John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Holiday schedule

I will be out of the office beginning 12/24/18 and not returning until 1/3/19. I will be checking my voicemail periodically during this time, so messages can be left at (616)-218-8059. I will return calls for routine matters (e.g,. scheduling) when I’m back in the office.

Happy holidays.

Holiday Stress

Not everybody likes the holidays. Not every wants to spend time with their families. Some folks are struggling just to make ends meet, which makes buying presents a stretch on a tight budget. Others have lost loved ones in the past year, and are faced with a stark reminder of this loss when everybody sits down at the holiday table in their usual places, but one of their members is missing.

Holidays can also be stressful because there is so much to do. The holiday traditions can feel like more work on top of a schedule that is already full. Decorations to hang, presents to buy, cards to send, food to make, schedules to coordinate — getting all that extra-work done — and on-time, no less — can feel like taking on a part-time job.

And then there’s commercial aspect of Christmas. For those us who still go in brick and mortar stores, are we not aghast when we see holiday decorations emerge a day or two after Halloween? Please, no, we think; we don’t want to deal with the Christmas push just yet.

Not everybody likes the holidays. I get it, I really do.

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I wonder if I should write up some kind of tip sheet for coping with holiday stress. You know the one I’m talking about. You've probably seen or heard something like it before: “10 Sure-fire Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress,” or "Beat the Holiday Blues." As if you can improve your ability to cope simply by reading some nifty bullet points, ideally limited to a single page.

My problem is, I'm not convinced these one-page wonders actually do much for people. Why? Because everybody’s situation is just a little bit different. To my way of thinking, such lists feel trite. They do not capture the complexity of most people's situations.

Most holiday traditions involve other people in some way, and most of the people I know are complicated, irrational, or flawed, and many them are operating from a perspective that puts themselves at the center of the universe. When human beings congregate, with family, friends, or various communities, are we really shocked when old patterns and wounds and difficulties emerge? Humans are imperfect beings. We’re bound to run into problems with each other, sooner or later. Dealing with holiday stress — or blues, family craziness, or whatever — usually takes some nuanced thought and consistent efforts over time.

I know, I know. This isn’t much help, is it? Maybe you'd prefer the tip sheet…?

Okay, then. I’m going to give you a single suggestion for how to cope with holiday stress.

Go read or watch
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. When it comes to gaining perspective on the season, this is a good place to start. Regardless of your traditions, religious beliefs, or country of origin, you can learn a lot from this story. Maybe you've read it or seen it before? No surprise there; it is popular, and for good reason. But maybe try reading it or watching it again. My guess is, you'll feel inspired all over again. Stories have a wonderful of giving us perspective, and sometimes they even teach us how to live.

Happy holidays.

Don't Kill the Goose

So one morning a farmer discovers that his goose has laid a golden egg. This is a startling development, but a happy one. The next day, the goose lays another golden egg. This is fantastic, the farmer thinks. Indeed, the goose continues to drop golden eggs each morning. The farmer can’t believe his good fortune. With all that gold, he becomes a wealthy man.

And then greed sets in.

The farmer grows impatient. He decides he has to have
all the eggs — now. Thinking that the eggs are inside of the goose, he kills it. But of course the goose hasn’t made them yet. There are no eggs to get. Even worse, now that he's killed the goose, he has no way to get more eggs.

Steven Covey, his book
Seven Habits of Effective People, likens Aesop’s fable to the person who continually produces (works hards) but never takes time off to rest and renew himself. He greedily wants all the eggs, even if it comes at his own expense.

The moral is simple. You can’t always be producing. Sometimes you have to relax, rest, and renew yourself. Sometimes you have to shutdown production.

Don’t kill the goose.

"Are there problems you don't treat?"

As I've said on other pages of this website, I am a psychologist who specializes in working with adults. People see me for various kinds of problems, but most often this means anxiety problems, depression, and relationship concerns.

But there are services and problems that are outside of the scope of my practice.

I no longer do psychological testing (though I sometimes use self-report inventories as part of my therapy practice). This means I do not provided testing for Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder, nor do I provide neuropsychological assessments.

I do not offer forensic services, meaning that if you need an assessment for legal proceedings of any kind I am not the person to see. For instance, I do not do custody evaluations and I do not voluntarily testify in court. There are psychologists who do this for a living. I am not one of them.

If you have a serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, or another psychotic disorder), I not the person to see. I have worked with people with these diagnoses in the past, but in my experience these types of problems are better served in a larger clinic or agency setting, not a private practice.

I do not offer substance abuse treatment. I do, however, distinguish problematic drinking from true addiction. I work with the former but not the latter. I understand the distinction between these two problems is tricky to define, and frankly open to interpretation, but so be it. If you have a problem with substances but aren't sure if I'm the right practitioner for you, feel free to call me and we'll discuss it. (Hint: It's one thing to say you drink too much or too often; it's another thing if your body can't live without the alcohol, lest you go into withdrawal.) (Obviously substance use is not limited to alcohol, and we can become addicted to things other than substances. But these issues are complicated enough that it may be easier to discuss them in a quick phone consult than to discuss them here.)

Finally, I do not prescribe medications. Psychologists do not have prescription privileges in the state of Michigan. They do in some states, just not ours.

If you'd like to know the kinds problems I do help people with, check out either the
Approach page or the About page.

Therapy Etiquette

  • Turn off your cell phone when in session. Too distracting otherwise. (Thank you.)

  • Feel free to bring a beverage. Sometimes I have water to offer, but not always. (No food, please.)

  • If you must cancel or reschedule, given 24 hours notice. This allows me to give the time you release to someone else. (Thank you.)

  • Wondering what to talk about? Reflect on your week. Where did you struggle? (Everybody struggles.) What was going on, what were you feeling? What was it like? Being in therapy is like unraveling a ball of yarn. We start pulling on strings and eventually we unravel everything.

  • Arrive at your session on time. Unlike medical doctors, I try very hard to be on time for every session. It helps if you do the same.

  • We stop five minutes before the hour so we can have time to check out.

  • If you decide to have someone to sit in on your session (e.g., spouse), give me a head's up: call or email. Check to make sure it is okay with me. It usually is, but sometimes, well, sometimes it might not be.

  • I do not share much of my personal life, but it is okay to ask me how I'm doing or whether I had a nice weekend or vacation or whatever. I am human being, after all. You will come to know me over time, though not in the way you know a friend.

  • Sometimes people want to know how to address me. I am okay if you call me by my first name (John). Some clients still insist on calling me "Dr. Gibson." Yes, I do have a doctorate, but I am not a medical doctor. I am a psychologist.

  • Did I miss anything?

Down Time

I will be out of the office on June 25 and not returning until July 9.

In other words, I'm taking a vacation. As much as I love my work, I need to do other things. Taking breaks is one of the ways I have of taking care of myself.

Americans are notorious for not using up all of their vacation time. Compared to other countries, we work too much. I say, step away. Play with your kids. Take a walk on the beach. Read a book, or maybe two. Travel — open yourself up to new experiences. Sleep in. Do something creative that involves your hands. Take a long drive with someone you love, or talk late into the night about your dreams (remember those?)

I know, I know, everybody talks about embracing the grind, and work harder, and working on your "side hustle." But if you let yourself come to a full stop, if only for a little while, it just might make the grind a little easier. Worth a try, don't you think?

See you in a couple of weeks.

See also:

Practicing What I Preach part I
Practicing What I Preach part II

What is Therapy?

Many people equate therapy with advice, but they are not the same. When well-meaning friends or family members give us advice, they are generally trying to pass on the benefit of their wisdom. This isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, sometimes the advice turns out to be just the ticket for solving the problem at hand. But what do you do when your personal problems prove immune to common advice? That’s when a therapist can be of use to you.

Your mind is (delightfully) complex. Your senses give you information, which your mind turns into perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. You have attitudes, opinions, values, and beliefs. You are motivated to do some things but not other things. Much of your behavior is governed by forces outside your awareness. Human beings are amazing creatures, capable of wonderful achievements, but this does not mean we are entirely logical or without conflict. Sometimes these complex processes get complicated, and that’s more or less when we get stuck.

Therapy is a process of learning about your own psychology so that you might move through life with a little less friction. Everyone knows that life can be difficult. But sometimes life hurts. If you are depressed, anxious, or struggling in a relationship, you might not know why you feel the way you do. The underlying problem may not be obvious, let alone the cure. But think of it this way: symptoms tell us that something about your life isn’t working. Yes, you want those symptoms to go away; of course you do. But to do this we have to dive a little deeper into your personal life to see if we can discover what your symptoms might
mean. This will require you to talk about yourself as honestly and openly as you can.

Therapy is also a relationship. Human beings are hard-wired to connect, which means we grow and develop through relationships. This starts the moment we are born and it continues throughout the entirety of our lives. Some of the most important things we can learn about ourselves (and others) occurs in the context of human relationships. We all need someone in our corner who cares about us, listens to us, encourages us, worries about us, roots for us, and occasionally gives us feedback that we need but would rather not hear. Unlike ordinary caring relationships, however, a therapist also has specialized training and knowledge. He listens not just with his ears, eyes, and heart, but also with his head.

And yet a therapy relationship is not like other relationships. It does not have the natural give-and-take, the mutual sharing and reciprocity that friendships have. One reason for this is because the session is
your time –– the focus is strictly on you and your needs. But also, a therapist generally does not talk much about himself because it allows him to maintain a degree of objectivity about you and your concerns. This is something your friends and family members might not have if they try to help you, but it is necessary if we are trying to give you an unbiased experience.

So let me circle back around to the original question. What is therapy? The short answer is this: it is a process where another imperfect human being with professional training joins forces with you as you work to solve your problems. We
create a relationship for the purpose of helping you heal, grow, or make progress towards some goal.

Make no mistake, therapy does not change the fact that life is hard, nor does it give you magical results. But it can help you feel better, cope better, and get better.

If your personal life isn’t working for you, you might give it a try.

Happy New Year. Or at least it could be.

Are you looking for a good therapist? I should have some openings in January, if you're interested.

I could tell you about the various problems I help individuals and couples address in my practice –– anxiety, depression, relationship issues, traumatic stress, infidelity, panic attacks, and more –- but what I'd really rather you know is that I specialize in joining forces with people who are trying to make their lives better.

My ideal client is the person who is trying to make
progress towards some goal. Our job, should we work together, is to figure out what's stalling the progress you've been trying to make on your own.

No magic bullets, no judgement, no b.s.

If you're interested, give me a call. If my openings don't fit your schedule, I'll give you the names of some other good therapists to call.

One last thing. Yes, you really can make your life better. It might take effort, time, and commitment, but even small changes can alter the course of your life.

Best wishes,

— John