Kat Mindenhall, LCSW

Your Free Therapy Consultation: 5 Ways to Prepare

angry blow upIf you are preparing to have a free therapy consultation, congrats on taking the first step to changing things!

There are 5 important things to consider before your free therapy consultation. A free therapy consultation is a wonderful chance to test drive what it would be like to work with a potential therapist.

But, it isn’t therapy. So, what is it? And how do you squeeze all that you can out of it?

1. Arrive early enough to get yourself a nice beverage and sit for a minute.

This will help you take in the scenery and prepare yourself. You may be a little nervous or excited, and if you don’t give yourself a chance to catch your breath you may find that the consultation is half over before you feel present enough to really do #1 and #2 well. Just sayin’.

2. Come ready to spit out your questions.

A good therapist should welcome questions, and their response style will help you decide if you think the therapist can help you. Ask the things that you are hesitant to ask. Are you worried that the therapist is going to judge you? Are you unsure about how the therapist is going to handle certain things? Ask! You are interviewing the therapist, and this is your chance to speak up and get their take on whatever is bugging you about the prospect of having therapy.

3. Come ready to answer some questions.

A consultation is not a time to go into a deep history of your issues, but it is a time to get a snapshot of what you can expect from therapy. The only way to know what to expect is to have a map of where you want to go, and where you don’t want to go. Be ready to answer questions about what you want to get out of counseling, what you DON’T want to get out of counseling, and what is going to happen if counseling doesn’t work. Not only will this help you clarify these things for yourself, it will help you and your therapist talk about your fears and expectations about the process. This will get you off to a running start in your work together.

4. Think about whether you like the therapist as a person.

It’s most important that you feel comfortable with the professional that you have chosen. Research shows that your relationship and how much you just genuinely like the therapist accounts for the majority of your progress in therapy. This is more important than their skills, their particular type of degree, etc. While it doesn’t mean that these things are unimportant, it does mean that your number one task is tuning in to your gut and seeing if this person could be a good fit for you. Any good therapist would agree and say that if you aren’t comfortable with them they would be happy to help you find someone with whom you are comfortable. And definitely choose a therapist that everyone is OK with if you are coming in as a couple/family.

5. Bring your calendar/schedule so that you can book your first session right there, if you are ready.

There is a good chance that if you leave without booking that session, it’s not going to happen. Maybe you don’t want to, but if you do intend to work with the therapist book it. Don’t let the momentum of the consultation be wasted by letting life get in the way (again) and leave you in the same place six months from now – needing to go see a therapist instead of happily living a different life. You won’t be pressured to book at the time, but experience tells me that getting that first session booked is the best way to safeguard yourself from getting derailed.

If you are struggling with relationships and are looking for a way to experience more love, understanding, and respect, contact us to set up a free therapy consultation in Denver or Lakewood today. We can look at what your options are and help you unlock the kind of life you really want.

How Does Couples Therapy For One Work?

How does couples therapy for one work? Have You Ever Wondered Whether You Can Go To Couples Counseling Alone?

Our last post about What to Do if Your Partner Won’t go to Couples Therapy  raised some great discussion online and offline about whether or not you can go to couples therapy by yourself. In my practice I have seen just one partner for couples therapy with great results.

Instead of creating a blog post devoted to how and why couples therapy for one can work, I created a page on the website for it because it’s something that many folks wonder about. Find out how couples therapy for one is similar to couples therapy with two, and get some answers to common objections that you may have about going to couples therapy by yourself.

So feel free to read about Couples Therapy for One, and leave a comment below about what your own thoughts are! Do you think it’s a good idea? Have you ever tried it? Wanted to try it, but didn’t know if it would be a good idea?

If you wonder how does couples therapy for one work, contact us to discuss whether couples therapy for one could be a viable option for you.

What to do When your Partner Won’t go to Couples Therapy

what to do when your partner won't go to couples therapyIt can feel frustrating and hopeless when your partner won’t even give couples therapy a second thought.

