Tag Archives: therapy

JSJ Therapy presenting at CARAS conference

It’s almost time for alternative sex therapists and researchers to get together and talk about big ideas in the field.

All are welcome to attend the upcoming CARAS Conference in Chicago on May 24th.  I’ll be presenting with Awen Therapy on the topic entitled :

Using the D/s Dynamic to Reach Therapeutic Goals In and Out of Session

This is such an important group of individuals who are looking to bridge the gap between therapy-research-and-community. This is going to be a great conference, join us!


Personal House Rules

I think often we have unspoken rules about how we want to conduct our lives. It can be confusing for someone to automatically know that -you-should-take-your-shoes-off-when-you-come-inside-the-door.  Then when the person doesn’t quickly act in the way we are expecting, we are confronted with a choice. We  let the new person know the expectations directly or we sadly can  stay silent and be upset that they didn’t do it right.

This is the same thing that we do with the rules of self, we expect  that everyone will know how to we want to live our lives, what works and what doesn’t, how to treat us, what our boundaries are, and the very best way to show us love. This is mind reading  at its best. It is all so obvious to us.

I have a saying that I use with clients a lot “If it is obvious, then you need to say it out loud.” We are so accustomed to our own mind and beliefs that it seems a given, but if it is that ingrained within us that means it is pretty important. Hence, saying our ideas, expectations, and  boundaries out loud not only makes sense but also creates a much more open dynamic.

The approach of letting others know what your personal house are allows everyone to have a framework of interaction. You get to avoid a lot of the messy parts of stepping on each other’s toes.  Everyone decides if the structure is workable and provides an understanding of the boundaries. It sound so simple but that is exactly what we so often miss, stating that which seems like a default to our own system.

I really love the idea of putting your house rules out for everyone to see  (physically like photo above or state directly). Consider wearing your expectations with a badge of honor that you want others to know about from the start. Be proud of who you are and what you want from yourself and others!

Social Engineering

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Chris Hadnagy (and the rest of the crew) on the Social Engineering podcast. The conversation centered on the nature of how we become comfortable around others, understanding  microexpressions, and how neuro linguistic programming (NLP) can be used as a way to set people at ease.  It may not make sense as to why a therapist and social engineer would debate the finer points of interactions, however it all becomes clear when you realize how much overlap there is between the two disciplines.

Each takes a detailed look at how private information can be most  efficiently and painlessly gathered. The goals often in therapy and onsite hack are to gain rapport, uncover information, and provide a plan for a stronger secure foundation . Both are interested in the details of human interaction and helping people create a clearer path in reaching their goals.

Some of the basics that these individuals use from a psychological perspective can be found on Social Engineering website.  Also, I briefly talked about SE in a previous post which speaks to lessons that can be learned in life from an SE perspective.

If you are curious to learn more, you can listen to the podcast No Hype NLP for Social Engineers. Enjoy learning how to hack the human operating system!

Avoiding planned obsolescence

Did you know that the light bulb was originally built to last much longer than it does? Apparently, the technology and lifespan was created to be more than 1000 hours pushed into the marketplace as the standard.  The Phoebus Cartel  put pressure on manufacturers to keep the longevity of the light bulb limited. They basically became rich by strong arming the industry into not allowing innovation and competition to thrive. The idea was to intentionally make a poorly designed product to stop working as a way to sell more units.

A term was coined for the concept of creating a product to become inoperable after a specific time period: “planned obsolescence.” The idea took hold and the 1950’s spawned a new generation of goods under a time constraint.  The demand for an item is inherent when the product will stop working and new one is needed.  Hence, this provided marketers with an essential way to spur on sales with the illusion of a better product always right around the corner.

Everyday we are bombarded with notions to replace the poorly created goods we already have for other poorly created merchandise, without a second thought. There is always a newer product that will help take away the inconvenience of the one we already have that doesn’t appear to function properly. Is it any wonder that we have no idea how to have lasting relationships?

I’m not saying that marketing or even planned obsolescence is to blame for our inability to connect on a deeper level. However, the world we live in does influence us and if we continue to substitute one bad item for another, well you can see how a slippery slope can be created within your psychology.

If a person has a personality quirk, makes a mistake, gets sick, older, or even just says something we don’t like, it is pretty deeply ingrained in American culture to simply find another person. We even have relationship concepts for this like “starter marriage. ” But the problem I have with this replaceable notion of relationships is the same that I have with planned obsolescence: where is the personal responsibility of the individual to make sure they are really getting something better?

It is one thing if you end a relationship (for just about any reason) and learn from it, grow, and integrate changes which allow you to pursue someone of higher calibre. It is another thing (read: unhealthy) to ditch one relationship only to find yourself in the exact same dynamic you were in the last time it didn’t work. This is essentially planned obsolescence in relationships.

Individuals are not taking the time to put in quality emotional work into understanding themselves, research their own patterns, and then seek a relationship that reflects a higher level of integration. Instead, they just swap one bad relationship for another and then complain about it. This is a lament we hear daily if it is not about a piece of technology equipment it could easily be about someone’s romantic partner.

Want to avoid planned obsolescence within your relationship? Here is what you do, it is simple really, it just requires a bit of self honesty and effort. You decide that what you expect from yourself and a relationship is of more worth and higher quality than before. You make a conscious choice to examine who you are and what you want, then you look at ways to better strengthen yourself and interactions, and then you actually get to know someone and see over time if they meet your standards. Finally you decide to more fully invest within the relationship.

It is a process and not necessarily an easy one at that.  It is easy to fall for the shiny marketing of a quick new alternative relationship. However, I assure you that waiting for quality understanding within yourself and taking the time to learn more about the other person will allow for a much higher level of satisfaction and longer relationship lifespan.

And just for information sake, planned obsolescence still exists today often seen in examples likes printers, ipod batteries, and yes… still for light bulbs.

What is trust?

Trust is a concept that we talk a lot about in therapy. But what exactly is it? Well that depends on the person…

There are many that believe that trust is about feeling comfortable.  Others would say  it is a matter of sharing secrets and keeping them.  Some people consider trust to be about having your words and actions match up on a regular basis.  All of these concepts and more are true.

The building blocks of trust are about our belief in another person to be there for us, protect our vulnerabilities, and follow through.

Yet when we talk about how to build trust or how to regain trust, it gets a bit more complicate.


What if you have made some poor decision or have trouble with boundaries and feel like you can’t trust yourself? Well, you start by looking at things that are not emotionally charged. You consider how you trust yourself to get things done, what kind of preferences you have, and how you feel when you are most secure and happy. These  types of questions allow you to sort through the process you use to connect with your values.  It takes some time but once you start to see a pattern of choice, expression, and authenticity you begin to immediately see how trust is created within yourself.


When you have been betrayed it is hard to know what to do.  If you have experienced the acute feelings of mistrust, it is something that can shake you to your core. You relied on your abilities to judge correctly AND a person that you care about has mislead you. It is doubly heart wrenching.

How do you sort through it all? Should you protect yourself or open up again?  What if the answer is both?

Being able to refocus on your needs and values is a huge part of the process of trust. You are not just looking at trusting another person you are looking at how you understand your own ability to trust.  Consider what it is like to know what it feels like with relationships you do trust. There are signals that you send and that others send all the time that help you understand the mechanisms that you need to pay attention you. You know what are red flag behaviors from another it is about being more consciously attuned to them AND listening when these arise.

Building trust with others can be tricky.  There is a balance that has to be created. For a while the understanding that was once a given is now tentative. You need to honestly look at what you need from another person and present it to them.  Allowing the other person to know as clearly as possible what you need to get enough time, experience, and commitment helps you know when you are building trust directly. Just saying the words that you want to “build trust” don’t actually do much but stating what you want and need to the person that betrayed you gives you clarity and allows the other person to work towards actively regaining your trust.


There is  typically an unspoken notion that you will simply trust the therapist. But why?  If you are a benevolent person and typically allow yourself to be open until given a reason otherwise, coming and talking to someone new about private matters can be great. However, if you have experienced trauma, have had others betray you, or are unsure how to trust yourself then this expectation can seem almost too much to ask.

So, I  do things a bit different. I ask you to begin to trust yourself, by seeing what you need to learn about if  my approach to therapy works for you.  You can share as much as you want as fast as you want or as little and slow as you desire. It is not for me to dictate what you feel comfortable with. Therapy is about creating a bond that is respectful and empowering and that can take time for some.  Hence, paying attention to your own sense of what works for you is one of the biggest keys towards trust building.

Only you can decide if a specific person is someone you want and/or can trust.  It takes time and experience and honest expression to create those bonds of trust.  You are worth closely paying attention to so  you can make choices that best fit you and your life.

Allowing your internal monitor to teach you… who and what you feel uncomfortable and comfortable with goes a long way.

Just tell me what to do…

It happens all the time… a client looks me square in the eye and with an authentic pleading tone they say “Please just tell me what to do!” I know this phrase so well… because I have also said it to my therapist. Sometimes things are so hard we just want some guidance. It isn’t as if we are looking for someone to dictate our every move, but we want someone else to shoulder the burden. This is totally understandable, human, and natural. It also means that as far as the therapist-client relationship goes, you are probably going to hate me in the moment, and love yourself later for the answer I return to those longing filled eyes.

I deeply respect individual choice, mood, and thought. I don’t pretend not to have opinions or values. I clearly do and those that choose me as a therapist know that I’m sex-positive, direct, and extremely honest.  I’m not afraid to push. However, there are lines that I do not cross. Part of this is empowering each person to make their own decisions and not claiming to know better than the client what is best for them.

It is almost a cliche at this point, but it still stands as a truth, that you will learn so much more when you figure things out for yourself rather than have someone else tell you. Not to mention, most of the time even when someone does tell us, we don’t listen, we just wait for our own integration to hit! This is how it should be. We need to figure out our own ideas, values, and emotions.

So, even when you ask me what I think, I’ll turn it back around on you. This is not meant to be cruel, as a trick, or to dodge the topic. It is that as a therapist with integreity, I believe in the strength of each person to figure out their own way. If you want someone to tell you what to do there are many a friend and family member that I’m sure would be happy to do the job.

It is not my job to dictate what you should be doing. Rather, it is my job to help you find your core strengths, use them to make choices, and act in a way that works best for your life.  I’m all about looking at the situation as a whole and providing opening to new patterns, thoughts, and expressions.  I’m here to also give you support when things feel overwhelming.

Believe me when I say this… your words state that you want me to tell you what to do, but that is just one frustrated moment in time. After that moment passes, there is a respect for yourself that comes when you use your own judgement to decide what is right and wrong for your life.

And that is the magical part of therapy, I get to watch each person come into their own sense of self. I don’t want mindless clients. I want to encourage independent thought, strength, and action. Even though it hurts me to not give a client what they want in that situation, I’m proud to say I always give a client what they need to reach their goals with strength and dignity.

Why do they stay …

I was recently reading an amazing post by hilzoy on the topic of why people might stay in a relationship that is abusive. There are so many factors that contribute to this choice, however they are often from a point of view that feels dis-empowering to the person being abused. While there are many valid arguments as to why someone would stay, this is one that explains in real-people-terms why even someone that is smart and rational would continue on even after the first time abuse happens.

If you are in a situation where you need help, support, or information regarding an abusive situation, please call. You will not be judged but rather encouraged to find solutions that work for you.


In a post on a book about a violent relationship, Linda Hirshman writes:

“It is difficult to understand why she stayed in this awful relationship, given that she was not risking starvation and had no children with her abuser.”

I worked in a battered women’s shelter for five years, four as a volunteer, and one as a full-time staffer, so I might be able to answer this question. Obviously, this will be too general: people stay for lots of reasons. But generalizations might be better than nothing. I will also refer to abusers as ‘he’, and to their victims as ‘she’; this is accurate in the overwhelming majority of cases. (JSJ Therapy acknowledges that anyone can be abused and actively works to support all persons within situations, that they would like to change.)

In some cases, understanding why someone stays is easy. A lot of women are afraid that their abuser would try to harm them if they leave.  Staying in a case like this, at least until you had figured out how to leave safely and cover your tracks, is not mysterious or perplexing.

Moreover, while I think the assumption that battered women stay because they are just dumb, or have staggeringly bad judgment, is wrong and insulting, there are a whole lot of battered women, and it would be very surprising if none of them stayed for such reasons. We asked women who came to our shelter when the abuse had started; one woman told me that her husband had thrown her from a moving car on their first date, at which point I wondered silently why on earth there had been a second date, let alone a subsequent marriage. But in my experience such women were a vanishingly small minority.

What is hard to understand, I take it, is why women who do not have obviously bad judgment, and who do not take themselves to be in serious danger if they leave, stay anyways. So I turn to them.

To start with, it helps to know that (last time I checked) the two most common times for violence to start were the honeymoon and the first pregnancy. By the time you reach either point, you’re already in a pretty serious relationship, and leaving is not something that anyone would do lightly.

Moreover, the violence often comes as a real surprise. It’s not that there aren’t signs: there are. But they are often things like: he falls for you too hard and too fast, or: he wants to be with you all the time. You’d have to be either paranoid or a victim of a previous abusive relationship to leap to the conclusion that either of these things means that abuse might be in your future. (Imagine, in particular, someone whose last relationship was with someone who didn’t seem to care about her: imagine her saying to herself: last time he didn’t care enough; this time he seems to care too much; am I impossible to please?)

So imagine yourself, in love with someone, on your honeymoon or pregnant, when suddenly this guy just goes ballistic, often for very little reason, and hits you. For a lot of women, this is profoundly shocking and disorienting. There are things that are comprehensible parts of the world, even if they’re rare, like having your car stolen; and then there are things that are unexpected in a completely different sense, like having your car turn into an elephant before your eyes: things that make you wonder whether you’re completely crazy. Being beaten up by someone who apparently loves you is one of those things.

What this means is that precisely when a woman needs as much confidence in her own judgment as she can muster, the rug is completely pulled out from under her. And it’s not just that she questions her judgment because she got involved with this guy in the first place; she questions her judgment because something so completely alien to the world she thinks she knows has just happened.

Under the circumstances, it is very, very hard to say: well, OK, I am married and/or pregnant, I am in this serious relationship,  but I will nonetheless decide to leave, now, because I think I have to, and I trust my judgment. Trusting your judgment at that moment is like trusting your sense of balance when someone has just poured a fifth of vodka down your throat.

Besides that, there’s also the Jekyll/Hyde phenomenon. If I had a nickel for every woman who has said to me, “It’s like he was two people! Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!, I’d be a wealthy woman today. When I first heard this, I didn’t entirely believe it.

Then I encountered Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde myself. One fine evening, a guy I was involved with, a guy who was normally kind and decent and funny, suddenly went nuts. He started accusing me of all sorts of that were truly insane. (You’ll have to trust me on this one: things that there was no reason in our relationship or my character for him to suspect me of, not a scintilla of evidence to support, and that would have been wildly implausible about anyone.) He followed me around the house, screaming and screaming, for about ten hours. (You might wonder, why didn’t I leave the house? Answer: it was on the outskirts of Ankara, at night, and there was nowhere to go and no public transportation.)

In the morning I left to walk around and try to figure out what had happened, in the kind of absolute daze I described above. When I came back, he was appalled by what he had done, and not in the “I am beating up on myself” way I had always imagined, but in the way a normal person would be, if a normal person had somehow done something like this. It was completely baffling. It really was as though he was two people.

I did not leave then. He did it again four days later. After that I thought: right. It is conceivable to me that someone might do this once. But if he felt the way he seemed to afterwards, then having done it, nothing like that would happen again for, oh, at least several decades. The fact that it happened again four days later means that something is going on. I flew home shortly thereafter.

But consider my advantages. While I have the usual run of horrid insecurities, underneath it all I am reasonably self-confident. Nothing in my background or upbringing would in any way make it hard for me to leave. I’m a feminist. Moreover, at this point I had been working in battered women’s shelters for several years. That was crucial: I knew that this was emotional abuse, in a pretty strict sense of that term, and that that meant that it was very, very unlikely to change. I was, therefore, not inclined to second-guess myself, and that was immensely important.

With all that, I did not leave the first time.


Imagine someone who stays longer. The longer you stay, the more your confidence and your self-respect are undermined. The first time often comes out of the blue, but it is normally the beginning of a cycle, not a one-time episode. And more or less everything about this cycle is absolutely corrosive to a woman’s self-respect.

Beating someone up is, obviously, itself a gesture of immense disrespect. But there’s generally also verbal abuse: battered women are often told, repeatedly, that no one should listen to them, that they’re ugly, stupid, hateful, bitchy, and in all sorts of ways worthless.

As I said, it’s corrosive. The longer you stay, the worse it gets. And since, as before, the capacity that is under attack is the very one you need in order to get out, this makes it harder and harder to leave. And, of course, the longer you stay, the dumber you feel about staying.


There are several more things, though. First, abusers often isolate their victims. At first this can take an apparently benign form: he wants to be with you all the time; he wants to envelop you in a kind of cocoon; there isn’t time for other things. Later, it’s a lot less pleasant. Women who stay often try to keep the peace, and one way to do that is not to insist on seeing your friends and family. That, of course, makes turning to your friends and family a lot tougher later on.

Second, it would be a lot easier if abusers were sneering villains. But they are not. They are often charming on the outside. More importantly, they are often in genuine psychological distress. It often seems like a combination of two things: first, feeling as though if their wife left them, some truly terrifying abyss would open up in their minds and they would fall down into the darkness forever, and second, thinking that to prevent this, they need to keep her from leaving, to control her.

In my judgment, when abusers say things like: I need you, I’d be lost without you, I’d die if you left, many of them are not just kidding or being manipulative. They are serious, and they are often right. If you love someone who is in genuine distress, you normally don’t want to make things worse for them. And that’s what leaving looks like, up until the moment when you say to yourself: he will not change, at least not while he’s involved with me; this will not get better; and that being the case, I am not helping him by staying.

At that point, you can think of leaving as helping him. Until then, it looks like kicking someone you love when he’s down. Your husband or lover is in pain; he needs you; and you are going to leave. For some people, it’s easier to take sacrifices on themselves than to inflict them on others, especially others they love. That is not the worst kind of person to be. But it makes it much, much harder to walk out the door.

Again, consider the example of me. I was not beaten up, and the emotional abuse did not last long before I left. Moreover, I had no doubt at all that I was right to leave, nor was I particularly confused about whose fault this was. But despite knowing perfectly well that I had not done anything wrong, I felt horribly guilty for several months afterwards. It was the oddest thing: emotions that I knew were just completely misguided, but that were, apparently, settling in for the long haul. Getting over it was very tough. I don’t want to imagine what it would have been like if I had not known that I had done the right thing when I left.

I came into this with every advantage in the world. I left quickly. I got off easy. But for all that, it was very, very hard.