Sunday, April 14, 2024

Writing—not just for writers!

by Rachel Kobin 

You don’t have to wake up at ungodly hours, hunch over your keyboard, tap out hundreds of words, and then go to your day job to reap the psychological benefits of writing. Even if you think you’re not good at it, writing can enhance your life. As a human, you have the right to express yourself and tell your story. Your voice is unique, and that voice can be used privately as part of your self-care practice or shared to the extent you find rewarding. 

You already have everything you need to start

Most people use writing to do things like write to-do lists, shopping lists, texts, and memos for work. This kind of writing does not help our mental health, but it is an entry point to keeping a journal. By looking at those lists or even your calendar on a regular basis and asking, “What stands out? What was upsetting or enjoyable about any of those things?” you will find something resonates with you. It may even generate a physical feeling like raising your pulse rate. Once you’ve locked into one of these items, start writing. Don’t worry about the quality of your sentences or your vocabulary, just move what’s in your head and body onto the page without worrying about the result. 

This kind of journal entry gives your future self a picture of your what your life was life, which you’ll be grateful to have later. It also helps you think through the emotional aspects of your life. As writer Joan Didion said: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Moving your thoughts and feelings from your head to the page helps you gain clarity on what tends to upset you, and perhaps learn how to prevent or manage events like this more effectively in the future. Identifying people or events that make you feel good help you welcome more of these experiences into your life. 

Be kind to the writer within

Above all, make every effort to avoid judging what you write. Many people have had teachers or peers that shamed them about their writing. In my first year of college, a group of students told me I didn’t know how to write an introductory paragraph. I called my mother, a published author, I needed a writing tutor. The professor returned my paper with this message: “A– Never listen to your peers.” So, when you sit down to write, thank your peers, those internal voices screaming mean things at you for trying to protect you from taking risks and ask them to go play outside. This is a risk worth taking. 

In fact, expressive writing—writing about your thoughts and feelings—has been scientifically shown to increase our ability to regulate our emotions, improve mood, memory, self-esteem, and decrease stress levels. With all of those benefits, why not try a journaling prompt right now? I invite you to try one of the most popular journaling exercises (from a professor at the University of Iowa) we do in The Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop: Use the alphabet (A-Z) to loosen topics from your mind. Simply start listing them. For instance, A is for Anaconda, B is for the blue ink stain on my floor, C is for Chocolate, D, the delights of spring, E-clipse… As soon as you find a topic you want to write about, start writing. On another occasion, start at the next letter. In my case, if I chose the eclipse, I would start the next time at the letter F. 

That F is for fun and flights of fancy, flying in the face of rules, and flinging those fresh words around to fabulously to face fears, facilitate fulfillment, and fire up your fabulous self. 

Rachel Kobin is the Founder and Director of Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop [Insert link to to:]. Rachel began writing in the third grade when she adapted the novel Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh into a play. She went on to write poetry, a screenplay, synopses, critiques of screenplays, copy for advertising, a novel, internal and marketing communications for corporations, market research reports, a TV pilot, and more. Since she began facilitating creative writing workshops and provided editing and coaching services in 2011, she has found that seeing other writers succeed—however they define success—even more thrilling than seeing her own name in print. She is proud to be part of Philadelphia’s robust writers’ community. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Spring into Growth

by Therese Daniels, LPC, CNIT (Certified Nature Informed Therapist)

We have been conditioned by society to set new goals in January, the start of a new year. Start fresh, stop doing this, start doing that, get to the gym. While in theory this may seem like a good idea, it goes against our roots, against Mother Nature. Bears hibernate, trees, plants, and vegetables delay growth. Nature rests in the Winter and maybe we should too. 

Spring is the season of planting and growing. Many people lose motivation pretty quickly for those goals they set at the start of January. An article in Time magazine states that as many as 80% of people fail to keep their resolutions by February and only 8% of people stick with them the entire year. But think about how you feel in the Spring. When that first sunny day hits, the temperature is above 55 degrees (which feels hot because our bodies have adapted to the cold) and you want to rip off those socks and break out the flip flops and let your toes breathe and soak up the sunshine! Motivation for goals is more likely to stick at this time of year because that is what is natural. This is when we plant seeds for flowers and food to bloom later in the season. The animals wake up and are rested and energized for new things to come. Colors come back! This is a reason why setting new goals in the Spring vs. the Winter is something to be considered.

Goal setting and comfort zones

As a Certified Nature Informed Therapist, I have been able to encourage people to use the many benefits of nature to help them in goal setting and in getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Some of the greatest things in life involve a certain level of feeling uneasy. Meeting new people, starting a new job, moving to a different home, exercising, parenting, even love has a level of discomfort. If we ran from all of these things, what would happen? Not much. Growth mindset is a term that has become popular over the past several years. The general meaning of the term is that you thrive on challenge and don’t see failures as a setback, but a way to make shifts to continue to move forward and set new goals. To keep going, to grow. 

Last Spring, I was working with someone who had pretty severe performance anxiety and he had a big martial arts challenge coming up. We took our sessions to the trails and more importantly, to the creek. There is a swing that hangs under a large bridge that runs over the creek. My client showed a lot of interest in getting to the swing but was afraid to do so. There were steep and muddy hills with tree roots and branches and wet leaves along the way. And once you got down to the water’s edge you still had to enter the water and navigate slippery rocks to get to the middle of the creek where the swing hung. It took some time, but by the summer, he was swinging on that swing and feeling so proud. Each week we got closer and closer, and he felt more and more brave. Throughout our sessions, I was able to use our experience in nature and transfer it to his fear of performing in front of others. He realized he could do things that felt scary and have success. A week after he went swinging, he took his martial arts test and passed with flying colors! 

I believe we can find a balance between allowing ourselves the time to rest and prepare while also believing in ourselves enough to face challenges and to get back up when we fall down. Look to nature to and follow its course. Going back to our roots and what is innately in us and around us can help us spring into growth! 

Therese M. Daniels, MA, LPC, is a Certified Nature-Informed Therapist who has been in the mental health field over 20 years. She provides individual, couples, and family counseling for children, teens, and adults. She offers regular nature walks and creates nature retreats to introduce the power of nature to support healing and wellness. She specializes in supporting people with anxiety, depression, self-esteem struggles, life transitions, and more. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Community Care

by Elizabeth Campbell, MS, LPC, RPT-S

The truth of who we are, is that we are, because we belong. It’s in our DNA.” — Desmond Tutu

One of the most relaxed and oxytocin-filled times that I recall is waking up on my rope cot in my host family’s home in Ganeshpur, Nepal.  It was a chilly morning, I was curled up in my sleeping bag, and I heard the soft raspy voice of my host mother talking in the next room and engaging in her morning chores.  It was my first international service trip and first time staying with a host family.  I was amazed that I felt so connected to a family and a community that I could not easily communicate with.  The deep relationship that we formed through working towards a mutual goal:  building a school for the community, and caring for another in the process, was life-changing.  

The communal nature of Nepal’s culture and all of the rural communities I stayed in while doing international service work stands in stark contrast to our culture.  Families lived in adjoining homes or on the same property and shared chores and childcare.  Friends and family members were together throughout the day and no one was left with the isolation of a never ending to do list with no support.  Parents learned by example by seeing generation after generation raising children.  There is an oft repeated joke among parents when people say “It takes a village (to raise a child),” “How do I sign up?!”  

Unfortunately, for many in our culture, the village is not there.  Whether that is due to living far away from family members, cutting off toxic relationships, or loss, often modern American individuals are often isolated and overwhelmed.  We saw in the pandemic how isolation can breed stress and subsequent mental health and wellbeing challenges and the Surgeon General recently release research showing that it impacts physical and mental health.  Yet our society continues to value independence, which cuts us off from the benefits of interdependence.  

All of that being said, I am not ready to sign up for communal living.  I love spending time with others and then going home to have quiet time to recharge my Highly Sensitive, introverted batteries.  I say all of this to highlight the gift that interdependence brings.  I often see this gift in The Resiliency Center practitioner community.  The same wise clinicians that supported me when I began my practice are supporting me as I support supervisees to learn and grow.  I see this gift in my friendships.  I recommended to my neighbor the book Sensitive and she loaned me Hunt, Gather, Parent (a must read when thinking about community).  We so often think about self-care as taking bubble baths and doing yoga, which is lovely.  I encourage us all to also care for ourselves by filling up both ourselves and others in connection and support.  

Elizabeth Campbell is a Licensed Profession Counselor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and EMDR Consultant in Training who provides empowerment and strength-based support to individuals in personal growth and change.  She specializes in play therapy with children, supporting Highly Sensitivity, and IFS-informed EMDR for all ages. She provides supervision and consultation for licensure as well as EMDR and play therapy certification.   If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, reach out at or 610-757-8163 or learn more at

Bonding for Life: FirstPlay Therapy

by Vanessa Mortillo

How do we know when we are in a healthy intimate relationship? What might we notice? Empathy? Mutuality? Comforting Touch? Security? Are skills for healthy relationships something we are born with, or can we learn these?  Expanding out further into community, friendships and social interactions: How do we balance the needs of others in a way that allows us to be part of a community without losing sight of ourselves?

