Five Tips on Starting Therapy

Are you thinking about starting therapy? Here are some tips to beginning the process:

1)  Find a therapist who is a good fit. It may take time to find someone who you feel comfortable with. Sometimes you can get a sense of compatibility on the phone before setting up a session. If you start with a therapist who you don’t connect with, it’s okay to move on and begin working with someone else.

2)  Pick your orientation. There are many different styles and approaches to therapy. If you’ve been in therapy before, think about what therapeutic orientations have worked in the past. If you’ve never been in therapy before, it could be helpful to do some research about what options are out there.

3)  Try to attend therapy once a week.  Progress usually happens more quickly when you come more often.

4)  Set goals. These goals can be concrete or opened ended, but they provide structure in therapy and can be a great baseline to measure progress over time.  Goals also can change and morph throughout the therapy process.

5)  Know that therapy is a process, not an event.  Sometimes therapy can bring up topics and emotions that are unexpected, which can feel unsettling at first.  Big changes usually do not happen overnight and it might take a while to feel better.

Five Reasons to Start Therapy

Starting therapy can take a lot of courage. It can be challenging to open up to a stranger and to know where to begin. But often, reaching out for help from a therapist can be the first step towards feeling better. Here are some indicators that therapy could be helpful in your life:

1)  When you’ve been trying on your own, but things aren’t getting any better.  Sometimes situations are too overwhelming to deal with on your own.  If ways you’ve helped yourself in the past aren’t working, it may be an opportunity to learn new tools.

2)  When you feel unable to talk to friends or family. It’s can be rewarding to lean on loved ones for support, but there are some issues that you may not feel comfortable sharing with them. It can be helpful to work with someone neutral, who can give feedback and support objectively.

3)  When you are ready to work hard and make changes.  Modifying patterns in relationships, revisiting past experiences and shifting old ways of thinking can be incredibly challenging. Therapy takes work, but can lead to transformative results.

4)  When you feel stuck. Do you ever find yourself repeating unwanted patterns in your life? It can be difficult to find ways to cope and change thoughts and behavior, especially when you don’t know why those patterns exist. Therapists can be guides in this process.

5)  When you’re going through a transition. It may be a great time for you to get to know yourself better and to get additional support to deal with changes in your life.

Beginning therapy can feel vulnerable. But even though asking for help can be hard, it can be relieving to know that you don’t have to figure it out all by yourself.


Have you ever noticed that some tasks are incredibly easy to complete, but others feel nearly impossible to start? Here are some tips to help decrease procrastination:

1)   Break large tasks into smaller parts that are easily achieved.  Make sure each small task is manageable and realistic. Set aside a small chunk of time to work on a task. Sometimes even the smallest amount of time can be a great way to gain momentum. Set an alarm for 15 minutes and see what you can complete in that amount of time.

2)   Acknowledge your discomfort.  Usually, thinking or worrying about starting a task can feel even more difficult than actually doing it.  Practice noticing when discomfort is associated with certain tasks and remind yourself why they are hard for you. It can also be helpful to journal about your avoidance to gain self-awareness and clarity.

3)   Put away electronics or other distractions.  Leave your phone in the other room. If you need to work on the computer, disconnect your internet or block certain sites, like Facebook or Twitter. If you have pets, put them in the other room temporarily. Give yourself the space to focus.

4)   Remember that things only have to be good enough. They don’t have to be perfect! If you have high expectations you are more likely to be disappointed with your performance. The goal is completion, not perfection, especially with tasks that feel difficult.

5)   Balance out unpleasant tasks with fun and rewarding activities. Try not to schedule all the uncomfortable responsibilities at one time. Break them up with activities that feel easier and more enjoyable for you.

Sometimes all you can do is take small steps. Practice being aware of expectations you place on yourself and try to accept your limitations. We can’t be perfect and we definitely can’t be 100% productive all the time. Give yourself the opportunity to meet your goals by finding ways to manage procrastination.

Holiday Self Care

The holidays can be a stressful time of year. Holidays can be full of love and joy, but can also bring up loss and painful memories. And despite having time off, self care is often neglected in favor of celebrations and activities. It can be useful to plan ahead for the holiday season so you feel more rested and prepared for the New Year. Here are some self care tips for the holidays:

1)  Think about what you want ahead of time. This seems obvious, but is often harder than it seems. You may think you HAVE to participate in certain traditions, travel, or celebrations because you usually do, but it’s important to think about whether or not you WANT to. Reflecting on what parts of the holidays you enjoy can help you make decisions about what you want to show up for. When your plans are internally driven by YOUR wants and needs, you are more likely to enjoy the holidays. Might as well take advantage of your time off!

