Sexual Orientation and Counseling.

Sexual orientation – in India, at least – is still a matter that is considered very private; and any orientation other than heterosexual is most likely considered a matter of shame. Therefore, most members of gay and lesbian community keep the matter extremely private or a secret – especially from their family. Due to the social and family pressure to get married, those who are lesbian or gay agree to an arranged marriage, and then there is much embarrassment and shame when the matter is made public by the unsuspecting spouse. In the urban city community, things are changing slowly, however, this is not at all representative of the dominant cultural ethos.

At a governmental level, some change is being initiated to make policies more accepting of different sexual orientations. But we are still a long way off before any acceptance of a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality can be discussed at a family or extended family level.

A family that suspects that their child is gay or lesbian would do its best to hide the fact or ignore the fact, and just live in shame. According to Pachankis and Goldfried (2013) such clients – and in this context, their family – may also experience anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, substance abuse, suicide and the devaluation of LBG activities. Given this situation, one can imagine how much pressure and shame (internalized homophobia) a person who is of a different orientation feels (Pachankis & Goldfried, 2013). Therefore, a contemporary counselor in India, working with a gay or lesbian person, would need to work with the individual and the family to educate all members of the immediate family. A family goes to a counselor with the expectation to ‘cure’ the individual of ‘the problem’, but the counselor’s challenge is to change the family’s perception of the issue.

A contemporary therapist must, therefore, must make efforts to use an LGB-affirmative approach, while recognizing that individual clients will also present unique issues in the therapeutic context that may not be linked to their sexual orientation. Some core tenets of LGB-affirmative therapy include: establish a support system with other LGB individuals; help clients become aware of how oppression has affected them; de-sensitize shame and guilt surrounding homosexual thoughts, behaviors and feelings; and, allow client’s expression of anger in response to being oppressed. In addition to supporting the LGB client to challenge societal issues that the client feels compelled to challenge, the therapist must teach coping skills for those that cannot be challenged at the particular point in time. Key issues that a therapist needs to understand in his/her work with a LGB client include: identity development, intimate relationships, family issues, and legal and workplace issues ( Johson, 2012; Pachankis & Goldfried, 2013).

All this is easier said than done. I suspect that many counselors and therapists are likely to harbor homophobic beliefs, or at least prejudices. Furthermore, they would be inadequately trained to work with this community and would likely cause distress (or harm) to LGB clients because of this (Pachankis & Goldfried, 2013). The situation is further complicated because a lot of counselors come from Christian denomiations, or have been trained in Chrisitan counseling programs. Therefore, their religious beliefs towards the LGB community would add another layer of distress to the client; as a counselor, this is something I can identify with.

However, my own journey as a counselor, and the work for my PsyD program on the LGB community has opened my prespectives of this issue. I am now actively committed to work with any member of the LGB community. Even though I am a heterosexual, I am  sensitive to some of the issues that this community struggles with, and am committed to supporting the individual LGB client and their family.

Feel free to connect in confidence on ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com. More details on counseling, my background, and fees are available on this site. 

References

Johnson, S. D. (2012). Gay affirmative psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals: Implications for contemporary psychotherapy research. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(4), 516-522. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01180.x

Pachankis, J. E., & Goldfried, M. R. (2013). Clinical issues in working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(S), 45-58. doi:10.1037/2329-0382.1.S.45

 

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How the Workplace Ethos sabotages relationships!

(continued from last week’s 1 + 1 does not = a Couple)

One of the areas that can derail relationships is the strong sense of individualism each partner brings into the relationship. There’s nothing inherently wrong with individualism BUT a rigid interpretation, carried into the relationship, quickly becomes about which partner gets their way, or who has to give up a part of their identity, or what they want. The perceived fear of losing one’s identity can become a stressor in the relationship; a sense of entitlement creeps in to colour conversations that start to prick. This paradigm of individualism is fueled by the organization ethos, especially if both partners are working.

Contemporary research points to the adverse impact workplace performance pressure, individual career expectations, peer pressure, organization culture, and logistics issues such as the daily commute – have on family well being. Conflicts between work and relationship commitments impact almost every couple and family. Needless to state, WORK nearly always wins! The tacit (and now increasingly explicit) ethos in organizations is: produce, perform, put in the hours, and compete – AT ALL COSTS! This pressure tends to destroy any equilibrium that an individual might want for one’s life or relationships. If the work DAY involvement was not enough, there is additional pressure to attend evening and weekend events all aimed at building teamwork, productivity, and bonding (tried wiggling out of these??). In the mean time, the slow erosion in the couple bond goes unnoticed.

This work ethic can cause isolation between the couple as each partner is swept by the organization ethos and pressure. Intimacy tends to get replaced by a feeling of competiveness, and who’s getting a better or fairer deal. Competitiveness (and often times the toxicity) of the workplace seeps into the relationship. Couples feel that their primary obligation is to work and not to their relationship. The first warning sign: not being able to spend time with each other!

Research suggests that each person has a defined capacity to bond and enjoy intimacy in relationships. If this entire capacity is taken up by the organization, then it’s no surprise that there is no time, energy, or interest left in bonding as a couple. The second warning sign: Relationships at work become more intimate than the ones at home!

Other signs that the work ethos is endangering the couple: physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, decreasing physical fitness, increasing alcohol or substance use, unhealthy eating, no communication, not doing fun things together, feeling blue, being angry or irritable all the time, and so on. These are the outcomes that flow from the belief that career achievement is higher priority than a close, intimate personal relationship. The third warning sign: When a couple doesn’t talk! – really talk, about things small and big, important and silly…

Take a moment, and see if you can notice these warning signs in your own life! Before you say NO! share this with your partner and ask for their feedback? Just to validate your assessment. Feeling hesitant to do it? (Go back and start reading this again…)

However, things need not be like this! With a little care and thought, couples can find togetherness and intimacy on a day-to-day basis. Actively planning to spend time each day (perhaps even while both/one is doing chores); establishing rituals; calling each other; spending time with just each other over the weekend (and not with the family) – even if it is for a couple of hours; making a commitment to talk and share the things that are going on; finding ways to laugh, joke, tease, have fun together (even if it is in little moments); sitting next to each other (even while doing one’s one thing) are all baby steps in co-creating the relationship.

This is not easy! On an ongoing basis it takes 4 Cs to co-create a successful couple: Commitment, Cooperation, Communication, and Community. More on the 4 Cs shortly.

If you’d like to talk to someone in confidence and safety about what you (individually or as a couple) might be going through in your relationship, then email us on ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com. Information about what we do on our website: www.thewellnesstrust.com.

References:

Sheras, P. L., & Koch-Sheras, P. R. (2006). Couple power therapy: Building commitment, cooperation, communication, and community in relationships doi:http://dx.doi.org./10.1037/11264-001

 

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1 plus 1 does NOT = a COUPLE!

A lot of the challenges between couples these days seem to be triggered by cultural influences. Sometimes, these external influences actively conspire to sabotage what the couple feels for each other by creating or amplifying false expectations. Hollywood, Bollywood, romantic novels and glossies all seem to create the notion of an idyllic relationship that overlooks the hard work, patience, grace, forgiveness, and empathy that is involved in the day to day details of life as a couple. No one talks about the changes each individual of the couple needs to make as they move from being just ‘me’ to ‘we’. These changes include finding a new balance in how one manages:

  • priorities (for example, work – and more on this next week!);
  • relationships (family of origin, the old friends circle);
  • interests (being involved in your partner’s interests irrespective of what you feel about it);
  • and most importantly, consciously and consistently spending time with each other.

1 plus 1 does not equal to a great relationship if the focus is still on the ‘self’ and not on the ‘couple’ as an entity.

A 1 plus 1 mentality typically means that one (or both) partner (s) feel that they have had to ‘give up’ something of themselves or their life, that they are not able to ‘get what they really wanted’ for themselves, they have to ‘compromise’. In essence, it’s a win-lose status – with each partner feeling that the other has ‘won’. This is not the best foundation for trust and intimacy. Perhaps, it might be more helpful to look at what each needs to do to ‘build’ the relationship; find a new equilibrium that moves from only ‘my’ needs to what would be the best for the relationship.  It’s not about one having to give up something but both co-creating something new and better. However, this is easier said than done!

If you are part of a young couple explore how these three areas can create a risk to your relationship. These areas are:

(i) the strong focus on individualism;

(ii) idealized notions of what a relationship or an ideal partner should be; and,

(iii) the diversity that each partner brings.

Each partner in a young couple brings their own needs, wants, and expectations into the relationship. Each carries some baggage of a relationship from their family of origin (My mother cooked 3 fresh meals a day! My dad was always home at 6 pm! and so on…) Further, contemporary culture places a strong emphasis on individual needs being fulfilled  rather than what would be beneficial for the couple as a new unit. There seems to be an inherent conflict in wanting to be independent and wanting a stable, long-term relationship. Career aspirations and work schedules are often a trigger point: Whose aspirations have to take priority? Given existing stereotypes it’s not easy to decide what would be best for the relationship. An existing stereotype might be that a woman decides to stay at home till the children grow up. (Unfortunately, they never do!)

This conflict is hard to resolve with a simple formula. It’s more of a give and take process over the long-term. Common responses to this issue usually leave one partner feeling marginalized and starting to carry this feeling of ‘having had to give up something’. Therefore, couples soon realize that sustaining intimacy in a relationship needs more than just flowers and chocolates. It takes hard work! And, that starts with re-looking at some aspects of ‘I-me-myself’ that do not support the integrity of the couple.  

Based on the thoughts above, what’s coming up for you in your relationship? What are areas that your unit are doing well in – and areas that you both are struggling?

If you’d like to talk to someone in confidence and safety about what you might be going through in your relationship, then email us on ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com. Information about what we do on our website: www.thewellnesstrust.com.

Continued next week … How Organizations Screw Up Couple Relationships!

References

Sheras, P. L., & Koch-Sheras, P. R. (2006). Couple power therapy: Building commitment, cooperation, communication, and community in relationships doi:http://dx.doi.org./10.1037/11264-001

 

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The DARK Side of Counseling (an Insider’s perspective!)

Going to a counselor means that one is weak, or incompetent, faulty in some way – or just too dumb to figure things out on one’s own. Quite the opposite! Working with a counselor takes wisdom, emotional courage, and a willingness to take risks. It is the recognition that one’s vulnerability can be shared and supported by a trusted partner. It is a focusing of one’s strengths to move to the next level of personal and professional growth.

I don’t want to GO to a counselor! You don’t GO to a counselor! We go to a doctor when we are ill, and often, a quick dose of medicine makes the pain or illness go away. To have the same expectation from counseling may not be right. So, you don’t go to a counselor, you WORK with one! Yes, it does take work, and you – the client – have to do it – not the counselor. Next is that it takes time – there are seldom quick fixes to the issues that we struggle with. Having said that, many clients have some benefit from the first session itself. Mostly, it’s because no one else has ever heard them so intently, without judgment, and without offering an opinion on how they should really run their life.

You need to be MENTAL to work with a counselor. No, not at all! Normal is good! We like ‘normal’ (whatever that means). Most issues that a counselor works with include: relationship challenges (at work and home), thinking through decisions, gaining clarity on Next is What, sharing things that are really upsetting, coming out of feeling blue, building self-confidence and self-esteem, feeling less stressed, letting go, learning to have fun…and so on. These are things we all go through. You wouldn’t think twice about talking these things through with a friend or colleague – so why is there so much hesitation in working with a counselor? A counselor is more likely to be there for you, accept what you are going through in a non-judgmental way, affirm and validate your feelings, not insist on what you must do, and support you with strategies and skills which are more helpful than well-meaning advice from friends (which one doesn’t follow anyway because they just don’t get it).

Tell me about your PAST! And, your deep, dark secrets! The stereotype of the counseling process comes from the pictures of psychotherapy one has of Sigmund Freud with a patient on a couch, sharing deep-rooted issues from the past, in a process that seems to go on forever. Nothing is further from the truth! The common understanding that counseling focuses on the PAST is very far from the truth in most contemporary modalities. Counseling focuses on the present, is solution-focused, and often can get you traction in six to eight weeks. It helps you move towards the future that you want, or that will be more helpful for you.

So, Don’t be in the DARK any more! Just talking about things with a trained counselor puts one’s thinking and feelings in perspective – this in itself, has therapeutic benefit even though nothing might have changed. At this point, however, the work just starts; it probably takes about two to three meetings before the client unearths the real issues, and a picture of how to deal with them emerges. Now is when the counselor supports the client with strategies and tactics. A client is never alone in the change process through its ups and downs. But change does happen – if the client is willing to put in the effort, take the risks, and stay with the process. Effort, time, patience, resilience, and trust are key requirements when one works with a counselor. Why not take the first step?

Who? Who? Where? Where? So, who does one work with? Where does one find a suitable counselor to work with? Right here! More details about us and the process we use on www.thewellnesstrust.com. Connect with us on ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com.

And, connect with some awesome counselors here: www.talkitover.in

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Worrying? Don’t be a COW

All of us worry – it’s human! But for some of us, worrying becomes a pervasive part of our life taking up unnecessary emotional and mental bandwidth. Worry is defined is negative self-talk – especially about things that might happen in the future. The stress and pressure of balancing so many aspects of life (work, home, boss, spouse, kids, in-laws, health…) can lead one to become a full-time worrier.

Most of us know friends or colleagues who are, or have become, ‘worriers’ and our advice to them is ‘Don’t worry’. Unfortunately, this advice doesn’t work because a worrier CAN’T stop worrying. The physical impact of this uncontrollable worry includes muscle tension, restlessness, difficulty in concentration, irritable bowl syndrome, cardiac events, and interpersonal problems to name a few.

Worriers are like COWS – they keep on ruminating! Rumination is a negative, repetitive thinking pattern about present and past issues, loss, or failure; it is a continual attention to the negative aspects of one’s life events. It’s hard to just stop it, because like a stuck record, the thoughts keep on playing. The more one ruminates the more it feeds to increased stress, anxiety and feeling blue. Unfortunate events happen in each person’s life causing pain and anxiety in the moment; but the RUMINATOR keeps the pain and anxiety alive, long after the stressor is gone, by continually thinking about the negative impact of the event.

Sure, there is truth in the way life can really set us back – but the RUMINATOR then makes it his/her identity and uses it as a defense mechanism to stop moving forward. It moves to a maladaptive zone, especially if one starts withdrawing from friends and social events, stops doing hobbies and activities, avoids going out and so on. Rumination (a fancy word for continual worry) seems to have a causal effect on stress, depression and other emotional disorders because it directly increases and maintains negative emotions. These are the danger signs that the worrier might be struggling with a general anxiety disorder.

So how does all this impact Project Deadlines, Quality and Business Performance? Simply put, research demonstrates that rumination takes up emotional and mental bandwidth in the brain’s processing systems. This reduces a person’s attention span and energy to do quality work, because resources are being consumed in the rumination process. Even if the person puts in a super human effort to concentrate, it will work in the short term, but lead – very soon – to exhaustion and fatigue. This is reflected as sick days, errors at work, strained relationships, and unhealthy coping strategies (eating, smoking, drinking endless coffee or sugar drinks). Look around you and see how common this is! (Look in the mirror…?)

The main point is that there is an impact on workplace performance and senior leaders cannot afford to ignore emotional or mental health issues of the people they work with. Ignoring it or hoping that it will go away is not the best tactics. Neither will hoping that people will get over it and get their act right. They will! Eventually. But not without impacting current work place performance.

So, what do? Research suggests that solution-focused executive counseling can give good results in supporting people deal with emotional and mental issues in as little as eight sessions. Encourage someone you know who might benefit to reach out to us. Or, you might to reach out for yourself!

Executive counseling can help you manage your worry, and contain the impact of maladaptive rumination on workplace performance and your life. More details on http://www.thewellnesstrust.com or email me on ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com.

References:

Ruscio, A. M., Gentes, E. L., Jones, J. D., Hallion, L. S., Coleman, E. S., & Swendsen, J. (2015). Rumination predicts heightened responding to stressful life events in major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 124(1), 17-26. doi:10.1037/abn0000025

Stefanopoulou, E., Hirsch, C. R., Hayes, S., Adlam, A., & Coker, S. (2014). Are attentional control resources reduced by worry in generalized anxiety disorder? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 123(2), 330-335. doi:10.1037/a0036343

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Don’t play the ‘Blues’

Shit happens! And most times we get over it and get back on track. There are times, however, when the little things in life start taking their toll – we’re not able to snap out of the feeling of ‘blues’ that seems to haunt us in the background. This feeling may not derail us completely but it does seem to make us a bit more tired, less energetic, not want to engage with others, irritable, anxious and so on. Our mind gets caught playing the same negative thoughts or a distressing event like a stuck record. Here are some suggestions that might help you change this melancholy ‘blues’ music and switch back to your favorite stuff.

