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.

 

Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy sexual abuse should be a title that betrays an obvious oxymoron.  Too often it is not.  As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is presently serving a small congregation as their Lead Minister, I know that two things are true.

First, the way clergy has been viewed in the past–sometimes just this side of sainthood–makes it vulnerable for attracting people who lust for adoring people who give them–what they perceive as–command, power and control.  Second, traits of predators lure them towards the clergy because of the perceived adoration of people and command, power and control that is often associated with their calling and profession.  These traits are described in a recent article entitled, “5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart”.  Listed briefly, they are:

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

If you just read this list and all of a sudden faces, names or situations shocked back into your memory may I suggest that you find a reliable confidant to whom you voice your sudden awareness. Particularly if they are among professionals in law enforcement, social work or the counseling field, they can advise you about whether or not to take action on your sudden hints or insights.  You will also find helpful resources and links at the website for The Hope of Survivors and on their Facebook Page.

As a witness to the poison that clergy can inject into the body of Christ and trusting families because of their behavior coupled with churches that fail to address the predator decisively, this is one of those absolute zero tolerance matters.  The priorities?  First, protecting the victims and recognizing the damage that has been done so that the balm of Gilead can begin to bring about healing and growth.  Be aware, this can take a very long time.  Second, removing the predator from anything and everything related to the victim and his/her family while striving to see that help is administered.  Be  aware that the best potential for healing and reduced recidivism may include criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

This is one of those situations where the decisive action of a congregation to suspected clergy sexual abuse may speak more about God’s grace and forgiveness than expected.  Conversely, how tragic for God’s people to suffer prosecution for not having taken the threat of clergy sexual abuse more seriously.

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!

Catch and Release Update

FlyFishing
Au Sable Fly Fishing near Grayling, MI.

“Catch and Release” is one of those bittersweet expressions that is common in the fishing community.  Careful to remove the barb from the flies used in trout fishing, among other regulations, the whole point is that the pleasure of the sport is in catching the ‘big one’ and leaving it for another to enjoy.  The bitter part is the temptation to bag the whopper you just caught in order to drop it in the black skillet for dinner.  It’s almost too much to bear.  Yet, to allow someone else to enjoy the sweetness of the singing reel means carefully removing the fly with hands pre-wetted in stream water and releasing the trout back into the water with minimal trauma.

When we first came to Trenton back in the summer of 1999 our intention was to leave the barb in the hook and bag this one to take us home.  Looking back, it was important for us to learn the lesson of the ‘catch and release’ principle.  In truth, I have learned that the journeys of life rarely leave you where you ‘entered the stream’.  Taking the metaphor a little further, things that enter the Lord’s streams and stay in the same place for very long are often inanimate…things like deadwood and boulders.

For several years the Lord has been guiding us through a journey that has reminded us that His stream is ever flowing.  While He takes us as we are, He never leaves us there as He shapes and molds us into His image.  First, however, He must break us to prepare us for the journey because a necessary ingredient to being a faithful disciple is wholly selling out to His leadership, His will, His discipline…and, when the time is right, He will open the door to move us to where He wants us.

It is in these times of transition that ‘catch and release’ takes on a new meaning more associated with Jesus’ words about the plowman who is always looking back to see where he has been instead of looking forward to where he is headed in Luke 9:26.  I like the way the message paraphrases the verse: “Jesus said, ‘No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.’”  In this case we look back to catch our bearings and then set our sites on a door that is opening before us and release ourselves into His leading.

Stated clearly, at the end of June Pamela and I will once again join together in ministry at the St. Joseph Church of Christ in St. Joseph, Michigan.  We trust that we have caught the leading of the Lord as he as gently guides us to this new beginning.  Consequently, Southshore Counseling, LLC, my private practice here in Trenton, will be closing at the end of June.

UPDATE

Fortunately, after losing my last provider I was able to maintain my email address and website.  Also, I will continue to provide counseling services at my Trenton office until the end of June.

Yea!

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.

Last Time: “I love you!”

goodbyeWhen our kids would ask why my wife and I would always say “I love you” every time we parted, we would tell them: “One day, there will be a last time to say, “I love you.”  Only God knows when that last time will be; so, we still hedge our bets, making sure the final words we say affirm our eternal love for one another.  How comforting it is to know that “The last time I saw him, he said, “I love you! ‘”

This haunting phrase becomes so important to us when we lose a loved one.  Sometimes, recalling someone’s final words brings a smile and a quiet sense of assurance.  Of course, this is how most of want to be finally remembered when our time comes.

However, sometimes those words are filled with pain and heartache.  In a heated argument words of parting can bring pain years later when neither party seeks reconciliation or attempts to affirm the positive aspects to a relationship.  Many times people say hurtful things without restraint due to alcohol or drugs that end up being the last word spoken.  While they may not remember what they said, the scars left on the recipient can be a source of pain that outlives the one who did not filter their words or seek forgiveness.

