Power, Contact, and Transformation Through Radical Psychotherapy

Power, Contact, and Transformation Through Radical Psychotherapy

One of the most important and meaningful things in my work is making contact with each of my clients. Without relational contact, whatever work my clients and I do together becomes irrelevant, indigestible, insoluble, and fragmented, which can be traumatizing, re-activating, and particularly harmful on micro and macro levels. That’s not to say rifts and miscommunications don’t happen, even when we are aiming for contact. In fact, that’s often the life blood of our work together, as these inevitable rifts let us know that something is feeling missed inside of you, and therefore there is something that needs to be found and contacted.

So how can you and I make contact, even when you may be feeling an intuitive skepticism and mistrust of what I represent, or even what the vulnerability of emotional contact represents?

I think it has a lot to do with how both of us understand, and can speak to, power, privilege, and hegemony. If I don’t recognize and own my power in the therapeutic dyad, then it is more likely to be misused or enacted without resolution.

In service of a truly transformative experience for my clients and society at large, I aim to stay alive and awake in my radicalism even while maintaining a kind of therapeutic neutrality that is important to my work.

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Looking behind, looking ahead.

Looking behind, looking ahead.

The new year explodes with expectation, hope, pain and regret, and wishes for the future- a chance to "erase" the problems of our past year and move on. But without making space for reflection and an honest look at our accomplishments and mistakes, we can become prisoners to our own rigid expectations.

There are ways to remain focused, yet flexible.

You can turn your attention to what you already love about yourself, and want to love more about yourself. This doesn't mean ignoring your pain, but it does mean making room for all of you.

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What's in (and under) a diagnosis?

Have you ever experienced the world as chaotic and unpredictable? When we are children, it is: when we are born, we are completely dependent on a world over which we have no control. We learn over time to navigate this world, and develop agency and accomplishment as we grow into our bodies and our brains. If any of this is thwarted or impeded- either, the capacity for making meaning of our world, or the capacity to live as fully ourselves rather than projections of our parents (as in developmental trauma) and society (as in racism and poverty) and all of this unprocessed grief and pain- we do not get to fully experience ourselves and live our own lives. We take on what Winnicott has called a “false self” and live with what Atwood calls “the ghost of the interrupted life.” This is one of the grains of sand at the root of pathology and disorder.

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Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts

There is something about intention setting and new year reflections that requests a video blog in addition to a written piece. In this video, I talk about getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings, about reflections, and about creating space within yourself for light, warmth, and manifesting your own creative spirit. Just like in a written blog, these prompts I offer are meant as starting points for a deeper process with your therapist, mentor, community, or spiritual guide to help you understand where your creative self can flourish and how you may be holding yourself back from what’s right for you in your life.

In case you are unable to play the video, here is a synopsis, including the prompts:

Reflections can be done at any significant moment in your life, including the New Year, either solstice, birthdays, or – a very profound experience – on death days. When someone who has been a guide or mentor to you has passed, it can be very meaningful to reflect on your year with that person’s wisdom in mind. They can help you see what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed, and perhaps offer a redirect for you as well, if that’s something you’re looking for.

For this exercise, get comfortable and give yourself enough space mentally and obligation-wise to focus on journaling. Grab a pillow, blanket, cup of tea—and a candle (if you have one), matches, and a pen and paper. We will be doing a bit of journaling right now.

Light your candle, get situated, and get ready to write!

First prompt: What are 10 events or situations that have been significant to you in the past year? People you’ve met or lost, relationships, events, lessons, anything that stands out to you as a growth point. Whatever comes to your mind is probably what can go on this list, as well as things you remember later on, spurred by this exercise. Give each person/event/experience its own line, and spend time meditating on what was significant about them for you.

Second prompt: What would you like to see manifest in the new year? What wish, vision, and intention is inside of you itching to be set free and come alive? What would you like to create in the coming year? When you find yourself sitting here, this time next year—what goes on that “10 Significant Situations” list?

Third prompt: What limits you? What do you feel is holding you back? What would you be doing if you felt like you were good enough and capable enough? Where can you offer more love, gratitude, patience, and compassion for yourself? What do you need in your life to help you manifest the wishes and dreams that you discovered in the second prompt? **I would add here, which I neglected in the video: In addition to working on offering love, gratitude, and compassion to yourself, where can you offer this to the world and your community? How can you help your community flourish and manifest the visions that benefit us all? This is by no means exclusive of growing, cherishing, and developing yourself. These go hand-in-hand.

