In Memoriam

September 18th, 2012 by Maryjo Morgan

Victoria J. Peters, Ph.D.
1951 – 2012 

________________

Victoria Jean Peters never did things by halves. When she took to watercolor, she surrounded herself with art supplies, critique groups, and books about color theory, carving out a space in her finished basement to support her passion. When she decided to learn Spanish, she tapped many modes of learning, books, software, classes, culminating in a month-long intensive in Puebla, Mexico. When she embraced tango, she underwent bunion surgery on both feet so she could wear her sexy tango heels and flaring dresses. Succumbing to ovarian cancer after more than two years of keeping it at bay, Vicki left us too soon on September 16, 2012, at the vibrant age of sixty-one.

Though best known and loved as a clinical psychologist practicing in Fort Collins since 1993, she enjoyed an earlier career of nearly ten years as a medical technician in Portland, Oregon. A life-long lover of theatre, an experimenter in epicurean delights, and a world traveler, Vicki will be greatly missed by friends, family, clients, and colleagues.

She is survived by her husband Robert Carl Devereaux of Fort Collins, CO and by her father James Milton Peters of Rio Rico, AZ and her brothers Theodore Clarke Peters of Redondo Beach, CA, Paul Charles Peters of Tucson, AZ, and James Frederick Peters of Oceana, CA. Donations may be made in Victoria’s name to Pathways Hospice of Larimer County. No flowers, please.

A memorial service and remembrance will be held at the Shambhala Meditation Center, 126A West Mountain Avenue, Fort Collins on Saturday, September 22nd, at 4 pm (back alley entrance). Please bring a small amount of food to share. The Center opens at 3:30 pm. (Click here for directions.)

_________________

September 1, 2012

A Message of Love and Peace

September 15th, 2012 by Victoria Peters

My Dear Clients, Friends, and Colleagues,

It pains me to write this letter, which probably should have been written a month earlier. For health reasons, It is time for me to close my psychology practice immediately. Many of you know that I have been battling ovarian cancer since May of 2010, over two years now. Most of the treatments have worked up until a time when the cancer decided to progress again. Up until recently, there had always been a new chemo drug to try. Sadly, we are out of drugs that we can try and my cancer cells have become resistant to them all. Last week, my oncologist referred me to Hospice care where I will receive comfort care in my own home.

My main reason for writing you is to express my deep appreciation for your support and concern throughout this time. Even those of you who knew nothing of this illness were present and working with me in ways that I could see were making a difference for you. Through our work together, I
have striven to make our time together about you. And surprisingly, that has come easily for me.Here is what I hope you take with you as this chapter ends. May your hearts be just a little bit more open to others and your world and may they continue to open. May you keep practicing the sacred pause before you act or speak, taking those three magical moments to appreciate your breathing in the present moment. May you continue to grow true compassion for yourselves and others. These
are the big three as I see them.Thanks to the heavens above and this wondrous universe that knows no limits, you and I (in some other place I presume) are assured a continuous flow of teachings in these things. The more we learn, the richer and more flexible our lives become. And joy, the authentic happiness we all seem
to want, true joy becomes a more constant companion to us even in our hours of pain.These are the things I want for you, dear ones. Some of you are in a good place to take a break from therapy and try your wings. Others have only just started and will need to start again with someone new. Unfortunately I’m not in a strong enough position physically to be researching and
making referrals. For that, you are on your own.

While I am not generally taking calls these days, feel free to leave a message which I may or may
not be able to return.

Peace and Love,

Victoria J. Peters
September 1, 2012

Managing Stress

October 29th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

As the sun begins to rise and set lower on the horizon and the leaves are off the trees, it’s good to remember that we need to take care of ourselves. The late Fall and early Winter can leave us feeling drained of energy and filled with more stress than is good for us. Check out this little article on *turning stress into bliss*. I especially recommend the vimeo “The Mountain”  from TSO Photography and the Norwegian landscape photographer Terje Sorgjerd.  Absolutely beautiful!

