Can My Marriage Be Saved? (part 2)

After this willingness and awareness are present, the Denver marriage counseling process cultivates true communication. It is very easy for us, as human beings, to mindlessly get out of step with each other. This is the primary reason why the old bromide that "relationships are hard work" tends to be true.

Unless we strive to communicate our ongoing, internal lives - unless we actively learn to make room for each others ongoing changes - things will naturally tend to derail and get out of balance. Regaining honest and compassionate communication takes a combination of trust, openness, and courage that many modern couples sometimes lose in the "day-to-day-ness" of their lives. As a marriage therapist in Denver, Dr. Wilson has seen many couples that have simply gotten into an unhealthy routine together. Their relationship goes on a kind of "automatic pilot," and without a conscious direction, eventually a crash of some kind takes place. Sometimes it feels more like things have become "stuck," and a gentle push or a breakthrough of some kind is needed. Either way, however, marital counseling involves learning to genuinely communicate and that is often all that is necessary for a couple to again "take flight" and learn enjoy each other.

Finally, in an ongoing way, couple counseling participants must learn to accept and make room for each other. As a relationship counselor and a marriage counselor in Denver, Dr. Wilson has found that this is the hardest thing for most couples to do. People change as time draws on; therefore patience and kindness (the foundations of acceptance) are the life blood of any long term partnership. Personalities and priorities shift, religious and political beliefs change; the couples economic and family realities may have been dramatically altered since the beginning of their relationship. Learning to be aware of who your partner really is, and then learning to genuinely communicate - these are the foundation of learning to openly accept your partner as he or she is.

Making room for someone you love to evolve and change (when that evolution is totally beyond your control) is often more vulnerable and difficult then it sounds; many people in relationships, somewhere along the line, just simply stopped making room for their partners. AMI's marriage counseling in Denver makes the couple distinctly aware of how this happened between them, and provides a solution. When couple's can master the final step of genuine acceptance, things again radically shift for the better in the relationship. It is at this point that AMI's Denver couples counseling successfully terminates.

Finally, it should be noted, that marriage counseling Denver is not a panacea; nor is relationship counseling capable of "a magic cure." As a relationship counselor and marriage therapist in Denver, Dr. Wilson has noticed that many couple's enter the counseling process with unrealistic expectations. In essence, sometimes relationships are so badly damaged that they can not be fixed. In such cases, marriage counseling in Denver can then become an enlightened, and honest realization of this fact; a process where both people find themselves again and learn to move forward as individuals. If the partnership being dissolved involves children, then making sure the dissolution happens with compassion, understanding, honesty, and patience is all the more important.

Can My Teen Be Helped?

AMI provides adolescent psychotherapy to teens between the ages of 12 and 19. Dr. Wilson has a strong, long-time background in treating adolescent depression and anger, bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD, and impulse disorders, borderline personality disorder, substance and alcohol abuse, and the effects of divorce, death, and/or emotional, sexual, and physical abuse.

Dr. Parker Wilson has been an adolescent psychotherapist for many years. Dr. Wilson approaches the psychotherapy process with teens by using only the most effective and scientifically verified methodologies and techniques. For teens suffering from anxiety, OCD, and impulse disorders, Dr. Wilson utilizes exposure therapy and cognitive therapy. For teens suffering from depression and bipolar disorder, Dr. Wilson utilizes mindfulness based cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. For adolescents suffering from borderline personality disorder, Dr. Wilson utilizes dialectical behavior therapy and mindfulness based cognitive therapy.

Conducting adolescent psychotherapy requires specific training and experience.

The issues that modern adolescents contend with on a daily basis are multi-layered and complex, and thus they require a sophisticated and effective psychotherapy process. The dynamics of school, home, and peer groups are far different in the 21st century than they were even twenty years ago. Modern teens live in a world that is hyper-connected, fast-moving, extremely demanding, and vivid. The messages and images they receive about themselves (and what they should and should not be) are near constant and in living color. Even when their family lives are solid, modern adolescents deal with intense pressures about sex, alcohol, substance abuse, money, and achievement. These pressures are so powerful and subtle that most teens (and their parents) have tremendous trouble truly understanding their effects.

