Psychotherapy is a fancy way of describing how therapists help people suffering from a variety of mental and emotional issues. This can cover complicated situations like severe depression, panic attacks, anxiety, grief and loss. It can also cover more general issues such as marital struggles, low self-esteem and situational depression. In a nutshell, psychotherapy is a way of describing a technique that a therapist uses in treating problems that affect our mind and emotions. My hope is to help assist you in your personal growth and life goals.
Since receiving my clinical degree in 1992, my approach to therapy has been influenced by Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, John Gottman and Pema Chödrön. Specifically, I use a blend of psychotherapy techniques including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Our thoughts and behaviors can directly affect our emotions
- Gottman Method Couples Therapy: How we talk with our partner is more important than what we talk about
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: How we respond to a stressful situation generally dictates its impact on us
- Acceptance & Commitment Therapy: Personal change and growth can be difficult when deciding to pursue dreams rather than goals
My goal is to help you live a more focused and meaningful life by mastering these important Life Goals: Face life openly (what you avoid imprisons you); don’t deceive yourself; accept yourself as you are; stop trying to prove yourself; and last but not least, don’t let your past control your future. I believe that we we need to be present and honest with ourselves in order to effectively deal with our problems.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
In a nutshell, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) assumes that what we think and how we act can affect our emotions. Specifically, the assumption is that it is our thoughts and behaviors, not other people, situations or things, that make us feel bad. The goal in CBT is to help you identify faulty thinking and challenge these beliefs against the available evidence. By helping to modify a person’s thoughts and behaviors, a different outlook can be achieved. You might be tempted to think that this is a fancy way of saying, “just get over it” — ironically, that isn’t the case (or the goal) at all. The focus is on encouraging patient empowerment and logical thinking skills.
As a therapeutic model, CBT assumes that behavioral variables are specifically influenced by the type of cognitions, or thinking styles, that are utilized by the patient. Dysfunctional cognitions, distorted cognitions, including negative and positive automatic thoughts and attributional styles (attributing negatives events to themselves and their actions), are seen as having a major impact on the ways in which the patient functions and responds.
Negative cognitions, and cognitive distortions, are seen as directly related to depressed functioning. The cognitive-behavioral therapist is more active in assisting, and challenging, the patient to examine the various negative cognitive distortions which impact functioning. The patient is challenged to check out issues in their environment, such as asking others not involved in the problem about how they perceive the situation. The goal is not only to change cognitions, but to make the patient an active participant in their own healing.
Gottman Method Couples Therapy
While many of the techniques listed here are used in marital counseling and couples therapy, they don’t specifically address communication skills, relationship patterns, and friendship/intimacy. Dr. John Gottman’s research and methodology in understanding and identifying issues in couples counseling is one of the more popular approaches in the past decade. Much of his approach is supported by evidence-based research. I have completed Level 2 Training in the Gottman Method and use a modified version of the Gottman Method Couples Therapy in my practice.
Officially, the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy relies on a specific structure and approach. Which is interesting in that Dr. John Gottman is also a vocal advocate for making modifications and adaptations to his techniques as each therapist sees as appropriate. The structure involves a series of assessment phases, followed by treatment and then specific termination sessions phased out over a period of time. During different phases of therapy, the therapist works with the couples together to help them appreciate the relationship’s strengths and to gently navigate through its vulnerabilities.
Two of the main reservations that I have about this technique are that it is built upon correlational-based evidence (as opposed to cause-and-effect) and that in its popularity, it has become somewhat “larger than life” (emphasis is often placed on the brand name itself rather than the specific techniques involved). However, it is a solid and well-founded theoretical framework that I have found to produce reliable and consistent results.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness is a lot like walking across the room with the lights off. You end up bumping into the furniture and stubbing your toe if you don’t walk calmly and carefully. Mindfulness is when you’re able to walk through life as effectively and as skillfully as you can. Mindfulness is, however, only effective when you are taught how to use the skills effectively during times of stress and unexpected life events.
Part of being mindful involves the ability to survive an emotional crisis without making things worse. If all you want to do is escape, scream, hide or get in bed and pull the covers over your head, that’s not survival. This group focuses on teaching you the skills to survive a personal crisis. These essential life skills are for anyone feeling overwhelmed. We need to be able to survive the problems we face on a daily basis without falling to pieces.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is often misunderstood. While it does involve making a commitment towards making more positive choices in your life, many people forget the “Acceptance” part of the equation. If you do not accept your situation, condition or limitations, your progress will be difficult. More interestingly, if you do not accept that you are valued, “good” and worthwhile, your attempts at getting better will be cut short. In order to use this approach, non-judgment and acceptance of both the situation and yourself are important; belief in your potential without cutting yourself down is even more urgent.
One specific aspect of this type of therapy involves regulating your emotions by defining and commiting to goals. No one can live their entire life in “survival mode”. It’s important to find out why we always end up being in a crisis and how to keep from ending up there in the first place. Living in a life full of crisis is no way to survive. We need to learn how to adjust and react without letting ourselves spin out of control. This is the goal of regulating our emotions.
You can see a list of additional models of therapy for a more in-depth description of these and other types of therapeutic frameworks.
The Desire for Quick Solutions
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is based on the desire to find quick solutions, to make it happen, and where impatience guides many of us to control our lives. We experience frustration and upset when life does not change the way we want it to. The result is that our impatience gets in the way of our fully experiencing life because we want change to happen everywhere else other than with ourselves.
The need for immediate solutions usually has it’s roots in the early years of childhood. When a child feels frustrated, hungry, needs to be changed, or has any other needs, the infant comes to know that being upset, crying, and making their needs known, will result in a “quick response” from the parental figures. As the child grows and matures, he/she comes to understand that parents do not always respond immediately and the child will survive by learning to wait.
However, our society seems to have more recently pushed the issues of having one’s needs met quickly and immediately. Change happens faster and faster in life now than it did in the past because of technology, communications, computer systems, cellular phones, and other inventions that have made life both more complicated and easier at the same time. We have become an impatient society with members who feel that they have already “waited long enough” in their lives to obtain what they want.
This frustration fuels our upsets, irritability, anger, and road rage, and impatience with anyone, or any system, that blocks our immediate access to having things done our way. Even suggesting that one has problems with wanting to rush things can leave the person feeling defensive and denying that this in any way fits for them. The solution is to tackle change right at the core: Ourselves, with effort, with persistence, and often, by asking for help.
Don’t try to solve it alone. When in doubt, ask for help along the way.