Questions to ask when looking for a therapist or counselor in Boulder, CO

Questions to ask when looking for a therapist or counselor in Boulder, CO

A couple of blog posts ago, I gave some tips for finding an ideal therapist in Boulder, CO. I hope it helped you narrow down your list from the thousands of therapists available in Boulder to a few who seem worth looking into further.  All of them offer some kind of consultation to see if you are a good fit. But what should you ask? What should you tell them about yourself? What is appropriate at this stage?

 

It can be tough enough to talk about the things that we need help with in our lives, without having to do it with a stranger. Especially a stranger we’re thinking about making a big investment of time and money with.  Let me help by giving you a few tips about things that are generally helpful to mention in an initial consultation with a new therapist: 

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A Case Study In Dealing With Negative Emotions OR How I Coped When My Cat Barfed on My Laptop

A Case Study In Dealing With Negative Emotions   OR   How I Coped When My Cat Barfed on My Laptop

Despite my best intentions, sometimes I just don't get to everything on my To Do list. This week has been especially bad in that regard. With a sick child, a sick dog, and a laptop that is dead because my cat barfed all over it, I'm ending the week with lots of important things undone.

I've decided to take this experience as an opportunity to try to learn something about myself. So, upon reflection, I've identified the following internal experiences related to my undone tasks:

  • First up is anxiety. I'm jittery and tense. I feel a lot of impulse to be active.
  • Some of the anxiety becomes anger. That damn cat! He did this on purpose! I should take him back to the shelter. Why did everything have to go wrong at once! Why can't I ever get a break?
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How to Find Your Ideal Therapist in Boulder, CO

How to Find Your Ideal Therapist in Boulder, CO

We all know that Boulder, CO is a beautiful place to live, and yet sometimes the beauty around us is in stark contrast to what is going on inside us. People in Boulder have hard times, just like they do everywhere else. And while Boulder is known to have a high concentration of psychotherapists of all stripes, it can still be tricky to find the right one for you. If you are looking for a life coach, counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist – I’d like to help you find someone who can help.

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Rape Culture Is a Thing

Today I ran across a fabulous post about what rape culture looks like by Melissa McEwan at her blog Shakesville.  As she explains, “Rape culture involves the objectification of women, which is part of a dehumanizing process that renders consent irrelevant.”  Or another way that rape culture is commonly articulated is that our society tends to find violence sexy, and to accept that sex is often violent.  This attitude results in lots of women and men, children and adults, being raped.

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Mothers and Daughters Talking About Healthy Sexuality

Last week I helped my mom recover from major surgery.  While I was caring for her, I tapped in to a lot of the feelings and actions from my relationship with my daughter.  I started thinking about the circle of life, and how I once needed her like she now needs me, and how she was the one who taught me to care for someone like this.  It got me thinking about how what I’ve learned from her.  And what I haven’t.

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Men Can Stop Rape

"When men stand up to end violence against women, the world is going to change" 
- Eve Ensler

I know a fair number of really great men.  Among those are men who deeply care about violence against women, and who would never consider engaging in any kind of sexual activity without clear consent.  I’ve met many men who actively work to stop sexual violence.  And . . . even some of those men have a hard time accepting that men may have more responsibility than women to stop violence against women.  “Whoa . . .”, they’ll say, “I didn’t rape anyone!  I never even considered it!  Why do I have any responsibility for what other guys do?” 

Well, they don’t have responsibility for what other guys do, in that way.  But they do hold the privilege of being the less victimized gender.  Which means that they are in a better position to fight that victimization.  Because, for the most part, the basic problem of sexual violence is the attitudes that our culture promotes in men, about women and sex. 

People tend to be more open to suggestions from people who are like them. So, men are more open to input from other men.  And we can take it even further.  Frat boys are probably more open to input from other frat boys.  Tough guys are probably more open to input from other tough guys, etc.

Montana State University's Men Against Rape

I, for one, am willing to then make the leap from there to responsibility.  If you see something that’s wrong, and you’re in a better position to fix it, you have some responsibility to work on fixing it.  It’s similar to the logic that tells us that if we see child abuse, we have some responsibility to intervene.  Maybe not always a legal responsibility, but a moral one.  Because an abused kid doesn’t have nearly as much power as we grown adults do to stop the abuser. 

