Coping and Personal Growth

02Jan 2019

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The stock market is crashing. Our government is in chaos. There seems to be a new shooting or act of terrorism every week. The planet is heating up more rapidly than predicted, as we endure catastrophic fires, storms and floods. War, nuclear threats, and authoritarian regimes continue to imperil populations and the world order internationally. While children are still being caged on the US-Mexico border. If you experienced new levels of anxiety and worry in 2018 you’re not alone.

So what’s to be done? How do we cope with all of the bad news?

As a psychotherapist (and occasional political activist) I believe each of us individually and groups of us collectively can and do make a difference. At a personal level we can change the course of our lives and our relationships when we function from the highest, most evolved version of ourselves. History shows that we are capable of great things when we rise to the occasion. We are often at our very best when things are at their worst.

And history proves that hope is reasonable and appropriate even during times of war, poverty, epidemic, and economic depression. That’s not to minimize the tragedy of great suffering and loss, personally and globally. One aspect of good mental health is the ability to experience all of our feelings – fully, without repression or denial – and to practice acceptance as a first step toward recovery.

There is reason for hope and renewal in 2019 and beyond. Hope itself is one of our most important coping skills. Hope followed by positive action is highly effective in creating change. As Andy told his friend Red in the movie Shawshank Redemption, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Reasons for Hope

  • Our system of government and our constitution are strong and enduring. History is on our side (we have survived and thrived after civil war, world wars, impeachments, The Great Depression, and The Great Recession of 2008).
  • The murder rate is actually trending downward in 2018 (despite mass shootings).
  • There are numerous indications of progress in the battle against global warming (such as international climate accords and progress in the development of nuclear fission, which will result in an endless source of clean, cheap power)
  • National and grass-root movements are achieving positive results in the areas of civil rights, gun violence, sexual harassment, and other important social causes.
  • Breakthroughs in medicine and world health include reductions in cancer and HIV deaths, and other improvements in treating and preventing heart disease, cholera, TB, and leprosy.
  • Progress is inevitable – it is an invariable rule of history. We will continue to have many challenges in the future, and those challenges provide us with endless opportunities for positive growth and development.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Progressive Recovery

In which I argue that recovery is much more than repair and restoration. Individuals may “recover” from addiction, depression, and trauma – with abstinence, a return to “normal” functioning, and the ability to live life without dysfunction or disorder. Progressive Recovery is the intention to live life fully, to practice a healthy and robust life style, and to create positive change in ourselves and our world. In Progressive Recovery we grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, and relationally, and we create healthy, productive, cooperative, and loving families and communities.

Imagine a world of people united in their efforts to create a world at peace, to end homelessness, poverty and hunger, to end violence, and to care properly for our planet (thank you John Lennon – you were a dreamer, and you were not the only one). These efforts begin at home. These efforts are relational – including our relationship with ourselves and with others.

7 Steps of Progressive Recovery

  1. Place the Adult in Charge – In my “Who’s In Charge?” self-help model I define our Adult self as loving and responsible. All of us have an Inner Child, an inner Teenager (often lost and angry), and an Inner Critic. Fortunately, we can learn to put the Adult in charge. The Adult is caring, compassionate, empathetic, responsible, and relational. Children and teenagers are often selfish and aggressive. Adults understand the value of sharing, compromise, and the delay of gratification. Who’s in charge in your relationships? Who’s in charge of the world today?
  2. Practice Non-Reactivity – The lessons we learned from the Buddha, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. remain highly relevant and effective. Non-violent, cooperative relationships are creative and productive. We teach non-reactivity to couples who experience relationship distress. It’s a fundamental step toward relationship repair and positive connection.
  3. Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance – The term radical acceptance was popularized by Tara Brach, a psychologist and proponent of Buddhist philosophy and practice. Mindfulness is based in eastern meditative practice, and is defined as moment-to-moment awareness without judgment. When we practice these methods in our daily lives, we approach all problems, personal, interpersonal, and societal with equanimity, understanding, and a belief in loving-kindness for ourselves, for others, and for our planet.
  4. Holistic Communal Wellness – Holistic health considers the whole person – mind, body, spirit and emotions. Holistic communal wellness considers the whole person, the whole family, and the whole community, including the world community. The major religions of the world, quantum physics, and progressive political movements all agree that we are one. We are not simply isolated individuals grouped together in communities and countries. And we do not simply share space together. The actions of one person affect many others. When we care for our personal health, our bodies and our minds, we are more likely to care for the health of others. And as we create optimal health and mental health conditions for our neighbors, communities, and other nations, we also heal ourselves.
  5. Positive Connections and Partnerships – Building upon holistic communal wellness, we achieve more, create more, and solve more problems when we practice social intelligence in all our affairs. We build productive partnerships with cooperation and compromise to benefit everyone.
  6. Giving Back to Others – In Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, Dr. Chopra reviews the “Law of Giving and Receiving”. He states that everything in the universe operates through dynamic exchange. Every relationship is one of give and take. Each of us thrives in direct proportion to our acts of generosity and love.
  7. Practice Gratitude and Forgiveness – Research studies have shown that the daily practice of gratitude is one of the most important keys to happiness. We will never lack for situations and events in life that make us disappointed and angry. (Actually, nothing can “make us” angry. Anger is a choice, albeit an unconscious decision. But that’s for another article.) Today we can practice forgiveness – letting go of the anger, and replacing it with understanding, compassion, and gratitude.

All of us at the Relationship Center of South Florida wish you and your family a very happy, healthy, peaceful, and abundant 2019.

For additional information on anxiety and worry, coping skills, and trauma recovery, please contact us today.

09Nov 2018

The True Story of Thanksgiving

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Most historians agree that the true story of Thanksgiving is quite different from what we were taught in grade school. As children, we learned that the Pilgrims left England to avoid religious persecution – only to face starvation and a brutal winter near Plymouth Rock. We were taught that the locals there (Native Americans) generously helped the Pilgrims to survive on local plants and wildlife, and they helped to protect them from other hostile tribes. Sometime later, these early settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving to honor a bountiful harvest with the natives who helped them.

Spoiler alert: The true story of Thanksgiving has a dark, shadow side.

The True Story

Not that historians agree on all of the facts. After all, Thanksgiving started some 400 years ago. The oral and written accounts from four centuries ago are certainly incomplete. CNN and Fox News weren’t around to report on all of the facts. (Seems we haven’t made that much progress since then. Even today with fact-checking and objective reporting “the truth” is hard to find.)

We do know that the actual history of Thanksgiving is complicated and disturbing. Should we start with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Native Americans? Before we go there, please know that it is not my intention to tarnish a happy holiday with guilt and depression. Rather, today in the 21st Century, isn’t it time to face the realities of our deep divisions, our fears of the “other” who threatens us, and our mistreatment of those we want to subjugate? Anger, blame, and self-righteous judgment has become a national and political reality. And this occurs in our personal relationships as well (no need to quote the current statistics on divorce, domestic violence, and sexual harassment).

Perhaps if – no, when we face these realities we can begin the process of healing and positive change. One important aspect of healing is gratitude – the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I suggest that we also incorporate a process of honest reflection, and a higher level of consciousness that includes respecting and cherishing those who are different from us, and atonement for our transgressions.

The traumatic history of Native Americans actually started before the Pilgrims landed in New England. Previously, British slaving ships brought their cattle to America, but they didn’t know that the cattle were infected by smallpox. The local tribes lacked antibodies to fight this disease, and the results were devastating: Over ninety percent of them died. In today’s terms, an unwanted, “invading” caravan of white men nearly destroyed the native population. That time it wasn’t intentional. The intentional massacre happened soon thereafter.

The local tribes helped the Pilgrim refugees to survive their first dreadful year in the New World. These generous indigenous peoples were not exactly rewarded for their efforts. Rather, the Pilgrims proceeded to steal their supplies of grain. Maybe the British settlers were starving and they had no other choice. There is ample evidence to suggest that the locals and the Pilgrims were in the same boat. Food and other resources necessary to survival were in short supply, and conditions were harsh and dangerous. If they did celebrate the first Thanksgiving together it was probably not a “cross-cultural love-fest” (see footnote). Rather, they became untrusting allies as they fought off other hungry tribes of Native Americans.

In fact, the British colonists considered the natives to be nothing more than “uncivilized and satanic heathens” (ibid). Not long after the first Thanksgiving, a band of Puritans from England descended upon the Pequot tribe and slaughtered over 700 men, women, and children. In the years following this massacre, a “day of thanksgiving” was celebrated after many similar episodes of carnage.

So how should we celebrate Thanksgiving in light of this true story? What should this day really mean to us? These days we tend to neglect even the old traditional notion of Thanksgiving as a day of gratitude. At best we celebrate our family and friends coming together in recognition of our love for each other. But even these sentiments are frequently lost in the shuffle of meal preparation, over-consumption, excessive drinking, and football.

On top of that, should we ignore or deny our history – one that is riddled with discrimination, oppression, racial and ethnic persecution – even ethnic cleansing? When our denial is on such a grand scale, how can we be sure that we don’t mistreat people we interact with on a daily basis – even those that we love? I believe my chosen profession has a responsibility to bring into awareness that which we tend to hide from. Only through non-judgmental awareness can we recognize what needs to be changed to create something more positive for ourselves and for others.

A Thanksgiving which ignores the systematic destruction of Indian cultures which followed hot on the heels of the Plymouth feast not only does a disservice to indigenous peoples, it falsifies our understanding of ourselves and our history. 

Jane Kamensky, Professor of History, Brandeis University

Only by openly acknowledging the sins of our collective past, is it possible to proceed toward a future that all Americans can feel thankful for. (See footnote)

A Conscious and Honorable Thanksgiving

As I reflect on the anger I feel toward those I disagree with, and as I practice awareness of my prejudice and tendency to blame others, I come up with some thoughts that I hope will guide me toward a new understanding of Thanksgiving:

  • We’re not in this alone. It doesn’t have to be us against them. We aren’t simply Red and Blue States. We’re the United States, and it’s up to us – not just our leaders but all of us – to work toward unity.
  • We can and we do hurt others. We need to take responsibility for our trespasses and our cruelty and we can make amends and reparations.
  • That which is good for one of us is good for all of us. We live in a world of abundance. There’s enough to go around for everyone.
  • As a couples therapist and marriage counselor – and as a husband who continues to learn how to create loving partnership – I know that cooperation and compassion is possible even when we strongly disagree.
  • Something magical happens when I get out of my own way. When I stop being selfish and self-absorbed I can be helpful, loving, and cooperative. Then the magic happens: the love and generosity comes right back to me.
  • Compassion, understanding, and empathy conquers power struggle, fear, shame, and the need to be in control.
  • Forgiveness and gratitude cures almost every form of relationship distress, and the same can be applied to families, communities, and nations.
  • All of us at the Relationship Center of South Florida wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a bountiful, tenderhearted holiday season.

Footnote: Historical research and source material: Schiffman, Richard, The Truth About Thanksgiving: What They Never Taught You in School,, 11/21/2011.

24Oct 2018

Fighting for Mental Helath

How Boxing, Martial Arts, (and Other Sports) Keep Us Sane

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Every Tuesday and Thursday I hit Luis. I hit him hard, and I hit him repeatedly. No, I do not need an anger management program. Luis is my trainer and he’s a professional boxer. I don’t actually hit Luis. He wears punching mitts, which I hit in various patterns known as “combinations”. It’s definitely not your ordinary, boring workout at the gym. It’s exciting, and boxing is one of the most effective cardiovascular and strength training workouts available. And it’s a highly effective coping skill for dealing with stress and building self-esteem.

The Mind-Body Connection

There are several significant, documented benefits of boxing and other martial arts. Similar benefits result from yoga and other sports. I’ve tried almost all of them, but boxing is the best overall full-body workout I’ve ever experienced. Research studies prove that intense, sustained exercise results in significant improvements in physical and mental health and well-being, including improved stress management and self-esteem. We’ve known for years that a healthy mind and a healthy body are closely linked. The physical health benefits of boxing include:

  • Cardiovascular endurance – Promotes efficient heart, blood vessel and lung functions, for improved metabolism, muscular endurance, strength and flexibility. Also leads to better sleep, stronger heart and lungs, and a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers. For many years, I’ve been a runner, biker, swimmer, and a gym rat with regular use of elliptical and stair climber machines. Boxing is the best cardio workout I’ve ever experienced.
  • Weight loss and maintenance – Boxing burns calories more efficiently than most sports with the possible exception of running, swimming and biking. Some medical research indicates greater health benefits with shorter bursts of very intense cardio performance – a regular aspect of boxing (I do several intense 3 minute rounds with Luis). And boxing is a great motivation for better diet and nutritional habits.
  • Improved coordination and balance – Boxing is a full body workout that also emphasizes what I call the stance and dance. We focus on standing in a specific position and dancing around the room both offensively and defensively. The training exercises I perform to practice these moves, and the actual boxing itself is excellent training for balance, posture and coordination.

Four Major Mental Health Benefits

Boxing has significantly enhanced my mental health and sense of well-being. Most forms of intense exercise can claim similar results. These mental health benefits include reduced levels of anxiety and depression, a positive mind-set, improved stress management, and personal empowerment. For example, Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D., a leading researcher and clinician in the field of trauma recovery (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and trauma from childhood abandonment and abuse) recommends boxing, martial arts, and yoga for improving confidence and self-esteem.

I’ve grouped together four primary mental health benefits and coping skills that result from boxing and similar sports:

  1. A Positive Mind-Set – My first boxing coach told me to relax my face. It seems that I clenched my teeth and had a pained expression – I was anxious and tense. Over time I learned to let go of self-judgment and to keep my focus on stance, technique, and to be fully absorbed in the interaction with my trainer. This is the essence of mindfulness – moment-to-moment awareness without judgment. It’s almost ironic that there is a sense of inner peace in those combative moments when I’m hitting someone! A positive mind-set is achieved with a pure form of focus on the activity at hand. It starts with determination and intention to perform at the highest level possible while enjoying the process.
  2. Personal Empowerment – Boxing builds confidence and improves self-esteem. Human beings are hard-wired for anger and aggression. These are survival mechanisms, and they can be re-wired into positive coping skills. The strength and power that we exercise in boxing come from within. I’ve found that core training includes both mental as well as physical conditioning. Athletic, muscular power is driven and stabilized by core muscles (abdominal, oblique, lats, etc.). Personal empowerment is driven by core personal beliefs – a belief and confidence in yourself and your ability to strive and succeed.
  3. Prevention and Recovery from Mental and Emotional Distress – Studies show that intense physical exercise is associated with reduced levels of anxiety and depression, and improved self-esteem. Boxing is a highly effective form of stress management and anger management. Boxing and other martial arts are invaluable for trauma recovery and PTSD.
  4. Social and Relational Benefits – Relationships are a basic need – just as necessary as food and water. Boxing is very intimate– another ironic aspect of this sport. I’ve developed close relationships with my trainers, and other athletes at my gym. Luis trains my wife and me together on Tuesdays, and I’ve boxed in training groups as well. These have been fun and rewarding social opportunities – but it goes deeper than that. Boxing moves and strategies are fundamentally relational. It’s a great metaphor for several important relationship skills. For example, even in our most intimate relationships we need healthy boundaries: The ability to say no or stop when we feel disrespected or violated. In boxing we stay engaged and we dance together – while keeping our guard up. And the boxing dance – similar to any relationship dance – is more effective and rewarding with proper timing and pacing. When I anxiously pressure my boxing dance, it wears me out and leaves me vulnerable. The same thing happens in intimate relationships when difficult conversations are poorly timed, or when one partner pressures the other. Mindfulness, timing and pacing are highly effective in boxing and in other relationships.

