Monday, September 6, 2010

Coping with Being Unemployed

Labor Day seems like a good time to talk about coping with being unemployed. It helps to remember that being unemployed while seeking work is a transition, especially if you were previously employed, attending school, or voluntarily not working. Transitions tend to elicit feelings of loss and uncertainty. Yet, even when painful and difficult, transitions are a time of opportunity.

First, build a foundation of self-care from which to take advantage of your state of unemployment. Attend to your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Here are some simple, yet powerful ideas that will likely improve your mood and confidence, increase your productivity, and decrease your anxiety.

• Create structure in your life through a daily and weekly schedule. Each individual functions best at a different point on the continuum between a rigid and flexible structure. Experiment with what works best for you, and be honest with yourself about it—in other words, find what works and hold yourself accountable.

• It’s usually best to awaken and go to sleep at consistent times all or most days of the week.

• Eat nutritiously and at consistent times of the day.

• Choose an enjoyable form of physical exercise or activity to include in your daily schedule.

• Stay connected to family, friends and acquaintances, including in-person time. Don’t isolate.

• Make time for hobbies or other activities you haven’t had time for in the past.

With this foundation in place, you can focus on activities that will boost your “hire-ability” and your chances of finding work. Use your current wealth of time to grow your professional expertise and your professional network. Think: education.

• Research and read about areas within and outside of your field that interest you. The internet is a vast resource for learning.

• Contact professionals within and outside of your field whose work or organizations interest you. Learn about their work and how it is connected to the work you’ve done or would like to do. You might find that professional connections and relationships that you form while unemployed will continue to develop even after you find work.

• Consider volunteering as a way of learning about a new field, or keeping fresh in your current field. Volunteering can also lead to paid work. Similarly, consider taking a part-time job or a contract job.

Finally, seek help and support. If funds permit, consider hiring a career counselor or coach for direction, guidance and support. Or consider forming or joining a support group with others that are looking for work. If you find yourself debilitated or bogged down by depression or anxiety, consider counseling. Counseling can help you get out from under thoughts, feelings and actions that are getting in the way of making the most of your present circumstances, and help you to take advantage of the opportunities that your situation provides.

May this time be one of growth and development for you, and lead to satisfying work.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What is Psychodynamic Therapy, Anyway?

For some, psychodynamic therapy has a bad name. For others, it is a bit of a mystery. What some people might not know is that psychodynamic therapy (a broader application of psychoanalytic therapy) has evolved over the years since Freud discovered the unconscious and theorized that all mental distress originates from unresolved sexual and aggressive conflicts.

Present-day psychodynamic therapy tends to be more accessible and “user-friendly.” Psychologist Jonathan Shedler (2010) found that contemporary psychodynamic therapy is effective and that patients who receive this type of therapy benefit from it and continue to improve after their therapy ends. Shedler (2010, pp. 98-100) discusses seven features that characterize the practice of contemporary psychodynamic therapy and distinguish it from other therapeutic approaches. Here is a brief discussion of these features.

1. Focus on and expression of emotion. The psychodynamic therapist encourages the client to express their full range of emotions, to put words to their emotional experience.

2. Exploration of attempts to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. We all tend to use certain behaviors and, sometimes, addictions to avoid thoughts and feelings that cause us pain and discomfort. These avoidance behaviors are explored in psychodynamic therapy, to understand how the client uses them to cover over thoughts and feelings. Clients can then work on experiencing previously avoided thoughts and feelings in a safe, non-judgmental context.

3. Exploration of themes and patterns. Increasing awareness and understanding of the themes and patterns in one’s thoughts, feelings, self-concept, relationships and experiences allows a person to make more satisfying choices and to avoid self-defeating behaviors.

4. Exploration of past experiences. Awareness and understanding of a client's past, and how past experiences re-play in the present, can help explain the client's current psychological challenges. "The goal is to help patients free themselves from the bonds of past experience in order to live more fully in the present.” (Shedler, 2010, p.99).

5. Focus on interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationships can suffer when one’s self-defeating, recurring behaviors interfere with intimacy and the ability to get one’s emotional needs met in a relationship.

6. Focus on the therapy relationship. A person’s relationship themes and patterns tend to play out in the therapy relationship as well. This provides an opportunity for the therapist and client to explore the client’s interpersonal patterns in a very direct, in-the-moment way.

7. Exploration of wishes, fantasies and dreams. A foundation of psychodynamic theory is that a person’s wishes, fantasies and dreams contain valuable information about a person’s view of themselves and others. Exploration of this material in therapy provides the client and therapist with additional avenues of discovering what is blocking the client from living a more authentic life, as well as the means for the client to begin to live more authentically.

