Self Compassion

I have been reading Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion and am a bit in love with it.  First of all, it is a great compliment to the work that I do as I believe that compassion is the foundation of true healing.  She talks about how self-esteem is great, but how having compassion for the things that we are not good at, and for the mistakes we make is actually a greater marker for health.  She then gives many skills on how to increase self-compassion.  The one I have been using the most lately is a gratitude list.  Our brains are trained to focus more on the negative than the positive.  Look at evolution for this: we had to remember where the big black bear was and the poisonous berries more for survival than we did the day we were hanging out with friends and a great feast.  So we have to cultivate positive thinking.  Making a gratitude list for at least 21 days has been shown to increase feelings of positivity and help the brain to focus more on that then the stress or negative.  I do this nightly before going to bed and can tell it is making a big difference in how I view my day.  Check out her book for this and many more suggestions.  Her website also has some great self guided meditations for increasing self compassion. I have included the link below.  May we all learn to have more grace and compassion with ourselves.

Transitions with Kids

Here we are at fall again, my favorite time of year with the crisp air and colorful leaves.  It can also be a challenging time for parents as the school routine takes back over.  Transitions are challenging for all of us.  Our nervous systems naturally respond to change with a jolt of energy and activation.  For some people this can take form in anxiety, for some they become hyper and aroused, for some it is seen outwardly as a total shut down or an external melt down.  Bruce Perry, a famous Psychiatrist and Neuropsychologist talks about how to help the nervous system out and regulate.  He talks about the four R’s, repetition, rhythm, rhyme, and routine.  Incorporating these through transition for both you and your child can be very helpful.  If there is some kind of ritual you can think of, like singing a little song or a small saying with rhyme and rhythm each time you transition can help greatly.  This is also why music in the car can help when we are going place to place.  I also like to think of sensory based activities as these can also help the nervous system regulate.  Many kids I see come from families who have experienced divorce.  I suggest to parents that they have ritual when going from one house to another.  Coloring together for a little bit after your child is packed and ready to go can be a great ritual and an opportunity for them to talk about their feelings around the transition.  Having a special snack upon return can be a great ritual too which involves smell and taste.  This leads to a final suggestion with transition, empathy.  The nervous system also relaxes when feelings are acknowledged and validated.  Saying statements like, “I see you are really excited to be leaving” or “I notice you seem frustrated and don’t want to leave” can help your child not only learn language for the feelings they are having but also shows them that you see them in their difficulty with the transition.  They key to helping ourselves and our children out with transition is to add some kind of predictability to it with intention to help support the nervous system through the change.  When done consistently you will notice your child engaging the change in a calmer more secure manner.

Special time with children (and partners!)

When I see kids individually or in family therapy one of the very first things I suggest is to have “special time” scheduled with your child.  Special time is a routinely scheduled play date with your child that is consistent and allows them to choose what to play or do.  For some parents this might look like a half hour or more at 3pm each Saturday.  For others this is ten minutes each night before the bedtime routine or after school.  The three main ingredients to this designated time are the consistent schedule, the parents undivided attention, and the child being able to choose what to do.  This works for many reasons, most of which have to do with the nervous system regulating, giving your child a sense of empowerment and building bonding and attachment in the relationship.

We forget as adults that children’s days are mostly scheduled by us.  We tell them when to get up, when to eat, when to play, when to sleep….most of the day is dictated by someone else.  Just giving a child some time each week with you that they know they have control of gives them a sense of empowerment. Knowing that during this time your attention will be totally on them opens a door for exploration in the relationship and builds trust.  It  can be very exciting for them to show you things or play in ways they normally don’t get to with you and this can be very informative and fun for parents.  Having it be a routine time also lets their nervous systems relax a little knowing that if they can’t have your undivided attention now…they will get it at the designated special time.  Often I have had parents come into me saying, “my kid yells mommy! mommy! or daddy! daddy!” non stop and their behavior escalates to get their attention every moment they are around.  When they have implemented special time consistently in a short while they notice their kids calmer and less demanding on attention in the day to day because they know they will have it at their scheduled time.  Parents can also use this as a way to help calm their children by saying, “I can’t play with you now because I’m making dinner, but we have our special time at 7:30 and then we’ll do what you want to.”  This can also help to build patience and what is known as frustration tolerance for kids as they learn to self-soothe until they get the attention they want.

Most families have very busy schedules these days and adults are often distracted by the routines of the day with their children.  They also will count that as time spent together, and it is, but it is not the same as quality time of the child’s choosing.  This is a powerful way to join with your child and learn their language through play and expression which will ultimately build trust in your relationship with them.  The caveat I always put on this is that special time does not need to be elaborate or have money involved at all.  In fact I usually suggest it is not so as not to set up patterns of manipulation.  Hanging out in their room, going for a walk or to a park nearby, maybe with your teen it is listening to music or going for a drive.  Some kids want to play with toys, some to color, some to just sit and tell you about what’s going on in their lives.

In another post I will talk about the importance of reflective dialogue in relationship and with children especially as this is an added ingredient to build trust and rapport and to soothe your child and make sure they feel heard.  In the meantime, try setting up a special time with your child.  And I’d like to add, it works with partners too!!

Be well!

What is compassion?

Well, I started a blog forever ago and then have been so busy I haven’t written anything.  Or am I using busy as an excuse when really I have just been really terrified of putting myself out there?  I love to write and teach, yet I have found the vulnerability of a blog to be intimidating.  So I am going to attempt to keep it up and see what happens.  So the topic of my post today is having compassion as I think I am needing it as I “publish” my thoughts on the Internet.

A huge topic during my training at Naropa University was Compassion.  What is it?  What is it not?  In this culture I think we often times mistake compassion as sympathy and understanding, which can easily turn to enabling. We think it has to do with feeling sorry for someone or accepting what is going on and saying it is okay.  Some only direct compassion outward and have little concept of what self compassion is.  As with many things in life, like love…we can only have as much compassion for others as we do for ourselves. Compassion has to do with empathy for sure, being able to put oneself in another’s shoes and have understanding and feeling for self and other.  It also has to do with acceptance, having equanimity and non-judgement for what is without having blame, guilt or shame around it.  But it is not a soft energy or an enabling energy and it is not only a one way street toward others. In this context I often think of the quote “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  Sometimes the most compassionate thing is to have limits and say NO!!

For example: if I have a hard day and I come home and go to the pantry for the comfort cookies (I struggle with over-eating at times) I can have understanding and acceptance for the feeling of stress and the need for comfort; but the most compassionate thing is to say no to the cookies and then maybe take a bath instead.  Or if I do eat the cookies at least have acceptance and empathy for the feelings and needs underneath and my inability at the moment to cope in a different way…then later some compassion for my tummy ache…this is where the non-judgement part is critical, because if I go there it’s like adding insult to injury.

This concept of no as being compassionate is a new one to many people.  Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Naropa, wrote about “idiot compassion” and I think if you want to research this further check him out.  Pema Chodron also talks about compassion eloquently.

In my talks on Compassion Fatigue I emphasise saying no as a way for self care and the importance of setting limits for both ourselves and for the people we are attempting to support. Again, I can only support and care for someone as much as I can for myself so I take this very seriously.  With that said, I also have to have the empathy and acceptance piece in place in order to understand why saying no is so difficult for me at times.  It is critical to start paying attention to the feelings and needs we have with compassion under our behavior in order to make change. The naming of our needs and feelings are a way to validate them and learn to accept them, and these are the first stages of letting go and making new pathways.  And the more we are able to do this for ourselves the more we will be able to do this for others, and sometimes even vice versa.  I know at times I have had great compassion for someone else with a similar struggle and then a difficult time having it for myself, so I took that as an opportunity to feel that compassion outside myself and then slowly bring it in. In my view, compassion is like a heart-mind muscle, the more we use it the more it can grow and we can benefit from it.

In conclusion to today’s post, I have a deep need for understanding and to be heard and it is very scary to put myself out there not being able to hear or see people’s responses….especially on a small blog post of a huge topic such as compassion.  So I will breathe into that, acknowledge the need of being understood and the feeling of fear and have acceptance for them and also move through that by hitting “publish post” and not go eat cookies afterwards!

Welcome to my blog!

Hi! I’m a psychotherapist and art therapist in West Seattle.  I work with children, adults, couples and families in group and individual settings as well as do consulting and teaching in various professional and academic venues.  I have always thought that Psychology is a Euro-American patriarchal middle class construct and this has bothered me.  What I mean by this is that it started about a hundred years ago by some white dudes with money who took a medical stance and were out to “solve” and “fix” people’s emotional and behavioral states in a linear framework.  Subsequently, Psychology and psychotherapy have a long laundry list of weird and often harmful tactics that have taken place over the years.  Luckily, it has been shifting since the sixties and seventies with Humanistic, Transpersonal and more client-centered focused theories and has changed dramatically in the past twenty years with a more feminist and attachment based viewpoint, which I bias toward.   I truly believe that in the evolution of psychology we must move to a more multi-cultural and feminist construct with values of collaboration and empowerment with the intention to demystify the process of therapy and share the information we gain as therapists in order to promote true change for individuals and as a collective in our culture.  So, in order to do my part I have started a blog.  My intention here is to share what I have learned and continue to learn about various mental health issues and the human condition.  I hope that both therapists and clients alike find something here of value and it creates ripples of discussion that promote growth and change in the world.  For more information about me and how I work you can visit my website at