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Remote Counseling in COVID Time And Beyond

I find it fascinating. We are living in COVID time. I wonder, if this ever ends, we will be looking back and be like, whoa, COVID time…That is when everything changed and this happened and that happened. 

 

One of the things that has happened in the therapeutic field–drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment–is a lot of people began to work from home. They began to offer what used to be an in-person experience–therapy, counseling, even spiritual work–via Zoom or FaceTime or other platforms.

 

Remote Therapy: A Counselor’s Thoughts

 

And so as I work in the field, like a lot of people, I am asking, “Okay, what is going on here? Is this working? Is this sustainable? Is this good? Should we keep this? What if it goes back to normal? Should we keep doing this Zoom session, this kind of thing?” 

 

And the first thing I noticed–because I always notice the bullshit first, that’s just my cynical part–is people started saying, “I see a lot of things better about Zoom.” A lot of therapists that I know seem to think that. 

 

And I was kind of like, well, that is convenient because you are at home.

 

So if you said, this really sucks, it is a bad incentive because you get paid to not leave your house now. Be on the computer and probably like to keep it that way if and when things go back to normal. 

 

But if I asked you right before COVID, what do you think is more effective, a Zoom session or an in-person session, I doubt you would say Zoom. But now, suddenly, I hear that a lot. That being said, I think there are a few benefits to Zoom.

 

Pros and Cons of Video Counseling

 

One of the benefits is, because you are communicating through a medium, there are some layers removed there. And so for a lot of people–because a lot of people suffer from anxiety–it is hard to have somebody look at you. Even if you do not have anxiety, just intimacy is difficult for people. It is a little less intimate. And because it is a little less intimate, it might mean you are a little more comfortable. And because you are a little more comfortable, it might make that process of being vulnerable easier.

 

So I think that is a big deal and really helpful. Of course, there is the exact same downside…it is a little less intimate. And sometimes the most powerful moments that we experience in a therapeutic process, spiritual process, or counseling is a deep moment of intimacy with another human being in the room. 

 

That is when the healing generally happens, to be witnessed, seen and held by another human being in a deep and transformative way. It can happen by Zoom, but it is not nearly as intimate.

 

Zoom works a little differently for everybody. I have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, among other things. I have a difficult time staying focused on a screen for multiple hours during the day, whether I am on the receiving end or the counseling end. And that is just how I am built. 

 

And so I think that a huge piece is differentiating who benefits early on. In drug and alcohol treatment, I think absolutely no way. I think people need physical contact with other human beings early on. 

 

By early on, I just even mean the first couple of weeks. There is somebody else there that is real, that is grounding you and with you. Someone breathing with you as long as you can see, etc.

 

Just Another Way to Feel Disconnected?

 

So, in general, there are tradeoffs. I think remote counseling will stick around and will be somewhat beneficial. But, my concern about it, I would say in the long term, is about people being disconnected from themselves in general for reasons I have talked about in other videos. 

 

Our society seems to be more and more atomized and disconnected. And it is like, here is one more form of separation from each other. And so it is not my cup of tea in general, but we will do the best we can with it.

 

 

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Past Experiences Are More Than Just Memories

There is an idea just popularized–but has been around for thirty year–that congealed into a little phrase that I hear all the time. And it just sort of dawned on me–I did not use to hear that ten years ago when I was working in treatment and recovery. 

 

You will hear therapists, clinicians, and facilitators at treatment programs or in transformational programs talk about “being in your body”. 

 

Growing up, I do not remember hearing that phrase because I felt I was always in my body, you know–so nobody ever stopped me. 

 

Make sure you are “in your body”. That phrase sort of crept in on the scene and–at least in LA where I live–we accept it as like saying something real. But what exactly does that phrase mean? 

Trauma’s Effects on the Body

I related it to a very famous somatic psychologist therapist. His name is Peter Levine. He talks about trauma in the body.

 

The notion is we have realized that our brain or nervous system does not just consist of what is happening in our head. Our nervous system actually runs through our entire body. And then, actually, our whole body is one system.

 

So when we go through a trauma–whether it be emotional trauma or physical trauma–the imprint of that experience is not just like a little invisible memory that you hold in your mind. It is actually imprinted in the nervous system, which means it is imprinted in the body. 

 

Some of the ways that people adapt to traumatic experiences is to dissociate. Dissociate means to compartmentalize, to move away from, to separate from a particular experience one is having. 

Dissociation: A Common Example

So, for instance, every night my whole body shuts down and goes into just like a temporary hibernation. We call that sleeping. Now, if I was awake for that whole process, I think I would be terrified…

 

I cannot move, everything is happening automatically. Weird things are floating through my mind…but I actually dissociate and move away from that experience of sleep into the realm of dreams and deep sleep. 

 

So that is an adaptation towards an incredibly uncomfortable state–to dissociate. But what can happen in trauma is… 

 

I can dissociate, meaning step away from an experience in such a way that when I come back, there is an experience that I have not fully processed. That starts to symptomize. Then how I adapt is a little bit complex. 

 

But I adapted this experience without knowing that I adapted the memory of that experience. It is actually in my brain, nervous system, and entire body. 

 

And I can have so much trauma in my experience that I kind of dissociate from my body altogether, which means I do not have the head, heart, body connection that I want.

 

I am not fully conscious of what is happening in my system. I am sort of just checked out–maybe living in my thoughts and ideas–but I am not really here…fully present. 

The Importance of Being Fully Conscious

To be alive means to be fully in your body and fully present because we are embodied beings. 

 

So you do not feel fully alive unless you are fully in your body. That notion of “in the body” is a reminder for everybody that we have the capacity as human beings to flee to the thought that, “Hey, do I want to bring that back to what is really going on?”

 

Or to address a variety of “being in the body” questions like:

 

“Well, how do I know what is really going on?”

 

 “How fast is my heart beating right now?”

 

“How am I feeling throughout my body?” 

 

“Why am I breathing really shallow? What is going on with that?”. 

 

And so it is bringing consciousness back to the ground of our being…the body.

 

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Facing Challenges And Building Resilience

There is a German term. It is called Zeitgeist. It means the spirit of the time. And in this time, one word that I started to hear more in the last three to five years that is pointing to an important reality is the notion of resilience and being resilient.

 

And I think the reason why that idea has become more popular as of late, at least in modern Western Society–Los Angeles in my case–is that the basic needs and the amount of toughness necessary for my very existence has gone down quite a bit.

Has Society Made Us Weak? 

And so we live in these boxes and we drive these cars with airbags and everything is kind of safe. We live actually in a very protected life and so we have not had to be as tough or as resilient. But in terms of mental health, and difficulties, and interpersonal relationships–people have struggled as much or more than they ever did. 

 

And so that term has come back because we have noticed that people–I am going to use a strong word–are weak. They have a hard time handling difficulties in their interpersonal, work, or life skills in general. 

 

Not physical difficulties and demands necessarily–but the kind of demands that we deal with every day. 

 

And so because of that, people say, “Well, you know, we have got to learn how to be more resilient. We have to teach our kids how to be more resilient.”

What is Resilience?  

And the notion of resilience relates to fortitude, a certain amount of strength. Resilience relates to the idea of being able to bounce back from something. I get impacted but I can bounce back and still be strong. 

 

The notion of resilience has to do with consolidation on an emotional level. That something might impact me. And emotionally, you know, I kind of go to pieces for a minute, but I can bring all those pieces back together…and bring them forth in the next moment. 

 

And for me, I am definitely one of those people that have concern about the direction that our society is going in. I have a bunch of children. I work with a lot of young people. I try to teach them to be resilient, to be tough, to be able to deal with the things that life throws at them.

How to Become More Resilient

The question of how to be more resilient is a very simple…with a very simple answer. You have to go through difficulties. You have to teach people that it is okay to go through difficulties and that that is a natural and important part of life. That is how you become resilient.

 

If the difficulties are above your level, then you need to go through those difficulties with support. But ideally, just enough support so that you have to put in your own effort. Not so much support that you are being enabled through every difficulty. 

 

So that is what I do with my children. You know, I want them to go through particular challenges that are just at their level. Not that I cannot, you know, figure that out perfectly, but I am gauging what is just the level of challenge where they have to exert effort that is maybe a little more than they think they can. 

 

Right? Because I want them to be able to have that sense of ‘I can go through difficult times, or difficult things, or challenges and it can be really hard and I could think I am not going to make it… but I can’. 

 

Because that is the experience of resilience. Wow. I cannot believe I got through that. You know. Wow. Now, look at me, look at my ability to do that.

 

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Learning to Feel Your Thoughts and Emotions

In general, one of the things that happen in modern times–as people become a lot more conscious of their physicality, nutrition, exercise, and of the importance in taking care of it–is being conscious of your body in the healing process. 

 

So with that, therapeutically, one of the things that have become very popular is “somatic work”. It is the work in the body. 

 

How that works: You and I are doing a therapy session or counseling session. I can tell based on your breathing, how you are holding your shoulders, how you are holding your jaw, and your speech patterns that you are upset or frustrated. 

 

But maybe I go, “Hey, you know, you are a little upset or frustrated.” 

 

I am trying to process with you emotionally what is going on.

 

And you say, “You know, I am a little frustrated.” 

So How Does Somebody Process Frustration?

Does that mean you just sort of allow somebody to say that they are frustrated sometimes? 

 

Sometimes somebody just identifying that they are frustrated helps them go:

 

“Oh, that is what is going on. Do I want to be frustrated? Okay, let me kind of calm myself down.”

 

Or: “Why am I frustrated? Oh, you know, I let this thing slide, blah-blah-blah.”

 

There is a way to process that frustration cognitively by identification. But there is also a way to process that frustration somatically. How frustration shows up sensationally in the body. 

 

Meaning… 

 

“Uh-oh, seems like you are frustrated.” 

 

“Yeah.” 

 

I would ask you a question like, “Where?”

 

If you have never done somatic work, you will go, “What do you mean?” 

 

“Well, where in your body do you feel that tension, frustration, or whatever it is that you are feeling?” 

 

“Oh, you know, actually in the back of my shoulders right here. I feel really tight.”

 

“Okay. I want you to close your eyes, and lean into that tightness. I want you to describe a little bit of it and tell me what is happening with it.”

 

And really what you are trying to do is connect your thinking mind to your emotions and your body. 

 

If you think about mind, body and spirit, you think about the connection of all three of those. 

 

And so, “Oh, I see that sensation. And then what I want to do is…I want to metabolize that emotion.”

Allow Yourself to Feel

But what happens is, you stop yourself from allowing to be frustrated. You know, the whole point of feelings is to feel them. 

 

What fucks us all up is that we have a feeling and we want to think them away…or we want to figure them out. 

 

But the whole thing about feelings is to experience them. And how do we experience them?

 

One way to experience them is somatically…to actually allow yourself to focus your consciousness on the points of your body that are responding to that emotional need. And then allow it to kind of work its way through you. See what comes up from there. 

 

That is somatic work. It is really popular right now because I think everybody is a little suspicious of our minds these days. And so we are sort of looking for something to trust. And maybe it is our body.

 

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What are Guru’s Actually Selling?

I was speaking in a previous video about the relationship between alienation and marketing. There is actually a brilliant sociologist, psychologist–a member of the hated Frankfurt group–Erich Fromm. And I really suggest you read his books. He was quite popular in the ’60s and ’70s. Then postmodernism hit…He kind of died out in terms of popularity.

 

But one of the things he noticed was in the 1960s people began to sell Eastern mysticism and spirituality. It became a thing. Fromm researched the difference between authentic teachings from the East–the Buddhist and Hindu teachings–and people marketing bullshit. 

Commercializing Eastern Traditions: Paying for Inspiration?

The problem he spotted back in the ’60s was the influx of translations of the books coming from the Eastern tradition. I do not think he could possibly imagine the reality that we live in now. 

 

If I go through my Facebook feed, the amount of people trying to sell me inspiration and motivation… it is absolutely unbelievable. 

