Distance is Dead!

Once, I had an emotionally-charged session with a foreign couple. Suddenly, the woman partner told me she’s moving back to her home country. She said she could not bear the infidelity of her man.

We were both disappointed. Sessions had been going well, but incomplete. No significant momentum yet.

Then, a few days after, she phoned me. She thought of a practical alternative – session via Skype. This provided her hope and continuity, which she needed a lot during that time. It’s like face to face too such as in traditional sessions.

The medium of video and voice conferencing through Skype then became instrumental for her eventual healing and stabilization – personally and relationally.

We do live in a different time now.

With the fast rise of Internet and technology, psychotherapy and other mental health services have been moving in with the times.

For the final sessions with this hurting couple, we did meet in person again, which felt like a more appropriate way to end the sessions.

Both the couple and myself felt “upbeat” and at ease. Such seemed to be a reflection of our Skype sessions at processing issues and maintaining therapist-patient relationship.

We commented that our face to face sessions did not feel that much different from our previous Skype sessions.

Overall, I think that being able to continue our sessions via Skype was incredibly useful for both the patient and me.

Distance was no longer an obstacle to heal. In both my and the couple patient’s opinion the therapy had been successful. Skype played a role in this.

The use Skype and other modern forms of distance communication technologies could improve access to psychotherapies for people living in remote areas or foreign countries.

It’s helpful to those who are busy traveling or working, those housebound, disabled, or bedridden.

In my observation and opinion, the role of online therapy delivery is going to expand and is likely to continue to do so due to people’s needs and our changing times.

9 Keys of Treatment

In my assessment, most problems or individual dysfunctions are a disease of “core pain,” “lost selfhood,” or “false self.” Recovery needs to be complete, addressing the whole person – cognitive (the “head”), the emotional and experiential (the “heart” and “spiritual”), the physical (organic health), and personality (with learned and constitutional factors).

To treat and heal the “psychological wounding,” a process can be started requiring several action steps. These actions are closely related and generally occur in a circular fashion, with work in one area a link to another area. The “Treatment Plan,” which includes tools, vehicles, methods or techniques that help in the healing and recovery, include taking action on the following:

1.) Complete physical examination (to rule out any medical causation)

* Unless there is some major brain or organic damage, I don’t recommend drug therapy or
taking any kind of synthetic drugs for psychotherapy/counseling. Have a right diagnosis
to rule out any physical/medical causes of your psychological/emotional distress.

2.) Abstinence, detachment, or detoxification

* … from whatever person, place, thing, activity, behavior, chemical, or experience that
pollute, block, or distract the treatment/recovery plan

3.) Individual counseling and psychotherapy

* Regular and adequate attendance and workups, which may include psychological first aid, couple or extended family work, with a therapist/counselor.

* Process is usually composed of three pillars: diagnostics, treatment plan, relapse prevention.

* Psychotherapy is mostly internal work to finish “unfinished business” or unprocessed pain, which includes areas such as grieving, original pain work, working through the core issues, doing “personality” work, completing developmental tasks, setting healthy boundaries, among others.

4.) Group therapy or support group

* … that is specific for type of wounding being treated, such as depression, dysfunctional family, affairs, divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction etc. and depending on person’s needs

* Group therapy or support group provides emotional and social support. Here, you can hear others’ stories, increase your awareness about what happened, and begin working a 12-step or healing-is-a-choice program.

5.) Expanding circle of support

* Regular contact and sharing with one or more trusted and safe friends etc.

* Starting and cultivating new, healthy friendships, and choosing to connect to a safe community for volunteer opportunities or community involvement.

6.) Inpatient or other intensive recovery experiences, such as workshops/seminars, weekend retreats etc.

7.) Adequate self-care

* “Food therapy” or healthy diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, and natural supplements.

* Taking up an exercise program, such as running or jogging, to boost brain power and the immune system.

8.) Self-education on area of psychological/emotional wounding, such as depression, infidelity/ divorce wound recovery, anger management, wounder inner child, toxic parents etc.

9.) Beginning and/or continuing, conscious contact in a relationship with a Higher Power.

As previously noted, these “treatment plan” steps or actions interact and merge with one another. They are not necessarily distinct or separate areas of the the healing and recovery process.

If you uproot this, you’ll get well

A significant block or hindrance to healing and wholeness is what I call “bitterness roots.”

In my much younger, immature years, I have had numerous times and situations when I thought I’ll never be able to let go of bitterness in my heart. I felt that what was done was just too much for me. I felt justified in the inner anger and resentment I was carrying. I was astounded at the unbearable pain inflicted in my heart.

And I could not believe, on top of all these, when I learned that I had to forgive all the people who hurt me if I am to be whole again. If I had not known this powerful block to my healing, I might have remained stuck in my misery. Processing this at the right way was the completion of my recovery, allowing me to be of help to heal others.

Bitterness is a cancer on the heart, mind, and soul. I don’t know of anything that more effectively keeps a person from fully experiencing life than this feeling of bitterness and resentment. The damaging “bitterness root” is within you, not the person who wronged or hurt you.

The bitterness and anger feels like you’re given a sense of power. But actually, it robs you of your power. It wastes your time and energy that should be redirected to rebuilding, and poisons your mind and other aspects of your life.

As someone cleverly puts it, “Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.”

That is why – for your sake, not for the sake of the wrongdoer or offender – you must work out the therapy process by learning to forgive. I’m not saying you do it instantly. It’s a process rather than an event.

But now that you see it, you can start to let go of the “bitterness root.” It is a beginning step away from a wasted life focused on the past rather than growing in the present and preparing for the future.

