work” and a researcher/computer scientist named Cal Newport explores the detriments of multitasking and the benefits of engaging in “Deep Work” where we focus our attention completely on one thing. Check it out here: Deep Work.

Anyway, so the combination of these two ideas really got me thinking about how we can work smarter, not harder, when it comes to managing the daily tasks of our lives. What if, instead of tackling everything all the time, we tackle one thing for a period of time, do well, and then move onto the next thing? When I think about the times I have felt most stressed and overwhelmed, they typically revolve around me having “too many things to do” and not enough time to do them in. Typically, to get myself out of that place, I have to make some radical decisions about priorities, even if that decision is only temporary. We can find ourselves in this situation for a number of different reasons. Sometimes, we have a YES problem:

“Can you help with this event?”   Yes.

“Can you run this errand for me?”  Yes.

“Can you sacrifice your own happiness to make my life easier?” Yes.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes,  it’s great to say yes. Many of us want to be helpful and we all like to feel like we are giving something to others in our community. However, when we say yes without thinking, we can end up in situations that leave us taking on more than we can reasonably handle. So, before you say yes, ask yourself: “Given all my responsibilities right now, can I commit to this the way I would like to?” If the answer is no, govern yourself accordingly. A bigger issue (for another post coming soon!) is the internal explanations we give for saying yes all the time, often because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no.

Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed because we don’t manage our time well.  How often do you sit down and plan out your day before you start it? How often do you find yourself flipping through social media and before you know it, an hour has gone by? How often do you give yourself an estimate of how long a task will take before you start it? If these questions have you stumped, do a little experiment. Write down your schedule for the WHOLE WEEK- all 7 days.  What do you notice you’re spending your time on? Are you ok with your answer?

Other times, we are overwhelmed because emotionally, spiritually, or mentally, we are just not equipped to manage all the tasks in front of us. Here’s where the “One Step At a Time” piece comes in. It’s ok to prioritize. Don’t try to take on the world if you don’t have to. Write a list of all the things on your plate right now, and categorize each of them in two ways: important/not important and urgent/not urgent. This system will help your prioritize. Once the tasks are categorized, you can prioritize them in this order:

  1. Important AND Urgent
  2. Urgent and Not Important – Do you need to do this at all?
  3. Important and Not Urgent
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important- Do you need to do this a all?

So, when you settle down to tackle the first thing that is both urgent and important, mentally commit yourself to that thing. If it’s a project at work (and it’s feasible for you), take a break from checking email, looking at your phone, or chatting with coworkers for a set period of time.  If it’s a life project, (weight loss, managing your finances, etc), tackle that thing, and get to a benchmark point before you take on anthing else. In other words, it may not the best idea to start your plans to lose 50 pounds, raise your credit score 200 points, and double your devotional time ALL at once. Focused attention helps us to commit more fully, be more successful, and feel happier overall. When we try to do too much at one time, it’s easy to feel swept away by the winds of life, holding onto anything you can. This isn’t sustainable for a fulfilling life in the long term. Try deep work to build some deep roots!

So, let’s start simple.  What is the most important goal you have for yourself right now? Think about the things you are doing to currently work on it– are they working? Consider a shift in strategy- focus your attention and energy on this goal, and give yourseelf a specific target to reach. Think about ways you can commit yourself more fully to this goal. When you’ve reached that target, you can move on to the next thing!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days? When it seems like before you can even get yourself together for the day, everything is crumbling around you? I have too. They are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them enjoyable, and often, they don’t feel manageable when we are right in the thick of it. Not too long ago, I had one of those days. By 9am, I was ready to crawl back into bed, and wait for the day to be over. But, that wasn’t an option- I had things to do that day, so I had to get myself together. In the midst of my almost melt-down, three words came to me- Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Does that phrase sound familiar? When I was in elementary school, that was the fire safety motto- Stop Drop, and Roll. The idea was if you were to ever catch fire, these three actions were the quickest and safest way to minimize damage to yourself, and protect the safety of others. So, let’s see if we can make this work for a day that feels like it’s about to explode:

First, Stop and Center. Most of us have emotional, cognitive, and physical signs that we are feeling overwhelmed, but we often ignore those signs and try to press through. Instead, when you start to notice those signs ramping up, stop and center yourself. “Centering” can look different for all of us. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a few deep breaths, a phone call to a friend, or maybe taking a walk to get a quick break. Whatever will help you to stop and calm down, do that.

Second, Drop What is Unnecessary.  When you are feeling on edge, you simply are not capable of doing everything. Often, if you try, you find that you make mistakes, don’t fully complete tasks, or aren’t invested the way you would want to. So, rather than try to do more than you are able, go into problem solving mode. What can wait until tomorrow, or maybe even next week? Rate the tasks you need to complete in terms of urgency and importance. Those things which are both urgent and important probably need to be done today. In most cases, everything else can wait until another day and you are in a better space.

Third, Roll with the punches. There is a term in psychotherapy training called “rolling with resistance.” It basically means that as clinicians, we don’t try to force people to do or talk about things when they aren’t ready to. This has become a strategy that I try to hold on to in my “real life” too. Sometimes, you can’t fix everything and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes, the project you’re working on won’t be perfect. Sometimes, you can’t make that friend not be upset at you. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that you are not at your best, but you will do what you can. Develop an idea of what “good enough” is, and let that be ok every once in a while. Allow yourself to have an off day. Remember that this day is only one day in the grand scheme of things. Even when things go wrong, you still have something to be thankful for!

So, next time you’re having one of those days, remember these three simple steps. Stop, Drop, and Roll! Trouble and frustration may knock you down, but they don’t have to take you out. Thanks for reading, and make well choices!


Do You!

Last month, I wrote about maintaining your focus as we approach a new year, and one of the points in the post was that you really need to understand your purpose. To a certain extent, this is a quest that many of us are constantly on. Some people seem to know immediately what they are “supposed” to do, while others seem to search and search and have a hard time nailing down what it is they want to do. Why is this so important to us? Part of this desire is that we as humans have been oriented for centuries to have a “place” in our world. Think about it- one of the first things people ask when they meet someone for the first time is “what do you do”? People’s jobs (at least in our minds) help us to categorize them, understand their interests and skills, and potentially relate to them.

However, I have a news flash. Your job and your purpose may not be the same thing! For some of us, we have found our purpose in our job. For some of us, a job is just a paycheck, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose. There is something in this world, for you do to, that you are especially equipped to do, that can make a positive impact on others, on your community, and maybe even the world. In fact, you are THE BEST person for whatever that job is, because you are you! If you don’t believe me, listen to our childhood friend, Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

You buying into this idea requires that you believe that you have gifts to offer the world. This is crucial. So, take a minute, and jot down three gifts you have. You might find yourself venturing into some self-criticism about the things you *don’t* have. But, try to stay on track. What are you good at?  Now, ask yourself- how can I use my gifts for good in the world?

If you are a Christian, this question takes on an even deeper, more powerful meaning. It becomes “How can I use my gifts for good in the Body of Christ?” If you think you don’t have a gift, you’re simply wrong! Here’s how I know. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about us all being members of one body. It then goes on to say:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.  There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served.  There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.  The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.

1 Corinthian 12: 4-7

I won’t copy the whole chapter here, but you really should go read it! It is a reminder that because of your connection with Christ, you are AUTOMATICALLY GIFTED! That gift, is to be used for the good of the church and the world. We don’t all have the same gift, so there’s no use comparing gifts. Hands are only good at being hands, if they tried to be eyes, they would to a terrible job. How many of us think we are people who lack passion, direction, or giftedness, when really, we are just trying to do the wrong job? You don’t always have control over what you do for a living, but you DO have control over what you do for the kingdom. If you’re not sure what your gift is, don’t worry. This is a question that has an answer. Here are some tips:

-Take a spiritual gifts inventory. Here’s a great free one to check out

– Try some things out. See what feels right.

-Seek wise counsel.

-Pray about it.

The bottom line, is that there is something wonderful for you to do in this world, and we need you do it. We need you to DO YOU so that the world is a better place, and God is glorified. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can stop the constant frustration of comparing ourselves to others, and just be happy in our own skin. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!


A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

The Clergy Connection Crisis

I’m not clergy, but I have a lot of friends who identify as ministers. A LOT. I also teach at a seminary, work with ministers as clients, and am married to a minister.  As such, I spend a lot of time talking to people intimately about some of the challenges associated with this particular social role. A few weeks ago, I posted an article about the importance for ministers (particularly those in pastoral roles) to have close, intimate friendships.

When I posted this article, I immediately got a response that these authentic relationships are difficult for clergy to build. But why? Here are my hypotheses: Insecurity. Competition. Suspiciousness.  Sounds bad, right? Well, it is. It’s bad when clergy, who have so much placed upon them on a daily basis, do not feel that they have people who they can call in times of need. It’s bad when clergy take time off, but don’t have anyone to spend time with so they sit in isolation. It’s bad when clergy have no one to whom they can admit their struggles, their failures, and their temptations. It’s bad for individual clergy, it’s bad for their churches, and it’s bad for the Kingdom.

If you’re interested, here’s the article. It’s a blog post that speaks about the necessity for

“relationships that are FOR us and WITH us, not just BEHIND us or UNDER us.”

So what does this even mean? What does it mean to have true friendships in the world of ministry? Well, first, it means that you need people who are not in the role of parishioner that you can have relationship with. While parishioner (leader and lay) relationships are important, there is an inherent power dynamic. You are the titled authority and they are the de facto follower. This means that while these folks may have your best interest at heart, there are some things that you simply can’t share openly and fully, because it is important that you maintain a role. Now, I am ALL for authentic pastor-parishioner relationship, but there are some caveats there— that’s a blog post for a later date.

So, let’s talk about it. One of the challenges (and sometimes excitements) of being clergy is that you are placed on a pedestal in many spaces. While I’m sure this can feel good at times (who doesn’t like to be celebrated!), there is an unspoken cost. If you are placed on a pedestal, there’s a longer distance when you fall. So, there can be a lot of unspoken, and perhaps unacknowledged, fear about letting people see  that you are not the perfect person they might perceive you to be. In an effort to protect against this possibility, walls go up. Walls keep danger out. But they also keep goodness out. They are isolating and separating.

Another issue is that sometimes there can be an inherent competition between clergy. Is my church growing as fast as your is? What’s the word in the community about your congregation? How often are you getting offered outside engagements?  The list goes on. Sometimes this competition is overt and spoken. Other times, it’s more subtle. In my opinion, the more covert competition is more dangerous, because it can guide your behavior without even realizing what’s happening.

I do a lot of assessment with ministers, and one of the things that often comes up is a suspicious about others’ motives toward you. This isn’t paranoia. It’s a reality that whenever you are in the spotlight, there’s a danger that there are people in the background rooting for you to slip up, and who would relish this happening.  This sad reality leads to the suspiciousness that can often occur for folks in ministry. Behind some interactions might be this sneaking question:

If I tell you this information, what will you do with it? Will you use it against me later? Will my honesty with you come back to bite me?

So in the midst of all this danger, how on earth can you find and foster authentic relationship? My first suggestion is to BE an authentic friend. It’s a process, but when you show yourself to be trustworthy and honest, it is refreshing to people who have not encountered it before, and this gift will eventually be reciprocated.

Second, use denominational and community resources that are at your disposal, but be open to finding connections in some surprising places. It’s good to have some friends in ministry but maybe they are a member of a different ethnic background or denomination. Perhaps the tendency toward competition will be less if they are people who you wouldn’t find in your immediate collegial circle. Other times, you might find that there is someone who you know about or know of, but you find you have something in common with them and might be able to foster a genuine connection.

Third, know that your best friends and allies might be people who don’t identify as clergy at all. There might be a tendency to remain encapsulated in a circle of people  who are just like you. But people who are just like you might also have the same blind spots that you do. Open yourself up to the possibility that you might find friendship wrapped up in an unexpected package.

Why is this even important? The bottom line is that people need relationship. We need to know that there are people in our corner, supporting and rooting for us as we work toward our goals. We also need people who are willing to hold us accountable when we make mistakes or stray from our course. We need people with whom we can truly rest and play. We need an outlet for the stresses and challenges of daily life, and the specific tests of ministry. We need people to commiserate and complain with (not too much!). We need people who will sit with us when we mourn, and celebrate with us during times of rejoicing. There is a wealth of research that indicates that social support actually mediates the negative effects of stress, both cognitive and physical. Your life is on the line! Do yourself and your congregation a favor and work to build good, healthy relationships.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!