eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online
Existential GPS

31 Days of Change

by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

Ah, keeping our New Year’s Resolutions. We all talk a good game, but by the second or third week of January it all quickly goes downhill. So, what are your obstacles? How many of them are self-imposed? Are you better at making excuses than creating solutions? You’re not alone. Research demonstrates that most people fail to keep New Year Resolutions. Perhaps this year you can take a different approach.

Commitment is a choice. The moment you allow an excuse to become an obstacle is the moment you rob yourself of choice. And a life without choice is not really worth living. Rather than set some lofty resolutions, plan to use each day of January to think about and implement one lifestyle change that is realistic and obtainable. Meeting a goal, even a simple one, requires a major mind shift. Take a look below at my plan for the first 31 days of 2019. Perhaps some of my goals match yours? Join me. Email me at etalktherapy@gmail.com to let me know how you are doing throughout 2019 with keeping your resolutions. If some of my ideas don’t fit, then tweak them to suit your lifestyle. Keep them moving forward and never allow them to be far from your daily routine. Remember, most obstacles are self-imposed.  You have only yourself to blame if you can’t follow through.

Print

Download the 31 Days of Change Calendar and best of luck!! Happy 2019!! Feel free to drop me an email if you need clarification on any of these resolutions or goals. If you wish to explore or tend to your mental health needs in 2019, please reach out to me through email, phone or this website.

In good health,
Don

Existential GPS

You Will Be Visited By Three Spirits

 

An Existential Yuletide Greeting
by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

63
Illustration by Harry Furniss

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?”

Scrooge. A word synonymous with images of a bitter, elderly man concerned more with greed than humanity; a cultural archetype of someone wanting nothing further to do with his species and one who has no use for words like “compassion” or “care.” Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights for our modern times. There are facets to his narrative that are ostensibly universal, a playful commentary on the mores of the time, but he is more relevant today than ever.

On its surface, Dickens’ Victorian yarn can be simply read as “Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” However, there is much at stake for us in this tale. And so, it is in the spirit of the season, and in this brief blog format, I assert to you that Charles Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest examples of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form). The tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge opens a time and space for self-reflection for those who want to examine life in a meaningful and in-depth fashion. This is not about instant transformation for the client, positive psychology to sooth the therapist’s fears, or worse, wishful thinking from both parties. It is an existential crisis that is illuminated by one of the key tenets of psychotherapy – fear of death.

55
Illustration by Harry Furniss

We all know the story, so it is here that I wish to briefly highlight the other side of Scrooge. No one arrives at a certain age without a back story and Scrooge’s history is one filled with disappointment and neglect. He is an ignored and isolated child abandoned even at Christmas. Scrooge knows pain all too well at an early age, and the world and its inhabitants are not to be trusted. People, above all, should be shunned. They are to be feared as they need and require emotional attachment and engagement. These qualities are easily dismissed by a young man whose growing trust in currency and greed will eclipse his life for years.

In the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge exemplifies one of the central canons of existential depression and anxiety, that one has always been this way, and one always will be. There is a loss of agency and caustic determinism quickly fills in this void. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points at the tombstone, Scrooge understands for the first time that life can be written differently: what seems to be etched in stone isn’t. The specter’s message is powerful; an opportunity for Scrooge to see what life on earth would be like after his death. Scrooge observes his own forgotten corpse as his peers minimize his demise. He watches in horror as strangers quickly sell his belongings, while mocking his death with no regard or mercy. In death, he can no longer be an agent of change. He is a spectator to a cruel and vicious world he created.  Yet all Three Spirits show him that he was and is agent of change as long as he is alive. It is through an encounter with one’s mortality that a fuller life may occur – to know death is to know life. Scrooge accepts the significance of death, so that he may live his final months and years embraced in the richness of his relationships with others.