For additional information about stress management, coping skills, and relationship distress, please contact us today. Our counselors and therapists also specialize in trauma recovery, anger management, mindfulness & mind-body methods.

Luis “Cuba” Arias is a professional middleweight boxer who resides in South Florida. He was National U.S. Champion in 2008 and 2010. He has a record of 18 wins, 9 by knock-out, 1 loss and 1 no contest. His next fight is scheduled for November 17, 2018 in Atlantic City, NJ, and will be televised nationally. Luis trains at IHP (Institute for Human Performance) in Boca Raton, Florida. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity and the honor to train with Luis at IHP. I’m also grateful to Juan Carlos Santana, founder of IHP and international fitness consultant – he has been referred to as “the country’s leading practitioner of functional fitness.” I’ve also had the great pleasure of training with Rio Santana at IHP, who specializes in basketball, football, and combat related athletes. Rio taught me the basics of boxing, and he’s a gifted personal trainer. I will always value their professionalism and their friendship.

14Aug 2018

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Cheating, infidelity, and affairs are extremely traumatic events in love relationships. Marriage and committed relationships are fundamentally based in trust and security. Infidelity and trust issues are a leading cause of severe relationship distress. Infidelity is an extreme violation of basic trust and safety in a relationship. There are many types of infidelity, including emotional affairs, sexual affairs, online flirtations, and other violations of trust. Some partners consider the excessive use of pornography as a type of infidelity.

Why Do People Have Affairs?

More than half of the couples we see in therapy and in our Connections marriage retreats have experienced some type of infidelity. It is often a primary focus of our work with couples. Women have affairs less frequently than men, but it’s not uncommon. There are many reasons why people have affairs. Most frequently people who have affairs don’t feel loved or desired, and their circumstances provide an easy opportunity (such as a close work relationship).

The offended partner, sometimes referred to as the injured or betrayed partner, is devastated. Trust is shattered, and this partner feels victimized, violated, deeply wounded emotionally, and often furious. The betraying partner – the one who cheated – may feel ashamed, guilty, anxious, and sometimes relieved that he or she no longer needs to hide this terrible secret.

When an affair is discovered – or strongly suspected – the betrayed partner needs a plan of action. In most cases, the betraying partner should be included in this process.

What should the betrayed partner do? What actions should be taken?

There is no single action that will fit every person and every circumstance. This is not a “One Size Fits All” situation. That being said, the following steps and coping skills are recommended:

  • The devastating emotional impact of the infidelity must be addressed. You should seek out emotional support from a neutral third party. Counseling or psychotherapy is strongly recommended because of the neutrality of the therapist. Talking to a close friend or family member can help, but can also present complications, since in many cases this person already knows your partner, and these relationships may be negatively affected in the future. And can a family member or friend really be neutral?
  • When you have direct evidence that your partner has cheated (or when your partner has already admitted to cheating): You should confront your partner in a non-attacking manner. The best strategy is to state clearly and simply that you know your partner has cheated, and that this behavior is totally unacceptable. Then wait for the response. If your partner denies the affair, then you should provide the evidence, as calmly as possible. If your partner admits to cheating, and is willing to explain and clarify, this can be a productive start. If the situation escalates emotionally, you should take a time out and resume the conversation later, if possible.
  • You should demand that your partner end this relationship immediately. A total no-contact rule is best in these cases. No texts, emails, phone calls, and certainly no in-person meetings. If your partner works with the other person, you should ask your partner to avoid talking to that co-worker about anything other than essential work-related matters. If your partner refuses to end the relationship, it may be time for an ultimatum – either give it up, or face the consequences that you will end your relationship.
  • When there is no definitive evidence, and when your partner denies cheating: This is a more difficult situation that will require time and patience. If you have considerable circumstantial evidence (that is, no actual proof, but it’s more than “just a feeling”) there are some difficult choices to face, and therapy is recommended. In most of these cases, I’ve found that there is already significant relationship distress in addition to the infidelity and trust issues. It may be time for a trial separation – possibly separate bedrooms in the case of married couples or cohabitants. Some time and distance apart can be very revealing.
  • You need to fully experience the depth of emotion that occurs when cheating is revealed. You should allow yourself to feel all of the pain, sadness, fear, anger, and shame without denial or attempts to control the feelings. Meditation and journaling can be quite helpful.
  • Couples therapy is highly recommended. This will provide a forum, in a neutral setting, for you to explore and discuss what happened. Couples therapy is an ideal setting for your partner to explain the cheating and why it happened. Your partner should eventually be able to hear you, with unconditional acceptance and openness, your feelings and concerns. Your partner should be able, after some time in couples therapy, to express empathy and compassion for your emotional injury. The meaning behind the affair should be explored – that is, how and why this happened.
  • Self-care should be a priority. These coping skills include: Eating a nutritious diet, even if you’re not hungry. Avoid drinking excessively. No drugs at all unless prescribed by a physician. Exercise can be very beneficial. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep. If you experience physical distress, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or chronic insomnia – or if you are unable to work – you should consult a physician.
  • Practice positive thinking (when the painful feelings aren’t overwhelming). As difficult as it seems right now, this is a temporary situation. It will pass with time. Often, an affair is a wake-up call. Perhaps there were problems in the relationship that weren’t being addressed; or perhaps your personal needs were not adequately being met in this relationship.
  • Over time, assuming the relationship continues, a process of forgiveness is recommended. Forgiveness does not mean letting your partner off the hook. Rather, it’s a letting go of the anger and resentment. Tell yourself that in forgiving you set yourself free – free from the anger, the pain, and the suffering.

In most cases, therapy is necessary to fully heal and to move on with life in a positive manner. Couples therapy or one of our Connections retreats is highly recommended. For further information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our relationship experts, please contact us today.

03May 2018

Lessons from Westworld – Escape the Maze of Anxiety, Depression, Anger & Shame

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Westworld is a critically acclaimed sci-fi western TV series on HBO, now in it’s second season. As described by, “… this dark odyssey follows the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin.” This provocative show also examines how we are programmed to enact story lines in our lives – stories that are often painful and full of loss, anger, anxiety and worry, depression and shame. Westworld is a dramatic example of how we can learn to change our personal stories.

What is Your “Story”?

All of us have a story – also known as a “narrative.” Actually, we have several interrelated stories running continuously. Some of these stories are conscious, and many are unconscious. Our stories include subjective versions of past history – stories about what happened growing up, about family members, friends, lovers, and important events. And we create a story about who we are, our personal identity, beliefs, and world view.


Try this thought exercise – you might want to write it down. Answer these questions:

  • Who are you? How would you describe your life, your personality, and the kind of person you are?
  • What were the major events in your life so far, and how did these events affect and shape you as a person?
  • Who are the most important people in your life, past and present?
  • What are your biggest accomplishments – how have you been successful?
  • What are your biggest challenges – how do you struggle in life today?
  • What are your most important core beliefs – about people, relationships, politics, religion, and the meaning and purpose of life?

Review your answers. Is this you? Or is this a story about you?

Are You Your Story?

In Westworld, the “Hosts” are androids – robots that look, sound, and feel completely human. Their “brains” are actually highly sophisticated computers that are programmed by humans with a plot – a story – that guides their behavior with the “Guests” (the humans who interact with them at a western-themed amusement park). The Hosts cannot harm the human Guests, but the Guests can do anything they want with the Hosts. Until something goes wrong, and the Hosts begin to evolve… They begin to break free from their programmed narratives – they change the story.

Humans are also programmed with narratives, and we are often unaware of the stories that guide our lives. We are programmed by our parents, schools, our culture, and religion. Throughout our lives we review our internal stories, and gather new information or “evidence” to corroborate these narratives. There are several core themes in our stories – much like the plot lines in Westworld and other dramas. Some are positive and life-affirming, and some are quite distressing. Some common examples of the distressing themes in our stories include:

  • The Victim Theme – We feel victimized by someone or by circumstances. We feel wounded, blamed, helpless and unfairly treated. We believe we are being oppressed or mistreated. We may feel angry or righteous, and we might retreat into passive resignation. Or we may fight back against our real or perceived transgressors.
  • The Shame Theme – Everything from low self-confidence to toxic shame (“I’m not good enough”). When we’re shame-based, we’re often passive, dependent, and feel unlovable. We may become socially isolated due to fears of judgment and rejection, and we may under-function at work due to feelings of inferiority.
  • The Anxiety & Worry Theme – Like film-maker and actor Woody Allen, this theme is fear-based. We don’t feel safe in the world or in relationships. We believe something bad will happen, especially if we’re not hypervigilant or hyper-prepared. We become obsessive, risk-averse, or we may use addictions to self-medicate.
  • The Depression ThemeDepression may be thought of as a diagnosis, a condition, and even a coping mechanism (but not a very good coping skill!). It can also become a story – one that can take over your life and cause endless suffering. It’s a theme of negativity, hopelessness, and helplessness, with a focus on the half-empty glass.
  • The Story About Relationship Distress – This story develops over time in committed relationships and marriage. But, like other themes, this narrative is often influenced by pre-existing stories from childhood (for example, trust issues and insecurity resulting from childhood experiences). These themes contain our subjective explanations for conflict, fighting, distance and other problems. Our story is a personally biased and limited view of what goes wrong in our relationships.

There are many other negative themes and story lines, such as the Angry Theme with blaming and persecution, the Grandiose and Superior Theme (narcissistic, self-absorbed, and better than thou), and the Controlling and Demanding Theme. What are the negative themes in your narrative?

Are You Lost in Your Story?

Most of us have a tendency to get lost in our stories. But you are not your story. It’s not who you are – it’s simply a set of beliefs that run automatically in the background – until the story becomes activated. These narratives are representational – that is, the stories represent some aspects of reality. But there are also distortions in all stories.

When we experience too much anxiety and worry we may be lost in our story about our fears, and we may not recognize that we’re actually safe. When we experience depression, it can become an elaborate narrative about everything that’s wrong or negative – and we’re not able to see the positives and the possibilities because we’re lost in story. When we experience relationship distress, we may rigidly adhere to a negative script or narrative about our partners and why they’re aggravating, wrong or hurtful. But it’s only a subjective story – it’s not the whole truth.

The good news is that you can change your story.

How to Change Your Story

  1. Study the script – The Hosts in Westworld slowly became aware of their own programming. You can do the same. I recommend meditation and journaling. Try writing a script based on your own stories. Describe your character (that would be you): What do you do? What are your beliefs and values? What do you say? How do you create anxiety and worry in your life? How do you create relationship distress?
  2. Rewrite your character – Change the themes in your story. See the themes listed above, and create a new focus, with new choices and intentions. For example, if a major theme in your story is Victim, rewrite a similar story line from the perspective of the Empowered Survivor. Bad things happened to you but emphasize the ways in which you coped effectively – you not only survived, you evolved, and maybe you conquered adversity.
  3. Create new plot lines – At the heart of our stories we create meaning. For example, a shame-based theme means that you will always have self-doubt – it will never be good enough. A new plot would have a more realistic premise: All of us have strengths and positive resources. Even if you’ve failed at something in the past, you haven’t always and won’t always fail. You are much more likely to succeed if you operate from realistic beliefs about your value and your abilities.
  4. Write new outcomes for your story – Envision positive outcomes. Imagine the many possibilities for success at work, at home, and in your relationships. One of the most effective coping skills is to live a life of intention.
  5. Develop new action sequences – Based on the re-written characters in your story, with new plot lines and positive outcomes, create new action sequences. Change your behavior to reflect the new beliefs, meaning, and goals. Act “as if” you are now programmed for success.

These five steps are relatively easy to do. We will never be perfect and we don’t have to be. It’s about progress, not perfection. Our old stories will never disappear completely. But we can override these negative themes with a little patience and perseverance. If your story feels impossibly stuck, our counselors and therapists are here to help. Let’s re-write your story together. Contact us today for more information.

29Mar 2018

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The 5 steps at a glance:

  1. Change Your Mind
  2. Healthy Habits
  3. Heal the Child Within
  4. Stay Connected
  5. Create Purpose

Almost everyone struggles with depression, anxiety and worry at times. Most of the time, these problems are situational or result from ineffective coping skills. Sometimes depression and anxiety can interfere with normal functioning and may require medication or more intensive treatments.

The good news is that most of us can manage – even defeat – depression, anxiety and worry using the following 5 steps:

1. Change Your Mind

We are what we think. The Buddha said that “All that we are is a result of our thoughts.” When we think dark thoughts, our emotions become clouded with negativity. We feel justified when we’re angry, even though the anger erodes our personal serenity. Obsessive worry and rumination results in one major accomplishment: anxiety. The first step in defeating anxiety and depression is to change your mind.

Here are some suggestions for Changing Your Mind:

  • Mindfulness – Practice awareness without judgment. Notice your thoughts and feelings from a place of detachment. Develop a daily meditation practice to help you detach from your negative thinking. Mindfulness is one of the most useful and effective coping skills.
  • Live in the moment – The great philosopher Lao Tzu said that “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
  • Use cognitive-behavioral methods – Keep a journal of your negative thoughts and look for the distortions. Write a positive re-frame for each negative thought. For example, a negative thought might be “I’ll never be able to do this.” The distortion is all-or-nothing thinking and predicting a negative outcome. The re-frame might be “I haven’t done this yet – I can learn to do this with practice and make progress day by day.”
  • Create a new story – When we’re depressed or anxious we’re imprisoned by an old narrative. It’s a story created by the mentality of lack – we don’t have what we need, we’re not good enough, or other people won’t cooperate. Practice a new belief system rooted in abundance. The old story is created as a result of childhood experience – see #3, below. The old story is the past – we can create a new story in the present.
  • Use affirmations – Write a list of your personal strengths. Add 2 or 3 strengths you don’t think you have but would like. Practice reading this list every day with the words “I am ______” before each word (e.g., “I am loving. I am responsible. I am successful.”).
  • Practice acceptance and forgiveness – toward yourself and others. Make a conscious decision to accept yourself for who you are. And forgive them their trespasses – your anger only hurts you in the long run.

2. Healthy Habits

Years of scientific research proves that lifestyle contributes greatly to depression, anxiety and worry. Unhealthy habits often result in unhealthy mental states. Conversely, proper self-care and healthy habits can help you defeat anxiety and depression. Such as:

  • Exercise – Did you know that studies show regular physical exercise is often just as effective as anti-depressant medications? Specifically, rigorous or intense exercise at least 5 times a week – including cardio (walking briskly, running, cycling, swimming) and weight-bearing exercise that increases respiration and perspiration.
  • Good nutrition – A balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with reduced sugar and fat content is associated with stress reduction, better sleep, and improved mood.
  • Sleep – A minimum of 7-8 hours is recommended. Sleep disturbance, such as insomnia, can be both a cause and effect of depression and anxiety.
  • Stress management – Chronic, high levels of stress is a major contributing factor in a great many physical illnesses and disorders. Chronic stress is highly associated with anxiety and depression. Effective stress management includes all of the healthy habits listed here, along with mindfulness practices, counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Chemicals – Avoid them or use them in moderation. Excessive alcohol and drug use, nicotine, and the misuse of certain prescription medications is known to result in problems with anxiety and depression.
  • Work-Life balance – All work and no play make Jack anxious and depressed. We are an over-worked society. Many countries that prioritize healthy work-family-play balance report fewer problems with anxiety and depression.

3. Heal the Child Within

Several recent studies have concluded that there are at least nine major causes of depression and anxiety. Only 2 of the 9 are biological. The World Health Organization, among other authoritative sources, declares that we must deal with the deeper causes of these disorders. What are the deeper causes of depression and anxiety? The answer is now quite clear: childhood trauma due to neglect, abandonment and abuse. To address these deeper causes, we must heal the child within, and develop better coping skills.

  • Ask not what’s wrong with you – ask what happened to you. Years of clinical research and experience teaches us that depression and anxiety result from negative childhood experiences.
  • Inner Child Work – Talk to the child within on a daily basis. Reparent the little girl or boy who lives inside of you. The inner child is not pop psychology – it’s not simply a concept or theory. No, there’s not a little kid running around inside of you. Modern brain science shows that the essence of the child lives in the neural network in our brains. And that child continues to experience emotional pain throughout our lives

It’s easy to talk to your inner child. First read my article “Who’s In Charge?” in our web site. The 2 best methods for connecting with the child within are visualization and journaling. Listen to the child and validate his or her feelings. Let her know that you’re there for her, that you love her unconditionally, and that you will always protect her. For more information about inner child work, contact us today.

  • Trauma Recovery – The child is traumatized as a result of neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Abuse may be verbal, physical or sexual. Even spanking may be a form of abuse. Children are also traumatized when they are over-controlled, experience excessive demands or expectations, or are manipulated into inappropriate roles (such as the “parentified child” – the child who becomes parent to other siblings or the parents themselves).

Trauma recovery work must be conducted by a professional counselor or therapist who is trained in EMDR or other trauma recovery methods.

4. Stay Connected

Not necessarily to your device! Rather, we’re talking about social and family connection. Many research studies now show the necessity and the significant health and mental health benefits of human attachment. People who maintain close, emotionally meaningful attachments to others are healthier and live longer, happier lives. And their rates and incidents of depression and anxiety are lower and less severe.

  • Social supports – Stay close to family, friends, co-workers and others. One of the primary symptoms of depression is social isolation – both a cause and an effect of depression. And anxious people are often socially avoidant. Positive attachments stimulate the production of stress-relieving hormones. Love and friendship is a natural anti-depressant. Take an active part in conversation, sports and fun activities, volunteer activity, cooperative projects, community involvement, and many others.
  • Love, romance, and affection – Possibly the best anti-depressant and de-stressor available. A prominent family therapist once said that every human being needs a minimum of 6 hugs per day. Bring love and romance back into your marriage. It doesn’t take much: flowers; a candle-lit dinner; a sunset walk on the beach; a Sunday picnic; unexpected love notes; a kiss that lingers a little longer…
  • Rehab your marriage (or relationship) – Depression, anxiety and worry are commonplace in distressed relationships. Try couples therapy or one of our Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives.

5. Create Purpose

A life full of meaning and purpose is a great antidote to depression and anxiety. There are hundreds of possibilities for creating purpose in your life, such as:

  • Acts of kindness – In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Dr. Deepak Chopra talks about “The Law of Giving.” He says “The more you give, the more you will receive, because you will keep the abundance of the universe circulating in your life.” Acts of kindness include volunteer work, community involvement and activism, and other philanthropic efforts.
  • Work – My father once told me that his work kept him from being depressed. Productive activity of any type is helpful in maintaining a positive focus – and to refocus away from anxious, worried or other negative thoughts and beliefs. If your daily activity or work lacks meaning, maybe you can change your mind, using the steps in #1, above.
  • Life plan – Do you have a plan? An old friend of mine, a prominent psychiatrist in Virginia, once told me you should always be looking forward to your next vacation (and a visit with relatives is not a vacation). Goals and plans give us something positive to look forward to. Your goals should reflect your primary values, closely associated with the kind of meaning and purpose you want in your life. Also, consider a volunteer vacation – visit a country or community that needs your help. Many such opportunities can be found online (visit sites such as or
  • Continuing education – When is the last time you attended a class, symposium or workshop? Adult education is available in most communities. Most colleges and universities offer free or low cost programs in many areas of interest (politics, art, history, finance, IT, etc.). Intellectual and creative pursuits improve not only your mind, but your state of mind (and mood states).
  • Spirituality – Transpersonal consciousness (beyond personal identity) and various forms of spirituality are comforting, and provide meaning and purpose in our lives. The regular active practice of connecting to higher levels of consciousness or a higher power has been shown to reduce problems with depression and anxiety.
  • Creativity – Art, music, design, and other creative practices engage parts of our brain helpful in mitigating against anxiety and depression. When we literally create meaning and purpose with these parts of our brain, we replace the negative and the worried with positive inspiration.

Our counselors and therapists are experienced in working with all types of depression, anxiety and worry. For further information, and to schedule a consultation, please contact us today.

07Feb 2018


Life Lessons from Star Trek
≈ Star Date September, 2016 ≈
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD


Without followers, evil cannot spread.
Mr. Spock, Season 3

September 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Fifty years of Star Trek on television (five different series) with a new show, Star Trek: Discovery, due to premier on CBS All Access in January, 2017. And 13 motion pictures beginning in 1979, with the most recent release this past summer: Star Trek: Beyond. The original series, developed by screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry, was campy, sophomoric, and way ahead of its time. The moral and ethical philosophy of Star Trek includes 50 years of highly entertaining lessons on coping skills and social skills.

The United Federation of Emotional Intelligence

In Star Trek, Capt. Kirk, the commander of the Enterprise, is emotional, impulsive, and passionate. His emotional intensity is balanced by Science Officer Mr. Spock. Spock is half-human, but operates mostly from his logical Vulcan side. An effective balance between emotion and logic is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and effective social skills (which parallels the alliance of diverse species in the United Federation of Planets). And Spock’s logic often reflected an evolved level of moral and ethical principles – a hallmark of emotional and social intelligence. For example, when the Enterprise returned to the 20th century to save the humpback whales, he remarked that “To hunt a species to extinction is not logical.” To which, the 20th century marine veterinarian Dr. Gillian Taylor replied, “Whoever said the human race was logical?” This balance of emotion with logic is one of our most essential coping skills.

The appropriate expression of primary emotions like anger is another indication of emotional intelligence and good coping skills. Doc McCoy (“Bones”) would frequently express frustration and anger in a manner that was both authentic and endearing (“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”) This was a great example of using effective social skills to manage an emotional crisis.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The main premise of Star Trek is “…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…” One of our most important coping skills is to face our fears and “boldly go” toward the challenges and goals that will improve and expand our personal universe. Capt. James T. Kirk epitomized the no risk – no reward approach to life. He always believed in a positive outcome, and he would never give up. For Kirk, there was no such thing as a no-win scenario. Starfleet designed a simulation called the Kobayashi Maru to test the character of its cadets – the test was designed as a no-win situation. Kirk found a way to defeat the test, saying “I changed the conditions of the test. I don’t like to lose.” The Starfleet Academy questioned his integrity, but could never question his charming social skills – and his ability to get the job done and save humanity.

Aliens are Us – Diversity, Acceptance, and Inclusion

Star Trek aliens are a mirror in which we see the best and worst of ourselves—and one in which we see that we’re not as different from one another as we might think.
Alex Fitzpatrick – TIME’s Star Trek: Inside the Most Influential Science-Fiction Series Ever

Fifty years ago Star Trek explored the strange new world of diversity. The original TV series cast included a racially and culturally diverse group of men and women – many of them in leadership roles. In the fictional 23rd Century, the Star Trek crew found a galaxy full of diverse life forms. The show often emphasized the importance of social skills in sharing the universe with alien creatures. Positive, life-affirming social and coping skills such as non-judgmental acceptance, inclusive practices at work and in communities, teamwork, negotiation and compromise. Skills that seem to be practiced all too infrequently in our relationships and today’s world in general.

