Sunday, October 28, 2012

Invisible Wounds



By



Many people carry invisible wounds that, when untreated, can impact the quality of their lives. Invisible wounds are often the result of betrayal, abandonment, neglect, and trauma that many people go through. This is different from usual disappointments when life doesn’t go our way or when dealing with the general stressors of life. Invisible wounds often come from victimizing life experiences or painful losses. They can result from the loss of important relationships or situations that fall outside of the acceptable norm of how a human being deserves to be treated. Being a victim of a crime, rape, incest, loss of a loved one, being bullied, domestic violence, painful break ups, extreme financial problems, political oppression, war, and devastations from climate change are examples of situations that can leave invisible emotional scars on people’s psyche.


People who are carrying invisible wounds might complain about one or more of the following: isolation, unhappiness, not feeling motivated, insecurities, low energy, disorganization, frustration, lack of interest in most things, irritation, sleeping disorders, feelings of emptiness, fear, panic, rage, and suicidal thoughts. These are often symptoms of untreated emotional wounds.


Numbing is often how people escape the pain of their invisible wounds. Distraction from emotional pain through numbing one’s self does not help with the healing of invisible wounds. Numbing can include being a workaholic, over eating, alcoholism, using illegal drugs, compulsive sex, watching too much pornography, overspending, and gambling. These unhealthy behaviors that many people use to numb themselves become additional wounds. The vicious cycle of having unhealed wounds and using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with one’s wounds cause more suffering and probability of more acting out behaviors to cope. This cycle is the enemy, and the way out is to go within.


Having invisible wounds can impact how people value themselves and affect their self-esteem. In the shadow of low self esteem, people can make negative life choices and refrain from living a productive life. Just like an untreated physical scar can turn into a serious infection, an untreated psychological wound can also create a painful mess in people’s lives. Ignoring one’s pain is never a good idea. Working on issues that has left painful traces is essential and can lead to a better life.


Everyone’s pain is unique, and no one deserves to suffer in silence. Reaching out and asking for help is a courageous act that people can do in response to their emotional pain. Often, invisible wounds can become conscious by paying attention to our painful feelings and our dark thoughts. By going within and feeling our feelings, we can get to the center of our wounds. Once there, we need a caring listener to hear the story behind the wound and provide us empathy. Being heard and receiving empathy is an important part of the healing process. Having support in understanding our emotional pain is important too.


We can also turn to a journal and write about our pain. Writing about our painful experiences and making emotional discoveries about them is a powerful healing tool. This work needs to be done in the context of psychotherapy and with the support of a trained mental health therapist. Counseling can help people learn how to contain and work with their raw emotions in order to avoid getting overwhelmed by them. It helps people transform these intense emotions to new emotions that are not associated with their unresolved issues and wounds. Counseling can also   lead to a more rational thought pattern and change dysfunctional thinking.


People who I have helped grow and heal from their invisible wounds, often share with me a renewed sense of self and feelings of aliveness.  Participating in counseling with a seasoned licensed mental health professional that you feel comfortable with can be a good start for your healing process.


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2012/10/invisible-wounds-by-payam-ghassemlou.html


© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com



He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon




Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mindfulness for LGBT People



Mindfulness for LGBT People

By


Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.


www.DrPayam.com



Research has brought to our attention the impact of early life experiences on the development of the brain. What occurred in the past can condition our brain to have certain expectations about the future. This can raise concern for many gay people with a history of homophobic mistreatment such as being called derogatory names, being bullied, and becoming subject to physical violence. Gay here refers to our entire LGBT community.


Gay youngsters often spend many years of their childhood in a state of hyper-vigilance in order to be ready for possible homophobic attacks. Spending many years of not knowing what is around the corner can condition the brain to be in a constant state of over reactivity and might cause severe anxiety. It can also condition many gay people to relate to the future with a sense of threat instead of optimism.

As gay people, we need to have empathy toward our painful experiences and work on healing from our past homophobic mistreatment. In addition to psychotherapy, mindfulness practices can help us stop living life based on our past conditioning. For LGBT people who grew up mistreated and had to rely on hyper-vigilance as a survival skill, mindfulness can help them be in the moment without getting lost in catastrophic thinking. This also applies to anyone who is a survivor of any kind of past traumas and needs to shift to a more balanced state of the mind.