The science shows that we are actually not born with these skills, but that the bonding during infancy and in our earliest years creates a roadmap for healthy relationships in the long term and is vital to the baby’s developing brain. Healthy bonding in infancy and childhood establishes a safe base for children and a felt sense of confidence in the world — referred to in child development research as secure attachment.  Without nurturing touch, interaction and play, babies cannot survive and feel secure. Through caregiver attunement, or the caregiver’s ability to notice and attend to their baby’s needs, a baby begins to feel securely attached, learns empathy, healthy coping strategies, a positive sense of self, and a good relationship with their body.

Attunement can be challenging with infants because they are not able to tell us what their needs are with language. In an ideal world, we would have all received attuned caregiving — full of back and forth play and connected interactions  — and enter parenthood knowing how to do this with our babies. However, in our human world, many of us may not have received this and grapple with increasing demands for our attention (including work obligations and technology). In addition, complications in the birthing process can include trauma and mental health challenges for parents and babies that impacts these early bonding experiences.

The good news is that regardless of what has happened in our lives, we can learn skills for healthy relationships. No matter our age or stage of life, it is possible to develop our abilities, changing ourselves and fostering healthy growth in our children. To help parents build these critical skills, Dr. Janet Courtney, an internationally recognized teacher and play therapist, developed FirstPlay Therapy, a short-term intervention, to support parents with skills for attuning to and bonding with their baby or child under 5. FirstPlay engages the powers of play, infant massage/touch, and story to build your bond and set your baby up for healthy growth and development.

In FirstPlay therapy, parents learn skills for relaxing themselves, creating daily times for connection with their child, reading and responding to their child’s cues, fostering back and forth playful interactions, and providing healthy touch. The benefits of FirstPlay impact the child’s development, increase caregiver confidence, and support parents with postpartum depression. And even better news: FirstPlay interventions can be done with children up to 5 years of age to continue to strengthen healthy bonding. 

For more information about FirstPlay therapy, contact Licensed Professional Counselor and trained FirstPlay therapist Vanessa Mortillo at or (267) 507-5793. Vanessa has a play therapy office at The Resiliency Center where she works with children and families to support healthy attachment, facilitate trauma healing, and help children with sensitivity, autism, and emotional and behavioral challenges to cope better, enjoy life, and thrive. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

What Questions Can Support You in Creating Meaningful (and Gentle) New Year's Resolutions

by Elizabeth Venart

You may have a lot of things you want to be different in your life. But overwhelming yourself with unrealistic goals is likely to short-circuit any meaningful change efforts. Rather than enter the New Year by burdening yourself with a list of specific self-improvement changes you need to make, consider creating gentle and compassionate resolutions. First, you will want to thoughtfully reflect on the previous year. What stands out -- the good, bad, boring, inspiring? What did you love about it? What was fun? What worked well? What didn't work? 

Then, give some time to consider your desires for the coming year. When you reach December 31, 2024 and reflect back upon that year, what do you wish to see? How do you wish to feel? What fun do you hope to have? What might inspire you to feel grateful for having lived these 365 days with greater intention? 

As you contemplate more fluid and organic ways of welcoming change, below are some additional questions to guide you. You may want to carve out one big chunk of time to meditate or write -- or it may work better for you to contemplate your answers over several days or weeks. Questions are drawn from friends and from posts by Suleika Jaouad (Isolation Journals) and the Mountain Modern Life blog writer.

  1. What was most memorable?
  2. What did I enjoy most? 
  3. What am I most proud of? 
  4. What could I use more of in my life?
  5. What could I use less of in my life?
  6. What has caused me anxiety or distress?
  7. By the end of the day, currently I feel (fill in the blank). How do I want to feel?
  8. What characteristics would I like to have (or strengthen)?
  9. Where am I saying “yes” when I really want to be saying “no”?
  10. Where am I saying “no” when I really want to be saying “yes”?
  11. What is taking my attention away from what is truly important to me? 
  12. What are my wild and creative ideas for my life?

