Unbound, Unshackled…

Addiction is crazy, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It destroys. It tears down. It paralyzes and debilitates. Addiction is no respecter of persons, it doesn’t care about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, socio economic status, reputation, political affiliation, religion, or demographic region because addiction only cares about addiction. Addiction is a disease.

The news reported today that Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poison, basically that she drank herself to death. Many celebrities struggle with addiction, others like Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson unfortunately succumbed to it. It is clear that addiction is one of societies greatest challenges. The shock of its pervasive affects on the lives of individuals struggling with addiction and affected family members is devastating.

I often frame addiction as an issue that goes beyond drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately unlike other kinds of addiction, substance dependence seems to be a much greater problem due to visibility, criminality, stigma and societal cost. Research has shown that addiction is a process by which areas of our brain and specific chemicals called neurotransmitters trigger compulsive pleasure seeking behaviors sometimes called dopamine addiction. Dopamine addiction is the result of our brains being depleted of serotonin and dopamine due continual drug and alcohol use, as levels of these neurotransmitters are reduced, the abuser uses more to attain that euphoria moving them into addiction. It takes more drugs or alcohol to get high because your tolerance has gone up. This accounts for the realities of compulsion and repeat cycles of relapse in attempt after attempt to break free. Here are common sign and symptoms of addiction:

  • Extreme mood changes – happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc
  • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of day or night
  • Changes in energy – unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Unexpected and persistent coughs or sniffles
  • Seeming unwell at certain times, and better at other times
  • Pupils of the eyes seeming smaller or larger than usual
  • Secretiveness
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Financially unpredictable, perhaps having large amounts of cash at times but no money at all at other times
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc

There is hope in fighting this disease if you have a desire and willingness to try. Denial might be a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

1-Recognize that you have lost control.
2-That you need to regain control.
3-To gain control you will need to be open to accepting help.
4-If you’ve had prior success, what worked? AA/NA? Naturopathic Remedies? Residential Treatment? Outpatient? Therapy? Other resources?
5-Connect to your support system, etc. Family? Friends?

Remember that recovery is not easy, it is a process but you are worth it!

Peace & Blessings,


Broken, Battered & Bruised

Have you ever felt that life has gotten the best of you? Like no matter what you do, you just can’t catch a break? You feel like you’re always defending your position at work? At home? In your relationships? Feeling stuck with little hope of changing your unique set of circumstances. Depressed, broken, battered and bruised doing your best to “deal with it”? Feeling completely miserable and hopeless. If you pay attention to the news mediaand generally things around you, you may notice that you are not alone.  It is a strange time in the history of this country, depression caused by recession seems to have become common. Here are some signs and symptoms of depression:

What is one to do? Especially as things seem not to be improving fast enough. I don’t have all the answers but one thing I will suggest is to do what you can. Recognize what aspects of your situation that you control, if any, and get a practical strategy together. Here are some things to try:

1- Start with a list of 3 or more columns, label them for example, What’s Working, What’s Not Working & What Would I Like to Improve/Change? What Is Within My Power to Begin Changing Today? And Based on whatever you come up with, figure out what you can do about it and when.

2-Identify your support system, ie., family, friends, community support, therapist, pastor/priest/spiritual leader?

3-Reach out to your support system, let them know what you are dealing with and how they might help.

4-Breathe…. It’s important to take a minute or two to just do nothing but focus on relaxing & breathing.

5-Self Care… Sleep at least 8 hours a night, Drink plenty of water, Eat fruits & vegetables, Meditate/ Pray, Exercise (I know this is a challenge for me).

6-Walk on the beach or by a body of water.

7-Schedule “Me” time.

8-Seek Help… There’s a support group for just about everything these days and/or find somebody to talk to like a therapist or counselor.

(**feel free to send suggestions, will add to the list)

Peace & Blessings,


Therapy Doesn’t Work!

How many times have you said… Thought… Or heard this said? I tried it but it didn’t work for me. I hear a lot of reasons therapy for some people did not work, “Me and that therapist just didn’t connect”, “They don’t understand me” and many other reasons. To be fair, therapy certainly may not be a fit for some people. I’m told that antisocials, narcissistic, schizoid and other personality disorders definitely don’t respond well. However, in general most people can benefit. To ensure a good experience here are some things to keep in mind:

1- Why now?  What is bringing you in?

2-What discipline do you prefer, i.e., Marriage & Family Therapist vs. Licensed Clinical Social Worker vs. Ph.D or Psy. D
3-What gender works best for you? Do you have a preference?

3-Understand their style and their approach,  works best for you? for example Cognitive Behavioral vs. Psychodynamic? Solution Focused vs. Transactional Analysis?

4-Shop around before you commit.. most insurance will allow you to try before you buy. Know that the first person you meet may not be a good fit (my personal experience… Thank God I kept looking.)

5-Ask around for referrals from friends, family, coworkers, check Therapist Finder and other resources.

6-Check cost…. Some take insurance and some don’t, if you find one you like who does not accept insurance be prepared to pay out of pocket. You may be able to get some cost reimbursed if you choose out of network therapist.

7-Details….? Race, sexual orientation, wheel chair accessibility, location, spiritual background, evening appts., specialities, etc

8-Keep an open mind. Know that this process can be a little scary but it is a worthwhile and courageous endeavor.

Peace & Blessings.


Therapist As Life Coaches? Why Not?

Recently I had a conversation with a representative from a well know coaching agency as I was considering a certificate in life coaching. Despite my feeling that many therapist often function as a life coach, I wondered if somehow this additional training might enhance my skills and possibly make me more attractive to potential clients. While this woman tried to sell me on the idea that life coaching is distinctly different than therapy, part of her jargon was to explain that while therapist pathologize and view individuals as broken and in need of healing, life coaches assume that individuals are whole and healthy. What I found interesting is that most of what she described as unique to life coaching, sounded much like a Rogerian Client Centered approach that many in the counseling field embrace, i.e., clients are not patients that need fixing, the client is the expert; the therapist guides rather than directs and seeks to empower the client to find their own solutions; the therapist accepts the client unconditionally, without judgment, without disapproval or approval.

I found an article where the author makes the argument that therapist assume the client needs healing.. Works to bring the unconscious into consciousness and works for internal resolution of pain and to let go of old patterns. Although this may be true of a psychodynamic focused clinicians, this not so true of those of us that have a more humanistic approach.

The reality is that therapist are trained practitioners, we are held to very high standard of laws and ethical codes that govern how we work with individuals. We all have a Master’s level degree or higher, have to accumulate thousands of hours of training before we can even become licensed, at least in the state of California and we have a state governing board that approves us to be able to work independently along with having to have malpractice insurance. Unfortunately, this is not yet true for those in the Coaching fields. Not to say that there aren’t really good coaches providing really good practical tools for people, and they play a huge role in business success. The reality is in my opinion, the basis of coaching stems directly from counseling principles and the goals of coaching are not much different than that of counseling.

Therapist who provide brief therapy that is client focused, often help clients focus on here and now issues, and ways to strategically improve their current situation. Past issues are not the focus of sessions, nor is time spent delving into the underlying reasons the current situation exists. It is solution focused designed to develop a step-by-step plan of action, to focus on future goals, explore current challenges to your success and to celebrate your results. Coaching with a therapist can be very beneficial, as you have the knowledge that you in the hands of a very well prepared, highly educated and trained individual who has the ability to incorporate life experiences in a way that makes it highly useful for you. Someone who’s goal is helping you become your best you.

Peace & blessings,


I’m not crazy

“I’m not crazy!” is typically the response I get when I recommend that someone seeks counseling. I truly get it…. there is still a lot of stigma connected to seeing a therapist. There is of course still lots of misinformation and unfortunately, every day we are bombarded by the media with a new miracle pill to fix what ails society…

I grew up in a community where anything mental health meant you were “mental” a.k.a. crazy. There was no acceptance nor discussion about counseling or therapy, people kept private business private. I remember distinctly the phrase, “what happens in the home, stays in the home” and “you don’t put your business in the streets”. All of this and other beliefs served to create a community of accepted taboos and family secrets. It was just not okay to talk about certain things like incest, abuse, domestic violence, pre-marital sex, gay family members and other issues that were better kept covered up.

Unfortunately, this denial created greater, darker issues that continue to pervasively worm its way in the lives of folk from generation to generations. Just about everyone I knew had someone in the family affected by an untreated mental health issues, i.e., an ex-vet with PTSD, hx. of sexual abuse, DV, substance abuse, etc.

What is real is that these things happen, that they are not okay, that it is not your fault and you are not crazy.
– It is okay to get help sometimes.
-You are not weak because you need it.
-It is nobody’s business but your own and your identified support system that you are seeking help to resolve these issues.
-You will not betray your community nor your family by choosing to be a better you.
-It is your right to be healthy and whole, and to access whatever services and resources are available to you.

