I will occassionally make brief posts to this blog page about observations or techniques related to therapy that may be of some interest or use to patients or to other visitors to this website.....

Post from November, 2014

 Gratitude & Well-Being

            With the Thanksgiving holiday coming soon, it can seem as though this season is primarily about pumpkin flavored coffee, muffins, bread, yoghurt, cookies, donuts, bagels, ….   But, of course, the holiday is mainly about giving thanks, so what better time to bring to mind the psychological benefits of gratitude.

            There have been a good many scientific studies showing a correlation between the feeling or expression of gratitude and one’s overall sense of well-being.  Expressing gratitude to others or writing down things you’re grateful for in a journal has been repeatedly shown to correlate with greater levels of happiness for the person feeling and expressing gratitude.  So, you see, telling others that you're grateful to them may make them feel good, but it will almost certainly make you feel better as well!

A range of studies by various researchers, gratitude has been shown to correlate not only with a greater subjective sense of happiness and well-being but also with other benefits including:

  • Stronger immune function and decrease in doctor visits
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Increased compassion and helping behaviors
  • Improved relationships
  • Decreased Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Greater optimism
  • Increased progress towards personal goals

So, there’s no better time than the present to begin cultivating and expressing gratitude!

            Some easy ways to begin benefiting yourself and others around you are:

  1. When meeting with a friend or sitting down to a meal with family members, ask them, “Please tell me three things you’ve felt grateful for lately.”  After they share that with you, thank them!  And then share three things you’re grateful for with them.
  2. Keep a “gratitude journal.”  Every day, write down three things you feel grateful for.
  3. Post things you’re grateful for on social media and invite others to do the same.
  4. Spend some time thinking about the kind things that others did for you when you were young.  Think about kindness shown to you by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends, teachers, coaches or other mentors.  Really let yourself sink into the feelings of love and care that they expressed to you and how that kindness helped give form to what's good in you and in your life now.
  5. Write a letter (or email) to someone who was kind to you in some significant way expressing your gratitude and noting how their kindness impacted you.
  6. Make a list of people who you feel grateful to, noting what they did that was helpful to you.  Then meet with them in person or phone them one after the other to tell them how you feel.


Post from October, 2014

Women & Boundaries

             In my work as a psychologist, I’ve repeatedly been struck by the extent to which everyone benefits when girls and women are encouraged to set and hold to clear boundaries.  I’ve also been surprised by how many intelligent, successful, kind women have never learned how to set boundaries (or that it’s acceptable for them to do so)!

            So, I’m writing here to suggest that if you are a woman or an adolescent female who hasn’t been comfortable with or good at setting boundaries in the past, it may really benefit you (and other people in your life) to practice doing so now.  And, if you are a parent, it may be a great idea to teach your children, and especially your daughters, how to set boundaries and how to say a health “no” to others (including her parents)!

            Boys and men also benefit very much from setting healthy boundaries.  I’m emphasizing their importance in relation to women and girls here because in the context of my work doing therapy, I’ve been disturbed by the extent to which our culture has often tended to discourage women from feeling good about setting boundaries.  I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard women in therapy say that they feel like setting a reasonable boundary would be “mean,” “bitchy,” or “selfish” of them, or how many times they’ve said that they couldn’t because it would upset the other person.

What Boundaries Aren’t

            I want to explain that a boundary is not the same thing as a request.  A request is when you ask someone if they’re willing to do something or if they’d please do something.  Knowing how to ask for what you want is a useful communication skill, but it’s not the same as setting a boundary.

            Boundaries are also not tantrums.  A tantrum (whether it’s a child’s or an adult’s) is an intense emotional display about something one dislikes.  They are a normal part of development in toddlers.  When they appear in teenagers and adults, that is (among other things) a sign that one has not learned how to set healthy boundaries.

            Boundaries are also not complaints.  Repeatedly complaining about something you don’t like, that’s also often a sign that you’re not setting a boundary when you should. 

            Boundaries are not attacks.  They are not attempts to hurt another person, and when used in a reasonably wise way, they are not selfish.

What Boundaries Are

            From a psychological perspective, boundary setting arises from a healthy sense of self-respect and from a desire to sustain healthy relationships with others in which neither party is being harmed.  Boundaries arise from and also contribute to a positive sense of self-esteem.  Setting them is a way of practicing self-care and self-compassion.  (And, remember that the healthy practice of compassion for others depends on practicing self-compassion, just as true self-compassion must include developing compassion that embraces others as well.)  

            The contexts in which you set boundaries arise when someone else is doing something that is disrespectful to you or is (intentionally or unintentionally) harming you.  When someone else is treating you in a disrespectful or harmful way, that’s not good for you and it’s also not good for them. 

            Before you decide to set a boundary, you can try simply communicating to the other person how what they’re doing is impacting you.  You can also try simply requesting that they stop the behavior.  If the other person understands what you’re saying and is being kind and empathic, then this may be enough.

            But, if that doesn’t work, then it’s time to set a boundary!  When setting a boundary:

  • You speak to the other person in a respectful way that’s also firm. 
  • You ask the person to change their behavior in a clear and specific way.
  • You tell the other person what the consequence will be relationally if they don’t change their behavior in the way that you’ve identified. 

The consequence has to be something in your control.  If you’re not willing to implement a consequence, then you’re not setting a boundary.  If someone else is talking with you disrespectfully, a boundary might be to assert, “If you call me names or insult me again, then I’m going to walk away and not engage with you.”  Another might be, “If you hurt me in that way again, I’ll point out what you’re doing; if you continue after that, I’ll stop spending time with you.”   Whatever your gender, if you're not familiar with setting boundaries in this way, I'd suggest that you begin by looking for small opportunities with those close to you--family, friends and co-workers--and giving it a try.  And also, if you have a daughter (whatever her age), the next time she says "no" to you, view it as a happy opportunity role model healthy boundaries with her and/or to encourage her to learn how to say "no" really skillfully, by helping her see how to set boundaries.  If she can do so confidently with you, then you'll have done well at creating a foundation from which she can then practice doing so with others!

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