Today let's talk about altars because, whew, can they be helpful in hard times!
As I've written in previous posts, I'm not one to shy away away from out-of-the-box interventions in my work with clients. Altar-making is included in that, both a psycho-spiritual intervention, as well as an expressive arts practice. It's rooted in the use of metaphor, imagination and ritual, but the use of altars can also be coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy or any evidence-based practice that helps clients shift behavior and thought patterns.
While we always use the client's goal to guide us, the use of altars is commonly used to support clients in creating sacred space within their home or office. The space can be used to 'get grounded,' meditate, pray, set intentions or just be - and who doesn't need a place for that these days?
Also, I want to mention that altars are used across cultures to honor those who have passed on. This year , 2020, has certainly brought collective loss to the forefront. Those of us on the West Coast are not only grieving the losses brought on by COVID, but also the epic wildfires induced by climate change. Altars can help externalize and hold the grief and loss we feel.
There is no right or wrong way to make an altar, though certain cultures a/o religions have specific traditions. Below, I note the importance of not appropriating other traditions, but beyond this baseline of respect, designing an altar space for yourself can be as creative as you like. Some folks make multiple altars for various purposes. Some are elaborate and free standing, while others are made for your wall, erected on bookshelves, or next to your computer. We make what feels right and what is useful.
If you're called to this practice, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you get started:
1. What do I need now? Do I need a place to feel grounded and safe? A place to grieve? A place to visualize what I want to create in my life? A place to focus on hope or gratitude?
2. What objects, colors, scents, sounds, textures represent or meet my need? What inspires me and makes me feel comfort? If I am drawn to a symbol or deity associated with a culture/religion other than my own, do I have explicit permission to work with it?
3. Where should I place my altar and what materials do I need? Do I want it visible to others? Is there a spot that is particularly meaningful?
If you're interested in learning more about about altar-making or other psycho-spiritual and expressive arts practices, please feel free to contact me. Also, please know, every Thursday I use Instagram to share expressive arts prompts, and this week will focus on simple wall altars -- connect with me there!
Till Next Time, Wishing you Health & Ease,
Clients often ask me for practices to support their self-care and well-being and without a doubt my favorite practice is rooted in appreciation and gratitude.
These days it can feel exhausting, if not impossible, to focus on what's going well in our lives, but I want to emphasize that the purpose of this practice is NOT to gloss over the grief and struggle that so many are experiencing right now. It's doesn't require us to "just think positively" - ugh.
Gratitude practice helps us hold a fuller, more nuanced view of all we experience instead of falling into the everything is all-good or all-bad binary.
Here are some ideas to get started:
1. Start a dedicated gratitude journal where you write daily about what you are grateful for or appreciate. You can write in list form or go into detail. This is great to revisit when you're having a hard day.
2. Use your time on social media to share what you're grateful for or appreciating, and invite others to share what they are grateful for or appreciating.
3. Verbalize your appreciation directly. This one is so important. Often we think about our appreciations, but don't share with our communities. Make a call, text or zoom session to let someone know how they've impacted you.
As with any practice consistency is key. I suggest picking a time of day to set aside and review your day or week. What went well? What made you smile? Who or what brought you joy? Are you grateful for your body's ability to heal? Your best friend's laugh? Your resiliency? The smell of your morning coffee? Be authentic to your experience and try to be specific, including sensory detail. Watch how this practice can shift your perspective (and mood) over time.
For many, focusing on what's going well is a new way of thinking, of noticing. It can feel challenging at first, but that's why we call it a practice.
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,
This week I've been finding solace in paint.
Bright colors, dark colors, muddy colors. Acrylic, watercolor, gouache. It doesn't matter, really. I'm using them all, sometimes together, for no other reason than to create. It feels really good in a grief-riddled time to not be bound to words, and instead use color, texture, shape and symbol to express any and all that needs expression.
This blog post is an invitation for you to do the same. It is encouragement to nourish and self-soothe because so many of us desperately need it. It could also be a dare, if you prefer (wink, wink).
At this point you might be thinking: I need this! ... but I'm not really an artist.
I hear this a lot from clients and it begs a bigger discussion about who in our culture gets to be an artist, but for the purpose of this blog, I'll say this: You don't have to think of yourself as an artist.
Creativity, I believe, is a birthright. As is, healing. And so it seems to me that the two would naturally flow together. If you're interested in starting an arts practice, but are not sure how to begin I've compiled a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Start Small - Many people find themselves overwhelmed by large sheets of paper or canvas. No problem. I often recommend starting with a 5x7 visual journal platform so that there is no pressure to share your work - it's just for you. You can also take a look online at the many sizes of paper and canvas available. Choose what feels comfortable.
