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.

 

What Does It Mean to Be Resilient? on GoodTherapy.org

Girl walking up the hill on a long meadow surrounded by trees.

Please check out my latest article on GoodTherapy.com.

“What Does It Mean to Be Resilient and Can Anyone Do It?” discusses maintaining resiliency during times of loss and despair when finding and maintaining a sense of meaning and purpose is crucial.

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.

 

Christian Counseling and the LGBTQ Community

I recently attended a workshop sponsored by the Human Empathy Project, in which the specific topic was on the therapeutic complexities regarding faith issues and the LGBTQ community.  Within this multidimensional discussion several different perspectives were considered.

Much of the focus of that discussion was about how a Christian therapist with traditional values and teachings comes to terms with working with an LGBTQ client. A significant challenge for many therapists of faith is to recognize the spiritual or theological value in affirming persons of alternative sexual orientations, due to Biblical passages that are perceived by some to condemn such behaviors. Passages from scripture such as, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and “Judge not, as you are not judged,” are offered as suggested guidance toward greater grace in this regard.

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It was pointed out that until recently, best practices indicated that therapists who felt uncomfortable or ill-equipped not work with clients who presented outside of the scope of the therapists’ expertise. However, while it may apply to working with specific mental health issues like eating disorders or gambling addiction, there have been several significant changes in the code of ethics across governing boards in this profession. The emerging best practice is to become more culturally proficient, thereby less biased toward any specific culture or sub-group be it about gender identity, race, disability or religious values and so on, in order to provide fair and just mental health services to everyone.

The complicated history of the relationship between the disciplines of psychology and religion on the issue of homosexuality in particular has led to pathologizing and demonizing of this portion of humanity over decades, if not centuries. This has resulted in harmful practices in our field, such as “conversion therapy,” based on incorrect information. It is imperative to understand that this is not a psychological disorder, but is biologically based, making gender identification not a choice that can or should be reversed, but something to be gracefully accepted and affirmed.

This position of being life affirming to all people, regardless of individual differences, is very much in keeping with Respect-Focused Therapy.  From within this framework, therapists are able to move forward the deeper conceptualization of respect as a function of keen understanding and a healing force. It is a process of due diligence to stay open and curious to new possibilities and greater understanding of the larger human experience.

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.

 

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.