 

The amount of people out there selling to you…Give me some money, I will help you find motivation. What a very interesting thing to sell. It’s a very important thing. How do I find energy and motivation or dynamo so that I can live a good life? That’s super important. But I did not think it was something that you could sell to somebody else.

 

Somebody could inspire me. I could be walking down the street or in a class and have a teacher, my wife, or my kid…and there could be a moment where somebody inspires me. It could be the person working at Trader Joe’s. I am often impressed by the people working at Trader Joe’s. Like wow, you guys are really in here killing it. I find that inspiring. 

 

But I did not think that they would turn around and say, “Hey, I can sell you some of this inspiration for a few dollars.” 

 

And I think it is super problematic for reasons that Eric Fromm noted…there is the real deal out there.

 

If you buy into those people, programs, or traditions, it may engage you in such a way that you transform your life for the better. Some of the best of those, by the way, are free. Not all of them. But some of the best of them are free. 

 

Everything is Hypnosis…Trance States…

And much of it is just crap. The problem is it can work for a second. Like a friend of mine is a psychologist and hypnotherapist. She says everything is hypnosis. All states are trance states. We are always in some kind of hypnosis.

 

Because everything is hypnosis, one of the ways we refer to that is the placebo effect. It means we can engage in an activity for a short period of time and actually get hypnotized into thinking that we have changed…but we have not changed at all in the core. 

…Until You Have the Courage to Go Deeper

But if we look at our ancestors and the traditions that we came from, we know on some level what are the ways that allow us to fulfill our destiny as a whole, soulful human being. Discover the blessings in the world that are often overlooked.

 

We know those things. We even know the constellation of activities within our life and the orientation towards those activities that we should have in order to become who we should be. 

 

I do not need an advertisement on Facebook to tell me what a meaningful life is…and neither do you. 

 

You actually know what it is if you decided to stop and think about it for 10 minutes.

 

We are in a reality now where we have to wade through a lot of crap. And that is just what it is. But I guess the good news is that there is so much crap out there that when you find the real deal, you really appreciate it.

 

 

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The Effects of Viewing Ourselves As a Commodity

I often think that you can understand the trends of what’s happening in the mental health and substance abuse world. Meaning, what kind of drugs are people using right now. We’re probably a little past the middle of a terrible opioid epidemic. The trends of anxiety are becoming a more common psychological phenomenon that we’re talking about a lot. So why is this the case now as opposed to 10 years ago? 

Our Culture Plays A Big Role in Substance Abuse 

In my mind, those disorders are directly in relationship to what’s happening in the culture. The culture is moving too fast, everybody has anxiety. It’s like wow, okay, everybody’s using heroin. 

 

Why are they using heroin? Well, heroin is one of those drugs that slows you down. Kind of slows down your heartbeat, slows down your system until you kind of nod off. 

 

Well, to me, that’s adaptation. It’s an adaptive response to a society that’s moving too quickly. I think many of the ills that we’re all suffering have to do with a society that’s moving too fast on so many levels. The complexity that is required of us to function well in society. The amount of information that’s out there and that’s constantly being beamed into our lives. 

 

It’s just happening so fast; how could I ever understand what’s really going on? 

 

There are social norms that contribute to what’s happening in those realms, and there’s kind of a one-to-one correlation between all these things. It’s not always completely exact.

Propaganda, Marketing, and Algorithms 

These have been going on for some time now–which maybe has to do with some of the blooming of psychedelic work that’s happening. 

 

My dates could be off, but let’s say the 1950s, coming out of World War II, coming out of sort of national propaganda. There begin to be in the corporate world that concerted effort towards understanding marketing, understanding ideology, and understanding propaganda. How to get people to do and believe certain kinds of things. It became a kind of science in the corporate world. 

 

That’s continued and been refined through the decades. We have companies like Facebook and Google that have algorithms tracking what we’re doing and feeding certain kinds of messages. Drawing us in to consume more and more content–to buy more things so that other people can make more and more money. 

 

An interesting side effect of a society that begins to think about the value of everything in relationship to being bought and sold on a marketplace. Thinking about almost all things as a commodity. How much is it worth? 

 

So, that very notion, meaning society as a marketplace, that begins to shape our consciousness. I’ve talked in previous videos about s and the consciousness of the enlightenment. I could talk about the addictive consciousness, but there’s also a marketing consciousness. 

Understanding the Marketing Consciousness

In a world where everything can be bought and sold on the market, what about me? Can I be bought and sold in the market? I mean, both literally, that’s happening. But also, like my personality, say when I’m going into a job interview. What am I doing? Well, I’m trying to sell myself. 

 

What might I be doing here? I’m trying to sell myself and my ideas to you. In this case, however, I’m actually not. I’m trying to offer something of value, an education, but there are so many domains in which I’m selling myself. 

 

What happens when a human being begins to orient themselves in a way where they’re thinking about themselves unconsciously as a commodity? 

 

Well, we kind of know what happens, and I think Karl Marx was right about this, that the result of that is some form of alienation, some sort of disconnection from self. That’s in hyperdrive with social media and people taking pictures of themselves. Everybody has their own commercials basically that they’re marketing to everybody. We are in the hyperdrive marketing space. I don’t even think we understand that. 

 

And in that space, what does that do to the consciousness of the people that are engaging in that? Well, they start to think about themselves as things that need to be marketed to other people, and that’s where their value lies. 

 

Do you like my picture? Literally. 

 

And in that sense, I don’t have much of a self, or at least I’m not connected to it because I’m just a commodity. I’m a thing that’s bought and sold in the marketplace like anything else. And what is the result of a human being that becomes alienated and disconnected from themselves? You don’t feel good. 

 

Feeling Disconnected and Substance Abuse

It doesn’t feel good to be disconnected, unplugged, un-whole, right? And what do human beings do when they don’t feel good? They begin to try to find ways to feel good. We usually call those vices if they’re unhealthy. You can see the direct relationship between the trajectory the United States has been on–and some other countries–in terms of marketing, etc., now in hyperdrive and people using drugs and alcohol. 

 

Well, if I’m just the thing, who cares if I stick a needle in my arm? 

 

If we really think about that in a deep way, imagine somebody, or maybe know somebody, sticking a needle in their arm and pushing the plunger using heroin, the syringe, until they pass out. 

 

For me it’s very metaphoric. I’m so disconnected from myself. I’ve lost so much value for my existence that I just want to disappear. It’s almost symbolic, like being nailed to a cross. It’s like, “Don’t you see how disconnected and how much pain I’m in?”

 

We have different coping mechanisms. Sometimes we cope by becoming workaholics–we get obsessed with our projects. The gym is an example. Which is all fine, but the root symptoms that we’re treating are the same: alienation, demoralization, disconnection, shame wounds, not feeling like we have a place, not knowing where we’re headed, not knowing what this is all about.

 

These deep existential issues. So, it’s always wise to look around what’s happening in society. It’s easy to look at somebody who’s suffering from addiction and say, that person sick, that person has a real problem going on. It’s much more difficult to go; actually, the whole society’s sick, and the fact that there’s so much addiction is a symptom of a larger societal ill.

 

 

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The Paradox of Spiritual Communities

I’ve had the privilege of living amongst a lot of different communities during my recovery. Now, 17 years sober, I’ve experienced the treatment community, the Jewish community (I’m an assistant Rabbi), religious community, and a lot of spiritual communities. I’ve been a part of Eastern tradition, Western tradition, and healing spiritual communities. 

One thing that I’ve learned in being a person who’s walked in a lot of different types of spiritual communities–and sometimes I think about myself as somebody that’s not committed to anyone but I’m able to walk amongst many– is the lack of integrity some communities have. And, I think it is pretty understandable why that is. 

What Makes Spiritual Communities Appealing?

First of all, there is something seductive about a spiritual community and spiritual people. You want to learn the secrets they know… what are their insights of their compassion, liberation, connecting with a higher power, etc.

The spiritual communities can be quite welcoming. They can be very deep. But if you think about it, much like certain types of religious communities, spiritual communities are often attracting people who are going through a moment of their life of brokenness. 

Generally, when somebody’s seeking out a spiritual community, they’re seeking something out…Meaning.

“Something is missing in my life.” 

Individuals are going in with some shadow stuff, shame wounds, or broken pieces they are trying to work through. And often, I think what can happen is a person can have a massive amount of transformation within a spiritual community. But it can also result in what they call spiritual bypass, which means when it comes to certain domains of operation, they’re not whole.

Spiritual Gurus Can Be Morally Split 

A rule for me, generally, is to try not to do business with spiritual people. If I want to do business, I like to do business with businesspeople, because in the area of business, those people know the language. They know how to think about it, and they’re not mixing apples and oranges. 

And sometimes it’s also true with morality. It’s not uncommon in spiritual communities to find a guru who is morally split. Meaning their moral compass is somewhat off. 

It’s confusing. How can somebody be so spiritually powerful but so morally inept? 

And I think that just has to do with the nature of power. A person can be spiritually powerful…but how you utilize that power always has to do with where you’re at in your own work and your own development. 

Although a guru might have a very high level of spiritual development, he or she might have a lower level of moral development. Because of that fact, I’m always cautious of the ways in which I relate to frankly all communities, spiritual communities specifically.

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Finding Acceptance During Challenging Times

It’s interesting shooting this video in COVID, right before the 2020 elections, and a lot of confusion, tension and anxiety in the air. We could call these tough times, or interesting times, or the new normal? I don’t know. And one of the things I learned from a mentor of mine–he is a guy named Rabbi Mordecai Finley–I learned a lot from him. To have a philosophy of life that accounts for the fact that things are going to get very difficult. 

These days with marketing and everything else, everybody wants to put a positive spin on something because everybody’s selling something. And generally, it’s nice to sell something positive like lose weight this fast, do this good, I’ll help you make money, whatever it is. 

But philosophically speaking, when it comes to my being and how I’m approaching my life, I actually want a very deep notion of what it means to be human. Because the deeper I am, the more resilient I am, in a time of difficulty, meaning I can plumb the depths of my own soul and spirit, because I’ve gone deep, therefore, I can deal with this contingent and difficult time.

Life is Suffering…So What Now?

I think one of my favorite examples of this is in the Buddhist tradition, and the Buddhist tradition, sort of at its foundation, it says, “Life is suffering.” 

And I think the accurate translation is closer to life is out of its socket. Like there’s something asymmetrical and off and imperfect. And that doesn’t quite harmonize about life. That’s the way I think about it. 

So, think about it: It’s kind of a downer to go, “Hey, why don’t you follow me? Life is suffering.” It’s like, well, no thank you. I’d rather go with this person who’s promising me more money. 

Embracing Acceptance as a Starting Point

However, if one can kind of move into that notion of life is suffering, life is difficult, life is dislocated…one comes to a deep resonance of being with that reality when that it is happening. 

In recovery, we call that acceptance. If I can accept that life is suffering, or that life is difficult, then it’s no longer an issue for me. I accept it. This is what it is. But…My ego self rationalizes how things should be, how I think they should be… 

My ego says, “Things should be better, things should be easier, things should be whatever.” That’s when I’m really suffering. 

But if I know things are going to be hard, because to be alive means to move against the resistance of reality at every moment. I’m getting older, I’m dying at every moment. To be alive means to be in that sphere, means to deteriorate, means to fall apart, means to be difficult, means to suffer, means to be dislocated. 

Then I go, “Okay, that’s my starting point. Everything from there is a win. Wow, considering that life is dislocated and suffering, I’m having a pretty good time. This ain’t the worst day in the world.” 

Learning to “Be” with Suffering and Difficulty

It makes me a deeper person. It also, if I have that deep kind of creed or philosophy about life, it also allows me to empathize deeply with other people that are going through stuff. Because I get suffering. I’m not ignoring it. I’m not pretending it’s not there. I’m not trying to work it away at the gym, or whatever it is. I get it. 

I know how to be with suffering. 

I know how to be with my own suffering and the suffering of another. I think there is a really important discourse that needs to happen in these times because I have a sense that things are gonna get a little rocky.

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