Life is full of surprises. We spend so much of our life dealing with what is right in front of us, and it can be challenging to find time for reflection. You have chosen this time, whenever it may be, to reflect and honor where you are and how you got to be here, as well as were you dream to go. In doing so, you are offering something beautiful, loving, and wonderful to yourself that will help you step into the unexpected that this new year will bring with grace and compassion.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/12/26/intention-setting-three-journal-prompts/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not purport to offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

How To Find Your Favorite Therapist

Sometimes, the hardest part of looking for a therapist is getting up the courage to call someone for the first time. You know you need to talk to someone, but who? And how do you know whether they’re the right fit for you? The truth is, relationships (even therapeutic ones) take some time to develop. Fit plays a key factor in whether you are going to feel comfortable and cared for enough to stay through the more challenging experiences of therapy, and whether the treatment will be a useful and helpful experience for you. Not to mention that in Berkeley, CA and the surrounding Bay Area, we are completely inundated with therapists, many of whom have similar specialties and theoretical orientations. This can make it a bit more time-consuming to weed through the bounty and find just the right match. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a therapist, to help you feel more confident when you make that first call. Website/Web presence. These days, most therapists have a website. Even if they don’t, there should be some kind of web presence, such as a listing on Psychology Today or a bio from a professional talk. If you don’t have a name of someone yet, search Psychology Today or GoodTherapy using some filters that best fit what you need. If you do have a name already, take a look at their website and ask yourself if the content and the style resonates with you. Is there a video you can watch? Are there articles you can read? Do you have a sense for the way this person thinks about clinical issues? What are their values? How might they approach the problem you’re bringing in to therapy? What is this person’s specialty? Would you feel comfortable telling this person the things that trouble you?

Personal referrals. If someone who knows you can personally recommend a therapist to you, chances are that the therapist will be a good fit. I still recommend doing the legwork to check out their online presence, but clients who are referred to me through friends or colleagues tend to already have a good feeling about the possibilities of our work together and have more of a sense of safety coming in the door. However, I would caution you against going to see the same therapist as a good friend of yours is seeing; there are ethical boundaries there that could potentially compromise the integrity of the therapy. I personally do not work with close friends or family members of my current or former clients, unless in the context of family therapy.

Think about what you really need, and what you already know about yourself. As you’re looking for the perfect therapist for you, think about what is likely to help you and what you are looking for. I find that journaling this out can be really helpful. Here are some questions you can think about as you’re searching, that can help you narrow down your choices. Think honestly about your answers to the following: Why am I reaching out? What might I want to get from therapy? What kind of time commitment am I willing to make? How much am I able to pay? Is it more important that I find someone on my insurance panel, or that I find a good fit quickly? Am I willing to talk with my new therapist about what I need from them? Where are they located, and how far am I willing to travel? What time of day do I need to be seen?

Email is fine—a call is better. A lot of people prefer to use email for first contact, which works well—you can get your message across thoughtfully and clearly, and it’s sometimes easier to make contact that way because it can feel like there’s less pressure. That said, I do highly recommend telephone contact for first contact, for your sake. You, as the client, can get a much better feel on the phone than on email from your potential new therapist. It might also be helpful to practice communicating what you’re looking for and setting limits in support of what you need. When you call, check in with yourself: does it feel as though the therapist hears you? Do they have time in their day to call you back? How quickly do they respond to your inquiry? Most therapists take the weekends off, but standard practice is to return calls within 24 hours. If the therapist takes much longer than that (barring weekends and holidays), you might consider looking elsewhere for your perfect fit.

When you call, check in with yourself often. You are talking to a trained professional if you’re calling a licensed MFT, LCSW, or PhD/PsyD. In addition to looking for credentials and theoretical orientation (if that matters to you, which it may or may not), you’re looking for someone whose style and presence resonates with you. Feeling connected to yourself while calling can help you decide whether you feel connected to the person you’re calling. Nerves can most certainly get in the way and fuzz up your radar if you feel anxious about meeting new people and nervous about reaching out for therapy. Try taking a few deep breaths with your feet firmly planted on the floor before you call to help center yourself. If you get a sense that the person is taking the time to really listen, chances are you have found a great fit already.

The therapeutic relationship is a vulnerable, brave, and deeply connected one. It’s essential that you feel met by your therapist, and if you don’t, that you both can talk openly about it together. If your therapist is unable to adjust to meet you where you are at, perhaps it is a sign to move on. Check in with yourself, have patience with the process, and remember that this is a journey you’re on to help you feel more alive and connected in your world, and journeys often require transitions and changes—but only when you feel ready.

(More tips on finding a therapist here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-find-a-therapist/)

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I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.

