How To Make Authentic Connections In Times Of Crisis

Throughout the world, the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we connect with others. In Massachusetts, many other states and our entire world, restaurants have closed and community events are being postponed or cancelled. We are being asked to social distance and stay home as much as possible. I am reminded of the anxiety we felt after September 11th and how we worked through it individually and as a society. We did it before and we can do it again.

How much anxiety is too much?  

Our routines have been upset and there are many unknowns, this results in an increase in anxiety. If you are feeling some anxiety, it is normal. If anxiety is disrupting your relationships, work or general well being, take some steps now to reduce stress.

Some Signs of Anxiety

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge.
  • Being easily fatigued.
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
  • Irritability.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep).

As empaths, we have to be aware of how much anxiety we absorb from others. It is our responsibility to protect and rejuvenate our energy. Remember, connecting through our fear over and over again is not authentically connecting. It is called obsessing and ruminating. In the long term, this damages our health and weakens our immune system. 

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What can I do?

Become aware of what is raising your anxiety. Notice what people and circumstances are triggering anxious thoughts. What feels frightening to you?

Choose your thoughts and responses. I am reminded of my Mom in difficult times like these. She suffered a severe stroke which left her entire right side paralyzed. She taught me an important lesson, nine years ago, this month. No matter what your circumstance in life (whether you are ill, ordered to be in a quarentine, practicing social distancing, are required to travel into work, etc.), you CHOOSE your thoughts and responses.

Take precautions. Do what the CDC recommends which includes washing your hands, not touching your face, covering coughs and sneezes while practicing social distancing, and holding off on non-essential travel.

Feel the fear, don’t dwell. Allow yourself a brief time each day to sit, feel and release your fear. You may do this through writing, talking to others or online/phone counseling. Learn to shift into gratitude, focus on what you have and practice ways to distract your mind. (reading a book, watching a comedy, going for a walk)

Have compassion for yourself and set some new boundaries. You may need to watch less news. Read the news once a day, rather than checking it every few hours. Don’t watch the news before going to bed. Spend less time on social media, which can fuel your fear and spread misinformation.

Start connecting to spirit, yourself and others in alternative ways. You can use phone calls or Skype/Zoom to connect with others. Make more time to pray, meditate, write, be creative and connect within. 

You are all in my thoughts. This is a temporary situation, it will not last forever. I am always available for phone counseling and angel card readings.

Lisa Hutchison LMHC  is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach who helps sensitive souls not just survive but shine. She is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now at http://www.lisahutchison.net

 

How I Grieved My Client’s Death with Letter Writing

How I grieved my client's death with letter writing (1)

Confidential Connections

When a client dies, it presents a unique situation for a therapist. Due to confidentiality, many counselors choose to not openly mourn with their client’s family and friends. The reason for this would be because of the common question; how do you know the deceased? This puts the counselor in an uncomfortable situation of lying or breaking confidentiality, which would be unethical.

Confidentiality never dies and it is a counselor’s duty to protect the client’s identity and what was said in session long after the client’s death. Over my seventeen year career, I have experienced client death due to cancer, aging and suicide. There is no formal training on how to deal with client loss.  If you are a counselor long enough, you will face your client’s death, at least once.

I was going through some old papers and found a letter I wrote. This letter was never sent because it was written to a deceased client. I am publishing a part of this letter to show how therapy can go beyond the clinical parameters set forth through our profession. As humans, we experience a variety of emotions and connections through our work. Only a small portion of these are discussed behind the closed doors of a supervision session, most remain within the therapist. The names and situations have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Putting Pen to Paper- The Letter 

Dear Paulette,

Did you get the card? Before I left for vacation, I sent you a get well card with dogs on it because I know they are your favorite animal. When I returned from vacation, I had a message from Roger telling me to call him. I knew about your scheduled surgery but I had no idea you died.

