Our health privacy

Our health privacy

What does corporate use of consumer data have to do with therapy?  

How do I make sense of how my personal data is being bought and sold in the world wide web marketplace?  

What does all that have to do with counseling?  

Phenix is about holistic health – working with you to address mental and emotional health while connecting that journey to your body and spirit.  Every now and then, a “random” issue comes along that intersects with our work.  For example, we posted last week on the approaching hurricane, not because we are weather experts but because we see the mental and emotional health dynamics associated with storms.  Today’s post on data privacy may seem outside the scope of mental health content but hang with us…it does intersect and it does matter.    

Our clients are aware that we use an electronic health record (EHR) platform called Simple Practice.  Not only are health care providers strongly encouraged to use an EHR (required if they accept Medicare/Medicaid funds), but as a telehealth practice, an EHR is a basic necessity.  One of the principles we have adhered to since founding is to utilize tools and solutions which honor the privacy protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  That said, HIPAA standards represent the minimum level of care.  As therapists, we operate at a much higher ethical standard based on our role as stewards of our client’s information.  Our clients trust us to protect their vulnerability as much as possible and we take that responsibility seriously.  With those values, recent developments are causing concerns that we want to share with those who invest in their health through therapy (whether our client or not).  

On August 2nd, our EHR provider released a new terms of service document which aggressively required signature within two weeks to retain access to all of our client care information.  This was the first red flag to indicate that clearly, this company does not understand the legal access requirements for medical records.  Most of us pay little attention any more to the terms of service agreements that we all “click the box” for nearly every day.  We’ve all probably joked about possibly signing over our first born without knowing it…The thing is, terms of service are fairly standard for general tech companies but healthcare companies must operate very differently.  Some clinicians were tipped off by the inappropriate presentation and started reading the new terms of service.  Within days, a firestorm erupted with clinicians raising concerns in multiple online communities.  The new terms claimed rights to user data which did not sensibly align with what should be needed just to provide the service we are paying for, and clinicians weren’t having it!  This resulted in the company backpedaling slightly…extending the deadline for agreement and entering into the compliance review process they should have completed before setting up the terms.  The easy answer would seem to be – just find a new provider.  Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than this one company…     

In the past decade, a quiet war has been unfolding in technology. Capitalists long ago discovered the profit in monetizing data.  Most of the technology tools we use today are based on this practice of offering a ‘free’ service, (social media, email, web search, cloud storage, etc.) in exchange for access to data that can be aggregated and sold to the highest bidder.  This purchased data allows businesses to target us with advertising and offers, personalized to what we are searching for/interested in.  Investors have found more and more spaces and creative ways to entice us to hand over data they can monetize.  About ten years ago, venture capitalists discovered the health care industry as an unmonetized space and started moving in.  Technology companies started offering online therapy way before COVID made it popular knowing that it allowed them to set up systems which could collect valuable data.  These companies were launched and run by investors with zero healthcare experience.  The problem is, monetizing healthcare data is illegal, resulting in over 7 million dollars in fines against one of them, for example.  For a company raking in over a billion dollars annually (2022) though, that fine is simply the price of doing business.  So the quiet war behind the scenes wages as tech experts launch healthcare companies daily with nary a clinician in their leadership hierarchy, leaving them out of touch with the ethical rules clinicians must follow.  Therapists and medical providers have been sounding the alarm for years but the millions of dollars these companies have available to control the narrative and pay the fines is almost impossible to beat.  What that means is that it is extremely difficult to find the technology tools we need, set up with full understanding of healthcare ethics and even healthcare law.       

Trust and transparency is the foundation of the therapeutic alliance.  What our service providers do with our client data (even when it is ‘deidentified’) matters to us.  We see our role of stewarding client data as a sacred trust.  While it may seem hopeless to expect today’s environment of corporate greed to prioritize privacy over profit, we have a responsibility to keep fighting.  What that looks like for us is participation in the collective pushback on our EHR provider to: practice the Safe Harbor Method in deidentifying data, legally commit to respecting the intellectual property rights of clinicians who customize EHR features, as well as to disclose the client portal access terms of service, how data is used for AI training, and what exact information is being sold to exactly what companies.  Electronic Health Record software is not a free service.  As a small practice, we pay over two thousand dollars a year, so imagine what more than 170,000 clinicians are paying (estimate of customer base for our current company)!  Selling user data is not a necessary component of their profit strategy.          

Additionally, we are taking the time to explore the alternatives.  This is labor intensive and exhausting but necessary.  We will look for tech companies run by clinicians, and who provide the ethical parameters our clients deserve.  We have been strategic from the start in how we structured our processes.  Our EHR happens to be a comprehensive practice management platform as well, capable of handling every technological need but we have never used it in that way.  We use separate platforms for payment, messaging, video-meeting, etc. for two reasons: 1) We are not at the mercy of one platform if it shuts down for some reason, containing every tool we need to serve our clients and 2) Our client’s information can never be accessed in one complete package.  While the companies who serve the healthcare industry have the greatest access to tech tools of confidentiality, perfection does not exist in this world and so we have structured things accordingly even before this latest concern.  Moving forward, we will keep you updated every step of the way so that you have clarity about how your records are stored, accessed and managed.

Vision

Have you given up on dreaming big in this season of unpredictability and global chaos?

Wondering how you can recapture your joy for life?

Join us on a journey of building Vision!

I don’t know about you, but I feel as if the last few years have been an exercise in wandering – it has been so difficult to set goals, make plans or set expectations when at any moment, things can be upended.  All of us dealt with the complete upheaval of life that COVID brought in 2020; many of us witnessed propaganda, viewpoints and behaviors from loved ones during global and cultural crisis that we would never have expected; thanks to ongoing supply shortages and the long-overdue revolution of a workforce tired of being exploited – gone are the days when you can order an item or step into a store and assume that it will be available at whim.  Inflation is rapidly changing our financial expectations.  Anyone who has traveled recently knows that we do well to hold travel plans loosely.  Justin and Andrea took a vacation/scouting trip last summer where not.one.single.planned task or event went as intended.  Not one.  Coming home early was definitely discussed but it got to a point where it was downright comical how predictable it became that whatever we planned would fall through or be delayed in an endless variety of ways.  Experiences like this have made it very difficult for many of us to generate motivation for specific goals or plans.  I have said many times out loud that without a vision, the people perish.

What happens when we have no feasible vision for the future; when our days are a series of unfortunate dynamics – both globally and domestically?  We become focused on the negative, the unpredictability, the instability, the worries of what’s next?.  Problem is, the science of neurology tells us that we move toward what we ruminate on.  I find that we so often focus on what is not as we would like or what we don’t want in our lives: I need to stop doing [insert dysfunction here].  The problem is, this thing we don’t want is the mental ‘vision’ before us and though we are running from it, we somehow find ourselves entangled in it.  That’s because we must decide what behavior or thought we want to replace it with.  What need is that dysfunction trying to meet?  How can we meet that need in a healthier way?  Time and time again, in my own life and in the lives of clients, success is finally achieved when we stop worrying about the thing we don’t want and focus on it’s desirable replacement instead!  So, for example – instead of saying, why bother making plans – it will all fall apart anyway, we ask ourselves, what character quality do I want to cultivate in myself? and focus on the steps required to do so.

It is this understanding of the importance of focusing our brains on what we value that inspired me to launch a vision-boarding quest as we close out the year.  The reality is, life is not settling back into ‘predictability’ anytime soon.  The overdue bills from corporate greed and environmental abuse are coming due.  War is brewing in a world that no longer has the luxury of dissociating from conflict in other hemispheres.  Now, more than ever, we must develop the ability to focus our minds on possibility and values if we are to avoid throwing our hands up in defeat.  I want to facilitate a fun-filled process of identifying what matters to each of us in this season and create together, a visual representation to which we can refer, throughout the next year.

Vision boards have been used for all sorts of goals: professional accomplishments, material possessions, travel wishes, physical milestones, etc.  For the past several years, I have used vision boards to illustrate a value or concept that I believe God is emphasizing in my life at that time.  As we take this journey together, you decide how you want to use the process.  Is there a physical activity you want to train for? A goal you want to reach for at work? A place you want to visit?  A value or characteristic you want to cultivate in your life?  I will encourage you to distill the desires of your heart down to what is stable – what endures despite the unpredictability of our world.

Each week in November, I will post prompting questions on Facebook and Instagram, to help you tune in to where your heart is now and what matters most to you moving into the new year.  I will offer general prompts as well as additional questions that invite a faith perspective to the process if that is of interest to you. Use these prompts to journal and reflect, building a vision that is authentic to you but durable in the face of uncertainty.  These posts will show up in our stories as well as timeline on both platforms.  On Instagram, I’ll create a Vision highlight for our stories so that this can be used anytime in the future.

In early December, I may host vision-boarding events, online or in person, (depending on interest), where we will make our boards together.

Living on the other side

Wondering what it takes to actually live the life you’ve dreamed of?  

What do you need to know before you take the leap into living your life differently?

The promised land, where your new story begins…

I have written here about the general arc of therapy we follow.  We have offered tips for maximizing each stage of therapy and we have written specifically about Phase Two – the grieving process.  Today, I want to write about the final phase of therapy – activating the true self you have discovered and walking in your new story.  

I have referred to the grieving phase as “the land between”, but embarking on this final phase of therapy is also a transitional season in a different way: A twilight zone between what you have deconstructed and completion of what you are constructing.  Anyone who has had a house built understands that it is a PROCESS!  One of fits and starts…which may find you living in temporary digs until the new house is ready.  Despite the best blueprints, some things just can’t be understood until you see the pieces in place and you may realize, that’s not what I thought it would be.  Back to the drawing board you go to choose a different faucet or refrigerator.  The whole thing takes time with all sorts of surprise obstacles, but perseverance leaves you with the home of your dreams.  

Moving from one house to another always illuminates your possessions in a fresh way, causing you to question why on earth you’ve kept certain things all these years.  Some beloved objects have to be released because they simply will not function or fit in the new home.  If you are living in temporary quarters, you are surrounded by the chaos of missing vital belongings that are in storage and not being able to permanently settle what you were able to keep with you.  Likewise, here are the discomforts that come with leaving behind the life you deconstructed:

  • Most of the relationships you had before therapy were chosen from the adaptive self you are shedding.  Hanging out with friends will often leave you wondering why on earth you tolerated the behaviors, talk and ways of thinking that you now see with clearer eyes.  You may find yourself regularly irritated by family members who operate out of the dysfunctional patterns you now recognize.  Bitterness and resentment become dragons requiring daily battle.   
  • These folks from your old life are used to the adaptive self you crafted and may not know what to do with who you are becoming.  They may not even like your true self, especially if you are no longer willing to offer what they used to get from you!  That rejection truly stings…
  • This season of therapy can be very lonely as you find yourself distancing from those who operate under your old rules, but you have not yet built healthy replacement relationships.  It can be incredibly tempting to return to aspects of the old adaptive self in the face of this loneliness.  Some fade out of the therapy process at this point but they cannot unknow what they have learned, making their compromise existence a cruel game.  
  • You may realize the job or career you are in is not a good fit for you.  Perhaps your job is actually a toxic environment.  Maybe the career field you spent thousands of dollars to prepare for will never align with what you now understand to be your strengths and what brings you fulfillment and joy.  Again, the decisions you made about work came from the adaptive self you are retiring, leaving you in a situation that is no longer workable.  
  • The old adaptive self is one you mastered.  You know how it works.  Saying no to the familiar is extremely difficult.   