To cite this page:Merson, M. (2014) How To Find Your Favorite Therapist. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/09/28/how-to-find-your-favorite-therapist/

Asking Friends for Relationship Advice? Here's More.

Relationships are as unique and personal as the people in them. In the course of a lifetime, they are always starting, shifting, growing, retracting, and redefining themselves. Even ending a relationship leaves shadows of your former lover that can continue to touch you in the most unexpected circumstances. Given that most of us (though not all) desire relationships, we still feel like there are things we know and don’t know about what makes a relationship solid.

I polled a few people on social media for some advice from their personal experience about what makes for a kind of relationship they are willing to work for, and was fascinated by the diversity of experience, as well as the common threads. 

1. “Do not, under any circumstances, take my advice,” “Don’t do it,” and “Don’t listen to me” made me laugh, but also deeply resonated. We seem to feel that if we aren’t in the perfect relationship, or have had a history of things “not working out,” that we are less-than in terms of what we know about relating. This just isn’t true. Relationships are full of risk, and sometimes when they don’t work out we do the most learning about who we really are, if we allow ourselves to stay with the vulnerability of the feelings we have. Likewise, avoiding relationships can mean staying safe and protecting your heart, and there is nothing wrong with choosing your own safety and security over the risk of intimacy. That said, if you feel as though taking the “safer” path is causing feelings of isolation and depression, you might not actually feel as good about being alone as you think you do. This is a good time to talk to your therapist about the tension between the parts of you that want to stay “safe” and the parts of you that want to feel intimacy and connection.

2. "Be happy instead of right.” “Keep up the sex and the appreciation.” “Communicate honestly and often.” “Two things: No one else is responsible for your happiness, and never stop courting each other.” “Listen, especially when it's hard to do so.” All of these seem to speak to being grateful for and appreciative toward your partner(s). It’s said that showing gratitude and appreciation for someone else actually increases your own gratitude and appreciation for yourself. Growing your self-love while in relationship can also help you stay engaged and connected, and can help you work through disappointments when your needs are not met. 

3. "Take the time to have the uncomfortable conversations. Articulate and follow through on bettering yourself in the relationship. And maintain a healthy sex life by adhering to a GGG (Good, Giving, Game) mentality. And find someone with whom you can mutually grow and evolve.” This makes me think about how both (or all, if in a non-monogamous relationship) people need to be fully invested in the relationship to allow it to take shape and be an element of support in each person’s life. “Bettering yourself” in the relationship takes time and direct communication about what each person needs from the other, and an understanding of what’s yours to deal with and what’s your partner’s to work on. Sex can mean putting your body and your well-being into someone else’s hands (literally and figuratively). Consent means knowing, naming, and being respected for your limits, boundaries, and needs. It means listening deeply to your partner(s) and responding to their needs, limits, and boundaries. In this way, sex (whatever sex means and looks like to you) is excellent practice for deepening the trust in your relationship.

4. “Have shared values and interests. Be committed to being accepting, affectionate, considerate, kind and communicative and expect the same from anyone you date. Don't accept anything less. Don't give anything less. Don't date someone you want to change. Physical chemistry is important; it should be as much a priority as those other things.” I really feel like this piece of advice is about valuing yourself. Know what you need and want, and know that you are worth it. When you believe in your own worth and value, there is room to trust yourself to make the right decisions in the moment.  In Katherine Woodward Thomas’s book Calling In The One, she writes that in order for you to bring the right person into your life, you must make space in your life for them. “There is a huge chasm between wanting to find your ideal partner and being truly available for that partner when he or she [or ze, or they] appears,” she says. Make it a practice of getting to know yourself, and there will be more room for another person to step in there with you if you want them to.

5. “Listen, be kind, be open to growing together as well as individually. Laugh together. Make time for each other and the relationship. Recognize that there is you, the other person, and the relationship - all separate entities, but interconnected. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” The last line in this advice is worth highlighting again and again: When we are overwhelmed, we shut down. When we shut down, we can’t listen. When we can’t listen, we can’t understand. When we can’t understand, we can’t connect. So this idea of seeking to understand first—even if you think you’re right, and the other person is wrong, setting that down for just long enough to try your best to understand your partner(s) will actually allow you to start to re-regulate your overwhelm, calm yourself, open your heart, and this practice offers another opportunity for communication rather than a dead-end street.

6. “Your partner is not your parent. They can't anticipate your every need as a mother is with their infant. You have to ask, be vulnerable and share - a lifelong process of loving and caring for each other.” You and your partner(s) may be intensely attuned to each other, but I guarantee you, neither of you can read each other’s minds. Your limbic systems may be aligned and you may have an exquisite sense of body language and verbal cues, but always always always strive to be an active participant in the loving process by sharing and receiving real-time communication.