Can we create New Year's Resolutions that are simple, gentle, and enduring?

by Elizabeth Venart

As one year ends and another begins, it is natural to reflect back on the year’s journey traveled and aspire to create or experience something new in the the twelve months ahead. Social media hype about making this next year “the best one yet” may prompt us to give New Year's Resolutions another try — even if we know ourselves, our track record, and the unlikely possibility that our January 1st promises will last. Typical resolutions focus on how we want to improve (exercise, eat better, get off social media, read, be positive), so when we don’t, we end up feeling worse about ourselves and things being the same. We are in good company. Research has shown that while the follow-through with these kinds of changes may be strong that first week (about 77% of us keep our commitment for seven days), resolve reduces dramatically over the year  — with less than half of us lasting three months and only 19% of people having stuck with their commitment two years later. 

Despite evidence these annual promises are likely to be short-lived, we may still feel drawn to make them. We crave change. We want to be healthy and happy. We want our lives to be meaningful, fun, peaceful, and connected.

Rather than make a list of new habits and schedules we may struggle to follow, perhaps we could experiment with inviting the changes we want in a simpler, gentler way? It is possible. I’ve included several ideas for how in this article. They include selecting a “word” for the year, creating a vision board, making monthly goals rather than yearly ones, writing simple “more” and “less” lists, and themed playlists. 

A Word for the Year

One simpler practice many find meaningful is to select a “word” for the year. This involves narrowing your long list of priorities down to one central theme. You are saying, “This is my focus for the year.” There are endless possibilities, so carving out some time to reflect, meditate, brainstorm possibilities, and journal about it can help you gain clarity. This may take some time. Or it could be very simple and obvious to you. When I explained the idea about New Year’s resolutions to my eight-year-old niece, she shared that she’d like to get better at soccer and gymnastics this year and can see herself practicing more and improving. I asked her the question on the last of five days we spent together in late December. We live a distance apart. After her initial response about growing stronger, she gave me a big smile and a hug, then added, “I also really want to see my family every month.” She knows what she values. I trust you do too. 

Selecting a word for the year can be like a beacon that keeps bringing us home to what matters. Once you select a word, find a way to keep it in your conscious awareness. Maybe you make it your screen saver, put it on a sticky note on your nightstand or next to your computer at work, or set a daily phone alarm labeled with your word. As you revisit it throughout the year, give yourself permission to change it if it no longer feels of central importance to you. Trust yourself to know what is meaningful. 

Vision Boards

Another way to keep your word, theme or vision alive throughout the year is to create a vision board. Vision boards can be very specific and tailored to an area of your life where you’d like to focus (e.g. relationships, career, health), but they can also be more conceptual (e.g. conveying a feeling of calm, a sense of adventure, or a focus on beauty). Whether you create a physical board or a virtual one, keep it somewhere easy to see. Let the continual visual reminder support you in remembering.

Creating a Playlist

Music speaks to our hearts. Selecting specific songs for a custom playlist is another way to remind yourself of your word, theme, and positive intentions. Let the music encourage and support you. If you want more courage, create a playlist that inspires you to feel brave. If you want to feel peaceful, curate a calming collection of music. If you seek more playfulness, find songs that make you dance, play, and even laugh. 

Choose a Monthly Focus or Goal (Not a Yearly One)

Another way to simplify is to create a goal or focus one month at a time. Maybe it will be a word.  Maybe it will be a new habit you’d like to try (30 days of yoga, for example). Maybe it is a way you’d like to stretch yourself, invite more self-compassion, or practice courage during a month when you especially need it. When the next month arrives, you could choose to repeat the focus or to find something new. The important thing is that you are checking in with yourself each month to see what feels right. You aren’t burdening yourself with a giant 365-day commitment in January that may feel irrelevant as you enter June or face September; rather, you have a chance to play every thirty days with something new.

Even Simpler 

Can our approach to the New Year be even easier? It can. You could draw a line down a sheet of paper and write two lists — one column labeled “more” and one labeled “less.” This idea was shared in an article on The Cut, referencing Julia Rothman’s Instagram feed where she shared her two lists. Keep it simple. We can even take this a step further. My colleague Rachel Kobin (Founder and Director of the Philadelphia Writers Workshop) has the gentlest, simplest approach I’ve seen yet. In 2023, her New Year’s Resolution was to “see what happens.” She shared that deciding to “see what happens” definitely set her up for less disappointment. It also helped her feel grateful for all the good things she experienced. As for 2024? She smiled: “I’m planning on making the same resolution this year.”

Wishing you beautiful simplicity in the New Year, self-acceptance in the process, and ease in navigating life’s ups, downs, and unexpected turns.

Elizabeth Venart, LPC, is the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center of Greater Philadelphia. She specializes in supporting Highly Sensitive People (including other therapists, teachers, and healers) to embrace their gifts and develop deeper self-trust. A Certified EMDR Therapist, Certified IFS Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant, she leads trainings through the Syzygy Institute on the powerful integration of IFS and EMDR therapies for trauma resolution. She loves spiritual and nature-based poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, John O’Donohue) and leads a free monthly poetry evening. She also leads a weekly laughter yoga class, to encourage more joy and connection. To learn more, visit her website at

Monday, November 20, 2023

Reflections on Impermanence

by Elizabeth Venart

The only constant in life is change. It is a well-known saying — and undeniably true.

As the last of the crimson and yellow leaves cling to their branches, awaiting descent and decay, I find myself reflecting on the universal experience of impermanence. It seems we are always in the midst of one season or cycle transitioning into the next. 

We know the yearly rhythm, how we move in a predictable path through the seasons of heat and cold, light and darkness. At the same time, on a given day or week, the change may surprise us. It may feel sudden or abrupt to us, no matter the date on the calendar. While every year has the same number of days, sometimes we experience time — and the shifting of the seasons — as if it is racing by. Summer flew by so fast! How is it already September? Or . . .  Didn’t the school year start yesterday? December came so fast! We may lament the end of a season, wishing it could last. Personally, I feel this way every autumn. I adore the fall foliage, the brilliant yellow, red, bronze, and orange, the tapestry of color in forests and hillsides. While I know the season itself will come again, I never know exactly how it will be — or how I will be or life will be— when it does. 

Known as the first principle in Buddhist philosophy, the Law of Impermanence teaches that all of life is perpetually in flux. Our sensory experiences (all we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell) convince us that everything is solid, steady, and reliable. As a result, our minds create a worldview that assumes permanence. However, the fundamental truth about nature is that everything is undergoing constant change. Our attachment to the illusion of permanence is seen as a primary cause of distress and suffering.

Can we accept and make peace with the inevitability of change and impermanence? The average person in our country will have three to seven careers in their lifetime — and twelve different jobs. Our work often evolves over time, sometimes surprising us with what pulls our attention and where we lose interest. Relationships change, with people growing closer or drawing further apart. Children grow older, leave the nest, embark on adventures, create their own meaning for their lives. As older generations pass, the next generation steps forward into the role of elder. Even our bodies are in a constant state of flux, beyond the obvious ways like injury, pregnancy, illness, and aging — but in all the tiniest ways; our bodies contain over 30 trillion cells, and about 330 billion cells replace themselves every day. In 80-100 days, 30 trillion cells are replenished.

Amidst all this change, we may long for the constant, the stable, the predictable, and the known. However, our attachment to things remaining the same is often the source of our discomfort, distress, and heartbreak. If, instead, we can accept impermanence — deeply understanding the transient nature of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and life itself — then we can fully appreciate the beauty of the present moment.

Knowing that nothing lasts can help us appreciate our time with those we love, moments of laughter and joy, awe, authenticity, connection. It can wake us from the dream of “always and forever” that may drive a mindless preoccupation with thoughts and things, achievement and reward. It can awaken us to the mystery, the ever-unfolding dance of being alive. When we don’t need things to be a certain way, we can open to things as they are. The beauty of a sunset, surrendering daylight into darkness. Sunrise in the morning, welcoming light’s return. The radiant smiles of couple exchanging vows. The tenderness of steadfast love at the bedside of the dying. Life is unpredictable. Open and present, here and now, unattached to how things should be, we may begin to experience a greater sense of calm with the unknown that awaits. 

As we enter the season of winter, perhaps we can welcome this time of darkness and quiet to contemplate the teachings on impermanence. Rather than racing to the finish line of another calendar year completed, we can be present. We can slow down, build a fire or light a candle, prioritize connection and coziness, savor the sweetness of a starlit night, and appreciate the gift of being alive.

Elizabeth Venart, LPC, is the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center of Greater Philadelphia. She specializes in supporting Highly Sensitive People (including other therapists and healers) to embrace their gifts and develop deeper self-trust. A Certified EMDR Therapist, Certified IFS Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant, she leads trainings through the Syzygy Institute on the powerful integration of IFS and EMDR therapies for trauma resolution. She loves spiritual and nature-based poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, John O’Donohue) and leads a free monthly poetry evening. She also leads a weekly laughter yoga class, to encourage more joy and connection. To learn more, visit her website.