The year of being ok

This is the year of being ok. 2010 was a very difficult year for myself, my clients, my family, and my friends. If I were to encapsulate a message for the New Year based on the collective thread of anxiety and dread that has been running through us all is that.

You are OK.

I don’t give a shit if that sounds too airy fairy. You can make all the fun that you want about the simple act of affirming to yourself

I am OK

But if contempt is the first thing that comes up in response to the idea, you’ve got a problem.

YOU are OK

doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Doesn’t mean you didn’t make mistakes. Doesn’t mean that you can’t do better. It’s not letting yourself off of the hook. But if you are always saying something different besides

I am OK

like “I’m shit” “I’m stupid” “I’m not a good person” perhaps, then you aren’t even on the hook.

If you tell yourself that you are shit, then you can just give up and stop trying. Perfectionism is the perfect ruse for the parts of us that are lazy and frightened.

And you only tell yourself that you are shit when you are expecting yourself to be perfect.

And then you stop trying.

So why don’t you do everyone a favor, and give up the luxury of perfectionism and self blame, and come down to earth and be an imperfect but lovable mess like the rest of us? This is the way to actually get somewhere. And you will not get perfect, but you will get better. Even if bad things happen that cause you to feel sad and frightened and unequipped. Because all you need is to start beating yourself up with old self-hate in already tough times.


Tattoo it on your fucking arm if you have to.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On Defensiveness and Crab–a rant and a recipe

In all my years of being defensive, recognizing defensiveness in others, and helping others recognize and move through their own defensiveness, I never asked the question until the other day.

What are we defending ourselves against, exactly?

But now that I’ve asked myself, I think that the idea of a crab can come in handy right now. And not just because I was trying to decide whether to blog about defensiveness or the family crab marinade recipe. A crab has a tough, clawed exterior protecting some fairly delicate innards. Poke a stick at a crab, and if it can’t run, it will claw at the stick. Or you. Or else it very well may end up in the marinade.

None of us want to end up in the marinade, as the main course in someone else’s feast upon our self esteem. So before they even get a chance, we claw. We scuttle.

What does that look like? Usually, interrupting. When you are in a defensive headspace, you don’t need to listen to what the other person is saying or what she actually means. You are two steps ahead, and preparing the counterattack. You could bring up a somehow parallel crime the person has levied in the past (a favorite of those in romantic partnerships). You could be passive aggressive, smile, and subtly try to make the person feel stupid.

What they are saying could be true or it could be false. Defensiveness insists that one must become obsessed with the difference.

Are you unclear if you’re defensive? Do you sound like a jerk to yourself? Probably. (Unless everything you say sounds jerky to yourself, and then you have a perception and self esteem issue.)

The soft innards that you are protecting, is your self esteem, your good opinion of yourself, your perception of your identity and integrity. If you tend towards the perfectionistic, you won’t like anyone to draw attention to your mistakes because them drawing attention to them means you have them, and don’t they know how hard you are working to not make them and do everything right?

Want to stop being defensive? Stop being a perfectionist and allow yourself mistakes. And then own them in front of others and apologize sincerely instead of behaving like an ass.

A great trick taught to me by a wonderful therapist is, in intimate relationships, to voice it: “I’m feeling defensive.” This is one of those things, that when I suggest it clients they say things like: “it’s hard to imagine myself talking like that.” That surprises me when people aren’t willing to do something that could potentially stop a nasty argument just because it feels awkward at first. Other clients, perhaps after being called on that first point, will say things like “that sounds like a good idea when we are sitting here, but it is difficult to do that in the moment.” Yes it is. A lot of things that are worth doing are difficult in the moment: physical exercise, financial self-restraint, emotional risk. Others say: “I never think of that in the moment”, which is actually a fair clue that they might be escalating very quickly when they feel attacked, and unable to recognize their anger signs. The trick there is to slow down and recognize signals from the body that tell us we are escalating, and to stop and take a break before we speak. Chances are, after a 10 minute break, we won’t say something so defensive or launch a counterattack.