So, sure, the great guys I know aren’t responsible for the behavior of the rapists of the world. But if they stood up, and spoke out against misogynistic statements and behaviors, those rapists would be more likely to listen to them, than to us women.  Who are so easily dismissed as humorless feminazis or oversensitive whiners. 

And, yes, it does follow that as a white person, I carry some responsibility to speak out against racism.  Etc.  Easy as it is to hide my head in the sand and pretend that the civil rights movement is over, and took care of “all that”.  It doesn't take much investigation of that assumption to become aware that racism is alive and well.  And I can, and should, stand up against the racism I see.

Do you agree that the privileged class has a responsibility to fight oppression of the unprivileged class?  If you think I’m off base, leave a comment to let me know!

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

 

No Joke: Rape Humor

I have “rape humor” on my mind this week.  In my line of work, I rarely encounter people who think rape is funny.  And yet, here are a couple of situations in which people recently laughed about rape:

A friend goes to a comedy club, not knowing anything about the scheduled comedian.  She is treated to two hours of rape jokes delivered with hostility and anger, by comedian Anthony Jeselnik.  She stays for the full act, just to see how far he’ll go.  She won’t repeat any of the jokes, but reports that it goes “about as far as you can imagine.”  She doesn’t find the jokes even slightly funny. Apparently, though, much of the audience gives the comedian a standing ovation. She is appalled, and feels bad for the servers, who didn’t get to choose whether to hear those jokes.

Then, you may have heard that an independent daily newspaper at Boston University decided to include in their April Fools issue, which has a Disney theme, a story satirizing gang rape.  Yeah, you guessed it.  Snow White is gang raped by the dwarves. Keep in mind that BU has received nine reports of sexual assault and five reports of rape so far this academic year, including two very high-profile cases.   Here’s a sample from the April Fools story:  

The BRO's face seven charges of sexual conduct and seven charges of drugging someone into unconsciousness. "Heigh-ho BROs we didn't do anything," said Sleepy, a senior in the College of Engineering and president of BRO, who is a suspect in the alleged sexual assault . . . Boston University's Center for Gender, Sexuality and Magical Creatures . . . is calling for a university-wide analysis of underage drinking on campus and the sterilization of all BU males.

Isn’t that hilarious?  Here’s the whole thing, if you’re interested.

OK, so, some people find this kind of thing funny.  And we all have a right to our own senses of humor, right?  Plus, it’s exactly because it’s so wrong that it is funny.  Get it?  Yeah, I get it.  If I bend over backwards, and squint my eyes, I can see why it’s funny to some people.  But here are a couple of things to consider, besides whether some people may find it funny:

First, unexpectedly running across this type of humor can be devastating for a survivor of rape.  I mean, imagine the worst thing that has ever happened to you.  Something that you’ve struggled for years to cope with.  Got it?  OK, now, imagine that you’re out for a night of entertainment, or you pick up your usual morning paper, and the main feature – surprise! – is a big joke about that.  Well, if it hasn’t happened to you, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like.  But trust me, it’s not funny.

Second, joking about something makes it seem less serious.  I found a great discussion of this in an editorial from the Oklahoma Daily.

By joking about rape, you’re trivializing the issue, making it something to laugh about. One of the great powers of humor is minimizing fears, making them seem smaller, and conquering the monsters by laughing at them.

But rape is one monster we should never work to make smaller. Our society has done just that for far too long. Only by facing the true, horrible reality of rape will we be able to fight it. One of the most important steps to fighting rape is ending what activists call “rape culture.” – The Oklahoma Daily Editorial Board

Rape jokes contribute to building a culture where rape is not considered important.  That’s how we get to a place where “friends” of a rape survivor can think it’s reasonable to text her the next day, calling her a “slut” and a “whore”.  That’s how we end up in a country where every 2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted, and yet 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail

So, it’s about more than whether some people might find it funny.  It’s about supporting, understanding, and respecting people who are survivors of rape, and it’s about doing what we can to keep each other safe.  Or not. 

What do you think about rape jokes?  Is it possible to tell a joke about rape, while not supporting rape culture, or triggering survivors?  Leave a comment with your opinion about or experience with rape humor.

