Containment for Creative People
Containment is a skill often introduced early on in creativity counseling, as a way to manage feelings that arise during session. It is a way of modeling awareness of emotional experiences that can then be transferred to practice in our daily lives. The therapy skill we will explore today is containment. With many practical uses and flavors of applications to try, we will focus on an introduction to and some basics of the skill.
Containment is a Temporary Solution
The goal of containment, unsurprisingly, is to contain, in this case, feelings. Containment as a skill refers to the process of containing, and this is something important to learn and practice. Once you have learned how to contain, your next task will be identifying when you need the skill and using it during those times. Collaboration with your creativity counselor is an important part to all of this, circularly, because containing feelings is a temporary solution. Ultimately we want to be able to experience and not resist our feelings, as in mindfulness practices, but there are experiences in our lives, past and present, that it is beneficial to temporarily contain.
Containment is Useful for Creative People
What needs to be contained? In Creativity Counseling, we are probably talking about emotions, and strong ones. The function of an emotion is to communicate something to you through its expression, and to thwart that natural process by containing it means two things: 1) The emotional experience is likely too powerful to have all at once, and 2) you do not feel in control of the emotional experience. Creative people are passionate people, and whatever the source of your emotions, good or bad, you will feel them strongly. That makes containment an especially important skill to learn.
The Containment Balloon
I will give you an example I often give to children I work with. Imagine a balloon representing you, and the air in the balloon representing emotions. The natural experience of this balloon is to be inflated and deflated, inflated and deflated. In this fashion, a normal flow of emotions comes and goes in our lives. If suddenly too much air inflates the balloon, then we have a deviation of the natural experience and now a larger volume of air to manage. If the larger volume of air is released all at once, the balloon flies all around without control. If the larger volume of air is not released at all, when more air inevitably inflates it, the balloon can burst. Containment represents a process in which we learn to let out some of the air, close off the balloon, let out more, close it again, etc.
How to Practice Containment
So far so good. How is containment done? Like many things in Creativity Therapy- the answer is: it depends on what works for you. Your goal is to try to find a way to close yourself off from experiencing too many feelings at once and being debilitated by them. Remember- you don’t want to close yourself off forever, but you do need a system to do this periodically, allowing you to control how, when and how much you experience emotion. In creativity counseling, we will work together to devise a system to help you do this. Some people are successful with a physical ritual, like closing up their office at the end of a stressful day. Others do well with a meditation, visualizing locking up a box with the emotions inside. There are as infinite a number of ways to do this as your creativity will allow.
When to Practice Containment
Once you have devised a system of containment, your second step will be identifying when you need it, and using it at that time. Sounds simple. It isn’t. But it is worth your troubles, because it is very effective. Containment is a process taught universally in mental health to help people cope with powerful experiences, and it can also work for you! Learning to identify when you have powerful feelings and to implement strategies like containment to help you manage them, is something that creativity counseling is designed to do!
Learn Containment with Creativity Counseling
Like any new skill, all therapy skills have a learning curve. This means it will require patience, perseverance and repetition to get good at it. Therapy skills are often less tangible than other things we may learn, and too often I will hear a client give up and say something doesn’t work, simply because they haven’t practiced long enough. It can be harder to stick to something you can’t physically see. Remember to do something new or different is to change and change is a process that takes time- so stick to it!
Take one of these two steps and you can get started with Creativity Counseling and managing difficult feelings. Powerful emotions are part of normal experiences for Creative People, and you can manage them in a healthy way!
2) Book a Free Consultation. All new clients to Creatively, LLC are entitled to a 15 min, free consultation to sit with me and discuss your needs, services available, and we can problem solve and hand-pick best next steps to help you succeed.
3) Book a Coaching Package. Are you a working Creative in need of specific support? I offer a range of Coaching Packages- let's get started with one that is right for you.
(c) 2020 CREATIVELY, LLC
Hello, Creatives. In addition to working with Creative People one of my clinical specialties has been working with anxiety disorders- and for many reasons it is not uncommon for creative people to be anxious. So, in this week’s Creatively Blog, I bring you a self-coined term I have identified from working with anxiety to help you understand some ways you may be compensating.
Let’s start with some basic information about anxiety. Anxiety indicates a physiological aroused state where your body- to varying degrees- is perceiving and preparing for a threat. Anxiety is an emotion that activates your limbic system- some of your more basic brain functions live here- something I talk about in session as “lizard brain.” More or less, anxiety acts as a switch, either activated or inactivated. The prevailing psychological model for reducing anxiety is exposure response prevention, or, gradually reducing sensitivity to physiological arousal to perceived threats. Anxiety can be summarized as how sensitive our body is to activating emergency response mechanisms when a threat is perceived- and this sensitivity is largely inherited but also can be impacted and changed by life events (eg trauma). A frequently used set of terms in anxiety treatment are “triggers” (what makes you anxious) and “coping skills” (how you manage that anxiety). Some of these are fairly universal and some are more individualized. A coping skill that I see a lot, and that is frequently subconsciously used, is increasing the level of control (type A, much?) to offset the feeling of anxiety. An exacerbation of this relationship can be seen in classic OCD presentations. Anxiety is not always bad and in fact evolutionarily the emotion functions to keep us prepared and safe. Unlike many other emotions, it is not an emotion that you can “stop” from doing- in fact trying to “stop” anxiety may worsen it. Ultimately the best anxiety strategy is to not over-attend or feed into the cycle; allowing it to run its course, and reducing its overall severity and disruption is key. For more about anxiety, reference the “Pet your Inner Cat” blog post about self soothing and self care- a place I usually start treatment with most of the anxiety diagnosed clients that I treat. For more about anxiety and creative people, reference the “Creative People, Anxiety and Intuition” blog post.
Now that you have some basic information, let’s move on to the phenomena I started to observe. Like many things in clinical work, I noticed it together with a patient during a breakthrough in session, which allowed me to see it again with another patient, and then another, and so on. Before I knew it, there was a behavior or series of behaviors I was watching my anxious clients engage in as a way to cope with their anxiety, which ultimately once labeled could serve them to identify the worsening or a change in their anxiety symptoms. What I noticed I began to call the “Control Perceived Imbalance Correction” or “CPIC” (pronounce see-pick). In my overview to anxiety I said that subconsciously many anxious people balance or offset their anxiety with control- they believe- usually erroneously- that by increasing control over something they can also increase control over a different thing. Often we feel excess anxiety about things we cannot control, and to offset this it feels good to take control of something else. For example- a person may be feeling anxiety about increased tension in their marriage- a perceived loss of control- and so to correct this imbalance they binge eat- an over use of a coping skill psychologically used to restore control or correct the imbalance. Sometimes there is a sense of self-fulfilling prophecy or self-sabotage- someone may be feeling a loss of control of personal finances, and to correct the perceived imbalance of control go on a shopping spree. On a psychological level they are taking control by doing what they want with money, but in a literal way of course worsening the stressor. CPIC is one, driven by the emotion of anxiety and not by logic, and two, is usually subconscious, and this combination can be problematic. Once I see this relationship with a client, I can help them identify the imbalance correction (eg overspending, overeating etc) and this can be used by the client to pinpoint the source of stress in the future and change course sooner. This is one reason why in therapy I will usually ask you about your week- anything unusual? How have you been sleeping, eating, etc? I am looking for evidence of changes in your life.
CPIC is a bit more of a cerebral concept, but, I have found it very useful to my clients once applied. It is certainly something easier to unravel individually by example and through deduction and fact rather than hypothetically and conceptually in writing- and so I invite you to come sit on my couch and learn about yourself, Creative! Come start creating your best life.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Today I want to tap into what I affectionately call in session “the lizard brain” or petting the cat: the natural, organismic, animal part of you. This is the part of you where instinct and body knowledge live, untampered with by your mighty prefrontal cortex. It is a set of natural drives and signals that most living things live by, and in many ways we have evolved away from. For better and worse, we bring in the “intellectual committee” when making decisions, sometimes overriding our organismic needs. There are certainly times for that. There are also certainly times when it is less useful. Ideally, I want you to be able to identify both your natural instincts and your “committee” decisions, and make a choice as to which you need to follow. Since I think human beings are evolved and accomplished at doing the latter (“the committee”) I want to dedicate this blog post to the former (“the lizard brain”). So- let’s take some time and space to check in with yourself: how are you at listening to your instincts?
