Unique Solutions to Our Relationships

Brit Palmer, owner and primary therapist at Connections Counseling, shares her insight about how Safer at Home affects our relationships with our family and friends.

See the transcript below.

Keith Essary: Hi everyone. I’m Keith and thanks for tuning into our newest series, Main and Mulberry: Community At Home. And today I have with us Brit Palmer, the owner and primary therapist at Connections Counseling and she is with us to talk about how Safer At Home affects our relationships. So Brit, thanks for taking the time to be with us today.

Brit Palmer: Hi Keith. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

KE: Yeah, absolutely. I always like to start with just giving our listeners a little bit of a background on what you do, who you are, what your license is and what you specialize in.

BP: Okay, sure. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and I specialize in treating trauma and attachment relationships and also eating disorders. And I practice in office therapy, which is what most people think of when they think of therapy or counseling. But I also incorporate equine-assisted psychotherapy whenever possible.

KE: Okay. So tell me a little bit about that. I know you said you specialize in an attachment relationships. Is that kind of where the equine comes in and tell us a little bit about just what equine even is? 

BP: Yeah, so equine therapy does absolutely have help with attachment relationships. But we can use equine therapy for different reasons, attachment relationships, our marriages, parent child, maybe even our relationships to our family of origin. For instance, my relationship to my mother, even though I’m a grown adult, that’s still an attachment relationship. And a lot of times when people are having problems, their problems are affecting their attachment relationships or their attachment relationships are creating problems.

KE: Okay. I got you. Yes it does. And in terms of the equine therapy that kind of helps to improve if it can help to improve relationships between people, right? 

BP: Yeah, absolutely. So what equine therapy does, or equine assisted therapy or EAP, you’ll hear it interchangeably. It gives us an opportunity to build so much awareness about ourselves and others and helps us learn how to create this secure relationship with someone else. So this kind of therapy for many people is the first opportunity they’ve had to experience a safe, secure relationship or for others, they really need to practice some of this awareness and skill building with someone other than their human relationship partner first. So we partner them with a horse or a donkey actually, and help them learn how to build this relationship.

KE: That’s very interesting. Does that, how does that play into the animal, the horse or the donkey, or are they getting anything from this or is it purely their hair, their and and helping the humans to learn that relationship? 

BP: Well, that’s one of my favorite parts is that it does absolutely help the animal too. So what we’re doing when we, and I’ll explain this a little bit more detail in a minute, but when we are working with each other and giving each other choices or changing the wiring of the brain or changing neural pathways, so when we’re getting a force of choice, for example, then that’s kind of exercising the horses, bring the horses, learning the horses, making decisions, and it changing the horses brain so that the horse can actually think things through and problem solve. So most horses operate from a survival standpoint, right? That’s their natural way is to operate from a survival brain. And so when we are doing this work with a forest, we’re actually helping them strengthen a different part of their brain, their logical problem solving part of their brain, which makes them safer to be around, um, which makes them less reactive, uh, and make them better overall relationship partners. So we’ve got, uh, quite a few horses that are rescued, um, and you know, were horses that were afraid to be around people or just didn’t really know how to think for themselves. And after doing the work that they do with our, with us and with our patients, you begin to see changes in them, so it does benefit them as much as the person.

KE: That’s cool. So it’s kind of mutually beneficial. So you did this at a, I’m assuming some sort of a farm or you’ve got a place where, where people come and, and they, I kind of imagine it as they, they come in and there’s these horses there and, and there’s kind of a building of relationship between, between those two. And so that’s, that’s happening I guess at a, at a farm somewhere. And tell me a little bit about what the fundamentals of that though. What does it look like? 

BP: Yeah, so the farm is what I call my other office. And so our farm is actually located in Piperton, technically Collierville mailing address but it’s technically Piperton, off Raleigh-LaGrange road. And we have a 50 acre farm with a place for the horses to be out in the open and live as naturally as possible as a herd. And then the work, the actual sessions can be held in different places. Sometimes they’re held right there in the arena with a fence around us. Sometimes they’re held in a smaller space, kind of spontaneously. Like the horse might be in the stall. And we ended up doing some work in the stall, which is their little individual states. Or we may end up out in the pasture or back in the obstacle course doing some work with them there so it can take place all over the farm.

KE: So is this, this is an outdoor experience and you’re there, I guess kind of guiding the process and um, how does it, how does it help with, and I want to move into quickly into kind of how we’re at home and the code of our, but real quickly, how does it, what’s kind of the principles or how does it help the human into, into understanding and building their relationships?