2. Start with a Squiggle - Yes, just a squiggle. I've intentionally left out any kind of art prompts from this blog because I think we can benefit so much from letting creativity emerge. That said, if you are feeling stuck, you can always start by doodling and seeing where it leads. Curiosity is the name of the game here.
3. Trust your Intuition - If you are using materials that don't feel quite right, go ahead and explore another medium. Perhaps paint feels too messy or pencil feels too rigid? Maybe collage takes the pressure off of creating a pretty picture, but you can still express in a way that feels good? Lean in and trust.
Lastly, remember that using art for expression and healing is about the process, not necessarily creating a pretty picture to hang on the wall - though that often happens anyway.
I'll add that in the near decade I've been an expressive arts therapist, my relationship with mediums has shifted over time. Sometimes I do feel called to use words for expression, particularly if I'm feeling the need to nail down a thought or an idea. At other times I'm called to curate playlists to capture a mood or shift a mood. While the focus of this post is visual art, the invitation above is actually to explore, to create and to express in all the ways. There are no limits.
If you're interested in learning more about expressive arts therapy, please feel free to reach out. You can also check out some of my own art process on Instagram @bay_area_feminst_therapist. I'd love to see yours!
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,
We're a little more than half way through this (fill in your own adjective) year, and one thing is certainly clear: 2020 is making us work.
The truth is, what we're experiencing is more than just a stressful time. It's actually a collective trauma.
Wait, did she say trauma? Yep, I did.
While people often associate trauma with experiences like abuse or assault, war or a natural disaster, trauma can actually be caused by any disturbing event or events that make a person feel unsafe, out of control or helpless.
A pandemic fits that criteria, yes? As does more common (and insidious) experiences like racial violence and discrimination, poverty, misogyny, abuse of government power, homophobia, body-size discrimination and so on.
Symptoms of trauma are often overlooked or mistaken for anxiety because they've become so common in our culture. But unchecked trauma can leave our nervous system in fight-flight-freeze mode, which can have long-term effects on our minds, metaphorical hearts, and physical bodies.
Here are some common reactions to living with or through trauma:
- Feeling like you always have to watch your back
- Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
- Spacing out or feeling like you're outside of your body
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling like you're on an emotional rollercoaster
- All or nothing thinking
As a therapist who specializes in supporting self-identified women and girls through trauma (as well as anxiety and stress), I want to pause to emphasize this: Having symptoms like the ones noted above are - for lack of a better term - a normal response to living through scary and unsafe events.
That said, these defenses also keep us from living our fullest lives. Some examples: Numbing to pain, also numbs us to joy. Riding an emotional roller coaster often impairs relationships. Constantly watching our backs, keeps us from being present and looking toward the future.
You get the picture. And yet, it follows that it doesn't have to be this way.
I truly believe that even in times of chaos, deep healing and growth are possible. Post-traumatic growth is real, just as is the wound it stems from.
Often the first step in the healing process is connecting with a therapist you feel comfortable with. This act alone can help re-create a feeling of emotional safety that had been initially highjacked.
If you're interested in accessing support or learning more about how I help clients move through trauma to a place of ease and increased resiliency, please contact me. At risk of repeating myself, you do not need to go it alone.
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,
Sheltering-in-Place (aka the Great Pause of 2020) has shaken life, and many of us to our cores. Stripping away excess and turning inward is part of the package right now and with that big questions are bound to arise.
I'm not talking about the kind of questions that we may have previously grappled with like 'where should I travel this year?' or 'what if I don't meet that deadline? ' - although those questions may still be looming. I'm referring to the big questions that philosophers, writers, artists and, well, many psychotherapists have long since mused about.
While these periods often give way to important personal growth spurts and sometimes greater paradigm shifts, they are often downright uncomfortable and at times overwhelming. Questioning who you are and the world around you can be anxiety producing (read: racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping, excessive worry), which is why many people avoid asking those big questions to begin with.
For those of you wondering how to support your Great Reckoning or at least make it feel more manageable, here are three simple steps to get you started:
#1. Lean In - First and foremost, be gentle with yourself as you acknowledge the process and create space for it. Honoring our experience helps ease resistance to the uncomfortable feelings that may arise. Upping self-care, whatever that means for you, is also essential.
#2. Journal, Journal, Journal - Writing is a great way to externalize what you're thinking and decrease racing thoughts. It also helps in gaining new insights by helping us make sense of our experiences, thoughts and feelings. A visual journal is another option, which focuses more on imagery than words.
#3. Talk it Out - Find a trusted friend, family member or community leader to talk through your questions, but also know there may not be an immediate answer. Just as important to note is that if you are finding this process to be overwhelming or increasingly distressing, as it can be, please reach out to a psychotherapist to help guide you through your process. That's what we're here for!
As I finish up this post, I am reminded of a quote by poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I was first introduced to these words in graduate school as I was beginning my journey as a therapist, and they feel particularly relevant to our collective experience now. The quote goes like this:
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything."
On that note, please know I am here to support as we are all living the questions day by day in this historic time.
Till next time, wishing you peace & ease,
Let's be real, women and girls are shouldering the weight of pandemic-life in a BIG way right now. It's exhausting and for many ... dangerous.
Last week, the New York Times reported that one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, putting them on the front lines often underpaid and undervalued. It's no surprise the data also shows that women of color are more likely than anyone else to fill those essential job roles.
Meanwhile, a few steps back from the frontline the challenges that existed for women and girls pre-pandemic continue, but with a COVID twist.
Here's what I mean:
And these are just a few examples.
Is it any wonder anxiety, stress and trauma symptoms are on the rise? No, not really. It seems a normal response to an unhealthy situation.
Hyper vigilance or feeling like you've always got to watch your back, makes sense. As does numbing out, tearfulness and racing thoughts. These are all symptoms of anxiety, stress and trauma -- though often people don't recognize them as such.
So then how do we tend to the psychological wounds of women and girls in such an unprecedented time? Well, from my perspective we need a therapeutic approach that holds the nuanced experiences of women and girls and also recognizes that one's emotional health hinges not only on a strong sense of self and nourishing relationships, but on a society where we all feel safe and respected.
Enter: Feminist Therapy (again).
Feminist Therapy emerged in the 1960s and was radically different from earlier therapeutic approaches, which positioned the therapist as expert and/or omitted the social and cultural context of a client's experience. These frameworks were also very much rooted in euro-centric, patriarchal values, and as a result women were underserved and often pathologized - 'Female Hysteria', anyone?
In contrast, Feminist Therapy emerged as a strengths-based approach. It viewed the political as personal, and valued diversity of experience. Feminist Therapy also held the therapeutic relationship as a partnership of equals.
I will say while Feminist Therapy was a significant improvement from previous therapeutic approaches, it was not without its problems. Just like the earliest waves of the feminist movement, Feminist Therapy tended to the needs of white middle/upper class women, largely ignorant to the challenges of poor women, LGBTQ IA+ women, women of color and many others.
While the approach has evolved since its inception, attempting to address intersections of identity and cultural humility more directly, I want to be clear that the field continues to grow and change.
I'm not speaking for all feminist therapists here or the field at large. Instead I'm sharing some values and principles that I incorporate into my own Feminist Therapy practice, which focuses specifically on the support of self-identified women and girls.
I share my approach here because as I've written many times before I believe Feminist Therapy is revolutionary, just as I believe healing is our birthright.
These are trying times indeed, and women and girls deserve support tailored just to them. Too often folks shy away from therapy because they fear their experiences won't be fully honored. It feels safer to push through on their own, despite the pain it may cause, not realizing there is a therapeutic frame that is inline with their own values and experiences.
If you're interested in knowing more about Feminist Therapy, the work I do, or are in need of support during this trying time, don't hesitate to reach out. Please know you are not alone in this.
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,
I'll be honest, I've always been slow to try new things. Whether it's new technology or a new fashion trend, I typically take note, wait in the wings and observe for a good amount of time before deciding to give something a try. And that was where I stood with incorporating video therapy (aka teletherapy or online therapy) into my practice.
Flash forward to March 2020 and pandemic life forced my hand. Overnight, just like so many healthcare providers, I was no longer able to see clients face-to-face and had to move quickly to secure an online platform so we could, well, therapy-in-place. I'm happy to share that overall it's been a smooth transition.
If you've never tried it, you're probably wondering what video therapy looks like in practice. And just like in-person therapy, it varies from therapist to therapist and client to client. On my end, I bring the same warmth, authenticity and creativity that I always did and my clients continue to bring their concerns, vulnerabilities and wins ... but from the comfort of their homes.
