Remaking Your Mind

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Guest Post: Remaking Your Mind

Author: Ken Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC of Taking the Escalator

I was extremely psyched when I was asked to do a guest post for Mind ReMake Project. The first thing I thought when I saw the Mind ReMake Project website was “Wow, what an awesome, well put together online resource!” The second thing I thought to myself was “The Mind ReMake Project – what a fantastic name!”

The whole concept of “remaking your mind” really makes a ton of sense. Mental health and substance use treatment is all about making your mind over. In a lot of ways, this process of remaking our mind can be directly compared with making over or renovating a home or apartment. With that in mind, consider this analogy further.

When you renovate your apartment or home, first you identify what you need to throw away or update, and the same is true for remaking our mind.

When renovating your home, you would probably start by looking around at the furniture, the appliances, the carpets, wallpaper, fixtures, lighting, etc. It makes sense to carefully scan all around the place and decide what needs to be thrown away or replaced.  

Then, the process of renovation starts with getting rid of what does not work for you anymore around the place and eliminating or updating the things that are so worn out or outdated that they no longer bring you comfort or joy.

“If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”

William James (Philosopher)

When remaking your mind, the process is very much the same. You may start looking at things in your mind that are getting in the way of your progress or cluttering up the works inside your brain. This may include negative thoughts, debilitating feelings, destructive habits, bad attitudes, or dysfunctional behavior patterns.

Granted, it is not so easy to get rid of some of these aspects of our mind as it may be to throw away an outdated piece of furniture, but still the process starts with identifying and accepting what we need to change and what we need to improve upon in order to make our mind over.

Question for self-reflection

What negative things do you need to “throw away” or change in order to remake your mind? (Think about negative thoughts, stressors, triggers, feelings, habits, behaviors, moods, attitudes, etc.)

Next, it’s time to gather your tools, learn to use them, and get to work.

Once you have a renovation plan in place and have identified the repairs that need to be made, there is a ton of work to do. You would need to make sure you have the tools needed to get each job done as there may be several different types of renovations that need to be taken care of.

You may even find yourself watching YouTube videos or getting help from experienced friends and others who know how to make the needed home repairs you have identified. For more complicated tasks, you may need to call in an expert to help. Once you have the tools and supports in place, you can then get to work.

When getting to work on remaking your mind, you also will need to gather some tools. This will undoubtedly include coping skills and strategies for all of your mental and emotional goals. It is important to get the right tools for the right job depending upon your needs. Therefore, you may need to develop an array of varied skills for a host of conditions such as anxiety, depression, trauma, substance use, etc. Whatever it is that you need to renovate, you will need to become proficient with applying the appropriate skills.

Often, treatment is the place for many to develop these tools effectively, especially with more challenging mental and emotional conditions. In addition, we need to find supports in our lives who can help us learn to effectively use tools, based on their expertise and experience with the same tasks.

Questions for self-reflection

What are some tools, skills, and strategies that you may need to develop for your mind remake project? Are there any areas where you may need professional help (treatment)? Also, where can you find support to help you with these self- improvement goals and projects?

Finally, you put the work in long enough to see progress take place and then change your lifestyle to keep your new home clean and all your repairs in working order for the long haul.

So far, just to get to this point in home repair, it takes a good deal of time and persistent effort. Putting in the work doing repairs to renovate a home is a process that can take a long time and involve a lot of commitment to regular hard work. With time however, the house starts to take shape and eventually begins to look amazing as repairs and renovations take place. If you do good work, the home renovation project will surely show it.

Naturally then, it only makes sense to take care of your beautiful new home by living a more conscientious, organized, and goal-directed lifestyle. It wouldn’t make sense to completely redo your living room, for example, only to trash it right after. To the contrary, when the home looks new and beautiful, an increased effort is made to maintain the beauty of the renovations and to make the new home improvements last for as long as possible.

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

Again, in your personal mind remake project, when you put the work in over a long enough time, your changes and self-improvement start to become more evident to others, and your lifestyle starts to significantly improve. You then do what you can to maintain these changes to avoid going backward and losing all of your hard-fought progress.

Often, some type of plan for relapse prevention is needed so that progress and positive change are effectively managed and sustained on a consistent basis, thus rounding out your mind remake project on a long-term (possibly even lifelong) basis.

Questions for self-reflection

What is needed for you to avoid going backward with your mental and emotional progress? How can your transform your goals and progress into sustainable lifestyle changes that you can effectively manage and maintain on a long-term basis?

Conclusion

Both a home renovation and a mind remake project require a lot of persistence, support, commitment, learning, and of course, time, dedication, and hard work. Still, if you are able to stick with it, the end product is so worth it as you’ll have a new and improved way of life that will surely bring you increased happiness and prosperity. It’s worth the effort!


Ken Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC specializes in addiction and mental health, and works with both adults and adolescents at Escalator Counseling Services. Ken posts addiction resources and more on his site, Taking the Escalator.

What Counseling Taught Me (Part One)

Counseling is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication. It’s also taught me about various aspects of human nature, from the brightest to the murkiest.

In grad school, I learned theories and techniques of counseling. I learned basic and advanced counseling skills; I practiced various interventions and methods. My professors taught developmental theories and multicultural competence. I took classes in career counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling; I studied research and ethics.

And when I accepted a substance abuse counselor position at a drug and alcohol treatment center… I had no clue what I was doing… or how to be a counselor. I went into my first year as a clinician with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Negative thoughts consumed me. I questioned myself and wondered if I was in the right field.

“Do I have what it takes to be an effective counselor?” 

“Should I have pursued a career in research instead?” 

“Should I have pursued anything instead?” 

“Am I capable of helping others?” 

Furthermore, social anxiety crippled my ability to relate to clients; being genuine was difficult. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other “seasoned” clinicians, which only made things worse.

Gradually, my doubts and fears subsided; I felt more comfortable in my role. I accepted and settled into my new identity as a professional counselor; it was a good fit. I stopped trying to “fix” or control clients.

Anxiety no longer dictated my actions; I found a way to take ownership of my mistakes and accomplishments. Moreover, I learned to be okay with making mistakes. I accepted that I would never have all the answers. I let go of irrational beliefs that had previously plagued me. I thrived.

Today, I can reflect on my journey and on the positive changes I’ve made throughout the years. My chosen career is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal growth — success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication.

I’ve learned a lot the past ten years. This post explores the discoveries I’ve made and how I apply that knowledge to my life. But before delving into what I’ve learned, here’s what a few other clinicians have said on the topic:

Nancy Lee, MA, LPCC, Psychotherapist in Aurora, CO

“Being a counselor has shown me that it’s possible to live on the edge of what I know and don’t know. In a single moment, I can feel strong and confident, yet small and humble. Counseling isn’t about fixing problems. It’s about believing in my client’s capacity to connect with their own solutions, insight, and growth.”

Robert Martin, M.Ed Early Childhood Education & Counseling, Francis Marion University

“There is no learning … if there is not a relationship… The foundation of counseling and teaching is [the] relationship. There must be a connection. The student must know that you care about them personally and it is ok to make a mistake … Consequences and corrections can be given, but always directed at the behavior [and] never the person … That you are only talking about their behavior when you correct them … and not them. They must feel that you respect them … and if you make a mistake say, “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” … [Always respect] their differences, their hopes and weakness, their failures, their dreams, their divinity. There is nothing more important than this…”

Bridget Cameron, Artist, Depth Psychologist, Stress Counselor (1992-present)

“To accept people as they are, to be non-judgmental, to be directed by compassion, and to know how to be impartial so that I am fair-minded with all people and do not project any of myself into my client’s history and am non-attached to the outcome.”