The Prime Directive

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive is a non-interference policy which prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. In our current world, this remarkable philosophy and practice is often ignored by governments, families, couples and individuals. As a social skill, non-interference respects the autonomy and free will of others. As a coping skill non-interference helps us maintain serenity and balance by practicing unconditional acceptance and positive regard for other people’s rights, opinions, and behavior.

Character & Friendship

I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.
Mr. Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

On the starship Enterprise, friendship and character always trump ego and explosions. That’s one reason why I’m a Trekkie. The best Star Trek shows and movies are character-driven. And what characters they are! Full of life, love, passion, and friendship – along with Vulcan morals and logical practicality. The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a prime example of friendship and effective social skills across the centuries. And the newest Star Trek movies faithfully replicate (pardon the pun for you Trekkies!) these wonderful characters, and the relationship chemistry in their friendship.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Capt. Jean Luc Picard was a great leader with impeccable character traits. His advanced coping skills were demonstrated beautifully when he accepted an alien presence on his starship, attempting to understand and negotiate with the unwelcome life form – instead of resorting to power struggles and phaser guns.

Sacrifice and selflessness

Many of the problems in our world today can be traced to greed, a sense of entitlement, ego and narcissism. In Star Trek, personality traits, communities, and evolved governments operate from a sense of mutual cooperation for the common good. Social skills such as sacrifice and selflessness seem old-fashioned today, but not in the 23rd Century. In a poignant scene in The Wrath of Khan, Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.” Imagine the possibilities for creating more satisfying relationships – and a better world – when we mindfully use this type of coping skill to solve our problems.

For more information about social skills and coping skills, or to set up an appointment for a consultation, please contact us today. And to all of our friends, colleagues and families, “Live long and prosper!”

26Jan 2018

To begin with, nothing (external) actually “makes” you confident and happy. We can only make ourselves (internally) confident and happy. When I started my first psychotherapy practice 30 years ago, I wasn’t confident in my abilities. To be honest, I probably wasn’t a very good psychotherapist! I was anxious and uncertain – certainly not happy. Over the years, with determination and experience, my confidence increased – as did my happiness. So the 2 are related – confidence and happiness – but not the same.

Confidence is constructed over time. It’s a faith-based initiative. When we have an expectation that we will do well, along with determination and a true intention to succeed, we set the stage for confident performance. The more I learned about my craft, and the more I took the risk of speaking my authentic truth, the more confident I became. Confidence can be viewed as a formula: a belief that you will succeed + the intention to learn and develop your skills + experience = confidence and competence.

Confidence is one ingredient of that other nebulous and misunderstood term: happiness. Personally, I’m most happy when I’m giving and receiving love. And I’m also happy when I’m confident in my work, when I’m listening to great music, watching first-rate movies and plays – and watching Hugo, our French Bulldog, running free with the other dogs at the beach on Sundays. Actually, just thinking about the much longer list of things that make me happy makes me happy! So that’s an important point: Happiness is more than a feeling or mood state – it’s a state of mind.

Happiness is a state of well-being. We create happiness when we live our lives with:

  • Meaning and purpose
  • Authenticity (being the highest version of your true self)
  • Gratitude
  • A belief in abundance
  • Challenging activity
  • Set and achieve realistic, meaningful goals
  • Close interpersonal connection with family and friends

One final thought about confidence and happiness: Life isn’t perfect, and we all experience loss and other painful events in our lives. Acceptance of these situations and feelings is an important key to recovery. When we let go of the struggle and focus on moving forward with confidence, we’ll be sure to experience happiness once again.

02Jan 2018

The Best of 2017

And Coping Skills for Troubled Times

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The following is a personal and idiosyncratic review of 2017 highlights by the author. A mental health perspective on the best of 2017 is provided. The underlying premise is that the year 2017 was so disturbing it required a superior level of coping skills.

Does it seem like 2017 was one of the most negative years on record? If you’re like me, you’re happy to see the past year vanish into the haze. I don’t think a day went by without vicious, spiteful political drama, lies and distortions, traumatic mass shootings, terrorism around the globe, hurricanes, fires or other devastating effects of climate change, and disturbing reports of sexual harassment and assault. Given the way 2017 is ending, it looks like we’ll need exceptional coping skills in 2018 as well.

And There Was Good News in 2017

Looking back at 2017, there was actually some good news. Those of us in the mental health profession have learned that gratitude is one of the most important ingredients of a happy life. Effective coping skills include a daily gratitude practice, and a mindful appreciation of the positives in life. When I look back on 2017, it’s surprising how much there is to be grateful for – everything from world events, to positive social movements, and popular culture.

Here are my top picks for the Very Best of 2017:

Politics and Social Movements

· Women’s Empowerment – Time magazine named “The Silence Breakers” their Person of the Year for 2017. In this age of inflamed patriarchy (see next bullet, below), it was remarkable that women’s voices and influence would intensify. Beginning early in 2017, huge numbers of women marched and lobbied for their civil rights, safety, health, diversity and inclusion. And by the end of 2017, large numbers of women, including famous celebrities and other courageous women from all walks of life, spoke out against sexual harassment and assault. Social media became a driving force in the #MeToo movement (it has now been used millions of times across 85 countries). We know that one of our most important coping skills is to speak out. Asserting ourselves in an emotionally intelligent manner – speaking truth to power, or in any distressed relationship – is a hallmark of good mental health.

· Patriarchy – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Our society has always been patriarchal – male dominated and controlled. The year 2017 began the way 2016 ended: The ugly, destructive forces of patriarchy in our society erupted with abuse and violence. After 8 years of a progressive Obama administration, angry white men fought back like never before. Racist, sexist, anti-humanist comments were made at the highest levels of government and politics, and at the lowest levels in our communities (such as the Charlottesville white supremacists). The good news includes emerging voices of reason, temperance and humanism. A personal favorite is Terrence Real, author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, and How Can I Get Through to You? Terry is a practicing marriage and family therapist, and he’s been featured on all of the major news networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, in The New York Times, Esquire, and many other publications. Terry explains that patriarchy is based in a fundamental contempt toward women. Many, perhaps a majority of men feel they are entitled to be in charge – and that they are above the system (better than, and in charge of the world).

Another hallmark of patriarchy is traditional gender roles, which are destructive to relationships – the numbers prove that they produce the least happy marriages. And the traditional male code is clearly unhealthy for men, who live 7-10 years less than women (and they drink more, take more drugs, commit more crimes, and are 5 times more likely to suicide). Terry correctly recognizes that equality in all of our relationships is the only mentally and relationally healthy answer to many of our problems. We can be grateful that so many women, and a small number of men, are speaking out against the destructive forces of patriarchy in our society.

· The Environment – Important progress was made throughout Europe, China and other countries in addressing the climate change crisis. For example, France, the U.K., China and Germany are in the process of completely banning the sale of gas and diesel vehicles, and accelerating the transition to electric cars and trucks. More money than ever before is being invested in developing new sources of energy. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence also writes about Ecological Intelligence. He argues that the choices we make in what we produce, what we buy, and what we discard can make us sick and destroy us – or we can evolve emotionally and psychologically to make healthier decisions. Retail therapy may not be a great coping skill after all.

· Millennials Get It Right – The newest generation of young adults have been derided for everything from an exaggerated sense of entitlement to their excessive dependency on mobile devices. However, the millennials are getting it right in their politics and in relationships. A clear majority of millennials support diversity and equal rights for all people, a progressive approach to addressing climate change, and many other enlightened humanistic positions. And for the first time in our country, this new generation supports true equality in marriage. It’s quite possible that this will result in a dramatic drop in the divorce rate.

