Monday, December 28, 2015


Larry is estranged from his 46 year old daughter and angry with her for the "mess she's made of her life." He feels guilty about the estrangement, yet he is stuck and unable to reach out to her. Doug at 68 years old is preoccupied with thoughts about aging and says,"The thing I want most is to have peace of mind." Yet he looks back upon his life with a lot of regret and shame. Frank is 75. Almost every morning he wakes up depressed with a vague sense of dread about the day. "When I look at my male friends and how much they have accomplished I feel diminished."
What each of these men need is more compassion towards themselves. Although the importance of self-compassion is not often emphasized in our training as psychotherapists and counselors, most of our clients need to learn to be more gentle and kinder toward themselves. For Larry, Doug and Frank the additional need at this latter stage of their lives is to be able to look back at themselves at earlier stages of their development with compassion and loving kindness.
At this stage of my lifework,probably because at 73 I am viewed as an empathic guide, I am seeing a number of patients in their 60's and 70's. From my experience it is quite common for most of us to look back at ourselves at earlier times of our lives and be judgmental and critical. At some level of consciousness we are doing a life review, seeing many mistakes and moments when we hurt others or ourselves. We forget that we were much less psychospiritually evolved then. As we review our lives it is important to find a way to be kind and compassionate towards those earlier versions of our selves.
As we talked more deeply Larry became aware that his daughter was triggering memories of what he was like in his 40's. He was addicted to marijuana and careening from one job to another. He was a "mess." At a subconscious level Larry was angry at her for reminding him of those painful times - filled with self-hatred. If he didn't have to be in her presence then he could suppress those memories. The pathway of his therapy was to revisit his 40's and become more compassionate towards his 40 year old self.
For Doug too the pathway to finding some inner peace and ending his daily self-recriminations about his multiple affairs many years ago was to revisit those times with more compassionate understanding. He came from a background of profound emotional neglect. Doug's mother was very fearful - her fearful energy permeated the atmosphere in their home - and very self-absorbed. That left him with a deep emptiness that he had tried to fill with serial extra-marital affairs,
In the 1960's Frank was actively involved in the peace protests and the counter-cultural "back to the land" movement. He chose the pathway of a simpler life, became a potter and grew most of his own food. Years of hunching over a potter's wheel had taken a toll on his body. He could no longer do the work. Over his lifetime he had earned much less money and accumulated less material goods than the rest of his male friends. Internally he felt inferior to them. As we talked more deeply Frank became aware that he was using the "measuring stick" of his banker father and the culture that he had rebelled against. Of course he felt inferior, but I continually pointed out that was the wrong "measuring stick" for his life.
For each of these men it was helpful, but insufficient, to develop an intellectual understanding of the roots of these feelings. In order for them to feel genuine compassion for themselves however, it was essential to find a way to engage their own personal higher consciousness. For all of us our Higher Self has the capacity for greater love than our ordinary ego self.
Our task as psychotherapists and counselors is to find a pathway for each of our patients to connect to their individual Higher Self as a source of deep compassion. Twenty years earlier Larry had been actively involved in a recovery program to deal with his marijuana addiction and drug usage. It was very helpful to him then. I encouraged him to go to Al-Anon meetings - his daughter was an alcoholic. In our individual meetings we talked about renewing his connection to his personal Higher Power. Slowly in small steps he developed a loving acceptance of his younger self and softened his heart toward his daughter.
Doug is a scientist who did biological research and his primary approach to the world was through objective reasoning. The notion of higher consciousness was totally alien to him. In my effort to form a bridge between the rational realm and higher consciousness I asked Doug whether he had any experiences of deep awe or deep love. He reported several experiences of extraordinary awe during nature walks and many moments of deep love for his sons and his current wife. I said to him,"As a scientist I ask you to look at these experiences as evidence of something beyond the ordinary and ask you to think of what is the source of these feelings." As an earnest person and as a reflective scientist he started to contemplate these transcendent experiences. Gradually I introduced the notion that if he was capable of very deep love towards others he could consider the possibility of directing that love from his personal higher consciousness towards himself.
As part of his involvement with the 60's and 70's counter-cultural movement Frank had explored Buddhism and had been actively engaged for many years in a daily Buddhist meditational practice. In that tradition there is a focus upon compassion and loving kindness towards all sentient beings. As a way of working with Frank's feelings of very low self-esteem I asked Frank whether he had ever directed the compassion and loving kindness toward himself. Reflecting on this question and bringing it to his daily meditation produced an awakening. Frank began as an extension of his daily practice to ask his own "Buddha nature" for more compassion towards himself.
For each of these men the epiphany of a personal pathway towards self-compassion was the initial impetus - the first step in a long journey. Each of them became actively engaged in doing this "homework" between our sessions. The psychotherapeutic work we did can be applied to clients at any stage of life.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Recently at a dance performance a friend related that he was going to retire next year at the age of 65 from his position as a professor of religious studies at a local university. We were only able to speak briefly. He said that thinking about his retirement was providing an impetus to reflect upon the process of aging and how that impacted this question of what to do with his time after he stopped working. At 73 years old and a survivor from an aggressive cancer the issue of aging and what to do with our precious time is one that I've contemplated deeply. The next day I wrote him a letter.
I've decided to post that letter as a blog entry because it reveals one of the ways that I talk with my patients about this complex subject.