I’m also fairly surprised when clients appear to resist the idea of a 10 minute break to avoid an argument. Poking around usually reveals to us that 10 minutes of being left alone during an argument can cause such anxiety that it is preferable to continue fighting, even if a time out could stop it. Again, if that is you, it’s time to re-examine your “need” to “resolve it now” and see if it is the kindest thing for yourself and your partner. If a simple time out has you feeling freaked out and abandoned, you don’t need me to tell you that there are abandonment issues. Why not work on getting to a point where you can allow your partner to leave the room without becoming reactive and feeling like they are leaving forever?

Defensiveness in intimate relationships tends to be expressed more openly and bitingly, while a work situation is more likely to showcase passive aggressive defensiveness. Posturing, interrupting, being too quick to say “I know” anytime anyone says anything, and general workplace sabotage drama/games/shenanigans are ways that defensiveness manifest there.

Back to our crab. We are soft and sweet inside, and predators want to eat us. Predators are real and we do fall victim to emotional trauma, horrible treatment by others, and other versions of hurt and heartbreak. It’s with good reason we scuttle and snap and claw. Otherwise, we might get messed with even more.

Except, we can protect ourselves better than we think, and our flesh and bones and emotional selves are more resilient. If you disregard this article as full of crab, take this one bit of advice: be authentic. Be real. Say, “that hurt my feelings.” You won’t sound as stupid as you do when you say “I know you are, but what am I?” I promise. Nobody who deserves to be near you will be a jerk if you own up to being hurt, scared, vulnerable, cranky, especially if it avoids an unpleasant argument.

The crab recipe:

Ok, I had a great dinner with my dad and his girlfriend and my sister Gina the other night. I had a hankering for crab, so my Pop got some down at Cosentino’s and left it in the fridge for me. Friday afternoon I let myself in his apartment and my husband and I drank wine and I made dinner while we waited for the family to arrive.

Crab, the way my family makes it:

1-2 lbs fresh dungeness crab, cleaned and cracked
3/4 cup parsley, give or take, minced
2-8 cloves of garlic, depending on the size of the cloves and your preference, minced
1 lemon
olive oil

Lightly coat the crab in olive oil. Add minced garlic (smash a few so garlic oil drips in there) and the parseley, and about half the lemon (get the seeds out of there!). Salt and pepper to taste. Marinade for about 1/2 hour, stirring all the juices around. Serve.

My variation:
so I have eaten this crab ever since I was a little kid. Every Christmas Eve my family makes this crab (we’re of Sicilian heritage so Christmas Eve is a big deal and there is a lot of delicious seafood.). We never mess around with any kind of crab but Dungeness, usually caught near here in Monterey or Santa Cruz.
Anyway, when I first started cooking a lot I wanted to make this crab but of course had to put my own twist on it. Basically I tried to put as much of ingredients that might raise eyebrows as I could without making the recipe too different or funky.
I added other kinds of citrus juices to the marinade, in splashes only. Start with splashes because if you pour too much, it’s too late. I use squeezed or refrigerated orange or tangerine juice, maybe a splash of lime if I have it, maybe a splash of vinegar (I think others might do that too), and just a few drops of sesame oil. That one I don’t think any of them know, because it sounds sort of gross. But when you use just a teensy bit of sesame oil, it adds a nice flavor and doesn’t overpower a dish.
You can’t go wrong with the first recipe, so I recommend starting with that and adding your own variations in juices or spice.

Posted in Advice, Food, Relationships, Therapy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So you want to be a psychotherapist? 11 Things to cultivate.

This is the list that I wish someone had given me when I began my journey as a therapist. I hope people considering the profession of psychotherapy will get something out of what I’ve chosen to pay forward, and that my colleagues will chime in on the comments with their own wisdom of what therapists need to cultivate. I’m speaking from my own experience. I’ve worked in the mental health field for 10 years, and have been a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist three. I speak not as a veteran professional, but rather someone who made it through the first three years of private practice, and has managed to stick around and continue to grow. At my level, I think it’s important to try to help to people who are just starting out, just as I think it’s important to try to be around and learn from people much more experienced. So here’s my list of what a beginner therapist should cultivate (which are fairly sound qualities to cultivate for anyone who works with people and values relationships).