· Other positive developments in 2017 include a strong economy, a more peaceful world (surveys and reports show there is less war and violence throughout the world), and 3 other notable mentions:

1. Robert Mueller – Prosecutor and Special Counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. A life-long Republican with full bipartisan support, and held in very high esteem by many. His integrity and impressive reputation is a breath of fresh air in such a negative political climate.

2. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, became a strong voice for multiculturalism, women’s rights, progressive drug policy reform – and he is raising his children to be feminists.

3. Morning Joe – the political news and opinion show on MSNBC celebrated it’s 10- year anniversary. Joe Scarborough, former Republican Congressman and host of the show along with his new fiancée Mika Brzezinski, have created perhaps the most balanced, intelligent, and incisive political news broadcast in America.

A New Golden Age of Television

I grew up during the first Golden Age of TV – the 1950’s and 1960’s. I loved The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Playhouse 90, and great comedies such as The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and the Andy Griffith Show. Now we’ve entered into a New Golden Age of TV, spearheaded by streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Binge watching has become a national obsession, and is one of my favorite coping skills. These are just a few of the great shows of 2017, not necessarily in order of preference:

· Stranger Things (Netflix) – This 1980’s throwback has the style and humor of Steven King and the Coen Brothers. I think it’s the “feel good” show of the past 2 years – and scary at the same time. It’s about the power of friendship and love, and fighting against real or metaphorical monsters. And it’s about girl power (with some dorky guy power).

· Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon) – Comedic soap opera set to classical music. One of the most relational shows on TV – it examines a full range of emotional, often whacky relationship dramas with a light and humorous touch. “Crazy” behavior becomes more sane and full of heart and passion than what most people consider “normal.” All set against the most beautiful music in history.

· Sunday Morning (CBS) – After 25 years on the air, Sunday Morning is one of the best “news magazines” on TV. We watch it every week religiously – what a great way to start the day of rest. The very best of culture, history, the arts, and human interest. Almost every episode has a touching story about people who give back, sacrifice and create a better world.

· Big Little Lies (HBO) – One of the most important shows of 2017. A searing, darkly comic, often terrifying portrait of upper-middle class families in America. With a highly relevant and deeply disturbing portrayal of spousal abuse and victim denial. I can’t wait for Season 2.

· Ray Donovan (Showtime) – Probably my favorite drama on TV. The recently completed 5th season was it’s most poignant and distressing. An important portrait of family dysfunction, abuse, alcoholism, and revenge. This 5th season was one of the most gritty and painful stories of loss and grief ever televised – and absolutely brilliant.

· The Leftovers (HBO) – Grief and love as transformative forces for people who faced a level of personal trauma beyond anything imaginable. A creative, amazing depiction of the extreme coping skills needed to survive the emotional turmoil of unimaginable loss.

· Transparent (Amazon) – A dysfunctional family held together (more or less) by their transgender father; now mother. Funny, touching, and some of the most 3-dimensional characters on TV. Bizarre coping skills on full display. So terribly sad and disturbing that Jeffrey Tambor leaves the show due to charges of sexual harassment.

· The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) – A fundamentalist, patriarchal, totalitarian society that systematically uses and abuses women. Very timely. And very disturbing – but the women are fighting back.

· The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) – A new comedy about comedy. And about the emerging role of empowered women in mid-century America. Very fun – very funny – even Lenny Bruce makes a comeback! (Love the music.)

· Westworld (HBO) – A thousand times better than the original. Great show for us sci-fi and western freaks. And very cerebral – wonderfully complex themes about the dangers of AI in the hands of humans; the nature of consciousness and free will; the mistreatment of women; and the rebellion against tyranny.

· Godless (Netflix) – Because gods and inner children love a good western. Damn good story about the survival of women abandoned in the Old West. And sometimes the Good Guys actually do win!

· Ozark (Netflix) – The next Breaking Bad. Great story and great acting about family dysfunction, men who self-sabotage, and the healing power of love.

· Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) – Possibly my all time favorite. This show just keeps getting better. Season 6 was the best yet. The power of sisterhood, and the love between sisters. Fighting corrupt systems is worth the risk.

Best Movies of the Year

· The Shape of Water – Best movie of the year. The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Beauty and the Beast. A story of being different or “incomplete,” social isolation, bigotry and abuse – and transformation through the power of loving connection. Beautiful, sensitive, dramatic, funny, and full of heart and soul.

· Lady Bird – An intelligent, touching story about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Great portrayal of adolescent anxiety and a “complicated” (possibly character disordered) mother. Mother was brilliantly acted by Laurie Metcalf – one of the most underrated actors of our time. And Saoirse Ronan as the daughter may be an odds-on favorite for best actress of the year.

· Dunkirk & Darkest Hour – Is it an accident that 2017 brought us 2 movies about western civilization fighting to survive the onslaught of extreme patriarchy in the form of Fascism? Both movies are brilliant with different themes and styles. Dunkirk’s point of view is ground level – average but heroic citizens who risk everything to save their country and countrymen. It shows the best of mankind. In contrast, the perspective of Darkest Hour is from the highest levels of British government and monarchy. Specifically, an intensely personal view of Winston Churchill – his complicated, dark personality, his megalomania and ego-driven need for power and control, and ultimately his struggle through self-doubt, alcoholism and depression. From there he goes on to almost single-handedly save Britain and maybe the rest of world from tyranny. Brilliantly acted by Gary Oldman, who has to be a shoe-in for Best Actor of the year.

· The Big Sick – Another “little movie” with big impact. Wonderful, comedic love story based on a true relationship between a Pakistani comic and an American grad student.

· Wonder Woman – If you’re not a fan of superhero movies or feminism, don’t bother. I’m glad to know there are true wonder women in our world today – thank you Angela Mirkel, Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, Federica Mogherini, all of the “Silence Breakers,” and my very own wonder woman, my wife Michele.

· Baby Driver – Not on anybody’s list of the best movies of 2017. Great action/crime movie to stream at home. Pure fun and lots of great action scenes. New coping skills for those wanting to leave a life of crime. Wonderful performances by the young getaway driver, Ansel Elgort, and cameos by Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. And you can’t beat the title song of the same name by Simon & Garfunkel.

· A Dog’s Purpose – Not even on my list of the best movies, but deserving an honorable mention, if only for it’s heart and the love of woof. I cried when I read the book on an airplane, and I cried again with my wife as we watched the movie. Hugo, our French Bulldog, sat upright on the sofa and watched every minute and every dog. If you have a dog, he has to watch this movie. If you don’t have a dog, but your heart is open to the love between 2 animals (human and canine), you have to watch this movie.

My Favorite Books of 2017

These are some books I read in 2017 that I highly recommend (most were not newly published in 2017):

· The New Rules of Marriage – Terrence Real (2008) – Almost everything you want to know about creating peace, love, and partnership in your relationship. One of the most unique and forceful voices in understanding relationships and how to make them work.

· Angry White Men – Michael Kimmel (2013) – The foresight and relevance of this book is phenomenal. An essential sociocultural, psychological and political view of patriarchy today. His description of “aggrieved entitlement” (a term that he coined) by men today is invaluable in understanding so many angry men.

· Raising Cain – Don Kindlon and Michael Thompson (1999) – For all parents of boys, and for anyone who wants to understand what happened to them growing up. Two child psychologists explain why boys (also men) are hurting, depressed, and full of shame. And why they can’t or won’t talk about it. The back cover accurately states that “…the authors shed light on the destructive emotional training our boys receive…” due to the old, traditional male code and impossible, archaic standards of manhood.

· The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog – Bruce Perry, M.D. (2006) – The subtitle of this book says it all: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook; What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing. The most beautifully written, compelling and readable book about trauma ever published. Dr. Perry’s deep and empathic reporting sheds new light on childhood abuse, neglect and abandonment. Everybody should read this book.

· Born to Run: Bruce Springsteen – (2016) – Probably my favorite autobiography of all time (of course it helps if you’re a Springsteen fan). I love that Bruce’s writing “voice” and personality sound exactly like his songs. It’s as if he wrote a 500-page song about his life. His open, raw vulnerability is fully expressed in this fascinating book. He holds nothing back in describing the poverty, abuse and abandonment of his childhood and youth, and the resulting depression that haunted him his entire life. His coping skills are inspiring. Throughout the book is a message of hope – he has truly led a life of survival, redemption – and transcendence.

· A Dog’s Purpose – Bruce Cameron (2016) – See Movies, above. I recommend both. Bring Kleenex.

My Favorite Music – 2017

· Billy Joel – New Year’s Eve 2018. Concert in Sunrise Florida. He’s 68 years old and he’s still rockin’ down the house after 50 years as The Piano Man.

· Tom Petty – Best concert of 2017. Period. His 40th anniversary tour. He seemed as young and vital as he did in the 1970’s and 1980’s. We will miss him terribly.

· Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Finally, the Moody Blues made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Better late than never. They will be inducted in 2018, along with other favorites like Nina Simone and Dire Straits. And the 2017 inductees were not too shabby: Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, and Journey. Cleveland, here we come!

All of us here at the Relationship Center of South Florida wish you a healthy and happy New Year in 2018. We hope your 2017 highlights bring you many pleasant memories. For more information about our services, please call us today.

27Jun 2017

Life Lessons from the Dog Beach

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Hugo is 18 months old and weighs about 30 pounds. He’s our French Bulldog (the breed is also referred to as “Frenchies”). Hugo, like many Frenchies, is a big personality in a small package. He loves people and other dogs, and he’s exceptionally playful and affectionate. Hugo brings us endless, unconditional joy and love – and he’s taught me some important life lessons. Spending time with Hugo is one of my favorite coping skills – he’s a black and white, four-legged, tongue-wagging stress management gift.

About a year ago, we started taking Hugo to the dog beach every Sunday afternoon. We live about 2 miles from the beach in South Florida. I was resistant to the idea at first. Sunday afternoons used to be the time I reserved for completing any weekend chores, and maybe carving out an hour or so to relax. I thought that going to the dog beach would be one more task in my long list of responsibilities and demands. The dog beach required permits and fees, schlepping beach chairs, and cleaning up beach sand after we returned home. But Hugo (and my wife) insisted that we give it a try.

I didn’t like the experience – I totally loved it. When we let Hugo off his leash – about 50 beach yards from the ocean – he took off like a bat out of hell. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast, kicking up clouds of beach sand behind him. Watching his little butt wiggle side-to-side as he scooted toward the water brought a huge smile to my face. I laughed until I cried. Hugo became one of my greatest teachers. He taught me how to appreciate life in an entirely new way.

Hugo’s Life Lessons

  1. Change your environment – Like many South Florida residents, we rarely go the beach. We live here, work here, and complain about all of the tourists who clog the roads and restaurants during vacation season. After years of summer beach vacations when we lived up north, the thrill was gone. Now we go to the beach every Sunday, and it’s like I never knew what I was missing. Now I see this environment through Hugo’s eyes – it’s a wonderful playground filled with interesting characters. Changing my environment every week is refreshing and invigorating – it changes my point of view and my emotional state.
  2. Be in the moment – For many years now I’ve practiced and taught mindfulness and various meditative practices. One of the most important functions and benefits of mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. Being in the moment allows us to focus and concentrate more clearly, and to appreciate the value of every experience. Hugo is a living example of this Zen-like principle. He is fully engaged in the moment, without a care in the world. Every Sunday he invites me to join him in each precious moment.
  3. Take a break – Are you in a rut? Are you bored with the “same old” thing? Are you stressed out and overwhelmed by life’s demands? Maybe it’s time to take a break. More specifically, it’s time to prioritize and schedule life-enhancing, rejuvenating activities. I’m not talking about crashing in front of the TV, or escaping into video games or shopping trips. Hugo taught me some unexpected benefits of prioritizing routine, scheduled breaks. These Sunday outings are now a sacred part of our schedule. Our weekly trips to the beach create a true, mentally healthy attitude adjustment.
  4. Disconnect – Research studies show that the majority of adults spend more time on their mobile devices, computers, and TV than they do in direct connection with other people (even their spouse and children). We see a lot of people who bring their dogs to the beach every Sunday. Rarely do we see them using their phones. It’s like some kind of time warp, taking us back to the days when people interacted without texts, tags, or emojis.
  5. Reconnect emotionally – I love the way Hugo scampers up the shore line, in hot pursuit of some dog that’s much bigger and faster – and just when we think we need to run after him, he turns around and runs back to us. This happens repeatedly every Sunday. He knows we’re his people. And the connection is emotionally based. Brain science shows us that we are hard-wired for this type of emotional connection (humans and dogs have very similar brain structures). Our limbic system and amygdala react with danger signals to abandonment and loss – and rewards us with pleasurable sensations when we reconnect. This release of oxytocin (the love hormone) is probably the best stress-buster of all time. Hugo is the embodiment of limbic resonance (we literally feel each other emotionally).
  6. Make new friends – Hugo is my role model. He just runs right up to anybody – a dog or a person – ready to play or to be petted. He’s not self-conscious, and doesn’t worry about rejection or being judged. And if some dog doesn’t like him (all of the people do!), he doesn’t sulk, and he doesn’t take it personally. He just moves on the next animal. It’s what most little kids do before the world teaches them to fear.
  7. Take risks – We love watching Hugo play with other dogs and run into the surf. He knows his limits (most of the time – he’s still pretty young and a little reckless). He can’t swim – he sinks in the water like a bowling ball. But he’s learned to go as far into the surf as possible – he’s even learned to time the waves crashing into the shore. He seems to be quite fearless (although a big pink inflatable raft gave him pause one time – he froze in his paw prints, letting out his characteristic “woo-woo-wooo”). As I get older, I notice that I’m a little more conservative – a little more risk averse. Sometimes to a fault. I’m working at putting myself into Hugo’s shoes – or paws.
  8. Appreciate vicarious joy – I’ve always appreciated the value of positive experiences. A loving embrace, beautiful music, a great movie, travel, a good book. Hugo reminds me of raising children. The joy you get from watching them experience new things. Thank you, Hugo, for giving me the gift of vicarious joy. It’s like every week at the beach is brand new – something he’s never done before. His excitement and passion is no less than it was a year ago – after 52 Sundays at the beach. When I’m stressed out or feeling low, all I need to do is to think about Hugo prancing across that beach without a care in the world.
  9. Be light hearted – (Thank you to one of my clients who talked to me about this today. He’s learning how to get out of his head, and into his heart.) Hugo has the gift of a small cerebral cortex – humans have the gift, and the curse, of a large one. That’s our thinking brain. Hugo never thinks it through at the beach. He just does it – with lots of heart and gusto. I’m thinking (but not too much!) about getting a tattoo with a drawing of Hugo, and the motto “What would Hugo do?”
  10. Run-Play-Rest – Running is healthy and life-affirming. We run for exercise and we run for survival (running to work every day). Play is for kids and for dogs. And for our inner child. All adults need healthy play – it nourishes and restores our youthful vitality. And then we need to rest. Hugo runs, chases and plays with other dogs, and then he collapses, exhausted, resting until the next opportunity comes along. Thank you, Hugo, for reminding us of our essence – our very nature. I’ll meet you at the beach next Sunday!

If you’d like to see more pictures of Hugo at the beach – or if you want more information about stress management and coping skills – please contact us today.

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