Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

April 2, 2012

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

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by Darby Christopher, LMSW
A new wave of well researched and effective therapies has emerged in recent years. Examples include Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and others. This article will focus on the process and benefits of ACT, which primarily provides tools that can be applied to everyday life, with or without the help of an ACT therapist.
Overview
The primary goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, according to Dr. Russell Harris, is the attainment of “psychological flexibility.” This refers to an ability to be open to the present moment, a perhaps deceptively simple yet powerful concept. When we are psychologically flexible, we are able to feel and to observe what shows up in our lives, without clinging to it too tightly.
If much our suffering results from how we respond to sadness, a depressed mood, anxiety or anger, then ACT provides the tools necessary to not worsen the situation by reacting to it or fighting with it. The result is greater self acceptance, less time focused on negative possibilities, and more time invested in valued action.
ACT often uses metaphors to convey its ideas, and a metaphor is helpful here. Suppose  that a certain set of circumstances triggers a depressed reaction in me, and let’s say that this depressed reaction is like a branch that is floating down a stream. Any of the ways that I fight with this depression – whether by feeling badly about it, denying it or trying to avoid it by destructive means – are ways that I am damning up the stream that will not allow the branch to flow through. ACT provides the tools that will help keep me from doing this, so that I will be more able to watch the branch come, flow through and float by.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy falls under the broad category of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). However, it also follows a current trend in CBT to avoid counteracting symptoms, and to instead embrace the stance and practice of mindfulness.
ACT Tools
What are these tools? Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on 6 core processes that work together. Each one requires effort, and will probably not be mastered over the course of a life time. The goal is to get better at them and experience more freedom, rather than perfection. Let’s look at each one individually.
  • Defusion. This refers to an ability to watch and observe our thoughts and emotions, and to create a little distance between our selves and the thought or feeling. This step is not easy because we often tend not to be aware of our thoughts. With defusion, we slow down and observe ourselves having thoughts and feelings. Next, if appropriate and helpful, a step can be taken to see the thought as perhaps a part of me, but not attached to my deepest identity, and therefore capable of change. 
  • Acceptance. This refers to how I relate to the thoughts and feelings that show up in me. Am I mad at them? Do I hate them and wish they would go away? Do I treat them like unwanted guests? Or, conversely, do I welcome even the painful thoughts and feelings that show up in me, knowing they could have some useful information for me? Do I love these parts and treat them with compassion? Loving what shows up in us leads to relaxation and an ability to listen to ourselves.
  • Contact With The Present Moment. To make contact with the present moment is to experience some sense of vitality right now. The requirements for this may shift as our moments shift. When we engage our observing self, we may pay attention to our sense of sight, smell, hearing, sound or touch, we may look inward and pay attention to our inner sensations, and we might do both of these at once. If we are dealing with a painful experience from our past, we will pay attention to our bodies and feeling experience, rather than ruminating over the facts of the past. Staying focused on the feeling sensations in our bodies allows us to be informed by them, as opposed to diverting our attention and missing out on the message they may offer us. Contact with the present moment often involves slowing down to be present with others, nature, and our own selves.
  • Self-As-Context. This refers to an ability to be in touch with the deeper part of me that is doing all of this observing. When we build our “self-as-context” muscle, we are able to know that there is a part of us that endures and stays steady through the day to day and even moment to moment changes in our lives. Why is this important? Knowing ourselves in this way facilitates the goal of psychological flexibility. If I know that I am so much more than my thoughts and feelings, then I won’t get too attached to them. (However I will still know and honor them as important, and give them their proper place in my life.)
  • Values. This refers to an ability to know what is important to me, and to allow myself to be guided and instructed by this knowledge. We are all given a certain amount of time on this earth to live in this life time. How do I want to spend it? What matters to me? What do I wish to leave behind? Getting in touch with my values both gives me a compass and a sense of deeper meaning.
  • Committed Action. Once I know what my values are, what do I want to do to act on them? What possibilities am I willing to try out? How could my life take on more vitality by my action(s)? 
Conclusion
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy provides useful tools to stay open and present to the moment. There are times when using these tools may seem difficult, if not impossible. With practice, however, they can be useful in even the most difficult situations. ACT does not take the place of other types of important work that also help us be more present to our lives, such as grief work, trauma work, and understanding how our past experiences affect us. ACT can stand on its own as a useful and healing therapy, and can be used in powerful ways in conjunction with other types of therapies.
Resources
The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling And Start Living, by Russ Harris, 2008
Act Made Simple, by Russ Harris, 2009 (Note: This book is written primarily for therapists, though anyone may benefit from reading it.)

