approaching therapy

musings as they come, and as they evolve …


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A nice blog post from Figs (Fiachra O’Sullivan) in SF:

I just love how down to earth this guy is. Love his use of language.
Love his simple guidelines for folks.

He has three steps to help people come to their senses:

1. Notice your reactivity ASAP
2. Become curious about what’s happening inside you
3. Share it the moment you’re able

But I would add a couple other steps in there:

1a. Breathe; take some deep breaths
1b. Feel your feelings

I like how the focus is on yourself and how you can share about yourself, and what your experience says about you. It’s a different sort of consciousness. It’s about sharing rather than struggling.

Written by David

December 4th, 2016 at 11:46 pm

Posted in couples


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I highly recommend checking out the book The Relationship Handbook, by George Pransky.
See his website page here.

He turns things around. Focusing on attitude, and letting communication take care of itself.

Another version of taking responsibility for our experience, at least seeing how much of it is informed by our thoughts and where our attention is at.

Instead of couples therapy and talking about problems, which makes everyone feel worse, try the “Happy Experiment”: What if we tried to be positive and nice to each other?

Simplistic? Perhaps. Try it. As he writes, a change of heart can happen in an instant.

Written by David

December 4th, 2016 at 11:33 pm

Posted in couples

feeling feelings

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People report that they find it beneficial when a therapist tells them to stop and go inside and feel their feelings. And sometimes they are asked to be curious, about whether it’s familiar, and what it reminds them of, and to see what about them and their past it has to do with. Something shifts.

It’s that thing about getting out of your head and being present with what’s in the body. Strange how that can result is a shift, but it does.

People like this.

Some people don’t know what this means, this feeling your feelings thing. Think of it as sensations, that’s all.

Written by David

December 4th, 2016 at 11:26 pm

Posted in couples,individuals

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Relationship 101 and 201

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Before I turned 30, I came to the idea that Relationship 101 is about not trying to change your partner.
I still forget that. It’s a meditation to see the person as s/he really is, rather than how you wish s/he would be.

Now that I’ve been working as a counselor, I’m thinking that Relationship 201 is about taking responsibility for our experience. It’s a shift in consciousness that really can make things fly. Without it, it’s going to be round after round of the same thing. You guessed it. Reactivity, blame, struggle.

Other things come to me. Relationship 301. Speaking up. Asking for what you want instead of expecting the other person to unilaterally act on some prescience.

I guess all this in some way relates to what it is to be an individual and to let the other person be the individual that s/he is as well.

Written by David

May 31st, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Posted in couples


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I like to sort things out.
The needs from the hurts.
Where does it all come from.
So you might not get your needs met. That’s one thing. Not the end of the world. In fact, you can probably count on not getting your needs met as much as you’d like, as much of the time.
So we might be bummed out. Ok. Disappointed. Perhaps. Profoundly. Perhaps. Deeply let down. Ok.

But why feel hurt over it?

Probably because we think the other person doesn’t care about us?
That starts to point to it.
Whether they care or not probably says more about the other person than it does about us, but that’s how we take it. So it’s about how we take it; the meaning we make of it.

I think it’s so unnerving to us because when we think that the other person doesn’t care about us, it touches that part of us that believes we are not worthy of caring. That’s a painful thing. Again, going back to what John Welwood talks about.

Here are words from someone describing their experience:

It’s about distinguishing between needs not being met (and how one responds to that), and one’s own sense of self and self-worth (and how one cares for that piece), and how one inhabits that space as “mine” – as one’s own, and owns that, so it’s not so easily penetrated by someone whose actions may have meant to hurt you, or not. It gives you a lot of freedom and helps you see what’s yours and what’s theirs and helps you see them – as people with their own struggles.

So remember, even if someone doesn’t respond the way you might really have wished for, and even if someone really doesn’t really care about you or “honor” your needs, your needs are always valid and you are always worthy of love.

Written by David

April 2nd, 2015 at 11:43 pm

Posted in couples,truth

more reasons

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There was a billboard sort of sign in the Mission some years ago. It read “17 Reasons Why”.

It was on Mission and 17th, above what is now “Thrift Town”.
It used to advertise for the now-defunct Redlick’s Furniture store.


I particularly like this one from Michael Thomas Angelo on his Flickr page:

17 Reasons

17 Reasons Mission SF

A friend of mine got married some years ago, and her husband did a play on that notion, listing reasons as part of his proposal. Good idea, I thought. I think it gave me the idea.

I first started doing counseling at test sites in SF for HIV and other STDs.
This was with the AIDS Health Project.
I spoke with people about their concerns and behaviors before I administered a test, and then met with them a week later to give them results and talk further.

Over the years, I collected reasons why people “put themselves at risk,” as we say.
Some of the reasons are poignant.
It relates to my previous post, about our actions, and what they really reflect.

It’s a rich subject. Everything’s a risk, including walking across the street. So it relates to things like perceptions, sense of self, and even spirituality.

Here’s the poem I wrote back then:


  1. It was the heat of the moment
  2. You were drunk or high
  3. You just weren’t thinking
  4. You couldn’t help yourself
  5. Everyone’s doing it
  6. No one’s doing it
  7. It felt good
  8. Condoms suck
  9. You’re not concerned
  10. You were bored
  11. You were confused
  12. He took you by surprise
  13. You were abused as a child
  14. You wanted to see what would happen
  15. Sounded like a good idea at the time
  16. Someone had to
  17. You’ve always done it
  18. You already did it once
  19. Why not?
  20. You didn’t want to die without doing it
  21. You wanted to manifest god

Written by David

December 7th, 2014 at 11:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

our actions reflect our values ??

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Is it really true that our actions reflect our values?  It turns out that it is not always true. 

When you aren’t fire-walking or otherwise acting in alignment with your highest self, it could be the case that our actions reflect any of the following:

  • our fears
  • other limiting beliefs, negative cognitions, doubts, guilt
  • lack of imagination, black and white thinking
  • habit
  • stuckness
  • inertia
  • laziness
  • stubbornness, ego! The natural knee-jerk defiance in the face of a request. The needs of independence, autonomy, choice, free will, freedom.
  • attachments – to things, to places
  • attachment to a sense of identity – who would I be if I changed? If I did something else or moved somewhere else – who would I be? Avoiding the existential anxiety of that experience. Again, ego!
  • the effects of a bad night’s sleep

So when someone says they love you but they want to spend their evening attending to organizing their rock collection, I hope that keeping in mind these other possible meanings for people’s actions helps you take it less personally. 

And instead of struggling around the push-pull of our desires with another person, isn’t the idea for all of us just to have caring for ourselves and each other around our experiences? 

Written by David

December 4th, 2014 at 12:29 am

john welwood and the human predicament

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I was into the perspective of David Schnarch for a while. I still keep his perspective about a solid self, but now I think he’s missing two key elements. First, he dismisses the human experience – the very notion that to be HUMAN is to have a reflected and dependent sense of self !!!! Listen to the John Welwood recording on And then he seems to miss the importance of empathy. Empathy for the human struggle that ensues from this tragic-comedy of a dependent sense of self! Again, Welwood lays it out nicely.

More and more, I’m seeing how we are human in ways I had not been aware of, or that I had not been so willing to acknowledge.

It’s so compelling to think that we just have to toughen our skins and grow up.  Schnarch’s battle cry sounds so cool and tough and even sexy. Wouldn’t you agree? Everyone wants to jump on it and he taunts those who are not on board as being babies who need to grow up and derides therapists who work with an attachment model like Sue Johnson as just enabling and furthering a pathetic sense of dependency.

I believe the problem with his model is that it isn’t based in reality, so I don’t see how it can work. Unless a person is in an enlightened state, it’s not how people actually are! You’d be hard-pressed to meet someone who really doesn’t give a shit about what other people think of them. Just read the writings of Pema Chödron when she shares about her own internal experience. But what I have seen actually working for couples is simply acknowledging, allowing, and owning and expressing this vulnerable stuff, rather than trying to transcend or deny our essential humanness.  And by expressing, I don’t mean rampaging.  Instead, just owning it, rather that it owning us.  I stole that quote from Tony Robbins.

And in the end, just holding all of it with caring.  Stephen Goodman at CIIS said that as far as Tibetan Buddhism is concerned, “compassion is the only game in town.”

Implicit in that caring is a larger state of consciousness.  A self that’s not a reflection of someone else’s opinion.  I love how John Welwood says it, so nonchalantly, that of course, we also know that we are fundamentally OK.

I also love how Welwood doesn’t say that this predicament of being human is good or bad. He just sees it as a path of growth. To try and get a grip, and then relate to others with transparency and consciousness. So I have been using this as my model now.

There isn’t anything new about this, but maybe listening to Welwood got me clearer on it. And he also adds some additional things that I had not heard that felt refreshing – like his explanation for the ambivalence that people feel in relationship – both the love and the resentment we feel for being dependent on someone for our sense of being loved. And how hard it is not only to love unconditionally, but to receive love fully, and how it’s all mixed up with that tender spot inside, so it’s no wonder we are wary of being authentic with others.

Written by David

November 13th, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Posted in couples,individuals

the reversal of desire

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And to continue the theme of procrastination,

Here’s the link to a video about what is called “The Reversal of Desire”

Enjoy the perspective of Phil Stutz (and his New York accent) and Barry Michel, and their book called The Tools.

This can help with some kinds of procrastination and focus. 
Left to our own devices, we avoid discomfort.  So it takes a conscious effort to move towards our tasks, towards the discomfort. Do we want to be on our deathbed kicking ourselves for playing it safe and not living our life? In the end, facing things is usually not so painful. It’s just that we usually are sleepwalking.

And, to borrow from Carolyn Myss, it takes vigilance to notice when we are shifting from our conscious choices.  It’s a 24-hour job to be on top of ourselves, to ask ourselves, “where I am right now?  what am I doing?  where is my soul?”  And to call it back, over and over again, into the present moment, to what matters.

So, make a bee-line towards the discomfort.

Written by David

November 13th, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

strange ways we change

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When will you stop doing something, whether it is arguing with someone, getting down on yourself, or drinking?

When you don’t want to any more.
When you have had enough.
When you are bored.
When other things hold your interest more, when there are more compelling things.

I heard that some people stop drinking alcohol, when alcohol has had enough of them.

Written by David

November 13th, 2014 at 11:16 pm