Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Why play?

by Lisa Grant-Feeley, MS, LPC

As founder of the National Institute of Play, Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen.  That’s a strong comparison considering that none of us have gone without breathing in even the last minute, but how many of us can remember the last time we really played?  Not every minute, but daily or often. 

Brown considers play to be a “state of being” and “purposeless fun and pleasurable.”  It is a state of being because when we play, we engage our minds, bodies, and spirits. It is purposeless because there is no real goal or consequence. I’m fortunate to be able to remember playing outside as a child for hours on end; the excitement and anticipation of running out the door filled with a sense of freedom, anticipation and curiosity for whatever the next few hours would bring. I fully committed to whatever and wherever play brought me, whether it be creating a fantasy land for fairies, (whom I was sure existed), burying a box filled with treasures to be dug up when I was “all grown-up”, finding neighborhood kids to play hide and seek or kick ball, or just climbing trees and pretending I lived alone in the forest.  The possibilities were as endless as my imagination.

Besides the sheer enjoyment of play, numerous additional benefits exist. Play gives us the chance to connect to others and increases our sense of social wellbeing.  As Plato aptly said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  In addition, play that utilizes our brainpower helps to maintain cognitive function and increases creativity, productivity and cooperation at home and at work. Furthermore, adults who play and are playful demonstrate higher overall life satisfaction, as reported by numerous studies.  Play adds to our social, mental and emotional wellbeing. Play is powerful!

Keep in mind that there are many ways to play, and getting in touch with your preference could enhance your life in a meaningful way. Try being light-hearted or silly or doing something out of character like tickling your spouse, whatever brings delight.  It doesn’t matter how you play, but rather, that you do play.

As George Bernard Shaw wisely reminded us: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Lisa Grant-Feeley, MS, LPC works with children, teens and families as well as individuals.  She specializes in working with individuals with ADHD and related behaviors.  She is dedicated to helping families work to create peace in their homes by working with all members of the family.  To connect with Lisa, please call 267-625-2565 or visit her website lisagrantfeeleytherapy.com.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Wisdom of Dreams

by Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW

What did you dream last night?  Every night, our dreams offer us a chance to evolve and grow if we pay attention to them.  In fact, they are absolutely essential to our creativity, health and wholeness as individuals and as a society.  The wisdom of the dream lies in the unconscious, the parts of ourselves that we can’t yet see, but on a deep and cellular level, our bodies and hearts know to be true.  What remains unconscious can block or arrest our psychological and spiritual growth or worse be projected into the world with sometimes harsh results.  Winter’s continued call for sleep, rest and reflection is an opportunity to learn from our dreams and to create more wholeness and vitality in our lives.  

My informal knowledge about dream interpretation comes from the work of Jeremy Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist minister, founding member and past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.  He worked for 35 years using dream interpretation as a tool for nonviolent social change in such places as residential group homes for schizophrenics and San Quentin Prison.  His life and body of work leaves behind an inspiring legacy of confronting and addressing such evils as racism, sexism, violence and environmental destruction – through dream interpretation.  Here are his basic assumptions about dreams:  

  1. All dreams come in the service of health and wholeness.
  2. No dream comes just to tell the dreamer what he or she already knows.
  3. Only the dreamer can say with any certainty what meaning his or her dream may hold.
  4. The dreamers’Aha of recognition is a function of previously unconscious memory and is the only reliable touchstone of dream work.
  5. There is no such thing as a dream with only one meaning.
  6. All dreams speak a universal language of metaphor and symbol.
  7. All dreams reflect inborn creativity and ability to face and solve life’s problems.
  8. All dreams reflect society as a whole as well as the dreamer’s relationship to it.
  9. Working with dreams regularly improves relationships with friends, lovers, partners, parents, children and others.
  10. Working with dreams in groups builds community, intimacy, and support and begins to impact on society as a whole.