In my work, I use a blend of psychodynamic therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help clients become more aware of their thinking, and how their thinking affects their feelings and behavior. The mindfulness component helps clients sharpen their awareness and learn to breathe and relax even in the midst of uncomfortable or distressing thoughts and feelings. (See my earlier blog entry entitled, A Simple Approach to Working with Mindfulness).

These approaches work well together. Mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy helps strengthen client’s awareness and ability to tolerate difficult moments, both useful skills for working in a psychodynamic mode. Most important to me is discovering and utilizing a mode of working that seems helpful to each client.

Shedler, J., (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65, 98-109.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Simple Approach to Working With Mindfulness

Imagine mindfulness as a three-legged stool. The seat is mindfulness, the three legs are awareness, acceptance, and compassion (starting with self-compassion). Each leg is one part of a three-step process, to be used in conjunction with awareness of your breathing.

First, present awareness involves focusing your attention on the present place, the present moment--paying attention to where you are right here, right now. By paying attention to what is happening within you and around you, you can calm your mind rather than being "hijacked," without realizing or choosing it, into peripheral thoughts, feelings or things going on in the environment

Second, acceptance. Acceptance does not mean resignation or being passive. It simply means seeing what is happening within you or around you as it actually is in the present moment. Seeing it and stepping back from it, without judging it. By doing so, you are further calming yourself, and allowing yourself to make choices about how you wish to act, or not act, in that very moment. Even if you cannot change an internal or external event, by practicing mindfulness, you can learn to remain calm in the face of it.

Third, compassion, which begins with self-compassion. Self-compassion involves showing yourself kindness and understanding, not judging yourself. It can be very powerful in creating a sense of calm and joy. As you show compassion towards yourself, you are better able, and more willing, to extend compassion to others.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Share Your Gifts

“Sin is humanity’s refusal to be who we are.”- Rabbi Abraham Herschel, June 21st entry from The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers, by Coffey & Kessler

Coffey and Kessler distinguish between modeling valued and noble characteristics of those we admire and taking on another’s personality and style while neglecting our own unique qualities, strengths and talents. I believe this is an important distinction. We learn so much from our mentors, heroes and others we admire. At the same time, each of us has gifts of our own to offer the world.

Whether in your professional or personal life, if you hide your gifts because you're trying to be like someone else, the world loses out, and so do you. In my opinion, the challenge is to find your own way of weaving the qualities you admire in others into your own unique qualities, strengths, talents and vision. And, sometimes you have to accept that you can't be or do it all. You can appreciate and enjoy others' qualities and gifts while being true to yours, which may be very different.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Self-Care Tools for Transitions

Transitions challenge us on all levels—physical, mental, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual. You might feel physically fatigued, unusually energized, or alternating between the two. Your thoughts may be in overdrive, or you might feel mentally stalled. Many feelings are likely to surface, including depression, sadness, loss, disappointment, fear, anxiety, anger, excitement, joy and hope. Your relationships might feel “off.” On a spiritual level, you might find yourself questioning your spiritual beliefs.

I’d like to provide some tools that can help you maintain or improve your mental health when going through any transition--a relationship change; a job or career change; beginning or graduating from college; going through a life-stage transition, such as entering young adulthood or midlife. Focus on what you find helpful and intriguing. Experiment with those tools that feel foreign to you. Modify the tools to suit your preferences. I think you’ll find they are interrelated and support each other and, most important, you.

here to read about the tools.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Reflective Counselor

I’m reading The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers in preparation for a group and workshop I’m offering. The book has an entry for each day of the year. Each entry begins with an inspirational quote from a well-known person. Following the quote, the authors discuss the significance and applicability of the quote for lawyers seeking to imbue their work and lives with balance and meaning.

I believe the quotes and discussions in The Reflective Counselor can be enjoyed not just by lawyers, but by anyone looking for inspiration and guidance in living a meaningful life, including those working in challenging, stressful professions. I will be sharing some quotes from the book on my blog, along with my own musings on the topic. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Click here to learn more about
The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers by F.G. Coffey & M.C. Kessler.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Transitions at Midlife

“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the straight road was lost.” –Dante

Midlife can be a time of upheaval and uncertainty. At this time of life, people often find themselves re-evaluating everything--themselves, their relationships, their careers. This re-evaluation might lead to a sense of regret for paths not taken or parts of self never developed. Mid-lifers might feel a desire to pursue these discarded paths or explore undeveloped parts of themselves. Past trauma, losses or other memories might surface.

People often find themselves drawn to new and unexpected ideas, interests, or careers. A person who has been achievement-oriented might feel drawn to engaging in creative work or doing things simply for enjoyment without worrying about achieving a particular outcome. A person who has been outgoing might feel a need to spend time alone in quiet reflection. A person who has been shy or a loner might feel a desire to spend more time with others.