Living in transition and setting up your new “home” comes with many challenges.  Temporarily crashing in someone else’s space is inconvenient, humbling and disorderly.  Even after you’ve moved to your new place, there’s usually a stage of, “I’ve made a terrible mistake – why did I move here?” before you start meeting neighbors and finding new favorite restaurants and local activities to love.  It’s the same when the rubber of therapy meets the road of life:

  • The new ways of thinking and behaving that will take you in the direction you want to go will feel awkward and clumsy.  Very quickly, you begin to wonder if you can really pull this new story off as you move toward new friendships, romance, faith, calling, etc.  
  • When our brains have been normed to the stimulation of dysfunctional life patterns, healthy people and activities will feel boring at best, downright unattractive at worst.  It takes time to rewire the brain to enjoy this new existence.  
  • You must retrain the people in your life, how to interact with you.  This takes work and will not likely be well received.  Conflicts will arise.  A few will make it through this process, many will fade away or depart in a fiery blaze.  Are we willing to let go of those who cannot steward well, who we are becoming?   
  • For all of these reasons, embracing the true self is terrifying.  Offering a committed “YES” to that which is true of you demands Courage with a capital C.  Remember, courage is not the absence of fear, it is feeling the fear and moving forward anyway.  That is the very definition of Phase Three therapy at Phenix!    

Many people assume that once they have done the work of deconstruction and grieving, they need only find healthy people who have also done their work and relationships will be easy-peasy.  Unfortunately, that is not the case at all.  Healthy relationships between mature individuals take work but I can promise that it is fulfilling work.  Forcing dysfunctional relationships to run is devastating work.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather do the fulfilling work of assessing acquaintances for core relational competencies, learning and teaching about the nuances of each others’ personalities, building trust, and allowing others to meet our appropriate needs as we meet theirs.  (Many clients find relying on others one of the most difficult steps to master.)   

Then there is an aspect of this phase that I don’t think we talk about enough: It is one thing to intellectually assent to what was lost or never provided.  It is another thing altogether to experience life as it should be – the dynamics you didn’t have before.  Such experiential understanding ushers in a new level of grieving.  This is a surreal, dual experience: moving forward in building the new story while simultaneously holding space for the sadness that comes with truly understanding what you were missing.  

The foundational principle to establishing the new “home”, the true self, the new story, is the fact that commitment and action precedes emotion.  You will not feel like doing the things that need to be done.  Yet, we do not advocate a “fake it till you make it” approach.  It’s not about bumbling around, creating a new adaptive self in hopes of getting what you want.  It is about tuning in to what is true about you and aligning your actions with that truth versus the lies your old self believed.  It’s mindfully walking in truth until your brain, body and soul have enough experience to actually believe it.  It is one of the scariest processes you will ever undertake in life.  Courage will be required in Costco-sized amounts but the payoff is worth it, just like that dream house we get to live in when the moving truck pulls away, the boxes are unpacked and the interior design has been fully executed.  All those months of planning, crisis response, expense, letting go, cleaning, organizing, learning, choosing and moving are absolutely worth all the trouble!     

Unplugged

What happens when you unplug?

Is it really worth the hassle?

Great things happen and YES, it is absolutely worth it!

Tree illustrating the plethora of social media options

Our last post gave a status report of overload that we knew would be unwise to ignore.  We decided to take a more aggressive approach and disconnect completely from the noise.  We did not have a time frame going in but within a few days, we both sensed that it would be for the majority of June.  So what happened?  What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

First of all, stepping away was actually easier than I expected.  I logged out of every app on my phone that would give me information and closed the tabs I keep open on my laptop.  Just this step was enough to retrain me every time I automatically clicked an icon.  I’ve done this in shorter bursts before so I knew what worked for me.  My husband deleted apps completely so different strategies work for different persons.  I made sure to line up the things I would do instead: books, art supplies, and coloring books.

I think the biggest benefit I experienced personally was the quieting of my brain.  (Justin will share his experience by video on our IG account.)  A couple of weeks in, I stopped and noticed that I hadn’t even realized how much of a constant buzz was happening in my brain at all times before the disconnect.  It’s hard to explain but my brain physically felt relaxed, like a muscle at rest.  This translated into a greater ability to be present in conversations, and a greatly reduced feeling of stress.  Unplugging has been called a “reboot for the brain” and I understand what they mean now!

The other major benefit was the opening up of space to do things I missed: reading, art and spending time outside.  To the several books I had in my TBR pile, I added Almost Amish as a way to engage this technology disconnect even more.  (A great read actually if you are wanting to pursue a simpler lifestyle in the modern world.)  I went on more walks with Justin, we enjoyed more conversations and I am convinced that the additional space I opened is the main reason I gained as much spiritual insight into current concerns as I did.  It’s amazing how much you can hear in your spirit when you create quiet.  I didn’t set out to do a gratitude practice but I have noticed us taking inventory more frequently of what we have to be thankful for.

