Healing Through Music

Thank you to the Phoenix Spirit for publishing my most recent article below: “Healing Through Music”.

Bob Ross, the infinitely relaxed host of The Joy of Painting famously said, “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy little accidents.”

And I believe Bob.

If you are a musician or performing artist and you live with crushing panic, anxietydepression, and are paralyzed with fear and self-doubt, I hope you believe Bob too.

Although I am not a full-time musician, I recently released a solo EP and am currently writing and rehearsing for a new album with another band that I play in. I understand the grind, the hustle, and the exhaustion of the music business. There seems to be a never-ending cycle of writing, practicing, recording, releasing albums and performing. And if you are a full-time musician, there is touring, media/press obligations, and financial stress.

Being in a band can be unbelievably rewarding and quite exhausting at the same time. As artists, we can often think too much and allow fear and doubt to sneak into our dreams.

I try hard to practice what I preach about taking care of ourselves as musicians. We need to feel refreshed and energized in order to thrive.

Mark Mallman is a musician from Minneapolis whose mother died in 2013. He then wrote an album called “The End is Not the End”with hopes of healing his grief and panic attacks. He also is the author of the soon-to-be-released memoir called The Happiness Playlist: The True Story of Healing My Heart With Feel-Good Music.”

Mallman writes, “Music is my only escape. My heart rate slows a bit. Breathing comes easier. The Happiness Playlist is created.”

Music heals.

Musician Adam Levy (Honeydogs, Sunshine Committee, Bunny Clogs), has been publicly sharing his personal journey of grief and healing. Levy’s son, Daniel, died by suicide in 2013. Levy wrote his album, Naubinway, in honor of Daniel, and as a way to heal through his excruciating pain of loss and confusion.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” Levy writes in the title track, “We’ll bid you adieu if we must. A backwards baptism in Lake Michigan. I cradled my baby on his deathbed. Sleep my beautiful son in the shallows of Naubinway.”

Music heals again.

Last March, I accepted a position to be on the board for Dissonance, a Minnesota non-profit organization that helps musicians, artists and their loved ones to find resources and support for mental health, wellness and substance use. The Minnesota Music Coalition is another local organization, among others, who helps support our music community to help them feel that they are not alone in the struggles and hardships of the creative life.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with drummer Eric Fawcett (N.E.R.D., Spymob). He wrote an article for Drummer Magazinewhere he said, “the more you get out there, the more you’ll find there’s rarely a challenge you’re not up for. It is when we push ourselves to create outside of our comfort zone that we learn most.”

Pushing ourselves creatively is one of the many pathways to healing. When we try something new and different, such as writing a different style of song, we strengthen our creative muscles. And just like any other muscle in our body, our creative muscles need to workout.

Starting a new music or art project can seem daunting. So when I listen to Composer’s Datebook on Minnesota Public Radio, I always love hearing John Zech’s friendly reminder that “all music was once new.” This statement alone can help liberate us from the fear of criticism and from starting a new project.

Of course, there is a chance for failure or disappointment. And there is also a chance for joy because within those difficult moments of self-doubt lies the magical formula for growth and creating something absolutely unique to you. And that’s part of what art is, isn’t it?

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, wisely states in his book, Creative Quest, that “creative people take in more than the average person — or, rather, they are less able to shut out parts of their environment. In the modern world, that’s an even more intense problem, because so much information, so many signals, flow across our brains.”

I could not agree with him more and know that it is important for Highly Sensitive Persons to be aware of the negative energy we can potentially absorb. Consistent self-care practices and strong, healthy boundaries can help us maintain our energy for creativity.

Speaking of energy, our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, emphatically exclaimed, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” With technology and social media readily available in our pockets, we habitually destroy our self-worth and drain our creative energy by comparing ourselves to everyone else.

Taking a social media break is one simple antidote to the poison of comparisons.

Musician Maya Elena recently remarked, “I love JOMO (the joy of missing out) because it helps me focus on my music and songwriting. It blocks out negativity and what everyone else is doing.”
In the music world, comparing ourselves to someone else is one of the most harmful and destructive things we can do. It serves no purpose and steers us off course. We need to block out all distractions, especially self-criticism, so we can continue to create music.

If you are a musician or artist, your own self-care must be priority. Self-care is not selfish. Without practice, you will burn out quickly and possibly lose your passion for music.

Even the Federal Aviation Administration recommends you put on your oxygen mask first, before attempting to help anyone else.

I hope you continue to make music or have other creative endeavors and that you thrive, grow, and inspire the next magical generation.

Brian Zirngible is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a solo private practice in Burnsville. He specializes in helping performing artists, highly sensitive men, couples and older teenage males find hope and passion within themselves and through creativity. Learn more about Brian at www.brianzirngible.com.

Healing Through Music

5 Things Private Practice Owners Can Do Right Now When You're Having a Slow Summer

the final image you see as you leave my office.

the final image you see as you leave my office.

We've all been there. And I am currently "there". The end of the school year comes and goes. Your clients take a vacation, no-shows, cancellations, reschedules, or your teenage clients oversleep and miss their session…

And you start to freak out! Rent is due, as well as all of your other private practice bills - website, Psychology Today profile fee, liability insurance, license fees, membership dues, CEU's, etc.

Here are 5 simple things you can do right now this summer if your private practice is slower than usual:

1.  Review and refresh your intake paperwork.

  • I know, I know... super exciting, right? Trust me. This gives you a chance to speak directly to your ideal client.
  • Make sure to include your cancellation/no-show policy! Crafting your paperwork to align with your values is another great way to show your clients that you are being thoughtful and mindful of your words. "Your vibe attracts your tribe". Plus, you can do this while at home cranking up all your favorite tunes!!!

2.  Update your website, LinkedIn and Psychology Today profiles and your social media pages.

  • Having too many social media pages going at one time can be time-consuming and overwhelming. Especially for us Highly Sensitive Therapists. I have learned from experience and by research, that using one primary social media page for your business is marketing "best practice".
  • Perhaps consider using additional marketing tools such as Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat.

3.  Connect with one other local therapist to learn about their practice.

  • This can be a tough one for more introverted therapists, but it is an amazing way of increasing more appropriate referrals for you and your clients.
  • We want to trust our referral base, and what better way than to meet face-to-face over coffee or cocktail to learn about another nearby therapist and their practice?

4.  Volunteer on a Board or join and get involved in your professional organization.

  • This is a fantastic way of meeting your community and to learn about referral sources.
  • Linked here are the websites for some organizations you can check out:

            Minnesota Association for Marriage & Family Therapy
            Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers
            Minnesota Psychological Association
            Minnesota Women in Psychology
            Dissonance: Music + Mental Health Minnesota Non-Profit
            Minnesota Art Therapy Association
            Music Therapy Association of Minnesota

5.  Take a vacation!!!

  • You're damn right I said it! As mental health therapists, we need to practice what we preach to make sure healthy self-care is a ritual and a habit. Take a break and allow yourself to feel comfortable with disruption, ambiguity and fear. This is one of the many ways we can use discomfort as a way to join with our clients who may be experiencing ambiguous loss, deep hurt or a flood of different emotions.
  • Try a new activity or hobby like forest bathing, off-road biking, meditation, yoga, paddle boarding, paddle board yoga, kayaking, sign up for a 5K, 2K... or a half K! It doesn't matter. As long as you try to enjoy some relaxation time. It rejuvenates the soul and allows our brains to rest.

As I sit here in my office with my own low-grade anxiety of a slow summer start, I am sending the private practice community all the positive vibes for a fun and relaxing summer.

You totally deserve it!

imagine roasting marshmallows at a campfire on lake superior.

imagine roasting marshmallows at a campfire on lake superior.

Three Simple Ways to Beat the Blues After an Amazing Vacation (or MEA Weekend)

Fall is a time of transition. Self-care is a vital part of finding peace through the change of seasons. Photo by Brian Zirngible

Fall is a time of transition. Self-care is a vital part of finding peace through the change of seasons. Photo by Brian Zirngible

As some of you return home from your brilliant fall-color getaways or our geographically-unique Minnesota Educators Academy (MEA) weekend, you might start feeling the dread of the work-week slowly creeping up.

The following three tips are meant to help support your transition back into "reality" of deadlines, meetings and the forthcoming ever-dreaded cold, icy winter:

1) Always practice gratefulness. Think of how you ended up being able to take this killer trip in the first place. Was there financial support? Is someone babysitting? Are you staying in a family member or friend's cabin?

Then write down 5 things you were specifically grateful for on your trip.

For example - "I'm grateful that my husband is so loving, handsome. He treated me like a queen and consistently refilled my wine glass when it was nearing empty". You get the picture

*Pro tip: Make sure you actually write it down on a piece of paper or in your travel journal. Science has proven that this will commit it to memory much better than typing something on your computer or phone.

2) Start planning your next getaway.

Immediately! Some folks like to do this while on the way back from a trip so they trick themselves out of that blue mood. Others wait until they're home to start. Do whatever works for you.

Regardless of when you start, this practice can help decrease those dark & heavy feelings of sadness when your current vacation has taken its final bow. 

3) Plan your week. The night before, make a simple, yet achievable 'To-Do List' for your first week back at work. This can help feeling overwhelmed with tasks that probably won't get done.

It can also help you to get a good night's sleep because you already know the next day's agenda and what your priorities are.

Prioritize your list and tackle the most difficult thing first. Your day just got easier after you swallow that frog!


Create a "Best Of" folder of photos from your trip. If you have time, print out your top three photos, frame them and bring them to your office. You can then switch them out after each amazing adventure.

While back at work, sifting through your 10,001 memos and emails or even at lunch, you can daydream and scroll through your favorite memories. Close your eyes for a moment and transport yourself back there...

There will be more trips.

Now, get planning!

How To Survive While Taking A Break From Social Media


I am Brian and I was addicted to social media.

Many times I have been told over the last few years that I am a "marketing and social networking guru". So why would a marketing and social networking "guru" spend over two months on a social media break? Read on to find out why.

Everyone knows that I am very extroverted. The last couple of years, I have noticed that I am pretty wiped out after socializing and need more time to "recover" from the energy I put into networking. Could I now be considered an "ambivert"?

Towards the end of May, I was completely exhausted, wiped out and had little energy. It was starting to feel like I needed to be everything to everyoneSomething had to give. And it wasn't going to be me.

I was spending an excessive amount of my time on various social media platforms. I justified it as "networking", "connecting", "marketing" and "supporting my fellow therapists". You know - I'm the "social media guy". I had an important reputation to uphold.

I felt an internal desire to "like" all posts or provide resources for almost every single post. I just could not do this any longer. It was too much. And I needed to be ok with any rejection or disappointment from others that may have resulted.

And the news feeds were destructive to my soul. I did not posses the capacity in my spirit to withhold the pain I was witnessing.

I stopped watching the news years ago and have replaced the garbage with a daily morning meditation routine with...

  • Refreshing breaths
  • Loving intention
  • Daily mantra

I am very lucky to have super supportive and generous friends. My life would be much less rich and exciting without them. I participated in a "guys trip" somewhere in the mosquito-riddled, north woods of Wisconsin on June 1st.

The first day of the month felt like a natural starting point for me. Maybe I'm just a little OCD? I posted a picture I took of some woodsy nature and a blurb on all of my social media accounts - I would be "heading into the wild" for about a week and that I would be back in a week.

That one week turned into 69 days!!! And although you may think or hope, that it was clearly intentional, it surprisingly and honestly was not.

One of my bands performed in August and I wasn't promoting it - at all. Good old "Catholic guilt" and an obligation to my fellow band mates took over. I needed to return to the socials but needed a pretty damn good excuse. Rock n' Roll was as good an excuse as any. And I was ok with that.

The first few days of my own self-imposed social media break was actually quite easy. I was with my friends and there were various stimulating activities to keep me occupied. Distraction helped to ward off any impulses to check my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn accounts.

Could I actually do this?

I also used Snapchat, but I found myself spending too much time being sucked into it's rabbit hole. (There are so many deep, deep rabbit holes.) I then deactivated that account. And I don't regret it. It was just too much and I often struggle with impulse control.

One of the most challenging aspects of this break was noticing the amount of time that others spent on their electronic devices. I became frustrated with others who seemed to be constantly on their phones.

Quite often I caught myself judging others (including my wife) when I saw them on social media. This was something I knew might happen, so it was nice to use positive and calming self-talk when I found myself being harsh in my thoughts.

The second week of my break was probably the most difficult. I felt an itch and curiosity to check my pages to see if there was any activity. That comes from my incessant need to be noticed, liked and loved. Extrinsic motivation. Negative attention.

Our brains receive millions of chemicals called oxytoxin and dopamine when we get "likes" and "comments" and "follows" and "hearts". And my brain is no different.

After the second week, I decided to take a full month off. July 1st would be the day I returned to social media with all the fanfare and blowing whistles. And then the sun came out.

"Living in the sunlight, loving in the moonlight, having a wonderful time" - Sherman/Lewis

Summers in Minnesota are fleeting and short. Like many of us in the great, dark northern states, I most likely live with a moderate form of Seasonal Affective Disorder and probably mild depression. When the sun came out, I followed it outside to play.

November through March are difficult months for me and for many of us in the upper midwest. So thank goodness for my HappyLight!

I also struggle with anxiety as a Musician/Performing Artist:

  • Will anyone come to our show?
  • Will we get paid?
  • Am I making a fool of myself?

And self-esteem issues as an entrepreneur/therapy business owner:

  • Am I a good therapist?
  • Why would clients want to work with me?
  • Will I make rent?

July 1st passed on by. And I felt absolutely no desire to return to social media. None at all. Zero. And it was beautiful. My brain cleared some space. Files were deleted and sent to the trash. I emptied the trash and my head felt lighter. I felt happier and more at peace with myself.

And there was more space in my mind to create art and music. To write songs for our forthcoming concept album. I simply could not write songs when I was addicted to social media. It simply was not possible because...


FOMO was literally killing me.

So I wrote and wrote and wrote...

And wrote music on a synthesizer keyboard. I'm a trombonist, so this was definitely a challenge.

And was emotionally and physically present for my wife. She noticed. "Phubbing" be damned.

And I felt much more present and in tune with every one of my therapy clients. I was able to listen more deeply and felt even more compassion for their pain.

And created abstract paintings in a different style than my usual "Happy Little Clouds" by Bob Ross.

And read 5 books. And remembered what I read. Including The Phantom Tollbooth - my favorite!

And spent quality, mindful time with our dog, brushing and bathing him. Taking him on walks and hikes and noticing his soft, fluffy fur as I gently rubbed his belly. Awww...

And collaborated with our songwriting team to record ten new kick-ass tracks that could not have been created if I had not taken this break. In my heart I know this to be true.

And I had more time. Honestly. It felt as if I gained two more hours of my day. At least. It felt amazing!


  • Circle a date on your calendar that you will start your break
  • Start small - one hour, one day, one week... you get the picture
  • Reward yourself with a tasty treat for accomplishing your goal

There are so many people who supported me during the past couple of months. My wife was completely understanding and supportive. Her ability to "handle me" is and always will be a National Treasure.

Here's a shout-out to a couple of amazing therapy friends who knowingly or unknowingly helped guide me along the way. I could not have accomplished this without their support:

To my social media network friend and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania therapist colleague Melvin Varghese for his inspiration to take a break from social media. He mentioned on his Selling The Couch website that he takes several of these breaks a year and always feels refreshed and re-energized when he returns. I knew I had to give it a shot. Melvin, you're a rock star!

A warm and fuzzy thanks to Apple Valley, Minnesota therapist, Julie Anderson for introducing and encouraging me to utilize the Buffer social media app. I use the free version and there is a paid version as well. Buffer allows you to create multiple posts and then schedule them out as you wish. It can save time, energy and is one of the most convenient apps I have found to help my therapy business. As well as to promote my music and band performances. Thanks Julie and good luck with your own break from social media!

If this article has helped to encourage more people to take a break from social media, it was well worth the time to write it. This break has truly changed my life for the better. And for the better of those around me.

And I hope you give it a shot. You have my full support and I emphatically encourage everyone to consider what taking a break from social media would look and feel like for you.

I am proud and relieved to say that I am no longer addicted to checking my pages, clicks, likes, mentions or comments. "I don't need to respond to everything".

My biggest takeaway from the experience was probably achieving more of a sense of balance in my life. Sure, I can check my pages. But not every single hour like I used to feel before. Self-discipline and holding myself accountable have been challenging, but very rewarding.

And, much like our lives, it is a work in progress. I am now even more energized and excited to help more people take the brave risk of putting down your phone. And enjoying more of life. And clearing some space in your own head for your self, your family, your relationships, your music, your art.

That first step is always a doozy. But damn... it feels so fucking good to be in better control of my time. And I lovingly wish the same for you.

My wife, our dog and I are heading up to the Norshore soon and am once again taking a break from social media.

Be good to yourselves!

If you or someone you know is struggling with social media addiction, FOMO or technology codependency - call me now at 952-892-8433 to get help and support.

Part II - Men and the Art of Mindful Marriage Maintenance

Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships

Welcome back! Thanks again to Allison Maxim, owner and Family Law attorney of Maxim Law for inviting me to write this guest blog for her website. In Part I of this two-part blog series, I discussed the importance of safety in a relationship and what that means to men and couples.  In this post, we will discuss two other elements necessary for a fulfilling, intimate, trusting, and lasting relationship: mindfulness and independence. Please visit the links included in this post to access more information including tools, videos, and tip sheets. Let’s start with Mindfulness.

Mindfulness: Stepping Inward to Live a Genuine and Peaceful Life

Do you ever wonder what exactly is going through a man's mind? I wonder that myself, and I am a man! As a therapist who works with men who are struggling with relationships, I help men focus on the most important relationship they will ever have - the relationship they have with themselves. If men are unable to love themselves unconditionally, there is absolutely no way we will be capable of loving others with that same vital and unconditional love.

Men's mindfulness can come in many different shapes and sizes. There are an infinite number of ways that us men incorporate mindfulness in our lives, and most of the time, we don't even realize it. Petting the dog, playing catch, taking a walk, working out, slowly eating a sandwich, cooking, cleaning the house, making love… the list goes on and on. We often forget or dismiss that these activities are indeed mindfulness practices.

My hope is that more courageous men intentionally practice mindfulness, especially within the relationship we have with our partner. We need to put our phones down, turn off Netflix and listen to each other. I mean REALLY listen! Be curious and ask questions about what our partner is talking about. Not in an accusatory way, but in a calm and gentle way. By emotionally connecting with our partner, we improve our active listening skills which can help enhance and strengthen our relationships with our partner.

Independence: Absence CAN Make the Heart Grow Fonder

All relationships include sacrifice, compromise and unconditional love. And sometimes, that means that we engage in activities that do not involve our partner. Research finds that the happiest and most fulfilling relationships are ones that allow space and time away from our partner. If this time spent away from each other is viewed as positive, this is a much healthier outlook than if it is seen as selfish or disconnecting.

World renowned therapist, Dr. John Gottman, has researched and studied relationships between couples for decades. Many couples come into my office with various levels of the Four Horsemen alive and present. When criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are active within our intimate relationships, the more difficult it is for couples to grow into a healthy partnership.

We do need to be careful of how much and how often we do separate activities, though. We don't want our partner resenting our time away from them, and we want to reassure them that we are not looking to escape, but simply have the need to engage in activities with ourselves or others. Assertive communication is key here, which leads us back to safety. Our partners need to know that we are coming back and that we love them unconditionally.

At the end of the day, our partner needs to trust that we will be coming home to them. Local hip hop group Atmosphere (Rhymesayers) released a song called "Always Coming Back Home To You" and I think it fits this sentiment quite nicely. My own interpretation of the song is about the comfort, safety and unconditional love that a committed relationship can provide. "From the heaven I've had to the hell I've been through, I'm always coming back home to you".

Men and the Art of Mindful Marriage Maintenance

This month I was honored to have been asked by Allison Maxim, owner of Maxim Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota to write about men, mindfulness and relationships. Below is Part I of my two-part series on these topics. Allison is an attorney who helps couples mindfully make decisions for their marriage, their relationships and their family. Whether couples decide to stay married or to divorce, Allison is there to guide and support them as they decide what is best for everyone involved.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships
-Brian Zirngible, LMFT

SafetyMindfulnessIndependence. These are just a few of the main hot topics that are explored in my office with men and couples. It might not seem realistic to maintain all of these needs at the same time, but with some guidance and practice, we can certainly work together towards a more hopeful future.

Have you seen the "bed scene" in the movie "The Story Of Us" with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer? It's hilarious yet exquisitely valid at the same time. Their characters attend a couple's therapy session where the therapist describes marriage as not only the two people that get married, but marriage also includes their parents as well. This dynamic often shows up in my work as we explore family of origin issues, genetics, and how varied parenting experiences can inform our intimate relationship dynamics.

In this post, we will focus on the importance of safety in a relationship.  The next post will include a discussion of mindfulness and independence and the important each play in your relationship.  Both blog posts provide links to important resources and examples which build upon the topic by providing tools and templates for you to take action.

Safety: The Foundation of Happiness and Security

Who doesn't want to feel safe? We feel loved and cared for when we feel safe. Imagine that safety is like cuddling into a warm, cozy blanket on a cold winter night while drinking a cup of hot cocoa as your Sade album gently crackles on the record player… that's safety!

The feeling of safety and security in relationships is vital to growing together as a couple. I help the men I work with to think about safety as building trust within relationships. If our partner doesn't trust us, they won't feel safe. And if they don't feel safe, there will be problems of connecting on intimate, physical and sexual levels.

One of the most helpful tips I offer men and couples is to help them learn about their partner's Love Language. If we are able to "speak" our partner's Love Language more often, that will help increase the trust and safety within the relationship. Our Love Language can change, mix and switch back and forth over time and this is quite normal.

I also encourage men and couples to practice patience, self-love and to forgive themselves, as nothing changes overnight. We tend to beat ourselves up and talk negatively to ourselves when things don't automatically change. Change, personal growth and healing take time. Calm downtake a breath… have a relationship plan.

Another helpful resource for the men and couples I work with is the book called "I Don't Want To Talk About It" by Terry Real. He describes the abusive and traumatic relationship between he and his father. He describes our society as one where boys are taught not to have or express feelings or emotions. I see this dynamic nearly every day in my office and I am proud of all the men who are brave enough to call "bullshit" on the "boys will be boys" myth and stereotype.

Stay tuned for Part II which will touch on subjects of Mindfulness and Independence within committed relationships. Until then, be good to each other and to yourselves!

Musician and Artist Self Care: Holiday Edition featuring the Dissonance "Unhappy Holidays" event and exclusive interviews with two talented Minnesota musicians

Happy Holidays to you and yours! It is so hard to believe it is already the middle of December, when it seems like just weeks ago, we were hiking through the trails in 50 degree weather. Ahhh, Minnesota! To be quite honest, I am feeling pretty exhausted and wiped out just thinking about all of the family expectations and musical obligations that are coming up. I don't know about you, but there is such a huge part of me that just wants to snuggle up with my Shih Tzu and a cozy blanket, light some S'mores scented candles and turn up my new David Bowie vinyl album ("Heroes") on my record player and sleep until April. My body feels like it is in hibernation mode as the cold, frosty snow chills me down to the bones. Cardiovascular exercise and moderate free-weight lifting is a must for me in the winter months because it keeps me strong, warm and mentally fit.

On an exciting programming note: I am so honored and thrilled to have been asked to set up a table with information about my specialty therapy services (musicians/artists) at the Dissonance: Music and Mental Health "Unhappy Holidays" event on Thursday, December 15th. Dissonance is a non-profit organization that helps support Minnesota musicians and artists through education and mental health resources. The event has sold out and there will be a limited amount of tickets at the door.

Guest speakers/performers: Davina Sowers, Nora McInerny, Katy Vernon

Guest speakers/performers: Davina Sowers, Nora McInerny, Katy Vernon

Here is an event description:

"There's an image presented to us all of a happy, warm holiday season full of dinners with family and festive parties and gatherings around an open fire.

But for many of us, the Norman Rockwell, Hallmark image is a myth, and the season is a long, dark one that can be difficult to navigate. Whether we struggle to stay sober at the marathon of parties, are without loved ones to spend time with, or are dealing with pain that the constant carols and romantic comedies just make more pronounced, the holidays can be anything but bright.

Join us for a lively and engaged conversation and performance on navigating these challenging times, and hear from creative community members as we gather to say 'Hey, we're all in this together.'"

- Nora McInerny Purmort- author of "It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)" and host of "Terrible, Thanks for Asking"
- Katy Vernon - Musician, Singer of Sad Songs on A Happy Instrument
- Davina Sowers - Musician, Davina and The Vagabonds
Hosts: David Campbell (Hazelden) and Sarah Souder-Johnson (Sentier Psychotherapy/Dissonance)
6:00pm Doors – Refreshments, non-alcoholic beverages, light appetizers provided
6:30 - 7:30pm Program – Panel discussion, readings and performances
7:30 - 8:00 Q&A
This program is hosted by Dissonance and Milkweed Editions in partnership with Open Book.

Once again, it has been an absolute honor to be able to interview two more of Minnesota's very own musicians who live and work in this frigid tundra we call 'home'. This is a very special Holiday edition of my series of musician interviews and as I did, I hope you find their answers as poignant, straight-forward and brutally honest.

Without further adieu, I now present to you the brave and amazingly talented Minnesota musicians who took time out of their busy recording, teaching, booking and gigging schedules to answer my 10 Questions about their journey as a musician and their personal stories of self care and survival.

Hannah von der Hoff is currently recording a new Soul/Roots/Rock album, is the booking agent and server extraordinaire at the Aster Cafe and has also done some fashion modeling in her career. She answers the questions with her complete mind, body and soul. Like a true artist expanding on a riff with crescendo that leaves you wanting more. After reading her answers, I was inspired to read John Legend's "4 Steps To Maximize Your Creativity" article where he describes placing boundaries around his schedule so he can work and create without distractions.

Hannah has a show tonight, Thursday, December 15th, at St. Paul's very own Vieux Carre, with Ashley Groves, so if you can't get tickets to the Dissonance "Unhappy Holidays" event, I encourage you to get your booties down to downtown St. Paul so you can 'get down'!

Hannah von der Hoff

Hannah von der Hoff


Q: When did you first realize you were a musician?
Lincoln Elementary music class. We played beat patterns with red sticks. Castanets. The recorder. Autoharp. Choir. I loved every second. I signed up for band and got the saxophone... either because all the other instruments were chosen or I had Lisa Simpson on the brain. In middle school I took a keyboard class and wrote my first song.  Coming from a rather musical family, tunes were always blaring in the house, and I had a dad and brothers who played guitar, and a mom and sister who loved to sing and dance. The youngest of them all, I had a natural inclination for music. By the first year of high school, I was teaching myself guitar using tablature from the web and playing in the bathroom before class to take advantage of the natural reverb. I signed up for talent shows, and would get special permission to turn in music projects to fulfill an assignment. The first year out of high school I knew I wanted to pursue music as a career option... but wasn’t exactly sure how or what it would look like.

Q: What are some healthy ways that you maintain a "work/life" balance? You're currently recording a new album. Can you tell us a little about how you are taking care of yourself while under the pressures of recording?
Honestly, in this balls-to-the-wall mode, I can’t feel in control and sane unless I’m exercising and giving my body organic nutrition every day. It helps keep my morale up. I’ve also adopted a reflex of gratitude. It takes conscious effort at first - building those neurological pathways, training your brain to think appreciative thoughts by an intentional offering of thanks as often as I can remember. Whenever something good happens... meeting a new acquaintance, learning something, a productive rehearsal or songwriting session... or on a Meta level, merely being alive, breathing, being in a position of opportunity... I say thank you in my heart and mind constantly. This is especially helpful when I’m feeling defeated or undervalued. To be gracious you must be humble - and that's a good square one to return to. Checking in. Being grateful for the moment in the first place. Reward follows the ethic. Just keep it up. Keep knocking. Keep trying. Do. Be.

Truth of the matter is I don’t feel very balanced at all right now. I’m burning both ends of the stick pretty hard between my job and my music - but, my personality type is such that that's just how it goes. I get immersed, but in a pretty unorganized way... I kind of feel like a pinball bouncing around between tasks - but I get it done somehow. I need the deadline, and then I barrel through and there isn’t much down time. But taking at least an hour on most days, to let my mind quiet by focusing on physical exertion or breath provides some necessary relief.

Q: How important is it for your music or songs to be "perfect?" I know there is pressure from record labels, fans & band mates to make the music "just right." When do you know when a song or album is complete?
This is exactly why I’ve waited to get in the studio. I’ve been writing songs for almost two decades - I could have recorded a couple times over by now but waiting is the best thing I could have done, giving myself time to mature in my songwriting and performance skill. If I had captured anything up until recently, I would have been trying to make up for a mediocre first impression. As I’ve performed over the years, developing a modest fan base, the pressure has been the opposite, ‘Just put it out there!’. If I had followed that advice, I feel like I’d be providing a caveat anytime I sent someone to listen to my music… I already do this with the mere scratch songs that I have available online, most of which are years old.

If I’m putting myself on the map with a debut record, a ‘coming out’ so to speak, it's going to be a professional album that I’m super confident about. This is who I am as an artist. The first impression has to be on point and moving as hell. Enough time has passed that I finally feel like I’m ready to throw down. My guitar and singing chops are up to speed. I’ve developed a sensibility for dynamics, knowing when to utilize restraint, or when to go for the full blown belly moans. My songwriting has grown too - soul music and classic roots and rock have influenced my writing so that the songs are more accessible and universal. I’m excited by what I hear. It feels like all the pieces are there. Knowing a song or body of work is ready is such a visceral determination, and finally I’ve reached a place artistically that I’m confident this record will turn heads.

Q: How do you practice self-care, and is there anything you would change about your routines?
I keep fairly disciplined about my physical activity and about what I eat. Again, it makes me feel like I’m in control, and I know a healthy body is reflective of a healthy spirit and mind. It helps me beat depression and is a good way to practice mind over matter.

Sleep is a tough department. I have insomnia many nights - I just can’t get my internal dialogue to shut off. I have to jot down my thoughts to provide relief. Or I’ll be on some creative kick and stay up til sunrise, or down a metaphysical research rabbit hole. If only I could develop better sleeping habits. I also want to develop a regular schedule for when I go to my practice space - pick certain days/times and get into a rehearsal routine so I can become the bad-ass guitar player I see in myself being.

Q: What are some of your musical inspirations?
I’m so into Old School Country and Roots right now... but I’ve always loved the Blues and that's the foundation for all modern music as we know it. Last year was the Classic Soul and R&B hits. Growing up, it was Classic Rock, Folk and Jazz. All of these influences will be heard on this upcoming record.

The music I live for are those songs that cast a lip-biting, loin shaking hoodoo over you. It gets you in your gut and makes you feel dark and dirty in the best way. This summer I saw Grace Potter open for Willie Nelson and she was full on dripping sexual energy onto the stage. It seriously felt like she wanted to fuck everyone in the audience. Last time I felt that kind of tension and rawness was Allison Mosshart during a Dead Weather performance at First Avenue a couple years ago. Seeing people perform this way is so bad-ass. So unbridled. And the most inspiring thing ever. It's exactly how I see myself making music. But until recently, I haven’t really let my guard down. This summer I started experimenting with ‘going there’ during rehearsal - seeing what comes out of me. Sometimes it's crazy. Sometimes is moving as hell. But not caring is the key. And now my favorite way to play shows is by just letting go. Its undeniably powerful and feels good and therapeutic. I’m excited to explore this territory more.

Q: Do you have another job or career? If so, is your employer understanding of your music career and schedule?
Rock & Roll lifestyles and 7am Board meetings do not mix for me. Years ago I had administrative jobs that were soulless, and I was looking to get out, especially after joining my first bands and really falling in love with music. The service industry appeared to be much more conducive to my creative pursuits with its flexible schedule, so I sought it out... and one day I got a push from the Universe when I was hired for the serving position I’d interviewed for in the same day I was fired from the corporate gig. Thankfully, 6 years later I’m still serving at this intimate venue called the Aster Cafe, and have been entrusted with the live music programming. Not only does this booking role directly inform the business aspect of my career path, and provide valuable networking opportunities, but the owner is a musician himself and has understanding and respect for my pursuits. My goal is to flourish with gigging/touring and music booking alone within two years time, and phase out the serving. I need to save my hands and wrists for playing guitar, not carrying trays. But I’m lucky as hell to have the job that I do. I don’t think I could have one more well suited for my goals right now.

Q: If you have formal school education, how important or influential is it to your current career as a musician?
I went to school for one semester, studying Agricultural Education at the U of M. When it came time to take out loans to continue, I came face to face with the prospect of student debt and decided it would hurt my pursuits more than help them. I didn’t want to be financially tied down in any way. Freedom felt like the most valuable thing. So instead, I got started on real world experience and now I’m in a position where I’m free to take time off and not have to worry about how to meet a never ending monthly payment.

Q: Does your family and/or spouse/partner support you as an artist? If so, what are some of the best ways your loved ones support you?
I’m very blessed with family and friends who are curious about and supportive of my career - they ask questions about what’s next, regularly come to shows, and offer me ideas from things they see other people doing that I might be able to apply.

Q: Do you ever struggle with songwriting or ever experience "writer's block?" If so, what gets you through to be able to create or write music?
I used to wait for inspiration to hit, and then would get down on myself for not being a more prolific writer. I’d write two songs a year with that ‘writers block’ mentality... then I finally understood the intrinsic problem. I began to apply the notion that songwriting is a muscle you either work out, or let atrophy. That’s not to say every song will be great, but the exercise itself is what seems to be key. Within the last 6 months, I’ve written more songs than ever before and its product of work ethic. Jam on a riff. Take the snippet that sounds good. Scat a melody. Choose a theme, or an opening line, and dedicate a session to fleshing it out a while, consistently coming back to it until a solid skeleton is formed.

Q: Why are you a musician? I hear it's a pretty rough gig!
I feel like a conduit. It comes out of me. Rhythm. Lyrics. Melody. I feel responsible to it - a sense of duty to this natural gift. I’m very grateful for it and I believe it is the most universal spiritual medium we have. To me it is Medicine and my calling.

Ben Johnston is a musician and drummer of the Minneapolis "math rock" trio, Self-Evident. He also is the drummer in a band called Lovely Dark, a psychedelic folk influenced indie rock band. I met Ben through his wife Jessica Ellison, who is also a therapist and owner of J. Ellison & Associates in the Twin Cities who specializes in helping teens! I was really excited to interview Ben, knowing that his wife is also a therapist, and he did not disappoint! Check it out and make sure to catch Ben's CD Release Party with Self-Evident this Saturday, December 17th at the 331 Club!

Ben Johnston

Ben Johnston

Q: When did you first know you were a musician?
A: I grew up with music (specifically drums) being an ever-present backdrop to my life. My dad is a drummer and has been playing in rock bands since the late 60's. He started me young and I’ve just always played and been surrounded by other musicians (my parent’s friends). It wasn’t really a question I ever had to ask myself or a choice I really remember making. Drumming has always been something I’ve done as part of my life and has over time, just shifted into a career.

Q: What are some healthy ways that you maintain a "work/life" balance? Can you tell us a little about how you take care of yourself while under the pressures of recording/touring?
A: I struggle, like most of us, to maintain a balance. In my case, it’s a bit tricky because my work and life are so intertwined. I’m currently teaching drums, am writing a column for a drum magazine, promoting my drum books, rehearsing, promoting and booking my band Self-Evident and in some of my free time I need to practice. Good thing I love what I do right? I try to do my best to check out of “musician mode” when spending time with my family. Vacations are a must because it’s the only way I can escape my drums (and even then, I’ll end up looking for a music store or open mic to check out). Tour is tough because I’m away from family, so I get a bit home sick. I do love it though. It can be a challenge to stay healthy because of all the late nights, the couch surfing and the van riding. It takes a few shows to get into “tour mode.” I always end up having a blast but am completely exhausted when I return. Recording is all together a different animal. I really don’t feel pressure in the studio any more. I’ve recorded enough that I know I’m going to be well rehearsed and ready so, I can just sit back and enjoy the process.

Q: You are in 2 different bands [Self Evident and Lovely Dark]. How do you prioritize both groups and keep it all together?
A: Since joining Self-Evident in 2006 it has stayed as my main focus. Any other projects I do fall under the category of “side projects,” at least in my mind. I think Lovely Dark is that way for the majority of its members. We’re all busy with other stuff and don’t really get together that often (even though we have a new record in the can). I’ve never been one to join a ton of groups all at the same time. I like to have a main gig and then if something interests me I can safely make time to contribute.

Q: How important is it for your music or songs to be "perfect?" There can be pressure from record labels, fans & band mates to make the music "just right." How do YOU know when a song or album is complete?
A: We rehearse or asses off until we can play all of our material confidently in the studio and live. If we’re not absolutely sure we can kill a song, then we don’t play it out and we defiantly won’t record it. If it’s not happening in one or two takes in the studio, then something is wrong and we need to step away. Honestly, we pride ourselves on our ability to perform. Most of what you hear on our recordings (other than overdubs) is a single take and we rarely “fix” anything in post-production unless it’s really insignificant.

Q: Who are some of your past & present musical inspirations?
A: My dad was my first inspiration. He was my first teacher. Later I really enjoyed going to music school and gained a ton of inspiration from the wonderful staff at McNally Smith. My students inspire me too. I wouldn’t be the drummer I am today had I not decided to teach. There is so much to learn on the instrument and I really didn’t grasp the complexities until I needed to explain them in simple terms. Learning and teaching are the same for me. It’s all part of one process.

Q: If you have formal school education, how important or influential is it to your current career as a musician?
A: I studied percussion performance at McNally Smith and Recording and Production at IPR. I got a lot out of school and had a really positive experience especially in the drum program at McNally. The teachers over there are top notch and I still keep in touch with some of them. As for helping my career, I suppose having an education or even name dropping some of my instructors has gotten my foot into a few doors, but what was really valuable was how working with such a great staff really influenced the way that I approach my own teaching practice. Having so many diverse instructors and a wide variety of course material made it easier to jump into teaching private lessons with confidence.

Q: What are some of the best ways your loved ones support you?
A: My parents have supported my pursuit of being a professional drummer since the beginning. Even at time when I wasn’t sure I had what it took they were there to tell me to keep on going. My wife is always giving me positive reinforcement and helping me through the tough times. I couldn’t do it without her. She keeps me in check and saves me from myself on a daily basis.

Q: Do you ever struggle with songwriting or experience "writer's block?" If so, what pushes you through to be able to create or write music?
A: Sometimes, but I’m always playing, teaching and learning so I almost always have fresh material to draw from. I think “writer’s block” is more likely to happen if you’re not constantly moving forward. If you have no “new” experiences, then it’s hard to be inspired to create something that sounds fresh.

Q: How important is self-confidence and self-esteem in your musical career? What are some ways you protect yourself from feeling too down or low?
A: Confidence is huge. The hardest moments of being a musician have been experienced in my moments where I was feeling the least confidant. Whether it be while performing, teaching, writing or recording, if you are not feeling confident then it’s really hard to perform well. You get stuck in your own head and self-doubt just creates a downward spiral. My cure for improving my self-esteem is to practice, practice, practice. If you know the material and are well rehearsed you can focus your attention outward. You can escape your own head.

Q: Why are you a musician? I hear it's a pretty rough gig?
A: No choice. If I didn’t play I’d be an awful person. Music saves my life every day.

Thanks so much again to Hannah and Ben for their time, talent and vulnerability in sharing their musician self care journeys with us. Make sure to check them out at an upcoming show and that you are thinking of all the wonderful ways that you can care for yourself over the Holidays!

If you or someone you know who is a musician and is struggling with self care this Holiday season, please call me at 952-892-8433 for a free 15 minute phone consultation to see if we may be a good fit. I am in network with most major insurances except for Health Partners and UCare.


Loving A Musician: Secrets For Staying Together When You're On The Road

If you or someone you love is a performing artist or musician, the following guest post by Megan Bearce is right up your alley! Megan is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, author and a much sought-after speaker in the Twin Cities. She and I met a few years ago at a Minnesota Association for Marriage & Family Therapy conference and have been connecting and collaborating on how to help support our artistic community. Her book: Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When Your Job Keeps You Apart, outlines practical and realistic ways for loved ones to connect after periods of time apart.

