Conflict and Intimacy

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I was just thinking about the unspoken expectations we carry about happy couples; and one of the most commonly idealized and fiercely defended is that “we never fight”.
Couples who never fight build a reservoir of unresolved troubles they attempt to sail over. They often pick up the rug labeled “Women!” or “Men!” and sweep the mess under that. Quietly resentment and disrespect builds. If there is no grappling with the problem, then contempt will ripen and contempt is a relationship killer.

I believe couples who ‘never fight’ probably take for granted the important repair work they perform on behalf of their marriage. These repairs happen when partners engage in acts of maturity that serve to strengthen their bond rather than shield it. They may not even notice that they dismiss some annoyance and shift their attention to a positive aspect of their partner, or engage in positive self talk. Its more likely they will wait and think about their distress before they confront anyone; which allows them to have a more thoughtful and less emotional conversation, opening doors to creative resolution. These acts of maturity serve to strengthen relationships through repair and resolution. Good repairs create even stronger bonds of intimacy.

What about emotions? When we are highly emotional we do not have full clarity about anything other than our feelings. Using those feelings to inform our positions is a fantastic resource. But high emotion won’t support respectful dialogue with those who disagree. Staying connected through conflict to resolution is an incredible magic trick that builds LOVE LOVE LOVE! Very sexy, VERY desirable. Many couples learn these skills over time, many learn these skills in therapy. Talk with each other and decide how good your conflict to intimacy skills are. Never hesitate to ask for help. You deserve it.

Common questions about using insurance to pay for counseling sessions:

Will my health insurance pay for counseling?

Although most providers require you to take ultimate responsibility for paying your bill, health insurance may reimburse you or your healthcare provider for medically necessary treatment for covered, diagnosed conditions that impair your ability to function. They do not generally pay for counseling to relieve stress, enhance or maintain wellbeing or prevent problems down the road.

The exception to this rule is that some employers provide employee assistance programs which offer limited counseling for short term problems or crisis. Often these programs are limited to three sessions and then they refer you on to another provider for further treatment, which, if it is medically necessary may be covered by insurance.

That means you must Continue reading “Common questions about using insurance to pay for counseling sessions:”

Talk, before there’s trouble…

If you ask marriage therapists about their most challenging cases, you will often hear that these couples sought help long after their first serious problems.

Marriage trouble is intensely personal. Few of us have seen our parents model the use of couples counseling. And, it’s hard to invest in a process where we become vulnerable, can’t predict how it will unfold, and do not have guaranteed outcomes.

What is predictable is that all marriages will have difficult times. Asking for help early is a predictor of success in couples counseling. Marriage is an incubator for grown-ups.   Lovers and newlyweds never begin life together fully mature.  Making effective use of that incubator is much easier with help from a compassionate, competent professional.

One study of 1000 engaged, married, and divorced people indicates that couples counseling is very common among certain age groups. Check it out here.




After the Honeymoon

Sam was a brilliant businessman, intellect, and romantic. He married Tia, a lovely aspiring singer, taking her to a beautiful, remote spot in a foreign land to propose. It literally mirrored a scene from a movie they saw together when they first met and fell in love. Marrying a beautiful, equally intelligent, and charming woman who would make an attractive partner and who also held strong family values was about the best thing he could imagine happening to him. He was happy to support her aspirations to perform, however, a few years into the marriage, when Tia began to find success, travel more, and be emotionally consumed in challenging projects he felt cheated. Continue reading “After the Honeymoon”

The Discipline of 100 Breaths

Go ahead. Try it. It really only takes 100 breaths to change your mental state. Believe me, I am not the best role model for meditation, relaxation, or contemplation. Being busy doing what I love is as satisfying as it is stressful for me. I can go for weeks without really stopping which is probably not a good thing.

Eventually, we do need to stop, and finding ways to do that can be very challenging. Consequently, many of us fail to find the time, focus, or energy to integrate those healthful ways of being into our daily lives.

But what if I told you it takes less than 2 minutes to stop completely and relax your mind, body, and spirit? Through the Discipline of 100 Breaths you can disengage from:

Stress Fear  Tension  Grief   Anger  Worry

Obsession   Demands of others  Perfections  Cravings

Anxiety  Hostility Frustration  Agitation  Overexcitement

-and whatever else is charging up your inner emotional state.

If you can do three things and ONLY three things you can change your internal state:

1  Find a quiet place to stand, sit or lie down and close your eyes.

2  Take 100 breaths in and out, in and out. Not fancy deep breaths, -in one second, out the next. They don’t need to be fast, or slow, deep or shallow. Just 100 normal breaths.

3  (Now here’s the hard part) ONLY Breathe. Pay attention to your breathing alone for 100 breaths. No planning, worrying, fretting about one thing or another. Literally for a moment.