When clients reach out to schedule their first session, I provide them with tips on how to make the most of their therapy time including:
Then, each week, my clients receive a session reminder with a private link for their session via email or text. They click the link and it brings them to a secure and HIPAA compliant "room" ... I'm there waiting for them just as I would be in my office.
Now a month in to this new adventure, I'm realizing just how many advantages video therapy has including accessibility and comfort for clients who are able to receive support while cozied up from their homes. And because of this, I've even decided to continue offering video therapy as an option after the shelter-in-place order is eased.
If you've wanted to reach out for support during COVID and have been hesitant because of the video platform, I want to encourage you to contact me to ask questions or schedule an appointment. I'll share that just as I began providing video therapy for clients, I also began working with my own new therapist online. While I was hesitant because it was new and different, I am so glad I did. The support has been invaluable during this very surreal time.
Till next time, wishing you all health & ease,
As we continue to shelter-in-place here in the Bay Area, it's common to feel like the veil between work and home; day and night; day to day is wearing thin. Are we in week four of being housebound? I think I've lost track myself.
The lack of delineation can feel disorienting and add to already high levels of stress and anxiety, so adding ritual to your day can be a big help. As an expressive arts therapist, creating ritual is one of the tools I most enjoy sharing with clients because it can be powerful, creative and ... fun. (Yes, it's true - therapy can be enjoyable!)
While the term often gets conflated with solemn religious traditions or Woo-Woo gatherings -- both of which can be hugely supportive, and of which I have often participated, btw -- ritual can really be any activity that is infused with intention and is meaningful to the person performing it. It's another approach to working with the symbolic, not unlike making art or using guided imagery in therapeutic work.
So, what might a ritual look like in this time of COVID-19? Well, you may feel inspired to create an elaborate ritual to demarcate the end of your work week with a meditation, prayer and saltwater bath or you may need something more simple -- maybe a morning ritual to practice gratitude and connect spiritually, whatever that means to you. Other folks use cleaning and organizing their space as part of a ritual, holding that our outer space reflects the state of our inner lives and vice versa. While other people set aside each day to use tarot cards and oracle decks to tap into their higher selves a/o higher power.
Here are a couple of prompts to consider when designing and implementing your own ritual:
1. Ask yourself how are you feeling and what do you need help with?
2. What is your intention for the ritual?
3. What symbols resonate? What materials do you need?
4. When will I set aside time to practice my ritual?
5. How did the ritual feel? Do I need to change anything?
Lastly, if you feel drawn to this practice but still aren't sure where to start, I would suggest doing some research on common ritual practices that may provide some inspiration. Information on the use of ritual for psycho-spiritual purposes abounds these days, but one book that has stood out is Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals and Practices for Coping in a Crisis by Lisa Marie Bastile.
I often work with clients on creating personalized ritual to support their psycho-spiritual health, so please know I am available to support you as well. I would love to hear from you!
Till next time, wishing you all health & ease,
I know I'm not alone in feeling like overnight life has been turned upside down and inside out. These are surreal days and honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this time of COVID-19.
Like many of you reading this, I am in a privileged position. I'm healthy, able to work from home, have access to food, technology ... and still, the anxiety and trauma stemming from this pandemic are very real. Experiences of numbness, fear, racing thoughts, denial, nightmares and sadness are all part of the package right now. Our feelings may come and go quickly leaving a sense of emotional whiplash.
So how do we begin to care for ourselves and each other (from a distance) in the midst of so much crisis?
Well, to be clear, I don't think there's a right way to navigate a pandemic. I believe everyone is doing the best they can, when they can. But as the weeks continue to pass, I'm realizing both from my own experience and from the folks I talk to, that focusing on right now - a tenant of so many spiritual practices - has never felt more wise.
With that in mind, I've compiled some ideas on developing a Right-Now Plan. Looking at what we need and/or can do this week, this day, this hour, or even this moment can make everything feel just a little more manageable. In the weeks to come, I'll use this blog to dive in to some of these ideas more deeply, but for now I've provided some starting points below. As you're developing your plan remember that it doesn't need to feel like a to-do list. The most effective plans are tempered with self-compassion and scaffolded with the support of others. After all, if ever there was doubt about how interconnected we all are, well, here we are ... reminded.
Till next time, wishing you all health & ease,
For Right Now, Consider ...
#1. FEELING ALL YOUR FEELINGS
Here's a truth: Everything you feel is valid. One moment you may find yourself hopeful, the next may bring anger and the next grief. Give yourself space to cry or dance or write or do whatever feels expressive and nourishing. Rumi's poem The Guest House speaks beautifully to this practice.
#2. TRYING TELE/VIDEO THERAPY
If you are feeling overwhelmed, and so many of us are right now, please reach out for professional support. Most of the therapists I know, including myself, are offering phone and video sessions. There's no need to go through this on your own. I'm happy to answer questions about what tele/video therapy may look like and offer (as always) free consultation or referrals to low-fee clinics. Message me here.
#3. CUTTING YOURSELF SOME SLACK
It's more than okay if you are not feeling as motivated as you were. Practice letting go of productivity as you knew it a couple of weeks ago. What can it look like right now? Maybe making the bed is the task of the day or maybe its working on a big project in small chunks to minimize overwhelm.
#3. PRACTICING GRATITUDE & APPRECIATION
Practicing gratitude/appreciation can be helpful in shifting perspective. This practice is not intended to gloss over the difficult, but instead helps us hold a fuller, more nuanced view of everything we're experiencing. One idea is to start a journal entirely dedicated to the practice of gratitude or appreciation. Another idea is to text with a friend or share with a family member what you're both grateful for or appreciative of.
#4. TAKING ACTION & GIVING BACK
Supporting others during this time is not only a way to leverage privilege and practice social responsibility. Acts of kindness and responsibility can also help ease feelings of powerlessness and increase feelings of connectedness. A few ideas: monetary donations to community organizations, sewing masks, fostering pets, joining NextDoor to help out neighbors.
#5. DEVELOPING A (FLEXIBLE) SCHEDULE
We often talk about how important structure is for kiddos, but adults benefit too. Structure increases a feeling of containment and safety and often decreases feelings of anxiety. I highly recommend creating some schedule for your day, even if it just includes a few self-care tasks.
#6. IDENTIFYING MUTAL SUPPORT
Who can you check on and who will check on you in a meaningful way? Asking: How are you?, often elicits a blanket response of Okay. But asking: What do you need? or How can I support you? lends to more authentic, open communication.
#7. LIMITING MEDIA EXPOSURE
What we read, watch and listen to impacts us - consciously and unconsciously. Check in with yourself. The news media and social media serve important functions, but how much media is helpful to you? Does media help you feel connected or does it trigger fear and hopelessness?The answer can vary daily.
#8. EXPLORING YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD ON FOOT
Leisurely walks make it into my gratitude journal regularly. Next time you go for a walk, consider taking photos or mental notes. What are you noticing that you never noticed before? Who can you share it with (virtually)?
#9. PRACTICING PRAYER OR MEDITATION (or both) Whether you are connecting to a higher power or your higher self, or you need a break from inner chatter, making prayer or meditation a regular part of your schedule can be grounding. If you are new to meditation, I recommend the Head Space app. It has many options for those new to meditation and those who are experienced.
Last, but not least ... yes, if you feel like taking a nap, please take a nap. It's good for you. The day-to-day may feel exhausting right now. Let yourself recharge and support others in doing the same.
Pretty much everyone that blogs is writing about the holidays in one way or another right now. And therapists are filling the Web with how-to-get-through the-holiday-season pieces. I'm no different (obviously) and it's for good reason.
For better or worse the holidays shine a light on all that's there and all that's not.
Anger, irritability, sadness and anxiety are all common (and understandable) feelings and yet after hearing client's stories I almost always sense an underlying grief. It's palpable. Sometimes its around the loss of an actual relationship, but more often it's the grief associated with the idea of a relationship with a partner, friend, family members so on.
I believe that grief is real too and should be honored. I also believe that in addition to practicing acceptance and finding space to feel your feelings, one of the most important things we can do is to love-up on ourselves fiercely, in all the ways imaginable.
You may be wondering what that even means. Fair enough.
And it depends - which is my initial answer for most everything, but ultimately the goal is to be kind to ourselves, to comfort ourselves during a time when the pot is full-on stirred and our wounds are tender.
Maybe it's about practicing kind self-talk or maybe it's something more elaborate. It really doesn't matter as long as the result is you feeling cared for.
For some this idea may feel indulgent, especially when the message we receive is that the winter holidays are about giving to others. Okay, I love that idea if it feels right for you. But here's a truth I hold close: you can not give from an empty well.
Ultimately, acts of self-love enhance our relationships with ourselves and increase our capacity to offer grace and empathy in situations or relationships that otherwise prove challenging.
Also know that if you are finding your feelings to be overwhelming