Regardless of our past experiences, mindfulness is useful for anyone who desires to be fully engaged with the present moment. In this brief article, I attempt to explore mindfulness and its benefits. My understanding of mindfulness is based on my training at the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (http://marc.ucla.edu/), studying literature, and many years of my own mindfulness practices.

In the 1960s, Thich Nhat Hanh brought mindfulness to the attention of Westerners. Later in 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill. A variety of mindfulness practices exist today and much of it was inspired by teachings from the East.

For the most part, mindfulness involves bringing our complete attention to our present experience on a moment-to-moment basis with acceptance and compassion. In particular, we can observe our physical, emotional, and mental experiences with kindness. We pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, and we can use our sensory awareness to stay fully present. For example, when we wash the dishes, we can see and feel the soapy water on our hands. Also, paying attention to the sensation of water on our body during a shower, and noticing the taste of our food when we eat are examples of being mindfully present.

When we practice mindfulness, we don’t get lost in either the memories of the past or the fantasies of the future.  Attending to the sensations of the moment helps us not feel overwhelmed or get lost in catastrophic thinking. We can cope with overwhelming emotions by focusing on external sensations such as hearing the sound of our shoes making contact to the ground while we walk.  This way, we ground ourselves in the reality of the moment which improves our capacity to tolerate difficult emotions.

Often our minds can wander away during the practice of paying attention to the present moment. We don’t need to judge ourselves when that happens. Instead, we can gently bring our awareness back to whatever we were focusing. We can also choose something new to notice in the present moment, such as a particular sound or sensation in the body. With practice, this non-judgmental awareness of the present moment can be a peaceful way of living.

Paying attention to our breathing is one more way to be with the present moment. Awareness of breathing is the most accessible path to the present moment. Over time, this practice can help us improve our ability to be in the moment. Each breath combined with acceptance of our moment-to-moment experience can allow us to experience serenity.

Mindfulness can help us regulate our attention and observe our mental activities with consciousness. We bring conscious awareness to our current thinking, feelings, and sensory experiences. For example, we can label our thoughts as we mindfully notice things like “planning” or “remembering.” We can also label whatever emotions we are experiencing in the moment by labeling them as “feeling anxious” or “feeling calm.” In addition, witnessing our bodily sensations such as numbness, pain or tingling with an attitude of curiosity instead of judgment can deepen our connection to our body.

Showing curiosity toward our surroundings is another path toward the present moment and can help us notice and engage with life in a new way. The greater awareness that we bring to our current life, the more we can be part of life.

Finally, the practice of mindfulness can be enriching for anyone, including LGBT people, in order to live a more present-centered life. This state of active, open attention to our present moment can help us awaken to our life experiences instead of letting life pass us by. Mindfulness can help us avoid living a life based on multi-tasking and maintain our connection with the present moment. To learn more about mindfulness, you can read Fully Present, The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley Ph.D. and Diana Winston.

© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com












He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon





Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dealing with Depression




Dealing with Depression


By


Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

Depression is common and treatable. It can strike anyone at any age. Consulting with your physician or a licensed mental health provider is the best way to find out if you suffering from depression and the type of depression you might be having. A person with depression can experience a few or many of the followings:

Feelings of sadness and emptiness
Feelings of anxiety
Experiencing restlessness or irritability
Losing interest in all or most activities
Problems with appetite that can lead to weight gain or weight loss
Sleeping problems
Loss of interest in sex
Low energy that can include feeling tired much of the time
Difficulty with concentration or making decisions
Feeling negative toward oneself including worthlessness or excessive guilt
Feeling hopeless or helplessness
Crying spills
Increased use of alcohol or drug use in order to cope with depressed mood
Thoughts of death / Suicidal Ideation

Many people might not have the awareness that the underlying cause of the many above mentioned symptoms is depression; therefore, they won’t get the treatment they need. It is difficult to treat something that one has not identified it yet. Over time, serious levels of depression that are not treated get worse and can lead to other health-related issues. It can even lead to suicide.
There are different kinds of depression; therefore, one person’s treatment needs will differ from someone else. The most common treatments for clinical depression involve a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy (talk therapy). Many experts in the field believe that depression can involve imbalances in neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that affect nerve-cell communication. Antidepressants are often prescribed in order to correct these chemical imbalances. Psychotherapy can help with resolving or coping with issues that may contribute to the patient’s depression. Some patients who fail to respond to standard treatments for depression might need additional resources.


In my counseling work with people who suffer from depression I often notice that they have an inner critic which constantly makes them feel discouraged, inadequate and in many cases worthless. When the inner critic is the dominant voice inside a person, depression is likely to be present. Identifying the inner critic can be done by encouraging patients to pay attention to their inner dialogues. Inner dialogue involves the way a person talks to herself or himself and the quality of this dialogue can impact a person’s mood. For example, negative exchanges that take place inside a person’s mind such as, “I can never do anything right,” or “I know I am going to lose my job” can make the person feel inadequate and anxious.


Helping people to become aware of the emotional impact of their inner dialogues can help them to have greater emotional awareness. There are many ways to work with negative inner dialogues and painful emotions that accompanying them. As a psychotherapist, I find it helpful to explore different treatment options in partnership with my clients. A collaborative approach helps people in therapy to feel in control of their recovery from depression.
Working with a licensed mental health therapist to explore treatment options for depression is an important step toward healing. I hope anyone who is suffering from depression reaches out and gets the help they need.
 




http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2012/03/dealing-with-depression.html



© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com



He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon







Practices for Healthy Living


 Practices for Healthy Living
By
Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.
www.drPayam.com

In the mystical garden of life we are all one. Based on this principle of oneness, all the love and caring you give to yourself do not only nourish your life but also the life of all organisms on the planet. There are countless ways you can show love and kindness toward yourself and others. From personal experience and having over 20 years of training, experience, and research in the field of mental health, I have learned about simple practices which can nurture our mind, body, and soul. I am going to list some of them, each with a very brief description hoping to inspire my readers to use them.

Awareness of Breath

For start I encourage you to be conscious of your breathing. I cannot over emphasize the importance of being mindful of your breathing. Awareness of your breath is a simple practice that helps you to feel more connected to life. It can help you be in the moment and develop a deeper relationship with yourself. As you go through your busy day, don’t forget to bring attention to your breathing. Do it as much as you can remember. I just did it as I was writing this. It’s that easy.







Caring for the Planet
The state of the planet can directly impact our survival. By having a lifestyle that respects and protects the life of the planet we can protect our survival and as well as other species on Earth. I found this information contained in the following web site about loving and respecting the Earth: http://www.spiritualecology.org.  A simple way to start loving our planet is to recycle. Recycling is a good habit. You can always contact your local city hall and obtain information on recycling.







Caring for the Animals
Animals need our love and protection. Loving and interacting with animals can have a positive impact on your mood. If you don’t have a pet to care for, you can always volunteer at an animal shelter in your town and do what you can to improve their quality of life. You can also join organizations that advocate for animal protection and want to stop mistreatment of animals.

Counseling / Psychotherapy

There are many compassionate therapists who are trained in helping people to heal from emotional pain. They can also help you to cope with your life challenging circumstances. You don’t have to face all your life challenges alone and in isolation. It takes a lot of courage to reach out and seek help. Participating in counseling with a mental health professional that you feel comfortable with can add meaning and vitality to your life.  A helpful way to find a psychotherapist is by asking your physician to provide you with referral. You can also contact your health insurance company and ask them to locate a mental health provider near you.




Dancing

Rumi once said, “Whosoever knoweth the Power of the Dance dwelleth in God.” You can use dancing as one of your spiritual practices or just do it for the joy of it. Dancing is a good way to stay physically active and have fun at the same time. Your inner critic might try to convince you that you can’t dance and discourage you from trying. Just ignore the critical inner voice and dance.


Eating Healthy

Many people suffer from choosing unhealthy eating habits and cope up with their life challenges by over eating. Such eating habits can lead to many different health problems. Talk to your nutritionist and develop a healthy eating plan that is right for your body. Eating healthy can have a positive impact on your mood and help you feel good about yourself.  Psychotherapy with focus on eating disorder can help people to understand why they act differently around food and how to overcome it.

Ethical Shopping

In a globalized economy like ours, many consumer goods ranging from coffee to cell phones produced in developing countries are utilizing cheap labor like child workers. These workers often work long hours, in unsafe environments, and without adequate wages.  Advocacy for these workers can start with our decision on where to shop.  You can visit this website www.laborrights.org for more information on this important issue.

Exercising

Before you get into any formal exercise program, check with your physician to make sure your body can handle it. Exercise can be as simple as taking a walk most days for at least 45 minutes. Its positive impact on mind and body has been extensively researched and documented. You just need to start this good habit of exercising and see for yourself. Those of us who live in Los Angeles need to take advantage of LA’s beautiful weather and get out and exercise. Especially, people who suffer from depression need to add exercise to their schedule.

Getting Help for Addiction

If you are abusing any kind of substances (e.g. street drugs, alcohol, pot, pills) or involve in addictive behaviors (e.g. sexual compulsion, over eating, gambling) get help.  After over 20 years of working in the field of mental health, I have never met a single individual who reported to me about using drugs and alcohol, or that engagement in any addictive behaviors has improved their life. In fact to the contrary, I have listened to countless of stories from my patients who reported the devastating impact of addiction on their lives. There is hope and many people have recovered from addictions. You can find treatment programs through this web site: www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ . You can also attend 12-step meetings to get help for addiction.

Having Free Time

It is important to have free time to simply relax with no specific goal. Just have some down time and let your mind wander. It can be a nice break to help your brain to recharge.


Journaling

Writing in a journal can be so helpful especially when you are dealing with stressful issues. It can help you to organize the contents of your mind and avoid keep everything inside. Just like paying attention to your breathing, this can help you develop a deeper and more intimate relationship with yourself, journaling can help you do the same. This practice can also help you to gain a better perspective about challenges and issues you are writing about. Consider buying a note book and get into the habit of writing your thoughts and feelings. I recommend doing this few times in a week as a start.

Listening to Music

I once provided counseling for someone who was able to cope with almost any life difficulties through listening to music. I always admired his willingness to use music in such a helpful way. We can all benefit from listening to music for relaxation, inspiration or other helpful purposes. I recommend avoid listening to songs with violent lyrics. Such lyrics never lead to inner peace.

Laughter

Don’t forget to laugh. You don’t need a reason to laugh. Just start each morning with few minutes of laughing exercise. Laughter increases oxygen supply to body cells, and strengthening your immune system. It can energize you and create positive mental state. Visit: www.laughteryoga.org for more encouragement on laughter.

Massage

Anyone who had a good massage can tell you the benefit of it. Getting massage can release the tension in your body and relaxes you.  Ask your local chiropractor for referral to a certified massage therapist.


Meditating

Decades of research on meditation has proven its overall positive impact on our mind and body. Meditation is about concentration, and it requires consistency in order to be effective. As you know there are many different kinds of meditation and I encourage you explore and find what works for you. One of the helpful meditations that I learned  belongs to the Sufi path. Sufism embraces love as its focus. Deep in everyone’s heart there is a place of love and tranquility. Gently close your eyes and silently embrace that sacred place in your heart. Each time you notice any of your thoughts during this meditation you can merge them with the love you feel in your heart. Embracing love in your heart can ignite a powerful flame of love. That energy of love can be directed toward the soul of the world and be shared for the good of all.



Mindfulness

In the 1960s, Thich Nhat Hanh brought mindfulness to the attention of Westerners. Variety of mindfulness practices exist today and much of it was inspired by teachings from the East. For the most part, mindfulness involves bringing our complete attention to our present experience on a moment-to-moment basis with acceptance and compassion. With mindfulness we can observe our physical, emotional, and mental experiences with kindness. We pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment and we can use our sensory awareness to stay fully present. For example, when we wash the dishes we can see and feel the soapy water on our hands. Taking a walk and noticing without judgment how life unfolds around us is another simple mindfulness practice. My understanding of mindfulness is based on attending several classes at UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center ( www.marc.ucla.edu ), studying literature, and many years of doing mindfulness practices. I highly recommend practicing mindfulness.

Playing

Playing is not just for children. Adults need to play too. When I play soccer I let that little boy in me to come out and have fun. It feels liberating to detach from the serious adult role and play. I also find it helpful to have hobbies and immerse myself in those hobbies. Start a hobby and see how it impacts your mood.

Positive Affirmation

Find affirmations or mantras that lift your spirit. You can influence your mood by reading to yourself positive affirmation that works for you. A good example of affirmation that you can practice on daily basis is, “I am grateful for all the blessings in my life.”


Practicing Yoga

An effective way to stay fit and reduce stress is by practicing yoga. There are many different styles of yoga and always check with your health care provider to make sure your body can handle practicing yoga.

Praying

Many people have their own personal understanding of God or Higher Power. Calling on to God of your understanding and offering Him or Her your gratitude or needs can be done through praying. You don’t have to be a member of any organized religion to pray. This practice is open to everyone who wants to invite Divine intervention into their lives. Praying is useful because it can help you to rely on a power greater than yourself to meet your life challenges. We can also pray for the well being of other people and the health of our planet. If you feel helpless about any situations in your life and running out of options, then pray for clarity. Hopefully, an insight will come to you to help you to resolve the issue.

Reading

As you know Knowledge is power, and reading books is a good way to empower oneself. Reading also helps to stimulate your brain and enhances your imagination. It always best to ask your therapist for book recommendation. She or he might be able to guide you toward the right book. Also don’t forget to support your local independent book store by shopping there.  Here is a link to one: http://www.booksoup.com/

Restful Sleep

A good night sleep is essential for your good health. You might want to learn about sleep hygiene which involves developing practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep. One of the sleep hygiene measures that I found helpful is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. Other example of good sleep hygiene include not drinking coffee close to bed time, avoid eating at least two hours before going to bed, and stay away from emotionally upsetting conversations before trying to go to sleep. Finally, let your doctor know if you have trouble with sleeping. He or she can help you to determine the cause of it.

Seeing Your Doctor

This recommendation sounds like common sense, but many people who have access to health care deny themselves from getting their annual physical examination. Self-care involves seeing your doctor regularly and discussing your health. Many medical problems can be resolved by early detection and treatment. It is also important to be proactive and share any health related concerns you might have with your physician.

Be sure to ask your physician for vitamins and supplements recommendations. If you do not have physician then ask your psychotherapist for a referral.

Social Engagement

Having caring friends, socializing, and sharing life experiences with loved ones can help you avoid isolation. Nurturing people in your life can make you feel supported. Make sure to make time for your friends and let them know how much you value their friendships. Your friends or your significant other can’t read your mind so be sure to reach out let them know if you need support with anything. If you don’t have enough friends you can always strengthen your social support by participating in different activities that you like and meet new people.

Solitude

I once posted an article on my blog (http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/) explaining the benefits of solitude. Many of my readers gave me feedback about their positive experience with solitude. It was encouraging to know how much this practice can be helpful. Basically, all you need to do is to spend quality time with yourself by doing very little extroverted activities. Instead focus more on your inner world and bring your attention inward. Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, quality of your breath, bodily sensation, and whatever you might notice as you close your eyes and experience the present moment. Living in a fast pace city like Los Angeles you need time away from doing too much and experience some period of solitude. Balancing social engagement with solitude can help you to enjoy a balanced life.

Volunteering

Helping others through volunteer work is a very loving act. Display act of kindness toward others can have a positive impact on your mood. I have done many years of volunteer work for different non-profit organizations and I am always grateful for given the opportunity to be a service. Volunteer work can add to our sense of humility and make the world a better place.


Working with Your Dreams

When you wake up in the morning, write down what you dreamt about in your dream journal. Later you can come back to it and do some work with your dream. Dream work can be done formally with a help of your therapist and informally by sharing your dream with a trusted friend.

Since dreams are products of our unconscious, understanding them can increase our consciousness. Expanding our consciousness lead to a more gratifying and creative life. In his book, Inner Work, Robert Johnson, inspired by Carl Jung’s teaching, has described a helpful process on how to understand our dreams. Often content of our dreams might not make sense to us and that is why it is important to get help from experts.




Working with Your Emotions

Working with your emotions requires emotional management skills. We all can experience many different feelings each day. For example, feelings such as sadness, loss, fear, and anger are among many emotions we all can experience. By learning to effectively manage these feelings you can help yourself to avoid being overwhelmed by them. One of the ways you can work with your emotions is by sharing them with an empathic listener who can support you in understanding your feelings. A caring psychotherapist who is trained and experienced in dealing with emotions can be a good help in this process. Since emotions can make a difference in your ability to connect to your life experiences, working with them can be a key to fulfillment.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com





He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon