Quote: Solving Problems

“We become more effective problem solvers when we work less on our problems and more on ourselves.”  -HSW

Problem solving isn’t so much about defeating issues as it is about seeing through them. To do this we need to take the most advantageous perspective on the problem.

The easiest way to find this perspective is to try on as many perspectives as possible until I find one that works well for this situation. This requires two things:

  1. Having a big stable of different perspectives.
  2. Having the ability to switch perspectives without getting stuck in one.

We all have the potential to be great problem solvers, but it requires attention and practice to hone our skill. It takes work to become a better problem solver…

But it’s work we do on ourselves instead of on the problem!


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The Breaks

Therapy is all about the breaks: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs.

Breakdowns lead us into therapy and Breakthroughs get us out.

Breakdowns are simply moments when I realize what I’m doing isn’t working and it’s clear something must change. I don’t mean just suspecting or thinking about it, I mean actually realizing I can’t take one more step on my current path.

Breakthroughs are just “Aha” moments when I flash on a new possibility. I suddenly see a fresh approach I’d never considered before, and now I can start doing things differently… thus creating the possibility of different results. Maybe better results!

Breakdowns and breakthroughs are a mainstay of psychotherapy. Sometimes, when close to a breakthrough, I push too hard and wind up breaking down. And at times when I’m at my limit and all seems lost, I break through to an insight which changes everything.

Breakdowns and Breakthroughs: Isn’t it interesting how the promise of one can lead me into the other?

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Fighting Over Small Things

A lot of couples come to therapy citing a series of squabbles over petty issues. Here’s the first thing I tell them:

There are no fights over small things. All fights are about big things. We blame them on small things in order to distract us from the real issues, which are very painful to broach.

When we think we’re fighting over many small things, it’s really about one or two big things we’re trying hard to avoid.

But the longer we avoid them the bigger they become. The flood of hard feelings puts more and more pressure on my emotional dam… eventually I start springing leaks. As time goes on the leaks become more frequent and the triggers get smaller and smaller…

Until finally the littlest things set me off.

But they’re just the triggers of the leaks, they’re not the issue generating the pressure.

And you point to this small thing that set me off and say “That’s no big deal, why are you so worked up about it?”

And I know you’re right…

And we talk about how small this thing is and how my reaction is so over the top…

And then it’s settled.

And I still don’t feel better.

And we never discuss the real reason I’m so upset…

And we don’t relieve any of the pressure on the dam…

And here comes the next small thing!

A good therapist helps identify the bigger issues and provides a safe place to discuss them. Working together toward releasing blame and building compassionate understanding, this grows intimacy.

This relieves the pressure on the dam.

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Finding The “Up” in Break-Up

My partner dumped me. Now I’m consumed with ugly feelings of rejection.

No one needs to tell us being rejected by a romantic partner is bad, it’s written into our DNA. I’m severed from the herd, left to fend for myself in a hostile world. I need the pack to survive and now my lifeline is cut. Yes, that sucks on a primal level, but…

What about the upside? Before diving headlong into the depths of despair, consider this:

They saved me time, the most valuable commodity in life! Would I rather have spent years more before ending this relationship?

They woke me up by disrupting my complacency. Sometimes “my relationship” is code for “my rut.” How often does a break-up lead to a new look or style that gets us excited again. Why didn’t I make that change before the break-up? Perhaps in a better relationship I might have been motivated (or inspired) to do so without breaking up.

They helped me see something I couldn’t (or wasn’t ready to) see. When my partner breaks up with me, there are issues in the relationship. Usually I can cite a number of these problems myself (some of them deal breakers, too). After the ego bruise heals, was I really that crazy about this match? It is extremely rare that total bliss leads to a break-up.

And the biggest upside of breakups:
They settled the question, “Was this my ideal partner?” Anyone who thinks they lost the perfect partner needs to consider this: “Would my perfect partner break up with me?” If the answer is yes, you need to schedule an appointment with me immediately!  🙂

So, should I thank them? Not just yet, that bastard/bitch doesn’t deserve it! But in my heart of hearts, I acknowledge my ex for giving me the chance to do better, even if I wasn’t quite ready to take the step myself. They’re offering me a lesson in life. If I pay attention, I will make a wiser choice when selecting my next partner.

My partner (like Life) is constantly offering me lessons, but I don’t have to take them. I can always remain stuck in victimization and blame. The choice to see the positives and improve my next attempt is simply that, a choice.

In life, lessons are mandatory but learning is optional.




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The Cost of Cynicism

Do you know this phrase?: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Of course you do. Most of us know this clever quip which demeans a profession crucial to the continuance of our society, thereby meeting the standard for cynicism.

Do you know who first said it? I didn’t, so I looked it up. Turns out it was the illustrious Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw in 1903. Shaw was (among other things) a satirist. This quote is actually a twist on an ancient bit of wisdom. Really?

Absolutely! The original idea was first expressed in the 3rd century B.C. by another illustrious author and playwright. His name was Aristotle. Here is what he said:

“Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach.”

Ever heard this one?

Probably not. Precious few people today have. This is a different sentiment entirely. This elevates the profession of teaching and (IMHO) is more accurate than Shaw’s take.

Aristotle’s wisdom had a 2000 year head start, but in one century Shaw’s twist on it has effectively erased the original from mainstream culture. This saddens me.

Cynicism is frequently more popular than sincerity. Its humor reaches many and at times it passes for insight. These are benefits for the cynic, but I’d like to point out the cost.

When affirmative wisdom loses ground because the cynical take steals our attention, I believe we are all diminished.

It makes me wonder: Where else is our wisdom being obscured by clever slogans?

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The Planting Season

‘Tis the season. The one with many names.

Most people call it the holiday season, but how you refer to the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day depends on who you are and what you do.

For consumers it’s shopping season. For retailers it’s profit season. For marketers it’s the window. For producers it’s the wall. It’s a time for inspection and reflection. A time for rapping up and wrapping up. For farmers this is the quiet time after the harvest, but for therapists… this is the planting season.

Families everywhere are reuniting and reigniting. Gifts are exchanged and buttons are pushed. Resentments long dormant through summer and fall are reawakened in a cornucopia of closeness. Drama for some, comedy for others. It can be filled with complexity and nuance, but through a therapist’s lens the scene is very simple:
Seeds are being planted.

These seeds sit quietly through the winter, doing their invisible business as newly planted seeds do.  And sometime in early spring they reemerge, sprouting new clients.

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When Online is Off-point

I just returned from an excellent professional conference. As a direct result I feel better able to serve my clients. This was meaningful Continuing Education!

I don’t get that feeling from online CEUs. I get the hours but I don’t get the infusion. I believe that’s where online is off-point. Hours are necessary, but live conference experience actually improves my practice.

I got to immerse myself in professional kinship and camaraderie. I got to write off some delicious meals and a fun trip. But most importantly…

I got to see the ICONs practice what they preach. I got to see the people I’ve studied for years come to life. I saw demonstrations by Sue Johnson, Bill O’Hanlon, Donald Michenbaum and many others. It solidified and clarified many elusive concepts in powerful ways.

I didn’t just rack up hours for license renewal, I’m genuinely inspired and enriched by this experience. My clients benefit also as I bring this fresh energy into the room.

I believe continuing education is significantly more effective if I see you when I CEU!

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The Meaning of Being a Psychotherpist

“I’m filled with gratitude & every day it grows. How could it not?
My appointment book is a bouquet of intimate moments.
My colleagues are a network of skilled empathizers.
My cost of doing business is self-care and personal development.
In the service of helping others I help myself.
Where else can I get so much value for giving so much value?
I learn. I grow. I love to inspire…
I am a Psychotherapist.”

Excerpt from “The Inspired Intern
A new book by Howard Scott Warshaw, MA, ME, LMFT

This book is from my heart. Share my inner journey from Trainee to Licensed Psychotherapist. People find it inspirational. They say it reawakens their passion by bringing them back to why they began this journey in the first place.

I’m very grateful and honored to provide this experience.

Available in Paperback and eBook:  Click here to check it out!

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Movie: MASH (1970)

MASH is an amazing movie. I’m not talking about the TV series here but the original movie from 1970, directed by Robert Altman.

This was a controversial film when it first came out because it was full of 1960’s cynicism and anti-war sentiment as well as lots of graphic blood-gushing surgical scenes. However, I believe this film also carries a very positive message which is frequently overlooked…

To me, this movie is about freedom. The freedom to choose our focus. The freedom to decide what to make of our experience rather than having it define us.

MASH is the story of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (the title is the acronym). This can be a very depressing place. Here are people confronting death and suffering on a daily basis. Yet their focus is on doing the best they can to alleviate the suffering and find ways to see past it, to distract from it and to lighten it up.

Not everyone in the film adheres to this philosophy, but those who resist it do so at their peril. Some adjust and some are crushed, they reap the consequences of their choices.

It’s a dark film to be sure, but it sheds a lot of light on how people may face traumatizing circumstances in the healthiest possible way. I find it very uplifting on this level.

While facing horror and death, these people choose to celebrate life… and in that celebration lies their salvation.

If you haven’t seen MASH, or haven’t seen it lately, check it out. It’s about finding/creating some good in a very bad situation. That’s a lesson I can always use.

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Telling My Story

We all have our story. From time to time we tell our story… to friends, relatives, co-workers, co-passengers, bystanders, strangers, bartenders, and of course people tell their story to therapists. It’s your story and you are the one telling it.

Here’s a big question: When you tell your story, do you tell the truth?

Some people embellish their story. Some people hedge a bit. Some gloss over details here and there while others outright fabricate.

So I ask you again: When you tell your story, do you tell the truth?

I believe you always tell the truth. You can’t help it. But the truth I’m talking about here is not objective, universal truth. I’m talking about your personal truth.

A therapist’s job is listening to your story and trying to zero in on the truth. Not the truth of the story, but the truth of you, the person. These are quite different things. We are always telling the truth about ourselves, to anyone who can see past our words.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, someone else winds up telling our story.

Here’s another big question: When someone else tells your story, do they tell the truth?

Absolutely they do! However, the truth they tell is their truth, not yours. You are hearing their story told through the details of your life. That is a very interesting (and potentially confusing) turn of events. But there is an upside…

It takes your story to new and interesting places. It opens up new ways of seeing the story when you view it through someone else’s eyes. This is a very rich opportunity indeed! It gives us the chance to find refreshingly new takes on our story… and ourselves.

Recently some very accomplished story tellers decided to tell a bit of my story. Here is a glimpse of what it can look like when that happens:

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