Being a performer and musician myself, I can personally relate to Megan's book and her research. After playing a show with one of my bands or DJ'ing a wedding, it can be difficult to reintegrate back into "normal life". Why should I have to do dishes, laundry or take the car in for an oil change on 'gig day'? Time for a massive ego-check, Brian! Using mindfulness as a performer can help alleviate some of those negative thoughts that we may have on gig day. It can also help bring us "back to reality" after a performance.

I hope you enjoy the following guest post by Megan Bearce and feel free to reach out to her if you are looking for specialized support!

And being apart ain't easy on this love affair."- “Faithfully”, Journey

Leave it to Journey to express, verse after verse, the difficulties of being a musician in love. Long stretches of time apart from friends and loved ones is the norm for not only U2 and Mumford and Sons, but also for bands trying to make it big. How do artists and their crew maintain healthy relationships when touring and in the studio? I’ll share a few tips for managing life on the road and even more critical, that challenging time when you finally return home.

After my husband began a weekly super commute between Minneapolis and NYC, I was looking for guidance myself. I decided to begin interviewing people for what became my book, Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart. One man described returning home, the re-entry period, as a huge lesson for him.

“When I walk in the door, I am no longer a rock star. When I’m on the road I don’t have to clean up after myself. People take me out to dinner and wine and dine me… At home I’m an average Joe… Sometimes it can take a while to shift back into domestic mode.”  

Echoing these sentiments, Ali Hewson, the wife of Bono, candidly described experiences common for all types of couples living this lifestyle in an interview with More magazine. She revealed the complexity of reuniting after a tour kept them apart for the majority of 18 months.

“It can be really difficult to re-adjust to having someone living back in the house. I can't help thinking, 'What are you doing in my bed?'…or 'Why are you leaving your clothes all over my house?' Bono always says that he feels like a bit of litter around the house, that I just want to tidy him away. It is very hard for him to come back home and say, 'Yeah, I'm normal.' He wants to climb on the table at 11 o'clock every night and try to perform! He's wondering where are the 50,000 people. We sort of laugh at it now."

Several people I interviewed both in and out of the entertainment industry shared similar sentiments and went on to talk about how they make it a point to really BE together when they are reunited. They didn’t take it for granted. If you find you or your spouse are struggling to stay connected or reconnect, the following strategies (with a little prompting from Journey) can help:

Return Ritual

And lovin' a music man
Ain't always what it's supposed to be”

After a therapy session, therapists will often engage in a ritual to ground and refocus, something as simple as washing their hands or a quick walk.  It’s about transition to something new.  When returning home after a month long tour or a late night gig, what could you do?  Some people like a few minutes of quiet, others like a big hug from their loved ones.  Maybe it’s as simple as taking off your shoes and putting on a favorite pair of slippers.  You can encourage your loved ones to pick their own rituals as well.

Whatever you do to signal, “I’m home”, remind yourself that it is a transition for everyone and a few bumps along the way are not unusual. Shifting from late nights and that post performance adrenaline rush to living back at home where your spouse or kids wake up at 7am is not easy on anyone! Some people might feel a let down, wondering, “Where do I fit in?” or “They don’t really need me.” A quick update on what might have changed, bedtimes for example, also help blend the family together again more smoothly.


Oh, girl, you stand by me”
Assumptions can get people in trouble, so open dialogue about what life is like for both of you can be instrumental in keeping harmony in the relationship.  The partner at home might assume life is all parties and groupies when their musician partner is away, while the musician misses out on day to day events both big and small, and may be sleeping in dumpy hotels and eating yet another meal of craft service pretzels and Red Bull.  Another easy way to connect?  Ask each other, “How are you doing?”, before you start your conversation.  Early in a relationship you might be able to go on the road together, but if you have children or full-time jobs or aging parents that also need attention, it’s easy to feel alone in the trenches and overwhelmed.  And this goes both ways. Classic rock is filled with songs about the difficulties of touring.  Does your partner know about the hard parts you experience?

Self care

We all need the clowns
To make us smile”

Yes. I know. It’s “shocking” that a therapist would suggest self-care, but it is vital to your health and the health of your relationship. What it might look like is different for each person. Some people love running, others enjoy yoga or biking. It’s more than that though. Diet, hydration, sleep, meditation, self-talk, and the energy of those surrounding you can all influence your well-being. What can you add or change to manage the stress in your life? 

Trust and Independence

“Two strangers learn to fall in love again”
Not everyone can make this type of relationship work. Successful couples reported trust, respect, and communication as their secrets to longevity. You may hear people say your relationship isn’t “real” if you are apart so often. I beg to differ. How do you spend your time together and apart? Do you support each other's goals? What are the expectations each of you have? My interviewees discussed how their attitude about their situation really set the tone for their relationship and many expressed how they enjoy the freedom and independence that time apart allows.

The ambiguity of a life where being physically separated is the norm, a mandate of one's career, isn't always easy, but it is possible to be apart AND be in love! How do you stay connected with loved ones? Feel free to share below or on Twitter with @commutercouples.

Megan Bearce is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who specializes in supporting commuter couples and perfectionists. She is also a speaker and the author of Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When Your Job Keeps You Apart. In her free time she enjoys dining at the amazing restaurants Minneapolis is home to, traveling, live music, and photography.


Trump, Teens and Telling the Truth. Why authenticity really matters - Plus a guest post by Jessica Ellison

Rest In Peace - Leonard Cohen
"I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah..."

Brian here. Finally, after 108 years of waiting, my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. The curse was lifted, Steve Bartman was forgiven and the billy goat was laid to rest. One week later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. The morning after the election, I asked my wife no less than three times if she was being truthful with me regarding the results. I could tell by her sour mood and flustered facial expression that she was not joking. It almost felt as if someone had cruelly stripped my Chicago Cubs of their World Series victory and it was all a dream. But alas, it is not.

As I sit here writing this post, I am well aware of my position in society. I am a privileged white male. I come from a lower middle class background, and my parents worked blue collar jobs. I learned the value of hard work and commitment. They did what they could and I was able to attend private schools because of their sacrifice (and over ten thousand of dollars of student loans).

There is no way that I could even begin to know or understand what it is like to be a minority in this country. I very briefly felt a sense of that when I lived with a host family in Mexico City for a semester in 1997 while in college. My life never felt threatened and I most always felt safe. Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle sums it up pretty well here in his recent monologue on Saturday Night Live...

I don't know where I was going with all of this but it really felt good to write. I hope it feels good for you to write too. I hope you continue to create art, make music and make love. Please don't stop making love. Because then we would become extinct, and no one wants that. I encourage you to practice really good self care and to lay off all of those Oreos. I admit I have been emotionally eating quite a bit lately! Many people, including myself, have been experiencing some level of grief. Traditionally, there are five stages of grief that occur and you might find yourself stuck in one of the stages as you read this. My hope is that you be gentle with yourself and be patient with your own grieving process. Have you heard to Yoko Ono's "primal scream" yet? It's quite powerful and most likely a part of her own unique grieving process.

Lately I have been asked what people can do to get involved and to make our world and community a better place. I remember the quote: "think globally, act locally" and invite you to consider getting involved in your neighborhood, local community, school board, professional organization or Big Brothers/Big Sisters. They are awesome & what better time to teach our children well than right NOW!

Full disclosure: I am not a parent of a teenager (more on that in a forthcoming post) but I have worked with hundreds of teens and families in my 18-year career in social services. Teens need loving adults who will listen without judgement. I do know how hard it is to keep my mouth shut and just listen. I mean, really and actively listen.

This week, it is an honor to introduce Jessica Ellison, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of J. Ellison and Associates, Inc. in Burnsville, Minnesota. I asked her to write a guest post about her work with teenagers and adolescents and she did not disappoint! Not only is her article highly geared to fellow clinicians working with teens, but there is also great takeaway information for parents/guardians. Much like me, Jessica absolutely loves helping teenagers navigate the murky and turbulent waters of adolescence filled with hot hormones, peer pressure, enormous expectations, tempting technology and many other devilish delights.

Jessica's office is just a few miles away from mine in Burnsville, MN. After a personal tour, it is very cool and comforting to see her office full of art, music and artifacts from world travels. Her passion is connecting with teenagers to they feel comfortable enough to share their feelings. That's what it's all about! If a teenager doesn't TRUST you, they will not share information. And much like me, Jessica has a unique ability to use her knowledge about pop culture, music and games to break down that basic level of communication.

Without further adieu, I proudly present to you... Jessica Ellison!

"In the beginning…

I have seven seconds to make or break the connection with my potential new teen client. They’ve probably already made up their mind before I can even get a word out. I think it helps that I look younger than I am, but that won’t last forever!  It’s a lot of pressure and I’m usually feeling a healthy mixture of excited and anxious to meet them and their families. Most likely they would rather be somewhere else besides my office, so I try hard to make it as bearable as possible. One of the first things I let my adolescent clients know is that being a teenager is hard. I remember how lonely it can feel. Hormones are real and can have a tremendous impact on how we perceive, react, and behave. I experienced this grand phenomenon recently having been pregnant in 2015.

Something else I do is acknowledge they may be uncertain and hesitant to be open and honest with an adult, let alone a stranger. I try to be an open and honest individual and I believe it allows me to be seen as real and teens get that. Adolescents are very good at telling when someone isn’t being real or genuine. One of the ways I do this is to include them in the whole intake process; signing documents, answering questions, the whole shebang. I let teens know that I am on their team. My job is to keep everything private and everyone safe. That means I won’t share anything with parents, guardians, teachers, or anyone else without telling them first. I have a conversation with teens about why I think it’s necessary and a good idea to share information with other adults who can help and become teammates. I really mean this too. Teens already have their peers and maybe even other adults talking about them behind their back, we don’t need to add to that.

I want to empower teens and teach them how to have those difficult conversations, so many times I give them the option of how they want the information disclosed; I can disclose the information with them present, they can share the information with me present, or I can disclose the information without them present. Something very important I do is I let teens know that I make mistakes, just like everyone else, including other adults. I encourage them to let me know when I fuck up so I can apologize and try to repair the damage done. Oh yeah - I swear... a lot! I try to remember to ask permission first of course, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, but I do have a mouth that would make a sailor blush.