 

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

October 7th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

Steve Jobs died on October 5. I think the Commencement address he delivered to Stanford graduates in 2005 is just about the best example of what it means to live a value-driven life.  It is straight to the point.  And here is the most eloquently stated description of the role of death in the process of living fully:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”–Steve Jobs

What I also appreciate about Steve is that he was one of those highly successful people with a “checkered past.”  He was not afraid to expose himself to failure, which, by the way, is how we learn best.

Read the entire address. It will inspire!

Values - Part 2

August 30th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

In part 1 of this blog on values, I covered the basic definition of values and why it is so important to consider our values as we travel through life. Summarizing quickly, values are not goals, they are not feelings, and they do not necessarily have anything to do with morals. They are about ongoing action in the service of how we want to be in the world.

Here are some other features of values that help us distinguish them from goals. Values are something that exists in the present moment whereas goals are in the future. Values never need to be defended, explained, or justified. Values often need to be prioritized. And values are freely chosen. Okay, so now that you know what values are and are not, how do you figure out what your values are?

Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, has made available on his website some forms you can download to help you clarify your values. Simply follow the hyperlink below.

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/Values_Questionnaire.pdf

Forms are a useful tool to help with organizing your thoughts so you can think about your values across several domains or areas in your life. The form contained in the hyperlink, derived from “the Valued Living Questionnaire by Kelly Wilson,” lists ten domains with instructions about how to complete the second page of the form. Most of my clients become quickly overwhelmed when presented with all ten areas at once. It is helpful, therefor, to pick the top three or four areas in your life that feel the most important to you right now and work with just those.  Remember, the object of this inquiry process is not to fly through these and answer the questions as you would a  pop-psych quiz or magazine survey, but rather, to let yourself sit with the questions, to mull them and imagine the possibilities contained in living your life in the direction of your values.

All values worksheets have in common a way to denote the distance between how important you say a value is to you and how you are actually living with respect to that value. On the linked form, it’s the difference between “importance” and “success.”  The greater the gap between what you deem important to you and what you are doing in the service of that value, the less satisfied you are likely to feel about your life. For example, if I say that social relations are very important to me yet I note that in the last few months I have not telephoned anyone, not gotten together with friends, or bothered to connect in any way, then I am probably going to feel some emptiness in this area of my life. Notice, the focus is on what I have done or not done; it’s on my actions, not my feelings.

Often when I ask a client about their values, they answer in terms of their goals, or in terms of what they want to have in their life or what they want to get from others. Examples include wanting to have a particular body, a partner, or a job. Wanting to get respect, love, or friendship from others are goals. And wanting to feel more self-confident or happy is also an example of a goal rather than a value.

*In order to get to the values that underlie these goals, ask yourself the following questions prefaced with the phrase, “If this goal were achieved…”

-What would I do differently?

-How would I act differently?

-How would I behave differently in my relationships, work life, social life, family life, and so on?

-What personal qualities or strengths would it (achieving the goal) demonstrate?

-What would it show that I stand for?

-What would it enable me to do that is meaningful and that matters in the big picture?

For example, if you had self-confidence, or you felt happy, or you had lots of money, or you had someone who cherished you, then how would you act differently? What would you do differently? How would you behave differently? Then ask yourself, what is important about that? As you can see, these questions are part of a distillation process; we’re boiling things down to the essence of what is important by asking more questions.

It’s also important to remove the “contingency factor” when thinking about values. By contingency factor, I mean the mental equation that goes like this: “If I had money (or health, or status…), then I would……”  “If I didn’t have so much pain, then I would…….”  This mental equation sets us up to feel paralyzed from doing anything in the area we value. If the first part of the equation is not satisfied, then the second part cannot occur. But this second part is crucial in moving us in the direction of our values.

If clarifying your values is something you think you want to do, then try working with these questions. Write about your values. See if you can notice what is blocking you from acting in accordance with your values.  Next time, I’ll write more about how people get stuck or confused in this process.

*(from Russ Harris, ACT Made Simple)

Back to School

August 20th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

It’s that time of year again. Summer is turning quickly into Fall and that means many of you are busy with helping your children get off to a good start in the new school year. For those of you with children who are in the K through 12 group, this generally involves helping them organize themselves and their lives so they get the most out of school. But how do you do this for your son or daughter who is leaving for college?