To fully understand our dreams, it’s best to have other people to share them with.  There is no special training or education needed to listen and explore the symbols in your personal mythologies.  The most important thing to know is that the only person who has the authority to determine a dream’s true meaning is the dreamer.  The dreamer’s “Aha” moment of recognition is the only barometer that the dream’s message has been delivered.   Dream groups build community and generate multiple perspectives, but even one person, such as your partner or a psychotherapist, can help. 

Here is an example of how one woman participating in one of Jeremy Taylor’s dream groups, learned of a potential health crisis through her dream.  

A woman dreamt she was at her home and a party was going on in her basement.  She goes down to join them but has a purse with “rotting meat” in it that she is afraid will offend the guests.  She keeps trying to close the purse.

The dream group suggested that the “rotting meat in the purse” could be indicative of uterine cancer.  The woman initially dismissed the idea as ridiculous, but she couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that something was wrong, so she went to her doctor who found nothing.  Not satisfied, she pressed for more scans.  Finally, a sonogram showed a thickening of her uterine wall which did in fact turn out to be a rare, extremely aggressive form of uterine cancer.  The woman had surgery and survived.  (Story found on pages 13-15 in Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill by Jeremy Taylor.)

If you cannot find a dream group, here are some useful techniques to encourage dream exploration on your own:

  1. Draw the dream.
  2. Separate out the emotional narrative from the content of the dream.
  3. Re-enter the dream in waking state.  Take a different role in the dream.
  4. Embody and act out the dream physically.
  5. Find the image or situation in the dream that carries the greatest energy for healing and bring it forth into waking life in some concrete or expressive form.
  6. Make a mask of one or more characters in the dream and wear it while “being” that character.
  7. Pray and meditate while focused on your dream.
  8. Look up images in a dream symbol dictionary.
  9. Rewrite the narrative adding the phrase “part of me” to each of the images.
  10. Dream more.

The first challenge in dream interpretation is actually remembering your dreams.  Having the intention to dream AND a supportive place to share your dreams can actually increase dream recall.  Science tells us that all of us dream about 4-6 times per night and even animals with “eyelids that close” dream.  For tips on how to remember your dreams, watch this TED talk called Dreaming On Purpose, found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odNc2MshuWI The best time to recall dreams is when you are in the transitional stage of consciousness in between being asleep and half awake.  But that time is short lived, about 3-5 minutes, so grab the dream journal you left by your bed and write furiously.   

February is like that transitional stage of consciousness for the Earth.  Seeds are starting to awaken under the ground and sap is rising in the trees.  Does the Earth dream?  I think it’s possible that the Earth dreams through us.  And maybe, by paying attention to our own dreams, we can awaken from our collective slumber and courageously and creatively act to ensure her survival.

Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 10 years. She specializes in helping anxious and depressed teens and women connect to and live in harmony with their true nature.  Heather is passionate about using mindfulness and Eco-therapeutic approaches to restore balance, reduce isolation, and create a greater sense of wellbeing. She can be reached at Heatherhilltherapy@gmail.com or 215-485-7205.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


by Jeff Katowitz, LMFT

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
― Søren Kierkegaard

Driving up through upstate New York, it is an all too familiar routine over the course of the last three years. Wait…my son is a junior in college? It can’t be. What is going on? Last week, I accompanied my younger son on a flight out west as he narrows in on – with great anticipation – his university of choice.  Let’s backtrack for a moment – I’m not sure I can wrap my head around all of these moving parts. These thoughts seem to be racing endlessly. How is it that at one moment I can be examining and collaborating with my son on a potential pathway, choosing institutions to study and explore and prepare for “real” life (whatever that means) and then, in a seeming blink, we are here?

I load up a Uhaul trailer, packing what I calculate to be twice as much stuff as what I lugged back and forth in my college days. And I thought I had a lot. It is winter. My son is ready to travel and study abroad for the spring semester. I can remember in my high school and college days pondering what it would be like to be carried away to some foreign land. No – too scary for me back then. I wanted to remain on campus and maintain my commitment to my familiar routines; that’s just what felt right.  

