Monday, January 12, 2015

Before CBT There Was The Buddha

By Linda R. Winter, JD, MA, LCPC

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts,
with our thoughts we make the world.
Several years ago, I bought a wall hanging with this saying on it. At the time I was surprised that the Buddha had figured out the relationship between our thoughts and our emotions/reality as described by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck and the 20th-century forerunners and founders of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). The Buddha understood the relationship between thoughts and emotions without relying on research!! The cornerstone of CBT is that our emotions and reactions are derived from our thoughts. If we want to change our emotions or reactions, we start by changing thoughts that are not factual, not balanced, or not otherwise useful. CBT calls these kinds of thoughts distorted.
            The CBT model teaches people how to restructure distorted thoughts into fact-based, balanced, and helpful ways of understanding an event, ourselves, and the world. The Buddha reminds us that our thoughts are powerful. Like the Buddha, many modern scientists and philosophers believe that our mind is the most powerful part of who we are as human beings. Both the Buddha and CBT invite us to be responsible about how we think about ourselves, others, and the world. Because, it is “with [these] thoughts that we make [our] world,” we create so much of our own reality.
Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our unwise thoughts.
No one can help us as much as her own compassionate thoughts.Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, Jack Kornfield (1994)
            The Buddha talks about unwise thoughts in a way that sounds like CBT’s distortions. Specifically, what we say to and think about ourselves profoundly affects us. For those whose thoughts go to harsh judgments and criticisms about who we are, how we look, what we said, what we did, what we should have said and done . . . (you get the picture), life feels small, constrained, dark, and very painful. The Buddha reminds us that that these negative and distorted ways of speaking to and thinking about ourselves and the world cause us more suffering and destruction than our worst enemy can.
            The really good news is the reverse. When we bring compassion and balance into what we say to and think about ourselves and the world, great health and healing occur. The Buddha indicates that no external source can be as helpful and powerful as us speaking truthfully to ourselves with compassion. Some examples of health and healing are
  • Our mood improves
  • Our self-esteem improves
  • We become less irritated and impatient with others
  • We respond to events with more balance

            People just feel better about themselves and their lives.  CBT uses the vocabulary of factual, balanced, and helpful thoughts; Buddhism uses the vocabulary of compassion toward ourselves and others. However we get there it is a great place to be!!
A day spent judging another is a painful day.The day spent judging yourself is a painful day.
You don't have to believe your judgments; they're simply an old habit.Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, Jack Kornfield (1994)
            Judgments are labels we put on things, most often with a pejorative meaning. We use judgments as a way to see ourselves as better than or less than others, instead of seeing the humanity in everyone. Judgments lack compassion and curiosity, a pair worth noting. DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is a therapy model related to CBT, but it addresses judgments and judgmental thinking. DBT introduces the state of mind—Wise Mind, which is the balance between emotional thinking and rational thinking. DBT specifically teaches that when we are in a Wise Mind state of being, we are being non-judgmental. CBT and DBT state that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are separate from us. We experience and can observe our thoughts; they come and go, and we can let the ineffective, not useful thoughts go. 
Words have the power to destroy or heal.
When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, Jack Kornfield (1994)
From our thoughts to our words, the same observations apply. Just as we are encouraged to be responsible with our thoughts about ourselves and others, so too are we reminded to use our words with care when we speak with others. And no hiding behind the defense that anything can be said if it’s “true”! Truth is always to be tempered with kindness, another notable pair. The Buddha reminds us that when we bring together truth and kindness, change to ourselves and the world can occur.

            In the introduction to Jack Kornfield’s book Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are (2012), Daniel J. Siegal, M.D., a well-published neuroscientist, described Buddhism as “a science of mind and method of healing.” Siegal further explained, “I encountered Buddhism as a system of thought and understanding devoted to alleviating mental pain . . . and linking the mindful brain with the wise heart.” I rest my case, Before CBT (and DBT) there was the Buddha!!

