For those of you not aware, family therapy (systems therapy) is an approach to counseling that has really taken off since the 20th century. Most of the theorists around this approach to therapy were around during the 1950's to present. In 2017 we lost one of the original members of this approach to family therapy. Salvador Minuchin. He is considered the father of Structural Family Therapy and he was 96 years old.
i had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Dr. Minuchin over the past several years. What originally started as a secretarial relationship 8 years ago evolved into something so much more and for that I will always be greatful.
To me, Dr. Minuchin was a mentor, a paternal figure, and my “family” in Florida. The therapy community lost a founder and theorist. I lost connection and a piece of my heart. We often talked about death since it was a reality for him but a small part of me believed him when he jokingly told me 4 months ago that he had decided to live forever. He was a giant of a man with lots to share with the many who reached out to him. His mind remained active and his desire to develop therapists was a passion to his last day.
As a mentor, he pushed me and pointed out my insecurities. He did it with such directness, yet gentleness and patience. I often wondered why he bothered with someone like me.... He has worked with so many who are much smarter!!! He consistently asked about my practice, would be genuinely excited for my ideas and progress, and would encourage me to stay systemic. I was blessed to have him in my life. And I was blessed to work with a genius. A genius who, in the years we worked together, helped shape and mold how I wish my therapy to be as well as remained open to my thoughts and ideas for himself. I’m nowhere near that person, yet, but he nudged me towards better. He showed me that even at 96 he continued to learn so we should never stop trying to be better.
As a paternal figure he showed me love that was unexpected. He welcomed me into his home, he extended his family to me, and he gently chided me when I would express frustration with “trivial” interpersonal conflicts. I found I could express my thoughts about school, my life, my practice... and all was embraced with dialogue and acceptance which became our "normal". He took the time to meet all of my family, to give my father a gift as a thank you for me... He would ask for my presence during events he held, and he would tell me how “remarkable” my puppy is while he played with her. I cherished the time we had together, from sharing a meal, to watching videos, to exploring thoughts, to discussing therapy.
As my “family” he would check on me... he respected me and entrusted me to be his voice to the public. he offered his home to me. And I would check on him! There have been multiple times my heart stopped when I didn’t know where he was… Was he OK? He’s not answering my calls or my knock… what has happened? And then I would find him shortly after, on some adventure and asking me why I allow myself to get flustered for no reason.
Two days before we had to say goodbye he asked me why I was so loyal to him. He made me cry. I was thinking the same thing about him.
He thanked me for loving him.
It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling as many may not be able to relate to the wonderful relationship we shared. He has quite the reputation from his work in the early years and many may, or may not, be aware of how his approaches have tempered over time as he himself did. I was blessed to experience a softer and more patient Minuchin who still pushed and still made you uncomfortable but I also was blessed with the opportunity to hear HIM process how it made him feel when he pushed me....
I’m very private about our time together because I took seriously the responsibility of his work and our bond was special to me. Yet I’m so thankful to have been blessed with his influence and his presence in my life. My 8 years with him is only 1/10 of his life and only a fraction of what he has accomplished. I saw a softer side of him that you don’t read about in textbooks and a vulnerable side that many forget exist in our iconic role models.
He gave me the best gift I could ever ask for. He gave me a place to belong.
Thank you for being such an influence “Thatha Sal”. You are loved. And you will be missed.
In high school I was very active in the English Department. I wrote for the school newspaper, was involved in the yearbook, and was part of a special group that were focused on journalism as a college track. As I enrolled in college I found that journalism and English seemed to call me and my first year was spent enrolled in these programs. It wasn't until my first Introduction to Psychology class that I realized the value of mental wellness and eventually changed my academic journey to focus on the science of the mind.
In spite of my departure from the English language as my focus of study I have always carried a deep respect for the use of words and how we each apply them in life. A word that could be considered "acceptable" within one group suddenly becomes taboo when you take it to another audience. Or a word that means one thing at work takes on a whole new meaning at home. Words that are acceptable in certain regions of the Country are gibberish in other areas. For example, a "hoagie" in Philadelphia is a "sub" or "hero" in areas. "Pop" in the Midwest is "soda" in other places. And being "stuck in traffic" creates a completely different picture for someone in Miami versus someone in Texas versus someone in the Northeast!
Another avenue of language is to appreciate people applying the same meaning to a word. In some cultures it is commonplace to use profanity while in others it's considered offensive. The word itself does not carry weight but, rather, the weight the audience places on a word.
Words are a large influence on communication in modern society. Made more so important with the advent of social media and the use of words and acronyms to relay emotions, thoughts, and opinions to the masses. Text messages have brought an entirely new language that is useful and accepted universally. Twitter has taught the mainstream to limit it's usage of letters and words and suddenly what was once a full sentence is now a blur of letters that many may understand but others may not.
