Call 315.637.0605   Rev. Heath Can Help!

Hi! I am Michael Heath and this is the Pine Ridge Pastoral Counseling Web Page. Pine Ridge is a place for folks who are looking for the best mental health care but who are turned off by large clinics or impersonal facilities.

Since 1994, Pine Ridge has offered a distinctive and more personal alternative for mental health needs while providing a comprehensive range of psychological services to help individuals, couples and families deal with a wide range of emotional, relational, crisis related, life phase and spiritual problems.

Since I am both a state Licensed Psychotherapist and a nationally Certified Pastoral Counselor, I offer a comprehensive therapeutic approach which can relate to both the psychological and spiritual dimensions of life's difficulties .

This web site is a great place to learn about my areas of expertise and to find answers to questions you may have concerning psychotherapy, marriage counseling, couples counseling, and other counseling related issues. If you can't find what you're looking for, please contact me and I'll be glad to help.

Serving the people of Central New York since 1978!

Updating the Image of Psychotherapist: From Orthodontist to Helicopter Pilot  

 

 
When people think about psychotherapy , there is a common image  that comes to mind that is off putting and misleading.  For a long time, psychiatry has used the orthodontic metaphor of straightening to convey what it does.
 
For example , there is a leading professional journal named Ortho-Psychiatry.  The Greek term which means to straighten, conveys the notion that emotional problems are like crooked teeth i.e. something in a person's mind has become misshapen and needs to "straightened out".
 
While this image conveys some truth, in other ways it is false . Certainly the traumatic events of childhood warp and distort our perceptions and responses to life  and cause us to have exaggerated and irrational thoughts, feelings and reactions.  Those distortions need  to be identified and removed (straightened)  so that one may once again accurately perceive and rationally respond to the challenges one encounters in life.
 
That said, the actual process of "straightening" associated with the dentistry and the forcing teeth back into alignment is very misleading.  Specifically, the metaphor of therapist as a dentist and therapy  exaggerates the role of the therapist on one hand, and grossly minimizes the role that self-discovery by the client on the other.  Healing and change are the results of a client's own discovery and effort made as s/he works with the therapist and not because of the action of the therapist alone.      
 
Perhaps better metaphors for conveying what psychotherapy is and what a psychotherapist actually does  are a helicopter  and a pilot -- where the client is the co-pilot.  Therapy is the vehicle that lifts the client up to be able to get a different , "aerial" view of his life and see her problems from a larger perspective. The therapist is the pilot who points out the relative relationships and historical connections of various aspects and events of the client's life and how they relate to the particular issue with which the person is struggling.
 
The chief function of psychotherapy is to help a folks to change their perspective which in turn allows them to change their  experience and behavior. Increased  awareness of life patterns and unrecognized resources allows clients to experience life more positively and  cope with challenges more effectively.
 
The healing self-discovery is not imposed on the person by the therapist nor is it forcibly resisted.  The "ah hah" moment  is accomplished by the person's willingness to explore and look and see how different things appear from a different and elevated perspective.  More later ...
 
Rev. Michael Heath       4 29 2016
 
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Spring Cleaning for your Marriage
 
Although it has felt like winter lately, Spring is here and with it comes the annual rituals of spring cleaning. Milder weather is the perfect time to spruce things up and to fix the things that have broken and fallen into disrepair throughout the year. Likewise  it is satisfying to toss out the unnecessary junk that has accumulated over the months. 
 
We know that even if it's no fun, regular household maintenance is necessary to keep problems from becoming too big or too costly as well as to keep things looking good and working well.  So, it's important to take some time and make a special effort keep our surroundings in tip top shape.
 
Although we don't think of marriage the same way we do a house or a lawn mower, intimate relationships  have the same maintenance needs as a home or a piece of machinery and require the same kind of care to keep things running smoothly. 
 
Just like with your house, problems develop over time which can be ignored or avoided. For many busy couples, it is easy to neglect things like romance or personal appearance.  Likewise, over the years, annoying personal habits can grow into inconsiderate sources of irritation. Taking some time to talk about the problems while they are small is a good way to prevent them from becoming big and unmanageable.
 
It is encouraging to realize just how little effort it actually takes to plan date nights or to give your wardrobe a new coat of paint. Likewise, just understanding that good and lasting relationships just don’t happen but require ongoing care, will help you to pay attention and make the extra effort to communicate with and be considerate of your mate.
 
So, how long has it been since you and your spouse have done a little marital spring cleaning ?  It is never too late to start.  Developing this ritual for your marriage is an important part of regular relationship maintenance and is easy to do.  A little spring cleaning can pay off in big dividends and ensure that you and your mate a have a long and satisfying life together ! 
Rev. Michael Heath   4 12 2016

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Some thoughts about the importance of Hope

 

For Christians, Easter Sunday is a celebration of Hope.  But whether you are a Christian or not hope is an essential aspect of mental health and a good life.  Hope, of course, is that positive expectation we have that things will be better and that we can achieve our goals in life. Hope is a belief in an outcome that we cannot actually know or prove, but nonetheless we trust will happen.  It is an emotional gamble that life is good.  This positive sense is what motivates us and gives us a purpose and sense of meaning in our day to day experience. 

 
Hope is the experience that sustains us through tough times and gives us a sense that things, even though difficult now, will get better.  Think of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football from Lucy.  Some see Charlie as foolish or needing psychotherapy but ... there is also an indomitable spirit of hope revealed in his persistence.     
 
Sometimes, however, folks lose hope.  When things go badly or something that we hoped for doesn't happen, it is easy to get discouraged or feel like giving up on our hopes.  For most of us this experience is temporary and our spirits eventually return to normal and our sense of hopefulness returns.
 
For some, however, the loss of hope becomes a permanent thing that does not budge.  Typically in these situations, the person has become clinically depressed and could benefit from talking to their doctor and or seeing a therapist.
 
Hope seems to be an essential part of the human spirit and if it is something that is missing from your life, don't despair.  Give your doctor a call.  Even though things may seem impossible, there is help and there is hope.  Who knows? Someday Charlie may surprise us !

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.   3 28 2016
 
​*Thanks to Nick Perks for this wonderful caartoon.


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​I-Statements 101: The Keys to Expressing Anger Constructively 

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​Here is a handy list of tips to keep in mind the next time you get into it with your mate.  Relationships are tough to manage.  Blending a couple's individual needs, preferences and personality styles takes a lot of effort and even in the best marriages there are times when conflicts arise and tempers flare.  Knowing how to deal with anger in a constructive way rather than blindly reacting can prevent worsening an already difficult situation and lengthening the duration of unpleasant episodes.

Although all of the above suggestions are good, #6 is especially important  and in fact is the secret to successful conflict resolution : Use I-Statements. In other words, talk about your experience, (that is what you are feeling and what you want), rather than attacking or criticizing what you don't like about your partner. 

For example, think of a situation where your partner has made you mad.  Perhaps he promised to pick up the dry cleaning and didn't  or  she did something that you didn't expect, like inviting the annoying neighbors over without telling you. 

An impulsive response might be to react with you-statements : What is wrong with you ?   You- statements make having a discussion difficult because, they put the other person on the defensive. No one likes to be directly criticized and ... they usually will either counter attack, defend themselves or withdraw.  None of these options further the conversation or make progress toward finding a resolution to the problem.

In contrast , an I-Statement  response would sound like :  I feel angry  when you broke your promise and I wish you would consider my feelings in the future and keep your word  - or I hate it when people just show up. I would really like it if you would check with me first.  Focusing on your experience and not attacking allows for an explanation or an apology and makes it easier to remember that you really do love the person who you are talking to.

Although it takes a little work, with practice, nasty arguments can be transformed into productive conversations that can reach effective solutions. While angry conflicts are inevitable from time to time in intimate relationships, they don't have to be frequent or destructive. Over time, learning to use I-statements will significantly lessen their frequency, duration and intensity.     

Michael Heath, LMHC , Fellow A.A.C.P.   3 16 2016

* With appreciation to James Guay for his helpful graphic.  

       

        

 

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Understanding Leisure as an Essential Part of Self-Care

 

Just back from vacation, I thought some good words about leisure were in order:

Inadequate leisure and vacation time is a major source of emotional disorders in America.  Too many Americans don't know how to relax and simply don't take enough time for vacations .
 
It's not our fault. Our history and heritage exhibited a hard work ethic out of necessity.  Building a new country out of the wilderness required great personal sacrifice. However,  the debt to nation building has been paid and the greater threat to our modern lives comes from over-work.  
 
Given our culture's unrealistic attitude about hard work and its lack of understanding and appreciation of vacations and leisure, it is no surprise that so many Americans experience anxiety and other stress related disorders.  Unfortunately, societal awareness has not caught up with the technological realities of urban existence.
 
Nowhere is this unhealthy attitude more explicitly expressed than in the 2015 Cadillac commercial which literally says that Americans succeeded  because, unlike other countries, we worked instead of taking time off for vacation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNzXze5Yza8
 
Despite this bias, it is clear both medically and psychologically that leisure is not a waste of time !   Indeed, giving both your body and time off is not a waste of time that could be better spent working. Far from it. Leisure and non-stressing activity is a necessity for not only  good physical and mental health but also for maximum performance and productivity.
 
Recent brain research shows that the brain needs down time to repair itself from the stresses and challenges of everyday life.  Practices such as daily meditation and naps from time to time are good ways to provide this stress-free time.  In addition, longer periods of relaxation , vacations from work, are essential for keeping our bodies and minds in tip top shape.
 
Think of it this way. When we buy an automobile we understand that we just can't drive it.  To keep it running at its best, requires regular maintenance and care.  The same is true for us.  Although we falsely think that our bodies and minds can be pushed and pushed, without down time, deteriorating performance and even serious breakdowns can occur.  Far from being an unnecessary luxury, leisure time is a crucial part of self- care and maintenance.  Rest is just as necessary for minds and bodies  as an oil change is for our car's upkeep.
 
So ... the next time you feel guilty about taking time off, ask yourself do you feel the same way about taking your car in for a tune-up ?  Remember  that taking care of your physical and emotional health is way more important than looking after your automobile.   Go on, give yourself permission to relax.  
 
Rev, Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC  3 2 2016

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Romantic Myth # 3: Love is a Special Feeling

The feelings of attraction are what get us together, but love is what keeps us together. I know that falling in love includes the special feelings of infatuation and sexual desire but that is not love. Indeed, this observation is not a new distinction or discovery. Having a special "chemistry" is a common and popular expression which explains why two people are romantically charmed.

In fact, chemistry is literally what causes that special feeling. Specifically, it is the result of a neurochemical reaction to phenylethyamine which is released in the brain by a complex and unconscious interaction among our perception and our sense of smell and our pheromones.

What is important to remember here is that our experience of intense attraction and arousal is different from the reality of love.

This distinction is important because, like narcotics or alcohol, over time, more and more of the substance is needed to produce the "hit". For example, when you first tried alcohol, a half of a beer could make you silly. As you got older it took more to for you to get a buzz.

With drugs or alcohol, if you need more to obtain the desired result, you simply have another beer until you reach your goal. With PEA however, your brain can only make so much and once you have reached your brain's maximum output level, the intensity of the sexual thrill you once felt starts to fade.

Many folks become unnecessarily discouraged in their relationships because they falsely believe that the decline in the intensity of their sexual feeling means that their love is lessening.

Love, is not a diminishing feeling. St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 13 .4-6 (NRSV) is pretty spot on when he writes:

"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth."

Love is that experience which transforms and expands our self-centered focus into a genuine concern for and commitment to the welfare of the other.

In contrast to the effects of PEA, the experience of love actually grows and intensifies over time. Considerate and caring treatment of one another over time increases confidence and a sense of safety. And yes, there is some chemistry attached to this as well. The bonding hormone oxytocin, which is associated with a feeling of closeness and intimacy, is not like a narcotic. Its effect deepens and does not decline.

The best news of all: Increased trust and safety are the most important prerequisites for great sex ! The thing is, building trust takes time and effort and is not quickly created.

Not surprisingly, advertisers and most of the Valentine’s Day promotions focus on and emphasize the quick and sensational aspects of romantic attraction and pleasure. It's not that there is anything wrong with eroticism or pleasure but those aspects of a relationship, while important, are not the things that ultimately sustains couples and enables their intimacy to deepen and grow.

And here is something for guys. In men's endless quest for an aphrodisiac, it is ironic that they often overlook the number one thing, that women say in survey after survey, that really turns them on: Consistent loving behavior, i.e. Attentiveness and consideration which makes life easier for them. For example flowers and chocolate are be nice but what really gets her going it the sight of her man vacuuming !

Bottom line: Consistent loving behavior, i.e. being considerate and attentive, are the keys not only to maintaining a relationship but also to keeping the flames of passion burning brightly and improving and enriching your spiritual closeness.

Happy Valentine’s Day !

Rev. Michael Heath 2 12 2016

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Romantic Myth #2 : Love Never Ends

1st Corinthians' comments about divine love not with standing, human love can end . It is not indestructible.  How one is treated really matters.
-- It's funny but our mythical romantic love complex has contradictory ideas and feelings about love.   On one hand, we think that true love can take anything and lasts forever, i.e.  there is nothing that one can do to lose or destroy the love a person feels. On the other hand we worry that once "you've lost that loving feeling" there is nothing that can be done to get it back.   
-- Psychologically, both notions are false.  Love is not fragile but sustaining  it requires care and ongoing maintenance.  Like a garden.  If you neglect it, what you get are bugs and weeds and not the beautiful flowers or vegetables you wish to enjoy.
-- Likewise, if the love has gone out a relationship due to neglect , it can be brought back with loving care and attention.  And that takes intentional effort .  Love will not magically return  simply with the passage of time.  Real change and real and ongoing consideration and kindness are needed to restore it.
-- Valentine's day , in addition to being an excellent time to celebrate one's love, it  also  provides a great opportunity to  look and see just how well both have been attending to the relationship.  Both partners can ask themselves how attentive and kind they have been to one another. It is a good time to identify areas of concern and re-commit to making positive changes.  
--A regular relationship check-up is a great way to make sure that your love will not only last but flourish .  
-- Bottom line: Love doesn't last forever all by itself, however, with proper care and nurturing, it will !
Rev. Michael Heath  LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.  2 9 2016    
 
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Bursting Popular Myths about Love

     I don't mean to pop anyone's balloon but ... with Valentines Day coming up, there are a lot of myths out there about love and romance that need bursting.  Here is one of the most common misconceptions about our most important experience :
Love is natural and "just happens" .

​      Maybe a neurochemical response to phenylethylamine  (PEA)  just happens but that's not love - it's sexual attraction. There is nothing wrong with sex but ... PEA wears off on its own and that kind of "love" will fade unless it is protected and nurtured.  
      Love, on the other hand, takes intentional effort and consideration for the other person.  Caring for someone else is in fact is quite unnatural.  Love is what lifts us out of our own natural selfishness and allows us to think about the welfare of someone other than our selves. It's not easy and we aren't perfect but love (not sex) is what motivates us to express our better selves.   

     I'll be back soon with the 411 on other love myths as we countdown to Valentine's Day .

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.    2 6 2016

 

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How to Make a Worry List: The Importance of Emotional Triage

We all know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed. Whether you suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder or you just have normal worries, life can sometimes be too much, Luckily there is a simple technique to help you better manage your stress and reduce your uneasiness. It’s called the Worry List.

 

Even though we sometimes think that we can multi-task, research shows that that is really an illusion.  In fact, one of the most stressful experiences of everyday life is when we feel overloaded, i.e. that sense that what has to be done is more than what can be done.

 

Fortunately our emotions are often distorted and exaggerated. Things are rarely as bad as they seem. Emotional triage is helpful a way to rationally examine our fears and reasonably address problems and obligations we face.     

 

The key to reducing our anxiety and feeling more in control is to:

  1. Realize that we can’t do everything at once and, thus,

    2) We must prioritize the relative significance of each obligation.  

    3) Address each item in the order of its importance.

 

If you have ever been to an emergency room, then you know that triage is the first step to being seen. Hospitals know that emergencies are not all the same and that some must be treated as soon as possible while others can wait.  For example, someone who is having trouble breathing or whose heart is in distress or who is bleeding gets priority over someone with a broken arm.

 

The same logic applies to dealing with our emotional stress only in stead of going to an ER, all we need to do is to get a pencil and paper to write out a “worry list”. Making a worry list is easy and very satisfying. 

  • You start by taking an inventory of all the things that bother you. Just write them down in no particular order.
  • Then, go through each item on the list and ask yourself just how urgent it really is.  You may want to divide your worries into categories such as urgent , semi-urgent or non-urgent to further organize tghings.
  • Finally, go through each category and assign a number or what is literally #1, #2 , #3  on your list and so on. This number will then be the order in which you address each issue.  It’s just like in a bakery, you deal with each item when its number comes up. 

It is amazing how powerful this simple exercise is and how quickly it reduces the feelings of stress and being out of control.  Organizing and sequencing a large number of things to do gives us a needed  sense of having control.   

 

Again, the important two things to remember is that our initial belief that everything had to be done all at once was false and that it’s impossible to everything all at once anyway, so stop trying.  It is calming to realize that everything will be taken care of but, that each issue must wait its turn.

 

Patience is a learned virtue for ourselves and others. With a little practice you will soon develop confidence and experience the relief that comes from employing the worry list. It is wonderful to discover that everything that you thought was a crisis and needed immediate attention, wasn’t and didn’t.  Good Luck !

 

Rev. Michael Heath    1 25 2016     

 

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Want More Intimacy In Your Relationship? Try Sharing Your Dreams 


      Many couples express a longing for greater closeness and intimacy in their, marriage or relationship.  One very helpful way, which is unfortunately often overlooked, is to share their dreams with one another.

      Dreams can be conscious and intentional goals or aspirations like getting a better job or losing weight but they can also be those bizarre and confusing things that we only have glimmers of when we awake from sleep.  While the former often express our conscious desires to improve and make positive changes in our lives, the latter commonly reveal unconscious struggles and conflicts about things that bother or threaten us.

      It is important to remember that intimacy in a relationship is more than desire or affection. It is also a deep knowledge and trust of the other person.  True intimacy is achieved when both partners are able to feel safe enough with each other to expose and share vulnerable and unresolved  anxieties.  Sharing and talking about bits of mysterious dreams is a wonderful way not only to share those parts of yourself which are not fully understood  but it’s also a good way  for both partners to learn together and increase both self-awareness and knowledge of the other.

      Although this might sound like psychotherapy,  it's important to know that you don't need a psychiatrist to learn from your dreams.  All you need is a curiosity about yourself and your partner and a willingness to talk and see where your conversations take you.  It is amazing what connections from your past and present life that you can make.   The remnant images and feelings of dreams, no matter how bizarre or nonsensical can provide openings for dialog and personal discovery on many levels.

     Personally, I believe that dreams are like postcards from our unconscious , that is that part of our awareness which is beyond our conscious  or intentional perception, i.e. the stuff our brain knows  but is just outside our immediate awareness.  Talking about the bits sometimes opens up our vision and creates a new perspective. It allows us to connect the heretofore unconnected dots and see important patterns of meaning.    

     The content of the post cards often express different and sometimes conflicted parts of our experience and convey worry and anger as well as excitement and joy.  They are, in other words, another path to discover our what is ultimately important to use - our fears and hopes and joys, the very stuff intimate sharing is made of. 

     Seeing the patterns and becoming more aware of our unfinished issues, whether they are from old emotional wounds or from present challenges is not only important for our own emotional health but also for the health of our relationships.  Being able to mutually talk about and share puzzling elements of our dreams is not only a non-threatening way to learn more about one another but is also an excellent way to build trust and intimacy.

Rev. Michael Heath LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.  1 12 2016  

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Watch Rev. Heath's Bridge Street Mental Health segments below:


January 25, 2016

How to Make a Worry List: The Importance of Emotional Triage

How to Make a Worry List: The Importance of Emotional Triage



We all know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed. Whether you suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder or you just have normal worries, life can sometimes be too much, Luckily there is a simple technique to help you better manage your stress and reduce your uneasiness. It’s called the Worry List.

 

Even though we sometimes think that we can multi-task, research shows that that is really an illusion.  In fact, one of the most stressful experiences of everyday life is when we feel overloaded, i.e. that sense that what has to be done is more than what can be done.

 

Fortunately our emotions are often distorted and exaggerated. Things are rarely as bad as they seem. Emotional triage is helpful a way to rationally examine our fears and reasonably address problems and obligations we face.     

 

The key to reducing our anxiety and feeling more in control is to:


Realize that we can’t do everything at once and, thus,


    2) We must prioritize the relative significance of each obligation.  

    3) Address each item in the or…
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