Maybe you have tried to address the issues in the relationship, read some books, talked to friends, fought over and over, and have decided that it’s time to give couples therapy a try. But, you are met with a wall when it comes to getting your partner to go.

Let’s be clear – you can’t make someone do something that they will not do. Even if you give ultimatums, your partner is likely to feel forced and not really open to the experience. The best tactic is to tap into the very thing that’s keeping him or her from wanting to come.

There are a variety of reasons for not wanting to go to couples therapy. Your partner might be experiencing many different fears, but here are some of the common ones:

  • Being afraid that the therapist will blame them for the relationship problems, or that the two of you will gang up them.
  • Honestly believing that YOU are the one that needs help, and internally blaming you for what’s going wrong in the relationship.
  • Being worried that counseling is going to literally be a painful experience.
  • Thinking that there are no issues in the relationship, and that couples therapy isn’t necessary.

One Tactic to Address all of These Concerns

Going to couples therapy takes courage, and anything that takes courage naturally comes with discomfort. But, here’s a way to put a dent in all of those barriers that your partner is experiencing with one tactic.

Discuss what you will get out of therapy, how it will help you become a better spouse, and why you need your partner’s participation in that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you are to blame for the relationship problems. But the fact is that every couple has two members, and every relationship problem has two players. Your contribution to your relationship issues may be as simple as how you respond to your partner’s poor relationship behavior. This still involves you. Tell your partner that you want to go to couples therapy so that you can find tools to use that will help you improve as a spouse. Talk about how much the marriage means to you and how willing you are to do whatever it takes to make it better. And make sure your partner hears how important their help is in doing this.

This is not about taking responsibility for your partner’s behavior, or blaming yourself. Especially if you are in an abusive relationship or have the habit of taking on too much responsibility for changing everything in the relationship. But in my experience, many people don’t tell their partner how they themselves are willing to change. They focus on what their partner needs to change, and engage in unhelpful tactics such as arguing, begging, distancing, and giving ultimatums. Doing something different such as expressing the reasons you personally want to improve with the help of a couples therapist could be a fresh take.

If your partner is worried they will be blamed or that you and the couples therapist will gang up on them, this helps to show them that you are approaching this with some level of personal accountability. You aren’t merely looking for a referee or someone to help you convince your partner that they are to blame. The fact is that a good couples therapist does not play the blame game, and would rather have you both ganging up on the problems rather than on each other. But, your spouse might just need to get into the first session to be able to see that this fear is, well, just a fear.

If your partner really does think that you are to blame, then they might be more open to giving therapy a try if they think that you are open to looking at what role you do play in the relationship issues. This isn’t setting you up to take responsibility for everything. As I mentioned above, a good therapist doesn’t do that. But, if it gets your partner to consider coming to therapy you can both work on taking responsibility for your own contributions to the patterns once you’re there.

If your partner is worried that it will literally be a painful experience, having some alleviation of the other fears could go a long way toward helping them cope with their avoidance of dealing with issues. Couples therapy isn’t easy, but neither is anything that is so important. Being a good spouse and parent, advancing your career, creating a healthy lifestyle and taking care of yourself – none of this is easy.

And lastly, if your partner doesn’t think that there is anything in the relationship that could benefit from couples therapy, perhaps hearing from you what you want to get out of it for yourself would be something that your partner would be willing to hear.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of ways to create a more positive and inviting story around couples therapy, but it’s one that can be pretty effective. The truth is that a couples therapist is going to help both of you do your best to create the kind of relationship that you want, and taking the first step in thinking about that will go a long way toward avoiding or repairing attempts to blame and force a reluctant partner into couples therapy.

And if all else fails, having some therapy for yourself can greatly improve your relationship. Most relationship issues can be explored and approached in different ways even by just one person. A couples therapist can help you discover ways to improve your marriage even when your partner won’t go to couples therapy. If you are interested in exploring how couples therapy or individual relationship counseling can help, please reach out to us and have a free consultation.

Kat Mindenhall, LCSW, is the Director of A Peaceful Life Counseling Services in Lakewood, CO. She specializes in helping people create vibrant lives and relationships.

The Real Reason You Can’t Stay Motivated

The real reason you can't stay motivatedI have a really bad habit when I’m trying to stay motivated to change something about my life. It’s something that I recognize does me no good, but it creeps up on me like the dishes and the laundry. I don’t notice it at first, but then suddenly I’m knee-deep.  Somehow my optimism about things has dissolved and I have a case of the screw-its. I’m talking about feeling discouraged at the amount of progress I’ve made in my endeavors. Trying to be a better parent and spouse. Trying to do the things that I know are important for my mental and physical well-being.  Have you ever worked hard at something, but couldn’t stay motivated because you weren’t seeing any progress? Since I’m a human, I do things that work against my peace of mind. And, since I’m a therapist, I know I didn’t invent this little mind game.  In my Lakewood counseling practice I see this all the time.

There are plenty ways to describe this habit. You can call it perfectionism, pessimism, realism, the need for instant gratification (I want this issue fixed now). Sometimes I just call it:

“I’m never going to stop yelling as a parent. Things were going well this morning and then I blew it.”

“My partner and I haven’t solved our fighting problem, this isn’t working at all.”

Why do we do this to ourselves? Goal setting and staying motivated while you are imperfect isn’t easy. Here’s a neat way to combat this that I got from a mentor of mine:

String.

Yes.

String. This is a powerful metaphor for setting goals and having confidence. And it’s a way to learn how to be gentle with yourself. Here’s how it goes:

Everyone has a certain length of string. This string represents how much good stuff we have that can combat a problem. Coping skills and tools to use in difficult situations. Knowledge that we need. Resources such as having enough support and encouragement. Usually we have a relatively short piece of string. We humans tend to recycle the same strategies to deal with issues over and over. We yell. We sulk. We turn to substances or other distractions. We get mad. We approach our issues the same way over and over.

We add to our string every time that we work at improving ourselves, try to learn new ways to deal, etc.  So you tried to be patient with your spouse and not start an argument when you would otherwise have gotten into a huge fight? String. You are trying to take better care of yourself by eating healthier? String. You tried out meditation that one time? String. We don’t add a whole lot of string at one time because we don’t magically erase all of our problems at once. We tend to add it inch by inch.

Here’s the problem

If you had five feet of string, then, no, an inch wouldn’t even be noticeable. That is the lens that we are looking through – we think we have way more than we do, so small changes are too little, too late. But, adding an inch of string to 4 inches is a significant improvement.  That’s something to protect and keep working at. It’s very, very easy to discount your efforts because you think that you should be better at this happiness thing. Then, it’s hard to stay motivated to keep trying.

You didn’t yell at your children this morning, but by the end of the day you were barking orders from the couch again. You tried really hard not to argue with your spouse, but you still had an argument anyway. We think, “That’s nice, but it’s not enough. This isn’t fixed.” We focus on the fact that we didn’t add ten feet of string, and we cut off the bit that we do have by thinking it’s not enough.

It may sound strange that overestimating how many coping skills we really have is not helpful. Isn’t self-esteem important? But, what does it do to your self-esteem to feel like no matter how hard you try, you stink and aren’t changing enough in your life?  By remembering that naturally we humans only have a few ways that we know of to deal with issues, we can take a deep breath and realize that a teeny bit of string added (to our tiny bit of string) is a real change. Yelling bit less during the day, holding off before you jump into that argument, thinking about starting to eat better – inch by inch you are making real progress.

So when I’m getting discouraged at just how little I’ve been able to change, I try to take that as a clue that I need to think about string. If you are struggling to improve your relationships or accomplish your goals and feeling stuck, it might be time to call us at (720) 443-1947 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation and learn how to create the life you want.

Kat Mindenhall, LCSW, is the Director of A Peaceful Life Counseling Services in Lakewood, CO. She specializes in helping people create vibrant lives and relationships.

