Q — What do you want to work on today?

What do you want to work on today?

This is a frustrating question for many of my client friends, though they hear it most every appointment with me. Some deflect the question and talk on about the events they have experienced since they have seen me last. Some ask me outright, “don’t you know me well enough by now?” Others look at me with a placid glaze hoping that I will answer my own question, which I sometimes do, especially later in the day.

My clients are smart. They are intuitive. And manipulative.

Some want me to set the agenda — many people find it easier to follow than to lead, or maybe they are worried about making a mistake. Some of my client friends think that I am the omni-competent professional and that I should be able to tell them what it is that they should work on. Some people must simply think that I can’t think of a better opening gambit.

Here is what the question means to me and why I have used it for 40 years.

  • The question is addressed to you, the one sitting in front of me. It is not about what someone else wants you to work on, or why someone else want you to visit with me. The session is entirely about you.
  • It is about want, not the oughts – shoulds – musts you carry around in your head. It is not so much about what you need to do or what someone else thinks you need to do. The responsibility is yours to figure out what you want.
  • It is not about sharing or chatting or being a sounding board. It is about mutual work towards a particular goal decided by you.
  • It is about today. It is not about tomorrow or yesterday or sometime far, far away. It is not about your genogram history, though that is relevant. It is about right now and how that fits into the continuity of your life.
  • Also, it is an important question to me when I go for help. It assumes that I am responsible for myself. I like that. Maybe it’s a compliment.

So that is why I ask this quite predictable question. And while I am asking it, I am watching you and thinking. I want to see what efforts you will make to manage me. I want to see if you will avoid work by talking about the past or projecting to the future. I listen for your subjunctive tense [“well I would’ve done that if…”]. I wonder if you will start in blaming your partner, or your trauma, or your family of origin.

I listen to what you want to work on and what you want from me, so that we can work together in the complicated narrative of your life.

See you next time.

Discernment: Consolations and Desolations

People come to therapists for discernment at the very least. They want to understand and to be understood. They want wisdom or insight and perhaps a plan for change. Some therapists will talk to them about “consolations and desolations,” a skill that Carole is familiar with. Most evenings before going to bed, she asks me my consolations and desolations of the day.

I find it easy to find the desolations, the things that have gone wrong or where I have failed. I can isolate my criticisms without much effort and I can deeply feel the criticisms of others.

But consolations? What do you mean? Something went right?

Consolations and desolations are about our orientation to our lives and the direction our life is going — upward and outward toward God [consolation] or downward and inward away from all things divine [desolation].

Here are some of the main symptoms of desolation and the most commonly experienced blessings of consolation. (See LINK HERE)

 

Desolations are downward and inward slopes

  • turns us in on ourselves
  • drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
  • cuts us off from community
  • makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
  • takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
  • covers up all our landmarks
  • drains us of energy

Consolations are upward and outward slopes.

  • directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
  • lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
  • bonds us more closely to our human community
  • generates new inspiration and ideas
  • restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
  • shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
  • releases new energy in us

 

What to do…

In Desolation:

  1. Tell God how you feel and ask for help.
  2. Seek out companionship.
  3. Don’t go back on decisions you made in consolation.
  4. Stand still and remember your inner map.
  5. Recall a time of consolation and go back to it imagination.
  6. Look for someone who needs your help and turn your attention toward them.
  7. Go back to 1.

In Consolation:

  1. Tell God how you feel and offer thanks.
  2. Store this moment in your memory to return to when things get tough.
  3. Add this experience to the narrative of your life.
  4. Use the energy you feel to further your deepest desires.
  5. Let the surplus energy fuel the things you don’t like doing and do them.
  6. Go back to 1.

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Sex Therapy on Skype

I just got off a Skype call with a lovely couple who can’t make their sex life work. Married for just a few years and with a couple of kids, their intimacy is interrupted by occasional porn, premature ejaculation, and anxiety by self-judgement.

So I troop out lots of stuff that I know and some that they know, too. Though on Skype they look a bit aghast by the objectivity of the ideas.

  • The brain is the sex organ and that the genitals are just the conduits.
  • Everybody has fantasies, its just that they are so often different.
  • Porn breaks trust but this has as much to do with the self-critical spouse as the partner.
  • Shared masturbation is a great idea when intercourse is a bit complicated.

