A New Perspective on Strength and Weakness

16th November, 2011 - Posted by Cindy S. - No Comments

When we speak excessively or in exaggerated ways about our possessions, skills, or gifts, we are boasting.  As we know, boasting is not the most admirable quality and can get in the way of fulfilling relationships.  I’ve always worked hard to keep a check on myself in this area, however during a recent bible study I gained new insight into boasting from the Apostle Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says, “I must go on boasting.”  Boasting about what?  How his effective speaking led a great number of Jews and Gentiles to belief in Christ or how the Lord enabled him to do miraculous signs and wonders? (Acts 14:3)  No. Paul is referring to boasting about his weaknesses and suffering.  Wait a minute.  This was new and different teaching for me and very different from the world’s perspective on boasting.  Don’t people tend to hide weakness and avoid suffering?  Paul says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  Paul’s focus is entirely on God.  It is God’s grace and power that we boast about.  We no longer need to be ashamed of our weaknesses or avoid any suffering.  For the sake of Christ and through Christ we find the strength and courage to face our difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong in Christ.  Praise the Lord!

- Cindy Sung, Associate Clinical Social Worker

Coming and Going

3rd October, 2011 - Posted by admin - No Comments

Jesus said, “I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14).

One of the benefits of therapy is that of exploring your own story so that you know with
clarity and confidence “where you came from.” The beliefs we form as children about
ourselves and about the world we live in can be accurate or misleading, life-giving or
destructive. Exploring your story helps you to decide which beliefs you need to keep
(because they’re true) and which you want to replace (because they are not accurate or

Cultural, spiritual, educational, and family influences remain powerful throughout our
lives. Early relationships with parents, siblings, relatives, and friends give us our sense
of identity. If I know “where I came from,” I’m in a better position to see “where I need
to go.” Processing all this with someone who sees and understands me can be life-

Jesus clearly heard his Father say, “You are my dearly loved son, and you bring me
great joy” (Luke 3:22 NLT). May we give that same assurance to our own children, our
spouses, our grandchildren, and all those in our circle of love. Don’t under-estimate the
power you have to give the gift of significance and meaning to someone else. It can make
a big difference in where that person is “going.”

- Martha Saul, LMFT

To Think or Not – that is the problem or the solution

1st September, 2011 - Posted by Sam - No Comments

“Think about it” or “Don’t think about it”

“You don’t think enough” or “Stop thinking so much”

The challenge for many people is to find the right balance between over-thinking and under-thinking so that they can use their minds to solve the problems of living.  Some people act without thinking (“impulsive”), while others think a lot without acting (“obsessive”).   Sometimes our thinking is fueled by our emotions and we can’t think rationally – as when someone says something that wounds us and we can’t get that out of our minds.  Often our emotions are fueled by negative thinking and we can’t get out of a bad mood state – as when we respond to an innocuous comment by interpreting it as a slight against us.   Both scenarios lead to perpetual emotional and mental gridlock.

What are some things that we can do to break through this gridlock?

Take a break from thinking by doing something different like going for a walk or some other physical activity often helps.  Being in a different environment, such as being outside and around nature can also allow the brain to reset and create new space for fresh thoughts and other feelings.  Finding a good friend to listen to you and invite them to help you evaluate your thinking can also be beneficial.   This can make all the difference in getting unstuck so that you can get some clarity about a problem or so that you can know how to proceed in repairing a rupture in a relationship.

Finally, remember the wisdom that comes from God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  The Proverbs reminds us that “so as he thinks in his heart, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7, Amplified Bible).    The Apostle Paul  encourages us with what to focus our minds upon:  “filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse (Philippians 4:8,  Message paraphrase).   Let us follow the advice given to young Timothy, and use the sound mind that the Good Lord has given us.

Written by Dr. Sam B Leong, Ph.D.

The Beauty of Equine Therapy

30th May, 2011 - Posted by Martha M. - No Comments

“The horses come to you for therapy?!” the man asked incredulously as a look of astonishment crossed his face.  I had been introducing him to the DreamPower horses and telling him about “horse therapy.”  Since we were several minutes into the conversation, I had thought he understood that we were talking about human beings receiving psychotherapy with assistance from the horses.  His question and the look on his face made me realize we had a serious misunderstanding occurring and I needed to clarify a few things.

When I mentioned “horse therapy,” as we affectionately call it at DreamPower, I was referring to Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP for short).  “Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) is an experiential therapy in which equines are integral partners in a treatment process that provides the client with opportunities to enhance self-awareness and re-pattern maladaptive behaviors, feelings and attitudes.”

I’m not sure that definition helped very much, so let me try and explain things a little more.  “Equines” includes horses, donkeys, mules and zebras. At DreamPower, we currently have ten riding horses, three miniature horses and one miniature donkey on our equine staff.  The horses (and the mini donkey) help to make the psychotherapy happen.

But what does that mean? And how do horses help people to get better?

Because EFP is an experiential form of therapy, the client and the therapist work together to examine feelings and actions that are happening at that very moment, not only talking about something the clients reports happening in the past.  The client has the opportunity to examine and understand the triggers to emotions and maladaptive behavioral patterns, and then is immediately offered the opportunity to practice other, more helpful behaviors in a safe, therapeutic environment.

Because horses are herd animals and they want to relate to others, horses respond to human moods and emotions, as well as behaviors.  This gives the human client a living, breathing (and sometimes snorting) mirror into herself.  The horse influences the human and the human influences the horse.  Looking into an equine mirror can help the human client develop self-awareness, self-control and a deeper understanding of non-verbal communication.

Because horses are fun, clients are motivated to attend therapy.  Therapeutic work can involve examining painful emotions and uncomfortable situations.  Many clients find extra motivation to participate in this difficult but rewarding process when they are accompanied by a kind and understanding horse.

The therapist’s tasks during an EFP session are to facilitate the communication that is continuously flowing from the horse to the human and from the human to the horse.  The therapist teaches the client new skills that allow him to interact with the horse in a safe and effective way.  The therapist also facilitates the client’s self-awareness while working around the horse by encouraging the client to verbalize thoughts and feelings, by drawing parallels between the client’s relationship with the horse and the client’s relationships in general, and by helping the client to transform the client’s experiences with the horse into changes in his or her life.

EFP happens in a barn setting.  This is very different from therapy in a traditional temperature-controlled office with a closed door.  We refer to EFP in a barn setting as “milieu therapy.”  That means that everything in the therapeutic (barn) environment can be a part of the therapy, including: flies, smells, horse manure, volunteers, the horses, the weather, the barn rules, the hay, the barn cat, when a horse gets sick, and on it goes.  Everything at the barn is potentially involved in the therapeutic process.

Some issues commonly addressed in equine facilitated psychotherapy include: trust, family relationships, self-control, attention and hyper-activity, communication patterns, social skills, past physical or sexual abuse, posttraumatic stress, anxiety, depression, empathy and compassion, health concerns, assertiveness, leadership and decision-making skills.

As a Christian therapist, working with horses provides another wonderful window into our amazing God.  The intricacies of a horse’s body and the exquisite sensitivities of a horse’s personality show me how infinitely creative and detail-oriented our God is.  I am grateful for my days at the barn, when the wonder of the natural world and the order of the universe surround me and continually point to a loving, creative God who cares about each one of us and is at work in the details of our lives every day.

For more information about Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy, please contact Martha McNiel, LMFT at (415) 586-2976 or (408) 686-0535 or visit www.dreampowerhorsemanship.com.

Pain and Joy: a Natural Pairing

21st April, 2011 - Posted by Colleen - No Comments

Spring rains bring such vibrant renewal to the earth.
The tiniest and perhaps the ugliest shrub magically blossoms into a lush verdant foliage.
Yet Spring is not without its storms. The Bay Area is testament to that. One day we have a cozy warm sunny day, the next is filled with black clouds bursting with rain.

The human story is not unlike Spring. A baby is born while a loved one passes away. A couple celebrates their wedding while the mother of the groom is under going chemotherapy for the seventh time. Pain and Joy are not immune to one another. They occur on parallel tracks, often traveling together, hand in hand.

How does one live in this space of two distinct and powerful emotions?

Walking through the Pain toward Renewal and Hope.

I am still struck by rainbows. Its fabric and nature is dependent on the rain and the sun. Its essence is the reflection of light alone. If it were not for the rainy darkness would there ever be a need for renewal?
If it were not for the sunlight, would we ever hope?

-Colleen Lam Nguyen, M.A., MFT Intern

The Courage to be Still

27th March, 2011 - Posted by Kirsten - No Comments

Being American is often associated with a particular spirit and attitude towards life. It isn’t uncommon to connect being American with words like independent, busy, resilient, successful, dreams, achievement, hopeful, brash, optimistic. Our country was hard-fought and won through the embodiment of many of these characteristics, and it makes sense that our original spirit would be present today, not only in those born here but in the many who journeyed from far away to make this country their home. In many ways these words have grown past simple symbolism to become values in and of themselves – ideals to live out as fully and authentically as possible. And why not? Why shouldn’t we desire to be independent, successful, and hopeful? Why shouldn’t we work hard and make use of the opportunities afforded us that would be more difficult to come by elsewhere?

We should, as long as those values don’t become unbalanced or obsessive. It is good to work, good to set goals, and good to realize our God-given talents and gifts. However, in American culture (Bay Area culture in particular) we err on the side of relentless activity and hard work to the point that if one isn’t constantly moving, texting, working, or studying, there is the assumption of laziness or ineptitude. One only has to look at the work life of a Silicon Valley tech engineer or the average Bay Area high school student to realize that achievement and success in American culture often come at a steep price: sleepless nights, over-booked schedules, compromised personal relationships, and anxiety, to name a short few.

To have a healthy emotional life, balance is critical. We need to slow down, be still and quiet. Jesus’ life was an excellent model (perfect, actually) of how one can have an active life and yet make time for personal reflection and spiritual fulfillment. Jesus’ ministry was full and overwhelming. As he connected with more and more people, encountered conflict with religious leaders, and mentored his disciples he was living the life God had planned for him, yet grew fatigued nonetheless. These were the moments, regularly referenced in the Gospels, when Jesus “withdrew to a quiet place”. He prayed, sought God’s wisdom and guidance, and was still. Whenever possible he found space to reconnect with himself and with his Father, knowing it was the only way to be healthy and grounded in the life God had called him to.

Throughout scripture God regularly instructs us in the importance of quiet and solitude. In addition to the example of Jesus, in Psalm 46:10 God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” In 1 Kings 19:12 God is found not in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a quiet whisper. God clearly places high value on the importance of quiet, so why do we routinely run from it in the opposite direction? Often it is because in silence we are forced to connect with the deeper, more authentic feelings that churn under the surface of our busy, chaotic lives. In prolonged, reflective silence we might be faced with the reality of loneliness, insecurity, fears of failure, relational brokenness, anger, or unmet longings lost in the wake of work and social obligation.

It is difficult to face these realities. They force us to tolerate unpleasant feelings we’d rather ignore. Yet in practicing prayerful silence each day (even just ten minutes) and by inviting God into the process we allow ourselves the privilege of self-knowing on a deeper level. Acknowledging the complex truths of who we are enables us to deal consciously with our pain and hurt rather than distracting from them with work, activity, or certain forms of self-medication. God honors the courage to be real, both with Him and with ourselves, and in doing so we can more fully become all He intended us to be.


Note: In light of the current economic situation I want to acknowledge that some have experienced an unintentional stillness in their lives due to the reality of job loss. For many, American life has changed radically in the last two years. This blog post references a general type of rushed lifestyle known to many Americans (but not all), and in no way intends to diminish the hopes and dreams of those who pray for work and busyness of any kind. My hope is that silence and stillness will play a role in the lives of all those seeking God’s voice, and that in doing so He will make peace and stability abundantly known.

Kirsten Harnett, M.S., M.F.T.