I keep thinking about time and drawing comparisons between my life in my early twenties and what lies ahead for my sons. So many moments, achievements, heartbreaks, fears, and anticipations. Round and around and around I go: I did this, he’s doing that, how interesting, exciting. Brings a grin to my face, time and time again. I am finding myself discussing with my family, clients and sometimes acquaintances this movement through time and space, but it is more about looking back and reflecting.

Reflecting really sets into motion a thought process and taps into a well of curiosity. I am aware of times in the past when I may have gotten lost in the regret trap – the “should have”, “would have,” “could have,” “I haven’t.” Fortunately for me lately, I don’t find myself trapped anywhere near regret. Instead, I am energized and moved by the experience of what I’d have to call amazement.

My amazement springs from the wide-angle lens I have now on my life, a vantage point that only decades of life can bring. From this perspective, I can examine what is in my immediate purview and from there introduce curiosity about the wider context, the patterns and sequences. Life becomes a puzzle through this lens. Life is always taking shape but also evolving into new happenings and adventures – consisting of random people, places, events, and choices that led us here. And the new experiences and choices that will lead us an unknown there in the future.

The rate of events that come and go like scenes in a play are read at a very high pace. It’s hard to digest – significant experiences come and go so rapidly that I am trying to catch my breath. But I am not pushing against it; rather, I am speechless and almost awestruck. The passing of time never felt this way when I was in my youth; then, it felt more like a looking forward to the next chapter. Now I am hoping the next chapters are read slower, so I can really capture the essence of what was just experienced.

I imagine, for some people, the process of reflection may trigger sadness or a cycle of regret and emotions surrounding choices that they have made. I empathize with this group and the experience of pain that can arise. As we embark on a new year, I invite you to consider a process of reflection with openness and curiosity (rather than an old pattern of sadness or regret). Consider the question, “How did my journey lead me to this moment?” And then join me in anticipating with great interest and awareness the “What is next?” of life.

Jeff Katowitz, LMFT has been practicing marriage and family therapy for over 26 years. His specialties include helping families in transition (i.e. separation and divorce, grief and loss, blended families, raising children on the spectrum and those with special needs). He has been practicing at the Resiliency Center since 2008. Jeff can be contacted at JeffKatowitzlmft@gmail.com or directly at (215) 307-0055.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Bruised Heart: The Importance of Inner Work in Therapy

by Michael Bridges, PhD

One of the great blessings I’ve experienced is that most of my professional life has involved helping people from all walks of life heal through the practice of psychotherapy. While I’ve practiced psychotherapy since I received my PhD in the early 90s, for many years I was also a university professor who did research on what factors brought about a “corrective emotional experience” that helped people change for the better. One of the most important factors is, not surprisingly, the quality of the relationship clients develop with their therapist. However, a factor that may be even more important is the relationship that clients develops in therapy with their own inner world. Research now shows that some of the most healing moments happen when clients move from focusing in therapy on the outer world and shift their attention to their inner world of emotions, sensations, memories and images. This is what I refer to as the “Inner Work” of therapy.

The importance of focusing on this inner world was brought home to me some years ago when I was doing research on what helped people get over betrayals and other attachment injuries in close relationships. I was the therapist for Elizabeth (aspects of the following have been changed to protect the client’s confidentiality), an intelligent and motivated young woman in her thirties who was participating because she was having difficulty letting go of the pain and anger related to an affair. Years before she had found out that her husband of 12 years was having an affair with her best friend. This double betrayal left her so devastated that she eventually left her marriage. She also became so depressed that she entered therapy and for a few months took an antidepressant. After about a year she regained her ability to function and no longer felt depressed. But in our first session she shared that she still thought about her ex several times a week and felt pangs of sadness and anger. She also shared that, although she was a vivacious, intelligent and attractive woman and had no problem finding men to date, whenever she started to become emotionally close, something in her would say, “That’s it!” And she would end the relationship.