You may connect with this notion of instincts by one of its many names in today’s society- body knowledge, Mommy instincts, protective instincts, gut feelings, initial reactions, first impressions, etc. It is a visceral screaming of “yes” or “no” inside you. If you have to “decide” about something, then that is probably not your instinct about it.
I was listening to a book (still listening to Caroline Casey) who quoted a zen master on this very topic- she said this zen master described the concept of zen to her as “when I am hungry, I eat, when I am tired I sleep.” What a basic and beautiful example of meeting simple organismic needs. Yet- how often do we neglect to do this? We eat when we aren’t hungry, we don’t sleep when we are tired- yes, I know there are many reasons why- but we can’t deny that the overall effect is neglecting our animal self.
When we neglect our animal self, or “basic needs” in hierarchy of needs psychology, there is a fall-out. One of these is that we lose sight of and connection with that part of ourselves. If we aren’t giving our body what it wants, eventually we stop listening to what it is asking us for, until we finally block it out altogether and aren’t even sure what our instincts are. Another cost of this behavior is- we are in a contestant state of alarm or stress. If, again, you think about an animal without regular reliable food, water, shelter, safety, routine, structure, exercise etc, what you get is a stressed out, unhappy, neurotic animal. For human beings it is the same. When we neglect our basic needs we are constantly plagued by an undercurrent of anxiety and stress.
I want to take a minute and address the difference between instincts and hedonism. In other words, needs vs wants. All livings things also have a survival instinct that drives us to excess (hedonism). It says- “this is good- more!” and is not the same as meeting basic needs. This is something for you to keep in mind as you tease apart what your natural self is asking you for- for now, remember that these two things are not the same.
I said earlier that one of the modern-day society names for these instincts is “body knowledge” and in fact this is a concept touted in psychology (especially related to trauma). Essentially what it means is- your body stores experiences and knows what you need on a visceral level. This means you can trust that your instincts. If you are listening to them correctly, they are giving you an accurate picture of your needs. Instincts know when you are suffering, when you are well, and what you need to stabilize. Your body stores your own individualized instruction manual for the recipe to your peace and happiness. Sounds a little too good to be true, doesn’t it?
To strengthen this natural force within you, you need to tap into it and listen to it often. If you haven’t done this much, or even at all, I want you to start by “petting the cat.” Consider your most basic organismic needs (do a simple inventory) and make sure that they are met. Drink enough water. Eat enough good foods. Be physically active. Be social. Get enough sleep. Adhere to a routine. Eliminate toxicity and poisons. Do this diligently for at least two weeks and record your anxiety and stress level as you go. I promise you will feel more grounded, safe and calm. By “petting the cat” you are getting back in touch with your instinctual natural self by giving it what it needs.
A second step: once you are meeting your basic needs, begin to notice when your “lizard brain” is asking you for something. You will begin to notice fatigue when you deviate from a routine, miss a meal, etc. Begin to make the connection with these natural and basic patterns of cause and effect in your body. Strengthen the connections by noticing them and meeting the needs they are asking you for. As you continue in this work, you might add a meditative practice to quiet your thoughts (eg consciously telling the committee to stop talking to you) and access your instincts. Begin to notice the answers to questions like, what “feels right”?
Over time, my goal for you is not to lose you intellectual capacity, but to supplement it with your strong instinctual knowledge. When making decisions I want you to have access to both an intellectual and visceral information source, and when these differ an ability to choose between them.
Did you know this skill enhances not only your overall sense of wellbeing, but also your artistic practice? Give me a call and let’s talk more about how.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
You’ve Done Enough Coping
This is the antithetical post where your therapist tells you to stop coping with things. Today I want to reflect upon a clinical observation I have made in practice over the years, as well as in the world around me. I want to debunk some of the most popular psychological advice and offer my own based on my own clinical readings, learning and experience. I do, of course, caveat this with- if it doesn’t feel right or healthy for you, don’t follow it- and- consult your therapist about it before making any radical changes to your behavior. That said:
I want you to stop coping. I will say it again: Stop. Coping. Stop distracting yourself from your problems, numbing yourself to your pain, filling up emptiness with things. Creatives, these things are not meant to be permanent solutions to your problems! They are, at best, temporary survival mechanisms that do not (I repeat NOT) serve you well in the long term. If you want to heal, and you are truly ready and able to do the work, it is time to feel the feelings you are protecting yourself from. There is no other way to move forward.
I want to acknowledge that it is not always the right time to do this, and coping mechanisms are survival skills when life comes at us too hard, too fast and too harsh to deal with. They are good for that for awhile. Sometimes you can cordon off some of your pain to coping skills and take out smaller things to feel and deal with- and this is an important accompanying skill (read: emotional boundaries!) and so we see evolutionarily coping skills and protective mechanisms have an important function- but they by definition are preventing you from dealing with your emotional baggage, which, by definition is weighing you down. So: stop. With. The. Coping.
The reality is this will mean pain for you. The reality is, this will mean struggling. But that is life! Life is struggle and survival and emotional ups and downs. They give us perspective, meaning and allow us to grow. As long as we continue to protect ourselves from it, we are staying stagnant and not allowing ourselves to come into living our fullest, best lives.
And that’s it for today, Creative! Another parsimonious nugget to let roll around in your brain. Assuming you accept this idea with me, the logical next step is: “how do I do the work?” Luckily for you, you know a therapist! Let’s talk about some strategies for you in session.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
This week’s post centers on mindfulness, and in that spirit, is parsimonious:
“Sailing through”- an expression depicting something someone has done easily, without resistance.
This week’s practice: Put things down. Do less. Say no. Immerse yourself in simply being. If you don’t know how, try a guided meditation.
Enjoy moments of intentional peace, silence and mindful absorption.
If your life is too full to allow for this, identify some things you can put down for awhile. You may be missing life’s beautiful moments by going too fast and trying too hard.
While sailing, you use the powerful forces of wind and water as they exist naturally. You harness them to go where you want to go. You are not fighting the elements. You are taking them as they are and using them to arrive at your destination.
“Sailing through:” Mindfully embracing the forces of your life fully to direct yourself to a peaceful and fulfilling future.
Harness your power, for you are mighty.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Adults need to Limit Screen Time, Too
Creatives: most of us have heard by now that pediatricians recommend limiting screen time in our little ones to help mold their growing minds. What you may or may not know or do is limit screen time for yourself, as well. I don’t have to tell you how prevalent glowing screens are in our daily lives- they are computers, tablets, phones, TVs and more- and we spend up to 75% of our waking hours looking at them. There are studies showing physiological effects of these activities such as posture and neck/back problems, eye strain, and more- I am here to tell you there is also a psychological impact!
Here are some of the problems with “screen time,” that you may or may not know about:
Screen time isn’t “real life.” You aren’t interacting physically with others (a psychological and sociological need) you aren’t physically accomplishing something (a self esteem need and creative need) you may or may not be being creative (a psychological need).
Screen time isn’t “natural.” You are likely inside, seated. You are probably not outside, breathing fresh air, using your body, experiencing natural body rhythms of the day, touching, smelling, or tasting. The medical community recommends disengaging from screens at least 2 hours prior to going to bed as it interferes with the body’s natural ability to fall asleep.
Screen time isn’t “mindful.” You aren’t grounded, experiencing or aware of time passing. You aren’t “living” as a human biological organism is meant to “live.” You are not participating in the present moment or engaging with your surroundings.
Screen time isn’t “nurturing.” You are taking time away from self care, you are taking time away from other productive activities and goals like cooking, fitness, housework, and spending time with loved ones. Too often screen time is comparing out on social media, spying and pretending and watching other lives in entertainment- it is outward not inwardly focused, it is fleeting and not long lasting- you are not investing in yourself.
Need more convincing? Try this exercise (on paper!): Spend five minutes on a screen- whether you are browsing the web, flicking through social media pages, watching TV or gaming- then stop and reflect on your experience. How did you feel during? How do you feel after? How FULFILLED and ENGAGED in your life do you feel? Give that last one a numerical value. Repeat the exercise doing something without a screen- take a walk, talk to a friend, cook something, meditate. How did you feel during? How do you feel after? How FULFILLED and ENGAGED in your life do you feel? Assign a numerical value. Compare your notes. What did you find out?
