Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Know How this Movie Ends

Did you ever watch the same movie a second time even though you knew the ending was tragic and sad? If you feel for the main character in the film, watching the movie the second time can be a painful experience especially if you find yourself wishing that this time everything could work out instead of watching the tragic ending all over again. Another similar real life example would be witnessing a young person who you care about follow a course that you know ends up in a bad place, like failing in school or getting in trouble with the law at an early age. Maybe from your own experience you know how the story of that “movie” ends.

What about you? Are you following some kind of proverbial “script” that common sense may say will likely lead to an unhappy ending? Obviously there are exceptions to every rule when someone follows an unwise or unhealthy life course but it still works out okay (Like for instance the 95 year old woman who smoked 2 packs of cigarettes per day for her whole life and never got cancer) Still, using common sense (which at times ain’t too common) and being honest with yourself, try to think about how some of these all too common stories end:

Johnny struggled with alcohol use problems for decades but now after a solid period of abstinence says he is going to go out with the boys again to the bar and just drink sodas

Sally finally kicked intravenous heroin and has been sober for 3 months but she convinces herself that she is just going to sniff a bag now and then just to relax and that’s it

Mary has been broken up with her on again off again boyfriend who emotionally abused and cheated on repeatedly for years but she is considering meeting up with him again because he swears that “this time he’s changed”

Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “I get it but those types of things can’t happen to me, I know better than those people” and hopefully that is true. Still, many of us have at least one challenging life struggle or experience in which we may have put our hand in the fire repeatedly before we were fully convinced that we would get burned, only to still do it again a few more times anyway before we really learned our lesson.
With all of this in mind, trying to be as honest, insightful, open and self-aware as possible, discuss some of the following:

PAST – Do you have a life experience from your past in which you may have neglected to see the signs or fail to listen to the advice of others, telling you that you were headed in the wrong direction?

(Example – “When I was a kid, everyone told me to put more effort into school and stop hanging with people who got into trouble and now as an adult I feel like I could have been much better off if I had just listened back then)

PRESENT – Is there a life area now that you may be struggling with in which you have a sense of concern about where things may be headed but you are having difficulty changing anyway?

(Examples – “I get so depressed over how much debt I am in, but then I still keep on spending and wasting money anyway and it just gets worse and worse” – “I have a pattern of getting into bad relationships over and over again and as I keep promising myself I won’t do it again but then I find a new one and it starts all over”)

FUTURE – Comparing your current life circumstances to a movie, what can you do now in order to increase the likelihood that your current situation has a happier ending?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Remembering Me A.D. (After Death)

The overwhelming majority of people in the world don’t do death well which makes complete sense. Regardless of whether a person has the strongest faith and spirituality in the world, or if an individual is an agnostic or atheist, most people would agree that when someone we care about dies, it is a very, very tough time, to say the least. Even people of faith who believe that death leads to something better can recall that even “Jesus wept” when discussing the recent death of his friend (John 11:35). Losing someone is never easy for anyone.
However, for now this is not about to be a discussion on spirituality or atheism or anything in between. From a therapeutic standpoint, there is one practical thing that many people take some time to reflect on after someone dies, particularly after attending some kind of funeral or memorial service. It is a natural inclination to think about our own death when someone else passes. “How will I be remembered?” can be a thought that can be extremely motivating.
So for a few minutes as a group, from a positive and motivational perspective, with an eye on self-improvement, consider what kind of “name” that you want to one day leave behind for yourself with the time you still have.

Questions for discussion:
What is something that impacted you that you learned from someone who has passed away, either through their words or their good (or bad) example when they were still alive?

What are a few words, sayings or memories that you would want people to think of when remembering you after you’ve passed away?

After reflecting on these questions, what is something positive that you think that you could increase your focus in your life on in order to leave a good name for yourself?

