Friday, April 27, 2012

Spending our 30's and 40's undoing our 10's and 20's.

This phrase...spending our 30's and 40's undoing our 10's and 20's is one I repeat often in my private practice with clients. At one level, its a funny phrase that makes clients laugh. But on another level, its a truth.  Many people had childhood experiences that didn't provide an environment that gave them the opportunity to learn what it is to be a whole human being. Whether traumas, neglect, abuse--these "Adverse Childhood Experiences" disrupted the learning pathway to building a whole and dynamic SELF.

The result is that this growth interruption led them to find other ways to cope and negotiate the world--often leading to addictive patterns which helped them survive childhood.  Now, in their 30's and 40's those behaviors are so usual and customary for them that they don't know any other way to live. But sitting in my office, they are admitting that they can see those behaviors are now seriously limiting their lives. They've hit on one major reality--they want to stop but they have no idea what they would replace these behaviors with instead.

Just the other day a client said to me, "I've been in therapy for my addiction many times.  We all agree that I should stop drinking. But then the therapists say to me "What will you do instead?" and that's when I go totally blank.  I want to scream at him or her--"If I knew how to live without alcohol, don't you think I'd be doing it?  I don't know how to answer your question--if I did, I wouldn't be here!!!"

The whole time he is saying this during our session, I'm shaking my head in agreement. I know he is being honest and truly doesn't know how to make choices from a strong inner-SELF because that is something that emerges slowly throughout our childhood learning experiences. But he didn't get that information--instead he got abused, told repeatedly he was a terrible child and useless.  For him, childhood was spent learning to find ways to get away from the constant onslaught of pain, fear and anger that represented his home life. His 10's and 20's were spent trying to survive this and alcohol gave him relief.

What he should've been getting is guidance, support, good dialogue and communication and someone who knew how to help him journey to adulthood and wholeness.  That's why he's arrived in counseling--he doesn't quite know what he's looking for, but he knows he doesn't have it.  So, when we start out together, I know our work has to begin with a short check in on his early years but then most of our time is focused on what should've happened.  Here's the tasks you would have completed on the pathway to adulthood if you'd had a different upbringing.  Let's spend the next few sessions learning this now.  Time and again I hear clients say--finally something to work towards!

And that's the great thing about Life Puzzle--you can be 30 or 40 (or older!) and yet, its not too late to go back, pull out the jammed in pieces and learn how to replace them with new, healthier lifestyle behaviors.  Then instead of drinking to avoid pain and fear and LIFE, you'll wake up able to take on the day and deal with what comes because you have new skills to manage pain and fear and choose to fully live LIFE.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wholeness or Wellness

I recall in the mid 90’s when completing my graduate/post-graduate work in counseling one of my professors saying to me “Before I met you—I had never heard the term wellness. At that time, Wellness represented a new approach to health—moving beyond the removal of disease and instead, putting the attention towards building vibrant health. Wellness entailed primarily diet, exercise and stress management. This was pretty radical stuff. Words like prevention, body/mind/spirit and being proactive began floating around.

There were even calls at that time to have the counseling profession be a leader in Wellness—teaching our clients how to create lifestyles that would help them be more resilient and capable. This was in stark contrast to the “disease/disorder’ model that forced us to define a client by what’s wrong and work on removal of that ‘problem’. I’m sad to report however that wellness has not won as the primary foundation for the counseling profession. We are still tethered for the most part to the disease/disorder system as is the entire medical system.

Though there are some promising cracks in the system. Martin Seligman, past APA president announced in 2005 that, and I quote: “For most of its history, psychology has concerned itself with all that ails the human mind: anxiety, depression, neurosis, obsessions, paranoia, delusions. The goal of practitioners was to bring patients from a negative, ailing state to a neutral normal, or, ‘from a minus five to a zero’*. I realized that my profession was half-baked. It wasn’t enough for us to nullify disabling conditions and get to zero. We needed to ask, What are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish? How do we get from zero to plus 5?

Martin Seligman, American Psychological Association Time magazine, January 2005. The Science of Happiness.

When I first saw this I was hopeful that Wellness was finally going to get a shot in the big systems and we could finally move beyond disease.

But I’d like to suggest that we not adopt Wellness after all—I think we should by-pass this mid-step and head straight to Wholeness. Wellness implies the opposite of Illness (well not ill), but simply because we are “well” does not mean we’re “whole”. Wholeness implies something far more than simply being well. It is a framework on which to build a life while wellness is more an orientation about not being ill.

Wellness was groundbreaking in so many ways. It was the first challenge to the illness/disease model and provided a new view that allowed us to see where we could take charge of our lives. It inspired many (me included) but it didn’t fully deliver because even many in the wellness movement found a need for something deeper and more….well, whole.

This is certainly one of the motivations for my creating the Life Puzzle model—first for myself and then for others. Wholeness has always been the foundation for Life Puzzle making. It essentially sets a framework for building a life that results in each of us trusting that we are potentially whole beings. That we are physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual beings and that our journey is to develop a lifestyle that will enable us to enhance our wholeness. This is reflected in the 16 core areas of one’s life and the 5 edges the create the SELF—the very self that takes responsibility for building a whole and dynamic life.

While Wholeness may see far more daunting than Wellness, in reality it is far more satisfying. Wellness leaves us searching for something more but it’s a big of a blank of what this ‘more’ may be. Wholeness on the other hand provides the full framework on which to build a lifetime.

As we enter the 21st century, let’s acknowledge that we’ve accumulated a vast amount of information and knowledge. We now know that Wholeness is possible—and its time to bring it into view. Wellness is sufficient but wholeness is dynamic.