Individual and Couple Therapy
in Tacoma and Seattle

Tacoma Office near Proctor District

35th & N. Cheyenne St

Ample Free Parking

Tacoma Detailed Directions

 

Seattle Office on Greenlake

Greenlake Wellness Group

7900 East Green Lake Drive North, Suite 202

Free Convenient Parking

Greenlake Office Detailed Directions

 

(253) 304-1411

parke@parkeburgess.com



Click the appropriate button below to see what appointments are currently available. Please contact me by email or phone before scheduling a first appointment. I am unable to see new clients without some preliminary discussion. Thank you.

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MUSINGS BLOG

Friday
Jul282017

Healing As a Practice

Sometimes we go into psychotherapy with a very specific problem and corresponding goal. But very often we are working on something more general, harder to define, more complex. We are doing deep work, addressing patterns that have been with us for most of our lives that have become problematic. Most frequently, we are healing very old wounds.

Few of us escape childhood without some wounds. We remain vulnerable to wounding as adults too, of course, but the ones from earlier on tend to cut the deepest and present the greatest difficulties in healing. It takes time, the work deepens slowly, and it has an iterative quality. We find ourselves circling back around to the same old territories over and over again. Like peeling away the layers of the proverbial onion, we notice over time that we are cutting deeper and deeper into those familiar patterns of thought, feeling, and body sensation. It’s not that we have been going around in circles, but that we have been penetrating our patterns in corkscrew fashion, spiraling persistently toward the core.

If we enter into this process in a very goal-directed way, we are bound to get frustrated. It’s hard work and progress is slow. It is customary for therapists to remind us that ‘it took a lifetime to develop these patterns, so it will take significant time to change them.’ (Of course, in this day and age, a whole phalanx of the field believes that adequate change can occur in 8-12 sessions, if only you follow the most empirically validated protocol closely enough. This assertion doesn’t even pass the smell test in the kind of work we are talking about here, and the research upon which it is based has begun to look less and less convincing as it has developed—but I digress.)

But I would go further. Both my own experience and emergent neuroscience suggest that we never entirely change our patterns. The patterns that we took into adulthood are strong attractor states to which our neural pathways will continually revert when we are stressed or otherwise distracted. In other words, it requires effort to do something different, and always will. In this respect, psychological healing is not a one-time process that ends in a cure. It is a lifelong practice that, at its best, deepens continually but demands our attention and care forever.

I don’t mean to say that you have to be in therapy forever. Some, who have sufficient interest and resources, may indeed choose to work with a therapist for decades at a time, or a whole lifetime. But this is usually not necessary for robust healing. In general, therapy tends to be especially useful at three points in the healing process. First, when a person realizes that they have work to do but are unclear on what exactly the work is, or how to go about it, a therapist can help that person organize their experience and make sense of their troubles. And the therapist can help guide the person toward a way of working with their patterns. This part of the work can be measured in months, but often is measured in years. Give it a year and see how it is going. At a certain point, it is probably a good idea to untether yourself from regular therapy and work in your daily life on your own, and with the help of your loved ones and broader community.

Sometimes we stumble on a deep patch of new work, or we find that work we have been doing suddenly gets richer, more difficult, even disorienting. This is the second juncture at which therapy can be especially useful. At this point you might return to your therapist, or seek out a new therapeutic relationship to tackle the new work. These patches may appear because you discover significant new information about your past, or because you are now in a new stage of life, or you experience some strong reaction that you had never felt before.

The third place that therapy comes in handy, and perhaps the most common in long-term work, is that you have become involved in your daily life and lost track of your healing project, or some hardship or inordinate stressor sends you forcefully back into your old patterns. You find that you need to refresh your effort. This is very normal; it’s just part of living, which makes so many demands on us even in the best of times. Returning to therapy can get us back on track, remind us of what we learned before, and update our way of working to meet current needs.

In this kind of work, healing is not a ‘fix’ that we apply and then forget about it. It is a practice, much like exercise, eating well, or religious observances. It is something we devote time and energy to because we know it makes us feel better in the short-term most of the time, and seems necessary in the long-term for our overall well-being. It is good and noble work. It helps us become the best person we can be because it continually, freshly reveals to us the person we already deeply are.

