My Eclectic Approach to TherapyAug 19, 2022
Let’s say it’s your first time in therapy, and you know you need help, but you’re not super thrilled about telling a stranger your life story. Maybe you anticipate a “blank slate” -type-therapist who mostly says “mmm-hmm” and takes mysterious notes.
Or perhaps you worry you’ll be told, “Oh, this is bad. This is really, really bad,” after you share what ails you. Or you might have the common expectation that your problems are too much for your therapist to handle, so you plan to hold back several details to spare this well-meaning soul in front of you.
I know what it’s like to have those first-time jitters. I’ve been in that seat before, many times. And while I can’t guarantee it’ll be completely comfortable for you in your therapy journey, this blog can help you understand some key concepts of what psychotherapy as my patient might be like for you.
- My Personality and Energy -
I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some radiant feedback from many of my current and past patients. I have been told I am easy to talk to, non-judgmental, and down-to-earth. Several have also reported a sense of calm in my self-confidence and collaborative approach. I also ask for feedback throughout each session so I know I am on the right track and I am keeping my number one priority in mind: my patients’ best interest.
While some people may need a very “direct and in-your-face” approach, I take every effort to help you take a look at yourself in as gentle a way as possible. This journey can be scary - no one likes to look at their own “ugly” within, I know I don’t - so having a space where you can be vulnerable and feel safe enough to take a “safari into Self” is of the utmost importance to me.
That’s why I tend to frequently ask:
- What do YOU think?
- Do my reflections seem to “fit” for you?
- Are you willing to _____?, and
- Will you try-on this (new way of thinking) for a minute?
The Good ‘Ol Funny Bone.
I often use humor in session. Humor is a great way to build strong emotional bonds, to express things you may not otherwise be able to say, and to regulate your emotions when we’re getting into the “deep stuff”. I am careful not to let either of us use humor to avoid the work to be done, but several of my patients have told me they would not be able to do therapy with a therapist who did not have a sense of humor. I think that goes a long way.
How to Succeed with Me.
I recently received anonymous surveys from my current patients where I asked them what they think may be helpful for new patients to know about me before beginning psychotherapy. Many wanted others to know that I am safe, open, and knowledgeable, and some had advice for how to get the most out of therapy.
1. Don’t hold back, be open to the experience - This bit of advice really comes in handy with my experiential techniques. I’ll explain them later in the blog, but the more you can be open to experiencing your emotions and thoughts, the more we’ll have to work with and the better the healing can take place.
2. Put in the work and effort to rewrite your thoughts/views and habits…Therapy will only help you if you’re are willing to accept it - It is well researched that many people come into therapy thinking they will show up, be therapized/cured, and then return to life as usual. This is not a helpful approach. I put a lot into my practice, and if you put in even more effort into improving your own life and outlook, we’re gonna see some big progress!
3. There’s a lot of meditation - Ok, I get it. This is not everyone’s jam, and I 100% respect that! At the same time, there is tons of evidence out there that shows the benefits of training your brain to remain calm and impartial to what passes through it (e.g., thoughts and emotions). I use meditation often during session, and may take you even deeper into relaxation to help your Inner Critic relax. I have seen these techniques take patients from making very little progress with traditional talk therapy, to advancing by leaps and bounds! So while meditation and “trance” (see more below) are always on the table, you always have a choice for what you’re up for experiencing throughout your treatment with me.
- Therapy in General -
There are risks.
Like I said, therapy can sometimes feel uncomfortable, and that’s natural! When we begin to build our awareness of how we feel and what has caused us to feel this way, it’s going to bring up some emotions, bodily sensations, and memories that may feel foreign or “bad” to us. And this is actually a very important piece of the process. The more we can be aware of what lies in our unconscious (a.k.a. “subconscious”) mind, the better we can face and address our underlying issues.
Another noteworthy risk is that, often, when we start to get healthier we tend to show up differently in the relationships we have. Sometimes that is not received well. For example, someone who used to let their friends walk all over them may begin to speak up and say, “Don’t treat me like that.” Although this is a sign of growth for that person, it may be seen by those on the receiving end as that person being rude, different, or abrasive. If you find yourself in this position as we help you continue to grow and change, I will 100% help you navigate this in a way that works for you.
There are a few other risks to psychotherapy, that we will cover in our first session, but the two above are the “biggies”.
There are benefits.
How do I begin to describe the glorious benefits of psychotherapy? In an attempt to capture this accurately, I once again turned to my patients and asked them to anonymously share with me the most impactful benefits they have seen thus far:
- Handle stress and life’s issues more effectively
- Improve expressing emotions
- Reduce fear of telling others what you really think or what you want
- Improved listening to others
- Set and hold healthier boundaries
- Decrease symptoms (i.e., anxiety, depression)
- Improve self-love
- Be more measured and in-the-moment
I’ve also observed the majority of my patients to blossom into compassionate, confident, powerful human beings. It really is incredible for me to see how lives can change, just by having someone to tackle it with you, one 50-minute session at a time.
You get to weigh it out.
It’s important that you know that when we begin working together, we’re testing out whether or not it is a good fit. I ask all may patients to take the first 4 weeks to meet weekly before we decide if we’re in it for the long-haul. This will not only help you learn first-hand about the process of therapy, but also how I see the course of your treatment going. Like all relationships, it takes time to get to know one another, and to build the much-needed trust to be successful.
You will always have the choice for the kind of interventions (aka therapy techniques) you are up for on any given day, and you will always have the choice to take a therapy break, or discontinue altogether. I only ask that you give yourself the opportunity to have a healthy “goodbye for now” so that we may part ways having felt all the feels, and gaining a better understanding of what this may mean for all of your parts of self.
- My Approach to Psychotherapy -
Wait, what did you say about parts of self?
Whether you are new to talk therapy, or you are a seasoned vet, you’ve probably heard the term “your inner child”. This comes to us from transactional analysis (TA), which was originally developed back in the 1950’s, and has evolved into a very helpful framework for understanding various aspects of personality. The main idea is that each of us has 5 parts of self (Critic, Nurturer, Adaptive Child, Free Spirit, and Adult) that are constantly interacting with one another, or engaging in transactions with one another. And at any time, each of those 5 parts can have transaction with someone else’s 5 parts.
So imagine when you are having strong feelings about something, and your partner decides that is the perfect time to criticize your behaviors…it can feel like you’re a little kid reacting to a critical parent. According to TA, that’s exactly what’s happening! My job is to help you sort out whom is driving your decision-making bus, and to get your inner adult back behind the wheel. This often takes various techniques like role-play, visualization, contemplation, and understanding why your behaviors make perfect sense, given the way you’ve learned to adapt throughout your life. If you want more information on this framework, you can access my blog here.
To complement this work with your 5 parts, it is important for you to take what you experience in session and integrate it with your life patterns, your current behaviors, your fears and other strong emotional responses. This is based in Gestalt Theory, which helps you see yourself as a whole individual who is lovable, whole, and enough no matter what. So while we are helping you get to know your parts in an attempt to stop the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions in your head, we’re also working to get that team to work together so you can solve problems according to what you really want - not what others want, and not what your therapist wants - but you!
Some deep ways to get there.
Lastly, I think it is important for anyone working with me to understand some of the techniques we’ll be using to help you bring about deep, lasting change. I explain to virtually all my patients that I see each human being like a tree. You have branches, which are all the things you experience outside your body like interactions with others, work, tasks to complete, dishes, etc. The trunk of the tree is like your conscious awareness, so the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that you are aware of. Your roots make up your unconscious mind and negative core beliefs. Quite a bit of healing can take place in the tree branches and the trunk, and we may sometimes do some work here. In order for your tree to get healthy, though, we will spend the majority of our time healing those roots. What I’ve seen time and again is that when we focus on the roots, the trunk and the branches tend to work themselves out.
That being said, I imagine you are wondering, “But how do I access my unconscious mind? Isn’t it…outside my conscious awareness?” Well, that’s where the aforementioned meditation and trance-like state come in. I guide you into different levels of relaxation that help your mind drift into various levels of consciousness so that your usual defenses cease to get in our way.
I am not a hypnotherapist.
In the state of California, there is no license requirement to practice hypnotherapy. It is only asked that anyone practicing it has some sort of counseling or other helping background (I’m a psychologist, check!) and that hypnotherapy is not advertised as curing or treating any kind of illness (I’ll leave all that to the science-backed psychotherapy). So while I do not practice hypnotherapy per se, I do use some hypnotherapy techniques I have learned and utilized to help my patients relax enough to access their tree roots. I have never had a patient tell me they feel uncomfortable, out of control, or fearful of this technique, but again, your level of participation in any intervention I recommend is totally up to you. However, if you find this kind of “deep work” is not for you, it is possible you will not find my work as a good fit…and that’s ok! This is not for everyone.
Seeing is Believing.
Once you are in a state where your inner walls are now all “loosely-goosey”, we can then direct you in an experience that will target the wounds that plague your deep, unconscious mind. The power of visualization is another well-documented phenomenon that researchers have loved to study for decades. In short, our unconscious minds cannot differentiate between what we experience in our waking lives and what we experience in visualization. For that reason, we can utilize memories, imagination, symbolism, and/or spirituality to get a better understanding of your negative core beliefs and reverse them for good. If you’re wanting to know more about those beliefs and how they affect you every day, you can take a look at my other blog here.
As with the trance work, visualization can seem very foreign, and possibly even make you wary. And that’s a completely natural response; we want your inner protector to pipe up when you’re trying something new. At the same time, from what I’ve read, from what I’ve witnessed first hand in session, and from what my patients have overwhelmingly reported, if you can take a chance on you, and if you feel comfortable enough with me as your guide, we can take this deep plunge together and help you emerge renewed, refreshed, and able to live your life as a free and content individual.