It was good to see you at the performance last night. Our brief conversation regarding this time of life inspired me to write this letter to share some of my thoughts. If they are helpful that's good; if they're not helpful please just consider them as my heartfelt attempt to pass on what I've learned.
I think that at some level of consciousness those of us in this age level(I'm 73) are aware that "our time is running out." Many people deny this and some of us are acutely aware of it. I think that the journey of our souls - always important - becomes even more prominent now. I like to say "It's the main event." I hope that you don't feel that I'm being presumptuous in using the word soul. What I mean by soul in this context is our underlying essential uniqueness - something that no words are adequate to describe.
In an attempt to find language to think and talk about our souls I use the metaphor of a precious jewel with many facets. When we arrive at this time of life some of these facets(or aspects of our essential being) have been highly developed; others have been suppressed because of the need to raise a family, support ourselves, fill roles in the community; others are underdeveloped because they have never received sufficient nurturance; other facets of the jewel have been deeply damaged/wounded (hopefully not broken beyond repair) by how others in the past have treated them; still others are so hidden that we have no awareness of their existence. From my perspective - based on lived experience and a lot of thinking about this subject - at this time it is our soul's yearning and task to help these aspects of who we are to resurface from our inner depths into our external lives to be honored and nourished while there is still time left.It's a process that's both exciting and scary. For some people it's terrifying.
To facilitate this process I've found that asking ourselves certain questions can be quite helpful. For example: Are there some aspects my personhood that I've put aside for years and I can now reawaken from their dormant state? Are there some facets of the jewel of my soul that were wounded in childhood/adolescence/early adulthood and I now have an opportunity to heal and reclaim them? Are there some aspects that have never been developed and now is the time to nourish them? Are there some hidden facets that I need to create an inner space of openness and receptivity so that that can come into my awareness?
I could write about this topic for many pages or talk about it for hours, but I want to keep it brief. So I would like to offer one example from my own life - playing the harp. I never played an instrument in my life until I entered my 60's. Any form of musical expression was never modeled or encouraged in my family, nor in my education (in that era the only form of musical expression in my Catholic school was learning to sing hymns). Also that facet of the jewel of my personhood was deeply wounded. In elementary school by a nun who said, "Don't sing, you're tone deaf." And by the Director of Music at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City who, when I was 18 and studying for the priesthood (one of our roles was to sing at High Mass), said again,"Don't sing, just mouth it, you're tone deaf." I think that I internalized those criticisms to feel that I was musically defective. And these agents of God were giving me that message. As I entered my 60's I said "enough of this" and found a kind, flexible teacher to heal the wound. I started to nourish that underdeveloped part of me by practicing three or four nights a week. Now I continue to take lessons once a month and maintain the same practice regimen. At this time my harp playing gives me a personal sense of profound accomplishment. It also provides a vehicle for making a contribution to my community both at sacred moments (recently by playing at the memorial service for one of my patients) and profane moments (my monthly gig of playing at breakfast at a local restaurant in my small New England town).

