Questions A Couples Therapist Gets At Parties

When a person meets me socially and is actually interested in what I do, I inevitably get asked,”Has being a couples counselor changed the way you do your own marriage?”

The answer is: At my best, yes. At my worst, no.

Pro-tip for anyone reading this - I’m human and act poorly in my relationship sometimes too. My relationship has “glitches” too.

At my worst: we get in an argument, and as I’m responding angrily back at her, I’m thinking,”Boy, I bet I’m going to regret saying this…” And yep, I end up having to apologize and explain what happened. She usually ends up apologizing too, but I’m usually thinking “She only needed to apologize for about 12.5% of the fight. The rest is mine.”

At my best: I can come to her and say,”You know, sweetie, I feel like you don’t really take me seriously. I really feel insulted when you do XYZ and you’re not even acknowledging that.”

I would say that the “at my best” moments have increased since I’ve really refined my process of couples therapy. As I start feeling an energy to react to what she says negatively, a little birdie taps me on the shoulder says,”You probably should get more vulnerable.” Then I roll my eyes, and try to get more vulnerable. The next day I try to pat myself on the shoulder for it. But that eye-roll in the moment is something else!

Don Music redux

Don Music, my inner monologue.

I watched my 7 year old practice piano using a phone app. It was challenging. He kept going and going until he reached the edge of his competence. And he never banged his head against the keyboard and said,”I’ll never get it! I’ll never get it!”

Now, as an adult, I have to unlearn the habit of thinking I “am a failure.” Notice the difference between saying I failed and “I am a failure.” The latter sticks with you no matter what success you may have in the future. It dooms you to permanent “dis-ability.” When I started this blog, all kinds of hives came up because I would be talking only about my failures. And when I’m not talking about my failures, I’m talking about my deepest insecurities about how I could possibly fail. Super vulnerable. Yuck.

Back to Don Music. Don’s teeth gnashing is understandable given that he’s on his growth edge. He’s at the boundary between competence and incompetence. And being on that edge is hard, annoying, and frustrating. But without being on that edge, he wouldn’t have learned to go beyond it.

When I hear whispers that "I'm not enough."

Caution: mistakes were made in the writing of this post

Caution: mistakes were made in the writing of this post

I can always tell when I’m feeling really inadequate. I’ll get a need to buy something. Shopping is a way for me to compensate for my own inadequacies.

I think,“I’m not enough, but Amazon has something that will make up for it!”

When a shopping urge happens when I’m under stress, it’s a “somatic flag” for me. It tells me that there’s something happening in my head & heart that needs examining.

So lately, I’ve been making videos. The first example of which is on the front page of my website. It’s not perfect. I had one of my colleagues look at it. I had my wife look at it. And it’s “good enough.” It gives people a small glimpse of how I think and educates them in a small way. But I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had a 15” macbook pro so I could make my videos so much more efficiently.

“Then people would understand how amazing EFT couples counseling is!” I argued in my head.

“People would come and they won’t have to sit in the pit of despair in their relationship! It would be so good for everyone if I got a Macbook Pro!” And so the arguments came, and they were so convincing when I was talking to myself!

But at the end of the day, when my trusted advisors gave me constructive criticism for my video, no one said,”You need a Macbook Pro.”

Best of all, no one said,”You know, you’re not enough.”

Enjoy the first draft of my video. More are coming, I promise. They just take a WHOLE LOT more time than I ever thought.

Heartfelt Counseling: A Possible Failure

I often think of Don Music. His hyperbolic way of dealing with failure made me laugh as a kid because as a kid, you know the alphabet and can start rooting him on. Kids get to see failure from the viewpoint of their competence and notice their compassion for the struggling person. Kids don’t get this very often - competence is elusive as a child, especially if much is demanded from them.

Here, unveiled, is my new possible failure. My new solo-private practice. Also, paradoxically, my new possible success. I am a couples therapist who believes in the potential for transformation through the love and attachment of a partner.

I’ve seen people take steps to improve their mental health because they could see how it was affecting their partner. I’ve seen people shift in their alcohol consumption because it was destroying their relationship, and they finally “got it.” This is a controversial position in ways because shouldn’t it be “for themselves” that people change and not others? Ideally. And yet often times that first step to waking up and getting out of bed is the hardest. It’s that first time you decide not to take a drink that’s the scariest.

So I am basing my new practice on couples counseling to honor those times when the individuals in my couples get to make a lasting change in themselves and in their relationships for the sake of love. What can be better than that?

Making "The Leap" Looks Uncertain

One of my favorite metaphors for transition is the leap. It’s a very apt metaphor for transitions and movement into something new. There is a time in a leap when both feet are in the air. There is a time in a leap where there is nothing supporting you. In that moment, the only thing that can sustain you is a belief that you will land on the other side. You can call it faith too. I’ve always thought of faith as that conversation you have with yourself or others about the unknown. And when you’re traversing the gap of uncertainty, you sometimes don’t know if you’ll make it to the other side. That is scary.

Being a solo practitioner means that I can’t lean on others like I used to. I can’t think,”I’m going into work and I’m going to see the admin staff, and the bookkeeper when I walk in…” or “I’m feeling sick. I’m going to call out sick.”

It means I have to actually believe in my clinical skills and the business that I’m building. Fortunately, I have 1/2 of the success equation down - I actually believe in my clinical skills. But you can be the most skilled clinician, and if you can’t stay in business, you can’t help anyone.

I have a story for another time about the moment in the last year where I decided I would take the “leap of faith” in myself. It involved my wife and a ceiling fan.

More on that later.

FoF (Fear of Failure): That despite the value I bring as a clinician, I will fall flat as a business owner

Actual failure: Well it hasn’t failed yet. That’s to be determined. But I’m slowly but surely progressing in my preparation.

Leaning into fear, Leaning into... paperwork

I hate paperwork. but there’s paperwork I always do - consent for treatment paperwork used by all therapists. I’ve got to have my own for my practice next month, and it’s not my favorite thing to do. Drafting up treatment paperwork is important, however. Getting it so that clients can download the paperwork ahead of time.

FoF: Unable to get the new electronic Heath Record to work.

Actual failure - none yet. But soon…we’ll test it with actual clients. Nervous about that!

Failure is multi-layered

As promised, my friend sent me a text this morning about his exercise routine. When he sent that, I sent mine back. He said,” 3.1 miles eliptical machine.”

I said,”3.7 mile run.”

He wrote back,”See, you’re already kicking my ass! Good job!”

He meant well. But I’m not competing against him - I’m competing against myself. Not only do I have this ambiguous fear that I’m somehow going to fail at running, but now I fear that I’m not going to be consistent in my running.

Today is also a website working day, where I’m working to integrate my electronic health record with my website so new clients can book a 15 minute phone call with me, and it can automatically be put in an available time slot. As anticipated, there are a LOT of moving parts to getting this to work, and I have to constantly test the functionality by surfing to my website as an anonymous user so I can see what new clients would see. It’s tense, because I’m always skeptical that this stuff can work smoothly. So far, though, it's working as promised.

FoF: (fear of failure)

  1. Regular exercise routine fear.

  2. Fear that I’ll be trapped in technology quicksand, with my website not really working the way I want, and clients not being able to get the help they need, when they need it.

Actual failure:

Exercise: Well, I’ve been exercising every day for the 2 days. So… success! All joking aside, I’m going to use the johnson and johnson 7 minute workout app as a fallback so I can at least elevate my heartrate and improve my core strength.

Website: Well, I’m always afraid that I’m screwing up my website somehow. Thus far, it hasn’t been a disaster, but I probably am messing something up. Newsflash: I’m imperfect. I’m juggling a lot of balls right now trying to get everything up and running for my new business launch.

There are two reasons why I’m so concerned about the business aspects of my therapy practice:

1. My family needs to eat, so I need to make sure I can produce enough provide for them.

2. I’ve seen therapy practices that don’t do their business side very well, and it really can keep people from getting the help they need. Whether it’s simple stuff like calling people back, or getting their online scheduling systems up and running - those broken processes can keep someone who is really struggling from getting the help they need.

Stay tuned for more on this later.

