My work as a counselor is essentially concerned with helping clients heal and grow – develop deeper self-awareness, a more integrated way of being, and more fulfillment in their lives. Working with the whole person includes paying attention to basic human needs – for security, belonging (a sense of being both grounded in oneself and capable of intimacy), and competence (an ability to accomplish goals and contribute to the world in some way) – as well as those longings that might be described as transpersonal – the search for truth, freedom, love, connection with what I call the Mystery. Exploring the territory of the unconscious is also a vital aspect of the work; this may happen through dreams and drawing, and I am now delighted to be offering the rich world of sand play for in-person work.
As the self expands and deepens, often in response to pain and loss, people need support through the upheaval, anxiety, grief, and confusion that often accompany the journey. My work with clients provides a safe container for the emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and somatic (body-based) experiences that arise in response to internal and external changes. This process sometimes serves as a catalyst for transformation, a profound shift in perspective that often brings with it a new sense of self, of life purpose and possibilities, and commitment to that which is felt to be truly important.
Loss and grief
There is a wide range of “normal” responses to loss, and grief can affect us in every part of our being – emotional, physical, cognitive, relational, and spiritual (meaning-making). It is essential to realize that the unfolding process is full of ups and downs, although there are “maps” can help guide us on the journey. Most important, the journey takes as long as it takes for each of us individually.
The availability of genuine support is hugely important; we know this from experience as well as from research. For some, that support comes through an intimate partner, family, friends, and various kinds of communities; others have less resources available. Either way, working with a grief counselor can be helpful in a unique way, since this is someone who has an in-depth understanding (and usually, personal experience) of grief, as well as familiarity with the essential principles of helping the griever through the process.
Learning to “be with”
Most human beings want to move toward what feels good and move away from what is unpleasant or uncomfortable. One of the most valuable things we can do is develop the ability to meet and sit with our painful emotions, such as grief, fear, and despair. Our experience of pain is, amazingly enough, transformed to the degree that we can be with it, bring our attention to the dark and listen for its gifts. Although it may not seem obvious, there is treasure to be mined here! I find that having a counselor who can be present and help guide this process makes a significant difference for a client who fears this journey of descent. As we explore these unknown territories within ourselves, there is less of ourselves that we have to shut away, and less energy that has to go towards this defensive practice of closing-off and running-from. We become more open, more available for living and loving, more able to rest in an ease of being – more able to respond appropriately in the midst of our turbulent times.
In this work everyone is unique, so it is important to be flexible and choose approaches that feel right for each individual client. My general orientation tends to be experiential – inquiring into direct, present-moment experience – but I draw on a variety of approaches that help clients to shift habitual patterns and open to new possibilities.
For instance, we may spend time talking, exploring memories, beliefs, and important questions. I may also draw attention to what you are experiencing in your body as we speak: the body carries knowing that the mind does not (somatic knowing). We may work with the imagination and the unconscious through sand play, dreams or crayon drawings, or other forms of creative expression. Sand play is a particular favorite of mine, drawing on the perspectives of Carl Jung and opening the way to deeper explorations. And yes, this is for adults!
If clients are open and interested, we may explore the Enneagram and particular personality patterns that may be relevant in their lives. This understanding can be very helpful, offering new insights and self-awareness. I approach the Enneagram as a lens that clarifies both our gifts and our challenges at the level of personality – which is, from a spiritual perspective, not what we essentially are but what we are not.
I may ask a client to explore the perspectives of different parts of her/himself, such as the Inner Critic, Rebel, High Achiever, Vulnerable Child. These conversations among various aspects of ourselves can be very valuable in clarifying old patterns and current challenges. Internal Family Systems offers a powerful and effective approach to recognizing and working with parts, and learning to observe them with curiosity and compassion (from the perspective of the Self).
We may explore mindfulness, in which we learn to observe and make room for our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations in a spacious and compassionate way – sometimes referred to as “expanding the window of tolerance.” The fruits of mindfulness include less reactivity and distress, along with more equanimity and insight into the workings of our minds. We may find it possible to “disidentify” from the self-image (ego) and the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves that actually perpetuate our suffering and make our relationships difficult.
Sometimes I encourage a client to do some reading or journaling between sessions. I may teach relaxation and meditation techniques to reduce stress and also open to deeper layers of the self. Sometimes it is appropriate to support a client in designing a ritual to mark a particular transition or loss – for instance, a simple, symbolic way of releasing something that is holding us back while also honoring the past.
Learning to live more fully and authentically
Attention is given to personal relationships, work, lifestyle, creativity, and relationship with nature. The counseling process may include practical dimensions such as clarifying what is most important, assessing the compromises that are being made between one’s values and one’s actions, and developing strategies for aligning oneself more fully with one’s sense of purpose. Many people want to live more authentic lives and contribute to the world in some way, small or large.
For more information about some specific approaches I offer (the Enneagram, Sand Play, Brainspotting, Dreamwork),
and for handouts on Loss and Grief, see the Resources section.
Some clients may want to open space for a wider concern with a deep impact:
If you find yourself responding with fear, grief, anger to the state of the world and the planet, to the unfolding reality of climate change and/or the current political dynamics, you are not alone. Whether we are aware or not, these life conditions are having a profound impact on our lives, our relationships, our minds, hearts, and bodies. Like other counselors and psychotherapists, I am increasingly feeling the calling to offer care and support for those experiencing the impact of these life conditions.
Live the questions now… Rilke
Who am I?
Whom and what do I love?
Loss and grief:
How do I bear pain? How do I heal?
Where am I going?
Meaning and purpose:
What really matters?
Creativity and growth:
What is possible?