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  • F*ck “Self-Care”

    Just in case you needed one more reason to feel like you aren’t keeping up, let us consider whether your “self-care” is up to standard. No???? Wow. Shocking. KNOW WHY? Because getting the “recommended” amount of sleep, water, exercise, “me time,” journaling, vitamins, etc., etc. is abso-freakin-lutely impossible. Wait—sorry, actually, you know who IS able to do self-care 100% on a daily basis? Liars. That’s who. Anyone with a job, kid, friend, patient, dog, significant other, or a family member has, at one time or another, gone without food, sleep, or bathroom breaks because to do otherwise would compromise something or someone that was more important than “self-care.” Sometimes, it is a dream that would die, for others it could be a person. Regardless, the loss or the threat of loss was unacceptable, so “me time” fell to the wayside. For my next #unpopularopinion, let me recommend that mental health professionals stop subtly shaming people for burning the midnight oil. Too many times I’ve worked to clean up the fallout after a well-meaning “holistic workshop” that a surgeon, CEO, or single mother of 4 attended because after returning, they can’t find the time to journal like they “committed to do.” Not only that, but they aren’t able to “access feelings” like they were taught during psychodrama classes so now they think there is something wrong with them. They now have one more thing to feel bad about and more for their to-do list. Therapists need to stop treating everyone the same when it comes to how much traditional “self-care” is recommended. Some people are Warriors and Caregivers, not Sages, Innocents, and Artists. Warriors need a therapist’s help taking off their armor, airing it out, and putting it back on when it’s time for battle, not destroying it entirely. Caregivers need a therapist’s help to avoid martyrdom while finding people to care for; they don’t need them to pathologize their sacrifices. Want 3 “take-homes?” Here they are: 1. Failure to take care of yourself from time to time is completely human and completely normal. It is what differentiates you from a narcissistic psychopath (no offense to either diagnosis, of course). 2. Stop beating yourself up for not taking “self-care time,” it’s not an “all or nothing” thing. A soda at 4pm can be considered “self-care.” 3. And finally, “you do you” because the Sages, Innocents, and Artists will call for the Warriors and Caregivers to fight the battle and heal the wounds. As the saying goes, “it takes all kinds.” Take care ;) —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • Cringy Reassurance Seeking

    Reassurance seeking is something that everyone partakes in from time to time. Getting the reassurance we seek makes us feel better —at least temporarily. Although doing it is totally normal, constantly seeking reassurance is not. People may seek reassurance in verbal or nonverbal forms. Asking questions like “am I pretty?” or “do you like spending time with me?” is a direct, verbal way of seeking reassurance. Wanting someone to look at you a certain way or using how close someone is sitting to you or how often they smile to gauge how much they care about you are examples of nonverbal ways of reassurance seeking. Seeking reassurance is commonly seen in romantic relationships, particularly when one partner is feeling insecure about the relationship. It may become a habit to ask questions when the relationship is not as solid as we’d like it to be, but it can be unpleasant for the receiving party and alienate them in the long term. One easy way to stop this habit is to replace questions with statements. For example, instead of asking, “Do you still think I’m pretty?” you might say “I worry that you aren’t attracted to me anymore.” Although this statement might “pull for” reassurance, it allows the receiving party room to ask clarifying questions or just to let the statement stand on its own. It also emphasizes the emotions of the speaker rather than being similar to an interrogation. No one likes feeling forced to provide constant reassurance. Keep an eye out for the habit in yourself, and commit to clear, assertive communication and tolerating some uncertainties. Instead of asking questions like “do you want to be with me?”, you can exchange the question for a statement like “I’m just not feeling secure in our relationship,” and go from there. You will create a meaningful dialogue and get more out of the conversation with a statement rather than a reassurance-seeking question. Making statements instead of asking questions also gives you ownership of what you’re saying. You’re not putting it on the other person to just instinctively know how to answer your question. You’re owning your feelings, your emotions, and your observations. Use your words to your advantage. When asking these kinds of questions, you are intentionally putting the other person in an unfavorable position. People are often caught off guard and aren’t sure how to properly answer your questions. Oftentimes, they may even give a negative answer. Asking someone these uncomfortable questions leaves you open to receiving answers you won’t like; know that before engaging. Many times, through our reassurance-seeking interactions, we are subconsciously teaching the other person how we want to be communicated with. You’re also teaching them how well you take truthful, transparent feedback, whether good or bad. Once a person gives you the answers you desire, though, these answers take on a different meaning. Many times, they lose their believability and don’t hold the same weight. Constantly seeking reassurance from others can also damage relationships. When asking these questions, a person can feel manipulated into saying the things you want to hear instead of being honest; a basis for any healthy relationship. No one ever wants to feel controlled by someone else’s anxiety. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can actually produce incessant reassurance seeking. A person suffering from this condition can attempt to seek reassurance in various forms. While this might not seem significant, this can be detrimental to someone’s anxiety and OCD. The compulsion gets a person that short-term anxiety reduction, but it can, in fact, be reinforcing the anxiety itself. The more you get that fix of anxiety reduction, the more you’re going to seek it. When you’re feeding your anxiety with reassurance-seeking, you also leave yourself open to getting the answers you don’t want. With that comes the possibility of fixating on these unwanted answers, leaving you feeling just as anxious, if not more. Reassurance seeking can be dealt with by asking yourself important questions. When the need to seek reassurance arises, ask yourself: “What is my intention?”, “Is this really a valid question?”, “Can I turn this into a statement instead?”, “Will I be happy with the answer I get?” If these questions don’t apply, you may consider taking your anxieties to someone else and visiting a therapist.