Like sands through the hour glass…

The client is back. Things went well first session and they’re ready to try it out! I feel like most of the time teens don’t feel like they have much of a choice or control in their lives. They experience that existential pull between being a kid and being an adult. It’s like the ultimate GRAY ZONE of our development. In my office I give teens the power to make choices and control of what we work on together in session. We figure out what they think would be helpful to work towards; we set up realistic goals and everyday actions that they can start right away in order to reach those goals.

Sometimes it is important to get input from significant figures in the teen’s life such as parents, guardians, teachers, etc. However, I feel most of the time teens themselves come up with awesome goals and ideas of how to get there. They are more likely to really engage in the process if it’s something they came up with themselves versus having someone stuff something down their throat because it’s good for them. I do encourage teens to challenge and push themselves when it’s helpful to get a little bit closer to where they want to be. I also try to support and understand that change is difficult and takes time. I let my time and work with teens happen organically, by this I mean I don’t force an agenda and instead try to understand where they are at and how they would like things to be different. Together we figure out how that can come to be.

I strongly believe in teaching all of my clients, but especially teens (for brain development and hormonal reasons), helpful coping skills and distress tolerance skills. For those times for when our emotions feel overwhelming and we can feel like life is getting out of control.  I wholeheartedly believe in the power of Mindfulness. Learning to live in the moment without judgement. Allowing ourselves to be present and to experience all that life has to give. I encourage my clients to find things that they are grateful for. Find things that are AMAZING to them or things that FASCINATE and INSPIRE AWE. We need to make sure we are taking good care, I mean real fucking good CARE of ourselves. I love to do the “life balance” wheel with teens. It’s not surprising how lop-sided it is... I’d be happy to tell you about how the “life balance” wheel works if you don’t already know and use it. This allows for everyone to see where we need to focus our attention in therapy.

The elephant in the room…

My approach or style may not be what some parents or guardians are used to when it comes to working with adolescents. Sometimes parents want to force their agenda onto the therapy. Sometimes they have a specific goal they’d like their child to work on. I’m certainly not saying I don’t welcome the input, I do, it can be helpful. However, if my client believes I am working for the parent or guardian, and not them, I have already done a disservice to my client and possibly have stunted the development of the therapeutic relationship. I also want to make it clear to parents or guardians that I can’t fix people, that’s not how therapy works. Change needs to come from within and that can take time. I have been lucky to have witnessed some amazing transformations in my clients’ lives and in their relationships. Some in a relatively short amount of time. But I do know in all cases it took a lot of work and navigating some tough challenges. The energy and drive to get that work done and get through those challenges all came from within the individual.

Get to the point…

I’ll be honest. I don’t always read the whole article or the entire blog.  Who has time for that, right? If there are bold words or bullets points, I’m in. If there is a list, even better. So here it is:

Top 10 things to think about when you’re working with teens in a therapeutic relationship:

1.      Acknowledge. It’s fucking hard being a teenager, and most likely, it’s extra hard for this kid because They. Are. Here. At. Your. Office.

2.     Be real. Be genuine. Teens have a knack for calling BULLSHIT.

3.     Include the teen client in everything. The intake, treatment planning, and disclosures. They already have people talking behind their back and making plans for them. You don’t need to add to that list.

4.    Apologize. We all make mistakes and likely, you WILL make a mistake with your client.  Admit it. Model what an apology looks like. Move forward. Teens need to see this modeled in healthy way.

5.     Swear. (Or not. I do.)

6.     Challenge them. They’ll appreciate it later.

7.     Teach them Distress tolerance skills and Coping skills. They need this for their hormonal still developing prefrontal lobes. Simple as that.

8.     Teach them real SELF-CARE. (Even though you might be saying “They are already little selfish ass holes”…) You need it, they need it, I need it, we all need self-care.

9.     Advocate for your client. Just like you would advocate for any of your adult clients. They need respect just like any other individual.

Change comes from within. Chances are, if you are reading this you already know and believe this. This is just a friendly reminder to all of us to be realistic with our expectations about our clients and the work we do. If parents or guardians truly believe we have a magic want and can fix their child, we are all in big trouble. Change needs to happen organically. Change is hard. And we can inspire change that counts for our clients and for their loved ones."

Jessica is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner at J. Ellison and Associates, Inc. located south of the river in Burnsville, MN. Following in her father's footsteps she runs a solo private practice and is passionate about helping children, teens and families navigate their way through difficult times. She has tattoos that you can't see and holes in here face where piercings once were. She's a nerd about brains and science fiction. She's an artist, a mother, a wife and a lover of life. She is currently taking new clients and promises not to swear the first time she meets you! Please contact Jessica if you have any questions or would like a consultation. She accepts private pay and is also in network with Medica, Medical Assistance and Optum.

Brian here back with you - Wasn't that a great article? So much helpful information and tips on working with teenagers! Just a quick reminder that I am also currently have openings in my schedule for seeing new clients and I offer a free 15-minute phone consult to see if we're a good fit for each other. I accept private pay and am in network with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Medica, Optum, Preferred One and UBH. I am very excited to be in the development stages of hosting a relationship support group for women who are married to or dating men who would appreciate a professional male perspective. I have been learning that this is a much needed service in our community. More details coming soon - please stay tuned and have a wonderful week!

Creative Conversations: Turning Up To 11 With Music and Mental Wellness

There are many people to thank for my following blog post. First, to Sarah Souder-Johnson, for asking me to write about my experience as a therapist who works with performing artists. She is co-founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of Dissonance, a Minnesota non-profit organization that helps support artists through education and resources. And a huge thanks to the two musicians who shared thoughts on their personal journeys throughout the music scene and how mental wellness plays into their lives.

Like many musicians, I live and breathe music. Every morning I wake up with a song in my head. I’m in two different bands myself and I listen to music in my car, in my office, with my clients, and when I DJ weddings (I also own a wedding business on the side). And as the day closes, I’ll usually drift off to sleep with the theme song from Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” gradually fading out inside my mildly ringing eardrums. For me, that’s a very relaxing way to end the day.

As a therapist, I am very curious and often joke that I get paid to ask really dumb or obvious questions. I am curious about how other artists take care of themselves when the world at times seems to be imploding on us. I am curious about how performing artists create when they are “blocked” or are living with crippling self-doubt in their talents and abilities. And I am extremely curious about WHY musicians write and perform music. What is the motivation or drive? Is it external motivation such as fame or money? Is it recognition among peers and family? Or is it an internal drive to create something new to the world - something that would not otherwise exist if not for them putting pen to paper, pick to guitar, lips to mouthpiece?

I am also curious about how musicians and other artists maintain healthy balance within the creative scene and how they are supported by friends, families and collaborators.

The creative life comes with some unique stresses. And there's truth to the stereotypical “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle, which poses obvious challenges to wellness. Indeed, substance use problems are relatively common within the artist community. Co-occurring mental health issues are prevalent as well. Hence my curiosity about how artists can and do stay well.

I’ve learned a lot from resources like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a superb book recommended my own former therapist. I’ve also learned from and been inspired by the stories of people like Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who, in a recent Rolling Stone article, discussed his struggles with substance use and how he finally was able to reach out for help. Thankfully, more artists are opening up about their efforts to be well.

I recently checked in with two Minnesota musicians – Holly Hansen and Justin Bell – to discuss their perspectives on creativity and wellness. Big thanks to them for their time, energy, honesty and vulnerability.


Holly is the former lead singer/songwriter for Zoo Animal and is currently writing and recording as a solo artist. Although Holly and I have never met and I’ve never seen her perform, we struck up a conversation after she posted this question on her Facebook page: “How does an artist not feel guilty?” Her comment stood out to me, and I needed to learn more. You can also listen to her inspiring interview with Andrea Swenson, host of the “OK Show” on 89.3 FM The Current, and watch a documentary about Holly’s history and development as an artist on Pioneer Public Television.

Q: When did you first realize you were a musician?

A: Hmmmmm, I'm not sure. I feel like it all just kind of happened. And yet, I'm still not sure I am one.

Q: What are some healthy ways that you maintain a "work/life" balance?

A: I used to be horrible at this. Now I am super picky about what I agree to do. I also make sure i have at least one whole day every couple of weeks that has nothing scheduled. I need time where I can just float, I've learned that.

Q: How important is it for your music or songs to be "perfect?" I know there is pressure from record labels, fans & band mates to make the music "just right." When do you know when a song or album is complete?

A: I actually struggle to care about perfection. I am a big idea person, so the details can be exhausting to me. I do care about them though, although I often find the best details are things that happened without effort. I like to work in a loose structure and let the details fall where they may.

Q: How do you practice self-care, and is there anything you would change about your routines?

A: I make sure to get enough sleep, eat greens whenever I can, and try to scoop out some meditative time in each day.

Q: What are some of your musical inspirations?

A: Everything always. Music is the way I process everything I experience. Are there certain artists that get you excited about being a musician? Always changing, but at the moment... Aphex Twin, Jenn Wasner, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Curtis Mayfield, Lijadu Sisters, PJ Harvey, Kanye West, William Basinski, Tsegue Mariam Gebru, Angel Olsen, Bill Callahan, 2 Chainz, Nina Simone.

Q: Do you have another job or career? If so, is your employer understanding of your music career and schedule?

A: Yes and very much so.

Q: How important was your formal school education to your current career as a musician?

A: I have a sound art degree, from MCTC (Minneapolis Community and Technical College). It has been very, very helpful. Love that place, it's a great school.

Q: Does your family and/or spouse/partner support you as an artist? If so, what are some of the best ways your loved ones support you?

A: Yes, she is very supportive. Helps me stay calm about money. Doesn't make me feel guilty when I spend money on gear that I find inspiring. Doesn't make me feel guilty when I hide away for hours making weird noises.

Q: Do you ever struggle with songwriting or ever experience "writer's block?" If so, what gets you through to be able to create or write music?

A: Yes. So far in my life, my lyric writing comes in three-month purges; then there is a two- to three-year waiting period. Luckily I feel like there's always enough material to always be making something if I feel like it. What helps? Listening to other music, reading books, experiencing something new, listening to lectures.

Q: Why are you a musician? I hear it's a pretty rough gig!

A: It is. That's why I work a day job.


Justin is a singer/songwriter and the frontman of j.bell & the Lazy Susan Band. He is currently in the process of releasing a new album, “Underneath A Minnesota Moon.” Full disclosure here … I am in two different bands with Justin, and we share more than 20 years of personal and professional history. It was great to sit down with him and have a lengthy conversation about music and mental wellness.

Q: When did you first realize you were a musician?

A: I started playing violin when I was 4. Not sure if you could call that being a musician … but I knew then that I wanted to make noise on instruments. I played a bunch of instruments as a kid, but everything changed when I got a guitar. My uncle Rick was a guitarist in a band, and the way he talked about playing music was always captivating to me. I love talking to other musicians about music and about instruments and gear.

Q: What are some healthy ways that you maintain a "work/life" balance?

A: I am an anxious person by nature. I always have to have as many irons in the fire as possible. I get very antsy if I sit around too long without doing something. So I’m probably the wrong person to ask this of. Because for me, it’s a matter of having enough things going on to keep me interested moment by moment.

Q: How important is it for your music or songs to be "perfect?" I know there is pressure from record labels, fans & band mates to make the music "just right." When do you know when a song or album is complete?

A: I don’t think they’re ever perfect, and sometimes songs have to age. I have songs that I’ve been playing for 10 years that I am just now figuring out how to play. You can continue to tweak forever if you want to. I like to try and capture the essence of a song, get it out there into the universe and let it become what it’s going to become. That can be frustrating when listening back to older records and thinking, “I wish we would have recorded that the way we perform it now.” Some of that comes from being an independent band with day jobs too. You can’t spend all the time you want to rehearsing/recording/perfecting. You have a finite amount of time, and you have to make it count.

Q: How do you practice self-care, and is there anything you would change about your routines?

A: I suffered most of my life from pretty severe insomnia, and I think that caused a good deal of the other problems I had as a teenager and young adult. I would frequently stay awake for days at a time or sleep only a couple of hours a night. I tried embracing that by working extra overnight jobs or being productive during that time, but it was just a bad scene. Nowadays, I sleep pretty normally and get six or seven hours a night. Because of that, I feel better now than perhaps I ever have. Exercise is the key to that for me. When I exercise regularly, I sleep better, I eat better, I focus better - everything is just better.

Q: What are some of your musical inspirations? Are there certain artists that get you excited about being a musician?

A: I’ve always had a hard time fitting into a genre or style, or describing my music to other people in a meaningful way. So I’m drawn to other artists that have the same kind of deal. My favorite band is Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers. They became my favorite band when I read on one of their album covers, “This ain’t country like Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett ain’t country.” That really spoke to me because I feel like I like that style, but you can’t tell most people that you like country music because you get bombarded with what is called country music now (Modern Country or “Bro Country”), and I really don’t like or relate to that. I also have a lot of Minnesota roots, so Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, the Replacements (and Paul Westerberg’s solo work) and Golden Smog are a big part of where I come from and what I consume. I recently got to meet one of my musical heroes, and he listened to our “$80 Whiskey” album. He said, “There’s a lot of Jayhawks in there. Even the harder rock stuff has Jayhawks flavor.” I said, “I grew up here. I can’t help it.” I’ve also been obsessed with a few bands lately that make me want to keep writing and playing: Shovels & Rope, Dawes, the Old 97s.

Q: Do you have another job or career? If so, is your employer understanding of your music career and schedule?

A: Yes, a few! They don’t really affect each other, but all of that is time management. I’m a firm believer that if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it. I hate when people use phrases like “free time,” or say “I don’t have time for that,” because in my experience, people do what they want to do and are willing to work for. The rest is mostly excuses. Too often, I think people expect things to be placed in front of them in a perfect little package, when most of the time it’s going to take some work, and it’s a matter of priorities and OWNING your priorities. “Oh, I can’t practice 2 hours a day.” Well, you CAN, but you prefer to prioritize other things, and that’s different, and perfectly valid. But don’t talk about it like it’s out of your control.

Q: How important was your formal school education to your current career as a musician?

A: It helps in a few ways. My knowledge and comfort with music theory helps things move faster and makes it easier to communicate with other players and producers. I don’t have the ear that some of the other guys in the band do, so if I had to figure everything out by trial and error, it would take a long time. I know what harmony parts are supposed to be without having to try them out for 20 minutes first. I also can’t stress enough how much my improvisation training and experience helps. There’s a certain amount of “just go with the flow” that the guys in our band have that other bands don’t. We rehearse, but not as much as other bands do, and I credit our jazz & improv background there. Like Tom (Adams – Lazy Susan Band bassist) has said, this band can get to 80 percent of new songs in about two dry runs. Many other bands rehearse over and over and over again to get there. I actually credit my improvisation background with some of my success in other areas of my life too. I am frequently credited with my ability to think on my feet or “wing it” in any situation. I think that comes from studying jazz. You get a lead sheet, a basic structure of a song, and then you just go for it, and what happens … happens. I’m always surprised at how many people aren’t comfortable with that. I do a good amount of public speaking, and often someone will ask, “Did you write out and practice a speech? Do you have your speech memorized?” And I’ll say, “Nah, I’m just going to talk for a while.” That really surprises some people. I don’t need to see everything and have everything worked out to do something or feel comfortable. If I see the basic structure (real life lead sheet), I’m fine jumping in.

Q: What are some of the best ways your loved ones support you?

A: Having a supportive partner is such a crucial thing for someone like me or any artist/musician really. Someone who understands that it is a part of who you are, and a GOOD part of who you are. But logistically too. Someone who gets that this is not a regular hobby or pasttime. It means being gone for stretches of time. It means being distracted for stretches of time. When you are preparing a new album or getting ready for a big show, you need to spend maybe several nights a week focusing on that, especially if you have another job and other responsibilities. I am very lucky in that department, and I have a wife that does support that part of my/our life. I think she understands (and always has) that this is a huge part of the person I am, and without it, I wouldn’t be the person she loves. Also, it’s part of what makes me a good husband and father. That’s certainly not to say it isn’t hard at times, because it is. I’m at an age where people I know are starting to get divorced and, personally, I see some pretty clear patterns. One of those patterns is simply creating a perfect environment for resentment. For example, people who don’t do anything outside of their job and family because they honestly feel like they should prioritize that with ALL of their time and focus - they seem to miss allowing for an outlet or room to grow into a better and more fulfilled person FOR your family. I’ll never be able to say that my loved ones and partner didn’t support me and music. I’ll never be able to say that I didn’t do something that I wanted to do because of my wife. Because she’s always understood that about me. I assume that is probably pretty rare and that most musicians and artists don’t have that. I try not to take it for granted, but I’m sure I do from time to time.

Q: I know you had some "writer's block." What got you through and got you "unstuck" to be able to create your new album?

A: That was brutal for me. I went almost seven years without writing something I liked. It was a dark time, and I didn’t feel like me. I tried forcing it, and the result was some of the worst musical ideas anyone has ever heard. There are probably several factors that contributed to the end of the dry spell, but I really think about two primary things that snapped me out of it:

1) I started playing with $2 Bill Turner (organ & piano player in the Lazy Susan Band). He and I started playing duo shows, and he was sort of new to playing in bands. He was excited about everything and wasn’t jaded like the rest of us about everything related to performing. Playing with him got me excited about gigging again and really made me want to write new material. Plus, the Hammond B3 organ is my favorite instrument and having someone who wants to be in your band that can play it was a good motivator to do something. 2) Simple, but powerful jealousy. During my dry spell, I had worked on becoming a better producer and engineer, and built a home studio. My good friend and songwriter Sarah VanValkenburg let me produce her first album when neither of us knew what we were doing. By the time I had talked her into letting me produce her second album, I had become a significantly better producer, and she had become a significantly better writer and performer. We started getting really great sounds, and her record was sounding fantastic. Although I was at the time, and am still now, very proud of that record (Guitar Picks & Bottle Caps), I was insanely jealous. If we could make her songs sound this good, why can’t I be making MY songs sound this good? I was thinking about Sarah growing as a writer and player, getting better and better. And I couldn’t help but think that, at best, I was fading, and at worst, I was just finished. I think that was really the turning point. Shortly after that, I had one song (Ricky & Randy) just sort of fall out of me in about 10 minutes one day, and the juices started flowing again and haven’t really stopped since.

Q: Why are you a musician? I hear it's a pretty rough gig!

A: It’s not really a choice. It’s something I have to do. It’s a big part of who I am, and I’m not sure who I’d be without it … but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like that guy.

Brian Zirngible is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist as well as an actively working musician and performer. His passion and specialty is helping other musicians and creative artists live a more peaceful and balanced life. Clients find it helpful that he understands and is currently living with some of the challenges in the entertainment industry.

PARENTS: 5 Things To Talk To Your Kids About This School Year - Guest Blog by Heather Roulliard, MA

Hello and welcome to autumn - time to break out the Happy Lights! Today, I am very happy to share a guest blog by a good friend, mother, fellow music lover and Twin Cities therapist colleague, Heather Roulliard. Turns out, we love and listen to some of the same bands! Heather has her Master's Degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Argosy University and specializes in helping parents, military families and is trained in EMDR and Mindfulness. She is a psychotherapist at Water's Edge Counseling & Healing Center in Burnsville, Minnesota and also provides collocated services at Eagan and Eastview High Schools.

If you're a parent, you probably have already launched your child into school a few weeks ago. Whether you send your child off to a school down the block, across town or if your child attends school at home, our hope is that Heather's pro tips will help minimize the anxiety, frustration and headaches that often coincide with the beginning of a new school year. Thanks so much for visiting my website and I hope you enjoy the changing of the seasons! Take good care!  -Brian

Guest Blog by Heather Roulliard, MA
I have worked with teenagers for a few years now, and somehow, the beginning of the school year causes me anxiety too. Bottom line, school is stressful. Kiddos have to worry about their social life, their appearance, sports, if their friends are in their class, etc. Oh yeah, AND school. I wouldn’t want to relive it all again and I had a fairly easy going family and school schedule. I was trained at looking at things from a systemic lens. I often sit with families for mental health assessments and ask a whole lot of questions that people normally don't get asked from a stranger. I sat back and thought about some of the most unspoken topics I see with families, kiddos and parents. Parents, it is not that fact that you don’t know about these topics, but that you just do not realize how often they are coming up or how important they are to those kiddos in your life.

I put together a quick list of 5 things I encourage you to talk to your kiddos with prior to school starting (or at anytime for that matter). There is a cheesy billboard that I read every time I drive home from my parents house in Northern Minnesota and it is a picture of a couple of kids from the 80’s and the sign reads, “Parents! Talk to us!” I have no idea who funds the billboard, but I always thought it was silly. I came from a family where we talked about everything. And, I realize more and more in family sessions that this is not always the case in other families. So, I hope this short list can pave the way for more in depth conversations in the future. It doesn’t have to a be a lecture, or something you did research on - it just has to be talked about.

1. Urgh - BULLIES - There is not a single intake that I complete where a kid mentions they have never been bullied. Ever. I am still shocked by that. It makes me sad that it is happening way too frequently. I could sit here and talk about the reason, and big picture, but this is so individual for every client. Were they ever bullied? If so, what did it happen? How did it affect them then? How does it affect them now? Are they still bothering you? The Center for Anti Bullying has some awesome tips and tricks and contact information if you want to learn more. But, some kids even need someone to explain to them what an actual bully does. And, sadly, that this needs to be normalized.

2. Mental Health - What is anxiety? Depression? Do you know the answer as a parent? Talking about symptoms of mental illness minimizes the stigma of mental illness tremendously. It is a difficult topic to bring up, but another necessary one. If parents can feel comfortable about talking about this topic, then kids can feel comfortable asking you for help. More and more schools are embracing the mental health support in your school. Check the school site or talk to your school administration for more information. Several mental health agencies can also work with schools to help get the school to change the student’s schedule, or personalize an IEP/504 plan.

3. What are your expectations & goals - What are some or your expectations as a parent for the remainder of the school year? Do you expect your kiddo to get his learner permit AND start taking Spanish? Is there a short term and long term goal? Try talking about that. What are some goals and expectations that your kiddo has for themselves? What do they have of you? Is there a difference in short term vs. long term goals? Do they have separate personal and educational goals? Help them define them and start thinking. Maybe put together a vision board to get started.

4. Have a back up plan when nothing is working. You are feeling stuck mid school year and don’t feel like you can talk to your kiddo. What are some signs they can give you that it’s okay to talk? Maybe a sign that they need a break for a few days but have to come full circle for 72 hours to check-in, etc.

5. Have some fun! At the end of the day, they are kids, and this is life. If things change or something unexpected happens, adjustments will need to be made. Be sure to incorporate some fun, give them space to be kiddos, and be present in those moments with them. Way too often I hear parents talking about how their kids grew up way too fast and they wished they would have enjoyed more of their time together. No time like the present. And, being mindful is the best way to handle all those intense emotions.

Heather can be reached at Water's Edge Counseling at 952.898.5020 and info@watersedgechc.com

The Uncertain Relationship

I am a huge fan of reciprocity. Scratching someone else's back when they've scratched yours. Give and take. Sharing and giving. Being involved in many therapy communities around the globe has given me the good fortune of virtually meeting some pretty amazing therapists. Cindy Norton from Asheville, North Carolina was kind enough to ask me to write a guest blog for her website at AVL Couples Therapy. I returned the favor by asking her to write a post about modern relationships and how couples can not only survive, but thrive in today's landscape filled with technology, distractions and temptations.

Cindy provided a thoughtful piece including references to couples therapy expert, John Gottman, former indie band stalwarts The Civil Wars and an excellent book recommendation for How To Survive The Loss of a Love. Enjoy Cindy's guest post and consider reaching out to her if you are in need of counseling services in the Asheville, North Carolina area!

Guest post written by Cindy Norton, MS, NCC, LAMFT

Veering From The Norm
This post is a little different from the norm. I usually write about fun weekend activities for couples, give inspiration for healthy relationships, and provide research-based information to aid couples in improving their partnership.

Today I’m going to talk about that experience in relationships that makes you sick to your stomach, doubt your choice in mate, and feel otherwise torn and confused. You know. THAT feeling.

Do You Know The Civil Wars?
First of all, let me introduce you to The Civil Wars, a musical duo who performed together from 2008-2014. They have a hauntingly beautiful sound and, by looking at their lyrics, they know quite a bit about the emotional back and forth that can sometimes plague relationships. Fittingly, they go back and forth with their lines in the lyrics.

Here are two songs, Poison And Wine and Birds Of A Feather, along with their videos. Take time to read and listen to the lyrics. For example, in the song Poison And Wine, John Paul sings the line, “You only know what I want you to”; while Joy follows with, “I know everything you don’t want me to.” They sing together, “I don’t love you, but I always will.” Pretty powerful stuff!

Poison And Wine
You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I don't love you, but I always will
I always will

I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back
The less I give, the more I get back
Oh, your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don't have a choice but I still choose you

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I always will

Video: https://youtu.be/fNlxKH9Jtmc

In the song Birds Of A Feather the back and forth is still present, with the indication of distress in the relationship; however, there appears to be a determination to stay together.

Birds Of A Feather
Where she walks, no flowers bloom
He's the one I see right through
She's the absinthe on my lips
The splinter in my fingertips
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?
She the sea I'm sinkin' in
He's the ink under my skin
Sometimes I can't tell where I am
Where I leave off and he begins
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?
Oh, aren't we a pretty, pretty pair?
Yes, we are
All, all the king's horses
And all of his men, couldn't tear us apart
Dancing with a ball and chain
Through it all we still remain
Like butterflies around a flame
Till ashes, ashes, we fade away

Video: https://youtu.be/XxDto6_4PKg

So, what did you think? Could you feel the emotion in these songs? What do you think will come of the characters in these two songs? Will they stay together or will they ‘journey’ their separate ways (pun intended)?

As a marriage therapist, I would even have difficulty predicting the outcome of the relationships in these two songs. The answer to the question of the success of any relationship is “it depends”.

It depends on whether the couple has a strong foundation of friendship and intimacy, are able to manage conflict constructively, and have the ability to create a sense of shared meaning in their lives. Or, if these characteristics are not currently present in the relationship, the couple must have a desire to work toward them.

What Do I Do Now?
If you are feeling that experience of being torn that I alluded to earlier, and feel a connection to these songs, you may wonder “what am I to do?” or “where do I go from here?”

You may not know where your relationship is headed. But you probably know one thing… you don’t want it to continue the way it has been.

If the emotions elicited in these two songs are represented in your relationship, you may want to consider making a change. This change can go one of two ways: working to make the relationship better, or ending the relationship with your partner. Well… maybe there is a third option… do nothing, and nothing changes.

For a select few relationships, maybe separation is the answer. But, as a couples therapist, I believe that relationships can be saved. If you are having problems in your current relationship I urge you to invest in your relationship and put forth the effort to make a positive change.

And for those of you thinking about ending your relationship, just know that ending the relationship may not solve your problems.

As with all major life choices, you may feel overwhelmed and wonder where to begin. Here are some options…

Couples Therapy

  • If you are in the camp of making your relationship better and are committed to putting forth the effort to make lasting change, then couples therapy is your best bet.
  • Earlier when I mentioned the foundation of friendship, constructive conflict, and shared meaning – these are all components of the Sound Relationship House, built by Dr. John Gottman and based on over 40 years of research on intimate relationships.
  • A couples therapist can help you to strengthen your friendship, increase intimacy, learn how to disagree, and be a better partner.

Couples Therapy. Yes, I said it again.

  • If separation is inevitable, a couples therapist can also help you navigate this decision. A therapist that understands relationships will be able to support you and your partner during this difficult and confusing time. Consider it a form of conscious uncoupling. Here’s one person’s experience.

Individual Therapy

  • You may seek out individual therapy when you want to work on your relationship, but your partner isn’t on board with couples therapy. Hey, it happens. It’s not ideal, but it happens.
  • It’s best when both partners are present but, having been trained in systemic and relational models of therapy, I know that a positive change in one person can affect the whole relationship in a positive way. So be sure to seek out a therapist that understands the importance of this system, even when working with just the individual.  
  • Individual therapy will also be important when seeking support over the ending of a relationship. Let’s just put it out there – it sucks! Relationships bring us great joy and great heartache.

It is very common to have a range of emotions within the first few minutes, hours, weeks, and months following a break up or divorce. You may be in shock, feel numb, be angry, feel aloof, experience deep depression or anxiety, or you may even be fine for a day before you cycle back to some of these emotions. You will even be grieving the relationship much like you would a death.

Having a therapist to support you through this process can be invaluable. You will understand that what you are going through is normal and that you are not, in fact, going crazy.

Surviving A Lost Love
If you are going through a loss, know that this emotional turmoil you are experiencing will not last forever.

I recommend the book How To Survive The Loss Of A Love if you are going through a break-up, separation, or divorce. It is a lovely little gem at $7.95 per copy. It has been a blessing in book form for myself and countless others who have felt the utter devastation upon the ending of a relationship.


Buy a few copies and give them out as needed. I’ve shipped this book from North Carolina to Tennessee and Texas to give comfort and support to friends during this painful juncture in their lives.

This book has 94 pearls of wisdom. Just to give you a taste, here’s part of number 44 that speaks to rebounds:

“Falling ‘madly in love’ soon after a traumatic breakup seems great at first: your wildest hopes and fantasies come true! But then the bottom falls out. You discover the new love is not that totally sensuous, intelligent, considerate, understanding, sophisticated god/goddess you initially perceived. Only a human, just like everyone else. Sigh.” “If you want to fall in love with someone, how about trying yourself?”



About the Author:

Cindy Norton is the Owner and Writer at AVL Couples Therapy. She holds a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate, and is receiving training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Cindy will begin seeing clients in her AVL Couples Therapy practice located in Asheville, North Carolina in early 2017. In the meantime, check out her relationship blog for meaningful inspiration. She also gives away hip relationship swag through her newsletter – sign up here.

Boys Don't Cry... Or Do We?

Boys Don't Cry... Or Do We?

I wanted to write this mini-blog on the night before The Cure concert. It's the first time they have played in Minnesota in 20 years. Their album "Wish" is currently playing on my computer and I remember how I was introduced to them. They were outsiders, outcasts, and "alternative weirdos"...and that was good enough for me!

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