Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goal Oriented Psychotherapy Practice

Goal Oriented Psychotherapy Practice


There are number of ways to conduct psychotherapy sessions that can be helpful in meeting the client’s needs and matches the therapist’s style. A goal oriented psychotherapy practice which utilizes a goal setting method is one way to practice psychotherapy. This is a collaborative process that clarifies what the client would like to accomplish during his or her psychotherapy process. Goal setting also helps with constructing a vision of life as it relates to each person’s unique circumstances. Some goals relate to the betterment of one’s external life such as career, finances, education, relationship, and health. Other goals can be about exploring one’s inner world and working toward inner balance, deepening the relationship with the Self, accessing one’s creativity, healing from trauma, and improving mood. These are small examples of common goals clients bring to their psychotherapist which can add clarity to the process.

 In general, working on establishing decisive goals for one’s life can help increase motivation and avoid getting lost. People often feel more motivated in life when they have a sense of purpose, and goal setting can give them such a sense. In addition to helping with motivation, goal setting can improve self-confidence. It affirms the fact that one’s life is worthy to have goals, and the attainment of them helps believing in oneself. I find it extremely rewarding when my clients express joy for progressing toward their goals or attaining them.

Writing down goals in positive language, practicing patience in achieving them, and keeping them manageable for the client are part of the goal setting process. Establishing goals in an affirmative manner can help generate positive emotion to support their attainment. Also, while practicing patience avoids unrealistic expectations in attainment of one’s goals, the process needs to be time-bound. Since every client’s circumstances are unique, it is important to respect people’s time table while collaborating with them in creating target dates. Moreover, goals need to be manageable to avoid making the client feel overwhelmed. The more specific the goal the more manageable it becomes. In some cases, it is important to help the client prioritize their objectives and work on one goal at the time.

Therapists can help clients feel less alone in achieving their goals. This can be done by working with them to identify resources in their lives and in their communities. I often find it helpful to provide a list of community resources to clients who have difficulty obtaining them. For example, a client who is unemployed and can’t afford accessing the internet might find it useful to know about the free internet access at the West Hollywood library.

Finally, those individuals who have difficulty setting decisive goals can benefit from depth oriented psychotherapy which tends to look for unconscious elements that can get in the way of having a clear direction in life. I find helping people to understand their life challenges on a deeper level very useful. No one deserves to feel shame for his or her difficulty in establishing clear goals and having empathy for such struggle is essential. When it comes to practicing psychotherapy, one size does not fit all. Therapists can be flexible in offering modalities that meet the client where they are.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Boredom from a Gay Perspective