Carl Jung, an analytic psychoanalyst, believed that life is a journey toward wholeness, a process he termed “individuation,” and that each person’s journey contains elements in common with others, along with elements unique to each individual (Jung, 1989). Mental health professionals Clark, S.H. and Schwiebert, V.L. (2001) use the metaphor of a loom to describe a woman’s midlife journey. They liken the loom to a framework on which a woman can weave a fabric of her own design, color and texture, entwining the distinctive threads of her life into a unique creation. She can also unravel parts of her life that no longer serve her, such as patterns of thinking, behavior and self-image.

Men, who traditionally have been expected to focus on work and the external world while keeping their feelings in check, at midlife often want to focus on their inner selves, such as their feelings and intuition. Our culture is becoming increasingly more accepting of men developing more sides of themselves.

Paying attention to your internal feelings and thoughts at midlife, no matter how quiet or bewildering they seem, will likely start you on the path to a greater sense of integration and wholeness. Some ways of doing so are setting aside time for yourself to notice what is going on inside, journal writing, drawing or using other art forms to express yourself, noticing your dreams, talking with others who are going through similar changes, and engaging in psychotherapy.

Regardless of how you undertake your midlife journey, you might decide to make small changes in your life, you might choose to make major changes, or, you might decide not to make any external changes. Sometimes, just recognizing and exploring your thoughts and feelings during this time can provide you with a deep sense of renewal and satisfaction.


Clark, S.H. and Schwiebert, V.L. (2001). Penelope’s loom: A metaphor of women’s development at midlife. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 40(2), 161-170.

Jung, C.G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

Segell, M. & Leclerc, A. (1996). The new softness. Esquire, 125(4), 51. Retrieved January 10, 2002, from Academic Search Elite.

© Copyright 2009 Maxine Sushelsky

Friday, March 5, 2010

Don’t Just Do--Be

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.”
- Thomas Merton
, March 4th entry from The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers, by Coffey & Kessler.

Coffey & Kessler encourage professionals to experience the fullness of their humanity in their work—“body, mind and spirit.” They believe that despite the necessity of limiting certain aspects of ourselves in professional interactions, full awareness of our varied facets is crucial.

The more we are able to self-reflect and be true to our deepest selves, the more satisfaction and richness we will experience in our daily lives. When life seems to be veering off course, the more likely we will be able to find our way back to an authentic path. When going through difficult times, our connection to body, mind and spirit can steer us through and provide the sense of perspective that softens even the most bitter realities.

What better time for this March 4th entry to appear than today, as the weekend approaches and the temperature is rising, the rain and snow are stopping, and the sun is appearing. Take time this weekend to honor your body, mind and spirit. Remember to bring them to work with you on Monday.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Reflective Counselor - Friendship

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
- C.S. Lewis
, March 3rd entry from
The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers, by Coffey & Kessler.

The fortunate among us have experienced the relief of sharing with a trusted other our secret fears, shame, or guilt . There are few to no feelings, regardless of how dark, that have not been felt by another human being. Trusted friends, even if their “secrets” are different, remind us that we all have aspects of ourselves that we would not want to see on the front page of our local newspaper. Our truest friends also remind us that there is more to us than our secrets; they remind us of our strengths and our likeability.

Sometimes, it is easier to share difficult feelings with a mental health professional who is not involved in one’s life outside of the professional relationship. Professionals bring knowledge, skill and patience to the therapeutic relationship, in addition to confidentiality. The secrets we keep buried weigh us down. They tend to have causes and effects, the complexity of which are often outside of our awareness. A foundation of the psychodynamic therapeutic approach is that the more a person is able, when ready, to bring things from an unconscious state into conscious awareness, the less power those buried thoughts, feelings and memories will have on the person. When things are brought into conscious awareness, provided one is psychologically ready, a person can experience more choice and flexibility in the present. When shared with a compassionate, trusted other, long-held shame can be healed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Reflective Counselor - Creativity

In the February 28th entry of The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers, by F.G. Coffey and M.C. Kessler, the authors define creativity as “the gentle art of allowing our playful spirit to permeate our life’s work.”

By giving voice to our playful spirit, our work, leisure and relationships will begin to reflect the freshness and vitality we long for. Do you allow yourself to imprint your unique, playful stamp on your words and actions? If so, reflect on how it feels to do so. How do others respond? If not, what gets in your way of being your unique and playful self?

Experiment with letting your playful spirit emerge in small ways. Notice how you can do this while not losing sight of the serious aspects of what you are doing, and while being respectful towards yourself and others. Your life is meant to be savored.