Archive | Therapy

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things Not To Do In Therapy

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I posted about five reasons to see a life coach. But I’ve seen all kinds of therapists over the years, and gleaned a lot of lessons along the way. Most of those have been positive lessons about what I ought to do with my life. But I’ve also learned a trick or two about what not to do with a therapist. So, in my (life long?) tribute to therapy, this week’s post is about five things you don’t want to do in therapy:

1. Don’t go on word of mouth. This goes to the choice of therapist. My very first therapist came highly recommended by another shrink. She was a lovely woman. But she was absolutely wrong for me. Where I craved insight, she favored behavioral therapy. Where she wanted a hug; I wanted a hand shake. It’s like dating, folks, and you need to take a few test drives before you commit. Ever since then, whenever I move – because, hey, what’s a move without a new therapist? – I make a point of  interviewing several people before closing the deal. (Buyer beware: in the U.S., at least, they’ll charge for this initial meeting.)

2. Don’t be late. Being late is a clear-cut sign that you’re ambivalent about therapy and your therapist will go to town with it (while billing you all the while…).

3. Don’t leave something behind. Similarly, it’s therapy-death to leave a coat or handbag behind. Clearly, you wanted/needed an excuse to come back. You’ll spend weeks on this. Trust me.

4. Don’t comment on appearances.  I once complimented a therapist on her new glasses. She actually blushed, at which point I felt ridiculous and it took the rest of the session to get over this awkward hump. But this cuts both ways. I have a friend who was describing her body image issues to a (male) therapist, to which he replied, “Speaking as a man, I can tell you you’re attractive.” Easy, tiger. Speaking as a female, I can tell you to keep that to yourself.

5. Don’t share a therapist. I’ve never done this myself, but I have friends who’ve shared therapists with their mothers, mothers-in-law, even husbands. If you’re trying to keep some semblance of boundaries (not to mention boundaries for the therapist), it’ s probably best to see your own guy/gal and keep it personal. Just be sure you shop around…

Image: Doctor Writing by Suat Eman via

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons To See a Life Coach

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Today’s post concerns one of my favorite topics, therapy:

Today, I woke up really tense. I had way too much to do and a shortened work day, in part because I had an appointment to see my life coach.

And then I realized: Wait a minute! Isn’t one of the reasons I see a life coach precisely to avoid feeling so tense all of the time?

Indeed, it is. And, miraculously, it works. Like yoga, talking to my life coach is like immersing myself in a giant bottle of jojoba bath oil.

So today, in honor of my lovely life coach, I’ll post on five reasons why you, too, can benefit from a life coach:

1. It’s all about moving forward. If, like me, you’re a die-hard Freudian at heart, you probably spend a lot of time digging around your past. Do that in good health. Lord knows I have. But there comes a point where you’ll invariably max out on “insight” and need to figure out what you’re going to do with all that history. And that, my friend, is where a life coach kicks in.

2. It’s Positive. My life coach is relentlessly upbeat. The first time I saw her, she noted that I tended to talk only about what I did wrong as a parent, rather than identifying what I did right. Now, at her behest, I make a point of writing down three things that I do right with my kids each day. A bit less Andrea Yates and a bit more Mary Poppins, if you will. Turns out “just a spoon full of sugar” really does help the medicine go down…

3. You get homework. Whenever we meet, my coach assigns me homework – little strategies for changing various behaviors I dislike in myself. I then write these down in a book and take notes on my progress throughout the week. As someone with a super-ego that could rival even Freud’s, having a task I must complete suits my personality perfectly.

4. It’s Practical. Whenever I come to my life coach with any sort of grievance, she immediately re-focuses the conversation around the question “What Works?” As in: “So your husband tried to teach you how to operate the VCR and you snapped his head off  because you were in a rush even though you were the one who asked him to teach you how to do it…Hmmmm. Let’s see how we could have reacted to that differently.” “Really?” I thought, the first time this happened. “But don’t you want to talk about my father?”

5. It’s great material for your blog.


No time or money for a therapist? Check out Colleen Wainwright’s fabulous blog, Communicatrix. Plenty o’ doses of life coaching right there. Plus it’s really funny…

Image: Freud by Ross Burton via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Playing Marriage Counselor to Your Ex

Not so long ago, I got an email from an old boyfriend. His marriage was on the rocks and he was feeling angry and betrayed and he wanted to know what to do.

My first reaction was one of shock. Although our own relationship had gone through its ups and downs, we’d managed to patch things up and remain friends (over email). But I hadn’t heard from him in years. So his cry for help came completely out of the blue. (I feel compelled to cue Paul Simon singing “I met my old lover on the street last night…”)

My second reaction was one of discomfort. Of the many professions I’d trained for over the years, therapist was not one of them. Sure, I analyze myself endlessly and give advice to close friends on all manner of things. But an ex-lover? I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.

My hesitation was made worse by the fact that about ten years ago, another ex had telephoned me for marital advice. His wife had abruptly stopped speaking to him. And not as in they weren’t communicating well; she literally wasn’t speaking to him at all. That marriage ended in divorce (though he subsequently re-married quite happily). But the whole experience gave me cold feet. After all, if I screwed this up, I’d be 0 for 2. That’s worse than the US national divorce average!

But, eventually, I felt flattered. Because when I gave it some thought, I realized that I really did have some limited advice for my ex and his wife (which mostly amounted to some version of “you guys should really sit down and talk to one another”). And it seemed, magically, to be of use. A few days later, I got an incredibly long and grateful email from him about how my advice had revitalized their relationship. His wife (whom I’d always assumed just hated me, and perhaps did) even hoped to meet me some day.

I’m not sure what it is about me that causes my exes to bring their marital problems to my doorstep. But it does make me feel like I’ve come along way. As someone prone to jealousy, even ex-poste (I once hurled a plate at a wall…long story), I’m not necessarily prone to maturity where relationships are concerned. But you know you’ve grown up when you can look at someone else’s relationship – someone with whom you once had your own issues – and analyze it in an impartial, even helpful way.

And, hey, if all else fails, I definitely have a career ahead as a couples counselor. In today’s economy, we all need a back up…


Speaking of maturity, a friend introduced me to the wonderful Formerly Hot website/blog, a self-described “tween site” for grown ups. Be sure to check out the “formerly hall of fame” which includes a listing for margarine. Love it!

Image: Bride and Groom by Sharron Goodyear via Free Digital

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How to Grieve: Write about It

A friend of mine in London just passed me a link to the following essay in The Guardian, which is written by her 83 year old mother and came out today. It’s an essay about how much this woman misses her husband of 60 plus years and how she’s learned to cope over the past year. She just won the Mary Stott Prize at the Guardian, an annual prize honoring women in journalism.

I love the fact that, at 83, this woman still has it in her to produce such a moving and reflective piece of writing. She’s a model for us all. But she’s not alone. A few years back, Joan Didion wrote a best-selling memoir of the year she tragically lost both her husband and daughter, entitled The Year of Magical Thinking (Haven’t read it? It’s a must). What Didion does brilliantly in this book is get you ready for the process of grieving – not so much the emotional side but the psychological side – narrating with a reporter’s precision the different stages one goes through.

There’s no doubt that one of the defining events of adulthood is losing a parent. And even if you’re not a writer by trade – Cynthia Walton isn’t – what both these women do is show you how writing can be a tool in letting you process that grief. In short, they are both fine examples of writing as therapy.

I also just finished Amos Oz’ wonderful (and L-O-N-G) memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness. In addition to being a captivating history of Jerusalem from the 1940s on, this is also a very personal account about how the author’s mother’s suicide when he was 13 fundamentally shaped him as a person, and more importantly, as a writer. Oz is such a talented writer that though he hints at the centrality of his mother’s death throughout the book, it isn’t until the very last page that you fully grasp the enormity of the event in shaping who he is and the writer he becomes. I cried when I read it, which is something I rarely do with a book.

But Walton’s article also made me think about the website I linked to the other day entitled Old Jews Telling Jokes. Because like these men, what Cynthia Walton is doing in writing this article is finding a hobby for herself at the ripe old age of 83 that is both fulfilling and enjoyable. We should all be so lucky.

You go girl!

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Finding a Therapist (in London)

Yesterday I published a short essay in The Guardian Weekly about how hard it was to find a therapist in London. I write a lot of essays, but this was one of my favorites because: (a).  it’s 100% true and (b). because of (a), I happen to find it funny.

The basic thrust of this essay is that as an American, I thought having a therapist was the norm for any warm-blooded, reasonably introspective middle class person living ANYWHERE. Turns out, it ain’t so. At least not in ye olde, stiff-upper-lipped England. When I told my GP (internist) in London that I wanted a referral for a therapist, she looked at me as if I were mad. Therapy? Here? in Great Britain? You’ve got to be nuts!  (No, really, she thought I was nuts…) You can read the rest of the essay yourself…here.

As a friend of mine put it in an email today: “I am fascinated by the faux similarity and wild actual differences between us (USA) and them (Brits).”

Exactly. But I got a lot of feedback on this essay from assorted family and friends. And I don’t think it’s just the cross-cultural piece that they are responding to:

One friend confessed that she’d just sacked not one, but two, of her own therapists in rapid succession, but had signed her husband up for therapy.

Another friend (European) suggested that I extend this analysis to examine the relative receptivity to mental health provision across Europe, comparing France, Italy, the UK, even Finland.

And in a curious case of life…imitating art…imitating life, I got an email from my own (current) therapist, who confessed that she, at times, was guilty of kicking her washing machine rather than trying to figure herself out properly.

Which is a long way of saying that I think people responded to this piece because it resonates. And the reason it resonates is that  adulthood is, at the end of the day, one giant, protracted effort to figure yourself out. Now don’t get me wrong. Loads of people do this without benefit of a therapist (I don’t happen to know them, but that’s another story). But doing therapy – whether it’s traditional psycho-analysis, talk therapy, or some form of groovy self help’y sorta thing – (I’ve done all three) – is a HUGE part of “finding yourself in adulthood” (to coin a phrase).

I’ll have loads more to say in this blog on the topic of therapy – one of my not so closeted obsessions. But for now I will sign off with this, one of my all time favorite cartoons. I think it pretty much says it all, no?

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