Secrecy Vs Privacy

Secrets make you sick.

In therapy, we know that holding secrets can cause profound distress, emotionally and physically. Repressed memories, suppressed shame, and ignored guilt can all weigh on us until the stress comes out sideways. Irritability, cognitive malfunction, somatic complaints and other side effects can erupt from keeping secrets.

We all benefit when we can get these secrets off our chest.

Presently, there is a trend in our culture to “share your story,” and “speak your truth,” resulting in public articles, blogs, and social media posts exposing previously-held secrets with abandon. People unveil deep trauma and personal insecurities in public forums as a way to liberate themselves from the shackles of secrecy. We cheer them on. We encourage them. We call them brave and inspiring.


This does not mean that broadcasting your experiences  publicly  is a wise alternative to keeping secrets.

When we share these things publicly, we are not necessarily doing a righteous thing. It is important to move past shame and to take ownership of your own life. But to do so without discernment can put you at risk of further trauma. When we are vulnerable- when we share parts of ourselves that have been held back- we become raw. We “put it all out there” to unburden ourselves and feel lighter, and consequently we are exposed. The “light” feeling doesn’t last long when we now feel unsafe and vulnerable to others’ input and influence. This is a huge risk. This is a risk that in my opinion often yields more harm than good.

So, do I want you to keep secrets perpetually? Absolutely not.

Do I want you to hide and repress your feelings? No.

I want you to choose- with the utmost care and discernment- those who are deserving of your story and safe to hold your secrets. I want you to expose the raw parts with people who won’t rub salt in the wounds or use it against you.  I want you to honor yourself by holding a private space for your painful truths. These truths are precious and don’t need to be shared with the world to be valid.

You do not have to “share your story” or “speak your truth” publicly to release secrets and free yourself from past pains. You can release that burden and maintain your precious privacy. A trusted confidante or a competent therapist are a good place to start. Not everything I meant for public consumption. Maintaining your privacy in a time of public everything is a brave and sometimes difficult choice.  Privacy is a human right, and one you should not be pressured to sacrifice.

Next time you read a “brave” tell-all on a mom blog or on LinkedIn or any other public forum, please remember that while that choice to share is always yours, the choice to maintain privacy is also yours.

Why Nature Should Be Part of Your Plan

“Try to get out for a walk today.”

“See if you can get a few minutes of sunshine on your break.”

“Sit by pond for a bit after work.”

These are the sort of gentle suggestions I give my therapy clients as one part of their treatment plan. They are not formal assignments or mandates, but they are not “throw away comments” either.

Maintaining wellness and mental health requires a holistic approach (“holistic” meaning whole and comprehensive, not meaning “crunchy.” Of course, “crunchy” is an option if that’s your thing).  This approach encompasses considerations of all facets of life and of health including sleep, job satisfaction, stress management, communication skills, caffeine intake, nutrition, deep relationships, creativity, play, and more. Some of these facets can yield immense benefits when utilized well.

Nature is one such facet.

The wellness benefits of regular exposure to nature can not be overstated. Various studies over decades of research indicate that time in nature may:

  • reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • improve focus and concentration
  • increase positive feelings and indicators of happiness
  • improve blood pressure and respiration rates
  • invoke a sense of “awe”
  • improve stress management

Nature, like any of the other facets mentioned above, is not a panacea. No ONE habit or facet of lifestyle can make us and keep us well. But nature is a very powerful tool to your holistic wellness and one that nearly everyone can benefit from.

What would it look like for you to increase your exposure to nature?

This depends so heavily on where you live and work, your mobility level, your habits, and even your allergies. 😊 Allow me to present some options for a few different circumstances.

Which of the following describes you?

  1. I already like nature, I have easy access to nature, I just need some ideas and motivation to increase my time in nature and reap the benefits fully.
  2. Nature is not much a part of my life. I am not sure how I could incorporate it more, but I am willing and have the means and resources to access more time in nature if I can get guidance on what to do and how.
  3. I live in a concrete jungle and won’t be visiting the woods any time soon. I am urban at heart or too far removed from the natural world to plan a hike on the weekend, but I see the benefits of nature and would like to find little ways to increase my exposure and improve my wellness.

Tips for “A”s and “B”s

  • Schedule nature time into your weekly calendar. This may look like a canoeing day with friends, exploring some trails on a weekend, or visiting a botanical gardens or nature center with family. If you plan it and schedule it, it is far more likely to happen.
  • Add nature time in little ways. It does not have to be a full outing or a full day. You may drive the “back way” on your way to do errands and roll down the windows to listen to the birds as you wind through the wooded roads. You might read while sitting in a lawn chair with your feet in the grass. You might just eat outside at lunch on your break from work.
  • Double dip. Plan to exercise today? Change the setting to a more natural one and have a trail run instead of a treadmill run. Meeting a friend for lunch? Consider an outdoor venue. Walking the dog anyway? Pet-friendly paved trails through places like Ridley Creek State Park, Valley Forge or Struble Trail provide a dose of nature without being far off or remote. As you make your weekly plans for social events, meals, errands and entertainment, consider where which plans may be able to double as a nature experience and plan accordingly.
  • Cultivate “nature friends.”  If you have friends or acquaintances who are more “outdoorsy” or nature-oriented, increase your time with them. It will be easier for you to “double dip” as mentioned above, and their influence will shift your lifestyle to more naturally (excuse the pun) include nature.

Tips for “C”s

“Some” is better than “none” when it comes to nature exposure, so please know that your experience with nature does not need to be “all or nothing.” Below are some ways that might work for urban dwellers, nature-averse and “too busy” people alike.

  • Add some “faux” nature to your world. Some studies have indicated that even hearing nature sounds or looking at natural images have benefits. So consider adding these environmental elements to your home or office. Nature photos, faux plants, nature soundtracks, pine, herb or floral scents, fountains, and even the color green can provide a small “dose” of nature.
  • Bring the outdoors in. A la Frank Lloyd Wright, natural elements in a home or office can instill a sense of peace. Prop driftwood on a shelf, use a rock as a doorstop, maintain houseplants, tend to potted herbs in a 3” pot on your windowsill.
  • Find patches of nature. Is there a tiny park in walking distance where you might sit in a plot of grass to eat your lunch? Even surrounded by skyscrapers and traffic noise, this little plot can serve as a refuge. Do you have a front stoop that could hold a potted plant? Some native sedge is zero maintenance and will likely come back year after year, even potted (in the Philadelphia region at least; this will depend on where you live). It is also inexpensive if someone walks off with it and you need to replace it. Maybe a back stoop would be a safer spot…
  • Belong. Get a membership to a nature center r botanical gardens OR volunteer for such a place. This may not be a place you can get to weekly, but if you consider it an outing- or even a “prescription”- you can probably make it work monthly.
  • Get away. When planning vacations or trips, consider immersion in a natural setting. A lake house, a ski trip, a week near the beach, a kayak adventure… even a daytrip to a river tubing adventure can reset you in a way that only nature can.

If you are not already inclined to spend time in nature, this may all sound a little “woo-woo.” I get it. I do.

But considering experimenting with some of the suggestions above… in the spirit of curiosity. See if you feel different after an hour at the park, or with birdsong filling your home. The enduring benefits come from regular and repeated exposure, but even “here and there” nature time can do wonders for the body, mind and soul.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

The “Stages of Grief” that people refer to often are:

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

These stages, however, were never meant to describe the process of grief after a death. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist who proposed those stages in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” was studying the processes of terminally ill patients facing their own mortality. These stages described how patients coped with illness and impending death after receiving a terminal diagnosis. Kubler-Ross also clarified that the “stages” were not linear or progressive in any way, but that patients would generally experience all of them at some point, and often repeatedly throughout their dying days.

In other words, the concept of these stages of grief are useless to grieving people.

Clients come to me often wanting to know more about these stages, hoping they can anticipate what will be next in their grief process. “Oh, I think I’m in Bargaining, I better brace myself for Depression.” Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work that way.

After someone dies, you may experience all of the above, or none of the above. They may or may not occur, and they certainly won’t be in any predictable order. Grief co-exists with myriad emotions including regret, relief, joy, sorrow, amusement, confusion, nearly any emotion you can conceive of. All is fair in love and grief. You may spend the month after your mother’s death feeling at peace with her passing and grateful that she is no longer suffering. And in an instant, you could end up sobbing and screaming, railing against the injustice of her untimely death. Anything goes.

In my years as a grief counselor, the closest thing to “stages” I’ve observed would be the phases I describe as:

Acute Grief and

Integrated Grief

Let me define these concepts.

Acute Grief is when the loss is prominent and commands most of your attention, emotions are intense, and day-to-day activities are impacted by your grief.

Integrated Grief is when the loss is part of your reality but not currently a focus, emotions are fairly stable, and your daily activities continue normally without being significantly impacted by your grief.

Very often people experience Acute Grief shortly after a loss, and over time come to live with Integrated Grief. Time is part of the transition between phases, but it is not as simple as saying that Acute Grief is the immediate experience and Integrated Grief is the experience after a year or more. Sometimes the experience varies day to day, even many years after a loss. In general most people spend more time in Acute Grief shortly after a loss and more time in Integrated Grief once some time has passed by. But both can occur at any time after a loss, and may last a few hours or a few months. You may find you spend less time in Acute Grief as time goes by, but that doesn’t mean it is behind you for good.

While unpredictable and nonlinear, understanding a bit about the two phases can help you adjust your routines and expectations to honor where you are at that moment. If you are living in Integrated Grief and have plans to go out Saturday night, but something stirs up your emotions and now you are experiencing Acute Grief, you might adjust your plans accordingly. You may choose to make things easier for yourself and demand less of yourself while experiencing Acute Grief. Conversely, if you feel calm and stable in Integrated Grief, you might be ready to push yourself into a project that you now have the attention and energy to focus on.

In many ways, I really wish the original “Stages of Grief” were an accurate road map for life after loss. Wouldn’t it be so nice to have some idea what you might experience and when? It seems like we could cope more easily if we weren’t constantly caught off guard by our grieving process. I can’t provide any such roadmap for you, but as a therapist I can be a helpful copilot. Whatever your current experience, take good care of yourself and get support where you can. You don’t have to do this alone.

Grieving What Never Was

Sometimes the intense grief we experience when someone dies is expected. You can’t imagine living without your devoted mother or your beloved son. Their presence in your life was enriching and comforting and special, so to lose that is obviously painful.

But what happens when we lose someone with whom we had a bad relationship?

                When intense grief follows the death of an abusive estranged spouse, a mentally ill sibling or an absent parent, we are usually caught off guard.

                “I wasn’t even that close with them!” I hear.

                “They tormented me for years so why am I so sad?” is another common response.

                Very often when the person who died fell far short of our hopes for their role in our life, we get hit by grief like a Mack truck. We have lived perhaps for decades with their shortcomings and even at times learned to accept that they are not the loving mom, the protective father, or the loyal sibling we always wanted. Yet when they die, we are wracked with the pain of losing what never was… and now can never be.

                In my experience, as long as someone is alive, no matter how dysfunctional they are or how toxic they are in your life, there is always the tiniest hope or wish that they could “come around.” It seems like there is a chance, no matter how infinitesimal, of redemption and a new experience with them “one day.” When they die, that one day can never come. It is a certain and final fact.

                This grief experience is often not recognized as such by other people. They are shocked to find out you are sad over the death of your absent parent. They can’t believe you happily divorced someone ten years ago, and now cry daily after their death. Very likely, they don’t even know you are grieving because they assume that this death was not particularly meaningful or hurtful to you. Since you may have spent years complaining about this person or intentionally distancing yourself from them, you may not even feel able to share your grief with others. It feels… odd. To say the least.

                I want to assure you, as a therapist and grief counselor who has worked with dozens of clients experiencing this sort of surprising grief, you are not alone. You are not odd. You are having a very natural reaction to the finality of a loss that you have endured perhaps for your entire lifetime. Talk to friends who can understand. Go to therapy or counseling to process some of this complex reaction. Journal about it daily.  

Now is the time to grieve what never was. This loss is just as valid.  

Grieving Someone in Active Addiction

“She’s still alive. I mean thank God for that. But I still feel like I’ve lost her, and no one understands my grief.” Several years ago, a therapy client came to me with this about her adult daughter.

                If you have ever had a friend or loved one in the throes of addiction, the above quote probably resonates with you. You feel bereft and sad, missing the person you once knew and fearful they may never return. Make no mistake about it; you are grieving.

                Addiction takes our loved ones from us.

                The grief of addiction is a complicated one. When a loved one is lost in addiction, we grieve, while simultaneously hoping they will recover, come back to us, return to their sober state. We also simultaneously fear that they will be gone forever; one overdose, one accident, irreversible bodily damage. This is not a “clean” grief. Our loved one still exists, and the experience of grieving for a living person can feel confusing and alienating.

                We don’t wish them to be dead, but when someone dies, it’s final. There is an end point, and grieving commences based on that finality.

                When a loved one is gone in addiction, your every day is a mix of grief, hope and fear. For some, this complex state of emotions continues for years.

                Grief is never linear, but this sort of grief is particularly convoluted.

                No one is showing up with casseroles or sending flowers to acknowledge your pain.

                I wish I had a solution or some steps you could take to ease the pain of this particular grief. I don’t. But I think that recognizing your loved one’s “disappearance” to addiction as something to be grieved can help. For the same reasons, this is a really good time to talk with a grief counselor or therapist or join a support group like Nar-Anon or Al-Anon.

                If you feel the need to be better understood by people close to you, share this post with them so they can get a glimpse of what you are experiencing. Sometimes having someone who “gets it” is the best comfort there is.

My Alphabet Soup

In addition to the ample letters in my name- Angela Dora Dobrzynski, nee Marchesani- I have acquired quite a collection of letters after my name.


For many people, these letters read like meaningless alphabet soup, but in reality, they denote the credentials I have earned in my career as a therapist. If you are a client or considering becoming a client, you should know what qualifies me to support and guide you in our work together. Allow me to explain how these credentials were attained.

LPC- Licensed Professional Counselor (in Pennsylvania; each state has its own licensing board for psychotherapists)

The LPC credential is earned through graduate coursework (a Master’s Degree in Counseling, plus practicum and internship within the graduate program), passing of the National Counselor Examination ( 200-item exam covering counseling theory, strategies and ethics, along with human development, cognition, behavior modification, psychopharmacology and all other topics covered in the required graduate coursework), and 3,000 post-graduate supervised work hours (requiring a 1-hour meeting with a licensed supervisor per every 20 hours worked during that 3,000 hour work experience. In this case, “supervision” means case consultation and structured feedback, teaching and correction from a licensed clinician. You don’t know humility until you get that sort of feedback). In my case, I completed 72 credits in my Master of Arts in Counseling program at Rosemont College in 2007, including a 100-hour practicum at Women’s Resource Center, a 300-hour internship at Haverford High School and a 600-hour internship at Women’s Resource Center. I obtained certification as a Secondary School Counselor at this time, after taking both Praxis 1 and Praxis 2 exams at the conclusion of my school-based internship. I didn’t go on to work as a school counselor, though, and therefore that certification has lapsed. For six years I worked at a residential eating disorder hospital, and then later back to Women’s Resource Center. Once I earned my full LPC credential, I worked for three years as a bereavement counselor for a hospice and began my private practice. To maintain my license, I must complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years, up to 20 of which can be virtual trainings and at least 10 of which must be in-person trainings.

CGCS- Certified Grief Counseling Specialist

This certification is granted after a 6-hour virtual training and assessment. This training covers the dual-process model of coping, grief and attachment, companioning as an intervention, assessment of grief and other topics related to loss and grief. I learned more from the hundreds of grieving clients I’ve worked with, but this is a nice refresher course to stay current in the field.

CHHC- Certified Holistic Health Coach

Granted by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners in 2007, this certification is nationally recognized, which means I can provide coaching to clients in any state. This certificate was earned after completion of a year-long program at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan. Courses were in person at IIN’s Lincoln Center location for two weekend days each month, with coursework and online processes between sessions. This program taught us how to work with clients using the integration of mind-body-soul through nutritional theory, natural health interventions, personal development and a holistic view of the self. Our guest teachers included Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, Debbie Ford and Mark Hyman.


Wait! That one is not there yet!

This summer I will begin training to become a certified provider of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a research-supported and highly respected technique that reduces the emotional distress resulting from traumatic events and other acute stressors. The in-person training takes place over two three-day weekends a month apart (48 total training hours), and the certification is granted after months of clinical application and formalized supervision are successful. Stay tuned for these new letters!