1. Learn to sit with silence. It’s uncomfortable, and there’s the urge to fill silence with knowledge, help, advice. There are times for all of those things. But sometimes it’s best to be still and allow the person in front of you to process and mull things over without someone jumping in to rescue them. One of the best things you can do as a therapist is learn to control your own anxiety, and this means not rushing in to reassure, give advice, or anything else that diverts the client from feeling their feelings.

2. Become ok with people being upset with you or in your presence. The job of a therapist involves asking personal and sometimes impolite questions, asking people to look at things they don’t want to see, and asking them to change behavior that has become entrenched. If you are doing your job correctly, chances are someone is going to be upset now and then. If it is because of a legitimate mistake that you made, and you will make them, then you can apologize and be a model for someone who owns their mistakes. Apologize sincerely; do you know what a gift a sincere apology is? Work on whatever it is you did that was the mistake. If it has nothing to do with you, then it’s important to stay grounded in that, and allow the person to work it through, in their relationship with you. Taking it personally is making it about you.

3. Learn to keep a secret. Forever. It’s the law. It’s an ethical tenet. Know the laws and ethics of confidentiality in your profession and keep them. Honor your clients. This is not the profession where you get to brag about how awesome of a job you did on a project, unless you get to the point where people pay you to speak at workshops at conventions, and you know where the boundaries are.

4. Develop, maintain, and communicate boundaries. Know your position on hugs, gifts, running into clients in public, that extra five minutes at the end of the session, doorknob moments, secrets within couples, phone calls between sessions, forgotten checkbooks, missed sessions, and the clients that sometimes feel more like friends. Struggle with ethical quandaries when presented with them.  Behave in a way you consider to be highly ethical. Consult colleagues and your professional association on what is appropriate, what is ethical, and how to handle grey areas. Document.

5. Set goals, have hope, and remain unattached to outcomes. Show that you are going somewhere with the treatment, yet remain flexible to what comes up. See the potential and have hope it will flourish even if the client can’t yet. Know that there are some who you can’t help, whether you are the wrong therapist for them, or they aren’t ready to change. Don’t work harder than a client is willing to work for herself.

6. Resist giving advice. Start an advice column if you need to. But don’t give a lot of advice in sessions, and don’t give it the first time you are asked for it. Most of the time people need to find their own answers. Point out resources to help clients help themselves. Telling people what to do most often backfires. It also is a good way for you to get attached to your own advice and outcomes and then build resentment when someone doesn’t do what you told them. Learn it the hard way if you need to.

7. Be in the here and now. Most of the time, what is happening in this moment will lead you and your client on the path towards healing more than puzzling through a story that they are telling you about the past or sorting through their fearful future projections. Being present will bring you into a deep sense of yourself, and will be a powerful model. When you and your client are in the present, old beliefs die and new possibilities are born.

8. Contain the energy. Learn to be strong in the face of pain and tragedy, learn that sometimes there is nothing to say but just being there is enough. Allow someone their anger and petty feelings so they don’t have to be stuck there. Try not to be too awkward with rage, tears, sexuality, obsession, grave disability, psychosis, mania, depression, and grief. Learn to regulate your own emotions and learn to teach that skill.

9. Be ok with admiration. I said before that if you are doing your job well, you will probably have someone upset with you. The same goes for admiration. It’s a passionate business and we are an intimate confidante. Be ok with those times when someone looks up to you, quotes your words back to you, thanks you for all you have been to them. Allow yourself to really receive that, and let it wash through you. And don’t hold onto it or let your ego get too cozy. It will come again, or it won’t. The client may need to feel anger in the next session. Let the process happen.

10. Get out of the way. Let the client talk, no matter how clever the thing you wanted to say was. Be yourself and be present, but don’t self disclose unless it is therapeutically relevant. Don’t talk about your own problems, make the client need to care for you, or burden them. But don’t be a robot or feel like you can’t be human. Basically, let your client know that you have emotions that run deep, but that it’s your job to handle them and to handle what comes up for you on your own time. Listen deeply and respond when appropriate. Say less. Draw things out rather than preach. Keep your opinionated quips to yourself, or if you can’t, cop to making an opinionated quip. Do not go into this profession for the admiration. The less you interfere with the process, the more it will carry you both to a place of healing.

11. Do your own work. This is the most important of the whole pack. If you blow off everything else in this article as crap, humor me on this one. Get your own therapy, do your own soul-searching, understand your triggers, and deal with your baggage. If you don’t, I promise it will show up to haunt you in every day of your work. Note your strong reactions, get supervision, consult with colleagues. Take really, really, really good care of yourself, the best vacations you can afford, get massages, exercise, eat healthy, love yourself like nobody’s watching, because you are your own instrument in this work and you are useless when you’re sunk. You are so brave and important to want to help people, but you know you came to this to heal yourself. So give yourself permission, and never be afraid to ask for help.

Posted in Therapy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Turkey Soup from scratch

I am posting this for two reasons:
1. I want to try out the WordPress iPhone app.
2. I made awesome turkey soup from scratch using my thanksgiving leftovers and I want to teach you how.

The turkey carcass and bones, stripped of the meat as best you can.
About a pound, give or take, of leftover turkey meat, chopped, ideally a mix of dark and light.
1-2 cups chicken or veggie broth
Salt and pepper
Herbs de Provence
Fresh Sage (leftover from the turkey prep)
3-4 quarts of water
2-4 stalks celery
2-3 carrots
1 yellow onion
Noodles (optional)
Veggie Scraps

(ooooops! accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save” and prematurely launched the recipe into the world. I can immediately offer feedback on the WordPress iphone app-the “save” and “publish” button are too close together! Now I have to finish this thing. =)

Preheat oven to 350
So put the carcass with the bones and the veggie scraps into a big roasting pan (For the veggie scraps, I used the leftover carrot, celery, onion, some sage, and rosemary and a teensy bit of apple that was still stuffed in the bird, reasoning there was still flavor that could be steeped out of them. I was right. I also have a bag that I throw scraps like onion and garlic skins and random carrot and celery bits and keep in the freezer for making stocks.)

Put a little olive oil, salt and pepper over the veggie scraps and bones in the roasting pan, put about a half a cup to a cup of broth (or a little white wine, or even a little bit of lager) in the bottom. Roast for 20-30 minutes at about 350 degrees F, until the bones look golden and everything smells good. Transfer everything to a stock pot and fill until everything is just covered with water. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, or until the broth is flavorful.

While the roasting and simmering is going on, dice celery, veggies and onion. Set aside half the onions. In a soup pot, sautee half the onions, the celery, and carrots in about 1 tbsp of olive oil until tender. Deglaze the pan with some white wine, beer, water or broth, and add the turkey and mix in with the veggies and let cook for one minute. Add the rest of the chicken broth (optional) and your turkey stock, with spices to taste. Simmer about 30 minutes, or until you have a rich, flavorful soup.

If you don’t feel like hassling with a turkey carcass, it’s ok to use chicken or veggie broth as your base. But I think using every part of the bird is half the fun, and makes the act of buying and roasting a huge bird once a year seem far less wasteful.

Cook soup noodles if you want noodles. I made acini di pepe pasta and cooked it separately and let everyone add their own pasta to the soup (great way to watch carbs).

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“I want to make apps” and other Apple ramblings, plus more WordPress love

So it’s been over a week since I’ve migrated my blog over from my iWeb hosting regular website www.therapyforachangingworld to this spot,

And it’s great. I can check my site stats (never compulsively). I can shoot a blog straight out to Facebook and Twitter at the same time I publish here. (EDIT: the more I hang out on WordPress, the more apparent it is that they want my experience to be easy on this platform.)

I just can’t stop wishing that iWeb had wanted me to have that same experience. WordPress is doing a fabulous job, yet I remain disappointed that Apple didn’t want the job. I’m like that girl who has a sweet boyfriend who loves her, but I want the bad boy to notice.

iWeb is great. As a user who knows exactly (well, approximately) what she wants her website to convey and how much she wants to learn and work for it, Apple has delivered a product with a lot of character, pizzaz, and ease of use. As a user who knows enough HTML to occasionally insert a page break and make some text bold or perhaps link to another site (thanks, LiveJournal) it’s convenient to have little buttons at the top of the blog entry I’m creating that can instantly bolden, link, italicize, frisk and fondle the text pretty much any way I can think of.

The layout of the iWeb templates are pretty. I can use my own photographs. The templates are stylistic and fairly fresh, like the inside of an Apple Store.

But the blogging software left a lot to be desired. No stats except how many people are visiting the page. Clunky archiving. Unsexy widgets that don’t feel all that relevant. Kind of a rigid reader experience, too, as far as I can tell reading my own blog at the old iWeb site.

And the argument goes like this: iWeb isn’t for professionals. It’s for people making their own home pages. Even if the introduction to the tutorial for iWeb says it is for creating professional looking sites.

The thing is, how many people do you know that are making home pages that aren’t trying to either get a lot of traffic, either to spread an idea, or to sell or publicize something? Grandmas email photos, they usually don’t require a “professional looking” web presence to blog about it. And if they are savvy enough to blog, they are probably migrating to WordPress.

Which brings up an interesting issue, or perhaps an interesting niche that I fit into. I’m a fairly smart user. Not smart enough to be a developer. But smart enough to keep wanting a more sophisticated user experience, which included being able to produce things using software. The kind of user who got smarter using Apple products, and realized she could use them to make things that augment her professional presence. Like podcasts and hypnosis recordings using GarageBand, websites using iWeb (which, as I grew smarter, realized had to be tweaked in order for my site to register with search engines). I would be extremely stoked if the next DIY notch under my belt could be to make an app.

But I’m smart enough to know I’m not smart enough to know programming or how to develop an app for iOS, because I’m not a software developer.  I’m smart enough to know I want an app and how I’d want it to function. Perhaps, you’d say, smart enough to hire a damn developer or to learn enough computer sciencey shit to make my own damn app. Or smart enough to go to the Apple website and get a developer kit and then realize I don’t know how to make use of it because I don’t know programming. (At this point, the word “smart” seems to address the idea of motivation and energy as well).

But I didn’t want to have to learn more than I learned in order to make my website. Because, even with the blogging deficiencies and the issue of SEO non-optimization, which the nice people of RAGE software have helped me address, I like my iWeb site! It’s pretty. It’s fine. I can use my own advanced amateur digital photographs. I can express myself and promote my business. It’s not a site advertising my services as a web designer. It works to peddle my knowledge of the human psyche. I don’t want to have to learn sound engineering to make hypnosis recordings and podcasts: I want to use Garage Band (But please, iLife engineers, feel free to make Garage Band more user friendly). I want the means of production in my hands. And one of the reasons I love Apple products is that it puts it there. Until certain means of the means of production is just out of reach, like making my own iPhone app.

So here’s what I want. An app that lets me make an app. I’d be able to choose from a menu of options that represented components that make up an ios application. I could choose a chart, a graph, a slider, a list, and make them interact with various data in order to make the app I want, which could be a game, a log of some sort, a portal to other published information, or an organizational system for media I’m launching into the world.  Yeah, that would be great. I might find that this sort of thing would do just fine for the kind of app that I need-just like my iWeb site is fine for advertising my services as a therapist (rather than a web designer). Or I might find down the line it’s not and then I hire someone to make a better app out of the prototype I made for myself. Or, the whole experience might make me feel that learning software development is within my grasp.

And I’d like an iWeb update that addresses some of the criticisms. Or perhaps we need “iWeb pro” just like we have a pro iPhoto (Aperture) and a pro iMovie (Final Cut). Perhaps the software could make the user more intelligent at creating web pages and allow you to learn HTML and Javascript as you go.

All I know is, I wanna make more stuff.

Posted in Tech, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Free Advice Q3: How do I tell an ex friend to stop emailing me?

dear lia,

there is a woman that i used to be friends with. when we were friends, she was cheating on her husband and made vague passes at me. She even vibed one of my best friends when she came to visit me, acting rude and curt towards my friend and trying to draw me into private conversations, acting jealous and weird. i lost respect for her and don’t like being around her. being friends with her seemed to mean a lot of drama for me, and i’m really trying to keep off the drama.

i really haven’t been friends with her for 3 or 4 years, since she vibed my friend. she has tried to contact me on several occasions through email. she’ll include me in a group email to go see music or get together for her birthday. a couple weeks ago, she wrote me an email about a dream she had about me. i never respond to anything she sends, just erase it. on my bday, she sent me a message just saying happy birthday. i didnt respond. I really don’t have any interest in maintaining a relationship with her and don’t want her to think I want to be her friend by responding, but clearly she isn’t getting the message that I’m not her friend. Is there a miss manners answer to this?