How to be Your Own Therapist

How to be your own therapistBe your own therapist? This is what you need to know

My approach to counseling is about creating psychological flexibility- the ability to essentially be your own therapist. If you can remember the parts of a butterfly, you are well on your way to understanding the elements of what psychological flexibility is.

Our psychological flexibility is like a butterfly. A butterfly has two wings (in this example) and a body in the middle. Each wing flutters in sync and they attach to the body, which is like the hub and hinge of it all. Without the body, the wings are useless. Without each wing, the creature falls to the ground and spins in circles. (Sad picture, but stay with me here).

We all have painful and unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and habits that get in the way of just about everything. We have to be able to cope with these feelings and thoughts as they come. Many people can see clearly that this is necessary, and enter therapy searching for a way to do just this. Working with these thoughts and feelings is one wing of our butterfly.

The second wing balances the other. It is the important stuff; our goals and meaningful things we do that make our lives vital. It’s going in the direction that is healthy and good for you. It’s knowing what direction that would be, and what we’d be doing more of to get there. Sometimes folks are aware that they need something like this, but may have no idea how to figure that out and create change.

In the middle is our butterfly body. This anchors and powers our two wings of strength and meaning. The body is our ability to be present and have a helpful rather than a rigid story about ourselves and our struggles. Being able to notice when one of the wings is off and what needs to be done to fly well  are the hinges that keep the butterfly going.  That’s where you learn how to be your own therapist. Many people come to therapy craving some way to learn how to make themselves feel better. They want to see what the problem is and what to do about it.

Two wings and a body, and you have a beautiful analogy of psychological flexibility. Any issue, from actual diagnosed mental illnesses to relationship struggles and stress, call for psychological flexibility. Wouldn’t you like to have a mind like a butterfly? Strength, meaning, and presence. To be able to float, change course, land quietly, and make fine tuned adjustments in your life. Flexible enough to dream of new possibilities and strong enough to deal with what gets in the way.

If you are like many folks who feel more like that butterfly going in circles on the ground, I’d love to help you increase your psychological flexibility in your life and relationships.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

The Secret Ingredient to your Problems

secret ingredient to your problemsThere is a secret ingredient to  your problems that might surprise you. It’s called avoidance. Our minds come up with a lot of ways to help ourselves deal with everyday life. A lot of the time, it says that when we make ourselves feel better, this is a good thing. So we spend a lot of time not wanting to experience any discomfort if we can help it. But, most of the time the things we do to avoid discomfort create problems of their own. We work so hard to avoid dealing with negative feelings that we create many problems.  Over time, these avoidant activities can take on a life of their own – leaving us with the original problem AND our unhelpful way of dealing with it. Hiding in a little box like this kitten!

Do an experiment: Take a problem that you have, whatever it is. Now, think of what would make that situation better. NOW, ask yourself what stops you from doing that. If the answer is another problem, ask yourself the same questions. Eventually, you will get down to what thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, (any private, internal experience) that you are avoiding.

Here are some examples of avoidance- see if you have ever done any of these things:

  • Procrastinating to avoid doing something, or avoid the distress that comes when you can’t do it perfectly/my way/all at once.
  • Avoiding working on difficult relationships because of having to address problems and possibly deal with fears of abandonment, vulnerability, blame, guilt, anger, etc.
  • Avoiding things that require too much effort – like working out, hobbies, etc.
  • Letting opportunities go to avoid fears of failure or change.
  • Being self-destructive to avoid emotional pain.
  • Abusing substances to avoid boredom, emotional pain, or withdrawal.

Notice anything interesting? The problem is not the uncomfortable internal experiences you have, it’s how you choose to approach them. Waiting to feel better in order to make your life better is like waiting for an illness to subside before you treat the illness.

My next post will look at a perspective that helps make some sense of what is a helpful approach to these problems.  For now, stop and ask yourself, “What am I avoiding?”

Kat Mindenhall, LCSW, is the Director of A Peaceful Life Counseling Services in Lakewood, CO. She specializes in helping people create vibrant lives and relationships.