New publication in “Family Process”!

I’m proud to announce that I’ve written a new article with my friend and colleague Dr. Deb Coolhart for the journal Family Process which is published in its latest issue.  Our article, titled “Expanding the Therapy Paradigm with Queer Couples: A Relational Intersectional Lens” is part of a special issue edited by Dr. Robert-Jay Green of the Rockway Institute, focused on cutting-edge work with GLBTQ clients.

Dr. Coolhart and I particularly wanted to highlight the way that our queer couples are often challenging the status quo in many dimensions of their lives, not just their gender and/or sexuality.  Same-sex couples are more likely to have large age differences, and to include partners of different races, religions, ethnicities, class backgrounds, and educational levels, than mixed-sex couples.  They are also more likely to choose negotiated non-monogamy (sometimes called “open relationships” or “polyamory.”)

Bringing these dimensions into the conversation also requires us to consider our own identities as the therapist.  As a woman, when I work with two men or two women, the subject of gender comes up differently than it does if I work with a male/female couple, but my cisgender identity should also be considered particularly when one or both partners are transgender or genderqueer.  Couples are often looking for signs that the therapist might be favoring one member, so when I share some of my identities with one partner but not the other, I want us to talk about how our similarities and differences are part of the conversation even before any of us speaks a word in session, to get potential concerns out in the open and consider how they might influence our relationship.

Dr. Coolhart and I actually think that our article has a lot to say that is helpful to therapists working with straight couples as well – after all, it’s not just queer couples who navigate difference and similarity (and the power imbalances they can create) on a daily basis.  We’re excited to have our article published in the most influential Family Studies journal out there, and hope to get the chance to follow up with some writing about our experience working with polyamorous relationships sometime soon.

Posted in Dr. Sheila Addison, GLBT, MFT, Queer theory, Research, Social justice, Trans | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hello from ASDAH!

I’m at the Association for Size Diversity and Health conference this weekend in Boston, MA, and I’m very excited to get to give a presentation tomorrow called “Fat Studies & Mental Health – A New Intersectional Lens.”  It’s part of their “Difficult Conversations” weekend, which began this evening with a group dinner, a discussion of how to bravely engage in difficult dialogues facilitated by fellow Oaklandish gal Lisa Marie Alatorre, and radical poetry by Sonya Renee Taylor.

I’m really fortunate to be here – I was asked to serve as a program alternate when the committee reviewed proposals, and just a few weeks ago, they told me they’d had a presenter drop out so they had space for me after all.  Although it was a bit of a scramble to put together this trip, Boston is beautiful and walking by the Boston Public Garden today on my way back to the hotel from lunch, I felt incredibly grateful to be getting this opportunity to share with other Health at Every Size professionals about a topic that’s so important to me:  ending weight stigma in mental health, and adding an intersectional understanding of body size and HAES to mental health training programs.

I’ve made the presentation available at Slideshare, so feel free to take a look!

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New announcements for 2015

It’s two months into the new year, and there have been lots of new things happening in my world.  Most importantly, I’ve been working as the Interim Program Director for the master’s in Clinical Counseling  at Alliant International University in San Francisco since the fall semester.  Meaning, I’ve had to reduce the amount of time I spend seeing clients because I have obligations to students and faculty.

However, I spent all of 2014 providing supervision for a terrific MFT intern, Kim Paulus, who passed her two licensing exams right before the holidays (great job, Kim!) and received her license number from the state just after the first of the new year.  After taking a month to sort out the last of our business, I interviewed candidates for two intern positions, and hired Richelle Corbo and Amber Boyd to work with me in my practice.

I’ll be making another post soon to introduce Richelle and Amber, but for now, wanted to let visitors know that both of them have openings in their schedule.  Richelle works on Mondays and Amber works on Saturdays in the Berkeley office.

(Having new interns also means I may be able to give this site a facelift soon.)