  • There is No Such Thing as “Suicide Prevention”

    Apparently, September is “Suicide Prevention” month and since it’s the end of the month and no one has said it, it looks like I will have to be the bad guy. As a DBT therapist for 12+ years, I have worked with multiple people with chronic suicidal urges, people who have attempted to cause their own death on several occasions, and those who have lost people to suicide. I teach licensed therapists all over the country how to use DBT to help clients who want to end their life and I supervise therapists-in-training in working with people who are suicidal. In short, I think my opinion might be worth sharing. It is the word “prevention” that I have a problem with. Here’s why: It suggests there is a way to 100% stop people from committing suicide. There is not. People kill themselves in inpatient units while on suicide watch. Here’s the truth: If someone has the intent to kill themselves and you stop them this morning, that does not guarantee anything about this afternoon. Free will is a bitch sometimes. It suggests that stopping people from killing themselves is good enough. It is not. People who are suicidal do not have a life they feel is currently worth living….to end life is their solution. It is necessary for them to believe there are other solutions to the problem(s) and to believe that “a life worth living” is even possible. Just because you chain someone up to keep them from hurting themselves doesn’t make you a hero. It is super authoritative and implies doing away with human autonomy … as they might just lock you up to keep you from offing yourself. Oh, wait, yeah, there’s that whole “involuntary commitment” thing. Wow—super helpful. No suicidal person is willing to open up to a provider whose only goal is to “prevent” suicide unless they are ok with ending up in the hospital. So people tend to avoid therapy… or lie. The belief that with the right interventions, suicide can be prevented is why soooo many mental health providers actually Will. Not. Treat. Suicidal. People. Did you know that??? Ohhh, yes. Many, many… Why? Because they are absolutely terrified of being held responsible if a patient kills themselves. Just attend one of my trainings and listen to the therapists ask questions about “liability.” It’s heartbreaking and semi-disgusting to me that professionals refuse to help those most in need because they are afraid of getting sued. It is the perpetuation of this myth that contributes to adolescents (and adults) staying up all hours of the night worrying about how to “save” ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, acquaintances, and random people on the internet who post suicidal messages. You cannot “save” anyone. It is this belief that leads family members, friends, therapists, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone who might have crossed paths with a person who killed themselves to blame themselves, get depressed, and potentially even become suicidal. The thinking goes something like this, “If only I had…,” “I should have…,” “Maybe if I would have….,” If this is you, and no one has ever told you that you weren’t responsible, let me be the first: I am so sorry for your loss… you are not responsible for that person’s suicide. It suggests that suicide is BAD and “not suicide” is GOOD. Must be nice to be so certain of matters of life and death for people you don’t even know. Personally, I think global conclusions like this are insulting. Everyone has the right to decide what is GOOD and BAD for them. As a DBT clinician, it’s true that I will insist that clients “take suicide off the table as an option” for a specific period of time, but that’s not because of judgments about good and bad, it’s because, as the DBT founder, Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. says, “we can’t do treatment if you are dead.” To sum up, while it is a great thing to try to help suicidal folks, we need to remember that free will exists. We cannot fully control the actions of another person, nor in my opinion should we, because we are NOT the experts on anyone but ourselves. We can offer to help, but we cannot “save” anyone. We are just not that powerful. —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • What is a Neuropsychologist?

    I mean—what even IS a “personality?” That’s my typical comeback when some Psychologist (like myself) gets all triggered when I dare to insinuate that our (Psychologist) career is based on “soft science..." at best. I used to teach a graduate-level class on Personality Theory and that was the first question proposed in the textbook that accompanied the course…something to the effect of: Is there even such a thing as a personality? The answer: We don’t know, but it’s fine. Ignore that. Let’s just operate like there IS such a thing and move on with our lives. [Great.] In the realm of psychological science, of course, there are assumptions we all have to make (such as that there IS such a thing as a “personality”) in order to share a common language. That way, we can identify symptoms, know when something has gone wrong, and then, treat if necessary. But what if a core assumption is incorrect, and let’s say, there is NOT an actual thing called a “personality." Well, then that leaves us with major limitations in our ability to generalize. After all, the conclusions we make are only as valid as the assumptions that underlie them. In other words, the risk of being super wrong about what to do about the problem is super high if we are wrong about the cause. We used to think, for example, that psychological distress was caused by an imbalance of body fluids or that the womb was floating around in the body. That leads to far different treatments (yikes) than the belief that there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters! One of the problems I recognized early in my training was that several of the assumptions we rely on as Clinical Psychologists may be better understood by the arts than the sciences. We cannot see a “personality” through a microscope or other imaging technique, for example, but we do know when someone “has changed” in a person-- even when there is no concrete data to prove it. There is also value in what Neurology brings to the table: A closer relationship to tangible, observable, PROVABLE phenomena such as blood flow and structural differences in the brain. When you combine the art of Psychology with the science of Neurology, you end up with what is, in my opinion, a perfect mix: A Clinical Neuropsychologist 😍. —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • Reconciliation is NOT for Chumps