Elizabeth had already been in therapy for a year after her divorce and had liked her therapist and felt they made substantial progress that had alleviated her depression. So why was it that, four years later, she still felt she had to shield her heart in a romantic relationship? Instead of continuing to explore her history and go back over the insights she had from her previous therapy, I suggested that, in our second session, she allow me to guide her into her inner world by using a technique developed by the psychologist Eugene Gendlin, called Focusing. This involved having her close her eyes and move out of thoughts and words and to wait for her body to develop a “felt sense” of what was holding her back.

After a few minutes she sighed and placed her hand over her heart and said softly, “It’s like my heart is tender and bruised.  It is like my heart is not saying, “Don’t love.” It is more that it is saying, “Be careful! Be careful.”

In stark contrast to her bruised heart, she also became aware of a sense of energy and strength in her stomach. She smiled as she placed her hand over her stomach and described how she could tell how this felt sense inspired her in her work as a dancer and choreographer and she continued to beam as she described seeing the energy spread down her legs connecting her with people she loved.

I was frankly amazed and delighted by what was Elizabeth was sharing. This, after all, was only our second session! I also think it is important to add that I was not using guided imagery. All what Elizabeth was sharing was coming from her just patiently attending to the sensations, images and associations that were spontaneously arising from her own inner work. We were near the end of our session and, I found myself imagining her standing in that place of strength and light in her stomach and looking up at her bruised heart. Almost on a whim I shared the image with her and she agreed to try it out. What happened next astounded both of us.

As she imagined moving to that place of light and strength in her stomach and gazing up at her heart, the smile slowly faded from her face. Suddenly she leaned forward and put her face in her hands and started sobbing. When she lifted her face up, she was still crying but there was a smile on her face. She was literally smiling through her tears as she shared, “When I looked up…I saw this red, purple bruised heart... but suddenly, there was white light bursting out of it! Like my heart was showing me, I still have so much love to give!”

As profound as this session was for both of us, I don’t want to suggest that Elizabeth shed all her fears surrounding romantic relationships in one session. But she often referred to that session as significant for restoring her faith in her own ability to love. Since this was a research study, our therapy was limited to 14 sessions. But at the end of that time she was feeling much less anxious, had started to date for the first time in over a year, and instead of ruminating about her ex several times a week shared, "I'm really not thinking about him. If I do, it's almost like thinking about a movie I saw a couple years ago. It's not charged the way it was."

If you would like to read a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the research that this article was based on, which includes an interview with Elizabeth, click here: http://theresiliencycenter.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/What-becomes-of-the-broken-hearted-Philly-Inq-Article-2004.pdf

If you are more scientifically minded or a therapist yourself, the link below leads to a PDF of an article I wrote for The Journal of Clinical Psychology that describes the research in more detail:

Michael R Bridges, Ph.D. has been a psychologist, professor and therapist for over 30 years. Dr. Bridges’ psychotherapy specialties include depression, trauma and anxiety, job stress and career transition. He has experience working with individuals from diverse backgrounds but currently works with many physicians, health-care professionals, attorneys, business professionals, academics and other therapists who function in demanding work environments. He helps clients do their own inner-work using empirically informed methods derived from Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, Emotionally Focused and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. He can be reached at drmbridges1@gmail.com or 215-868-6393.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Transitional Ceremonies to Destress and Reconnect Throughout Your Day

by Brittiney George

Every day, in multiple ways emotionally and physically, you are transitioning. 

The morning alarm begins your sprint.  While you were sleeping your phone was loading up with new offers, information, suggestions, and requests.  Life’s runaway train came beckoning to you and you purchased your ticket.  Your mind careens through your calendar at breakneck speed, twisting, turning, sidestepping, rushing, until the inevitable crash at the end of the day leaves the body feeling wrung out and exhausted. 