Boredom from a Gay Perspective


Gay people are naturally creative and industrious. They are often a small percentage of any population and yet their societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. This short article mostly focuses on gay men and the issue of boredom. Many points being made here do apply to lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queers as well.
Despite growing up gay in a homophobic world which can discourage artistic expression, gay people’s creative spirit continues to shine. Given their rich imagination, the experience of chronic boredom and a sense of inertia is contrary to a gay person’s true essence. Whether boredom is momentary or a long lasting experience, it stops people from living a full life. In order to deal with boredom, it is important to understand and learn how to transform it. Examining and understanding your emotions is an opportunity for personal growth. One of the places to examine your emotions as a pathway toward knowing yourself is in a therapeutic setting with a licensed psychotherapist. Working with emotions can be intense, and you need a trained professional to help you navigate through the sea of emotions. In my work as a psychotherapist (licensed MFT), I work collaboratively with my clients. I explore their somatic experiences, feelings, and thoughts in order to support them on their journey of self-discovery to alleviate their boredom.
What is boredom? From a psychological perspective boredom is an emotion, and like any emotion, it can carry important information and messages about your current needs and sometimes unmet needs from the past. It can also reveal something about your current state of mind which becomes an opportunity for deeper analysis. People who are bored often experience life as monotonous. Sometimes boredom can accompany another emotion such as frustration or a feeling of emptiness. When a person gets overwhelmed by ongoing feelings of boredom he can asks himself, “What is boredom trying to reveal to me about my relationship to my psyche, my soul, and the world around me?” or “How can boredom become an opportunity to add meaning and purpose to my life?” The answers to these questions require personal reflection which can become a doorway to a deeper connection to oneself.
An important approach toward understanding boredom needs to involve evaluating your relationship to your sense of curiosity. Curiosity is an emotion that plays a vital role in motivating you to show interest in yourself and the world around you. When fully in effect, curiosity can neutralize your sense of boredom and help you to passionately engage with the mystery of life. When curiosity is embraced, boredom disappears.
When you show curiosity toward your experience of boredom, you are less dominated by it. In general, becoming curiously conscious of your emotions help you to be less controlled by them. By becoming aware of any particular feelings in the moment, you can choose to either embrace the emotion and fully experience it or let it go. “Empathic witnessing” of an emotion such as boredom in the moment without judgment gives you more choices on how to deal with your emotions. 
Sometimes boredom, like a habit, stays with people and it takes willpower to try to change it. Your willpower can be used as a determination muscle to focus on making positive changes in your inner and outer life. You can use your willpower to direct your attention away from boredom and use your curiosity to explore uplifting experiences. For example, when feeling bored you can make an effort to get out of your “comfort zone” and explore healthy activities that you never tried before. Eventually, being curious becomes a personal habit that replaces boredom and enriches your life.
It is important to note that embracing curiosity might be challenging for many gay people because of a homophobic upbringing.  Many gay individuals as a youngster felt too ashamed to show curiosity toward their homoerotic feelings which caused them to find curiosity too threatening to embrace. The habit of embracing curiosity needs to take place at a young age with support of caring adults. The absence of such support makes curiosity less accessible and difficult to embrace.
As you engage with your boredom through your curiosity, you can notice where in your body you sense your boredom. Locating bodily sensations that correspond to how you feel in the moment is another important way of managing your emotions. I often hear clients share with me about experiencing boredom as a sense of dread and emptiness in their chest area. Individuals that I work with in a therapeutic setting often find it helpful when I invite them to curiously scan their bodies and look for sensations of strength. Focusing on a sensation of strength anywhere in their bodies which might include places like the upper arms or legs can lessen their sense of inertia. For others who can’t notice any sensation of strength, they might benefit from making a pleasant or neutral sensation as their focus. For example, neutral or pleasant sensations can be experienced by inviting clients to notice the support of their upper back against the couch. In general, tracking the neutral or pleasant sensations in your body can add harmony and balance to your inner world.
Your curiosity can also be directed toward examining your thinking patterns and belief system. You might discover a link between your beliefs, thoughts and boredom. Many gay people were raised to believe that they were sinners for their same sex attraction.  As such, they have developed a belief system that does not leave much room for feeling deserving of happiness. Thought patterns based on such a negative core belief system can lead to a life void of joy and pleasure. By using the muscle of determination with an attitude of empathy and kindness, we all can change our negative beliefs and thinking. By developing a belief system based on love and acceptance of ourselves, we can feel deserving of joy and vitality instead of boredom and inertia.
From a spiritual perspective, chronic boredom might reveal a lack of relationship to one’s soul and the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). Given that gay history has been often intertwined with shamanism and mysticism, getting bored and living a dull life reveals disconnection from one’s gay essence. From a spiritual perspective, the remedies for such condition can involve not only connecting to one’s gay soul but also connecting to a sacred place within one’s heart through meditation and other spiritual practices that correspond to one’s chosen path. Recognizing a divine spark within one’s heart can be enough to transform boredom and sense of emptiness to feeling of aliveness.
Boredom affects everyone, and it becomes a reason for concern when it turns to an ongoing psychological state. Boredom like any challenging emotion can become an opportunity for deep psychological work. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help when boredom turns to a painful psychological state.

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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gays in Search of Meaning


Many gay people are acknowledging a need for a more meaningful way of living to avoid a motionless and purposeless existence. Lack of depth and meaning has caused many gay people to experience feelings of boredom and emptiness. Such feelings have forced many to look for something outside of themselves in order to feel content. Some indulge in drug use, excessive drinking, or brief romantic affairs, while others might engage in excessive shopping, traveling, or overeating in order to cope with their negative emotional states. Even though such activities might feel pleasurable and provide a momentary sense of euphoria, they do not lead to a real experience of vitality and aliveness. There is a different kind of intoxication that involves the experience of the soul. Such experience is beyond the ego’s need for cheap thrills. By embracing what is inherently sacred about our gayness, we can start to live a soulful life.

