What six months of meditation taught me

It may surprise my more conservative christian friends to know that I started meditating seriously in 2017. Those close to me will only chuckle knowingly. 


I’d heard about mindfulness meditation in my master’s program.  One of my professors talked about how he used it with all the adolescent drug users he works with. Then after going through a hypnosis training I asked the trainer, a true magician, how I could practice the skills I’d learned. Meditation and journaling were his two big action takeaways. So I started a practice where I sit and simply follow my breath for 10-20 minutes. Trying to stay focused on your breathing instead of letting your mind wander down an infinite path of loosely linked thoughts is maddening.

It took a while to get in the habit. Even now whenever I sit down to meditate this vibrating bundle of anxiety rears up and bellows “you want to SIT for 20 minutes and do NOTHING?”

The habit of meditation finally stuck when one day I said to myself, “no matter what, I will do some meditation every day. If I can’t find 20 minuets, I’ll at least do 5. If I can’t do 5 I’ll do 3. I can always do 3.”

To say meditation has been helpful would be an understatement. But the benefits are so subtle. I think this might be the biggest downfall of meditation because it’s easy to overlook the difference between when I meditate and when I miss a day. After all meditation hasn’t changed me, its only made it easier for me to be myself. I’m more relaxed. I’m more focused. I am more present. I’m more kind and less reactive. I know more easily what I need.

These changes are so small and so often in the background that it took me months to realize the cause. On the days I do not meditate I am more irritable and then I berate myself for not being the man I want to be. But really, by that point, when I’m caught in a swirl of emotion, it’s too late. In order to change we must be relentlessly proactive in doing the simple things we know work.

I use a meditation app called Calm. After each session it shows a quote, a thought of the day. I’m learning to ignore these. The last thing I need right after meditating is to go right back into analyze-mode. Still, a few quotes have caught my eye. These have captivated me and led to reassuring inspiration. I hope they do the same for you. 





Ponderings: What 2017 taught me (part three)

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Smart people relentlessly seek what they don’t know. ~Me

Studying successful people has become a bit of an obsession for me, so much so, that I could write a dissertation on the common habits and routines of the Successful. Besides shaping their environmental (the Successful are masters at creating environments that make it easy for them to succeed) successful people are confident in what they know BUT also know that they don’t know where their knowledge ends. Instead of protecting their egos from the painful shock of ignorance, the Successful find ways to dive in and always ask themselves “what can this teach me?”

The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything. ~Warren Buffet

After I passed my dissertation defense I got a call from Grambling University. I’d applied in February and got the call in May. I should have known something was wrong then. May, June, July and into August was a giant game of Hide and Seek, the kind you “play” when you’re trying to leave the house but your two year old thinks seeing you pissed is funny. When they finally offered me a job the salary was in the mid 30s. Image result for come on gif


I felt hopelessly stuck.

On the one hand this was easily the best job offer I’d had. On the other hand I didn’t go to Doc school and finish two licenses with the grand ambition of bringing home 30k. Sometime in this period I ran across Warren Buffet’s quote. I turned down the job, and immediately started hyperventilating. In studying about and learning from the Successful one of the things they do, after taking care of their immediate survival, is keep a relentless focus on their long term goals. Anything that does not match their goals is ejected. 

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. ~Ryan Rana and the US Marines

Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening my axe. ~Abraham Lincoln

I used to feel like time was against me, like it was always running out, and I’d panic. I’ve been slowly easing into the realization that time is for me. That with time I can do almost anything. I think these quotes have been a seed for and a mirror of this mindset shift. 




An open letter to my students VII: What’s the purpose of a Doctorate? (or; becoming a therapist- the first few years)

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After taking a PRN job with a local hospital I had to stop by the HR office to sign some paperwork and get my orientation dates. As I sat in the HR rep’s office signing my life away I decided to ask, “hey, so I’m getting my PhD in about a month. What’s the bump for having a PhD?”


“Yeah. Like pay increase.”

“You mean like money? There’s no bump.”

“No bump?”

Me questioning the meaning of life.

“Well, you know, we can’t bill on a degree.” 

A little bit of me died that day. Of course not, I thought because, you know, cash rules everything around me.

I’ve had several students ask me, “should I go on and get a PhD?” When I ask “why do you want one?” I never get a straight answer. My impression is they like the idea of having a PhD, as though it’s some sort of life power up. I think what they are really looking for is a boost for their self esteem. I’m sure if I knew them better that would make perfect sense given their background. However there are cheaper and less painful ways to boost your self esteem, like eating ice cream or doing elicit drugs. 


For others, myself included, the desire for a PhD is fueled by a drive to be a better clinician. I don’t know of many people (any?) who come out of their masters program feeling like they know how to do therapy. I think this is because programs often confuse theory with practice. The clearest example of this is the work of John Gottman, the king of marital therapy research. In his Sound House Relationship Model he states that healthy couples have a 5:1 positive to negative comment ratio. If a couple could be that positive would they need therapy? How does knowing this ratio help a client change? This is theory, not practice.

A lot of this confusion is because schools have to teach according to credentialing standards. Credentialing standards are heavily political. Hence many of the things taught are taught because of who’s in power. As someone who’s obsessed with practicality I think this leads to the awkward fact that a masters degree is mostly to learn to few basics and qualify you to take the licensure exam.

 “In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory. In practice, there is.”-Yogi Berra 

After you get your degree licensure is your next step. Licensure is what the state gives you so you can practice, which is why it’s often tied to billing. Licensure is decided state by state. This means that the state determines which classes you need in order to take the licensure exam, so make sure your degree classes match your state licensure requirements. Licensed therapists frequently have to take random classes in order to continue practicing when they change states. The state also sets how many hours you need before you can become licensed and therefore these requirements vary from state to state. The rule of thumb is 3000 hours which takes about three years to gain. Also states tend to be pretty weird about moving licensing between states, so, for instance, when I move out of state I’ll probably have to go back under supervision in order to earn a new license. 

If masters degrees are for learning theoretical basics and credentialing for licensure test, and licensure is for practicing and billing what are PhDs for?

Research and teaching.

PhD’s are for learning how to do research and to acquire the credentials to teach. They aren’t for clinical skills. Most PhD’s I know at teaching c1166olleges make around 50,000 a year. If you want be in academia with a research university, you’ll make a little more (70,000+), but it’s a publish or perish environment. I remember shuddering when I heard that being a professor at a research university was like being a grad student because you’re always writing papers. I thought right then “never again. Not for me.” One piece of useful advice I got when I started applying at different schools was, “never pay for a PhD.” PhD programs oftentimes have Graduate or Teaching Assistantships which cover tuition and provide a small stipend. While they don’t give you a lot of financial wiggle room they do relieve the astronomical cost of paying out of pocket. 

If masters degrees are for learning a few theoretical basics and credentialing, licensing is for getting paid, and PhDs are for research and teaching, how do I learn to become a better clinician?

My experience has been that clinical skills are learned from multiday trainings or certifications, which focus on the therapeutic relationship and use role plays. The important thing about these longer trainings is the ability to practice microskills and get feedback from someone who’s further along in that skill than you are. The key is deliberate practice and feedback. I cannot tell you which trainings to go to. Some, like Scott Miller, say that CEU training has no effect on clinical skill. I still believe EFT is a step above other therapies. But a huge part of the EFT certification process is (drum roll) deliberate practice, feedback, and a community which sustains practice through the hard times.


So here’s a quick recap:

Masters Degree = Basic theory and Credentialing for licensure

Licensure = Ability to Bill

PhD = Research and Teaching

Certification (deliberate practice + feedback) = Therapeutic skill


Ponderings: What 2017 taught me (part two)

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If it’s not a form of self expression you won’t know what to do with it when volatility hits. ~Josh Waitzkin

I can’t put into words why, but this quote just feels right. Oh, and if you don’t know who Josh Waitzkin is then shame on you. Shame. 

Own fewer but better. ~Paula Pant

Paula Pant is one of the leaders of the Financial Independence movement. Where as JL Collins is King of conservative stock market investing, Paula Pant is the First Lady of real estate. I’m not a real estate dude, but she’s got some wonderful thoughts on how to handle wealth with wisdom. This deeply resonates with me because I used to believe you were either poor and always in pain, or rich and greedy. She does a good job of pointing a third path forward:

There’s a curious cultural phenomenon of documenting every moment of our lives. We photograph every happy hour, haircut, outfit, bruise, cute cat pose and funny license plate. But how often do we look at those photos?

Almost never.

We’re so bad at reviewing old photos that app developers built Timehop to remind us to glance at our memories. Heck — we’re so bad at reviewing photos that the most popular social media app, Snapchat, is based on the premise that we’ll never view these images again.

But why? Why do we ignore these photos?

Maybe this reflects a simple truth: The more items we own, the less we value them.

But there’s a simple corollary that fixes everything…

If you’re going to walk in someone else shoes you better lace them all the way up. ~Me

I found this quote in my journal during my year review. No idea where it came from. So I’ll just take credit. I mean I am brilliant after all. 

We’re all bozos on the same bus. ~Gail Palmer

One night, a LOOOOONG time ago, I was home alone. The movie P.S. I Love You was “somehow” just sitting on my desk. I put it in and did not cry as I watched the story of a woman stumbling through losing the love of her life. At the end of the movie she pleads with her mother, trying to wring comfort from a woman who’s also lost her husband too soon. Her mother replies “So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.” 


An open letter to my students VI: C.R.E.A.M, get the money

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I remember my time doing in-home therapy. One family in particular sticks out.

Grandma was telling me about punishing her grandson after he came home, again, with frogs in his pockets when my anxiety started howling. By this point I was seasoned enough to know that when my anxiety started baying like a bloodhound, if I could listen instead of freaking out, he would let me know something important was happening. Something about how she treated her grandson was different than how she treated her granddaughter.

“I’m sorry,” I paused her. “I’m a little confused. Let me ask a question. Do you ever have any men in the house? Like a boyfriend or something?”

“What do you mean do I have a boyfriend? That has nothing to do with my grandson” Grandma shot back.

“Well I’m wondering who his models are. How is he learning to become a man?

At my car a moment later I tried to recoup. I’d been kicked out so fast that everything was a blur. Should I try to get back in? What would all those master therapists I read about in books do? What clever paradoxical scheme would they cook up? And why was I thrown out anyway? I thought I’d asked that question as politely as I could. My heart was still pounding when one of grandma’s friends caught me as I stood inside my car door. “You were right on. You didn’t hear it from me, but she treats that boy like sh*t compared to that girl. And her boyfriend, well he treats her like sh*t. So she passes it on. But she don’t wanna to listen to nobody.”

Back at the office my supervisor asked me what had happened. I figured grandmother would be calling her.

“So I’ll discharge them I guess.” I said after catching my supervisor up.

“No fill out a transfer form. We’ll have to give them to someone else. Maybe a female.”

In the doorway I was confused again. “But grandma doesn’t want therapy.” This family had devoured and spit out therapist after therapist for the past three years. Why were we giving them another therapist?

“The referral source is one of our major referral sources. They’re still requesting services.”


The air between me and my supervisor bristled.

Hopefully you’re not as naive as I was and you’ll catch on faster than I did. As a young therapist I knew our first mandate was to help our clients. I did not understand that the first mandate of any organization is to survive, and because of this, money, the life blood of organizations, runs everything. So the first mandates of a therapist and of an organization are often at odds. New therapists are particularly vulnerable for two reasons.


First, you need hours to complete your licensure process. This means you have a need that agencies will use for their monetary gain. They will push you to provide therapy services that you can’t say no to because you need the hours. These services won’t even have to be unethical, just miserable. One of my best friends has a caseload of over 100 patients. He wants clients not to show, because the only way he can finish his paperwork and go home at a reasonable hour is if people don’t show up. Agencies aren’t incentivized to change because there is always another unlicensed therapist who will do the job in order to get the hours.

Second, most new therapists will end up working for agencies which bill insurance, or as it’s called in the field “third party payers”. This is a problem because you’re pushed to cater treatment to whomever pays the bills. I’d bet that most of you will be working with the worst insurance system of all MEDICAID.

Medicaid does not want to pay for services. I don’t know why. I think its because if they paid for everything people needed they would go broke. I think that’s why, but I don’t know. The problem with Medicaid is that the reimbursement processes are *coughintentionallycough* cumbersome and the rates are low. This makes it a pain to help poor people.

Private insurance is a little better but often times, whether medicaid or private, insurances only reimburse for certain DSM/ICD codes. Also, insurance often times only reimburses for certain treatments, usually ones labeled evidence based treatments (EBT). Also, its not uncommon to only be reimbursed for a certain number of sessions. This means insurance dictates how you diagnose, what treatment you use, and length of treatment because if you don’t do it their way you don’t get paid. This is a problem for all the same reasons that you can’t learn therapy from a book, or a blog– it assumes insurance companies or EBTs have a better understanding of the context than you.

So as a new therapist you are limited in the agencies you work for because you need the hours, and agencies are limited by what kind of care they can give because of what insurance will reimburse. But there’s another big player in treatment – referral sources. Which makes sense. Agencies can’t survive without clients and clients come from referral sources. However, this leaves you as a therapist pushing to keep your clients engaged, instead of them working in therapy from their own motivation. Whenever external motivation is the main motivation you’re going to have problems.