Want to make reducing screen time a goal for 2018? Have fears, concerns or obstacles related to the amount of screen time in your life? Let’s talk about it.
(C) 2017 Creatively, LLC
The Holiday Season is quickly coming upon us and with its arrival we need to revamp our mindfulness. In this spirit, next week I will vacation from my blog, newsletter and website- so feel free to take the time to reread some past posts or take your own mindful break!
By now you have had some introduction to what mindfulness is and some ways to use it in your life. Mindfulness is beautifully simple and uncomplicated. When we are mindful, we are quieting the mind and focusing on our present experiences. Even those of us that feel seasoned and successful in mindfulness practices can get diverted from this state of being during the Holiday Season.
Part of the problem with the Holidays is we want them to “be” something. Therefore, we have expectations for them. We compare out and feel pressure to deliver certain things to those around us. Usually these are with the intention of giving the perfect Holiday Season to others. This year, I give you permission to be a little more selfish. Ask yourself what makes the Holidays memorable and special for you? Of the list of things you “have to do” for your Holiday Season- why do items make that list? Let’s make mindful choices this year for how and why we celebrate. Try this simple exercise (as always I advise not to do these exercises without the guidance of therapy sessions- so let’s schedule one of those, too!):
Make a list, drawing or representation of your choosing of what you plan to do for this Holiday Season. If that is already too overwhelming (hmm) then choose one holiday for the exercise. When you are finished, go through each thing you plan to do and “mini-meditate” on it. Consider it. Scan your emotions, scan your body. As you consider this thing, how does your body react? With tension? With warmth? What are your emotions associated with this thing? Stress, joy, something else? Ask yourself, why do you do this thing during the Holidays? For yourself, for others? Allow your mind to consider and hold this information as you think about this first thing. Your goal this year is a peaceful, mindful, happy Holiday Season. Does this thing fit into that picture? Continue the exercise as you go through all your plans. Amend them to take away or add what brings you closer to a more peaceful and enjoyable Holiday Season. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety of eliminating things you might be accustomed to doing from your list. Give yourself permission to do something different.
So often when there are big calendar events like during the Holiday Season, we become so focused on outcomes and making them “perfect,” we miss enjoying them for what they really can be: peace, happiness, family, love, fulfillment and more. This year your new Holiday Tradition is yourself: create a more mindful Holiday Season.
Talk to you again in two weeks (unless I see you in my therapy chair- go ahead- schedule something!)
Happy Mindful Days!
(c) 2017 Creatively LLC
Therapy Skill: Make the Rules for your Life
Don’t bristle at the thought of rules too soon, Dear Creatives- these rules are made by you. Here is a logical concept laid out in print you probably know but may not have taken time to consider or apply, so read it twice: you can set the rules to your own life. One more time: you can set the rules to your life. In psychology-speak, we call these rules boundaries, and they are all yours.
This is a concept worth discussing because every (and I mean every) person who has sat in my therapy chair, has needed to review and address their boundaries. They may have set some rules in their lives, but either they can be added to, revamped, or both. Part of the reason we are bad at this is because it involves change and as such, resistance from others in our lives. Another reason is we may not see that a new rule needs to be set because we are too close to it. Lucky for you, I am not too close to it. I describe it sometimes like this: have you ever stood outside at the base of a tall building and looked up? You can’t see the whole thing. You are too close. I, am across the street. I see you.
Let’s assume that you have identified the need to set some new rules in your life despite some of the obstacles. What does that even mean or look like? We can break it down into categories. You have the right to write the rules for your relationships (romantic, friendship, familial, professional etc), you have the right to write rules for your physical space. You have the right to say when something is emotionally too much or not something you want to handle. In almost every area of your life there is a place for you to design a rule or a limit. Why do we do this? To protect ourselves. If we make the rule that within arm’s length is too close for a stranger to stand to us, we have a way to judge what is safe and can enforce that rule for ourselves. If we have a rule that if we are treated a certain way by a partner then that means we will leave a relationship, we have some groundwork in which to know if we are safe. If I know talking about a certain topic will make me cry and I don’t want to do that, I can decline to participate in a conversation and emotionally protect myself. And on and on.