Professional developmental is non-negotiable for me. I am constantly learning in order to better serve my clients and bring new strategies, techniques and insights into our work. In December I completed a trauma treatment training presented by renowned doctor and trauma-specialist Bessel Van Der Kolk. In March I completed a training hosted by CORE, Gift of Life and the State of Pennsylvania to provide grief counseling to the families of organ donors. I read articles and books regularly, in order to hone my skills as a therapist and to provide relevant resources to clients (Atomic Habits by James Clear and Mindset by Carol Dweck in the past couple of months).

I hope this provides a clearer picture of what all the letters are for; my alphabet soup is for you!

It’s Not Your Fault (but now it’s your responsibility)

So many clients come to counseling to get help from a therapist for reactions that they no longer want to perpetuate. As adults, trying to navigate the world and especially relationships with others, they begin to see patterns and responses in ourselves that are at times unsavory. Perhaps they yell at their children, get insecure with a partner, or use passive aggression to hurt the people close to them. For most of these behaviors, as we work together, we can see a direct link to events or dynamics that occurred in their formative years or beyond.

We are invariably shaped by our experiences, relationships and influences. The cause-and-effect is not formulaic, but generally we can identify the root of challenging behaviors as a result of prior exposure.

People tend to:

Repeat behaviors they were exposed to

Avoid certain behaviors entirely and do the opposite, or

Respond to others in a way that assumes a behavior that they were habituated to expect in another context.

If your mom yelled at you fiercely as a child, it is not surprising that you yell at your kids (despite most likely having sworn that you would never do the same thing). Conversely, if your mom yelled at you fiercely as a child, it is also not surprising if you avoid correcting or disciplining your own children entirely.

If your first boyfriend devolved into a controlling, critical and jealous monster, you may quite intentionally (or unconsciously) avoid men. Conversely, if your first boyfriend was a controlling, critical and jealous monster, it is also possible that you accept reprehensible or alarming behavior from men because it is not “as bad” as what you grew accustomed to.

If your adolescence was fraught with teasing, exclusion and bullying, you may scramble socially to maintain “Queen bee” status as an adult, regardless of whether or not you like the people whose acceptance you are vying for. Conversely, you may use relational aggression and subtle manipulation to make those around you feel small, thereby securing your social power. And of course another possibility is that you include everyone in the fold of your social life, actively seeking out those rejected or marginalized.

If your dad left when you were ten, you may see rejection and abandonment where it doesn’t exist. Your partner is late again; you are certain the relationship is over. Conversely, you may build a persona that is “fiercely independent,” so that no one can ever abandon you again After all, how can you be abandoned if you didn’t need them in the first place?

Sometimes these reactive responses are adaptive and healthy; we see what happened to us and we consciously build a different experience.

Sometimes, though, these responses render us disabled. We want to connect with others, we want authentic relationships, we want to be free from the kneejerk reactions we’ve developed over a lifetime… but we feel enslaved to them.

As a therapist, I have seen some variation of the following exchange in hundreds of counseling sessions:

“I do (certain behavior) and my (spouse, children, boss, future partner, etc) doesn’t like it, but I do it because (of someone else’s behavior from years prior).”


“I’m aware that (this behavior) might limit me in certain ways (including developing intimacy, fulfilling a life dream, experiencing peace, etc), but I do it because (of someone else’s behavior from years prior).”

Identifying the source of dysfunctional behavior is an essential step in therapy and can be validating to people who finally connect the dots of their kneejerk reactions. We can see how adaptive some of these things were in previous experiences or recognize that we came by it naturally. To see the root of our reactions and understand them better can reassure us that whatever it is, it’s not our fault.

But, friends, it can not end there.

Identifying the source of dysfunctional behavior is merely the first step. Once you understand how your inner world works, it is up to you to begin to change these responses and create a different possibility for yourself.

Whatever happened to you, it is not your fault. But it is now your responsibility.

After a name-calling, low-blowing argument with your spouse, it is not acceptable to say, “I get that way because my father was that way,” and call it a day. An explanation is not an excuse. After the same argument, you may start by recognizing where that kneejerk response comes from, but if you have any desire at all to have a healthy relationship with your spouse and begin to heal some of the damage of your own father’s rage, it is your responsibility to take steps to stop that pattern.

It is not easy.

For most of us, it means years of practice, self-awareness, counseling, prayer, humility and even more practice. We may never get it fully “right.” But we can’t throw up our hands and say, “I am like this because of what happened to me,” as if the story ends there. That is not sufficient, and it is not fair to yourself. You are not a helpless victim. You may have been victimized at one point, but accepting the response to that as your life-long limitation merely perpetuates the pain inflicted on you years ago.

Don’t let your previous circumstances dictate your entire future.

It wasn’t your fault; but it’s now your responsibility.

Therapy for People Who Don’t Want Therapy

Your loved ones are concerned about you. They think you need to talk to a counselor. Counseling has helped them, and they want you to get the same benefit.

Only… You don’t want to talk. You have no experience with therapy or counseling, or you had a counselor once who missed the mark, made you feel bad, or just wasted your time.

The idea of sitting with someone to talk about your “feelings” seems daunting or just stupid.

I get it.

Here’s the thing: Counseling is not for everyone. While we all need support and resources during hard times, therapy doesn’t always fit the bill. You need something that helps you, but that something can come in many other forms. “Talking about it” is not always the answer.

Figuring out what you need is not always easy, though. You may consider a few sessions with a counselor just to identify some non-therapy options for you, but if you have an absolute aversion to even brief therapy or counselors in general, here are a few ways you can get “therapy” without going to therapy:

  • Flow
  • Sweat
  • Create
  • Write
  • Your Tribe
  • Nature

Flow. Entering a state of flow is an inherently therapeutic practice, akin to meditation but without the “mind clearing” mandate. Flow is the state of total focus and absorption in an activity, to the point where nothing else seems to exist and you lose time without realizing it. To enter a state of flow, you need to identify an activity that holds your interest and is just a tad more difficult than your usual activities. This activity can’t be something you can do automatically, but must require some focus and sustained attention. Clearly this is different for everyone but some examples are: Completing a puzzle, Doing academic research, Fixing something, Practicing a precise art, or mastering a physical feat (such as a headstand for you aspiring yogis).

Sweat. The benefits of sweat can not be overstated. Our emotions and reactions are not just in our minds; they are in our bodies, too. Without saying a word about what you’re going through, a good sweat can provide a sense of calm and clarity. There is a reason that sweat lodges have been part of spiritual ceremonies for hundreds (or thousands!) of years. You might break a sweat by exercise or by sauna. You absolutely must consult with your doctor about the proper amount of sweating that is safe for you, given your medical history. People with low blood pressure and other health issues may have to skip this option.

Create. Making something has multiple therapeutic benefits. First, when you create, you are very likely to enter the flow state mentioned above. But also, creating provides a gratifying sense of control that can help improve your confidence and remind you of your strength. The creation may be art, but it could also be cooking, developing a new program, or building something. You don’t have to be “creative” to reap the benefits of creating.

Write. There are so many ways that writing can help you if you don’t want to “talk.” Writing is a private way to express your reactions and process your experiences. Writing can also be shredded or deleted if you don’t want any evidence of your mental purge. There are many ways to write for therapeutic purposes, but here are some examples I’ve shared before. Therapeutic Writing – Angela Dora Dobrzynski, LPC

Your Tribe. Without saying a word to them, being in the presence of people who get you and accept you is therapeutic. To exist without explanation and to just be with people can be a healing gift.  If you have people like this in your life, spend more time with them. You don’t have to talk about feelings, but when in the presence of your tribe, you undergo some healing by nature of the fact that you are a part of something.

Nature. Exposure to nature decreases mental distress and anxiety, while improving many physical functions such as heart health and blood pressure. Additionally, the cognitive benefits of clarity and increased ability to focus can prime you for “flow state activities” or writing activities discussed above. You don’t have to do much to reap therapeutic benefits of nature. Sitting amongst trees, walking on grass, or lying under a night sky all help.

Clearly as a therapist I know there is value in counseling, but I also know that you may never feel comfortable with it. The interventions above are a good start for some self-healing and may be just what the doctor ordered. I would love to hear what works for you!