What are you to do? I’ve heard others say that all you need is faith. Do good work and the rest will work itself out. I do not believe this. You must be as innocent as doves and a shrewd as vipers. So please make sure your paperwork is well done. Satisfy the bureaucracy. Make sure you’re following the fundamentals and do good therapy. Make sure you take care of the basics even if you don’t love your job. Then, once the basics are taken care of, look to diversify.

The financial power of being a therapist comes from the fact that people don’t come and bare their secrets and shame to an agency, they come because of the relationship they’ve build with the counselor. As strange as it sounds people come to therapy because they want YOU, YOUR name, YOUR brand.

This is NOT what I wanted to hear as a young therapist. When I first became a the30DBCF00-C12F-4F9A-9E2A-24D0B1C1377E.gifrapist I pictured myself as a young Idris Elba who sat and had deep conversations with people. In therapy programs we often promote those jobs as standard, but they actually are really hard to get. I’ve had to learn that therapists do well when they realize that the profession is one for entrepreneurs.

You’ll be best served if you spend your time as a new unlicensed therapist building your brand. You can do this by any number of ways, but the main idea is to use your current job as a platform for your brand. Ask about opportunities to speak, organize trainings, volunteer in community events, or anything related to your field but isn’t direct care. It’s also important to have income from outside of direct care for two reasons.

First, most therapists I know deal with burnout by taking promotions out of direct care into management. However, because most promotions take you out of direct care everyone clamors for these positions, which by definition are limited.

Second, and to bring it full circle, the best reason is if you have income outside of direct care it’s easier to focus on your clients’ needs instead of focusing on trying to survive a system focused on money. 

P.S. I think it’s useful to say that after you get licensed go ahead and get paneled with the top insurance providers in your area. This process can take a few months, but it’s better to get on with an insurance provider when you don’t need it then to want to make the shift later and have to wait three months before you can do anything.


Ponderings: what 2017 taught me (part 1)

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2017 was rough for me. 

(I think this year was rough for a lot of us)

I went through a lot of failure. At the same time, I think I’ve grown more this year than any other, mainly because I think I’ve turned a corner. Pain, while still painful, doesn’t leave me wallowing nearly as much as it used to. I thank my wife for that. Now my head is clear enough that I have begun to actively learn from my experience. To help with my process of growing from struggle I journal. Recently I went though my 2017 Journal and pulled all the quotes and thoughts which either taught me something new or resonated with me at the time. 

The problem with knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologist than books on birds written by birds or books on ornithologist written by birds. – Nassim Taleb

Ornithologist are bird scientist. How easy to assume that because they have a fancy name the know more about flying than birds! As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten less patient with those who give advice from afar but make excuses when asked to guide me in real time. I doubt these “advice” givers actually understand anything about my problem. I’m coming to a deeper reverence for those who’ve gone through an issue and are willing to mentor me through a similar problem.

To have more and better orgasms turn off all the offs and slow down how you turn on the ons. – Emily Nagoski.

I wonder if Emily Nagoski’s book on sex is only about sex, or really about how to live in our bodies. As someone who’s grown up in a Christian America where the body was bad, knowing how to live well in my body was something I had to learn. I’ve grown the most by applying this quote to my anxieties. For instance I’ve asked myself, ” What are the things which trigger my anxieties and what are the things that soothe my anxieties?” Something about this dual approach really clicked for me and has 10x my growth curve. Now that I’m writing this I wonder if this quote resonates with me because of its reassuring view on time. Emily is saying “you will overcome this fear. And you will be even more confident on the other side if you are willing to take your time.”

Are you spending for happiness?- FI community

I’ve done a lot of reading about money this year. Good news is that almost everyone who reads this blog can retire a millionaire. Furthermore, almost everyone who reads this can become financially free in just a few years- taking only the jobs you enjoy taking. All you have to do is save 50% of your income and invest it in index funds. Unfortunately,  my friends have started balking and write me off as a naive lunatic. What they don’t understand is that saving is buying your freedom. Now this is hard to keep in mind when the shiny new thing you’re itching to buy is right before your finger tips. In that moment when I’m hovering over that purchase on amazon the question that pops into my mind is “are you spending for happiness?” Which will make me happier? A Nintendo switch or being financially free a day, week, year sooner?



An open letter to my students V: Most of you won’t do therapy, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be therapeutic

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I was out with a few colleagues the other day. We went to lunch and as I was chowing down on my southern relish sandwich listening to the two of them talk about work, one of them, who just became a professor said, “we tell student’s they’ll get out and have this ‘skill’, as though they’re going to go out and hang their own shingle. Really most of them will have to go out and get a J-O-B.” I stopped mid bite, bits of sandwich hanging out of my mouth.

That captured exactly how I felt for a long time. I remember when I graduated. Diploma in hand I was ready to start making those big counselor bucks. Surely all I had to do was walk into an interview and say, “I’m here! I have a MASTERS degree!” and they’d pay me what I’m worth. Right?

Not exactly. It’s not that getting a job was hard. Getting a job was easy. The problem was that my training was in how to do therapy, and the jobs, well they didn’t quite have therapy in mind. Over the past few years I’ve had a series of “therapy” jobs and it seems to me that these jobs have fallen into three basic types: Social Worker, Agent of Social Control, and Camp Counselor. 

Social worker is what I did until really recently, (as in I still work there but I turned in my 30 day notice).  At least every other weekend you could find me on the Behavioral Health Unit of the local hospital doing bio-psycho-socials and conducting a group or two. The majority of jobs like this entail making sure people have the resources they need. It’s a lot of phone calls and paperwork. It can feel … well its not always the most engaging work.
I worked with people who made the job enjoyable, but the work itself was not fulfilling. When I was in my Ph.D program my dream was not to set up after care appointments for 7.5 hours a day.  

Image result for agents matrix gif transformAgents of social control sounds like something from the matrix because, well, that’s exactly what the Wachowskis had in mind. I did this kind of work a few years ago when my job was working as an In- Home therapist. My job was to use my therapy skills to keep kids out of trouble, so I was a “kind” alternative to a parole officer. Trouble was most of the time the kid’s behavior was a normal reaction to insane circumstances. In-Home therapy is really hard because you have little control over the context, and the stakes are very high for you, as the therapist to bill, which requires you having to see the family face to face. One of the things that bothered me the most about In-home therapy was feeling pushed by my agency to do therapy with people for whom therapy wasn’t a priority. I’d drive by houses and people wouldn’t be home. I’d call phones and people wouldn’t answer. When I finally did get a hold of the family I’d learn that they moved to a whole new school. Strangely, the pressure wasn’t to help these families change. Most of my referral sources were too  tied up trying to survive the politics of their own agencies to question who effective therapy was. As long as they could check the box saying they had enrolled the kid in therapy they were happy. 

“Camp counselor” is what I’m doing now. I run groups for elderly persons who have Image result for Ouroboros gifbeen referred to therapy by their doctor or nursing home. Most of the time I wonder if they really need counseling or just friends. When I first took this job I didn’t know that when an elderly person goes into a medicaid-funded-nursing home the government takes away everything they own in order to pay for the patients stay. It’s been really sad to see how we take away everything our elderly have worked for their entire life, their homes, their cars, etc, and send them to live in dorms where they don’t know anyone. In that situation it makes sense to me why so many of them suffer from anxiety and depression. But, instead of changing the system, they get sent to people like me for group therapy because hospitals can bill for psychotherapy groups and nursing facilities want the grumpy elderly out of their hair. Add to this the open secret that many of our elderly are overly medicated which often leads to their psychiatric symptoms (more on this later), and you have a system incentivized to support itself. This is the fate of all of those hoping social security will take care of them upon retirement. 

If you don’t find yourself as a Social Worker, Agent of Social Control, or Camp Counselor you can still find yourself hoodwinked into not doing therapy. Your agency will send you patients with autism, who’ve had a stroke, or who have some sort of developmental delay, and because insurance will reimburse for providing “psychotherapy” for this population you’ll get tied into providing them with therapy. Problem is psychotherapy isn’t what they need. They need something like ABA, which is a behavior modification therapy. Or they need an occupational therapist to help them redesign their lives so they can function in society with appropriate modifications. Both OT and ABA are needed. Neither are psychotherapy. But congratulations- you’ve now been exposed to how insurance dictates treatment. More on that later.

However, you are being trained to be a therapist. Part of the skill of therapy is to be able to provide therapy to people despite the context. By following the fundamentals and avoiding some of the bigger mistakes you will give many clients an experience they have never had and be a fighting force against shame.

I’m Jordan Harris. I have a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. I’ve dedicated myself to being an excellent father and a thoughtful husband. I’ve studied hypnosis with Douglas Flemons, one of the most innovate and imaginative therapist on the planet, and I’m pretty sure, after specializing in couples therapy, that emotional connection is what it’s all about. PLEASE leave a comment. I’d LOVE to hear from you. 