While we, as a community, fight against discrimination and progress toward equality, we need to take time to embrace the numinous qualities inherent in being gay. We need to honor the spirit that exists within our gay souls. For the most part, our current culture places a great deal of emphasis on maximizing one’s pleasure through consumerism and minimizing one’s need for a deeper purpose in life.  Couple that with internalized homophobia, which prevents gay people from gaining a deeper understanding of gayness. Internalized homophobia is the internalization of shame that many gay people have been forced to experience growing up in a heterosexist society. By working through this internalized homophobia, a path toward an understanding of the deeper meaning of gayness can become more accessible.

The essence of being gay is love. We come out in order to love freely. Many gay people experience love in the form of romantic relationships. A conscious participation in a romantic relationship—which includes working through what we project onto each other—can serve as preparation for a different experience of love. Beneath our gay love affairs, there is an empty space waiting to be ignited with mystical love, waiting to be known for the sake of a deeper love affair—the kind of love affair that takes place at the level of the soul. This is expressed in one of Rumi’s poems:

 “The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,

they’re in each other all along.”

A love that begins in a romantic relationship needs wings to fly beyond the field of personal connections and into the realm of the transpersonal. We help such love to grow wings by attending to our inner garden and weeding out toxic shame. The more we embrace our gayness with a sense of pride, the more room we can make to love and approve of ourselves.

On our journey inward toward our true essence, we need to deal with the mind. Our mind can be like a wild horse that, through meditation, needs to be tamed and taught to bow down to our heart. The heart is where the flowers of Divine love bloom and the fragrance of such love fills our inner emptiness. We can connect with the sacred place in our heart by gently closing our eyes and concentrating on anything in the universe that helps to generate feelings of love in our heart. Neuroscience tells us whatever we focus on becomes our reality. In other words, “You energize anything that you give your attention to.” So why not energize the feelings of love in your heart? This is how we can embrace our true essence and add more love to the world.

Humanity is facing difficult choices pertaining to our future survival on the planet. Given the threats of climate change, war, poverty, racism, homophobia, and mass shootings, we as gay people more than ever need to participate in the healing of the world. We can make a difference. Triumphs like the way we took care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are as a community. Our courage can continue, and we can advocate for issues that can make this world a better place. By honoring our gayness and letting it become a strong foundation to stand on, we can “love the world back to health.” Our involvement in helping the world can also add meaning and purpose to our own individual lives.

By focusing on the love in our heart and cultivating an awareness of the world soul (Anima Mundi), we can trigger an awakening of healing energy that could transform our current civilization. LGBT people are only a small percentage of the population, but our contributions to helping solve our current global problems can be enormous. When we connect our gay soul with the soul of the world, not only do we start tapping into a deeper purpose for our existence, but we also begin to experience the oneness of life.

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Journey Toward Self-Discovery

In the cycle of our everyday lives, we are busy taking care of our needs like shelter, food, safety, emotional support, health care, human connection, and many other basics. Many years of our lives can be devoted to meeting goals like graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, rearing children, having a successful career, and staying healthy. This cycle of everyday life, our daily routine, is the plane of existence that most people are familiar with. It is the outermost circle enclosing the inner circles in the continuity of existence. People who are not awake to anything beyond such day-to-day existence can let life happen to them as if they are in a trance. To be in the trance is to live life in such a way that one is completely identified with her or his social role and status. This kind of over-identification can prevent people from living an authentic life and going beyond the mundane. It can also lead to a life devoid of depth and meaning.

Life in a trance gets shaken up when an unexpected loss happens. For example, a number of individuals who lost their high profile jobs in the recent US economic recession became seriously depressed. Since they completely relied on external circumstances like wealth, privilege, and class to define their personal identity, the humiliation of losing this status made them feel worthless.

Most people want to live a prosperous life, and the pathway to successful life is often presented to them as a ladder to climb. In fact, a pathway to success is not a ladder to climb, but a circular journey toward the core of one’s true essence. We can embark on this journey of self-discovery through deeper psychological and spiritual work, which will enable us to experience the numinous in everyday life and transform our challenges into the gold of consciousness. When we work on knowing ourselves and bringing this consciousness to our day-to-day living, we are transforming our lives. We no longer obsessed with our personal goals, and we can develop a deeper understanding of the meaning of success.

One need not abandon the business of navigating the cycle of everyday life in order to participate in the journey of self-discovery, but we need to navigate with a quality of consciousness that not only helps fulfill our responsibilities, but also get closer to our “True Essence.” There is nothing wrong with making money and enjoying the fruits of our labors—as long as we are not doing it for the purpose of covering up our inferior feelings or falling into a trance of over-identification with status.

As stated earlier, on the journey of self-discovery, the progression into the core of the circle, our True Essence, is a circular motion, not a ladder. We go around and around the circle of existence, and we can get stuck in one track if we don’t do the inner work of understanding ourselves. It is like walking a labyrinth only a short ways and staying on the periphery, not going to the middle to receive the spiritual and psychological gifts on offer there. To move to the next track and journey toward the core of the circle, we must make a commitment to knowing ourselves. Each moment of growth and insight can help us journey closer. The more evolved we become, the closer we get to the truth of who we really are.

To know ourselves, we need to encounter the unconscious. Having a guide in this process is essential. We need support when attempting to understand what we might encounter. There are parts of us of which we are not completely conscious. We could think of them as layers of our personality that impact our interaction with ourselves and the world. How these layers impact us depends on our relationship with them. Progress toward our True Essence is difficult if we don’t have a conscious relationship with different parts of ourselves. Also, working with the unconscious is important, since within our unconscious resides creative potential and the answers to many of our life’s mysteries.

Writing is one of the simple yet valuable tools we can use for self-discovery and to build relationships with different aspects of our personality. I find it very helpful to write in my journal about the way I handled certain life challenges without being hard on myself. Journaling helps me learn more about myself and become more aware. Also, journaling can be a place where we record our dreams. In working with our unconscious, we are helped by paying attention to the images that manifest in our dreams. By analyzing our dreams with the help of a trained person, we can learn about the content of our unconscious.

On our journey toward our True Essence, we need to develop a quality of attention that focuses on the present moment, despite all distractions. One way we develop such presence is by paying attention to our breathing. Awareness of breath is a simple practice that helps us to be in the moment and develop a deeper relationship with ourselves. We can also bring our awareness to the present moment by paying attention to our bodily sensations. For example, sitting on my office chair, I can notice the comfortable experience of having my back supported by the chair. Such a sensation of comfort can only be noticed in the present moment.

Reflecting on our life experiences and discovering their meaning not only gives our lives a sense of purpose but also enriches our life journey. The journey of knowing oneself is a very personal experience for each traveler. The goal is to have an ongoing connection to our True Essence. Everyone can find her or his own unique approach to a meaningful existence. My initiation to this journey happened at a young age with the realization that my sexuality made me different. My attempt to understand the meaning and purpose of my gayness pushed me out of the collective into a journey of self-reflection and self-understanding. At the same time, this journey empowered me to stand up to homophobia. For others, this change can happen when they turn losses and tragedies into transcendent experiences and, as a result, become evolved human beings.

Connection to our True Essence is not the end of the journey. It can be a doorway to an even stronger, more conscious connection to something greater than ourselves. It can be imagined as a drop of water merging with an Ocean, wherein one can experience Oneness. Each traveler can experience her or his unique merger with the Ocean of Oneness. There is no end to the journey of knowing oneself for the sake of forging a union with a power greater than oneself. The path is infinite, and it starts with a willingness to wake up, depart from the periphery, and step inside.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Inspirational Quotes by Payam Ghassemlou

"A pathway to #success is not a ladder to climb, but a circular journey toward the core of one's truth."

"Being #gay is not a choice. It's a gift. We unwrap this gift by #loving."

"#Feeling #secure in life depends on how well we embrace our #vulnerability."

"#Life without #art is like a blank #canvas."

"The #world is a living #being, endowed with a #soul and #intelligence, in need of love."

"The #choice to grow deeper is accessible to those who are willing to look into the mirror of #introspection."

"The essence of being #gay is love. We come #out in order to love freely."

Lack of #Communication + Making Assumptions = #Conflict

"When #curiosity is embraced, #boredom disappears. #Love your curiosity."

"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."

"#Awareness of our breathing is the most accessible #path to the present moment. Each breath combined with acceptance of our moment-to-moment experience can allow us to have #serenity."

"#Violence occurs when revenge is dressed up as the need for #justice."

"Your #life is like a garden that needs #love, care, and #patience."

Failure comes from #feeling entitled to #success.

Don't do the math!

"A country that's safe for LGBTQ people is a country that's safe for everyone."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gay Enlightenment

By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

After the hard emotional labor of tearing down the closet door, the quest for enlightenment can begin on a deeper level. For gay people life after the closet can gain more meaning by walking on the path of enlightenment, which involves developing a relationship with the unconscious. Gay people have an advantage as far as enlightenment is concerned. Most gay people grow up feeling "different," and that differentness helps to not identify with the collective. As Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, suggested, "...realization that you are different from others may force you to disidentify from socially conditioned patterns of thought and behavior. This will automatically raise your level of consciousness above that of the unconscious majority, whose members unquestioningly take on board all inherited patterns. In that respect, being gay can be a help. Being an outsider to some extent, someone who does not fit in with others or is rejected by them for whatever reason, makes life difficult, but it also places you at advantage as far as enlightenment is concerned."

#LGBTQ #GayEnlightenment

Depth psychology, which deals with making the unconscious conscious, offers valuable tools which can be useful on the path to enlightenment. In this article, I will share my knowledge and experience regarding encounters with the unconscious. Working with your unconscious is a powerful approach toward self-realization. Within our unconscious resides creative potential and answers to many of our life’s mysteries. Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst, talked about unconscious as "the unknown in the inner world." This unknown place wants to reveal itself by "speaking to us in language of symbols." Images from the unconscious can manifest in our dreams, which provide windows to our unconscious. By analyzing our dream images, we can learn about the content of our unconscious. As one of Jalal-ud-Din Rumi's (1207-1273 A.D.) poems, translated by Coleman Barks, describes,

"Many wonders are manifest in sleep: in sleep the heart becomes a window. One that is awake and dreams beautiful dreams, he is the knower of God. Receive the dust of his eyes."

The unconscious can also be accessed by bringing hidden images into consciousness. Working with these images psychologically can offer us valuable information about our psyche. For gay people who are seeking deeper understanding and connection to their gay essence, these images can be a doorway to powerful inner realizations about gayness. Furthermore, images from the unconscious can provide consciousness about internalized homophobia, which is the shame that gay and lesbian people were forced to experience growing up in anti-gay societies and homophobic families. Having a psyche contaminated by internalized homophobia can cause self-hatred, which can result in self-destructive behaviors. Working through internalized homophobia can protect gays and lesbians from reenacting their homophobic childhood.

Many gay men grow up in families in which their artistic interests were shamed, and they were forced to play sports to fulfill traditional male gender roles. As a result, their relationship to their imagination was severed. Encouraging gay men to participate in creative activities, which involve working psychologically with their imagination, can help them to redeem their creative world. The following is one of the exercises I have used with myself and others to evoke images from the unconscious and work with the imagination. This exercise has helped me and others to start the process of accessing unconscious materials around being gay. It is important to have the support of others during this process. According to Robert Johnson, the author of Inner Work, "Be sure that there is someone available for you to go or call in case you become overwhelmed by the imagination and can't cut it off." A counselor who has training in depth psychology, or the psychology of the unconscious, can be a helpful guide in this process.

"Close your eyes and picture an image or symbol that symbolizes being gay for you." This is how I start the exercise. Do not worry if the symbol seems strange or does not have anything to do with being gay as you understand (intellectually) what being gay should be. Just let go of trying to control your imagination and let it offer you whatever it wants surrounding the topic. It's okay to have more than one image. Images come from your unconscious, and they do not lie or judge. "I am seeing a green jungle," said one of the participants in this exercise." “I am seeing a scared lonely boy," said another participant. "I can see rainbow," someone else said.

I encourage maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the image that you discovered in relation to your gayness. Sometimes your image can evolve and give birth to new images. This dialoguing with your image is what Carl Jung described as active imagination. During this process, you can use pen and paper to record your dialogue with your image. By setting time aside and dialoguing with your image, you are developing a relationship with it. Also, you need to discover and understand feelings associated with your image. For example, if your psyche offered you an image of a lonely sad child as a symbol of gayness, you need to hear the little boy's story and find out what happened to him. He is your gay inner child, and he wants so desperately to tell you what he went through growing up in a heterosexist world in which his existence was denied. Try to understand his feelings and have empathy towards him. This way, you are less possessed by the effect of his sadness on your life and more in a position of helping him heal. Working psychologically with his painful feelings can transform those feelings and give birth to new feelings. Your inner child's healing can add vitality and meaning to your life. Many people, including gays and lesbians who are possessed by certain contents of their unconscious, do not understand why they feel and do things that they do. Only by conscious dialogue with different parts of yourself and understanding of your emotions can you come to new realizations around your feelings and actions. These new realizations are similar to the work of alchemists who were trying to make gold, or, in our case, consciousness.

Another person who participated in this exercise reported an image of a green jungle in relation to his gayness. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who writes and lectures about Sufism, has mentioned in many of his books green as the color of growth, becoming, and the realization of God. Green also is the color of Khidr, who is the archetype of the Sufi guide. In his book, The Call & The Echo, Vaughan-Lee stated, "Khidr, the Green Man, is an important Sufi figure who represents the direct revelation of Divine Truth." Divine revelation around our sexuality and gay identity happens to many of us by just becoming aware that we are different; that we love differently.

The image of the green jungle as a vision or association with gayness can symbolize the mysterious and unknown process of coming out. Coming out for many gays and lesbians feels like entering a lonely green jungle with no external support or guide. Our only guide is our longing for love and understanding. The flame of our passion for same-sex connection, like a burning torch, brings light to our journey. As a gay man who started exploring the green forest of his gayness many years ago, I recall that my only guide was my longing to find my soul figure. Despite all ugly things I was told about homosexuality, including the shame I was being made to feel for wanting to come out and family rejection around my gay identity, I kept venturing into this unknown forest. I was told that gay people will burn in hell, and yet I knew I had already experienced hell when I was in the closet, murdering my homoerotic feelings. Coming out, which has been essential part of my journey of self-realization, starts with a response to a call from within. This call is unique to gay and lesbian individuals. For me, this calling initially manifested as certain feelings of longing that I would experience in the presence of handsome men (my soul figures). The calling reminds me of one of Rumi's poems, translated by Coleman Barks:

"You have been a prisoner of a little pond. I am the ocean with turbulent flood. Come merge with me..."

In this poem, being prisoner of a little pond can serve as a metaphor of being stuck in the closet. There is an intense calling to dive into the ocean. The ocean is a metaphor for the unconscious in which homoerotic feelings reside and need to be made conscious. Understanding these homoerotic feelings as a longing for a union with the Beloved has helped me to honor them as part of my journey of self-realization. By diving into the ocean of my unconscious, I have been doing the inner work of redeeming the pearl of my gay essence.

Not every gay person survives the journey of coming out. Many get lost in the dark green forest and never make it to the other side. The demon of homophobia, in the form of depression, addictions, gay bashing, or suicide, is waiting to violently attack our people and turn the journey of coming out into a journey of going out of existence.

Those of us who have survived despite ongoing homophobic assaults need to take this journey to a different level and discover the gift of our gayness. By going to the underground of our unconscious, we can discover the gift of our gayness and offer that gift to our troubled planet. Again, you need to find a guide or consult with someone who is trained in depth psychology before undertaking this work. As Rumi writes:

"O seeker without the shadow of a pir (teacher) the clamor of the beast will torment you."

Hafiz also emphasizes the need for a guide in the following poem:

"Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it one hundred times and failed."

After you have dialogued with your image and experienced its feeling, you need to bring your image to life. What can you do to give it a physical reality? You can write about your image, draw it, paint it, sculpt it, find sand and form the image in a sand tray (sand-tray therapy), or use dance and body movement to keep it alive. You can even make it into a musical note. Giving your image a physical form will help to make it a conscious part of you. Images carry their own energy and ‘feeling tone’ that can affect your life. Having a conscious relationship with your images and bringing them to life can liberate you from their possession and control. It is important not to manipulate the process of working with your unconscious for the sake of your ego gratification. This work should be done with great deal of humility in order to avoid inflation. Hopefully, by doing this work, we can, as Carl Jung states, "kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."

As you go through your day-to-day activities, pay attention to external situations that might shed some light on your understanding of your image. A synchronistic event can link your image to an outer event. For example, the person who was working with the image of a lonely sad child reported later coming across books and articles that helped him to understand this image. Finally, by cultivating an ongoing relationship with your unconscious by understanding your dreams and images, you can promote psychic wholeness. Your imagination can be the arena in which dialogue between your conscious and unconscious takes place. This dialogue can reduce the conflict between the conscious and unconscious and create a partnership between them.

#OUT #ComingOut #Psychotherapy

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

Monday, May 23, 2016


By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

As human beings, we are faced with many threating possibilities such as illness, accidents, rejections, unemployment, war, loss of our significant relationships, and other kinds of suffering.  Living our lives in an unpredictable world where things happen unexpectedly can make us feel vulnerable; therefore, vulnerability is part of life. No one, no matter how rich or famous, can escape the reality that we are not in total control of what can happen to us. When we don't accept this, we develop unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We can feel shame for simply being a human being and having limitations when it comes to dealing with events that we cannot foresee. Our ability to feel secure in our lives depends on how well we embrace our vulnerability. Putting this concept in perspective is the focus of this short article.

Many of us don’t know how to help ourselves to feel safe in relation to life’s uncertainties. Instead, some turn to addictions or other mind-numbing behaviors in order to cope with scenarios in which they feel vulnerable. Others seek wealth and power to compensate for their powerlessness over life. Not knowing how to deal with our vulnerability limits our ability to take risks and live a fuller life. We can't passionately explore the mystery of life and live meaningful lives when we become paralyzed by our fear of vulnerability. When we find the courage to face and accept our vulnerabilities, we can accomplish enormous tasks in life.

As a psychotherapist with empathy for our struggle to feel safe in this troubled world, I believe it is important to access our transcendent Self, which can help us to witness our vulnerability and at the same time allow us to navigate through life with grace. The transcended Self is connected to a force beyond our limited ego; beyond anything our mind can imagine. Connection to the Self can make it possible for us to ask for help from a force or a power greater than ourselves. We can feel less alone navigating through unpredictable life events when the Self facilitates our relationship with such a powerful force. When faced with a vulnerable situation, not only do we need to rely on our courage, but we also must have the willingness to ask for help from the power greater than ourselves.

Access to the transcended Self can be granted through psychological inner work and paying attention to the wisdom that can be revealed through dream work and meditation, and by the knowledge that can be found in psychology, spirituality, mysticism, and other sources. Moreover, we can engage in meaningful practices such as mindfulness, random acts of kindness, and serving humanity in times of suffering. All of these practices can facilitate encounters with the Self. When we engage in a psychological journey within and work through unresolved issues that limit our minds and cover our hearts, we are on our way to making an encounter with the transcended Self.

It is important to note that you need to find a guide or consult with someone who is trained in depth psychology before undertaking this work of encountering the Self. As Rumi writes:

"O seeker without the shadow of a pir (teacher) the clamor of the beast will torment you."

Hafiz also emphasizes the need for a guide in the following poem:

"Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it one hundred times and failed."

Since dealing with life’s unpredictability requires protection from a force or a power greater than ourselves, this notion of turning to a power beyond our limited ego is associated with religious activities. Such associations might scare many people off.  Countless numbers of people have been abused or oppressed by certain organized religions, and their walls go up when the topic of God or Higher Power is raised. At the same time, turning to the force, or God Within, or whatever name you would like to assign to it, can be tremendous help when it comes to embracing vulnerability and coping with tragic life events. In a very real way, reclaiming God from oppressive religious institutions that hold a monopoly on God is a form of activism. People can learn to have a direct relationship with the God of their understanding and cut out the middleman. As the Sufi poet Jami reminded us:

 “When it is possible to hear the Beloved (God) speak Himself, why listen to second-hand reports?”

A meditation that focuses on love energy in your heart is an intoxicating way to remember the God of your understanding and deepen your connection to Him / Her. At the same time, it is important to note that not all organized religions are oppressive. In fact, there are many people who have had positive religious experiences, and they turn to praying in troubled time. People should never take their freedom of religion for granted. We all need to be respectful of each other’s chosen path, as long as one’s faith does not involve hatred and violence.

In addition to rely on a Higher Power, we can also do our individual part to embrace vulnerability. Embracing our vulnerability requires us to become grounded and cultivate humility. Knowing that we are “at the mercy of the physical world” and letting go of the things we cannot change can help us to become humble and grounded. It is liberating to deal with vulnerability when we come from place of humility. Having humility makes it easier to ask for help and not feel the pressure of facing everything by ourselves. It takes courage to reach out and seek support from others when we experience suffering. 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. It is also an example of being brave and letting ourselves be seen in such a vulnerable state of suffering, without hiding out of shame.

Practicing mindfulness can also help us deal with vulnerability. 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. Paying attention to the sensation of water on our body during a shower and noticing the taste of our food when we eat are also examples of being mindfully present. When we practice mindfulness, we are in the moment, and we don’t get lost in our worries. We can rely on mindfulness to witness our vulnerability with compassion and without judgment.

In summary, we may put our vulnerable existence in perspective by accepting it and taking measures to make ourselves feel safe. These measures include seeking support, training our mind to stop worrying about the future and live in the moment, connecting to our inner strength, and asking for help from a power greater than ourselves. What a relief to know that we don’t have to put pressure on ourselves to do the impossible task of controlling every aspect of our life journey.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a mental health counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Vortex of Love

When I notice my small house plant by the window, I see a love affair between the plant and the sunlight. This connection gives rise to the plant’s movement toward the light, and the sun validates this movement by pouring light on the plant. It is as if the plant is saying to the sun “I love you, and I need you,” and the sun keeps giving. In the words of the Sufi poet Hafiz, the sun never tells the plant “you owe me”. Such a love affair “lights the whole sky”.

Just as my house plant spontaneously moves toward the sunlight, there is in each of us a natural impulse for moving toward wholeness both individually and collectively. This striving toward wholeness can lead to embracing oneness of our humanity.

As my Somatic Experiencing® studies progress, I become more convinced that this movement toward wholeness and embracing oneness needs to involve working with our collective nervous system. We all have an autonomic nervous system that given proper care can shift toward a social engagement system. This engagement can be infused with kindness when we focus on our loving resources in life and the bodily sensations that accompany it. Through somatic awareness, we can notice the sensation of love in our hearts and let it intoxicate our nervous system. From this grounded emotional base, we can lovingly impact our social engagement system.

When we become a kind and supportive resource for each other, on a collective level, we are letting the sensation of love, like a thread, weave our nervous system together. This is how humanity can embrace oneness not just as a beautiful concept but as a lived experience. By tracking the sensation of love, we are imprinting our nervous system with the power of love. We are teaching our nervous system to shift away from greed and competition and stay with the desire to cooperate and connect. The world in its current state needs more love. With one nervous system at a time, we can learn to release the effect of our unresolved trauma which often blocks our movement toward wholeness and redeem our aliveness. Increased somatic awareness of aliveness can help people not to stay frozen in oppressive political circumstances and march toward liberation.

For many, the journey toward wholeness can be in a circular motion. When I recall supportive resources in my life, I often notice a warm pleasant sensation circling around my heart, and one of my hands spontaneously moving in a circular motion above my chest and getting closer to my heart. When I slow down the movement, it is like entering a warm life-affirming vortex of love which is opposite to the vortex of trauma. The image that arises spontaneously is a whirling dervish dancing in ecstasy and merging with the Beloved.  As I notice the sensation, I can go deeper and deeper into the vortex of love and move toward homeostasis of oneness with humanity. This is what the wisdom of the body can do for us, and this is how in the words of Rumi, we can "find a voice that does not use words."

I am grateful to the Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute for providing training and tools that has deepened my personal journey toward wholeness.

© Payam Ghassemlou, Ph.D., is a SE student and a psychotherapist (licensed marriage and family therapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California.