Understanding Loss is Losing Trust in the World

We all have automatic assumptions about the way life works, how things should be. In general, we tend to see the world as generally fair. If you work hard, good things will happen. If you are kind to people, people will be kind to you. Mean people will get what’s coming to them. 

So when something big happens, and it feels fundamentally unfair, we start to question our automatic assumptions about how life works. We as humans like having a connected story about how and why things happen around us. We like stories that make sense and connect the dots. So when a lifelong addict dies of an overdose, we feel sadness and empathy but the story generally fits. And when someone dies of old age after a full life surrounded by family, we may miss them but we see death as a natural conclusion. 

But it’s more difficult to wrap our minds around the story when a child dies, or an otherwise healthy person gets a cancer diagnosis, or a spouse decides to leave a relationship that felt like it was going well. We have to confront the reality that there is no factual basis for our assumption that life will be good or fair or fit our stories of how things should go. 

How do we make sense of the world when we realize the fundamental unfairness? What kind of story can we tell ourselves about life when something truly awful happens? Can we find meaning and purpose in a world where children die, good people lose everything, and kind people get cancer? The fact is, we will have to find a way to understand the awful, unfair things that happen in life so that we can keep going and not lose our way. 

The two extremes here are either to bury our heads in the sand and insist that things will work out despite all evidence to the contrary, or to maintain a stark awareness of how unfair life is and stay in a state of despair that we will ever be able to progress in the face of deep injustice. Of course, we want to find a middle way. We need to know that life is not fair, that goodness does not protect us from bad things. But we also need to know that there is hope, that our choices toward goodness still count for something, that it’s worth trying and striving in the face of an unfair world. 

As someone going through loss, you will naturally find yourself wanting to construct a story of grief. Your mind wants to understand what happened and why. Sometimes, these answers are given to us- if you have a genetic predisposition to Huntington’s Disease, it doesn’t matter how healthy or unhealthy your lifestyle is. It doesn’t matter if you volunteer with at-risk children or give generously to charities, you have a certain likelihood of inheriting the disease based on your parents’ disease status. Sometimes, the answers don’t come easily- why children get bone cancer, why the car crash happened at that moment, who is at fault for a workplace accident. 

Walking the middle path means retelling these stories in a way that accounts for the fundamental unfairness of life. Yes, your disease might be genetic, but it was a chance that you were born to those particular parents. Yes, sometimes children get cancer and other serious illnesses, and sometimes they die after only a short life. Our story of how life works has to be able to make sense of these things without assigning blame or coming up with a secret agenda working against us. We have to learn how to see tragedy as something that happens to good and bad people alike without them deserving it. 

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.

Couples in Conflict

Do you feel like you and your partner fight a lot? Not at all? Check out this definition of healthy conflict and see how you measure up.

Many couples wonder if they’re fighting too much or not enough. There are many pop psychology articles that make wild claims about fighting- you need to fight to be healthy, you should never fight before bed, fighting in front of kids is bad for them.

But most of that is not true, or at least not validated by science.

According to research by the Gottman Institute, 69% of conflict is not going to be resolved. Many conflicts are created by personality differences that don’t go away.

So how often you fight isn’t the most important thing. What matters is how you deal with conflict and how your conflict affects the relationship.

What does fighting mean for you and your partner? Your family of origin and the way they handled conflict informs what you think of about what it means to fight. Many couples who say they don’t fight really mean that they never yell- so for them, yelling defines a “fight” versus a “disagreement.” Take a moment to think about how you and your partner were taught about conflict in your family of origin and how you have followed or deliberately chosen not to continue those patterns.

If conflict is inevitable in relationship, couple’s therapy doesn’t mean helping you fight less. Instead, therapy helps you unpack your generational patterns of conflict and teach you ways to intentionally have conflict well.

What is a good conflict? Healthy conflict respects each person’s opinion and hears their values. At the end of the fight, your relationship is still strong. In the end, you’re still friends. You can hear and honor the other person’s stance even when you disagree. You are able to speak calmly about the conflict, not getting heated, accusatory, or shutting down. If you find yourself not able to keep calm, you can ask for a break and your partner respects your request.

Does this sound like the way you and your partner fight? If not, couple’s therapy can help you learn new skills to handle conflict well in order to maintain your relationship and allow each of you to thrive.

What is ACT?

Curious about ACT? Check out this overview to see if it’s right for you.

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is a kind of cognitive therapy that works to help you live your desired life by identifying your values and aligning what you do to make sure your values come out in how you live.

ACT is best explained through a metaphor. One of my favorites is the metaphor of the backseat drivers. Imagine you’re driving a car toward the life you want to live. But fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, and all their friends are piled in your back seat talking over you and pointing you down different roads.

You can pull over, stop the car, and work on trying to get the backseat drivers out of your car. But it takes a lot of effort to get rid of them, and while you’re doing that you’re not moving forward in your life. And when you get back on the road, those backseat drivers will eventually find their way into your car again.

ACT believes that the most effective way to get to your desired life is to keep driving. Focusing on the backseat drivers only leads to a crash. And stopping to get them out of your car is a lot of effort for not much payoff. It might be difficult to learn how to tune them out, but the important part is that you keep going where you want to go, not derailing your dreams because of anxiety, not taking a different path because your low self-esteem says you don’t deserve to get what you want.

This takes effort. The first part of ACT is based in mindfulness. You need to know how to tell the difference between your unhelpful backseat driver thoughts and your core self and its desires.

Once you can separate your unhelpful thoughts, you’ll learn skills to simply observe your thoughts as they come up rather than reacting to them. Observing in the present moment is a key skill.

Then we’ll start looking at your values. Everyone has different values, but because they’re such a core part of who we are, it can be hard to recognize them and put them into words.

Finally, your values will turn into committed action. You’re probably already living out your values in some areas of your life, but we’ll look at where you need help reshaping your life. We’ll identify specific action steps for you to take to transform your life to align with your values so every day feels purposeful and meaningful.

ACT helps anyone who feels like their thoughts and emotions are out of control backseat drivers who are derailing you from living the life you want. It works well for both individuals and couples. ACT has special workbooks for anxiety, depression, couples’ issues, and even chronic pain. But like most cognitive therapies, it can be helpful even if you don’t identify with any of those categories.

If you’re interested in ACT or in learning more, text, call, or email me for a free consultation.