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Okay, things didn’t go too well, or maybe, you actually did screw up big time. It hurts! But chances are strong that you’re NOT the only person in the world who has messed up. And, you certainly are NOT the only person who will never, ever, get back on track. So, stop being so hard on yourself! If someone you love was going through what you were going through, what advice would you give him or her? Well! Follow your own advice.
  2. Replay the good stuff! Replay in your mind all the good stuff that you’ve done, or that has happened to you, or all the things right now that you feel blessed about. Replaying the good things in your mind will reactivate your brain circuits and memories, which are currently on standby, because of the ‘blues’ that you’re playing right now. Switch on the good ol’ stuff, even for just little bits at a time – it will help you change the unhelpful music.
  3. Meet and catch up with friends – even if you’re quiet company for the evening. Staying connected will help you feel supported and not so alone. If the record playing in your own mind/heart is the ‘blues’ – perhaps, for a while, you can enjoy the other music that friends bring. So, meet up with friends and contacts (in person!).
  4. Move your Body! – One of the best ways to change a ‘blues’ record is to move and jolt the body through exercise. Even simple things, such as going for a walk, tremendously help the brain and body chemistry to overcome the blues. Get out of your standard geography and physical location and go spend time somewhere else – perhaps chill at a coffee shop?
  5. Think next is what! – While the present music seems loud and pervasive, actively plan what you’d like to do once the ‘blues’ record changes. Think about what positive changes you’re going to make; the things that you are going to accomplish, to enjoy. Even if you can’t see how it will happen, plan in detail for a different future that works for you. This too will help you change the ‘blues’.

If the above ideas don’t seem to be working for you, then counseling can be helpful. Feel free to reach out in safety and confidence to ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com. More details on http://www.thewellnesstrust.com

 

Reference: O’Hanlon, B. (2014). Out of the blue: Six non-medication ways to relieve depression (First ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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Looking after an Elder parent – especially if they are UNWELL (physically or emotionally)

Many adult children (especially in Asian societies such as India) have elder parents (or another relation) living at home with them. In many cases, the family enjoys the benefits of a joint family with its ups and downs. However, increasingly adult children are taking care of ageing parents who are not well – physically or emotionally. This could include elders who are bedridden for any reason, or are suffering from difficult disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and so on.

The small size of homes, managing other family members, and intense work schedules puts tremendous pressure not only on the adult caregivers, but also on the affected elderly person. These tips may help you manage the relationship and the situation a bit better:

Acknowledgement – The simplest (perhaps the most difficult?) is to acknowledge what the elder is going through. Most times we find it easier to pass off interactions with statements such as, ‘it will get better’, ‘don’t complain so much’, ‘it’s in your head’, ‘be brave’, ‘why are you feeling this way’, ‘count your blessings’… and so on. What we’re really saying is: Why don’t you shut up? or Why doesn’t this situation disappear? Essentially this reflects our unwillingness or lack of patience or irritation at the disruption that the situation causes us. And, that is true! It is very difficult for an adult child to see the elder in pain, disabled or depressed.

However, the elder sees those statements as a devaluing of what they are going through. They feel alone, misunderstood, and abandoned because their loved ones do not understand, or accept, or validate what they are going through. So, take a moment and acknowledge the reality of what they are going through – the physical pain, the helplessness of being bedridden, the isolation of depression. Tell them you see it! Tell them that you understand their pain and feel it too. Acknowledge their reality – with them.

Compassion – After a point in time, the logistics, stress and fatigue of managing elder care takes its toll on the caregiver. Compassion is a casualty! Especially when the elder is particularly difficult, irritating, and rebellious. The caregiver can reflect these feelings by being abrupt, angry, distancing or even rejecting. Compassion leaches out of the relationship.

Bring back compassion by recognizing that the elder’s behavior is a reflection of fear, or an indication of how terrible they feel inside. These feelings are pent up with no one to talk to them or understand what they are going through. Now is the time for you to look at the elder (and their situation) with compassion, and reflect this compassion in as many ways that you can.

Connection – A casualty of long-term illness is that, slowly, the elder gets isolated. He/she is not able to connect with the relationship networks of so many years because of physical immobility, or because they don’t feel like it (this happens especially when they are depressed). For elders who have derived their identity and meaning from these connections, it is like a plant being pulled from the soil by its roots. They lose their source of emotional sustenance. Isolation can lead to chronic depression, which can often be missed in eldercare. So, encourage them to be connected with their stakeholders in all possible ways, including leveraging technology such as Skype, inviting their friends and relations to visit them, encouraging them to step out into the community if possible and so on. Connection is a great healer!

For an adult caregiver, elder care can become a tiring and traumatic phase. If you are struggling with it or have an elder who is struggling, then counseling can be helpful. Feel free to reach out to ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com

Reference: O’Hanlon, B. (2014). Out of the blue: Six non-medication ways to relieve depression (First ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

 

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