As an adolescent psychotherapist, Dr. Wilson understands that the teenage mind is keyed to define itself. This process goes on in all teenagers. They confront their parents and other authority figures in an attempt to discover, by contrast, who they are and what they believe. They challenge rules, boundaries, and existing social structures, and to some extent that is exactly what they are supposed to do. The adolescent situation becomes far more difficult, however, when you add to these already disorienting, natural dynamics any of the following: a divorce, the death of a parent or significant other, sexual or physical trauma, the use of drugs and alcohol, an abusive relationship with a peer or parent, a mood or anxiety disorder, or a personality disorder. Often adolescents are confronted with more than one of these conditions simultaneously, which only compounds the difficulty further.

Dr. Wilson is adept at building rapport and trust with his adolescent clients.

AMI's adolescent psychotherapy helps teenagers learn to slow down and cultivate psychological awareness and relaxation. Once teenagers begin to trust the therapeutic relationship and feel safe in the clinical space, they begin to become more aware of their own minds. This is where the psychotherapy process becomes truly dynamic. Teenagers now begin to see the differences between thinking and feeling; they begin to discriminate between different types of thought and emotion, and they begin to see more deeply the relationship between thinking and feeling, and the creation of words and actions. In short, once teens have learned to fundamentally relax and become more aware, they can begin to work with their own minds. This allows them to then more skillfully create relationships at home and in school. This also provides them a greater sense of clarity, insight, and psychological control. With these skills in place, they will make much healthier choices, and they will create richer and happier adult lives. Because this is true, AMI strongly views an adolescent "in crisis" as a tremendous opportunity for growth, enrichment, and development.

At the end of the day, what greater gift could you truly ever offer your child than the ability to work with their own mind?

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (part 1)

What is happiness? Most of us mistakenly believe that the presence of transitory pleasure, and the absence of immediate pain, is genuine happiness. For instance, when we get a raise at work, and there is no obvious suffering present in our minds, we feel "happy."

According to counseling psychologist Dr. Parker Wilson, this type of happiness is transitory and fleeting (e.g., two days later your happiness about the increase in your salary has somehow worn off a bit). What if true happiness and psychological flourishing are much more than simple fluctuations in our levels of transitory pleasure and pain? What if true happiness is not actually dependent on the external circumstances of our lives?

Authentic happiness, or psychological flourishing, comes from learning to effectively work with your own mind. Modern mindfulness meditation techniques are the primary vehicle of learning to work with thought and emotion. Mindfulness based meditation is not necessarily a spiritual practice of any kind. For the last twenty years, modern psychology, and mind science, have been researching the effects of mindfulness meditation. We have found that mindfulness and psychotherapy are an excellent and highly effective combination. Modern clinical psychology has, therefore, synthesized these two by creating a therapy centered around the cultivation of mindfulness (i.e., mindfulness based cognitive therapy). More and more in the modern era, mindfulness is being conceptualized as a kind of cognitive technology. AMI's Psychotherapy in Denver utilizes this cognitive technology to produce awareness, clarity, and insight. This process is not necessarily long term psychotherapy, and couple's and family therapy can often be added to the process.

Utilizing the cultivation of mindful awareness as a clinical platform, AMI's mindfulness based cognitive psychotherapy is structured into three distinct phases:

The first phase of AMI's mindfulness based cognitive therapy (or MBCT) is the development of psychological awareness. This increase in a client's awareness of their own thoughts and emotions is powered by the cultivation of mindfulness. Using both informal and formal mindfulness meditation techniques, the client begins to become profoundly aware of all their thoughts, emotions, judgments, opinions, memories, fantasies, and images. According to Dr. Wilson, AMI's psychologist in Denver, this is where mindfulness and psychotherapy begin to come together so beautifully. Now the client learns to stop automatically identifying with and getting "all caught up in" everything they think and feel. The client learns to create some sense of space between them and all their thoughts and emotions. Moreover, through the use of mindfulness based meditation, the client learns to stop grasping at thought and emotion, and s/he becomes distinctly aware that they are something other than all the things they think and feel. They are something other than all their mental constructs, self-identities, masks, and defenses. This is the essence of AMI's psychology in Denver. This leads to a powerful question: if I can grasp and release my thoughts and emotions, than clearly what I think and feel are not absolute and inherent parts of me; thus if I am not what I think and feel - then what am I?

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (part 2)

The second phase of AMI's mindfulness based cognitive psychotherapy is the development of mental clarity and healthy behavior. Aristotle once said, "Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way… you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions."

This second stage is a deliberate and liberating process of examining the client's major behavioral patterns and then asking, "Will this behavior pattern produce happiness, neutrality, or sorrow in my life?" Since all human behavior begins as thought and/or emotion, if a behavior is unhealthy it undoubtedly has unhealthy thoughts and emotions underneath it. For all the behavioral patterns that produce sorrow, the thoughts and emotions underlying those behaviors is sought out and analyzed. AMI's psychology in Denver uses mindfulness meditation and a deep consideration of personal ethics to help the client cultivate healthier thoughts and emotions. At this point, mindfulness and psychotherapy again come together in that the client's new and healthier thoughts and emotions will now yield healthier behaviors. The effect of these healthier behaviors now begins to create a distinct mind state characterized by an increased sense of stability, calm, balance, peace, and happiness.

The final phase of AMI's mindfulness based cognitive psychotherapy is the cultivation of penetrative insight. As Caitriona Reed said, “It is by the patience you call forth by returning your awareness to this very moment that you enliven your life, not by your aspiration to gain or attain. By coming home to this still center of awareness the way is made clear.” Based on the foundation of mindful awareness and upon the psychological effects of increased positive behavior and decreased negative behavior, the client has now eliminated much of the confusion, emotional overwhelm, insecurity, and disorientation that had plagued him or her. Because these afflicted mental states have been lessened, the client has automatically increased their mental awareness, clarity, and insight. With these increases in awareness, clarity, and insight the client is now capable of making profound changes in his or her life. The client is now capable of working with their own mind.

Moreover, using AMI's techniques for cultivating equanimity, compassion, and kindness, the phase three client is now capable of nothing less than emotional alchemy; in essence, the client can now frequently and increasingly transform wrath into patience, depression into satisfaction, greed into generosity, grief into meaning, and pride into humility. These transformations simply add to the client's already increased sense of awareness, clarity, and insight. This is what creates such positive results from psychotherapy Denver, and this does not necessarily require long term psychotherapy. As the client continues to foster and reinforce these new and healthier mental patterns (which only lead to increasingly positive words and behaviors) their sense of mental stability, balance, peace, and happiness continues to grow ever stronger. The experience of psychotherapy Denver now grows even deeper. Often, at this point, couples or a family therapy process can be added to deepen the effect.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (part 3)

To stop fighting a battle you can not win is intelligent. There is no escape from some suffering in this life. You will experience aging, sickness, and death. You will watch some people you love die.

You will have your heart broken a few times. Someone or something will betray and violate you. Why walk around deeply believing that "this won't happen to me" only to feel blind-sided, victimized, and enraged when it does? Better to conserve your resources, create awareness of reality as it is, and cultivate the positive mental qualities that will actually produce happiness and flourishing in your day to day life. At this point, psychology Denver has become established.

In stage three, the client now has everything required to safely, skillfully, and effectively unpack all the twisted conflicts, unhealthy childhood lessons, abuses, traumas, addictions, losses, resentments, depressions, "closed-heartedness," and compulsions that have caused so much mental anguish and thus tainted his or her entire life. Now the client begins to learn how to profoundly work with her mind (all her afflicted thoughts, emotions, judgments, opinions, beliefs, perceptions, memories, fantasies, etc). Now her unhealthy habits, thoughts, and feelings can be transformed into ever deepening mental awareness, clarity, insight, meaning, and genuine happiness. In essence, now her experience of suffering becomes the cause of an ever deepening psychological freedom. Such a freedom naturally develops the wisdom that begins to transcend living in the past and the future, it transcends worrying and stress, it transcends living for mundane pleasure and avoiding anything painful or unpleasant. In fact, such wisdom transcends mundane concerns altogether, such that the client now begins to live beyond the concepts of life and death themselves.

Learning to effectively and consistently interrupt our afflictive cycles and transform them into positive and healthy cycles marks the usual completion of AMI's therapy process. At this point, awareness, clarity and insight are well developed enough that the client is capable of being their own therapist (at least most of the time).

Many laymen believe that psychological intervention means long term psychotherapy - but this is not necessarily so. According to Dr. Parker Wilson, a counseling psychologist, long term psychotherapy is sometimes required, but often short term psychotherapy can create the desired effect. It simply depends on the client and his or her presenting problems. Additionally, most believe that therapy is an individual process only, but most often couples counseling and family therapy are periodically used to enhance and deepen the individual process. Because these concurrent treatments can become so complex (especially around family therapy), these interventions should be administered by a psychologist in Denver.

To deeply realize (and become comfortable with) the fact that there is no permanent and abiding sense of happiness and satisfaction outside of you; to become "OK" with the fact that you are not that "OK," to deeply see how you actively pour fuel onto already raging and unhealthy emotional fires; to stop being so averse and reactive to your own sense of aversion and pain; to deeply realize that you are the author of much of your own psychological suffering; to gain psychological authenticity and to learn to become more still, stable, and clear; to learn how to work with your thoughts and your emotions; to learn to transform your negative habits into the cause of happiness and flourishing - this is the point of AMI's mindfulness based cognitive psychotherapy.

The Point of Psychotherapy (part 1)

In the last century, Doctor Sigmund Freud was once asked what the point of psychoanalysis was. In essence, why should someone spend the time and the money necessary to engage in this process? Dr. Freud replied that the point of analysis was to make the patient psychologically tolerant of what was previously psychologically intolerable.

This was a very wise answer on the part of Dr. Freud. I have found, over and over again, that my clients are plagued by those thoughts, emotions, judgments, opinions, perceptions, memories and beliefs that they find to be intolerable. It is this internal inability to abide with and explore their own minds that creates so much suffering. When we become "hooked" by an uncomfortable thought or emotion (i.e., helplessness, hopelessness, depression, loss, fear, etc), we usually seek an exit. We rationalize our discomfort, deny it, blame others for it, aggressively project it onto others or simply numb it out with food, drugs, gambling, sex, or alcohol. In fact, I have known many people who take all of these exits on a weekly, even a daily, basis.

Exiting your own experience of life by numbing out, getting angry and aggressive, or by material over indulgences is simply not a healthy thing to do. It creates a psychological precedent (a habit) that becomes stronger and stronger the more you do it. Everything becomes easier with repetition, thus when we repeatedly become reactive or "hooked" and then we mindlessly exit our own psychological experience by numbing out, we establish a psychological habit. Like the tracks of a tire stuck and spinning in the snow, the psychological grooves of your unhealthy habits grow deeper and more pronounced in your mind. The net effect is that instead of developing more awareness, balance, and authenticity as a human being, most of us are actively developing ignorance, psychological disease and disconnection.

