Category Archives: Counseling

Solution-focused, Marriage and Family Therapy offered in the Great Southwest of Michigan, including the communities of Saint Joseph, Benton Harbor, Coloma, Watervliet, South Haven, Stevensville, Bridgman, Berrien Springs, Niles, and beyond.

Limitations

“A man’s gotta know his limitations” says Harry Callahan.  The admonition makes sense  as one crosses the fine line between competence to incompetence.  Dirty Harry remarks frequently about the incompetence he sees in his superiors making for some great one-liners.

Sometimes people are advanced up the ladder of success only to find that their previous, stellar performance has little to do with the challenges they face in their new role.  Known as the Peter Principle, they fail because sufficient consideration was not given to whether or not they were indeed competent for the demands of the advanced position.

Similarly, the Icarus Syndrome describes the super-competent person who exceeds expectations at every level and knows it, exhibiting a confidence, self-assurance and hubris that borders on narcissism.   These people advance quickly without the necessary emotional and psychological discipline that empowers them to endure the stresses that come with added responsibilities.  Like Icarus who fell to his death because he flew too closely to the sun, their failures can be cataclysmic.

Through education, life-experience, training and discipline it is so important to develop a wisdom that is able to examine one’s self, to discern between good and bad counsel and to keep praise and criticism in perspective.  Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People offers a great model for proceeding through life with these reality checks based upon one’s values.  A man does need to know his limitations but he must test them and, in many cases, exceed them.

 

SEEING BEYOND LIMITATIONS

At the other end of the spectrum is the motivational challenge to “Reach for the stars”.  My inspiration for this article came when I happened to catch a recent commercial for a lumber store!

I loved the ingenuity of their presentation, taking a job that might be perceived as common, every-day work and catapulting it to a level of second-string astronaut that inspires, challenges and celebrates the value of the individual…the kind of person we’re looking for in our company.  Great commercial!

CONCLUSION

Navigating through life requires the kinds of skills that are able to deal with limitations both from without one’s self as well as within.  At other times opportunities arise that allow us to exceed limitations.  Sometimes the most limiting of all limitations are those we create for ourselves; i.e., those little voices within that tell us we’re not good enough, not smart enough or not gifted enough.

The truth is that this inner battle is the locus for the power of the Gospel found in the first and second Beatitudes that form the basis for most recovery programs.  In the face of a “Higher Power” who knows no limitations outside of the human heart we are immediately confronted by our own incompetence to save ourselves.  The ultimate cosmic paradox rests in this observation by the apostle Paul:  “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent….” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Buckets

For most of us a bucket is defined pragmatically as “a typically cylindrical vessel for catching, holding, or carrying liquids or solids”. Perhaps coupled with the colloquial expression “kick the bucket” to describe death, the idea of a “bucket list” to describe a pail full of tasks one wishes to accomplish before dying was popularized by the 2007 movie: “The Bucket List.

This unique list of specific accomplishments that an individual hopes to experience or accomplish before they can no longer do them is probably a product of a free society.  Individuals who struggle to meet their daily needs probably don’t dwell much upon what they want to do before they die.  The priority is making it through each day and waking up the next morning.

When we are young and optimistic about the future we don’t really think much about what we want to do before we die.  So, the entire project holds little interest because we have the whole world ahead of ourselves.  However, in time, our bucket lists can be quite extensive.  Travel to distant lands, financial accomplishments, personal goals and dreams all materialize on this list that has the potential to become ever expanding and inclusive.  At this stage of life our ‘bucket list’ has a tendency to grow as we experience more of
life and appreciate the world around us and within ourselves.

However, in my own observations of human behavior over the years I’ve begun to notice an interesting thing about bucket lists: the bucket seems to get smaller as we grow older.

For some, this may mean that they were able to accomplish most of the things on their lists during their lifetime, meaning there are fewer remaining things for them to keep on this list.  They have stopped adding to the list and, perhaps, establish a final goal of accomplishing everything that remains.

For others, it means that their desires for accomplishment begin to wane as they lose interest in the dreams and ambitions of their younger days.  In fact, it would seem that this list is more easily misplaced or even forgotten as we age.

In one sense this can be very sad.  At one extreme we can imagine someone whose life has become devoted to accomplishing everything on their list.  Once the list is finished, the next logical question is: “Now what?”  At the extreme we can imagine someone finding that their purpose in life has now ceased to exist.  I don’t think there are many people in this category…or, could I be wrong?

The writer of Ecclesiastes–most commonly believed to be King Solomon in his final days–had lived life to the max to experience everything “under the sun” and to uncover the secret to happiness and contentment (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).   His conclusion?
Meaningless!

What a tragedy!  To have lived life to the fullest, experiencing everything the world has to offer only to conclude it was a waste of time, like a crazy man in a field chasing after the wind.  Of course the Byrds version of the popular 1955 Pete Seeger song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” capitalized on this theme based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  I’ve often wondered if people understood the context within which these words were written more than 3,000 years ago.

CONCLUSION

In the end, it seems to me that bucket lists are useful when they point towards something greater than one’s self.  As we age we begin to appreciate our finite nature. We also begin to realize that the author of Ecclesiastes actually had it right for life lived “under the sun” without a view of what lies beyond.  Having eternity planted in one’s heart is more a source of despair than encouragement leading to a type of epicureanism or existentialistic way of viewing life.

As I, myself, age and begin the process of attending more funerals than weddings I have also had the humble experience of observing my own parents as they have aged.  In fact, mom and I talked about buckets recently and how they seem to get smaller as fewer things of this world capture the imagination.  What is happening is that those things of this world are being replaced by a longing to be where my father is, in heaven, looking into the face of God as He wipes the tears away (Revelation 21:4): the ultimate bucket list for which there is great worth in living and in dying!

 

 

Reboot!

A friend of mine was investigating his home heating system.  It was making a terrible squeaking noise.  Fearing a fan motor that was going Dirty-Furnace-Fanbad he dissected the necessary components, cleaned them, put them back together and then hit the power switch.

Nothing.

Pilot would not lite.  Fan would not come on.  No hum.  No noise.  Nothing.

Concerned that he must have missed some detail he repeated the cleaning process another time or two.  Same result: nothing.

In the dead of winter this is not good; so, he called a technician to diagnose the problem and offer a solution.  When the technician arrived he reached around the side of the fan motor where the reset button was located.  He pushed the button.  Suddenly, everything fired up.  Problem solved…except he was still needing a new motor.  The terrible noise was back.

resetWith computers we call them reboots: “If all else fails, reboot!”

Modems and routers, power tools and electric motors…many appliances have reset or reboot buttons.  Why?  Well, sometimes commands get crossed, power brown-outs or surges occur and the engineers build in a simple mechanism that shorts out before the motor or appliance is destroyed; the computer reboots to straighten out software conflicts or memory overloads.  It is a means of putting everything back on track and to protect more expensive components from destructive overloads.

Rebooting Life

Life is filled with resets or reboots as well.  Personally, we need new year resolutions to help kick us off the couch and into healthier living.  New days offer new opportunities to change routines, alter bad behavior patterns, create new opportunities or to simply settle down and center our lives to face new challenges.

Many changes we can do on our own, privately.  Other changes may require another friend with whom to confide, to hold us accountable,  to give us alternative ideas or suggestions or to just listen as we work through our own thoughts and feelings to get motivated.  Some changes are best made in a group setting with others to cheer us on as we reboot aspects of our lives to lose weight, stop a bad habit or instill a new value that changes the priorities of our lives.

The truth is that rebooting or resetting seems to be a consistent reality in all areas of life.  From the changing of the seasons to the ‘circle of life’ there are times when it is good to start over, to refresh and to give it another shot.

Hence, this dynamic can be true for individuals, groups, couples, families, etc.   It’s just good to make a fresh start now and then.  When the challenges seem more complex than expected or when those changes effect other members of a family or one’s partner it is sometimes good to consult with someone who specializes in communication and behavior change such as a marriage and family therapist.

 

Preparing For The Holidays

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Preparing For The Holidays: For Those Who Grieve

Holidays can be tough after losing someone, especially during the first year since their passing.  So many adjustments must be made every day; but, as the holidays approach the challenges can be overwhelming.

On Thursday evening, November 10, from 7-9 p.m. we are hosting a seminar at the Church of Christ of St. Joseph entitled “Preparing for the Holidays.” Our purpose is to provide a place and time where we can share stories, tears, and ideas for making it through the tough times ahead.

The seminar is free and open to anyone who grieves.  If you know of someone who may find this time helpful please invite them to come with you so they won’t have to come alone.

The seminar will be led and facilitated by Stephen Pylkas and Russel Hicks, both of whom have experience in leading grief groups and guiding discussion.

A grief support group will be available through the holiday season.  A sign-up sheet will be offered at the seminar.

For more information, to let us know of your interest or for any questions or comments, please fill out the form below and Steve will reply.  Registration is not necessary so you can wait until the last minute to decide.


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Stephen “Steve” Pylkas is the minister of the Church of Christ of St. Joseph where he also has his private practice (Southshore Counseling, LLC) as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

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Since losing his wife, Carol Jean Hicks, to cancer in 2008, Russell Hicks has led grief groups at Lori’s Place for several years.

 

So, You’re Getting Married?

By now many will have picked the setting for the wedding, worked out the invitations and the mailing list, chosen the reception and honeymoon locations and taken care of many of the details in between.  Now it is just a matter of planning for and going through the wedding itself.

With the time, energy and expense that goes into preparing for a wedding might I suggest that one expense worth considering is pre-marital counseling.  Usually 4-6 sessions can encourage thoughtful conversations before the knot is tied rather than risk potentially explosive confrontations later.

More importantly, there are times when certain insights and new understandings before tying the knot can enrich our lives afterwards.  Especially when it comes to communication skills, conflict resolution coaching to help couples push through tough issues constructively can be priceless.  The skills needed to produce more win/win situations can make all of the difference in contrast to the win/lose scenarios that can be so destructive.

 

Marriage and Family Therapy

In April 2014 we closed the Trenton office in the southeast part of Michigan to move to Saint Joseph on the southwestern part of the state.  Since July 2014 I have been working as the Lead Minister of the Church of Christ of Saint Joseph, settling in to become better acquainted with God’s people here and the community around us.  My goal has been to discern God’s leading and how my private practice will fit into my ministerial responsibilities.

This year I began seeing clients at the church building and I have found it to be well suited to my needs as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Therefore, I am now taking appointments with individuals, couples and families, dedicated to “Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential” according to the principles of brief, solution-focused marriage and family therapy.

 

Catch and Keep

Catch&KeepAfter six months here in the St. Joseph/Benton Harbor area of southwestern Michigan, I’ve finally resumed my blog site.  My plan is to  set up my practice here this spring.

Step one: updating my site which begins with changing all address references to Trenton, Michigan!

Coping

decideLife if filled with opportunities to learn new coping skills.  From the simplest adjustments of growing up to the normal transitions of adolescence into young adulthood we begin a very personal process of learning how to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities.

On the anvil of personal and interpersonal stressors we hone our coping skills by learning and adaptation based upon a wide spectrum of circumstances.  Factors such as the degree of pain we feel, the double-bind of no-win scenarios, our moods, our personal values and principles, past or present traumas and injustices are just a sample of the possibilities that we are called upon to adjust.

Under pressure,  we forge many of our virtues like patience, tenacity, integrity and honesty, compassion, and so forth.  Conversely, our choices also include their opposite such as impatience, weakness, deceitfulness, dishonesty, callousness, etc.  Across the prism of our own unique makeup and experiences we become both who we are today and who we will become tomorrow by the coping choices we make along the way.

In more relaxed times we have opportunities to reflect upon our past experiences and choices as well as the consequences that have unfolded from those dynamic elements of life.  The hope is that our past will provide learning opportunities for our present and future decisions and how we will cope with them.

The Compass

To the extent we make our choices in advance, clarified by our principles and values, we can anticipate times when decisions have to be compassmade with decisiveness and inner peace.  Life presents times when we must navigate our way through surprises, catastrophes, challenges and opportunities where our past and present meet to give us direction based upon those times of reflection and experience.  It is at those times that we choose to either react impulsively based upon the emotions we feel or we act proactively based upon who we are combined with the person we have chosen to become.

Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping clients clarify their principles and values, weigh interpersonal alternatives and consider the potential consequences in their relational systems.  Many times it is the coping systems themselves that require modification to meet new challenges and opportunities.  At other times new coping skills must be learned to move people forward towards their potential as family members, working together to overcome obstacles and manage transitions.

 

People, Love, Intimacy and Family

woman-talking-to-manTo develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else requires honesty, openness and transparency; being truthful, even when it is painful. Of course, there are many other definitions of this interpersonal phenomenon that depends upon one’s willingness to be vulnerable, choosing to allow someone else into their private world.  Intimacy is a close, personal, private relationship that is warm and friendly.

Positive, intimate relationships are built upon the foundation of trust that is defined by certain assumptions.   Consistent, predictable behavior over a long period of time that reinforce those assumptions breeds a trust that goes deeper than a vow and a promise, penetrating right to the heart of everyday behaviors.  Getting caught doing the right thing fosters reassurance and security…and trust.

Intimacy Toxins

While there are many things that stand in the way of intimacy, perhaps the most pernicious is  lying:  making an untrue statement with the intention of deceiving someone else, creating a false or misleading impression.  It is the poison of intimacy.  It is a toxin that will injure or terminate a relationship, for trust cannot blossom where words and actions are designed to deceive and mask true intentions, not reflect them. 

Nonetheless, a recent Psychology Today article ventures into the gradients of lying, suggesting that we all do it to one degree or another.

Studies show that the average person lies several times a day. Some of those are biggies: “I’ve been faithful to you.” Others are par for the course: “No, your new dress looks good.” Some forms of deception aren’t exactly lies: comb-overs, nodding when you’re not listening. And then there are lies we tell ourselves, as part of healthy self-esteem maintenance or serious delusions. In the end, it appears that we can’t handle the truth. (Psychology Today: Deception)

People look for intimacy in all sorts of places.  Logically, they expect to find it in their families; and, in most cases they do so.  At other times, our hope and desire to find love and acceptance in our family of origin may blind us to the fact that their communications, behaviors and attitudes convey exactly the opposite.

Much of Marriage and Family Therapy involves examining the relational realities of life.  This often means assessing the best ways to address the positives and the negatives in a way that respects boundaries, acknowledges tensions, accentuates the positives and adjusts behaviors to those influences that are toxic.  Many tools are available to the seasoned therapist ranging from personal interviews with individuals, couples and families to a variety of testing instruments.

Southshore Counseling, LLC: Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential.

Positives From Negatives

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Which words will you choose?

 

Sometimes the difference between a positive and a negative statement is as simple as our choice of words.  Gary Smalley in his book Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy creates a positive reframe of negative expressions.  While he intended to use this insight with married couples, the fact is that positive interpretations can be very important in reshaping and even motivating people as a general rule.  Next time, before you state a person’s negative trait, consider the following list of alternative, positive statements:

 

NEGATIVE TRAIT          POSITIVE PERCEPTION

Nosy                                      Overly alert or sociable

Touchy                                  Very Sensitive

Manipulating                      A resourceful person with creative ideas

Stingy                                    Thrifty

Talkative                              Expressive or Dynamic

Flighty                                   Enthusiastic with Cheerful Vitality

Too Serious                        Sincere and earnest with strong convictions

Too Bold                              Strong convictions, uncompromising, high personal standards

Rigid                                      Well disciplined with strong convictions

Overbearing                        Confident; sure of him/her self

A Dreamer                           Creative and Imaginative

Too Fussy                             Organized and Efficient

Being thoughtful about how we say things tells another person that they are important, that you respect their trait…even though it may drive you crazy sometimes… and that you appreciate how their trait complements your own.  Conversely, focusing on the negative traits with out putting in the effort to say it in a positive way tells the other person that they are not important, that you do not respect their trait and that you do not appreciate their different perspective.

It takes only a little imagination to deduce which approach produces the better effect in the end.   If you want to discourage another person, make frequent observations about their negative trait.  To encourage them, consider the alternative of letting their trait inspire positive, creative observations that emphasize the positive qualities of their trait.

*Smalley, Gary. Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy, 2000, pp. 156-157.