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Woman Standing on Dock
Woman Standing on Docks

Matt's Musings

Welcome to my weekly message page!

I plan to post something weekly that I hope will be helpful to clients or other site visitors.

7/9/20 COVID Crazy

These certainly feel like "crazy times"! It's hard to maintain sanity, peace, balance. I honestly don't even like the labels "crazy" or "insane". To me we are all a little crazy and experience moments when we feel unmoored from reality. I don't like the binary, black and white correlation these words imply. I don't think we can sort the sane from the insane. I feel like we all have emotional / mental health challenges and degrees of health on all aspects related to mental health. I also feel like our symptoms are not static, but vary from day to day (sometimes minute to minute). Emotional challenges are normal!

I don't like the diagnostic model in mental health for these same reasons. I don't like a system where people are labeled with a code that somehow captures their mental health status. People are more complex than this. I also believe there is too much subjectivity inherent in the diagnostic system. I believe it often represents more about the perspective of the diagnoser than the patient. Diagnosis can also become a label that keeps people stuck or works against them in society.

I prefer to work from a different model. I like to help my clients leverage their strengths, to overcome challenges (symptoms) and make changes to achieve their goals. 

My system may sound crazy, but it seems to be working.

7/1/20 Here We Go Again

It's depressing, frustrating and downright scary to see the Covid infection numbers spiking again in our country and Missouri. Luckily, our immediate area does not seem to be experiencing as significant of increases. That doesn't mean it is easy to take! I think many of us anticipated we may have to deal with a second wave, but I for one was hoping that would not happen until mid-winter. I was also hoping by time the next wave hit, we might have a vaccine or at least know one was on the near horizon. 

I was not ready for this to start in the middle of summer! Family members, friends, business colleagues and clients tell me they are DONE. I feel it too. Pandemic fatigue. Social isolation, economic uncertainty, confusion about how many precautions are the "right" amount, fears about getting sick, having a loved one get sick, or even the omnipresent awareness of the possibility of death by Covid all wear us down. Add to it the social division including the fear of being judged. It's exhausting!

I am re-focusing on self-care and encouraging everyone to do the same. This includes both mental and physical health. I recorded a video about dealing with the anxiety of this pandemic. Here is the link if you are interested.


Take care of yourself, be safe and think positive thoughts!

6/24/20 Too Simple to Believe

I'd like to pass along a relaxation technique that I share with most of my clients (especially anyone who experiences anxiety). These are stressful times. We can easily fall prey to emotional dysregulation during uncertain times like these.

The research-proven best treatment for mild to moderate anxiety is diaphragmatic deep breathing. I teach clients to breathe in slowly through the nose until full (up to even a ten second inhale), then hold (couple seconds), and then exhale through the mouth; pursed lips, small stream, audible (even slower than the inhale). This slow and deep breathing tricks the emotional regulatory parts of the brain into believing we are physically and emotionally safe! The amygdala (often called the "internal smoke detector of danger"), controls our fight, flight or freeze response. When triggered by a fear catalyst, all kinds of unpleasant sensations are experienced in the body. When the amygdala recognizes the deep breathing the meaning the amygdala makes is "we must be safe", and the danger responses are reversed. The deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the "rest and digest" response. Ahh!

This technique alone is proven to reduce anxiety symptoms 30% to 50%! To experience this life-changing magnitude of relief, use the technique four times a day for four minutes. Literally hundreds of my clients have reported this level of symptom improvement over the years. I honestly don't remember a single client who has used the technique as suggested who has not experienced dramatically positive results. 

Unfortunately many people find this too simple and easy to believe and miss the benefits because they don't choose to use it.

6/17/20 Expectations Are Premeditated Resentments

I first heard this statement from my friend and counseling mentor, Tim Jones when I first opened my practice. Tim shared that it was from the AA program. This came up when he asked me what I told couples (in couples / marital counseling) when they asked what they should expect of the other. I remember beaming as I proudly shared what I told my clients; "expect an expenditure of effort and degree of improvement approximately proportional to your own!" Tim's response was "that's terrible therapeutic advise". Tim said "tell them to expect nothing". He went on to explain having expectations is a sure way to be unhappy. He suggested it was better and healthier to replace expectations with hope. Then if your hopes are attained you feel good and if not you feel mostly neutral. If you have expectations about things (or people) and they are met, you are only open to experiencing a neutral emotional state. And if they are not met to feel bad.

The more I think about this, the more powerful and profound it seems. The way we think about things definitely has a HUGE impact on our emotional state. Now, when I work with couples I share the story about the bad advice I used to give. Then I encourage them to let go of expectations, replacing them with hopes. I encourage both to focus on themselves and their own growth and changes in behavior that will help the relationship. I also teach them how to speak to their partner in a respectfully assertive way, sharing their feelings and making requests of the other in a spirit of hope.

6/10/20  Give the Kid a Choice

One of my favorite parenting tools was taught to me by our "Parents as Teachers" lady who came to our home when our son was young to assess his readiness for school.

She asked if we were having any parenting challenges with our four year-old son, John. I said it was often hard to get him to take a bath at night. She said, "Have you tried giving him a choice?" I remember my reply was "Bath is not a choice!". She explained not a choice about whether to take a bath, but how he'd like to get to the tub. I have to admit I thought she was crazy, but that night about 8 PM, I said "Do you want Daddy to carry you to the bathtub John or would you rather skip back there on your own?" He proudly exclaimed "John will skip back himself!". To my amazement, by the time I caught up with him he was taking off his clothes in his bathroom. It still amazes me how well this tool works with kids.

A big part of childhood development is something called autonomy. As they grow they want to feel like they have some choices in their life. Some control of their own destiny. Who doesn't want that? If it is their idea, they are way more likely to do something. The next time you run into a resistant child, offer them two options that are both acceptable to you and see how it goes.

6/3/20 Just What We Needed (NOT!)

Just as I start to get more comfortable that the virus spread does not seem to be exploding after a relaxing of precautions, we are now dealing with a new crisis and more socio and political divisiveness.

I absolutely understand how people can be extremely upset about what appears to be a murder of an already handcuffed citizen by a police officer on an American street.

I absolutely understand peaceful protests are an American right.

I don't understand the reactions of some including violence, looting and destruction of property.

I understand how people could judge and condemn those unlawful actions.

I also am aware that I probably am not able to understand because I have not lived the same life experiences as those people I believe are acting inappropriately. I don't ever worry that I will be treated unfairly because of the color of my skin. If I am ever questioned about passing what appears to be a counterfeit bill, I suspect I will be given the presumption of innocence at the start of the conversation. I am not suggesting I know how the conversation with George Floyd went. I am just saying I understand that it is possible that people of color could reasonably fear it being a different type of conversation with some law enforcement officers. What a shame that race continues to be an issue that divides us.

I do hope that this latest crisis becomes a catalyst to come together as a nation to increase race awareness, have more honest and introspective dialogues, become more sensitive to the perceptions of others and improve law enforcement selection, training and discipline policies so all of us can have a more similar American experience of liberty.


5/27/20 Mind Control

If you are experiencing fears, possibly even fears that at some level you know are irrational, you are not alone.

Our thoughts have a deeply profound impact on our emotional state; how we are feeling. One of the things that can be very helpful when you are dealing with fears, is to do a deeper dive. Digging into the details related to our fears. This is at the heart of cognitive therapy. Often just saying your thoughts out loud (especially to a neutral person) causes the fears to lose power. 

It can also be very helpful to explore the evidence that supports your fears (this is usually easy), and then explore the other side, the evidence that does not totally support your fears (this is much more challenging). Then you can craft a more balanced statement that combines the evidence from both perspectives. It is amazing how much less fear we can experience when we get connected to a more rational and balanced thought.

The next time you are feeling anxious / fearful about something try it out. Writing the evidence and thoughts out can really help too. If this does not help, it's probably time to contact a therapist.


5/20/20 Awareness is the First Step of all Change and Growth

I am hearing a lot of clients report they are noticing that they are getting irritated, angry, or shouting at their kids more. Some say they are biting their nails more or turning to alcohol more. When I hear this, I say "Good!" That usually gets their attention and stirs curiosity.

Then I go on to explain my belief that noticing these things is a good thing. When we have awareness about our thoughts, feelings and actions we then have a wonderful opportunity to choose something different. Maybe we choose to think about things differently (less extremely or pessimistically). Maybe we choose a different behavior (possibly a healthier one). Maybe we choose to communicate differently (possibly in a more respectful way).

I believe awareness is really the start of all change and growth. Without awareness, we are really unlikely to make changes in our life. I think this is at the heart of the counseling process. Therapy provides the dedicated time and structure to look at our lives strategically with awareness. Self-awareness is a powerful thing. It can provide an impetus to make changes to help us live more peaceful, joy-filled lives. Other-awareness, being able to pick up the cues other people are putting out so that we have a deeper understanding of what might be going on in their inner world can also lead to better relationships.

The next time you notice one of your thoughts, reactions or feelings, think "Good, now I have the power to make a choice about how I want to proceed!"



5/13/20 Perception is Reality vs. Reality TV

This pandemic situation reminds me of a maxim that resonates with me. It is the humanistic / postmodern perspective that perception is reality. Now I do believe there are some absolute truths, but I would be reluctant to espouse them. Here is a quote from the person considered the father of counseling, Carl Rogers. "The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment. The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you perceive and experience it at this moment. And the only certainty is that those perceived realities are different."

We all see the world (including this pandemic) through our own lens. How could we possibly see it differently? Our paradigm is a natural extension of our: gender, age, birth order, ethnicity, race, religious or spiritual beliefs, education, socio-economic status, geographic location / origin, values, career choice, relationship status, and all the other stuff including traumatic and wonderful life experiences.