As a cognitive psychotherapist I have noticed how most of us sleepwalk through their lives. Most of us, quite habitually, seek to avoid pain and maximize pleasure - at any cost. Most of us habitually avoid those people, places and things (thoughts, emotions, judgments, etc) that we find to be unacceptable or uncomfortable. We push away from them, numb them out, deny them, shut them down, or blame and project (and once we have an object of blame it is quite easy to become angry and aggressive). More than this, we often exaggerate the "bad" or negative qualities of these people, places and things. With the people, places and things that we love - we have a similar dynamic. We grasp at them, clutch them, attach to them, hold them close and we often suffocate them. Despite the fact that people, places and things possess no inherent qualities of any kind (i.e., no other person or thing possesses your happiness and security), we none-the-less perceive these "good" people, places and things as being sources of happiness in our lives. We superimpose onto these people, places and things qualities that they simply do not possess. Thus our expectations of these people, places and things are - from the very start - exaggerated, out of balance, unrealistic.

Here is a useful example: think of a person who wants to buy a new car. He has been dreaming of this car and working overtime to save money for the down payment. After a few months of sacrifice, he has the money and he purchases the car. As he drives it off the lot he is excited and happy, even kind of "high" about the car. He drives it to the homes of his friends and family to show it off. He loves to be seen in it and it gets him noticed. He feels pride and satisfaction because he owns this car. Now fast forward six months. The car is still cool, but not as good as before. It is still fun to drive but somehow the excitement has faded. It is no longer his "new car," now he refers to it as "my car." Fast forward another six months, now the car has a flat tire on the side of the freeway during a rainstorm. Now the man curses the car, in his anger he kicks it.

The Point of Psychotherapy (part 2)

This question is instructive: what has changed here - the car or the man? The car is still the same basic machine it was the day the man drove it off the lot. Aside from a flat tire and a bit of wear and tear, the car hasn't changed much. The man's perceptions and feelings about the car, however, have shifted radically.

The problem is that the man viewed the car as a source of happiness and prestige, almost as if "happiness and prestige" inherently existed IN the car itself (like happiness was actually mixed into its metal and rubber). But the car is just a piece of machinery and has no inherent quality of "happiness" or "prestige" within it. Yet somehow (very subtly but very profoundly) the man believed (long before he bought it) that the car possessed these qualities; thus if he could own the car, then these qualities would become his qualities. Of course this unrealistic expectation could not be upheld for very long and, when reality came crashing down, he became dissatisfied which he readily exited through anger and agression; he blamed the car and lashed out at it.

We go through this same process with the people, places and things of our lives. We imbue them with qualities (good and bad) that they do not actually possess. Then we get disappointed, dissatisfied, upset, and we often blame and lash out. Sometimes we just become dissatisfied and move on. We develop a wander lust, a seven year itch, we upgrade to the new model of wife, boyfriend, or job - and many of us believe that with this next upgrade, we will finally find satisfaction and happiness. To become realistic is good and healthy. What use is there in believing in falsehoods and exaggerated misperceptions? We are not children any more.

It is better to see things as they are, this is useful. To see the good and the bad, to experience the disappoints and joys - to stop believing that you can somehow escape disappointment, pain and difficulty is useful. Why is this useful? Because if you are a human being, you will suffer in very predicable ways (see previous blog). You can not escape disappointment, pain, sadness, depression, hurt, guilt, and worry. Why pretend that you can? This only makes the suffering inherent in human life worse. Uncomfortable thoughts and emotions (depression, fear, loss, helplessness, etc) arise when people die, when they are are diagnosed with illnesses, when they are faced with the realities of aging, when they are met with unfortunate circumstances beyond their control, or when they are separated from the people, places and things that they want or desire.

To stop fighting a battle you can not win is intelligent. Better to conserve your resources and create awareness of reality as it is. To become comfortable with the fact that there is no happiness and satisfaction outside of you; to deeply realize that you are the source of much of your own suffering; to see how you actively pour fuel onto the fire; to learn how to work with your mind and your emotions - this creates meaning and this is the point of psychotherapy.

What Is Suffering? Why Psychotherapy? (part 1)

In the fifth century before the common era, the Historical Buddha taught the world about the commonalities of human suffering. In essence, all human beings suffer in the same and in very predicable ways; such that no matter who you are, where you were born, when you were born, what God you worship or what culture you were raised in – if you are a human being, you will suffer in these ways:

1. Birth
2. Aging
3. Sickness
4. Death
5. Unfortunate Circumstances Beyond Your Control
6. Separation from People, Places, and Things You Desire
7. Impermanence

It is useful to walk through these sufferings to make them more readily apparent to you. We begin, of course, with birth.

All humans are born. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 250,000 people will be born this very day. All of us begin in the uterus, enveloped in warmth and darkness, with all of our needs being automatically met. We are then forced, through violent muscle contractions, into a world that is illuminated; where we must breath with our lungs. We are utterly helpless, not even able to lift our own heads. We are completely dependent on other beings (primarily our mothers) for every single aspect of our survival. So dependent are we that if left to our own devices, for even s short amount of time, we would surely die. This state of complete dependence is not a pleasant one. And we have said nothing of the mother’s experience of the birth. Despite that fact that tremendous emotional bonding usually takes places after the birth, the mother’s experience of the birth itself is, without doubt, quite physically painful. Many women also experience psychological suffering after the birth. There is post-partum depression and, additionally, the often inevitable disorientation of the family unit as it shifts from its original state to accommodate a brand new member. Thus in addition to the joy and happiness usually associated with a birth, there are also the above realities.

Now we turn to aging. All humans age. From the moment sperm and ovum met in the womb, we are in fact getting older. The cells divide and multiply and we are born, We age in an ongoing, unceasing fashion; all the way until the moment of our death. And we humans tend to be rather uncomfortable with our ages. When you ask a child how old they are, they typically reply in fractions, such as, “I am 4 and a half.” Always wanting to be older, most children tend to up their ages as much as possible without stretching the truth to a lie. Teenagers do the same thing. If a young man is fifteen years old he will readily say, “I am almost sixteen.” And when we arrive in our late thirties and forties, we commonly begin forgetting birthdays so we remain “thirty-five” as long as possible. We become uncomfortable about people knowing just how old we are. We search for and exert energy to have the appearance of youth. Botox, plastic surgery and the stereo-typical mid life crisis are evidence of this discomfort with our ages. And aging brings inevitable physical suffering with it. For instance, how is your body now compared to twenty years ago? Are there any differences you can think of? And how will your body be different from its current state if you fast forward your life twenty-years?

Now to sickness. All humans fall sick. From the simple infections and colds of childhood to cancer and AIDS, human beings are vulnerable to illnesses of all shapes and sizes. Books attempting to chronicle medical pathology fill whole sections of the library. There are so many things that can go wrong with the human body that science must compartmentalize into armies of specialized doctors who focus only on very specific areas of the human body. Now, please think of the last time you had the flu – how did you feel? Your experience of life became much different than it is when you are physically healthy. To see this clearly, all you need do is visit the nearest cancer ward or hospice and talk to some of the patients you find there. And as we age, we become increasingly vulnerable to sickness. When a man turns forty, his doctor will begin routinely checking him for ailments and conditions that he never would have looked for when that same man was twenty years old. No human can avoid sickness and everyone falls sick at least once before they die.

What Is Suffering? Why Psychotherapy? (part 2)

Death is a classic and frequent topic of art and philosophy. Why? Because it is the most easily recognized universal human suffering. All humans die. Everyone who is born will die and this includes you.

But, unless you commit suicide, the time and manner of your death are completely unknown to you. The impermanence of life, that fact that death can come at any time and in any way, is the frequent source of existential crisis in humans. Some people die in the womb, some die when they are children, some die as teenagers and young adults, some die when they are middle aged, and some die when they are elderly. According to the World Health Organization, over 200,000 people will die this very day all across the planet. Some will be the victims of crime, some will die in car and industrial accidents, some will die in war and some will die of natural causes (illness, old age, etc).

We are all met with unfortunate circumstances beyond our control. For instance, have you ever lost a job that you really liked or loved someone who ended up betraying or leaving you? Did you ever love someone who died or have you ever picked up the phone to hear that a loved one had been diagnosed with a serious illness? These are unfortunate circumstances that you did not want, did not ask for, but still they occurred. In other words, despite that fact that you did not want them, they happened anyway and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. You must somhow learn to live with the loss and go on.

