Psychology Today 6 January 2019
Emily Green Psy.D.
There Is Always Another Part
A 2019 Resolution: Go Off Script
This year, let’s challenge the rigid life narratives that keep us stuck.
If you had told me five years ago that this holiday season I would be wearing a Christmas sweater with a cat in a Santa hat on it, while proudly proclaiming myself a “cat mom,” I would have told you that you had lost it.
I was a dog person. I am a dog person. But as it turns out, as I discovered after stumbling upon and eventually taking in a meowing, underfed creature in my closed-in courtyard in Brooklyn one day in May of 2015, I am also a cat person.
I won’t lie, my insistence on my “dog person” identity probably almost stopped me from taking the plunge and welcoming a cat into my life. To do so would be to go against the narrative that I had written for myself, the collections of stories and beliefs and experiences that make up “who I am”. And had I stuck to the script- I’m a dog person, I can’t have a cat- I would have missed out on exploring an entirely different part of myself, a chance to flesh out a range of interests, emotions, and interpersonal connections that had been previously untapped. Now I buy Christmas sweaters with cats on them and have 491 photos of my own cat on my phone.
I tell this story as a suggestion to us all – and a reminder to myself- to make 2019 the year of shedding our attachment to the rigid narratives we spin for ourselves, particularly the ones that keep us from growing and expanding our lives. We all have a narrative about ourselves, who we are, who we expect to be, what we expect we will do going forward. For some of us, it’s based around our profession: I am a psychologist, I am a lawyer, etc. Sometimes our narrative is built around beliefs about ourselves: I am weak, I am strong, I am a Victim, I am a Survivor. We also write our story based on our feelings and experiences: I am anxious, I am shy, I am optimistic. Our narrative can extend to our future, as well: I will never be happy, I will always figure it out. And while it is of course important to have a framework with which we work from to know and describe ourselves to ourselves and to others, over-attachment to these descriptors can be more harmful than helpful.
Say, for example, an individual who defines themselves by their career as a police officer is permanently disabled and no longer able to work in law enforcement. For this individual, not being able to be a police officer becomes a deeper, more confusing cut- If I’m not a police officer, who/ what am I? We want to hold our self-descriptions lightly enough that they can adapt around the twists and turns that life throws at us. This means making room for positive twists as well. There are those who, likely based on difficult or abusive experiences throughout their development, may see the theme of their life story as “I am alone”/ “I have no one”. A rigid attachment to this theme makes it difficult to integrate experiences that counter that concept into one’s life. Perhaps you make a new friend or a family member is there for you in a time of need. We must work towards making space in our narrative for new and potentially contradicting experiences, because thus is life. There is always another part, and sometimes that part does not fit neatly into the picture you have already painted. Not allowing for these other parts to integrate keeps us stuck in the same storyline, not moving our plot forward.
Being more flexible with our life narrative does not just allow us to account for the detours that life hands to us; it also allows us to discover new roads of our own choosing, to actively explore paths that may not necessarily fit into a strictly defined self-description. The individual who describes themselves as “shy” may not go after an opportunity that requires them to be outgoing and sociable. Perhaps it is an opportunity that interests or intrigues them, that may open them up to other opportunities or allow them to move in the direction of important life values. Perhaps there is a part of them that wants to explore this path, but its incongruence with a rigid “who I am” story creates enough cognitive dissonance that they may abandon this intriguing opportunity for the comfort and familiarity of the old narrative.
Herein lies the struggle we must face with pushing ourselves to challenge the rigidity of our narrative; it is inherently uncomfortable to do so. Our narrative, while expanded upon and reinforced over time, is often written starting from a young age, a touchstone to which we return to in an attempt to make sense of and categorize our life experiences. Yet as we move through life, this touchstone tends to stay fixed even as the circumstances of our life, and our own emotional and psychological makeup, grow, expand, or change course. Like any other shortcut for categorization (stereotypes, heuristics, etc), what at times makes for quick and broadly accurate description in other contexts leaves us distorting or manipulating reality to get the narrative and our experiences to jive when they in fact no longer fit. Our narrative soon become akin to an old sweater, now too small, filled with holes, worn thin and no longer keeping us warm, but so difficult to let go of as it reminds us of a time when it kept us safe and comfortable.
The truth is that the stories we write for ourselves starting early in our life may always pop up, tempting us to stick stringently to the script. Sometimes it’s hard to throw that sweater away. But maybe we don’t have to. To try to rewrite our story completely is unrealistic, impractical, and perhaps not entirely possible. Instead, let us make an effort this year to simply hold our story more lightly. Let us try to put that sweater in the closet every once in a while, acknowledge that while it might always be there, our insistence on it being the only sweater we wear, despite the fact that it doesn’t work or fit the way it used to, might be keeping us stuck. To do this will likely be uncomfortable. In 2019, let us challenge ourselves to tolerate that discomfort. Let us push ourselves through the anxiety of a more fluid, flexible “who I am” story. To tolerate that discomfort is to open the door to the full reach of our personality, capabilities, and interests, and those are certainly achievements worth fighting for.
About the Author
Emily Green, Psy.D. is an early career clinical psychologist. She works at the Metropolitan Police Employee Assistance Program in D.C., providing psychotherapy to law enforcement officers.
Dublin footballer on the challenges of tackling his mental health issues
Irish Times Tue, Jan 8, 2019, 06:00
The last thing Shane Carthy wants or expects right now is to walk back on to the Dublin panel.
Not with his utterly changed perspective on life and football and everything else in between. Or indeed his heightened sense of what exactly constitutes success.
What he does want, and expects of himself, is to give it his best shot, and whether that’s good enough time will tell.
In the meantime the telling of his story, his crippling and at times terrifying experience with depression in the aftermath of Dublin’s All-Ireland winning success of 2013, to breaking point a year later, aged only 19 and the rising star of the county under-21 team, has been proving both therapeutic and rewarding.
It has been the latter in helping him realise how fortunate he’s been to come through it all, including the good and bad days with Dublin football.
Six days before Christmas, in a lengthy online blog, Carthy wrote frankly and eloquently about his journey over the last four and a half years.
It detailed, without overdramatising, the downward spiral which, days after producing a man-of-the-match display in Dublin’s 2014 Leinster under-21 final win over Meath, saw him wake up in St Patrick’s Mental Hospital.
Only then did he begin to face up to “the inner demons I had kept away from for many years”.
Under the very deliberate headline ‘I’m No Longer Surviving, I’m Living!’, Carthy also explains what ultimately brought him back to where he is now, just turned 24 and more determined to ever to revive his football career with Dublin.
“The first intention with the blog was to busy myself, to give something back to myself, positively, and maybe further afield in the sporting community,” says Carthy, who in November completed a Sports Science degree in DCU, and is currently on a year out.
“I’d already done some talks on mental health and depression in schools and clubs, but they’re limited to those present, whereas with the blog people could read and maybe relate to it at any time.
It completely surpassed that, in terms of what I expected, the scale of the response and reaction I really can’t believe. And in such a good way.
“I’m absolutely touched by all the messages and well wishes, and more importantly to hear of someone who has gone out and sought help now, on the back of it, or just something that might have resonated from the blog. I also wanted people to know there’s lot of people out there that depression touches.”
Carthy will, along with distance runner Kevin Dooney and ironman triathlete Gerard Prendergast, also be part of a three-person panel discussion this Saturday as part of the First Fortnight festival, the charity organisation aimed at challenging mental health prejudice through the creative arts and spoken word.
Carthy will further outline some of the mental health issues specific to sport, especially for any athlete or player seemingly at the top of the game, which for the male in particular can sometimes be more difficult to face up to.
From the outside, Carthy had it all in 2014.
Playing with Naomh Mearnóg club, in north Dublin, already an All-Ireland minor winner with Dublin, in 2012, he was called into Jim Gavin’s senior panel in 2013 and that year playing scintillating football for the Dublin’s U-21s at centre forward.
The team that featured Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton, Paul Mannion, John Small, Cormac Costello, amongst others, went on to win that 2014 All-Ireland U-21 title in his absence.
“I was two years wearing that mask, but internally I was crumbling,” he says. “Football was the only thing covering it up, as long as I was training, playing.
“And it relates to where I’m at right now, because for the last few years, I’ve been in and out of Dublin championship panels, and that in itself can be a huge low.
But because I’m educated now in how my minds works, and the emotions naturally attached to this, I’m able to control it, whereas before, I didn’t know how to handle those emotions, couldn’t handle them.
“It became an ever worsening situation, whereas now I know how to put a positive spin on it, something I can deal with. It was hard to accept that at the time, when the lows were very low, but I’ve come out the other side now, better and stronger for it. From sporting, academic, and personal points of view.”
He no longer fears the highs or the lows, as long as he feels he can control them. Carthy was invited back onto the Dublin panel in early 2018, featuring in four league games, only be to be dropped again for summer. Instead of letting that get him down, he spent what he felt was an overdue summer in America, playing football for a club in San Francisco, and that gave his fresh perspective again.
“I was involved again for the 2018 league, and again let go, and these are difficult moments for everyone. Football has given me so much, and I’m thankful for that, and playing football in the US last summer was a great experience. That negative turned positive straightaway.
And football definitely is still a big motivation for me, I always strive to be the best I can be, whether I get back there or not, I’ll never stop. This year it may have to be at club level, but I want Jim Gavin to know that if or when that call might come, I’ll be ready, and I’m staying ready.
“I enjoy the training, and that motivation to get back involved is a part of it as well, to be a part of the huge success the lads have had over the last number of years. But that’s not the sole focus of why I do it. It’s the feeling as well of accomplishing something at training. Everyone can relate to that.
“From a physical standpoint, I’m absolutely on top of that, and for this time of year, January, I’m training as hard as I can, I’ve a huge goal to make it back into Jim’s plans. I’m doing everything I can, but outside of football as well, just going to the Phoenix Park for a run or a cycle, because exercise in general has been huge in my recovery, and still is.”
And after surviving, he says, the critical part now is to focus on the living again. “And I was just surviving, by the skin of my teeth actually, and wasn’t living. Only now after I’ve got the help I needed do I feel like I’m living again, and that’s why I feel I’m in a good position to impact people.
“There is also that sense ‘if I knew then what I know now’. And I’m still seeing a psychologist, spaced out now to about once a month, and that’s the path we’re taking, to be the more independent, make it my own recovery. I’m not putting any pressure on myself either.
“It could take six months, or six years, but eventually I will get that independence back, to go on, and there will be things in the way, because that’s life. But I want to strive for excellence in mental health as well. It may not be 100 per cent every day, but I won’t stop striving for it.”
Shane Carthy’s blog can be read here –
Corinthian: Sports and Mental Health panel discussion takes place this Saturday, at 2.0 in The Sugar Club: for more information see www.firstfortnight.ie
How to lose your clinical balance, while holding on to your therapeutic bearings, and other ideas on working therapeutically with a ‘treatment resistant’ client diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder
Click below for full article
DATE FOR YOUR DIARY
Date: Tuesday, 27th November 2018
Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Venue: Central Hotel, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2.
Topic: Complaints: Protecting the client & the therapist.
The following members of the FTAI Complaints Sub-committee will lead the conversation:
• Ann Marie Burke
• Peter Caffrey
• Mara de Lacy
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) = 2 hours. CPD certificates will be issued by the Family Therapy Assoc. of Ireland (FTAI). See you @ the Systemic Café.
Narrative Therapy – Exploring with “Maps”
In these two workshops, participants will explore some of the ideas from Foucault, Bruner and Myerhoff, which inspired the work of Michael White and learn to use the “maps” which guide his Narrative Practice [White 2007]
Experiential exercises will be used to allow participants understand the ideas behind Narrative Practice in relation to their own lives.
Participants will reflect on work they are involved in with families to clarify the meaning of dominant stories, preferred stories, problem saturated stories and alternative stories.
Structured interviews will be used so that participants have a chance to experience how Narrative “Maps” scaffold therapeutic conversations.
Journaling exercises will be offered to those who wish to continue the reflective aspect of the course.
Participants are advised to read ‘Maps of Narrative Practice” [White 2007 Norton] before day one or between day one and day two. This will greatly deepen the learning on the course and provide a guiding text to return to in the long term.
The Facilitator- Therese Hegarty
Following a career as a primary teacher, where the influence of family on children’s’ wellbeing in school was evident, Therese studied for the MSc in Systemic Psychotherapy at the Mater. She then set up a community based family therapy practice in West Tallaght where she works at present. In 2007/2008 she undertook the International Diploma in Narrative Therapy and Community Work in Adelaide. She gave keynote addresses at the Narrative Conference in Adelaide in 2008 and at the Narrative Therapy Conference in Grahamstown, South Africa in 2011.
Therese teaches Level One and Level Two Narrative Therapy courses on request. She facilitates an advanced Narrative Therapy training group which meets three time a year and she teaches Narrative Practice to future primary teachers on the BEd in Maynooth University.
Click on link below for further details:
Relational Suicide Assessment:
Client and Family Risks and Resources
One Day Workshop
The hopelessness and desperation of our suicidal clients, as well as the high-stakes involved in working with them, can invite us to adopt a kind of therapeutic tunnel-vision—a singular focus on individual risk factors. Attending to such dangers is critical, of course, but family therapists know better than anyone that behaviors, thoughts, and emotions only make sense in context. To evaluate clients’ imminent risk of making an attempt, it is necessary to consider how their relationships with significant others could be contributing to the danger. And then these intra- and interpersonal risks can only be properly understood within the context of the individual and family resources for responding resiliently to the suicidality.
This workshop will prepare participants to undertake relational suicide assessments—empathically-grounded conversations with clients, oriented to developing an “insider’s” understanding of clients’ risks of making an attempt alongside their potential for safely navigating the dangers. We will explore how to effectively broach possible suicidality, ensure that clients don’t feel interrogated, juxtapose different sources of information to help make safety decisions, work collaboratively with clients and family members in the construction of a safety plan, and take care of ourselves throughout the process. We’ll also touch on postvention considerations—how to work with families and schools after someone significant has taken his or her life.
Dr. Douglas Flemons is Professor of Family Therapy, Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, and Co-Director of the Office of Suicide and Violence Prevention at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Florida, USA. A licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor, Douglas was the Director of Student Counseling at NSU for over six years. He is the lead author of Relational Suicide Assessment, as well as the author of books on hypnosis and psychotherapy (Of One Mind), family therapy and Eastern philosophy (Completing Distinctions), and academic writing (Writing Between the Lines). He is also the co-editor, with his wife and colleague, Dr. Shelley Green, of three editions of Quickies: The Handbook of Brief Sex Therapy. Douglas presents nationally and internationally on suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention; relational hypnosis and hypnotherapy; brief therapy; meditation; and relational couple therapy.
28th June 2018
10.00a.m – 4.00.p.m
Lower Abbey Street,
Places limited – please book early
5 CPD points apply
Click on link below for application form
School of Medicine and Medical Science
M.Sc. Systemic Psychotherapy
The UCD Family Therapy Training Programme now invites applications for
Year 1 of its 4 Year Part-time
M.Sc. in Systemic Psychotherapy.
The programme will commence in September 2018.
Closing date for Applications:
27th April 2018
Contact: Ciara Reddy
Apply on line at www.ucd.ie/apply
Shortlisted candidates will be called for interview
Please note that the FTAI Annual General Meeting, due to take place in Wynns Hotel, Dublin on the 3rd March, has been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.
Apologies for any inconvenience.