san diego therapist

You Are Not What Happened To You

“I feel like I’m damaged goods.”  This statement and other similar statements can come from people who have experienced trauma.  The trauma may have been a sexual assault or other crime, it may may have been a toxic relationship, it may have been a near death experience.  Why so often do survivors believe these events leave them forever damaged?

Trauma does change us.  Some of what it can impact includes how we think, the emotions that we feel, our behaviors, our physical response to stimulus, and more.  This is a normal response to an event that has shook our world. In time, many will return to their previous (or similar) way of functioning.  Some may do this naturally on their own and some find their way back with the support of others.  

There are people who hold the belief that what happened to them has left them “damaged.”  Trauma impacts our view of ourself and our place in the world.  It’s not uncommon to have thoughts like “I’m bad”, “This was my fault,” or “I have no control.” 

I think we like to believe that awful things can’t happen.  When something awful does happy we try to figure out why.  We want to know what we can do to make sure something awful never happens again to ourself or to loved ones.  We start to come up with reasons and justifications like “If only I had…” The amount of victim blaming that we hear in society, especially around sexual violence, further compounds the blame that we place on ourselves. 

Through the support of loved ones it is possible to begin changing the way we think about our trauma.  When someone says to us “it’s not your fault” and “I’m here for you” it goes a long way.  We no longer feel alone.  Their statements of support start to counter the self blame statements that are in our head.  The more we hear these statements of support the more we start to believe them.

Therapy can also help us to heal and to shift those negative thoughts about ourself.  EMDR therapy helps the brain to process an event.  Instead of having a negative thought about ourself we have a positive thought like “I’m good,” “It wasn’t my fault,” and “I have control.”  IFS therapy helps us to release the negative energy, thoughts, and emotions about an event.  Once that unburdening happens it invites us to take in other positive qualities like calm, confidence, connection, and courage. EMDR and IFS are two of the therapeutic approaches that can help individuals to heal from their past trauma.

Through support and therapy a person can reach a different understanding of the event(s) and the meaning can change.  It no longer defines the person.  It is part of their story but it’s a matter of pages and not the whole book. Experiencing trauma does not mean that a person is damaged. The person may change in some ways or their path may change. Life changes us in all sorts of ways.

“Yes I have been through awful things.  It wasn’t my fault though.  I’m strong.  I’m going to do amazing things.”  This type of statement and other similar statements have come from people that have worked through their trauma.  I have heard these statements from clients in my office.

Are you ready to start your healing journey? Contact me to make a therapy appointment.

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The Love Within

Happy Valentine’s Day!  This day can bring up a range of emotions for many of us - excitement, sadness, numbness, anger, disappointment, tenderness, ambivalence and much more.  This can change depending where we are in our life.

What I’ve come to realize over the years, is that how I experience this day (and relationships in general) is largely related to where I am in relationship with myself.  

Many of us have core wounds related to lovability, worthiness, and/or our value.  These wounds were often created early on in life.  Maybe by a message we heard from a loved one, maybe it was the absence of a primary care giver (literally or due to mental health or substance use), maybe it was because of another early negative experience or trauma.  That wound can be raw for a very long time.  Sometimes we don’t even realize it’s there.  

We often move through life trying not to acknowledge that wound.  Sometimes we are trying to avoid it through distractions like overworking or binge watching our favorite shows.  Sometimes we try to people please or try to be “perfect.”  Sometimes we try to numb it through using food or other substances.

There are times we try to find something or someone outside to assure us that this fear we hold about ourself isn’t true.  If I win that award… If I date this person… If I get that job… If that person loves me…

Sometimes this may help us short term.  Eventually something changes.  Then, we are again questioning our lovability, worthiness, or value.  

There is another option though… What if we could give ourselves the love we deserve?  Take some time to sit down, get to know ourselves better, get to know the different aspects of ourselves, and in time help heal those wounds.  Then, we wouldn’t be needing someone or something from the outside to give those things to us.  Then, when we meet another person we won’t have the same expectations.  Yes we have standards, we have goals, and we have hopes for relationships.  But how we feel about ourselves is no longer dependent on these outside factors.  