There are many challenges to parents whose children are entering college for the first time. One of those is knowing what your role as a parent is in this context and, if you are the young adult reading this, knowing what your responsibilities as a college student are. Here, I am focusing only on the psychological issues of concern, and not on the logistical and organizational issues, although these can certainly overlap with psychological issues.

At this time of year, I receive a number of emails and phone calls from parents who have concerns about their son or daughter’s emotional and mental health. It’s understandable that parents are often quite worried, particularly if they have witnessed their child struggle with anxiety or depression during their high school years. I also comprehend the need a parent might have to insure that their son or daughter has access to good professional psychological care. Most people are aware of the limitations around using student counseling centers. Typically university counseling centers are short of resources and tend, therefor, to limit services to five or six sessions and/or group counseling. I am a fan of group counseling, particularly for this age group, however, it can be difficult to convince someone who is afraid of groups that this would be helpful. Consequently, many students may elect to forgo counseling altogether.

So let’s assume you have a son or daughter whom you worry about and that you want to find a psychologist or therapist they can see while they are away from home. Let’s also assume that your son or daughter agrees with you and that they want to see a therapist during the school year. Here is what I recommend you do. Above all, involve your son or daughter in the process of finding a therapist. It’s fine for you to do a preliminary search, but if you do not involve them in choosing a therapist, they will have less invested in going to therapy.

Once you and your college student have agreed upon a therapist, have them call to schedule the initial appointment. Just because you have made all of their doctor and dentist appointments for them while they were living at home, do not assume that making an appointment for them to see a therapist will succeed.  It is fine for you to call the therapist, but don’t expect the therapist to schedule an appointment for your child without a conversation between the therapist and your son or daughter.

The next step is to have your son or daughter make the call to the therapist. This is vitally important for many reasons. The message you are giving your son or daughter is that they are responsible for seeking help and making appointments for their health issues, both mental and physical. Your assistance should be minimal. “But my daughter is too anxious to call you,” you say. If that is the case, give the therapist his or her phone number and let your child know that the therapist will be calling them. Once the connection between the therapist and your son or daughter has been made, step back and let them decide if they want to work with the therapist.

My experience with this situation has been that, when Mom (usually) makes the appointment without involvement of her son or daughter, and without them conversing with the therapist, there is little sense of responsibility taken on the part of the college student. Frequently, students who have had no phone contact with the therapist don’t even bother to show up for the appointment. This is why, in my practice, I require that the son or daughter converse with me first and that they schedule their own appointments with me.

Once your son or daughter has started counseling, the only thing you should be aware of are the bills, if you have agreed to pay for services. Confidentiality between client and therapist is a necessary component of successful therapy (as well as an ethical requirement).  All other information about your son or daughter’s therapy is confidential and up to them to share or not. The only exception is when a client is suicidal, then that information is usually shared with the parent(s).

When you follow these recommendations, you are helping your son or daughter accept more responsibility for themselves and conveying your belief in them that they are mature enough to make decisions on their own behalf. As for you readers who might be the college student in this scenario, remember that it is your responsibility to keep your appointments and communicate with your therapist about scheduling needs and with your parents about financial issues.

Finally, the place where parents can be of particular help is in figuring out the insurance, if insurance is being used to cover therapy. Since parents are usually the primary subscriber on a policy that covers family members, it is the primary subscriber’s responsibility to find out the details of the mental health benefit. Be sure to read the article “How to Choose a Therapist” under the Article section of this website for more about insurance issues.

Working with Values - part 1

August 7th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

What do you want your life to stand for? If you died tomorrow, what would you want said about you in your obituary? These are the questions we all need to ask ourselves at various stages in our lives. Posing these questions and puzzling out the answers are like consulting a road map in order to see where you have been, where you are going, and whether you wish to continue in the same direction. Life is like one long adventurous road trip from birth until death. We make many stops along the way, some planned, some not. We lose our way and find it again. We negotiate obstacles in our path. We may even change directions entirely on our journey. Whatever it is that we do, there is the possibility of creating great joy and meaning in our life on the one hand, or, on the other, simply an existence that is felt as somehow empty and devoid of the richness and texture of a life well-lived. This is the stuff of values. It is my intention to write several blogs to capture the essence of what is meant by the valuing process, particularly in therapy. It is a subject near and dear to me and one of the most important processes anyone can engage in.

