What Are the Characteristics of an Effective Therapist?

Are you in therapy or have you sought counseling in the past? Are you currently practicing as a therapist or counselor? This article explores what makes a therapist effective (or not).

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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For readers less familiar with counseling as a profession, I’ll briefly review the mission, values, and ethics established by the American Counseling Association (ACA) to guide professional counselors. The ACA’s mission is “to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.”

 Professional values include the following:

  1. enhancing human development throughout the life span
  2. honoring diversity and embracing a multicultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural contexts
  3. promoting social justice
  4. safeguarding the integrity of the counselor–client relationship
  5. practicing in a competent and ethical manner

Ethics include autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice, fidelity, and veracity.

 

The ACA outlines professional values and ethics, but for the purpose of this article, I wanted to learn about current perceptions and views. Also, how do counselors exemplify the code in their practices? Using social media (Reddit and Quora) as a survey tool, I reached out to mental health professionals and therapy participants; I also browsed through older threads and posts on the topic.

I read about traits (like active listening and compassion) that are important to both therapy participants and clinicians. Additionally, I learned about negative experiences, which was disheartening. So what makes a good (or bad) clinician?

An effective therapist is someone who…

Actively listens

Is kind and compassionate

Practices honesty

Is transparent

Puts a lot of thought into what they say

Educates their clients (coping skills, symptoms, stress management, etc.)

Conveys warmth

Reflects and validates feelings

Understands human behavior and mental disorders

Is non-judgmental

Sets and adheres to healthy boundaries

Is genuine (and genuinely cares for their clients)

Has a wide range of techniques and a variety of tools

Is humble (and gives advice sparingly)

Creates a safe place for healing

Is knowledgeable (evidence-based practices, current research, etc.) and intelligent

Possesses emotional intelligence

Is respectful

Experiences and conveys empathy

Has a sense of humor

Is curious

Has patience

Is trustworthy

Recognizes and values other perspectives

Interestingly, a few responders took into account a therapist’s personal values and views (not just how they conduct themselves in a session). As a counselor, this resonated. For example, a therapist can’t be genuine if they’re empathetic with their clients, but rude or nasty otherwise. Being a counselor means fully embracing the code of conduct. Consider how it would feel to discover your therapist treats restaurant staff poorly or gets hammered and then drives. It would likely leave a bad taste in your mouth. A good clinician is a role-model. Furthermore, it’s important for a counselor to be emotionally stable and self-aware, which is something I’ll explore shortly.

Some personal values/traits for effectiveness include…

Resilience
Optimism
Faith in humanity
Courage
Self-acceptance
Holding others and self accountable
Self-awareness
Seeking to improve self and grow, both personally and professionally
Self-esteem and acceptance
Practicing self-care

Regarding professional development, it was noted by Lazar_Milgram (Reddit user) that a counselor must commit to “relearning,” meaning re-reading text books, literature, and research to prevent it from fading. As humans, we forget things. We need to go back to the original source of knowledge now and again. It’s not enough to go to grad school; a counselor must commit to a lifelong education. Along those lines, Lazara_Milgram reported that an effective counselor re-visits his/her failures. If we were unable to help a client for one reason or another, it’s worth it to review their file and our records, consult, and then learn from our mistakes.

On self-awareness, Reddit user Valirony, a marriage and family therapist, shared it’s important for a therapist to be aware of “[his/her] own existing issues and [be] either well-processed on those fronts and/or very capable of compartmentalizing the baggage that is less well-processed.”

To expand on this, consider the experience of emotional anguish. An empathetic person who has experienced a personal tragedy may consequently feel a desire to ease suffering in others. Naturally, they’re drawn to the counseling profession; but if their wounds haven’t healed, they lack the capacity to help their clients.

Sadly, some counselors enter the profession seeking to “fix” others as an attempt to compensate for being unable to face their own issues. In contrast, an effective therapist recognizes his/her limitations as a counselor, especially in the face of personal tragedy. They recognize when it’s their own “stuff” (and not the client) triggering a reaction. They leave the past where it belongs and carry little to no emotional baggage. This allows them to be fully present and engaged.

Valirony (Reddit user) also discussed constructive criticism. It’s essential for the effective therapist to remain open to constructive feedback in order to grow. Valirony explained, “I see a lot of defensiveness in some of my colleagues during consultation; I’m no saint and I feel defensive here and there, but I always take a look at that defensiveness for whatever it is in me that I need to change.” Defensiveness is a clue that something’s not right. On constructive feedback, Reddit user Lazar_Milgram suggested, “Embrace criticism – every criticism is a 50/50 package of perceptual information about you. 50% tells something about you and 50% tells something about client.” Providing it’s thoughtful and well-presented, criticism can inspire insight or provide a new way of looking at something.

Ann Veilleux, a private-practice psychotherapist and Quora user, identified emotional intelligence as a trait for effectiveness. “Intelligence comes to mind first, emotional intelligence certainly, a curiosity and interest in people [as] more [than] machines or plants.” Emotional intelligence is innate; it can’t be developed the way a skill can. Furthermore, a good clinician is curious, but their interest is attached to the well-being of their clients. Veilleux pointed out that an effective therapist must possess interest and ability – not one or the other – in order to sustain the level of investment therapy demands. It’s the “interest and ability to have intimate relationships with many people at the same time and not to tire of that.”

The Therapeutic Relationship

With regard to the client-counselor dynamic, an effective therapist recognizes that the relationship is central to the therapeutic process; it’s the key to healing and growth. A client must trust the counselor before they feel safe enough to share their pain or humiliation or guilt. Traits like warmth, humor, and transparency foster an honest and caring relationship. Counseling skills are important, but can only go so far without a trusting relationship.

To promote a supportive relationship, Reddit user RedYNWA suggested that counselors practice empathy without being overly emotional. RedYNWA described how they felt when their therapist cried in session. “I believe my topic brought up something personal for her. The minute she cried. I stopped talking, and changed the topic. I felt she was unable to hold my topic, and I felt a responsibility to ease her distress. It changed our relationship, I felt like the therapist, and it restricted my ability to divulge deep emotions. It was unintentional on her side. However, it destroyed the therapeutic relationship.”

In the above situation, a counselor’s emotional reactivity upset the balance of the therapeutic relationship. Unintentionally, the therapist sent a strong message. The message was that she was too fragile to hear her client’s pain. If the therapist can’t be strong, how can the client? A counselor who breaks that easily can’t be a source of unwavering support. It’s the client’s job to cry; the therapist’s job is to remain calm, to maintain a safe environment, and to instill hope.

I am acquainted with therapists (colleagues and former peers) who occasionally cry in sessions. Sometimes, it’s an instinctive reaction to hearing the horrors clients have gone through; the discrimination, the trauma, the abuse, and worse. There was a time I cried while facilitating a group, but it wasn’t related to anything being said. That morning, I had learned a former client died by suicide. He shot himself in the head. He was only 22. I felt vulnerable and self-conscious about crying in front of my clients. Later, my supervisor helped me to understand that crying can make a therapist seem more human and authentic, which has the potential to strengthen the counseling relationship while conveying empathy.

Some clients will feel closer to a therapist who cries; others will feel uncomfortable. There’s no right or wrong. Quora user Philippe Gross, Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Hawaii, pointed out that even with all the right qualities, a therapist will not be a good fit with every client. When this happens, Gross stated that “an effective therapist should be able to recognize this soon and refer the client to a more appropriate therapist.”

One Reddit user and professional counselor, ForeverJung, touched on the importance of not getting caught up in their clients’ pain to the point it becomes their own (also known as vicarious trauma). It’s having “the ability to care deeply and then shut it off,” which can be difficult, especially for new counselors. ForeverJung also shared that an effective counselor must be able to listen, while at the same time “synthesizing data,” and then provide a constructive response that the client will be able to make sense of.

Redddit user blueybluel shared about a therapist they described as absolutely wonderful. “She was incredibly empathetic and patient with me, almost to a fault I felt like sometimes. But it really helped me a lot with my self-hatred, self sabotage and suicidal thoughts because for the first time ever, I was regularly associating with a person who was so soft with me. She genuinely thought I was a great person just the way I was, and that I didn’t have to accomplish and be perfect all the time just to have worth and to deserve to live.”

Similarly, Gatopajama (Reddit user) described positive interactions with their current therapist, who shares their odd sense of humor. “[My therapist] is serious when the topic calls for it, but usually a session with her feels very comfortable and laid back, like having coffee with a girlfriend. She also shares a little bit about herself sometimes (not in an inappropriate or TMI way) — it makes me feel like I’m talking to a real person and not a human psychology textbook. Plus, she’s got a gigantic bowl of moonsand in her office. Sometimes I plop that thing on my lap and play with it the whole hour to keep my hands busy if I’m trying to talk about something difficult.”

What are the traits or characteristics of an ineffective therapist?

While some traits (such as having a gigantic bowl of moonsand!) positively impact the counseling process, others contribute to nonproductive (or even harmful) therapy. When I elicited feedback on effectiveness, I learned about some horribly ineffective and disturbing practices.

An incompetent clinician lacks self-awareness and insight in addition to the required knowledge and skill. They may have entered the field for all the wrong reasons. They’re rigid and closed to new ways of thinking. Most importantly, they don’t listen to their clients. Ssdgmok, a Reddit user, described a bad clinician as “someone who talks about themselves each session, poor listening and ‘giving advice.’” Contrary to popular belief, a counselor’s role is not to advise the client. A therapist is more like a collaborative partner who leads the client to their own insights while providing the tools for change.

To give a personal example of a therapist who talked too much (although not about herself) and didn’t listen, I’ll use myself – but in the role of the client, not the clinician. I was in my late teens and it was one of my first experiences seeing a counselor (a middle-aged woman). The therapist had apparently just finished a session with a young woman who had attempted suicide. And the therapist proceeded to tell me all about it. Meanwhile, I was bursting with pain and self-doubt; and the therapist continued to talk about the client who had just left her office. She went on and on about how she couldn’t believe “that little girl” swallowed an entire bottle of Tylenol. It was like she didn’t hear a word I said, and I left feeling even worse. (Luckily, that experience didn’t poison my view of the profession or dissuade me from entering the field a decade later.)

 

A Reddit user shared about expressing thoughts of suicide to their therapist

Jwaggin
“Therapist: Are you suicidal
Me: Yea…
Therapist: You hate your mom?
Me: uhhh no
Therapist:Well if you kill yourself your mom would be very hurt
Me: uhhh ok (thanks for the guilt)”

If this happened, it’s clear that the therapist lacked not only empathy, but a basic understanding of mental illness. An effective therapist never shames or “guilts” a client. The client is already in pain (which is what brought them to therapy in the first place). Also, when a client says they’re suicidal, it’s the therapist’s responsibility to explore this with the client while ensuring the client’s safety. An effective therapist helps the client to identify what (if anything) would prevent them from killing themselves; the clinician won’t admonish the client for their hopelessness. To do so would be demeaning, with a disregard to human dignity.

Reddit user blueybluel shared, “When I told [the therapist] all my struggles, she seemed empathetic, but then got on this weird shtick of telling me to do homework of writing down things I like about myself, in an aggressive, demanding, pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of way, and said, “Can you do that for me? By next week?” I canceled the next appointment and never saw her again.”

There’s no room for aggression in this profession. A good therapist is gentle; they don’t give orders. Instead, they explore, listen, and ask questions. It’s a respectful partnership between client and counselor.

 

After tragically losing their infant son, a Reddit user sought therapy 

wonder-maker
“I explained my situation about having lost my infant son in a tragic household accident. She asked me to wait a moment, got up, walked to the front desk, came back with a sticky note from the receptionist and told me to come back and see a different therapist at a later date, then refused to make eye contact with me.
The next therapist said to my face ‘Boohoo, your kid died, get over it.'”

In the above example, the first therapist was a woman in her early 40s and the second was a male in his 60s. I’m disturbed by what happened to wonder-maker (Reddit user); and I’m horrified that these “helpers” are out there providing counseling services. The female therapist’s reaction could be explained by lack of experience or skill; alternatively, hearing about the accident could have triggered her (which is why self-awareness is so important). However, there is no excuse or explanation for what the male clinician said. You don’t have to be a therapist to feel empathy or compassion (but you do have to be a jerk to tell a grieving parent to “get over” the loss of a child).

Final Thoughts

In summary, there are many things that positively impact a counselor’s effectiveness, while opposite traits are related to incompetent practice. An effective counselor is an active listener, expresses empathy and compassion, and is genuine and transparent. They promote healing and self-exploration. The therapeutic relationship is also important. An effective clinician creates a safe environment for building trust while providing support. Additionally, to be effective, a therapist must commit to a lifelong pursuit of knowledge to learn new techniques and evidence-based practices, to understand how scientific developments will change the counseling profession, and to keep up-to-date on relevant research.

