Lynn Lyons is a psychotherapist, author, and speaker with a special interest in interrupting the generational patterns of anxiety in families. She is the author of Using Hypnosis with Children: Creating and Delivering Effective Interventions, which describes treatment approaches for children with anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. She is also coauthor with Reid Wilson of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, and the companion book for kids, Playing with Anxiety: Casey’s Guide for Teens and Kids. For 26 years, Lyons has maintained a private practice in Concord, New Hampshire.
John Lentz: You often work with those whose emotions run high. How do you spiritually help both your clients and yourself?
Lynn Lyons: I work with anxious families who come to me to address anxiety, and they often arrive exhausted, afraid, and even ashamed about what they can’t seem to fix. Both the children and the parents are typically worried and even fearful about what I’m going to say or do. Anxiety hates uncertainty, and yet we sit together throughout an intensely emotional and uncertain meeting.
Spirituality is about connection. Frequently, as I’m going from client to client during a packed day, I will pause before I walk into the waiting room to meet someone new and say to myself something like, ‘This appointment is a regular part of your day, but this family is probably nervous and apprehensive. They have been waiting for this appointment and this time together. It is not a part of their normal day. Pay attention to that.’
How I connect in those first moments and how I convey my understanding of things to them is vital. It’s about being genuine, warm, and real, without some professional aura that creates distance. I’m about to step into the most personal areas of these families’ lives and I want to do that as a connected human being who is also a parent.
A few months ago, my father had surgery, and it was his first medical issue as an adult. I went with my parents to the hospital and I noticed the contrast between my nervousness and my parents’ nervousness. I also noticed the casual way in which the hospital staff moved about doing their duties. For them, it was just another day at work; for us, it was new territory and a scary situation. I noticed who connected to us and who didn’t — and how they didn’t. It was interesting to observe this…and such a good reminder about the value of connection between us.
JL: You have an uncanny ability to utilize whatever is offered, so much so that your ability can be seen as being deeply spiritual. Is that the way you think of it?
LL: Honestly, I haven’t thought of it in that way. But, I do think utilization comes from connection — listening to what children offer, and then using it to move them forward in a way that pulls them in. Parents and children may feel quite vulnerable when they come into therapy, especially at first. In those moments, my job is to connect with them so that they can be honest, not defensive. If a child tells me that he has a dog named Batman, I can then use a metaphor or tell a story that includes Batman or a dog, and this sends a message that I was listening and paying attention.
JL: What are some moments that you’ve had working with those you would describe as spiritual?
LL: When I felt deeply connected, I immediately think about specific experiences with people, and as I examine them, the irony is that these experiences are also times when I felt disconnected from my skills as a therapist — times of deep loss and grief when we are crying or laughing together.
JL: You mentioned earlier how you spiritually refresh yourself before seeing clients. How do you become refreshed in your personal life?
LL: Being still and quiet have never been relaxing or refreshing for me. My energy, creativity, and ability to connect are fueled by being active in beautiful places with people that I truly enjoy.
On most days, I get up early and do some sort of exercise or activity. In the winter, I have a group that I work out with consistently. I’ve known some of them for years. All winter we wait for the warm weather so that we can ride bikes as the sun comes up. Where I live in New Hampshire is such a beautiful place, and even though I live about a mile from downtown and the capital, within minutes we are out in beautiful, green country. I love the early morning because it’s cool and peaceful. We almost always see wildlife – turkeys, deer, coyotes, and the occasional bear. At that time of day, there is also little traffic. The interesting thing is that I almost always would rather go with my friends than alone because we talk and talk. I have some incredibly funny friends. Laughing is a constant.
I also love hiking with my husband or friends. Within in one hour of leaving my house, we can be at the base of the spectacular 6,000-foot Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains. The Falling Water Trail in the early summer is something to see. However one defines it, spirituality certainly lives on the top of a mountain.
And, I must say, there are few things that replenish me more than whacking a tennis ball –something that I’ve been doing since I was very young. A perfect forehand down the line is a little piece of heaven!
JL: What may not come through to readers is how easy you have made this interviewing process. Thank you. It definitely reflects your genuine kindness and warmth.
Lynn Lyons will be presenting a number of sessions at the Brief Therapy 2018 Conference, including Targeted Treatment for Anxious Families, Using Hypnosis for Anxiety, and Schools, Parents, Students and Mental Health: How Can Clinicians Help?