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Is Valentine's Day For You?

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You may be someone who goes all out of Valentine’s Day for your partner by making them feel special in whatever way you can. For others Valentine’s Day may bring up feelings of sadness, anger, or loneliness. Valentine’s Day may be another reminder of unmet needs and let down expectations of their hopes and future as a couple. This feeling can be really difficult to face and most days it may be easier to put on a good face and push down your longings and desires for intimacy, closeness, and living out your dreams with you partner. Acknowledging these distant gaps can leave you feeling discouraged, guilty, or even shame.

Brene Brown’s definition of shame was developed by her decade of research on shame and connection. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (Brown, 2012, p. 69). This feeling of shame can take many different forms to help protect us from our own vulnerability -- perfectionism, addiction, anger and criticalness. When we ignore or suppress our need for connection, we are literally suppressing a primal human need.

Since the early 1900s, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s research revealed from their studies of infants at orphanages and hospital institutions that attachment is a necessity for infants’ survival (Bretherton, 1992).  There has been a recent breakthrough in attachment research that has revealed that belonging and connection are just as primal of needs for adults as they are for babies. This survival need is met for adults in long-term significant relationships that create a sense of safety, meaning, and intimate connection. This might be with a close long-term friend or family member, or with your partner or significant other. If you feel that you and your partner have lost that sense of safety and connection in your relationship, that does not have to mean that it is over. Many couples get caught in what Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, calls a negative cycle. She describes a couples negative cycle as a dance that has changed from music that was once beautiful and effortless to something painful and difficult.

A common dance couples get into is when one partner will get very angry and upset when they feel their needs are not being met and the other one shrinks away and disengages either emotionally or physically. Often anger or withdrawal are what each partner in the relationship experiences, however, there is a deeper level of interaction happening where both are really seeking to connect. Oftentimes, these surface reactions of anger and withdrawal were learned in childhood or in another significant relationship that wounded them as a mechanism to help them survive when they feel their primal need of love and belonging being threatened.

If you and your partner feel like you are stuck in a negative dance with one another, know that what each of you may be experiencing is probably not the full story. Underneath every negative reaction to conflict, there is the need that each of you have to connect and belong. Dr. Sue Johnson has designed a method of couples therapy called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to help couples begin to realize their negative cycle. She also has written the book “Hold Me Tight” to help couples begin to unpack the layers of their relationship to help them make disconnection the enemy and not one another and find their way back to connection and intimacy. If you would like help with your relationship, please feel free to reach out to one of our therapists. Amy McCann is one of our couples therapists and she is certified in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Please feel free to reach out today for a free intake today and know that there is hope to find a way back to love and belonging.  

Sources

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
American Psychological Association, 28, 5, 759-775.

About the Author:

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Amy McCann, RP, Apprentice, is earning her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. She is open to seeing many types of clients of all age ranges. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and desires to help couples strengthen their relationship. Amy earned her Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Vermont, and desires to help her clients in a holistic way. She is passionate about people finding true freedom and healing in every area of life. Amy also has rich cultural experiences with living overseas and enjoys cross-cultural work with clients. Amy is originally from Boston, but loves living in Colorado with her husband. They enjoy hiking, fly fishing, playing games with friends, and eating ice cream.

In Defense Of Boring Sex

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The beginning of February is upon us, and with the start of the new month, businesses and advertisers have lost no time in reminding us that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Originating from stories of martyrdom and religious feast days, Valentine’s Day (or “Singles Awareness Day” to many of us who view it less favorably) has developed into an annual celebration of love and romance, commemorated with the exchange of cards, flowers, and chocolate. Every year, romantic partners flock to various date locations to express their affection for one another, and the world is momentarily adorned in various shades of red and pink. I, however, want to talk for a moment about what happens after the dinners, and the couple’s massages, and the flowers and chocolate. For where there are demonstrations of romance, sex is usually not far behind.

Working with sexuality in a clinical capacity, I often hear stories of sexual thrill-seeking and the search for partners who inspire electricity, chemistry, and passion. These stories are appropriate and understandable; sex can be fun, exciting, and passionate, and in a lot of ways, many of our sociological influences orient us, in one or another, toward the pursuit of really great sex. Media outlets display quests for sexual fulfillment, industries thrive on the marketing toward “spicing up” sex lives, and even religions that teach abstinence before marriage often do so with the promise of “mind-blowing” intercourse post-wedlock. While sex can be mind-blowing, spicy, and fulfilling some of the time, however, it can also be complicated, awkward, routine, and quite frankly, unremarkable at others.