The Great Inescapable Anxiety

Working as a therapist, “hints” of death and its accompanying anxiety are never absent. I hardly get through my sessions without sensing a cry for help from individuals hurt by dire consequences and relationships.

It’s not private bias or indulgence on my part. It’s a universal concern we all have as human beings.

This “death anxiety” though is often invisible. A male patient in his early 40s told me about his much younger cousin who died recently of cancer. After learning it, he suddenly felt a rushing in his panic attacks.

Once while inside an airplane, everything was well when he took his seat. Then suddenly, he became so uneasy and felt, “This plane is where I am and it’s about to crash!” No amount of care from his wife or plane assistants could calm his anxiety and fear.

We have two choices to deal with “invisible death anxiety.” We either face the truth directly or we try to flee the anxious feelings and not attempt to come to terms with it. I think the latter response appears more common in modern times.

In the “Hour of Death,” author Philippe Aries writes, “Except for the death of statesmen, society has banished death. In the towns, there is no way of knowing that something has happened … Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects it’s continuity.”

Ernest Becker, in his “The Denial of Death,” describes the reality of the human condition. He says, “Man is a worm and food for the worms. This is the paradox; he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual … Literally split in two… He sticks out of nature with a towering majesty and yet goes back into the ground a few feet … to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and have to live with.”

Thus to make invisible our inherent death anxiety makes little sense. Our society focuses us more on the “economic” or “making a living.” Such conditions us to deny or be unprepared to dying. Yet we all need to face the reality of it to live well.

Free from the non-essentials of life or unnecessary personal disabilities. Free from “denying the problem,” “immature defenses,” “distortion of our reactions,” or projecting fears to things or persons.

Death anxiety is not beyond human control. If it’s made visible and faced head-on, it can bring much quality of life. Especially in light of our limited supply of years. I believe the measure of a good life is how we view and transcend our own death.

Why Does A Child Disrespect His or Her Parent?

A mother once spoke to me about her disrespectful children. During their childhood onwards, she handled the children by pushing them into a friendship with her.

Instead of being a parent to them, she’d converse with them as if she’s just a friend or companion and not an authoritative figure.

The side effect of her parenting style is conditioning the children to take disrespectful liberties with her.

It’s psychological abuse when a parent handles children inappropriately. In this instance, the mother denied the children the parenting they needed because she allowed her role to be compromised by her need for companionship and friendship.

It’s a thin line of parenting behavior. Crossing it leaves a child with an undefined and empty view of himself.

Perhaps, the children would be accommodating to your unmet need as a parent. But only for a short while. In their hearts and minds, it stretches them.

The role reversal does strain what their parent-child relationship was meant to be.

A parent forcing water from their children that should come from someone else or other adult sources is a relevant parenting lesson.

Wisdom is called for parents with growing children. Make sure we don’t make their tender, immature frame handle undue weight prematurely.

Eventually, time will arrive when our children could handle adult weight or issues.

But prematurely, the weight becomes a source of potential psychopathology. Even a curse.

Resistance and Unlived Life

Therapy is a journey of the Self. Often, when there’s deep psychological wounding, the Self remains fragmented. Split.

Two selves – one is the damaged self lived to the present and the other is the positive self of an unlived life within.

It’s a difficult situation that needs adequate healing and recovery.

In between the lived life and the unlived life is a big enemy – resistance.

My work with countless individuals in therapy is full of this. Resistance – whether conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit – blocks well-being.

I’m reminded of Anton. He is a speaker guy. A gifted entrepreneur. At one time, he succeeded building a multi-million business. Then, he crashed.

He overspent money on vices – booze, women, drugs. Now, even after over 5 years since he went bankrupt, he stopped using his gift.

Anton becomes disabled by his panic anxiety attacks, rage, and depression. When directly addressed by his therapist to deal with his core issues, he refuses to process them.

He remains stuck, unwilling. Yet he knows many things are not ok about him.

But something inside Anton is saying ok to what he knows very well is not ok. About his self, his life in general. There lies the location of his internal resistance.

It’s this underlying resistance that fuels and drives his self to think, feel, and do what he doesn’t want for himself.

The “war of therapy” for a person’s liberation is to break this resistance. Pound it into finer pieces, turn the ashes into something new and beautiful.

Hope is basic. Faith and courage brings the resistance down.

Diagnosing Sex Addiction

One single middle aged man painfully detailed to me his decades-old piano, youth, and ministry work in the church. He expressed his desire to serve God. But his face turned to wrenching as he spoke of his bondage to pornography and gay sex with multiple partners on a weekly basis. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was so weak.

Is this man sex “addicted?” The compulsive sexual cravings and activities are certainly strong evidence. The Greek word for “addicted” means to be brought into bondage, much like a slave. Because he is a slave to his sexual passions, then he needs help for his addiction by talking to a therapist or counselor.

What about you? Let me give you a little diagnostic test. You don’t need a pen to answer; you just need to be honest. Simply answer “yes” or “no.”

* Do you masturbate to images of other women?
* Do you fantasize when a sexy or attractive woman comes near you?
* Do you watch sexually arousing videos or photos in the internet for gratification?
* Do you store nude images of women etc in your cell phone or computer?
* Do you have behaviors that you can’t share with your spouse?
* Do you call a hotline for phone sex?
* Do you practice voyeurism?
* Do you have a secret place or closed compartment that you hide from your spouse?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are lurking at the door of sexual addiction. Then you’re inside the room! Like any addiction, sex addiction is progressive. It starts small. Then it won’t go away. It’s always asking to be scratched, the itch intensified, seeking relief. But rather than feeling fulfilled, it leaves you feeling more empty.