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Women are Victorious

Women are Victorious

I am Victorious because I chose MYSELF and listened to my inner voice. I am a Warrior because I am fighting against the status quo. And I am Brave because I seek help when I need it.

When thinking of the phrase, Women Are Victorious, I look to my amazing tribe of friends — strong individuals who have protected me, shaped me, and helped me rise above adversity, pain, and trauma. These women (and one man) have displayed courage, inspiration, and wisdom — and that to me shows Victoriousness. I wanted to celebrate them in this piece as well as share some of my own thoughts.

You know that feeling when you get goosebumps because something resonates with you so deeply? Yep, that’s what happened to me as I was compiling these vignettes from my friends. My heart felt raw with emotion as I was filled up by their inspiring words.

Shared by Lorena: 

I smile because

I have survived everything

the world has thrown at me. 

I smile because 

when I was knocked down 

I got back up.


"My life has changed dramatically from broken to repaired. It took a lot of work but I did it and I'm so damn proud of myself. A year ago today, I wanted to find the nearest hole and crawl into it. The despair I felt was unbearable, the embarrassment from the betrayal on so many levels was too much to take. A year later my life is so different and it feels Fabulous!"

Shared by Taz:

"My mom is a victorious woman! I know it's cliche but she truly has turned obstacles into opportunities. And that has been inspiring to me when I've felt defeated." 
Shared by "She":

“I've suffered from the age of 4 when my father died in an accident. Soon after that tragedy, despair and sexual abuse caused great horrifying pain in my life. I found faith in Jesus, which has really kept me going, I would copy Bible verses and memorize them during that time. My teachers would help me too even though they never knew what I was going through. There were sturdy figures and their consistency helped ground me. Later in life, I found therapy to be of great help. My first therapist was an angel! She saved me in many ways I cannot put into words. I've had many therapists since, and I value the personal and spiritual growth that comes with going to therapy regularly.”

Shared by Marcos:

As I think of Victorious Women in my life, I think of two important women: 1. My little sister 2. My mother. 

My sister surpassed what many people expected, including doctors, due to her medical diagnosis. Living with fibromatosis she has shown me repeatedly how strong she is and how she does not feel defeated. Now she is a mother of a healthy baby boy. She was told she would have a complicated pregnancy and the baby would have high chances of having the illness, but what a miracle to see her and the baby thriving. When I think of her I think Warrior!! Undefeated!!

My mother - her whole life has always been tough in one way or another. But it is safe to say she's overcome - her father passing at a young age, her bad luck with husbands , and the struggles of being a single mother of three in a foreign country. She has taught me many things in life, such as integrity, hard working ethics, self-respect, and family values. To me, she means the WORLD! She reminds me of a mosaic: broken into many pieces, but a beautiful masterpiece when the light shines through and you take a step back and admire the edges, light, and color. I love her. 

Shared by Nina:

I feel honored to be included.

I have had my share of struggles, including abusive relationships and being brainwashed into believing I was worthless as a Woman. Anger, resentment, and hatred used to plague me. What I have learned from my life of anger was to forgive and extend Grace on those who have hurt me including myself. I found out God loved me regardless of what I had done or what had been done to me. The security of feeling I was completely forgiven of ALL my sins give me a sense of internal freedom and rejoiced in my Christianity. 


Shared by Author - Maria Elena:

What led me down this long, windy path of becoming a therapist is Victoriousness. Throughout my life, I have collapsed and have felt insecure about my sense of worth, and yet have continually chosen to stay true to myself. One such crossroad emerged in my life when I thought I had found love, but it was actually abusive, dishonest, and destructive.

Guess what I chose?

That’s right — my self, my self-respect, my dignity and my ability to rise above the falsity of that love. I was brokenhearted for 5 years after the dissolution of that relationship, but that hurt ultimately took me down a path of curiosity which ultimately helped me discover my calling.

I sought out understanding about the nature of relationships. I wondered: How do relationships last? How does one become aware of relationship ed flags? How does one heal from childhood trauma? And how do I become the best version of myself as a Latina woman? 