BP: Okay. So going back to, you know how this helps people build awareness, right? One thing we’re often not aware of is that when we want to connect with someone or we’re asking for cooperation from someone, we may not realize that we are applying pressure to someone to get them to do what we’re asking and applying pressure is okay, but we need to be a little bit more deliberate and know what we’re doing with our pressure and what someone’s feeling in response to our pressure. So if the goal is connection or cooperation, they’re the same thing, right? If we’re connected, we’ll probably cooperate and vice versa. Um, then we’re trying to get away from compliance or coercion. A lot of times when we are asking somebody to do something, we end up getting compliance, right? And so somehow we have an applied pressure in a way that’s actually good for their relationship.

BP: So in order to do it that way, we need to learn about pressure, how much pressure we’re applying, what we’re getting in response to the pressure and what to do with our pressure based on what we’re getting. It takes a lot of self awareness and ability to adjust ourselves, right? If we can’t manage ourselves enough to control our own pressure or no, is my pressure too high? Is my pressure too low? What am I getting from you when I apply pressure to you? Then we may not get connection when might just kind of miss the mark or we may even damage your relationship.

KE: Okay. And so when you say create a connection with someone and compliance and those, those are, those are kind of hard words, but your meaning does in even micro level thing. It’s not that I’m, these are, I have to watch when I’m playing, applying pressure, when I’m creating a new relationship with someone or when I’m asking him to do something that I want them to do that they may not want to do. You take this all the way to the micro level to say that even a connection is just, Hey, I want to have a conversation with someone that I’m in a relationship with. Whether it’s, you know, father, son or husband, wife that, Hey, I’m starting a conversation. That’s an example of a connection of someone trying to connect and then understanding, um, the, the pressure that comes along with that pressure is a hardware too because it doesn’t seem like whenever I’m, you know, just asking someone to, Hey, how are you doing? How’s your day that that’s applying pressure. But it is kind of right. I mean because your, that’s in your, in your terms, it is kind of because that anything can be creating a connection even if it’s just initiating a conversation. Is that right? 

BP: Yes, absolutely. So another way to think about pressure is energy. Some people are even more comfortable with the word energy. Instead of pressure, you need to put some energy into making a request to connect. So it’s this deliberate, Oh, I want to engage and talk to this person or I want to ask somebody to spend some time with me. Then when I do that, when I convey that somehow that’s putting energy toward that person or horse, right? So that is some pressure. The idea though is that you apply the least amount of pressure as is necessary to get connections. So again, that word pressure kind of has a negative association with it, but pressure can be way down there on that one. You know, on a dial of one to 10 I can apply the level one and get connections. The pressure is definitely on the low to high. Right?

KE: It does. It’s just kind of, to me it sounds like just understanding the dynamics that are happening between two people, whether it’s something that’s very big that needs to be discussed or something that you’re, that you’re trying to accomplish or whether it’s something very small. Just understanding how I’m approaching that and how the other person is approaching that to have the most successful, the most opportunity for a successful connection. And kind of these are words around that. It’s kind of a language around that. But if everybody understands their relationships would improve and, and you carry that on into saying, okay, I’m going to have you work with horse, which is, which is gets you outside and it gets you into a different environment. But, um, if I would fly a certain level of, I learn myself that if I apply a certain level of pressure here that this animal is going to react in a different way and I need to respond to um, how they’re responding to my level of pressure. When do I increase the window? I’ll walk away how do I read it? And by doing that and learning that at a very fundamental level, it helps to improve the relationships that you have in all aspects of your life.

BP: Exactly. You get to practice it with your relationship partner at the farm and learn about yourself and learn some self regulation skills to work through what you get when you don’t get connection cause you don’t always get connection, then you are ready to then take it back to your human relationships and practice it with them. So like I said, we don’t always get connection when we ask, right? So if we did like it would be much simpler. Everybody would be, uh, it would be easier to have these relationships. But a lot of times when I make a request to connect, um, from somebody, I’m going to get ignored instead or I’m going to get resisted instead.

KE: It must be harder today because everybody’s looking at their phone or whatever, you know, all these distractions are happening. So that may happen more and more.

BP: Absolutely. So, and we get mixed messages, right? Like I know my kids will say, are you listening to me? And I’m looking down at my phone answering something. Yeah, I’m listening, right? My kids can tell that I’m not really congrats. I’m not 100% present and they don’t buy it. Same with the horse. The horse will sense if I’m not really there and ready to connect either. And so you get feedback from whoever it is that’s in communication with you about what they’re getting from you, right? So if I am ignoring, they may increase their crusher. Hey mom, I’m talking to you. That’s an increasing pressure. Or vice versa. If I’m trying to get my kids’ attention in there on their side, so I’m getting ignored, then I want to actually increase my pressure, but in little increments, you know, from that one to a two and then only from a two to a three if I’m still getting ignored and so on. What we tend to do is give up and stop asking. So we release our pressure, never mind, you’re going to ignore me here. I’m going to go into another room. Right? Or we increase our pressure a whole lot that we go from one Southern or 10 right? We zip it up there and instead of thinking about, okay, I’m getting ignored, let me try again with a little bit more pressure, a little bit more insistent and gradually increase it. Or when I’m getting ignored.