August 3, 2010

Managing Anxiety and Depression Using Diet, Nutritional Supplements and SAM-e

by Darby Christopher, LMSW

Please note: This article should not be taken as advice for how to treat any particular condition. Individuals should always consult with their doctor before making any lifestyle or dietary changes, as some natural substances are harmful to specific medical conditions. Never stop taking any prescription medication without the advice and care of your doctor.

 

Introduction

The decision of whether or not to take prescription medication for anxiety or depression is a personal choice an individual makes based on many factors. This choice is made in conjunction with a doctor and often with the help of a therapist. For many individuals, prescription medication is not only a good fit, but the best fit for their particular constellation of life experiences, genetics and environment.

This article is written for individuals who, with the help and consultation of their doctor and therapist, would like to try to use diet and dietary supplements to manage their issues with anxiety and depression without, or in conjunction with, prescription medication. It is also intended to provide information for individuals to explore more fully on their own and with their doctor and therapist.

There are many factors that can affect a person’s mood and energy level, such as diet, proper rest, psychotherapy, exercise, spiritual practices, environment and relationships. This article will focus on diet and biochemistry, while acknowledging that each of these areas are interconnected and equally important.

Why Nutrition Matters

Our bodies need well functioning neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, to experience enjoyment, relaxation, focus and motivation. From a holistic perspective, many factors aside from nutrition can affect how well our bodies are able to produce these chemicals. Yet, inadequate nutrition will result in a diminished ability to produce the chemicals we need to feel good. (Inadequate nutrition may result from a tainted food supply, lack of affordable healthy food, absorption problems in the body, and misinformation or inattention to diet.)

What our Bodies Need Nutritionally to Make Feel Good Chemicals

According to Dr. Charles Gant, author of End Your Addiction Now: The Proven Nutritional Supplement Program That Can Set You Free, there are four primary groups of neurotransmitters that are responsible for feelings of well being, relaxation and focus. They include endorphins and enkaphalins, serotonin, GABA, and dopamine and norepinephrine. (Serotonin also contributes to an ability to sleep well.) What our bodies need is to ingest the nutrients necessary to manufacture these items. So, what are these nutrients?

Let’s start with serotonin. Specific cells in our bodies manufacture serotonin using the amino acid tryptophan, working in conjunction with vitamin b6, vitamin c, folic acid and magnesium. Some foods that contain tryptophan include cheese, soy products, seafood, meat, poultry, whole grains, eggs, beans, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Some foods that contain vitamin b6 include tuna, bananas and a variety of green vegetables.

GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation, is produced from the amino acid glutamine, working with vitamin b6, vitamin c and magnesium, among others. Foods that contain glutamine include chicken, fish, eggs, beef, beets, dairy, beans and cabbage. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables contain vitamin c, and magnesium is found in specific beans, seeds, fish and green vegetables.

Tyrosine is an important amino acid that contributes to the production of dopamine. Food sources of tyrosine include fish, chicken, pork, whole grains, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds.

The reader may have already noticed that the common admonition to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins applies to managing anxiety and depression. As the intention of this article is to provide a broad overview, the above examples are illustrative. The reader is encouraged to research and explore more of the specific proteins, vitamins and minerals that manufacture the various neurotransmitters and which foods support their production.

The Benefit of Whole Foods

Because many of the nutrients that our bodies need to manufacture neurotransmitters now come for sale in a bottle at our neighborhood stores, a word about eating whole foods is in order. In their book Paradox & Healing, Dr. Michael Greenwood and Dr. Peter Nunn discuss the Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM) concept of “Qi,” or, energy, that is a part of whole foods. They contend, “ …it is the “whole” herb or food which has the Qi and its strengthening properties, not any isolated extract which is called for. In other words, the difference between taking vitamin C in capsules and eating fruit which contains the vitamin is profound.” Recent research into the benefits of phytonutrients found in whole fruits and vegetables corroborates the concept of Qi.