My mother has been my rock, my safety, my reality checker, and along the way I found other amazing women to encourage, inspire, and hold me in making the decision to start a new career. I immersed myself in my studies about relationship dynamics and connected to grow my own capacity for love. I am now an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist who loves to challenge couples, individuals, and families to tune inward, to express their fears and remain curious about their rules, roles and contradictions. I am healing as my clients are healing. I am Victorious because I chose MYSELF and listened to my inner voice. I am a Warrior because I am fighting against the status quo. And I am Brave because I seek help when I need it.

Women are Victorious. As the women and man featured in this post have shown, Victoriousness is all around us. If we can face our fears with courage, reflection, or a sacred space of surrender, then often we can find a sense of freedom, pride, and creativity on the other side of adversity.

Finally, I would like to leave you with this: 

Shared by Beatriz:

Women are victorious when we unite, commune, invite, and remain curious despite fear of rejection or pain - and choosing a different path, changing the rigid holdings of the mind and allowing light to enter and creating positivity.

Shared by Rebecca:

Just like Esther, you were born for such a time as this, you came at the right time, you are not an accident, God knew you were coming and He prepared for you. Your life is for a divine purpose.  -Esther 4:14


Give! Visit our Dressember page and make a donation. It's that simple and no sum is too small. Truly.

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Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive arts.

Women are Courageous

Women are Courageous

Courageous women are in and around us.  

Throughout history, woman have shown courage, whether in daring and dauntless fashion or quietly behind the scenes. Granted, life is not without its setbacks for us all — men and women alike encounter challenges, and yet, for me, there are few things as inspiring in life as a woman who displays her courage and determination in breaking down barriers.

In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that exposing women to highly successful female role models helped them overcome gender negative stereotypes related to their own performance. Perhaps I had some sense of this early on and this is why in high school I had a Rosie the Riveter poster hanging in my gaze up and bask in her courageous strength when needed, letting the words, “We can do it” settle into my being.

J.K. Rowling lived on welfare as a single mother and was rejected by countless publishers before Harry Potter made her one of the most famous and successful authors in the world. Her courage to press on in the face of these challenges is profound. Or Lyudmila Pavlichenko, World War II sniper, credited for killing hundreds of German soldiers and in a speech to the American military, famously said, “I am 25 years old and have killed 309 fascist invaders by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”

Whether we want to sign up for a Spartan Race, leave a miserable career, or simply get out of the bed in the morning, time and again, women have tapped their innate wellspring of courage to press on and find strength in struggle. And when you do this, you give other women permission to do the same. I believe one essential ingredient of courage is to face our fears; choosing love over fear. Regardless of the outcome, if we have done this at some point in our life, we have a life well-lived. Chances are, you don’t have to look too far in your immediate circle of friends and family to find equally exemplary woman as J.K. Rowling and Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Courageous women are in and around us.  

...there are few things as inspiring in life as a woman who displays her courage and determination in breaking down barriers.


Give! Visit our Dressember page and make a donation. It's that simple and no sum is too small. Truly.

Follow! Be sure to follow us on Instagram and our blog throughout the month of December. We will be documenting our fierce fashion choices but our deepest intention is to empower and educate.

Share!  Help us spread the word. You can do this by sharing our social media posts or links to our Dressember fundraising campaign page.

Mary Starks, MA, is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor #5828, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT #50732. Mary specializes in child and family counseling and has extensive training in the field of infant mental health.

When *FOE leads to FOMO: A Millennial’s *Fear Of Engaging in Real Life

When *FOE leads to FOMO: A Millennial’s *Fear Of Engaging in Real Life

I am part of a generation that has grown up in-tandem with the emergence of social technology — the dial-up modem tone (along with No Doubt’s ‘Tragic Kingdom’) was the soundtrack to my pre-teen years, my Motorola razor flip phone was a kind of social status symbol in middle school, and my freshman year of college was punctuated by deciding between cementing my online identity on either MySpace or Facebook.

But putting my farcical tone aside, it is sobering to look at my developmental timeline paralleling the proliferation of technology. How has this impacted my trajectory and that of my peers’? In what ways has it helped and/or hindered our humanness? 

On a positive note, technology has given me a way to grow my knowledge and expose me to things I may otherwise remain naïve to. But with all that real (and valuable) information to absorb, I admit a moderate pre-occupation with the curated perfection friends/followers/influencers present regarding their latest exotic adventure or gastronomical endeavor.

While this in and of itself does not dismay me outright (except perhaps the amount of time I spend scrolling aimlessly), it is more that I often times find myself preferring to consume the stories and public content of my online friends to having actual in-person interactions with them. With an internal gasp, my anxious self-criticizing voice pipes in: “Are you some kind of voyeuristic sociopath”?

Turkle further cautions that not only are ‘… we not making the time because we feel we don’t have the time, [as a result] we’re losing the skills that we get from talking to each other face-to-face: skills of negotiation, reading each other’s emotion, having to face the complexity of confrontation, dealing with complex emotion, and [navigating] confrontation.’

Thankfully, author and researcher Sherry Turkle, who has been studying the effects of digital culture on young people for over 15 years, can provide some sobering information to quash my paranoia. She reports social media is contributing to people choosing simplified communication over unpredictable yet meaningful conversation.

In her work, she asks my fellow millennials why real conversation is something to avoid. A common response is: “You can't control what you're going to say, and you don't know how long it's going to take or where it could go.” She goes on to identify that “…this is the kind of thing that people feel they don't have time for in their incredibly busy [and stressed] lives…and it's what people are getting used to - not wanting to make space for [conversation] emotionally.”

Turkle further cautions that not only are “… we not making the time because we feel we don't have the time, [as a result] we’re losing the skills that we get from talking to each other face-to-face: skills of negotiation, reading each other's emotion, having to face the complexity of confrontation, dealing with complex emotion, and [navigating] confrontation.”

Her words ring so true for me. It’s as though my time interfacing with well… anything except a real face…has left me little chance to develop the competency to negotiate the rich complexity of interpersonal interaction. Rather, my mind is too busy playing catch-up to the tsunami of content available at my fingertips. In this regard, I am the modern every (wo)man; as convenient access to content increases, consumption of it increases; and in turn, the less time/energy is available to do things that are less convenient (say have a face-to-face conversation) and, therefore, we do it less.

My glowing screen has become the proverbial Great Wall of content – it is hard to escape its reach and it provides an illusion of safety from the uncertainty of unscripted dialogue with others. But it’s lonely behind the wall - a space paradoxically full yet empty. Perhaps I have to face my fears of engaging in an unpredictable world full of unpredictable humans. I guess my Fear of Engaging (FOE) is what is giving me real FOMO.

Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Our Humans of MHT series continues this month by spotlighting Laura MacRae-Serpa as she shares her love of learning and play with fellow intern Allie. 

Allie: Okay, so hi Laura, I'm so excited that I get to interview you. It was all random, who interviewed who. And it feels very special to me to get to talk with you about humanness and about your work as a therapist, I think, because you're someone who –  as a therapist and a human – I admire a lot.

Laura: Thank you, Allie.

A: I feel like you do such a amazing job of making the heart connection with people, but also just being extremely skilled and knowledgeable. Sometimes people have one of those [capacities] more than the other and I feel like you have both in abundance so it's um -

L: Thank you, I feel the same way about you.

A: Thank you. So, I'm curious, I want to hear about your picture in our humans of MHT photo series. I'm especially curious about your goggles picture. What's going on with your goggles?

L: Soap making. So that's one thing I like to do as a hobby is make soap. And you have to use lye at one point, so you have to protect your eyes, wear gloves, and you get to look like a scientist for a moment (laughter).

A: That's so fun! So you enjoy the lye process in particular then? Is that why you picked the goggles?

L: (laughter) Yes I do. I like taking anything and mixing it. So, soap making, baking, you know, a lot of things that children play with – I just enjoy that process.

A: You like having different ingredients, that you're putting into the pot –

L: Anything I can mix together in a pot, and see what it comes out as, I like.

A: Yeah, I love that. Um, well, lye is a really fascinating one to think about too, because it's poisonous, right?

L: Yes (laughs).

A: So, but there you are, creating something very nice and healthful.

L: Yes I am.

A: Do you feel like there any, like how do you make sense of that maybe even metaphorically: The mixing of the lye into your pot to make soap, and you like mixing all different kinds of things together in play or in therapy?

L: Yeah, I think symbolically, when we think about pieces of ourselves, you know, we mix the good in with the not-so-great. Or what we perceive as not so great. But you know I think it's the sum of the parts that create the whole, which obviously, you know, the end result can be a beautiful thing.

A: Mmm.

L: A valuable, worthy thing.

A: Mmm, yeah, I like that. That's kind of an interesting comment, you slipped in there – just the parts that we maybe think are less valuable

L: Right.

A: What what do you mean by that?

L: I think sometimes our vulnerabilities, sometimes the pieces of ourselves that we hide, or feel we have to hide or protect from from other people are actually the parts of ourselves that are the most human. You know, our flawed self, or like I said, what we perceive as flawed

A: Hmm.

L: When we have a relational experience where we can actually share some of the parts maybe that we're less proud of, when those are received and accepted, it can be a very powerful experience.

A: Hmm.

L: There's risk in that, of course.

A: Yeah, kind of beauty from ashes sort of experience to have something like that turn into something beautiful in a relationship. Yeah, like that. I like thinking about lye as the – I'll think of that for myself next time I'm not sure. “Well maybe this'll turn into something like soap. (Laughter).

Laura_Humans Photo.jpg
...I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I’m always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I’m growing as well.

A: Well, tell me a little bit about your humanness as a therapist. How do you feel like your humanness shows up in your sessions and and who you are as a therapist?

L: I think most importantly I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I'm always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I'm growing as well. And I think since I have such a powerful belief in just humans ability to be resilient, I carry that hope and that kind of strength-based energy with me into the room.

And play as well. Creativity and just making a little bit of space for play.

A: Yeah I think those – maybe your learning posture, which shows up perhaps more consistently with you than anyone else I've met, which is amazing because you already know a lot – but also your love of play, feel like two pretty special things about you. So that makes sense. Those are things that kind of mark your humaness as a therapist.

I actually wanted to ask you a little bit about about play, because you are such a skilled play therapist, and I know that you really love play. I think you've said to me that you just, you like play.

L: I do. (laughter)

A: It's a good job for you! But I'm kind of curious, what you what sort of thoughts you have, if you can condense them down into a minute or two, of how how play can be leveraged for healing. I don't think we always are used to thinking about it that way. But my goodness, you do that so effectively so what are your thoughts about how that works?

L: I think play is children's work. It's how they process their world. It's how they you know try on their different parts, different selves. And often how they share. I think it creates safety. You know when I think about a play in a relationship, it creates safety. It's a mask almost. Not always, but sometimes it's a mask where the person feels a little safer to share or test or explore. So I think the potential for growth with play is unlike any other type of therapy, actually.

And I think that's why it's important to include play in our lives as adults. You know, however that's manifesting in your life. Whether it be team sports, or hobbies, or just giving yourself that freedom of creative process, it can be a powerful change agent and growth.

A: Yeah, the idea of a mask makes me think of play as providing a little bit of a buffer between the most like vulnerable parts of us and whatever it is that we're trying to learn to interact with.

L: Yeah.

A: And then that brings about safety that allows maybe for more growth than could happen if it was made maybe quite so explicit what we were doing. That would make it scarier, yeah.

L: Yeah, it feels a little safer, I think. I agree, just to kind of have it – it's almost like walking beside the experience and then processing it with someone else kind of beside to you, before you have to take that and integrate it.

A: Hmm, you're kind of trying things on, but it's not yet. Doesn't have to be you. Until you find out if it fits, maybe.

L: Yeah.

A: Interesting, I like that.

Um, well what about this huge question: What does humanness mean to you? How do you think about that?

L: Resiliency is the big one that comes to mind. I tend to think of the positive definition of humanness. I think of empathy, relationship building, our ability to be connected and to really feel each other's experiences. But within the resiliency, you know, it includes those darker experiences. Or the, the lye, shall we go back to that. (laughs) The parts of ourselves that maybe are harder to share. I think humanness is also very much about those parts and really allowing our relationship with those parts to ourself, so that we can kind of share relationally with other people in a very authentic way.

A: Mm-hmm. Yeah, do you feel like that those two things interact? Resiliency and being able to share the lye, the less desirable, or what we perceive as less desirable, inside of us?

L: I do. I think when we walk through or move through an experience that's difficult, yeah it's it's being a little more gritty. It's being able to maybe risk, because we're sitting comfortable in our sense of self, and we've had that relationship with all of our parts, so to speak. You know, and whether that includes acceptance, forgiveness, understanding; I think it then allows us to grow, be a little bit braver. I think it allows us to accept those parts in others too.

A: Mm-hmm.

L: You know, instead of just stepping into something with maybe an ideal that isn't attainable. I think sometimes it's the real pieces of people that we connect the most to.

A: Mmm, yeah, something that is maybe less ideal but actually ends up being better, or more special to us.

L: Yeah, I think it's relatable. And I always feel, with all of my clients, just a sense of respect for the courage it takes to step into therapy and look at those experiences. And you know the willingness to kind of explore just who they are, and maybe where they want to be, it's a very courageous process.

A: Well those are profound thoughts Laura, thank you for sharing.

L: Thank you, Allie.

A: Yeah, it's been so fun to interview you in our mini interview series. So, we'll sign off now. But thank you, and I'll get to talk to you soon (laughter).

Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.

Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Clinical Candor: An Interview with Dr. Karen Maroda

Clinical Candor: An Interview with Dr. Karen Maroda

M: I'm at the tail end of my analytic training and I’ve become fascinated by how my mind has shifted in the process of training. How in love I am with this process, this way of thinking but how inaccessible it feels to the masses. I don't think it has to be. My idea with my newsletter and blogs, similar to analysis, is how can we think more complexly about simple ideas and think more simply about complex ideas. Karen, I think you excel at this. You have a great ability to speak about ideas in a really clear and approachable way. Before we jump into the idea of candor, can you give us an idea of how you got interested in psychoanalysis.

K: My mother, who we did not have a college education, was naturally psychologically minded. She would observe our emotions and if it wasn't clear to her what I was feeling or why, she would inquire. She would say, “Well, Karen you seem a little down or you're not as lively coming home after school. Did something happen?” She always knew of course. She was very intuitive. She was just asking, “did I want to talk about it?” So, in a sense, my mother was psychoanalyzing me from the time I was young and inducting me into the whole notion that you don't just accept what someone says at face value, that you should trust your feelings. I think that my mother introduced me to the whole notion of trusting my emotional intuition and that asking someone about what they were feeling was an expression of love.

K: It’s been life pursuit, a way of being. I was speaking in Indianapolis a few months ago and I was pleased to hear a candidate talk about psychoanalysis not simply as a profession, it’s a calling. It’s a life.

Dr. Karen Maroda

Dr. Karen Maroda

M: Yes! I had this experience when I was developing as a young clinician where I would get around analysts and I couldn't always keep up with the terminology used but their minds were so alive to me. They had this spontaneous quality. It reminds me how you shared the origins of the word candor is candid which evokes a sense of freedom and spontaneity. There was a flexibility and freedom to explore, play and reflect that was more than the sum of its parts. And I could just feel the difference between their mind and my own. It's a way of thinking and being that that evolves overtime...

In your paper on counter-transference, you talk about how clinicians, by our nature we are often empaths. We feel, we care, we listen but we are not very good at being direct or honest both clinically and in our lives.  How do prepare your client for the role of honesty in therapy?

K: Well, most people don't really understand what an analytically-oriented treatment looks like. I tell them the three basic rules are: they have to show up, they have to be as open as they reasonably can be given that no one is completely open, and they have to pay. (laughs)

M: (laughs) Good basics.

K: Then I usually explain about transference. That any of their feelings toward me are not out of bounds. Anything that comes up and particularly anything that's repetitive that they're feeling either positively or negatively toward me is important for them to express.

M: This idea of having candor, of being direct, the fear is, in speaking up, you might shut the client down. How do you negotiate this: keeping lines of communication open given that generally the analyst is in a position of some kind of power?

K: The idea is there’s candor and then there’s candor.  You know what I mean?  You don't just blurt out anything that you may be thinking which is like, “Boy, was that a stupid thing to do.”

M: Right, right.

K: So I take a moment to gather my thoughts and think about how it fits in the context of the person. I seek to complete the analytic task to gain perspective on their behavior historically and currently. But you know if somebody did something really stupid then I am more likely to say, “Well, it seems to me that this behavior had a pretty bad outcome for you. You know, probably not one of your finest moments.” (laughs)

M: (laughs)

K:  I use humor a lot. It cuts the tension. I'm agreeing that they screwed up without saying you're screwed.

M: I'm thinking about this on two levels: what are you trying to create within your client through the use of candor; what are you hoping that they bring into their lives through this process? The other part I'd love to hear more about is, the fact that our patients don't just want empathy, or I should say, sympathy, they also crave sincerity. There's relief when we can speak directly to all parts of the self, even negative ones.

Being authentic without being insulting or cruel. Finding a way to constructively give feedback, whether positive or negative. So the positive isn’t too over-stimulating or generate too much expectation of a repeat performance. The whole notion of not waiting until your own feelings are so intense that you have trouble managing them and being in control of them when you’re talking. It’s easier to be honest when you’re in control of how you feel. Most people white knuckle it.

K: Absolutely. I think people want feedback. Particularly, as I wrote in “The Power of Countertransference” if they are seeking it, then I don’t understand why you would not be responsive to a direct request for feedback. I think where we get into the delicate issue is when you're not sure, or when the patient is provoking possible feedback but not asking for it directly. Then you have to explore it and make a decision which may or may not include asking them if they want feedback. I think it's a no brainer when the patient is literally saying I want to know what you are really thinking or feeling about me?

M: Yeah, yeah.

K: For example: most of my clients become much more successful as a result of their treatment and they want to know am I going to resent them? Especially if their parents were very competitive with them. If they are too successful will I try to destroy them, take it away?

M: So what do you think benefits your clients in being able to ask you those questions in terms of their growth and development?

K: I think it gives them a tremendous confidence in their own intuition because I think one of the greatest contributions of neuroscience and the whole notion of unconscious to unconscious communication, is that clients already know what we are feeling. We already know what they’re feeling. I think the art is to determine, ultimately, what's most beneficial to actually discuss to get to the bottom of what’s going on. What's important to the work and what isn't. Will some of our ideas, notions shut down the patient experience, I think inevitably yes! That's the nature of relationships, whether it's analyst and patient or mother and child or spouse. There are ways you just cannot relate to someone else or you can't promote it.

M: A client having to contend with the real you rather than just feeling it.

K:  You know, I successfully treated someone with severe borderline personality disorder. That was where I first experimented with expressing rage. She thought everything was somebody else's fault. She would talk about her husband and blame the poor guy for everything. He was responsible for every feeling she ever had. She wanted me to endorse that. That he wasn’t sufficiently empathic but he was!  He martyred himself for her, whatever it took. She really needed somebody to stand up to her.

M: You made a comment about our culture not leaving room for negative emotions. I see this an an epidemic in parenting. We've got the hover parent generation where parents can't give feedback to their children or they have to sandwich it with so much goodness. To me, it's about emotional clarity, right? Sometimes it's not about positive or negative. It's about being clear with emotions and our intentions.

K: Yes. Being authentic without being insulting or cruel. Finding a way to constructively give feedback, whether positive or negative. So the positive isn’t too over-stimulating or generate too much expectation of a repeat performance. The whole notion of not waiting until your own feelings are so intense that you have trouble managing them and being in control of them when you're talking. It’s easier to be honest when you’re in control of how you feel. Most people white knuckle it. Neuroscience shows us that negative emotions are rarely outside of our conscious awareness. (They are felt and known even if not explicitly acknowledged). So we need to talk about it….

M:. You alluded to something earlier that I’ve been processing for a while, personally. I have a tendency at to be effusive with my language, you spoke to how we can say something positively in a way that is not too overstimulating.  Candor is about being clear in feedback. I have an awareness  of my tendency to slant towards hope and it has impact. Not always negative but I have to watch it. The truth is I have these little awareness all the time in session and I think ‘bookmark’ I need to go back to that. But how often do we, have the internal candor to take a deeper look?

K: Bookmark is a great word. That’s the beauty of the whole analytic approach. You bookmark it and you're curious about it. You don’t just blurt it out to the patient. You bookmark it and think about it. You wait to see, is this more about me or more about the patient. Because transference is repetitive, it will always come up again, and you don't have to figure it out in the moment.

M: So, what I hear is with candor, there's a certain amount of measure. Working towards an internal space that is curious. Curiosity to pay attention to the tiniest movements inside, an internal honesty that translates to a clinical (relational) honesty. 

So with enactments, there can be a dishonesty there. I mean, of course, we fall into things but I think you're putting more onus on the clinician to pay attention. 

K: Absolutely, and I think that if you look at the literature most of the enactments are not positive, they’re negative. But if you have transcript of sessions you would see there are just as many positive enactments as negative going on, but we don't yet care about those. Because those generally are not disturbing the universe of the relationship. (laughs)  I will notice with a patient that I really like or admire we do this little mutual admiration thing, you know? It is a sense a form of acting out. A little flirtation, something.

M: This is where the awareness comes in. How much of that is unconscious to the analyst?. There's a part of you that's just feeling good and maybe another part has the passing thought..I wonder if this is something?

Be thoughtful, of course, but be courageous. If you have any anxiety when you’re practicing, that’s good...Take risks. If you’re never afraid and you’re just offering soothing, comforting things you’re probably not giving the person everything that person really needs.

K: Right, it depends. If it’s happening too often (repeating) then it's like OK, well, wait a minute.  The enactments that we talk about in literature are mostly negative ones. I have yet to talk to a therapist where they were not aware of some negative feelings before the enactment. An enactment comes typically after an impasse that’s lasted a minimum of days if not a weeks or months. The impasse is broken by an enactment or treatment is destroyed by the enactment. I think that since I started using self disclosure regularly I have almost no enactments. I currently have one patient I have regular enactments with on a regular basis because she cannot accept negative emotions mine or hers. She simply won't allow for an emotionally honest exchange. You cannot eliminate enactments with everyone.

I think if you are sitting harboring negative feelings and thinking about them, no treatment is taking place. That’s why my new line I'm going to be using a lot in my next book is, “what is the analyst’s fiduciary responsibility to the patient? (laughs) What is clinically beneficial and to what extent are we stealing their money? When we sit white knuckled and think ‘this guy is a pain in the ass.”

M: Well, it’s another aspect of coasting in the counter-transference right?

K: Yes, like what you were saying about parents being overly effusive or overly positive. Therapists do this too. They try to be super positive or uplifting and affirming. Of course we want to do that to a point but that's not really what most people come to treatment for. Most people who have a lot of positive attributes and good relation skills get reinforcement in the world. They come to us to help them work through the obstacles and the negative behaviors that they can't work out anywhere else and the pain.

K: Right. I was thinking about submitting a presentation to Division 39, “Did Winnicott kill psychoanalysis?”

M: (laughs) Oh no!

K: Of course I’m tongue and cheek but we are so enamored with good enough mother which is about always being positive,  always being the cheerleader. I think most therapists are so masochistic and they allow patients in small and large ways to be abusive towards them...

M: Yeah I thought that that is what is revolutionary about your paper. In the first paragraph you talk about why as therapists we're drawn to this profession to help but simultaneously you are calling out our own masochism.  The way we feed off our ability to hold pain in the service of someone, to contain, soften…

K: To be saint like.  We're so overly invested in ourselves being the perfect mother to all of our patients. As if  the perfect mother is somebody who would just lie down, puts up with everything. It’s not.

M: Well, thank you for jumping in with me to explore the concept of candor and your clinical practice. Your mind is so alive. It’s been a pleasure.

K: You know, I end my most of my lectures with this:  Be thoughtful, of course, but be courageous. If you have any anxiety when you're practicing, that’s good.

M: Ah! I love that.

K: Take risks. If you're never afraid and you're just offering soothing, comforting things you're probably not giving the person everything that person really needs.


Karen Maroda, PhD is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a board certified in psychoanalyst by the American Board of Professional Psychology. In 2012, she was elected Fellow status by the American Psychological Association for her contributions to psychology on a national level. She is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. She has been in private practice for over 30 years and lectures nationally and internationally. She is the author of three books, several book chapters, and numerous journal articles and book reviews. She is passionate about the change process and has made it her life’s work to innovate psychodynamic techniques, making the process more interactive and collaborative. 

Michelle Harwell, MS, LMFT is an expert trainer, respected speaker, and licensed therapist in trauma and attachment. She is noted for her specialization in areas of development, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, and her ability to communicate complex topics with clarity and humor. Michelle is currently completing her PhD in Psychoanalysis from The Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She received her BA in English Literature from University of Oklahoma, MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.

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.