In my experience, many of my clients are quite confused or even avoidant about values. We all seem to recognize that values are important in our lives, but many of us have difficulty clearly identifying our values or consistently engaging in behaviors in the service of our values. There are lots of reasons for this and my hope is that this blog will begin to shed some light on why working with values is often so tricky.

Perhaps the best place to begin is with a definition of values. Values in this context do not necessarily have anything to do with morals. The easiest way to think of values is that they are the things that really matter to you. Russ Harris (ACT Made Simple) states this simply as “values are statements about what we want to be doing with our life: about what we want to stand for, and how we want to behave on an ongoing basis.” Some of these things have been known to you since you were very young while others seem to have been acquired as you accumulate experiences in living. I like the visual depiction of values as a beacon or lighthouse on a foggy night at sea. Like a compass, they provide us with crucial information about the direction we are traveling even when life presents a fog bank of distractions, if only we will pay attention to them. When we do, we are able to steer our lives in the direction of what is important to us. And when we move in the direction of our values, the feelings we experience in the long run are nothing short of rewarding. Why? Because when we are following our heart’s desires for the way we want to be in the world, and the way we want to relate to others and our deepest selves, we experience a sense of completeness or congruence. Just the act of living according to what we say is deeply important to us creates the congruence that is so rewarding. We just feel “right” about our lives.

People often confuse values with goals. Goals are quite different. Think of them as the places you stop along the way during your travel in a particular direction. If you were to travel “west” you could do this forever without getting to “west” but you would need to make stops along your route to rest and refuel or to enjoy the sights. Goals are the accomplishments or activities we complete that are in the service of a particular value. Goals are often about having or getting something. If you can cross it off your “to do” list, it isn’t a value; it’s a goal. Achievements, however grand, are not values. Values are about “ongoing action,” that is, what you want to keep on doing. If your value in the domain of relationships is to be loving, generous, sensitive, and a good friend, you don’t ever “complete” this. Rather, you behave in these ways over and over again simply because it is intrinsically reinforcing to do so; that is, you derive pleasure naturally just from the way you behave and not because of any external rewards you get from acting this way.

Feelings are not values either, although we generally experience emotions associated with a valued behavior. So “It’s important to me to feel happy,” or “It’s important to me to feel loved” would not be values. Another way to think of it is in terms of behavior. You can’t do happy or do feeling loved.

Values are also about “global qualities” of ongoing action; they are about how we do that action. Think adverbs here. Suppose you want to play the piano. This is something you can do on an ongoing basis; however, it says nothing about the quality of your action. By itself, playing the piano would not be a value. But how you play describes a quality of this action. For instance, you could play skillfully, whole-heartedly, or lazily, playfully, and so on. The global nature of how an action is done means that it applies to more than one activity. Ask yourself what personal qualities or strengths you would want to model in your piano playing. How would you want to share (or not) your musicality with others? You might uncover values such as being focused, well-practiced, wanting to delight others with your playing, competing with others, and so on.

Here’s the neat thing about values; whether or not you have a piano in your life you can still be focused, well-practiced at whatever it is you do, delight others with your actions, or compete with others. You could move away to some place where you couldn’t have a piano and still live these values. That’s what is meant by a “global” quality. It’s not limited to one context or activity. You don’t have to have achieved a goal (gotten something) to actualize the value. I often use the example of being loving and caring when talking with people about their desire to be married or in a relationship. You cannot be sure you will achieve the goal of having a romantic partner, but you can be loving and caring toward your family, friends, neighbors, pets, and most importantly yourself. I think you can begin to see how values are more empowering than goals. Values are always available to us; in any moment we can act on them or neglect them; the choice is ours. Goals, on the other hand, depend on many factors over which we have no control.

Values are “desired” qualities of ongoing action. In other words, we choose the way we do something because we want to do it that way. If we behave in a certain way because we think we should or have to, then it’s not really a value of ours. This is where people often lose sight of their values. There is such a strong desire to please others, that we often end up sacrificing our deepest desires for social approval.

This is a long blog entry. For those of you who have gotten this far, I appreciate your patience. Now that some of the basics have been presented, I’ll continue next time with the ways we can begin to clarify our values.

 

Meditation in Action

June 16th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

Things are coming together again. I’ve spent this past month dealing with some health issues that ultimately help me grow my capacity for humility and compassion–the silver lining to all of this. My energy is returning and more frequent blogging is on the horizon.

It’s early summer, a time of activity. I can feel the need to change some ways of doing things as well as ways of being in the world. I don’t know about you, but for me things seem to speed up in the summer. Flowers bloom, fruit and vegetables appear everywhere, people and animals are more active. Yet with all this activity, I feel a simultaneous need to slow down, so that I might savor these fleeting summer months.

My mindfulness practice changes a bit during the year. I naturally seek out meditation through activity.  I just re-read a book by Frederick Franck called Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing: Meditation in Action. Having fallen away from drawing and painting over the past couple of years, I am returning to drawing. I am remembering what it was about drawing that captured me so, what it was that allowed me to persist past all of my mind’s protestations that I cannot draw. It is the experience of making genuine contact with my immediate world.

Most of us speed through our days without connecting to much. There is the illusory connection through electronic devises and social media, yet the genuine connection with people and our immediate environment happens so rarely. This is where drawing as meditation comes in. Try this. Take a leaf from your yard, or any object in your immediate environment. Notice first the flurry of thoughts that accompany this choosing. “I can’t draw…..I don’t like it…..this will make a good picture…this is too complicated…this is boring.”

Next, sit down with some inexpensive drawing paper (newsprint is cheap and perfect for this exercise) and a mechanical pencil.  Spend the next three to five minutes simply observing the object you have chosen. Make the commitment to stay with this object no matter what your mind tells you to do. See if you can begin to feel the shift from “looking at” it to really “seeing” it. Don’t worry if that shift does not happen right away. After you begin to feel familiar with this object, start to draw the contours of the object, simple lines that describe the object. Let your pencil “caress” the shape and form of the object. No shading or “sketching” just simple line. Slow it way down so that it takes you a good ten to twenty minutes to draw this object. Then do it again and again until thirty to forty minutes have passed. Notice the mental chatter, “that doesn’t look like anything…that looks pretty good…this is boring…” The mind will chatter away, try to convince you of the impossibility of this task (if you are not accustomed to drawing).  Repeat this meditation with the same object for the next five days. Just notice what happens. Just let yourself be curious about the process. Remember, the point of this exercise, this meditation, is not to create a fabulous drawing of something. It does not matter what your drawing looks like. This is a meditation. This is what is meant by meditation in action.

Meditation in action can look like walking, t’ai chi, yoga, rock climbing, playing a musical instrument, and so on. Basically, any activity that requires single pointed focus can be approached as a meditation. I chose drawing because it is not something that comes easily to me. It is an activity I cannot do in autopilot. I had to laugh when I realized that the object I had chosen for this week’s meditation was a pair of eyeglasses. Every day I am spending thirty to forty minutes drawing this object in various orientations so that I might really “see” my world more clearly. I have noticed myself really looking more closely at people, really letting myself “see” them.  See what happens when you try this. And if it catches your interest, check out Frederik Franck’s book. It’s lovely.

 

 

 

 

When Things Fall Apart

May 17th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

The weekly quote from Pema Chodron during the first week of May was taken from her book “When Things Fall Apart.” Paraphrasing, she writes that things in our lives, like relationships, jobs, health and so forth are always coming together and falling apart. It is natural for us to focus on “fixing” things. We think if we can just come up with the “right solution” to whatever problem it is that’s plaguing us, then we won’t have to worry about it falling apart or breaking again. It will stay fixed. Of course we know from experience that this is not the way life is. Things are always coming together and falling apart again. That’s just the way it is.

The same week this quote appeared in my email, I learned that the illness I thought I had been cured of last year is back. Things have fallen apart again. Just when I think I finally have my life back in order, I get the nasty surprise.  Pema’s heart advice is that we need to make room for everything that happens, not just the good stuff. “There needs to be room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”  Life isn’t a buffet where we get to pick and choose what we want to have. We get it all. Try screening out the “bad stuff” and you will end up getting rid of the good stuff too.

Another way this shows up in people’s lives is in avoidance. Anxiety is a good example. If public speaking makes me anxious, I can just avoid the anxiety by avoiding the public speaking. But what if I really want to speak in public? Perhaps I want to honor a friend or family member by speaking for them at some important event. Now I have to choose between two pains. I can avoid the pain of anxiety by not speaking, but in the process I take on a bigger pain, the pain of not living my life according to what really matters to me. I must endure the pain of absence, the missing joy I would feel at honoring my friend or family member in a way they wished.  Pema would say, we need to make room for the pain that accompanies what we wish to do in order to experience the joy in the doing of it.

So, the advice is to let there be room for things to come together and fall apart. There is nothing that needs to be solved or fixed. If we can make space for the totality of our experiences, life just might be a little lighter.

 

Compassion and Empathy

April 8th, 2011 by Victoria Peters

I have been thinking a lot about compassion lately. Someone recently asked me “what is the difference between empathy and compassion?”  I thought this would be a very easy question to answer. Not really.  The literature on empathy is quite broad and now encompasses brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to pinpoint exactly what is happening in the brain when we are responding to another’s pain. I find it easier to look at the effects; personal, social and biological, of empathy or compassion rather than looking at the hairsplitting multipage articles that one so often finds in scholarly journals where language seems to further obfuscate the issue.  There is a growing interest among researchers in this area regarding what happens in the brain when people voluntarily generate compassion during loving-kindness compassion meditation states. As I read more about this, the distinction between compassion and empathy, if there was one, seems to disappear.

Even more interesting in the research on compassion is the link between happiness and compassion. The Dalai Lama says it this way: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Serendipitously, the TedTalks I subscribe to posted a talk on everyday compassion as it is practiced at Google.  This is a very inspiring talk and I urge you to watch and listen to it. I am intrigued and plan to read more about compassion as well as self-compassion as it is being studied.  Chade-Meng Tan: Everyday Compassion at Google Ted Talk find it here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/chade_meng_tan_everyday_compassion_at_google.html

Switching topics: I watched a documentary recently called MAN ON WIRE about Phillippe Petit, the Frenchman who captured the world’s attention in 1974 by walking across a high wire between New York’s Twin Towers. (You can find this on Netflix.) It’s a compelling and captivating story. For several days after, during my morning meditations, I noticed how I felt like I was on a high wire. Sustaining my attention on my breath, I had the bodily sensation of a certain balance and whenever my mind wandered too long and too far off the breath, I literally felt myself lose my balance.

Interestingly, ( again, serendipity), I ran across a passage in one of Sharon Salzberg’s books about mediation where she invokes the image of the tight rope walker.  She writes that when our minds are drawn into wanting something (desire, attachment) we “reach” and lose our mental balance just as we would if were walking on a wire and overextended ourselves. When our minds are focused on getting rid of something we don’t want (aversion), we grow tense and again lose our balance. When our minds are bored, we become spaced out and sleepy and lose our balance for lack of attention. The difference between wire-walking and meditation of course, is that in meditation we “fall” to another high wire and begin again.

This idea of holding one’s attention “not too tight, not too loose” is illustrated by various writers through images of horsemanship and archery to name just two. Hold the reins of your wild horse mind too tight, and off its back you go; too loose, and off you go into territory not of your choosing; just right and you are stuck like glue to its back firmly planted in the present moment.  I haven’t done enough archery to describe the feelings of holding the bow too tight or loose, but I imagine many of you in Colorado have ridden at least one spirited horse.