Friends with the “Monsters”

16th November, 2013 - Posted by Colleen - Comments Off

With Halloween in our rearview mirror, I am reminded that for children, “monsters” are those creepy things that reside under the bed or in the closet when lights go out.
But what about for adults? Who or what are these monsters?
For adults, I sometimes like to think of them as creatures that are called by other names: Mr. Fear and Mrs. Doubt.
They are those painful feelings that humans hate to feel. Yet, we know are inevitable and the more we resist and deny the more they persist. The truth is, they just are, neither “bad” nor “good,” they won’t kill you, and they don’t really last forever.
What if we became friends with these “monsters?” What would it look like to “get along” with the painful feelings?
It would mean successfully coping with very difficult feelings. Not avoiding, denying, or dodging but facing. Now, I know there are some kinds of pain that are too difficult to face alone. For the person of faith, Jesus is faithful and true to walk with us*. For others, this may be a time to tap into their resources and a safe support system.
In any case, facing and addressing the monsters of fear and doubt could leave you feeling empowered and confident. And perhaps the monster’s fearsomeness will be a bit less scary each time you face it. A funny thing could happen: a friendship might develop and the monsters may not really be monsters after all.
*“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)
-Colleen Lam Nguyen, M.A., MFT Intern

Mental Illness as a Priority in Our Churches

15th October, 2013 - Posted by Marie Fang - No Comments

As a society, both nationally and globally, efforts are pushing for the elimination of stigma surrounding mental illness. Though there is still much progress left to be made, there is some sense of a movement in the right direction.

Somehow though the Christian church as a whole seems to have a tendency to lag behind on this movement. Sometimes we downplay the presence of mental illness in our own church communities, or often, avoid the topic altogether.

As the suicide of Matthew Warren, Rick Warren’s son, tragically points out, we cannot simply brush aside this topic in our churches. Christianity Today posted an article on this topic, and I’d like to pass it along to our community here to continue the advocacy for addressing mental illness in our churches too. I invite you to view the article by clicking here and passing along to your congregations.

Resetting Our Mind

16th August, 2013 - Posted by Sam - No Comments

Given the 86,000,000 neurons that God has put in the human brain, it is literally mind-boggling to think about the possible 100 trillion neural connections. So how is it that many of us end up stuck on the same old thought patterns which are often negative and destructive to ourselves and to others?

Being creatures of habit, the principles of conditioning, self-fulfilling prophesy, and confirmation bias all work to keep our mental activity going in a vicious cycle. In addition, by closing ourselves off to others through isolation and staying away from community, we can guarantee the shutting out of input and plugging up of the flow of fresh ideas and new thoughts; leaving us only with our own thoughts.

So which thoughts are worthy of our consideration, meditation, and even pre-occupation?
Here is a quick test about our thoughts: (ask yourself)
• Do my thoughts reflect with what is true about me, others, the world, and God?
• Would God agree with my thoughts about me and others?
• Would my spiritual leader/mentor agree with the content of my thoughts?
• Do my thoughts give me a sense of vitality and life?
• Do my thoughts lead me to consider possibilities and opportunities to have greater faith in God?

Sometimes we all have a need for a mental reset, a renewing of our mind. God calls us to come away for times of reflection and rest. I just came back from one of those times. On one of those early mornings as I sat next to the Russian River, I was tickled to be reminded of what was on God’s mind – “what is man that you are mindful of him” (New King James Psalms 8:4a). It was so humbling to consider the bigness of the mind of God which then helped to put my puny thoughts into perspective. Inviting God to show us His thinking about our lives is a great way to think new thoughts and to find a fresh outlook.

Lord, help me to learn from the bumper sticker wisdom of not believing every thought that I have.
Rather, teach me to invite Your perspective into my mind.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts…and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalms 139: 23-4)

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

Vacation Fantasies for Couples

14th July, 2013 - Posted by Myrna - No Comments

Have you ever started your vacation filled with hope for some totally relaxing, do nothing downtime?  Or had hopes of a great travel adventure?  Only to end up deeply disappointed or in a fight with your spouse (or travel partner) over unmet expectations or unfilled fantasies?  If not, you probably don’t take many vacations!

I would like to share some hard-earned wisdom for fulfilling vacation fantasies.

1.  Be clear with yourself about your hopes, dreams and expectations for the vacation.  Do you want to sit by a pool all day and have someone bring you food and drink while you barely stir?  Do you want to go dancing every night?  Do you want to hike in a remote area?  Do you want to explore a new city?  What do you need to happen on this vacation to be able to come home and feel that you actually had a vacation?  You will not be able to talk about this with your traveling partner until your ideas are clear to you.

2.  Share your thoughts (from #1 above) with your traveling partner.

3.  Elicit the same hopes, dreams, and expectations from your traveling partner.  Do not proceed until you know clearly what he or she would like to make it a fulfilled vacation.  If you cannot communicate at this point, you are setting up the perfect storm for conflict over what was not made explicit prior to the vacation.

4.  Discuss budget with your companion.  You may have an expectation of eating in fine restaurants and splurging while your companion may be uncomfortable with such splurges or may be unable to match your budget.

5.  Expect the unexpected. Your flight may be delayed, your hotel room not ready, your campsite reservation lost, your luggage lost, the Grand Canyon is closed for the day (just kidding), or one of a thousand other glitches.  No matter how well you plan, things go wrong.  Your attitude at this point can ruin the vacation or you can make lemonade out of a lemon.

6.  Be realistic about having all of your fantasies come true. Your hotel room may not live up to the photos you saw on the website, the pool may be closed for resurfacing, your neighbors at the next campsite may fight all night or their baby cries all night, your flight may be cancelled or delayed, your luggage may be lost, the museum may be closed on the only day you are in Florence, or your forgot to pack your swimsuit.  Once you lower your expectations to something closer to reality, there is less chance that you will fall apart when these situations occur.

7.  Remember that disappointments listed in #5 and #6 are first-world problems.  Two-thirds of the people in the world don’t even have a concept of a vacation.  They are trying to figure out how to get food for the next meal for their families.  Thank God that you are so blessed that you have a job or finances that provides such a luxury.

8.  Sometimes the best memories of a vacation – the ones that provide great stories or big laughs – are from things gone wrong and how you coped.

9.  After back from vacation, take time to debrief with your traveling companion, what went well, what was most fun or refreshing or fulfilling, and what you learned about vacations and what you would do differently next time.  Be sure to celebrate all that went well.

Bon voyage!

Myrna L. Klassen, MFT

Playing With Water

12th July, 2013 - Posted by Gracia - No Comments

I remember our days in Algeria in the eighties with fondness. However, it was by no means easy living in terms of amenities. It was a socialist country and variety of food was scarce, lines at the government-run markets were often long, and our furnishings were basic. The most difficult aspect was water rationing – sometimes the supply was erratic, sometimes more or less scheduled by the powers that be.

I remember giving my son, Paul, a small basin of water and some toys to play with on the balcony to celebrate his 1st birthday. He enjoyed himself, pouring water from one container to another, squatting there, engrossed in playing. It was a special treat to play with water outside of bath time.

Once we came home from visiting some friends to find the living room and hall flooded. When the central water supply is cut off it’s easy to forget whether your own faucets are in the opened or closed position. We had left home with one faucet left open.

One time we had friends visit unannounced from another town, and had no clean cups to serve tea with!

We would accumulate dirty dishes and clothes before washing them and did not feel guilty about the messiness. There were blue, red, and black containers for water storage in the bathroom, toilet, and kitchen. Overseas guests would bring boxes of diapers for us when the children were young. We would stay home during the hours we knew the water would be turned back on. We adapted our way of life around its availability. We learned to work around water.

I started remembering our Algerian experiences with water when I thought of God “playing” with water.

He turned water into blood (Exodus 7:14-25)
He piled water into walls (Exodus 14:21-31)
He brought water out of a rock (Exodus 17:1-7)
He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11)
He turned water into a walkable surface (Matthew 14:24-33, John 6:16-21)

We have an incredible God. Don’t be surprised by what He can do. John 4:15, 7:37-38

Keeping an eternal perspective

9th June, 2013 - Posted by Christine - No Comments

Once a month, our group practice gets together to share a devotional with one another for encouragement and support.  This month was my turn to facilitate our discussion.  After much thought and prayer, I was reminded of the topic of Eternity as a thought I love contemplating over.

Pastor Tim Keller says:

“Human beings are hope-shaped creatures. How you live today is completely shaped by what you believe about your future.

I really agree with that line – what we believe about our future directly impacts how we view our current circumstances and how we live each day.  In fact, it directly affects my daily work as well.  I firmly believe that my clients were created for freedom, intimacy, and wholeness.  I believe God is in the business of redemption, and will redeem their lives.  I believe God has a story of redemption written into all of our lives.  I believe even before we experienced pain and suffering, he already knew in his mind how he would redeem us.  We need only to respond willingly and openly to his pursuit of us.

During this devotional time with my colleagues, we contemplated over the following passages (and various versions of the same text) and shared our perspectives on how having an eternal perspective can really encourage ourselves and our clients in the here and now.  We laughed as we tried with our little minds to envision what the new heavens and new earth might look like.  One colleague referenced an author who said something to the effect of how we don’t even have half the alphabet to describe how glorious and majestic and beautiful it will be.  This is so true.  Our restored world, our resurrected new earth, is going to be more beautiful and captivating than we could ever conjure up in our own minds.

Until that day, I know God still asks us to pray for that kingdom to come here on earth so I pray that we would all look forward to eternity, but also trust and hope for that perfect intimacy, the way God intended us to be, to come into fruition even now.  I pray we would walk in light of our true identities in him, as his beloved children, having the legal rights as his sons and daughters.  This is the gospel! We are not only forgiven because of Jesus, we have been credited his perfection and his resume.  I pray we would walk in freedom knowing we are secure, worthy, acceptable, because when he looks at us, He sees Christ’s past and present, not our own.  We are defined by what God says about us, not our own thoughts of ourselves, and God says we are secure, significant, precious, safe in him, because he has clothed us with his son’s identity.