The question for me is,  can I honor my perspective (reality) without dismissing yours? Can I hold my truth and allow others to do the same?

I also believe we are a better society when we appreciate, respect and make policies informed by this diversity!


5/7/20 Sporadic Sunshine

My view of light at then end of this pandemic tunnel keeps coming and going like sunshine in spring.

Just when I thought I was seeing the light of hope and optimism about less lockdown, I see new dire predictions about a secondary spike, or waves of spikes related to contamination and death. What started out as shocking predictions about a month ago of maybe 250.000 deaths in the US, started going down to as low as 60,000 and now are back up to about 135,000 predicted deaths by early August.

It feels like I'm on an information and emotional roller-coaster!

Here is one thing I think I know. Nobody knows! All the best minds, even with technology and science don't seem to be able to accurately predict what we are in for. That's unsettling. We like certainty. It feels good to know. What I also am witnessing is our human desire to make the uncertain, certain. It's a defense coping mechanism. Even in the absence of great supporting evidence, it feels really good to "fool ourselves" into a belief in certainty and to tell the world "'the truth" about a situation. It is comforting, and gives us peace. Without certainty, even just feigned or perceived certainty, we feel anxious, helpless and hopeless. What we often fail to recognize is that it's just our truth. Our perspective. Our reality. And this truth is different for everyone.

This feels vulnerable, but I'm ready to broadcast my perspective. I have no idea what the right answers are! My truth is somewhere in the middle of the polar opposite perspectives I hear.

I am watching for data, evidence, expert opinions and divine or laws of nature signs to guide my behavioral choices and I hope everyone will be less self-righteous and more compassionate about other's opinions and choices.

Be well, be peaceful and please be tolerant and compassionate during this pandemic uncertainty.

4/29/20 Let There Be Light!

Ok, we are certainly not out of the darkness yet, but I think I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Or, am I hallucinating from isolation?

It appears to me the curve is flattening. In some areas of the country (including our area) it seems we may be at the beginning of the downward side of the curve.  It looks like our health systems are not being overwhelmed to the point where decisions about who will get ventilators and who won't are happening (as feared). Officials and organizations are making plans to reopen things. The stock market has rebounded. People, including officials seem to be ready to start taking some chances again, balancing all risks (Covid and non-Covid related).

I am ready. I miss my friends and extended family. I miss my clients who have not been comfortable with or able to do tele-health sessions. I miss being out in our community. I am ready to see my son interacting with his friends more.

It is probably too early to abandon all social distancing, and it's likely too early to throw a big party to celebrate, but I do sense a brighter future.

Let there be light!

4/22/20 Pandemic Prophesy

No I'm not making predictions about an end to this. 

I have no crystal ball.

I am however starting to experience an intuitive hunch that things are on the verge of getting back a little closer to "normal".

The sense I get, from listening to others including health and economic "experts" is that this is all about balancing risk vs. reward, or cost vs. benefit, and that things are about to begin opening up some.

This is literally a metaphor for all choices in our life isn't it?

I am also noticing how emotionally-charged and politically divisive this topic is. People seem to be divided mostly along political lines and strongly believe their party perspective is "right" and the other side is "crazy"!

When should we start opening things back up and be more social? From my perspective this calls for careful exploration of all the best available data and coming to some balanced decision that considers all the likely costs and benefits. I have found what is usually the best choice for me in my life is something in the middle. I find the polar extremes of any issue are not typically my healthiest (most balanced) choices.

I sincerely hope people and especially our leaders can set aside some of their partisan bias and make decisions during this crisis that are balanced.

Be safe, be well, be balanced.

4/16/20 Pandemic Ponderings

This is surreal.

So much change, so fast. So much uncertainty about the future.

When will things get back to something similar to my previous "normal" life?

No one knows!

Here is what I think is true for me.

At times I feel scared and overwhelmed about all the unknown possible bad things that could happen.

I often feel the tug to watch the news, catch up on the stats or do something else (to feel like I have more control).

I have also noticed many good things during this bad time.

My life is slower, with less busyness. I am spending more quality time with the people I live with. This has resulted in deeper, more meaningful connection. I appreciate things more, especially other people in my life (I think because of my increased awareness that I could lose them). My increased awareness about death, especially my death, has increased my faith in a higher power. It has increased my awareness about my illusion of control. 

It is easy to fall victim to our intrusive thoughts and fears and to resign ourselves to them being beyond our control.

The reality is, with awareness we have choices.

Choices about what we notice, how we think about things and how we spend our time.

There are healthy choices and unhealthy ones. 

I am trying to chose ones that increase my physical and mental well being. Things like: relationship development, self-care, learning, exercise, healthy eating and sleeping, and strategic (longer time horizon) efforts like acquiring the capability to work with clients using video therapy technology.

What are you choosing?

Be well. Be safe. Choose wisely!

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