I invite you to take some time today or over the next days to get to know yourself.  Be curious about why you do all the things you do.  Connect to the different aspects of yourself.  Thank them for getting you to where you are today.  Make a plan to spend time with them again.  When you’re ready, set an intention to take steps towards healing any wounds that are there by participating in therapy.  You deserve it.  

Let this Valentine’s Day be a day you give yourself the love you deserve.  If there are others in your life whether they be friends, family, partners, or pets that you want to send love to, take moments to do that too.  When the love starts within, the rest is icing on the cake.  Make the day one full of love, appreciation, joy, and connection.

Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous.
— Carrie Bradshaw
San Diego Therapist

Most Holidays Aren’t a Hallmark Movie: Tips for the Season

It’s the most wonderful time of year.  Or is it an emotional and stressful time of year?  Likely, it’s somewhere between the two.  

If you are someone who struggles finding constant joy this season you are not alone.  The holidays can be hard for a variety of reasons.  It can feel like there’s pressure from society to have this picture perfect family holiday full of traditions and nothing but laughter and good times.  You may feel like that is true for others but the reality of your life is different.  There may be the thoughts like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be ‘normal?’”  Maybe your holidays are overall “ok” but… Maybe there are feelings of loneliness. Maybe you feel like something is missing. Maybe they’re stressful for other reasons.

There is no “normal” or “perfect.” We all need this reminder.  Also, I can guarantee that there are other people having similar thoughts. In my years as a therapist (and all my years of being alive frankly), I have seen many people struggle this time of year.  Heck, I’ve struggled at times.  There can be an increase in mental health symptoms including anxiety and depression. There can be an increase in substance use or relapse for those in recovery.  There can be an increase in interpersonal conflicts.  So what can you do to get through the season?  

Helpful Tips for the Holidays

  1. Self Care - This is important year round and is especially important during the holidays.  Schedules can get hectic with travel or holiday related events.  Don’t neglect yourself.  If you have found a routine of exercise, meditation, or other forms of self care try to keep this a priority.  If you miss something one day, forgive yourself and get back on track.  

  2. Keep Your Boundaries - These could be boundaries with how you spend time or boundaries with individuals in your life.  Keep the balance that works for you. Sometimes holidays mean being around people you don’t usually see.  It could be family or other individuals that caused pain in the past. Identify people that can offer support if needed at events and people that will be there to reach out to after.  

  3. Sleep - Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and sleep goes out the window.  Sleep is key to our physical and mental wellbeing.  If you get off schedule, give yourself time to get back on track.  

  4. Make Room for Your Feelings - Don’t try to eat or drink them away.  These and other forms of numbing only “work” for a short time and they’ll still be there. Acknowledge your feelings.  Be curious about them.  You don’t have to put on a facade of constant joy because of the season.  When we make room for our true feelings, we learn to ride the wave because they will change.  Journal about them.  Talk to someone about them.  Most importantly, feel them. 

  5. Live in the Moment - Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the planning of events and gifts that before we know it we have missed enjoying being in the moment.  Slow down.  Breathe. Enjoy what’s happening in the now.  

  6. Practice Gratitude - Notice what it is you do enjoy and appreciate.  Maybe it’s something about the season (ie weather, movies, music, events, peppermint mochas, or gingerbread).  Maybe it’s something you value year round that you want to give extra acknowledgement to and thanks for.  This actually helps build positive emotional pathways in the brain. 

  7. Take the Pressure Off Yourself - You don’t have to work so hard trying to create the perfect holiday for others. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do (within reason of course).  If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, you don’t have to.  If you can’t afford to give that expensive gift, don’t.  Listen to your gut.  You do you. 

  8. Make the Holidays Your Own - Someone else’s idea of a “magical” holiday season doesn’t need to be what yours is.  If there are holiday events you want to attend, go for it.  If you want to cook yourself an awesome meal, you can do that. If you want to go sit on the beach with your dog, that’s cool too.  You can start your own traditions.  You get to choose.  

  9. Connect - Sometimes we want to hide in our safety cocoons.  That can be ok to some extent.  Sometimes when we want to isolate, what would really be best for us is to connect.  Find people to talk to.  This may be friends or family.  It may be professional support like a therapist.  Talk to someone about what the holidays are like for you and how you are doing this season.  You don’t have to go through it alone.  

When we stop trying to make the holidays fit an ideal, we give ourselves permission to find enjoyment in what they really are.  Again, your holiday can be whatever you want it to be.  Take a few minutes and think about what you really would enjoy doing this time of year.  Picture your ideal holiday.  Make plans to do as many of those things as possible.

Remember, the stress of the holidays will pass.  It is normal for emotions to fluctuate especially during the holiday season.  There may be moments of stress, moments of joy, moments of tears, moments of laughter, and so much more. 

Wherever you are in your life this season, take care of yourself.  It’s both ok and normal if your holidays aren’t like a Hallmark Movie.  Maybe they’re more like a prime time drama or a reality show on Bravo. Whatever the holiday season brings, know we’ll all muddle through somehow.  2019 is just around the corner.  

If you need extra support do not hesitate to reach out. You can email me to schedule a therapy session. For 24/7 Support contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

I See You. I Care.

I find it interesting that after high profile suicides my newsfeed is often filled with posts from well meaning individuals with blanket statements along the lines of “If you need to talk, I’m here.”  It makes sense.  We want people to know they aren’t alone and that we are there for them.  Unfortunately, putting that invitation out there may be futile when it comes to our friends who are suffering.  These people may not be able to reach out and ask for help.  One of the features of depression is isolation.  That person may not have the strength to reach out in response to that post.  They might not see that post. 

What makes someone think about suicide?  Imagine being physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted all the time. You feel alone.  You just want the pain to end.  It doesn’t feel like there is any other way to end it. You have lost hope.  

It isn’t uncommon to think about suicide.  It may start as a fleeting thought.  Then that thought gets louder and more frequent.  It gets so strong that the person starts to think of how to do it and maybe starts to prepare to act on those thoughts.  Then maybe something happens that makes them want to carry that plan through.  There are different risk levels of suicide ranging from passive thoughts to having a plan and intent.  It doesn’t have to be a linear progression either.  


Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Every 12 minutes someone in the US takes their life.

On average there are 123 suicides per day.

For every completed suicide there are 25 attempts. 

- AFSP.ORG data from 2016 

Suicide is the most preventable cause of death.  If it is known that someone is struggling and they are able to connect with support.  

What can we do to stop this epidemic? 

We need to not be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.  We need to make it ok to talk about mental health struggles and we need to make it ok to talk about suicide.  Talking about it can be a protective factor.  There can be relief in giving voice to the thoughts someone has been holding inside.  Then, they don’t feel alone with the dark thoughts.  If someone is struggling ask them -  How are you? How dark does it get? Are you thinking about suicide?

We need to show up for each other and show that we care.  If we know someone is struggling we need to be the ones to reach out to them.  Send a text just to say you’re thinking about them.  Make plans.  Invite them to talk about what they’re going through if they want.  Invite them to do something fun together to get their mind off things.  Ask them how you can help support them. Tell them you think they’re awesome and that you care about them.

We need to give people hope.  When someone is struggling they may not see an end to the darkness.  Let them know that it will get better.  It may not feel like it now, but it will get better.  The only way to know that for sure is to stay around to see that sunrise.  If you’ve struggled and came through to the other side (or know someone that has) share those stories of hope.  Sometimes someone may struggle to believe in that hope.  Let them know that’s ok if they aren’t there yet.  Let them know you’ll believe for the both of you until they find their hope.  Let them know you’ll be with them throughout their journey.

We need to connect people to support.  Everyone deserves support.  It may come in the form of therapy, support groups, online forums, spiritual guidance, and doctors, just to name a few.  I believe everyone deserves therapy.  Offer to go with them to their first appointment, if it will make them more comfortable.  If they don’t connect immediately to the person they meet with, let them know it may take time to build a relationship.  If it’s not a good fit, let them know it’s ok to try someone or something else.  It’s important for people to feel comfortable with their support.  Get support for yourself while you are supporting them.  Get support for yourself anyways.  Again, everyone deserves therapy.

What can you do when there is a high profile suicide instead of making a post inviting people to call you if they need anything?  Make a post about hope. Send a message to your loved ones just to say hi, to let them know that you are thinking of them, and to let them know you care.  Check in with loved ones that you know have been struggling to ask how they are doing, offer support, and let them know you care.  Engage in dialogue about mental health to help decrease the stigma.  Spread awareness about resources.  Connect to resources.  Go to therapy yourself. You deserve it! Let people know about your experiences and invite them to share about theirs.  

What if we made it a point to do all of these things regularly?  Why wait?  There are many stories about people who were struggling that describe how on a dark day a smile or kind word from a friend or even a stranger made a difference.  We don’t know what is going on in another person’s world.  What if we made it a point to smile and be kind to each person we interact with?

I see you. I care. 

According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That's one person every 40 seconds. World Suicide Prevention Day is Monday, September 10. Today, this week, and well into the future, we're asking you to fight with us. - TWLOHA

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

Survivors of Suicide Loss offers support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

You are not alone.

Reaction to 13 Reasons Why Season 1

13 Reasons Why does not glamorize suicide.  It illustrates the pain and struggles that teenagers may face.  These are challenges that many of us may have faced in our lifetimes.  These important topics include: friendship, suicide, sexual assault, substance use, stalking, sexuality, and bullying. 

I was hesitant to watch this series.  I knew I could have a strong reaction. I had talked with friends about it and got fired up enough just hearing their reactions.  I want to make it clear that my reactions here are my own. They are based on my personal and professional experiences.  That’s how we all make meaning of things including television shows.  I haven’t yet read any of the articles by other professionals because I wanted to form my own opinion first. 

I invite all of you who have either already watched this show or who are thinking about watching it to take a moment and reflect on what it may bring up for you.  There’s a chance that a character may remind you of someone you know or a situation may remind you of something that has happened in your own life.  How will that impact the conclusions you draw about these characters?

One comment that I have heard some say is that Hannah put herself in a lot of bad situations.  I don’t agree.  Hannah was a teenage girl trying to navigate the challenges of adolescents in high school.  There is no guidebook for this.  We all do the best we can and if we are lucky we make it through relatively unscathed.  Hannah was not able to do that.  One thing after another happened.  How much can a person take?  Hannah shares her 13 reasons why she died by suicide so that we can better understand her story. 

I’ve heard some people say that suicide is a selfish act.  Is it really though?  Someone is in so much pain and they just want it to stop.  Hannah mentioned feeling like she was a burden on others.  Maybe in her mind she thought she was doing people a favor.  People in pain may not see things clearly.  Everything is taken over by the darkness or the numbness.  It feels like suicide is the only choice.  It isn’t, but it feels that way.

Several years ago, I was at a suicide prevention summit in Colorado.  One of the talks included video interviews with individuals who survived suicide attempts.  They each shared how after they attempted, they realized they actually did want to live.  Some shared how if one thing had gone different that day, maybe they wouldn’t have attempted.  I’ll never forget those stories.  Kevin’s was one of them.

Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death.  IF we know the person is struggling AND we connect them to support.  If you have lost someone to suicide, I don’t want you to think I’m blaming you or saying that you should have done something.  You didn’t know what you didn’t know. 

While watching 13 Reasons Why, I had a whole range of reactions and emotions.  There were moments I was yelling at the TV, moments I cringed at statements made or questions asked, moments I hid my eyes and couldn’t watch, and moments I was in tears.  There were so many opportunities for Hannah’s story to change, for the story of all of these teenagers and adults to change.  They didn’t know what they didn’t know. 

Where does the responsibility lie? We need to be changing the conversations that we are having with our youth.  We need to be having the important conversations.  It is our responsibility.  The conversations may be scary or uncomfortable at times but these conversations will save lives. 

While working at WPI, I had the privilege to be part of two grants that helped to support these conversations.  The first was a suicide prevention grant.  This grant helped the Director of the SDCC, Charlie Morse, to develop the Student Support Network.  This six week training program teaches students about mental health struggles, how to support a friend, and how to connect them to resources.  The second grant was to reduce dating and sexual violence on campus.  Both of these grants provided information, led to important conversation, discussed bystander intervention, and helped make resources available (and known about). In my High School, we had the Yellow Ribbon Project for suicide prevention and the Yellow Dress to discuss dating violence.  What is it about the color yellow?  These are just some examples of how to start conversations.  We need to have these and many more (we needed even more back then, but it was a start).  Social media and cell phones have increased the pressure on teens.  When I was in school, when we went home for the night we got a reprieve from these pressures, but kids today don’t. 