2)  Ask for what you want. Share your thoughts about the holidays. Be a part of the planning and involve yourself in preparations. Give your input about where and how to celebrate. If you don’t let people know what you want for the holidays, they won’t know how to accommodate what you want. It also helps people who love you feel closer to you. Even if family traditions feel inflexible, you can still be authentic in asserting what you want.

3)   Know your limits and set boundaries. If the holidays bring up uncomfortable feelings for you, it is especially important to set boundaries and know your personal rules ahead of time. It’s possible that you may need to set boundaries about what holiday activities you will or will not participate in, where you will stay, who you will see and how long you wish to stay. Usually past experiences inform these decisions (see # 10).

4)  Have reasonable expectations. It’s easy to romanticize the holidays, but it’s important to be realistic about what to expect. If certain problems usually arise during the holidays then it is likely those same issues will come up again. Talking through expectations with friends or loved ones ahead of time can be a great way to be more realistic about what to expect.

5)  Take breaks. During the holidays you’re often around people a lot. It’s important to know when to take time for yourself, even if it’s a short break. Taking a walk, calling a friend, journaling, or watching some TV are all great examples of ways to unwind and decompress.

6)  Make time for the basics. Taking care of your basic needs like sleeping, eating, and grooming can make a big difference in how you feel.

7)  Maintain at least part of your routine. It may be impossible to do all of your regular activities during the holidays, but it is possible to keep up with some of them. If you find that certain parts of your routine like exercise, spiritual practices, or recovery programs help you feel more grounded, try to make time for them in your holiday schedule. It can be helpful to plan these activities in advance before the holidays ensue.

8)  Incorporate time for FUN. This is time just for you! Be playful and enjoy your time off!

9)  Create your own traditions. There is always room to explore new holiday traditions and incorporate them into your life. It can feel satisfying to define the holidays for yourself by creating additions to the family traditions you grew up with.

10)  Make a list of lessons learned that you can review next year. At the end of the holiday season, it can be helpful to do some writing about positive and not so positive holiday experiences that will inform your decision-making next year. Some questions to answer when writing: What did you like/not like? How did you feel when doing certain activities? Where you happy with your travel plans and/or accommodations? What would you change? Do you need to set any boundaries for next year? This list can be a work in progress. Adding lessons learned from year to year can be a great way to discover how you like to spend the holidays.

Most importantly, think about how to make this time of year special to you. Happy Holidays!

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries help keep you safe in relationships by allowing you to clearly define what is okay and not okay with you. In more serious situations, especially if you are in physical danger, verbal boundaries are not enough.  But, in everyday life, asserting boundaries can be a positive relationship skill that can prevent conflict and long-term resentments.  Asserting boundaries ahead of time helps people understand what you want and how to show up for you.

Here are some simple steps to setting boundaries effectively:

1) Let the other person know how you feel when they do the thing that bothers you. This is your opportunity to share your feelings!

2)  Let them know how you experience their behavior. What meaning do you attribute to their behavior?  This helps the person understand WHY something bothers you.  However, it’s important that you speak from your own experience without blame.

3)  Tell them what you want. This changes depending on the situation, but should be concrete and realistic. People can’t change WHO they are, but they can try to modify their behavior in response to your requests.

4)  Remind them (and yourself!) that you are not in control of their behavior. Even if you want someone to change their actions, there is no way that you can make them change.

5)  Tell them what steps you will take to protect yourself in the future if they continue the specific behavior. This step is the most important! Boundaries don’t work unless there are consequences. In order for this to be effective, you have to take responsibility for your part – following through. The more you follow through, the more people learn how you want to be treated.  It also feels empowering to stand up for yourself by doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To put it all together, let’s use an example. Say you are feeling upset at a friend who consistently shows up late when you meet up to get dinner. You may need to let your friend know what this brings up for you and how you want to approach plans in the future. A simple boundary could look something like this:

When you show up more than 15 minutes late without contacting me, I feel hurt and angry. The story I tell myself is that you don’t care about me and my time. In the future, it would be great if you could let me know when you are running late ahead of time so that I can adjust my schedule. If you can’t, that’s okay, but in order to take care of myself I will leave the restaurant after 15 minutes if you haven’t arrived and I haven’t heard from you.