Now, I am not a person you will ever hear demonize partners’ attempts to keep things interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact. If everyone’s full, non-pressured consent is involved and nobody is in danger, have at it. I would say, however, that those experiences are only ever part of a sexual relationship. Sex is sometimes boring, especially if you’re having it with the same person over a long period of time, and especially if you’re having it with only that person. Sometimes it’s a little lackluster rather than mind-blowing, and sometimes in the pursuit of really great sex, you wind up having really mediocre, ordinary sex, instead.

That being said, I would propose for your consideration, dear reader, that in every sexual relationship, there is a place for mediocre, ordinary sex, too; that boring sex can, in and of itself, still be really great sex. Author Lauren F. Winner suggests that many of the elements that can be

“important about sex {are} nurtured when we allow sex to be ordinary… Sex needs to be clumsy. It should at times feel awkward. It should be an act we engage in for comfort. It should also be allowed to hold any number of anxieties – the sorts of anxieties, for instance, we might feel about our child’s progress in school, or our ability to provide sustenance for our family. Sex becomes another way for two people to realistically engage the strengths and foibles of each other… If we allow sex to be ordinary, we might better understand that human love is forged in, say, time spent cooking together, or in picking up our loved one’s laundry, or in calming our children’s fears. Through sexual practice, we come to find each other fallible, and we come to love each other for the way we see each other creating very human lives out of those very fallibilities.”*

As we approach a holiday that commemorates romantic love, it seems important to also acknowledge the atmosphere in which this type of longstanding love grows. If you are cultivating a committed, long-term relationship with your partner, it is likely built upon a foundation of shared experiences that are fairly mundane, and the relational components that must be nurtured for a lasting, successful relationship are often the very same components that strip away some of the thrill. The type of intimacy that truly sees and knows another person in all of their beauty and flaw usually develops through the unsexy day-to-day moments of paying bills, getting groceries, and doing the dishes. Developing a secure attachment to a partner means less of the titillating, risky, and anxiety-producing energy that gathers around the uncertainty if they will call you again or not, if they’ll become “clingy” afterward, or if you’ll still like them once you know the history of mental illness in their family and in which direction they replace the toilet paper roll. The more openly and effectively you communicate with your partner, moreover, the less racy cultural taboo and unspoken sexual tension sex and sexuality will carry in your relationship.

Like much else in our Western world, sex has not remained untouched by our culture of consumerism. Many of us are fortunate enough to have the option of seeking personal fulfillment, new experiences, and low investment entertainment, and there is always a wide array of option for us to do so. We purchase items that provide a variety of personal benefits, and if an upgrade comes along, we can trade in the familiar version for something new and innovative. Relationships, however, often require a different mindset of us. Relationships demand more giveback, malfunction, familiarity, and repair, and in the midst of our cultural pursuit of ease and comfort, push us into difficult and uncomfortable spaces. When sex becomes about more than infatuation, consumption, and intensity, some of the thrill and passion gives way to make space for deeper connection, comfort, and intimacy.

In the same way that we don’t linger over courses or experiment with new, exotic recipes for every meal, our sexual appetites are sometimes best fulfilled with the comforting, the plain, or the on the go. Sometimes we simply need the connective sustenance to keep our relationship healthy and strong. So, if you are planning an elaborate dinner and spicing things up this Valentine’s day, linger and enjoy. If it fits better for your relationship right now to order takeout, watch Netflix, have vanilla sex, and go to bed early, then celebrate the work you’ve put into your relationship that’s allowed your sex to get occasionally vanilla in the first place. If you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to cultivate a deep intimacy, communication, and comfort, you may just find that your boring sex is the best you’ve ever had.     

*Lauren F. Winner, Real Sex: the Naked Truth about Chastity (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2005), 81-82.

About the Author:

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Zach Verwey, MA, LPC, NCC holds a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from a CACREP accredited program and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. In his clinical practice, Zach has worked extensively with LGBTQ+ concerns, eating disorders, holistic sexual health, values and identity, and grief and loss, and he is Prepare/Enrich certified in working with couples. He is especially passionate about addressing the ways in which body image difficulties impact the LGBTQ+ community and regularly works with clients and provides education through writing and public speaking on this topic. Zach believes deeply in the power of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship work in the therapeutic process, and offers a holistic and integrative approach that honors the mind, body, and spirit. In his spare time, Zach enjoys reading the memoirs of comedians who also happen to be women, experimenting with new bread recipes, and exploring Denver’s latest hot spots with a friend or two. 

Navigating Your Relationship With Food

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There are so many components that help us to regulate our minds, bodies, and emotions. Attachment theory says that from cradle to grave the primary need of every human being is human connection. Beginning in early childhood, our attachment styles begin to develop based oftentimes off of our family’s attachment style.In the clinical world, counselors refer to there being four primary styles of attachment, which are anxious or ambivalent, avoidant, disorganized, and secure. When our need for human connection is not met in a way to provide a safe haven to come to when we feel emotionally vulnerable or a safe base to venture out into the world, we grasp for substitutes that will fill the void of that painful feeling of disconnection and fear.

Food can become this safe haven for many people since it is comforting, predictable, and oftentimes it will always there when you need it. These are the same qualities that we long for with the closest people in our lives. After time, however, it becomes evident to most people that food is not meeting their need for connection. This is one of the central themes that will be uncovered in the group that I will be running called Navigating Your Relationship with Food.

This October, I will be running a group for women from the ages of 20 to 40 years old who desire to find more freedom in their relationship with their food. There are many components that influence one’s relationship and patterns of eating such as self-esteem, body image, relationships, family history, and life circumstances. My hope is that this group provides a safe place for women to come and sort through what factors are complicating their relationship with food, themselves, and their relationships with others.

If you have had a diagnosable eating disorder in the past you are welcome; if you have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder you are welcome. The focus of this group is not how to heal from a diagnosable eating disorder, per se. It is rather to help you untangle the web of emotions and cognitions behind food and addressing those aspects rather than the eating itself. My hope is that women are able to find sustainable methods of connecting with themselves, with others, and with food and break out of the maladaptive patterns that have been formed. The tone of this group is welcoming, understanding, compassionate, and empathetic because has unhealthy habits and beliefs that they develop  to help them cope and survive. By the end of this group, I hope that you are no longer surviving in your relationship with food, but rather thriving!

About the Author:

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Amy McCann, RP, Apprentice, is earning her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. She is open to seeing many types of clients of all age ranges. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and desires to help couples strengthen their relationship. Amy earned her Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Vermont, and desires to help her clients in a holistic way. She is passionate about people finding true freedom and healing in every area of life. Amy also has rich cultural experiences with living overseas and enjoys cross-cultural work with clients. Amy is originally from Boston, but loves living in Colorado with her husband. They enjoy hiking, fly fishing, playing games with friends, and eating ice cream. 

Kindness and Potential Work Together

Kindness and Potential Work Together

There are daily opportunities to lean into kindness, or not. This could all sounds fine and dandy too, until it gets personal. This call toward a kind life, which means a full life in my mind, means this calling gets personal, and it did for me recently...[12 more minutes of audio]

Reciprocating Kindness Part 1: Why?

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Context first and then we will talk principle.

First, I intentionally chose one of the most guttural-and-difficult-to-pronounce-in-English words for the name of this organization for a reason. The word is that important. In fact, it was that important to the Ancient Hebrews where this word originated.

Khesed means loving kindness. To better capture the translation, it can mean reciprocating kindness. Khesed isn’t just a good feeling of loving kindness, it’s a lifestyle. Kindness is a generous quality, and when we get it, we want more. We also seem to want to produce more.

Growing up in Southern California I spent my childhood along shorelines. I love laying on my stomach just where the water last licks the sand and rushes back into the deep. If you lay still enough, long enough, with your belly on the sand and your chin laying on your hands, you start to see a whole world unfold. It’s amazing how that happens when we slow down.

Then, if you let your eyes dance a bit in-and-out of focus, like we do in those rare moments of rest, you start to see glimmers. The sand suddenly has layers of color and texture. Then, you see the gold flecks dancing among the rest of the bland-colored bits of sand.

Reciprocating kindness is like the specks of gold in the sand of our lives.

My love for watching the ocean quickly grew toward my love for watching people, and soon, talking with people as they wade through their depths. The therapy room felt as sacred as the layers of sand beneath my bare feet, watching the water dancing back-and-forth with the deep blue.

Kindness is what allows the gold of therapy to shine. The kindness of safe space to process. Space where the only motivation for the therapist is the client’s well-being. Space to be fully human.

At it’s best, the therapy room is one of the kindest places on Earth. I don’t mean kindness that always feels good. I mean kindness that calls forth the client’s well-being; holding space for the twists and turns of the process.

Which is why it felt like such a whiplash every time I stepped out of the therapy room, and entered the chaotic nature of the mental health industry. It took about a week after grad school, immersing myself in this profession, to realize:

Most people can’t afford counseling.

Most people don’t get help for weeks because clinicians are overloaded and underpaid.

Most people don’t have sufficient insurance coverage for treatment.

Most people don’t know where to access help.

Most people can’t find a counselor that stays in the industry for long.

Most people aren’t able to find much help at all.

That feels drab doesn’t it? It frustrating, ridiculous, even unkind.

Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate,” according to Google. The mental health industry doesn’t feel very friendly, generous, or considerate. Which makes me sad, because I think this industry is filled with generous therapists ready to help.

So I began asking myself, “How does kindness start?”

It starts with believing in generosity. There is an abundance of kindness waiting to pour from us and sprout across our world. Abundance is an oasis that feels like a mirage to most people.

Imagine that time you needed help and someone said call this person they can help. And then you called that person and they said, “I can see you tomorrow.” And you found a way to make it work with your schedule, maybe reached between your seats to find cash for payment, if it was involved, because you were that thirsty for help.

Then you met that person and there was something about their presence that drew you in. Help didn’t turn out to be what you thought, you didn’t feel fixed, but you felt drawn in. They were present with you, believed in you beyond your performance, they saw you. They drew you in and they made you want to spread what you got in that space. You felt as if you found treasure.

The ocean, the therapy room, this kind of story and many more like it, led me to dream:

What if everyone has an abundance of kindness waiting to be tapped, wanting to help those who feel tapped out?

What if a mental health and wellness center’s mission was to provide affordable and accessible care, because the lack of affordable and accessible care feels most unkind when in the depths of life?

What if mental health and wellness practitioners were given a place to thrive in an environment that felt kind in-and-out of the therapy room?

What if businesses, temples, churches, and organizations (who have plenty of unused space) had a way to use space as a mental health and wellness center, making a tangible social impact in their community?

Basically, I kept layering kindness until it was a sustainable business model.

As I considered the different parts of a business model—how to keep the lights on, how to create a healthy work culture, how to engage our clientele, how to be a life-giving addition to a burnout industry—all of it, I knew it needed to be kind from beginning to end.

It’s amazing how an abstract word from an ancient tribe can transcend into a Colorado nonprofit believing that reciprocating kindness can transform mental health and wellness in our nation. And I believe we will.

A couple of weeks ago our team took a one day retreat. I talked with our counselors about creating an ethos of kindness in our organization. I think most assume their workplace will be kind but few experience it. Choosing a business model of kindness is actually terrifying and the hardest kind of work. Why?

It requires our whole selves to show up and believe in kindness, everyday.

In a world that leans on frameworks, forecasts, and fears, we choose kindness. In the unknown, we choose kindness. In the hurt, we choose to respond in a way that creates more authentic kindness.

In an industry that doesn’t feel kind, we believe kindness will change its’ trajectory. Above all, kindness is what brings us together when we feel divided in our relationships, in our world, and even within ourselves.

Everything Khesed does has the goal of manifesting more kindness in our world. It gives light to fractures. Or as my dear friend Kristin, who also happens to be on our board, quoted to me this week from the great Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Kindness reminds us of light in our darkness.

Khesed Wellness exists because we believe in a lifestyle of spreading kindness. It’s the only way I know how to see light in such a dark world. I believe people are always drawn to light, even when they’re running from it.

Khesed exists because we believe that experiencing kindness can transform how we see the world, and even ourselves, especially as we ebb-and-flow with life.

That’s why.

 

 

 

Heather Nelson, MA, LPC, NCC