Linda is a certified IFS therapist and also has extensive training in Somatic Experienced–based therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She has a great deal of experience working with those struggling with eating disorders, depression, trauma, and other life stressors.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Think, Before Acknowledging

By Michel Harris, RD, LDN, CDE

 One of my clients, who recently achieved her goal weight, arrived to our session looking defeated. She explained that her attempt to donate blood turned humiliating when the receptionist commented on her thin appearance and then announced to the entire room how much she weighed. A second client, who is close to her goal weight, endures hurtful comments from her co-workers on a daily basis. They cannot seem to stop reminding her of how lucky she is to “eat anything she wants and stay so thin.”

The way in which these people behaved towards my clients reminds me of a scene from the movie “Splash.” Darryl Hannah is in a department store purchasing underwear, and the saleslady, while trying to sell her something fancier, commented on her appearance, then said “My daughter-in-law, on the other hand is lucky, she’s anorexic.” For both of my clients, the remarks of others sting because having an eating disorder makes them feel anything but lucky. Just like the saleslady in “Splash,” these comments seem to equate underweight and thinness as a status everyone desires. While they wouldn't be expected to know the circumstances that my clients have faced, they have acted disrespectfully by assuming they enjoy being recognized for their appearance.

You may think that underweight and thin have the same meaning, but to clarify, underweight refers to someone who is not at his or her desired weight for health. A thin person is at a healthy weight but is often viewed as underweight by those who are dissatisfied by their own appearance.

As a dietitian, I have heard just as many stories involving humiliation of underweight and thin clients, as I have of those who are overweight or obese. However, since the media promotes underweight and thinness as the appearance everyone strives for, it is assumed that weight-related comments are welcomed by this population.

When you are about to ask your friend why she is eating yogurt or exercising because she is so thin, stop and remind yourself that she may be struggling with accepting her own body or maybe she is very confident with living a healthy lifestyle. Remember, you don’t know her life story or how she came to her current appearance.

I will close with a line from one of my favorite songs by the artist Monica: “Just one of them days a girl goes through.” While this song is about a relationship in which the girl apologizes to her boyfriend for wanting to be alone sometimes, I used to play this song in my college days when I was having a poor body image day. All of us, despite our body size, have days in which we are uncomfortable with our body. Let’s support each other and acknowledge our non-physical attributes.

Michel Harris is the staff nutritionist at The Awakening Center. She counsels clients individually and in group. Check back on the Calendar page for updates on new groups in 2015. Michel is accepting new clients, so call 773-929-6262 for more information.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Finding Your Tribe

By Erin Diedling, M.Ed, LCPC

Recently, I was invited to a retreat. I didn't know anyone attending, including the hosts who invited me. I knew very few of the details, and after I booked my travel arrangements the dates were changed. It was getting weird. At that point, I thought about not going. But my gut said “GO.” I checked in again and considered the outcome of going versus not going. It still said “GO GO GO!” Now I know why. Something about this group of strangers gathering to focus upon spirit and to heal together pulled at me.
            This group of healers were from around the globe, and each brought a special unique healing gift. All the gifts were different. We exchanged modalities and taught each other. At the meditation center, we sat under the majestic redwood trees and exchanged stories until late at night. It’s still unfolding. The relationships, transformation, and the experiences that were shared. The sense of belonging and connectedness. It was profound. My spirit got giddy to be around this group. We stay in touch and feed each other with strength and connection. It’s like push pins on a globe that light up when we video chat.
            Then I came home and was so excited to share the transformation with my colleagues and clients. I realized I had a work tribe. I get to work with a crew of unbelievably talented practitioners. We get excited to see each other in the halls and trade stories and support each other’s work. It’s kinda magical.
            I’m blessed. I have a tribe. I have many tribes.
            So often in our work at The Awakening Center with complex trauma, eating disorders, high anxiety, and so forth, clients are isolated. The biggest difficulties many of my clients face are loneliness and isolation. People can experience that in a crowd or at home alone. I know that seeking company is risky for some. It can be uncomfortable. And I’ll admit, I can be an extrovert when I want to (or when I need to be). Introverts can have a tough time taking advice from an extrovert because their fear is overlooked. I want to acknowledge your fear. It’s risky. You can get hurt. There’s a deep longing to connect without the means or the understanding of how.
            So I will ask, where are the invites? Is there an interest you have that pulls at you. Is there and alumni organization, cultural club, business group, and on and on?
            I urge clients and friends to seek out their tribes when they’re feeling lost. Author and spiritual leader Rob Bell said, “If you’re feeling your world is too small or if you’re feeling stuck, then make your world bigger.”
            Is there a tribe that is inviting you? Is there a tribe that calls you? If you have to convince or campaign for it, it’s probably not your tribe.
            Or, consider the tribes that are inviting you. Are they appealing to you? Do they freak you out and make you want to run? Probably not your tribe. Sometimes it’s like the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Ugly Duckling. He can’t see its own beauty. He thinks he’s a duck who looks different from other ducks. It takes a couple of mated beautiful swans to initiate the naïve swan into the tribe. “Look at you at your grace and talent, where have you been, we’ve missed you, come swim with us.”
            Sometimes our biological families are our tribes. Other times we create a family out of friends, coworkers, places of common interest, the art studio, volunteer organizations, places of worship, or institutions of learning.
            Please respond, and let people reading this blog know where you find and have found your tribe. Where do you get a sense of belonging? And how do you invite others to join in? Thanks for reading this. I’m grateful for your participation.