If you need to set a boundary, it can be helpful to write it out ahead of time so that you know what you want to say. Even though saying what you want can be uncomfortable at first, it can help bring you closer to the people you love. It is important to note that sometimes setting a verbal boundary may not feel appropriate.  If you can’t say it, practice taking actions to protect yourself in uncomfortable situations (see step 5).

Family and the Holidays

With the holidays swiftly approaching, there is a lot of chatter about holiday plans, including visiting family.  Holiday celebrations with family can be exciting, fun, and joyful, but they can also bring up painful realities about family relationships. And it can be especially difficult to share about holiday plans when those relationships are strained, tense or absent. I often hear clients express guilt and shame about not wanting to visit family members and discomfort about how to tell other people who may not understand.

Limiting relationships with family members is not always the most accepted or celebrated choice.  People may ask probing questions or say things like “but you should be close to them – they are your family!” However, people often do not know the relationship complexities of your family that inform your decision making.  Even if they do, they might be expressing cultural messages about family loyalty, forgiveness, and community inherent in their own families. They may not feel like they have the choice to make their own holiday plans.

Nevertheless, when you are suffering from conflict and fractures in family relationships, the last thing you want to hear is doubt and uncertainty from those around you. Here are some tips on how to talk about alternative holiday plans with friends, colleagues or acquaintances:

1)  You don’t have to share everything. People often make the mistake of sharing all the details about family dysfunction, leaving them feeling vulnerable and scared of judgment. Practice being discerning about who needs to know the specifics. You can prepare for conversations ahead of time by taking an inventory of what is relevant and important.

2)  Come up with a short explanation of your family relationship.  Even if your family dynamic is complex, you can give people an abbreviated version of your experience that feels comfortable to you.  Examples include: “I’m not that close with my family,” “Things are complicated with my family,” “I don’t usually visit family during holidays.”

3)  Get support from close friends, loved ones or professionals. If you are having a hard time about your holiday plans, pick a few people to open up with.  Friends may be relieved to have someone to share their own experiences with and your choices may empower them to make different decisions about how to spend the holidays.

4)  Practice educating others about how they can support you. Think about what you are looking for from the person you are talking to, whether it’s someone to listen, to ask questions, or to just accept your choices. Many people react automatically because they do not know how to show their support – help them learn what you want!

5)  Frame holiday plans in a positive way. You can share what you ARE going to do, rather than what you ARE NOT doing. You can invite positive attention and encouragement by saying “I’m having a friend’s Thanksgiving!” rather than “I’m not seeing my family.” It can also be a great way to avoid uncomfortable or unwanted questions with colleagues or acquaintances.

How you spend your holidays and how you interact with your family is totally up to you. Sharing your experience and holiday plans with someone you trust can be a great way to validate your own decisions.

Difference Between Guilt And Shame

Guilt vs. Shame

Guilt can be healthy. When you make a mistake, especially if it hurts another person, a certain amount of guilt can be appropriate.  It can be positive to acknowledge your mistake, feel some guilt, take action (in the form of taking responsibility, sharing with someone else, apologizing, etc.) and then move on.

Shame results when you are unable to move on.  Instead of feeling upset about a specific behavior, you judge yourself as a bad person.  This can lead to false beliefs that you are not worthy of love, incapable of getting what you want, and unable to love others.  Sometimes shame is so powerful that it blocks healthy feelings of guilt and keeps you stuck in negative thoughts about yourself.  You may assume that your mistakes mean something bad about you. And that they define you. You are your mistakes. YOU are a mistake. Thereby the shame spiral continues.  In this state, forgiving yourself seems impossible and fear of making mistakes increases.

Where does shame come from?

Shame often develops at an early age.  It differs for everyone, but frequently results out of relationships in which you believed that you were not loved unconditionally or that your wants and needs were somehow bad and inappropriate.   Shame can also be the result of behaviors or desires that you do not choose, but that are stigmatized in society.  If you want to be different, but cannot, shame may be present.