Additionally, we are all separated from things that we want or desire. Over the years, some people I have helped wanted to be famous, some wanted to be rich, some wanted to be educated. And despite that fact that they wanted it, circumstances conspired in such a way that what they wanted eluded them. Some people just wanted to be physically healthy, some want to live in a politically stable country, some just want to find that one special person who they can love and who will love them in return. But despite all their efforts, what they desire and crave eludes them.

And lastly – all of life is impermanent. It is a strong desire in man to create a legacy, some notion of immortality or permanency in life. Some people feel they create this through their children, some through the work that they do and the contributions that they make. But ask yourself this question: in a hundred years, when you and everyone you ever knew is dead, who will remember you? Even the greatest kings, emperors and holy men are, for the most part, relegated to the history books. As mighty as the Roman Empire once was, it is now a series of ruins across the Mediterranean. The Earth is simply one planet, in one solar system in one galaxy – constantly in motion, always dynamic, moving from one moment of present time to the next. The universe itself is in motion, always moving, always shifting and fluxing and, as modern science is learning, our universe may just be one of many universes somehow intertwined and interdependent, one on another.

Modern psychotherapy teaches us to improve the quality of our lives not by suggesting that these sufferings are somehow avoidable, because they are not. Nor does it suggest that we are too special and this shouldn't be happening to us - we are not special. Psychotherapy teaches clients to make room for, make peace with, and make meaning from their sufferings. It teaches us to stop running and avoiding and denying and minimizing and blaming. It teaches us to own ourselves; it says that when we feel bad that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong – nothing necessarily needs to be “fixed.” Pain and despair are just as much a part of life as are joy and exuberance. And when we begin to see the nature of our consciousness, when we begin to tap into that nature, to work with our thoughts and emotions, then we begin to transcend living simply (and futilely) to avoid pain and we begin to live beyond life and death. Psychotherapy can be an amazing guide along that path.

Working With Clinical Depression (part 1)

Most often people have an adversarial relationship with their depression. Once we see any hint of depression in our minds, we often become reactive and judgmental about why we are depressed. Sometimes our reactions to our depression (judging ourselves and self-medicating) often become more problematic than the depression itself.

First, it should be clear from the start, not all depression is "pathological." In fact, there are perfectly appropriate times when human beings are supposed to feel depressed. Significant psychological trauma, the loss of loved ones, and the diagnosis of a terminal illness are among the legitimate reasons that human beings become depressed. In essence, depression is a natural part of our trauma and grief processing.

Having said that, there are many people with a biological predisposition to clinical depression. For these people, depression is a reoccurring obstacle in their lives, making it tough to thrive and grow. This kind of clinical depression is called "major depression," and if left untreated, it can be quite destructive and dangerous.

Therapy does not seek to eliminate depression. As we said before, depression has its place in the pantheon of human emotions. Psychotherapy seeks to help the patient change their relationship to their depression.

Depression is almost always supported by a narrative. Like two by fours in a solid foundation, a good depression narrative upholds and supports a depressed mood. A depression narrative is also pretty easy to spot in that extreme words are used with great frequency – words like "never," "always," "all," and "nothing." In essence, while reality is actually very nuanced and relative, a depression narrative is very simple, extreme, and full of black and white thinking.

My depression narrative goes something like this:

"I am the unsung hero of an unfair universe, and despite the fact that I try hard and do the right things, I never seem to get ahead! I am always blamed when things go wrong, and I get stepped over and I’m deprived the good things in life. I deserve good things too! Basically life is rigged, so what’s the point?"

My narrative is projecting blame outside of me and onto the people, places, and things around me. This is an "angry depression." Many times, however, the depression narrative will be internal, blaming oneself for all the trouble and difficulty experienced. This is a "self-loathing depression" and it’s this type of depression that is typically associated with suicidality.