Artisan Clinical Associates Therapy you can trust, near the heart of downtown Naperville, IL Sun, 17 Mar 2019 00:19:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fear Will Hold You Back but Hope Will Carry Your Forward Sun, 17 Mar 2019 00:19:28 +0000 When we Overcome, we Become. The obstacles we encounter in life are opportunities to further this becoming, not the place where our fears tell the truth about who we are.

Life often feels like a race, with our birth the starting line, and our death the finish line. In a race, how you manage your mindset in between those two lines is what determines the quality of the race you are running. Likewise, in life, where you start and where you end are of little import, compared to how you manage the years in between.

overcoming fear

I ran my first obstacle course race last summer.  It was miles of mud, vertical walls, and monkey bars. In the beginning it was thrilling, but somewhere near the end, it was just hard. My aching muscles and my anxious mind—including my uncertainty about how much further there was to go—tested my beliefs about who I am and what I am capable of when things get hard. Suddenly, Fear was running next to me, whispering, “Maybe it’s hard because you aren’t good at it.”

When I let fear decide what is true about who I am, namely, that if something is hard it means I must be failing, I stop trying. Better to fail with no effort than with every effort.

Fear is an emotion, designed to warn us of danger. Nevertheless, this internal alarm system is primitive, so it can’t distinguish between actual danger and potential danger. Therefore, when our heart rate is increasing and our legs feel like they might give out, fear will mistake these symptoms as impending failure rather than simply a sign of difficult circumstances.

What determines the quality of our miles from start to finish lies in the relationship we cultivate with the fear that runs alongside us.

As I neared the finish line, I stood in front of a pit full of water, delaying jumping in, and all I could feel was the exhaustion and the uncertainty.  What if the fear was right? What if I’m not strong enough to make it past all the remaining obstacles?

In that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could let fear define me as my symptoms or I could choose something else and define myself by how I manage the symptoms.

As I stood staring into the pit, I realized I’d had another running partner with me all along. One I’d been ignoring. We all do. That partner is called Hope.

Fear highlights our symptoms in order to question our capacity. Hope puts our symptoms into perspective in order to encourage us forward. To overcome the self-doubt and failure that Fear inevitably evokes when an obstacle is looming before us, we must cling to Hope. Hope doesn’t require that we pretend life isn’t difficult or daunting at times. But hope reminds us we have made it through difficult and uncertain miles before and we can get through this mile too.

Hope told me to jump in and keep going. It told me to acknowledge this was hard, but that fear was confusing my symptoms for outcomes. Hope reminded me that my capacity to grow, adapt, and thrive had already been proven by the obstacles I’d already overcome. Hard didn’t mean I was failing. Hard meant I was growing.

So I jumped in.

And when I climbed up the other side of the water pit, that’s when I saw it: the finish line, only three more obstacles away.

Our mindset and what we choose to believe is true about ourselves in this race we call life is the real obstacle.

You don’t get to choose the obstacles you will face in this life. You only get to choose which running partner you’ll listen to, and thus your mindset while going through them. Will you see the obstacle hopefully, as an opportunity to step further into your strength and capability, or will you allow fear to hold you back?

Fear might tell me that hard means I am not enough, but I am choosing to listen to Hope, which is telling me that hard means I am growing.

Which running companion will you choose?

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How We Manage Our Pain Will Deepen or Destroy Our Relationships Thu, 24 Jan 2019 18:50:11 +0000 Relationships

Artist Credit: Alexandr Milov (Burning Man Festival 2015)

When I stepped on my dance partner’s toes, they stepped on my heart.

A number of years ago, I was learning to dance, and I had a partner who responded to my mistakes with criticism and rejection. I quickly learned I had to dance perfectly or I would be dancing alone. So, to avoid the criticism and the pain of being rejected, I shut down emotionally and let this partner dictate all the steps. Over the years, I repeated that same dance, again and again. No matter who my dance partner was, as soon as I detected the first sign of criticism or rejection, my feet would keep dancing but my heart would go into hiding.

It turns out, our level of connection in relationships is directly tied to our awareness of how our past is interacting with our present.

One of the most valuable functions of our brain is its ability to remember.  The brain catalogues our past experiences so we can enter into new experiences with an immediate understanding of how to navigate them.  As a result, we do not need to learn how to ride a bike more than once, we don’t have to remind ourselves to not touch a hot stove every time we cook, and over time you can drive from point A to point B while paying almost no attention at all.

Relationships are a lot like dancing, and the brain thinks so too.

While dancing, it takes conscious effort and trust to stay in sync with your partner. The next right step, executed a count too early or a count too late throws off the whole rhythm. For a dance to be successful, both partners must prioritize being in sync above their own need to shine, all the while entrusting their partner with their fears about being close and even dependent. When that trust goes bad, so does the dance.

In relationships, if your heart has been dropped or your feelings stepped on before, your brain catalogues it, making it harder to dance freely the next time around.

None of us are exempt from the pain and hurt that happens when what we want is love and we didn’t find it. Because our brain does such a good job remembering, we carry these wounds with us. And if we are not attentive to these wounds, we will listen to our brain’s alarm.

Then, our pain determines the quality of our connection, rather than our love.

We narrow our focus and the dance becomes about protecting ourselves from more pain rather than allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and communicate the pain we already carry. The brain sees pain and hurt as something to defend itself against and to avoid. Love and connection are attained when we embrace and share our pain, instead of pushing it down or avoiding it.

All those years ago, burying my feelings and aiming to please my partner allowed me to ignore the pain but it destroyed my ability to connect with my partner.  Our feet were in sync, but our hearts were not.

The dances we find ourselves in can be with a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, or a coworker. Our relational wounds are there, either helping our connection through the sharing of them, or hindering our connection through the hiding of them. Perhaps you learned to over-please in order to avoid rejection as well. Or perhaps you learned to be critical as a way to guard yourself from another’s rejection. Regardless of how your brain learned to cope with your early, hurtful dances, the steps learned back then are not the steps that will keep you in rhythm with your partners today.

If you find yourself not feeling connected or in sync, perhaps it’s because a past relational wound is throwing off your rhythm.

Is it time to change the way you dance?

Are you ready to stop listening to your brain, which tells you to avoid or defend? And are you ready to listen to your heart, which reminds you that love is about sharing your pain so you can dance to the rhythm of vulnerability and trust once again?

Your brain will let your pain destroy your relationships.

Your heart will let your pain deepen them.

Let’s dance.

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How Change Makes Space for Something New Sun, 11 Nov 2018 20:55:41 +0000 going through change

When you think you are dying you might actually be in the middle of coming back to life.  I love fall because it teaches us this.

The air turns crisp and the ground gets colorful and crunchy from the fallen leaves and limbs. The flourishing of spring and summer has reached its culmination and is now coming to an end. But the end doesn’t feel like grief; it feels like a celebration. It feels as if nature is showing us that all of this change and dying off is important in order to make way for further growth.

However, while I quickly welcome the changes the autumn brings, I’m not always so quick to embrace change in my own life.

After growing up in a household that was unstable and unkind, change can trigger feelings of loss, uncertainty, and fear. The discomfort that comes with change sometimes leads me to believe the change isn’t worth it. In those moments, in order to cope, I have often attached to whatever provides me with a sense of stability and worth. I’ve grasped for whatever is familiar. My anxiety about change tries to convince me it is better to stick with what I know than risk what I can’t guarantee.  It will tell me to protect myself from the discomfort of uncertainty and loss and to stick with the comfort of the familiar.

But this fall season is telling me something better than my anxiety.

It is telling me that when I cope with the uncertainty of change by pretending I can just hold onto something forever, I am resisting a fundamental part of being alive. Life is about changing and growing and becoming, not staying the same. Life is in constant motion and that motion is not senseless: it is creating change that promotes further growth and expansion.

At some point, everything falls a part in order to make way for something new.

I recently went through this cycle of flourishing and letting go when I changed practices. I had been at my previous practice for five years and those feelings of comfort, stability, and competence were well established. I had once again reached the feeling of familiar, and I loved it. I knew the ins and outs of the job, my work – life routine had been established, and each week I got to sit and process life with people who had become part of that familiarity.

And yet, deep down, I knew I had reached the conclusion of that season, and it was time to begin a new one.

As I contemplated switching practices, anxiety – once again – began speaking up within in me.  It reminded me of the potential failure involved in change. It reminded me the process of acclimating to something new is really uncomfortable and vulnerable, and it taunted me with what I was about to lose: my sense of stability and familiarity. It told me to settle for what I already had and not risk the unknown.

However, these days, when my anxiety speaks, another voice within me speaks even louder. A voice that believes in my ability to expand with life. This voice reminds me that although the fear of change is still present, discomfort makes space for what comes next. It tells me to welcome uncertainty, because uncertainty brings new things with it. It tells me that further growth is only possible when I bravely let go of the old and open up to something new.  The season of my life spent at my old practice was one of flourishing, a time which I grew into myself and found my place in the world. Now that season needed to end, so a new one could begin.

I knew if I held onto the last beautiful thing, I would miss out on the next beautiful thing.

And so, this time, as the time for change is upon me, instead of clinging even tighter to the feeling of familiar, I am taking a cue from this season and celebrating the purposefulness of change. I am leaning into the uncertainty. I am claiming that my worth and sense of stability come from what is familiar within and not from the familiar around me. Now, this season of change feels a lot less scary. Indeed, it feels beautiful.

Like crunchy, colorful, solid ground beneath my feet.

If you allow yourself to embrace the changing seasons of life instead of clinging tightly to your flourishing from the previous season, you too can enjoy the growth, the expansion, the beauty, and the solid ground of yourself that change will bring.

Just as the world around us does each year.


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This Is How to Find Your Place in the Family of Things Sun, 11 Nov 2018 20:55:38 +0000 death and resurrection

Photo Credit: Michael Schroeder (Bigstock)

This year, the maples all turned purple.

They usually die all at once in an explosion of blood red and burning orange. This year, though, it looks as if they all got together—had a tree-meeting of sorts—and agreed to die differently. Purple, at first, instead of red. Starting at the crown, and then pausing for a couple of weeks, before turning fully red. Slower than ever. Better than ever? I’m not sure about that.

But definitely different.

I have a friend who says that death and resurrection is the pattern of everything. It’s not just trees in their ancient, seasonal rhythm. Whole forests burn and whole ecosystems are resurrected from the charred remains. Our skin cells shed to dust and are replaced by new tissue. Every night, our consciousness dies in sleep and is resurrected by wakefulness. Every twenty-four hours, the day dies at sunset and is resurrected at sunrise. Everywhere you look, everything finds itself somewhere in this cycle of death and resurrection. And this year, the maples reminded me: the death and resurrection is different every time.

This autumn, for instance, I died differently than I’ve ever died before. Three times.

Right around the time the vines—which wrap themselves around the tree trunks in the deep, deep woods—turned red before everything else, standing out in contrast from the still green forest, I died anew to the idea that I’m blameless in the the sometimes painful journey that is marriage. I’ve told myself for years that I’ve never used my wife for anything. Around the time the vines were being exposed, my selfishness was being exposed as well. I use her to take away my loneliness. When she fails to do so, I can be quick to criticize her; and when she succeeds at doing so, I can be quick to discard her.

We have to die to the love we pretend we give, so that we can be resurrected into the kind of love we were meant to give.

Then, as the walnut trees and honey locusts conspired with the chilling wind to shower their little yellow leaves upon the green autumn grass, I sat down for a heart-to-heart with my friend and business partner. It had been a long, hard season of transition at Artisan Clinical Associates, and it had taken its toll on our relationship. We talked. It hurt. And in the end, we changed two words in the Artisan motto. It used to read, “We are here because the path is long, and sometimes steep – but its rewards are rich. We have traveled it ourselves, and if you’re willing we can walk with you a while.” Now, it reads, “We are traveling…” Not past tense. Present tense. We, too, are a work in a progress.

After all, the job of a therapist (and every person, really) is to die a little more every day to their arrogance—their self-assuredness, which clouds judgment and discernment and wisdom—so that they can be resurrected into even more clarity about themselves and about the people who are walking with them on the journey.

Then, as the dry, crackly carcasses of the cottonwood leaves began to litter the roadways, crunching underfoot and beneath tires, I coached my last youth soccer game of the season. I’ve done this nine times before. But this time, it was different. It wasn’t just my last game of the season; it was the last game of my coaching career. My kids are aging out. It’s time to let more skilled coaches coach their skills. I’ve loved this season of parenthood. The memories of it will survive as long as my memory survives.

After the last game, I stood on the empty field—players and fans all departed, my kids waiting for me in the car. It was the kind of clear, autumn night that makes living in north central Illinois worth it. The setting sun fighting its way through the tree tops. The air as crisp and as pure in your lungs as God originally made it. As I briefly mourned the death of this fleeting stage of my life and my parenthood, four geese flew overhead in an uneven V, heading south, honking. I recalled those lines from Mary Oliver:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

We have die to the small “we” so we can be resurrected into the big “We.” We have to die to our limited loneliness so we can be resurrected into our limitless Belonging. We have to die to our definition of family so we can be resurrected into the Family of Things.

The same old pattern of everything, as my friend would say.

But every time, a little different, like the maples.

Death and resurrection.

They call to you, like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.

Announcing your place in the Family of Things.

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How Your Phone Is Robbing You of You Sun, 10 Jun 2018 03:10:59 +0000 kids technology

Photo Credit: dolgachov (Bigstock)

My son is waiting by the road for his ride to school.

I remember being fourteen and waiting for my ride to school. Sometimes, I would try to walk the balance beam of railroad ties separating our yard from the shoulder of the road. But I bored of that quickly. Then, I would pass the time walking into myself. I’d think thoughts. Feel feelings. Wonder about who I was and where I was going. Daydream of dating girls who were way out of my league. Feel insecure, even in my own daydreams. In other words, I’d wander into my humanity.

My son is not walking railroad ties.

But even more importantly, he’s not walking into himself. He’s not wandering into the infinite abyss of his humanity. Rather, he’s wandering into the infinite abyss of something else. He’s on his phone. Rather than venturing into his interior world, he’s venturing into his digital world.

This is tragic.

I know that sounds a little alarmist. And I know I sound like an out-of-touch old man, pining for the good ole days of an analog world. But the truth is, I think it’s tragic not because my son is different than me, but because he is like me. For much of the last year, I got lost in my phone. When a silent moment arrived, rather than exploring the world happening within me, I reached for my phone and dove into the world within it.

Again, this is tragic.

It’s tragic because we are here to discover ourselves. We are here to wade into all the mess that exists just beneath our carefully crafted facades. We are here to have a reckoning with our arrogance, to understand the roots of our rage, to befriend our fear, and to sit with our sorrow. We are here to silence our shame.

We are here to wade into our mess until that moment—that graceful moment—when we’ve waded far enough to finally catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the mess: our true self. Our soul. God, love, grace and mercy and every beautiful thing, residing right there, at the center of us.

My son’s head is bowed and his phone is raised and this is tragic, because in any moment, there are two infinite journeys you might embark upon—the journey into your phone, or the journey into you. The architects of your phone have designed it so you will become addicted to the digital journey. They are robbing you of you.

The architect of your soul is much less manipulative.

The only incentive for the journey into you is delight. The delight that arises from discovering that you are good enough and worthy, just the way you are. The delight that arises from discovering you are not alone, never have been, and never will be. The delight that arises from discovering that you matter, that there’s a reason for your life, that it’s all heading somewhere.

I’ve been trying to detox from my phone and to become intoxicated, once again, with this journey into me. As a therapist, I can tell you this is the most powerful thing a therapy room has to offer—the space to enter into yourself.

As a parent, I want to tell my son that’s the most powerful thing a roadside has to offer, as well.

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How to Survive Holiday Cheer When Loss Leaves You Cheerless Fri, 01 Dec 2017 08:00:58 +0000

Photo credit: Miranda Meadows

One year ago, I’m in my childhood home celebrating thanksgiving far away from the imminent Chicago winter. Everywhere I look, I see “holiday cheer.” I can’t hide from it. And normally, I don’t want to. As a self-described Lover of All Things Elf Culture, I live for the magic of the holiday season. Normally, the second Halloween is over, everything I touch turns to candy canes and Christmas tree shaped Reese’s cups, and I can’t stop singing my favorite Christmas songs. Normally, the holidays are full of all the usual sentiments: cheer and joy, peace and happiness. And normally, these sentiments make sense.

Yet, last year, the holidays weren’t “normal.” Just a few weeks before thanksgiving, my dad died unexpectedly.

And so the holidays arrive, and my mom, little sister, and I go through the motions, putting away the leftover turkey and bringing out the Christmas décor. From the outside, many things look the same. The same artificial tree we’ve used for years is still shorter than we want it to be. The same red and white ornaments from my childhood create whimsy on our too-short tree while my favorite Christmas movie (It’s a Wonderful Life, of course) plays as we decorate. Even the same stockings are hung over the fireplace.

Well, the same stockings, minus one.

As the tree beams with the whimsy and magic and wonder of the holidays, I wonder if it’s possible to simply cancel Christmas.  Can I shut my eyes and wake up and all of this be over? The season of light is overcast with the darkness of loss. I look at the three stockings, and my eyes burn with tears that I tell myself I “shouldn’t” shed, because it’s the holidays and I’m supposed to “be merry,” after all.

That only makes my eyes burn more.

How do I do this? How do I feel joy, peace, and hope when all my heart feels is sadness, grief, and pain? How do I survive this when all I want to do is weep?

The empty space above the fireplace taunts me with memories of the past, now tainted with the loss of the present. The good is hard to see when the grief is so fresh. Yet the good is there, mixed in with the pain. In fact, the pain exists because there was good that was lost. The light is small, but it’s still light in the darkness.

As I stand in the glow of the tree, I wonder if maybe it’s okay for me to weep for the memories that I cherish, and maybe I can smile about those, too. Maybe I can allow myself to feel what I need to feel… and even be angry and sad about the loss of what I hoped life would be like.  Maybe the holidays are “supposed to be” filled with light and joy, but maybe the darkness and light can coexist.

And maybe, over time, the sky will lighten with a new morning, and the pain will be a little less dark. New memories will be made, and old memories will be treasured. Maybe the darkness of loss, even though it’s hard, can help me see the light more clearly.

Maybe the holidays are best served when I can remember that, just like light and dark, the joy and pain can also coexist. And that’s okay. 

Instead of “Be merry!” I whisper to myself “Just be.”

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A Shrink Analyzes His Own Nightmare Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:00:47 +0000 naperville therapists

Photo Credit: azur13 (Bigstock)

I haven’t had a recurring nightmare since childhood.

Until recently.

It begins with me standing in our kitchen, looking out upon our front yard. Then, suddenly, a large black-and-white conversion van comes barreling recklessly up our driveway toward the house. It narrowly misses the kitchen and passes out of sight, presumably to crash directly into the office next to the kitchen. I cringe and wait for the explosion.

But I hear only silence.

I peer around the corner into the study and, magically, the black-and-white van is sitting in the middle of our house. There is no one in it. It’s hazard lights are blinking ominously. Everything is dead silent. I approach the black-and-white van and, with trepidation, throw open its two rear doors. It is empty, with the exception of a large box. Somehow, I know there is an old VHS tape in the box.

Somehow, I know the contents of the tape will be terrifying.

The nightmare dissolves at this point, and then resumes with me watching the tape on an old television screen. The images on the tape are like the most horrifying horror movie ever made. Death. Destruction and pain. Tragedy to the nth degree. And intermingled with all of it, a terrifying foreboding.

I always wake up at this point.

I avoided thinking about the nightmare for months. However, like all recurring dreams, until you get the message being sent from your depths, it is unlikely to go away. So, I spent an hour fully immersing myself in the imagery of the nightmare. When I did so, the tragic images from the videotape receded and two other images from the nightmare became more prominent.

The first was the image of the tape itself, sitting in the black-and-white van.

As I meditated upon the image of the tape, a phrase kept coming to mind: “The tapes we play in our head.” Suddenly, I knew with relative certainty the tape represented my mental thought patterns—all the habitual narratives and stories I tell myself about myself, about other people, and about the world. My nightmare was telling me I’d been rehearsing some pretty crummy narratives about life. Then I realized: the images on that television screen weren’t of a horror movie; they were of the news channels.

My nightmare was telling me it’s time to turn off the news. 

My nightmare was telling me that the news is running only images of horror and destruction, death and tragedy, and that they are fomenting my—our—fear. Because the mental tapes we play over and over become our reality, regardless of what is really happening in the world. I’ve been watching too much news, and my mental world is being filled with the fear of it, while in the meantime, the good news is written all over the actual world, and I’m missing out.

The reality is, the world is also filled with beauty and wonder and joy and love and kindness and grace and charity and compassion.

The second prominent image was the black-and-white van barreling up the driveway. Black-and-white, I thought, black-and-white. Why were these words so important in the nightmare? Because horrifying mental tapes are usually delivered by black-and-white thinking.

Black-and-white thinking is a dualistic way of looking at the world. Either-or. This or that. Good or bad. Them or us. In times of fear, black-and-white thinking feels safe, because it is a mental shortcut—a quick and simple way of responding—and thus it feels more certain, more secure.

However, black-and-white thinking also produces many of the horrors that populate our mental tapes.

Dualistic thinking makes it easier to oversimplify, judge, condemn, attack, abuse, and annihilate anything or anyone. Black-and-white thinking makes our actions reactive. Thoughtless. Dangerous. In the end, rather than creating safety, it just creates more bad news—more judgment, more horror, more atrocities.

Fear is leading to black-and-white thinking is leading to more fear. And so on.

So, I decided to put an end to my nightmares by daydreaming instead. What I mean is, I decided the meditation of my waking hours will be upon catching myself when I slip into black-and-white thinking. I decided instead I’m going to look for gray. For complexity. For nuance. And for the truth, beauty, gentleness and compassion that can be found only there.

I haven’t had the nightmare since.

What fears trigger your black-and-white thinking? And what new horrors, either subtle or pronounced, result from your either-or way of seeing things? Are you ready to find a different tape to play, one filled with all of the beauty and redemption and grace that can only be found in the gray areas of life and people and existence?

Are you ready to dream a better dream with me?


This post originally appeared at

If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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Lessons on Loss from a Reluctant Tooth Fairy Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:15:50 +0000

Photo credit: David Clinton

I have had the following conversation with my seven year old son approximately ten thousand times this week:

Wanna see my wiggly tooth, Dad?

No, I do not.

Look what I can do with it! *Presses tongue against a tooth dangling from a lone, fleshy thread and twists it like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. 

Ew. Go show mom.

Okay! *Bolts out of the room

Typically this maneuver buys me five minutes of solitude, but this evening he returns with an eyebrow raised and a gap-toothed smirk on his face. Holding a small, questionably brushed tooth between his fingers, he asks, “Sois the Tooth Fairy going to come tonight?

It brings my son great pleasure to tease me about being the Tooth Fairy. He accuses me of having wings and wearing a tutu, and then doubles over in laughter at his own cleverness. I play along and insist I have no idea what he is talking about. But secretly, I agree with him. The Tooth Fairy is a dumb tradition and it’s ridiculous that I continue to go through the charade every time one of the kids loses a tooth. What’s the point? This Tooth Fairy is burned out.

Once my son is asleep, I reluctantly transform myself into a mythical being. I gather three essential tools of the Tooth Fairying trade:


I check my wallet. Empty. I check my wife’s purse. She has a twenty which, unless the Tooth Fairy is putting a deposit down on future incisors, won’t work. Other options? A Ziploc full of change from the car? An I.O.U.? A partially used Target gift card? Or…I could take a dollar out of my son’s piggy bank and give it to him. It’s a jerk move, but no one ever said the Tooth Fairy was a saint.


I slink down the hallway and into his room, carefully evading two squeaky spots in the floor. I move in the shadows cast by moonlight peeking through his curtains and slip a dollar out of his piggy bank with the nimble touch of a ninja master.


My son’s room looks like a crime scene. Stuffed animals and overturned books are scattered across the floor. The day’s clothes lay feet from the hamper. There are many potential distractions. Is that a drawing of a dog peeing? Why does that exist? Why is there a half-eaten ring pop on his dresser? No wonder his teeth are falling out. Everything in me wants to throw it in the trash, but I am determined to finish what I came here to do.

At his bedside, my eyes narrow as I slip the dollar under his Spider Man pillowcase with precision. In the same motion, I find and gently extract the tooth. Evading rogue Legos sprinkled across the floor, I slip out of his room without a sound.

Tooth Fairy mission accomplished.

Ready for bed, I open the drawer in my nightstand and pull out a small glass jar. I remove the cork and drop the tooth inside.


I look at my boy’s tooth in the jar with his other baby teeth. There are a lot of them now. Why do I keep them? Are they a record of the passage of time? No, I’ve got photos for that. Are they sentimental reminders of who my son was when he was little? I have journals and home movies for that. Then why do I hold onto his lost teeth? Staring down at the jar in my hand, I know why.

They are his first losses.

In his little boy world, a perfectly fine tooth that had always been there got wiggly and fell out. That is upsetting. I would freak out if that happened to me – and I’m an adult. So, I pretend to be the Tooth Fairy to help him face the loss. It’s a way of saying, “Your losses are valuable. More than that, they are treasures.”

Then it occurs to me, there’s loss in everything. Even the good. It starts with tiny teeth and doesn’t stop until our last breath. My chest tightens. I feel an intense desire to protect my son from a life filled with loss. I want to spare him the pain and unfairness of life, but I know I can’t.  There is no Job Loss Fairy. Or Your Girlfriend Dumped You Fairy. Or Bad News About Your Biopsy Fairy. Or Your Parent is in Hospice Fairy.  He will have to face the hard lessons of life as we all do.

But I can love him. I can grieve with him. I can try to help him see that sometimes the holes left by losses leave room for new growth. Like the gap in his smile.

I set the jar of teeth back in the drawer of my nightstand. As I drift to sleep, I think about my son laughing really hard earlier in the evening. This warms my heart and I feel a deep sense of gratitude for these years. And then I decide I will make him clean his room first thing in the morning. It’s a jerk move, but no one ever said the Tooth Fairy was a saint.


If you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.



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Why Therapy Will Make a Mess of Your Life Fri, 06 Oct 2017 08:56:32 +0000

Photo Credit: luanateutzi (Bigstock)

It’s 6 months after moving into my apartment.  I look around, seeing evidence of a lived in space.  There’s a throw blanket on the chair closest to a window with glass marked by the nose prints of a curious dog.  A small pile of books, a sketchbook, and pens are nearby. Further into the space sits my first dining room table… the very one that saw me through many years of graduate school (and was rarely used because of my perfectly good lap and cozy sofa), and the very one that my dog, much to my chagrin, finds pleasure in jumping on.

And yet, despite the initial signs of a homey apartment, further scrutiny (but not much further) reveals a pile resembling a haphazard cardboard castle.  Boxes are stacked high and labeled carelessly, each filled with the relics of my past that need a home within my present.

Frustrated with myself and the chaos both contained and created by the wall-to-wall brown cardboard, I act.  Instead of tackling the visible boxes out in the open as I have attempted to do time and time again, I move to the closets.  These tiny spaces are daunting and filled with piles of old clothes and boxes labeled “Bedroom” in permanent ink.

Hours pass. I fill three large garbage bags with clothes to donate, and I throw away several things that are unusable or simply trash.  I hang up clothes and fill drawers.  I open boxes and begin to sort.  I feel empowered and productive and accomplished…

Until I look around.

My bedroom is a MESS… my productivity unnoticeable. Discouragement threatens to take hold.  How could I have worked so hard for so long, and it looks WORSE?!  I am tempted to stop… or simply cram the mess back where it came from.  A part of me wonders if I’m flawed… and that part wants to run into the cardboard castle to hide for eternity.

But then I remember a truth I often remind my clients: lasting growth tends to look worse before it looks better.  Chaos must exist for it to be organized.

This is true of cleaning, and it is especially true of therapy.

In therapy…

 … you unpack the relics of your past, the things accumulated over time, some burdensome and some treasured.

 … you learn how to cope with your chaos instead of shoving it back into the closet.

 … you invite someone into your mess, and realize that you don’t have to be “clean” to be worthy of love.

 … you let go of the things that no longer fit, and organize what you want to keep.

 … you find that even when it’s chaotic and overwhelming and hard to see the growth, you’ll eventually start to see your true self in the midst of the mess.

 … and, perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to face any of your mess alone.


It’s 7 months after moving into my apartment.  I look around, seeing the ruins of a cardboard castle.  There is more to do, and chaos is ever-present.  Yet, I’m beginning to see the bits and pieces of my true self showing up amid the mess.  Not many others would notice, but I can see it: the bedroom floor that is now visible… a closet of organized clothes, some new and some old, but all fitting me in the present… piles of my favorite books that are filling spots on a quirky bookshelf… There is even a newly assembled table that is tall (i.e. dog proof), with a vase of flowers in the shades of autumn at its center.

My apartment is beginning to feel like my home.

Perhaps by embracing your mess, you can feel at home, too.


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How Can You Trust Your Therapist’s Authority? Fri, 08 Sep 2017 06:00:17 +0000 Confession: the first time I went to therapy, I’d been a therapist for more than five years.

I asked a friend for a recommendation. He gave me the name of a therapist. I conveniently lost the number. Several weeks later, I asked him for it again, and he gave it to me again. It collected dust for a few more weeks. Then, one day, when the suffering within me finally outweighed the resistance within me, I made the call.

No one likes to schedule a first therapy session.

therapist naperville

Photo Credit: stockasso (Bigstock)

It’s hard enough spill your mess in front of a perfect stranger. It’s hard enough to present your pain to someone you’ve never met. It’s hard enough to reveal your hidden parts to someone you have not yet begun to trust. But, ironically, it’s particularly hard in therapy, not because you don’t know anything about this therapist person, but because you think you know at least one thing:

You think they’re different than you.

They’re a therapist, so they’ve got it all together. They’ve figured it out. They’ve arrived. Whether by good fortune or good training or some combination of the two, they are on a whole different level of health and happiness. They may not be superhuman, but as you pick up the phone, you assume they are at least a little better human than you.

This, is baloney.

The authority of a therapist does not come from some big difference; it comes from just a little bit of distance.

A therapist with true authority is someone who’s gone on a journey into their own inner world. Into their own mess. Into their own pain. Into their own hiddenness. They’ve ventured all the way into their own humanity and, along the way, they’ve discovered a few essential things about what it means to heal:

It’s scary to unhide what we’ve hidden, even from ourselves. It hurts to dig through our mess and our brokenness and our disappointments and our sorrow. There are dark, dark stretches along the interior road that begins with a phone call and ends at the heart of who we are. But, at the heart of each of us, is a light—a flicker, perhaps, a guttering flame, an ember waiting on oxygen, but a light nonetheless. Rediscovering it, and fanning it back to life, doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done. Patiently. Steadily. And eventually, joyously.

A therapist isn’t on a higher path; they are simply a stone’s throw ahead of you on your path—this human path we are all walking.

This is why therapists with true authority—those who aren’t interested in superiority and power—are constantly trying to give their authority away. Their deepest desire for their relationship with you is to close the gap. To call you forward, to where they stand. They want you to join them in the light. They want you to join them right in the middle of the very good news about why you are here.

You are here, simply, to be more fully human, to be more fully you, just like the rest of us.

Even those of us with a diploma hanging on the wall.

*This post originally appeared on


By the way, this is the philosophy of Artisan Clinical Associates. CLICK HERE to read our mission statement, entitled “The Artisan Way.” Also, if you’re interested in receiving future Artisan blog posts by email, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the list. We publish new, free, and (hopefully) helpful content every other Friday, and we’ll never try to sell something to you. Therapy is the one space in the world you get to receive without feeling compelled to give in return. We want the Artisan blog to feel the same way.

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