thepathNY

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When the going gets tough…what can you do?

We’ve all experienced it. It’s that moment after the adrenaline of beginning your internship has worn off, the novelty of your coworkers and fellow interns is becoming rote, and your readings and papers for school are creeping up fast and furiously. Some of you may also hold a part-time or full-time job while juggling school and the internship. Your rose-colored glasses get darker and suddenly, you can’t remember the last time you smiled, laughed or ate something. Welcome to the Dark Days.

I only mildly exaggerate but there will come a point in time when things feel completely overwhelming. I wish there were a salve to rid us all of these days but this post exists to remind you that a) it’s normal and b) make time for self-care.

If you’re in the middle of it now, you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, what does she know? Trust me, I know! I was a full-time professional and student with a caseload of clients that demanded an immense amount of time and energy…I know what it feels like to not have the time to breathe. I also know that when you are experiencing exhaustion and the first signs of burnout, not only are you not doing any good for yourself but your work in the field may also suffer. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of self-care. It’s not just a concept in your textbook; it’s an important aspect of your development as a professional.

Self-care doesn’t always mean a two week stay at a beach resort with a Bahama-Mama at your side (though it sounds great!). It could mean taking 30 minutes in your day to do something for you. Stretch, journal, watch an episode of a funny show. Engage in anything that helps you reconnect to you and your interests outside of the counseling realm. (For more ideas, see this post featuring Shawn Achor)

Lastly, for those of us based in NY and surrounding states, Sandy has disrupted many of our lives. There are a number of resources available to help you and your clients address stress and trauma related to the storm.

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Fall Reboot @ Acadia National Park

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Fall is not my favorite season.  I dread the upcoming cold and long for more days of summer heat, green grass, and balmy evenings.  But, this fall, my partner and I decided to kick off the season with a trip to Maine.  A chance to reconnect with nature, with ourselves, and bid a sweet farewell to the last days of summer.  I’m more of a beach-goer and would happily spend each and every day counting sand grains and listening to the waves roll in.  But, every once and a while, there’s a place so beautiful that it almost makes me think I could opt for a woodsy retreat as a viable beach alternative.  This was my experience at Acadia National Park.  The park is full of trails for hikers/ climbers or all levels and there’s enough beautiful landscape to keep everyone happy.  We had a chance to hike the Beehive Trail (a fun trail but not for the vertigo-afflicted) and take in the most beautiful views from the top.

What do you do to welcome the fall and reboot?

This gallery contains 15 photos


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Hiking, Climbing, Getting Lost (and why I’m a little like Frodo)

Breakneck Ridge
Beacon, NY

This past weekend, I manged to kill two birds with one stone.  I got the best sleep I’ve had in months and  made good on my goal of reconnecting with nature and getting fit .   The stone: Breakneck Ridge .

My partner and I decided that the 94 degree weather on Sunday was the perfect weather for what he termed a “vigorous” hike.  Vigorous indeed.  The scramble up the first set of rocks confirmed three things.

Courtesy of Josh Giunta


  1. I am out of shape.
  2. I’d like to learn how to rock climb.
  3. No, rock climbing is not one of my “hidden” talents (I believe I have some…I just have to figure out what they are, ergo the “hidden” part)
The hike lasted almost 5 hours and was mostly fun — except for the getting lost part.  Sometime after lunch, just past the last rock scramble, we found ourselves off the trail, surrounded by tons of kamikaze bugs (one of which successfully landed in my eye), and kicking ourselves for not bringing the extra bottle of water.  Luckily, “there’s an app for that” and we were able to get back on track before the sun went down.
The 40 minute detour provided a golden opportunity to reflect on what type of person I am in a hiking bind.  I think there are four main types:  Screamers, Frodos, Guides, and The Eaten.  Humor me on this…
The Scream - Edvard Munch

The Scream – Edvard Munch

The Screamer – 10-20 minutes of being lost, this is usually the person that starts to shiver before erupting into an oxygen-deprived wail that may last anywhere from a few seconds to hours.  Their shouts may include a mix of both optimistic cries (“Somebody, help us!) and pessimistic sentiments (“We are all going to die!).  You can count on the Screamer to relay the obvious (“This riverbed is completely dry!”) and alert the group to unknown dangers (“I heard a growl from over there!”)  As frustrating as Screamers might seem, I think they serve a crucial purpose as they are able to both inform anyone in the area of a) the situation and b) the status of the group.  This comes in particularly handy if you have the next type in the group.

The Frodo – For those of you familiar with Lord of the Rings, you may recall Frodo as being the brave Hobbit who carries the burden of The Precious with little more than the occasional yelp of pain or sigh of discontent.  While hiking, Frodos will not complain much as they plow through uncharted territory and their lack of speaking up may add some sense of calm to an otherwise stressful situation but, you often won’t notice the Frodo until s/he has collapsed 50 yards behind the group.  They’re generally not a pretty sight at the end of the ordeal.

The Guide – This type is pretty self-explanatory.  Guides will often take command of the situation with varying degrees of success.  I think there are a number of sub-types within Guides, ranging from the Democratic Guide who attempts to utilize a voting system within the hiking party, the Cheerleader Guide who provides frequent check-ins and updates on progress to the group, to the Vigilante Guide who will make quick decisions and spit bark and anyone who stands in the way.  Of course, there are always the Directionless Guides who have no sense of what to do but continue to move the group – possibly in circles – just for the sake of doing something.  In general, Guides tend to be quite useful…until they’re not.

The Eaten – (I’m using the term tongue-in-cheek here.)  This is less of a type and speaks more to the outcome of what happens when any one type takes it too far.  There are probably some other contributing factors including but not limited to: BMI score, fighting skill, and general likability but, overall I think the types that fall into this category can be decided upon by the following formula:

Usefulness – Ineffectiveness/ Group Survival Rate = Eat, Abandon or Keep

Overall, my experience in the mountains allowed for some interesting insights.  I recognized that I’m more of a Frodo-type and that speaking up sooner rather than later might be a good trick to learn (silently trying to conquer a fear of falling while on a hot rock only leads to burnt palms).  Partnered with a Cheerleader Guide, the experience was far less stressful than it could have been were I lost in the woods with any of the other types.  While it takes “all kinds” there are some folks I would prefer not be lost in the woods with.  I plan to hike it again and will remember the following:

  • always bring the extra bottle of water
  • gym sneakers are not appropriate for settings that are not in a gym
  • bring a bottle of eye wash for bugs that hit their mark
  • wear pants not prone to rip on rocks
  • take a before and after photo for humor and/ or blackmail purposes


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Adaptation, Coping, and Getting Personal

The past few months have brought more than a fair share of events that have required adaptation and coping – the quick and painful kind. There have been major events in virtually every aspect of life. Each one bringing a heaping serving spoon of stress. Enter sleep issues, teeth clenching, the nothing-pie and air-soup laying claim to my appetite.

There are situations that actually do warrant the type of reactions that I would normally attempt to steer myself away from. All in all, I’d say I’m not coping too poorly. Not staying in bed all day, not missing work, not consuming anything “unsavory”, not weeping in a heap on the subway. On a scale of 1-10 for functionality, I’d give myself a solid 8.

But, still.

There are situations that are not fleeting. They linger and shift and change shape even as I struggle to get them into a solid grasp. The idea of more change – more reasons to adapt and cope – makes the room spin, lights dim, and I fall with Alice-like abandon into a dark unknown.

Life events – positive, negative, external or internal – can present opportunities for new and exciting revelations; but, when too many things are in “transition” it can quickly turn into a rabbit hole. But, still.

In all of the personal turmoil, there still needs to be the energy and mental wherewithal to work and be of use to clients. I appreciated Suze Hirsh’s account of “emotional shock” in a recent edition of Counseling Today and how to stay steady when distracted by our own issues. They involve many of the same techniques we might provide to Fly off the Handle Client. I had a chance to use some of her wisdom when Weepy Client boldly stated that I have probably not experienced any hardships in my life. I’m not sure what gave Weepy Client that impression but while my initial reaction was to retort with a fierce verbal karate chop, I followed Hirsh’s recommendations and breathed deeply, tapped on my clavicles (though maybe not as inconspicuously as she suggests) and was able to respond in a manner expected of a counselor. It made all the difference. Thank you, Suze!

Every once and a while, feeling that flash of anger or having a sleepless night is pretty normal (I’ve learned too that, a bowl full of cherries, mug of chamomile, and March of the Penguins seems to do the trick for getting to sleep).  Coping in and of itself requires adaption. It’s constantly in-motion and evolving.

Life will throw tacks in the road – figuring out how to navigate between them is part of the trip.  How do others cope with stress and stay calm in the professional arena?


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Work/Life (im)balance

For the next few months, the end goal is fairly straight forward: reclaim life.  Being a student and a working professional has created an unhealthy work monster with no sense of what *down-time* means.  The word relax only serves to bring up memories of an 80s era full of synthesizers and classic music videos.

Somehow, I got it into my head that filling up every hour with “productive” tasks would be just the thing that would help me accomplish career and personal goals quickerfaster thus leading to a great big dose of Happy.  Instead what I’ve earned are poor sleeping and eating habits, silent wishes for germ inhabitants so that I can have a valid excuse not to do anything, and a blank-eyed expression when asked the question, “So, when are you free?”

Where is the Happy in that??

I’m not the only one who experiences the work/ life imbalance and I’m often one of the first to chastise others for not taking enough time for themselves.  Just a little hypocritical, perhaps.  So, I’m working on taking my own advice and the words of wisdom from a TEDx Talk: Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work.  This time around, I’m not just nodding emphatically to the concept of change but seeking to implement a true change in behavior and in mindset to create more room for Happy.

Could I… Carve out some time for a positive journal writing session?  Make time for exercise?  Take a drive to a nearby park for some outdoor meditation?  The answer is a simple “yes.”  There’s time for work; why not find time for writing, sweating, meditating?  The tips are simple enough yet so often they get pushed to the sidelines by the idea that working longerharderfaster will ultimately lead to some pleasurable sense of being.  The truth?  It doesn’t.  Having a positive outlook and an internal sense of well-being are the things that happiness is made of and more happiness leads to far more productivity, creativity, and success than all the 16 oz cups of coffee and multitasking devices in the world could ever bring.

Change the lens through which you view the world and change your life?  What a novel idea.

“[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.” — Shawn Achor


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Said the tortoise to the hare…

It’s January.  As soon as the new year hits, I have a tendency to hit the ground running.  Ten days later I find myself listless and drained of the energy I worked so hard to cultivate during the holiday break.  We’ve all heard the phrase, slow and steady wins the race, but it seems untrue in a society where everything screams at us to be quick     and fast or risk missing out.

Perhaps it’s another year of getting older that causes me to slow down, but I’m beginning to better understand this old adage.  I’ve updated it to the simple mantra: Pace Yourself.

While I am excited for what the new year could bring and eager to tackle head first the many goals I’ve set for myself this year, pacing myself becomes ever more important.  I hope to keep the following in mind to help with keeping the pace.

Setting checkpoints.  I consider these my opportunity to check-in and celebrate where I am in terms of achieving a larger goal.  It’s easy to get lost in the rat race of striving towards the golden egg goal, but without checkpoints, it’s hard to chart your process and ultimately becomes harder to achieve the goal you originally set for yourself.  Appreciating what I have accomplished and knowing the distance left to go helps keep me motivated and on track.

Make it daily.  I am no stranger to procrastination but it’s starting to sink in that waiting until the last minute to push towards a goal is more stress-inducing than exhilarating.  Setting  a daily schedule that incorporates goal objectives keeps me in the habit of working consistently towards the end goal.

Take a break.  It’s not always easy to schedule in time to relax but making an effort to take a pause at each checkpoint to figure out what went well and what I might need to change in order to meet my end goal.  Taking a break enables new ways of moving forward to emerge; I often find some of my better ideas come when I raise my head for air.

I’m committed to getting my goals accomplished this year which include things like joining and making meaningful contributions to professional organizations like ATSA, ACA, and AMHCA, opening a website, creating partnerships with other professionals, and growing myself professionally.  I’ve also factored in travel, being more active, and reading more as goals.  Though the later do not directly mean anything for me professionally, they allow a time to refresh, rejuvenate, and will allow me to be at my best self for the months ahead.

With 12 months in the year, it’s not worth burning out in the first two weeks.  Slow and steady may just “win” the race after all.


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Holidays…

The holidays are truly one of the most wonderful yet most challenging times of the year for many individuals.  If you’re a student, it means finals are over, you can reconnect with the family and friends who have waited patiently (hopefully) for you to emerge from your books.  However, as some of you may have experienced, it can be a trying a time for our clients.  The holidays often bring up memories of loss and feelings of sadness, loneliness, and depression.

I have found that while memories evoked around the holidays can be painful, working through the thick of it and providing a supportive environment to explore the loss can be extremely powerful.  No one likes to hear, “It will all be okay” when struggling through a difficult time.  Finding a way to acknowledge the feelings (positive or negative) and forming a meaningful relationship in session can be the ticket to lifting a client’s spirits.  It’s your ability to connect that makes you important, not your ability to wash away pain.

Much like they tell you on an airplane, you must put the mask to your face before you attempt to help the person next to you.  In other words, take some time for yourself this holiday to reflect on the people and tangible goodies that make it worth your while to get up and go in the morning.  What moves you?  What makes you smile?  If you can find these things for yourself, you will be more adept at navigating a client through the same process of identifying, feeling and connecting.