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

Did Jimmy Carter Explain the War on Women Back in 2009?

Jimmy Carter, Nobel laureate and former president extraordinaire, has been all over the twittersphere in the past week, because he pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.  All of this reminds me of the statements he made in 2009, when he broke all ties with the Southern Baptists because of their discriminatory attitude about women.  After working for many years to encourage change from within the church, he finally, figuratively threw up his hands and walked away, saying:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities . . . [emphasis mine]

Photo by The Elders.Well, Amen, Jimmy.  Tell it like it is.  And, even better, he went on to explain that:

At the same time, I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy . . . The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.

Sadly, even while taking such a strong stand for women’s rights, he pointed out how hard it can be to do that, especially as a politician.  His statement mentioned that he and his fellow Elders (an independent group of global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity) were in a good position to say unpopular things, since they no longer have political ambitions. 

Reading his statements again today, I started thinking, does this explain how we got to where we are now, with bipartisan debate on the never-before-controversial Violence Against Women Act, and a host of new obstacles to the legal access to birth control and abortion?  Is it because some politicians know that most Americans want leaders who have Christian values, so they grab for any handhold they can get on something that can be twisted into looking like a Christian value?  Even when there is no consensus that it really is a Christian value? Is it mainly so they have an opportunity look principled, moral, and committed (which many see as leaderly qualities) in an election year?  

What do you think about Jimmy Carter’s 2009 statements on religion and women’s rights, and how that relates to the current “war on women”? If you have some insight about why the "war on women" has arisen recently, please leave a comment!

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

"This is Abuse" UK Ad Campaign

There is a new ad campaign in the UK that aims to enlighten British teens about what is and is not appropriate behavior in intimate relationships.  The most powerful of the ads, “If you could see yourself, would you see rape?”, shows the non-forceful rape of a girl by her boyfriend.  If you are a survivor, be warned that it can be triggering.  I’ve watched this ad dozens of times in the past couple of weeks.  It has really gotten into my head.   I think I’m trying to process it by watching it over and over.  Like a 5-year-old watching Cinderella. 

There is a moment at the very end that sends a chill up my spine.  The rape is happening, and the girl is crying.  The boy says, “Shhh Sh”, almost tenderly.  I can’t do it justice here.  But that is the moment where I really, completely get that this guy wouldn’t call what he’s doing rape.  He’s just having sex with his girlfriend who is “being weird” about it.

I love and hate this ad.  It’s terrifying and true.  I believe this is how a lot of rape happens.  And . . . I have two concerns about it:  1) If this is so affecting for me, what is it doing to the teen rape survivors in the UK who are coming across it, with no preparation, during their favorite tv shows?  2) Is there any hope that a guy who would rape his girlfriend like this would see this type of ad, and decide that he shouldn’t do that anymore?  Or is he so deep in his denial that an ad like this could never touch him? So, then who is this ad for?  Girls or boys?  Potential victims, or potential perpetrators? I think there are messages for both here, but I suspect that, in general, the potential victims are more likely to receive the message.  

What do you take away from these ads?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

Is Texas Raping Women?

Here’s a scenario for you:  A woman very much wants to do something that will have an enormous impact on the rest of her life.  Someone is stopping her from doing it, unless she lets that person vaginally penetrate her.  Is that rape?  Let me put it another way:  Is she freely consenting to that vaginal penetration?  I’m not the only one who thinks that she is not.

Nikolas Kristof’s recent article for the New York Times, When States Abuse Women, argues that Texas is now raping women who seek abortions.   In other words, before a woman can receive an abortion in Texas, she must submit to a vaginal ultrasound, regardless of medical need or the patient’s preference.  If you would like the details, check out the text of the new law enacted a few weeks ago.  This vaginal penetration isn’t the end of the story, either. She also has to also listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the fetus as they’re shown on the monitor, and list specific dangers of abortion, like “risks of infection and hemorrhage,” and “the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer.” She is then required to sign a document saying that she understands all this, and then wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.

