Healing from Brokenness

I talk about respect all the time, particularly as it pertains to doing therapy. I strongly believe that respect is a primary healing agent for a great many emotional and psychological wounds held by individuals, couples and families.

Sometimes I begin to wonder if I might be becoming a bit overzealous about this point and then reality hits hard. The level of extreme hatred and cruel violence being fanned in this world shakes us all. At least for a few days. And then we grow numb to it because we think we have to in order to move on.

Trauma caused by blatant disregard for human life and humanity in general has always been present. Wars, genocide and bigotry toward those who are “different” have always existed. But to see it play out in real time is truly disturbing.

In the last few weeks we have witnessed bombing attempts followed by another gun massacre toward people worshipping.  Additionally, it is believed that the shooter was motivated to carry through with these acts because he also believed that people of this faith were helping “aliens” to invade our country.

It is this concept of “other” that is most troubling to me. When you choose to separate yourself from others in a way that creates mistrust, division and hatred, then there is pain individually and collectively. We all lose because the whole system becomes even more broken than it was previously.

Susanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy

Healing from brokenness is a long and arduous process at best. We know that we compile hurt upon hurt the healing process just gets more and more complex. Just saying that we need more respect in the world may sound way too simple—glib even. But in reality, respect requires a lot of hard work from each of us. It requires a very focused mindset of compassion, forgiveness and an openness to really hearing and understanding what others are trying to say.

This has been the biggest challenge for centuries, if not since the beginning of time. But if we give up now, where does that leave humankind?

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.

 

Working with Victims of Sexual Assault

Many of us, myself included, have been riveted by the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh for a seat as Supreme Court Justice. It is not my intention here to speak to his guilt or innocence of the accusations made against him regarding sexual misconduct because that has not been determined by any court of law, but it is extremely pertinent and timely to address the trauma of sexual assault as well as the secondary trauma that can be induced by the way in which the such reports are received.

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As I watched Dr. Blasey Ford give her testimony, I was struck by her strength in her position juxtaposed by her frailty in her voice at the same time. As a therapist, I was aware of her refreshed pain and fear, as though it were happening all over again when she recounted events that took place 36 years ago.

The “Me Too” movement has emboldened our collective awareness to the enormity of this issue and the deeply personal painful gravity of sexual assault survivors among us. We know that Dr. Blasey Ford’s story is one of many, each one unique, but also similar to the lifetime of pain inflicted. There is also fear of further shame potentially cast in the telling of such trauma to others who may not safely regard them in their stories.

It is clearly our job as therapists to make sure that we provide the utmost level of security and safety to our clients who hold such experiences deep within their hearts for varying lengths of time. If it was weeks or decades ago, the level of horrific memory is substantially the same. Therefore, it’s imperative that we hold for them comparable levels of deep, authentic respect for who they are in the moment and the memories they unfold. To not conscientiously provide this extra layer of unwavering acceptance and belief in them is to risk further damage. To be true healers is to be steadfast in our open-heartedness and intentional respect for those we serve.

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.

 

Suicide Prevention

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to  the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of suicides in this country alone are staggering and increasing yearly as documented in the last several decades.

“Nearly 40,000 people in the United States die from suicide annually, or one person every 13 minutes. This exceeds the rate of death from homicide and AIDS combined. More people die by suicide than from automobile accidents.”

Copy of Susanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy

The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) says the yearly rate for suicide is even slightly higher, over 41,000 per year. Both organizations readily agree that the reasons and precipitating factors are complex, including depression, anxiety and other mood disorders often combined with environmental factors such as trauma, loss or bullying. They site the following as more common warning signs of personal behavior to watch for in order to prevent a potential suicide:

  • Threats or comments about killing oneself, also known as suicidal ideation
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Talking, writing or thinking about death
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

These are by no means inclusive of all behaviors of persons who commit suicide, as the situations for each are complex and unique. It is true that not all suicides are preventable and that “survivor’s guilt” and the devastation for families and friends of someone who does commit suicide is immensely burdensome. If you or anyone you know has experienced suicide or a suicide-related situation, you’re probably acutely aware of the rippling pain it causes.

