Creating Compassion

By Zachary J. Thieneman, Psy.D.

Compassion is an oft-forgotten but ubiquitous part of human character. Inherent in many cultures and evident in the altruistic acts of others, compassion is an integral part of our survival as humans. Across religions, many people are taught the moral underpinnings of compassion. In Christianity, Jesus aided the downtrodden and outcast, saying the last shall be first to enter the kingdom of heaven. In Islam, Muhammad preached compassion for enemies. In Judaism, compassion is seen as divine and obligatory for humanity. In Hinduism, compassion is an integral part of ahimsa, a tenant of Hindu spirituality focused on non-violence in thoughts, deeds, and actions. In Buddhism, compassion starts with compassion from the self, towards the self, connecting our own suffering to the suffering of others. Outside of religion, compassion is typically looked at through the academic lens of altruism and morality, identifying the many benefits of kindness to fellow humans. The commonality of such diverse origins for the same message speaks to the importance of working with, not against, our fellow people.

In a routinely divided and complex modern society, now is the time to practice what is preached. For yourself, for your friends, family, fellow people, and those different than you. Make no mistake, compassion is a practice. However, the more you practice, the more it becomes habit. While challenging, practicing compassion for others, including ourselves, may allow us to better understand the people around us and work together rather than against. It is practicing humanity.  In times of fear and sorrow we practice compassion inwardly to be our own source of guiding light. It’s when practice is put to the test.  A genuine expression of compassion to another person can soften negativity for those feeling forgotten.  To meet negativity with kindness, inward and outward, is to challenge the very notion of adversity. Doing so can create the change you may wish to see. Below is a meditation for loving kindness, an excellent place to start when cultivating compassion.

In your mind’s eye, picture yourself and say the following phrases:

May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be free from suffering, inside and out. May I be safe and protected. May I live in this world happily, joyfully, peacefully, easily.

Now, in your mind’s eye, picture somebody who invites feelings of kindness, such as a close friend or family member. Say the following phrases:

May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they be free from suffering, inside and out. May they be safe and protected. May they live in this world happily, joyfully, peacefully, easily.

Now imagine somebody neutral, who invites neither kindness nor resentment. Say the following phrases:

May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they be free from suffering, inside and out. May they be safe and protected. May they live in this world happily, joyfully, peacefully, easily.

Imagine somebody who invites feelings of resentment or discontent. With them in mind, say the following phrases:

May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they be free from suffering, inside and out. May they be safe and protected. May they live in this world happily, joyfully, peacefully, easily.

Finally, imagine your community. Maybe it is your immediate community or your workplace, state, country, or even all beings. Say the following phrases:

May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they be free from suffering, inside and out. May they be safe and protected. May they live in this world happily, joyfully, peacefully, easily.

May you feel a sense of interconnectedness to those beings.

Taking the first steps towards compassion can be as simple as being empathetic towards yourself, the people around you, and those people who do not welcome it. I ask this directly as a challenge: how can you be compassionate today?

Mindfulness: Where do I start?

By Zachary J. Thieneman, Psy.D.

Mindfulness: to be conscious or aware of something. American culture teaches us to go and go and go, thinking about the next thing to do, see, or feel. The practice of mindfulness, and make no mistake about it being practice, teaches us to slow down; to be aware of our bodies and minds in a way we often neglect. People tout mindfulness as a way to cure what ails you. Psychologists, yogis, and monks talk about how it benefits mind, body, and spirit. They are not without merit. Research indicates mindfulness-based interventions help with many problems including anxiety, depression, and stress. How does one even begin to learn something like mindfulness? While seeing a teacher steeped in mindfulness is a great way to dive in, being mindful can be as simple as taking fifteen minutes out of your day to simply sit.

    Imagine yourself sitting. Just sitting. Free of distractions such as people, television, phones, or other media. You are sitting alone and upright with the goal of being comfortable, but conscious. Awake, but relaxed.

    As you are sitting, pay attention to your body. Notice your breath, without trying to change it. There are many techniques for doing this, but the easiest is to simply attend to the sensation of breath entering and leaving your body. If you breathe through your nose, notice the sensation of each breath as it enters and leaves your body. Feel the cool air coming in through your sinuses and the warm air as it leaves through your nostrils. Feel your chest and belly expand with each in-breath and collapse back into your spine with each out-breath. These are the natural, ceaseless, rhythmic sensations of the body.

    If you notice your mind wandering (and believe me, it will), it’s okay. Repeat: it’s totally okay. Don’t judge your thoughts, whatever they may be. Even noticing that your thoughts are wandering is a sign you are practicing mindfulness. Rather, notice their content. Does your mind wander to sounds in the room in which you are sitting? What about stressors at work, a big test at school, or difficulties at home? As you notice your thoughts, gently redirect your attention back to your breath. Attend to what you may often ignore- your body and senses.

