Lasting Change . . . How?

This weekend I listened to a podcast entitled The Radical Therapist, episode #035 - "How Psychotherapy Lost Its Magick with Scott Miller, PhD." A student in one of my classes sent me the link with a note, "I think you'll like this." She is right! There's a lot of good stuff in this episode, what I most appreciated was Dr. Miller's view that many things can help people heal . . . especially the therapist.

One of the things we know about therapy is that the main thing that helps people recover in therapy is the relationship they have with their therapist. Healing can be helped along by way of theories and techniques, but without a trusting, healthy relationship it is very difficult for a client to have what they need to heal. The challenge is to find a therapist who will learn to develop and trust their intuition over a technique. When therapists trust their gut, they listen for what is said and what is not said by clients . . . they learn to ask what might be an "out there" question which turns out to be right on . . . they use their bodies to help them attend to what is happening in the room with a client.

This isn't magic . . . it's intentionality, deep listening, and focused attention. It's often what is missing in our interactions with others - either because we don't pay attention, or the other isn't fully attending to us. When we have this kind of relationship with a therapist who is making use of themselves, their education, and their experience, the opportunity for lasting change is very real! 

Is It Safe to Talk with a Therapist?

This picture was taken last week . . . because construction is taking place on the parking lot outside my office, DANGER tape was placed on my door to keep people from trying to enter the office from an unsafe entrance. A client of mine commented (jokingly, I think . . . I hope!), "maybe it's not safe to enter your office!!"

And that got me to thinking about the pushback that I sometimes receive when I tell people the work I do. Not everyone feels safe in the therapy office - that might be because they've had prior experiences with therapists who weren't safe people, or it might be due to fears that exploring the inner life will create too much vulnerability, or perhaps there are other reasons not to feel safe in therapy.

Therapy is about healing, and the healing process can sometimes feel unsafe. Opening and exploring what has been pushed down or avoided for a long time can raise fears about the painful work that may be ahead. I often say, "you have to go through the grief to get through the grief, and you have to go through the trauma to get through the trauma." Now there are different ways to go through grief and trauma, those ways don't always mean speaking about every detail, but they certainly do mean that we have to put ourselves in the willing place to work with a professional or a trusted friend or colleague. And that work may not always feel comfortable or easy, we may feel that the unknown is scary and dark.

I haven't found a better way. But I have found that taking that risky step with a safe person can lead to healing.

A Light in the Background

As I've written before on my blog, my Mom died earlier this year.  Here's a piece I wrote about her and our loss that was published this morning in the StarTribune.

"On March 4, 2016 Ruth Yeats died of cancer of the bile duct. Ten days from looking not-herself to death did not give us enough time to take in what was happening. She had been carrying this cancer in her much longer than we knew. Mom accepted her imminent death with grace and peace, and was surrounded by her family when she died.

Mom was a caring listener, a woman who remembered what you told her and asked you about it later. In the past 10 months we have been told story after story of the ways in which she worked in the background – never out front – to care for strangers and friends alike. Mom never let on to us all the notes she wrote, the calls she made, the people she stopped in church to ask how they were. It was at her memorial service that so many people told us stories of how they were touched by Ruth, how much they will miss her smile, her welcome, her compassion and interest.

Ruth loved God, time with her family, and music. She enjoyed reading, watching Downton Abbey, period movies, and cooking shows. Mom was happiest when she was entertaining friends and family in her home. She took great pleasure in trying new recipes. She was a woman of faith and put her faith into action. After she retired, Ruth volunteered at many different organizations. Whether at her job, volunteering, or church, Mom reached out to others offering compassion, acceptance, a non-judgmental ear.

The best tribute we, her husband, daughters, granddaughters, can give Ruth is to imitate her life of love, encouragement, and kindness. In these days of so much pain and loss we need more Ruth’s in our lives. We miss you, Ruth-Mom-Grandma, and love you so very much!"

A Week After the Election . . . Can We Be Civil?

Regardless of who you voted for, whether or not you are pleased with the results, I'm sure - like me - you are weary of the harsh words, the negativity, the tension in the air, the increasing divide in our country that has been shown so clearly in the election process finishing with last Tuesday night.

People of color, the GLBTQ community, women - all people who are left scared and uncertain of their place in this country, uncertain of their safety. I have students and clients alike who have expressed to me their anguish, their fear, their pain. They are afraid the country they love - their home - will no longer be a place in which they can live and be their truest selves. They do not want only themselves to be safe, they want all Americans to feel secure. It is clear that many Americans do not feel secure.