I would hope dear reader that by my utilizing the letter format to discuss this vital area you have found it both engaging and evocative.

Monday, August 24, 2015


One of our roles as psychotherapists and counselors is to be a source of peacefulness in the lives of our clients. I don't know about you as my reader, But I know that this aspect of our work was never mentioned to me in my training or any supervision I received. And yet, my clients who come to me with their anxieties and fears need to feel that my office and my presence are a reliable compassionate source of peacefulness. They periodically comment,"It's so peaceful here."
It is important for each of us to find our own pathway of becoming more peaceful within ourselves and then bring that peaceful presence into our sessions with our patients. For me,that pathway has been a combination of many years of psychotherapy exploring the "river of anxiety" that used to flow through me, thirty five years of meditational practice and many years of contemplative walks in nature. As I reflect back upon myself at earlier stages of my development it feels to me that this combination has gradually produced a palpable psychophysical "rewiring" - a significant change in my inner life and my presence with my patients. I also speculate that it has created new neurological patterns.
One nature setting in particular, a beaver pond two miles from my home, has become especially symbolic of the sense of serenity I now feel most of the time. I have a watercolor painting of a pond in the woods hanging on the wall of my office diagonally across from where I sit. In preparing for my morning's work I take a few moments to look at the painting, recall the sense of peace that I feel at my local pond and ask my Higher Self,"Help me to be a source of peacefulness for my patients." During session I will periodically look at that painting and imagine myself with my in-breath tapping into the serenity that I feel at the pond and with my out breath letting go of any anxiety that my patient may have triggered within me or transmitted to me.
I would encourage each of you to discover your own pathway to inner peacefulness that uniquely fits you. You then can bring that presence into the therapy work and become a source of peacefulness for your clients and find a way to tap into it during sessions.
We also need to help our patients find a way to develop a sense of peacefulness for themselves. This usually necessitates that they do some work between sessions. I usually ask my clients "Can you remember some physical place where at some time in your life you have felt a sense of peace?" It is striking to me how often they recall places in nature. And how frequently these natural settings also tap into memories of natural places of refuge during difficult episodes of their childhood and adolescence.
Bart remembered a lake in a park near his childhood home where he used to go as a refuge from his mother's alcoholism. Richard described climbing out of his bedroom window to escape his father's abuse and the sense of safety he felt sitting under a huge oak tree in nearby woods. This is a brief blog entry,otherwise I would cite many more examples. I suggested to both Bart and Richard,as I have done with many patients, that they explore some local nature setting that reminded them of those childhood sanctuaries. Bart found a bench alongside a pond in his local suburban park; Richard felt drawn to a grove of trees in a nearby state forest. I encouraged each of them to develop a regular practice of going to these places between sessions and while sitting down to "Imagine that with your in-breath you are taking in the peacefulness of this place and with your out-breath are letting go of your anxieties and fears." Yearning for more inner peace in their lives they eagerly embraced this suggestion and visited their places a couple of times each week. Gradually they began to report that they brought the peaceful feeling into their everyday lives. When things became difficult Bart would imagine sitting at the bench and Richard under the big tree, focus on their breathing and say to themselves,"Let go of the fear." They were increasingly amazed and grateful how quickly they felt more peaceful.

Monday, June 29, 2015


This is the most insidious love block. This underlying pattern - often unconscious - contaminates all the possibilities of feeling loved. Whenever someone offers love in any one of its myriad forms - praise, affection, help, commitment … - our client is unable to receive it. On the surface they may appear to be receptive, but they are psychologically unable to take the love in at a deep level. Because at some level of consciousness they feel unworthy of what is being offered to them.
The deeply engrained belief that they don't deserve to be loved, that they are unworthy of a good rich life undermines and sabotages all relationships, any positive feelings about work success and all the gifts of love.
The initial task of psychotherapy with my clients is to help them become more consciously aware of this pervasive pattern of being unable to simply take in love in all its myriad forms. I say to them,"Of course it doesn't make any rational sense that you would block love, but at some level of consciousness it makes emotional sense. There must be some reasons why that happens. From my experience these patterns start in childhood. What about growing up in your family may have contributed to this inner belief that you are unloveable?" This begins the process of exploring the historical roots of the love block.
Jim, a dynamic 48 year old successful businessman had been experiencing episodes of sadness about what's missing in his life - primarily a loving relationship with a woman. Whenever a potentially good relationship starts to become more intimate Jim either ends it or sabotages it so that the woman decides to break it off. Through our exploratory work it became clear to Jim that the physically and psychologically abusive relationship with his mother, who was depressed and addicted to pain killers, had made him feel unlovable. In her addicted state she would scream at him that he was "evil, a devil child". These frequent tirades occurred for years and had a devastating effect on Jim's feelings about himself. Because these feelings of unlovability are usually so deeply engrained for everyone with this love block a lot of work between sessions was essential.
I gave Jim two index cards. On one was written "YOU ARE LOVABLE" and the other,"YOU DESERVE A GOOD LIFE". I suggested to Jim that between sessions he periodically look at these cards, say the words and then notice what happened. Of course this was hard and painful. He would complain to me "those damn cards" reporting the painful memories they evoked and his ever deepening awareness of how hard it was for him to believe those simple phrases. Gradually, as Jim understood the roots of this inner belief - including the epiphany that he was the target for his mother's own self-hatred because of her history of abuse and shame about her addiction - he was able to be more receptive to love. It was particularly meaningful - since Jim was in recovery for his own alcoholism - for him to think that the source of the voice that was saying "You" in the phrase "YOU ARE LOVABLE" was his own personal Higher Power. He liked thinking that his own Higher Power was doing the work of helping him to feel lovable that his parents were unable to do.
One of the benefits of a heart-centered approach to psychotherapy, wherein our genuine caring is more overtly expressed, is that their love blocks get more quickly exposed. Clients with the "I don't deserve love" block have a lot of trouble simply receiving our praise and other acts of caring for them. They react with disbelief,"You're just doing your job which is to make me feel better." Or like Sara said,"When you get to know what I'M really like you won't think that I'm such a good person. Whereas my parents really knew me." Her parents were members of a very conservative Christian sect. They responded to her free-spirited nature and acts of disobedience as her being a "black sheep" a "sinner" and "damned to hell."
My approach to Sara was three-pronged. The first prong was to discredit the sources of her deeply rooted belief that she was unlovable by repeatedly raising the question whether her parents really knew her. It became increasingly clear to Sara that they were absorbed in their own lives. Sara was a target for their anger about their own unhappiness and their projections of very low self-worth.
The second and most important prong was to deliberately not be in the role of the neutral professional , but to make it clear that I really valued and appreciated her as a person. Over a period of time my genuine praise, warmth, consistent encouragement, welcoming attitude, celebrations of her moments of growth and laughter at her jokes made Sara feel that she was a lovable human being.
The third prong was self-forgiveness. Because of the parental implant of this inner belief that she was a "sinner"Sara made a number of bad choices and done things for which she was ashamed. She was relieved to hear that the techniques that I was using to help her forgive herself grew out of my own experience of needing to forgive myself. I will not describe the process in this blog entry because I've written about it extensively In my book "Working From the Heart" and described it in a youtube video.
With Sara and Jim, as with most clients with this love block, the work was intensive and only gradually impactful. And very meaningful for myself as well as my clients.


Monday, April 27, 2015


I have just finished reading an excellent book,"Speak But the Word…From Multiple Personalities to Wholeness" by Leilani Claire. It is the extraordinary story of the healing journey of how the author - who had 25 personalities - through years of intensive psychotherapy came to a place of wholeness, a final integration. She also describes - which is extremely rare in the literature - what it was like to live in the world for seven years after the ceremony of final integration without being able to use her dissociative adaptations and defenses. Leilani Clare's intention in writing this book was to be helpful to psychotherapists who are treating multiple personalities and to be a source of hope for other multiples who are still struggling wondering what is possible. From my perspective the book can be beneficial beneficial also for other therapists ,like myself, who don't work with multiple personalities or dissociative identity disorder, but who do work with clients dealing with severe childhood physical abuse and/or sexual violation. And for those of us who will be intrigued by the reflections it evokes about the big question,"What is consciousness?"
This blog entry is not intended as a review, but rather as a description of what the book entails and an encouragement to read it.
The initial sections of the book are presented in the format of letters written by two "host" personalities to the original personality to prepare her for integration. These letters describe the history of early sexual abuses starting at the age of three and the roles that each of the 25 personalities have played in the fifty years of life since the initial abuse. It describes then the final integration ceremony, which Leilani Claire calls "the Sacred Marriage", a "wedding of the soul." The last section is a series of yearly reports discussing what life was like for Leilani Claire for each of the seven years after the final integration.
What deeply enriches the book are the inclusion of many paintings - done by Leilani Claire who is an accomplished artist - of the different personalities at various moments throughout the six years of her psychotherapy. In addition. there are also a number of photographs of her from the age of three up to several years after the Sacred Marriage ceremony.
While she was in the process of finding a publisher for her manuscript Leilani Claire was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. It progressed rapidly. Near the end she contacted her psychotherapist Stephen Merriman PhD, who is the publisher of Four Rivers Press, and asked if he would take on the publication of her book. Knowing how important it was to her, he agreed. He also wrote the Foreword.
Stephen is a dear friend of mine and that is how I became aware of this important work. While reading it I decided that I wanted to help Leilani Claire tell her story to the many people who could benefit from it. That is why I've written this blog entry.

For more about "Speak But the Word…From Multiple Personalities To Wholeness" go to

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


"I did it again. I know what's good for me to do and I don't do it or I do it for a little while,but can't sustain it. It doesn't make any sense to me why this always happens." This is usually said by my patients with a mixture of frustration, confusion and self-anger. Of course it doesn't make any rational sense to them. Why, even with the best intentions and firm resolve, they are unable to stay with their exercise program, eat the right foods, choose the right partners, not return to their addictions etc. It is so frustrating. And insidious.
My patients want to know why. I usually ask "What comes into your mind about why this might happen?" After he/she gives several possible reasons, most of which are usually accurate, I add "Those reasons are probably correct. And, for most of the people that I've worked with there is usually something else, something unconscious, a part of their personality that I'll call The Saboteur. This is a part of your personality that lurks in the shadows out of your awareness. His/her main function is to undermine your happiness. He loves to be in the dark - that increases his power. So the first step is to bring him out into the light and get to know him, how he works, where did he come from." Of course, it doesn't make any rational sense that we would undermine our own happiness. "Yet", I continue," at some level of your consciousness it makes emotional sense. We need to find out what are the reasons for his/her existence. How did he become so secretly powerful in your personality?" Most of my patients feel a mixture of perplexed and intrigued. It does make sense to them however, that they may be sabotaging themselves because they have witnessed the consistent pattern.
I suggest to them that usually the personal historical roots of The Saboteur are in their childhood years wherein, at some deep level they were made to feel unloveable, unworthy of having a good life. It is not feasible within the limitations of a brief blog entry to discuss all the possible derivations. A few examples may be helpful: one patient was told on multiple occasions by her mother,"I wish that I never gave birth to you"; another patient, in a family of high achievers, was told that he was a "fuck-up" and a source of family shame; another always had a sense that no matter what he dud was "not good enough". One aspect of the therapy is to uncover the roots of this pattern, to look at it with compassion, and to begin to question the validity of this inner narrative.
Another aspect of the work is to use imagery. I tell my patients,"The Saboteur loves to be in the dark out of your conscious awareness, to work in the shadows. That increases his power, his effectiveness. What we want to do is to bring him out into the light, to name him, to develop an image of him." Once they understand how insidious and effective The Saboteur is in consistently undermining their happiness most patients like this part of the work. It makes the perplexing pattern less mysterious, reduces the sense of helplessness and introduces an element of playful creativity. One patient calls this sabotaging part of himself "the little fucker" and imagines him as a gremlin-like creature who stands in the corner of the room and who sometimes has a demonic expression and at other times an impish gleam. Another patient has named him simply "The Voice" and imagines him as a heavy-metal rock star who in a gravelly voice sings a particular song whenever he is trying to get my patient to do something that is not in his best interests. Another person uses her artistic ability to draw pictures of her saboteur and brings them into the office. It is interesting to witness the evolution of these drawings as her saboteur diminishes in power. During sessions with each of these patients whenever I notice an example of the undermining pattern I will say,"It looks like 'the little fucker' or 'The Voice' showed up and ask my patient to imagine what they may want to say or do to their saboteur at that moment. Gradually my patients are able to do that increasingly outside of the sessions and reduce the impact of that part of their personalities.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


At least once a week - often twice - I take a solitary walk in some local woods. Many years ago I recognized my need to be away from everyone to restore myself, to recharge my psychological and spiritual batteries. Our work is depleting. Trying to be a compassionate caring person in the presence of so much suffering and struggle for so many hours each week is draining. As I became increasingly aware of this issue I decided to return to my old sanctuary - the woods. As an adolescent,trying to cope with the inner conflicts created by my father's alcoholism, and needing to find some refuge from the psychological battlefield of the blacktop playground of a working class housing project, I fled to a nearby woods. During that difficult period of my life I spent many hours alone there feeling safe.
It has always been fascinating to me that when I recommend to my patients that they too seek out some local nature setting during periods of profound struggle, they also go to some local nature place - woods, lake, hills, ocean, city park - that was a refuge for them during difficult childhoods.
Whenever I return from my woodland mini-retreats I almost always feel replenished and reenter my ordinary life with a sense of renewed energy for my work and family.
I do not consider these walks as "hikes". They are contemplative sojourns. By walking mindfully I am trying to connect with other levels of consciousness within and outside of me. By physically going away from the pulls and distractions of life I am going toward a deeper connection with my own Higher Self, other aspects of non-personal higher consciousness and the consciousness of the natural world. In this way I am following an ancient pathway. For millennia throughout a wide spectrum of spiritual traditions other seekers, during episodes of personal struggle, have separated themselves from ordinary life and gone out into the natural world in order to connect to higher consciousness. Even though I do not feel affiliated with or attached to any particular spiritual tradition I do not feel alone. I am walking a path that many others have travelled. Many years ago in a moment of playfulness I named this aspect of my personality "the old monk." I have grown very fond of that label.
On the walls of my office I have placed images - a tranquil small pond, an old deeply rooted tree, a woodland path - that remind me of the nature places where I sit in meditation and say my prayers. These images are there to help me to connect with and draw upon those other levels of consciousness as I do my work.

The ideas described in this entry are discussed more fully in the Recharging chapter of my book "Working From the Heart: A Therapist's Guide to Heart-Centered Psychotherapy" and depicted in the Recharging video on