Saturday
Jul152017

Momentum in Therapy

Sometimes in therapy we are working toward a single well defined goal, and sometimes we are working on many issues at once, or working deeper, over a long period of time. In the first situation, we track our progress from session to session asking ourselves what is changing, how things are improving. In the second situation we take a longer view, aware that deep work unfolds somewhat non-linearly and progress is measured over greater expanses of time.

Momentum is important for both of these, but especially for the first. (I will say more about the second in a future post.) Naturally, we want to make the most of each session. We can best do that when we build momentum across sessions. What do I mean by momentum? We sense momentum when we can readily pick up where we left off the last time, or when work begun in the previous session continues to develop throughout the week so that we can pick up at a further point in the next session. Momentum like this almost invariably contributes to a sense of real progress across sessions toward the identified goal.

The indicators of low momentum might include not being able to remember what we talked about in the previous session; little sense of carrying the work done in therapy through the intervening days; or spending sessions catching up on events rather than working on the material developed in earlier sessions. It’s OK when this kind of thing happens—it’s a normal part of the therapeutic process—but it tends to occur less and less as momentum builds.

The most basic way to create momentum in therapy is to come regularly and often. For most people in most situations (including couples), weekly sessions tend to work very well. There is enough time in between to let the work of sessions filter through, but not so much time that we lose focus. Sometimes, when conditions are acute, I might recommend meeting more often; but this can be very intense and may be more than is required. At the other end of the spectrum, meeting every other week can also work, but it represents the outer limit of frequency for most people, in my experience. For biweekly meetings to be effective, you would have to be extremely regular. Even missing one session could, and probably would, squander any existing momentum.

Another key component to momentum concerns how the material covered in a session is carried forward through the week. If we jump right back into our busy lives the moment we leave our session, giving no thought to the session until we find ourselves back for the next session, we may miss an opportunity to build momentum. That said, it’s also true that we often chew on the material of therapy even when we go on with our normal routines; it’s probably happening in the background even when we don’t notice it. But, even so, if we can also chew on that material in a conscious, intentional way, we are likely to increase the momentum of our work. One way to do this is to write down some notes after each session. Maybe sit in the waiting room immediately after the session, or in your car, or once you get home, and jot down a small number of take-aways that you want to keep in mind as you go through your week.

Lastly, we can enhance momentum by spending a few minutes prior to our session reflecting on the material of previous sessions and tapping into what feels most important right now. It is always OK to arrive at a session without any agenda; sometimes our best work can happen there. But it can also be very effective when we come into the session with a sense for what we want and need to work on in that hour. This is especially helpful when we are working toward a specific goal.

Friday
Jul072017

Trusting the Body

Perhaps the most difficult moments in our lives—and certainly in therapy—occur when some strong, bad feeling comes up. It is intensely uncomfortable. We want that feeling to go away. This is not a kind of weakness; it is how we are wired. Our nervous system is designed to avoid such feelings in the first place, and try to “fix” them if they happen.

But sometimes a strong, bad feeling does come up. What then? We might feel the sharp pain of grief when thinking of a loved one who has gone, intense shame remembering a moment of humiliation, or hair-raising anxiety in relation to an upcoming exam or financial requirement. This might happen in the middle of the night, or while we sit on the train, or as we reflect on our life during therapy.

Understandably, we want to run away or at least turn away, change the subject, distract ourselves, or convince ourselves to move on—whatever will make that bad feeling stop. Of course we do; that is human nature.

But there is another way—a way that moves toward healing whatever ails us rather than just trying to make it go away.

We can allow that feeling to be there. Without getting swept up in it, without drowning in it, we allow the feeling to be felt. We say, “Something is there.” That something is not me, it is something that is passing through. A guest in my guesthouse. I am not that. I am over here noticing it, sensing it, being curious about it.

When we can allow that bad feeling to be there in that way two things can happen that otherwise could not. First, we can “have the bad feeling without being had by it” (h/t to my good friend Rick Meyer). This is already a big step toward healing. It reconfigures our relationship to our difficult feelings. Second, once we allow the feeling to be there, without being swallowed up in it or pushing it away, something new can happen.

This is how our organism works. Our organism is a process. This process, allowed to carry forward, forms a kind of pathway through different states. Biologically, this organism (us, our body) persistently tends toward living, healing, and flourishing. But if the pathway of our process gets blocked, then the organism cannot carry itself forward in its own natural way. Trouble develops, sort of like a logjam in a river. The water behind the jam swells; a lake might form in what had been low-lying farmland. Though the lake might be just fine, when our bodily healing processes get blocked, the backup almost always causes trouble, sometimes resulting in conditions like chronic anxiety or depression.

But when we allow the process to flow (like the river), and allow the bad feeling to pass through, then whatever needs to happen next to move toward healing now can happen. We may not know exactly what that next step will be (in fact, we rarely do), but we can be sure that it will occur if it can. Our job is to get out of the way.

This is very hard to do. Sometimes we need help. Therapy is very well suited to this kind of work. With the help of your therapist, you can develop a greater capacity to tolerate painful emotions—to allow them to be there—and to make space for the next part of the process to arise organically. To put it more precisely, the therapeutic relationship can provide a safe space in which to do this difficult and sometimes scary work.

Whether you find therapy helpful in this way or not, I encourage you to turn bravely toward your own emotions and trust your body. It truly wants the best for you—after all, it is you.

Friday
Jun092017

Living Deep

There are various modes of living. Some of these are: merely surviving, living between, surface living, and living deep. When we’re in crisis we struggle just to get through to the next day or the next pay check. We are not really living but merely surviving. This can be extended for long periods, even whole lifetimes. Another mode is to defer living right now because we are focused on a past that we have lost or a future that we have not yet gained. In this case, we are living between the present and some other time. Or we can devote ourselves to seeking pleasure and avoiding pain more or less all the time. This is a kind of living in the present, but lures us into constructing a kind of extreme present as if every moment could be a peak experience. Ironically, the highs and lows of such a life become compressed into a kind of grim monotony that grinds away at the surface of living.

And then there is living deep, so called because it offers a dimension of depth lacking in the other modes just described. Even in crisis, instead of merely surviving, where we flail and flounder at the surface of our situation, we find it within ourselves to step back from our situation and see it from a new height, a broader perspective. From this vantage, our crisis likely becomes smaller. We can see it not as an interruption of living but as living itself in all its beauteous and horrific splendor.

Those living between, locked in a lost past or a wanted future, live as if time were strictly linear, as if we could be trapped at a point on a timeline. When living deep we see that time, like space, has both a horizontal and a vertical axis. We live deep when we enjoy the bittersweetness of loss; when the ecstasies of past living uplift us and fill us with sorrow and offer dimension and wisdom to our sense of living in time. We live deep when the longings and fears for the future add tartness and tang to our living now, bringing dimension to our sense of the present moment. Thus, to live deep is to live fully in the present but not in a way that excludes other times and places. Somehow living deep makes room for them all.

Surface living aspires to get the most out of every moment but usually operates along a single dimension indexed to neural floods of dopamine and endogenous opioids. Focused only on thrills and success, this approach misses most of human experience. Living deep, by contrast, revels in nuance, mixed feelings, and mystery. It does not divide the world into good or bad, fun or boring. Instead, it finds wonder in anything and everything, as the unique and miraculous expression of what is.

Living deep is an embodied kind of living in which all that arises is felt bodily and is allowed to inhabit our body for as long as it remains salient. This includes what feels good and what feels bad. But we don’t get stuck there. This way of living already includes a radical dynamism because it makes room for whatever freshly forms. In this way, what came before is always made new. Living deep is thus the active opposite of stuckness. Instead of getting locked into old patterns, we allow the natural dynamism of experience to breathe in new life and offer new possibilities.

Living deep can be difficult but is always available. We don’t have to wait for favorable circumstances. All the great sages have taught, just as Viktor Frankl discovered amidst the horror of the Nazi concentration camps, that living deep is not only possible in the worst of circumstances but is then more crucial than ever.

Friday
Jun092017

Guide to Past Posts

Series on Shame

In 2013 I wrote a series of posts on the topic of shame. To go to a table of contents for the whole series, click here.

Emotion Regulation

To find a post on the most important concept to understand about how emotions work, click here.

Series on Psychotherapy and Healthcare

I have been writing a series a of posts on how treating psychotherapy as a medical procedure is problematic. You can find a table of contents for these posts by clicking here.