Imagine that it is your 80th birthday. Your family and friends gather to celebrate. Anyone can be there, even if they would be very old, or even if they are people you have not yet met. Now imagine the time has come in your birthday party for the guests to take turns standing and speaking about what you have meant to them, what you have stood for as a person, and the impact you have had. I invite you in this moment to be bold, and imagine what you would like them to say, your heart’s desire for your meaning to others. These values are chosen life directions that guide what you do and how you do it, your ideal version of you in your ideal world. They also guide your plan of action and the course your work will take, should you choose to engage my services.
Your problem is painful enough that you are seeking help with it. Likely, you have tried to control the pain by using various combinations of distraction and avoidance, with the result being just more pain. Please do not worry. You are not alone in believing these strategies will work, nor in being disappointed by them. Perhaps the problem is not the pain, but your attempts to control the pain. These seemingly reasonable attempts to stop painful thoughts and feelings only reinforce the idea that the thoughts and feelings are problems, keeping them front and center. Meanwhile, you put your life on hold, delaying action until you figure out how to get rid of the problem. This is your opportunity to stop making yourself a problem to solve, to drop your ineffective control strategies, and to live your life in a meaningful, active, and vital way.
I am most effective with mild to moderate depression and anxiety; adjustment to a life change; reducing or preventing out-of-control behaviors, usually involving substances and/or sex; and improving communication and intimacy in relationships. I have a special interest in working with gay men around any of the previously mentioned issues and including also decisions around coming out, stigma, and intimacy issues as seen through the lens of gay sexual identity.
Your willingness to accept all of your experience (the parts you like and the parts you do not like) is key to taking action from your values. In order to do this, I will ask you to explore negative thoughts and feelings — not to like them, not to give in to them, but to allow them to be — putting aside the normal habit of trying to avoid or control them. You will need willingness to engage in mindfulness practices, to pay attention to the present moment and notice the tendencies of the mind that pull you off task. Willingness to set goals and take action based on your values. Most of all, willingness to approach yourself and those around you without judgment and with gentleness.
Experience with mindfulness is not necessary. Currently feeling totally unwilling to have your negative thoughts and feelings does not exclude you. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a flexible approach, meeting you where you are. The primary requirement is your openness to the possibility that mindfulness and willingness might work better than what you have been doing when painful thoughts and feelings show up. Think of you and me as fellow mountain climbers, each on our own mountains and within sight of the other. From my perspective, I can tell you what I see and offer it to you to consider. You can tell me what your mountain is like. Through this conversation of observation from another perspective and description of direct experience, we will tailor the tasks so that they are appropriate for you and move you up your mountain.