I have many questions about your physical health and illness, which will go unanswered. I know you would have stayed longer, if you could. You were a fighter and would not give up easily. I wish I knew sooner you were dying and we could say a final goodbye. Perhaps, you did not know you were dying at this point?

I never shared with you how you helped me grow as a person. Through our sessions, I developed patience and insight. There were many times, I found it difficult to sit with the rigidity, defensiveness, and control. We both stayed and worked through these times.

During those difficult exchanges, you reminded me of a family member. This is known as countertransference in our field, when a client reminds the therapist of unfinished business in her own life. I didn’t know how to sit with her anger and blame, without feeling drained. You helped me to see I can do this and not take what was said personally.

We did have some laughs despite the conflicts and came to a place of more calm. Today, I would hug you and say, “You matter to me, not only as a client but as a person.” I saw your soul beneath all of that fear.

The last time we spoke, I called your hospital room. You told me, “Don’t give up my time space in your schedule.” I responded, “I wouldn’t because I didn’t want to lose you as a client,” and I meant it. After your death, I had to fill in your time slot, although, there will always be a space in my heart that is only yours. You will live on as a part of me, due to our work together.

I know you are at peace and this gives me comfort. You are now reunited with your parents, whom you often spoke about. I sent Roger, who knew about your treatment, a sympathy card. I feel you would approve. Your family will miss you and so will I.

Sincerely,

Lisa

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Lisa is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach who helps sensitive souls not just survive but shine.

Pick up her FREE gift 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now! at http://www.lisahutchison.net

5 Ways Expressive Arts Heal Unexpressed Pain

 “Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.” 
― Eileen Miller, The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures: Autism Through Art

5 Ways Expressive Arts Heal Unexpressed Pain

Expressive art therapy combines creativity with psychotherapy. It feels fun, yet is a deep form of healing for people who can’t put their emotional pain into the spoken word. Creative methods help people process post traumatic stress, grief, and terminal or chronic medical conditions. It can help anyone decrease depression and anxiety. Expressive art therapy is most effective when the client has an interest in creativity and you work with a licensed psychotherapist, who has knowledge of expressive art therapy techniques.

What is expressive art?

Expressive art is any type of creative activity (painting, writing, singing, dancing) in which you experience a decrease in symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. Its purpose is to shift emotions, in order to process them. Unlike traditional art, expressive art it is not about making a pretty picture. Although, you can end up with a beautiful piece of art in the end. Here your focus is on the process, not the finished product.

5 Ways Expressive Arts Heal Unexpressed Pain

Art holds a space for transformation to take place. You are in control of how much you express and when. If the process feels too overwhelming, put the art aside. Together, with your therapist, you decide when to re-enter the work. The page, paper or room where art is created, holds the space for you without judgment, as a therapist does in any talk psychotherapy session. This safe place for healing, allows you to open up, connect, and accept the pain inside. When you allow yourself the space and freedom to express creatively, healing takes place no matter what type of art modality you choose.

Relaxes and opens you to new possibilities. Play is important for everyone, not just young kids. Expressive art gives you a chance to have fun and let go. Think back to a time, when you were caught up in the moment of creation. You experienced a sense of timelessness or an expanded sense of time. Afterwards, many of you asked, “Where did the time go?” You returned to this moment, renewed and refreshed. This type of surrendering to spirit is when the most healing happens.

Helps you process terminal and chronic illnesses. It is difficult to connect with emotions when you are in physical pain. No matter how ill you are, you have the power of your imagination. It is common to experience anxiety and depression with any form of illness, including chronic pain. “The Expressive Arts, including painting, sculpture, music, dance, and literature, can bring joy, pleasure, and laughter to patients and staff in medical settings, qualities often in short supply. Making art or hearing music reminds us that no matter how ill or busy we are, we can always tap into the magic of our imagination. This frees patients from being just “the cancer patient in bed 4,” passive with no power, to the person who has cancer who still also has an imagination, a creative spark. This spark can be utilized to tell her story, imagine her healing, aid in her recovery” (Heath, 2005).

Heals Trauma. After a tragic event, people feel overwhelmed. Their nervous system reacts in one of three ways; fight, flight or freeze mode, releasing various stress hormones. When these chemicals don’t reset after a trauma, it changes the actual physical structures in the brain. The good news is with treatment these structures can be restored. Creative arts helps clients who have adversity, process these unspeakable experiences and organize them within the brain. Art helps contain these emotions and break them down into mentally digestible pieces. People find healing by telling their story in a different way, which reduces trauma symptoms.

Contains the Devastation of Grief and Loss. Often after a death, it is difficult to put your experience into words. Art gives you a safe place to express all of your feelings after a loss; whether it is anger, sadness, bargaining, depression, or acceptance. This process is also helpful when facing denial, as it helps you take in a small portion of the pain to work through at a time. There is no judgement with art; no one tells you to get over your loss or move on. Often through art, one not only heals but also finds a way to keep their loved one’s memory alive.

Reference: Creating Connections between Nursing Care and the Creative Arts Therapies: Expanding the Concept of Holistic Care by Carole-Lynne Le Navenec, Laurel Bridges (2005)   Chapter 7 The Spark of Creativity: Expressive Arts in a Hospital Setting by Wende Heath. 

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist with over fifteen years experience in counseling and nine years of experience using expressive art techniques. She specializes in working with professionals who often get drained from their helping efforts, giving them the tools and support to recharge and rejuvenate their energies. Get her free gift here a 10 page E-book: 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now!  

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Coping with the unexpected death of a friend

Coping with the unexpected death of a friend

Death has a deep effect upon an empathic soul. The more you are attached to someone, the stronger your grief reaction will be. As an empath, your energy becomes enmeshed with those close to you. When a death occurs, it is a process of letting go of those physical connections and establishing a new connection that is only at a spiritual level.

Grief can become more complex when a death is unexpected or sudden. The state of shock you first experience cushions you in the initial days. It is also exhausting and draining because you are carrying the emotional pain of your loss, which has yet to be expressed. Some people experience trauma symptoms similar to PTSD after an intense loss, this is known as complicated grief.

Helpful Suggestions in Your Grief

1.) Acknowledge grief is work and it takes its toll physically, emotionally and spiritually when it is ignored. In order to heal, you need to feel. Make time for grief. If it pops up at inconvenient times, write about it at night or on the weekends.

2.) Feel the pain of the loss. This is the most difficult part of grief, without it there is no moving forward. At this point in the healing process, you may need to reach out to an empathic therapist who has expertise in grief/loss issues.

3.) Keep your routine. Structure will give you a sense of stability and control when emotions feel intense or come out of the blue.

2 friends, 6 months

One of my best friend’s died from cancer, last October. It was a month from the diagnosis to his death. Six months later on the exact date, I found out that a friend of mine that I met on Facebook and talked to by phone, died suddenly on her 54th birthday.

Sharon and I were both co-authors in 365 Ways to Connect with Your Soul and 365 Life Shifts books. I often visited her Facebook page when I didn’t see her posts in my newsfeed because there would be a variety of positive and uplifting messages. She felt this was something she needed and wanted to do every day for others. I am grateful she listened to that voice within that I often encourage others to do. I know many days, I was helped by her posts.

I read about her death when I visited her Facebook page the day after her birthday. At first, I was in complete shock and disbelief seeing a couple of posts from others that spoke about her death. I hoped it was a cruel joke, but it wasn’t. I felt angry and questioned God, why her? I reasoned saying that others could have been taken off this Earth instead. I also cried over the loss realizing that there will be no other phone calls or positive posts left by her on her page anymore. These feelings of denial, confusion, anger, shock, bargaining and sadness are all normal parts of the grieving process.

Here are some of her recent posts that inspired me, perhaps they will inspire you also. She often wrote one word to empathize the post which I have included here:

Inspire

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Courage

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Faith

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Some Days

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Practices I learned from early loss and death in my own life. 

1.) Shine your light. The Divine gave you this light for a reason. Go out there and be your best self without apology.

2.) Value your connections. Enjoy every moment of this journey called Life and everyone who is in it. Acknowledge and give others attentive love, you never know when you or the other will be called home.

This blog has been dedicated to those who have suffered sudden losses and to my friend Sharon Rothstein. I know you are shining your light down on us from heaven. xx

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach who helps sensitive souls not just survive but shine. She is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now at http://www.lisahutchison.net

Check out my You Tube Channel: Lisa Hutchison LMHC

What helpers like you need to know about burnout

What helpers like you need to know about burnout (3)

 

Helpers and first responders often believe that they can push through irritation and emotional pain. You soldier on despite multiple systems in your body screaming out for you to stop. Some of these warning signs are unending fatigue, sleep difficulties, appetite changes, concentration problems, anxiety, depression, increased illnesses and anger.

As an empathic helper, you are going to experience work or help related stress due to caring so much. When that stress is combined with a lack of self- care and a lack of support more serious stress reactions can occur such as burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization.

Compassion fatigue and burnout arises from too much work, or as many people say burning the candle at both ends. Empathic helpers often absorb other’s pain and take it with them into their home life. Too much sympathy or working with empathy without proper boundaries drains helpers of energy and leads to burnout. In a study of 216 hospice care nurses from 22 hospices across the state of Florida it was found that, “Trauma, anxiety, life demands, and excessive empathy (leading to blurred professional boundaries) were key determinants of compassion fatigue risk in the multiple regression model that accounted for 91 % (P< .001) of the variance in compassion fatigue risk.” (Abendroth & Flannery 2006).

Vicarious traumatization can happen when you absorb the psychological material of your client who has experienced trauma. You feel the trauma in your own energetic system as PTSD symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, irritability and startle responses. This is why it is important to hold the energetic boundaries and seek supervision or your own counseling. If you are experiencing increased anxiety, startle responses or irritation, after your work with a client ask yourself; is this my trauma or yours?

What can a compassionate helper do?

  • You need to limit your use of empathy. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.  Empathy is one tool a helper uses in combination with other techniques to ensure client growth. At times you may need to use more directive or instructional types of methods rather than an all-out holding of the space for another.
  •  Be aware and recognize that trauma and stress are running the show. When you notice a change in your mood and thoughts, review your day and think about who you were with and what was discussed.
  • Self- Care. All empathic helpers need a self-care regime that refills and recharges your energy. Relaxation and energy increasing activities will balance out the fatigue you are experiencing. Grounding through the use of mindfulness can keep your focus in the present moment.
  • Seek psychotherapy with an empathic therapist who can help you with burnout and trauma. Going to a therapist who knows trauma, work stress and energy work can make a world of difference for yourself and your clients.
  •  Get this workbook for yourself and your clients. I have found this to be a valuable resource that I use with my clients: The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms Workbook Edition by Mary Beth Williams (Author), Soili Poijula (Author) Some of the chapters include: Before Doing the Work: Safety, Security and Intention and Helping Yourself When You Re-experience a Trauma. (As an amazon affiliate I receive a small portion of the sale when you buy after clicking the above link, without any addition cost to you. Thank you for choosing this method of purchasing.) 

References:

Abendroth, M., & Flannery, J. (2006). Predicting the risk of compassion fatigue: A study of hospice nurses. Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing, 8(6), 346-356.

Lisa Hutchison LMHC works for empathic healers who feel drained after their helping efforts, refill and recharge their energy with intuitive counseling and angel card readings. For more information visit her website at www.lisahutchison.net, while you are there take advantage of the free gift 8 Simple Things that Release Chaos from Your Life Now!