KE: It sounds like a perfect kind of a segue in because that has to be happening a lot now. Everyone is at home during this safer at home. We can’t go outside so parents are with their kids more parents and spouses are with each other more and now you’re getting, potentially you’re getting pressure applied to you at times when you typically didn’t have that pressure. You may be okay, I drop my kid off at school and then I’ve got 30 minutes that I go work out or I’ve got an hour that I, that I drink coffee or that I do this and this is my routine. Well now this person is present during this routine and so I’m getting potentially pressure. I’m also trying to keep up with the news and what’s going on. I’m trying to make sure family members are okay. I try to work at home, which I’m usually not do. May be some ways working at home and now I’ve got somebody applying pressure there and then I’m also applying pressure because I’m present in their lives and things that they’re not doing. So what can you give us in terms of this situation that kind of helps? It can help everybody to understand and maybe be a little more peaceful at home, if that’s the right word.

BP: Yeah, so the way that that, the term I would use for that is we want to still feel connection, but it doesn’t always have to be what we think of as connection. We usually think of as being together. Uh, and the term I use is connected attachment. That’s what we use in our therapy model is the term connected attachment. So we are around each other all the time. Right now we’re working from home, we’re schooling at home, we’re sharing all these meals, we’re sharing rooms. You know, there’s a lot of together in this now. So it almost feels like forced connected attachment. Sometimes some people are more comfortable with that connected attachment than others. Some people are more comfortable with a little bit of space, which we would call connected detachment. It’s still connection, but it’s, you know, with some space, right? So I think that it’s really important for people in a household together to actually talk about this even even before anything happens to say, Hey these are, this is something I learned listening to a show and I wondered what you guys think about this.

KE: Do you feel like there’s a lot of togetherness that feels like a lot of pressure because we can be together without being together and when we have a secure relationship, honestly we are okay with bolts. We’re okay with connected detachments and we’re okay with connected attachment. We can have some of both. Right now we’ve, we’ve been, we’ve had some of that choice taken away, right? Like we want to have choice to connect, but right now because of circumstances we are being forced together with people within the same four walls or we’re being forced away from people. So we’re having to get pretty creative when it comes to maintaining connection. But balance and attachment and some detachment. And one of the best ways to start with that is just start talking about it. Start, you know, try using some of these languages and if it feels mechanical and kind of weird.

BP: But it’s a dialogue that you can start with people to say, so are you feeling like there’s enough connected attachment? Are you feeling enough of that or are you feeling too much of that? Are you feeling pressure from me? You know, a lot of us have the child waiting in the wings for us to, um, get done with work so that we can go and connect with them. Right? And so if we feel that child waiting for us, we could talk to them about how that pressure feels right? So that we can help the child even build awareness. Oh yeah. I am actually throwing some pressure your way. I am applying pressure and we can say, I’m really gonna I’m going to shift in a minute and be able to connect with you, but I can’t right now. So you know, if we can try this again, then I’m going to respond to your pressure. In a different way, you know, for example.

KE: Yeah. So it’s, and I can’t imagine a therapist telling people that they need to communicate. Right? I mean, it sounds obvious, but it’s, but I can see what you’re saying. It can work. It’s not obvious. You know, and people are struggling with it. And just internalizing that, you know, I mean, I’m working at home and I have a daughter at home, a teenage daughter at home, and you know, she comes to me while I’m working and things like that. And, but, and, and we struggle with that a little bit. But if I were to, you’re saying if I were to turned to her and say, Hey, I know that you’re trying to create a connection with me right now, I have to be doing this on my phone or have to be doing this for work. If we try this again, maybe in an hour, then, um, you know, we could connect, but right now I have to do this. Or I’m going to be a little bit detached to during this connection because I can talk to you and, or we can watch this TV show, but if I get these texts from work, I’m going to have to look at my phone and do these texts. Then if I’m upfront about that and I communicate those types of things and just put it out there on the table, then we might have a better chance that that’s what I’m hearing you say as I internalize that. But have I got that right? 