New Workshop Series on “Transitions”

26th January, 2011 - Posted by Colleen - No Comments

Change can cause anxiety and stress. When these changes happen to you it can feel like you are losing control of the life that you were comfortable with. We are a group of mental health professionals from Christian Psychotherapy Services who understand the stress that comes with major life changes and want to help people go through these transitions with more ease. This series is meant to provide you with awareness of the common issues that come up at each stage of life so that you can be better equipped to handle the change. After you read through the descriptions of each talk, contact us for more information on how to offer this workshop series to your congregants.

This seminar covers the major transitions in marriage and the challenges of developing a healthy marriage. Material includes a biblical model of marriage, a model of a maturing relationship, a life cycle perspective of marriage focusing on marital satisfaction, the findings from marriage research on what contributes to the deterioration of marital satisfaction, and the two secrets of a happy marriage.

An interactive and educational workshop addressing varying aspects of transitioning into parenthood, including what to expect and how cultural values can influence this special, joyful, and often stressful time in people’s lives.”

This workshop aims to create awareness of the different types of transitions; their impact on the person and family functioning; and to look at healthy ways of handling the accompanying stresses.

The objectives for this seminar is to describe key components of healthy aging, highlight some of the challenges in aging process, and discuss resources to deal with the challenges.

Announcement- Co-ed Growth Group starting January 2011

3rd December, 2010 - Posted by Colleen - No Comments

Announcing a New
Growth Group:
“Journey towards Authenticity”

Have you ever wanted to understand what it means to have an authentic relationship?
Would you like to reach your personal growth goals in a safe place?

…this growth group may be for you or those you minster to…

Facilitated by
Colleen Lam Nguyen, M.A., MFT Intern
Christian Psychotherapy Services

10 week Closed Co-Ed Group
Saturdays January 22—March 26th, 2011

No obligation
Informational Session:
Jan. 15th, 11am-12pm
RSVP by Jan 5th, 2011

Cost: $10 a session
*total of $100 for entire 10 week group
*includes 30 minute initial interview
*due on January 22nd/first group session

Christian Psychotherapy Services
1100 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA, 94114
RSVP to:
Phone: 415-763-8072
E-mail: colleen.mft@gmail.com

Holiday Reconciliations

18th November, 2010 - Posted by Colleen - No Comments

The Holidays are fast approaching, between the hustle and bustle of the World Series and trying to get that November Election ballot in, Holiday Season is creeping in fast. The stores have all their decorations up and the onslaught of sales paraphernalia have already been mailed out to fastidious buyers.

What sorts of feelings come about when you think of the Holidays? Perhaps there is a bit of stress and apprehension. Gatherings with families can bring with it a variety of mixed emotions and feelings. And with all the swiftness of time that carries no mercy, the festivities begin.

Good intentions collide with misunderstood comments driven by the stress of getting everything just right and tasting simply delicious. Old wounds are torn open and begin to bleed. This may sound dismal, but nevertheless, a reality to many every year. But there is hope.

The Family system can be likened to an infant’s hanging mobile: forever held together by one wire with a series of attachments, you can strike one character and the rest of the little participants move either violently or ever so slightly – either way, every single one is affected. Small changes can make a large impact. A change within one person can lead to a shift on the outside toward a loved one. That one piece of empathy toward a family member can shake the system so deeply that a domino effect of love and compassion can be felt throughout.

Can Perfectionism Become a Problem?

17th November, 2010 - Posted by admin - No Comments

Society puts quite a premium on perfection, for good reason. Perfection fascinates and inspires. I am particularly drawn to the symmetry and complexity of buildings, bridges, and visual art, often staring at such creations with awe and wonder at how such perfection was achieved.

In addition to architecture and art, perfection is expected in vocations where the slightest mistake could be tragic. This is no less true for anyone than it is for surgeons. Surgeons strive for perfection from the moment they make their first incision to the moment they suture the exposed insides of someone’s body. When performing something as invasive as surgery, one can do great harm and when the rare mistake is made, the consequences could be just as great. Part of me feels badly for surgeons because they are, after all, human. The other part of me is comforted to know that they have such high standards because if they didn’t, I may think twice before seeking medical treatment.

All this to say that there is validity in striving for perfection. Surgeons strive for perfection. However, it is best kept contained within the context of their work. Outside of their profession, it would likely be too draining for them to maintain such high standards of living in everything they do.


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