And speaking of the office, we’ll be moving at the end of this month!  Fortunately, we won’t go far:  just next door, to 2006 Milvia.  The new office suite will have more protection from street noise, and best of all, an ELEVATOR!  This means we’ll be able to be an accessible office for people with mobility issues.  This shouldn’t interfere with client sessions at all; just don’t be surprised when we suddenly give you instructions for finding our new office.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 7.10.24 PMHow’s your new year going?

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Resources for therapists who see “geek women” clients

Image courtesy of arztsamui /

Image courtesy of arztsamui /

Women (cis and trans, straight and queer) working in “geeky” or STEM professions often experience harassment, marginalization, and hostile work or networking environments as well as internal and external stigma, “imposter syndrome,” and a host of other issues that may be relevant in individual and couple therapy.  The Geek Feminism folks have started a wiki entry offering information and resources for therapists working with geek women, to help us help our clients.

I thought this site was a great reminder of the ways that current events can be so salient for our clients – when a particularly visible example of misogyny or discrimination in tech has just happened, it’s not uncommon for my clients to want to talk about how it’s impacting them in their professional and personal contexts.

I wound up talking about the UCSB shootings with many of my women clients the week it happened, as well as some of the men. Discussing emotional reactions to the murders, to the shooter’s manifesto, and to the #yesallwomen hashtag campaigns on Twitter and Facebook were an important part of understanding clients’ social context, and provided opportunities for talking about internalized gender norms and their impact on relationships.

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Happy Holidays!

I’ve been quiet around the blog for a long time, but I’m hoping to write more in 2014.

Meanwhile, the holiday season has crept up on me yet again!  As someone who wears a lot of different hats in my work life, this time of year always seems to be a rush of “Grades are due! Textbooks for next semester are due! Holiday crises are happening! Family has needs!” and suddenly I look around and my gifts are all in a pile under the sewing table, the cards are still stashed in a bin of craft supplies, and the “Days Until Christmas” calendar has been in single digits for quite a while.

I wish my calendar looked like this these days.

I wish my calendar looked like this these days.

The holidays are rough times for lots of people.  Grief and loss, loneliness and depression, and the sense that “normal people enjoy this time of year” can make it hard to take the endless demands to get into the “holiday spirit.”  Here’s some ideas for how to take care of yourself if you are finding yourself all out of cope:

– Practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down and tuning into the present moment, rather than the past (ruminating) or the future (worrying).  Mindfulness suggests that if we can be kind and friendly to our difficult and painful feelings, rather than trying to resist or change them, they will have less power over us.  Mindfulness practices like R.A.I.N. (recognizing feelings, accepting their presence, investigating what they are trying to tell us, and non-identifying with them – getting a little distance from them, being an observer instead of drowning in them), body scans or progressive relaxation, meditation, etc., can help you get a little “breathing room” between yourself and the painful feelings that are threatening to take over your present experience.  I recommend that everyone get themselves a present of “Comfortable with Uncertainty” by Pema Chodron – even if you are not Buddhist or have no intention of meditating, her writings on working with fear and pain may profoundly change your way of handling these emotions.


– Get some tools for dealing with difficult people.   I really love the “Ask Captain Awkward” advice blog, particularly because they are very good at suggesting “scripts” for dealing with difficult interpersonal situations.  For example:

I particularly like the Captain Awkward point, oft-repeated, that if people cross your boundaries even after you have politely asserted them (e.g. asked to change the subject, requested that people not talk about your weight, made it clear that you do not find racist jokes cute and funny, etc.), THEY are the ones making things awkward and expecting YOU to bear the consequences by not calling them on it.


– When tension arises in your intimate relationships, try your best to fight fairly and repair whatever damage gets caused.  Emotions run high at the holidays – family members are thrown together willy-nilly, people are jet-lagged and sleeping in strange places, routines are disrupted, expectations for “the perfect celebration” put stress on even the most mellow. Tempers may erupt – dramatically, or in cold, detached anger.  Toes get stepped on, literally and metaphorically.

  • Do your best to avoid the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” identified by John Gottman’s research as the most hurtful behaviors when fighting:  criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and most importantly, contempt.
  • When you start to get overwhelmed with emotion (or “flooded”), ask for a time out.  Commit to returning to the issue at a specific time (in a few minutes, an hour, tomorrow after you’ve both gotten some sleep), and make sure what while you’re apart, you’re soothing yourself – thinking calming thoughts like “we’re working on this together” and “everyone is having a tough time right now,” rather than upsetting thoughts like “my partner is always such a JERK!”
  • Practice accepting influence from the other person.  Even if you don’t agree, find something you can say “you have a point” or “I can see how that would make sense” about.  Try “let me think about what you’ve said just now” rather than the reflexive “NO!”
  • Repair, repair, repair. We all use harsh words at times, or let problems build up, or blame others for things beyond their control.  We intend something as a neutral comment but it comes off as a jab at the other person. We shriek when we should talk, or go “selectively deaf” when we should be paying attention.  As a wise friend of mine once said “apologies are a down payment on making things right.”  Even if you genuinely feel you were in the right, saying “I didn’t listen as well as I could have” or “I let my emotions get the better of me” tells the other person “I respect that you’re a human being with feelings.”  When you get yourself that glass of iced tea while you take your time out, bring the other person one when you come back.  Sometimes it’s the little things.


– It’s a cliche, but: work on your self-care.

– If things get stressful for you, call a crisis hotline.  This link is for Alameda County in California, but it includes national resources as well.  Many people think of hotlines as something you’d only use in a dire emergency, if you were suicidal, but in fact crisis counselors are trained to provide a friendly, supportive listening ear for whatever is stressing you out.  If you find yourself thinking “if my mother comments on my weight one more time, I’m going to have to pull a table flip,” call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and lock yourself in the bathroom with your cell phone for a while, if that’s what it takes.


– And as always, if you drink too much, whether in celebration or as a coping mechanism, take care of that hangover!   (And practice a little harm reduction next time please?)

Just remember what Kate Bornstein says in her book “Hello, Cruel World“:

Get out of hell free

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Thanksgiving 2013: remembering to give thanks thoughtfully.

I’m just going to link to myself from last year.

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A recent publication in “Fat Studies” journal

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been published in the “Fat Studies” journal, and an e-print of my article is now available online.  I was asked to review two recent publications, Hanne Blank‘s “Big Big Love,” and Rebecca Weinstein‘s “Fat Sex.” Although I had very different responses to the two books, I was very pleased to be asked to submit the reviews, and with the positive feedback from the journal’s editor afterwards.

It’s been quiet around here due to spending more time on my private practice and my teaching, but I’m working on creating some writing discipline for myself, and if I succeed, some of my efforts will show up here.

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Cultural appropriation bingo

Last week, a friend tagged me to tell me about a post on Jezebel about cultural appropriation, that happened to feature an old project of mine: the cultural appropriation “Bingo card.”

“Bingo cards” have become a popular way to track and raise awareness about the common phrases and arguments that come up over and over again when certain social justice topics are “discussed” (OK trolled) on the Internet – sexist jokes, feminism, fat people, racism, you get the picture.  There’s even a “discussion of Internet Bingo bingo card.”

At some point a few years back, I was really sick of hearing the same old arguments and de-rails come up every time the subject of cultural appropriation was broached on a particular plus-sized fashion community, so I knocked the above out one evening when I probably should have been studying for the California licensure exam or grading papers or something.

Some years later, I found that my scrapbook hosting company had somehow lost the source file for the image – you could still see the thumbnail but the original had vanished.  So I was very pleased to learn this week that the Native Appropriations blog, which is awesome in and of itself, had put up an article about it a while back, and  still had a good copy of the full-sized image.  Which I guess has made the rounds a few places, including into some college courses even.

