I have found both personally and professionally that important breakups are processed similarly to deaths. That means they must be grieved and everyone moves at their own pace through the grief process.  It is important to note that the person who left likely started this process much sooner (before the breakup), making it appear that they are happy and carefree after they leave. Focusing on your own healing can help take the sting out this! Healing from grief occurs across seven stages and activities focused on each of these stages can help move one along in the recovery process.


7 Stages of Grief

You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

ACTIVITIES: Practice a mantra (“I am single now and that is okay”), note that life is changing and there will be some ups and downs. This is not the best time to have sexual encounters since your internal processing is limited. 


As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.

You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.

ACTIVITIES: Collect the stuff around your place that reminds of you of your departed partner and make a memory box. Make a CD of songs that allow you to be sad and set aside a time every day to explore that feeling, when the CD ends, soothe yourself with a favorite comfort. Ask a friend to be your grief buddy and let you talk about your lost partner for an hour a day (set a timer). Journal. Avoid facebook stalking and/or deleting ALL evidence of them, these are extremes and may have negative consequences later on. It may be helpful to delete contact info from phone and facebook to help yourself stay focused on your process. 



Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.

You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)

ACTIVITIES: Have an anger ritual; I like to buy goodwill saucers and hammer them in my garage (with safety glasses and gloves) then sweep upthe debris and box them away for future mosaics). Journal those angry feelings, later you can read them and see how far you have come!


Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

ACTIVITIES: Reach out to a friend but this time socialize and journal the experience when you get home. Make a CD that reminds you of the you before the relationship. Stay connected to at least one enjoyable hobby that gives you relief (time to mosaic!) . Exercise for 5 minutes a day and practice good sleep hygiene. this is good time to revisit the idea that your ex still exists in the world and ask what you want to get rid of and what is ok and safe for you to keep. 



As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.

ACTIVITIES: List qualities you are looking for in a mate. Note the needs versus the wants on that list, the needs are like dealbreakers. Then put those qualities out in the world by modeling them.  Do something new. Get a makeover! Thank your friends for standing by you. Gratitude is healing! Dating seems like a good idea, and can be fun but it might be revealing to give yourself a minute to enjoy life alone, pace your self.

As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

ACTIVITIES: Focus on building the life you want. Fix things that have broken, save money, go back to school, get a different job, join a dance class with your kids. It is time to store your memory box away. Dating works great here but beginning with a focus on lighthearted fun might be best.


During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.

You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living. This is the PERFECT time to open up to the possibility of new relationships.



I will begin seeing clients Feb 1, 2012. If you would like an appointment, email or phone me and we will discuss your needs.

Lavelda J Naylor, MA, LMFTA
The Key Counseling Services of SA
4230 Gardendale
Suite 502
San Antonio, Tx 78229


Approach to Therapy
As a marriage and family therapist, I enjoy working with the Satir Model (Satir, 1983; 1988; 1991), which is an experiential systems approach that suggests quality relationships are more likely when we effectively communicate from the Self. To do this, we must know the self, take personal responsibility for the self, and be willing to share the self with others. Good communication skills are also needed. When these qualities are present, there is an overall sense of well being that allows for creative and flexible problem solving. When absent or diminshed, things get stuck. If you feel stuck and want to get moving again, call me.

What is therapy like?

In our first session, we will do a brief assessment of the issues, set some joint goals, and make a plan that will identify where we want to go and how we might get there. In subsequent sessions, we will work towards your goals by examining the issues from different perspectives, identify conflict and  communication patterns, and seek for a “transformative idea” in your own experiences–The Key–that will continue to promote growth in the system long after our journey together ends. While each journey is unique and the length of therapy depends on client need, we are sure to know when you have arrived at the destination.

But does it work? 