Discussing the concept of developing a mission statement, Steven Covey recommended beginning with the end in mind.  To illustrate the principle of “Beginning with the End in Mind,” he suggests that we imagine being in a dream, walking into a funeral home where we recognize the people in the funeralchairs as they quietly wait for the service to begin.  Meanwhile, a line of people stand behind the podium, waiting for their opportunity to speak a word about the person in the open casket at the front of the room.  As you walk to view the person there to pay your respects, you suddenly realize that the person in the casket is you!  Now you have an opportunity to hear what the people who knew you have to say about you.  No doubt someone will say, “The last time we met, he/she said these words to me….”

The question is, what will they have to say?  The answer is to proactively start working, now, on helping shape their message by your own words and behavior based upon your own principles, values and sensibilities.

 

 

Positives From Negatives

communication
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.

Building a House & Home

FoundationBuilding a house that will last is based upon unyielding structural requirements that begin with the foundation.  In a similar way, a happy home depends upon certain unyielding structural requirements, anchored upon a foundation of unconditional love, clear boundaries with freedom to explore and solid principles that will stand the test of time.

In Psalm 127:1 Solomon, the wisest man the world has ever known, said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”

What a profound assertion! “Hey you! Go ahead and build it by guessing about tried and true principles.  You can even set guards around it. You know you’re wasting your time; i.e., wrong architect. When the storms come, it will fall; then what are you going to do?

In this day of secular relativism, this is how many do life, making it up along the way.  There are no absolutes and few guidelines besides ‘what works’ for you or me.  Absolute values don’t exist…except the rule that absolute values don’t exist.  In this world view, longstanding values and principles that govern human behavior are given the same weight as personal preferences.

Solomon makes it clear: if the Lord is not in the middle of your construction project you are just rearranging chairs on the Titanic during its maiden voyage.  There is a God and He has set in place certain rules to guide His creation, sustaining nature and benefiting the lives of people.

There are two things I often find myself doing that makes this passage hit me square between the eyes. First, I go ahead and build without consulting on the Lord and waiting for His answer. Second, after I’ve built it I remember that I should have consulted with Him beforehand…but now it’s too late ’cause I’ve already messed it up. Now I ask the Lord to bless what I’ve already finished.

What a God I serve! Even when I insult Him by choosing to ‘go it alone’ He still chooses to bless me. In both cases His promise is clear: “Steve, trust Me, I can still take your messes and bring good out of them” (Romans 8:28). “How?” I ask. Then I read verses 29-30 and I remember that He already knew I would do those things before time began. So, He sent His Son to reconcile, sanctify and justify me before I even knew to ask for His help.

Wow! What a God!

Individual Therapy with a Marriage & Family Therpaist

counseling

Therapy with individual clients is a common practice for Marriage and Family Therapists.  This is often a surprise to people who assume that Marriage and Family Therapists work exclusively with married couples and their families.

Marriage and Family Therapists work with individuals to address behavioral problems, relationship issues, or mental and emotional disorders.  The point of distinction from other therapeutic approaches is that the individual’s challenges are evaluated, diagnosed and treated from a family systems perspective.

A way of demonstrating this symbiotic nature of individual challenges within the family system would be the classic alcoholic family.  When one family member shows signs of a struggle with controlling their alcohol consumption it is not uncommon to conclude that the individual has a problem.  Treatment can range from participation in a 12-Step AA or CR program, hospitalization/rehabilitation, medications, individual counseling, support groups, and much more.  What is often not a significant part of the evaluation and treatment is the family dynamics that may have not only contributed to the problem but may even be unconsciously working to maintain the problem.  Many times individuals emerge from a 12-step rehabilitation program with individual and group support ready to live a life of sobriety….until they re-engage with their family.  Suddenly, the risk of relapse can increase significantly.

So many of our emotional and behavioral challenges can be understood from within our marriages and families to the extent that the diagnostician begins with the evaluation of the individual within the context of their interpersonal relationships.  This is in contradistinction to many approaches that, at best, may include this powerful dynamic as an afterthought if they consider it at all before, for example, prescribing medications.

This also has a direct bearing on treatment approaches.  Recognizing that people have the ability to influence the systems within which they function, strategies for change often involve preparing the individual to address systemic challenges within their family by changing their own behavior, perception or attitude.  For example, helping an adult learn how to differentiate themselves from their own family may help them adjust the way they respond to interpersonal pressures to conform rather than maturing and finding their own way in the world.

So, yes, Marriage and Family Therapists do see individuals in their practice.  What makes them unique is the way they perceive the individual, acknowledging that it is their interaction within a variety of relational systems that contributes to their day-to-day functioning.

Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach potentials.