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April 2012

The Power of the Pause
by Tina Clark, LPC

I sincerely hope that all of you are following the proverbial advice to “take time to smell the flowers” while we enjoy the sensory gifts of this early spring. I can’t think of a better time to be reminded of the power of the pause. So I am sending out this reminder to the to the over-worked, over-committed, over-run, over-stressed and over-tired among us.

There is no doubt we live in a plugged in, fast-paced, over scheduled world.Evidence of this is all around us. Just take a drive in your car. How many fellow drivers are sitting comfortably in their vehicles…both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road in front of them…just driving? How many of us find ourselves saying, “I just need a break!” while chugging our morning coffee or struggling to get enough sleep at night because our to-do list is too long or we can’t stop thinking about that list even when our head hits the pillow? How many meals are you eating standing up or on the go? How long do you actually even chew your food? If any of these apply to you I would like for you to consider giving yourself the gift of a pause.

What do I mean by a pause? A pause is giving yourself permission to do just one thing right now…in this moment. Maybe it is enjoying a real meal, actually taking the time to enjoy the taste of it. Chewing it the way nature intended (slowly and thoroughly). Maybe your pause is sitting under a tree and reading something for pleasure. Maybe your pause is mindfully sipping rather than gulping your beverage of choice. Maybe your pause is stopping for a few minutes to feel the warmth of the sun on your face before you have to duck inside for yet another meeting. Maybe your pause is putting down your device of choice and being fully present in your surroundings…truly listening to a friend, a child, a loved one. Maybe your pause is a deep full breath in with a complete exhale. Try that. Did you just feel your blood pressure go down?

In our inter-personal relationships let us not forget the power of the pause.Imagine your spouse, partner, child, family member, co-worker or friend coming to you with their difficult situation du jour. It is incredibly tempting to jump in and help them fix it or simply find a fantastic excuse that you must have left the iron on and have to go check it right now. What about inserting a pause instead? Inmost cases it is not your problem to fix nor would it be ideal to run away, ignore or fib your way to freedom. In my experience, most of the time people just want to be heard. Kind eyes, a hug or a genuine “I’m sorry that happened to you” are often appreciated far more than fixing, advising, expressions of opinion and definitely more helpful than avoidance. If someone asks you a question and you don’t have an answer it is okay to say, “I don’t know but I would like to think about that for a while before getting back to you.” For the generous amongst us, I would encourage a pause when someone asks a favor of you. It will give you a mindful opportunity to search your true feelings before committing to your next to-do list item.

I could write quite a bit more…illustrating all of the ways in which a simple pause could improve the quality of your day. Instead, I am going to go outside while the sun is still shining…the trees blooming and take a pause of my own. Happy
spring everyone!

Written by Tina Clark, LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)

Tina runs a psychotherapeutic private practice inside the Women’s Wellness and Education Center and is currently accepting new clients. Please call her
at 828-691-3123 for more information or you may contact her via email at tclarklpc@gmail.com.

Mindful Moments
By Tina Clark, Licensed Professional Counselor
Reflections on Summers Well Spent
By Tina Clark, Licensed Professional Counselor
September, 2011

For many of us the beginning of September signals the beginning of the busy season. I can always tell September is here when my todo list has to be written in micro-type to fit in the allotted space in my calendar. The morning mountain air begins to feel almost chilly enough for another layer. There are other not-so-subtle cues too. I haven’t stepped inside a major retail location in a week or so but I would imagine an endless array of holiday items are beginning to take up significant real estate there. I will save my thoughts on that for another time. Since, according to the The Farmer’s Almanac, summer does not officially end until 5:05am on September 23rd, I choose instead to focus my thoughts of gratitude for the present season.

When you think of summer I am guessing many of you are thinking about vacations, sandy beaches, cookouts, a more relaxed pace and your favorite pool or swimming hole to cool off in. When I think of summer I think about all of those things too, but mostly I think about summer camp. My life forever changed the day I stepped out of my parent’s car and into the white gravel parking lot at Camp Green Cove one June morning in 1983. I could write a book about my experiences and life lessons learned there…and some day I might very well do that. For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that it was the beginning of one heck of a transformative journey that continues even today. A painfully shy, redheaded, tomboyish adolescent emerged from her parent’s car full of conflicting emotions. I was petrified and yet thrilled beyond measure. I had no idea what camp-life would entail; yet I somehow knew it was going to be terrific. I looked around at all of the other campers (girls as young as 8 and old enough to be seniors in high school). Many of them looked really excited and super comfortable. They hugged each other and ran off to get settled in their cabins. Some of them looked like me, seemingly frozen in apprehension, wondering what they were supposed to do next. Before long a counselor with a big smile came over and offered to help me find my cabin counselor and get settled in. She reassured me that I was going to have a great summer. I believed her and she was absolutely correct.

Green Cove became my summer home and by the time I graduated from college I had invested nine summers there (transitioning from camper to counselor).  The camp has a long-standing tradition of rich self-discovery based on the philosophy that children need both roots and wings. It is also asserted that neither is much good without the other. The camp also fosters a non-competitive atmosphere in which children focus on celebrating personal victories and achievements without having to inflict defeat in the process. As a parent and therapist I am now able to see another enormous benefit. It is a place of empowerment. For me, summer camp was the first place where I felt like I could truly color outside the lines. Each day I was encouraged to try activities I hadn’t even imagined before (rock climbing, horseback riding, canoeing, etc.). Not to mention these very things had a tendency to petrify my mother…particularly the rock climbing one.  It is no surprise that those were also the greatest personal victories. I pushed myself a little bit more every day. I began to trust that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to do. Perhaps, most importantly, I also learned that it was okay to be my most authentic self. I didn’t have to impress anyone with how I dressed or who I knew. Mud was a common fashion accessory and badge of honor. By each summer’s end my growth was wildly apparent to me. My camp friendships had a depth and richness steeped in endless hours of adventure. Many of these friendships have lasted the test of time and are deeply cherished. In fact, my husband of 15 years and I met at camp as adults (he worked at the brother camp – Mondamin).

Many of us, myself included, have now transitioned from camper to counselor to parents of a new generation of campers. Fortunately the camp is family-owned and run and the founding principles remain very much intact. Several summers ago we decided to take a leap of faith and enroll our then 8 year-old daughter for a 3-week session. I can assure you it is far easier to be the camper being dropped off than the mom leaving her precious daughter in the hands of a group of virtual unknowns. Thanks to all of the research I have done on the art and science of parenting I knew what I was supposed to do. Actually doing it, however, took seemingly superhuman courage. I obsessed over every packing detail, spent the weeks showering my daughter with endless “nuggets of wisdom” to best prepare her for her upcoming experience. I do recall an abundance of eye rolling and rightfully so. I was smothering her with my worries. The truth is, I was going to miss her and I was that mom that was spending countless hours worrying about every conceivable what-if. I remember standing in my daughter’s cabin, lost in thought when a tiny voice woke me out of my fog. “Mom…you can leave now…I’m all set,” my daughter injected. I looked down at her. She wore a bathing suit and a broad smile and indeed looked confident and ready to begin her summer of adventure…without me. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I was very proud of her. She hugged me back and ran off with a gaggle of cabin-mates to take her swim test in the lake. Admittedly I shed a steady stream of tears as I headed down the exit road. My tears lasted on and off for a few days until a tiny pink envelope with recognizable handwriting arrived. “I’m doing great and making lots of friends,” it said. The day we went to pick her up I will never forget the hug. Her eyes lit up and she bounded over with a giant genuine koala bear hug.

My daughter, now 10, has spent 3 consecutive summers at camp. She seems to handle the separation with ease. After her first summer she asked if she could go to the longer session because she wanted “more time to be able to do more stuff.” Every summer she emerges from her time away, a more confident, fun-loving and self-directed child. We miss her while she is away but the separation has gotten considerably easier. We have joked that I will no longer be the mom who is freaking out when she embarks on her college journey. It is assumed I will have loads of healthy separating experience under my belt by then. Psychologist and author of the book The Parents We Mean To Be; How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development, Richard Weissbourd seems to agree when he says, “It’s important too for us to see that taking vacations without our kids or sending them to camp may not only be the key to developing their independence but also to developing our own, so that we can work to master the anxieties and vulnerabilities created by these separations.”

As parents we inevitably worry. Worry about the safety of our children, worry about doing a good job as a parent, worry about our children being successful…you name it…we seem to worry about it. In my experience, worry comes with the territory but we don’t have to be paralyzed by it and/or allow it to consume us to the point where we are unable to let go and let our children learn how to navigate their own territory and gain essential life skills. I agree with the roots and wings philosophy. Without the roots and wings I received at summer camp, I am quite certain I would not have taken many of the risks that became accomplishments that I hold so proudly in my heart. It is also with those roots and wings that I am now able to confidently pass on the same gift to my daughter.

March 2011
Mrs. Clark's Opus
Coping with Grief and Loss
by Tina Clark

As a counselor I am constantly looking for ways to 
improve my insight and sharpen my skills to better assist my clients. Sometimes these improvements come by way of reading new material or attending a conference or seminar. Sometimes they come from truly listening to someone and extracting wisdom from their story. And sometimes life simply hands us circumstances that challenge us and we learn from the proverbial School of Hard Knocks. It seems that grief and loss is one of the most profound of these circumstances. After a loss we often find ourselves overwhelmed with a complex array of thoughts and emotions.

Last month, life presented me with a loss that many will weather in their lifetime and often multiple times…the loss of a cherished pet. Opus, our golden retriever, will forever in my mind be a model of great courage and grace. She was an integral member of our family for 14 years and during that time did not always have the easiest of medical circumstances. Born the runt of a large litter of puppies, Opus was born with greatly deformed hips that required a triple osteotomy (major pelvic surgery) at the tender age of 3 months. She seemed to weather that gracefully despite the obvious discomfort and ridiculous looking “cone of shame” she had to wear to protect her surgical site. She recovered fully and went on to enjoy a good decade of family life complete with ball fetching, hiking and swims with our family. One day, about four years ago I came home and noticed Opus acting strangely: staggering as if she were intoxicated and unable to swallow. Our vet recommended an immediate trip to the closest veterinary hospital that had a neurology department. There she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor located on her brainstem which, they advised me, was treatable. We took it day by day but Opus responded remarkably well to her treatment and the cancer was eventually eradicated. The vets who treated her over many months regularly commented that they had never seen a dog so good-natured about receiving chemotherapy. They even confessed that she was so well liked by staff that she was never kenneled. Apparently she preferred to “go on rounds” with them. Opus spent the past four years giving unconditional love to everyone she met including a new puppy we brought home last summer. She mothered that puppy as if it were her own. Finally last month, Opus began to exhibit signs of distress and considerable discomfort. It was clear she was no longer enjoying life and nearly everything was a struggle. We knew it was time but dreaded every moment of that realization.

In my lifetime I have weathered more pet and people losses than I wish to count. Despite the often-excruciating sadness I have also been able to extract some unexpected gifts. These losses afforded me an opportunity to learn a great deal about myself, about my loved ones and perhaps, most importantly, how to ask for a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen. Academically and intuitively I have also learned that everyone’s grieving process is unique and what might be comforting to one might feel unhelpful or even harmful to another. An example of this is the suggestion or reaction to quickly “replace” the lost pet with a new one. This might be a positive suggestion or solution for some but unconscionable for others. Another important consideration is to acknowledge that when a loss occurs within a family it is often helpful to honor the loss within the family. The afternoon that we said goodbye to our sweet Opus we all left the veterinarian’s office with heavy hearts. That evening we found it very helpful to look at old photo albums and reflect on what a wonderful and rich life she had. The children found it particularly helpful to see her as a puppy looking lively and happy. We then turned to a wonderful picture book that I have found helpful for both children and adults called “Dog Heaven” written and colorfully illustrated by Cynthia Rylant. We had purchased this book after our family’s first dog loss many years ago and had inscribed the name of that dog (Hobbes) wherever we saw an appropriately sized black dog throughout the pages. We scoured the pages to find the dog that looked most like Opus. Sure enough there was a slightly rotund (Opus lived to eat) light brown dog that definitely resembled her. The kids and I went to work with our Sharpie marker and Opus was “officially” welcomed into Dog Heaven. My 5 year-old son then asked quizzically, “Mom, do you think Opus has found Hobbes yet?” With a lump in my throat we looked at every page to “make sure” that they had found each other again. Finally on the back inside cover there they were…reunited. We all seemed relieved and comforted by this, though that “proof” appeared to be vitally important to my son.

When it comes to grief and loss, one of the reactions I see most often is the fear of processing the loss. It appears that we are afraid to “go there” because we know it will hurt and we will have to deal with painful feelings. Unfortunately denying the process of grieving can increase and prolong our suffering. Perhaps our friends and family find it too difficult to talk about. Perhaps we aren’t comfortable expressing our genuine deeper emotions with others. Perhaps we have other unresolved issues around grief and loss that haven’t been dealt with. A counselor can be helpful during these times. A counselor is trained to listen well and guide you as you sift through difficult feelings. As much as many of us would like to side-step grief and loss in our lives, the sobering news is that it is inevitable. In our lifetimes we will likely lose more loved ones than we would ever dare imagine. Sadly our furry friends don’t live as long as our human friends so we will likely suffer those losses more frequently. When I lost my first dog (who, in my mind, was my first child) I felt shocked and overwhelmed. Though my support system was very kind and compassionate, I knew I needed to “talk it out” with a trusted counselor. I was and still am grateful for that session.

Tina Clark is a LPC practicing in the Women's Wellness & Education Center. Read more about Tina here

April 2011

Spring Forward…Embrace the Growing Season! 
My favorite season is upon us. Every year I yearn for warmth and tiny signs of life and color amidst the seemingly bleak, gray and lifeless landscape. As I look around today the trees are bursting with color, flowers blooming, birds chirping and people emerging from their winter dens. Of course people are sneezing and dealing with itchy eyes thanks to the burst of pollen from all of this blooming, but I, for one, accept this irritation as a small price to pay for the many benefits of the season.   I believe spring is a terrific metaphor for counseling. In counseling we must accept a certain amount of discomfort to fully enjoy the benefits of growth. We could stay inside in a controlled environment to avoid the discomfort of pollen thereby missing out on the sights, sounds and sensations of the season. Inside our homes would we be able to feel the sun’s warmth on our face? From inside we can only imagine the sights, sounds and smells of a spring day. In my work I frequently encounter people who are unhappy, fed up, unfulfilled, stuck and yearning for positive change but fear facing what ails them. They avoid addressing issues that may be painful because they don’t want to experience pain. True…it seems counterintuitive to invite discomfort, but avoiding, denying and repressing it only serve to prolong our unhappiness. Facing our fears and discontent with a trusted guide has the potential to enlighten, empower and provide lasting relief.   I believe the therapeutic process should be collaborative, empowering and malleable. I believe the pace of therapy is variable. When a client is feeling energetic and empowered we will tend to take bigger steps, while sometimes a client has been making great strides and will need to take a moment to reflect on that progress and rest before tackling something else. Sometimes the issues are intense and require a gentle path. No matter the pace the goal is always relief, growth and self-awareness. What wonderful rewards those are.   Often people come to counseling when their life feels bleak and lifeless (much like a winter landscape). As a counselor I have often likened myself to a seed planter. I enjoy the process of getting to know a person’s thoughts and feelings and how they have shaped their choices. Using my best judgment I will gently toss out “seeds” or new ideas. Sometimes these “seeds” are met with ideal conditions (an open mind ready to try a new way of being) and they germinate quickly. Sometimes the conditions aren’t quite right and it may take a while before that seed is able to spring to life. Some of my most gratifying moments as a counselor come when I see these seeds take root and create positive change. These are the moments when a client is able to find peace and forgiveness, relieve their burden of paralyzing anxiety, unearth their inner gifts and/or face the world with a refreshing sense of purpose and self-worth.   I wish you all a happy spring and encourage you to take the time to engage in this beautiful season of growth. And for all of you allergy sufferers…neti pots work wonders!   Written by:  Tina Clark, Licensed Professional Counselor at the Women’s Wellness & Education Center

June 2010

Mindful Moments
                        by Tina Clark, LPC  

As I take a moment to reflect back on the past month in my practice I recognize so many of those moments can be measured in tissue boxes. May was a big month for Kleenex in my office. As a counselor this is a bittersweet accounting of a busy month in the Women’s Wellness Center. On one hand I was pleased to see so many brave souls seek help. On the other, I was impacted by the heaviness of their hearts. So many of these brave individuals came forward because they simply couldn’t bear holding on to the heaviness any longer. Many have been holding on to their pain for decades in an attempt to bury the hurt and move on. Not only did it take an extraordinary amount of energy to attempt to contain it, but, in nearly every case, that strategy only served to compound it.   One of my favorite books, The Art of Happiness (written by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.) points out that suffering can only be avoided temporarily. According to the authors, “like a disease that’s left untreated (or perhaps superficially treated with medications that just masks the symptoms but doesn’t cure the underlying condition), the disease invariably festers and worsens.” Going with this analogy, I recognize that many of the brave souls I met in May recognized that their suffering had only festered and worsened despite their attempt to bury, deny, numb or deflect it. Using the disease analogy, wouldn’t it be prudent to “catch it early?” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to address the painful issue while it was still one issue? Sometimes we don’t have that luxury. Some of our pain began early in life and we simply didn’t have the emotional safe space to receive support. Fortunately as adults we can make that decision for ourselves. We can acknowledge that we need and deserve support. We can find that emotional safe space in which we can tell our story. Instead of spending our precious energy working to bury, deny, numb and/or deflect we can shift that energy into healing the heaviness in our hearts and eventually into building the life we truly want.   As we shift that energy we must also recognize that healing takes time. So many people come into therapy and want to know how long it will take until they are “better.” While I would love to be able to promise quick and guaranteed results, that it simply not realistic. According to the Dalai Lama, the process of change and the achievement of happiness require five main components: “learning, conviction, determination, action and effort.”  I can attest that these components are central to positive counseling outcomes as well and they take time. My hope for my clients is that we can lay the groundwork to galvanize long-lasting positive change…even if it takes a whole bunch of Kleenex boxes. Tina Clark is a Licensed Professional Counselor at the Women’s Wellness & Education Center