7. “Have goals as a couple. If at any time your dreams don’t match up, solve the vision issue before moving forward with other relationship milestones. i.e. don't move in with someone who doesn’t share your visions of the future 5, 10 or 15 years from now.”“Have your relationship shit sorted out before you have kids. And don't have kids expecting that to mitigate your relationship shit.” And on the other hand, we have: “Make a baby! It's the best! And twice-weekly therapy for the both of you! And get a housekeeper!” What is your vision for the future? Do you talk about all the gritty, raw, and hard stuff? If you do want, or have, kids- practicing communication will be ever so important with your partner.

8. “This thing people say: "If it’s meant to be, it should be easy"-this is not necessarily true! Great relationships can require some hard work. Find someone you want to do the work with and who is willing to do the work.” Great relationships really are hard work. They aren’t excruciating and they aren’t about sacrificing all of yourself for another person. But if you are really “in it,” all of your old patterns will arise, and all kinds of unexpected situations will present themselves. It’s up to you and your partner(s) to grow your strength together by facing (and caring for) the parts of each other you wouldn’t present to the rest of the world. If the goal is to be with someone who sees and knows and accepts all of you, you have to learn to be comfortable being all of you with that person, and letting the other person be all of themselves with you. Try being vulnerable- pace yourself- and take a risk. You might have a better chance of finding someone with whom you can really, truly get what you need.

Learning To Love Your Body: A Workshop for Self-Love

Are you wishing you could love yourself in a way that makes you feel strong in your own skin?
Are you craving a loving relationship with yourself and your body?
Are you looking for take-home tools to help shed that inner critic?
Do you want to find resources inside you to help you make authentic and informed choices about your life and your needs?

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So much of our lives are spent trying to understand how we fit in to the environment around us. It’s a survival technique, for sure- but as we grow older, we start to realize how detrimental it can be to keep surviving in that way. If we haven’t learned—or have lost along the way—the ability to check in with our bodies and our hearts to discover what really, truly feeds us, we can rely too heavily on the outside world to make our decisions for us. This can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, intense stress, and feeling like we can’t go on this way. That’s because we can’t, and shouldn’t! It is possible to discover how to deeply listen to yourself, and do so in a way that makes you feel alive and connected.

This group offers a variety of practices to allow a recalibration of your connection to your body in the service of loving yourself and living the life that’s best for you. It is a time to recognize your body as a sacred space that holds vast information about who you are, what you need, and how to stay present with yourself in deep acceptance.

The group is limited to 7 people, all of whom will be interviewed and asked to complete a survey about their interest in the group. We will meet for five Saturday mornings, including one outdoor session, and one Friday night. This will give us a chance to practice our work at different times of day, so that you can identify how your body feels during the day, evening, and in different environments. We will have check-ins and some process around our explorations, and journaling will be encouraged. Some of the exercises will include: guided visualizations, a meditation guide from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, collage and vision board creation, and some exercises from the recommended reading, “Embody” by Connie Sobczak. During our outdoor session we will conduct a “walk + write”, where we’ll gather together, state our intentions, and be guided through an ecotherapeutic understanding of connecting with nature. We’ll have the rest of the session to wander through (or stay still within) the natural space and write our sensations in a journal.

The intention of the group is to support a loving and connected relationship to your body. Your body is always with you at every second of your day, and holds great information for you at all times. Developing this connection with your body will help you grow your self-compassion and self-acceptance, which can be a useful ally in your struggles with a cruel and punitive inner critic. Listening to your body can help guide you to what is right for you in your life.

Dates: Saturdays October 18, November 1, 8, 15, 22 from 10:30-12
Friday October 24 from 5:30-7
(One Saturday will be spent outside in a location TBD for a nature-based “walk + write”)

Location: South Berkeley, CA

Cost: $300 for the series plus $25 for the initial in-person interview

This group welcomes people of all genders, sexual orientations, cultural identities, and body sizes and abilities. The group space is not wheelchair-accessible, therefore another space may be arranged if needed.

Call Molly Merson, MFT for more information about participating in this group. 510-594-4035 or therapy@mollymerson.com

Molly Merson, MA, MFT#52483 is a licensed therapist in Berkeley, CA. She does deep process and in-depth therapy with folks struggling with difficult feelings, inner critic, mood fluctuations, feeling like an outsider, and finding satisfying relationships. Find out more about her at www.mollymerson.com or call 510-594-4035 for information about her work and practice.

8 Things To Do When Your Loved One Is Depressed

If you love someone who feels the emptiness and shame of depression, you have probably seen them feeling uncomfortable, distressed, lethargic, and despondent. Maybe you’ve tried to cheer them up, only to be met with bitterness or even emptiness. If that’s true for you, you can probably relate to this spectrum of feelings: Exhaustion, frustration, helplessness, sadness, and fear. What, if anything, is helpful? Since so much has been written about depression, I’ll link to a few articles I like and let you read through to learn more about how depression impacts folks. Something important to note, however, is that depression is deeply personal, and linked to deep-rooted shame. These aren’t things you can fix by rationalizing with someone, or by suggesting something like “mind over matter.” If these are tactics you’ve used in the past, don’t worry. You probably noticed they didn’t help, and that’s why you’re looking for something else to help you. (Also, did you know spending time with furry animals is known to increase oxytocin, which can chemically impact mood?)

  1. Ask what would help. They may not know what would be helpful, but they might surprise you. If they respond with something that feels impossible (“It would help if you could make this feeling go away!”), let them express it, and agree. “I wish I could make it go away.” Sometimes, making tea, offering a hot water bottle, or the aforementioned furry animal can be helpful to regulate the oceanic depths of the sadness, and help the person feel a bit more buoyant.
  2. Stay with them. If possible, stay with the person as long as it feels ok to you. If you have a relationship that involves touch, rubbing their back, shoulders, or the top of their head lovingly can help remind the person you are there, even if you can’t make the feeling disappear. Try not to leave until you know what safety measures may need to be taken, and if you can’t stay, make sure the person has access to their usual resources (sponsor, therapist, friend, pastor, etc).
  3. Stay with your discomfort. Your person is really going through it, which means you will likely be going through it, too. It is said that one of the ways therapy works is that the therapist processes, or “metabolizes,” the feelings of the patient, which can help the patient unconsciously process the feelings, too. You can offer your therapeutic presence by “staying with”, as opposed to trying to distract from, the discomfort you feel, which can help the person you’re close to release and work through some of their own feelings.
  4. “Feelings are states, not traits.” This quotation from Dr. Dan Siegel really sums up the depression process: These are moods that seem to stick like glue to the fabric of your loved one’s life—so much so that it is easy to forget that feelings are states of being that come and go, that are sometimes pressure-ful and sometimes light, that, if you stay with the discomfort (See #3), will pass, and something new will take its place.
  5. Don’t take it personally. Chances are good that, depending on your relationship, your loved one has felt this way long before you came into their life. This is probably not about you, even though it may be very deeply impacting you-- and even though you may have said or done something that triggered a feeling. You may be having a lot of feelings about the pain you see your loved one experiencing, but that pain probably has very little to do with you. What you can impact and be accountable for is how you talk to and understand your loved one when they’re going through this difficulty.
  6. Allow yourself to feel “all the feelings." It is so necessary for you to get as much self-care as possible. (See my list of inexpensive and accessible methods of self-care here.) This includes feeling whatever it is that you are feeling. Remember, some of it may be the feelings of your loved one that you are processing through your own system right now. If you do not allow yourself space to have your own experience, the feelings will build up in you, and may cause resentment, anger, and even the loss of the relationship.
  7. Process your feelings in your own therapy. Being in your own therapeutic treatment can be so useful to you right now. There are likely deep-seated reasons you are close to someone who is depressed; and even if there's not a family history of caretaking in your life, being with someone who is going through so much can bring up feelings that you will want to process and understand. If there is an issue that you feel is directly related to a boundary you have in your relationship, find a time when your feeling and your loved one’s depressive episode are not acute to begin to talk about it. Individual or couples’ therapy is an excellent place to bring up feelings that don’t feel like they can be contained safely in the relationship. Which brings me to:
  8. Discover your boundaries, and keep them firm but not rigid. Boundaries are an essential element to any healthy relationship, with others and with yourself. Discover what and how much you will tolerate, and give yourself full freedom to hold that line. While different circumstances call for different measures, it's important to know what your limits are, and do your best to notice when you are feeling depleted. This is a good time to recharge with self care, however it suits you best.

For more information about depression, or to begin therapy in Berkeley, CA with a licensed professional with expertise in many types of depression, give me a call at 510-594-4035 for a free phone consultation. I can point you toward resources that can be helpful to you in this process. It may take at least 24 hours for me to respond to your call, so if you or your loved one are suicidal or in crisis, take it seriously and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you or your loved one are contemplating suicide, go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone 24 hours a day.

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I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.

 To cite this page:Merson, M. (2014) 8 Things To Do When Your Loved One Is Depressed. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/06/17/8-things-to-do-when-your-loved-one-is-depressed/