I have heard some say "We get what we deserve." But who is the "we" they are referring to? The "we" who have no voice? The "we" who have been treated as second-class citizens? And, mind you, the "we" who have felt treated as second-class citizens are Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- no political party is free of this. I don't believe the lines are able to be drawn so simply that we've now gotten what we deserve. And I think that lets our politicians and the media off the hook. We all have responsibility as citizens of this country. Clearly, we need to do better than we have.

And doing better than we have means that we must put away hateful, divisive words about each other. It is appalling what has been unleashed in the U.S. under the guise of "freedom of speech." What people have decided is their "God-given right to free speech" is neither God-given nor a right to be hateful, disrespectful, demeaning of another human. (A human, I remind us all, that is made in the image of God . . . since God has been called upon.)

Our response to the hateful, demeaning words and name-calling cannot be in like manner. It helps no one to respond in kind, rather, we stoop to a level that we have just said is unhelpful and wrong. I believe we must choose civility. ALL OF US - each one of us. Do not assume civility to mean that we shrug our shoulders and let pass horrible words and actions. Rather, we stand up to wrong and hate with manners, with the attempt to speak to the humanity in the other. We must not let stand the hateful, vitriolic and divisive words and actions of our fellow citizens and those in power making decisions that will impact our country.

There is no place for name-calling - that accomplishes nothing. There is, however, a place for standing with our sisters and brothers who are living in fear, who are not safe, who can't sleep for anxiety that gnaws at them. There is a place for bearing witness to others' pain and loss; there is a place for bearing witness to our own pain and loss. This "standing" that I refer to will take many different forms from a cup of cold water to activism. The thing is this: we don't have time to engage in name-calling. We don't have time to harm others. Our country, our communities, our neighbors, our selves - we are in crisis. Are we willing . . . we must be willing to do the hard work of engagement, of truly listening, of speaking out against hate and wrong-doing, of sharing words of comfort, action, and peace. 

This engagement I'm calling on is not easy . . . it's uncomfortable, it's time-consuming, it's scary. We no longer have the privilege of taking the easy way out, of thinking this doesn't affect me - I don't need to act. There's too much at stake: our people, our environment, our lives. Will you join me in this hard work of engaging? Will you start by sharing your thoughts on my post? Let's have respectful dialogue that encourages, challenges, that sees the human across from us - the human who has worries and fears and family and loss, just as we do.

Keep Breathing . . .

No matter what your politics, no matter who you vote for, no matter what you believe, this election year has been a difficult one. Horrible words have been said, there is mistrust of politicians in general, fear seems to be running the country - the outlook seems grim. If you have experienced trauma or are grieving losses, the national news adds one more layer of pain and difficulty to attempts to heal and move into your life.

It's not my intention to tell you who to vote for, although I do hope you will educate yourself on the issues and let your voice be heard. What I would like to offer is the reminder that in light of national and personal difficulties, we can do more than wring out hands and give up. There is hope, there is always hope. The way we express that hope is to keep breathing! When it seems you will be overwhelmed with sadness or fear or anxiety, try this: breathe. Slow your brain and body - when we get into fearful situations, often our breathing becomes quick and shallow, and it is hard to think well and make good decisions.

Here's something that could help you - imagine drawing a box (or draw a box in the air with your finger) . . . take a deep inhale and draw a line across, hold it and draw a line down, exhale deeply and draw a line across, hold it and draw a line up. Repeat! You will find that the action of drawing a box in the air and slowing your breathing will also slow your thoughts and give you time and space to think and let go of anxiety. There's no rule about how often you repeat this exercise - as often as you need to! Some days you won't need this exercise, and some days you'll find that this breathing exercise can be helpful throughout the day.

What Gets You Up in the Morning?

I recently attended a workshop entitled "The Power of Purpose." The speaker asked this question and my answer was "my work in trauma, grief and loss." I am passionate about the work that I do with clients who have had traumatic experiences or who have lost someone or something important to them. In fact, it was the desire to return to the work that gets me up in the morning that led me to leave my work at The Hoarding Project. There is certainly trauma and loss in the lives of people who hoard and their family members, but I didn't get to work much with that when there were administrative duties that needed attending!

But now I'm back -- back to focusing on the work I love to do. I continue to work with clients in my private practice, I continue to teach trauma courses, I continue to speak on trauma and grief, with a focus on ambiguous losses related to both. And now I'm adding writing! I've got ideas for two books and I'm excited to put my thoughts down on paper . . . 

It's important for we humans to have something that gets us up in the morning, for us to have meaning in our lives. It won't look the same for everyone - meaning is different for everyone - for some, meaning will be what they do for work, for others meaning will be what they do for fun, for some meaning will be what they create. The most important thing about meaning is that we MUST know what it is and we MUST carry it out. What gets us up in the morning, what gives us meaning, is what we have to offer our community. And what we have to offer the world is unique to ourselves. If we don't offer what we have, then the world misses out on that important piece.

It's easy to think "what I have to offer isn't that important." NOT TRUE. What you have to offer is from your voice, your experience, your capacity, your leaning, your life. Your voice is like no one else's voice. We need what you have. So, figure out what gets you up in the morning, and GET UP!! 

Trauma and Yoga

I'm excited to announce a new workshop that I am co-facilitating with Leah Murtagh. Leah is a colleague and yoga instructor. We are joining together to offer a workshop on how to understand trauma and use yoga as a way to help bring healing to a client or student who has experienced trauma.

The workshop is being offered to yoga instructors, therapists, healing arts professionals and will provide information so attendees can apply for 10 continuing education credits. We will meet four Saturday mornings: September 24, October 15, November 4, and December 3. 

I encourage you to consider this workshop. The sad reality is that more and more of our clients and client families are going to come to us with a trauma history. We need to be prepared to offer help and healing, as well as make sure that we are not traumatized by our work with trauma. 

For more details and to register (early registration ends September 1), please visit www.embracethewobble.com and click on the Education button. Space is limited! If you have questions for me, comment on the blog or email me at janetyeats@gmail.com.

Hope you'll join us for this important training!

My New Grief Journey

I've not written a blog post lately due to the loss of my mother due to cancer. My family has been on an unexpected and sad journey. On February 24 my Mom was diagnosed with cancer and she died March 4. 8 days -- the speed of her decline and death was impossible to keep up with. And now, we are left to try to sort out what happened, how fast it happened, our feelings, and our loss.

I have worked with a lot of people in their loss and grief . . . I have written about grief and loss . . . I am an "expert" in grief and loss. None of that could prepare me for my own experience with death. I have experienced plenty of my own loss in my lifetime -- none of those losses have been about the death of someone I loved. So, I am on a new path. Death is a part of life -- and life goes on after death.

This morning a friend posted on Facebook a photo of a sculpture called "The Weight of Grief" by Celeste Roberge. It is a beautiful and fitting picture of grief -- I encourage you to take a look on her website: www.celesteroberge.com. The sculpture is a body of wire filled with stones - and it most certainly fits how grief feels to me now. My brain doesn't work as efficiently, my body feels heavy and dull, it takes so much effort to do anything or go anywhere. I love working in my garden and I find it so hard to get out -- even on a beautiful morning. This is just some of how grief is physically affecting me and doesn't begin to speak about how it is impacting me emotionally.

Usually, in my blog posts, I try to write an entry that has a beginning, middle, and end. I'm not going to try to wrap up my thoughts and feelings on grief, rather, I'm going to keep writing - and hope that you'll join me in conversation about your own grief journey. After all, grief already threatens to isolate us, let's change that story.

4 Years Ago Today . . .

. . . I was in a recovery room from hysterectomy surgery. I get confronted almost daily with my loss. I feel it stronger during the holidays . . . when I wish my parents had more grandchildren, when I wish my sister was an aunt, when I wish my nieces had cousins from my side of the family. When I wish I had children of my own.

Grief still shows up – not as frequently or as deeply and painfully as 4 years ago, or 3 years ago – but it does.  And often unexpectedly. Which is the nature of grief . . . we don’t always see it coming and then there it is: like at Target when you just walked past the toddler tutus innocently hanging on a rack and you are slammed.

As I get older, grief also changes to reflect losses due to aging. My nieces taking on responsibility for me, not just their mom, because I don’t have children to make those decisions with and for me.

I REFUSE to learn from this or make concessions for this or become stronger because of this loss. This IS a loss – it will always be part of my story. Period. To turn it into a lesson of some sort feels unfair to me.  I could have learned how to be stronger with my own children.

Today I am going to go easy on myself. Treat myself with particular kindness and gentleness. I am also going to be especially grateful for the children (big and little) that are in my life and add joy to my days, both in my blood and in my psychological families. And I’m going to say this: I’m sad. I’m still in disbelief that the gift of birthing my own children was not a gift given to me