That final step is difficult and some of us will fail at that point, usually because our anxiety is so extreme or our ability to focus is impaired or undisciplined. But if you fail the first time, you can train your brain to cooperate, simply with practice.

Give it a try and enjoy your refreshed, calmed state of mind.

HIPAA (Rules for Health Information)

HIPAA: Rules about the use and protection of your private health information:

At your first visit you will be required to sign a statement that you have received information about your rights under HIPAA. This is now a routine practice for all health care visits, including counseling and mental health care. It sets national standards for the use and protection of your confidential health information. Continue reading “HIPAA (Rules for Health Information)”

Faith as a resource

As a pastoral counselor, I am a specialist in helping people connect their faith to their efforts to improve their emotional or psychological wellbeing. Some people have had very bad experiences with religious folks imposing their own personal beliefs upon them, with an attitude of authority and condemnation. Condemning others for having questions, doubts, or different experiences and beliefs is considered a failure in most religious traditions. This sort of religious intolerance is the farthest thing from the practice of pastoral counseling, and often causes serious damage to human wellbeing. Pastoral counselors create affirming and challenging space for the client’s faith to speak, and helps people uncover the resources they are already carrying within.

Continue reading “Faith as a resource”

What to expect in your first session…

The introductory session will give you an opportunity to get to know how the therapist works and to share your concerns with them. In my practice, I spend a few minutes upfront clarifying the basic expectations of therapy by putting them in writing (Introduction and Consent Form) and discussing any questions that you might have about confidentiality, payment, etc. Then I ask some basic questions that are geared toward helping us both assess what you need from therapy and whether I can provide it. Continue reading “What to expect in your first session…”

How to get that interview in a highly competitive job market:

Since I just heard that there are 100 applicants for every car-washing job at a local business, I am again reminded how lucky I am to be employed. I love my job. I looked for work for two years before I found it, and was unemployed for 18 months. After almost an entire lifetime of working, it was a humbling and delightful experience and I didn’t lose my shirt thanks to my marriage, an institution that still has merits. But I sure was happy to snag that job just as my COBRA was expiring.

I have had the fortune to hire for several positions in my work life and after job-seeking myself, I have truly been surprised at the lack of sophisticated job seeking many candidates display even at upper levels of professional employment and management. So here are some hints and pet peeves shared from a gratefully employed and now hiring director in the health care field.

If you are fortunate enough to find an open position you want, here are my suggestions for getting it:

~Have your resume and your basic cover letter written by a professional.

Unless you are seeking your first job and have a very thin resume, this is worth the 100.00-300.00 you may spend on it. There are many capable and trained professionals who can convert your worth and experience into very attractive and compelling words with perfect formatting and spelling. They will create an attractive template you can not mess up, which you can then customize for each job application. Your competitors are likely to have a professionally written resume, so it is worth every penny for you to do so. When you see their final copy you will be shocked at how fabulous you are. When you customize don’t introduce typos or awkward phrasing. Ask if your resume writer will proof your edits.

~Mount a campaign, not just a job search.

I knew I was in a category of workers who were in oversupply in my area and who were expensive to hire. This put me in competition with a number of folks who were very experienced, and some who probably had sophisticated outplacement firms working on their behalf. Consider yourself part salesperson, part politician, part professional. You will have to aggressively, yet sensitively work every single one of your connections. You will have to pitch yourself as a valuable commodity as well as represent yourself as a highly qualified professional – to everybody you know.

~Know the company and its leadership.

If you are applying for a job without having read the company’s website shame on you. How hard is it to find a mission statement and use those concepts and words in your cover letter and hopefully, the interview? Google their leadership, for heaven’s sake! Go to the library and ask for guidance from the reference desk. With a little Internet browsing, you can easily determine what the concerns, pressures, and interests are of the persons who will be receiving your application. Make sure you are able to articulate how hiring you will make the job of fulfilling their mission easier, better, quicker, etc. Take it a step further and research their competition.

~Quantify your worth.

Yes, put the numbers to your name on your resume. Employers now are accountable to demonstrate a financial return on their investment for every position. Detail your worth in dollars on your resume and quantify your accomplishments. Hiring you should make sense financially. Everyone can list skills and accomplishments but very few people quantify their accomplishments. Simply doing this will pop your resume into the upper 10% of resumes that have crossed my desk. A number is worth a thousand words.

~Get a professional email address. doesn’t sell. Sorry, Betty. Enough said.

~Build your web presence.

Get a account and build a website, blog in your field. Building a profile on the Internet is easy and essential to serious job seekers. allows you to work your connections easily. The people you know and the ones they know probably know someone at the company you are interested in working for.

A website under your name and listed on your resume allows you to offer a great deal more information about yourself than would fit on a resume or in a cover letter. It proves you are tech-savvy. It allows you to profile projects that demonstrate your skills and accomplishments. Personally, I think a professional photo of you on a website allows your potential employer to engage more personally with you and may snag you an interview if you look happy and engaged in life. A professional photographer can create an attractive image for anyone. Snapshots from your camera phone feed are a no.

~Google yourself. If I’m interviewing you, I will already have done so.

I hope you don’t have a large incriminating footprint on the Internet. If there are a lot of unflattering photos of you tagged on Facebook, find a way to remove them. Take those personal ads down. Hiring guidelines will not allow employers to ask you a lot of personal questions, but believe me, they are interested in the personality of their hires since temperament and personal style are essential components to a good fit. If you have a troublesome footprint on the web, it may be easier to build more a more positive profile by adding a website than to undergo the stress and hassle of asking webmasters to remove content from you.

~Always follow directions.

If the job posting says to send your materials to HR, do that. If you have uncovered the department head’s email or phone number, think twice before you call. How do you think your cheery voicemail to “please call me back, I’m very interested in this position” sounds to a manager who has 350 resumes in his inbox daily? You might consider emailing them simply to notify them that you have submitted your materials to HR and are very interested in meeting about the position. Don’t ask questions about the job that would imply they should respond outside the indicated channels. Instead, work your connections in order to obtain a personally facilitated introduction.

~Always label your resume file name with your name.

Hiring directors get hundreds of resumes per day with the filename resume or even shortresume or finaldraftresume or my favorite: momsresume. To me, this demonstrates a lack of imagination about who and what is happening to your materials after they are sent. If you want to be extra considerate, label the file with your lastname and the position name!

~People who know your work and their connections are your most valuable asset.

Take them to lunch, to dinner, buy them a drink. Wash their car. Ask them to introduce you to their contacts, and make sure they are resoundingly thanked when they do. It is very much better if they do so in person or by phone. Give them a brief script, one or two lines you’d like them to convey about you. Don’t leave it all up to chance and goodwill. A simple email forwarding your resume to a colleague of theirs marries their credibility to your pitch and puts you miles ahead.

If your network is too small, expand it. Get involved in trade associations, volunteer in your field, find non-profit boards with professionals in your field who are also board members, and get on a committee or on the board itself. Churches, community groups, neighborhood associations are all places you can make connections and showcase your skills. Make sure they all know you are looking. Odds are one of them, and not will get you your next job.

~Given a choice, email your materials directly instead of submitting them online.

Most online submission forms remove that lovely formatting you paid for and make your resume and cover letter very hard to read. If the company name is in the posting, odds are the job is posted on their website and you could find a direct email to submit to. The postings on the company website are nearly always more informative than the listing on a third-party website where they have to pay for content. And you were going to research there anyway, right?

~Offer detailed references:

You probably are pretty impressed with your reference list, but I’m not unless you tell me why I should be. A reference list is a commonly neglected opportunity to impress the employer. Beyond listing name and contact info (I always want an email address, by the way, plus any helpful hints on when it’s best to call them) briefly tell me who these people are, what they are currently doing, and how they know your work. Employers are often interested not only in your skills but in what kind of connections you may bring with you.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Ritzman, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Elizabeth (Betsy) was trained at Kansas State University (M.S.) and McCormick Theological Seminary (M.Div.) in counseling and psychotherapy. She is licensed to practice in the state of Illinois and is a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. She has been trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for in-person and virtual settings and for group processing of traumatic incidents. Her fascination with the process of human maturation, intimacy, and couples dynamics led her to specialize in couples therapy for the past 10 years.

She practices the art and science of psychotherapy which is a form of listening and reflecting that engages our capacity to heal and transform the Self, our relationships as well as problems that undermine our mental health and wellness. It is useful for individuals, families, and couples. It creates a safe space where the story of one’s life can unfold and become open for change.

As a health care justice advocate, she articulates the moral imperative for communities to respond with integrity to the magnitude of violence, stigmatized diagnoses, and health care gaps facing our disenfranchised neighbors globally and across the Chicago metro area. Her experience has included building services addressing compromised mental health, the HIV epidemic, and those facing AIDS, breast cancer, diabetes, asthma, infant mortality, and teen pregnancy. She designs and implements model programs integrating spiritual care, mental health, education, and community outreach into comprehensive, community-based treatment programs.

She is a leader and ally for faith communities seeking to build health ministries and healthy congregations, especially as a response to disparities in resources and outcomes for chronic diseases, mental health and addiction issues, and the crisis in access to health care.

A native of rural Kansas, she is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches of the USA, a pastoral counselor, and a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois.  Previously Betsy directed Midwest Resources, a church-based counseling practice with nine locations in metro Chicago, and the AIDS Pastoral Care Network at Access Community Health Network.