In comparison, while I’ve learned much about compassion, connecting, and being okay with being wrong, I’ve also learned how to use counseling to be effective, both personally and professionally… and I’ve learned to be more guarded due to the darker aspects of human nature.


Here’s my list of small wisdoms, or, what counseling has taught me (the first installment):

1. How to remain calm

Emotion regulation was difficult for me as an adolescent and young adult. My emotions ruled me – lorded over me, even! Then, as a counselor, I observed emotion disregulation in clients. I realized how truly counterproductive (and ridiculous-looking) it can be.

I made a choice to stop engaging in negativity, with both self and with others. Feeding into an argument solves nothing, but the effort leaves you emotionally and physically drained. Luckily, my personal transition from chaos to calm was painless. By the time I learned how to remain calm, I was in my mid-20s; the intensity of my emotions had already naturally subsided. Today, calmness is my natural state.

2. Comfortable silence

In grad school, I learned to use silence as a counseling technique. Instead of filling up every minute of a session with reflections, open-ended questions, and paraphrases, we were encouraged to use “comfortable silence.”

Silence allows the client time to process and/or collect their thoughts. To me, it always felt horribly awkward (remember, social anxiety!) and wrong. I wanted to rush on to the next topic or to ask a question or… anything.

I’m not sure when it finally stopped feeling awkward. I just knew that one day I was sitting in silence with a client and it felt natural. Today, I use silence in my professional and personal life all the time. It feels nice to sit quietly and not feel pressured to talk.

3. Active listening

Counseling taught me to really listen. I learned to quiet my internal dialogue to hear and comprehend what’s being said. Instead of thinking about how I’m going to respond, I give my full attention to the speaker. I’m aware of body language and other nonverbals. Counseling has strengthened my communication skills.

4. Partial truths

Counseling taught me that people don’t always say what they mean. They often tell partial truths. There are many reasons for this: Fear of being judged, not fully trusting the therapist, feeling embarrassed, etc.

For example, a client who isn’t ready to change their drinking probably wouldn’t tell me they drink three bottles of wine every night. Instead, they’d offer a partial truth. “I usually drink a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s it.”

Partial truths are not lies; they allow for a certain measure of comfort. (A lot of people feel uncomfortable with lying because they were taught it was wrong, or possibly because they view themselves as honest – and honest people don’t lie.) Partial truths, on the other hand, don’t feel wrong (or less wrong, at least). Plus, they’re safe. A person can be partially truthful and still protect their secrets.

When I realized how common partial truths are, I changed the way I listened to clients… and to everyone. Instead of taking things at face value, I listen to what is being said while recognizing that much more is not being said.

5. Hidden agendas

I also discovered that there are plenty of people out there who seek counseling with hidden agendas. For example, a man sees a therapist, stating he wants to learn anger management techniques. What he doesn’t reveal is that he’s abusive to his wife. He recently lost control in an argument and pushed her down the stairs. She gave him an ultimatum: Therapy or divorce. He doesn’t believe he needs counseling, but he’ll do it to save his marriage. And he doesn’t tell his therapist this (of course). Why would he? It’s none of her business.

Both partial truths and hidden agendas happen outside of therapy (and for similar reasons). Words paint a very limited piece of the entire picture. People often show only what they want others to see while keeping their true motives hidden.

Because of counseling, I have a better awareness and understanding of why hidden agendas (and partial truths) exist. It’s not cynicism, but a form of acceptance. I recognize that half truths and hidden agendas serve a purpose. While I may never understand their purpose, I’m okay with it.

This awareness fosters caution; I’ll never be caught off guard.


There’s more to tell, but for the sake of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I’ll save my remaining insights for the second installment of this post (in which I’ll discuss giving money to the homeless and demanding respect, among other “lessons” from counseling).

Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

4 Key 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.

Upon learning I’m a therapist, people often ask for advice. “What do you think I should do about making a change regarding [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.

The following list is four key statements that “clicked” with my clients (and for me as well!)

Four Key Statements that May Change Your Life

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!)


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

Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC