Reviewing your past

About those past “unresolved issues“:  A poet and philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th century, George Santayana, is quoted as saying,   “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” If that’s true, then my clients should be heading for better days after a few sessions!

I am not a therapist who starts from “here and now” and moves forward, though laying aside the past is certainly where we want to end up.

My approach is generally to encourage each person to tell their story, starting with their childhood.    Often I use what’s called a ‘genogram’ — diagramming the family tree on my whiteboard and noting the different personality styles, how people related, and what losses they suffered.   Patterns begin to emerge and make sense as we talk about how this might be impacting them in their current life.

This is especially important groundwork for Adult Children of Alcoholics, people recovering from abuse, and those with multiple deaths or losses through divorce.  Though it’s understandable why a person would just like to forget a painful or unpleasant past, taking time to revisit it briefly and thoughtfully in therapy can be surprisingly beneficial.    Out of this, healing can emerge like the phoenix rising from ashes to new life!

Principles for Building a Successful Marriage

John Gottman has revolutionized the study of marriage by using rigorous scientific procedures to observe the habits of married couples in unprecedented detail over many years. Here is the culmination of his life's work: the seven principles that guide couples on the path toward a harmonious and long-lasting relationship. Packed with practical questionnaires and exercises, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is the definitive guide for anyone who wants their relationship to attain its highest potential.

John Gottman’s book for building a successful marriage is a must-read for most couples in my practice.    It’s loaded with practical evaluations, exercises and advice.   He is quite frank in his serious warnings for relationship pitfalls – eg. the chapter on the “seven horsemen of the apocalypse” – but I think the book is quite hopeful.

In addition to his own practice as a marriage therapist, he’s been doing research for the past two decades.

Not only do I subscribe to his research, but I have pursued some training from him and have incorporated much into my own approach.   You can find his The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert through Amazon and in most local bookstores.

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Benefits of the Changing Family Landscape

It is now estimated that between 17-20% of homes in America are multi-generational.   Increasingly, several generations opt for the financial, social and emotional support that living together affords.

In some cases, grandparents are helping to raise the next generation by moving in with their adult children.  But sometimes it’s the young adult children, now jobless, who are moving back with their parents.

Perhaps this is a real upside to the politically and financially dark landscape that we are in these days.  We need each other!   A benefit to hard times is that we change our perspectives about the glories of being “self-made” and “self-contained.”   Forget the Lone Ranger!

We’re into extended family and community these days.   So get out the board games and fire up the bar-b.   You don’t need expensive restaurants and entertainment when you have a friend at home.

Book Gives Context to Those in Grief

Explaining the important difference between grief and mourning, this book explores every mourner's need to acknowledge death and embrace the pain of loss. Also explored are the many factors that make each person's grief unique and the many normal thoughts and feelings mourners might have. Questions of spirituality and religion are addressed as well. The rights of mourners to be compassionate with themselves, to lean on others for help, and to trust in their ability to heal are upheld. Journaling sections encourage mourners to articulate their unique thoughts and feelings.

In my work as a volunteer with Portland’s Legacy Hospice I came across Dr. Wolfelt’s “Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart.”

Legacy recommends it in their bereavement support group, and for good reason.    If you’ve ever experienced great loss and felt confused or even a bit crazy for what you are experiencing, this book will bring you some reassurance and comfort.    A companion workbook is available for people who find it helpful to write and who want to work through their bereavement process one “touchstone” after the other.

For my clients who are coming to me for some professional support dealing with issues surrounding loss, I often use this book to supplement our counseling sessions.   Available through Amazon or may be ordered through your local bookstore.

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Advice to Help Parents Break the Cycle of Addiction

Here's a book that every adult concerned about kids will want to read. The author convincingly argues that parents are the ones who not only can but also must take the lead in preventing their kids from getting mixed up with alcohol and other drugs. Parenting for Prevention shows them exactly what to do and how to do it. The theme is prevention, but the approach is thoroughly positive. You'll find no threats or warnings here, no long list of don'ts. Instead, this book says, in effect: If you really want to prevent your kids from getting involved with alcohol or other drugs, here's the way to do it. Teach them these life skills. "I make you a promise. If you read this book thoughtfully and follow its recommendations, you'll have new insights into a whole host of everyday parenting problems, as well as practical skills for handling them. Those insights and skills will be the best insurance policy you can take out to prevent your kids from getting into problems with alcohol or other drugs--because you'll be helping them develop into healthy, well-balanced kids who can stand on their own feet, resist unhealthy peer pressures, and still be accepted and respected wherever they go."

There are many good parenting books on the market but one that I frequently return to in my practice – especially for parents of pre-teen and teen children – is “Parenting for Prevention.”   It’s particularly useful for parents who themselves are Adult Children of Alcoholics and who want to make sure they don’t raise another generation of substance abusers.

It is too easy for ACA’s to slip into some enabling behaviors!    But I think this book is a good read for parents of any nearly or clearly adolescent.    Full of common sense and easy to read with almost no “filler” – I think you’ll enjoy the simple “job descriptions” for parents and kids and the advice on how to avoid those “mixed messages”.   It’s cheap at Amazon or you can order it from a local bookstore.

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