Negative core beliefs, define and reinforce shame.  These messages fuel and validate negative self -concepts. Some examples are: “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable”, “I don’t deserve love”, “I don’t measure up.”  You can only imagine what havoc these beliefs create in relationships and in the world!  When you carry these beliefs around, you look for evidence that these beliefs are true.  In this world view, small disappointments and rejections can feel even more devastating because they confirm your negative beliefs.  If you don’t trust that you are good enough how can you reach your full potential?

How do I stop feeling shame?

Shame is difficult to face alone.  If you have lingering shame, it can be helpful to find a safe person to talk to about it with so that you have the space to let it go. You deserve to free yourself from such a heavy burden. In therapy, I work with clients to change core beliefs and shift their attitudes about themselves.  Confronting shame, as painful as it is, can open new opportunities in life and in self -awareness.  I have assisted people grow emotionally in ways that help them achieve things they never thought possible for themselves.

Tips for Cleaning as a Couple

When couples move in together, conflicts inevitably arise. One of the biggest sources of tension I hear about is cleaning. How clean should they keep their space? Who should do what? Here are some tips on how to reframe your expectations about cleaning as a team and how to execute the necessities more gracefully:

1)  Recognize that your partner may have different standards of cleanliness than you do. This may seem obvious, but I often hear people take it personally that their partner leaves dirty dishes in the sink or clothes on the floor. Even though it is not your ideal, your partner is probably not doing it to upset you – they may just have different preferences (and most likely their own set of expectations).

2)  Make requests without criticism. It’s easy to assume that our partners know what bothers us, but often they don’t. Either way, it is helpful to make requests directly to avoid confusion and build respect in your relationship. “Can you please not leave your socks on the floor?” is very different and is received better than a more critical statement like “I hate when you leave your socks on the floor! Who does that, anyway?!” With criticism, the underlying message is “What’s wrong with you?”  Most people do not respond well to criticism and it decreases the likelihood of getting the outcome you want.  Instead, try making a request about what you want the other person to do.  Be specific, pick one thing at a time, and recognize that you are making a request – not a demand.

3)  Pick your battles. There may be a lot of differences in cleaning preferences between you and your partner, but some will seem more important than others. Making requests about those issues first and not everything all at once can ease the transition. There also may be some issues that you can let go of when you adjust to your partner’s differences.

4)  Come up with a cleaning routine that works for both of you. Some couples use a chore chart, some couples take turns. One great method is to set aside time to clean together, each partner doing the tasks they prefer or are of the highest importance to them. It is crucial to find a method that works for both people, so that one partner does not feel resentful if the other takes the lead.

5)  Realize that it’s not always going to be equal. Distribution of labor in a couple is rarely going to be 50/50. One partner might take out the trash more often and the other might do more dishes. That is OKAY!  What is important is that you both feel valued and that you each are committed to working together on the same team.  If the overall cleaning distribution is feeling unequal, it is probably time to reevaluate and start making some requests (see #2 above).

6)  Reward yourself and use praise! After you clean (which, let’s face it, is not all that fun) do something nice as a couple. Also, remember that using positive reinforcement in the form of “thank you’s”, acknowledgement or compliments is often the best way to ensure that your partner will want to heed your requests again!

Compare and Despair

With social media, it is easy to get lost in a spiral of passively watching other people’s lives unfold instead of directly communicating with them.  This often leads us to compare ourselves to others and feel despair as a result.  You may notice who’s getting married, who’s having a baby, getting a promotion, going on a fabulous trip, having a party (that you weren’t invited to), or many other countless events that bring up painful realities in your own life. The result: you feel less than those around you.

Such comparisons can be misleading because social media only displays a snapshot of someone’s life; the best part, the part that they want everyone else to see. Events in people’s lives are influenced by so many factors that it is difficult to compare or judge who is doing things right and if people even have what you want.

Facebook and other social media sites are intended to connect people, to bring them together, but in reality social media can create emotional disconnect in relationships. When we put other people on a pedestal we are distancing ourselves from them – they become bigger than life and we can feel intimidated, maybe even turned off by their seeming prowess in the world.

In essence, people may have life experiences similar to yours, but if you assume they are better than or worse than you, it will be difficult to connect with them. Comparison can lead to competition and jealousy, which keeps people apart. You never know what you will find out about someone if you ask the deeper questions and connect rather than deduce based on observation alone.

Just something to keep in mind on your social media trails…