As June came to a close, I found myself not looking forward to returning to contact with the outside world.  My hard-won peace was something I did NOT want to give up but I knew that I had to find a way to engage the world for the benefit of my work.  In the process of helping a client with her technology struggles, I discovered more about iPhones’ new focus features and I spent the last few days of the month setting up app limits.  That felt comforting for a little while but I still dreaded the onslaught of commentary on what I tangentially knew were a plethora of social ills and global shenanigans.  I have carefully chosen voices I follow on Instagram who do a great job of discussing the things I care about but I knew I was not ready for a sudden dive back into the deep end of the pool.  I actually missed them as people I’ve grown to like and appreciate but did not know if I was ready for their passionate content.  Then, I had an idea: create a new IG account specifically for these folks and follow them only from that account.  In this way, I could log in and consume that content on a schedule I determined versus having it mixed in with the fun, laughs and love that I enjoy on that app.  Starting last Friday, I checked my messages and notifications in the apps, finding myself with zero desire to scroll the feeds.  We shall see how I transition back but for now, I hope I retain this disconnect from the dopamine loop that technology creates.  I’m leaning more toward Pinterest, Wordscapes and funny YouTube videos for entertainment and hoping that app limits keep reading front and center.

How are you managing global overload?  Let’s crowd-source solutions so we all benefit!

Global Overload

Are you feeling out of sorts?

Does the word “tired” not quite capture the state you’ve been in for too long?

Are you finding that your old-reliable strategies aren’t working to boost your functioning?

In April, I wrote a post about rest.  It was a recounting of strategies we had actually used to give ourselves the opportunity to recharge and be renewed.  While we enjoyed some immediate benefits from those efforts, we quickly found ourselves depleted once again but not in the usual way.  We are well familiar with all the symptoms and signs of burnout: anxiety, headaches, poor sleep, cynicism, etc.  Those are not our experience.  Instead, it has been this indescribable mental exhaustion that persists despite all of our diligence around sleep hygiene, gentle nutrition, movement and sabbath.  We are committed to walking the talk, so we have been leaning into the strategies we teach our clients.  While we are grateful to be doing fairly well overall, we fully recognized that we are not functioning optimally…we are regularly dipping into our reserves and at some point, would find our “account” overdrawn.

Does this sound familiar?  Do you feel like you’re doing OK considering, but wonder how much longer you can coast on your reserves? 

We have been discussing this for quite a few weeks because we see this happening with our clients and friends as well.  When we stop and think, the reality is that the past two and a half years have been one sucker punch after another: raging fires, global protests, pandemic, climate change disasters, race-based traumas, political depravity, migration crises, supply chain failures, global war, inflation and the mass murder of children in our own country.  Those are just the low lights…so much more is happening every.single.day.  It is RELENTLESS and therein lies the problem.

The brain’s number one job is survival and a main component of that is scanning for and responding to threat.  Our brains have been in perpetual response mode since March of 2020.  Every single person in our world has daily faced some level of threat – whether from health concerns, financial instability, race-based stressors, or potential violence.  Not only that, but many of us are living with a high level of uncertainty regarding the future which can feel threatening in and of itself.  For those of us who own our own businesses, the usual marketing strategies are no longer effective, learning the details of social media content is a full time job, shortages and inflation make it impossible to plan and execute both in the short term and certainly in the long term.  All of this requires the brain to activate and maintain response systems that were never meant to stay online long term, yet here we are…still having to pump out cortisol and stay vigilant over 700 days later, each day awakening to a fresh reminder of just how unstable our world has become.

This is not sustainable.

Feeling unsafe or “untethered” as I call it taps into so many soul triggers.  Depending on our life stories, we struggle with the lack of control, lack of connection, and crumbling foundations we have previously rested upon.  We may find ourselves having to re-establish our safe base: that person, place or thing we rely on to ground us.  We are having to develop more intensive strategies for soothing our inner child, giving voice to our adolescent selves, and silencing our critical voice.  How do we build up a loving adult self who faces life with wisdom, courage and confidence when the world is metaphorically on fire around us? 

Personally, we have had to lean in to our spirituality in unprecedented ways!  Faith, hope and love take on earthier, more intense and tangible meanings when they are the only steadfast factors left.  One thing that has struck us in our scripture study is the extended period of time that civilizations would endure turmoil.  Over and over in the Old Testament, we see invaders or evil kings wreaking havoc for years and years – it wasn’t unusual for trials to go on for 40 years!  In modern times, we are trained to expect things to resolve in a few weeks, if not days.  Psychologically, we haven’t had to build the mental and spiritual muscles it takes to find internal stability in the midst of prolonged chaos.  That is where we have decided to focus our efforts.  While it may not be comforting to read stories of long-term tribulations in the bible or any history book, I do take comfort in the fact that humanity has overcome so much and God has sustained and redeemed far worse than we are seeing today.

There is one significant difference for modern times however, that we must take into account.  It was summarized well by Nadia Bolz-Weber last year:

It is this insight that informs our next step in the process of establishing internal stability: disconnecting from the global chaos and focusing solely on our village.  Beginning on June 1st, Justin and I will be working to remove ourselves from the fray for a season.  We are not sure how long is needed.  We are not sure what the disconnect looks like exactly.  What we do know is that it begins with logging out of phone apps and minimizing time on electronics.  What that looks like to our audience is quiet on our platforms: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, blog, etc. Thankfully, we’ve built up a LOT of content in the past two years so there’s plenty there for you to check out and benefit from.

As psychotherapists, it is our responsibility to lead the way when it comes to mental, emotional and spiritual health so we are committed to doing the work of building the muscles needed to face the current task.  This gives us more to offer in our sessions with clients and as we figure out how to reconnect, we will share what we have learned.  It is our hope that this post sparks your own thoughts about reasonable expectations for yourself and what steps you need to take to thrive in this marathon we didn’t sign up for.  Give yourself grace and compassion – wherever you are emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually.  We were not built for all of this so extreme measures will be required to move through it well.

Stay tuned…

 

 

Rest times seven

Isn’t rest simply sitting still or sleeping?

Have you found yourself sleeping or being still a lot but feeling more exhausted than ever?

Maybe the rest you’re getting isn’t the kind of rest you need!

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am fascinated with the biblical significance of numbers. It is well known by many in the Christian faith that the number seven represents completeness and perfection. Couple that factor with our recent focus on the body/soul/spirit depletion rampant in our society right now and it makes sense why the IG post shown here grabbed my attention!

The timing was perfect as we had decided, only days prior, to take some time off and I was in the midst of trying to plan that week away to be most replenishing. From the other side of that week off, I want to share how I used this information in hopes that practical examples help you apply this insight to your own life…

Step One: Make the decision to stop.  No matter what kind of rest we will discuss – all of it requires that we stop what we are doing.  As a small business owner, that is particularly difficult because we do not have a guaranteed salary.  If we aren’t seeing clients, we are not earning income.  With recent financial punches fresh in our memories, it didn’t seem possible to step away for a week but we knew that if we failed to walk our talk, not only would we pay a price far greater than money but our clients would be negatively affected as well.  We’re not advocating reckless abandon.  We simply know that we must count every cost: health, sanity, relational and functional – not just financial.

Step Two: Planning.  What I am about to share did not happen automatically.  I was already working on the details of our time off but when I saw this post, I ran with it to help ensure that our time would generate maximum benefit.

Physical – I chose several restorative yoga moves shown to address exhaustion and began with a 20 minute Savasana on the eve of our first day off.  I slept in that next day and made it my goal to stay in bed as much as possible all day.  I had already planned out my nutrition for the day so it was easy for me to get my meals and go back to lying down.  I ended the night with a full yoga practice and for the rest of the week, I ended each day with an extended restorative pose before getting into bed on time.

Mental – I logged out of all my social media accounts so that I could give my brain a break from all that is wrong with the world.  I committed one day to completing work tasks that had been plaguing me undone for weeks.  I picked up books I haven’t had time to read – giving me a chance to enjoy learning new concepts for my work as well as diving into fiction I love.  Throughout the week, I tuned into the playlists I already have.  During my nightly restorative pose, I used a beautiful bilateral worship music album.  Bilateral techniques are used to help heal our brains that have been wounded by the stresses and trauma of life.

Emotional – If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you know that we talk about grieving a lot.  It is a vital component of our response to the challenges and changes of life, but is a process we are not typically taught how to move through.  We made a commitment during this week off to utilize the same strategies that we teach our clients – focusing on the losses of the past two years.  Since Justin and I spent this time together, we were able to process our experiences with each other.  Another option is to schedule time with a friend, therapist or mentor who holds space well for your thoughts and feelings.

Social – The goal here is balance.  If you spend a majority of your time alone, then rest would entail spending more time around life-giving others.  As therapists, we spend the majority of our time interacting with others so we chose to spend our time alone.  Even as a couple, we spent a good bit of our week off in separate areas of the house.

Creative – I regularly keep an art journal so creativity and play is already an important part of my life.  I had grand plans for painting one of the many blank canvases I have piled up but I ended up just coloring in pages with my watercolor brush pens.  It was about play, not creative productivity.

Spiritual – We chose to spend a couple of days at St Leo Abbey which turned out to be the best decision of our time off.  Staying in their guest house places you in an atmosphere of quiet reflection.  We took the option of joining a couple of their prayer services where the Benedictine monks sing the psalms as prayers and ate meals with the brothers who live there.  This is where we leaned in to our grief work, making it a painful but deeply healing time.  Being away from home allowed us to truly focus internally and connect with God in ways we struggle to do in the every day.  The Abbey also has beautiful grounds on which to wander and commune with nature.

Sensory –  It is amazing how logging off all the “apps” automatically creates quiet.  I log out of everything on my phone because it is such an ingrained habit to tap on icons.  When I take this automatic action, I am faced with login prompts which immediately remind me, “I’m not doing this right now”.  Each time this happened, it was a reminder to simply sit in quiet and ask myself what I was looking for.  What do I need in this moment?  We also spent a quiet day in what I call our “happy place” – Bok Tower Gardens.  We have a membership which makes it an easy decision to go.  This membership also gives us free or significantly discounted access to gardens and museums around the country.

Did this week solve all of our problems and give us endless energy?  No.  The world, with all it’s ills, was there all along but we return to our work with mental, emotional and physical energy restored.  Our warning lights had come on and now we are able to get back on the road without alarm bells ringing.  We will take what we’ve learned about rest, forward into better management of ourselves as well as into our work with clients.

Hopefully, these thoughts give you ideas for identifying the type of rest you actually need and ways in which you can access it.  You don’t have to take a week – start small…even five minutes dedicated to a specific type of rest is a gift your body, soul and spirit will benefit from!