Peace & blessings,

For Colored Girls…. and anybody seeking healing through counseling in Oakland Area/East Bay

As someone who has done and continues to engage in the self healing process, has read In the Meantime by Inyala Vanzant, The Secret by Rhonda Bryne and a host of other self help authors as well as had my own personal therapy with a wonderful clinician,  I know the benefits of letting go of old habits, patterns of behavior and maladaptive thoughts. As a clinician, I embrace the importance of reconnecting with spirit, adopting a holistic ideal of healing, i.e., mind, body, soul & spirit.  A few months ago  a movie was in the theater, For Colored Girls, a drama film adapted from Ntozake Shange‘s 1975 stage play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.  Many people of all races & ethnicities saw this movie that was written and produced by Tyler Perry. As a result of many themes of sexual abuse, domestic violence,  abortion and other issues facing modern black women; personal emotions were triggered. I participated in many discussions regarding the validity of these themes and a personal friend decided to seek counseling services as a result of her own unresolved concerns.

There are many qualified therapist of all ethnic and racial backgrounds that are culturally competent, however, I am providing this information, triggered by a friend who specifically asked if I knew of any African American therapist in the Oakland/East Bay area.

I wanted to provide a list of African American therapist that I’ve found in Oakland and the surrounding area… I don’t know any of them personally. I don’t know anything about them other than the fact that they are African American. I am sure there are more, please feel free to post information about others.

**Please Note: They are not numbered in order of preference. I don’t know their rates or if they accept insurance, please inquire.

1. Joy Johnson (510)-658-1966 @ 34th St.,  Oakland, CA

2. Roscoe Simmons, LCSW, Ph.D. 510-526-6658, Oakland, CA

3. Lisa M de Geneste, LCSW 917-566-5628, 465 – 34th Street, Suite B3, Oakland,CA

4. Dr. Margaret Jones 510-497-0029, 33 Embarcadero, Oakland, CA

5. Dr. Rosemary Durouseeau 510-339-8221, Village Counseling 1955 Mountain Blvd., Oakland, CA

6. Dean Chambers, MSW 510-339-8221. Village Counseling 1955 Mountain Blvd., Oakland, CA

7. Anita Clark 510-225-4006, 465 34th Street, Oakland, CA

8. Andrea Butler-Acuna, MFT 510-985-4518, New Hope Therapy 2515 Santa Clara Avenue, Ste. 208, Alameda, CA

9. Valerie Veza, LCSW 510-464-1288, 5463 Broadway, Oakland, CA

10. Lisa Bonta Sumii 415-322-8979, 5480 College Avenue, Oakland, CA

11.Jacy Smith, MFT 510-258-8869, 2917 McClure Street, Oakland, CA

12. Valerie Ja. Doyle 510-380-6146, 908 Arlington Ave., Oakland, CA

13. Quincy Wilkins, MFT 510-597-0779, 1240 Powell Street, Emeryville, CA

14. Dr. Zonya Johnson 925-238-8809, 5835 College Avenue, Ste. B Oakland, CA

Peace & Blessings,


I Want To Change But….. I Wish I Had A Dollar For Every Excuse I’ve Heard.

One thing that I’ve learned about life is that it is not stagnant, it is ever changing and change is constant.  I’ve found that that only thing that I can count on is that change happens whether I like it or not. I come across people on a daily basis who are being asked to change something about themselves. Often the basic values of their very existence is being challenged and the demand for change is imminent. Sometimes these folks really have a desire for change, to be better and to do better, however, most are at a loss as to what change might look look like.

Change happens in a number of ways and for a number of reasons, here are a few…

1) we decide to make changes for personal growth.

2) we are forced to change due to external forces, i.e., potential loss of job, relationship, etc.

3) fear triggers changes such as warnings from doctors;

4)our changes in the environment demand change to sustain life such as effects of global warming.

What I’ve discovered is that many of us hate to change in particular when we feel we don’t have a say. We hate change because we are such creatures of habit that we assume that although change might be good, that we are so entrenched in our habits that change is all but impossible. We often fail to find a good enough reason to make needed changes in our personal and professional lives, thereby eliminating the possibility of potential failure. The first step and probably the most difficult is to admit that something in your life or about yourself needs to change.

Things to know about change….

1) If the long term outcome is good for you, then it is worth it…. You are worth it.

2) It often feels uncomfortable and even anxiety provoking.  This is normal.

3) You may risk losing friends, acquaintances and even experience conflict with family members.

4) You will be forced to explore aspects of your personality that you may rather not.

5) Know that it does not happen over night, it is a process of intention.

6) It gets easier…. some say it takes at least 21 days to break a habit.

7) Stay focused.

Peace & Blessings,