An open letter to my students IV: The BIG mistake and what to do about it

The other day I was talking with a therapist about the job we do. She was asking for my advice on how to run a group for senior citizens. I gave her a few thoughts then asked, “what do you usually do with these sorts of groups?”

“Well you know, I usually do a lot of self-esteem building. I might say, ‘I know things seem bad and you don’t feel like you’re getting anything accomplished, but for you getting out of bed is an accomplishment. That is progress.'”

I almost barfed.


The other day I was talking with a friend whose a therapist about the job we do. He was about to go into a session with a client, Sam, with whom he felt stuck. Sam has pretty serious anxiety to the point that at times he can’t leave his house. Because I was curious I asked my friend, “What’s your approach? Where are you trying to get with Sam?”

“I want him to realize that what he’s thinking is irrational. Other people aren’t really always looking at him. It’s all in his head.”

I squirmed a little.


The other day I was talking with a friend. She was telling me how she went to a therapist for a while, but it wasn’t helpful.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, after a while, like the fourth session, I kinda felt like she thought I was done. She kinda hinted that we’d already prayed about it. Now I just had to deal with it.”


It is hard to teach to do therapy from a letter. You miss out on context and feedback and techniques get misunderstood.  While it is difficult to teach what does work via letters, letters are excellent at conveying what doesn’t work.

The above are all examples of therapist negating their clients’ experience. You will be tempted to negate your clients’ experience for several reasons.

First, those surrounding your client’s will negate with such elegance, sophistication and matter-of-factness that going against them will feel like going against common sense. Parents will attempt to seduce you into negating their sons (“he’s just defiant”), husbands will attempt to seduce you into negativing their wives (“she’s just too needy”), probation officers will attempt to seduce you into negating their parolees (“he just needs a good kick in the —“), coworkers will attempt to seduce you into negating the clients (“we got another frequent flyer”) and so on and so forth. 

The problem is, at best, negating another’s experience will leave it unchanged, but more likely it will make the painful experience worse.

When we invalidate people or deny their perceptions and personal experiences, we make mental invalids of them. When one’s feelings are denied a person can be made to feel crazy even when they are perfectly mentally healthy. – R.D. Laing  

Our colleagues find it easy to negate when they  have lost hope and are frustrated that change is not happening quicker. They find it easy to negate when they feel hopeless (some of which is caused by ineffective technique). They feel frustrated and don’t know how to help relieve the suffering they’re facing. So they try to pull us into their pain because relationship relieves suffering. We all spend some time in that exhaustion. Part of writing these letters to you is to help light the way so that when you are in that place you can sit, rest a while, then when your ready continue the struggle.

Furthermore negation is so seductive because good negation points to a truth. The guy who comes to you and complains about his marriage just has to stop having affairs. The mom who’s frustrated with her daughter just has to stop smacking her. The frequent flyer is a frequent flyer and has to just keep his followup appointment. The addict needs to finish rehab and not leave early, no matter what. These are all true things and the seduction of truth is strong

A truth that’s told with bad intent, beats all the lies you can invent.- W. Blake

What do you do instead? The antidote to negating an experience is to validate. At times validating the other’s experience is scary because we don’t want to want to condone the uncondonable. If someone is suicidal you don’t want to give them permission to kill themselves by validating suicide. The technique is to validate emotions not behaviors. You can always validate emotion because emotions always make sense. Emotions are our bodies way of making relational sense of the world.

There was once a guy named Elliot who had brain surgery and lost his ability to have emotions. At first he was fine, but then, over time, he began to do strange things. He’d go out to eat for lunch and would be gone all day because he’d start thinking, “well if I go to McDonald’s it’s faster and cheaper, but if I go to Subway it’s a bit healthier, then again Subway did just put cement in their bread, so maybe Mcdonald’s it is, but Mcdonald’s doesn’t degrade and the long term effects of that on my body would be drastic, but right now it would taste really goo. Maybe I should go out for Chinese instead? Well which Chinese spot should I go too, the one on 4th street is closer, but the one on 7th has fortune cookies, “and on and on. Emotions are actually the foundation of logical thought partly because they tell us what to value. Without knowing what he valued Elliot couldn’t make a logical decision. 

There are at least seven universal emotions. Each emotion, in addition to having its own logic, is a message about relationship.