How do we navigate the use of language in today's society? How do we know how something we say is accepted or applied? Are you aware of the power of your words within your family? Are you conscious of the value your words play when interacting with those you love?
Try listening this week. REALLY listening. What words/sentences do you take for granted believing that those around you "get it"?
ere in the US people don't speak about money concerns. Yes, we may briefly comment on some aspect of our personal finances but the financial reality we face seems to be more private than all the over-sharing we do with the world. On social media we seem to be willing to share where we are, what we do, who we spend time with, or even the various thoughts flying through our head. Yet interestingly enough, in conducting therapy sessions with individuals, couples, and families the one theme we hear often has been concerns about how to handle finances.
Financial stability has an active role in the mental health of a person and family. If money concerns are a factor in your life are you able to recognize how your mental health is affected? Do you see how your relationships are touched by the financial worries or challenges you and your family face? What is the relationship to finances you are instilling in your significant other and children?
Financial concern can show itself in many ways:
Know how much money you have! Know your balance before you start spending. Make sure you always have enough money to cover the basic needs - like food and toiletries.
An older woman with several shopping bags suddenly dropped two as she was making her way outside of the supermarket. She labored to balance the bags that did not fall while trying to bend down and pick up what had landed on the ground. During this struggle several people passed by her. Yet not one offered any assistance. Perhaps all of these people had urgent matters to attend to but this is a stark example of how the "me-first" mentality has saturated our communities.
Everywhere you turn today there is a strong desire for bettering ourselves: finding ways to experience life, self-care, diets, sleep aids… All for self-fulfillment. Add our current state of technological availability which allows for almost instant gratification from information, resources, and opportunities… our ability to meet our individual wants is at an all-time high! We are now enabled to project and absorb exactly what we believe we need: instantly communicate with our imaginary internet friends, purchase whatever product we suddenly desire, and get lost in our favorite books or show with the press of a button. Could this effort to be so “self” aware be detrimental, in any way, to the evolution of social interaction?
In our effort to be considerate of our "self", simple social skills are being abandoned. Do you sometimes dangerously speed because you are in a rush to get to your destination? When was the last time you held a 15 minute conversation without checking your phone? Are you guilty of forgetting to say "please" and "thank you" because you are mentally distracted? Have you ever ignored a friend's question because you allowed your mind to wander to something you forgot to do? Do you celebrate your "multi-tasking" ability so you can justify not giving someone your complete attention?
What about that time someone cut you off in traffic because HE was in a rush to get home? What about the person who parks in the handicap space simply because it was the closest available spot? Although usually unintentional, it is easy to get self-absorbed in our own immediate wants/needs and forget its effect on the people around us. Yet if we see someone else being self-absorbed or self-serving we throw around terms of selfishness or uncaring. We demand attention while our immediate needs are all-consuming. We are not able to maintain proper social relationships – either inside or outside of our homes.
For whatever goal we have for life, social interaction will always play a part. Although self-care is important for our personal life goals, the value of “other-care” is immeasurable. In a time where it is easy to get caught up in the demands of our daily lives, other-care has become an almost extinct custom. If we choose to stay focused on our own needs can we realistically expect others to care about us? What happens when we have no living network of friends or loved ones to celebrate our triumphs? How easy is it to handle a challenge when we cannot share with someone who understands us? What if our personal goals exceed consideration for the safety of others? What if your family chose to spend less time with you in order to do more on their own so they can practice “self-care”? Seems society is ready to call people “narcissists” for being self-absorbed while all the while encouraging us to be this way. It’s a mixed message we need to be able to decipher!
If this idea makes sense to you, what are some ways we can each practice other-care and make sure we are giving what we would like to receive?
Do you know what it means to make a "full stop" when complimenting someone? During a recent family group we were discussing communication between family members and how, oftentimes, the ultimate message we are trying to convey seems to get lost because our thoughts become run on sentences.
During the discussion of complimenting, some family members commented how they often made it a point to say positive comments to their children. Yet even with these efforts, for some reason their children only seem to remember the negative. We asked for an example of a compliment that was paid to their children and the compliment went as follows: "You are so gentle and kind but I wish you would listen more." We pointed out the add-on to the compliment and asked the parent to try again with their compliment. Surprisingly, it took 4 attempts to get the participants to make a full stop: A stop after stating the positive comment. A stop before offering suggestions for improvement. A stop to keep their brain from racing to qualify their compliment. A stop to simply allow the positive statement to exist.
How often do we have something positive to say to someone but end up letting it get lost as we try to, instead, point out what could be better? Do we take the time to allow a positive comment to be heard, and felt, by the person we are commending? How often do we muddy positive thoughts and intentions with our complaints about what we would prefer to see?
In a life where instant gratification is the norm it makes sense that we want to say as much as we can as quickly as possible... everything is happening so fast that we need to say it before we forget! But what happens when so much information is being put in to one small sentence? What ends up getting lost? What part of the sentence is forgotten so another portion can remain in our minds?
Compliments and recognition are vital in a relationship and those who love us put higher value when these compliments come from us. It's so easy to break something down yet so difficult to build something up. A building takes months/years to build yet a day or two to break down. The same is true for a person. Building them up with full stops are vital to let someone know that unconditionally they are valued. Without need for anything else, they are loved, cherished, and hold potential.
The failure to fully stop is not only something that is experienced in families but also can be seen in business and personal relationships, as well. Do you have friends who fail to "full stop" or do you have a co-worker who just can't seem to celebrate the happy accomplishments at work? How does their inability to fully stop affect their every day lives?
How often do you provide words of kindness? And when you do, do you take a "full stop"?
Do you and your partner know what it means to support each other?
Support can be seen in many shapes and sizes and each couple creates support that works for them. What is equally important is the ability for each person in the relationship to recognize what they need and to be able to ask for it.
It’s always interesting to watch the dynamic between couples and see how they complement one another. Does their energy level balance out? Do they seem to listen to – and hear – each other? Do they encourage each others' choices? Are they able to exist independently yet have a “team” mentality when working through challenges?
In order to be able to really support each other it is important to understand that there are two things we are discussing here and both are equally important: understanding yourself and supporting your partner .
How would you complete this sentence: “I feel someone cares when they…” Do you know what makes you feel better when you are down? What do other people do that makes you feel good about yourself? Have you ever taken the time to recognize what you crave when you want to be acknowledged?
What does support for your ideas/goals look like? Is it an encouraging word? Is it someone to process your ideas with? Is it someone who will complete a task with you? Knowing what you need makes it easier to ask for it from the people you love.
If you know what you need, bravo! You are already steps ahead of many! But if not, how do you go about learning this about yourself? You, as an individual, bring something to any relationship you are a part of. And the more you are aware of your needs the easier it is to search them out when needed. If you have not taken the time to understand what you need, it can be daunting. You have to love yourself enough to know that having this knowledge is vital to maintain positive relationships – both with others as well as yourself.
With self-understanding comes acceptance and with these tools you enter into a healthy relationship. When two people bring their self-understanding and love they are able to create a beautiful duet of complementing colors: knowing yourself well enough to understand how to stay in tune while learning to work in harmony with your partner.
Supporting your partner:
When you have an understanding of your needs you are better able to communicate those with your partner and when they know what they need it makes expressing needs and desires an easier path. Supporting each other also becomes easier when your communication invites decisions that are made by the two of you, together. Choices become easier when both of you agree. Do you continue to share your goals with each other? If these goals start to shift away from what you once thought you wanted how do you express these changes with each other?
If you and your partner are committed and determined to succeed for the long term, take the time to stay in touch with goals and opinions. Practice communicating with smaller topics so you can tackle the larger items together. And even when there is a change to the "original" goal, if you are in the habit of communicating these goals and desires, expressing the change becomes easier and experiencing support is more likely.
Perhaps a more challenging perspective is when you see your partner changing and being supportive is a difficult task. You have been comfortable with the person you “knew” for so long and now they are changing the game by changing their goals and preferences! Fear can make us do strange things and that includes hurting those we love. Are you aware that there may be fear related to changes you see? Or perhaps something more? Are you simply worried about the change in your partner or are these changes now affected who you are as an individual? What is it about your partner’s choices that is making it difficult to support them?
If you find you are unable to support your partner's choices, perhaps taking a moment to recognize your own perspective is in order, again. Perhaps you are, in fact, supporting them but they don’t realize it. What if one, or both, of you hasn't completed the step we mentioned above? Are you both aware of what support for each other looks like? Or perhaps you don’t agree with your partner’s choices. If this is the case you must make sure you are aware of why you cannot support them. And if you are aware of why support is not possible communication is key to expressing these thoughts in healthy, and loving, ways.
Support from the one you love can make even the most difficult task seem possible. If your partner is the person you intend to be with for the long term you may find that taking the time to support them, as well as explaining to them what support for you means, can make a world of difference in a relationship that will be ever changing.
It’s the end of the summer we have one last chance for a family vacation before the school year begins again. Besides homework, activity schedules, after school events, and school itself it seems to become more and more difficult to connect with our kids and enjoy shared experiences. But what can we do to connect with our family and make memories that will last a lifetime? And how can we do that in a way that won’t break the bank?
Money may be tight but there are still many possibilities to have some family friendly fun before the drudgery of the school year drags everyone back into routine.
Here are some suggestions for some end of summer vacations the whole family can experience together:
Have any other suggestions we could add to the list? Share it in the comments below!
Unless you are living under a rock you are probably hearing all the news about the new season of Game of Thrones starting on HBO. Even if you are not a fan you are probably close to one who won’t stop talking about it!
Everyone has their own reason for watching (or not watching) the show but here are a few entertaining lessons any Game of Thrones fan can apply to relationships in our every day – non-dragon filled – lives:
You don’t have to be a Game of Thrones fan to appreciate the lessons shared in this show but knowing that so many watch the show, it is so great to be able to learn lessons from what we watch for fun and apply it to our relationships!
We rarely think about it but each and every day is guided with choices we make. The choice to get up and meet our responsibilities; the choice to have coffee or tea; the choice to say hello to people you pass by; the choice to be positive or negative; and it goes on. But have you ever considered the far reach each of your choices actually has? Do you ever stop and think how something you do "automatically" has a ripple effect on the people around you?
Let's say you decided to stay up late to watch your favorite TV show. And as a result you oversleep the next day. You are now late for class/work and rush out of the house, you snap at your spouse because you feel rushed, you yell at traffic because it holds you up, you grunt a hello to your coworker as you race to catch up, and when you come home you just want the day to be over....
In Systems Theory it is believed that one person's attitude or behavior can affect an entire system. That means anything we do can have a domino effect on the people around us. Because you snapped at them, your spouse comes home grumpy and doesn't want to help with the household chores; Your hurried "hello" to your coworker has them giving you the cold shoulder all day.... What was an "automatic" response from you trickles down through your world and has effects that influenced more than just you. Whether you realized it, or not, sleeping late affected not only your day but the day of others.
It's very easy to say that you are not responsible for how others act, and yes that is true. But what if we considered choosing wisely to be proactive handling of our own needs? Being aware of the choices we make is important since our choices do affect the people around, just as their choices affect us. There are some socially responsible choices you may already make: recycling, giving to the less fortunate, donating your time…. But what are some every day choices we can make to cause a difference in our immediate world?
Some suggestions to consider with your everyday life that can have lasting impact include:
Gandhi said that we should be the change we want to see in the world. Are you ready?
It's everywhere in the news.... People are lying, the media is fake, we now hear about "alternative facts" and the list goes on.... We see articles, videos, news conferences all telling us things and yet we, as society, can't seem to agree on what we are hearing and seeing! Society can’t seem to agree on what is true!
It’s important to understand that our “truth” is not based on something we decided to believe when we woke up today. It has been building, layer upon layer, and cemented in us as we evolved into adulthood. In Systems Theory there is an understanding that each person is an expert of their own lives. Who knows you better than you? The theory further says the experience of everyone is unique only to them: Two kids can grow up in the same house but still have completely different views of the world. We start to see things in different ways and make our values based on our life experiences... seafood is delicious (or not), football is the best sport (or not), we are close to our family (or need space); our list of values – and our truth - builds as time goes by.
There is a danger in believing our own truths are absolute. It is not in our being certain of our values but, instead, how our truths may hinder our ability to live with the people around us. But what can we do? Do we have to give up our own truth to accommodate those around us? And what do we do if our values are in direct conflict with someone else?
We can agree to disagree and that could be easy... I love football but I will let you tell me soccer is better. Shellfish is slimy but I will make it for dinner because you love it... But what about the tough ones? What if one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice? What if one believes in gun control but the other defends their second amendment rights? Would you be willing to risk your friends and loved ones to live in your truth?
It's so easy to hide behind keyboards and express our truths to the world - telling those who don't agree with you that they don’t have all the facts. Suddenly our values are priceless and its vital that we make our voices heard. We are in an age where our socializing can be limited to the clicks of a keyboard or the swipes on our phone yet do we apply this same approach in our personal lives?
Can you call your coworker a name if they don't agree with you and walk away without worrying about them in the future? Can you call your significant other "ignorant" and not worry about consequences? Social media has given us a slippery slope where our anonymity presents an opportunity for a false bravado which can spill into our daily lives - and possibly risk friendships we have managed to hold on to for years.
If you realize that you may not always be right, some suggestions are:
Our personal values will never be the personal values of absolutely everyone in your life. Just as your values are somewhat different than your parents it is just as likely that your personal set of values will be different from your partner, your children, and even your best friend. Respecting everyone’s truth is where we can all come together.
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