Crowded in Chicago

Dear Crowded,

Ah yes, the clueless ex-friend who is so wrapped up she didn’t get the memo that she’s an ex friend. Some might advise you to let sleeping dogs lie, reasoning that she doesn’t contact you enough to warrant drawing that boundary. But I’m not. Sleeping dogs often growl and bare their teeth while chasing prey in their dreams. You are never quite sure when you are going to hear from her. And hearing from her is clearly a source of stress for you-stress that she isn’t taking the hint and respecting your wishes. If she is taking the hint and not respecting your wishes, that’s a form of emotional terrorism. (The email about the dream, with it’s creepy intimacy totally unmatched to the circumstances of your current relationship, seems to bear this out). Or else, she has very different criteria for friendship and a much higher tolerance for games and drama than you do, and therefore not a suitable friend for this time in your life.

You could just block her from your email and be done with it. But, you wanted the Miss Manners answer for this, which means you are afflicted with etiquette and ethics. And in the name of ethics, I do think it is nice to give someone an opportunity to reflect on their behavior and why it has turned you away if you are up for the effort. Plus, if you ever happen to run into her in that huge, cold city of yours, you will feel like a jerk having blocked her on email without explaining.

So I advise a very brief and brisk email, such as

Dear ex friend

Please don’t contact me anymore. The circumstances of my life have changed and I am no longer able to be your friend. Thank you for respecting my wishes.



If you go into a long explanation, it will be drama-bait. If you call out her negativity, it will be drama-bait. If you send that without blocking, it will be drama-bait and she will want to know why and to argue her case for remaining your friend. If you have already made your decision, this will not be productive. The short email above is an “I statement”, which are tougher to argue. You don’t say you can’t be her friend because of her behavior or jerkiness or lack of boundaries: you just say you have been unable to fulfill the terms for friendship for some time and you are officially nullifying your contract. If you think the short email above will ratchet up the drama and cause unwanted phone calls or visits, just block her and be done with it.

Oh hey, Crowded? I ran this one across the key member of my advisory committee for consideration. She came up with this:

Having been on BOTH sides of this nasty issue I think there are some fundamental things to consider.  You’ve hit on them, IMHO, but I would emphasize that not having an explicit “NO THANK YOU” from a “former friend” is VERY confusing.  Especially true if the individual is a busy person or has a pattern of occasionally dropping out of sight from time to time.  I think the I statement giving a CLEAR message of friendship termination is absolutely the way to go.  Do not let someone hang; if they are clueless in general how can you expect them to get the clue on this issue?? Being the break-upper does suck, and you don’t have to go into the real nitty gritty, but I would highly encourage an explicit termination.

So, you have options, crowded. I take the “don’t stir up the drama” approach and my advisor basically does too, but she makes the excellent point that you must be clear that you do want to end the relationship and you do not want any more contact, and that just blocking her on email and avoiding the situation might not be enough for an already clueless person to get the hint.

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Women and porn: can’t we all just get along?

Call me crazy, but I’m one of those people who thinks women really do enjoy sex. In an interesting and I think bold move, Playboy announced plans to make their Playboy TV channel reflect more content appealing to women: more context for sex scenes, more intimacy depicted. Read about it here in the New York Times. Included in the new format will be reality shows, sex advice, and focus on relationships. Sort of like a cross between the WE Network and the Playboy Channel.

We shall see how they actually execute it: I could see it going a bit too far in the wrong direction and having the whole thing feel like an extended diamond commercial with sex scenes. But this is a good sign in terms of breaking down the old women-vs-porn debate. I for one am happy to move off of the “Porn is degrading to women” argument, and onto the “Let’s force production companies to make porn that is not.”

For more about women and porn check out this article that Violet Blue wrote for

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