    Let’s start with this if you’re not anywhere close to a point where you can consider reconciliation, read no further. The last thing I would want is for my attempt to help to actually be invalidating. So if you have JUST experienced a traumatic incident, it’s probably not the time to listen to this or to read the accompanying blog. However, if you have ANY shred of interest in repairing a relationship, here’s some food for thought: Cutoffs are easy, reconciliation is hard: Sometimes cutting people off is the only thing that makes sense. But in the family therapy world, cutoffs are considered a last resort, to be reserved for cases of abuse. To be frank, you only get a couple of relationship cutoffs before a therapist starts questioning the common denominator—which is you. 😕 Grieve the death of the relationship you wanted so you can participate in the relationship you actually have: Shift the depth of the relationship to reflect the relationship you can stand. At this point, you know who you are and who they are. If you can’t have the relationship you wanted, then consider changing the depth of the relationship to match the relationship you can have. It’s not an “all-or-nothing.” Don’t look at a “shallow” relationship as being inferior. Chances are, you already have some deeper relationships. Be grateful for those but don’t get stuck on the idea that just because someone is “family” you should have a deeper relationship. As I like to say…your mother IS this way. It’s NOT groveling and apologies: In fact, you don’t necessarily need to apologize for anything, particularly if you don’t believe you did anything against your values. I’m don’t believe in forcing “sorry—”even for kids. Sometimes, reconciliation involves setting your boundaries, expressing what you want the other person to change, and even sharing the pissed off feelings you have. If you just can’t imagine reconciling, it may be because you are thinking that you just have to act like something didn’t happen. Not so. In some circumstances, it’s absolutely vital that you confront a person in order to reconcile with them. Keep it diplomatic, remember your validation skills, and assertively say what you need to say without blaming or labeling them and you may find it’s enough for you to let it go. Fear of “Starting Something”: This could be just your own avoidance tendencies and wanting to look more laid back than you actually are, but in the case that seeking reconciliation might lead to confrontation, remember this: One of the greatest things about being an adult is that you can always get up and leave. You don’t have to listen to ANYTHING or be subjected to ANYTHING that you don’t choose to. That is, unless you are arrested or otherwise detained involuntarily :) It’s ok to set limits and to remove yourself from the conversation if need be. Be sure you drove separately. Getting “rejected” isn’t the end of the world: If your biggest concern is that the other person will blame you or will otherwise reject your attempt to reconcile, it boils down to your fragile ego. Sorry—it’s my job to tell it. The best way to strengthen it? Do it BECAUSE it will be uncomfortable. There’s a big difference between something that’s just uncomfortable and something that is harmful. Know the difference. Remember who you are before you go into the conversation so you don’t get inflamed if and when they say something ludicrous. Other people have the right to be wrong. The person you are attempting to reconcile with is going through their own process and battling their own fears. Don’t take it personally and don’t let them tell you who you are. Breathe and let it go right through you. Finally, reconciliation may not be a one time thing. In romantic relationships, it can happen repeatedly. Just remember, the one who attempts to reconcile first is the winner ;) Good luck. —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • Helping Versus Enabling: What’s the Difference?

    “Helping” someone involves doing (or not doing) something which improves the final outcome of a problem for another person. “Enabling” is any behavior that looks like help on the surface, but actually makes the problem worse in the long term. I really think so much of it ends up boiling down to this: Are you doing it for THEM or for YOU? On the surface, that may seem like a stupid question, “I’m doing it for them, of course!” But I challenge you to check again. Are you doing what you’re doing because you feel guilty? WHO feels guilty? You. Are you doing it because you don’t want to appear like you don’t care? WHO doesn’t want to be seen as not caring? You. Are you doing it because you just need some peace? Or because you are afraid of their response? Once again…you and YOU. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing things for yourself, it’s just important to recognize the difference between helping someone and doing something because it’s helping you feel better. Something that helps YOU feel better may or may not truly help the other person. In fact, it may even make the problem worse. Some mistakenly believe their enabling is “helping” because they misread the meaning of the other person’s reaction: Because the receiver expresses appreciation, seems happier (at least briefly), and/or appears to have a more positive view of them, the “helper” concludes that they MUST have helped. That is a mistake in logic. If therapists judged the effectiveness of their interventions in the same way, we would only tell patients things that they want to hear! Not exactly “therapy.” If you’re wondering whether you might be enabling, here are some important questions to ask yourself: Is the problem getting better, worse, or staying the same overall? How would the “help” I’m giving be perceived by others? Can I even tell them what I’m doing without feeling defensive? What is the likelihood that what I’m doing will make it harder in the long-run for the person to change? How much is what I’m doing actually for ME versus THEM? What am I getting out of it? Am I trading short-term relief for long-term problems? What underlying message(s) might this send? Am I communicating things I don’t believe or would never admit to? Am I getting resentful (or at risk of getting resentful) because of my efforts? Have other people (such as family, friends, or professionals) said that I’m making the problem worse? Am I doing this out of fear, guilt, anger, or other strong emotions? What is the WORST thing that could happen if I don’t do this? Am I believing that I would be responsible for that? The truth is, because actual help can be uncomfortable, you can’t always know immediately if what you’re doing is beneficial to the other person. If you stop enabling, don’t be surprised if the person you thought you were helping gets upset…and definitely don’t take that as a sign that what you’re doing is wrong. If you decide you want to provide “help” instead, start by taking a step back to “look at the forest” rather than just the trees. what makes sense, not just what alleviates discomfort for you, and get some advice from someone who can be objective and who isn’t afraid to challenge you. Good luck! —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • Why Don’t More Men Go To Therapy?

    I snarled as I scrolled past yet another one of those patronizing posts on Instagram from a therapy practice. You’ve seen something similar, I’m sure. There’s usually a mountain or some other form of nature background along with a silhouette of a person you are supposed to identify with who may or may not appear to be in some form of pain…or maybe they are leaping or climbing on something? This particular post indicated that it was “proud” of me and implied that, because of this, I had accomplished enough for the day. My first thought: “f^^^^^^*k youuuuuu.” Why so bitter, you ask? Don’t even get me started. Anyone who knows me knows that I am anti “ woo-woo” therapy marketing. [As an aside, I freaking DARE you to try to find an online template for anything related to mental health that is not nature or Buddha related.] So here’s the thing…I’m not irritated because I don’t “believe in the woo-woo” therapy techniques. Believe it or not, I actually use (almost) alllll of the same stuff in therapy with my own clients (breath work, guided visualization, “inner child” work, positive thinking, nature, lovingkindness, meditation, etc.). We do what works. We don’t care what it is that works. We just do it. The problem is, there are a ton of people who think those sorts of things are weird and won’t help. They CERTAINLY don’t want or need anyone to say they are “proud” of them and thus, they conclude that therapy isn’t for them. That’s why I get angry. I can’t help people if I can’t get even them through the door because they think all therapy is “woo-woo.” Most of the men I treat, and many of the women, HATE being associated with that kind of thing, so they were pretty desperate to consider therapy in the first place. They ended up with us mainly because our message was different. It seemed to fit them better. More “practical.” Less “touchy feely.” It gets them in the door. Then, the drum circle is something we work up to. Just kidding on that last bit. The mental health industry has this whole schtick now about erasing the stigma (of having a mental illness, of seeking mental health treatment, etc.) but we clearly aren’t the brightest crayons in the box about how to actually go about doing so. This whole branding thing is pretty new to us all since historically, we were discouraged from even marketing at all. In my #notsopopularopinion therapy practices need to take a look at how their message accidentally perpetuates the very stigma they are trying to erase because they aren’t appealing to different personalities. The PSYCHē brand appeals to men, cynics, workaholics, people who are skeptical of therapy, and those who pride themselves on being hardcore-badass-tough types. 90% of other therapy brands appear to be aimed at boho women in their late 20’s-early 30s. Unless it involves substance abuse treatment which seems a little more diverse, although there is DEFINITELY a sunshine and/or a plant somewhere on that webpage. In short, some therapists could stand to diversify and re-brand so people can be more confident there could be a model of therapy and a style that fits them and that don’t have to be embarrassed to be a part of. The fact is, some people aren’t coming to the party because the party looks… CRINGY. —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • Are You a “Turtledove?”

    As a psychotherapist, one of my absolute, favorite moves of all time is when I meet a new client who sheepishly admits that they want a romantic relationship in spite of believing that they shouldn’t: “So you’re a “Turtle Dove.” With this statement, my hope is that I begin to unravel the years of twisted thinking they’ve been exposed to suggesting that they “need to learn how to be ok with being alone.” Why should they be alone? Because they REALLY don’t want to be alone? Because they are uncomfortable and sad being alone? Because they desire a significant other more than anything else in their lives? So there must be something wrong with them. They must be deficient in some way. They must have a “love addiction” or low self-esteem. Wow. Are we really that sadistic??? Never mind the fact that if the same client said they absolutely DIDN’T want a relationship, that would be considered a whole other problem. Our industry is so messed up sometimes, I swear. To me, these clients are like fish who heard they were supposed to know how to fly. Some were actually diagnosed with “love addiction” while others worry after a well-meaning friend or family member accused them of “jumping from relationship to relationship,” or they read an “empowering” article leading them to conclude that something is wrong with them. Virtually all feel deficient at their core because what they want more than anything in the world is to be in a satisfying and attached romantic relationship….like that is somehow super messed-up. So what is a “Turtle Dove?” The gist of it is this: Much like the actual bird, a “Turtle Dove” person is biologically programmed to pair up with a partner. One romantic partner. It is their nature. It’s probably coded somewhere in their DNA. To tell a “Turtle Dove” to stop wanting to pair up is like telling a crocodile to “go vegan.” Not possible…and cruel to expect. We all have a certain “nature.” Yes, we overcome it at times, but more often than not, our nature wins out in the end. If you look back at your drives and temperament in childhood you probably see what I mean. “Turtle Doves” are happiest and are at their best when they are in a monogamous romantic relationship. Now don’t get me wrong—I do believe there are situations in which people could use some help with their relationship history patterns. I have even prescribed periods of “singlehood” for clients, but I never recommend that lightly. I think of it like a cleanse or a fast with a definite beginning, a definite end, and no waiting around for them to be “happy” with the feeling. I know that eventually, a “Turtle Dove” will need to pursue a partner. Humans were wired to connect through relationships and a “Turtle Dove’s” strongest connection happens to be through romantic attachment. It is what it is. As clinicians, we should instead be concerned if a “Turtle Dove” loses the desire to find a partner, THAT’S when you know something is definitely wrong. Some “Turtle Doves” never discover their nature simply because they find a mate so fast they never have to experience the pain of being unattached. They were fortunate enough to end up with a partner they could snuggle up with and peer down at the lonely singles from their solid tree branch. This leads me to another of my favorite therapeutic interventions: I point out that often, the “well meaning” souls who suggested that my client remain single in the first place are people who happen to be in committed, long-term relationships. It’s kind of like being filthy rich and lecturing a homeless person on how money can’t buy happiness. Easy for them to say. If you are at all confused about the point, let me be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with a person just because they want to be in a romantic relationship more than anything else in the world. Stop telling friends, family members, and therapy clients that they “need to be ok” by themselves. It may not be their nature. Maybe instead, help them spiff up their online dating profile, find speed dating events, or help get them out of the house so they are more likely to find a match. I can promise you, there are few things more satisfying than seeing a sad and lonely “Turtle Dove” finally find true love 🥰 —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • When It’s Difficult to Validate

    Validation is a skill. I don’t care what that one angry lady from Vermont said at my DBT presentation a few years ago, validation is NOT “a way of life.” It is a skill we can use or not. Quick review on what validation is: Validation is a communication strategy that involves a stubborn refusal to communicate with another person in a way that leads to them feeling crazy, fragile, stupid, wrong, or bad. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that the message is that you HAVE TO validate all of the time. First of all, you don’t HAVE TO do anything, and second, Invalidation is inevitable and necessary at times [more on that in a future blog]. That being said, once you understand what validation is and HOW to do it, you then have a choice as to whether to use it or not. Sometimes it comes easy but other times it seems absolutely impossible. Understanding things that get in the way is vital in order to maintain that freedom of choice. Validation is the opposite of communicating with the main goal of trying to get the person to change. Even if that attempt to change them is “for the better,” (as in, “I just want them to feel better about themselves”), that is STILL not validation. Finally, in theory, there is SOMETHING valid in everything, so if we look hard enough, we can find it. Note that I used the word “if.” More on that in a minute. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a model of therapy that is all about validation. Seeing as it’s also one of the treatments of choice for extremely severe issues such as repeated suicide attempts and self-injury, we can pretty much count on that validation is an important skill to learn. Good DBT therapists know how to validate in some of the toughest situations imaginable. Think about someone talking about cutting themselves or overdosing—imagine what is involved in figuring out what to validate! Fear of making the problem worse by validating is one of the MAIN reasons why therapists fail to validate in these scenarios. Instead, they jump immediately to trying to change things and in effect, alienate their suicidal client. So that leads me back to the “if” part. Even if you know HOW to validate, it doesn’t mean that you WILL validate. We don’t do so for various reasons. Some barriers are: Fear: We don’t want to make the problem worse Ego: We don’t want the person to think or feel xyz about us and/or we think validating would mean admitting defeat or weakness Anger: We are so pissed we actually cannot access the thinking part of our brain Bitterness: We withhold validation because “they don’t deserve it” To Harm: We actively INvalidate to “show them what it’s like” Creativity block: We can’t figure out what to validate without lying or being insincere What to do depends upon the reason or reasons why it is difficult to validate. In the example of working with a client who is suicidal or self-harms, it is important for the therapist to remember that CHANGING the client [to feel better, to not be suicidal, to not self-harm etc.] is the END goal, but not the FIRST goal. Accepting help from a therapist is only possible once a client believes that the therapist actually “gets it.” Same for the people in YOUR life you would like to change. Same for anyone. If you don’t FIRST forget yourself entirely, get into the other person’s world, and effectively mirror their experience back to them, they cannot feel confident that your help would be of any help at all.

  • Non-Woo-Woo Coping Techniques for Mental Health Skeptics

    Do you find yourself rolling your eyes at the mention of mindfulness, meditation, and self-help books? You’re not alone. The culture around mental health can sometimes appear overly complex or just downright un-relatable. Our goal is to cut through the fluff to provide direct, unfiltered advice, minus the sugar coating. In this article, we’ll look at some coping techniques for those who prefer their mental wellness with a side of skepticism. Consider this a no-nonsense guide for the skeptics, the eye-rollers, and the unimpressed. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t involve a single scented candle. Somehow, someway, the majority of people have coped with crises and bad feelings for centuries without essential oils, guided imagery, or inner child work. They didn’t call a friend for support, cry on the shoulder of a loved one, or read self-help books on vulnerability. They did not just cope, but EFFECTIVELY and SKILLFULLY coped. They did not destroy relationships, start a new addiction, harm themselves or someone else, give up and wither away, or otherwise make the problem worse. I’m talking about people who may or may not be in therapy. What a person naturally chooses to use for coping usually fits their personality. Many of the people I’ve treated who self-harm, for example, have some really great personality characteristics. They typically try hurting themselves the first time out of sheer desperation to change things quickly and feel differently. Great. In addition, they are frequently willing to accept their part of whatever the issue is—AND they are clearly able to do hard things. Perfect! Now—take that same bad-assery and convert it to something less psychologically damaging and socially alienating and you have some of the “non woo-woo” coping methods. Consider the following techniques: Distract. Dads aside, it’s hard to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. It’s hard to bite your nails and play piano at the same time. In psychology, this is what is known as “incompatible behavior.” Do things that literally prevent you from thinking about the issue(s). When I was stuck in a car with someone and was tempted to focus on thoughts that would lead me to confront them (not a good idea!) I made myself do long division every time my mind tried to go there. I hate long division so I didn’t have to fight it too much. There are things you can do like putting all of the states in alphabetical order, listing every breakfast cereal you can think of, doing your taxes, etc. that will keep you from getting stuck in the muck of your head. Distraction should not be a long-term strategy, but it can help in a pinch. Do something. If you can do something about it, then do it. If you can take a step toward resolution, go ahead if that makes sense. If there is no possibility of resolution, such as the death of a person you love, then that might mean doing something to help with the funeral arrangements, for example. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a sense of predictability and control. We need that sometimes. Contribute. One of the most powerful ways to get out of your head is to get into someone else’s problem. Now this is not in a weird way, so don’t choose this one if you are the type to get more upset because you end up getting too involved, but if codependency is not your main issue, then give it a try. Come up with some ways you could pitch in and help someone else. Write a thank you letter, bake some cookies for a neighbor, check on an acquaintance or friend going through a break up, or offer to help someone with a household chore. You could even do something anonymous like writing positive cards and leaving them around town for anyone to find. Get creative or go online and search up some ways to help out. Get “delusionally optimistic.” I figure, if I don’t know what’s going to happen and my mind wants to play the “what if” game, why not make the story turn out ridiculously positive? In the “choose your own adventure” of life, I’m going to skip to the end and come up with as many possible positive outcomes as I can dream up. Maybe this happened so that I could find the love of my life! Maybe this happened to prevent a child from dying. Maybe this happened so I could start a new business that would change the world and save the planet! If you can get creative with the negative, you can do the same with the positive. Use your imagination to be just as irrational on the positive side. :) MAKE it mean something (good). Instead of it being “the time that someone hit me in the rear and totaled my car,” it became “the time that the Universe showed me that I did the right thing.” I MADE it mean that. Back story: I needed a new car, but was stressing about what to do with my current one. I didn’t have the time to sell or trade it (single working mom) and it needed to happen soon because it was on it’s last leg. The accident (other person’s fault) meant I ended up in a new rental within 2 hours and in a new car days later with ZERO hassle. I decided that the universe was giving me the “thumbs up” that I did “the right thing” in a completely separate situation I had also been stressing over. I MADE it mean what I wanted it to. Yes, you can do that. No one will arrest you or take you to the psych ward. Interestingly, I don’t make negative things mean anything. I opt to consider “negatives” a fluke or something I’m just too short-sighted to understand how they are actually positives. I just wait for them to prove themselves as positives in disguise! Be an alchemist. This is the coolest one in my opinion. This is when something bad happens, turn it into “gold.” This isn’t doing something good to offset something bad or doing something IN SPITE OF…it’s doing something good BECAUSE OF. You have to be pretty ballsy to do this and maybe a little delusional (see #4) but it is my absolute favorite. This involves taking something “bad” [person bitches you out] and you do something good that you would have never done if it hadn’t have happened [send them holiday cookies]. This can be done anonymously or it can have nothing to do with the person or situation. For example, because the person bitched you out, you will give $20 to the lady who helped you with your groceries when you would normally give $2. I love this for a variety of reasons. I love it because it feels good, because it restores a sense of control, because it is good karma (in my opinion), and because it throws people off and can directly challenge their beliefs about you, the world, and the future. This is something that I think is as close to magic as we humans can generate. We can literally create something good out of something bad! Unbelievable when you really think about it! The bottom line. Now these suggestions are not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t use “woo-woo” strategies. I encourage everyone to try out the “woo.” If you can’t/don’t want to do “woo-woo,” it suggests you actually need to do just that! But then “woo-woo” would be an exposure, not a coping skill. In other words, it might crank up the discomfort—at least at first. So, if you’re looking for something more active and that takes less time, the aforementioned strategies are a good start. Give them a try! The next step. The therapist next-door, AKA Your neighbor is a perfectly fine person to discuss your mental health with. However, to really to make process internally, it is best to seek a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. Finding any new therapist can often be one of the most stressful and anxious times for someone trying to find help. As much as we love the idea of cuddle therapy, it may not be the answer you are searching for, and unfortunately we cannot supply you with a cuddle therapist at this time. It can be easy to find yourself on google, searching for the usual suspects. Searches like “find a therapist near me”, “in person therapy near me” or “find a therapist online”, can be tempting, but with the vast array of search results that come back, it can be almost impossible to know if you are finding the right therapist for you. Mental health is not a one size fits all program. It's time to end the search. At PSYCHē, we match clients with their perfect therapists. Reach out to us today and we'll guide you to the services that are right for you. Contact us to learn more about our services including our Expert Therapists or our DBT Skills Groups. —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • When Reaching Out is Harmful

    Sometimes it is actually not beneficial to ask for help. Excuse me, what??? Aren’t we supposed to call on people when we are distressed? Doesn’t EVERY social media account hosted by mental health professionals post frilly quotes about how important it is to ask for help and how “it’s ok to not be ok?” Well, that’s one part of the elephant. Yes, asking for help is a life skill. We all need to do it sometime if we are going to survive and have satisfying relationships. But just like any “good thing,” we can use it too much. Here are some tips: First, identify what it is that you want: This is harder than it sounds. Before you reach out —ask yourself, “what is it that I would like this person to do (or not do) or say (or not say)?” If you DON’T know what you are looking for, you are asking for trouble. Not to mention that the relationship account will get a major deduction. Take some time to figure out what it is you are hoping for. Do you want suggestions for solving the problem? Do you want some creative strategies for distraction? Cheerleading? Validation? Next, think about the person you are reaching out to—are they actually capable of giving you what you are looking for? Or is it a 50-50? Are you willing to take that chance right now? Maybe when you think about it, you are pretty sure there’s no damn way they would hit the mark. As I always say, “Your mother IS your mother.” In other words, now is not the time to fight reality. If they are not likely to be able to provide what you are hoping for, time to consider plan B. Before you make your first official move, first use perspective-taking. Regardless of your current need, the fact is, when you reach out to another person for help, you need to tuck into some empathy if you want to keep the relationship. What time zone is this person in? Did they work all day? Do they have small children they could be picking up from school? This might change how and when you ask for help. It will almost certainly increase your patience and level of appreciation for their efforts which they will almost certainly pick up on. In an ideal world, there would be people we could use as an emotional dumping ground who would forever be supportive and loving. Hmm…not sure though, that sounds kind of creepy. Regardless, people are not objects and no matter the intensity of love the other person has for you, no human being is limitless. Like it or not, asking for help does take a toll on the helper. Anyone who says differently is kidding themselves or trying to sell you something. Don’t buy it. Of course, this doesn’t mean you “can’t” reach out at all…let’s not go THAT far. Just like you can take money out of your checking account without bankrupting yourself, you can ask for help without bankrupting your relationships. The key is not taking too much at once and adding to the account when you can. You get the picture. Please, thank you, and “is this a good time” can go a long way. Finally, pro tip: DO NOT reach out at the peak of your anxiety. Yes, your anxiety WILL go down (the upside) but the result is your helper will imprint on your mind like a baby duck to its mother (the downside). Then it feels like you HAVE to get in touch with that person to feel better. Not a great place for either party to be. If you are going to reach out, first try to let your anxiety drop naturally a bit—even just a smidge. If you are already “addicted” to your “human Valium,” consider stretching out the time between contacts, talk to them about things other than problems, and/or ask them to help you stop reaching out so much. Bottom line? Asking for help doesn’t mean we are going to get it or get it in the way we need it. As Buddha says “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path” —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē

  • Introduction to Validation

    “Just calm down.” “It’ll be fine!” “You should (or shouldn’t)…” It’s hard to talk about validation without considering what it is NOT. Hopefully you can immediately see that the statements above are examples of invalidation. Although we don’t need to validate everything (and in fact, it would be unwise to validate everything), we need to at least know HOW to validate. Validation is a skill and it can be learned. It is actually possible to validate ANYTHING. Yes, anything. Just to be clear: Validation is not problem-solving…although it CAN be. Validation is not warmth…although it CAN be. Validation is not agreement…ALTHOUGH IT CAN BE. Confused yet??? I can validate that. [Ha.] Ok, so then what is it? Well…I like to think of validation as stubbornly refusing to respond to another person like they are wrong, crazy, bad, or invisible. Exactly what to say or do then depends on several factors. It should be acknowledged that what is considered validating to one person could feasibly be invalidating to another. So yes, there are individual differences in what people find validating. The more you know about a person, in theory, the higher the likelihood you have of giving a validating response. But truthfully, it is the people we know and love best that can often suffer the pain of our invalidation. Why? Because it can be harder to validate when emotions are involved and invalidation is often returned by invalidation. As I was writing this blog, I looked up to see that my friend was looking for a pen she thought she lost in her chair. As she was looking, I put my writing down and got up to help. As I searched with her she expressed frustration with herself and I responded, “Yeah…I hate when I do that.” When she ended up finding the pen behind her ear I smiled, “I look for my glasses all the time when they are right on my head.” The intention: Help her feel that her problem is important, that she has support, and that she is not strange. This is an example of functional validation (looking for the pen with her) and verbal validation combined. Now let’s say that instead of validating, I used any of the opening lines from the start of this blog such as “just calm down” or “it’ll be fine.” It is probably clear that this would be epically irritating to her. But there are a variety of ways to invalidate! A more likely invalidation might be asking, “how did you lose your pen when you are just sitting there?” [and then laughing]. Or saying, “If you put your pen back in the same spot you won’t lose it!” [and smiling]. An unfortunate phenomenon is that invalidation is often returned with invalidation. In other words, she could then say, [cue sarcastic tone] “Wow that’s a great idea!” or "How about you shut the hell up?” This is, in part, how people get into cycles of problematic communication. But if JUST ONE person can commit to validation, it can really change up the whole dynamic. When uncomfortable emotions are involved, we are more likely to invalidate. When we are afraid, we may problem-solve, give orders, and/or defend instead of listening. When we are angry or embarrassed, we may blame and defend or ignore. We see things from our perspective instead of through the eyes of the other person. We respond based on what WE want, not based on what the other person wants in that moment, and in effect, we hinder communication. So how do you even start to validate when emotions are high? By recognizing when it’s happening (that you are emotional) and that validation needs to occur. Then, keep your mouth closed and listen. Imagine they are not talking about anything to do with you. Imagine, even, that they are another person altogether. That may help you not take things so personally. Then, remind yourself that there is ALWAYS “a nugget of gold” [something to validate] in the “cup of sand” [all the stuff they are saying]. This is how you can set the stage for validation. Now HOW to validate…well, that’s something we'll cover next time. —Stephanie Vaughn, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist-HSP, owner of PSYCHē About PSYCHē We found your therapist. Our goal is simple: We want to connect you with your perfect therapist. The first step is to meet online with an expert PSYCHē clinician who knows the right questions to ask to find out what kind of therapist will be the best fit for you. After hearing your history, goals, and what you’re looking for (and NOT looking for!) we go to work getting you scheduled with someone who can help. Why wait? Leave the searching to us. Here’s why we do what we do: Finding a good therapist is hard — we should know. We’ve been hiring, training and supervising therapists since 2009. Not all of them make the cut or stand the test of time. We find good THERAPISTS, not business owners or social media experts, so you get matched with the right clinician the first time. And if it doesn’t work out, we’re here to make it right. No online directory can make that promise. A directory tells only part of the story. Just because your neighbor likes someone doesn’t mean they’re a fit for you. The fact is, finding the right therapist can be exhausting. That’s why we’ve done the work for you. Let us pair you with a great therapist. First, book a consultation with one of our in-house therapists who will ask the right questions to find out exactly what you’re looking for. Next, our team of expert clinicians will work their professional magic to pair you with YOUR perfect therapist. The only step left is meeting your therapist and…doing therapy! You shouldn’t have to find your own therapist. Sifting through hundreds of therapist profiles online is probably NOT how you want to be spending your time. Word-of-mouth is great, but it’s not always available… and you may not want to see the same therapist as your neighbor or co-worker. We all know that online reviews are biased and the bottom line is, it can be hard to get an idea of what someone is really like until you actually meet them. That takes work, time, and in the case of therapy, money. We’ve done the work for you so finding a therapist for yourself or a loved one doesn’t have to feel like your second job. If we don’t have the right therapist, we’ll find the right therapist. Our goal is to contract with good therapists in every state, each with expertise in specific areas. If there is a therapist you need but we don’t have, give us some time and we’ll locate one. Don’t like the therapist we matched you with? No problem, we’ll find another—and you won’t have to go through the annoyance and hassle of doing another information gathering session. Our job is to find you YOUR therapist so you can do your job and feel better fast.

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