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October 6, 2014

There are no happy ever afters, they simply don’t exist. This of course is an analogy for when we embark on the completion of a goal, of sorts we decide that we are going to put up with a variety of obstacles so that at the end of the day we will find ourselves in this obstacle/problem free reality, where we shall reside with our loved ones in forever bliss.

Versions of this logical fallacy can be found in religious doctrines, children’s story books and Hollywood block buster movies. A person goes through a struggle, accomplishes a certain goal and seemingly never suffers or struggles again. Except of course if it’s the sequel to block buster movie. In real life people make decisions with this paradigm of thinking and experience disappointing results.

For example, an overweight person gets on a diet, loses the necessary weight, then ends the diet. He or she is then sorely disappointed when in a year later or sometimes less, the weight returns. In truth the diet should have been forever, a lifestyle change for the good, at least until you make an even better lifestyle change.

So in relation to the analogy, the diet is the journey and upon accomplishment of the goal (losing x amount of weight) a new journey begins which will be to maintain the new weight. To end the diet program, means a likely regression into the old diet that never worked out for the person in the first place.

Another example would be some of the clients I work with, be it for anger management, or treatment for anxiety or depression, often the first phase of treatment involves a client holding his breath as he practices the cognitive behavioral strategies towards improvement on his issues. This usually doesn’t work, as he never learns to feel comfortable tackling his issues and any improvements made is quickly negated by disappointment because improvements usually lead to more challenges that need to be tackled. The second phase of treatment involves getting the client to recognize that challenges are a normal part of life, and getting into the habit of finding happiness even during the process of change.

If you a are looking to change your life, you should do so with the belief that whatever journey you embark upon is going to transition into a new journey upon accomplishment of your stated goal. There will always be problems to solve, So this means that it is unwise to put all of your happiness into the accomplishment of any goal. The challenge is to find your place of content in the process of anything you are going to accomplish any goal, with the goal itself being the equivalent to icing on the cake.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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May 15, 2013

I was at a bike shop that I frequent and as the cashier was ringing my purchase up, she asked me what I did for a living. Being in private practice sometimes presents with a
paradox, it’s not something I am eager to tell everyone about, but at
the same time it is.

Either way, after I shared with her that I am a psychotherapist, she leaned forward and asked if it was truly possible to change your life through thinking. She further
shared that she had been informed that one could not think themselves
out of a problem and that problems were best addressed by changing habits.

This is the long version of what I shared with her. First, if you are going to change a habit (I presume an unhealthy habit) you are going to have to think up what the
replacement habit is going to be and have an idea or expectation
about how well the replacement habit is going to work for you.

The only time thinking doesn’t work in solving problems is if there is no follow through. Really, it’s not so much the thinking or thought processes, but a person’s core beliefs. If you have ever been led to believe that you can change an unhealthy habit without addressing your beliefs, feelings and thought processes, you are going to be disappointed or perhaps be in denial about being disappointed.

Habits are actions, reoccurring actions executed by living organisms (in this case human beings) are behaviors. All behaviors are a result of how we think, and how we
think is influenced by our feelings and our feelings are influenced by our core beliefs.

Let’s say you have a person who recently experienced an assault to her person hood. Let’s say that this person has core beliefs of self reliance and assertiveness. It wouldn’t be a surprise to people who know this person if she enrolls in some self defense classes to prepare her self in the event her safety were to be threatened or compromised by a perpetrator again.
So here you have a core belief of self reliance and assertiveness, influencing feelings of empowerment and courage, which leads to thinking that she should take some self defense classes which leads to evenings of practicing take downs at the neighborhood dojo.

So what happens if I receive a client who recently experienced an assault to her person hood, but she does not hold core beliefs of self reliance and assertiveness? This first part is tricky, because after establishing rapport and without offending her, I will have to get her to realize what her core beliefs are. Which will most likely be the opposite of self reliance and assertiveness. The truth is, a lot of people are in denial about their core beliefs, but their behaviors give them away, all the time.

Once a person without shame or self prejudice can identify an unhealthy core belief or beliefs, then that person is properly on his or her way to true recovery. Thinking your way to solutions, is relatively easy once you have gone through the emotional gauntlet of tackling your core beliefs. Mental health issues occur on a spectrum, however in the absence of structural damage to the brain or a chemical in-balance, lies a core set of beliefs that are
maladaptive to a person’s problems. From issues like poor anger management to chronic anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, these are all symptoms of flawed beliefs.

The short of what I shared with the cashier? It is unrealistic for anyone to adopt a new habit that deep down they have found no reason to believe in.

So what are your thoughts about this post? I do read all comments.

Ugo Uche is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions a small counseling practice based in Tucson AZ.

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April 22, 2013
This is part two of last week’s post about understanding anxiety and depression. So first things being first,  I will start off with how to heal from anxiety.
Step One, Therapeutic Healing from Anxiety
Healing from anxiety is a straight forward but challenging process, obviously the more severe the anxiety, the more challenging the process of healing is going to be. The first step towards healing from anxiety is re addressing how your beliefs influence you. More specifically, why do you believe the things you believe?
A reoccurring theme regarding all anxious thoughts have to do with anything that leads to an early demise. Due to our instinct as animals to survive, most of us willingly embrace beliefs that imply “guarantees”. Guarantees that things will go our way and that we will live a long and happy life. The first step towards healing from anxiety is identifying beliefs you hold that imply guarantees to things going your way and seeing these beliefs as not guarantees but likelihoods. For example, getting an annual physical increases the likelihood that you will live a long life,  getting an annual physical does not guarantee you good health.
The process of coming to see all guarantees (except death) as myths involves adopting an attitude of courage. An attitude of courage involves coming to accept the unknown. The only power we have as people are the personal choices we make on a daily basis. While our choices do have influence in our lives, and our immediate surroundings,  our choices don’t guarantee things going our way,  we really do the best we can do to increase the likelihood of things going our way.
A mental health professional can guide you through evidence based strategies designed to help you practice courage. A popular strategy for people who need to practice courage in facing their fears is exposure therapy.
The premise of exposure therapy is helping a client become desensitized to his or her fears through gradual, measured and repeated exposures to situations and circumstances that provoke their fears. Over repeated exposure a client comes to recognize just how irrational his or her fears are and gets into the habit of accepting life on life’s terms.
Evidence based therapy is also highly effective for panic attacks and obsessive compulsive habits. With panic attacks people become highly stressed and sensitized to the slightest trigger of stress in their lives, often times these are people who are in unhealthy situations they are acutely aware of. However they have come to believe that they have no choice but to stay in the situation. This is essentially the description of anxiety I gave in my previous blog post, except that people who suffer from panic attacks are caught in a vicious cycle where they physiologically respond to stress the same way they would in a life or death situation. With obsessive compulsive behaviors, people have sub consciously chosen to avoid facing the issues that bother them and they focus their energies exercising power on control on meaningless things. For example, “if I touch the door handle three times, it would give me good luck while driving to work.”
Step Two: Eating to Heal from Anxiety
The second step is changing your diet. It is especially difficult to change the thought process of an anxious person, because once the emotional regulator of the brain called the amygdala has been triggered. When the amygdala has been triggered, the fight or flight instinct becomes dominant,  lessening access to the frontal cortex, the latest addition to the human brain, designed for problem solving.
Your diet doesn’t necessarily need a major over haul, unless you are experiencing some serious health issues. You just need to begin consuming certain foods with nutrients which leads to a calmer cognition and physiology.
For example, did you know that seaweed is good for anxiety? Seaweed contains two important ingredients that help with anxiety.  The first being magnesium and the second being tryptophan.
Research studies have suggested that one of the many benefits of magnesium is lowering high blood pressure. People who struggle with chronic anxiety experience chronic stress about their anxiety and some research has shown that chronic stress is related to high blood pressure and heart disease. Fish, cashews, potatoes, bananas, beans and almonds are some examples of foods rich in magnesium.
In regards to tryptophan, once it enters the bloodstream, it is converted to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter the body uses to elevate moods, calming the mind and it also promotes a healthy sleep cycle. Foods rich in tryptophan are chicken, turkey,fish, yogurt, cashews, almonds walnuts, sunflower seeds, black beans and peanuts.
In summary a combination of evidenced based therapy and consuming certain foods that promotes a healthier and calmer cognition is the best evidenced based approach for treating anxiety. Obviously, this post does not contain exhaustive information for treating anxiety, however it does help lay  ground work for you to follow up with a therapist and a nutritionist to heal yourself.
In a follow up post, I will discuss natural healing strategies for depression.

If you like what you just read, please feel free to share with people you believe would benefit from reading this post.

Also all feed backs are most welcome in the comment section.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling and life coaching service.
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