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
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.

Tuesday
Mar182014

The future of psychotherapy

Scott Miller delivers the most important message in the field of psychotherapy that concerns its future in this video:

Monday
Feb242014

Strange Bedfellows, Level 2

This post continues where the previous post left off. I have just argued that medical issues usually have a clearly defined and well understood organic cause and psychological distress rarely does. The only cases I can think of where psychological distress has such an organic cause involve traumatic head injuries, substance abuse, or exposure to other toxins.

If we are to insist on a distinction between medical and psychological issues, which is precisely what I would like to do, then we should acknowledge that these two categories are at least somewhat overlapping. For instance, many types of physical injury or illness will have psychological impacts. A diagnosis of cancer, for example, often induces a depressive or anxious episode; or the amputation of a limb often results in depression.

So let us propose a clear distinction that allows for such overlaps. To the extent that organic injury, disease, or developmental anomaly results in a dysregulation of mental processes, the problem may be understood as medical and, to that extent, it should be treated medically. To the extent that any dysregulation of mental processes cannot be attributed to such organic causes, the problem may be understood as psychological and should be treated psychotherapeutically.

To give this distinction a quick test drive, let us imagine a case of traumatic head injury resulting in severe depression. The psychological distress involves a profound dysregulation of mood. To the extent that the patient's mood is affected by damage to the parts of the brain involved in emotional regulation, it may be regarded as a medical issue to be controlled by medications or possibly surgical interventions. But to the extent that the depression is about loss--loss of the client's capacity for a full life as a result of the injury--this aspect of his depression may best be treated psychotherapeutically.

This distinction may help clarify the tricky issue of, for example, antidepressant medications. Are they a medical intervention or a psychological one? I would argue that, when they prove useful, antidepressants are showing themselves to be medically appropriate in a given case. So, in the case of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), the depression involves a chemical imbalance in the brain that is remedied by more serotonin floating around the synaptic clefts. In a medical sense, the severity of the depression can be explained, at least to some extent, as an organic problem of too little serotonin in the synaptic clefts of the brain. But it may also be true--and I would argue it most often is--that a deeper psychological cause explains the client's tendency to move toward depression in the first place. This aspect of the client's presentation calls for a psychological treatment, namely psychotherapy.

So far I have glossed over a rather tricky problem, which will require a post all to itself. Many would argue, myself included, that all psychological states (functional and dysfunctional) have physical correlates at the neurobiological level. SSRIs point to that issue: can not every psychological state be regarded as a specific organic state which is to be remedied organically in the end? And, if this is true, does that not eviscerate the distinction I am trying to make between the medical and the psychological? I think this is a very good question, but I still hold that the distinction remains valid. I promise to address this problem in a future post.

Of greater importance than this nit-picky philosophical snare, is the issue of classes of causes. Medicine is interested exclusively in organic causes. Psychotherapy, I would argue, is interested in social-emotional causes--that is, impacts that occur in the intersubjective space between people. Similarly, medicine deals exclusively in interventions that act directly on physiology whereas psychotherapy focuses on interventions that occur within, and act upon, the intersubjective field.

I will continue to argue as this series continues that psychotherapy represents the most effective and efficient approach to alleviating suffering of its native kind--that is, suffering felt by one person in the context of others.