My family and I have been watching the reincarnation of American Idol recently, and the finale was this week. Much to Meg’s great pleasure, Maddie Poppe won. As usual, the show was full of twists and turns, silliness, and some incredible musicianship. I’ve enjoyed the fact that they’re allowing contestants to use musical instruments in this go ‘round – and I personally loved the resurgence of classic rock through the contestant, Cade Foehner. As I sat there watching the finale last night I reflected on the season and something struck me, and it was rather surprising.
See, the title of this blog isn’t just clickbait. The three judges this year on American Idol were Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan. While each of these musicians and artists are icons in their own right, particularly Lionel, I noticed something that made me pause. I’d previously grown tired of American Idol because it was overly negative, Simon Cowell was rather irritating to me, and I didn’t like the absence of instruments. This season, the judges were very positive, the personalities of the judges clicked well, and there were musical instruments involved. What I noticed, however, is that it was overly positive. Granted, each of the final 24 contestants was very talented, there weren’t an abundance of critiques.
My belief is the constructive criticism is crucial to personal and professional growth. These contestants are on the show because they’ve “made it,” and know it all; they’re there to learn and, hopefully, make it as a professional musician and artist. Much to my surprise, I found Katy Perry to be the most helpful judge and the one who offered the most useful feedback to the contestants. I’ll admit, this took me by surprise – before this when I thought of Katy Perry I thought of teen pop anthems, and some weird looking sharks roaming the stage. So as the season finished last night, my thoughts went to wondering, “what can we learn about life from Katy Perry?”
I’ve picked three things that stood out to me that we can learn from the quirky being that is Katy Perry.
One thing that we learn pretty quickly in watching Katy Perry in her live shows, or on American Idol, is that she is an odd duck. She’s quirky, she marches to the beat of a different drum, and let’s face it, she’s downright odd sometimes. But, she’s unique and there’s nobody else like her. She knows who she is at the moment, and she embodies that with all that she has.
Our wellbeing depends on our acceptance of self. Now, I have no idea how accepting of herself Katy Perry actually is because I’ve never even had a conversation with her. From outward appearance, however, she seems to own her own quirkiness and oddities and has a clear idea of who she is at the moment. If we can do just this – accept ourselves and own who we are at the moment, it will have a positive effect on our wellbeing.
Tell the truth
Contrary to some of the other judges, I found that Katy was pretty up-front in her truth-telling with contestants. If they nailed the performance, she told them; if the performance stunk, she wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. Knowing where we stand in relationships, in our work environments, and in our pursuit of dreams requires honest, open feedback from those around us. In return, those around us depend on the same.
If we can surround ourselves with people who we can speak truth to, and who will do the same for us in return, we can grow and move forward in life and have confidence in where we stand in our progression. How do we do speak the truth when it’s difficult though?
Encourage others as a matter of practice
As constructive and critical as Katy Perry was this season, she has coupled the criticism with encouragement. It was clear in her feedback that she was giving it so that the contestant could grow and get better at their craft. If we can provide constructive criticism along with encouragement, we will encourage growth in others. If we surround ourselves with those that can do this for us, we’ll get the same in return.
Sometimes it’s hard to learn who we are and accept ourselves; sometimes we aren’t sure how, to tell the truth to others or to ourselves; sometimes we have a hard time being encouraging because we’re stressed out; sometimes we don’t have a community around us that encourages us. This is where a registered clinical counsellor can be helpful sometimes. Sometimes we need that outside perspective on some of these issues or some guidance and encouragement on how to organize our lives so we have what we need to grow. If this is you, we’d love to help. Feel free to contact us.
Narrative Therapy and Re-Authoring
Many titles have been heaped upon the late Michael White for his development of Narrative Therapy, ranging from genius to prophet to guru. These titles, I believe, provide a framework for the impact that his work has meant to the field of psychology and therapy. He has created a forum for individuals to reclaim their sense of identity and purpose and to begin to live into a new story. As Alan Carr writes, “within a narrative frame, human problems are viewed as arising from and being maintained by oppressive stories which dominate a person’s life. Human problems occur when the way in which people’s lives are storied by themselves and others does not significantly fit with their lived experience…Developing therapeutic solutions to problems, within the narrative frame, involves opening space for the authoring of alternative stories, the possibility of which have previously been marginalized by the dominant oppressive narrative which maintains the problem” (Carr, 1998, p. 486).
A critical component of narrative therapy is the concept of externalizing the problem whereby the person objectifies or personifies the problem as a separate entity from the individual. In doing so, the person is able to “separate from the dominant story that has been shaping their lives and relationships” (White, 1988/9, p.7). When persons are able to externalize the problems they are then able to identify times when their experience contradicts the problem (White, 1988/9, p. 16). In the end, the problem becomes the problem allowing the person’s identity to become separate. The problem no longer represents the truth about who the person is and this realization unleashes incredible opportunity for hope and resolutions to occur as the person is able to step back and view the situation from a less personal and problem saturated perspective (White, 2007, p. 9). Carl Tomm suggests that externalizing the problem provides, “a linguistic separation of the distinction of the problem from the personal identity of the [person]. It opens ‘conceptual space’ for [people] to take more effective initiatives to escape the influence of the problem in their lives (Tomm, 1989, p. 54). Externalizing the problem and then becoming aware of ‘unique outcomes’ where the client finds that their life is no longer tied to these negative conclusions allows them to begin the process of re-authoring their story (White, 2007, p. 27).
The process of re-authoring allows a client suffering from substance abuse to begin to develop their story but to integrate significant unique outcomes that were out of step with the dominant storyline. These unique outcomes are the starting point for re-authoring. The therapist can support the client in exploring alternative storylines by having the client “…recruit their lived experience, to stretch their minds, to exercise their imagination, and to employ their meaning-making resources” (White, 2007, p. 62). In so doing, the client engages more deeply into their alternative stories and begins to root their storyline in a new history and perspective which establishes a new foundation for them to address their externalized problem. As the client steps to becoming the author of their life, they begin to play with the terms Jerome Bruner coined ‘landscape of action’ and ‘landscape of consciousness’ which, “…bring specificity to the understanding of people’s participation in meaning-making within the context of narrative frames” (White, 2007, p. 80). Michael White found that landscape of consciousness encountered too much confusion so he reframed the term to become the landscape of identity which, I believe, aptly describes what occurs when one re-authors their story and renegotiates their own identity. Using landscape of action and landscape of identity allows the therapist to build a context, “in which it becomes possible for people to give meaning to, and draw together into a storyline, many of the overlooked but significant events of their lives” (White, 2007, p. 83) which are crucial for re-authoring.
In January we’re launching our Recovery and Aftercare programs, and we would love to work with you to re-write your story in your recovery. Please have a look at the program on our website, and we would love to hear from you!
- Carr, A. (1998). Michael White’s Narrative Therapy. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 20(4), 485-503.
- Tomm, K. (1989). Externalizing problems and internalizing personal agency. Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies,16-22.
- White, M. (2007). Maps of Narrative Practice. New York, W.W Norton and Company Inc
- White, Michael, 1998/9. The externalizing of the problem and the re-authoring of lives and relationships. Australia, Adelaide: Dulwich Center Review
In my work with clients, I regularly emphasize the importance of rest, relaxation, and time for oneself to regroup and recharge. I was recently introduced to an article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of resilience, and the idea that resilience is about how we recharge as human, not how we build ourselves up to endure constantly. It’s a great article, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it, it’s well worth the time. The article got me thinking, however, about my own habits and now that I’m on vacation while writing this, I’m forced to reflect on how I rest. I’ve come to a significant conclusion: I suck at it.
Now, before you think about consoling me and telling me, “it’s okay, you don’t suck at it,” let me emphasize to you that no, it’s really true. I suck at resting. I have about a 2 minute limit on not doing something. I’m not sure if this has always been this way, or if I’ve somehow trained myself to be excellent at going all the time, but it is what it is. Whether you buy into the Type-A personality thing or not, many of the characteristics are good descriptions of me, including driven, competitive, ambitious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, and the list goes on. Perhaps, even more, challenging for me is the fact that I’m so results-oriented; that is, if something doesn’t produce results, I’m not interested in it. Admittedly, this is one of my hang-ups with rest – how does it produce results? It certainly doesn’t feel like it at first glance. My natural instinct is to tell myself to get up and do something. What I’ve discovered, however, is that I could not be more wrong about rest. Rest produces results, but it’s also hard work for people like me.
You might be wondering how my emphasizing rest jives with me writing this article while I’m supposed to be on vacation. Well, let me tell you a couple of things I’ve been thinking about and learning as a part of my preparation for and enjoyment of my current hiatus. If you’re at all like me, I hope they help you prepare for rest and resilience.
Rest takes preparation and sometimes ruthless decisions
You know how you sometimes get those auto-responders that say something like, “Thanks for the email. I’m on vacation and won’t be able to respond until I return,” and then you get a response shortly after sending the email? Yup, that was me. I’d set the autoresponder and then monitor my email anyways. Made sense to me at the time, and certainly abated my anxieties about leaving, but it didn’t help much with the rest aspect of being away.
I’ve learned that I am not someone who can read emails and not do anything about them, and not think about them. It’s all or nothing for me. So, for this vacation, I actually reconfigured my email so that all of my work email didn’t get forwarded to one place, but had its’ own separate account that I can turn on and off. You guessed it – it’s off right now. This was a very difficult decision for me to make because it produces a lot of anxiety, but this is part of the hard work of rest – I now have to manage that anxiety – that’s my job.
Rest sometimes requires help from others
One of the complaints I hear from clients when I emphasize the need for disconnection from work in order to rest is that they can’t afford to be gone that long, or leave communications unanswered. You know what? Sometimes they’re right. This is true for me – some of the phone calls and emails that come into our clinic do need to be answered while I’m gone and I’ve had to plan for that as well – with the caveat that not all of them need to be answered while I’m away.
If you call the clinic, or my direct line, or email me you’ll find out that one of our wonderful staff, Juliana Fruhling, has graciously offered to handle calls/emails that can’t wait while I’m away. Let me tell you – with the volume of calls and emails I respond to on a daily basis this is no small task and I am incredibly grateful that she has been willing to do this for me.