The opportunity to be better informed about suicide is available to all of us. To be more skilled at observing, listening, caring and being involved as a community will make us all a little safer as we navigate and occasionally stumble in this world.

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8155)

 

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-Focused Therapy with Individuals, Couples and Families

I was fortunate this year to be invited to speak at the American Mental Health Counselor Association’s annual conference in Orlando.

Florida is a beautiful place, and I made my FIRST journey to a Disney park, Epcot! I had such a great time with family and with colleagues at the conference while I was visiting the Sunshine State.

My presentation topic this year was Using Respect-Focused Therapy with Individuals, Couples and Families. I’m offering the resources from my presentation in this post.

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For those who are having family struggles (or want to avoid them) or are curious about Respect-Focused Therapy, I hope you find the presentation materials helpful and insightful.

As always, be well, and as the late, great, Queen of Soul would say, respect each other.

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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.

 

Depathologizing Mental Illness

During this Mental Illness Awareness Month, we will focus on the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The term mental illness historically to refers to any abnormality that deviates a person’s behavior from social norms. Over the last few centuries, mental illness has slowly moved to a more scientific, medical framework (conditions were initially associated with spiritual demonology). This has eliminated much of the cruelty imposed on people with mental illnesses, but newer forms of branding and misunderstandings around such human challenges persist.

Anyone who has ever experienced symptoms commonly associated with the concept of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or more complex disorders, knows all too well the added burden of being labeled “bipolar,” “borderline” or “schizophrenic,” as do their families. These labels and stereotypes carry lead-weighted misconceptions in the public eye that often follow people for entire lifetimes, affecting possibilities for meaningful employment, education, relationships and social engagement. The shortage of adequate funding for treating those who have little or no income sadly means that individuals with mental illness may end up homeless or in the penal system, which further demonizes their existence.

Susanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy

Many of us who work in the mental health field have found it imperative to work toward “depathologizing” the concept of mental illness because it is so laden in the model of “sickness” or “disease” that it is isolating and oppressive. The preferred and more healing approach is to look at the wide range of emotions, beliefs and behaviors  encompassed by such labeling as human responses to life stressors by people who are coping as best they are able. We want to give respect and dignity to who they are completely, and appreciate their humanity in such a way that they can also learn to honor themselves in this world as whole beings—perhaps only needing support along the way.

 

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.

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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.

Navigating the Holidays Therapeutically

We know that the clinical data and real life clinical experience clearly support the unfortunate truth that these seasonal holidays bring many clients heightened anxiety, depression, and thoughts and actions of harm to self and others. This phenomenon has been occurring regularly for decades, if not centuries. While we know that some is related to the nature of the actual season itself (i.e. the shorter days of daylight), it is thought that the holidays themselves also contribute to this rough period of time experienced by so many. The expectations of joy and giving often becomes burdensome to those who feel limited on material funds or sources of happiness in their personal lives.

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Another area that creates tension for many is the interpersonal context of the season, or more specifically, family. The holidays bring with them some Hollywood, picture-perfect ideals of family get-togethers and, as we know all too well, they’re not always that way. Conflicts and feuds, old and new collectively, intensify and heighten the probability and noted occurrences of domestic violence in the midst of attempted festivities. Illness, physical or mental, or losses, such as divorce or death of a loved one, in the family can produce clouds of sadness and despair. Many do not have any family at all. So trying to create joy around these real life situations are increasingly challenging, if not seemingly impossible, depending on the freshness and intensity of the circumstances.

So therapists have a greater responsibility during these times. It rests upon us to have keener awareness to the possibilities of more difficult and, perhaps, more dangerous times for our clients. We need to more diligently assess for suicidal and/or violent ideations and be prepared to intervene swiftly and effectively as needed. Obviously, this season can and does also cause more stress for us as healers. Therefore our wellbeing is even more vitally significant than usual. As we teach our clients how to be more kind and gentle to themselves and those they love, so should we carefully listen to our own words of wisdom. May this season bring all of us peace and calm reassurance that we are valued.

 

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.