Regardless of the other modalities I might use in a session, and no matter what the topic of conversation, I am always attending to the therapeutic relationship. I monitor my own emotional responses to clients, and notice their feelings about me. I listen to comments about relationships—family, work or intimate—for clues about what we can expect will happen between us. I’m interested in the thoughts and feelings clients have about therapy, our relationship and me, so I check in from time to time, and especially when I think something needs airing. I don’t keep secrets. Anything I’m figuring out or noticing in a session, I share with my clients. I develop hypotheses based on the dynamics I’m observing and experiencing, and engage my clients in exploring their validity. People carry their behavior patterns with them wherever they go, including into therapy, providing another way of learning about themselves. By virtue of my training and experience, I can notice and reflect back to you, without judgment or reactivity, my observations about these patterns as they unfold in the here and now. Identifying unsatisfying relationship dynamics leads to changing them.
When faced with threats to our survival, the brain reacts by sending signals to our body preparing us for immediate action. Our lives depend upon the quickest possible responses to danger. There is no time for deliberation. Likewise, when triggered by a situation in the present that is reminiscent of an earlier threat, the brain and body react with the same speed. In therapy, you can learn to recognize triggered states and practice sitting with them. Feelings carry vital information about our experiences in the world and triggered ones teach us about the past. Controlling reactive behaviors creates enough space to reflect on their meaning and do something different with them. Negative beliefs about oneself results in low self esteem and is part of depression. Naming and changing those beliefs can alter your feelings about yourself. Exploring how these beliefs developed provides another way of understanding them and leads to relief from feeling that there is something wrong with you.
Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder—and related psychological distress like depression and anxiety—can easily lead you to worry that you’re losing your mind. Numbing, spacing out, lack of feelings, nightmares, insomnia, reactivity, negative beliefs about yourself and your future—just some of the characteristics of PTSD—can overwhelm and exhaust you. My years of experience working with adult survivors of childhood trauma, coupled with my knowledge about the impact of trauma on the developing brain, serve as a valuable resource for my clients. As you share about the things that bother you and make functioning difficult, I explain to you how your brain works overtime to contain and process the fallout of the terrible things that happened in your past. You’re not crazy; your mind is functioning quite normally. When you’re struggling with addictive and/or compulsive behaviors, relationship or family conflicts, blocks in creativity, or anything else, learning more about your problems gives you a new perspective and moves you closer to recovery. Education is another part of psychotherapy.
Coping strategies that once eased pain can eventually create their own set of problems. For example, to deal with anxiety that makes it difficult to concentrate and impossible to sleep, you might have used alcohol before retiring at night, or taken your friend’s anti-anxiety medication. To get going in the morning when depression leads to thoughts of “what’s the point?” you might have piled on the caffeine and when that wasn’t enough, availed yourself of more powerful stimulants. You might be using food, sex, gambling, shopping, and/or romantic obsessions to calm raging feelings. These behaviors become problematic when they cease being a matter of choice and instead become a necessity. The prospect of coming to grips with your addictive/compulsive behaviors can seem overwhelming. Perhaps you can’t imagine getting through the day without that cigarette or evening beer, that pint of ice cream at night, that next pair of shoes. Maybe you’re worried that if you admit your concerns, someone will tell you that you have to stop. But if you could do that, you would have done it already. In addiction counseling, you’ll explore how your particular substance or behavior has worked for you, you’ll come to recognize how it now works against you, and we’ll work together to devise other ways for dealing with your feelings. As an adult, you have far more resources than you did as a child. Counseling can connect you to them.
Originally developed by a psychologist who discovered that moving her eyes repeatedly from left to right and back again gave her relief from distressing thoughts, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been expanded to encompass other forms of bilateral stimulation such as tapping (tactile) and tones (audial). Through the use of a protocol consisting of questions that bring together various aspects of an experience (image, cognition, sensation, emotion), EMDR draws upon the brain’s own ability to process and integrate traumatic events. Negative beliefs that keep you from moving forward in your life often stem from traumatic childhood experiences. By helping you arrive at a new perspective about what happened to you, EMDR can transform such erroneous beliefs into realistic, positive appraisals of your true self. Sometimes in the course of focusing on a current life problem, you remember a traumatic event. When this happens, EMDR can move you through it quickly, enabling you to experience and integrate the associated thoughts, sensations and emotions, bringing you to a deeper understanding of yourself and your present-day difficulties.
Art therapy draws upon the creative impulse in all of us, tapping into its expressive and healing powers. Uncovering your latent artistic interests, and using them to explore your inner world and express your feelings, can further develop internal resources vital to your recovery. Perhaps you’re thinking that you have no artistic ability. I’ve found that everyone participates in some form of creative expression. Maybe you compose and play music, or you enjoy compiling CDs of your favorite pieces, then sharing them. Maybe you write poems or stories, or you enjoy reading poems and novels, then discussing them. Maybe you create visual artworks, or you enjoy going to exhibitions and reading art books, then reviewing them. Maybe in the privacy of your own space, you dance around to music, or you enjoy going to dance performances and talking about them later. Or you might prefer any of many other creative activities. Art therapy offers a way to access unsettling material by keeping it at a safe distance for review and reflection. By employing symbols and metaphors, it provides an indirect way of uncovering disturbing content and expressing powerful emotions. Additionally, engaging in creative pursuits offers grownups the opportunity to play, perhaps in a way that you were never allowed as a child. In our work together, I’ll guide you in enlisting your particular creative pursuits in the service of your healing.
Too often, people with creative gifts fail to develop them because of negative self beliefs that have roots in childhood trauma. These early assaults on your sense of self can prevent you from realizing all your talents. As your creativity coach, I bring support and encouragement along with practical tools you can use to overcome your specific blocks. First comes believing in yourself. Therapy provides a context for uncovering the childhood hurts responsible for the distorted self perception that tells you that you can’t ___ (fill in the blank with write, draw, paint, dance, act, etc.) and helps you recover from them. After moving beyond the false belief that you’re not capable of actualizing yourself as an artist, you can set goals and devise plans for achieving them. As your coach, I’ll provide guidance, sharing my experience and knowledge about the development of artistic skills; I’ll ask questions, make suggestions and provide feedback so you no longer have to struggle alone. Through this process, you can grow into the creative person you are meant to be.
Most people who have experienced trauma in their lives discover that they have a welldeveloped capacity to space out (dissociate), essentially putting themselves into a trance state for self-protective purposes. Hypnotherapy takes advantage of this innate ability, utilizing the altered state to access your internal resources, tapping into your brain’s power to solve problems and learn new skills. Working hypnotically with you, I’ll help you identify your own particular way of going into trance. Then based on our prior conversation, I’ll guide you to the inner reaches of your mind where your unconscious can do your intended work. We can also use guided imagery meditation to create a safe space inside where you can retreat during rough emotional times or whenever you’d like to let go of tension and relax. It’s a method, too, for connecting with that child (or children) who remains a part of you, who can disrupt your life when dissociated but bring you the best that children have to offer when integrated