Psychology Today Blog

The Thanksgiving Recipe You Just Have to Try

Gratitude is good for us, good for others, and easier than pie.

The healthiest thing on the menu this Thursday isn’t turkey and dressing, or even tofurkey and gluten-free pumpkin pie. It’s gratitude. READ MORE ->

Transformation and the Symbols of Holy Week

Holy Week, like all religious symbols, can illumine and transform your life.

Religious symbols are technologies of transformation. The images, stories, and rituals of religion meet us where we are and carry us to some new place, to some new us. They grab hold of us in Kansas, transport us to Oz, and bring us back to a Kansas now somehow changed, as an us also somehow changed. READ MORE ->

The Most Important Question in Therapy

“What do you want?” is a question you can follow all the way to a better life.

My dad likes to tease me that therapists have an easy job. “All you really have to do,” he says, “is ask people, ‘How does that make you feel?’”

Feelings are definitely important, and people need connection with their emotional selves to be happy and healthy. So I do ask about feelings a lot. But if you’re looking for the most important question in therapy, in my view, it’s this: “What do you want?” READ MORE ->

Love and Courage in Ukraine

A man runs through a war zone to drive his in-laws to safety.

Here’s a story of love and courage from Ukraine.

My brother Marshall has friends and professional colleagues in Ukraine, and he has been in close contact with many of them during the build-up to war and its current tragic advance. Yesterday, one of his friends told him this story about her brother, and I share it here with her permission. READ MORE ->

Ash Wednesday and the Body

The deep listening of Lent includes listening to our bodies.

Spirituality and religion are phenomena of the body. At the heart of the word “religion” is the root lig, as in ligament, and many religious practices are robustly physical: bowing, kneeling, singing, dancing, washing, eating, and fasting. In the Hebrew of the Jewish Scripture and the Greek of the Christian New Testament, the word for “spirit” is also the word for “breath.” This innately somatic quality of “spirit” is also evident in English, in body words like respiration and perspiration. READ MORE ->

Passover, Holy Week, and the Psychology of Self-Absorption

Spirituality and religion can blow the self-absorption right out of us.

Two days ago, I shared a post called “The Opposite of Spiritual.” It was a response to a wonderful question, submitted by a regular reader of this column, that asked, in essence, “Is there some innately spiritual thread that runs through all people, people of different religious traditions, even people who don’t resonate with any religious tradition?” In reply, I suggested that one way to get a sense of what spiritual thread might be, and what “spiritual” means, is to ponder what “not-spiritual” means. Just as we understand up, hot, and loud in contrast to their opposites—down, cold, and quiet—“spiritual” is also something we might understand in relation to its opposite. And the opposite of spiritual, I offered, is mechanical. My main point was that spiritual experience and spiritual practice interrupt the automatic-pilot, stimulus-response patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior we could do in our sleep. Not unrelatedly, to be spiritual, say many of the world’s enduring religions, is to be awake. (You can read the question and my response by clicking here.) READ MORE ->

The Opposite of Spiritual

To understand what “spiritual” is, consider what it’s not.

Q: What does it mean to be spiritual? I know that is a big question. I also know that what it means to be spiritual is different in different religions, that people from the same religion experience being spiritual in different ways, and that you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. But I’m wondering whether you think there are any qualities or features of spirituality that cut across these differences and are universal. And if so, in your opinion, what are they?  READ MORE ->

Spirituality Rarely Wears a Name Tag

Q: I ’m a therapist with a strong spiritual orientation (Roman Catholic my entire life). I would love for spiritual conversations to be more a part of my therapy practice, for my clients’ sake (I believe that being more spiritually oriented would be helpful to them) and for my sake (I believe having more spiritually oriented conversations would be satisfying and meaningful for me). But it is rare that any of my clients ever mentions this part of their life, and I feel that it is not my place to bring it up. So I feel stuck and a little frustrated. Can you share a perspective on this that might help un-stuck me?  READ MORE ->

Grief in December 2020

Q: I’m a therapist, writing with a question about grief. December always seems like a grief-heavy month in my practice, with clients feeling sad about people they’ve lost who aren’t with them at the holidays. But this December I’m noticing more grief than any I can remember, and I imagine this is happening in the practices of most therapists. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, especially your thoughts about what our clients need from us. READ MORE ->

The Divide That Matters More Than Red and Blue

Q: I am worried about the intense political division in the U.S. People on opposite sides don’t understand each other, don’t know how to understand each other, and often, don’t seem to want to understand each other. I know this is not new, but it feels like it’s getting worse. And it’s scary. What can we do? READ MORE ->

Therapy After the Election

Q: I’m a therapist, and I care deeply about the outcome of the election next week. I don’t bring up politics with my clients, but they bring it up with me. I’d guess that 75% of them want the same outcome I do, and 25% want the opposite. If “my side” wins, I think I’ll be fine. I care about those 25% of clients as much as I do about the 75%, and I think I’ll be able to empathize with their heartbreak and fear if the causes and candidates they believe in should lose. (Which I hope they do.) But if it goes the other way, if “my side” loses, I’m not sure I’ll even be able to get out of bed, let alone do therapy. I don’t know what I’ll have to offer the 75% who will be just as devasted as I’ll be. And being with the 25% who’ll be thrilled makes me nauseated even to imagine. Part of me wants to take next week as a vacation week. But another part thinks that this is the week people will need me more than ever, and I truly want to be there for them. How are you and other therapists preparing for what happens after the election? How do we show up for others who are strongly affected by a moment when we’re as affected by it as they are?  READ MORE ->

How Often Is Spirituality a Part of Psychotherapy?

Q: Some of my clients want to talk about spiritual issues in psychotherapy, but most don’t. So I’m curious. With what percentage of your clients are you doing spiritually integrated psychotherapy?  READ MORE ->

Five Spiritual Practices for Election Season

A few days ago, I responded to a timely question about the stress of election season. Here’s that question again:

Q: Help! It’s election season! I care about what’s happening in our country (and in the world), and I want to stay engaged. But all I’m really doing is watching a lot of news, scrolling my phone, and feeling more and more overwhelmed and bitter. I swing back and forth between anger and fear, and what bothers me most is the way my anger is turning to hatred. Could you offer some encouragement or advice to help me survive the next 70 days? READ MORE ->

Five More Spiritual Practices for Election Season

Q: Help! It’s election season! I care about what’s happening in our country (and in the world), and I want to stay engaged. But all I’m really doing is watching a lot of news, scrolling my phone, and feeling more and more overwhelmed and bitter. I swing back and forth between anger and fear, and what bothers me most is the way my anger is turning to hatred. Could you offer some encouragement or advice to help me survive the next 70 days?  READ MORE ->

What Do I Do with My White Guilt?

Q: I’m white and, like many other white people since the death of George Floyd, I have immersed myself in reading, listening, and learning about racism—the racism around me and within me—and committed myself to the ongoing work of anti-racism. I know I don’t understand what that commitment means and where it will take me, but the fire in me is strong about this, and I trust it. What I’m struggling with is guilt. Why did it take me this long to wake up? Why did it take yet another killing of a Black man to get my attention? I’ve read that white people don’t need to ask Black people to assuage our guilt for us, that we need to talk with other white people about this. So that’s my question. What do I do with this sickening feeling of guilt? READ MORE ->

Stop Hesitating

One week after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and following a week of protests across the world, Elizabeth McCorvey, a social worker in Asheville, North Carolina, began sharing “Stop Hesitating,” a one-page guide for white therapists about how to engage black clients about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, protests, and racial trauma in general. McCorvey provides psychotherapy to college students at UNC-Asheville and also does office-based and equine-assisted psychotherapy. Her focus is working with people of color and LGBTQIA identified individuals. She graciously agreed to share some of her thoughts in this space. READ MORE ->

Spiritual Wisdom in the Time of COVID-19

Q: I wrote to you a few weeks ago and asked for spiritually informed mental health advice for coping with the many coronavirus stresses. I appreciate the recommendations you offered. Now I have a related but different question: What are you learning from your clients about coping with this pandemic? And can you share some of that? READ MORE ->

20 Beats 19

Q: I’m not a therapist, but I’ve been reading your blog anyway. It looks like all your questions so far have come from therapists, but I hope you’ll answer this one from someone who’s not. My question is: are there any spiritually-informed, mental-health-savvy words of wisdom you’d offer about living with the stress of the coronavirus?  READ MORE ->

How Do I Start Talking with my Clients about Spirituality?

Q: It got so drilled into me in grad school, “Do not impose your own spiritual ideas,” that I’m basically afraid to wade into these waters of spirituality with my clients. Your book was helpful to me, but I’m still working up my nerve to engage my clients in this area. If you were going to suggest one thing, one simple way to start, what would it be?  READ MORE ->

Why Not Leave Spirituality to the Spiritual Professionals?

Q:  I’m a therapist who values my clients’ (and my own) spirituality, but I’m uneasy getting too involved with it in therapy. Spirituality is so complex and consequential, and there are professionals who are better trained at working with it than I’ll ever be — ministers, chaplains, spiritual directors. Wouldn’t it be better to let them handle the spiritual issues and let me handle the mental health issues?   READ MORE ->

“The wound is the place where the light enters you”

- Rumi

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