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Elizabeth Nelson, Ph.D.

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Elizabeth Nelson, Ph.D.   303.547.3591

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recommended books & films


Metaphors We Live By
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson
In this classic text, the main idea is that we link common metaphors into chains of meaning, which inform and structure how we experience our lives. For instance, we often link the "up-down" metaphor to "good-bad" experiences (scores that are "up" are usually good, things going "downhill" are bad). We can do this with good and bad feelings too, but sometimes take it too far: We start with concepts like "being happy (feeling up) is good" and "being depressed (feeling very down) is bad." But the metaphor of "down = bad" can overgeneralize to include all sorts of healthy "down" feelings that are difficult or unpleasant but not necessarily "bad" or wrong in some way. Although I am not suggesting that depression can feel good, it's important not to expect to feel good all the time, or to find any "down" mood intolerable. Understanding how these metaphors can take over our thinking is part of the point of this book.

Recognizing that happy feelings simply are, and depressed feelings simply are (and that neither will remain unchanged forever) helps to create a space from which you have freedom to maneuver psychologically, notice options, and direct change in your own life.

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The King's Speech
In a number of ways, The King's Speech illustrates components of therapy. The Prince Albert character suffers from an inner pain and humiliation; and he vacillates between persistent resolve and dismay while he tries to change the problem. His considerable wit, intelligence and compassion are also evident as he struggles with a sense of being trapped within his problem and his life circumstances. Many people--especially those with long-standing emotional challenges--can relate to this.

The approach taken by the speech therapist character (Lionel Logue) incorporates practical exercises (even some that are helpful but seem absurd, like singing through your worries) alongside just enough exploring under the surface of what's happening to appreciate the emotional underpinnings of the problem. That's similar to the balance I try to strike in working with people - mostly dealing with the here-and-now, but in no way overlooking the complex history of issues in your life.

The relationship between the prince and Logue is also interesting: You see the importance of balancing mutual respect and frankness that pushes both of them to develop, and even see a rough patch in their relationship when the therapist makes a misstep (even though his intent it to help) and the prince recoils in fear and pain. The humility from each of them when resuming the work together is important--missteps and misunderstandings can occur in the course of therapy, and it's important to be upfront about what's happened and learn to move through it together.

Even the role of Prince Albert's wife is illustrative: Her resourcefulness and support are immeasurably helpful when he has given up on seeing yet another doctor, and when he is facing his fears. Not everyone is lucky enough to have this kind of support in their lives, but at least you know your therapist is one your side (as Logue is present and supportive throughout).

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Perfect Mate" (Episode 5.21)
I confess, I love Star Trek - all permutations of it, although TNG is my absolute favorite because I think it deals with psychological issues more than the other versions. The episode titled "The Perfect Mate" at first challenges Western, feminist-informed values about women determining their own life paths. But what stands out even more strongly is that, in order for the Metamorph character to successfully face what is required of her in her life, it is essential that she be able to be genuine with at least one person, and feel understood and appreciated for her uniqueness. Having that important experience, she matures and is able to consciously accept and even proceed with an arranged marriage.

Some would protest that choosing an arranged marriage is choosing to be "fake" in her day-to-day life, when she should fight all convention to live a fully genuine life. However, the Picard character comes to respect that she is making the choice based in her own deepest value system (to bring peace between two worlds), and that this is also important in giving her life meaning and (on a deep level) living authentically. One of the unique and healing aspects of a good therapy experience is exactly this chance to be genuine in another's presence, and to be respected for who you truly are, your values, and the choices that allow you to live in concert with those values to live a meaningful life-even if how you express that genuineness may surprise others.

What Dreams May Come
This is a unique book that also has been made into a film. The visuals in the film are very powerful in terms of what I hope to highlight here. Whether or not you take to the messages about spiritual afterlife and reincarnation in the story, there is a very significant psychological message: We create our own emotional realities through our perceptions and interpretations of events in our lives. Those emotional realities go on to inform our actions, decisions, and interpretations of the world around us.

In the most positive version of this, the film beautifully illustrates how the things we are most passionate about bring vibrancy to our lives (the painted landscape, the architecture borne from Mozart). In the darkest version, we see how the wife in the movie becomes trapped in a sense of deprivation, isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness - which, in the story, does not end with death.

There is also a very powerful message of unconditional love being a healing force, which it is. Interestingly, however, it is also a crucial element in the wife's healing that the husband willingly joins her in her despair, rather than invalidating it. As I therapist, I resonate to the importance of offering you a non-judgmental space in which you feel you are not alone in going through whatever you are going through, in the service of you coming through feeling whole and re-enlivened.

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