Erin is Director of Trauma Healing and Sr. Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She completed an advanced 3 year training with Somatic Experience Trauma Institute (SETI). She does body-centered psychotherapy, teaches meditation, and leads the Somatic Experience–informed trauma group at The Awakening Center. She periodically teaches her signature Design Your Life Workshop. She specializes in treating complex trauma, eating/anxiety disorders as well performers and artists. Erin dances, paints, and writes in Chicago. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Break the Cycle By Using an Alternate Exit

By Annie Felice, MA, LPC
Have you ever felt trapped in a cycle of behaviors? You know the pattern all too well, but you somehow can't find the "exit" and you just keep going round and round. Perhaps you can relate to the following example.
            Jane comes home from a stressful day at work. Her boss had reprimanded her for making a mistake in a meeting with a new client, and Jane had felt embarrassed and ashamed for the rest of the work day. The Distractor Part of Jane recognizes her need for relief from these emotions and turns to binge eating within minutes of walking through her apartment door. Bingeing provides a temporary distraction, until the Critical Part of Jane scolds her: "What's wrong with you? Don't you have any self-control? It's only 6pm, and you've already ruined the night!" 
            How do you think Jane's embarrassment and shame are doing following that criticism? Not so great—in fact, they feel even bigger! Jane's own Critical Part actually exacerbated the emotions that were triggered at work by producing even more embarrassment and shame. Remember that Distractor Part who helped Jane earlier? Well, it now senses that Jane feels even worse. To relieve her from the double dose of embarrassment and shame, the Distractor Part engages in binge eating a second time, which once again infuriates Jane's Critical Part.
            See the cycle? It really can be hard to find the exit. Here's where the concept of Opposite Action, taken from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, can be helpful. Opposite Action means intentionally choosing to act and think in a way that is opposite of your emotionally driven response or impulse.
            It's understandable for Jane to feel upset with herself after she binges because she knows that there are other ways of coping that are healthier and more effective. However, if Jane responds from the place of criticism, she intensifies her original emotions of embarrassment and shame. So, what would it be like if Jane used the tool of Opposite Action?
            After her first binge, Jane notices that her Critical Part is active, and then she thinks about what usually happens when she operates from that place. Historically, it has led Jane to punish herself after a night of binge eating, telling her to spend the rest of the evening in the gym and to avoid eating in the morning. The Critical Part tells her that she might as well just wear her pajamas the next day because there's no way she could look nice!
            Jane identifies that compassion is the opposite of her usual criticism. After bingeing, Jane moves from compassion, instead of criticism, and says to herself, "I know that I was trying to help myself feel better by bingeing. Just because I binged, it doesn't mean the night is ruined. I am going to think about other ways to help myself feel better." 
            Not only does Jane think differently, but she acts differently, too. Jane decides that spending the rest of the night in the gym is not what she needs after a difficult work day. She takes a short walk around her neighborhood to get a little fresh air and to reflect upon what would truly be nurturing and relaxing for her. She decides to take a long bath when she returns home. The next morning, Jane eats a breakfast that will both fill and satisfy her. Scanning her closet, Jane decides to put on her pretty new scarf that she has been looking forward to wearing.
            Did you notice how Opposite Action prevented a second binge? There was no need for it because there was no second layer of embarrassment and shame, and Jane continued to nurture herself in other ways that night and the following morning. Even more powerful is the message Jane sent to her system—despite her mistake at work and her binge, she is still worthy of compassion. When might it be useful for you to "act opposite"? It could be the exit that you’ve been searching for!
Annie is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at TAC. She also leads the Monday night Eating Disorders Therapy Group. She can be reached