    That’s the basic idea of mindfulness: being nonjudgmentally present with your body and thoughts. By sitting with your thoughts, feelings, and body you become aware of things you were once too rushed to notice. Mindfulness: to be conscious or aware of something. Such awareness teaches you to sit with your own thoughts and allow yourself space to simply be. Less hurry, less go go go.  Mindfulness theories suggest that we suffer for many reasons, one of the most prominent being we try to hang on to happiness or pleasure and avoid suffering. But suffering is a part of being, and sitting with it during practice such as mindfulness is a way to not avoid what bothers you.

    The practice of mindfulness teaches to let go of moments as they pass in order to be present with whatever is happening. Being present during times of happiness is as important as being present during times of suffering. The first step is simply noticing things you may have missed. Then, with infinite subtlety, mindfulness practice can lead from the ‘what’ of your thoughts to the ‘how’ and ‘why’. This leads to subtle change in who you want to be based on your own insights. In that sense, mindfulness is what you make of it. Just remember: pay attention. Like the last moment, this moment will soon be gone.

Grief & Re-building After a Loss

By Zachary J. Thieneman, Psy.D.

            Grief and loss are a part of everyone’s life. Sometimes, it’s a big loss: the death of a friend, family member, or partner. Other times, it’s a small loss: ending a short relationship or a friend moving to a different part of town. Often, it’s somewhere in between. The death of Muhammad Ali, one of Louisville’s most prominent activists and philanthropists, is one such example. The tragedy in Orlando is another such example, where witnessing senseless violence can be incredibly impactful, creating intense emotions.

            Like an enormous, emotional, internal building collapsing, grief leaves behind an empty space in one’s self. The grief process is, in essence, figuring out what to do with the space left behind. Many people think grief pertains only to death, but that is not the case. For example, after a relationship ends, you have to re-orient to life without your former partner. Moving to a different city, graduating from school, and other changes create transition periods. These transition periods leave us with a sense of mourning for the way life was before.

Grief is complex and hard to pinpoint; some days may be manageable or even good, others may feel unbearable. After waking up, it can be impossible to know what the next minute, hour, or day will yield. Denial. Anger. Guilt. Sadness. Lethargy. Acceptance. Pain. Memory. Love.

            The complexity and shifts in emotion associated with a loss are normal and natural to the grieving process. Though loss is something everybody experiences, it doesn’t make it easy. However, it’s important to know that such vacillating emotions are a part of the natural process. Knowing what to expect during grief is like gathering your materials on the path to rebuilding. After all, reconstructing after a loss equates to filling the empty space left behind by what was lost.

            So how do you rebuild after a loss? If things aren’t the same as they were, how can they ever be good again? Fortunately, grief is an experience that everybody goes through. I use the phrase “get through” because it’s equally important to remember to go through, not around, grief. Letting yourself experience your emotions and talking about it with others are great building blocks. It is especially important to do so when those intense, unexpected emotions hit like a ton of bricks. Talking with friends and family is one of the strongest foundations you can ask for when reconstructing. Relationships are a fundamental tool for recreating meaning.

            Grief isn’t easy. However, knowing what to expect and how to manage the abrupt feelings associated with grief are the best way to reconstruct who you are after a loss. And remember: rebuilding an empty space doesn’t mean that person, place, or thing is forgotten. You can use what they left you, how it/they impacted you as a person, to reconstruct the space left into a new, integrated whole. A new normal. 

The Amazing Randomness of Life

By Tony L. Sheppard, Psy.D., CGP, FAGPA

As I sit here at my desk listening to WFPL's look back at the life of boxing legend, humanitarian, and Louisvillian Muhammad Ali, I'm doing my own reflection. Ali's funeral procession is literally winding its way through Louisville as I type this. As a graduate of Spalding University's School of Professional Psychology, I'm struck by the little-known role that a building on campus, a bicycle, and a police officer played in the life of Ali. It is a lesson, I believe, in the amazing randomness of life!

The story goes that a young Cassius Clay had his bike stolen in front of the Columbia Auditorium (now the University Center for Spalding). Part-time boxing trainer and Louisville policeman Joe Martin heard Clay's complaint and advised him to learn to fight before he tried to "whup" the culprit. Clay became a regular at the gym and this launched his career. A seemingly random meeting of two people that changed the course of a boy's life and our history.

Chance meetings result in all sorts of relationships in our lives. Even if they don't launch championship boxing careers, they lead to marriages, life-long friendships, etc. Sometimes they don't necessarily result in an ongoing relationship but they become pivotal memories. Everyone can recall people they chatted with on a bus or train that sparked something. I'm reminded of a helpful conversation with a janitor in the basement of the psychology building at Spalding following my father's death. I'm grateful for neighbors who have become friends. 

As we mourn the loss of Ali, I'm reminded of the importance of maintaining an open mind with regard to relationships. One never knows what lies around the corner. A delayed flight, unexpected detour, or a stolen bike could change our lives. There is a little red bicycle hanging from the University Center building in memory of Ali. I hope that bike becomes a symbol of the potential of chance meetings to alter the course of our lives.

Mood Tracking

By Tony L. Sheppard, Psy.D., CGP

For many years psychologists and other behavioral health professionals have encouraged clients to keep mood logs. This usually involves using a journal or a handout to record information about moods between therapy sessions. The purpose is for the client and the professional to gather more accurate data on how moods vary over time. There are a number of reasons to do this including the following:

1. Human Beings are Terrible at Reporting on our Moods-We tend to be really bad at accurately reporting our moods across time. There is a tendency for us to overreport more recent feelings or to summarize greatly something that is rather complex. 

2. We're Not Very Good at Linking Moods to Things in our Lives-Even when we accurately report our moods, we aren't good at noticing patterns and trends. For example, we tend to miss things like feeling down after math class or feeling particularly happy on the days we start with a jog. 

Just as technology has changed many aspects of our lives, it offers us new opportunities for logging moods! Yes, there's an app for that. Free apps like Mood Log and Optimism (among others) offer the tech saavy (and even the not so saavy) a way to easily log and view their moods over time. 

This could offer you and your behavioral health professional (if you have one) a way to obtain better data for working with moods!

Dr. Tony

 

 

 

A New Website!

By Dr. Tony

I'm very proud to launch a brand new website for Groupworks! The new site comes at a time when the practice is moving in some very exciting directions. Most importantly, we've moved to a new office space in St. Matthews. The site features some images from our new home! I hope to communicate a few things about myself and the practice through this new site. 

First of all, I want this site to represent my dedication to my work. I designed this website myself, putting the same level of work and attention into it that I bring to my work with clients. I enjoy my work immensely and I want that to show in everything from my office to this website!

Secondly, I hope this site represents a future-oriented, forward looking approach. In my professional work, I want to be on the cutting edge of the field. I value approaches to problems that are novel, fresh, and "outside the box". In short, I want my website to reflect the work I do to help people find unique solutions to life's problems.

Finally, I want my site to be welcoming. One of my primary professional goals is to help all people find their place in the world. This often starts with a place where people feel welcomed and valued. I want my office and website to be those places. This site is the "welcome mat to my practice". Whether someone becomes a client  or simply learns from the site, I want them to feel welcomed and valued! I look forward to Bringing Psychology to Everyday Life through this site and the work I do each day.

Thanks for taking the time to visit my new site and read this blog post. Enjoy the site!

Dr. Tony

Three Core Areas at Groupworks

By Tony L. Sheppard, Psy.D., CGP, FAGPA

Each of our therapy groups at Groupworks focuses on three very important core areas. One of the first things that people notice about our groups is that we don’t do “topical” groups. We very seldom offer ADHD Groups or Depression Groups. There’s actually a very good reason for that. Like many of the things we do at Groupworks, this decision is based upon what we’ve learned about the brain over the past decade.

While there is certainly a place for “topical” groups that address a specific issue or problem, those tend to be more short-term and focused in nature. At Groupworks our groups are ongoing and more broadly focused. Research has shown that there are key deficits that underlie a number of challenges and problems that people face. Whether a child or teen is dealing with depression, anxiety, ADHD, Autism, or relationship problems, improvement in any or all of these core areas helps!

The first area that we address is something called Self-Regulation or Self-Control. This involves learning about your own feelings and behaviors. People who are able to know and name their own feelings, reactions and behaviors have more control over themselves. This impacts moods, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Group therapy offers a safe and confidential place to gain more self-awareness and self-control. Those with depression learn greater awareness of their own thoughts and feelings. People dealing with anxiety develop a greater awareness of what triggers their symptoms. Members with ADHD become more aware of what causes them to lose focus or to become over-active.

Secondly, we address Self-Esteem. This is often referred to as the “fuel in the tank of change”. Research has shown that it is critical for a child or teen to feel that they can change in order to make improvements in their lives! Group therapy offers a big shot of positive energy in their lives each week. They are built up and given the confidence to attain their goals. As people make changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, they begin to prove to themselves that they can do it!

Finally, we work on Social or Relationship Skills in groups. This involves learning to “read” others and respond to them in ways that are healthy and effective. Group relationships become templates for healthier relationships outside the group setting. Different groups offer differing levels of intervention with relationship skills. Some of our groups offer very basic social skills training while others offer more advanced intervention. This can include conflict resolution, social problem-solving, and other aspects of healthy relationship building.