Lent Intersecting Therapy

Lent is usually a season of giving up oppressive habits and taking on new patterns of living. We often think of Lent in terms of giving up chocolates or coffee for a time, but when we think of Lent in the broader sense of observing and breaking the chains that lead us on a negative path, we can see how it plays into our mental health.

This year, I’m going to stop drinking coffee because I’ve noticed I get irritable and am prone to withdrawal headaches if I don’t get my morning cup. Coffee is a good thing, but it’s become a weight on my life- I have to have it, I’ve grown dependent on it.

Similarly, I’ve noticed a pattern of thinking that’s unhelpful. When I’m worried or have a concern, I’ve fallen back into ruminating on all the possibilities. This makes me feel tense, and I can feel it all through my body. And when I start to feel the anxious tension in my body, the mental distress escalates which again turns back to mental chatter. It’s a vicious cycle and I don’t like it at all. So this year, I’m also giving up anxious thinking.

Breaking a thought pattern is very different from breaking a physical habit. I can stop drinking coffee by simply not picking it up or ordering it. But thoughts are often unconscious, and there’s not an option to simply not think at all or to filter your thoughts to block out the ones you’re trying to avoid. Wouldn’t that be nice?

In the Christian tradition, we’re told to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:5) and “think on things that are true, noble, pure, right, admirable, and lovely” (Phil 4:8-9). These suggest two key points: first that thoughts happen unconsciously, and when they do, we have a choice about that to do with them when we notice them. Second, that we can consciously direct our thoughts, and we are not entirely at the whim of our unconscious minds.

Taking unconscious thoughts captive starts with awareness. We can’t capture a thought that we don’t know is even happening. And awareness starts with slowing down and paying attention. Most of our life happens on autopilot. And most of the time that’s okay. You don’t need to pay close attention to every detail of your commute, and it’s normal to want to zone out a bit after a busy day. But sometimes autopilot goes wrong, and our default thoughts turn toward the negative.

That’s what happened to me- I consciously managed my anxiety years ago and haven’t been super prone to anxious thoughts for a while. But lately, it’s crept up again, and it’s important to deal with it early so it doesn’t get out of hand. My autopilot has turned to worry, and that’s not okay with me.

You may be surprised to hear this from a therapist, but I’m not the best at noticing my emotions. It’s something I’m working to get better at through this conscious practice of noticing and increasing my awareness. I usually notice my anxiety when my neck and shoulders start feeling tense and I notice the shift in my breathing. Once I notice these physical shifts, I can usually trace them back to the frantic thoughts. Taking time throughout the day to check in with my thoughts, emotions, and body feelings is so helpful in allowing me a chance to notice in advance what’s going on in my mind before it starts affecting my body.

But what to do with anxious thoughts once you notice them? They feel like they’re racing so fast, they almost have a life and power of their own. I think it’s enough to simply say no to the thoughts. No, I’m not doing this right now. No, this isn’t helpful. No, you’re just going in circles and getting nowhere. No, no, no. Some theories say that it’s helpful to debate the thoughts or analyze them to see if they’re true. And if that works for you, go for it! But that doesn’t work for me.

I’ve mentioned before about how a tree branch fell on my car in a windstorm and I would get super anxious when it got windy with the thought that another branch could fall again. It wasn’t helpful to challenge those thoughts because my anxious mind doesn’t care that a branch fell only once in the ten years I’ve lived here- it happened once and could happen again. The only thing that truly helped was saying no from a place of acceptance. Yes, the tree could blow around so hard that another branch falls on the car or the house or a person. But my worry thoughts can’t stop it. If I stay up awake at night worried about what the tree might do, that won’t keep it from falling if it’s going to.

This brings us to the second part. You may have heard the saying “Life abhors a vacuum.” This is equally true of our thoughts. It’s not enough to simply say no to the anxious thoughts, we have to replace them with something else or another thought will quickly come up from our unconscious minds.

Whatever is true, whatever is right…
The “what-if” thoughts aren’t true. They’re hypothetical. They’re future focused. The best way to think of what is true and right is to turn your attention to the present. Give direct, focused, mindful awareness to who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.

Whatever is pure, whatever is noble…
The “worst case scenario” thoughts aren’t pure. Pure means “without unnecessary elements” or “without contamination.” Worry adds to your reality with all the ways things could go wrong. And again, the antidote is present focus, getting back to what is currently happening without the added extras that the anxious thoughts are focused on.

Whatever is admirable, whatever is lovely…
Anxious thoughts often take us to the lowest place. Thinking of things that are admirable or lovely helps to lift us back up. When we set our minds on higher things, we are reminded of the good things in this world. Lately, I’ve seen articles of studies that show how good it is for people to experience things like awe, wonder, beauty, and glory. Whether it’s going out in nature, experiencing art, or simply marveling at the majesty of the world, focusing outside ourselves helps us get out of our minds and back into a proper perspective of who we are and how we fit into the world.

As we approach the beginning of Lent, I hope you consider how Lenten practices can intersect your personal work in your thoughts and habits. If you have a similar experience or want to join me on this journey, leave a comment and share your perspective!

Finding a Therapist in 2021

Therapy has changed
In the past, most therapy was offered in person with only a few therapists offering online sessions. Now, many therapists have shifted to online sessions which opens up more opportunities for you to find a therapist who is a good fit.

What does it mean to have a good fit?
Based on research into how and why therapy works, we know that the specific method used (CBT, EMDR, ACT, etc) or the therapist’s credentials (MFT, MSW, PCC) don’t matter as much as the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist.

Good fit can include feeling comfortable with your therapist; feeling heard and understood; having shared beliefs, history, or experiences; and many more factors. If you’ve been in therapy before, it can help to think back about what helped you connect with your past therapists and what made it more difficult. If you haven’t been in therapy before, think about others you’ve felt comfortable with and why.

Because it’s so important to be able to be open with your therapist, consider every factor. Are you more comfortable with a therapist close to your own age or one who reminds you of an older figure in your life? If you’re having relationship issues, would you prefer talking to someone of the same gender or a different gender? Do you want a therapist who feels more casual or one who is more professional in session?

Reaching out
Once you’ve found a therapist you think could be a good fit, the next step is to make sure they have an available appointment time. Most therapists list a phone number or email address on their website, and many offer a free consultation call to get started.

Consultation call?
A consultation call is a 15-30 minute phone conversation between you and your potential therapist. During that time, they may introduce themselves, ask more about what you are looking for, and tell you a bit about their approach. It’s not a therapy session, but it is a time to ask any questions you have about them to help you determine if they’re a good match.

If everything goes well during the consultation call, they will usually ask you about scheduling an appointment. Therapy usually includes weekly appointments, so think about a time and day that typically work for you week to week.

Paperwork
After you’ve set up the initial appointment, your therapist will probably send you paperwork to complete before your first session. Each state has different requirements for the documents therapists need to get from each person before sessions can start.

In California, those will include informed consent about the risks and benefits of therapy, your therapist’s policies and procedures, and possibly also a questionnaire about your mental health history.

Some therapists prefer to go through the documentation and history during your first meeting together, so don’t worry if you don’t get a packet right away.

The first session
The initial sessions are all about getting to know each other in order to develop a working relationship. It takes time and trust to dig deep into your mental health, so don’t be surprised if the first few sessions feel like they’re only touching on surface issues.

If you come in with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, or if you come in with a relationship issue, your therapist will probably teach you skills to manage that issue and practice them in session. Skills like deep breathing, assertive communication, and meditation help manage your mental health symptoms or relational conflicts. As you experience some symptom relief, therapy can stay focused on managing symptoms or move into insight-based work.

Skills vs insight
Skill-based therapy is entirely focused on teaching you how to manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are bothering you or getting in the way of you living your life the way you’d like. Insight-based therapy is focused on exploring the factors in your history, environment, and internal world that are contributing to the issues you’re facing.

Therapy based on skills is typically short term. Therapy lasts for as long as it takes for you to learn and practice the right skills that work for your symptoms or issues. You’ll probably have homework between sessions to practice the skills so that you’ll be able to use them as you need when things come up in your daily life.

Therapy that’s oriented toward insight usually takes longer because you’re trying to describe and explore your internal world. You and your therapist will look at enduring patterns in your life and try to trace them back to a root belief, cause, or memory.

In my therapy work, I like to start with skills-based sessions so you experience some relief from the issues at hand. Then we can stick with skills or move into insight depending on your needs. In your consultation calls, you can ask your therapist if they work more with skills or insight to see if their focus matches your needs.

Ending therapy
If you are doing skill-based work, you can start talking about ending therapy when you feel like you’re able to use the skills you’ve learned to manage the issues that were bothering you when you started therapy. Insight work is more difficult to determine an exact ending, but you and your therapist should still be able to talk about what changes in your life will signal that things are better for you and you’re ready to move on.


Ready to get started? Call or text 831-531-2259 for a free consultation.

You Are Enough

You are enough. But do you believe that? Where do you struggle most in believing that you are enough?

You are enough just as you are. Your worth does not correlate with the amount you consume or produce- you are not a tool of the economy. Your worth does not connect to your relationships with others- you are not more or less whether you are married or single, whether you have children or not, whether you are involved with extended family or not. Your worth is not your work, your hobbies, your clothes, or anything else.

Your worth is intrinsic, it’s simply part of who you are. Because you exist, you are valuable. You are enough.

When you truly believe that you are enough, that you have enough, that there is enough to go around, it changes the way you relate to others.

When you are enough, you don’t have anything to prove to others. When you have enough, you don’t feel like you need just one more thing to complete you. And when you know there is enough to go around, you don’t see yourself in competition with others.

That’s great in theory, but what does it take to truly believe that you are enough?

It takes a posture of gratitude. Gratitude interrupts the comparison trap which is most of why we feel like what we are and what we have isn’t enough. Not enough means something different to everyone. It’s one thing when you don’t have money for food or utilities, it’s another thing when your kitchen is the most run-down or least modern among your friends, or you don’t have the home tech upgrades you wish you had. Gratitude reminds you of what you already have, and often that’s enough.

It also takes a habit of self-observation. If you find that you feel most down on yourself when you’re on social media seeing all the things others have, the vacations others are going on, the bodies of fitness models, then you might need to unfollow some people until you can stop comparing. If you find that you feel like you’re not enough when you’re at work, notice who you’re comparing yourself to or what your unmet expectations are. If it’s a boss who talks down to you or an environment where you’re consistently passed up for promotion, you may need a new workplace. But taking a step back and observing yourself, particularly where you feel shame and not-enough, can show you a great deal about what you value and where you’re off track.

You can also observe your motivations. Why are you going where you’re going? Why do you do what you do? Is there anyone you’re trying to impress? Whose approval are you looking for?

How do you feel right now? Do you believe you are enough? Are you enough all the time? Everywhere- work, home, social media? Is it for yourself or for others?

If you want to go through these questions of your purpose and values with someone else, therapy can offer you a private and confidential space to explore your sense of being enough.

Christian Counseling: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between Christian counseling and… regular counseling? Is there one? Can someone who isn’t Christian see a Christian therapist?

We’re going to try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Christian counseling in this post. Have a question that wasn’t covered here? Leave a comment or send us a message over on the contact page!

What do you have to do to become a Christian counselor?

Christian counseling does not have a regulated description, so a Christian counselor could be a counselor who is a Christian, or it could be a counselor with additional training in Bible and theology in addition to their therapy skills and training. I got my therapy degree from seminary because I believe that theological training is important. I wanted to have in-depth knowledge of Christian beliefs before I advertised myself as a Christian counselor.

Not all Christian counselors have this kind of training. In fact, many churches hire ‘counselors’ who are just kind, empathetic people with no counseling experience or even a degree in therapy. Practitioners in the state of California should have a MFT, PCC, or MSW designation to show they’ve completed a master’s level degree and have training in how to do therapy. Licensed professionals will have L in front of their credential- LMFT, LPCC, or LCSW. Both licensed and prelicensed therapists are capable of providing good therapy, but a prelicensed therapist will be working under the supervision of a licensed clinician.

What about people who aren’t Christian?

Every therapist is able to do appropriate therapy whether you’re Christian or not. We’ll ask you about your religious beliefs during the intake at your first session. If you indicate that you’re not Christian, we’ll use the best possible empirically proven methods to help you meet your mental health goals. If you say you are Christian, we’ll ask you if you want to integrate religious or theological discussion into your sessions using empirically proven methods. You can always change your mind later.

Your therapist should never evangelize to you in session or pressure you about your religious or spiritual beliefs. In fact, that’s against the law. You can file a consumer complaint to the Board of Behavioral Sciences if you think your therapist is doing something illegal or unethical in your sessions.