As a woman, as an advocate for sexual assault survivors, and as a person who has had plenty of uncomfortable, yet consensual, medical procedures, my heart goes out to any woman in Texas considering an abortion. Research shows that women who receive abortions without these requirements often do not experience negative mental health effects.  But I doubt that many of the women currently seeking abortions in Texas will escape with their mental health unharmed.  Of course, that is probably part of the point of this legislation.  And yet, I cannot think that -- whatever your opinion about the ethics of abortion -- legislatively sanctioning sexual assault is an appropriate solution to any problem.

What do you think of the argument that Texas has mandated sexually assaulting women who seek abortions?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

What You Pay For

I read an interesting post called What You Pay For, the other day on the blog What a Shrink Thinks.  While the shrink-author says many things that I take exception to, the one I’d like to deal with today is exactly what the title says:  What are you paying for when you pay a therapist or counselor (and for the record, I use the terms counseling and therapy interchangeably)? The blog author’s take on the issue seems to be that a client mainly pays to have the therapist keep their own issues out of the room.  I’ve been pondering that answer for a while now, and finding it lacking. 

Photo by Joe Houghton

In my experience as a therapist and as a therapy client, I’ve come to believe that the client pays for a lot more than someone to talk to who won’t try to get their own needs met in the conversation.  Yes, that’s an important part of therapy, and I would not want to be or to see a therapist that attempts to get their personal needs met during their clients’ sessions.  But let me add a few things to the list.  Here are some other things that I think the client (ideally, at least) should be able to expect from their therapist:

  • The therapist’s time.  Most therapists would not have time to see clients if they could not make a living at it.  They would have to go do something else for a living. 
  • A helper who knows how to help.  A therapist is not a friend or a family member or a concerned acquaintance, or anyone else who happens to be part of the client’s life when they find themselves needing help.  A therapist should have extensive training for and experience in helping people who are suffering.    
  • A commitment to the client.  I think a client should be able to rely on their therapist to stick with them.  To keep their best interests primary.  Even when the going gets tough.  Even when life events and/or the work itself makes it hard for either party. 
  • Caring.  OK, this is the part where people tend to say that therapy is like prostitution.  The client pays for the therapist to care, and if they didn’t pay, the therapist will stop caring.  I don’t see it like that.  I think that if the therapist and client agree to work together, then the therapist is making a commitment to try their very best to care for that client.  Usually it isn’t hard.  When you really try to understand another person, genuine caring typically emerges naturally.  And when it doesn’t, that lack points toward a direction for the therapy that should ultimately allow such caring to develop.  If the client stops paying after caring develops, then let me tell you that the caring doesn’t stop, even if the payments have to.

I think that the exchange of money for therapy is hard to accept (for clients and therapists both) for a couple of reasons.  First, most of the interaction in therapy is so intimate and social.  Research shows that we view money very differently in a social setting than we do in a professional setting.  Asking for money in a social setting is often quite offensive (e.g., imagine trying to pay your mother-in-law for your thanksgiving dinner at her house).  So, having a fee be part of this thing that is predominantly so social can feel just plain wrong.  However necessary it may to make the whole set up workable.

Also, I think clients can feel a certain amount of shame around not finding the help they need in their personal lives.  “I’m so pathetic that I have to pay you to listen to me, because no one else will. You wouldn’t listen either if I didn’t pay you.”  It breaks my heart whenever I hear this.  Here is where therapy most feels like prostitution, in my opinion. 

Having been both a therapist and a client, I have come to believe that this feeling is due more to shame on the client’s side, than to the willingness to listen on the therapist’s side.  As a therapist, I don’t feel like a prostitute.  Here I’m going to paint prostitutes with a probably unwarranted broad brush, and assume that they would all rather not provide the service they provide, if they had other options for acquiring similar money: As a therapist, I don’t feel like I’m giving up something that I’d rather not give up.  In fact, I feel the opposite.  I wish I could be in a position to provide therapy to whomever could benefit from my help, without regard to compensation. 

What do you think of the fee for service aspect of counseling?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She loves her work, and has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.   

On Being An Object

If you have not run across Alice Bradley’s excellent blog post, “On Being an Object, and Then Not Being an Object”, you must read it.  Immediately.  And read all of the comments below it as well.  Then forward it to someone who may not fully appreciate the extent to which women are treated as objects, or the damage that does.  I’ve forwarded it to a certain presidential candidate who doesn’t think women are discriminated against anymore.