The Satir Model has been applied successfully to children (Haber, 2011; Smith, 2010), individuals (Morrison & Ferris, 2002; Yang Li & Vivian, 2010), couples (Lee, 2009; Morrison & Ferris, 2002), families (Haber, 2011; Seligman, 1981), and groups (Root, 1989) to address a variety of concerns, such as depression (Caston, 2009; Srikosai, 2008), pathological gambling (Lee, 2009), suicidality (Smith, 2010), and alcohol dependence (Srikosai, 2008). The Satir Model integrates well with Emotion Focused Therapy (Brubacher, 2006), Social Construction Theory (Cheung, 1997), and cognitive-behavioral/mindfulness therapies (Claessens, 2009). The wide applicability and flexible nature of the model makes it a good fit for most cultures, including collectivist cultures (Yang, 2012; Bermudez, 2007; Cheung & Chan, 2002) and GLTB community (Carlock, 2008).

Evaluating Treatment Results

In my own practice I have found clients to become quickly engaged and to be willing to stay the course to get the desired results a majority of the time. To evaluate progress I run a brief spot check Session Rating Scale) over the course of treatment that assesses four domains of client-therapist-treatment interaction. Occasionally, we will evaluate outcomes using the ORS (Outcome Rating Scale) that briefly assesses four domains of functioning. These results are used to refine the process and enhance the journey. In addition, I use the treatment plan to help track positive and negative change as related to goals. Markers for termination are 1) client has reached all or some of the identified goals, 2) client/therapist feels the client is ready to take over, 3) there is no progress in treatment (referrals are discussed), and/or 4) other unique indicators are processed as keys for termination.

It is my goal that you get more of the life you want and my mission is to empower you to do just that!


Generally speaking, there are two people in a romantic relationship, two individuals that team up for a common goal of being together. Romantic unions are a critical part of human experience and modern psychology sees these unions as system forming, which includes a developmental perspective of such systems. Commonly met relationship developmental stages are 1) partnering 2) children 2) adolescence 4) launching 5) retirement 6) older age (Carter and McGoldrick, 2004). While it is true that a union takes on a life of its own, there are still at least two individuals’ developmental trajectories that demand attention.

Often, partners will synch individual development to the relationship development.  For instance, a relationship often starts with passion, an all consuming desire to spend every second together,  putting individual developmental needs aside for relationship building. At other times, partners take turns pursuing his/her own dreams and goals, and this desire for personal fulfillment may coincide with relationship development or not.

When both relationship growth and personal growth demands are met and tended to, partnerships remain in tune and can continue to succeed.  A prominent Marriage and Family Therapy researcher, John Gottman, even includes sharing hopes and dreams between partners as the pinnacle of marital functioning; Hopes and Dreams is the very top floor of what he calls “The Sound Marital House.” Partners can reach this level of self actualization in the relationship when they have tended to the needs of the unity, such as keeping in touch with each other intimately, maintaining a high ratio of positive to negative interactions (5:1 minimum), and being able to manage conflict that occurs around passing and perpetual issues.

When relationship developmental needs are mismatched with individual needs, sometimes a partner will seek therapy to address personal growth. While the partner may benefit, research has shown that when only one partner in a relationship seeks therapy, the relationship is more likely to fail than if both seek therapy. One explanation that has been given is that the treated partner grows away from the relationship. Does it hold true that growth in one partner is always damaging to relationships?

It turns out that it depends on the state of the relationship; relationships that have a more egalitarian orientation fare better when one partner’s growth needs are met while another’s are on hold. That is, when spouses see each others as equal, avoid being locked into gender stereotypes, and are willing to support each other’s hopes and dreams, chances are a partner’s growth will not harm the relationship  In fact, in these types of relationships, partner growth actually enhances the relationship;  egalitarian partners report high levels of marital satisfaction even when one partner pursues hopes and dreams while the other supports his/her growth.

Sounds good, right? Well…it is, but in spite of the benefits of partner growth to the relationship, there are problems; while one spouse has a growth experience, the other partner genrally attends to the mundane. S/he gets stuck doing more chores, must often make personal sacrifices (taking one for the team), and generally ends up picking up the slack in more down-to-earth areas of relational functioning. This can be wearying. In addition, the maintaining partner may feel isolated from the growing partner and the couple has to break through an additional barrier to reach the each other emotionally.

To support  relationship growth during a partner’s individual growth, partners can refocus attention on intimacy building. In Gottman’s terminology, differential partner growth may be treated as a ‘perpetual issue’. This means that each partner needs to allow for a dialogical space, a two-way exchange between Selves in the relationship and how each self experiences growth both in and out of the relationship. This is not to be confused with problem solving, it is a distinctive kind of sharing that abstains from judgment or fixing, it involves listening and empathizing with each other.

Practical concerns are necessary to address as well. Contextual Family Therapy suggests that partners in a relationship need to feel a sense of trust and justice in relationships, like there is some equality between entitlements and debts. Successful couples who manage dual careers report tending to justice demands by alternating opportunities for career growth. Sometimes these bargains include relationship developmental needs, like when to have a child may be planned in accordance with career switching. What is critical here is that both partner’s needs are tended to as well as the demands of the relationship.

Thus, relationships are even more complex than you may have thought but acknowledging growth trajectories can extend the life of a system and improve its overall functioning. Remember, if a relationship gets stuck for more than 6 weeks in a trouble spot, seek treatment for the system you are in, not just yourself as many issues are influenced by our context.

For Therapy Services: The Key Counseling of SA



1. Emotional shifts are necessary in the couple dyad and with other children due to having feelings for a new entity that may overwhelm or compete with existing emotional ties.

2. Relational shifts are necessary in that the new child disrupts status quo ways of maintaining the couple dyad and other children in the family.

3. Couples must also face the reality of a growing family instead of fantasies and expectations.

4. With first children in particular, family of origin relational patterns will come to the forefront and must be acknowledged and/or resolved.

5. Couples must also manage the family-work dilemma.


1. Husband/partners are generally days, weeks, or months behind the mom in developing emotional bonds with a new baby and do not have the same hormonal advantages for bonding with the child (e.g., Oxytocin) as the mom does. Moms may not recognize this disparity and may not facilitate connection with the baby, expecting partners just to be on the same page.

2. Babies are very dependent during the first 6 months of life. Moms often spend so much time caring for the baby initially that they may have depleted internal resources for the rest of the family. Date night goes by the wayside and parents often divide and conquer other kids’ events or needs. What is more, previously egalitarian relationships can slip into more traditional gender roles when babies arrive, with moms doing the bulk of the childcare.

3. Parents often spend a great deal of time fantasizing about becoming parents or extending the family and these expectations are often not the reality they must face. Sometimes kids are born with some difficulty, or moms have post partum depression, or the family does not easily adjust to the change. The disappointment is often not processed openly and this can create fatigue, distrust, resentment, and/or other emotional burdens, especially if the expectations are subversively continued.

4. On top of all these issues, parents must come to terms with the models they each have, referred to as families of origin models, which are gotten from childhood experiences and passed down from one generation to the next. Most people have models that include aspects they strongly do and do not like, particularly regarding gender roles and discipline. Partners can butt heads over these values as they struggle to make a model of their own with which to raise their children. Even if couples have discussed these things prior to birthing, it can be surprising what turns out to be important to someone regarding childrearing.

5. Then there is the work-family dilemma. This refers to the fact that childrearing demands are often not compatible with work demands and compromises must be made. Unfortunately, even in the most egalitarian families, moms are the ones who make these sacrifices the majority of the time. There are 3 main contributing factors to this reality: 1) unequal house/childcare distribution in the home, 2) inflexibility in the workplace, 3) increased demand on worker in number of hours regardless of gender.

When not dealt with, the tasks and issues common to this phase of the family life cycle can lead to divorce. In fact, this is the stage of family development with the highest divorce rate. Issues lead to feelings of isolation, sexual dissatisfaction, conflict, identity loss, and unfairness among one or both partners. In addition, extended family interference and finances can add to the problem of staying together in the face of such adversity and change. 

Keys to managing the stage effectively:

1. Partners of moms need to start the bonding process as early as possible, and remind moms that that they need help to manage this process. Moms need to encourage bonding for the whole family, particularly new fathers, and involvement is KEY. Moms can engage family members by giving everyone specific tasks for the new baby that are especially for them. For example, a three year old may pat the baby to sleep and help the partner take out the trash. An added benefit is that with less to do regularly  moms may be able to encourage their libidos and renew a sense of self outside of being a caregiver. Moms with post partum depression need to seek help to manage symptoms.

2. Special care needs to be given to maintaining equality and demonstrating an interest in each person’s internal experience of the changes in the family. Moms may need to gently remind partners that caregiving is not just for moms and demonstrate what would help maintain a good balance. Recruiting help according to resources can be a great rebalancing tool, this can help keep date night going (although frequency will still be diminished in all likelihood) and help with presenting a dual front at other kids’ events. The most important thing is to keep an open dialogue (this means non-judgmental and not all about problem solving) about gender, parenting, and personal needs of all members of the family. To do this, partners may need to learn new communication and negotiation skills–a family therapist can help!

3. Make expectations clear, exposed, and realistic. This means each partner needs to spend time in introspection to understand what expectation were built and not met. It is also good to try and understand influences on expectations and fantasies, such as family of origin, religion, movies, etc., then have a discussion with your partner. Doing this can enhance the marital bond and make parenting more of a pleasant than an unpleasant surprise.

4. Partners need to explore values regularly. Not only do family values evolve with new experiences, what evolves may not match between partners. Here it is important to negotiate; partners can find this difficult because there is a sense of self involved in values talk. However, revealing the self is what can keep couples strong in spite of all the changes they may experience over time. It may increase feelings of safety to picture a partner as a port in a storm instead of as the storm.  If partners cannot turn toward each other and conflict continues to escalate, couples therapy may be in order. Importantly, DO NOT WAIT until the relationship is jeopardy to get help. A good rule of thumb is if an issue continues for 6 weeks, get some counseling.

5. The work-family dilemma is a harsh reality and couples need to explore hopes and dreams to understand what is at stake. Even childless couples make sacrifices for each other in career pursuits but this is heightened dramatically with young children in the home. Time and money are squeezed, and good, affordable childcare is one of the biggest problems families face.  Some couples have found it helpful to rotate career growth (e.g., wife goes to grad school, then husband) and/or work hours (husband works part time, wife works full time, then switch). However, the focus here needs to be on fairness and equality. If too many sacrifices are made by one partner, resentment may strangle the marriage.

An aside: sex changes after babies come! Some couples report better sex, some worse, but almost all couples will have less sex with babies around. This is mostly due to biological (e.g., women’s brains are wired differently then men’s) and social differences (e.g., disproportionate childcare chores for women) between genders.  What helps get things back on track is noncritical, loving attention to the sexual relationship, the physical changes in the mom, changes in the partner, emotional and relational changes in the dynamic between partners, and how time crunches disrupt coupling activities. Be creative and resourceful!


Guise, R. W. (2009). Study guide for the Marriage & Family Therapy national licensing examination. Boston: The Family Solutions   Institute.

Together Texas Curriculum for marital partners.

Carter, B., & McGoldrick, M. (Eds.). (2004). The Expanded Family Life Cycle : Individual, Family, and Social Perspectives (3rd ed.). Pearson Allyn & Bacon.


For Therapy Services: The Key Counseling of SA

Ever wonder why sometimes when you are trying to communicate, something important the message just isn’t sinking into the recipient? Sure, it could be because they are to blame, but maybe a faulty communication pattern is in play. These verbal styles are called patterns for a reason, they happen regularly and without much thought. What is more,  we all fall under their spell and even have favorites for certain types of complex communication moments. So, take a minute, read these and see if you can find your default favorite for conflict situations, for disciplining kids, for offering support, etc. and imagine a redo that ends with different results.


dysfunctional communication patterns HANDOUT

1. The constant message – repeating the same sentiment over in the same way without adapting to listener need. If the same message is repeated, its meaning diminishes, and the receiver tends to ignore it. This one comes up a lot when talking to kids or during procedural type exchanges. It sounds like this: “Put the cog into the hole on the left. No, put the cog into the hole on the left!”

2. The self-canceling message – messages that invalidate themselves. Oh boy, this one is one of which we are often very unaware–look for it and nix it. It is very confusing to the listener! It sounds like “It is perfect, but it needs X, Y and Z.”  In fact, the use of “but ” can often signal a self-canceling message.

3. Tangential communication – nonsense, irrelevant, and distracting communication. This one comes often when telling a story, using an example, or lecturing about values. Try to reign it in, especially when talking to kids. A good rule of thumb is 2 minutes for kids, then let them talk or choose to end the conversation. If it is important it will come up again! Adults tend to go on tangents in groups, a way to help bring them back around is to say “Let me stop you for a second, I got lost, can we go back to the original story?”

4. Hyperbolic communication – the regular use of hyperbole. This one can be fun on occasion but it can be dysfunctional when it overused, or if it limits the listener in terms of engagement or future interactions. This could sound like “You never show up on time.” Really, never, are you always around when the person is showing up? Try asking for what you want instead, like “I want to see you by 8:15 if you say we are meeting at 8:00. Can you do that for next time?” Or try stating you observation in simple terms for even more effect; “I don’t like that .”

5. Echoing communication – repeats the message and offers no new information. Reframing is when you repeat a speaker’s message back to them in your own words to let them know you get what they are telling you. How echoing differs from reframing is in both the delivery and the  intention; the delivery of echoing is that there is no interpretation into one’s own words of the message, as for intention, the intention is more to fill talking space or to mimic in sarcasm, or even to just buffer against the verbal onslaught. Any way you slice it, the intention is about the echoer, not the person they have echoed. What is needed is a switch to reframing if you find yourself using this one often.

6. Symptomatic communication – physical, mental, or emotional symptom communication. This type of communication can be best explained in terms of how people find compatible others to support their way of being. For instance, a person who is overwhelmed and feels life is out of control may seek more interactions with someone they feel they can control. The way conversation happens in this compatible exchange will likely reflect the need for control being experienced by the initiator. This pattern can happen easily between parents and kids, the loss of more authentic communication can result in symptoms of dysfunction in the child. Sometimes when a child is expressing psychological distress what is really needed is a shift in communication patterns in the family system. What to do instead of communicate in symptomatic ways is to increase self awareness and authentic communication from the I-position.

7. Impervious communication – the intended recipient is unreceptive to communication, resulting in less communication. This is often referred to as stonewalling, a state in which a listener has withdrawn form a conversation. Interestingly, the withdrawal is quite deceptive, it appears to be a very calm even callous state but is in fact a heightened state of anxiety. Thus, when you hit a wall with a listener, turn down the volume, reframe the situation and ask the listener if they are feeling strained.

8. Literal-figurative cross communication – taking what is meant figuratively as though it were literal. This one happens when metaphor is in play and for some, metaphors are not useful or the choice metaphor is not clear. Try checking for meaning to make sure speaker-listener are on the same page.

For Therapy Services: The Key Counseling of SA

Good news! there is not just one type of couple that is well-functioning! According to the research of John Gottman, there are at least three distinct types of couples who can be successfully mated, the volatile couple, the validating couple, and the avoiding couple. Each one of these has a particular set of characteristics that make them distinct but compatible and each pairing focused on a different ingredient of the love cake (see post

The Volatile Couple

For this couple, conflict represents an opportunity to express the internal life of an individual, a moment of deeper connection. Volatile couples value their individuality and have a high need to feel free to express their disagreements since they see the point of contention as representative of where the partners differ from each other. They are passionate and when in conflict, they may have raised voices, gesticulate wildly, and be very emotive. Successful Volatile Couples also soothe each other, use humor, and appreciate the other partner’s expressiveness while in a conflict.

The Validating Couple

Validating couples typically avoid conflict unless there was a very serious issue in the marriage. They rely on the marital friendship to weather conflicts and when in conflict, they look and sound very different from volatile couples–they rarely shout or become impassioned, they display minimal vocal responses (such as “mmmmhmmm” or “yeah”) when listening and these are done to illustrate support of the other partner and to tell the partner they are being understood. I have yet to see this type of couple in session and there may be a reason for that beyond coincidence. Research has shown that this type of couple has a higher level of couple satisfaction than Avoidant and Volatile Couples, respectively (Holman & Jarvis, 2003).  This partner type is more invested in the we-ness than the me-ness  (Volatile & Avoidant Couples promote me-ness) so to some degree this can be predicted merely based on what is emphasized in the pairing.

The Avoidant Couple

Avoidant couples minimize marital conflict. Similar to Volatile Couples, they value independence but uniquely, they are often distant from each other, demonstrating less sharing and companionship between partners than the other two types.  But they are highly invested in the commitment aspect of partnering; thus, they tend to minimize problems and focus on the strengths of marriage. In spite of the high degree of individuality in this pairing, the couple will often end conversation on note of solidarity, demonstrating the choice they have made to be together.

Trouble can arise when partners are mismatched. Gottman’s research suggest that when certain mixes are paired, withdrawer-pursuer patterns emerge. Withdrawer-pursuer patterns are just as they sound, one partner tries to communicate with a partner that has stonewalled or shut down and these roles are fairly consistent in the relationship. this pattern is very difficult to live with for the long-haul but may be improved via marital therapy.

What kind of partnership are you in?

Gottman, J. M. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy (1st ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Read more:

Marital Typologies – Using Scientific Methods To Create Typologies – Family, Couples, and Marriages – JRank Articles

Holman, T. B., & Jarvis, M. O. (2003). Hostile, volatile, avoiding, and validating couple-conflict types: An investigation of Gottman’s couple-conflict types. Personal Relationships, 10(2), 267–282. doi:10.1111/1475-6811.00049

For Therapy Services: The Key Counseling of SA

According to Relational Cultural Theory, when we leave conversation with someone and feel rundown, we have experienced “disconnection.” Conversely, when we leave conversation energized, we have experienced “connection.”

When we have more disconnections than connections, we can feel condemned to isolation (Condemned Isolation). BUT when we keep trying and work toward mutual empathy, we can grow with others (Mutual Growth).

So, if you feel tired by many exchanges in your day-to-day life, work on mutuality (the exchange of responsiveness  from all parties during connection). Surprisingly, sometimes all we have to do is model what we want to get more of it. Try being more accepting of differences, working toward resolution rather than winning, encourage vulnerability in the self and others (that means deal with your uncomfortable feelings if someone begins to cry), be authentic (speak from a place of SELF and don’t internally criticize everything you say or do), and finally be empathetic (put yourself in the other’s shoes).

When these ways of relating become more common for you, it feels better to be around others. You get feelings of empowerment from exchanges, maybe even inspired by others! Plus, your feelings of self-worth go up and getting more desirable relationships gets easier. Relational Cultural TheoryHANDOUT

RTC rests on some novel assumptions for a Western approach to understanding relationships. Most importantly, RTC posits we get more (not less) relationally complex as we develop across the lifespan. That is, we do not trend toward towards individuation, rather we trend towards creating, sustaining, and deepening connections with others. So it is imperative that we strive for mutual growth rather than isolation or we stunt our development. Here it reminds me of Erik Erikson’s stage of emotional development Intimacy vs. Isolation, clearly a battle that would need to be won in terms of RTC.

For more on RTC, check out

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For Therapy Services: The Key Counseling of SA

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