Like everything else, our personal history including how we are raised and what we have experienced, influence the type of rules we have in our lives. Some of us may have built protective walls that are too strong and become isolating. Others of us may have too few protective barriers and need to build more or reinforce what we have. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Taking time to assess and identify what rules you have for yourself in your life, and how they are functional or dysfunctional (including their absence) for you, is an important goal in therapy that I do in some way shape or form, with everyone.
To help solidify the introduction to this concept, here is a brief art therapy exercise I have asked patients to do in groups and individually. You can repeat the exercise with a variety of boundary types (physical, interpersonal, etc etc). For the sake of this exercise, let’s think about romantic relationships. As always, I don’t recommend doing activities without the guidance of a therapist just in case you open up emotions you weren’t expecting- so give it a try and let’s talk more in session. The exercise:
Draw an object that represents yourself. It can be as simple or complex as you would like. I often draw a butterfly for myself. On the side of your paper, while thinking about your romantic relationships, list some qualities they may have: tumultuous, peaceful, short, long, committed, open, emotional, loving, etc etc. When you feel done, begin to draw around the symbol of yourself a representation of how you protect or open yourself up to romantic relationships. Did you choose to draw an enclosure? Are you using just shapes or colors? Is there a height, thickness or texture? However you create, try to express and explore the feeling you have of exposure or closure and protection in relationships. When you feel finished, look at what you have made. What do you see? Any new or surprising information? On the other side of your paper, list some qualities of an ideal relationship for you. Would you like to be more open or giving? Would you like to be more protective of yourself or your partner? When you feel finished, go back to your drawing and add what you feel you need to create this environment of rules for yourself. Did you patch a wall? Did you lower one? Did you add a door or a lock? Did you add or subtract layers, colors or shapes? When you are done, consider what you have made. The beauty of art is, often we can visually express what is verbally difficult to say. Sometimes the visual serves as a bridge between our feelings and experiences, and active thoughts. Let this project communicate to you and help you understand your relationship rules and boundaries.
Now you have had a quick and messy introduction to boundaries and making your own rules. Maybe you have even bought into that this would be a useful thing to examine and discuss. Believe me- it is important! Come to my chair and learn about yourself. Let’s start creating your happiest life.
(C) 2017 Creatively, LLC
A regular struggle for creative people is the creative block. Writers have writer’s blocks, painters have artistic blocks- we all have things that interfere with the flow of our creative energies. There are many reasons for creative blocks and they all impact us in different ways. In a previous blog post, we looked at using mindfulness to address a lack of inspiration. For the purpose of this exercise let’s examine some of the physical things that get in your way. In other words, what about the atmosphere of your daily life interferes with your ability to create?
What is your ideal creative time? What are you doing? Where are you working? What are you using? What do you hear, see, smell? Take a moment and envision the space. Envision the project. Are you making creative time part of your regular life? Most of us aren’t. We already know that creative people need to create like we need to eat and sleep. Why aren’t we prioritizing being creative? What are some of your barriers to creating?
For many of us it is about time. We have full time jobs, we have families to care for, households to run, other priorities. For many of us it is about money. We have recurring expenses in our lives and can’t carve out extra for supplies. Sometimes it is about space. We live in a home where every room is already spoken for. Where are we supposed to create? On the kitchen table? Maybe! Often, a barrier is motivation and/or creative energy. The problem with a lack of creative energy and motivation is it is its own feedback loop: the less creative we are, the less creative energy we have, and vice versa. Where is a creative person to start to address all of these obstacles?
An important part of therapy is basic problem solving. I say basic to emphasize fundamental more than simple- it is a first step but not an easy one. Go back to your vision of your perfectly spent creative time. Describe it. You can write about it, talk about it, draw about it, make a list- but do something to qualify it. Next, think about if you were to do something creative RIGHT NOW. What do you need? What is preventing you? Again, do something to document this. Put the “ideal” and the “real” creative time side by side. What are you lacking? Great! You have taken your first step to addressing your creative barriers. Now, let’s problem solve.