It is afterall, your body and your nervous system that have been taking the hits of a pressurized life. When their warning signs go unheeded, your system eventually shuts down to conserve the energy and oxygen it needs to survive.  It makes it hard to feel like you can really “show up” anywhere. Your head is still in the problems of the day even if your body is at home.

Herein lies the value of transitional ceremonies.  Clear opening and closings in transitions let clarify expectations so your brain and body are not firing on all cylinders all day. The ceremony doesn’t have to big, loud, or long, just intentional.  Here are some ideas:
Power of the Pause (Arrive before you Engage):
Pause when you get in your car, pull into work, in between clients, or before the next task.  It can be as quick as a single breath.  Give yourself the gift of time to land where you are, see your surroundings, and to let your body and brain get in the same conversation.

Scent Signaling (The Nose Knows):
The nose is a powerful ally to use in transition and one of the quickest ways to shifts states.  You can clear the head with the scent of coffee beans, or find your favorite aromatherapy oil.  Suggestion: Keep a few scents specific to the place you use them in.  Ex.  If you have a scent you use to transition into your home, don’t also use it when you get to work.  It is best to keep that scent to only your home space so there is a clear message in your body when you smell it of “I am home” which allows your nervous system to organize differently.

Rinse and Release:
Wash off your day.  A full shower or just rinsing from your elbows to your hands will work.  Imagine the water is washing off any stuck stress or energy that you want to release and easily and effortlessly going down the drain.

Sing, Sigh, or Shake:
Research shows that humming and singing create ease in the nervous system thanks to our vagus nerve.  Not a singer or a hummer, let yourself sigh or let your body move to the music.  The body loves gentle rhythmic motion, so go ahead and shake it out!

Bless the Space:
A blessing or mantra can help you connect to the intention of the space your stepping in to.  These can be a quote or poem that resonates for you, or a simple statement of a wish such as created when completing one of the statements below.
May I….
May you…..
and together May we…

Opening and Closing Ceremonies:
There is a reason the Olympics spend so much time on the opening and closing ceremonies.  We love ceremony, because how things begin and end matter to us as a culture. Create opening and closing ceremonies for your regular daily transitions.  It may be a prayer, a blessing, writing out a quick gratitude list, listening to the same song, or writing in your journal. 

If the intention is clear and the practice is consistent, over time your body gets the message quickly that ties to it and is therefore able to reregulate your nervous system and in a sense depressurize.  You’re not meant to live in a pressure cooker, or to carry everyone and everything around with you in your body all day.  Honor yourself by honoring your transitions.  Your body and brain will thank you for it!

Brittiney George, BS, CST-PRO, ICI, CEIM, is a Movement Practitioner and Somatic Therapist specializing in Transformative Touch.  She is also faculty member of The Somatic Therapy Center.  Her areas of specialty include working with highly sensitive woman, and people that are feeling stuck or immobilized in their everyday lives.  She co-leads a monthly workshop series called Connection, Expression and Movement and also teaches gentle, exploratory movement classes at The Resiliency Center. For a free 55 min. introductory Somatic Therapy sessio, contact Brittiney at 610-389-7866 or movebackintolife@gmail.com.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Becoming what I might be

by Karen Steinbrecher

Reflecting on this month’s theme of letting go, I am reminded of a quote by Lao Tzu who said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Bill Douglas, Co-Founder of World TaiChi and QiGong day, recently shared his observation that when some students discover the reality that they are “a flawed wandering human being on this earthly plane,” they think TaiChi and QiGong don’t work and wonder, “Why bother?” He remarked that being a teacher of QiGong can be difficult because students often form idealized versions of their teachers. And, as with all idealized versions of anything, disappointment inevitably follows. Students learn that the teacher is a human being walking on the same Earth with the same journey of life as they are. We are all working through life lessons. In one setting, I am the teacher. In another, you are. Much of the time, our teaching and learning happen simultaneously. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

TaiChi and QiGong and meditation ultimately require “letting go” to be done well, fully present in the moment. Look at the great Masters doing QiGong and TaiChi; they appear to be “unhinged and liquid”, says Douglas. This is not a technical skill as much as a whole soul surrender on the deepest level mentally, emotionally, and physically. In QiGong, we call this level of deep surrender “the sinking.” 

Douglas defines the sinking as “this exquisite, all encompassing love that the world and universe are made of, this energy that is the quantum field from which ALL emerges”. This beautiful, radiant energy is what awaits when we let go of our grip on things. As Douglas writes, surrender “asserts itself in subtle silken ways.” The impulse to “hold on” - to the known, the familiar, the comfortable, the idealized teacher, the old ideas of who we are and how the world should be - is so strong. But the rewards of letting go are profound. The “sinking” has a richness to it that is worth the discomfort of loosening our grip. The practice of QiGong and TaiChi may appear physical in nature, but the positive ripple is pervasive throughout all aspects of our lives. Learning to let go through QiGong helps us move - in every facet of our lives - with greater freedom and peace. 


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Letting Go

by Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” - Tao Te Ching

Who hasn't struggled with letting go at one time or another? Cleaning out a closet and letting go of old favorites that don’t fit or aren’t your style anymore. Letting go of expectations - yours or someone else’s - to be the parent, partner, friend, daughter or son you’re “supposed” to be. Or letting go of a wish that something outside of your control can be different.  Maybe you’ve noticed it as feeling “stuck”, or perhaps it’s a little voice in the back of your head, or a good friend advising, “Let it go.” We know we should, so why is it so hard?
There are as many reasons why it’s hard as there are reasons for letting go: fear of judgment or regret, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, to name a few. Holding on can feel safe and familiar, while the notion of letting go may be fraught with fear or anxiety. It can feel like a tug-of-war as we weigh our options, ask for advice, ruminate.
So there we are, stuck in this tug-of-war, neither side letting go. How do we get “unstuck”? Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but letting go requires us to move towards the fear or anxiety. It’s your fear, unique to you, and your fear can’t actually hurt you. So rather than “letting go” of fear, I invite you to welcome it by tuning in to what you’re noticing as you think about letting go. Maybe it’s a feeling in your stomach, or your chest, or your head, or more of an “all over” sensation. Maybe an image comes to mind, or a memory. Instead of labeling it as unpleasant and pushing it away or trying to shut it down, take a few deep breaths and see if you can be present with it, accepting that it’s here, and noticing what it needs you to know.
Your feelings about letting go are simply trying to get your attention, like the monster that lurks under a child’s bed when it’s time to surrender to sleep. How can a child sleep with a monster under the bed? So the parent dutifully checks under the bed, in the closet, in the corners and says, “There’s no monster.” The parent uses monster spray, just to be sure. When the parent is finished attending to the monster, does the child really believe there’s definitely no monster in the room? Probably not, but the child’s fears feel heard. The parent knows about the monster now, too. The child isn’t experiencing it alone. Maybe there is a monster, but the parent is there with the child, just down the hall.
We can be with the monsters that get in the way of letting go without them overpowering us. We don’t need to persuade them, just to listen. Once they feel our presence and feel heard, they tend to loosen their grip. You don’t let go of feelings, they let go of you. Then you can let go of old beliefs or behaviors, creating space for new possibilities, new opportunities, and new beliefs that fit who you really are. 

Trudy Gregson is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with adults experiencing depression and anxiety, relationship issues, life transitions, grief and loss. Trudy brings mindfulness practice to her work with her clients to help them cultivate compassion for themselves and create the space for change. Trudy offers a free 30-minute phone consultation and can be reached at trudygregsontherapy@gmail.com or 267-652-1732.