To end on a positive note, discuss 2 or 3 three things that make you feel grateful to be alive today (whether or it is the simple things in life or something more deep, personal and meaningful, there’s no wrong answer)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Empathy Moments

Because of the uniquely profound quality of empathy, we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes which can serve as a strong source of motivation to want to help others. Because of empathy we may not need to experience something ourselves in order to be able to try to understand how something feels. Sometimes just having the desire to try to understand someone’s pain can be enough to be with that person and support them through their pain or suffering. Empathy therefore in many ways is an essential and beautiful human quality.
Nevertheless, empathy isn’t always easy and it doesn’t always come naturally in every situation. Interestingly, every now and then every person eventually has an unexpected occurrence in their life that can serve as a real “empathy moment”. You know you are having an empathy moment when you find yourself thinking “So this is how _____ (name) felt when he/she was going through _____ (difficult experience)”.

When someone who steals, cons and rips others off ends up getting ripped off by someone even more clever
When the cheater one day gets cheated on
When someone grows up the big shot who looks down on and bullies others one day ends up on the other end of being bullied and looked down upon as an adult
When the person who lets everyone know that they have all the answers ends up completely lost, confused and alone, not knowing where to turn
When the person who says “just get over it” experiences something that he or she just can’t get over

Empathy moments group discussion:
Think about your own “empathy moments” when something happened in your life that really opened your eyes to how others in that situation feel.

Empathy is such a helpful human quality that can really build bridges between people in different situations with different backgrounds and experiences. Think about and discuss the positive benefits that can come about when there is empathy and understanding among people.

How can you as an individual increase in your ability to try to understand and empathize with others?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Powerlessness & Willpower

Whether you consider yourself to be addicted to something or not, everyone alive has experienced powerlessness in some form or another. There are always going to be things in life we just need to accept that we cannot control. Still, the idea of powerlessness sometimes can distract people from the other side of the coin which can be of equal importance. As critical as it can be to accept powerlessness when needed, it is also necessary not to overlook the value of the age old concept of willpower. What is willpower?

Willpower - noun
1. The ability to control oneself and determine one's actions
2. Firmness of will

Synonyms:  determination, self-control, discipline, resolve, self-restraint

Progress and success in just about any life area requires some degree of willpower in one form or another. Think about the willpower you needed to achieve goals in your life including, for example, graduating high school, career goals, building a family, and many others life areas where you needed to put in some work in order to grow and prosper.
For discussion, consider the following aspects of willpower. Discuss what each one means to you by thinking of some examples in your own life. Then at the end go back and identify the areas discussed that you may need to work on:

Willpower and Patience: The power to delay immediate gratification for the greater long term good
Willpower and Thinking: The ability to overpower an unwanted thoughts, cravings or urges
Willpower and Emotion: The power to experience emotions without impulsively letting these emotions control our words and actions
Willpower and Self-Regulation: The ability to be conscious of your desires without giving in to them
Willpower and Resources: The ability to ration your money, time and other resources without wasting them or burning through them too quickly
Willpower and Ego: The ability to share, let go of power, and give up the need to try to control other people
Willpower and Letting Go: Possessing the power let go or give in when something negative has a hold on us
Willpower and Fear: The ability to experience fear and apprehension yet still press forward

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Feeling Under the Weather

What a puzzling thing feelings are. The basic idea of feelings can be so difficult to define and so uniquely hard to explain. Somehow our thoughts and past experiences curiously mix together to remarkably formulate into these feelings we feel but often cannot even understand. At times we can’t get enough of some kinds of feelings and at other times we want to run and hide rather than feel our emotions. Feelings are that strange and powerful. Feelings can motivate a person toward great achievements yet in other cases feelings can be the driving factor behind great pain.

Therefore, it is clearly worthwhile to develop our ability to manage our feelings, rather than allowing our feelings to manage us.  Consider the following:

ExerciseTrue or false: Which of the following are true or not true for you today?