62
Illustration by Harry Furniss

Death anxiety is real; despite those in modern psychology who often relegate the subject of death to the closet of “let’s not go there unless we have to” (even by some seasoned practitioners who should know better). In short, beware the therapist who professes that the exploration of death anxiety is not particularly helpful in therapy. Yes, therapists can spend far too much time focusing on one area while neglecting another. It happens. Not every therapist is well-rounded enough to create a new therapy for each of her or his clients. However, that shouldn’t allow for a wave of “positivity” to sweep us away from Otto Rank’s maxim, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.” Exploration of death and dying serves as a profound catalyst toward some remarkable life changes. It is the confluence of both past, present and future; an investigation of life by way of an awareness and acknowledgement of our finite time here on Earth. In this way, we are all a reflection of Dicken’s vision.

Thus, A Christmas Carol calls us to embrace some definitive questions, “How would the world be different if I were to die today?” and “Do I ever have a true sense of how many lives I’ve touched?” Scrooge’s story may, in fact, provide the answers. Our relationships with others are so intrinsic that our absence creates an entirely different existence – a ghostly existential vacuum, if you will.

In the Victorian era, people saw ghosts and had premonitions. It was a system of supernatural beliefs that was not uncommon. Freud came along and said that this was the result of repressed memories. The dead were reduced to misleading or damaged recollections that resulted in certain beliefs and behaviors. Ghosts haunted the mind, not the house. Yet, there is something within Scrooge’s narrative that calls to us, pushes us beyond cause and effect, beyond determinism, and reminds us that we can be responsible and compassionate with our life choices and that no person is indeed an island.

Be well, and remember to keep the spirit of this season in your heart today and throughout the year.

In good health,
Don

Photos courtesy http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/furniss/xmas.html#cc

Pittsburgh NorthShore: Tribute to Children. Photo By Wally Gobetz. Flickr Creative Commons
Peace, Love & Anxiety

My Favorite Neighbor

by Christy Gualtieri

Not too long ago, the neighborhood beside mine was transformed, and rather quickly, for that matter by a group of folks whose job it is to turn back time. Storefronts that had stood empty for years were magically restored to look like operating businesses; old-school telephone booths now adorned the street corners; and the main street, at parts desolate and uninviting in 2018, was now absolutely inviting and looked just like 1960s Western Pennsylvania.

They were filming a movie! And not just any movie: a biopic about one of the area’s iconic treasures, Mr. Rogers. I admittedly, unlike most of the folks my age, didn’t grow up much on Mr. Rogers, we were a Sesame Street people, and although I’ve mostly come to know him in my time as a transplant to the area as adult, I’ve begun to foster a healthy respect for him and all he did during his time on television. He was more than just a TV personality for folks in Western PA, just as the spinoff show that airs now, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” is more than just a show for my own kids. The longer I lived in the area, the more I came to appreciate all he did for children around the country (and the world) – and his messages of kindness, integrity, curiosity, and love resonate so much more now, I believe, than they ever have in the hearts of the grownups who remember him. I recently saw a video online of him accepting his spot in the TV Hall of Fame, and was so struck by his encouraging words and his faith in those who want to spread goodness and love throughout the world. His gentleness and his patience absolutely radiated, and it’s no wonder at all to see why he was so beloved, not only here, but the world over.

As soon as filming was over, the crew worked diligently – and extremely quickly! – to break down the set and soon it looked just as it had a week prior, like nothing had ever happened. And Mr. Rogers is gone now, he has been gone for such a long time, but whenever people remember his kind words and how he helped children to grow into mature, kind, loving adults, it’s like he’s never been gone at all.

Did you watch Mr. Rogers as a kid? What resonated the most with you about his show, and which of his messages do you think we need to hear more of in today’s frenetic world? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

And, just for fun — one of my favorite stories about Mr. Rogers is about the history of his time on TV. For a hilarious take on it, check out this short video from Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” starring Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son; Tom is the actor who is portraying Mr. Rogers in the upcoming film).

Until next time, be well!
Christy