Got Clutter? Local Therapist Wants You to Clean it For a Happier Life
If you are a clutterer or a hoarder - or know one - Lisa Wessan can help.
Lisa Wessan, LICSW, CLL, RM, knows that cleaning out your clutter can lead to a happier life.
Wessan will present Declutter Your Mind, Home & Office: A Holistic Approach, on Friday, July 13 at 10:30 a.m. Chelmsford Senior Center. A $5.00 donation goes to support the Senior Center. Pre-registration is required, call 978-251-0533 to reserve your seat.
Below, Wessan answers some questions about her career, what it means to declutter and what it can do for those struggling with clutter.
Q: How did you get involved in your practice and what drew you to do what you do?
A: In the early 1990s I was working as a talk show producer in New York City. One of the shows I produced was The Dr. Joy Browne Show, at WOR-AM radio. For Browne’s show, she rarely had guests, so I did not spend time reviewing new books and preparing questions for the host as I did for other shows. Most of my time for Browne’s three hours on the air per day was spent screening calls and putting up commercials.
It was here that I began to listen to callers’ problems and hear the troubles, anxieties and crises in the greater New York City area. I noticed that as people spoke during the screening process, within minutes I got the picture of where they were, and what was going on with them as if I saw a video of them and felt their emotions inside of me.
During the five years I worked with Browne, I really fell in love with “diagnosing and assessing” the callers, and referring them to possible treatment centers. But this was a superficial relationship with the callers, and I wanted more.
Before I would leave my lucrative broadcasting career, one friend suggested I try doing volunteer work at a local suicide hotline service, to test the therapeutic waters. So I went over to Marble Collegiate Church (where Norman Vincent Peale used to preach) and took the elevator up the Helpline Department.
Helpline had an amazing 10 week training program for the hotline volunteers, and I loved every minute of it. Here is where I first learned about reflective listening, unconditional regard, and how NOT to give advice! Where I grew up, I rarely experienced these things in my family of origin, and most New Yorkers I knew always had an opinion and felt free to tell me what I should do, whether I asked or not.
I felt as I was a round peg in a round hole at Helpline, and after volunteering on the hotline for four hours per week for two years, I decided to apply to graduate school for clinical social work.
Q: Why do you think it is important for seniors (or anyone) to de-clutter their lives?
A: There are many schools of thought about clutter – I am in the school that believes that clutter blocks energy (in the mind, home, office and body). How do I know this? When my clients return to my office and tell me that they finally emptied a dresser drawer, or gave away a deceased spouse’s clothes, or cleaned off the kitchen table, or cleaned out the garage, and they describe how they suddenly feel a surge of energy and excitement in their bodies and in their lives, I know this idea is true.
Conversely, when employers, doctors, nurses, clergy and others refer clients to me for depression, I am no longer surprised to hear about some of my clients’ massive clutter problems. The clutter drains their energy. Every time they look at their space, they feel worse. The clutter becomes an Energy Vampire, as it were, sucking the life out of them.
Concerning the elderly, first, clutter on the floor is a huge hazard. People trip over it and vermin can live in piles of paper and old clothes, breeding diseases.
Second, when people have lived in the same place for many years, sometimes they have accumulated a ton of stuff in their homes. Come time to downsize, relocate, move to an assisted living or nursing home, all these moves require decluttering their excess stuff.
For the clutterer or serious hoarder, this can present a traumatic event. You want to move, but you can’t. You are frozen in your cluttered home, paralyzed with fear.
Here’s where it gets serious: when I get the phone call from the adult child of the clutterer or hoarder and they say, “My mother has to sell her home and move, but I can’t get her to throw anything away. What should I do?” Then we begin the family counseling sessions and go forward to help the elderly parent release and let go of his/her stuff in a safe, loving way.
Third, the clutter reduces or eliminates intimacy with loved ones. I have one client now whose adult children would not visit her in her home because they felt it was unsafe and unhealthy for their kids to be in her filthy cluttered environment.
This client cried in my office about how she missed her grandchildren and wanted them to visit. After a few weeks of grief work, relaxation techniques, visualization exercises and keeping her commitment to declutter her home for a minimum of 15 minutes per day, she has now successfully decluttered her space so that her loved ones can visit her in the kitchen and den of her home. Sometime in the next six months she will hopefully have her guestrooms available for sleepovers!
This can also be true of younger people. Many of my clients who are single clutterers and living alone are admittedly keeping potential partners away due to their clutter issue. We work on their fear of intimacy, dissolving the shame around the clutter, releasing the anger and rage from unresolved grief and traumas, and that clutter soon melts away.
One of my favorite questions to ask a new client – which often baffles them – is “What is the payoff of your clutter? What are you getting out of it?” Once they are clearer on how the clutter is serving them, we can really get to work.
Finally, on a deep philosophical and spiritual level, I need to ask my clutterers “How free do you want to be? Do you want this STUFF, or do you want to feel light as a feather and move on with your life with more joy in your journey?” That is the crux of the matter here.
I typically work with people who want more freedom and who want to live an extraordinary life, to be fulfilled by the small things and inspired by the big things. Clutter just gets in the way, and destroys a lot of simple pleasures. For example, the simple delight of having a friend spontaneously come over for tea. Clutterers and hoarders cannot experience this simple pleasure, maybe not even with two weeks’ notice. It’s just one of the silent tragedies of clutterers and their families.
Q: What are your favorite parts of your job?
A: I am privileged to witness the process of transformation.
This is something I never get used to – I love experiencing this kind of joy in my work. Each person’s shift and transformation is unique, and although many of my spiritual treatments and detachment exercises work for clutterers, I see all of my practice as successfully dissolving toxic emotional blockages and freeing up the clients’ natural life energy. This work is never boring or routine! On some basic level, my job is simply to restore the client to their natural blueprint for success.
Something interfered with that blueprint, and it’s my job to help them face it, trace it and erase it. We can celebrate with tears and laughter when the blockage is clearly removed. That’s the best part, celebrating how the client turned a defeat into a victory.
Q: What does having a "balanced life" mean to you?
A: At a glance, I see your life as a triangle...on one side of the triangle is health and vitality, on another side is wealth and work, and on the third side is love and relationships. In a balanced life, most people are doing fairly well with at least two of the sides of this triangle, and are working on a few issues somewhere on the third side of their triangle. If someone is doing very well on all three sides they probably are not sitting in my office, unless they want to change jobs or careers and are looking to bump their life up to a better quality of living. Perfect balance can be boring after a while...sometimes we have to shake things up a bit to create more joy, love, ecstasy, cash flow, whatever!
Q: What do you like about practicing in the Chelmsford area?
A: Chelmsford is an exciting international community, with big tech industries nearby on Route 128 drawing people from all over the world, and with Lowell next door we are quite a melting pot in Massachusetts. What I do love about Chelmsford and the greater Boston/Nashua community that I serve locally is that people are generally warm, caring, excited to change and willing to work towards their dreams. With the available technology today, it is also possible to provide quality treatment via Skype and other conference call services so I see myself as an international counselor and consultant these days.
As I am known as a spiritual, joy based counselor who uses therapeutic laughter as part of my process, I also attract people who love to laugh. So we share a lot of laughter here. I like to think that I help my clients shift from grief to giggles...in a nutshell.
Finally, Chelmsford is chock full of excellent resources, such as our awesome library, senior center and local cable access television center, Chelmsford Telemedia, to name a few. As part of the empowerment process, I always seek to connect my clients with appropriate free local resources to enrich and expand their lives.