Welcome to the HealthyMind Blog!

It’s my pleasure to offer you this collection of ideas about how to live well.  These insights are the culmination of over 20 years of work as a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC. where it’s been my privilege to help individuals and groups enrich their relationships and improve their lives.  My hope is that these pages will also help you to change how you view yourself and your world…perhaps even profoundly.  “You’re kidding!” you say.  I understand…it’s a big goal.  But read on and see…

If you like what you read here, you may like even more the information on my regular psychology practice website.  Click here to go to HealthyMind.com.

David Bissette, Psy.D.

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Posted in General | 3 Comments

There’s a baby in that bath water

Back in medieval days bath water was shared by several people.  The last to get use of the water was the baby in the family, after which the water was discarded.  By that time the water wasn’t very clear…and the saying “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” resulted.

In a way, the same is true in our own lives.  When we feel particularly strong about a situation there is probably something important in those feelings even when they do not seem constructive.  In fact, one reason that we find such difficulty changing old feelings at times is that part of us knows that we will be hurt by doing so.

So, some “sifting” is necessary.  What aspect of those feelings needs to be affirmed, rather than abandoned?  Both Gestalt Therapy and Internal Family Systems address this significantly.

Perhaps the issue is that what you want most, underneath the obvious trappings of a wish, is being expressed in an unhelpful way.  We are many ages on the inside, and some ages aren’t sophisticated at problem solving.  Part of us may feel that the way to halt ongoing pain in an arm is to cut the arm off.  Not helpful!

So, take a look at your strong wishes, even when they seem destructive, and see if there are important “furnishings” in your emotional house before bringing in the wrecking ball.  And then, don’t bring in the wrecking ball, but be gentle with wisdom, kindness, and firmness, as needed.

You will probably need to work with a young, lonely, or scared  part of yourself that is holding an extreme view or is panicked.  Rage may need to be replaced with assertiveness, and hopeless with a more measured letting go of something…or a different way of feeling hopeful.  You may need to offer compassion and love may to the parts of yourself that you have not understood.  Look for the adaptive expressed poorly.

So, do not be quick with the internal machete knife.  Work with your inner parts as with children whose wants are important, but need to be directed and helped.  Have those conversations between your wise self and your younger parts.  And don’t throw out that baby with the bath water!


Posted in Gestalt, Internal Family Systems, Optimal Living, Trauma | Leave a comment

Make a list of those who have loved you

Who has loved you?

Many people who come to see me have had lives that were deficient in wholesome love, especially during their early childhood years.  This has cast a pall over their emotional lives as adults.  They are plagued by many questions, including:  “Why did I not receive more love in my past.  What is wrong with me that I am so unlovable?”

Whether parents were emotionally unavailable because of some problem in their own lives, or whether some set of circumstances prevented us from being parented much at all (an unfortunate institutional living situation), or for a host of other circumstances, when we do not have those all-important feelings of being loved and special to others, there is unhappiness and often a sense of hopelessness about being loved as an adult.

However, God and the universe were often reaching out to us through others around us in ways that we were not able to take in at the time…and in ways that we need to pay more attention to now.

In recent weeks I have been asking some of my clients to think back in their lives and make a list of people who reached out to them in love when they were younger.  Often an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, a teacher, or the mother of a friend saw a need in our life and attempted to offer what love and interest and care they could offer to us.  Sometimes they secretly guessed what it was like to live in our homes, and attempted to make our lives better.

It can be helpful to think back on these people and meditate on what their thoughts and feelings about us might have been.  We were loved…by those around us who could do so.

This simple act can bring great hope to our lives.  Make yourself a list and reflect on those important people…and their interest in you!  Don’t underestimate the value of this exercise.

You are indeed lovable.  You always have been.

You may notice that the date of this post is a long time since my last post.  I took some time off from this blog to simplify my life for a while.  It’s nice to be back!


Posted in Healing, Self Esteem | Leave a comment

A short summary of what you probably already know about developing good self esteem

Throughout this blog it is my passion that my readers feel better about themselves after spending time here. It’s what I care about most, and my best gift to offer you. So, at the risk of seeming simplistic to some I’m going to summarize much of what I have said in this blog in just a few lines.

1) Our self esteem is largely experientially based. If we were treated as valuable by others in our past, and if we have been successful in our social interactions with others along the way, our self esteem will typically be good.

2) Several things can interfere with this. Bad experiences with others are like looking in a mirror and not liking what we see. We assume that the negative responses of others are a reflection of who we are. More often though, a negative response is a reflection of who the other person is, not us. It takes time for us to learn this, especially when we are children without much emotional resilience or expertise in handling social situations.

3) Another thing that can interfere is the complicated fact that we are all made up of “more helpful” and “less helpful” traits. I recently had a client say that he has confidence in his appearance but not in his intelligence. That’s the way it is in life…we all have strengths and weaknesses. Learning to accept and be grateful for both is important. The first informs us that we have something to offer others and gives us confidence. The second reminds us that we need others and provides us with humility. It’s crucial for a good self esteem to work well with both sides of this equation.

4) We can also have physical limitations that are severe, like a congenital illness or bodily difference from our peers. A solid sense of spirituality makes a difference when we might be inclined to slip into hopelessness. Hopelessness is a very dangerous place to be emotionally. It must be addressed actively for life to progress.

5) Other extreme experiences can include childhood traumas such as bullying and sexual abuse, or other more adult traumas such as war and rape, that make us wonder if life itself (or God) thinks we are not valuable enough to be treated well.

6) Whether the challenges happen at birth or at any point in our lives, two things must happen to overcome such experiences. First, we must become clear that suffering is often randomly experienced by people in the world, and the question to ask, if you are going ask one, is not “Why me?”, but “Why anyone?”

Second, we MUST make something out of the experience we have had, or the experience will make something out of us. In fact, every difficult situation in life must be worked with…with the potential benefit that these experiences will take you places and give you gifts that you would not have otherwise. Be aware though, that destructive pride or bitterness will sabotage your progress.

Making something out of an experience often starts by telling your story to others who can understand, and by gaining the love, friendship, and comfort that results. Involvement in workshops or groups designed to deal with these types of issues are a great gift, and should be a part of life for all of us. Who do you know that never goes to a doctor, or a gym, or a health workshop to take care of their body? And when you go to the gym you wear all sorts of clothes that you wouldn’t wear to work or a social event at someones house. Our souls need attention also, and when we go to workshops or therapy we wear (or divulge) all sorts of aspects of ourselves that we would not share at a social occasion. That’s normal! It’s also true that just as many hurts come through unhealthy others, our healing will also come in part through interactions with healthy people at places where talking intimately about oneself is the norm. You must risk being known by others!

7) We must also directly cultivate our own positive opinion of ourselves. It can be helpful to stand in front of a mirror and list the things that you are grateful for about yourself. A friend of mine, during his younger life, was told by a psychiatrist to write down three things each day that he liked about how he acted that day. It changed his life.

8) There are skills to be learned in making these healing experiences happen. There are also technical ways of working with traumatic memories to help make them a thing of the past. A good therapist can help you be effective in your healing and relationships. Find a therapist who is good at helping others. Many in the helping professions will go out of their way to help those who are sincere and passionate about their growth.

It’s not easy

I understand that the ingredients necessary to heal a poor self esteem and develop a good relationship with yourself and others are not always easy to find. I know, because I have spent my fair share of time in life healing the wounds that I have picked up along the way. We are all on a treasure hunt in life, if not simply trying to survive. Work hard and results are likely to follow.

If you haven’t already started, start here as you read these words. I may not know you personally, but I do know that you are gifted, beautiful in a variety of ways, and important to both me and all of us. As people in the world we are a system…the well-being of any of us ultimately relies on the well-being of ALL of us.

If this speaks to you in some way, say something below. Tell a story of success in this journey, or something you are learning. Don’t keep your insights to yourself.

Grateful for you,


Posted in General, Healing, Optimal Living, Relationships, Self Esteem | Tagged | 3 Comments

How to share yourself with others and keep your dignity

It's about balanceI guess I’m stuck on the topic of personal sharing at the moment. This and the two previous posts concern this topic. But, I think each post hits the topic a bit differently, so here goes!

The topic for this post can sound a bit odd, but one of the problems we face when wanting to be open with others is the feeling that we are presenting ourselves as pitiful.

It’s an understandable concern.

After all, you are successful in some things, and not others. That’s the way it is for all of us. Things are going well with your son, and your daughter won’t speak to you. You’re doing great things at work and have a medical condition that you are afraid to have diagnosed.  You got an “A” in chemistry and flunked history.

So say it that way.  People will appreciate the honesty…on both sides of the “success” coin.

It’s much easier to share with others if we if we aim for balance.  It’s like being on a seesaw as a child.  You have to find the right place to be so that things are balanced with your partner.  “I’ve doing really well with my eating and exercise for a while now, but my spending is out of control. I can’t seem to get a handle on it.”  Acknowledge your success to others, and show your under-belly at the same time. You’ll find that you do more sharing and won’t feel so over-exposed.

It’s about balance.


Posted in General, Healing, Optimal Living, Relationships, Self Esteem | Leave a comment

Where to find friends? Try personal growth groups.

SharingFriends are more important than vitamins. In fact, good ones are like emotional vitamins. They make our lives go better. I’ve talked a lot about this in this blog. However, the question arises…Where do I find them?

I live in the Washington, DC area. To plan lunch with a friend may require making plans three weeks out. How out of control is that? It’s a problem in this city. People are so busy they almost have to “carve out” (a phrase I hate) time to breathe.

It an atmosphere like this how does one get below the surface with others? When our business suits and our busy schedules hide both our joys and pain, where do we find a place to let down our hair and “be real”?

I have an answer to this…and I understand that it is an answer that will not interest everyone. But the answer is to get involved with anything involving healthy personal growth. Those who are willing to change and grow are often interested in sharing themselves honestly, and time over coffee or a walk through a park is valued by them.

I have made many of my most lasting friends in life at workshops and other small groups. I have mentioned before that some people avoid personal growth like the plague, and it puzzles me that they do. That is not my path. Whether it is a small group in a healthy church, a 12-step meeting, or a workshop at a retreat center, small groups provide a chance to share with others.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s not all about being intense with others. But that rock solid foundation of honesty and openness makes hikes, movies, and cooking out in the back yard more fun.

I’ll keep this simple. Life is, at all times, about personal growth. From before the moment of birth until our death we are designed to grow and change. And take heart, it can be fun. It’s easier to make friends in a personal growth context because personal growth is such a basic activity of living. And constructive, alive people are easier to befriend!

Got an experience of finding friendship in a personal growth context that you want to share with other readers? Leave a comment below. I will typically remove your email address before posting your comment. (Let me know if you want me to leave it.)


Posted in General, Optimal Living, Relationships, Self Esteem, Trauma | 2 Comments

The human requirement for shared experience

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatching a movie trailer recently I had a renewed glimpse of the importance of having shared experiences with others. It is a critical part of living a full, meaningful life.

To be honest I can’t remember much about the movie at the moment, but a socially isolated teenage character entered her home with an air of excitement that was evident. I knew immediately she had made a connection with a friend.

Whether it’s winning a race, graduating from school, or more unfortunately, having a serious illness, there is comfort and often joy in being in the company of others who understand what we are going through because they have gone through it too.

This is especially true in more extreme situations. If you have lost a child, watched your business fail, or seen your behavior become more and more upsetting as you fall into the clutches of an addiction, you will need to gather your courage and find others who are taking a constructive approach to their similar problem. It’s a critical thing to do. You won’t regret it.

It amazes me to meet as many people as I do who are categorically opposed to sharing their joys as well as difficulties with others. Sometimes I am stunned. Many people also avoid any event associated with personal growth because of the sharing with others or the looks inward that are typically part of such an event. The shame they imagine from others or the fear of what lurks within themselves cripples them.

The old saying, “Shared joy is doubled, and shared sorrow is halved,” is true. And, the better the match the more results we get.

Of course, this comradeship needs to include sharing our emotions…or ”being ourselves out loud,” as I call it. Otherwise our sharing can be dry and unsatisfying.

I once had a client with severe chronic pain. I felt sad as I worked to help her cope when her local pain clinic closed, and she had to scramble for a new doctor. Unfortunately, pain medications are typically addictive and have to be prescribed sparingly. It’s easy to want more than it’s safe to have, and addictions can result.

This particular client told me about her “pain pal.” This person was someone who suffered from pain like herself, and when the pain was difficult and the medications did not help enough, they would talk on the phone to provide a distraction from the pain until the worst had passed. Sometimes it took hours. It was a mutual arrangement. The mutuality was important.

In summary, life has its difficulties and its joys…and both are truly better if we share them with constructive others. It may make the difference between an isolated depression and friendship and a sense of purpose and growth.

Got an example of how this has worked for you that you’d like to share with other readers? Leave it in a comment below.  I will typically remove your email address before posting your comment. (Let me know if you want me to leave it.)


Posted in Addiction, General, Healing, Optimal Living, Self Esteem, Sex addiction, Trauma | Leave a comment

The Four Questions

4QuesThings go wrong in our lives all the time.  And when they do, some of us respond in ways that address the problem and typically bring us a measure of emotional comfort.  However, others of us either pretend that nothing has happened or fall into a place of hopelessness and defeat.

You can guess which response I hope you have.

When things go wrong, and I mean even when they go BADLY wrong, there are four questions to ask yourself.  They are important questions and they can make a huge difference in your life.  Here they are:

  1. Who should I talk to about this problem?
  2. How to I need to adjust my plans and expectations because of this problem?
  3. What lessons and gifts does this problem have to offer me?
  4. What is the next right step for me to take?

The next four blog posts will deal with these questions one at a time.

Posted in General, Healing, Optimal Living, Uncategorized | Leave a comment