BP: Yeah, exactly. So you’re saying I’m, I’m okay with some connection either later or I’m okay with some connected detachment, meaning I’m going to have some attention on something else as well at some points here, but I want to still feel connected to you. That’s exactly right. So then she’s got an option. Okay. You know, I choose option a or I choose option B, that that usually works out better than completely rejecting somebody asking for connection or trying to fake it. Yeah, yeah. Okay. I’m here with you, but not, but they feel like you’re not. Right. So that can damage the relationship. So yeah, absolutely. If you said it like that, then there could be some understanding between the two of you and she might say, yeah, okay, that’s fine. Some connected detachment is fine.

KE: Gotcha. Okay, that’s great. Well, I appreciate the time and I have just a couple more or maybe one more thing and then I’ll give you the kind of an open mic if there’s anything else that I’ve missed asking you that you want to say. But before that, I do want to ask if there are some families out there now or couples out there now that are just really struggling with the new, with the new environment, what options do they have? I mean, I know that I’ve heard that a lot of medical are doing, um, kind of the GoTo meeting type therapy sessions and doctors are doing telemedicine and those types of things. What would you recommend during now if, if these things, if even listening to this show and they work on these things and it’s just working and they’re in a tough spot at home, or maybe their relationship was strained already and now they’re at home together and forced to be at home, what options do people have to get some help? 

BP: The overall Memphis community and Collierville therapists in this community have really stepped up. I don’t know anybody who’s not doing a tele-health session right now, which is basically a zoom call with your therapist so you can see each other on your computer screen and talk to each other in a, in a confidential environment. And every therapist that I know and, and psychiatrist medication provider is still offering sessions to people and that student new people or ongoing people. So if there’s anybody who feels like they do need to talk to somebody, um, whether they are alone and feeling isolated and beginning to feel depressed or they’re feeling anxious because we are of course experiencing something that is quite traumatic to all of us or we’ve got any kind of relationship issues going on within the household. There are countless options here in the community and I can definitely send you some links to some resources if that would be helpful that you could have available to people to look at some options. But we’re trying to encourage people that, yeah, we’re trying to encourage them to reach out for help, because help is out there.

KE: That’s good that it’s out there because some people I know have to be struggling and, and whether that’s physical, but people don’t think about it. You hear in the news that telehealth is out there, don’t go to the ER if you’re feeling secure. We’re doing that. But I can imagine there’s a lot of people that or that, you know, need therapy too. And maybe didn’t even before this time, but like you said, I’m doing great, but now home alone for three weeks and I start to get depressed and um, so there’s resources out there and that’s great to hear. And yeah, I’ll just, I’ll just end this by saying is there anything, is there anything I missed or anything else you need advice that you would want to give? I know we’re coming up on Easter this weekend and so is there, you know, is there anything that you would want to put out or any advice you can give to the community? 

BP: Yeah, coming up on Easter feels tough. I think for a lot of people, uh, it’s usually a time when you’re with your family, you are in church, you are participating in Easter egg hunt, right? It’s, Easter is definitely a time for community and this year we’re really trying to, uh, find options to still recognize that it’s happening, but adapt. And I think some people are feeling all different ways about that. Same with birthdays that are coming around right now. Right. Uh, one thing I was talking to somebody about was how to, how to still recognize Easter and celebrate Easter the Sunday. And one idea that came out of that conversation that I liked was that, you know, we would probably kind of become a little too relaxed at home, right? We’re not all sitting down together eating meals together. It’s impossible to do that three meals a day every single day with people meeting for classes and working, we’re eating separately. For example, we might not even be eating the same thing. So it might be a nice little temporary opportunity for some real attachment coming together. And actually you’d set the table and sit down and have that one meal together on Easter for example. Or you could even set up a video phone call with you, your family members that you can’t be with and share a meal together. Right. So that was one idea that I heard that I liked. Yeah.

KE: Yeah. I hope people get creative with it and I know the sitting down for the mill is one of the things that we’re going to do. That’s good advice. And you know, I think that it is going to be a hard day for a lot of two of them because you’re used to being around your, you know, all of your extended family as well and people are coming together. And um, as we end the show here, I would like to say that please remember during these times that we are under social distancing, it’s not the time to go and be around, especially someone that’s elderly. So take Brit’s advice, maybe do a zoom while you’re eating and you can eat remotely. There’s ways to connect. I know it’s going to be a hard time. Um, but w we will get it, drew it and a bread. Thank you. I think that that was great advice and I really enjoyed speaking with you and um, we will, uh, we’ll wrap the show up. We’ll have another episode coming out soon and thanks everybody for listening and thanks Brit for being here.

BP: Thank you Keith. I appreciate it. Thank you everybody.

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