  • Joy pulls me to move toward the other to extend the feeling.
  • Sadness pulls others close to me. Shame and guilt are some of its siblings.
  • Fear pushes me get away from the other for safety.
  • Anger pushes me towards the other in order to remove an obstical, which is why anger is “sticky”.
  • Disgust pushes the other out of relationship. It’s a way if saying we have no relationship.
  • Surprise tells me to pause until we know what kind of relationship we have. It asks the question “Do I need to move forward or away from this?”


Certain emotions can feel overwhelming, like a wave that will envelop us and drag us a million miles away in just a few moments. To protect ourselves from these emotions we often negate emotions. Trouble is that if we negate an emotion and it can’t move then it often builds, which is why it gets worse. Sometimes we even negate an emotion with another emotion. In some circles it’s not okay for men to feel sad so men negate sadness by using anger. For lots of Christians it’s not okay to feel the joy associated with sex, so joy gets negated through disgust or shame. This is how people get tied into all sorts of knots. But if you want it to change you have to move toward the emotion. And it will change. Emotion means to move after all. 

How do you move towards an emotion? Well the foundation is validation. Validation unties the knots by which we find ourselves bound. When a suicidal client comes in and says, “I’m a burden and I think everyone would be better off if I ended it all,” you can say, “Yeah, you feel like a burden to everyone, and when you feel like you’re this massive burden dragging everyone down you want relief. Who wouldn’t want that?” You’re not saying “go kill yourself,” you’re showing “your emotions makes sense”. This act begins the process of untying the knots which bind people.


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I’m Jordan Harris. I have a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. I’ve dedicated myself to being an excellent father and a thoughtful husband. I’ve studied hypnosis with Douglas Flemons, one of the most innovate and imaginative therapists on the planet, and I’m pretty sure, after specializing in couples therapy, that emotional connection is what it’s all about. Please leave a comment. I’d LOVE to hear from you. 



An open letter to my students III: Techniques and the problem with books (from someone whose read them all)

So what about all the techniques? I can hear you griping now, “Surely therapy is not only about the relationship between me and the client right? I mean you have to know how to do something? Right?

My masters program was HEAVILY focused on us students and our personal growth, and by extension our relationship with our clients. Technique was shunned. As a result I graduated with a degree of confusion (#lolpunnylol). On the one hand I felt like I ought to know how to help people change, but on the other hand I saw myself failing again and again and again. I couldn’t reconcile the two. Once I learned a few techniques I was pissed at how much more effective I was. I felt like I’d been swindled. I mean I spent 40k+ on a masters degree and didn’t even know how to help people with simple problems. 

In my training it was assumed that if you were “healthy” you would just know how to do good therapy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

So now I advocate for technique. Hear me now, I am PRO technique. I’ll even give you an example. 

About a year ago I went out for a bike ride. As I left my house, I passed my neighbor’s five year old daughter, Leslie. She was outside playing with some friends.

“He lives across the street. I don’t like him.” She told her friend and wrinkled her nose as I passed.

What the heck. I was taken aback. I hadn’t done anything for her to be so disgusted with me. At least nothing that I knew of.

About a week later I was at my neighbor’s house sitting at the dinner table chatting when she came to the table, sat down, and *Hiccup*.

“You got hiccups.” I said.

“Yea.” She nodded. *Hiccup*

“You know, I can help you with those.”

“I know,” Leslie recoiled, “by scaring me.” *Hiccup*

“I could do it that way. But I’d prefer not. Can you feel the hiccup coming?”

Her eyes rolled upward as she thought for a second. *Hiccup*. She nodded.

“Okay, this is what I want you to do. The next time you feel your body making a hiccup I want you to do one at the same time. Got it?”

She nodded and waited and then: HICCUP. I mean it had to have been two, one from her mind and one from her body because she nearly bounced out of her seat.

“You finished?” I asked. Leslie hiccuped a few times on purpose to check and nodded. Then she bounced down from her chair and went off to her room. She returned a few minutes later with a small pink bag which she promptly dumped on the table. Out poured a hundred tiny dolls. For the next 30 minutes she explained to me the difference between Princess Sugarplum, Princess Butterscotch Cupcake, and Princess Vanilla swirl.


Most therapists don’t know that there is a difference between automatic experience and intentional behavior. This is a fundamental distinction and most are ignorant of the divide. Automatic experience is something that your body does but you don’t feel like you’re trying to make it happen, like feeling thirsty or hiccuping. Your body hiccups regardless of whether your mind wants to or not.

Intentional behavior is something that you do willfully. Like lifting your hand to pick up a glass of water. 

Got it? Thirst you experience as automatic. Picking up a glass is a behavior you have to do intentionally. 

One of the easiest ways to change automatic experience is to switch to intentional behavior. Most people have experienced this when they’ve been asked “what’s your locker combination?” If they’d been asked to open their locker a minute before they could have done it effortlessly. But once they’re asked they can’t remember for the life of them. I’ve also seen this with sports. A few years ago I had a buddy who played college level tennis and he was telling me how he wasn’t doing too well. He was having trouble with his serve.

“How come?” I asked.

“I’m thinking too much. I just get caught up in my head.”

Something that used to be smooth and automatic, because he’d practiced it so much, was now something he was thinking about and attempting to intentionally correct. He’d accidentally changed the automatic experience of serving into an intentional behavior and it wasn’t working well for him. I didn’t know how to help him then. Little did I know all he needed was of the right technique


This technique of switching automatic experience to intentional behavior is what I used with Leslie. By asking her to do an intentional behavior we short circuited the automatic behavior of hiccups. Most therapists don’t understand this. Some have heard of “paradoxical interventions” or “reverse psychology” which are poor concepts that don’t capture the nuance described here. I mean if you use “paradox” how do you know what to paradox? How do you know what the client should reverse? In the approach described here all you have to do is determine what the automatic experience is and then make that intentional.

So yeah, I like techniques. The right technique is crucial in helping you deal with issues, just like there’s no replacement for the right form while lifting weights, or the right wrench when working on the car.

But there’s a problem.

First I know of no way to teach technique in a book (or blog). If you find a way please, please, please, let me know. I don’t think it can be done. And I’ve tried. I mean I read ALL of Douglas Flemons’ work on hypnosis and relational therapy before I went to go see him, and ALL of it paled in comparison to what I learned by spending a mere week with the man. I also read a lot of EFT before going to the training. I mean I’d read articles, watched Sue Johnson do a live session, read the EFT manual. I thought I was doing EFT. Not even close. Nope. 

Why is it so hard to learn from a book? One reason it’s so hard to teach techniques in a blog or book is that you can’t convey context. Take the example above. You don’t hear the playfulness in my voice when I engaged her. You don’t notice the fact that we were sitting in her dining room and that her dad was at the kitchen counter, all of which probably helped her feel more comfortable approaching someone she didn’t like. You may have missed that that nose wrinkle indicated disgust rather than fright. You might have missed the fact that I tested how receptive she was by asking multiple questions. You might have missed the fact that I asked a question in a way that presupposed a response that I wanted to get. You can’t get all that in a book.

Context, context, context. 

There’s another reason why it’s difficult to learn from a book. Books don’t give you feedback. For example, if you read from a recipe and you mess something up you won’t know until after the meal has been prepared and you take your first bite. By then it’s much too late to fix, and if you’re a novice odds are you won’t know what you did wrong. However, if you’re making a meal with with a chef, he might see you add too much salt, let you know and advise you to add sugar. This is why having a mentor who watches your work is SO important.

Feedback, feedback, feedback.

But there’s another reason why teaching techniques is difficult. Teaching technique is difficult because it obscures the change agent.  Technique is not medicine. Technique is how you deliver the medicine. Technique is the syringe. The relationship is the medicine. Sometimes this can get confused because we forget that the purpose of relationship and connection is so we can go out and face life’s hiccups, NOT so we can remain locked in a bunker so that we can’t be hurt. We don’t have safety for it’s own sake but for the adventures we will inevitably be drawn into. Adventure without safety is trauma. When we can face the world from within relationships then life becomes an adventure because we have the confidence that we can face our problems or spend ourselves on behalf of others. 

I say this because it works. Therapy is the art of helping people manage emotions they push away. When you know someone has your back, your nervous system calms. That calming is your body handling emotions instead of stiff arming them, and we know that when we don’t have these relationships, techniques which should work don’t. 

The important part about what happened between Leslie and me is not that she overcame her hiccups, in life there will always be hiccups, but that our relationship changed. We’ve laid the ground work for a win-win. She knows where to go to learn how to face life’s hiccups, and she had the experience of not being alone in the midst of hiccups.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

I’m Jordan Harris. I have a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. I’ve dedicated myself to being an excellent father and a thoughtful husband. I’ve studied hypnosis with Douglas Flemons, one of the most innovate and imaginative therapists on the planet, and I’m pretty sure, after specializing in couples therapy, that emotional connection is what it’s all about. Please leave a comment. I’d LOVE to hear from you.