Zvi Bellin, Ph.D., Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Rotating Header Image

Professional Counseling for Depression and Life Transitions – Adults and Teens

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged
to change ourselves.” 

- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning 

 

NOW ACCEPTING NEW CLIENTS AND REFERRALS.
Please contact me to set up a free in-person consultation. 

Periods of struggle and suffering in your life can provide you with important opportunities to cultivate inner-strength, fulfilling relationships, and lasting meaning. I can help you develop a personal framework that will foster nourishing joy and holistic health. If you struggle with issues connected to fulfillment, life satisfaction, depression or difficulty during life transitions, you will find resonance with my approach. I work best with clients who seek to ease suffering and who aim for personal transformation.

Therapy with me is a collaborative process. I will assist you in gaining greater self-awareness and provide a safe space to explore your negative emotions and unhealthy patterns. In my practice I draw from mindfulness-based, transpersonal, existential, family systems and Gestalt therapies. Together, we will find solutions that create lasting change.

 

I work with older adolescentsemerging adults, adults, couples and families. 

To schedule a free in-person consultation and for more information about my professional counseling services in the Bay Area, please email: Z.BellinLPCC@gmail.com OR call 24/7: 510-292-4002(Note this voicemail line is for non-emergencies. In case of an emergency, please call 911.)

Office Location: My office is conveniently located 1/2 block north of Ashby BART, at the beautiful Anam Cara Therapy Center - 2915 Martin Luther King Jr Way in Berkeley, CA.

Payment and Insurance Information: I charge $100 per 50 min. session. I reserve a limited number of spots in my case load specifically for lower-income clients. Please contact me if you have any questions about my fees.

Currently, I accept Aetna insurance. If you have out-of-network benefits from a different insurance carrier, you may be reimbursed a certain percentage of the fee per session, depending on your coverage.

For more information about my scope of practice and your rights and responsibilities as a client, please feel free to review my Informed Consent Pamphlet.

I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in California (LPCC).  My license number is LPC 37 and can be verified online on the Board of Behavioral Science website.

USA National Suicide Hotlines
Toll-Free / 24 hours / 7 days a week
1-800-SUICIDE
1-800-784-2433
1-800-273-TALK
1-800-273-8255
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

Building Up, Tearing Down

I recently opened up a book called The Art of Possibility and came across the following story in the first few pages:

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying,

SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES

The other writes back triumphantly,

GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES.

This quick quip has got me thinking about how my lived experiences have the power to open me up or shut me down to a sense of possibility. While a perspective of pervasive openness is ultimately desirable, the reality is that there are times in life when having one clear option, or path, is comforting. And of course, the same comforting path can soon become stifling and a feeling of needing to break free might arise.

As far as I can tell, if I stay authentic and open to my path, lived experiences craft and solidify the way I see the world. Ultimately, living with awareness disassembles that exact same rubric. Building temples and destroying temples. The same historical sequence occurs just as dramatically in the personal sphere.

There is a degree of letting go and surrendering that is necessary in order to reduce the suffering of deconstruction. Though, I feel far from helpless, or without agency. It is quite an engaging task to take down a no longer relevant tower of security. Each piece of the tower can be sifted for wisdom, like an archeologist sifting for fossilized treasure.

In what areas of your life are you building up systems and structures, and in what arenas are you tearing down and tumbling? Take time to discern where you have room to let go, and where you can engage in this new opportunity.

Trust in what?

I have been taking part in a study group which focuses on a different quality each month, for the purpose of enhancing that quality in our day to day meandering. For example, we have already visited the qualities of humility, honor, and silence. This type of learning is called Mussar, and you can learn more about it here. This month’s focus is on the quality of trust, and it is showing up quite strongly in my sitting practice.

When I commit in the morning to my practice of sitting in stillness and attending to what arises and passes in the moment, my thinking mind thinks. And it thinks a lot. One thing it thinks about is how my practice of meditation will unfold. It wonders about what getting really quiet will be like. It wonders if I will have an experience of oneness. It tries to figure out how sitting in stillness can lead to spiritual awakening … and besides, what does spiritual awakening even mean.

As I realize the train of thought that my mind is conducting, I can come back to my study of trust. If I keep trying to figure it out, I will not actually be attending to the present moment. I will be lost on a journey of thinking, planning, strategizing, and missing out on the wakefulness of an ever-shifting experience of being alive. So, I remind myself, trust. Let go of needing to figure it out in this moment, and use the time to practice. This returning to practice is indeed the practice – so nothing lost.

The question that arises is, trust in what? In God? In the universe? In a deeper knowing? Sure! If you feel held by any presence of safety, that seems like a good place to trust. At times when those do not work for me, when it is hard to rely on some force of goodness that has my back, I trust in my ability to sit with not-knowing, and I trust in my experience that has taught me that not-knowing leads to knowing, which leads to not-knowing, and back to knowing….and so on. I trust, despite my short-sightedness, that there is no end to growth and potentiality.

Presence through Distractions

How annoying are life’s distractions! I am sitting and having a conversation with a good friend, and a tiny little fly comes to buzz by my ear, then my eye, then my nose. I become so engrossed in swatting the little sucker away, that I lose my train of thought – the conversation gets interrupted.  And then there are bigger life distractions, which can rock my path completely – losing a job, ending a relationship, the death of a loved one, illness, and war.  In the face of tragedy it is nearly impossible to just simply go on. And yet, we manage. An Israeli friend recently remarked, “It’s crazy how quickly we get used to living in war.” The human system is resilient beyond imagination – to its benefit, and at times, to its detriment.

In meditation, I choose an anchor to rest my attention. The breath is a common one. I attend to the breath and very quickly, my thoughts barge in – and the connection with the breath is lost. Suddenly, a bird chirps outside, or a car alarm goes off outside, or that fly buzzes back – and the mind snaps back away from being lost in thought to the present moment. Oh yeah! Focus on the breath.  I may find the bird, alarm, or fly annoying, though it has aided me in getting back on track with my focus. Gratitude for the distraction blossoms, as I recommit awareness to breath.

Without diminishing the pain of life’s tragedies, they do have the ability to force us back into the present moment. As a counseling student of mine taught in her final integration project, a loss (or any distraction) can act as a rough tumble in a washing machine. Distractions cause us to ask the hard questions, “Am I living life the way that I want to?” “Where am I going?” “Have I lost my direction?”  Our minds are meaning making machines, and in time, and in their own time, they will find answers to these questions. Piece by piece, as Viktor Frankl said, “Tragedy turns to triumph – the greatest human achievement.” We may never embrace life’s distraction with love, yet we can recognize their transformative potential, and with great care allow gratitude to enter and soften their harshness.

Meaning Blog:Chutzpah and Meaning

(Photo credit: http://www.pinterest.com/jsdoody/animals-unicorns-and-things-like-that/)

Chutzpah is one of those charming Hebrew/Yiddish slang words that have crossed over boldly (or with chutzpah), and imperfectly, to the English language. It is not pronounced with the ch, like in chocolate, but rather the ch, guttural, throat clearing, phlegm producing way – chutzpah. It is hard to directly translate this word into English, but words that come close are audacity, boldness, gall, “moxi” (from Lost in Yonkers), and shamelessness. Chutzpah is a certain strength of character that one must have in order to assert oneself into a situation. This can be for good, as in the case of Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the segregated bus. Or it can turn towards a harmful extreme, as in cases where people claim ownership of other people, other’s land, other’s faith and ways of being.

There is a way in which a stable sense of meaning requires the right degree of chutzpah. A sense of personal meaning is founded on two words that are broadcast subliminally when we act from a place of meaningfulness. These words are, “I matter.” Depending on how you grew up, and the messages you received (and still receive) from your family and social world, living from a place of “I matter,” can be no easy task. It requires chutzpah to break through the blockades of, “You are not (fill in the blank) enough to matter.”

Asserting your being in this way, with the clear reminder of, “I matter,” is not a one shot deal, like a light switch that you simply flick to illuminate the world with your presence. Rather, living in the realm of, “I matter,” is an ongoing chutzpah practice, a cultivation of what my teachers call Holy Chutzpah.  One way to cultivate Holy Chutzpah is to look for ways to affirm the being of other people. Simple acts of kindness, like a smile to a passing stranger, or more challenging tasks, like acknowledging the suffering of another, are ways in which we say to each other, “You exist and you matter to me.” We have the ability to impact someone else solely because we ourselves are an influencing agent in the world. When we affirm another, we affirm our own existence (such chutzpah!) and solidify our foundation for meaningful living.

reSource Yom Kippur 5775 – 3 Day Retreat

 reSource Yom Kippur 5775

@ Mt. Madonna Center in Watsonville, CA
with Rabbi Diane Elliot & Dr. Zvi Bellin

Friday, October 3, 3 PM – Sunday, October 5, 12 noon, 2014

 reFresh your spirit  ∞  reAwaken your purpose  ∞  reNew your whole self

Reserve early!  Space is limited. The first 10 retreatants paid in full will be entitled to a free introductory meditation session or spiritual guidance session with Diane or Zvi!

 In the clear air high above Monterey Bay, we will gather for a multi-dimensional Yom Kippur – the day of at-One-ment. In the intimacy and safety of a small community, we’ll support one another to traverse the Four Worlds of Becoming—doing, feeling, thinking, being—as we explore the full range of soul expression, from the ecstatic to the embodied, the contemplative to the traditional.  Come join us, as together we push our edges and expand our sense of what’s possible, moving into the new year. You’ll enjoy three delicious organic vegetarian pre-fast and break-fast meals (Friday pre-fast dinner, Saturday evening break-the-fast meal, Sunday brunch; snacks, tea & water will be available for those who do not fast). We invite you to let go and return to your source.

To register: send the full fee for the weekend accommodations of your choice (see below) payable to “Wholly Present” to R. Diane Elliot, 6108 Plymouth Ave., Richmond, CA 94805, or send a PayPal payment to rabbi.diane18@gmail.com. Inquire about payment plans.

 N’div Lev: The fee includes accommodations and administrative costs only. Your leaders will be compensated solely by your n’div lev (free will) offerings, made at the retreat.

For further information e-mail rabbi.diane18@gmail.com or z.bellinlpcc@gmail.com or call 510-778-9452 (Diane) or 510-292-4002 (Zvi).

Accommodation

Early Bird Fee (before June 30)

Regular Fee (after June 30)

Commuter

$155

$180

Own Tent or Van

180

205

Center Tent

195

220

Triple (shared bath)

255

280

Double (shared bath)

280

305

Double w/ private bath

305

330

Single (shared bath)

340

365

Single w/ private bath

395

420

Rabbi Diane Elliot, spiritual leader, dancer, and somatic therapist, inspires her students to become clearer channels for Divine Light through awareness and movement practices, chant, and nuanced interpretations of Jewish sacred text. She is the director of the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s Embodying Spirit Jewish Leadership Training Program (http://www.ruachhaaretz.com/EmbodyingSpirit.html). To learn more about her work visit www.whollypresent.org

Dr. Zvi Bellin, directs intimate retreats and workshops for the Jewish community that are both spiritually uplifting and intellectually stimulating. He is an international Jewish educator, a licensed professional counselor, and a teacher of Jewish mindfulness practice. Find out more at www.meaningthroughbeing.com

Meaning Blog: Make Your Problems Public

(Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-advice/9280598/The-best-apps-for-public-transport.html)

This past week I completed a 4-day intensive in Narrative Therapy, organized by the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy.  There are many great take-a-ways from a theory that teaches that we all carry around with us, or live our lives within, problem-saturated stories which can be deconstructed. For example, I can carry around the story that I am depressed, and everything that I experience can confirm that story. By externalizing depression, though, as not something that is part of me, but something that is acting upon me, I can shift out of that depression story, and see a lot more to life than originally available. This is not an immediate process, but a subtle process that gains momentum as I learn to construct a more nuanced and accurate story.

The theory also holds that our problem-saturated stories are often sparked and maintained by social discourse that privileges certain identities over others. For example, it is hard for a queer person in our society to be unscathed by poor self-esteem, when the dominant culture privileges defined and neat categories of sexuality and gender. Thus, when a narrative therapist helps a client to deconstruct a story of oppression, the client often becomes an advocate for their identity as deserving of dignity.

What I want to lift up from Narrative Therapy is the idea that problems have become privatized. We experience this privatization of our problems when we have the sense that, “my anxiety is my problem, I have tried everything I can to fix it, so my anxiety is not going anywhere!”  We can see that by gripping so tightly to our exclusive ownership of our problem stories, change is pretty impossible.

When we invite in the understanding, though, that our problems are sourced in social discourse, our problems are actually very public. What a relief to know that my depression, or addiction, or anxiety, or self-loathing, or fear, or whatever, is already shared by every being that I encounter, or hide from, in my life.  There is no cross to bear alone here!

So what is the practical application? Should we run around and tell everyone we meet about our problems? (Probably not.) Should we tear down professional convention at work and just have one giant hug-fest because everyone experiences suffering? (Maybe yes in some cases, but that probably will not go over very well in most situations.)

I think the application is in the reduction of shame which can get in the way of someone seeking the help they deserve. If we can remember that everyone has a part in creating and re-creating problems that we experience individually, we can feel a little less bad for needing help. Also, the circle of people that can help becomes much wider than we first realized.

Meaning Blog: Reconnecting with Self-Wonderment

As I sit in meditation on retreat, watching my breath rise and fall, I notice myself getting bored. My mind runs with this boredom and spins a web of doubt – What am I doing here? Just sitting, my back aches and nothing is really happening. Will something happen! I label the thoughts: Thinking, Doubt, Allowing. Return to the breath. My mind brings up an image for me –

I am sitting on my parents couch just a few months ago holding my newborn baby nephew on my lap. Watching his face and his subtle movements. I was completely content.

The thought arises: I could have stayed like that forever. Holding my nephew. Watching this little miracle. Perfectly content. I label the thoughts: Thinking, Contentment, Allowing.

My attention returns to my breath. I inhale and remember that the in-breath is a life giving miraculous event. I exhale this life giving breath and feel how fragile my life.  Inhale, miracle – Exhale, awe. Boredom now gone.

At some point, early in my life, I stopped looking inside to connect with that which is miraculous and awesome. It all seems to exist outside of me, so what can I possibly learn from watching myself. Through practice I am re-learning to see my body and being as an amazing landscape. The backaches and the feelings of relief all have a degree of wonder to them. An endless banquet of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual sensations inspiring compassion, wisdom, and presence.

When most of us were babies, people held us and gazed at our faces in wonderment. Why should that be any different now?

Bay Area Jewish Mindfulness Retreat – March 21 – 23

Bay Area Jewish Meditation Circle
(Formerly Sit n’ Schmooze)
Community Shabbat Retreat

March 21 – 23, 2014

Vajrapani Institute in Boulder Creek, CA

“Behold you are beautiful my friend.” – Song of Songs

An affordable soulful weekend get-a-way with a fabulous community.
From start to finish, a mindful journey to cultivate presence and compassion.
Accessible spiritually-focused Jewish practice held in the container of mindfulness.

JEWISH PRACTICE & SILENCE

Our schedule will follow the flow of a traditional Shabbat though will aim specifically at spiritual renewal and connection with each other and nature. Prayer and study are held with a creative and experiential flavor to access the meaning behind these ancient practices. We will be holding a general container of silence during the weekend, though there will be ample chanting, contemplative study, and mindful sharing.  See our tentative schedule posted below.

The Vajrapani Institute is a Tibetan Buddhist center that is excited about welcoming all traditions to practice in their beautiful space. Get ready for a colorful Buddha-filled room that will support our Jewish Shabbat practice.

CONTACT & REGISTRATION

E-mail Zvi (z.bellinlpcc@gmail.com) with any questions or concerns you might have. When you are ready to register, please fill out this survey. The survey contains information about payment. 

RETREAT FACILITATION

Zvi Bellin is a Core Faculty member of Holistic Counseling at John F. Kennedy University, and the Director of Jewish Education and Pastoral Counseling for Moishe House. He directs intimate retreats and workshops for the Jewish community that are both spiritually uplifting and intellectually stimulating. He is an international Jewish educator, a licensed professional counselor, and a teacher of Jewish mindfulness practice. Find out more at www.meaningthroughbeing.com

Mia Miriam Cohen brings her love of spirit and Jewish tradition together with an awareness that illuminates Judaisms Indigenous and Earth Based roots. She is a Rabbinical Student with ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, an Herbalist, assistant Midwife, and facilitator of Devotional Hebrew Chant, Yoga, and Sacred Movement.  Mia has served on the faculty for Kol Zimra Devotional Chant leadership training, in spiritual leadership with Wilderness Torah and Ruach HaAretz, and works in Jewish Renewal and Interfaith Communities to weave the generations and bring forth a regenerative, sustainable, and alive Judaism.

PRICING (Includes weekend housing and 5 delicious vegetarian meals)

Dorm-style (12 spots) – $155

Quads (8 spots) – $175

All rooms are shared bathrooms. When these 20 spots are filled we can contract to open more spots. Please inquire about other housing options if needed.

*At the close of the retreat, participants will be asked to make a gift offering to the retreat facilitator.*

SCHOLARSHIPS

Our goal is to keep this retreat as affordable as possible. If you are in need of financial assistance to attend, please e-mail Zvi. There may be limited funds available to subsidize the cost of the retreat.

If you are able to pay more in order to increase the pool of scholarship funds, please contact Zvi. Your generosity is greatly appreciated! 

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE

Friday, March 21st (Shabbat Candle Lighting is 7:05)

Arrival – 3:00pm (Settle in to rooms and get organized)

5:00pm – Welcome and Orientation
5:30pm – Mindfulness Practice Basic Instructions
6:30pm – Entering into Shabbat Consciousness (with periods of sitting meditation)
7:30pm – MindfulShabbat Dinner
9:00pm – Contemplative Study with Mindful Sharing
10:00pm – Sitting Meditation and Bedtime Prayer

Shabbat, March 22nd  
8:00am – Sitting Meditation
9:00am – Mindful Breakfast
10:00am – Movement & Chanting Service (with periods of sitting meditation)
11:00am – Contemplative Study with Mindful Sharing
12:30pm – Mindful Shabbat Lunch
2:00pm – Walking Meditation Hike to Castle Rock State Park (with periods of sitting meditation)
4:30pm – Shabbat Afternoon Practice (with periods of sitting meditation)
6:00pm – Mindful ShabbatDinner
7:30pm – Transcending Shabbat Consciousness (with periods of sitting meditation)
8:30pm – Havdallah (Shab ends 8:36pm)
9:00pm – Hitbodedut & Mindful Sharing **BRING WARM LAYERS!**
10:30pm – Sitting Meditation and Bedtime Prayer

Sunday, March 23rd  
7:30am – Sitting and Movement Meditation
8:30am – Mindful Breakfast
9:30amMorning Practice (with periods of sitting meditation)
10:30am – Closing Circle
11:30am Farewell

For further information and to inquire about scholarships e-mail z.bellinlpcc@gmail.com or call  510-292-4002.

We are grateful for the support of Moishe House Without Walls.

Meaning Blog: Existential Lessons from the Hebrew Bible

I believe that this Parsha contains one of the earliest recorded existential conflicts. Here is the scene (Bereshit Chapter 25).
Esav, a young burly red-headed hunter returns from a strenuous hunt. He did not find any prey on this particular day and is feeling very hungry. He walks into his home and smells something delicious. An aromatic red lentil stew, his younger brother’s special recipe, is simmering on the fire. Esav wants some of that soup!

Esav: Pour into me some of the red-stuff for I am exhausted!

Yaacov: You want my soup? Trade me your status as the first-born!

Esav: Well, I am going to die anyway, so of what use to me is a birthright?

Esav swears his first-born birthright over to his little brother. (Yep they are twins, but Esav came out first. If you know twins, or are a twin, the fact that one came out first can be quite a big deal!) And the rest is history – the children of Yaacov and the children of Esav become eternal archetypal enemies.

Not so wonderful!

Growing up I always learned about Esav as the “evil twin.” He terrorized his brother and was stupid to sell his birthright – he got the “short end of the stick” that what was coming to him. This year, the response of Esav really jumped out at me in a way that I could very much relate.

“Well, I am going to die anyways, so of what use to me is a birthright?”

Personally, I ebb and flow in my ability to see the world as a meaningful place and thus my engagement in the world also can sometimes feel void of purpose. Experiencing life as meaningful takes practice and is not a simple given. The narrative of Yaacov and Esav seems to take place in their adolescence. Can we actually condemn a teenager for stating the obvious truth – Nothing lasts forever, so why should I strive for success? Think back to when you were a teen (or maybe just last Tuesday), it is quite natural to wrestle with this perspective.

So was Esav a boor or just someone who tended towards existential conflicts of meaning? Being a hunter, Esav knows that the world can seem quite random. On the hunt, you win some, you lose some. There is not an exact reason why a swooping bird catches this rodent and not the one next to it. Perhaps Esav, in that moment was taken by this fact – even with a God in the world, things seem to just happen.

Introducing the perspective of the existential into this portion we see a dichotomy between a “Yaacov way” of looking at the world and an “Esav way” of looking at the world. On the one hand the world is full of meaning that lasts beyond the life of one individual. The blessings from the past generations impact the present, and the actions of those in the present will shape the direction of the future. On the other hand, we are stuck in the finiteness of life. There is no continuity in the random unfolding of one generation to the next – Who will die, who will live? Who will be remembered? Who will be forgotten?

As you may know, I think about these topics a lot (www.meaningthroughebing.com) and here is my short answer to this complicated dilemma. Both perspectives are absolutely valid (and there are many positions in between!) We can become skillful in knowing when to embrace the meaningfulness of a moment versus when we might tone down our own self-importance. For example, when your commitment at work results in the decay of your social relationships – it is time to evaluate the real meaning of your work. On the contrary, if you are having trouble making a decision, you might tap into your passions and intentions and remember that to live fully is to make choices that appear meaningful in a particular moment.

This week, I feel bad for Esav. Not only does he struggle to see his life as meaningful, but his shallow self-esteem is affirmed by his parents choosing his younger brother over him. We see that this begins a chain reaction whereby he chooses a wife that will specifically antagonize his father (28:9). His father, Isaac, was once Esav’s biggest fan. I want to suggest that this Parsha teaches us an important lesson about how we can affirm or aggravate the sense of meaning of another person. As we see in the story of Esav, it can be the meaning of those closest to us that are impacted most deeply by our actions and attitudes towards them.

Meaning blog: Action in the Jewish Month of Elul

(Photo credit link)

On the evening of August 5th, we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul, the New Hebrew Month! In the previous month, AV, we strained to hear the call for righteousness amongst all the noise of suffering. According to a mystical take on our calendar (inner.org), with this new month, ELUL, we answer that call with action. It is time to get our hands dirty in the travails of society and make the world a better place. Poverty, homelessness, environmental carelessness, and wasteful energy practices are a short list of social problems that are in need of more than our attention – action is needed.

This is the process of ELUL (אלול) – we take active steps to affirm and strengthen our personal and communal bonds. We can reaffirm our responsibility that comes with the gift of family and community. ELUL in Hebrew is an acronym for, “Ani L’dodi, V’dodi Li” – I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. Perhaps the two lovers in this phrase are humanity (each one of us!) and the world (from the natural to the social).

In the month of ELUL the process of these lovers’ merging is called TESHUVAH (returning or repenting). We acknowledge the things that we have done that have distanced ourselves from each other, from the planet, and from God. We aim to act in a way that more authentically expresses the loving relationship that we seek.

We have about 30 days until Rosh Hashana (New Years!) to find as many opportunities as possible to express our potential for compassionate and healing action. These actions include taking care of our relationship with God and also with the world and people around us. Thus, there is no major holiday in ELUL – it is an entire period of transformation and yearning for closeness.