While I think I, and many other women, struggle more than Alice with becoming less of an object as I grow older – that’s how deep the message goes – I could never thank her enough for boldly describing what it’s like to be an object.  I can’t improve on what she has written, so I will just offer you three quotes, to entice you to go read her post yourself.  The first two from Alice:

 “To be a young woman in our culture means that you exist, from an alarmingly young age, for the appreciation of others. Therefore, your every feature is fair game for public appraisal.” – Alice Bradley

"There were other incidents, too; so many incidents. Every one underscored the message that I wasn't safe, that I deserved whatever was coming to me, because I was young and a woman and that was how it was and also I should appreciate it." - Alice Bradley

The third chosen from the many excellent comments to Alice’s post:

“I feel like so many men feel ENTITLED to women's beauty. Like it is a present the world gives them, and they feel like they can do with it what they will.”  - Suebob

What do you think of what Alice and her commenters describe?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.  

Was I raped?

So many of the women and men that I talk to struggle with the question of what really counts as rape.  It’s a tricky question to answer.  Legally, the definition of rape has varied with time and location.  And some parts of the definition can sound pretty subjective.

Here are some official definitions for rape, also often called sexual assault, that are in current use: 

  • The United Nations defines rape as "sexual intercourse without valid consent."
  • The World Health Organization defined rape in 2002 as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object."
  • Just recently the FBI changed their definition from the wildly inadequate, "The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will," to "The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."
  • Many jurisdictions define rape as sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual penetration, of one person by another person without the consent of the victim.

What I think is tricky about these definitions is that they tend to be heavy on detail about the specific act, but light on detail about what does and does not constitute consent.  

Photo by Richard Potts as cascade_of_rant.

For my purpose, which is helping victims of sexual aggression resolve their trauma, I like to use a definition that is more the opposite:  You’ve been raped if you feel like you’ve been raped.  That is, it was rape if it was a sexual experience that, at the time, you didn’t want to be having, and hadn't freely agreed to be having. 

Yes, I know this is completely unworkable as a legal definition.  And I know that the naysayers will have a lot of what if scenarios.  So, let me get that out of the way: “What if the alleged victim honestly did something that convinced the alleged perp that she wanted the sexual experience when she didn't?”  Well, OK, granted, none of us can be mind readers. But please grant me that there should be some real effort made on the part of the person who initiates the sexual contact to make sure that their partner is fully willing. OK?

I can tell you that I’ve spoken to plenty of people who may have “consented” in one way or another, for one reason or another, and nevertheless found the experience to be traumatic.  They feel like they’ve been raped, even if the official definitions don’t acknowledge that they were.  If that is you, then know that there is at least one person in the world who is willing to acknowledge that you’ve been raped.

What definition for rape, or sexual assault, do you think makes sense?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.  

What if I Can’t Afford Counseling?

Unfortunately, a sad truth about counseling is that it can be expensive.  In Boulder, CO, where I work, typical fees for a 50 minute session seem to range between about $90 and $150. If you don’t have health insurance that covers counseling, or don’t want to use it (for example, if you are a teen who doesn’t want to involve parents, or if you don’t want a of record of your counseling history), or if you’ve already used up the few sessions your insurance covers, then what do you do?

The first place you may think of for low-cost counseling is a community mental health center. If you have a serious mental health problem, and limited resources, it is definitely worth checking with your local mental health center to see if they can help.  Unfortunately, mental health centers are usually overtasked, and underfunded.  Therefore, it may take some time to receive services at a mental health center.  

But don’t assume that that is your only option.  People with less serious needs, and/or some resources, may find that it is also possible to find relatively low cost counseling from other providers.  One option is to look for counselors who accept sliding-scale fees. This means that the fees are adjusted depending on the client’s ability to pay.  Other counselors may offer lower fees for a limited number of sessions, for clients with temporary financial difficulties.  Some counselors who accept these lower fee arrangements may be less experienced, but still well trained and qualified to work with you.

One way to find counselors in your area who offer a sliding fee scale is to search the Psychology Today Find a Therapist web site.  You can search by zip code, or state and city.  Then check the profiles of the counselors you find who look good to you.  In each profile there is a Finances section that shows their typical fees, and whether they use a sliding scale.  If they do, then it might be worth calling them to see if they will accept what you can afford to pay.  If not, they may be able to refer you to someone who will.

If you are lucky, there may be counseling organizations in your area that help you find low-cost counseling.  For example, in Boulder there is a counseling cooperative, called Boulder Counseling Cooperative, to which you can pay a modest annual fee ($50 to $125) and then relatively low per-session fees ($20 to $35).  The fees you pay depend on your income, and the counselors are well qualified, licensed professionals. 

Have you found affordable counseling in other ways?  Write in and let us know how you found it.

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.  She does offer a sliding fee scale.

Teens Can Get Counseling Without Involving Parents

If you are a teen, did you know that, in many states, you can legally get counseling without telling your parents?  In Colorado, where I work, the law says that anyone 15 years old or older can seek mental health services on their own.  So, the law recognizes that we don’t all live in a perfect, pretty world in which teens can always expect the support they need from their parents.

Photo by Noize Photography

There’s a bit of a catch, though.  It is also legal for your counselor to then inform your parents that you saw them, without necessarily getting permission from you. Legal, but not required. So, before you seek counseling that you don’t want to tell your parents about, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with the counselor about their policy for informing your parents. Many counselors will agree to keep counseling with teens confidential (with exceptions required by law for all clients - child abuse and danger to self and others).

The other catch, of course, is that counseling costs money.  If you are a teen in need of counseling and you don't want to involve your parents, watch for an upcoming post with tips for finding counseling when you can't afford regular counseling fees.

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.

The Body as a Resource for Resolving Trauma

I attended an inspiring workshop over the weekend, presented by Drs. Bessel van der Kolk and Pat Ogden, two huge names in the field of trauma treatment.  The topic of the workshop was the use of the body, and particularly physical rhythms, to help resolve trauma.  One of the big nuggets of wisdom that I took away from the training was that two interventions can be particularly helpful for resolving trauma: 1) activation of interoception, which is sensitivity to stimuli originating inside of the body, and 2) purposeful physical action directed toward the traumatic event

Women in yoga class, courtesy of National Institute on Aging

An idea fundamental to both of these interventions is that when we are faced with a trauma, our bodies naturally and unavoidably prepare to act.  But when we then are not able act, those physical impulses don’t just go away.  They remain in the body, and are reencountered over and over again, as the trauma survivor is reminded of the traumatic event. 

The first suggested intervention, activation of interoception, is important because so many trauma survivors lock away awareness of physical sensations, because touching in to those can be so scary and unpleasant.  And yet, those sensations also give us information about how to discharge the pent up tension from the traumatic event.  So, the first step is to safely develop skills and tolerance, sometimes extremely gradually, for being aware of what is going on in our bodies. 

Some of the ways that were mentioned during the workshop for developing this interoception include yoga (and I would think that Pilates might be even more useful here), contact improvisation, meditation, boxing, and dancing the tango.  The key is that it should be some physical activity in which it is necessary to make subtle connections between what happens in the mind and in the body. Sometimes trauma survivors need help creating a safe environment for these types of activities.  A good trauma therapist should be able to help survivors with this.

Once the capacity for interoception is developed, the next suggested intervention is intended to help discharge those “stuck” physical responses.  They key here is that you can’t discharge the physical tension from a traumatic event in a general way.  The discharge has to be connected to the original traumatic event. So, how do you do that?  Drs. Van der Kolk and Odgen showed several examples.  We saw one video in which the survivor of a traumatic assault was graduating from a Model Mugging class.  Her final exercise was a reenactment of her original assault, only in the reenactment she successfully defended herself from the perpetrator.  Other videos included exercises in which the survivors discovered and explored bodily impulses, such as making a fist or making a stop signal with the hand, often with added verbalizations (“stop right there” or “stay away from me”).  Having a chance to discharge these pent up physical tensions in a safe environment seemed to open the door to a deeper resolution of the trauma than was achieved for these survivors through years of talk therapy.

Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga “ looks like an interesting book on this subject.  I have not yet read it, but it’s now on my short list.  It was written by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D., two practitioners at The Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, which was founded and directed by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

Have you noticed a correlation between working with your body, and working with your mind?  What types of physical activities have you found most helpful?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.

