Beverly Schwartz and Mr. Rogers and The Importance of Self-Care

Beverly Schwartz and Mr. Rogers and the Importance of Self-Care

By Monica A. Ross, LPC

We had a great class last night. The energy of class flows better some nights than others. I smile a little as I look at the tired and weary faces of my colleagues and then glance at my own image on screen, also looking a little tired and weary. Many of us have full-time jobs in addition to attending class. It’s a lot we’re tackling here—this business of changing the world. 

Last night the discussion went from Beverly Schwartz to Mr. Rogers to seed funding. Beverly wrote a book called Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World. In one of her lectures, which we watched outside of class, she talks about the stickiness of past experience—“for each of these entrepreneurs there was something with their past that collided with their present and set their future in motion—the problem sought them out and stuck to them by virtue of their past experience.”
 
It’s the stickiness of past experience that has brought my colleagues and me here. For some of us that past experience starts in childhood. There was an influential event or an influential person in our lives that caused us to take the actions that we took that led us here today. We saw problems that made it easy for us to see because we’ve experienced them in some way ourselves.

I was thinking yesterday about choices—the choices we make in life. How we make choices based on values. True to my INFP nature, I put a high value on education and on meaning-making.

Different people, different choices. If I do a values-based exercise with a client, I’m truly wanting to know—what are your values and how will you make choices based on those values? I wouldn’t attempt to give guidance to someone else based on my own value system. 

There’s not a universal book on the laws of humanity that I’m going to pull down from any shelf and say “well actually according to law number, you should do this…” while others have tried. That book, if it existed, would be the book that my clients write. All of these psychological tools that are available are there to promote the free and responsible search for one’s own truth and meaning. 

There have been people I have come across who have commented on the commitment I’m making to student loan debt to complete this program. Yes, it’s quite a commitment. If I had put a higher value on other things in life they would have led to other choices, outside of an advanced education, no doubt.

Schwartz throws out another great quote, this one comes from a friend of hers—“When you invest in human value there are never any taxes and you come out richer no matter what happens and when you speak from your soul you speak from a universal language that everyone can understand.” I liked that one too. 

I have made a commitment to human value. I’m doing my best to speak from my soul. Mr. Rogers? He comes into play because there is the new documentary coming out soon. He spoke before the Senate in 1969 to defend federal funding of public programs like his own. In this clip of his testimony found here, he read the poem below.

The Mad that You Feel

What do you do with the mad that you feel? This thinking is very much in line with Viktor Frankl and with existential psychotherapy—stimulus versus response. Between every situation or every stimulus and every response, there is a space. That space is the power to choose. What I sometimes tell clients is that we can register our feelings about a situation very quickly—within milliseconds.

The limbic or primitive portion of our brain that is also connected to the amygdala, or our fear center, makes it hard sometimes not to react immediately, especially when registering an event as threatening in some way. This actually happened to me the other day at a social gathering. Ugh. It happens to us all, right?

We let some snarky comment get to us before we even know what happened. Snarky comments can feel threatening. And before you know it, you can get caught in a kind of back and forth tit for tat.

To be able to work on the ability to handle things tactfully when that happens is a real skill and so hard when our systems are down—when we’re stressed out to the max—and all the more reason to implement acts of self-care.

Existential Psychotherapy

by Monica A. Ross, LPC

I want to talk a little bit about existential psychotherapy since it is another modality I lay claim to operating within. For existential psychotherapists, a primary concern in working with clients isn’t so much about focusing on defects due to mental illness or flaws in character or personality. What existential psychotherapists want to get at in working with clients is to assist the client in uncovering where the client draws meaning and purpose in life and to encourage the pursuit of that meaning and purpose. Existential psychotherapy takes into account the fact that we all exist here on this earth and therefore have challenges in life to face as a result. But for each of us our existence precedes our essence.

That before each of these statements about a person comes the verb “are”—people “are.” We exist. That’s the starting point for all of us.

In a way, we are thrown into this existence.

And because we exist and because human life is finite, the task becomes then to make something of our existence despite all the things that may have been thrown upon us at birth. For example, we may have been born into poverty, we may have been born with a genetic defect, we may have been born male/female, etc.

Existential psychotherapy concerns itself with four dimensions of existence in particular—the physical, social, personal, and spiritual—and each of these dimensions has its own paradox. We break that down like this.

Physical

At some point we will physically die. If we deny that our existence is finite, we run the risk of wasting the life that we have. If however, we keep within our awareness the idea that we will one day cease to exist, we might be motivated to live our lives more fully.

Social

The paradox of the social realm is that we exist on this planet with others. Our option is to either live in conflict or cooperation with them. Because we are aware of our separateness, we can develop the capacity to relate and respect the separateness of others. At the same time we are individuals with a need to be part of a greater whole.

Personal

In the personal realm we discover that there are no hard and fast rules to life and that we all have vulnerabilities. Because of that, taking on personal responsibility becomes of way of creating rules for ourselves. If we deny our vulnerability and refuse personal responsibility we might lose the strength and stamina that come from the freedom to choose.

Spiritual

We develop our own value systems outside of the context of absolute truth and this is where we relate to that which is unknown. We make up our own ideas for the reasons for our being here on earth and determine for ourselves what we believe to be right or wrong. Here, too, is where we create meaning and where we find purpose in life. This is where we get our worldview.

This type of therapy is very future focused. It acknowledges that the past, though seemingly fixed, is in fact changing because our view of the past can change over time. In addition, life presents a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty and the goal often becomes developing the ability to tolerate the anxiety that this may produce.

For existential psychotherapists the mind and body are connected and not functionally distinct. In other words, it’s not so much that we have a body but that we are a body. We are also connected to the world we exist in so that how we think about ourselves is often a reflection of our experiences with our environment and how we interpret the outer world.

Because life is in constant flux and ever changing, the meaning that we make of our lives is also in flux, but to be able to make meaning of the life that we are in is an essential thing. The loss of a sense of meaning in life can lead to depression.

We are all born into the world with assumptions and biases that influence our actions. The first step is to become aware that we have biases. That having been said, it is possible to do reality checks to verify our assumptions. This fits very nicely with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which aims to look at evidence for and against negative core beliefs that we might have.

For more information on existential psychotherapy see Emmy van Deurzen’s work. Much of the information contained in this post comes from a class I took on existential psychotherapy with Skills in Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy by Emmy van Deurzen and Martin Adams as the text.

The following are existential authors taken from one of Emmy’s presentations.

 

Values--So Old School, So Important

One of my favorite tools and techniques to use with clients is a value’s exercise. There’s a handout that I typically use that lists on one side several potential values a person may have and on the other side is a goal-oriented exercise. Why would a discussion of values be important when it comes to mental health?

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