Lighting Fires


Autumn! It’s fire season!

Do you own a fireplace? We have one in our house but didn’t use it for the first two years we lived here because we hadn’t had it cleaned (although my husband and I aren’t the most rustic people in the world, we had enough sense to not start a fire in a fireplace that hadn’t been used in a great many years.)  And when we did finally have it cleaned and it was ready for use, I spent the next few months waiting for it to be cold enough to actually start using it — and I started dreaming about all the things a fireplace meant.

Like sitting by the fire!  Reading by the fire!  A hot drink by the fire!  Everything by the fire!

And I did get to enjoy those things.  But what really got me about the fireplace was that…well, fires take work.  It’s not like in the movies or in books when you put a log or two in there, walk away, and the thing puts itself out before you go to bed.  You’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough wood (or not too much wood); you’ve got to make sure the wood is dry; when the fire gets puny, you’ve got to reposition the wood, poke at it a few times, blow some oxygen in there, and pretty much stay awake past the point of delirium to make sure it’s out before you leave it alone so it doesn’t burn your whole house down.

Is it fun? Yes.  Is it the most romantic thing? No.

But isn’t tending to a fire like so many things we tend to in our lives? Think about a dream you’ve always had, especially creative things — finishing that quilt, selling that painting, or pitching that great idea for a business.  Writing that book.  Can those things be fun? Sure.  But it’s mostly just work.  I mean, I know that you knew that getting into the project meant you’d have to put effort into it, but sometimes things are harder than they seem.

When we light fires in the fireplace, my husband often takes care of them, so he mostly does the work and I reap the benefits.  But he had to run some errands tonight, and I noticed the fire was dying down a bit, so I took the tools, got in there, jostled the logs around, and somehow got them catching again.

There are few things in life more satisfying than growing a fire after you’re sure it’s been put out.  It’s pretty awesome.  But just when I got settled again, up I got to keep it going.

And the lower the flame got, the harder it was to keep it going again.  I know you know the feeling — you wait too long to write the next chapter, and it feels that much harder.  You skipped your workout on Tuesday, so it’s that much harder to get back on track on Wednesday.

But as long as there’s a little bit left, all hope is not lost.  You can get that fire back.  It does take a little more effort at first, but once all those logs are lit, you’ll feel really accomplished.

When you feel as though you’re completely burnt out, take a little bit of time to quietly refocus.  Picture yourself shifting some pieces of wood around in those embers.  Find your spark — even though it’s little, it’s still there! And let’s say that your fire is completely out.  You’ve metaphorically gone to bed and there’s nothing left in all that wood, but you want to light the fire again the next day.  Find what inspired you in the first place to start the fire and begin again.  Attend that poetry workshop.  Rejoin that playwright Facebook group.

Begin again.  The world will greatly benefit from what you have to offer it!

Until next time, be well!

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

E-motion Pictures

“Cinema therapy is the process of using movies made for the big screen or television for therapeutic purposes,” says Gary Solomon, PhD, author of The Motion Picture Prescription. An increasing number of therapists are prescribing movies to help their clients explore emotional issues such as: grief, love, anger and sadness. Our Cinema Therapy co-facilitator and resident movie buff, Christina Pettinato, has some thoughts to share about a few of her favorite films. Enjoy!

In Good Health,

E-motion Pictures by Christina Pettinato

Christina PettinatoDid you know therapeutic release can begin simply with watching a movie? A movie’s plot, dialogue, visual display, character relationships, music, and special effects are intricately woven together as a powerful catalyst to elicit deep feelings. Furthering this thought, we can also reflect on ourselves and the lives of others. Increase means of self help, thinking, living, and societal change. Ultimately, it takes courage to dabble in this rich form of self exploration and to have movies to support this acts like a cushion for discovery.

Emotional expression isn’t as easy as we think. As this may come naturally for others, we see some who become stuck. Just like in the movie “Antwone Fisher,” Antwone’s mental struggle illustrates how emotions can take ahold of us and inhibit us from functioning in life. Antwone expresses deep insecurities and hurt by becoming socially isolated. With the aid of therapy, Antwone’s self resiliency is illuminated and he becomes emotionally free. Through life’s challenges, hardships, and suffering there is always the underlining feeling of hope. With Antwone’s story we are entrusted with the fact that hope exists no matter how emotionally entangled we find ourselves.

Cinema Therapy GroupThis idea of hope is also seen in “The Green Mile.” This movie furthers the idea of hope by introducing the act of the human spirit and inspiration. John Coffey, a man on death row, finds good in the human spirit even though he is going to be executed for a crime he did not commit. He treats others with a kind heart and is true to himself to the very end. As the observer we easily connect with his character by embracing how unfair his life’s end has become. We are encouraged to be fair to ourselves and others because we see how our actions can severely effect others.

Sometimes we need movies to hit a different note. Like in the movie “A League of Their Own.” This movie not only illuminates woman empowerment, but the multidimensional characteristic of the womanly role, and the evolution of leadership. We learn we are not alone in trying to adjust to the inevitability of life role changes. Dottie’s belief system, her ability to sustain confidence in times of question, and to persevere in the face of possible defeat drives us to believe if she can do it, so can we. Our ability to live through our chosen mission, become our own visionary to complete a desired outcome through extreme adversity can be inspiration for us all.

Cinema Therapy GroupThe Blind Side” creates the perfect environment to display the raw experience of feeling alone and not to belong. We all at times feel as if we are not fitting in or not following the right path. We question our decisions and fall back into routines because it is all we know. Michael’s journey shows this throughout the movie, but this is highlighted when he leaves the Tuohy family and returns to his old home. Michael‘s will power to change and take a risk to improve his life’s purpose serves as a motivator for us all.

If you enjoyed reading Christina’s insights and thoughts on some of her favorite movies, why not join her in September for Pittsburgh Psychotherapy Associate’s new Cinema Therapy Group! Movies can be a catalyst for growth, change and healing, and we will explore new ways of watching films that will resonate with members long after they leave the group. Visit our Wellness Classes Page for details:

From the editing room,

Working with Your Inner Critic

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Nothing’s either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” ~ William Shakespeare

Our inner critics (I call mine “Chuck” for reasons too lengthy to explain here) relish our thoughts, especially the “irrational” ones. What makes something good or bad? Despite what my ego tells me, it’s not my thoughts. Our personality structure consists of the Body, the Ego, and the Spirit all working in tandem, at least on a good day. This has important consequences for the creative process. Creating is often pre-reflective, non-verbal, being present in a very committed and intimate way that is unconditional and removed from the everyday “stuff” that constitutes are thinking, rational ego.

Consequently, talking too much pulls one toward ego. This is an important lesson for all those who engage in a creative endeavor. Writers, poets, painters, dancers, musicians and, yes, even therapists are at their best when they are mindful to the art of silence. It is the sense of risk that our inner critic fears the most and consequently this is part of the arsenal he or she will use against us at our most vulnerable moments.

We learn very early in life to pass judgment on those parts of ourselves that don’t meet the expectations of others and, thus, fulfill a self-prophecy to live through a very tiny part of our totality while casting other “unacceptable” parts of ourselves into the shadows, where we keep them hidden in the darkness. There are many ways of exposing this inner critic, which Psychologist Carl Jung coined the “shadow.”

Jung held that the unconscious could be an attentive companion and mentor to the conscious and that psychic wholeness or individuation comes from bringing equilibrium to the unconscious and the conscious. He professed the foremost way of doing this was through dreams. I believe that this relationship is also part and parcel of the creative journey. The key is navigating the strict chart that the rational, conscious mind, the “I that I think I am”, has mapped for us.

Here are a few pointers when dealing with your inner critic:

Give a name to you inner critic. Just like a pet, you name it, you own it! Personification will assist you in dealing with negative thinking. This way, you are more likely to begin a personal dialog between you and your “shadow.”

When struck by a negative thought, ask your inner critic for her or his hand to dance. Sound silly? Do it now, and while you’re at it, gently, seductively whisper into her or his ear that you are taking the lead in this dance. By integrating these mental gymnastics into your creative life you will be open to the possibility of experiencing creative freedom, and then the true dance can begin!

Challenge you inner critic by giving shape to the existentials of life, “What does the warm, engrossing blackness where creative ideas spring from look and feel like?” Draw it, write it, map it, BUT don’t think about it!

