For author Dr. Mary Speed, life consists of the duet of one talking and one listening-and she's doing the listening. It's her life's mission to work with clients to discover and explore the injurious parts and move toward healing. It's about transitions and notions and how to get through them.
In Mixed Nuts, Speed shares a wide range of personal stories culled from working sixteen years as a therapist. From addiction to anxiety, compulsion, depression, obsession, panic, marital counseling, and more, she tells of conditions experienced by an array of people who needed someone to listen and help them solve their issues. Speed shows how she's helped clients deal with the transition to retirement, to understanding a parent dating again, and how to be a better parent.
Inspiring and educational, Mixed Nuts provides a realistic hope that it is possible to embrace uncertainty and to move through each day with confidence and resolve, looking forward to the next.
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Read an Excerpt
By Mary Speed
Abbott PressCopyright © 2011 Dr. Mary Speed
All right reserved.
A beautiful young woman came to see me for therapy. I noticed her confident handshake, the sparkling multi-carat gemstone ring. I wondered, What can it be that brings this extraordinary person to therapy? She didn't know exactly, but she had an ic. Her chief concern was that she thought she might be doing too much of something; a vague description, at first.
She had an addition that had gotten out of control. What addictions have in common are that they numb and keep the addict distanced from ics. She had the icky sense that something was off.
People craving suffer great shame over their incapacity to stop themselves. They spin around like a hamster on a wheel: indulge—feel ashamed (ic)-indulge-numb-shame (ic)-indulge-numb. Desperate to get rid of the ic, they continue indulging and are legion in number, both in consumption and people so affected.
My client described a memory of herself at five years of age, sitting in front of a television and crying. Her friend had moved away, and she didn't have words for her feelings. Her mom came into the room, saw her crying, and thrust fresh-baked cookies and milk at her. She quit crying.
She numbed and disengaged herself from others and self and grew unavailable to engage emotional support. She had a compulsion to curb her feelings. Eventually, she was unresponsive to her own needs, unaware of time lapsed; she missed cues that she was sleepy or ill.
Addiction came easy. When disappointed, she substituted something and avoided facing hurt.
My client learned early to eat her way out of tragedy. Her mother's response to grief was: "Your friend moved away? Don't cry. I'm busy now. Here, eat these cookies." Message: Hide your feelings. Your feelings are making me uncomfortable. I don't have time for you.
This courageous, young woman did the work to address her addictions. She admitted that she had come to therapy because of something that had caught her eye. She had seen a child reaching toward a cookie jar, and it was as if time stopped. She focused, spellbound, frame by frame on the scene, and she saw herself as a child doing the same thing. She was angry and did some mom-bashing, saying, "My mother ought to have hugged me and held me, not stuffed me." She worked through blaming her mother and herself, hating cookies and loving cookies. She worked through hating the times she reached out for one thing, realizing she had wanted something else. She cried ... a lot.
Early in my practice, I became extremely uncomfortable when clients cried. I used to try to cheer them up so they would stop crying. I've learned. Clients taught me to be silent and let their tears flow. Sometimes, after the sobbing subsides, I ask a client, "If your tears could talk, what would they say?"
The young woman's tentative admission that she had an addiction led to self-discovery. Until therapy, she had hidden her upsetting feelings and squelched her awareness of the "Stuff it, and leave me alone" messages. Though her weight was never the focus of our sessions, during the year of therapy, she lost seventy-five pounds. Two weeks into therapy, she announced that she was getting her hair cut and going to the gym. She became less angry, grew in awareness of herself. Losing weight caused her to "expose" herself and be vulnerable, available.
Chapter TwoANOREXIA NERVOSA, BULIMIA NERVOSA
Group therapy for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa is potentially counterproductive. These highly intelligent clients are inclined to make weight loss a competition.
I believe foods that ensure physical well-being also enhance psychological wellness. A void of self-worth, however, may lead to self-induced malnourishment.
Eating disorders are troubling. The client is physically sound, yet unbalanced in her self-perception and stoically capable of starving herself to death.
One of a child's first steps of independence is food choice. Eating maturation may be associated with power plays and power struggles. Controlling food intake and output can be pathologically empowering.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are life-threatening disorders. Karen Carpenter, Princess Diana, and many more have suffered, and others continue to be afflicted. The way to recovery is fraught with setbacks. The likelihood is that, when feeling powerless or violated, these individuals will resort to this pattern of unhealthy coping. These disorders appear addictive; consequently, one of the treatments is to interrupt the cycle. After meals, engaging in conversation with the bulimic individual prohibits his or her immediate purging. For someone with anorexia, having an available abundance of non-threatening foods, which are acceptable to her such as nonfat yogurts and cut vegetables may encourage eating. Telling someone who has anorexia that the few extra pounds look good on her is counterproductive and may cause a relapse. It is better to say, "I enjoy spending time with you."
When someone with anorexia nervosa appears pleased and says that she has gained weight, beware-she probably has a weigh-in and has consumed gallons of water.
The eldest of Pat Boone's four daughters, Cherry, had anorexia nervosa. In Starving for Attention, she relates that after years of failed treatments, one professional finally said something that made a difference. What he said freed her of the inadequacies she felt over her failure to be recover perfectly. Her doctor, Dr. Raymond E. Vath, said, "If an activity is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly."
For Cherry, this meant that if she fouled up, ate too much, or purged, she didn't have to give up. She was worth making the effort. She was free to try again. Her less than best counted. She didn't have to do everything perfectly; she was relieved from the pressure and tyranny of perfectionism.
Individuals with these disorders often are the perfect sons and daughters. They make excellent grades, bring home ribbons and trophies, and are highly intelligent.
People with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa need to hear repeatedly that they are worthy and that their acceptance is not performance-based. Their imperfections are acceptable. Their value is not measured in accomplishments or pounds; separate from what she does; accepted for who she is. Worthy.
Freud said that the tension between what a person is inclined to do and what society will accept creates anxiety. Freud would be surprised I think to see that societal acceptance of behavior has not curtailed anxiety.
One may have a realistic foreboding that something is about to go wrong, and any efforts to avert the sense of impending disaster may cause apprehension. Anxiety may be optimal and helpful, inspiring one to prepare (study for a test, practice a speech) or anxiety may be unhelpful, which may cause one to freeze and fail to perform.
A client fearing performance failure came to therapy because of anxiety over giving a speech. She gives excellent talks and trainings, she explained, but was suffering over the notion of giving a speech in a public forum because she did not entirely know her audience.
Successful people have more anxiety. People who do things in the world have reasonable worry. She, however, was agonizing.
She was faced with a compelling worry, so we developed a plan to empower her to diminish her distress. I admitted that she could not know for certain that others would make things right for her. She could only make certain that things were right within herself, which allowed her a reasonable a reasonable expectation that her efforts would produce a good outcome.
I asked her to notice the nuances within herself that bid her caution. She visualized aloud giving her speech and worked on her tone, until she felt a nudge to stop. Sometimes the cues are subtle; they may seem out of reach and not easy to verbalize. She knew something was nudging at her. I asked her to pause and ask herself, "What do I expect my eyes to see? What do I expect my ears to hear?"
She confessed. "I see people looking away from me and talking to each. I hear people laughing."
I asked, "And how do you feel seeing and hearing these images?"
She said, "Dirty."
Before addressing that bomb, I said, "Have you ever turned away from a speaker and talked to someone sitting near you?"
Client: "Oh, yes!"
Client: "Usually," she explained, "I'm saying something like, 'Did you hear that? That's an excellent idea!'"
Me: "Has this happened with trainings you've given? People talk to each other in the audience?"
Client: "Yes, often. They might miss a point and ask their friends to repeat it."
Me: "And this," I probed, "makes you feel dirty?"
I was quiet.
Five minutes passed before either of us spoke.
She said, "I remember now, when I was in high school, I had to give a speech on economics. I had actually memorized the speech, but before I reached for page nine of my speech, I introduced the next topic—and page nine wasn't there. I didn't know what to say, and ... I started my period. I was mortified."
"Have you talked about this before?" I asked.
Me: "How do you feel now on the scale of dirty? One being the most vile to ten being as clean as the driven snow?"
Bewildered, she said, "Damn, I don't feel dirty at all."
"And this is because," I explained, "the power of that secret is no more. What do you want to say to your high school self that you needed to hear that day but no one said?"
I directed her to speak to an empty chair or to me. She looked at the empty chair.
"Honey," she said, "you worked so hard on that speech. I am so proud of you. Probably half the girls in the room were on their periods too. That's how it is with girls. You didn't do anything to be ashamed of ..."
Attending to the information coming from within allowed to make informed choices and lessened her anxiety. We went to the center where she was to speak, and we checked the sound and lights. I listened to her practice her speech, and I purposefully ignored her. I looked at the ceiling, hummed, and rolled my eyes. She kept giving her speech. She worked to create self-confidence, and this magnified her assurance.
Cultivating a sense of awareness can help you give a speech, and it can also save your life. Criminals count on people being distracted. That's why it's not a great idea to walk into alleys, blindly texting as you go.
Chapter FourASHES TO ASHES
A clinician came in, I thought at first to visit. I was flattered, and I eyed her with wonder. She'd been a clinician for more than twenty years. I had heard about her work and was glad that she would drop in to see me, someone newer in the field. I was glad, that is, until she told me that she wanted to see me for therapy. She said—too easily, I thought—"I have cancer and am dying; I want you to help me get through it."
I thought, No. One, I don't like death; two, you look healthy; and three, you'll be judging my technique the whole time.
I said, "Okay." I then questioned myself. I hope she doesn't think I mean okay, like okie-dokie, you're dying, or okay, then, that's fine with me, or yes, my child, I give you permission to die. I said okay because I didn't have the words to say otherwise that would save me from the responsibility she was bringing to me.
We got through the emotional, psychological, and spiritual fumbling. She passed on, in peace (I hope), and left me angry that she had to die after all. Her visit wasn't some academic test. She was a real person with real needs who trusted me.
She couldn't control death. Nor can anyone pick the time or the circumstances of death. Responsible people try to make sure that others are not inconvenienced.
The clinician learned that she had few months to live. We prepared as though she were going on a journey. Times were set, but not certain as to when to discontinue home delivery of the newspaper. She did pick her clothes for her final public appearance at burial.
Others didn't know that the last time they saw her would be their last chance to visit with her. She acknowledged this definite, infinite end, and as she went about the last few months, she lived finally and fully.
Unlike other important events, she could not adequately prepare for the end. When she passed, she left things undone, and though she wished otherwise, others were be troubled and grieved.
She brought nothing into this world. We talked about that. She told me that others who had passed had left her things. Her first dog left her a love for brown-eyed creatures. Her grandpa left her knowing how to bait a fishhook.
She left me courage. She never gave up on living. Her body gave out on her.
Her estimation of me gave me confidence and humility. I learned to simply, profoundly value the moments spent in session.
Everyone has a tendency to check on things. This is a non-issue unless these activities become compulsions that interfere with the activities of daily living. One might not get past washing hands to getting dressed and arriving at work on time. A few compulsions clients have presented are these:
One client presented with bleeding hands. At his worse, he vigorously washed his hands thirty-seven times a day. Refusing to touch doorknobs, he stood in front of doors waiting for someone to let him in or out, which made him late for events and once left him in a downpour of rain.
Another client kept going home to check on the iron she thought she might have left on. I told her to bring the iron with her.
One client couldn't stop praying, which seems a great gift. Yet, her praying kept her from engaging with others or dealing with issues. When her child or spouse wanted to talk to her, she would dismiss them, saying, "I have to pray now."
Compulsions are driven by obsessive thoughts. Ever lie in bed and suddenly think, Did I lock the door? You get up and check, see that the door is locked, and immediately feel less anxious. The lessening of anxiety is so compelling, some people will repeat the act, develop a pattern of behavior, and engage in rituals. People with compulsive behavior do the same thing many times over, so much so that they may stay awake all night, checking the door or counting steps.
Every successful person has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or as one of my former professors said, "Godly perseverance." Obviously, the A student does more fact-checking than does the C student. Good doctors check on their patients, all of them; they don't spend all their time checking on only one person.
My hand washing client was a checker and a counter 10 seconds washing per hand. Soap, check, each hand, check.
Combining his obsession with a greater anxiety made him better. His daughter had an eating disorder. With my guidance, they made a contract. If he washed his hands more than ten times a day, he agreed that she was allowed to skip all meals for the day. If she refused a meal, she agreed that he was allowed to wash his hands as many times as he wanted to that day. From the moment, they signed their contract, they both got better.
I counted on their evident love to save them. Had they not been kindly affectionate one toward the other, I would have taken a more traditional approach, which would have required therapy sessions more often and perhaps hospitalization for both.
Chapter SixCOUPLES THERAPY
A client came for individual counseling and then changed her mind and wanted marital counseling. I gave her options. She could continue to see me for individual counseling, and if her husband would also participate, I would see them both for couples therapy. If her spouse would not agree to attend couples counseling, then she could continue to see me for individual counseling and go to another therapist for marital counseling.
When a person attends marital counseling without his or her spouse, more often than not, the couple will divorce. The person participating in therapy may feel more vested in the relationship. My hope was that this client would tell her spouse what I said, and he would grasp the seriousness of her decision.
Fortunately, her husband agreed to attend and participate in marital therapy. According to his wife, he was typically unwilling to try new things and this frustrated her. The world is dynamic, and she was afraid, I believe, that he was forcing her to move on without him. By agreeing to attend therapy with her, he gave her a clear indication of how much he valued their relationship.
Excerpted from Mixed Nuts by Mary Speed Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Mary Speed. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsLIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS....................ix
2. ANOREXIA NERVOSA, BULIMIA NERVOSA....................4
4. ASHES TO ASHES....................10
6. COUPLES THERAPY....................16
9. EXTRAMARITAL COUNSELING....................26
13. HOLIDAY SHOULDS....................37
14. HURRICANE KATRINA....................39
18. NEARLY BELOVED....................50
21. PREMARITAL COUNSELING....................58
25. THE SIMPLE LIFE....................67
28. UNDER THE INFLUENCE....................76
29. WHEN PARENTS DATE....................79
ABOUT THE AUTHOR....................91
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I came home last night with the book and read the whole book straight through -- just could not put it down! Loved it! Inspirational without being "preachy" and practical at the same time! Spiritual and realistic with great observations on the best ways to live one's life. I want more from this writer. Ann Benoit