I recommended that the couple talk about their fantasies and good memories. I suggested that the woman stimulate herself for several minutes each night before falling asleep. I helped them create a shared fantasy that was about their dating prior to marriage. I told them about the best positions for sex during pregnancy and how oral sex is often better for the wife than penile penetration. I advised them to give up the “ideal” of simultaneous orgasms for something more realistic. I told them that the woman should probably climax first to avoid premature ejaculation for the husband.

And then I remembered a great Harvard Medical article on “Tips to Improve Your Sex Life” and, sure enough, it says a lot better what I was thinking.

Still I was amazed what you could get accomplished on a cross-Canada Skype call. I hope the lines were secure.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Goodbye Clyde, it’s been nice to know you.

On December 31, 2018, I will be vacating my Clyde Avenue office to inhabit the warmer sanctuary of my home study in Gleneagles / Horseshoe Bay. This has been Carole’s therapy space for several years, so we will have to balance our days so that we are not stepping on each other’s schedules.

This will make some difference for some of you. It will mean a larger trek if you are coming from lands East, but closer if you are coming off the ferries or from Squamish / Whistler. People can still come on transit.

It will also mean better tea in fancier cups, mugs of fine coffee, and even carbonated water in wine glasses. It will mean that you will no longer see the torrents of the Capilano River while the eagles fish, but you will be sitting in front of the good feelings of a warming hearth.

So goodbye to Clyde and hello to Fox in 2019. (Throughout 2018, I will continue to visit with you on Clyde.)

Once you have visited in our home space, you will find it a step up in hospitality and a friendlier drive. Just down the hill in Horseshoe Bay you can have lunch or tea at the Butter Lane Café (our favourite), or the Olive and Anchor for dinner. There is still Trolls, Starbucks and other standards, but the local spots are best.

The extra time is about 10 minutes from my Clyde office. Our home is close to Whytecliffe Park, BC Ferries, Gleneagles golf course, and a half hour sprint to the Chief at Squamish.

So, if you are coming to visit with me anyway, plan on making a day of it. Walk on the beach, take some photos, drive the Marine Drive curves on the way home and stop off in Dundarave to shop.

Goodbye Clyde, its been nice to know you.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

IWLA — “I Will Love Again”

A woman approached me after I was speaking at a conference. She was wearing a bright yellow pin that proclaimed “IWLA.” She told me a story about her husband leaving her for her best friend. That was bad but that wasn’t the biggest problem for her — they were next door neighbours! Her husband moved his stuff over the fence and into a new woman’s bedroom and kitchen and bathroom.

She bumped into this new couple at Safeway and on Facebook and she found herself examining every car that drove into their shared cul-de-sac. Hate was being nourished.

There is a lot to the story, much of it tough and some of it inspiring; but to be brief, she made the decision that she would love people again, especially people difficult to love. She would even love men. She would even love best friends. And that takes trust in oneself and every other self she might meet.

We all know that once love has been betrayed, people will be less trusting the next time and some will never get over the betrayal. The degree of mistrust that is engendered varies between individuals and with the enormity of a particular betrayal. However, trust can be rebuilt with repeated positive experiences.

Note this: trust and distrust are experiences and not feelings. To cry, “I just don’t trust anymore!” is to more truthfully say, “I am still royally pissed off and I have not recovered!” The experience of broken trust produce fear – hurt – anger (this amalgam is “bitterness”). But trust is the practice of getting over through these emotions without overwhelming residue. If you have been abused by betrayal, you have to do something for the feelings to change.

Here is what I tell people who are trying to figure out trust and re-trust.

The first step of re-trusting is to do anything with your bitterness. This is the process phase. Talk it out, pray it out, forgive it out, run it out, write it out, garden it out — just get it out. Just don’t nurse it or hook others into saying, “Oh poor you.” Nourishing distrust and un-love builds a narrative that will never set you free.

Step two: do something you have not done before that is better than what you have done since you were betrayed. This is the initiation phase. It is the beginning of loving again. Take up bowling (5 pin is fun); drink lattes in designer coffee shops three times a week and write an online journal with pics about the best and worst; join a cult (that is not really a good idea); do stranger interviews (see another post). The thing is, if you think of yourself as a Victim in life, then you will surely become one. Change your narrative. Get a tattoo that says IWLA and tell yourself that you can overcome rejection and stupidity — yours and the others.

Step three is the toughest step: forgive the rat. (You can tell by that description that I am undifferentiated and totally on your side.) This is the new beginnings phase. Forgiveness is hard. It is not a transaction (“I forgive you, you rat!”) but a thought-out behaviour change. You decide to experience your pain, own it as yours, and do something with it (see step two). Forgiving is bearing pain, deciding to face it and determining to change. Bearing-deciding-determining — verbs of re-trusting.

So you get into an intimate relationship and you are afraid, or you avoid intimacy because you are afraid. What do you do? You initiate. This is what loving and trusting is. You start something rather than wait for the world to change. You make decisions based on character and consistency. You re-trust in increments over time. You let yourself feel love and you wonder about the future.

I think you can re-trust. I see it in my practice and sometimes in my own life. Take ownership and step-by-step face life. You can trust again.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Simplicity Can Cause Confusion

We have had 4 phones (2 home lines and 2 cell phones) and a bunch of answering machines for a bunch of years. Like lots of people, we are trying to simplify and reduce unnecessary costs. So we have cut the cord! No more landlines and no more cable. I don’t know how I will handle life without the NFL and NHL, but the Seahawks and Canucks haven’t been doing too well anyway.

So here is how to reach us. Our telephone is now Carole’s cell to talk or text — 604-209-4210  — and you can leave a message if she misses the call. But the best way to connect is through email at Carole@TheDucklows.ca  or Paddy@TheDucklows.caIn fact, I (Paddy) hardly ever answer the phone so email is the best.

Now Shaw has billed us $450 when we have a credit of 30 bucks. Simplicity does cause confusion.

Anybody want some serviceable telephones and answering machines for free? Give us a call at 604-209-4210. Or email. (Update: they are gone to a lovely reader of our blogs.)

Peace.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

A Relationship App — Gottman Card Decks

Here is something I really like for couples. And it is free!

The Gottman Institute’s research-based approach to couples and relationships has developed a series of questions based on their theory of marriage and pairage. Inspired by the popular card decks from The Art and Science of Love weekend workshop for couples, this app offers helpful questions, statements, and ideas for improving your relationship.

Gottman Card Decks

[If you wish to comment on this blog or anything else on our web site, please email me at life@theducklows.ca]

Booking “A-Head,” Cancellation-Watching, Headaches and Other Painful Stuff

If you have tried to make appointments with me (Paddy), you will see a busy online calendar. Most of the folk I visit with book several weeks or a couple of months in advance. And, they book 3-5 sequential appointments to make sure that they get the times they wish.

I recommend that couples, families and individuals work to obtain appointments every 2nd week for several months. Booking ahead is the only way this works. This takes planning. It is head-work. Since I only work Mondays and Thursdays (and some Friday mornings), my limited schedule makes it difficult for some to get the time they wish. If you use your head, it should work out okay.

I know that not getting hoped-for appointments is frustrating. I have had a few headaches over this as well. I respect your time and the effort it takes to create these visits. And you do create the visits – I don’t.

Some kindly folk ask, “Why don’t you add a day or so?” I go on and on about my grandchildren and how they need me (etc.), or how old I am and how I like my folding e-bikes. So don’t ask. You will get a sermon.

Did you notice that I don’t have a lovely admin person answering your calls? But the good news is that my online booking pro never sleeps or takes lunch breaks and works on stat holidays. You can book any time you want. My booking system will never get mad at you. You can also cancel appointments without guilt (but give me 48 hours or time to replace the hour) and reschedule around your exercise class.

Here is some stuff you need to know to make working with me a bit easier, therefore, less headaches for both of us.

#1 Book online for the first appointment you can get, and then book a bunch later (say 3 or 4) when time works on my calendar and your schedule. By the way, it is a lot easier to cancel or reschedule than it is to book – you do this through the emails you receive from my booking machine.

#2 Book “a-head.” If you need crisis counselling (urgent care within a couple of days) you will need to contact a crisis care line or Family Services. I used to supervise at a crisis line in Coquitlam and was a therapist with Family Services in West and North Van, and they are great. But for me, plan ahead. (Now read #3.)

#3 Now that I have said all this about crises and urgencies, you can book select Fridays (you ask by email and I do the selecting). These are 2 hour appointments (9-11am) and I make them infrequently. This is mostly for families I am seeing already.

#4 Watch for cancellations once a day and especially on weekends when most people reschedule. Today is a Monday and I have had 3 cancellations over the weekend and 2 were filled. So I had an extra hour that was visible on my calendar. Go ahead and grab it.

#5 If you cancel without giving me 48 hours notice, or if I cannot fill the time, 2 things will happen. You will get charged for the missed time (sorry), and somebody else misses their chance for the spot. This is where headaches happen. I ponder and ruminate and then send an invoice. Shoot! I hate to do this. But I do. Then you get pissed off and start dissing me. I hate that too.

Finally, my “book a-head” photo tells you that I am on holidays — you can tell by what I am reading including “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire”.

Back to vacating. See you soon.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Good Ideas on Marriage Therapy (I wish I thought of them.)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading. In fact, I do not recommend it particularly.

There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, when we want the problem solved immediately. Sometimes it takes a couple 10 to 15 years to create an “unsolvable” problem and then the expectation is that through a few short conversations that all will be resolved.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to find it humorous – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that you are paying for concrete advice and not just consolation, so get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. No matter how well trained the therapist is, he or she will have opinions and judgments and it is very important that the couple understand that they are there for them only. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. As the author says “put some serious energy into it. I admit to being lethargic or overly daft in the therapist’s office.” Often times the couple will say, we are paying you, make it work! The couple is really the experts on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable. The therapist collates this information and provides direction and support in the progress.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. Apologies and forgiveness can be very difficult for most people and it is especially complicated in the intimacy of couple conflict. In my experience as a marriage therapist, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. One counsellor may be able to do both but your therapist cannot read your mind – say what it is you want. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents. There are many ways to get out of the woods.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. We also do not want to bear the pain of the loss of ideals and covenant. But flailing about looking for relief will only make therapy more difficult and less helpful. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal. (Tell me if I am doing this!)

Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. Even in the concert with all of our best intentions, therapy could not rescue our marriage. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.”

“Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Gays (LGBTQs) are Welcome Here

This probably doesn’t need to be said. It is 2017 after all. But maybe I need to say it for me more than you need to hear it.

All our psychology and therapy work is gay valuing. We accept, affirm and advocate for all genders and make no discrimination. (Actually, I discriminate on smoking.)

Not only do we understand and accept gay people and their relationships, we advocate for men, women and children to be who they are, not what others think they should be.

No big deal in this culture and this generation. But it is a big deal for others, especially from other societies (e.g. African and Asian) and prominently religious communities.

Churchly people (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others) are slow to accept newer forms of gender understanding and resist inclusion for lots of reasons. Mostly I think that religious folk are trying to please God and obey Scriptures as a priority, and misreading ancient, biblical documents is easy to do. Some read that the bible seems to argue for exclusion rather than welcome on gender matters, though that is not my opinion and is not the opinion of many world class scholars and ethicists. This makes faith groups more “homeostatic” (resisting change) than “morphogenic” (wanting change) to use Family Systems Theory words.

I think another reason is that the church has been a hospice for “ego dystonic” (this was a diagnostic category in the DSM) gays and lesbians. These people know they are gay but prefer to remain closeted and single, meeting their intimacy needs mostly within the church fold.

Clergy-led marriage is a big thing for church people (and many are persuaded that it is a pivotal dimension of the nature of faith) and they would argue that this is a privilege for men with women and women with men. I am not sure that church people oppose “pairage” (a term to distinguish gay marriage) as much as they are confused or uninformed. And the clergy don’t do much to clarify.

Speaking of uninformed, I have some decent references for those who want to follow up. The connection between psychology and theology is an interest of mine, so the resources below engage that fruitful tension.

So that is where I am. Out of date as I may be, and slow to understand as I am, I accept, affirm and advocate for the LGBTQ people who wish to accept our therapy and care.

[Later note: some of my clients as well as some friends of my clients have found my statement on inclusion to be offensive to their beliefs. I accept differing opinions on matters of concern, and I am open to dialogue and good coffee at any time. You invite and you buy. November 2018.]

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Notes:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/13/living/gender-fluid-feat/index.html

Richard Mouw and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott — Gay Marriage: Broken or Blessed? Two Evangelical Views