Successful artists are successful for a number of reasons, but here are five to remember:

  1. They are passionate about their work.
  2. They are risk takers.
  3. They are technical experts at their craft.
  4. They feel comfortable with failure.
  5. They are “strange and unusual” and damn proud of it.
  6. They consign art and creativity to the theatre of everyday life – something they do with every nuance of their existence.

Creativity is important to our health. Never underestimate the power of a journey. And if you feel at times that you’re not up to the test, remember this: if you don’t risk the journey, you risk even more.

The Sounds of Silence: The Art of Stillness

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Culturally, spiritually and psychologically we live in a paradox. We retreat from our call-to-being by crafting stylish diversions; neatly manufactured conduits to conveniently bypass the chaotic backwoods of our lives rather than direct us on a path through the Terra Incognita. Yet, we crave something more beyond our smartly planned objectives. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Christian Psalm tells us. Stillness, tranquility, peacefulness, calm and concentration; the Buddhists call it Samatha.  

Our raison d’être for exploring the geography of psyche is to discover deeper and lasting meaning, direction and rationale through an evident lack of meaning, direction and rationale.  Consequently, occupation, career, acquisitiveness, and changing technology and systems are now endemic throughout our collective and personal unconscious. Taking the time to work through a crisis, even a relatively minor one, requires us to concede that our bridges are not so stylish, not so sturdy, not so safe. The map plainly illustrates that the monsters of fable, which use to haunt the imaginations of all travelers has been replaced with a less discernible, albeit more frightening, pathology produced from a life left unquestioned and anxiety unchecked. Sadly, our egos are not well-versed in plotting an effective course, and anxiety swells while we further devise elevated, objective methods to escape the natural world lingering below. 

This increased anxiety results in a further distancing from our creative selves, while we force as much activity and noise into our psyche in a self-medicating attempt to obscure the call for calm. Reality television, shop from home, instant messaging, downloadable music and movies, and even therapy by e-mail are now directly accessible in packages that are engaging on the surface, but are ultimately symptomatic of our creative insolvency. These diversions, void of personal meaning and substance, nurture our digressions and weaken our creative and psychological vigor. 

Simply put, we’ve become bored with our lives.  

Therapists have an obligation to be familiar with the creative influence of stillness and the empowerment of silence as an art, not a technique. In recent years, our profession has demanded we circumvent the prickly subject of being still; a quiet mind is metaphorically viewed as a “devil’s playground,” and most empirical validated therapies heed this adage. 

Stay distracted, rate your feelings on a number scale, complete the therapeutic “homework” and your symptoms will decrease. However, the source of the individual’s malaise remains unattended like a super-sized, hyperactive child running amok in a jungle-gym of smoke and mirrors. The inexhaustible revisions in textbooks, the pretensions of clinical research and statistics, the departmental and administrative meetings, and the suggestion that we as therapists somehow provide helpful and informed solutions for others, exhibits the inane, magical thinking that all too often plagues our human sciences. Bells and whistles will explain away pain, while homework and workbooks will change behaviors.  

Let us never lose sight of what Toto revealed behind the curtain. 

Within the context of the creative process, our ability to integrate psyche is much more possible than through other orientations if executed with care, compassion and understanding. Just as a tree is an arrangement of numerous substances that compose its treeness, imagination and vision tend to present as multifaceted essentials. There are many roots to the same tree all moving in different directions, but sharing common qualities. The same could be said for the creative process, be it writing, painting, sculpting, or composing music. The cohesive bond shared between artist and expression is a silent channel of communication that is open, deep and provides connectivity to the psyche in a creative style. 

It is our creative, artistic endeavors that become the conduit for change, and it’s here that the spiritual essence of an individual-in-the-world can be called forth. Psyche is always with us. She is ever present and can either be embraced and accepted or avoided, displaced and repressed into a nothingness that eventually pressures us to reevaluate and renew ourselves.

Exploring the crossroads of creativity and psyche reawakens our conception and understanding of both. The most prized gift we can give the other is our creative presence. This presence need not be spoken in any language other than that of the artist’s silence. When our presence is attentive it blooms within us and others, crafting an otherwise ordinary encounter into a rich tapestry on a weaver’s endless loom.