Likewise, in his book Food Rules, Michael Pollan says that, “Foods are more than the sum of their nutrient parts, and those nutrients work together in ways that are still only dimly understood.”  Pollan is a reporter who set out to investigate all of the competing dietary claims in the media. He discovered a very simple truth, which is that the Western diet, with all of its processed foods that he calls “edible foodlike substances,” makes people sick, and traditional diets, no matter what whole, natural foods they consist of, promote wellness. Pollan sums up his discovery of what we should eat in what he calls seven simple words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Supplements

Having made a case for the benefit of whole foods, our attention will now turn to the possible benefits of nutritional supplements that come in bottles. Just as in some cases prescription medicine is indicated, there are cases also where nutritional supplements, under a doctor’s supervision, are beneficial. These situations might include cases of nutritional deficiency, attempting to overcome an addiction, as advocated by Dr. Gant, or as a personal preference to combat the effects of anxiety and depression.

Many studies have shown and proven the efficacy of treating various conditions with nutritional supplements. Conversely, concern for supplement use may include the body subsequently under producing the item being supplemented, or other imbalances. (Always consult a doctor when considering nutritional supplements, as they can be harmful or even fatal in excess amounts or when combined with certain conditions.)

Of the many supplements on the market today, a few examples will suffice here. If increased serotonin is desired, a product called 5 HTP may be indicated. The amino acid tryptophan turns into 5HTP in the body along the way to making serotonin. GABA can be purchased directly, as can the amino acid tyrosine, which the body uses to make norepenephrine and dopamine. Fish oil aids in overall brain health, and multivitamins enable the chemicals in our body to do their work.

Inositol is another nutrient for sale that contributes to brain health and helps the body metabolize nutrients. Dr. Fred Penzel reports success in his studies with inositol and trichotillomania (hair pulling), to cite one example.

Herbs, such as St. John’s Wort and hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone and thyroid, are also sometimes indicated in the treatment of depression. As with any supplement, careful attention must be paid to combining herbs and hormones with other treatments, and should take place only under a doctor’s supervision.

SAM-e and Methylation

A popular and increasingly well known product on the market today is SAM-e, which is a naturally occurring substance in the body whose function is to act as a catalyst promoting the chemical reactions that allow the body to produce desired substances. These chemical reactions are known as methylation pathways. SAM-e’s benefit is in taking the raw materials available in the body and producing the desired result, including the regulation of neurotransmitters. Many studies have shown the benefit of SAM-e to alleviate depression.

Conclusion

Individuals who are seeking ways to address their anxiety and depression without or in conjunction with prescription medication may find that a well balanced regime of exercise, meditation, proper rest, social support, work with a therapist, and attention to diet may give them the help and relief they are looking for. For the diet portion of this plan, whole foods are essential. Supplements can be added under a doctor’s care and may be beneficial, but do not take the place of whole foods. Informed consultation with a doctor or therapist may help determine an individual’s best course of action, and some trial and error may be expected along the way to discovering what combination of elements will work best.

Bibliography and Recommended Reading:

Food Rules, by Michael Pollan

End Your Addiction Now: The Proven Nutritional Supplement Program That Can Set You Free, by Dr. Charles Gant and Dr. Greg Lewis

Paradox and Healing: Medicine, Mythology & Transformation, by Dr. Michael Greenwood & Dr. Peter Nunn

Web site, The World’s Healthiest Foods, http://www.whfoods.com/

Web site, The Podell Medical Practice: Merging Traditional Medical Practice and Alternative Therapies, http://www.drpodell.org

June 11, 2009

How To Get The Most Out Of Therapy

Filed under: 2009 Articles,Darby's Articles — karunacounseling @ 7:49 pm
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By Darby Christopher, LMSW

If you’ve been to enough therapy sessions, or seen enough therapists, chances are you’ve had some great experiences that produced feelings of gratitude and hope, and you may have also had some not so great experiences that resulted perhaps in frustration or disappointment.

What makes therapy a satisfactory, or even highly satisfactory, experience? Does it happen by chance, or is there more to it than that? Are there ways to intentionally enhance the experience?

Therapists have debated and researched these questions for decades. Time and again, research points to the significance of the relationship between the therapist and the person in therapy. Factors such as the type of therapy used to engage a particular problem and the experience of the therapist can also make a difference, but the connection between the therapist and client is paramount.

What does the therapist bring to the experience?

The therapist’s job is to bring focused attention to the person in therapy during a session. Careful listening, empathy, and a non-judgmental attitude are all crucial. A therapist also brings training, knowledge of different types of therapies, an ability to see the big picture, and helpful questions or feedback.

