psychotherapist

Working Women and Self Doubt

"I just feel like I'm battling impostor syndrome all the time."

"This project is proving I can do this job, so any little mistake feels like I'm not capable."

"It's like I've had the wind knocked out of me."

All quotes from my female clients in the last week about work. The self-doubt and insecurity is stunting.

It's not a problem unique to women, but perhaps faced by women more often than men. Am I faking it? Do I really know what I'm doing? Am I not getting a promotion because I'm a woman? Will I get fired if I mess this up? Shouldn't I be more confident in myself?

It's easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and insecure. Unchecked, these thoughts of inadequacy and insecurity turn into anxiety. Suddenly every task feels daunting, there's no way to get started, and the world feels heavy and scary.

Working with a trusted professional therapist can help remove these roadblocks, empowering you to move forward with confidence and ease.

 

So, what is it you practice anyway? (Part 2)

This is the second part of a series on identifying the types of therapy I practice. Read Part 1 here.

What's the meaning of life? Why are we here? What's our purpose and passion? These are the kinds of questions I wanted to help people discover through therapy and turned to Existential therapy for framework.

Existential therapy is an optimistic approach that firmly believes in the human potential. It's a therapy that asks clients to confront and resolve conflicts of the human condition to live a meaningful and purposeful life. 

Irvin Yalom identified four themes or conflicts to the human condition: death, freedom (& responsibility), isolation, and meaningless. These four themes are the root of psychological problems and do not have real answers. They're used to conceptualize and address problems.

Death: Confronting the reality of death is a central pillar of Existential therapy. The goal is to encourage awareness of death with resources to not allow someone to become overwhelmed by it. Existential therapy works to identify denials of death through avoidance (afterlife, distancing), and/or uniqueness. "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? How would you live differently?"

Freedom (& Responsibility): Freedom is choice, agency, and awareness of constructs. Existential freedom helps one understand the influences one has been subjected to and encourages taking ownership for thoughts and feelings. The responsibility that comes with freedom is acknowledging what one has done and recognizing defensive patterns. This is where change happens.

Isolation: Yalom identified three types of isolation. Interpersonal isolation is separation from oneself and others. Intrapersonal isolation is splitting oneself off from their relationships as to not be fully present. And existential isolation is the concept that we're never able to truly overcome our isolation, as it's part of the human condition. Understanding how and why we isolate is important to recognizing defensive and destructive patterns. 

Meaningless: Existential therapy maintains that humans are meaning seeking and/or meaning creating being, depending on your world view. I hold that to a degree both are true - life can be meaningless and we create meaning out of it. However, I also think there are aspects of life that have meaning, we're just seeking them out. It is in this theme we explore coping versus growing, and seek to help individuals move from just coping with perceived problems into growing and fully living.

Existential therapy believes that humans are essentially alone but long to be connected. Though we seek connection, our own validation must come from within. We cannot seek validation from others. 

Existential therapy is a powerful and deep framework I use to conceptualize some of life's greater problems. As a counterweight to CBT, it works well in identifying patterns and motivations, resolving life struggles, and dissecting the root of the problem.

So, what is it you practice anyways?

This first in a multi-part series exploring the types of therapy I practice.

I've been a big believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) since studying it in graduate school. The simple premise behind CBT is that your thoughts influence your feelings, which influence your behavior. Understanding this pattern allow you to change it, right at the core.

Say you're in a meeting with your boss and she's not saying much. 'Is she annoyed with me?' you think. 'Maybe what I'm saying is totally off base.' These thoughts might make you anxious and start second guessing everything you're saying. These emotion-filled thoughts are called automatic thoughts, and they pop up based on beliefs about ourselves and the way the world works. Instead of automatically thinking your boss was annoyed, wondering if your boss was tired or preoccupied may change how you behave.

Automatic thoughts rely on perceptions about yourself and others called core beliefs. Core beliefs are developed from childhood experiences, cultural influences, your environment and more. Common core beliefs often follow themes of abandonment, un-lovability, defectiveness, helplessness, and entitlement.   

I have to be in control to be ok.

I'm unsuccessful.

If I don't succeed, I am worthless.

It's not ok to ask for help.

I'm stupid.

I'm bound to be rejected.

Challenging these automatic thoughts is the key to accessing and changing these core beliefs. Asking yourself questions like "Am I jumping to conclusions?" or "Am I condemning myself as a total person based on a single event?" or "Am I using all-or-nothing thinking?" can help challenge these thoughts. 

Noticing these automatic thoughts and changing them to a more realistic view can relieve distress. Changing the thought pattern from 'My boss is thinks I've done a terrible job; I'm worthless' to 'She's had a busy day and isn't saying much; Can I ask for feedback?' will change your behavior.

CBT is effective in treating:

  • alcohol use and abuse
  • substance abuse
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • chronic fatigue
  • eating problems
  • health problems
  • relationship problems
  • sleep problems

It's a short-term, problem-focused therapy that aims to systematically change the way you think about yourself and the world. 

Wise Mind

Wise mind, a Dialectical Behavior Therapy concept, asks us to become aware of our different mind states. Finding your Wise Mind, that midpoint between acting emotionally and rationally, becomes a powerful tool for navigating difficult life situations.

"I'm not good enough"

It's been a common theme in sessions this week; this idea of not being good enough. I've heard from several clients,

"I'm tired of trying."

"I should be doing more."

"Why can't I just do [insert action]?"

The judgments flow freely and harshly. The comparisons to both real and imagined people keep clients stunted in the vicious cycle of inadequacy. Left unchecked, stuck inside our heads, this inner critic can paralyze us. 

"What can I do?" a client plead earlier this week, desperate for relief.

Focus on progress instead of perfection

Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, in what ways have you made improvements? What are the areas you'd like to change and how are you moving closer toward your goal? Focus on the positive.

Comparison is the thief of joy

The people you compare yourself to are probably comparing themselves to someone else, too. Measuring yourself against others is the surest way to limiting your sense of worth. Everyone's journey is different; there's no better or worse.

You can't hate your way into success

Motivational posters don't say "suck it up," or "gosh why are you so awful?" Telling yourself you aren't worthy or lovable won't make you more worthy or lovable. 

You are enough just as you are.

G.L.A.D. - A simple mindfulness exercise

Incorporating mindfulness into your daily life doesn't have to take much time. This simple exercise takes less than 5 minutes and provides an opportunity for reflection, something we often forget to do.

G.L.A.D.

In a journal, reflect on the following:

G: Write one thing you're grateful for. It could be basic, like the shoes on your feet or the bed you can sleep on, or it can be a meaningful relationship in your life. 

I'm grateful for my dog, as she provides me entertainment and company.

L: Write one thing you learned today. It can be something you learned about yourself, about how you relate to the world, or a new skill or piece of information you discovered.

I learned I do my best work when my office is in order.

A: Write one thing you accomplished today. This is a small accomplishment (unless you have a big one to celebrate), but is a simple reminder of the things you do every day. 

  • getting out of bed
  • getting enough sleep
  • paying all my bills on time
  • making it to work on time
  • completed all my domestic chores

D: Write one thing that delighted you today. These are things that made you smile or laugh, things that entertained you, or simply made you happy.

I was delighted by the Youtube video I watched today, which made me laugh. 

Set yourself a reminder and practice this exercise everyday for a week. Notice how you feel during and after this exercise.

"Do I really need therapy?"

Knowing when to ask for help a brave and courageous step. How do you know when or if you need therapy?

We all experience a range of emotions, from happiness and excitement, to grief and stress, and none of this is necessarily problematic. However, if your emotions feel out of control or unmanageable, it's time to seek help from a psychotherapist.

If you struggle with regular eating, hear voices, or have difficulty sleeping through the night, it's time to seek help.

If your relationships are suffering, be it a parent/child relationship, spousal relationship, friendship, etc., it's time to seek help. 

If you find yourself using (and/or abusing) substances to cope with unwanted feelings, it's time to seek help. 

If you no longer find pleasure from activities you used to enjoy, it's time to seek help.

If a friend, family member, or loved one suggests you need help, it's time to seek help.

A trusted relationship with a mental health counselor can drastically improve your life. 

Why did I become a counselor?

 I get asked this question often. "Why did you become a counselor?" 

I didn't set out to become a counselor - I wanted to be a journalist. I went to journalism school with the idea that I'd be a writer. I'm not exactly sure for what, as I didn't want to be a daily newspaper reporter. I remember writing a profile on a travel agent in my college town and I hated that she wanted to read it. I had a pretty big hang-up with how the subjects of my stories might interpret what I was writing. Nor did I care for journalism school's cynical nature - I just didn't have the energy for it. 

I left college and started working in a marketing job that wasn't very fulfilling. Just a few months in, I decided I needed to do something more meaningful with my life. I remember thinking what I was doing everyday didn't matter, that I could stop and no one would notice, that my job didn't have to exist and no one would be asking for it. 

I decided it was time to change.

I reflected on how important my own therapist was in a difficult period of my life. She was such a support for me. Her outside perspective really challenged my rigid thinking. She had this awesome way about her that made me feel good about myself, while also challenging me to change. 

So I enrolled in a counseling Master's program. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with the degree when I finished, and I've been blessed to experience a variety of counseling experiences - from community mental health centers, to school systems, to private practice. I've come in contact with an array of clients struggling with a variety of issues, from severe mental illness, anxiety, depression, cutting, remarriage, and mid-life crisis. 

With experience in both fields, I've come to see the similarities in both journalism and counseling. They both rely heavily on the human experience. Telling people's stories. Making sense of the world. I just prefer the private nature of the therapy room to ignite change than the pages of the daily paper.