Justice Department Updates Definition of Rape

It is always a treat to see society is moving in a positive, helpful direction in terms of handling sexual assault.  So I am pleased to report that the US Justice Department recently expanded its official definition of rape to be, "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."  This replaces the laughably (if one can stomach laughing about such things) archaic previous definition of rape, “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”

Thank you Justice Department for recognizing both that men can and are raped, and that physical force is not necessary to rape someone.  The key is lack of consent, and it just doesn’t matter who isn’t consenting, or what allows the perpetrator (force, drugs, threats, etc.) to get around their consent.

One of the major reasons for updating this definition is reportedly to make the FBI’s annual compilation of crime statistics more accurately reflect the scope and volume of crimes of sexual violence in the US.  I’ll be glad to see that happen as well.  Although, even more than that, I’ll be glad to see so many male survivors of sexual violence have their experiences validated.

Those of us who have worked closely with rape survivors for any length of time have long recognized the existence of male rape.  It’s high time that our government officially acknowledges the breadth of experiences that constitute rape.

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.  

Emily’s List Ranking of Presidential Candidates

It’s kind of a strange thing to do, ranking GOP presidential candidates on a list of issues that are traditionally not supported by the GOP.  As one would expect, in the recent Emily’s List ranking, all candidates had many strikes against them, from this perspective.  Nevertheless I found some interesting nuggets when drilling down into some of the strikes they marked against specific candidates. 

Here is my favorite.  Did you know:

  • In 2011, Newsweek interviewed Robert Bork, a top advisor for Mitt Romney. “How about the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? Does he still think it shouldn’t apply to women? ‘Yeah,’ he answers. ‘I think I feel justified by the fact ever since then, the Equal Protection Clause kept expanding in ways that cannot be justified historically, grammatically, or any other way. Women are a majority of the population now—a majority in university classrooms and a majority in all kinds of contexts. It seems to me silly to say, ‘Gee, they’re discriminated against and we need to do something about it.’ They aren’t discriminated against anymore.’” [Newsweek, 10/17/11]

Get that?  Women. Are. Not. Discriminated. Against. Anymore. Oh, yeah, they used to be, but that’s all over now!  You can tell because so many women have jobs, and go to school.  Plus there are more women than men.  If they’re not a minority, that means discrimination is impossible! 

I’m sure that’s why women's earnings were 77.4 percent of men's in 2010.  

Am I naïve to hope that those at the very top of the list of individuals who may soon lead our country would have a better understanding of the concept of discrimination?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.  

How Far We Are From Justice for Women in Afghanistan

Maybe you’ve heard about the 19-year-old Afgan woman who was raped by her cousin’s husband, and then when she became pregnant from that rape, was sentenced to prison, with her daughter, for 12 years for adultery.  The sentence was later reduced to three years.  Finally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai eventually ordered her pardon.

But, wait, how can you pardon someone who didn’t do anything wrong?  Oh, yeah, she was raped.  Her bad. 

Before being pardoned, a judge offered to free her if she would marry her rapist.  Apparently there are no such strings attached to the subsequent pardon.  But the pressure to marry her attacker is still intense.  Such a marriage would legitimize her daughter, “restore honor” to her brothers, and smooth the potentially violent rift between the two families.  It seems likely that, without marrying her rapist, her family won’t accept her and her daughter, and it is feasible that she could even become the victim of a so-called honor killing.  So, she still has some very difficult decisions to make.

According to CNN, her attorney, Kimberly Motley, in Kabul, says that she does not want to marry her attacker. She would like to marry an educated man.

Even if she should decide to marry her attacker, it may not be possible for some time.  He is still in jail for five more years.  Motley explains that, “as far as I know there has never been an Afghan wedding in jail.” 

I guess I’m blogging about this because it seems like many people think of the fight for women’s rights as something from the past.  Hey, this is happening in our world, right now, today.  Nevermind having the vote, these women don’t even have the “right” to be raped without being thrown in jail!  Or to then peacefully pursue a subsequent life that will promote their own healing.  Clearly, there is much work still to be done.

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence. 

I know that it can feel risky to make public comments about sexual violence.  You are welcome to comment anonymously here.  Just enter a non-identifying handle when asked to identify yourself.