This isn’t actually an uncommon thing in our line of work, as just as medical doctors and other professionals, we always need to have someone available clinically if we’re not available. What’s uncommon about it this time is that I’m actually forcing myself to not be available and trust someone else to manage things while I’m gone. This requires letting go and trusting others. I’m fortunate that I have people I can trust and lean on in my absence, I just have to work hard on the letting go part.
The hard work of rest
Even with all of these things in place, I’m still challenged to rest. I’ve come to the conclusion that rest for me, and for others I imagine, is going to involve very little time doing nothing, and much time doing things that recharge me, and that I’ve perhaps let go by the wayside for a while. What this looks like is going to vary for everyone, but for me, the common themes of what I need are: playful activities, creative opportunities, and intellectual stimulation.
I’ve been getting these three things in spades on vacation and guess what? It’s making a difference. I’ve been loving spending time alone with Meg and the kids, enjoying some great restaurants and also spending time cooking for my family, as cooking is one of my favourite creative outlets that I don’t often have time for. Finally, I thrive on intellectual stimulation and reading, so I’m reading a few good books and engaging in intentional conversations, and writing. I love all of these things and don’t always get the opportunity in everyday life as much as I’d like.
I think that one of the most important things we get back to when we rest, is our own sense of self and the narrative that defines us. I am so very fortunate to be able to do what I love, every day, but my work life is only a part of what makes me who I am. As an Executive Director, small business owner, therapist, and consultant, my work life takes up a big chunk of my life and it’s easy for the rest to get pushed out of the picture. Oliver Sacks, in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, writes, “To be ourselves, we must have ourselves – possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must ‘recollect’ ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self” (p. 111, 2006).
For me, this is the purpose of rest, and also the all-important result of rest – a reclamation of our own narrative, our own self. If we can use our times of rest to get back to our core, satisfy our needs, perhaps remind ourselves of what our needs are and plan for how we are going to meet them when we re-enter “real life,” we are going to be more resilient, more effective, and also more balanced. This is what I’m working on now – assessing needs, meeting them, and planning for how this will continue when I return to the office and to real life.
I hope this article has been as helpful for you to read as it has been for me to write. It’s helped me solidify some of my thoughts while resting (remember the activities listed above as part of my rest?). Also, I thank you for your patience as I don’t respond to emails or calls in my absence – this is the hard work of rest, and I’m working hard on it.
Gentle Vehicles for Healing
Case Studies in Metro Vancouver, bases on real life experiences
Case Study #1: Ten year old Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) resulting in the following chronic symptoms:
- Soft tissue injury in upper back and neck, exacerbated by a fall onto the left elbow.
Results after one month, using Physical Yoga Therapy and Techniques:
- Easing of pain in shoulder, which has resulted in improved sleep at night
- Greater mobility in movement of shoulders and arms
- Greater mobility and range of motion in neck
- Improved posture
- Improved mobility in hips
- Arthritis in facet joints, brought on by MVA:
Results after one month, using Gentle Yoga Therapy and Techniques:
- Nurture and maintenance of spine flexibility
These improvements have resulted in our client having more energy, and mental clarity, being free from the exhausting pain. The client also now knows and has the ability to self-regulate and correct as necessary. The client will move forward with back strengthening techniques, but for now is just enjoying being relatively pain free.
Case Study #2: Lung surgery in adolescence – Resulting in severe Apnea until present age of early sixties, including misaligned left shoulder and hip due to compensating for breathing imbalance.
Results after two and a half months, using a combination of Physical Yoga Therapy and Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy Techniques:
- no longer anticipating the next breath
- improved posture, increased lung capacity for the breath
- shoulder position greatly corrected with posture
- increased left hip mobility with a greater range of motion
- client demonstrates greater confidence and a lighter, happier state of being
Case Study #3: Previous student of yoga for many years. No longer able to practice due to fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, resulting in tension in jaw & neck.
An example of how what happens in the mind is reflected in the body.
Results after 3 months, using a combination of Physical Yoga Therapy and Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy Techniques:
- Noticeable decrease in anxiety. The client demonstrates a lighter presence where there used to be heaviness
- Release techniques have greatly reduced the jaw and neck tension
- Gentle therapeutic program, designed for the client’s particular needs, has allowed for a return to home-based practice and resulting in becoming comfortable in one’s body, and eventually returning to group sessions
- Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy breathing techniques and guided meditation to rest the body and mind, enables the client to stabilize and stay grounded
- Gain key ability to tune in and listen to one’s body in order to be able to self-regulate at first sign of tension, anxiety and stress
- Letting go of anxiety and tension using gentle therapeutic yoga practice, the aches from the fibromyalgia have decreased due to improved circulation, and the release of uptight muscles and joints
Our yoga focuses on addressing the root of the issue before deciding, alongside you, what the goal of your yoga practice is and how to address this through therapeutic yoga. Your planning with our professionals will look at your overall physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and how therapeutic yoga can help you address these areas.
Have questions? Call Brenna at (604) 283-7827 ext. 709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.