If you have a list of differences from this exercise, prioritize them based on need. How critical are they to your creative time? Once they are prioritized, you will know what you need to accomplish first for regular creating to become a reality in your life. Don’t put this off! Accept that it is a basic need and something you will work towards in some way each day. If your first item from your list feels too monumental- break it down further. This is goal setting 101: you want to set yourself up to succeed, so set goals that are bite-sized and reachable.
Of course, another vital part of this process is to get support. With my help you can get support in the form of therapy. Bring other healthy people in your life onboard as part of your process. Let’s work on this together and bring more creativity into your daily life!
© 2017 Creatively, LLC
The more you repeat something, the more ownership you take of it. The more ownership you take of something, also known as the ownership effect, the more invested in and valued is that thing. This applies to new skills learned in therapy.
One of the most frequent things I hear from therapy patients about a new learned therapy skill, is that it “doesn’t work.” Very often, after more exploration, what I find is that the patient hasn’t tried the skill “enough.” They have tried it once, maybe even twice, but have not repeated it daily, let’s say, for a week or more, however long it might take for that skill to take effect.
I will give you an example. Have you ever loaded the dishwasher, folded a towel, or done another chore so often, that you have your own way of doing it? Have you ever gone behind someone else, to “correct” them and fix it to your way? With that chore, you have repeated that behavior often enough that you feel ownership of it. So much so, that you feel invested in the way that it is done, and value it being done correctly. You may even get a feeling of pride or satisfaction from doing it.
The ownership effect is a phenomena tried and true in psychological research, and is used throughout the world of health, marketing and even business. Have you ever worked for a company that offered you company shares as part of your compensation? They are hoping to take advantage of the ownership effect, to make you feel more emotionally invested in their company (if you “own” some of it, you will work harder for it!)
As your therapist, I want you to similarly take ownership of, and feel emotionally invested in your life, and the tools you learn in session to create your happiest self. For you, this means repetition. When you learn a new skill, let’s say, meditation, you need to repeat it and practice it again and again until it feels like yours. Only then will the ownership switch flip in your brain, helping you feel invested in the tool. Then you will naturally use it in the best possible ways to improve your life.
The bad news is: when you are learning something new in therapy there will be a curve, or a period of time during which you put yourself through the motions just for repetition’s sake. The good news is: after doing this enough, you will automatically begin to know how to best use and apply the tool and begin to organically see positive change in your life.
So, dear creatives, when you get a new skill, try it, and try it again. Talk to during session about the difficulties you have with practicing the skill and fears you have about its benefit. Be patient with yourself as you learn, and prepare yourself to see the magic you can create in your own life!
(c) 2017 Creatively, LLC
An important facet of emotional health is good self care: the concept of deliberately spending time attending to your own needs. It is fundamental to your wellness and something you should do in some fashion daily. Part of therapy can be learning when and how to care for ourselves, and the signs we subconsciously give ourselves that self care is overdue. Today’s topic is two skills you can use to practice good self care. They are presented as exercises for you to try. As always, talk in session first before implementing a new skill about the benefits and risks, and how to maximize the effectiveness of the tool for you!
Today’s self care skills: Safe Place and Self Soothing. One of the challenges in our hectic lives is to find small moments of peace and happiness. Rather than wait for these moments to come to us, we can also learn ways to make them for ourselves. Two ways to do this are by creating a safe place and through self soothing. Try these exercises to get you started:
Exercise 1. Making a safe place.
Think of a time in your life when you were at peace. Where were you? Inside or outside? What was around you? Were there people there? What time of day was it? You can combine several peaceful experiences or just focus on one to answer these questions. What was it about your surroundings that made you feel at peace? The lighting? The smells? Were there specific items around you that made you feel peaceful? A tree? A stuffed animal? A candle? Use some extra paper to write or draw about your safe place. Fill it with as many peaceful things as you can. Are there any pieces of this you can recreate right now? If your safe place is at the beach, can you go outside? Can you light some candles or get a stuffed animal? Think about how you can recreate or find your safe place in your everyday life. Maybe you can actually go to your safe place every day, maybe you can spend time meditating and imagining yourself there. Think about ways to make this a part of your daily schedule.
Exercise 2. Self soothing.
This exercise is similar to the safe place exercise. It is based on mindfulness or appreciating the moment. The process is simple. Take each of your five senses, one at a time: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Think about things in each of the five senses that you like or that make you happy. Use some extra paper to make a list of things for each of the five senses. Take time to think about the little things that make you happy. Is it the sound of crickets or the rhythmic sound of a window fan? Do you like the feel of cold water on your hands or a soft blanket? What are your favorite tastes? Does the smell of freshly baked cookies make you happy? The list you make will probably be of everyday things. Some things on the list you may not have noticed before as things that bring you peace. After you are done making your list, go back through and circle things you can do every day. Can you turn your pillow over to the cold side and snooze five extra minutes in the morning? Can you have a bowl of your favorite cereal for breakfast? Think about ways to use your five senses and self-soothe as part of your daily schedule.
(c) 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
When I talk about journaling as a therapeutic tool, I am not talking about "Dear Diary, today I..." entries. I am talking about what I commonly describe to patients as a daily emotional download- a freestyle writing session of what is on your mind, what you are feeling, or what you need to "dump" somewhere to free up some space in your brain. Sometimes I may recommend specific topics based on our session for you to explore and try to make connections about- this homework-style journaling is also important. I will not recommend journaling to my patients without some simple guidelines and words of caution. Journaling is a powerful creative tool that is healing when utilized in the right way.
If you are interested in using journaling a word of caution: since it can be such a powerful tool, please do not embark on this unless we have first talked about its usefulness to you in your process, as well as safe and responsible ways for you to utilize it. Specifics, as always, will be particular to you and your journey. The following guidelines, however, are important for your journaling in general. Come back and review these tools as often as you need to as you write.
First, it is important to briefly explore: why is journaling so powerful? I will give you the analogy I frequently use with kids and teens. Imagine a balloon, filled up with air. You are holding it by the end, pinching it off so no air will escape. You can at this point either add more air (balloon may explode) or release some air (to prevent this). Imagine you let go of the balloon- what does it do? Flies all over the room as it expels the air that was trapped inside (also not a good plan). In a simple analogy, journaling is powerful for one reason because it is releasing air from your balloon so it won't explode. However, there are techniques to use while journaling to prevent your balloon from flying out of control (imagine releasing some air through your fingers, then pinching the balloon closed again, for example). A guideline that is important here is emotional containment.
Emotional containment, simply put, is containing your emotions. We do this by creating parameters for how long we will expose ourselves to something emotionally triggering. For journaling in the beginning, for example, I will recommend writing one page, freestyle, then stopping. Put the journal away (have a place for it like a drawer or a shelf) and follow this with another activity that is completely different. Read a book that is not related to what you wrote about (SciFi or Fantasy anyone?) Take a warm shower, take a walk, go into a different room- do something different to "close" the journaling activity. Do not continue to write, do not sit and ruminate, do not call someone and rehash what you wrote, etc. Separate the time and space from the journaling activity with something else. Limit the amount of time spent. This is a simple, but important journaling guideline.
A second reason why journaling can be so powerful: you will make connections in your brain. Have you ever heard the studying recommendation: see it, say it, write it down? Our brain processes information in different ways, and by writing about things you have also talked about in therapy, looking back over what you have written, writing more, etc, you are helping your brain make powerful connections about your experiences, both past and present, and how they impact you. These can be significant and emotional realizations, that also need support and rules to help protect you and assist you in receiving them in a positive way. This guideline for journaling is to simply be sure you are discussing in session what you are writing and following your therapist's recommendations when you return to write again. You may not always have to do this as thoroughly as I would recommend that you do when starting out, but, until you learn more about your journaling process and how it impacts you this is a very important guideline.
When you are journaling in therapy, talk to your therapist about what you write, what you learn about yourself, how you feel before, during and after, and how the work impacts your symptoms. Like most therapeutic processes, you will work with your therapist to adjust and mold this tool to best help you on your journey to mental wellness!
(c) 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
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is a Creativity Coach, Creativity Counselor and Professional Artist in Sykesville, Maryland. She provides Online Creativity Counseling in Maryland and Virginia, and Online Creativity Coaching throughout the USA, Canada and the UK.
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.