Common Humanity
with Dana Belletiere, LICSW, MSED

Mental Health

Gardening Is Like Self-Work (And I’m Not The Best At It).

I kill all things green. This is my truth around gardening and, though I’m deeply unhappy about it, it’s factual. If you give me a plant I will kill it. Consider yourself warned- please don’t gift me plantlife. 

That said, my mother-in-law is here this weekend, replete with her very green thumb, and she’s graciously offered to help me figure out the landscaping situation around my yard. The whole situation has me thinking about the parallels between our garden adventure and making personal changes and working towards life goals. Here are some truths I’m learning about gardening, that are also true of self-work:


How To Care For Yourself When Dealing With Difficult People


One of my friends tells her story of growing up with a mother with “issues” rather matter-of-factly, but the details are pretty grim to listen to. “She would stop talking to me for no reason, for days at a time, and put a gift on my bed when she decided she was done being mad at me. We never talked about why she was angry, and most of the time I didn’t know. I just knew not to talk to her until she left something on my bed, and then I’d hold my breath until the next time she got upset about something.” 

My friend’s mother sometimes disappeared for lengths of time without anyone knowing where she went or when (or if) she would return. When she fought with my friend’s father, she frequently brought my friend into the arguments as a mediator, despite her being a child. “Everything was about her,” my friend says. “Even as an adult, forty years later, everything is still about her.”


Rethinking Shame As a Motivator for Change

When individuals begin to see me for therapy, it is very often because they have gotten fed up with some part of themselves that they feel needs changing, fixing, or altogether eradicating. They’ll introduce this part of themselves to me as their “stupid anxiety” or “annoying depression” or “ridiculous obsession with eating,” etcetera. They judge themselves mercilessly for whatever their perceived problem or issue is, and often report that they’ve felt judged by others for it, too. Maybe a parent remarked that they really need to “get over” themselves already, or somebody told them to “suck it up.” So, they land in my office, totally prepared to magically become different people and to get rid of whatever pesky part brought them there in the first place. They are ashamed, and they don’t like feeling that way. Nobody does. 

Be Together

For Clinicians: There’s Room For All Of Us

Fewer years ago than I’d like to admit, I was royally schooled by a client in a therapy group that I was running. Having recently been dazzled by a week-long training in Internal Family Systems (my preferred therapeutic approach), I felt it appropriate to suggest to the group members that some therapeutic approaches might have more to offer than others. While I don’t recall exactly what I said, it included some psycho-ed about IFS and CBT, with a very clear bias towards the superiority of IFS. Basically, I threw CBT under the bus. 

Many members of the group nodded enthusiastically at my proclamation, having worked with me for some time and developed a kind of loyalty to my integrated, CBT-light methods. However, after the group ended, one of the group members approached me to gently challenge me and my big mouth. As it turns out, CBT had been life-changing for her. After years of therapeutic work, she routinely used CBT skills she’d learned from a previous therapist to get through every day, and found them essential to her growth. She felt that my statement in group devalued her self-work. And, let's be fair... she wasn't wrong. 

Best Practices in Therapy

For Clinicians, The Very Best That We Can Offer to Clients is Ourselves

As clinicians, we are built from the ground up to disregard ourselves. This begins in our training process, when we are instructed on how to listen well to someone. It is made clear that we are ears, not mouths. We’re warned not to bring too much of ourselves into session with us, so as to keep a trained and steady focus on the most important story in the room: the story belonging to the client.

Be On Purpose

On Changing & Adapting: Four Ways to Nurture Healthy Relationships


For whatever reason, psychotherapists are assumed to be masters at navigating relationships. I completely understand this assumption, since we talk about relational health and vulnerability and honesty all day, but I’ve frankly never seen it play out in real life (certainly not in my own life, anyway). Our relationships are as challenging and nuanced and messy and human as everyone else’s - and because we spend all day talking about relationships, we don’t...


On the Scary Business of Asking for What We Want and Need, Over and Over Again.

As an adult person, I’ve developed a reputation for saying a bit more than is always necessary. When I was a teenager and very wrapped up in a rather cult-y church situation, I made sure never to share anything with anybody, including even small bits about myself. I was a master secret keeper, convinced that it was my religious duty to keep my gaze focused on others and away...


Survival Mode: 4 Things to do When Times Get Rough

Life is good. There is lots of room for travel, for friends, for Vitamin D and sunshine, for self-exploration and contemplation and laughter and dessert. This is Growth Mode - a period of expansion and stretching out into myself, and I’m grateful for it because I know times don’t always feel like this. There are the grow-y, stretch-y, expand-y times, and on the opposite end, there are the constrict-y, just-get-through-the-day, working-hard-to-breathe times. Neither can exist without the other, and it’s important that we welcome them both. 

At the other end of Growth Mode lies Survival Mode, in which things feel so difficult that we lose touch with all of our higher aspirations on Maslow’s hierarchy, and find ourselves instead struggling to attend to our most basic needs. Survival Mode pops up when work stress becomes untenable, when relationships fall apart, when health crises occur, when families fight and break into pieces. When we find ourselves there, taking care of the basics becomes essential. Here’s what to attend to, when Survival Mode inevitably kicks in.


Itch, Itch, Itch


The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains. - Paul Simon

My blood is alive with many voices telling me that I am made of longing. - Rainer Maria Rilke

Last night my husband and I went out for Indian food at our local favorite place. I was super, very, extremely hungry and knew immediately that a samosa and a big plate of korma were the perfect fixes. My husband, who likes to take his time with every decision, very much took his time with his ordering. After the waitress left for the third time so he could continue to contemplate the merits and deficits of various naan varieties, and the hefty choice that is aloo gobi versus matar paneer, I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. “Just pick a thing. Seriously. No one is going to die here,” I said in a measured, clenchy-teeth sort of way. I mean, except maybe him. By way of me. And my impatience. 

Of course, I am well aware that this has little to do with him, and his ordering and decision-making style. This is about me, and the impulse that arises periodically in me do all of the things and pick all of the choices and change all of the rules. It’s the Part that says that if he (or whomever) could just get on board, we could go make a big and wonderful adventure (or have a big and wonderful dinner, as the case may be). It’s Itch time. 

Be On Purpose

Doing The Next Right Thing

I wrote recently about choice-making. Here’s why: I find myself at an influx in several ways - I’m unsure of where to land, who I’m going to land there with, and the very important question of what exactly to do next. I am lucky that I have too many rather than too few ideas. While I’ve loved living in a New England “city” in many ways, a recent trip to Philadelphia confirmed that I miss the food and the sounds and the art and the community of a CITY city. I feel ready to go back, I think. Right? Hmmm. 

Not knowing what’s next is a Scary thing. It is on the list of the most anxiety-producing things for those of us that love to hold onto control in the name of self-preservation. When we don’t know what’s next, we can’t prepare ourselves adequately for possible outcomes, and so we have to sit in the discomfort of the Not Knowing. My clients don’t tend to like this, and I don’t tend to, either.