A Flashlight in the Darkness: Honoring Pain and Loss on GoodTherapy.org

man holding lantern stands in dark forest with fog
Navigating through loss is not an easy process with a clear-cut path. For those suffering a loss or treating a client currently struggling with grief, please see my newest article on GoodTherapy.org.
When we’re in a dark place, how can a “flashlight” be used to soothe and heal emotional pain? How can we can begin to reconcile and come to terms with a painful loss?

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

We’re All a Little Crazy

The other day I came across a blog post about a national mental health awareness movement called “We’re All a Little Crazy.” Numerous celebrities in sports and the performing arts lead this movement. Many stories are shared about personal experiences with mental illness, from bipolar disorder to PTSD through #SameHere and a sign language gesture which points one’s thumb towards oneself and the pinky toward another.

The concept behind this movement is to disarm the stigma of mental illness as being something foreign, weird, or outside of a “normal” existence. In fact, many, if not most of us, have at one time or another experienced some level of depression, anxiety, trauma, or loss that would put us, at least temporarily, somewhere on the continuum between mental health and mental illness. The emotional distress within that continuum obviously varies in intensity and manifestation, but to be not mentally well at some point within one’s lifetime is arguably a part of the human condition.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2

As mental health professionals, it should be especially incumbent upon us to be acutely aware of the additional burdens and pain caused by the stigmas placed on people with mental illness, particularly those that invite bullying or estrangement. Most importantly, we need to be in continuous check on ourselves as we may also fall into the elusive cracks of stigmatization (even if unintentional) of a person diagnosed as borderline, Schizoid-affective, or with Bipolar disorder who come with great vulnerability into our space for assistance and healing. By honoring their stories of struggles and accomplishments as significant and as ordinary as our own, we are welcoming them down a path to healing and recovery. After all, we’re all “a little crazy!”

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2.png

When Is Love Healthy? Attachment, Vulnerability, and Respect on GoodTherapy.org

Thinking about their promising futures

I am excited to announce I have become a topic expert for GoodTherapy.com.
My first article, “When Is Love Healthy? Attachment, Vulnerability, and Respect”, discusses a topic that has long been a source of marvel and mystery for human beings. What is the meaning of love? And what, exactly, does healthy love look like?

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

Helping Clients Cope with Love Expectations

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2.png

Therapists consider the winter holidays as being the roughest time for our clients. This includes Valentine’s Day. The heavy commercial marketing creates expectations, that if not met, can cause self-doubt and even deeper depression for those already troubled by these issues. There is a real possibility that these feelings could manifest for some clients, and therapists should be prepared with strategies to discuss difficult questions about love and companionship that clients might ask, either out loud or to themselves.

  • How do I/we define love and how does that compare to personal experience?

This question might not be phrased in this way, but it’s often lurking in the back of clients’ minds. To help the client[s] organize their thoughts and fears around this question, gives them the opportunity to consider the dissonance they experience around this issue and define for themselves what real love looks and feels like to them. For so many with attachment issues and trauma, this kind of discussion is imperative to repair damaged thoughts and beliefs about love.

  • How do I/we practice a loving relationship?

What are your clients doing in their love lives, or pursuit of them, that is serving them well or isn’t? This is topic a little tricky because it is not meant to create more angst for them, but to help them to have a clearer understanding about what they’re bringing to the table in loving relationships. As they begin looking more deeply at this, it’s wise to encourage them to acknowledge all the positive traits they offer as well as those they want to approve upon.

  • How and where am I/we aware of being loved?

This is such an important question to highlight with clients. So many times, the focus in therapy is on the lack of love in their lives, often for good reason, but the reminder that somewhere in their lives there likely is at least one other individual who has shown them love. Whether it’s a grandparent, teacher, a child, or even a pet, someone has love for them.

  • How do I/we show love to ourselves?

This is the most critical question in terms of personal growth and resilience. Therapists need to frame this as being fluid, but something to be built upon—foundational to emotional strength and endurance. Exploring ways to express genuine self-love will provide discussion about the differences between vulnerability and shame.

  • How do we navigate in the love world without getting deeply hurt?

Again, this is all about gaining self-appreciation and respect that allows the client to set appropriate boundaries protecting him/herself from legitimate harm. Yet they should also able to more freely give love to others without unrealistic expectations that set up an emotional let-down.

All of these questions have the potential of leading clients toward genuine healing and growth. They also have the potential for deepening wounds and despair if they are handled without intentional care and respect. Therapists should remain diligent in keeping respect (the core component of real love) present and available for our clients to hold on to and grow into.

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2.png

De-escalating Clients Using RFT

At some point, most of us in the mental health field encounter clients who are emotionally escalated in tone or volume. Frequently, these escalations occur in couples or family counseling, when arguments get particularly heated, but they can also happen with individuals when discussing trauma or perceived threats. De-escalating these situations can be a tricky, if not frightening process.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy

When caught in a situation where de-escalation of emotion and subsequent action becomes necessary, there are several tips to keep in mind.

  • The first and most critical step in this situation is to calm ourselves in the moment. Breathe, and remind yourself that you have the knowledge and experience to set the tone in the room. By your quieted posture and voice you can help regulate and reset the level of safety for everyone present including yourself.

Personal space and body language are important in this process. Heightened tension follows triggering cues, such as moving in too close or appearing too authoritative or demanding. It’s best to stay at least one leg distance from the agitated individual(s) and stay at an angle in relation to that person, so as to not appear to be responding to a confrontational standoff. It is also not typically wise to touch a person in an agitated state unless you know the person well enough to know that the touch will be welcomed and soothing, rather than cause for further irritation.

  • The next step is to assess level of agitation or aggression you’re witnessing. Things to watch for include: fidgeting, rocking, heightened pitch, volume and speed of speech; pacing; rapid breathing and tightened facial expressions. These can be signs of potential danger, particularly if combined with any verbal or non-verbal threats, such as clenching fists or getting into someone else’s personal space. Signs of  aggression often happen quickly, so it’s best to be alert to any signals as early as possible.

At the same time, it’s really important to stay calm, because our job is to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible. Our demeanor and tone of voice are essential to lowering the tension in the room. Eye contact, as much as possible, along with a smooth, soft voice often offers comfort and helps soften the moment. From there you can gently and respectfully guide the dialog toward a peaceful resolution.

Therapists may not always be able to resolve the conflict, but hopefully we can restore some safety and trust with our clients by respectfully remaining present.

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Black Keys on the Piano

Someone recently sent me one of those blast emails with this title. Turns out that it was about some concert at Carnegie Hall, but my mind went directly to the most recent derogatory statements made against primarily Black populated countries such as Haiti and African nations. “Black Keys on the Piano” is the perfect illustration of how integral and necessary these countries are to our world, along with the people living in them or those who are from them. Without their history, we’d have deep depletion of culture and humanity in a far more inferior world.

But the suggestion that this segment of our human population is not worthy of our consideration is severely troubling on its own. Yet this very pretext plays out every day.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2.png

Within the realm of therapy, it is noted that the African-American population is vastly underserved by mental health services in this country. Trust is one of the largest barriers to such services, along with the lack of financial resources.

Trust is critical to any therapeutic positive outcome, yet it seems to be undermined so frequently in a myriad of ways. Very often, it is missed without intention or forethought. The purposeful attention to the existence of racism in our society and the permeated value that it has in each of our lives is the only way we have to counter its damaging effects in our current interactions at work or in our personal lives.

This paradoxically means that we need to be able to trust others as well. Our own vulnerability is required to genuinely trust, and our ability to take the step toward trusting those in our midst is required in order to be trusted.

I believe that we owe it to ourselves, our clients, and to our greater global community to rigorously investigate any and all strands of bias or other blockades we hold that impair trust in either direction. To do this takes courage, strength, and untarnished honesty within ourselves to be able to delve deeper and present our most authentic selves in the most trustworthy manner possible.

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Respect in the Therapeutic Relationship The Thoughtful Counselor Podcast

It was my pleasure to spend 45 minutes speaking with Mike Shook. In this episode, we discuss bringing respect into counseling relationships and processes. We discuss the working definition of Respect Focused Therapy and how it applies to existing modalities and a multitude of therapeutic situations.

Listen to Respect in the Therapeutic Relationship.

Listen on iTunes.

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.