In contrast, a therapist who is uncaring, uninterested, and who doesn’t listen will never be effective. A counselor who constantly advises their clients or who shames their clients is incompetent and unethical. Furthermore, the absence of emotional intelligence greatly impacts a clinician’s counseling abilities.

Regarding personal values and lifestyle choices, there’s a gray area. Can a therapist who gossips or who abuses sleeping pills provide effective services? What about a marriage counselor who cheats on his wife? While a few therapy participants and mental health professionals emphasized the importance of a therapist’s personal integrity, most responders viewed effectiveness in the context of therapy alone.

Lastly, therapy participants who reported unproductive or even damaging experiences received services from therapists who did not adhere to the ACA code. Conversely, positive and effective experiences were related to ACA values.

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Were there any surprises in this post? Were any important traits not mentioned? Please provide feedback in the comments section!

Interview: Breakfast Beers, Bloating, and Blackouts

“Every night, I would drink until I passed out, often fully clothed with a beer in hand. I would then wake up, brush my teeth and immediately vomit. I would brush my teeth again and then go to work.” This was the daily routine for JMS, who wore his alcoholism as a badge and didn’t plan to live past 30. In this interview, a recovering alcoholic discusses addiction, sobriety, what everyone should know about alcoholism, and why you might be a jerk if you believe a common myth.

Interviewer: Cassie Jewell, LPC

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JMS, a recovering alcoholic, has been sober for nearly six years. He started drinking at the age of 13. He continued to drink throughout his 20s, a “dark and miserable existence,” and didn’t think he’d live to be 30. In 2012, a suicide attempt nearly claimed his life. He woke up in a psych unit, having no memory of what happened, and decided he wasn’t ready to die.

JMS’s “official” recovery date is July 5, 2012. The following is an interview about how he got sober, why AA isn’t for everyone, and why you’re a shitty person if you believe addiction is a choice.


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What’s your definition of recovery?

JMS: I don’t see recovery as an end goal. To me, recovery is a path towards my end goal, which is contentment. I have found that I will never be content and happy with my life if I am using some sort of substance. For me, recovery is complete sobriety from all mentally and physically altering substances. I have tried and learned that I cannot pick and choose what to use. It does not work for me. More than just abstinence, recovery is a way of life. It is about being accountable for your actions, admitting when you are wrong, trying your best, and letting things go. Just trying to be a better person than I was yesterday.

  

Is alcoholism a disease?

It is difficult for people to accept that alcoholics suffer from a disease and are not just a bunch of selfish degenerates that don’t care about their lives.

JMS: I feel the word “disease” can be quite polarizing when discussing addiction. Alcoholism is chronic, progressive, and fatal. Much like diabetes, alcoholism is a relapsing disorder that needs a lifetime of monitoring and treatment. Based on these facts, yes, alcoholism is a disease. I feel this is a difficult idea for people to swallow. Much of addiction has been seen as a moral issue or a failing of willpower. It is difficult for people to accept that alcoholics suffer from a disease and are not just a bunch of selfish degenerates that don’t care about their lives.Obesity holds a similar stigma, though fat shaming has started to catch a bad rap.



When did you realize you had a drinking problem?

I knew for a long time that I was unable to stop drinking, but I didn’t care. I never had any intention of making it to 30 years old

JMS: Hmm, that’s a tough question to answer. My gut response here is to say when I went to jail for my 3rd DUI in 2010, which is when I started to actually try to get sober. But if I am honest with myself, I was well aware that there was a problem years before that. I knew for a long time that I was unable to stop drinking, but I didn’t care. I never had any intention of making it to 30 years old.I lived a really dark and miserable existence for most of my 20s. I could identify story after story about when I should have realized that there was a problem. Destroyed friendships, arrests, hospital visits, blackouts, poor choices, breakfast beers, etc. The truth is, I knew that I drank differently from my friends when I was a kid. When we would wake up hung over after a party, I was the one that would sneak vodka shots. So, I think somewhere in there, I was always aware that it was a problem. I come from a family of alcoholics. My father, his sisters, and his parents are/were all alcoholics. So it was almost a badge of honor to be another alcoholic [last name].



In active addiction, how did alcohol affect your health and appearance?

I learned that it is not normal to have diarrhea everyday for 10+ years.

JMS: I lost 60 lbs. when I stopped drinking. I changed absolutely nothing other than cutting out beer and dropped 60 lbs. I looked and felt a lot less bloated. I also learned that it is not normal to have diarrhea everyday for 10+ years. Honestly, the biggest physical change I experienced, that I am still grateful for today, is acid reflux. While drinking, I kept TUMS in business. I never went anywhere without them. Today, I need to eat some TUMS when I eat pizza or spicy food… you know, like a normal person. I never noticed the impact that drinking had on my sleep until I was no longer drinking. The first few months I really struggled to sleep well since I never had healthy sleep hygiene. Allow me to paint you a picture. Every night, I would drink until I passed out, often fully clothed with a beer in hand. I would then wake up, brush my teeth and immediately vomit. I would brush my teeth again and then go to work. Shower or not, I always reeked of alcohol, so showering was not a top priority. I always thought that I never got hangovers, but once sober I realized that I only thought that because being hung-over was my normal and I was experiencing them every morning. Ugh, the physical impact that had on my life is really something I do not miss.



How (and why) did you get sober? Who and/or what helped? Also, share about some things that were not helpful to you.

JMS: I got sober because I did not want to die. I tried to kill myself the last time that I drank. I do not remember what happened, but I remember waking up in a psych unit in the hospital. There are a bunch of people that were integral to the success of my sobriety at this time. My family is number one. They never gave up on me, despite the hell I put them through. I moved back into my mom’s house when I got out of the hospital. She and my siblings were nothing but supportive of me then and still to this day. I do not know if I would be sober today without their unconditional love and support.There are four other people that I owe my life to at this point. My therapist, my addiction counselor, Bob, my friend Alex, and my friend Jon.  I had been working with my therapist for a few years prior to my last drinking adventure. She has always been willing to challenge me and has been a safe space for me to work through some of my biggest fears. She has really helped me understand the nature of my addictions and helped me reframe my thinking and processing of my emotions.

I didn’t buy into [AA].