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Project Be(You)tiful

By The Awakening Center’s Graduate Interns

What do you like most about your body? We recently posed this question to the students attending Loyola University’s Wellness Fair. Once the students decided what they liked most, we asked them to write it on a sticky note and place it on a poster of a blank outline of the human body. Gradually, the body began to take on a form, created by sticky notes. “My hair.” “My smile.” “My boobs.” “My strong legs.” “My unclogged arteries.” “My forearms—they’re jacked.” “My skin.”
            Unlike the photos of the body that we see daily in the media—which represent an “ideal” body that excludes almost everyone—our Post-it person was created through shared affirmation. It was amazing to see how students who were reluctant to participate, or groaned that there was nothing they liked about their bodies, embraced the activity once they saw how many other people had chosen to affirm something they liked about their body. The students created a new, ideal representation of the body that included all sizes, races, genders, and sexual orientations. It was a body that represented both the dignity of the individual and the joy of community. By choosing to love their own bodies, the students contributed towards creating a new ideal.
            We invite you to answer this question for yourself today. What do you like most about your body? What could change if you took a moment every day to remind yourself of your answer?

All the spots for our Body Image Workshop scheduled for October 25 from 1pm to 3pm have been filled; if you’d like to be added to the waitlist you can contact Adriana Speiker at Or, Follow The Awakening Center on Facebook or Twitter to find out about all of our upcoming workshops, groups, and events.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dog Walkers and Dialectics: A Lesson in Acceptance

by Annie Felice, MA, LPC

As many dog owners likely experience, I run into the same people over and over again while I am walking my dog, Brandy. There are two people whom I particularly enjoy seeing--an elderly couple who are the parents of an adorable Cairn Terrier named Brynne. I don't know their names, as the dogs were the only ones who were introduced, so I'll refer to them as Mary and John.
            The first time I saw Mary and John walking on the lake path, it was technically spring, but it still felt like winter, quite chilly and very windy. Mary and John greeted me with a "good morning," and we chatted a little as Brandy and Brynne exchanged their dog greetings. Although our interaction was brief, Mary and John left a lasting impression. Mary used a cane to walk, and one side of her back was noticeably stooped. She and John walked at a slower pace, yet they had ventured quite far on the lake path on this blustery day. I was struck by the couple's patience, determination, and companionship.
            Last week, I was happy to bump into Mary and John after not seeing them for a few months. I asked how they were, and John replied, "Oh we've been good. My wife has been having bad back problems, as you can see." Mary added with a smile, "Yes, it would be nice if I could stand up straight, and I can't right now." John then concluded, "We like our walks, so here we are!"
            Walking home from the lake that day, I realized how simply and beautifully Mary and John exemplified the dialectic of acceptance and change. A dialectic is the holding together or synthesizing of two seemingly contradictory or opposing ideas. Thinking dialectically is the opposite of either-or or black-or-white thinking.
            From my experience, the hardest dialectic for my clients to grasp is that of acceptance and change. Many of my clients, and many people in general, believe that we either accept something or we change it. I invite my clients to consider that we can both accept something while also working towards changing it. In fact, acceptance is a prerequisite for meaningful change to occur!
            Acceptance does not mean that you are giving up or giving in, nor does it mean that you love something the way that it is in this moment. It does mean, however, that you accept or acknowledge the reality of a situation. You are recognizing what is. Acceptance allows us to move on, while non-acceptance keeps us stuck in place. For example, Mary could have said, "I refuse to accept that I'm having back problems; I can't stand that my body is different than it used to be." That response would have left her stuck with no new options. Not only would she have experienced the physical pain and disappointment of her back problems, but she would have also been faced with the psychological pain of anger or denial.
            Remember what Mary told me earlier? She said, "Yes, it would be nice if I could stand up straight, and I can't right now." Because she accepted her reality (having back problems), she could literally and figuratively move on! Acceptance allowed her to explore other options, one of which was using a cane for her ease and safety. Mary could've refused to accept using a cane. She might have said, "I simply can't accept walking with a cane! I've never had to use one before." However, she accepted that a cane was now helpful for her. This acceptance then created additional alternatives for her, such as walking the lake path with her husband and dog, which she couldn't have accomplished without using her cane.

            Even if you don't love everything about your body today, you can still accept it for how it is in this moment. Accepting your body leads to making choices for your body that are compassionate and mindful. And guess what making compassionate and mindful choices leads to? Change!

Annie is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at TAC. She also leads the Monday night Eating Disorders Therapy Group. She can be reached

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Myths of Recovery - #1

There are many myths about recovery – and in this Blog I’d like to highlight one of them.  The myth is: “If I recover, then all the people in my life will be different.  Everyone will recover along with me.  And I will never have to deal with difficult or dysfunctional people ever again.”
Oh if only that were true!  I know that some families are motivated enough to do the deep difficult work to change along with their daughter or son who is recovering.  But many families are not.  Some will do some surface work and change a behavior or two – and some may even maintain those changes for a long while, maybe forever! 
But many of my clients come from families that are resistant to change because their own Parts are so extreme and may not have the “Self-energy” to tolerate the discomfort necessary to make lasting changes. 
So I tell my clients, “Your family may not recover along with you.  They are who they are!”  And then my clients have to do double work, they have to do the deep difficult work necessary to recover – and they have to find a way to maintain that recovery in a family that may stay as difficult and dysfunctional as ever. 
Some clients resist accepting that their families will not change – and they may use a lot of time and energy to get their families to change.  They may even put their own recovery on hold while they try and try and try and try, thinking, “If I try hard enough, then they will be different, and if they are different, then they will love me.” 
I have an analogy that I give to illustrate the futile nature of this.  Your friends go to a pet store and come home with kittens and puppies.  You see them cuddling with and petting these pets and you want one too.  So you go to the pet store and they hand you a box.  You go home and open the box and find that it’s a hedgehog!  You want to cuddle and pet the hedgehog, but when you try, you get hurt by the prickly spines. 
There are some good things about having a hedgehog – they are unusual animals and I’m sure they do some fun things.  But you have to be careful when you handle a hedgehog.  You may need to wear special gloves and wrap the hedgehog in a protective towel.
No matter what you do, a hedgehog will not turn into a kitten or a puppy.  If you are really nice, the hedgehog will still be a hedgehog.  If you give it a lot of money, it still will be a hedgehog.  If you lose weight, it’s still a hedgehog.  If you are perfect, it’s still a hedgehog.  It will never, ever turn into a kitten or puppy.
For those of you who come from difficult or dysfunctional families the same is true – we may not get the same things as our friends get from their families.  There may be some unique things about our families that we can enjoy, but we may need to handle them in special ways – ways that our friends don’t have to do. And no matter what we do, they will always be the way they are.  “They are who they are!”
When we can accept our families the way they are, when we stop spending so much time and energy trying to get them to change, then we can work on the “special ways to handle” our families so our recovery isn’t derailed every time we are with them.
I hope you ponder what “special ways” do you need to learn to handle your family?   You may want to read another of my Blog articles: “Changing The Game” to learn a fun way to deal with your family:
Amy Grabowski

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC is the Director of The Awakening Center.  She established The Awakening Center 20 years ago!  Yet, she feels like it was only yesterday!