Exercise Challenge

I asked my friend Ryan if he wanted to run yesterday. So he said,”Good idea! How about at 6?” Understanding that meant that I’d have to wake up at 5:30am at the latest, I said,”How about at 6:30?“ We had a great run, and as revenge, he texted me “I’m going to text you my daily exercise.”

I knew what this meant. He has a daily exercise competition with his brother. They have to exercise every day and whoever is the most faithful to it wins a prize in the new year. Now he’s challenging me to do it. @sshole! I didn’t have much time today, so I did the Johnson & Johnson 7 minute workout app.

FoF: doing YET ANOTHER thing reliably, every day. I already screw up my blogging. Now I have to exercise every day.

Also, screwing up my son’s halloween costume. He wants LEDs installed in his otter costume, because… who doesn’t want a blingy otter costume?

Also, fear of getting things sorted out with income in a new solo private practice.

I never journaled as a kid...

It’s pretty clear that I’m BAD at blogging. It’s like journaling, but with instant regret. And every time I step up to do it, I surf the web for 90 minutes because I actually fear it. What do I fear? Boooring! And so I easily, easily skip days. Like yesterday. So here’s my today:

FoF (Fear of Failure): 1. Going out with my newborn son and forgetting: Diapers! Wipes! Bottle!

2. exercise: I have this general fear that I’m going to screw it up somehow. And that something isn’t going to get done because I’m out doing something useless like “running.”

3. Launching my practice - I still have a 2 weeks till I see clients in my new office. And I’m scared that the payment system won’t work. That somehow I’ve forgotten key paperwork. And other, more ambiguous things like “generally screwing up.”

Actual failure: I did miss yesterday. And no one died. Whew! Also, I didn’t go out and exercise with my newborn in tow. I get overwhelmed when I’m with him all day because the first 5 hours seem to be nonstop eating, pooping, and burping.

Failed on my first post!

 

My very first post did not explain that this is a 100-day blog about my fears of failure, my failures and my successes. Every day, I’ll try to blog about my fears around failure and hopefully have a weekly post that goes more into depth. Why? As I spoke to more and more people about failure, it sparked people’s interests because of their own struggles with failure.

Not that people want to fail. But in order to succeed, there needs to be comfort in that uncomfortable grey-zone where failure is a real possibility. I’ve found that when I can shine a light on my own fears of failure, I see the edges - the consequences no longer seem far reaching. Instead, the “worst that can happen” is actually fairly contained and can be dealt with if they do happen.

FoF: Creating a blog that people think is just dumb. Huh. Yep. FoBD (Fear of Being Dumb)

Actual Failure: None yet - check out the edits later in the day for real-time screw up report.

Consequences: Well, probably just no one reads this. I suppose I could turn off clients by saying I failed. However, not all therapists are a match for all clients!

Leaning into failure to learn how to succeed.

I’ve thought about failure for as long as I can remember. I used to say that my parents’ saying was: “You can do anything we put your mind to.” There was this entitlement to success that led me to a mindset that I CAN do anything I put my mind to. But when failure started happening, as is inevitable when you’re trying to achieve great things, I began to shy away from activities that presented a real threat of failure. Why endeavor to achieve great things when the “good self” might be tarnished or threatened in the process?

Then as a young engineer learning about photography, I came across this blogger named Hank Greenspun. This was still in the days of print negatives and he said that in a roll of 32 frames, he targeted 1 or 2 successes. Any more, and he knew he didn’t push the boundaries enough - he didn’t risk enough. Any less, and he knew he wasn’t being mindful enough - he was just clicking the shutter button.

This got me thinking about failure as a managed outcome of endeavor. That the will to achieve great things must invariably collide with the ugly reality of failure. How to manage that has been a thing I’ve been thinking about for all of my adult life.

Fast forward to today, in my therapy practice. I’ve been looking to restart my solo private practice for many years and now, my fears have become real. Failure is a real possibility. The only way I concluded that I could actually move forward is to lean into failure as that possibility and realize, slowly, that my “good self” would not be annhiliated by the endeavor to do a great thing. That’s how 100 days of failure was born.

100 days of failure begins now.