Archive for February, 2013

Feb 12 2013

Preparation Questions for Couples Therapy

Here are some writing exercises to help prepare for couples therapy.

  1. What would you like to see improved about your life and relationship right now?
  2. What are your strengths and vulnerabilities in communicating?
  3. Do you think you are a better listener or speaker?
  4. Describe the difference between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
  5. When you are talking about important issues, do you sometimes get upset and have trouble calming yourself?
  6. In a few sentences, tell me what you think the following communication concepts mean: listening, speaking, rehearsal, rebuttal, generalizing, black and white thinking, ambushing, criticizing, blaming, contempt, reactivity, mind reading,and filtering, empathic and active listening.
  7. A good communication process involves 3 stages: talking about what you think, identifying and rating your feelings (happy, angry, sad, afraid), and expressing what you want.
  8. Describe yourself and your family. Go back as far as you can and describe grandparents, great-grandparents and other extended family. Draw a genogram or what looks like a family tree to create a picture of your family. For an example of a genogram, look here.
  9. Write down 5 words that describe your parents or parental figures.
  10. Who were you closer to growing up, your mother, father, siblings, grandparents, others? Explain why you think you were closer to these family members and not the others.
  11. What emotional messages did you receive from your parents, family, teachers, others? Pay attention to the feeling of the message. Note that people can say they care about you in words, but the feeling can be very different.
  12. Create a timeline of significant events in your life. Focus on all events that you can remember, including times when you may have been mistreated, neglected or abused. For an excellent example of a family therapy timeline, go here.
  13. If you wrote a 3-4 word slogan to describe yourself, what would it be?
  14. You are stranded on an island, but can bring 10 items and 3 people to be with you. What and who would you bring? Why?
  15. If you drink or use other drugs, when wasthe first time you drank or used?
  16. Describe your history of alcohol and other substances. Focus on what role substances play in your life.
  17. Go here to the Alcohol Assessment website and complete the questionaire.
  18. What did you learn about yourself and your use of alcohol?
  19. For another questionaire, go here and complete the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test.
  20. What old or new information did you learn about your use of alcohol or other substances.
  21. Describe times when you felt like you may have been mistreated or neglected. Who, what, where and when.
  22. Draw a line. On either end of the line, write the words really special or unworthy. How do you feel about yourself? Put a mark on the line that describes where you are on the continuum.
  23. Imagine you can do your life over. What would you change?
  24. Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 15 years?
  25. Describe how you would like to die? Who would be there? What would happen?
  26. What secrets do you keep? Describe the pros and cons of maintaining these secrets.
  27. Do you feel trapped in your life? Why or why not?
  28. If you have certain problems to face, do you think you have the power to change things or do you feel powerless?
  29. In the privacy of your own thoughts or writing, describe your feelings about sexuality and your sexual experiences. Have you ever felt mistreated sexually in any way? Have you ever been the victim of sexual harassment or any other behavior which made you feel uncomfortable?
  30. How will you know when you and your relationship are at their best?

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Feb 09 2013

James Arthur Ray: “Spiritual Warrior” Guru Sentenced to Prison

When writers resolve legal maneuvering to stop the publication of negative information, perhaps more will be known about the inner workings of personal growth weekends and their charismatic leaders.

If James Arthur Ray is an example, many of these leaders are more show than substance.This ABC video tells the story about how Ray manipulated his followers, then caused injury and death in his sweat lodge. His followers demonstrate how shocked his followers were by the incompetence and criminal neglect shown by Ray.

For Ray, his was the “big lie.” During his trial, his claims of expertise were proven to be lies and distortions. He really had no training in what he was doing, but had learned how to use his charm and ability to engage crowds in a way to make money. He knew the first rule in this game was to show your followers you knew what it took to be successful. Bluntly, you knew “The Secret” and would reveal it to them for a price.
Knowing several of the Chicago based version of this phenomenon, these individuals can be very charming and persuasive. They dress in role, whether new age jeans and silver bracelets or gucci loafers and big SUVS or flashy sports cars.

When you see them, you sort of think, “wow, they must know something I don’t…” The truth, though, is they know how to carry themselves and sell their biggest product, themselves. They can thrill you with attention and leave you wanting more or at least trying to figure out what you are doing with them.

In the USA, a large men’s program, The New Warrior Training Adventure, operated by the Mankind Project, has made an effort to create more transparency in its programs and reduce potential harm to participants. Still a client died on one of their programs and another committed suicide shortly after participating on a weekend.

Unlike Ray, no one on these weekends was arrested for negligence and while there were lawsuits and investigations, no charges were brought against any of the leaders of those particular programs.
When the guru is a psychotherapist or personal coach, the risk of harm gets amplified. Ray was convicted of negligent homocide in the deaths of three of his clients/followers. Prosecutors in the case wanted him to serve a total of 9 years, but the judge reduced the prison time to two years for each of the three counts of homocide to be served concurrently.

This means Ray will serve only two years in prison for the betrayal of trust which led to the deaths of three people who idealized him and paid exorbitant sums of money to attend his programs.

James Arthur Ray rose to fame via Oprah Winfrey’s interest in the “Secret”, a popular self-help movie and book. With Oprah’s seal of approval, Ray’s programs became more popular and costly.

Oprah has been strangely silent about her prodigy James Arthur Ray’s conviction on negligent homicide. I wonder what she really thinks.

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Feb 05 2013

“Personal Growth Weekends”, Cults, and How They Use Recruitment as a Strategy for Survival and Profit

Cults…I talk a lot about the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ Ranch) and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), but what are some of the characteristics of a cult?

Keeping it simple, it’s an organization of narcissistically driven (usually) men who use a variety of methods to manipulate and exploit vulnerable people.

Here are the essential characteristics of a cult:

  • mind control…use of bizarre religious or secular ideas to enforce the obedience of followers
  • emotional disclosure…participants are encouraged to disclose private, emotionally important information…while the leaders do not share emotional information with the larger group
  • recruitment…participants are encouraged/expected to go out and recruit others to join the cult organization using deceptive and manipulative tactics
  • restriction from all outside ideas and influences ( no radio, television, computer/internet, newspapers)
  • claims that the outside world is evil and will lead to the death or damnation of anyone who betrays the cult
  • participants are manipulated to believe that they can not survive without all the cult offers them
  • participants may also be physically and sexually abused, in addition to the pervasive emotional abuse
  • intimidation by threatening to harm others or animals, especially pets, like a pet white rat, a rabbit, puppy or kitten
  • leaders are a few men who directly benefit from the cult by abuse, manipulation, threat of harm, sexual control of women and intricate financial arrangements
  • methods during the activities include various rituals, guided imagery, psychodrama, native american spirituality, sweat lodges, and over-simplified and out of context psychological ideas
  • key to all these experiences is the claim they can “change your life”
  • marketing literature will often claim the programs are based on science, but they don’t mean research. These claims are often followed by non researched based psychological ideas, such as those of Carl Jung (the shadow and persona in personality archetypes)
  • Continue Reading »

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