Ultimately, however, neither the therapist nor the person in therapy can “make” anything happen. There is no exact formula, because each therapeutic relationship involves two complex, unique individuals. The process is largely intuitive, and involves myriad subtle but important factors, such as communication cues, experiences in past relationships and values. Each session is a little like getting in a canoe together to travel downstream. The therapist knows something about canoes, paddles and how to navigate different types of water, but has not been down this exact river in this exact same way before.

What can the person in therapy can do to enhance the experience?

First and foremost, the person in therapy can trust their intuition. Listening to how the process feels and working from within this space is most beneficial. If therapy is flowing intuitively, “how to” suggestions may actually get in the way by putting us in our rational, thinking mode, rather than in the wisdom of the heart. If this is the case for the reader, perhaps this is as far as you will want to read this article!

Other times, however, we may feel a little lost or unsure of where we are in the process, or maybe we have fallen temporarily out of touch with our intuition and would benefit from some guidance. Or, we may simply be new to the process of therapy and would appreciate some thoughts from others who are more familiar with this territory. If any of these scenarios apply, the following suggestions may be of benefit.

1. Spend some time thinking about what you want out of therapy. Some of us want a safe place to tell our story or process a particular issue, and others want advice or suggestions. Some want  help figuring out our own solutions to a particular problem, others want deep work in the unconscious, and still others of us want someone to witness whatever is happening in our lives, no matter how grand or routine.

If we know what is most important to us, we can endeavor to stay focused on this material during a session, and communicate this desire to our therapist. (To help us get in touch with what matters to us, the scale included in this newsletter might be helpful.)

2. If we feel like we aren’t getting what we want out of therapy, we need to say so! This can feel a little intimidating for some of us, but the reality is our therapist will welcome this information. Once this information comes out, our therapist will work with us to determine if a different course of action will work best, or if we would be better off seeing someone else or doing something else. Either way, we will have helped bring about a desirable outcome.

3. Pay attention to how you are feeling during sessions, and consider communicating this information to your therapist. Sometimes in therapy we may begin talking about an issue in our lives, and a feeling in our body may emerge that would not only like our attention, but may be giving us a clue as to what is going on inside us on a deeper level. This suggestion contrasts with suggestion number one above, but a general rule is, if something in our body or psyche is clamoring for attention during a session, it is worth checking out.

4. When you are contemplating what to talk about in a session, and you are trying to decide between a topic that feels safe and a topic that feels more scary and vulnerable, consider going with the more vulnerable option. Often the greatest healing and freedom comes when we reveal a part of our self that we think might not be ok, and then discover that it is not repulsive as we had imagined, but is either a hidden wonderful part of who we are or valuable information in understanding ourselves. This is called our “growth edge,” and we can benefit by gently pushing ourselves to take risks.

However, caution is also warranted. If something feels too frightening or your intuition questions how safe you are, it might be best to process the fear feeling first, without revealing any information. For example, you might say to your therapist, “There is something I have thought about sharing with you, but I feel very anxious when I think about saying it out loud.” You and your therapist can then process the risk versus the benefit of revealing the information. You may ultimately decide to disclose the information, or you may determine that the best course of action is to not share it or to wait and revisit the issue at a later time. Either way, you will likely experience the satisfaction of knowing you honored your feelings and allowed trust to grow between you and your therapist.

5. Practice self care between sessions. Therapy is an investment of emotions, energy, time and money. To get the most out of our investment, we need to take some time during the week to focus on our selves. Journaling and meditation are both great ways to stay connected to our deeper self during the week, and may yield important information to process with our therapist.

Conclusion

By choosing to invest in therapy, we have chosen to place a high priority on uncovering and polishing the jewel that exists in each one of us. Another metaphor that works is to say that we value keeping the window of our souls clean. Many of us are giving up material possessions or making other sacrifices to do this work. Engaging in therapy intuitively and/or consciously assessing how to get the most out of our sessions can enhance the therapeutic experience. How fortunate we are to be able to do this work.

What Clients Want from Therapy: A Survey

Filed under: 2009 Articles,Darby's Articles — karunacounseling @ 7:43 pm
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Name: ______________________________             Date: __________________

 

 

After reading each statement, please circle the number that most accurately reflects your view, with 5 meaning “very much agree,” and zero meaning “don’t agree at all.” If your answer is “none” or “don’t know,” you may leave the question blank, and offer your comments below if you would like.

 

 

1. One of the major values of therapy is having a place to tell my story and process what has happened during my week.

 

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

2. I want my therapist to be proactive with me. If she has a “bag of tricks,” I want her to use it.

 

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

3. I welcome trying new and different types of therapies, even if they may make me a little uncomfortable.

 

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

4. I like it when my therapist gives me advice, and that is partly why I go.

 

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

5. I want my therapist to be “client centered,” meaning that she follows my lead.

           

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

6. I generally already know what I want to talk about and what I want to do during a session before I get there.

 

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

7. I would like for my therapist to check in with me often about how I think the therapy is going, and ways we could get the most out of our time together.

 

            0          1          2          3          4          5

 

 

Comments:

March 6, 2009

How Does Therapy Help Me?

Filed under: 2009 Articles,Darby's Articles — karunacounseling @ 5:02 pm
Tags: ,

Can therapy be helpful to me?

Choosing to get professional support is a significant decision and an important step in increasing your overall well-being and life satisfaction . The reasons for starting therapy vary greatly.
They can include life transitions, sadness or worry, relationship difficulties, old patterns, low self-esteem, spiritual crises, increased self-awareness, and grief. Therapy is also helpful for specific concerns such as anxiety, depression, gender identity, trauma, abuse, sexual orientation, and addiction.

How does therapy work?

The first step begins with you taking a look  at your life, relationships, and your general mood.
Are there areas that seem to cause you difficulties? Are there areas that could use some shifting?
Sometimes people don’t know what needs attention, but they know that they are not as happy as they would like to be. Either way, contacting Karuna will be your next step.

You will set up an initial appointment that will include a questionnaire about your history. This
will give the therapist a chance to get to know you some and it will allow you to start to get
to know your therapist. You will have a chance to ask some questions and you can get some support in setting initial goals.

The next few sessions will allow you to continue to establish a safe environment and allow you to
talk about some of your concerns. As you feel more comfortable the therapist may start to include some other techniques listed previously, and she may start to give you more skilled feedback.

Therapy works on many levels. You may notice some relief by simply having a supportive space to explore your concerns, feelings, and needs. Therapy also may lead to behavioral changes, such as improved communication and self-care. Finally, with deeper healing, old patterns evolve into new and healthier life choices and greater life fulfillment.

During therapy you may have times of discomfort and you should talk with your therapist about
the new feelings that you may experience. Other times you will notice relief, an increased sense
of peace, or even a sense of feeling stronger in the world.

As you reach your goals and feel more sense of accomplishment, you and your therapist will evaluate when will be a good time to stop therapy or simply take a break. It is our job to help you become independent, but with the knowledge that support is available when you need it.

June 11, 2008

Turning Toward Our Shadow

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Darby's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 2:45 pm
Tags: , ,

Darby Christopher, LMSW

We all have a preferred way of viewing ourselves, which includes owning the personality traits that we believe will serve us best in the world. Often, cultural values that we uphold, such as loyalty, optimism or courage, will fall into this category. Many of us want to see ourselves – and for others to see us – as loving, giving, considerate and self confident. Sometimes, qualities like wild, out-of-the-box, rebellious and counter-cultural are also characteristics that we are happy to claim.

 

But what about those parts of ourselves and experiences we have that we don’t want to claim? What about the traits that others might see in us, but which we have a difficult time seeing in ourselves? These are the parts that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung named our “shadow.” Traits that comprise our shadow often include qualities that our communities have disowned, such as fear, anger, selfishness, destructive words, thoughts or actions and various desires and addictions. Experiences of abuse or shame that have affected our self concept also fall into this category. On the other hand, if owning our talents or loving nature doesn’t feel safe, then these traits too will comprise our shadow.

 

Our natural human tendency is to run from our shadow. After all, the reason we don’t like certain qualities or recalling certain experiences is because they bring us pain, and our natural response to pain is to get as far away from it as possible. 

 

However, what works in the physical world – “don’t touch that fire!” – does not translate well in the psychological world. If avoiding the things that bring us emotional and psychological pain were the answer, this whole business of growth and healing would be simple, linear and formulaic.  The journey toward wholeness, rather, is circular, containing elements of mystery, and often takes place in relationship. This is why our efforts to “just not think about it” or “just don’t do it” sometimes fail us.

 

Why is this the case? Why doesn’t avoidance work? I don’t have the definitive answer for this, but one thing seems to be clear: The harder we work to push some aspects of psychological life away – including our painful problems and symptoms – the harder they work to make themselves known. It’s as if they contain a message for us, and, in terms of the big picture of our lives, this message is more important than our comfort.

 

Paradoxically and somewhat counter intuitively, turning toward our painful problems, symptoms, personality traits, and memories is what helps begin to loosen them and move them along.

 

 

How To Recognize The Shadow

 

In order to turn toward our shadow, we must first be able to catch glimpses of it. This is not easy, as our defenses are sometimes good at keeping it out of view. However, finding our shadow might be a little like bird watching, or finding shark’s teeth at the beach: If the intention is there, and we know what to look for, it may be elusive, but it is also ultimately knowable.

 

One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of our shadow is through our body and emotions. While we may be adept at keeping certain thoughts at bay, our bodies and feelings often will not cooperate. Depression, anxiety, disturbances, addictions, compulsions, physical pain and other physical or psychological symptoms are sometimes the result of disowned  parts of ourselves trying to get our attention. (Note: If a medical condition is suspected as the source of a painful condition, a physician should be consulted.)

 

Another sure way to spot our shadow is to look for it in what we project onto others. Jeremy Taylor, Unitarian minister and author of several books on dreams, refers to people as “projecting machines.” Taylor emphasizes how, in order to see something in ourselves, we must first project it outward onto someone else. For example, if a man sees and is frustrated with the passive or aggressive nature of another man, he may not yet recognize his own passive or aggressive qualities.

 

Another way to find the shadow is to look for it in our dreams. Because, on one level, everything we dream is an aspect of our own self, the potential for shadow-finding in dreams is immense. One predictable way in which this occurs is when an individual dreams of another person of their same gender. For example, if a woman is invested in seeing herself as serious and responsible, and she dreams of her free spirited sister allowing the bills to pile up while she lounges around, she may be seeing a disowned part of herself.

 

Most of us encounter our shadow in hundreds of ways every day, such as in our dreams, the people we come into contact with, movies, books, plays, work situations and primary relationships. Even what we day dream about could show us disowned parts of ourselves or repressed memories, if only we pay attention.

 

                                   

How To Turn Toward The Shadow

 

Finally, in the journey toward growth, wholeness and self-discovery, we need ways to get to know and integrate our shadow material. The following list includes a few ways to do this:

 

When a disturbing thought or feeling arises, take time to turn toward it, welcome it, and be still with it. If possible, go to a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Focus on the disturbing or painful feeling/experience. Hold it in awareness, and let go of any negative thoughts toward it. If possible, welcome it and put forth an intention to listen to it and learn from it. Breathe into it.

 

Journal, using “Active Imagination.” Choose a dream image, and ask it questions. Write down both the questions and the answers. The idea here is to allow the answers to arise spontaneously from the unconscious. Write down whatever shows up. Resist the temptation to force a question or answer, or to judge it. Sometimes, the sillier or more off the wall the answer is, the more right on it turns out to be. Ask: “What is here? What is going on? Who or what are you? What do you like or dislike? What are you afraid of?”   Insights will come sometimes, but not always. The practice of being still, asking, and listening is what counts, and will make a difference over the long run.

 

Practice taking back projections. When strong feelings of like or dislike for another person show up, make a list of what you like or dislike about that person. Then ask, “Where does this quality show up in me?”

 

Practice “I am that too.” Jeremy Taylor adopted and advocates this practice from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Whenever the urge to judge another is present, practice the thought “I am that too.”

 

If possible, do the work with a therapist or spiritual director. Something powerful occurs when we confess (or, “own”) a part of our self to a trusted other, and learn that all of our parts, even if painful or undesirable, are ultimately acceptable and make sense. Often, deep healing occurs in relationship.

 

Remember SOS, which can stand for “See it, Own it, Say it.” Recalling SOS may help us remember to stay alert and watchful, own what is ours rather than projecting it on others, and then to invite the healing power of relationship to work for us as we share our journey with a trusted other.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Shadow work requires persistence, patience, and sometimes, the ability to be present with pain. Like many endeavors in life, the reward – including a greater sense of wholeness, a sense of waking up to our lives, and ultimately an increased capacity to love – is worth the effort. For many of us, our well being depends on this work, and, as our own inner light shines brighter, our efforts will benefit the people whose paths we cross. And ultimately, we can be deeply gratified to know that our work is transforming the world we live in, one step at a time.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Romancing The Shadow by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf

Jung To Live By by Eugene Pascal

Inner Work by Robert Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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