May we always reflect upon this amazing truth about how God views us and what he has secured for our future (perfect intimacy with him), and let it seep into our bones to transform the way we view him, ourselves, our circumstances.  I pray we would keep an eternal perspective: that we would remember God’s future grace of promised peace and joy, and I pray we would let this hope and belief about our future transform the way we live today.

Please feel free to click below to read our devotional passages and discussion questions.

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Presentation: Missionary Mental Health Care Featuring Dr. Roger Brown

15th May, 2013 - Posted by admin - No Comments

Fellow Christian Therapists,

Have you ever wondered how your training in the mental health field can further the work of God’s kingdom abroad?  Come and hear about Dr. Roger Brown’s journey and opportunities for you.

Hearing God’s Voice

22nd February, 2013 - Posted by Marie Fang - No Comments

“…I keep praying for God to answer, but He’s being completely silent.”

How many of you have found yourselves saying these words or something similar? It seems nearly all Christians find themselves asking this question at some point in their faith, if not repeatedly throughout their faith journey. The Psalms reference several instances of experiencing God being silent (Psalms 83, 109). It’s also a common question in the therapy office. Why is it that so many times when we try so hard to reach out to God He seems to be so silent? Wouldn’t God want to always respond valiantly with a loud voice for us to be reassured by His love?

This is not the first time someone has asked this question. A quick Google search reveals infinite ideas regarding why God might be silent. By no means do I hope to even attempt to answer this question within the confines of a blog post. However, it does seem to happen frequently that people experience God as being silent during times of hardship, especially when we are in need of healing.

God hears our cries. Psalms 34:17 says, “God hears his people when they call to Him for help” (NLT). When you cry out to Him and feel like He isn’t responding, rather than ask why God is being silent, I wonder what shift might happen if we instead examined ourselves and looked at what part of us needs healing. Where is that place inside of us that’s hoping to hear from Him? Where do we need Him to come in and rescue us? Give that little voice inside of you a chance to speak up, and invite God into that space. God just might show up.

However, some of you may be reading this and thinking, “I’ve already tried all of that, and I still don’t hear God.” If this is you, I urge you to seek counsel from someone you trust, like a mentor or pastor. Sometimes this may also be an opportunity when the counsel of a therapist may allow you to find light in these times of silence.

-Marie Fang, Psy.D.

Finding Strength Amidst Our Thorns

8th February, 2013 - Posted by Marie Fang - No Comments

Sometimes in our culture it’s easy to talk about our strengths but shy away from any talk of our weaknesses or struggles, even in Christian contexts. We’re supposed to look like we have it all together, and even though everyone knows we all have difficulties, somehow we convince ourselves that if we hide them then it will seem like we have fewer problems than other people.

But that’s just it, we all have problems. What does this mean though? Sometimes when we realize the extent of our own issues we can sulk in our own self-pity or self-hatred. Some even find themselves in a stupor of darkness that makes life seem not worth living anymore.

What does God have to say about this? I encountered this passage recently and I think it offers insights about God’s perspective of our weaknesses that may differ from what you might expect. Here Paul shares about himself in a letter to the Corinthians:

“…In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 12:7b-10

Those final words ring so powerfully – “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The concept of depending on someone else for strength is so countercultural, yet it’s inherent in our imperfections that we need help in order to survive. God redeems us by being our strength and support amidst our brokenness, such that our weaknesses only help point us to our need for Him. Some food for thought for the next time you find yourself feeling badly for being less than perfect.

-Marie Fang, Psy.D.

First Impressions

30th January, 2013 - Posted by Marie Fang - No Comments

We’re all familiar with what it feels like when we’re in a new environment, maybe after starting at a new school, job, or church where you’re surrounded by unknown faces. Often we’re concerned about how we should act around other people to make a good impression. If we’re at a  new school, we may be considering what kind of “persona” we want to give off to others to appear cool or interesting. If we’re at a new job, we may want others to see how productive and talented we are. If we’re at a church, we may want to somehow exude our “holiness” to others (whatever that looks like exactly).

If you’re like most people, you may spend a sizable amount of time considering how you appear to others in these situations, and may even be worried or anxious about it. Somehow we can get so caught up in these concerns that we often forget that the very people we are trying to impress may also be having similar anxieties about what you may be thinking about them.

Sometimes I wonder what sort of effect this universal sense of self-consciousness may have on first impressions. Is it possible that we spend so much time worrying about what others think that we actually miss opportunities to meet new friends?

What if we saw ourselves the way God sees us? How does God see us, anyway? I think it’s easy to forget, so here are some reminders: God’s word says “God created man in His own image” (Gen 1:27), and that “you are God’s temple” (1 Cor 3:16). Imagine if instead of focusing so much on what other people think, you truly believed that God sees you as His temple. Do you think people might notice that and, in turn, be more likely to find you likable?

Try it! You may be pleasantly surprised. You may also find that others may be more genuine when they see that you aren’t putting up a front.

-Marie Fang, Psy.D.

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