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Janie McGlasson

Sitting in the Muck

Sitting in the Muck

Fermentation that leads to cheese is this process that begins with sitting in muck allowing for some ugliness to rise to the surface, all for the purpose of the beautiful, emotional experience that is a great cheese.

It may not be comforting to hear, but when I think about the process of fermentation…I think about my work with couples.  Fermentation that leads to cheese is this process that begins with sitting in muck allowing for some ugliness to rise to the surface, all for the purpose of the beautiful, emotional experience that is a great cheese. I often tell couples at the beginning of our work together that at times they may feel worse before they feel better.  This is because a part of couples therapy is coming to weekly (or more) sessions and talking about the parts of each individual and of their “us” that have long gone ignored or have felt too vulnerable or scary to bring up.  The times that have been shoved down further and further so that the couple can function and pretend like life is going on as planned.  However, as we continue to work together, those ugly pieces that rise to the surface and make themselves known are also the pieces that help us to allow for positive growth. Growth that comes from the good kind of fermentation- where we sit in the muck so that we may reach the beautiful, emotional experience that is an authentic connection. So here’s to cheese, here’s to couples therapy, and here’s to growing some weird stuff before we make it to the beauty. 

Janie McGlasson, MS, LMFT works extensively with adolescents, adults, and couples and specializes in the areas of attachment, trauma, and grief. 

I. Can't. Even. | A Story of Grit

I. Can't. Even. | A Story of Grit

Grit was the process of knowing that, despite my exhaustion, I had what it took to keep getting up.

     It is that time of year when many of my clients are finishing up the school year.  Whether stumbling or triumphant, each teacher, student, administrator, etc. will be done with the bulk of their work for this school year within a months time. Because of this, there is a general feeling of tiredness that is in the air when you step foot on any campus.  I have had many the conversation with high school students and teachers about how they just. can’t. even. with these AP tests and finals.  And I have to say- I get it. As I have spent the majority of my year studying for my licensing exams, I have been reminded of just how hard it is to keep your head in the game when you are exhausted and ready for the end. I recently watched the Life of Pi and, however dramatic this may sound, identified with the feeling that I saw in Pi as he would weather a storm at sea, trying to just hold on while waves are crashing threateningly around him. I remember many moments in the studying process that I would have to convince myself that I was the type of person that did not drown in the storm but held my ground and got back up when the waves calmed. This is where grit comes in. Grit was the process of knowing that, despite my exhaustion, I had what it took to keep getting up.   Remembering this feeling makes me wonder if that exact process is the basis of grit- that having grit may often mean choosing to believe in yourself even when the odds are stacked against you.  And I don’t use the word “process” here lightly. The “I can’t even” days were many- days where the waves started to pick up pace and leave little time to breathe between contact and it seemed like the only option was to succumb and give up. But in these days, I instead chose to trust myself. There were evenings when my energy was low and I knew that the best thing that I could do was to let go for that night and watch 4 episodes of The Office to lighten my spirits.  There were weekends when I chose to stay in to study with the knowledge that my people were cheering for me on the sidelines and were patient to wade through the storm waters with me.  The grit that guided me was the belief that, whether I took a night off or studied for 8 hours straight, I would be okay in the end. Not because I would undoubtedly be successful- but because I had the grit to keep going no matter the outcome.

Janie "Hermione Slasher" McGlasson, MS, MFT-Intern works extensively with adolescents, adults, and couples and specializes in the areas of attachment, trauma, and grief. 


Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

As a therapist, I am used to connecting with the experience of the other through words. Listening, empathizing, exploring, connecting. It is a humbling and honoring experience to be let into the psyche of another through their story. The beauty of words is that they do not have to be spoken to land with another person.  Brandon Jordan Brown utilizes the artistic expression of words to not only connect with the other but to help them connect to themselves. Here he reminds us of the beauty of poetry and how it can be used to draw us closer to the human experience. -Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern

JM: Why is art/creativity important?

BJB: There is something about when you interact with forces you to slow down….It pulls you in inward and it pulls you outward...And I think that if you are open to it- and you have to be really open to it- it forces you to confront things that you don't want to or to celebrate things that we forget are worth celebrating. That’s the weird thing about it. Every element or every response that art evokes almost has an equal and opposite response.  It is capable of either/or, both/and, almost simultaneously…I can tell you as someone who practices it, it is terrifying. It makes you feel very vulnerable and brings up all your fears. But I’m sure we will get into that more with upcoming questions.

JM: You’re right, we definitely will. Let’s get vulnerable.

...Poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: Why did you choose poetry as your art form?

BJB: ...What is so compelling about poetry that I am learning...that it is almost like experiential theology or human-centered in a way that religion can be afraid to be….I think that poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.

JM: We have been talking a lot about vulnerability at MHT...the impact that it has on our relationships, work, day to day life, etc.  Do you see vulnerability playing a part in your poetry?

BJB: 100%. In a scary way. Almost to where I have written poems and sent them out and had...doesn’t Brene Brown call them vulnerability hangovers?... I haven’t figured out how to balance that. Poetry is a craft. It is different than a diary in that it takes revision and editing to create this piece of art.  So when it does connect it has the biggest chance for success.

JM: When it does connect with you?

BJB: When it connects with other people. You want to figure out a way to break open language and find a fresh way to describe something so that a person will feel like they are seeing or feeling it in a new way.  And so, it is hard to figure out the balance of being raw and vulnerable in making art and still to be healthy. I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  

There will be things I write and think “Oh that is too honest”...a moment of pure openness.  And I think there are moments when I feel really ready for that. Brave and able and courageous. Confident enough in myself that even if someone says “Wow, that is really intense” I could reply with just “Yeah, life is intense man. Deal with it.”  And in other times I think that if someone were to say that to me I would crawl behind the couch and not be able to write for a while...Maybe the biggest fear is showing people your wounds. That is really when it opens something up is when you say “this is where it hurts.”

JM: You know, that’s actually something that came up in the last interview. Debbie Edgar talked about this level where you have to find safe people to open up with. Sometimes we choose poorly where a person shows you that “oh, okay I should not have shared so much.” But this is a different form of that because it is not so simple as you just having a raw conversation with a person that you have deemed safe-you are opening yourself up to a lot of people, not knowing who will be a safe recipient and who will not.

BJB:  Yeah exactly. And not that you have to be published or be out there to be serious- but, for me, that is a goal that I have- to put my work into the world…The whole goal is for it to be ingested by others and for them to interact with it.  So when I am feeling healthy, I feel like I am in the role of challenging people to think things through and wrestle with them. To shake and wake them up and open up the space for those kinds of conversations. But when I am not feeling safe, for whatever reason, I can feel that moment that Debbie was talking about of that “oh no.”

My Father's Father's Bones by Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: How do you find that poetry connects you to yourself?

BJB: What I have found in being from the South- growing up where and how I did- there is a strong literary tradition that has a certain flavor to it...that I resonate with.  

... It is almost like that person is leading you to a doorway and opening it up and maybe even standing there with you. Helping to open up a space inside of yourself. I think that we all have blindspots. That is one of the things about writing poetry- you sit down and you write to figure out what you actually think. You don’t necessarily sit down with an idea and a plan of “here is point A and here is point B and this is how I am going to write it.”  But it could be a story or a phrase or a character or a scene and you just sit down and as you start writing it feels mysterious how you even get to the end. It is like walking down a trail and just figuring out where it leads. You may have a scrap of paper or a fragment of a map but you just kind of guess and go somewhere. It brings about a lot of trust in yourself.

JM: How do you find that it connects you to others?

BJB: Writing and being an artist can be really lonely...It is not like I am in a band and can show up to practice and just be one part, it is all on me. So for it to be put out into the world and published it gives you faith that it matters.  

The trick is that people have to be willing to slow down. It is almost as if you have to develop a discipline to sit with things. You have to make yourself slow down to be able to appreciate beautiful things....It’s must easier to watch 6 episodes of a show on Netflix than it is to sit with a book and slowly savor a poem and engage your mind and imagination. It is like prayer or meditation that you have to practice. Both of those things I am also not good at. I really admire people who aren’t even artist but have that “thing” in them to be able to quickly go there because they so easily remember that art is so life-giving and can be what they need. Whatever you’re feeling there is a poem for that or a song for that. It connects us back with our experience and with the experience of the person who made it.

JM: What ways, if any, does psychology or therapy play a part in your poetry?

BJB: I am actively engaged in therapy. My poetry comes up a lot even in talking in therapy. Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing. It is a way to explore how we make meaning of what is happening all around us- inside of us, outside of us...To sum it up, I think that they both teach us how to be human. And that maybe that's not a bad place to start….Us as real people with bodies that fail us. I’m interested in art that approaches our shortcomings and in therapy we have to do the same. You have to walk towards failure and learn how to smile at it. I think you could write a whole book on that subject. You should write that.

Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: You’re the writer, man.

BJB: Okay, we should write it then.

JM: Alright deal. Let’s do it. Okay, who are some of your favorites and why?

BJB: Easy. The best living poet is a guy named Maurice Manning...He writes a lot about his rural upbringing, his childhood. For me, I have such a love and fondness for where I came from but also have to look back at how it made me and kind of sort through it. It’s like sorting through an entire world- and he does a good job at that. At holding up his memories and the pieces of his life in this fantastic Kentucky place and having such compassion for it.

Brandon Jordan Brown, LA based Poet

Another guy is Phillip Levine who just recently died last year.  He was a US Poet Laureate and was from Detroit. He is from working class, hard living, blue collar Detroit. And again, he had a love for a place and a people and was able to reckon with hardships and face pain head on.

JM: Do you have a mantra to get you into your creative space or to move you out of a block?

BJB: I just put a note on my computer that just says “Be Brave.”...I think when you take the risk and you are in a good state of mind it feels worth it.  When you have that person that memorizes a poem of yours or a piece of yours lands with someone and you think, “oh man i'm glad i said it because it helped someone.”

JM: What is your favorite word?

BJB: “Maybe.” I think as a writer and as an artist it opens up a lot of space.

Brandon Jordan Brown is a former PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry, was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been published or is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio; Day One; decomP; Rufous City Review; Cultural Weekly and more. Brandon reviews poetry for Invisible City and lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his first book. You can find him at

Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern, has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma. 

Courage in the Face of Failure

Courage in the Face of Failure

All of us at MHT are meditating on the intertwining themes of failure, vulnerability, and courage. These topics are important in how we interact with our clients, each other, and most specifically our loved ones.

Deborah Edgar MFT was a natural fit to help us shed more light on these topics as she has spent time researching the topic of courage. She was my first supervisor back when I was a student in graduate school. She helped me learn how to, in the midst of being a beginner, having a consistent fear of failure, to maintain the courage to be vulnerable and sit in the depths of pain with my clients. - Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern at Michelle Harwell Therapy

Why courage?

First I will start with my definition of courage:

Courage is heart strength to actively venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, difficulty, and the unknown for the sake of something hoped for and/or believed in with no guarantee of that something coming to pass.

Can I unpack this? It might help…

“Courage is heart strength”: Courage comes from the word “coeur” in French, meaning heart. So it’s more a question of heart than of mind. It denotes passion, coming from our whole being, not just our mind.

  1. “To actively venture, etc…”: It is not enough to imagine yourself acting courageously, or to experience courage vicariously through a film, or video game. Courage is an active embodied on the ground virtue.

  2. “For the sake of something hoped for and/or believed in”: What helps us be courageous is hope and belief: for example, the hope that if I jump into the water I will save a drowning child; and belief that saving a life is a good thing

  3. I hope I will save a child and I believe that saving a life is good, but there is “no guarantee” that these will actually happen. Courage is courage because of the unknown outcome

So, why courage?

I was so enamored by my patients’ willingness to face such deep darkness. In trauma there is a lot of dissociation (which means disconnecting from one’s own experience) and I wondered, what is it that gives someone the courage to come to therapy, then to- even after dissociating or fragmenting in the process- come again to work yet again towards wholeness. What is that and where does it come from? There are so many reasons to stop coming­ to therapy- because it is too much, too devastating-  so what gives someone the courage to stay on the path towards healing or to growth­? Especially someone who has experienced severe trauma and who has not experienced a lot of healthy relationship.

The perennial question is “to be or not to be”­ which is of course a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet­.  That question comes up again and again.­ Do I want to be or not to be? It leads one up to an edge where a person may think “I don’t know if I want to be anymore.­ This is too painful.” I wanted to know what gives them the courage to be. So *laughs* I became curious about that­ that small question­ of the universe.  

What is something that gets in the way of courage?

Hopelessness and a feeling of ineffectiveness: the feeling that whatever I am doing doesn't work. I may start with the courage to try something out but then it doesn't work and I feel ineffective.

Dissociative processes that attack without the patient wanting them to- attacking the links or meaning that are being made in therapy.

Lack of healthy community, relationships that offer true witness  

What comes to mind is what I said earlier about courage: Courage comes from the word heart- so it's having heart. So that which breaks your heart, that which deflates you, that which stops your process- that is what brings you hopelessness.  It is what ultimately will discourage you. I think what those things are, are going to be different for each person.  You know, that same old issue that comes up for each individual. The “I thought I had done so much work in this area and then here it is again- great” that can feel so deflating- feeling like “I have been working this hard and it is doing nothing! Agh”  

Can you tell us about a time you failed?

Me? Personally? Never………...just kidding

My vulnerability in my own clinical work is being what some people call the "omnipotent caregiver." So “I’m always there for you.” Which has a positive side but it can also nurture a false promise. That is, I actually can’t be there all the time.

And I think it is a failure on a bunch of levels. It is a failure towards myself and taking care of myself. It is a failure in terms of grandiosity- as if I can fix everything. A kind of “never fear, I am here!” It’s quite narcissistic.

It is a failure most importantly towards patients because they actually need a human being and don't need someone who nurtures an illusion that there is someone out there that can fulfill all their needs. We need community, all different kinds of people to fulfill different kinds of needs. And sometimes our needs don’t get met, and that’s perfectly okay. So, they actually need my vulnerability, not my grandiosity, because it’s real.

I feel vulnerable in admitting this, but there you have it...

How do you call upon courage in the midst of failure?

Courage in the sense of what I was talking about just now would be to, in the midst of the “oh no,” to not play into the role of being the omnipotent caregiver. To instead play into the vulnerability and not play into being "the goddess of love."

How I understand that failure now is that it comes from a place of childhood narcissism and omnipotence... and I am sure that I am not alone in that...but my courage is actually giving up on that and allowing myself to be vulnerable finally. That the world is big enough to hold me and that I don't have to hold myself and all others- that is the direction that I continue to move towards. That is the courage to be vulnerable. And to trust that vulnerability is actually better for me, others, and my patients overall. It’s really a move towards freedom.

How do courage and vulnerability intersect for you? Or do they?

This is where my definition of courage comes into play. What gives me courage is the belief that when I am vulnerable I experience more love- not less, more hope- not less, more life- not less. So that even if in vulnerability I feel angry or I feel desperate or I have more of my feelings, that these actually bring me more into relationship with others.

Now, I believe that and I still need to risk that, because there is no guarantee that all of that would still come to pass. That is not a given. We all know people that we have taken that risk with and it has blown up in our face. And so there is something very real at play. It is not just “oh I just need to have courage and then everything is going to work out for me.”  No, the very point of courage is that we are fragile, we are vulnerable, we don’t know, and yet I believe that, overall, that is what fulfills our humanity. So I might have to develop wisdom when to risk in that way, but to even have a chance at that kind of experience I need to risk. Not being that omnipotent caregiver, for example, but being my vulnerable good bad self. It’s much safer actually to hide behind being the omnipotent caregiver.

Tell us about a joyful moment in your life that came from you being courageous.

You know, after many failed relationships the courage that it took to enter into my own therapy. That is where I probably first experienced the joy of being me- in a vulnerable way and not in that omnipotent and grandiose way. It was a joy to discover that at the way bottom of me was a sort of beautiful human being...beautiful in the sense of having wounds, having gifts, having flaws- the whole package.  Really being aware of my failings and my gifts. But it took week in and week out of opening myself up to someone.

Do you have a mantra to boost your courage?

I have so many jokes running through my head. *laughs* Like, “Go get ‘em tiger!”

I have to say that this is a hard question for me because I feel like my mantras are more fluid. There isn't one thing, but I can tell you a few things that do give me courage

Different people in history who reflect something of who I would want to be. Sometimes having those visuals when I need courage help to remind me of who I want to be.

Words from a song, book, or movie that come out at me. I will write them down and put it on a post it note on my computer to remind me to be courageous.

One example that comes to mind is a time when a quote from the Lord of the Rings kept coming back to me when I needed it.  It was a scene where Gandalf tells one of the hobbits that he is with, “Hope. There's always hope.” And when I heard that at that point in my life, it somehow galvanized me.  Also, for me, reading the overall story of the Gospel that embodies a flesh and blood love that goes into the mess and though may be afraid at times, gets hurts, stays in, that suffers and, somehow mysteriously, resurrection comes from that. That is the ultimate narrative that gives me courage.

What are you most interested in right now/ what are you reading right now?

Well, as I am writing my dissertation, these are the kinds of interests that galvanize my thoughts. But a specific work would be The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton.  And when I’m not entrenched in this I’m reading Tennis Magazine or The New Yorker.

Deborah Edgar, MFT, The UnSelfish Journey

Deborah Edgar, MFT, The UnSelfish Journey

What is your favorite word?

Sesquipedalian… which is someone who uses big words. *laughs*

What are you grateful for today?  

Janie. *Our Michelle Harwell Therapy MFT, Intern/Interviewer blushes*

And other than Janie, my brother is in town for 24 hours and we get to have dinner. I'm grateful that he reached out and we can share a meal together.


Deborah Edgar LMFT, is a psychotherapist based in Pasadena. She works with adults and families who have experienced extreme trauma. She is currently completing her PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute. You can find her at

Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma.