Do you use ACT and CBT in your therapeutic work with clients? How can you explain the benefits of mindfulness to a brand-new client? How have these teachings impacted your life as well?
In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about incorporating ACT, CBT, and mindfulness into anger and anxiety work with Alisa Kamis-Brinda.
Podcast Sponsor: Blueprint
Providing great therapy day after day can be challenging – even for the best of us!
At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools – things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments – that are designed to help you and your clients can stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. Even better, Blueprint helps streamline your documentation so that you can spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that matter.
Alisa Kamis-Brinda, LCSW, LCADC is the owner of Serenity Solutions, LLC, a group psychotherapy practice in Philadelphia, PA, specializing in anger management, anxiety, addictions, and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. She has over 20 years of experience helping overwhelmed, stressed-out professionals and parents learn how to slow down angry and anxious thoughts in healthy ways so they can be in the present moment, relax and enjoy life again.
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a powerful therapeutic tool to use with both clients and in your personal life as a therapist.
It has helped me to become more mindful. To be aware of my thoughts and my feelings in the moment, and what my thoughts and feelings are telling me to do, so that I can then decide, “Wait, is that what I want to do? Or do I do the thing that I wanted to do?”
When you are unaware of your thoughts and feelings, you find yourself acting on impulse. These impulses are attempts at keeping you safe and secure, but they may be coming from a dysregulated nervous system or an old trauma response.
Becoming aware of those impulses, developing that awareness, and then choosing how you want to respond in that moment is the key.
It has helped me to choose what I want to do in the moment instead of my thoughts and feelings choosing for me.
Explaining mindfulness and CBT to new clients
Clients that are completely new to therapy and mindfulness might associate being mindful with meditation or clearing the mind. Even though those are practices within mindfulness, it is not the full definition.
It is about learning how to be right here, right now, in this moment … when we’re feeling anxious or when we’re feeling angry, we are often either in the past … or the future.
With CBT, clients can be taught how to challenge thoughts that are limiting or harmful, or untrue.
The combination of using mindfulness with CBT teaches clients how to pause, address the thought, and bring themselves back to the real, present moment instead of being carried away by the impulse or thought.
Turning training into real-time practice
The most helpful tool that Alisa brought with her from training and education into the therapy room with her client is the mindfulness piece. From that standpoint, anything is possible.
People often go through life on autopilot and don’t pay attention to what is happening around them, and they just do things the same way that they have always done. Mindfulness is the starting practice of shifting away from autopilot to awareness, and a truer, freer choice.
That becomes really meaningful for them to then realize, “Hey, if I can notice that then I can also notice what is happening inside of me, and how that’s impacting me”.
A quick masterclass for listeners
The main aspects that Alisa wants listeners to know are that:
feelings are okay
you can sit with feelings
your feelings are never going to be bigger than you
You do not need to constantly fall back on what you used to do to cope with your life right now. You are big enough and capable enough to rise and change the narrative of your life by changing your responses to life.
Alisa’s advice to private practitioners
Sitting with discomfort is a helpful tool to use to live a meaningful life. Apply this personally and professionally for amazing insights and positive changes!
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 866.
I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. If you are just joining us, you have joined us for specialty month. We have been diving into all sorts of specialties. We’ve talked about attention span and screen time, we’ve talked about infidelity, we’ve talked about serving the LGBTQ community and personal specialization in financial stress, so lots of things that we’re covering. We’re going to be doing this all this month and next, so specialty months is what it should be called, not just specialty month. It’s nice to dig into some things that are maybe a little bit different than just the business side of things that we have been talking about.
Today we have Alisa Kamis-Brinda, who is the owner of Serenity Solutions, a group psychotherapy practice in Philadelphia, specializing in anger management, anxiety, addictions, and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. She has over 20 years of experience helping overwhelmed, stressed out professionals and parents learn how to slow down angry and anxious thoughts in healthy ways so they can be present in the moment, relax and enjoy life again. Alisa, welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. So excited to talk with you today.
[ALISA KAMIS BRINDA]
Thank you. I’m really excited to be here.
So you’ve been doing work with ACT, CBT, mindfulness, with all that I just read about you. Was this work something you knew in grad school, I want to do this, or did it emerge over time?
A lot of it emerged over time. I did focus on CBT in grad school but didn’t come to ACT to acceptance and commitment therapy and probably for five or seven years into my career, and that’s what led me to the mindfulness work as well.
Now what was it about you that that really just helped you dive into that work?
I just loved what it was about. It just made sense. I think in doing CBT work, which I love and I think is so helpful, I did notice that even though people could challenge thoughts, it didn’t necessarily help them to feel better. So with ACT it’s not about getting rid of unhelpful or uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, but being able to sit with them in the service of living a life that feels meaningful, so not letting them get in the way or not letting the way that you try and cope with them get in the way of you living a meaningful life.
What does that look like for some of your clients when they’re learning about ACT and doing that in the sessions? What pains do they come to you with, and then what’s that transformation look like?
The pain can be any of the specialties that you mentioned or other things as well. Anger and anxiety are the two big ones that we tend to see. The way that they show up for a lot of our clients is that they experience anger and anxiety, and then they do things to try to feel better. So someone with anxiety will avoid the situation that might trigger the anxiety as an example or the person with anger either might stuff those feelings or might let them out in a reactive way, again order to try and get rid of them to make them feel better. But unfortunately, those all have consequences because they interfere with either our relationships or doing things that feel important to us living our values.
Now, I know sometimes our clinical work can also inform our personal lives or vice versa. How has ACT and kind the acceptance and commitment therapy, like what changes have you personally made that have come out of learning that approach to therapy?
It has helped me to become more mindful, to be aware of my thoughts and my feelings in the moment, and what the, my thoughts and feelings are telling me to do, so that I can then decide, wait, is that what I want to do or do I want to do the thing I wanted to do, not do the thing that’s going to help me get rid of those feelings? So that might mean doing something that feels a little anxiety provoking and that can fit into the main part of your work, which might be something marketing that I might feel a little nervous to do, including this podcast. So doing the things that feel important to us is what’s, is how it’s helped me, it’s helped me to choose what I want to do in the moment instead of my thoughts and feelings choosing for me.
Now when clients ask about what’s ACT, what’s CBT, what’s mindfulness-based therapy like, what’s the client version of how you explain each of those?
So I tell clients that mindfulness is about, not about a meditation practice, although that’s a choice if they want to learn it that way, but that it is about learning how to be right here, right now in this moment, that when we are feeling anxious or when we’re feeling angry, we are often either in the past reviewing something that happens, going over it again and again, or in the future, worrying about what’s going to happen or anticipating that someone is going to trigger our anger. So it’s really about helping you to come back into this moment, what’s happening right now. In regards to CBT it’s about helping you to challenge thoughts that might be exaggerated or might not even be true, that make you feel worse and being able to bring that back to reality so that the thoughts and feelings can dissipate. ACT is a little bit different in that we’re not trying to get rid of the thought or feeling, but we’re trying to just give it some space, either turning down the volume on it or noticing that a thought is just a thought, so that with that space, we can do the thing that feels important to us.
Providing great therapy day after day can be challenging even for the best of us. At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools, things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments that are designed to help you and your clients stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. Even better, Blueprint helps streamline your documentation so you can spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that matter. To learn more and request a 30-day free trial, visit blueprint-health.com.
Now, what were some of the initial things that you really took out of trainings in these areas that you brought into the therapy sessions? Were there things that really stood out to you that you found really helped clients right away?
One of the things that I think is really helpful is the mindfulness piece, because we go through life on autopilot, not paying attention to what’s happening and just doing things as we always do them. And before Covid, I would teach clients a basic, or walk clients through a basic mindfulness exercise where they’re just noticing their five senses and then I would tell them that when they left my office, when they were either walking back to their office or walking to their car to notice what they can notice, and they’d come back and they would say I’ve been walking past that building for the past 10 years, five days a week to go to the office, and I never noticed that architectural feature or that it had that stained glass window. So that really is, becomes really meaningful for them to then realize, hey, if I can notice that, then I can also notice what’s happening inside of me and how that’s impacting me. So the mindfulness piece is a big one.
The other piece is ACT has so many fabulous exercises and metaphors that help clients and different ones work well for different people. One of the ones I love is helping people understand how much their thoughts and feelings can cloud their vision and interfere with them being able to connect with the world and the people around them and when we’re caught up in our thoughts and feelings and how when we try and get rid of them, not only are we still cut off from the world around us and the people around us, but we also are using up all this energy that we could be using for things that feel more important and again, when we can create that space.
That’s through an exercise called ACT in the, in a nutshell, where the person holds up a clipboard or a notebook first basically hiding their face so that they can’t see anything, them pushing the notebook away so that they can see, feel the energy of their arms pushing it away to try and get rid of that feeling, and then finally putting it on their lap and saying, it’s there, but I am now free. My hands are free, my energy’s free. I can see, I’m connected to the world around me in order to be able to do what’s important to me. That one, it’s fabulous when clients come back and when they start using the tools, they’ll come back and they’ll say, I was in this situation and I put the clipboard on my lap. And it’s just a great exercise and metaphor to help people understand how, when we’re not mindful and when we’re trying to feel better instead of live life, that it’s not working in the way that we really want.
From a macro societal standpoint, what would you say it contributes to such a lack of attention to our daily surroundings
This is not my area specialty, but I think there’s just so much that stimulates us that we’re whether it’s anything on electronics, anything that’s happening in the world that we can get caught up in our head thinking about over and over again. We’re not, you know in the United States we’re not taught about just being in this moment right here, right now. That’s just, there’s, so we’re taught to distract. We even, we do that with babies when they are, when they’re upset. We say, “Hey, look over here. Look at your toy over here.” So I think as a society, I think we’ve come a long way, but humans are, we’re hedonistic. We want to go towards pleasure, away from pain, and so we’ve learned to distract ourselves in whatever way we can from the pain.
Now, if you were, if you could do a masterclass for all the listeners and they were going to learn to implement a lot of the principles you’re talking about of mindfulness, of ACT like what would you want them to absorb and then start implementing in their practice?
I think the biggest thing is that it’s okay, that feelings are okay and it’s okay to sit with feelings and no matter how uncomfortable it feels, the feeling is never going to be bigger than you so that you don’t need to do the things you used to do to make it go away. Along with that comes back to the values of what do you want to do? What type of person do you want to be in this world? Unfortunately, with a lot of the coping strategies that we use to try and get rid of painful thoughts and feelings, it interferes with us being the person we want to be. If you think about anger management, if we feel angry, we might yell at someone or we might physically harm someone and for most people, that’s not how they want to be in the world. But a lot of times they’re doing that because the anger feels so uncomfortable physically and emotionally, and they’ve learned, maybe not even consciously, but they’ve learned that that feels better. That helps them to feel better in the moment, at least before the regret kicks in. So helping clients to learn how to sit with a discomfort and move toward the things that are meaningful, moving, behaving in the way that they want to be in this world as a person is what’s most helpful.
Now when you think about where you hope this field goes, whether that’s the field of therapy and counseling, or whether it’s specifically ACT or mindfulness, like what are some hopes that you have over the next five to 10 years of this clinical work?
I just hope that more people can learn about it and utilize it in their life because it really can be transforming, transformative for people and societies as well. ACT has been used in group settings, it has been used in macro settings to help organizations, to help societies be able to cope with difficult situations as well. So just being able to get it out there and being able to apply it in all the different ways is my hope. It’s trans-diagnostic, which is fabulous, can be used with really any presenting problem, but then it even goes beyond that in terms of being able to help society in all kinds of ways as well. So continuing in that trajectory feels, is my hope.
Yeah. Well, the last question I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
That sitting with discomfort is a helpful tool to live a meaningful life, and that applying that to yourself personally and in your work with clients can be amazing for you, for your loved ones, and for your clients.
So wonderful. And Alisa, if people want to connect with you, if they want to check out your website, where’s the best place for them to connect with you?
They can connect with me on my website, serenitysolutionstherapy.com, and all of the social media links are there as well.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast.
There’s so many different modalities out there. How is someone to choose? It so great to find people doing work not just in a particular modality, but also with specific clients that they like working with or they love working with. So awesome. Also that we could not do this show without our amazing sponsors and today’s sponsor is Blueprint. At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools, things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments. They’re all designed to help you and your clients stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. You can learn more and request a free 30-day trial over at blueprint-health.com. Again, that’s blueprint-health.com.
Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day. I’ll talk to you soon.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music.
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