High School can be a challenging time.  I think many of us can identify with one if not more of the characters in 13 Reasons Why.  Maybe we also struggled to find our place socially.  Maybe we felt pressure to be the star athlete.  Maybe we were labeled the school slut or a loser.  Maybe we were bullied.  Maybe we were the bully.  Maybe we were all of these and more at different points or maybe just one for a small time.  The fact of the matter is that we can relate.  That’s likely why this show has become so popular.  It speaks about things we don’t always know how to speak about. 

No, 13 Reasons Why does not glamorize suicide.  It holds up a mirror for us to see all the ugly painful challenges that face youth.  We have a choice.  Do we continue to hold secrets and avoid important conversations?  Do we take this opportunity to stop and have some potentially hard conversations?  If you have a young person in your life that has watched this show, I encourage you to sit down and dialogue about it.  Even as adults there are things to be gained by talking to each other about the different issues that this show addresses.  If we don’t, this is a missed opportunity. It’s time to acknowledge our own fears and pain, to acknowledge the pain and struggles of others, to support one another, and to talk about what we can do to change.  Things can get better.  They do get better.  We know this when we live long enough to see it.

Step one, you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down, it’s just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left, and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came
Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
— How To Save A Life, The Fray

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741

For additional resources on how to talk about 13 Reasons Why, see the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

This blog reflects just some of my reactions to Season 1. There is much much more I could say. I invite you to respond with your reactions in the comments. Let's continue this important dialogue. Next, I'm off to start Season 2. More reflections to come after. 

The Darkness

The darkness can feel like being hit by a wave of emotion - exhaustion, despair, and sadness.  The more you fight it, the stronger it gets and the more it pulls on you. When you just let go and fall with it, things get even darker. How do you find your way out of the dark to the light?

Mental health struggles are real. They can be painful. You may feel alone.  In some of the darkest times, you may feel like something is “wrong” with you to the core. There may be thoughts of suicide.

There is hope though.  You may feel alone, but you don't have to be.  Reach out for support. It could come from a friend or family member. It could come from a therapist, a doctor, or another professional.  People care about you.  They want to help. There are people that you haven't even met yet that care and want to help. 

When we open up and talk about our struggles, it may feel strange at first.  We aren’t sure how people will react.  When we talk to people in our personal lives, we may fear that if they knew the truth about our pain, then they will “know” that there’s something “wrong” with us.  Then, they may leave or reject us.  Often times though, when we open up, when we allow people to truly see us, we allow for a true, genuine, connection to happen.  By sharing about our experience, we are making others more comfortable to share about their own.  

We live in a world of airbrush, photoshop, and snapchat filters.  People find ways to alter how they present themselves to the world in hopes of being “perfect.”  Why do we do this?  Maybe it’s because we all have a similar core fear.  There’s something “wrong” with me that makes me “unloveable.”  We don’t realize that the people around us may have similar fears and struggles.  We may think others have found the secret of how to live the perfect happy life. It only looks like they are a duck sitting on water cool, calm, and collected.  The reality is, that duck’s legs are moving fast to stay afloat too. Other people have struggles that they may not be talking about. 

What would happen if we just stopped using those filters?  What if we stopped trying to always cover up the pain and the self doubt that we feel inside.  What if, we got real?  What if, we let people in and let them see the true us – flaws and all.  We all have them.  We all have experienced darkness at some point.  Our darkness may not be the same. We all have our unique stories and our darkness may be influenced by different things.  But we can relate to the emotions and thoughts.  We can support one another.

When we share the truth of who we are, where we have been, and how we feel, we can begin to truly connect.  We can begin to heal.  We are not meant to go through life alone.  We need other people.  We deserve that support.  Through support of friends and professionals we can learn to ride those waves of darkness.  Our supports are there to give us light, even when we can’t see the light ourselves.  There is hope. People care. It gets better. 

May is Mental Heath Awareness Month.  If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741

I got all I need when I got you and I
I look around me, and see a sweet life
I’m stuck in the dark but you’re my flashlight
You’re getting me, getting me through the night
— Jessie J, Flashlight