Couples Therapy

Are you wondering if your relationship would benefit from therapy?

Trouble in relationships is not uncommon.  The pressures of the last couple of years, on top of the usual conflicts in any relationship, have sent many couples in search of assistance to address concerns.  Thankfully, the research on couples’ counseling shows much greater satisfaction with the assistance received these days versus just a few decades ago.  Add to that, a declining divorce rate in the US over the last decade, and we have a much more hopeful picture for relationships than we are generally led to believe.

Here at Phenix, we approach couples’ work differently than most practices.  We have many reasons for our approach:

1)Our mission focuses on deep transformation, not just problem-solving.  Studies show that couples can gain vital relationship skills and work on their group dynamic fairly quickly when attending therapy together – leading to increased satisfaction and less conflict.  However, what we are finding is that over time – unresolved issues within the individuals cause the couple to slip back into dysfunctional patterns, leaving them feeling hopeless and frustrated.

2) A major concern in the field of marriage and family counseling is the issue of abusive relationships.  Ethics codes for all types of therapists have been clarified in recent years to explicitly discourage couples’ therapy with relationships that include domestic violence.  Unfortunately, when couples attend sessions together, it can be difficult to detect and/or safely confront domestic violence, leaving the therapist contributing to the dangerous situation!

3) Research from John Gottman tells us the average couple waits six years after trouble begins to seek counseling.  When there is such significant lag time between onset and therapy, relational safety is most likely compromised, making openness and honesty in the therapy space together extremely difficult.  Dysfunctional habits can be so deeply ingrained that sessions become focused on simply refereeing these damaging behaviors versus the deep transformation required to create a healthy, connected relationship.  So often, we have sat with individuals wounded by past trauma or whose childhoods were devoid of relational role models, leaving them ill equipped to build a healthy relationship despite the best of intentions.  Imagine two electricians showing up to install an electrical system in a new build but they are missing their tools.  They have the skill and the knowledge – as soon as they get the proper tools, they’re ready to accomplish the goal.  Now imagine two well-meaning souls showing up to a job site for the same task when they’ve never been trained or they have a traumatic history with electricity that has not been adequately addressed.  Each person would need to attend specialized training and obtain supervised experience in order to come together to get the job done.

Overall, we have come to discover that the most efficient approach which fits our transformative style is to work with each person individually first before moving into couples’ work.  We address the underlying dynamics that attracted each person to the relational style they are in as well as the root issues which keep them participating (actively or passively) in the dysfunctional dance that brought them to therapy.  It’s both partners taking ownership and doing the hard work of unpacking their story, grieving their losses, building their loving adult selves and acquiring the needed relational tools, to build the deeply fulfilling relationship they long for. 

Not everyone wants that.  Some are perfectly happy with learning how to reduce conflict and maintain a mutually beneficial life partnership that does not demand excessive levels of vulnerability and intimacy.  That is a perfectly viable option!  Once you know what outcome you want, you can make an informed choice of therapist.

Now that you understand the options, if you are interested in the path of personal transformation that leads to deeply connected and fulfilling relationship, you’re in the right place.  Individuals can each work with the same therapist or with different therapists in the practice.  Confidentiality is maintained in this initial stage for each individual.  Along the way, sessions may occasionally involve both parties when a partner is beneficial to addressing an individual’s growth.  At a collaboratively decided point, individuals are ready to transition to couple-focused work.  They will be given full disclosure of the changes in therapeutic relationship (primarily the switch from individual confidentiality to shared confidentiality) so that they can make decisions about therapy which feel most comfortable to them.

In any case, it all starts with a free consult to ensure that we are the best fit for your needs so contact us today to get started!

Parenting Challenges

Are you worried about your child/teen?  Has their behavior changed?  Have they withdrawn from the family or even their peers?

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of stressors for kids and teens today – a sampling includes:

  • An overburdened school system inadequate to meet the individual needs of each child.
  • Declining empathy skills leading to ever-intensifying forms of bullying.
  • Family changes: divorce, separation, blended families.
  • Chronic illness within the family.
  • Too many activities.
  • Unstable living situations – frequent moves or school changes.
  • Negative self concept in comparison to social media.
  • Confusing messages about identity development.

It is no surprise then, that the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.  Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.  But here is the most important fact for parents to pay attention to: the majority of people who die by suicide did not have a known mental health condition The truth is – if you are human, you will face mental health difficulties at some point.  It is no different than our physical health – none of us reach the end without experiencing some form of illness in our lifetimes, even if it is just a cold.  What makes us think mental health is any different?  We must honestly assess ourselves and our children for signs of mental/emotional distress.

There are two pillars which ground our work at Phenix when taking on a teen or child client:

Pillar 1 – Life gets hard for all of us at some point so therapy is a vital component of health care – no different than the dentist or the pediatrician.  Our children and teens are facing a world for which we adults have few answers.  The pressures they face are alien to our experiences.  Our parents raised us under completely different circumstances so they may not understand the challenges you deal with as a parent.  If you are feeling isolated and confused in your parenting journey – you are not alone!

Pillar 2 – If you are familiar with Phenix, then you know that we work from a relational theoretical orientation: we believe that the problems we face are always rooted in relationship – relationship with self and others.  Relationship is the context within which healing takes place.  Even when working with adult individuals, we are always mindful of that person’s primary relationships and how they may be affected by the work we are doing in therapy.  All the more relevant is this principle when working with an underage client who is literally dependent upon adults for most aspects of their lives.

Based on these two pillars, we have a unique policy when taking on a child/teen client: We will not work with just the child.  If a parent wants to bring their child or teen to Phenix for help, then at least one caregiver must be willing to engage their own therapy as well.  This is not rooted in blame – very often, the challenges that kids face have external sources.  However, a child’s mental health correlates with the parents’.  As leaders in the family, in control of all available resources, parents hold all the power to facilitate health in the home.  Our relational approach does not align with “dropping” a child off for therapy and expecting significant change without parental involvement.  We expect that at least one primary caregiver (preferably all) will engage an individual process of examining their own biases, beliefs, coping tools and relational style – working toward the deep, transformative change that realigns the very atmosphere in the home.  This kind of work often uncovers past hurts and traumas which would be inappropriate to address in family sessions.  Additionally, the struggles and pains of parenting often trigger underlying personal issues.  We provide a safe space for parents to receive the confidential support they so richly deserve!

With multiple therapists in the practice – parents can choose their own therapist for their individual work, or they can work with the same therapist as their child/teen.  In all cases, parent therapy is confidential and we ask parents to allow us a level of privacy with the child/teen for their individual sessions.  We must establish a trust-based working alliance with the teen/child if they are to open up in therapy.  Of course, we address any issues of harm with parents.  We work with the parent/s and child to design a rotation of individual and family sessions that fit schedules and financial resources.  The plan makes room for working with each individual on their own therapeutic goals, as well as parent coaching sessions and family sessions where communal issues are addressed.  If at all possible, we look for ways to include siblings in the process, as they often have helpful perspectives and need to build buy-in to whatever changes are taking place in the family system.  Holding space for individual confidentiality and family work is a complex skill that not every therapist is comfortable with.  We are well aware of the complexity of this approach and continually assess our bracketing skills and therapeutic methods – watching for situations where the dynamics require the parent work with a therapist outside our practice.

Some parents bring their child or teen to therapy because they are already working with their own therapist and want similar benefits for their child.  That is always exciting, as the parent is already on the path to personal transformation!  In that case, we establish a release of information between our practice and their therapist so that observations can be shared with the parent’s therapist and collaboration can occur between therapists for more effective parent coaching & family sessions here at Phenix.

If a teen client is aged 17 when they begin therapy with us, we do not follow this process automatically.  We obtain feedback from the teen client regarding how much involvement they want parents to have, encouraging them to identify issues their parent/s could work on in therapy.

We believe that play is the language of childhood, so we utilize creative activities when working with kids.  However, there are limitations to online play, so we generally do not work with younger children.  We have no age requirement – every child is different so we collaboratively determine what will work when we conduct the free consult initial session. Clearly, our process demands a high level of commitment.  This aligns with our mission for transformation, rebirth and purpose which is never available without commitment.  There is a place for acute problem-solving approaches in certain seasons of life so we are not the practice for every family and that is completely fine.  That said – if your family is ready to dig in to a process of lifelong transformation; if you are ready to break generational traumas; if you are ready to walk in purpose – reach out to us via call, text, email or the contact form here on the website!

Maximizing Therapy

Person engaging in teletherapy

Have you wondered why excellent therapy can seem expensive?

Do you want to get the most out of the therapy process?

By the time a new therapist graduates from their masters program, they have spent more than 600 hours in graduate level classrooms taking courses dedicated to the art of helping people with life problems.  They have sweated almost 2000 hours on homework and completed 1000 hours of supervised internship.  All at a price tag of over $35,000 (minimum).  Upon graduation, they must work under supervision for at least two years, complete an additional 1500 hours of client service and pass a national competency exam.  When you show up in a therapist’s office, or log on to their teletherapy platform, you are meeting with a highly trained clinician who is there to help you reach your mental, emotional, and relational health goals.

Therapy is an investment in your future.  Since insurance companies will not cover therapy for life issues (there must be a mental health diagnosis), many pay for this vital care out-of-pocket.  Even with support for the cost, there is a significant investment of time establishing rapport with a therapist and digging in to the work.  With that in mind, here are tips for getting the most bang for your ‘buck’!

At Phenix, we generally follow a steady arc in therapy: establishing safety, deconstruction of the old story (how did we get here?), grieving and then constructing the new story.  We’ll look at tips for each stage but before we go there, here’s a foundational principle:

Recognize that therapy is just one hour out of 168 or one hour out of 336 if sessions are biweekly!  Clearly, a lifetime of thinking and behaving a certain way will not be fixed in such short bursts.  That means we must be ready to dedicate time outside of sessions to working on ourselves.

Establishing Safety –

  • Now is the time to be ruthless in clearing off your ‘plate’: Respectfully withdraw from commitments you don’t absolutely have to participate in.  Notify your friends and family that you will not be as available as before.  Setting boundaries poorly may be why you’ve come to therapy so this is a tough one.  Make short term changes (like putting off involvement in something for a few weeks instead of saying “no” all together) which will buy you time to build the muscles you’ll need for more sustainable transformation.
  • Focus on the basics: sleep, nutrition and movement.  Again, the point of therapy may be to get better at self care so take baby steps for now.  Try to get to bed at a consistent time, decide what you need to add to your diet (not take away) to feel good and find movement you actually enjoy – even if it is just for 10 minutes.
  • Be honest with your therapist.  Now is the time to share your concerns so that you can establish a strong working alliance.  They are your guides on what will be a difficult journey at times.  It is important you establish trust in their expertise and skill.
  • Try out the coping skills you and your therapist discuss so that you can determine what works for you and what doesn’t.  You don’t want to wait until you are in the thick of the process to figure this out.  Everybody is different and the possibilities are endless, so there is no substitute for testing things out.

Deconstruction of the old story –

  • Spend time between sessions reflecting on what you have discussed.  Your therapy hour is just the beginning of making sense of your story and connecting the dots as to why you think and/or behave the way you do.
  • Review the material your therapist gives you (books, podcasts, videos, etc.).  This is part of the process for understanding how you got to where you are.

Grieving –

  • Lean in to the discomfort.  This stage takes courage.  This is the stage when clients most often resist the therapist.  Despite the strong alliance they have built and the trust that has been established, all of a sudden, “maybe my therapist isn’t so great after all.  Why are they torturing me with this work?”  Trust the process, it will be worth it!
  • Avoid working on your process after dinnertime each day.  The end of your day should be spent winding down, not opening up Pandora’s box of emotion.
  • Experiment until you find a rhythm of self work time that works for you.  Perhaps a one-and-done session each week when everyone knows not to disturb you or maybe 20 minutes each morning.  It doesn’t matter the format – what matters most is consistency.

Constructing the new story –

  • This stage is about literally rewiring the brain.  That means your efforts will feel awkward and counter-intuitive and that is OK.
  • Your sessions will involve either learning new skills that you will need to cultivate on your own or generating plans for handling situations differently than you have before.  It’s all about action at this point so remind yourself constantly that different results demand different strategies.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  Practice makes progress.  Commit to take one baby step forward each day.  Nothing changes by coming to therapy and talking about it.  It changes when you leave the session and do things differently.  Therapy helps you break this down into manageable baby steps and strategize the most effective changes.

An excellent auto mechanic can easily garner upwards of $100 per hour to fix our cars.  We would consider it foolish to pay for their expertise, then do nothing to maintain the vehicle or prevent further issues.  Our health is far more valuable than our cars so we hope that this post inspires you to invest in yourself and maximize that investment for the best return!

 

 

Grief – The land between…

Do you wish there was an instant switch from insight to doing life differently? 

Have you ever been stuck in the transition between dysfunction and learning how to live in a new way? 

Back in 2015, I heard Jeff Manion speak on his new book, The Land Between.  I purchased the book at that conference and have referred to his thoughts many times since as I have passed through various transitions.  In therapy at Phenix, we walk our clients through a grieving process after we have deconstructed their story.  As I would explain the process to my clients, I caught myself using that phrase, “the land between” to help them understand where they are in the process.  It finally occurred to me to return to Jeff’s material to see if there were any specific concepts that I could adapt specifically to this grieving process.

Jeff uses the bible story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and the time they spent in the wilderness as the metaphor for his book.  Often, clients come to us because they are ready to leave their Egypt.  As we unpack the story of how they got there, they become more and more convinced that they are done with the dysfunctions of their past.  Treatment planning involves painting the picture of their “promised land” where healthy relationships, living in their calling, pursuing a career they love, intimacy with God, healed mental struggles, strong emotion management or physical ease reigns.  Problem is, a vast wilderness exists between Egypt and the Promised Land and the journey is not linear!

Not only do we need to learn the skills required to thrive in the promised land, we first need to release the waste products of our Egypt.  That is grieving.  The wilderness is necessary.  It is the place we shed our identity as slaves to our family of origin and position ourselves to live as our true selves.  Just like the Israelites…if we skip over the process, we may find ourselves languishing in the wilderness far longer than needed.  As much as grief sounds like the root canal we want to avoid, sustainable living in the promised land demands we move through it.  So, buckle up and let’s review some guiding principles for the journey:

  • Our season of grief is fertile soil for meltdown.  It is likely the main reason why most of us avoid it.  The thought of allowing emotions to emerge can feel too intimidating:  What do we do with the emotions we experience?  What will happen if I express them?  What if they consume me and I can’t function?  Those are the concerns we face together and we equip you with the tools you will need to sit with and actually benefit from, your emotions.
  • Grief is also fertile soil for complaint.  Let’s define that term.  It is not lament – which is pouring out our heart’s emotions.  Complaint is judgement against God, it is implying (or flat out stating), that we were/are better off without God.  Thankfully, God is strong enough to handle our complaints and we specifically hold space for that in therapy if desired.  For those who don’t subscribe to a Higher Power, it is judgment against life itself and the order of things – however we make sense of it.  Complaint resists eviction which is why most of us require assistance for moving it out.
  • Opening hands to release the past makes space for provision.  In therapy, provision looks like mental and emotional space for the new story.  It looks like the skills and mindset needed to enter the promised land.  As we release the self criticism, bitterness, fear and guilt of our old story, provision can look like contentment and strength.
  • Our informed consent disclosure details the risks of therapy – that classic dilemma of, “be careful what you ask for”.  One of those risks is the fact that grieving reveals our own shadow selves, inviting discipline in those areas.  This is often a painful process but it is also a rescue mission, a course correction that calibrates our compass toward our true selves…our purpose.
  • The hope of grief work is transformational growth.  It is the soil God uses to grow the things our hearts desire.  Grieving is the soil for learning to trust because trust is required for thriving in the promised land.  Trust of self, trust of healthy others, trust of God.  Trust pushes out complaint.  It evicts the lifestyle of victimhood.

So whether you need to grieve a death or the losses you’ve identified in therapy, don’t skip the process.  Seek out a wilderness guide (counselor) to help you make the most of the journey.  If you live anywhere in FL, reach out to us!