I have been through multiple addiction treatment programs in my life and none of them stuck. I always approached them with a cynical eye and was just going through the motions to get my family or the courts off my back. A condition of my discharge from the hospital was to enroll in an intensive outpatient program. This is where I met Bob. I figured this was another bullshit program that I was going to have to work through to keep people off my back. Bob was different. He encouraged us to go to 12-step meetings. Of course, I refused. I didn’t buy into those programs. Bob challenged me here. He asked that I attend one meeting in the coming week and write a list of everything that I hated in the meeting. I gladly did this and came back and an entire 8.5×11 sheet of paper full of my gripes. Bob listened to my list and challenged me to go to another one the next week and make a new list with different complaints. I rose to this challenge and did it again, glad to prove my point that AA was stupid and not for me. Bob again listened to my list (without arguing against any complaints) and provided another challenge. Bob asked me to go to another meeting and make a list of the things that I liked from the meeting. I did and, as any alcoholic can tell you, you are bound to hear things in an AA meeting that resonate with you, whether you buy in to the program or not. Bob continued to challenge me to go to meetings, not to go and drink the kool-aid and say some prayers, but to see what I can find that I like. There were other aspects of Bob that I couldn’t figure out why I liked him until one day, I walked into an AA meeting and he was sitting at the front table leading the meeting. Bob is an alcoholic. In that moment I knew that he understood my struggle. Bob was sober and doing meaningful work. Bob was ok. I wanted to be like Bob.

I owe my life to Alex.

I met Alex in the IOP [program] that Bob ran. Alex and I came from different worlds (he was smoking crack on the streets in Baltimore [and] I was drinking in bars in DC), but we had the same reality of sobriety or death. Alex went with me to those AA meetings [around the time that] Bob was challenging me. Alex also brought me to the meeting that would become my home group and introduced me to the people that would soon be my AA family. I owe my life to Alex. I would be remiss not to pay homage to Alex. Alex was murdered in an Oxford house a year in to our sobriety. Alex died sober, which was something he never believed would happen. I miss him every single day.

Finally, my friend Jon; he and I started drinking together as kids. He and I lived together after college and blossomed into the full fledged alcoholics we became. And he and I got sober around the same time on different coasts of the country. When I got out of the hospital, Jon moved back east from California and moved into my mom’s basement. He and I went to AA meetings daily, often more than just one each day. We then spent that first year of sobriety living together trying to figure out how to live.

I did not give a damn about anything while in my active addiction, so telling me you were going to breakup with me or I was going to lose my job did not matter.

What was not helpful? Counselors who tried to tell me about sobriety that clearly did not understand addiction. Ultimatums also did not help. I did not give a damn about anything while in my active addiction, so telling me you were going to breakup with me or I was going to lose my job did not matter. Probation was useless. The biggest impact the state had on my drinking was when I was sent to jail.



What prevents you from going back to drinking?

There is nothing in your life that a drink can’t make worse.

JMS: My life now. I love the person I am today. When I was drinking, I hated myself. I never want to be that person again, and I don’t have to be as long as I don’t drink. I have come to the realization that my worst day sober is infinitely better than my best day drinking. I don’t attend AA meetings anymore, but many of the slogans still bounce around in my head. The most important one I ever heard was, “There is nothing in your life that a drink can’t make worse.” I’m not going to lie and say that now I am sober, life is easy and happy and super fun all the time. It’s not. However, I am better equipped to handle the bullshit in life with a clear head. I would be lying to say that I don’t experience cravings but I know that a drink is not the solution to life’s problems.



What’s something you wish you had known before you became addicted to alcohol? (If you could go back in time and have a word with your younger self, what would you say?)

JMS: I feel like most people will expect me to say something like, “I would slap that first drink out of my hand!” That is not true for me at all.I am the person I am today because of my history with drinking. I am proud of the person I have become and I am not sure I would be who I am without the struggles I went through. I would want to assure myself that it was going to turn out okay and that I would not be that miserable forever. I do wish I had understood and cared about (at the time) the severity of the pain and worry I put my mom and siblings through.



What something you wish everyone knew about alcoholism?

JMS: It is not a choice. Alcoholics don’t drink the way they do because they don’t care about you or their families. They drink the way they do because they cannot control the cravings and urges and are overcome by guilt/shame/fear/pain. I am fairly confident that if every alcoholic could “just stop drinking” they would. Alcoholism is exhausting.

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What are your thoughts on AA?

JMS: AA can save lives. I attribute my sobriety to the teachings of, and people I met in, AA. That being said, AA does not work for everyone. I like to [view] AA [as] a religion. AA meetings are akin to going to church, the Big Book is the bible, and sobriety is heaven. Some people need to go to church daily to find their way to heaven. Others only need to read the text to understand the tenets of the religion to find their way there. And some people find their way into heaven following other religious texts or none at all. There is no wrong way to get sober. I do have complaints about AA and I feel there are aspects of it that prevent people from finding their way to sobriety. The focus on actual religion in AA is a major turn-off for people. While AA espouses that it is non-denominational and that we alcoholics are welcome to choose the God of our understanding, we are then thrown into a prayer circle to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting. For a low-bottom newly sober person, it is difficult to believe that there is a God that would allow us to sink so low and experience so much pain. But as I mentioned above in my story about Bob, he challenged me to find what I hated (and you better believe that GOD was written in huge letters on that first sheet of paper) and taught me to focus on what I liked.

If you are struggling, try it.

So, my thoughts? If you are struggling, try it. Ignore the God part for now. Listen to other people tell your story and see that it is possible to get better.

How do you feel when people drink around you?

JMS: In a word, annoyed. Slurred speech, glassy eyes, stumbling, and repetitive stories are not a cute look for anyone. I often feel embarrassed for the people I am around as well. It is always a nice reminder of why I don’t drink. I see absolutely nothing attractive to it and I am glad I don’t do that to myself anymore.

What’s the worst thing about being in recovery? The best?

JMS: The worst part [about] being in recovery is trying to explain to people that they don’t have to behave differently around me once they find out. I can’t count the number of times people have asked me if it is okay to drink around me or warned me that there was going to be alcohol at their house. You don’t ask a person with Diabetes if it is okay if you eat a Twinkie, you don’t have to ask me if it is ok for you to have a beer.

There is just an indescribable freedom that comes along with [sobriety].

The best part is being free. I was a slave to my addictions for years. I do not have that struggle anymore. I do not have to worry about where I will find money to buy alcohol. It is a huge struggle in my life that does not exist anymore. There is just an indescribable freedom that comes along with it.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception out there about addiction?

[If you believe addiction is a choice], that just makes you a shitty person.

JMS: I mentioned it above; that addiction is a choice. That idea is closed-minded and short-sighted. And I think it speaks volumes about the person [who] believes that. I cannot fathom believing that someone would do this voluntarily. It is not fun, it does not feel good, and does not make us proud. In my eyes, the belief that this is a choice tells me that you could choose to behave in this manner if you wanted to, and that just makes you a shitty person.

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Please share your thoughts on addiction and recovery in a comment!


 

161 Questions to Explore Values, Ideas, and Beliefs

Open-ended questions are important in therapy. They allow a client to explore his/her values, ideas, and beliefs. A list of 161 questions for group therapy, journal prompts, conversation starters, icebreakers.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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The questions in this post ask about recovery, spirituality, personal growth, and other relevant topics. As a counselor, I’ve used the questions with adults who struggle with mental illness and addiction, mostly in a group setting. Asking open-ended questions is a basic counseling skill. Open questions invite the client to explore his or her thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. In contrast, closed questions can be answered with a yes or no.

The first section, “Conversation Starters,” is comprised of questions that can be used as icebreakers, at a party, or even on a date.  In a clinical setting, use a “Conversation Starter” as a group check-in. It provides an opportunity for group members to engage and to learn about their peers.

Additional ideas for groups

Choose 10-15 questions and either print them out or write them on small pieces of paper. Fold the paper slips and place in a container. Clients can take turns drawing and answering questions. Alternatively, they can choose questions for each other.

Select up to 20 questions. Pair the clients and have them take turns interviewing each other.

Select 5-10 questions. Each client writes out his or her answers. Read the answers to the group and have group members take turns guessing who wrote what.

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Conversation Starters

  1. What is the most interesting thing you heard this week?
  1. What’s the one thing you really want to do but have never done, and why?
  1. Would you take a shot if the chance of failure and success is 50-50?
  1. Which one would you prefer; taking a luxurious trip alone or having a picnic with people you love?
  1. If your life was a book, what would the title be?
  1. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
  1. What is your favorite day of the week and why?
  1. What do you do when you’re bored?
  1. Shoe size?
  1. Favorite color?
  1. Favorite band (or artist)?
  1. Favorite animal?
  1. Favorite food?
  1. One food you dislike?
  1. Favorite condiment?
  1. Favorite movie?
  1. Last movie you saw in a theater?
  1. Last book read?
  1. Best vacation?
  1. Favorite toy as a child?
  1. One item you should throw away, but probably never will?
  1. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman?
  1. Chocolate or vanilla?
  1. Morning person or night owl?
  1. Cats or dogs?
  1. Sweet or salty?
  1. Breakfast or dinner?
  1. Coffee or tea?
  1. American food, Italian food, Mexican food, Chinese food, or other?
  1. Clean or messy?
  1. What is your favorite breakfast food?
  1. What vegetable would you like to grow in a garden?
  1. Tell about a childhood game you loved.
  1. What’s your favorite dessert?
  1. What’s your favorite day of the week and why?
  1. Who is your favorite celebrity?
  1. Which celebrity do you most resemble?
  1. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  1. Share about one of your hobbies.
  1. What’s a unique talent that you have?
  1. Introvert or extrovert?
  1. Describe yourself in three words.
  1. Tell about a happy childhood memory.
  1. Name three things (or people) that make you smile.

Mental Health and Addiction Questions

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, where are you at in your recovery and what does that number mean to you?
  1. Tell about a healthy risk you have taken this week.
  1. What brought you to treatment?
  1. How has your life changed since getting clean and sober?
  1. What do you miss the most about drug/alcohol?
  1. What would your life be like if you weren’t addicted to something?
  1. What makes your addiction possible?
  1. What are your triggers?
  1. Name at least three ways you can cope with cravings.
  1. Name three of your relapse warning signs.
  1. Tell about someone who is supportive of your recovery.
  1. What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about mental illness?
  1. Is it okay to take medications if you’re in recovery?
  1. Is it possible to get clean/sober without AA or NA?
  1. Do you have a sponsor? What’s helpful and what’s not?
  1. Do you think you’re going to relapse?
  1. What’s the difference between helping and enabling?
  1. Tell about a time you were in denial.
  1. Do you have an enabler? Explain.
  1. Is it possible for someone in recovery for drugs to be a social drinker?
  1. How have drugs and alcohol affected your health?
  1. Is addiction a disease?

Personal Development and Values

  1. Are you doing what you truly want in life?
  1. What are your aspirations in life?
  1. How many promises have you made this past year and how many of them have you fulfilled?
  1. Are you proud of what you’re doing with your life or what you’ve done in the past? Explain.
  1. Have you ever abandoned a creative idea that you believed in because others thought you were a fool? Explain.
  1. What would you prefer? Stable but boring work or interesting work with lots of workload?
  1. Are you making an impact or constantly being influenced by the world?
  1. Which makes you happier, to forgive someone or to hold a grudge? Explain.
  1. Who do you admire and why?
  1. What are your strengths?
  1. What are your weaknesses?
  1. Are you doing anything thatmakes you and people around you happy?
  1. Tell about a short-term goal you have.
  1. Tell about a health goal you have.
  1. Tell about a long-term goal you have.
  1. Tell about a value that is currently important to you.
  1. What do you like most about yourself?
  1. What do you like least about yourself?
  1. What in life brings you joy?
  1. What are you grateful for?
  1. Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
  1. Tell about one dream you have always had, but are too afraid to chase.
  1. What is something you want to change about yourself and what are two things you can do to accomplish this?
  1. Describe your perfect world. (Who would be in it, what would you be doing, etc.)
  1. Where were you one year ago, where are you now, and where do you want to be a year from today?
  1. Share about a character flaw you have.
  1. What kind of a person do you want to be?
  1. When is the last time you helped someone and what did you do?
  1. Tell about a problem you have right now. What can you do to solve it?

Family and Relationship Questions

  1. Have you ever failed anyone who you loved or loved you? Explain.
  1. Who is your favorite person?
  1. What was it like growing up in your family?
  1. What makes someone a good friend?
  1. What happens when you’re rejected?
  1. What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy?
  1. Would you rather break someone’s heart or have your heart broken?

Education and Career

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  1. Tell about something you do well.
  1. What’s your dream job?
  1. What are your career goals?
  1. What classes would you be most interested in taking?
  1. Tell about a job you would hate doing.
  1. Would you prefer to work with people or by yourself?
  1. Would you ever do a job that was dangerous if it paid a lot of money?
  1. Would you still work if you didn’t have to?
  1. What do you want to do when you retire?
  1. If you have a job, what do you like about it? Dislike?
  1. How do you deal with difficult co-workers?
  1. What qualities would you like your supervisor to have?

Emotions

  1. When was the last time you laughed, and what did you laugh at?
  1. If happiness was a currency, how rich would you be?
  1. How do you express happiness?
  1. What are three healthy ways you can cope with anger?
  1. What are three healthy ways you can cope with anxiety?
  1. What does being happy mean to you?
  1. If your mood was a weather forecast, what would it be?
  1. Tell about a time you were happy.
  1. Tell about a time you were heartbroken.
  1. What is the difference between guilt and shame?
  1. Is guilt a healthy emotion?
  1. Can guilt be excessive?
  1. Is there a such thing as “healthy shame”?
  1. What makes you happy?
  1. What makes you mad?
  1. When do you feel afraid?
  1. When do you feel lonely?
  1. Share about the last time you felt guilty.
  1. What embarrasses you?

Spirituality

  1. How does one practice forgiveness (of self and others) from a religious point of view and from a non-religious point of view?
  1. What does it mean to forgive?
  1. Do you have to forgive to move forward?
  1. What brings you meaning in life?
  1. How do you define spirituality?
  1. What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?
  1. When do you feel most at peace?
  1. Do you meditate? Why or why not?

Additional Thought-Provoking Questions

  1. If you could travel to the past in a time machine, what advice would you give to the 6-year-old you? Would you break the rules because of something/someone you care about?
  1. Are you afraid of making mistakes? Why or why not?
  1. If you cloned yourself, which of your characteristics would you not want cloned?
  1. What’s the difference between you and most other people?
  1. Consider the thing you last cried about; does it matter to you now or will it matter to you 5 years from now?
  1. What do you need to let go of in life?
  1. Do you remember anyone you hated 10 years ago? Does it matter now?
  1. What are you worrying about and what happens if you stop worrying about it?
  1. If you died now, would you have any regrets?
  1. What’s the one thing you’re most satisfied with?
  1. If today was the end of the world, what would you do?
  1. What would you do if you won the lottery?
  1. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  1. How do you think others see you?
  1. What is your biggest fear?
  1. How do you get someone’s attention?
  1. What masks do you wear?
  1. Tell about a poor decision you made.
  1. When is the last time you failed at something? How did you handle it?

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The Psychology of Motivation

What is the psychology behind motivation? This article examines the research on motivation and reviews the implications. The conclusion reached is contrary to what you may believe.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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What is motivation? According to Merriam-Webster, to motivate is “to provide with a motive.” A motive is defined as “something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.”

Motivation is highly sought after in today’s society; it’s the golden ticket to success. You would think achievement (as an end result) is motive enough, but this proves to be false. We desire success, but we’re unable to maintain our motivation. It dries up or fades away before the goal is reached. For example, a dieter is initially motivated by weight loss, improved sleep, and increased energy; these are all powerful motivators. But it’s not enough. Why?

If you look to Google, you’ll find countless sites claiming motivation “secrets” or hacks. How to Motivate Yourself in 10 Easy Steps. 7 Easy Ways to Motivate Yourself at Work. 5 Surprising Tips to Increase Your Motivation Immediately. Don’t be fooled. The shortcuts are appealing, but they’re not backed by research. Motivation is complex.

To learn what it is that drives us (and why that driving force is often short-lived), I reviewed the existing literature on motivation. (Hint: There are no secrets, tricks, or hacks.) As you read the following points, consider your goals and the role motivation plays.

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1. Motivation can be intrinsic (arise from within) or extrinsic (influenced by outside forces).

Intrinsic motivation is rewarded internally. An example of intrinsic motivation would be pursuing the study of archeology because it holds a strong appeal or attraction. The behavior of engaging is the reward. Research establishes a strong link between interest and intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, extrinsic motivation refers to externally rewarded motives, such as writing a paper for a grade or performing well at work for a raise.

Practical application: If you’re looking for the motivation to achieve a goal, but lack the drive, add an incentive. Be creative. Choose rewards that are meaningful.

2. The presence of dopamine is related to motivation.

Studies have found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a considerable role in motivation. More recently, researchers have speculated there are specific areas in the brain responsible for motivation.

To consider: A lack of motivation could indicate chemical imbalance, especially if paired with feelings of sadness or hopelessness, fatigue, or thoughts of suicide. If your lack of motivation is debilitating, you may be depressed. Seek professional help.

The Psychology of Motivation

3. Self-efficacy and perceived competence are positively related to motivation.

Research indicates that if you believe you can accomplish something, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you doubt yourself. This is a reoccurring theme in motivation literature. Self-efficacy is key.

Practical application: Evaluate your confidence. Do you view yourself as capable? On a scale from 1-10, how confidant are you that you can achieve [insert your goal here]? You won’t maintain the motivation to lose weight if you believe you’ll always be heavy. Self-doubt is a motivation trap. To cultivate self-efficacy, focus on your past accomplishments and successes. Reframe negative thoughts. (Instead of This is impossible, try This is difficult, but manageable.) Increase your self-efficacy by setting – and achieving – one or two easy goals.

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4. Having a sense of control leads to greater motivation.

If you believe that life “happens” to you or that you are powerless to circumstances, you have an external locus of control. (This is sometimes known as learned helplessness.) It’s difficult to sustain motivation with this view. We can’t control all the variables in life, but we can control our choices and reactions. We control who and what we allow to negatively impact us. This knowledge is empowering. It allows for motivation and can foster an increased sense of efficacy.

Practical application: List or think about some undesirable aspects of your life (rent, a car accident, a difficult colleague, etc.) Select one item from your list and then write ways you can exercise control. (For example, you can’t control a difficult co-worker, but you control what you say to them, how you respond to them, and so on.) Recognize that your decisions directly impact the quality of your life.

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5. Outcome value is related to motivation. 

The greater the perceived value of an outcome, the stronger the motivation. If you value living in a tidy home, you will be motivated to clean. For someone who doesn’t mind a mess, a clean house holds little value.

Practical application: You want to save money, but struggle to see the immediate benefits. Create a list of all the ways saving can improve your life, both now and in the future. Consider what’s currently important to you. If it’s spending time with family, link that to saving money. (Extra savings mean you can afford to dine out or take vacations with your family.) By increasing outcome value, you may increase your level of motivation. Apply this principle to all aspects of your life.

6. Goals and deadlines are motivating.

Define your outcome with a measurable goal and place a time limit on it. By defining exactly what you want (I want to lose 10 lbs.) and then giving yourself a deadline (in 3 months), you’re creating a blueprint. Having a goal map makes it easier to stay motivated by providing direction.

Practical application: When you need motivation, first consider the steps required to accomplish your goal. Be as specific as possible. And then create a deadline. (Note: Deadlines can be flexible. If you don’t meet your deadline, it’s easy to give up, leaving you the opposite of confident and effective. Instead, if a deadline isn’t met, push it back a week. Be reasonable. Revise your goal if needed. Remember to be solution-focused.)

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7. Money is a motivator.

Researchers discovered that cash is a driving force. Money is a classic example of an extrinsic motivator – and it’s effective. So how can you use this information?

Practical application: There are apps and programs that pay you to stay on track. An example is the Achievement app; you earn points for exercising, drinking water, sleeping, and doing other health-related activities. Once you earn 10,000, you receive $10. Additionally, the weight loss program HealthyWage pays you to lose weight. (Be careful – there’s also a chance you’ll lose money!) If you dread going to work, think about your paycheck. Lastly, to motivate employees, offer small bonuses or other cash incentives linked to performance.

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8. Working together on a task enhances motivation. 

Working toward a common goal with a partner or a group seems to enhance motivation.

Practical application: This practice can be applied in the workplace or at school. Don’t work on projects alone; find someone who shares your enthusiasm. If you want to start an exercise routine, ask a friend (who also wants to get in shape) to hit the gym with you. It seems we’re able to inspire and motivate each other; when one person’s motivation wanes, the other’s kicks in.

9. The source of motivation changes as we pursue our goals.

There’s something called “promotion” motivation. We’re good at setting goals and feeling motivated. Initially. Then, somewhere along the way, our motivation switches. It becomes “prevention” motivation. For example, the promotion motivation for losing weight may be fitting into a certain pair of jeans. When the jeans fit, the motivation becomes prevention motivation. Prevention motivation is harder to sustain.

To consider: Have a variety of motivational strategies. Recognize that motivation will change as you pursue your goals.

10. Once something becomes a habit, it persists long after motivation is gone.

This may be the most valuable finding of all. With motivation, there are variables: Self-efficacy, deadlines, money, etc. A habit supersedes the variables. There will be times we lack motivation, no matter how effective we feel or how much we value the outcome. If we act out of habit, we don’t have to rely on motivation. Of course, the tricky part is creating a new habit. Habits, which are formed by repetition, reorganize information in your brain so that an action becomes automatic and is no longer tied to a motivational cue.

To consider: Researchers assert it can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to form a habit. In addition to repetition, you must remove cues that trigger habits you’re trying to quit while adding cues that trigger desired behaviors.

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In conclusion, there are many factors related to motivation including self-efficacy, outcome value, and financial incentive. Our motivation changes as we pursue goals, indicating the need for a variety of motivational strategies. We know that dopamine plays an important role and that there are structural regions in the brain responsible for motivation.

A friend of mine recently asked how I motivate myself to go to the gym when I get off work. “It has nothing to do with motivation,” I responded. “I just do it; it’s not optional.”

I’m fully aware I lack motivation. However, I recognize that motivation, while advantageous, is not a prerequisite for success. It’s too fickle; it lacks the staying power of habit and the might of determination.

Don’t rely on motivation to achieve your goals. Instead, invest in the determination it takes to form a habit.

References 

Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (2014, August 8). How we form habits, change existing ones. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 8, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931.htm

Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(3), 586-598.

Bullard, O., & Manchanda, R. (2017). How goal progress influences regulatory focus in goal pursuit. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27, 302–317.

Carr, P., & Walton, M. (2014). Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169-184.

Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: The psychology of “habit-formation” and general practice. The British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664–666.

Hsu, Y., Wang, S. D., Wang, S., Morton, G., Zariwala, H., de la Iglesia, H., & Turner, E. (2014). Role of the dorsal medial habenula in the regulation of voluntary activity, motor function, hedonic state, and primary reinforcement. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34(34), 11366 –11384.

Judge, T., & Ilies, R. (2002). Relationship of personality to performance motivation: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(4), 797–807.

Lai, E. (2011). Motivation: A literature review. https://images.pearsonassessments.com/images/tmrs/Motivation_Review_final.pdf

Landry, A., Gagné, M., Forest, J., Guerrero, S., Séguin , M., & Papachristopoulos, K. (2017). The relation between financial incentives, motivation, and performance: An integrative SDT-based investigation. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 16, 61-76.

Lunenburg, F. (2011). Goal-setting theory of motivation. International Journal Of Management, Business, and Administration, 15(1), 1-6.

Margolis, H., & McCabe, P. (2006). Improving self-efficacy and motivation: What to do, what to say. Intervention in School and Clinic, 41(4), 218-227.

Pajares, F. (2010). Self-efficacy beliefs, motivation, and achievement in writing: A review of the literature. Published online, 139-158.

Pintrich, P. (2003). A motivational science perspective on the role of student motivation in learning and teaching contexts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 667-686.

Salamone, J. et al. (2012). The mysterious motivational functions of mesolimbic dopamine. Neuron, 76(3), 470-485.

Zimmerman, B., Bandura, A., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1992). Self-motivation for academic attainment: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and personal goal setting. American Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 663-676.

4 Statements That May Change Your Life

Therapy can lead to “light bulb” moments; everything suddenly clicks. This is a short list of 4 statements that “clicked” with my clients and inspired change.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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Upon learning I’m a therapist, people often ask for advice. “What do you think I should do about [insert any imaginable life situation here]?”

I hate to disappoint, but I don’t have all the answers. Contrary to popular belief, a counselor won’t tell you how to fix your problems.

Keep in mind that you’re the expert on you. When you combine your knowledge with a therapist’s expertise on human behavior, a collaborative partnership is formed. The process of change begins. You hold the answers, but they’re locked. The process of therapy unlocks the mind.

There have been times in counseling sessions when something I say “clicks” with that person. They experience a moment of clarity or have a sudden realization.

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The following list is four key statements that “clicked” with my clients.

1. “Say what you mean.”

How many times have you provided an explanation using partial truths? For example, you cancel on a friend, claiming a migraine. Your head may hurt, but at the same time, you’re embarrassed to go to the bar with her. She can’t seem to go out without getting obnoxiously drunk. Another example would be a wife who tells her husband, “I’m fine,” when she’s not. In both examples, truth is avoided.

When you don’t say what you mean, you deprive yourself. You’ll feel frustrated, and you may lose the chance to explore deeper issues. Your communication becomes second-rate. And if you find yourself saying what you think someone wants to hear, that’s not communicating; the point is to understand each other, not to mislead or appease.

Saying what you mean is freeing and it allows you to live an authentic life.

2. “Just say, ‘okay.’”

This is about not engaging with that one person who pushes your buttons (or with your own irrational thoughts).

I’ll use myself as an example. I once received a stern email from my boss, instructing me to complete a task ASAP… a task I finished three days ago. Initially, I panicked, second guessing myself. But after double checking my work and finding it complete, I silently fumed to myself. Does my supervisor think I sit around doing nothing all day? (Or maybe he thinks I’m incompetent?) Why wouldn’t he check before sending an email? I drafted and then rewrote my response several times. I asked a co-worker to look it over and she laughed and asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him, ‘Okay’?” She was right. I had allowed my irrational self (and insecurities) to take over. The project was done, which is what mattered; there was no need for an emotionally-charged response. Another example would be a married couple who constantly fight. They argue to the point of shouting because neither wants the other to “win.”

If you link your self-concept to how others perceive you, the idea of admitting defeat threatens your identity. Instead of feeding into the argument, especially when you’re provoked, just say, “okay” and leave it at that. Furthermore, if there’s a toxic person in your life, for example, an ex that you co-parent with, don’t respond to a provoking text or to a barb. You gain nothing by proving you’re right (other than maybe a self-important spark of satisfaction). In the end, you’re still the loser because you took the bait and allowed someone else to orchestrate your emotions.

Don’t sacrifice your peace of mind; just say, “okay.”

3. “This is nothing you can’t handle.”

It may not seem like much, but this sentence can lay the foundation for change. A seemingly unsolvable problem is broken down into manageable solutions. A catastrophe becomes a challenge.

When faced with the impossible, we panic. Our emotional mind has all the control while our rational mind fades to the background. However, the rational mind can be coaxed from hiding with guidance.

The next time you feel helpless and are thinking, “This is impossible,” remind yourself it’s nothing you can’t handle. Once you’re in that mind frame, the solutions will come more easily.

4. “Always take ownership.”

This is about owning your actions, especially when you make a poor decision. You’re going to make mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Admit fault and apologize when needed.

I’ve counseled clients who made excuses for their wrongdoings, even their crimes. (“I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for [insert plausible reason here]”). By placing the blame on someone or something else, you stunt personal growth. You’ll continue to make the same mistakes, and it will never be your fault.

You can’t live an authentic life without taking ownership, nor will you gain the respect of others. Be authentic; take ownership of your mistakes (and achievements!)

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If reading this list “sparked” something for you, think about the changes you want to make. Develop a change plan. And then take action!

Guest Post: You Don’t Have to Exercise

Exercise is a choice. Trevor Jewell, a certified personal trainer, explains that while you don’t have to exercise, you should definitely consider it.

By Trevor Jewell, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer

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You will definitely get more gratification from grabbing a pint of ice cream and putting your feet up for a Netflix binge. Obviously, we don’t exercise because we have to. No one is holding a gun to your head while you sweat and gasp for air in a crowded gym as the seconds of your life tick away on a treadmill timer. We exercise because we want to! We want to feel good, look good, and live long and happy lives free of pain and injury, so exercise becomes worth it.

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Many of my clients have told me during their consultations that they don’t like exercise. Cardio is boring, weights are intimidating, ab work hurts too much, the list goes on and on. But all of them, every single one, enjoys the feeling of having completed a tough and energizing workout. The important difference is, after discussing their goals, they have input on their workout plan in the form of choice.

Hate cardio? No problem! I’ll offer you routines with moderate intensity interval training that mimics the aerobic effect of jogging. Weightlifting too intimidating? We’ll try out different bodyweight routines that incorporate resistance training without ever touching anything but the floor. Ab work hurts? How about a few functional fitness games that utilize your core without shredding it like an 8 minute ab routine from Women’s Health magazine. For my advanced clients, I plan days where they get to use what they’ve learned and choose their own workouts while I simply help align their choices with their goals and provide coaching as needed.

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The point is, almost everyone performs better in an environment where they don’t feel trapped and locked into a routine. This is why hiring a personal trainer can be a truly liberating experience as people realize they never have to touch an elliptical again if they don’t want to, but can still lose weight! If you are dragging your feet on the way to the gym to half-heartedly complete yet another round of the same old routine, it’s time to incorporate more choice into your workout.

It should come as no surprise that freedom of choice can lead to better results outside of the gym as well. In a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists discovered a direct link between having choice in a workout and making healthier diet selections. Two test groups were given instructions to exercise and then allowed to eat at the same buffet. One group was forced to complete an exact routine, while the other was allowed to choose their type of exercise, starting time, and even background music. Upon reviewing their trips to the buffet, the authors discovered that those with more choice in their workouts consistently ate less calories (587 versus 399 kcal) and chose healthier foods than their counterparts!

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If you’ve ever piled three extra slices of pizza on your plate as a reward for going to the gym that morning, you know exactly how the “forced” participants were feeling. Treating an exercise routine as something you have to “get out of the way” or “get over with” will cause you to feel trapped, and to disassociate your workouts with your life. Our goal as personal trainers is not to force people to get healthy, but to get them to associate an energizing workout in the gym with the overall goal of a healthy lifestyle. We don’t have to exercise, we choose a higher quality of life, and have fun doing it!

 

Trevor Jewell is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with EnDevor Health: Connecting doctors, exercise physiologists and personal trainers to truly implement Exercise is Medicine in patients’ lives, located in Columbus, OH

Healthy Recipe: Best Vegan Chili

Omnivore-approved vegan chili. This recipe is the best. Easy and delicious.

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This is an amazingly simple, but delicious, recipe. It’s based on the recipe my mother has used for decades. (However, she typically makes her chili with dried kidney and red beans, not canned beans; she also uses a 19oz can of Loma Linda Vege Burger instead of the soy chorizo.) My husband, an omnivore, prefers this recipe over beef chili. And not to brag, but I won first place in a chili cook-off at work; the judges didn’t know they weren’t eating meat.


Ingredients:

1 large red onion

5-6 medium garlic cloves

2-3 T canola oil (or olive oil)

1 can of black beans (14.5oz), drained and rinsed

1 can of kidney beans (14.5oz), drained and rinsed

1 can of garbanzo beans (14.5oz), drained and rinsed

1 package soy chorizo (12oz); I use Trader Joe’s brand

2 cans (14.5oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

1 T cumin

2-3 T chili powder

Salt to taste

 

Instructions:

Dice the onion and sauté in the oil over medium heat.

Mince the garlic and sauté with the diced onion for 1-2 minutes.

Add the sautéed onion and garlic to a large pot.

Add the remaining ingredients.

Add 1-2 cups of water if needed.

Cook over low to medium heat for several hours.