Anyway, I’m really pleased that it still has a little online life independent of me, and wanted to give props to Native Appropriations for helping to keep it from vanishing into the ether, and to Jezebel (even if they can be oh-so-problematic at times) for giving it a little life this fall.

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Giving thanks, thoughtfully.

It’s been quiet here at my blog of late, but the day before Thanksgiving, I’m reflecting on the traditional American celebration of the season.

On the one hand, I appreciate the benefits that gratitude can bring to our health and overall well-being.  Reflecting on the positive parts of our lives – our successes and good fortune, the support and encouragement we receive from others, the opportunities we have to give back to our community and world, the many privileges most of us enjoy just by virtue of our birth –  gives us a charge of dopamine and other brain-boosting chemicals.  This year, I’m particularly grateful for the support of my friends and family, the health I’ve enjoyed and the medical care I’ve been able to access when I needed it, and the opportunities I’ve had as a teacher and a therapist to contribute to the growth of people around me.

On the other hand, this is also a holiday that is based largely on a whitewashed mythology that, for Native American people, is actually a story about the beginnings of the genocide that nearly wiped them off the continent.  It’s a day for mourning.

It’s also a holiday rife with stereotypes about Native American/First Nations people and full of opportunities for stereotyped images.

Love the leopard-print undies. Leopards, as I’m sure you know Victoria, are from Asia and Africa.

So, whether or not you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll take this time of year as one in which you cultivate gratitude, and solemnly reflect on the complicated history of life in these United States, and the many opportunities we all have for using whatever privilege we have wisely.

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AAMFT 2012 presentation

It’s been a quiet couple of months on the blog here as summer has ended and fall has begun.  I’m at the AAMFT Annual Conference in Charlotte, NC where I’m presenting with Dr. Michael Loewy of Alliant International University on our research about one of his doctoral electives.

Dr. Loewy has offered a “Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size” class for the Alliant psychology students about half a dozen times over the past few years, and as far as we know, this is one of the only classes on FA/HAES being taught in graduate mental health training.  So we’ve started interviewing students who’ve been through the class, asking them “what effects has this class had on you?”

This year we’re fortunate to have the chance to present our research, along with a dose of “FA/HAES 101,” at the AAMFT conference, a place where the only talk about weight and body size is usually centered on eating disorders or the “obesity epidemic” and how therapists can help fat children or adults get thin (free hint:  They can’t.)  We were excited to get the opportunity to bring the FA/HAES perspective to AAMFT, and to talk about what our students have told us about how the class affected their lives and work.

You can access the PowerPoint of our presentation here, and if you attended the presentation, give special attention to the “Do No Harm” slides toward the end – PowerPoint skipped them, and we think they’re especially important!

Our handout for the presentation is available for download.

We’d love to hear any thoughts and comments people have.

Our presentation wasn’t comfortable for everyone.  Which we understand: there’s a tremendous personal investment in the weight-loss paradigm, both for ourselves (and our fantasies of being thin) and for our clients who desperately want (themselves, their children, their partners) to be “normal.”  But that’s OK.  Radical paradigm shifts like a weight-neutral approach to health are challenging.  Rejecting the hard sell of the diet and bariatric industries is difficult when we’re inundated with  hundreds of messages a day about “willpower” and “fat = death.”

We agree with Dr. Linda Bacon, who writes:

“The toughest challenge in adopting HAES is to recognize that change has got to come from inside you. You are trying to define your own beauty and value in an environment that doesn’t want you to get away with it. No industry profits from your self-love or from the very simple notion that you’ve already got the tools for fulfillment right there inside you.”

The “war on obesity” is a war on PEOPLE, on fat children and fat adults.  We don’t take care of our bodies if we learn to hate and blame them, and we can’t support people of all sizes if we’re trying to eradicate some of them.

Posted in AAMFT 2012, Dr. Sheila Addison, Education, Fat, HAES, MFT, Presentations, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments