Jonathan Kirkendall MA LPC


Date: 12/17/2017 9:46 PM EST

This time of year, the days are shorter and the nights are longer. We wake up in darkness, and by the time work is over, night has already arrived. This post is for the people for whom this is more than just an analogy, for the people who feel like putting up lights and decorating is a mechanical chore, who feel lost and alone at the holiday parties, who beat themselves up for not being able to celebrate the way others around them are celebrating.

This may be the first year without a loved one (spouse, partner, child, sibling, best friend) by your side. Or maybe there was a death three years ago, and others think that you should have moved on, and on the outside you have, but inside, there is still grief. Or maybe the loss was nine years ago, but this was his favorite holiday, and you dread the memories of lighting the candles or putting up the tree without him.

And maybe the details just don’t matter: the rest of society is joyful and making merry, and you’re wondering how you are ever going to make it to January.

First rule: remember there is no rule book for how to get through the holidays if you are grieving. Be gentle to yourself. Extend yourself the grace to figure out how you’re going to do this. January will come – you will get through this.

Second, there are basically three things you can do: keep things the same, do different things/change things, and take a break. Often, the holidays may become a mix of those - we create new traditions to honor the memory of our loved one, we leave some out that are too painful or have lost their meaning, and we keep some traditions just like before.

Keep Things the Same: Sometimes, there is comfort in the familiar. Doing things you always used to do may make you feel close to your loved one, or maybe it’s just easier doing what you always used to do, because you’re too numb to try to figure out something different. If that’s the case, then going with the flow and know that not changing things up may be a way to take care of yourself.

Change Things Up: While some traditions may be comforting, others may just be too painful, and it is completely fine to leave those by the wayside. Social situations can be awkward: you may not feel like being around a lot of people, or, a lot of people may feel awkward around you and not know what to say, making it even harder for you.

You want to add something that you’ve not done before. For example, at a holiday dinner, you may want to light a candle in remembrance of a loved one who is not there. Or get a group of close friends together and go raise a holiday toast to your loved one.

Take a Break: One of the moms I worked with told me that for a couple of years after the death of her husband, she felt obligated to put up the tree, decorate the house, cook the food, so that her kids could have a “normal” Christmas. One year, her older daughter said to her “Mom, none of us are having any fun…” And now, at Christmas, they travel. They save up through-out the year, and enjoy themselves by the ocean in warm climates over the holidays. They know that their dad is enjoying knowing that they are all having a good time, even if it doesn’t mean a tree and stockings.

One caveat to this: don’t isolate. You may not be feeling the holidays, and you may decide to forgo holiday gatherings, but don’t isolate. Have your best friend over. Talk to family members. Keep in contact. If you have kids, remember that they NEED to play to process their grief, so finding outlets for them to engage with others will be important.

Remember this: holidays are a work in progress. They will roll around again next year. Take whatever break you need. Change things up. And remember what you do this year may be different from what you do next year. And – what you do this year may become a new tradition for your family for years to come.

While there is no rule book for grieving through the holidays, here are three helpful tips:

DO communicate: if other family members are involved, acknowledge the loss and the grief, and talk about how all of you would like to celebrate. Not mentioning it may seem like the right thing to do, but ultimately, this just leads to awkwardness.

DO have a plan B in place. Plan B is the friend of the grieving. This is an especially useful tip for social engagements. Let’s say there’s a traditional, annual family gathering, and you kind of want to go. Go – drive yourself, and know that you don’t have to stay through the entire thing if you don’t want to. Or don’t go – you’re plan B could be to stay home, or meet a friend for coffee instead (don’t isolate – see above!).

DO set realistic expectations for yourself. The holidays are stressful for everyone – and much more so if you are grieving a loss. If you are the one who hosted Christmas dinner, please ask for help. If you usually head up the office holiday party – let someone else try that this year.

The internet is full of resources. Simply search “Grieving through the holidays” and you’ll find amazing articles by hospice groups,, and this one, by What’s Your Grief, “64 Tips for Coping With Grief Through the Holidays.” If your loss is loss by suicide, this article, Surviving the Holidays After Suicide Loss may be particularly helpful.

Move slowly. Take naps. Reach out. 

Spring is coming.

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Date: 11/14/2017 4:04 PM EST

A few weeks ago I was teaching a weekend meditation program at the DC Shambhala Center, exploring how mindfulness can be used to unravel years of habitual patterns and defense mechanisms so that we can actually open up to ourselves and to this world. My assistant director, a professor, author, aikido practitioner, mom, and all around bad ass, used a phrase that totally captivated me: “Mind leads body, body leads mind.”

I have been in the mental health field now for over 20 years, and in private practice here in DC for almost that long. I have had the privilege of working with all sorts of folks – political appointees, case workers at local non-profits, doctors, nurses, lawyers and artists, folks training for marathons and Iron Man, and self-described couch potatoes. For two of those years, I had the privilege of serving as the Director of Good Grief Camp at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, creating programming for grieving military children and their parents at programs all across this country - it was a humbling, rich, and inspiring experience.

With all of that experience, what I have seen over and over again is that healing from depression, anxiety, grief and trauma is more thorough and more lasting if the whole self is treated. The stereotypical view of psychotherapy with the patient lying on the sofa and the therapist, sitting somewhere out of sight, asking “tell me about your mother…” is outdated for a reason (but let me be clear: props to Freud for breaking the mold of medical practice in the early part of the 20th century and actually LISTENING to his patients, which was a wildly new concept for its time). 

As western medicine is beginning to understand the relationship between diet, exercise, and physical health, so psychology is beginning to understand that engaging the body in healing our minds is actually… a real thing. 

Body leads mind: walking in nature heals; a diet rich in a variety of whole foods heals; active participation with others in a volunteer capacity heals; smart supplementation heals. 

Mind leads body: mindfulness heals; gratitude heals; kindness heals; relationships heal; gentleness to self heals. 

I’m so excited to offer this integrative, holistic approach to my clients, and to make this front and center of my practice with this new website. Who can benefit most? I believe everyone. Here are some examples of types of clients that have come to me in the recent past:
  • People who want to try an alternative to medications
  • People who are on meds, but feel like they’re not operating at their fullest potential
  • People who want to take control of their (mental) health and want to learn tools that will help them build a life of resiliency
  • Non-athletes who want to understand and explore the role that activity plays in sustaining feelings of wellness
  • Athletes who want to incorporate smarter decisions about lifestyle choices into their ongoing training

Let’s talk. Email me, or, if you’re ready to book an appointment, click here for my schedule. 

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Date: 4/24/2016 12:06 PM EDT

Loss hurts. But loss is also what it means to be human. Grieving is the path through loss,  the path to becoming more fully human. Through loss, as we grieve, we deepen our humanity.

That’s the big picture.

On a day to day level, loss is disorienting and physically painful. We may find it hard to sleep, hard to eat, hard to make decisions. For some, it gets even harder when the shock has worn off, when the funeral is over, when everyone else around us goes about their day as if nothing has happened. And then, you begin to feel that perhaps, you too should be going about your day “as if” nothing has happened. As if your dad didn’t die, as if the love of your life were still with you every day, as if your best friend hadn’t taken her own life.

In my work at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, I work with military kids and families after the the service member has been killed, died, or committed suicide. For ten years now I have accompanied families through their grief, and I have seen first hand the healing that can occur when grief is allowed, when you don’t have to act “as if” nothing has happened, or, “as if” things are now back to normal, even though your husband is gone or you best friend was buried last month.

Acting "as if" lacks integrity. It's empty, and it comes with a heavy price. Healing takes courage. It takes courage to mourn, it takes courage to say "It's been a year and it still hurts." It takes courage to lean into our pain and to be with it, to tend it, to hold it. 
And what does healing look like? It looks like love. It looks like life. It looks likes wisdom.

For each of us it is different, but there are some shared characteristics. Peace returns. We discover new meaning in life. Often, our heart is bigger – and softer, and stronger. It has the ability to hold both more pain and more joy. We re-evaluate our life and begin to really pay attention to the things that truly matter to us. We move from mourning their loss to honoring their legacy.

Most of all, healing means integration, NOT “getting over” or “getting through.” We have a hole in our life. We can pretend it’s not there, or try to fill it with other things/people/activities, or - we can let it become a doorway through which we allow the truth of impermanence and being human to enter. It’s up to us.

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Date: 1/31/2016 3:45 PM EST

Earlier this month I was teaching a meditation program at the DC Shambhala Center and was reminded of a very important concept that arises out of the teachings on mindfulness. In this first month of the New Year that is usually awash with New Year’s resolutions to meditate more/smoke less/eat better/etc, I was very aware of its timeliness: the very first step in changing our habitual patterns is developing gentleness towards our selves and our experience.

The very first thing we need to do in order to change is to be kind to ourselves. Imagine that! Not beat ourselves up, not hold ourselves to a standard higher than we’d ever hold anyone else, not aggressively push through to the next level, not even make of list of things that need to change, but – develop gentleness towards ourselves.

The exact formula is actually this: kindness towards self plus daring to move beyond our comfort zone equals the ability to create the discipline to sustain that change.

When you think about it, we do this quite naturally with others. For example, combining feedback with kindness when we’ve worked up the nerve to confront a loved one, or the firm yet gentle hold on a child while we cross a busy road through traffic. So the trick is to figure out how to do this for yourself.

For me, combining gentleness/kindness/warmth with daring/taking risks is where the spark happens. Without those two together, the formula falls apart. If we’re just kind, we may be prone towards “idiot compassion,” letting ourselves off the hook, getting mushy. If we’re just daring, we may become too aggressive, too harsh, too solid.  Each of these not only tempers the other, but it creates something larger – discipline, which, in the Buddhist teachings, is the seed of joy.

As we move into 2016, lets remember that we have both the softness of the heart and the strength of our backbone - with those two together, we can move forward to create the change we want in our lives.

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Date: 8/2/2015 5:08 PM EDT

I’m digging this article that appeared on 10 Career Lessons You Should Learn By Your 30’s. 

You can (and should!) read the entire article. The mistakes I hear about most in the career work that I do are #1 (“Your Dream Job is a Dud”), #5 (“You Have a Nightmare Boss”), and #6 (You Scored a High Ranking Job and Hate It”).  

And there’s one that’s not mentioned: landing a leadership role in an organization and being TOTALLY unprepared for the first staff meeting. Yeah. That happened to me. After months and months of job searching, I landed a supervisory position with the Manhattan Chapter of the American Red Cross. At my first staff meeting, my new boss noted, kindly but loudly, that I might want to go back to my office and get note-taking materials so that I could be prepared for the meeting…oops. 

The point though, is not that there is a list of mistakes and you should make them ASAP and get them over with. The point is this: mistakes ARE the path to success. We can’t possibly succeed without making them.  The article refers to this as the “silver lining,” which is a little ethereal for my taste. I prefer to think of making mistakes as the bridge to success.

And there’s another point to be made. I see a lot of clients who are in the midst of a Really Crazy Job. And they feel bad – as if their narcissistic boss/disorganized founder/jealous coworker/fill-in the-blank-here-with-whatever-is-making-your-job-and-your-life-miserable is their fault. It’s not. The really good news is that EVERYONE has that one miserable job at some point in your career. Everyone. I’m not kidding. 

Mine happened in my mid-30’s with an incompetent boss and a non-profit that was falling to pieces around me. I lasted 9 months, suffered one bout of depression, and got the hell out of there. It kicked my butt, but it motivated me to move towards self-employment - it was the bridge that I crossed to working for myself. 

If you’re in the midst of a Really Crazy Job, don’t lose heart. Move on. Everyone goes through this – it comes with the territory of adulthood. It’s not an foreshadowing of things to come and it’s not your fault. Clarify what’s not working for you, and develop a list of what would work for you. And then – go find that job. 

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Date: 7/12/2015 1:13 PM EDT

Make no mistake: I was overjoyed at the Supreme Court’s decision to make gay marriage a legal thing in this country. Nine years ago, after spending five hours in the ER with my partner and after helping the doctor set his shattered leg, I was told that I could not accompany him to his hospital room because I was not family and visiting hours were over. When I insisted, they threatened to call security, and I had to leave. That, my friends, will never happen again – to me, or any other gay, legally married spouse.  It will not happen in Mississippi, or Oregon, or Arkansas, or Iowa, or Florida, or New Hampshire.

I have been with my partner for 23 years now. In 1999, we were “un-legally” married in a really wonderful, Buddhist ceremony in the courtyard of a church here in Washington D.C. with 100 of our closest friends and family in attendance.

Three years ago, we were legally married by a justice of the peace in Prince George’s County, in a room with red paper hearts scotch taped to the windows and a bouquet of plastic flowers on a podium. Neither of us expected the whole “repeat after me” bit, but – who knew? – it is actually a part of the court’s ceremony, and we both read the vows, and we both choked up. 

But here’s the thing: state-authorized love is suspect to me. 

Love is big, and wild, and varied. It doesn’t play by our rules, by Congress’s rules, or by the Supreme Court’s rules. It is bigger than court rulings, bigger than people’s understanding of what their particular scripture might say, bigger than the underpinnings of their favorite psychological theory.

And you know what it’s really bigger than? Love is infinitely bigger than the fairy tale that we grew up with that one day we will fall in love with one person and stay with that person for the rest of our lives through thick or thin and if we don’t…if we stray from the path…if love catches us up and throws us down in unexpected ways, that we are broken, or have failed, or have sinned.

There are two things I hear from my clients who are experiencing relationship problems. First, that they feel like a failure, and second, complete and utter surprise when they start talking about it to friends and discover that they are not the only ones struggling in a relationship.  As someone said to me recently, “Can you imagine if we put the same energy into facing the challenges of relationships as we do into projecting that everything is okay?”

Yes – imagine that!

This is the one thing that I want all my clients to know: if you are having relationship issues, you are not a failure. If you discover that you and your partner (or partners) share different values, you have not failed.  If you have been married, divorced, and remarried, you did not fail. If you love and are committed to your partner and you find yourself in love with someone else as well, that doesn’t mean that there’s a predetermined outcome: ie, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed your first relationship, it doesn’t mean you will/won’t act on this new love, or that you are somehow broken/weak/sinful. It only means that love is boundless. Love is not bound by any parameters – it is our actions and behaviors in relationships that have boundaries, boundaries that change and evolve as we grow, and therefore depend on ongoing communication and honesty.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that there is some superhighway of love that we are all supposed to find and that we will just coast along once we find it.

We need to all be talking with each other about this more. Then, maybe we could switch from expending energy into projecting images of happy couple-dom, to actually doing the work that it requires to love and relate to another person.

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Date: 6/30/2015 10:52 AM EDT

What is hypnotherapy, and how can it help?

Hypnotherapy is very simply a way to relax the active, conscious mind, and allow the wisdom of the deeper unconscious mind to come forward. Our active mind can only hold a few objects of knowledge at a time – and the more stressed we are, the less we are able to access it.  Every thing else that we have learned, that we know, is held in the unconscious mind. Hypnotherapy is a specific way to relax that enables us to access that information, bypassing the conscious mind.

What does a hypnotherapy session look like? It’s pretty simple - and not very mysterious: you sit there, close your eyes, and listen to me! Think of it as guided meditation. There is no swinging pocket watch, there will be no quacking like a duck. There WILL be breathing in and breathing out, feeling your body relax more and more deeply…and before you know it I will be saying “and now open your eyes and return to full, normal consciousness!”

Here are five things that I use hypnotherapy for in my practice:

1) Phobias: fear of flying, claustrophobia, fear of heights, elevators, agoraphobia. Hypnosis can help your brain develop new resources and new ways of dealing both with old, habitual patterns, and with new fears that seem to be beyond the control of the conscious mind.

2) Trauma: hypnotherapy is a powerful tool in reducing the poison of traumatic events. In just a few sessions, hypnotherapy can bring healing to painful memories that in the past have filled us with dread.

3) Future events: not only can hypnotherapy heal painful events from the past, it can help us face difficult, fearful, or complicated events in the future (think job interviews, meeting the in-laws, etc).

4) Undoing beliefs that no longer work for us:  low self esteem, relationship patterns that don’t work, poor career choices…many of these are driven by beliefs that we developed as kids that worked for us then, but are abysmally inappropriate for adulthood. Hypnosis not only can help us uncover these beliefs, but help us consciously create new ones that support a thriving lifestyle.

5) Reduce chronic anxiety: hypnosis is a powerful tool for deep relaxation that allows the body to “reset” itself and break out of the cycle of anxiety. Not only does that happen in the office, but I can teach my clients a self hypnosis technique that they can you use on their own, outside of the office.

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Date: 5/31/2015 12:17 PM EDT

I've been hanging out with grief a lot this spring. In March, my dad passed away, and then over Memorial Day weekend I had the privilege of staffing the TAPS Good Grief Camp, a camp for military families who have lost a loved one. This is my one opportunity a year to work with kids: I lead the group for six year olds, and this year I had twenty three of them.

The training for volunteers for this camp is remarkable, and this year I was reminded of one very important thing: grief is messy.

Its messy because, despite what our culture believes, it isn't quantifiable and it doesn't follow stages (this article, by Megan Devine, entitled The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don't Help Anyone, helps explain this). It's messy because it shows up unexpectedly, inconveniently, unbidden. And it's messy because it never, ever goes away - although it does get easier. Ann Lamont writes "You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

Grief shows up through out our life. When a child loses a parent, they grieve that loss as best they can at their age - and then grieve the loss again as they pass through new stages: school graduation, marriage, etc. For me as an adult, losing a dad meant being shocked when I realized he wouldn't be around when I retired (no matter that that was somewhat unrealistic - my dad would have been over a 100 when I retire!). If we're lucky, we grieve our losses as well as we can at each stage of our life, and when a new stage arises, we bring our grief to that stage.

Grief is messy - just like love is messy. One of the things that struck me this year at the TAPS Good Grief Camp was the intertwining of love and grief. Grief arises out of love - grief is what we sign up for when we love. We gathered to grieve the loss of moms and dads, brothers, sisters, friends. And the space was tender and full, heartfelt, compassionate, healing. Love was palpable.

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Date: 5/19/2015 10:22 AM EDT

We’ve all been told that relationships are hard – and that’s true. But sometimes it’s difficult to know if the relationship is hard because it’s working, or is it hard because it’s just not a viable relationship.

In a viable relationship, the hard work pays off. In a relationship that isn’t working, the hard work that we put into it can almost feel like a self-inflicted injury – or at least like a constant struggle without any support or benefit. Feelings like that indicate that something needs to change.

Here are some examples:

Ways a relationship should be hard:

1) Relationships are inconvenient.

Your partner needs a ride to/from the airport/work/friend’s house/store when you have other plans, but you offer your partner a ride anyway because you know your partner would do the same for you.

2) Trust is actual, hard work.

Trust is not something from outside of our self that someone gives us – it’s not like a pill that we take. It’s not an excuse to close down or ignore what’s going on in our relationship and our own experience. Trust is built over time. It's a willingness to risk disappointment, and even pain, in pursuit of genuine connection, and that takes work.

3) Relationships are hard when, at the end of the day, you have to be willing to crawl into bed with someone that you’re mad at.

But you do it, because the desire to be to in the relationship is stronger than the need to be the one who is right.  Also, your experience of the relationship so far has shown you that you’ll be able to work through it.

4) Letting go.

Over and over and over again: tough work.

5) Honesty takes work.

Leaning into conflict takes work. Changing the way you’ve always done things to accommodate another person in your life is tough.  Negotiating those changes takes work. But you do it – because the payoff is worth it.

Ways a relationship shouldn’t be hard:

1) It shouldn’t be hard because there is physical violence.


2) It shouldn’t be hard because both of you are angry all the time.

3) It shouldn’t be hard because you’re walking on eggshells.

This can be related to anger (see #2), or because you are constantly put in a “damned if you do or damned if you don’t” position.

4) It shouldn’t be hard because your partner gives priority to past relationships or current friendships over you.

It’s one thing if your partner is good at remaining friends with ex’s – it’s another if that relationship takes priority over your feelings.

5) It shouldn’t be hard because you constantly doubt the genuineness of your feelings.

It’s natural to wonder if this relationship is working during the first weeks of any new phase of the relationship (becoming exclusive, moving in, etc.). It’s a problem if you have to continually convince yourself that you love this person and want to be in relationship with them.

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Date: 4/9/2015 7:00 AM EDT

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