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Dr. Lauren Kerwin: “How everyone can benefit from mindfulness skills”

It’s helpful for everyone to practice mindfulness skills. As you go about your day, use your senses to notice things around you. What do you hear, see or smell? Make observatory statements in your head (or aloud), based solely on facts. For example: “Oh, look, there’s a blackbird outside the window.” “The bell just rang.” […]


It’s helpful for everyone to practice mindfulness skills. As you go about your day, use your senses to notice things around you. What do you hear, see or smell? Make observatory statements in your head (or aloud), based solely on facts. For example: “Oh, look, there’s a blackbird outside the window.” “The bell just rang.” “Mmm… this grass smells fresh.” Then, when you catch yourself making a judgment about yourself, replace your opinion with an observable fact. For example, instead of saying “He hates me,” try “He texted me that he couldn’t hang out today.” Instead of saying “I’m totally failing this class,” try “I got a 65 on one exam.” When you catch yourself thinking, “I’m so fat,” try, “I just ate two slices of cake.” These observable statements have now become less dramatic, and more easily manageable, than the initial ones. It may sound strange to speak this way, but practicing factual observation helps us see our own reality more accurately and truthfully.


As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships,” I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Lauren Kerwin, PhD. Dr. Kerwin is a licensed clinical psychologist in California and the Executive Clinical Director at Evolve Treatment Centers, a Los Angeles-headquartered group of rehabilitation facilities focused on adolescents struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. With over twenty years of clinical experience working with adolescents, adults, and families, she specializes in the treatment of suicidality, non-suicidal self-injury, substance abuse, eating disorders and behavioral problems.


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

As far back as I can remember — even as a kindergartener — I’ve been fascinated with people, why they did what they did and how they acted. This interest in human behavior stayed with me and developed to ultimately lead me here.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

Yes. Evolve Treatment Centers is in the process of opening two new intensive outpatients (IOP/PHP) treatment centers for teens in California, one in Santa Barbara and the other in San Jose. We’re always excited about opening new locations because it means we’ll be more accessible to teens who are struggling. In California, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, so it’s profoundly meaningful to feel that you can do something to help. For more information, feel free to reach out to us at (866) 915–3443.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

In graduate school, I came across the concept of radical acceptance and it resonated with me immediately. Radical acceptance is a complete acknowledgment of reality as it is in that precise moment. At the time my son was 3 months old, and I was struggling to be both a mom and a Ph.D. student. Once I found and embraced the concept of radical acceptance, I was able to find peace and give up trying to be perfect in either role. This ties into my overall view that the goal should be less about self-love and more about self-acceptance. You’re not always going to love yourself and, indeed, having that as a goal is not always going to be obtainable. It may actually even lead to frustration, disappointment, and despair. With clients, we work much more on self-acceptance and learning not to judge oneself, whether for the good or for the bad.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

The rise of selfie culture makes it very easy for people — especially teens — to unfairly draw comparisons about their own appearances and lives. Social media creates so many opportunities for competition and peer pressure based on curated realities that are not ultimately real. You wonder, Why does everyone seem to be living this perfect life, except for me? And for teens with mental health issues who may feel like they need to hide behind a mask in order to be “like everyone else,” the stress is even worse.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “accept yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

It’s not cheesy at all. Self-acceptance is essential to healthy living. As someone who encounters struggling teens on a daily basis, I see a lack of self-acceptance and a whole lot of shame as among the primary causes of substance abuse and self-harming and suicidal behaviors. Of course, mental health issues distort adolescents’ perceptions of themselves and reality, which is all the more reason to get help for yourself or a loved one if they’re in crisis.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

People who lack a strong sense of self-worth or self-acceptance don’t feel like they deserve any better, so they’ll stay stuck in these kinds of relationships if they don’t learn how to properly assert themselves or their needs. My advice would be to seek a competent, licensed therapist to help you learn how to navigate your personal situation in the most effective way possible. You may consider a DBT-trained therapist, as DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness module offers practical skills to manage relationships effectively.

What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

When frustrated, I like to ask myself what I am struggling to accept. Whether it’s rain on my wedding day (which it actually did) or the doorbell ringing just as my infant daughter is falling asleep, figuring out what I am not accepting helps me accept the reality of the present and get the anger down so that I can solve the actual problem: call and rent a tent for the wedding or mute the doorbell during certain times.

So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

It is vital. The downside of the incredible technology that most of us have access to is that it enables us to avoid actually spending time with ourselves and our thoughts without seeking some kind of stimuli. I don’t think that we actually understand the full impact of all of this technology, but certainly, from a psychological perspective, it makes it difficult for people to just be and live in the moment.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-acceptance then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

When you have a healthy dose of self-acceptance, you’re able to transfer those feelings of acceptance onto others. You’re more forgiving and less judgmental of those around you since you’re being kinder, nonjudgmental and more forgiving of yourself. At the same time, you’ll find that you’re being more honest with everyone, because you’re being more truthful with yourself. Self-acceptance also allows you to show up in relationships without clinging to the other person.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

It’s helpful for everyone to practice mindfulness skills. As you go about your day, use your senses to notice things around you. What do you hear, see or smell? Make observatory statements in your head (or aloud), based solely on facts. For example: “Oh, look, there’s a blackbird outside the window.” “The bell just rang.” “Mmm… this grass smells fresh.” Then, when you catch yourself making a judgment about yourself, replace your opinion with an observable fact. For example, instead of saying “He hates me,” try “He texted me that he couldn’t hang out today.” Instead of saying “I’m totally failing this class,” try “I got a 65 on one exam.” When you catch yourself thinking, “I’m so fat,” try, “I just ate two slices of cake.” These observable statements have now become less dramatic, and more easily manageable, than the initial ones. It may sound strange to speak this way, but practicing factual observation helps us see our own reality more accurately and truthfully.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

Taking time out for self-care, even if it’s only a few minutes, is key. For me, that’s exercise, meditation and doing something creative. In addition, I focus on being present for the people in my life so that when, for example, I am helping my son with homework, I am present and not on my phone.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

I tend to rely not so much on materials or media that focus on psychology but instead listen and read more about Buddhist teachings, which underpin a great deal of the way I see life and my work with clients.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

I would start a movement that requires all children to learn and practice mindfulness, effective communication and emotion regulation skills.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

My favorite life lesson quote is: “You are doing the best you can in this moment.”

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