I use my feelings as an excuse for doing things that I know I shouldn’t do

In many situations, I can’t even define my feelings

Anger is the easiest feeling for me to relate too and talk about

Sometimes I feel emotionally numb

At times I let my feelings get the best of me

I often find ways to run away from or block out emotions

Sometimes I accuse others for “making me feel” a certain way

I am better at ignoring or hiding my feelings than talking about them

I often don’t know why I feel the way I do

I am uncomfortable talking about my feelings even with people close to me

If you are reviewing these questions with someone else or with a group, review and discuss your answers.  Feelings can be a lot like the weather. Most of the time we can look outside and up at the sky and get an idea of what kind of day its going to be feelings-wise. Still, every once in a while a storm can come out of norwhere so it is imprortant to be prepared. No one has their feelings 100% in check so it is beneficial for all of us from time to time to assess where we are in the lifelong process of dealing with feelings

For more group activities and information on managing feelings click: DEALING WITH FEELINGS

"Some people feel the rain; others just get wet" - Bob Marley

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Kickstarted by Consequences but Sustained by Success

When it comes to negative behaviors often it may be consequences that can start the process of change in the beginning. For example, someone who is overweight might finally decide to go on a diet when they realize that their clothes no longer fit. Negative things can start the change process but quite often the negative things alone may not be enough to keep motivation going strong on a long term basis. At some point, change is sustained by the positive feelings that often come with experiencing progress over time. For example, the person who decided to go on a diet to lose weight may gain momentum and motivation when he or she starts to feel better about the way how good it feels to be thinner and how good things may start looking in the mirror once the pounds start coming off. In the beginning of the change process exercising and eating salads might start out as a dreadful chore but with time and success, going to the gym and eating healthy can actually start to become a positive, joyful experience. In the long term, it is the people who learn to enjoy lifestyle change that stick with it and stay strong

Of course, this same idea is often true with addiction and other bad habits. Often it is the consequences (arrests, family problems, job loss) that might start someone with the process of getting help. However, the person who sticks with the change process for substance use issues eventually should start to learn to enjoy their new lifestyle without abusing substances over time. Positive progress sustains motivation.

With this concept in mind review some of the following questions for thought and discussion about a substance use issue or other bad habit you may be working on changing:

What consequences got you thinking about making changes?

Even if you are still struggling now, what are some positives you can see about making lifestyle changes?

Looking toward a better future: What do you specifically think you need in your life to really appreciate and to stay with the process of changing for the better?

Friday, March 31, 2017


When you Google the word “Acceptance” be prepared for the possibility that you may find yourself feeling confused. There is a lot of really deep-sounding stuff out there on the topic of acceptance but it often gets lost in a sea of over-philosophizing and psychobabble. The reason is probably because acceptance in itself is such a paradoxical concept; in some ways it can seem so simple, yet trying to explain acceptance can be so complex. Therefore in an effort to avoid being just another paradoxical, overly-philosophical, quasi-spiritual, confusing essay on acceptance, let’s consider this idea of acceptance in practical terms. When something is practical, it is easily used and applied rather than overly deep and abstract. How can we start to apply acceptance in a practical, useful manner?

One obstacle that makes acceptance such a challenge is that many of the prevailing messages we receive each day fly in the face of acceptance as many media messages are based on an idea of not sitting back and accepting things as they are. Some of these messages include

  • You can do it if you try hard enough
  • Keep on pushing, trying, struggling, etc.
  • Never give up

One of the more bitter to swallow realities of life is that there is a time to keep on fighting but there is also a time when acceptance can tell us to “cut our losses”. In its simplest form, acceptance begins at those moments in life where we just come to the conclusion that “It is what it is…” Certain causes and situations in life may call for a “fight to the end” but many others are better handled by accepting, coping and then adapting. Sometimes when we accept a situation for what it is, then learn to cope with any negative feelings, we can then start to adapt our lives as needed. Often when this process occurs the way it should, we can find eventually ourselves in a better place…

Consider the following questions for thought and discussion:

How does a person know when it is time to just say (at least for now): “It is what it is…”? Come up with some examples.

When it comes to substance misuse, abuse and addiction, what is it that some people may need to accept? Why can that be so hard to do?

Acceptance can be like opening a doorway toward coping with a situation, and then adapting life toward change and self-improvement. With that in mind, what is one thing in your life that you are changing for the better?

Click Here for a follow-up group therapy exercise focused on the concept of Accept – Cope - Adapt