Therapy Notes

Off The Couch

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The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.
- Dorothea Lange -

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To attain well-being, we need to take care not only of our bodies but also of our minds. Mindfulness practice is central to seeing the interdependence of mind and body.
Lilian Cheung, Thich Nhat Hanh

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Divorce or Broken Attachment?

Divorce sometimes seems like a fancy word masking what is truly a broken attachment between two people. When I use the word attachment, I am referring to the bond that develops both emotionally and neurobiologically when human beings come together in a loving relationship. Attachments form between a caregiver and baby and continue to evolve over the lifespan as we grow and experience different relationships with others. When two people get married they are vowing to be committed, and to love one another, but they are also pledging an undying attachment to the other. This attachment is unspoken and unknown to both, but it is the most powerful connection anyone can have to another person in a love relationship.

According to author Helen Fischer in her book Why We Love, our “cuddle chemicals”, namely oxytocin and vasopressin, contribute to the sense of closeness and attachment couples feel toward each other in a love relationship.  These bonding hormones promote a sense of fusion between lovers that deepens attachment and a sense of oneness. This biological phenomenon explains the depth of devastation felt when the attachment is broken, and the physiological symptoms that become activated when attachments are severed.

A lost love relationship can be experienced as one of the most emotionally painful human experiences. Thinking about the experience of divorce within the context of attachment generates a greater sense of empathy for what both partners might be feeling. It explains the levels of rage, vindictiveness, grief, and despair that so often accompany this common life transition. We too often think of divorce as a noun or a verb, but it is actually a relational trauma that has a physiological and emotional effect on the couple’s involved. Loss of sleep and appetite, difficulty concentrating and deep feelings of homicidal rage or just a few of the emotions that sweep through the brain after a breakup.

As a therapist working with divorcing individuals, I have to balance both the psychological and physiological effects that divorce has on my clients. It has become very clear that divorce is not just a matter of the heart, but an experience that impacts the whole person on a multitude of levels. 

Filed under divorce

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Your Therapist As Healing Tool: The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship

What many people don’t realize is that the relationships we sustain in our lives are the key to a fulfilling and satisfying existence. We are “wired” to be relational beings, and to connect with others. This means that we actually “need” each other to thrive and grow, and to feel a sense of safety in the world. Knowing this, it’s no wonder that we feel devastated, disoriented and completely thrown off kilter when our relationships falter and fail.

This also explains why we so often feel chronically disappointed and dissatisfied in our personal relationships. Relational needs start when we are young, and if those normal developmental needs are not met adequately, we can spend the rest of our lives trying to get from others what we didn’t get as children. This is probably the main driving factor behind most love relationships; an unconscious hope that our partner will finally provide what has been missing.

This is where therapy comes in. The therapeutic relationship within the framework of most psychodynamic therapy is what heals the pain of the past. Most of our “problems” surface within the interpersonal realm of relating. This is what we often refer to as “triggers” or someone pushing our buttons. Things get activated within a relationship that probably would never surface if we spent all our time alone. The beauty of the therapeutic relationship is that it creates a safe and healing forum in which relational issues can surface or become activated. Once brought to awareness, these relationship dynamics can be played out. Needs from the past can either be met, or grieved, depending on each person’s personal experiences.

Most people don’t realize the power of the therapeutic relationship, and become frustrated only to leave therapy prematurely. This can take time, and it usually isn’t discussed, but trusting the process and being patient will serve you well.

Filed under Attachment

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Using Online Dating Tips To Find A Good Therapist

With todays crazy world of internet marketing and social networking, finding a good therapist is not unlike online dating. The amount of options can be overwhelming, and you need to dig through thousands of potential people to find “the one”. As a seeker of therapy you are probably in a similar situation to someone seeking love in that you exist somewhere on the spectrum of eagerness and desperation. Eagerness can lead to hasty decisions and desperation can similarly land you in a “good enough” relationship with a therapist.

If you’ve exhausted your options, and haven’t been referred or “fixed up” with a good therapist, here are some quick tips to make your search more productive and efficient.

1.     Just like with online dating, many people look for a therapist who is visually attractive before anything else. While you will have to look at this person from where you sit on the couch, looks are not the best criteria for finding a good therapist. So instead of focusing on the profile pictures, train your eye to look at more important things like years of experience, or specialties and training.

2.     When looking for a “soulmate”, many people make the mistake of focusing on things that might not be important in the grand scheme of a long term relationship. With a therapist, things like fee, geographical location, and office policies are not as important as this person’s characteristics. Your therapist’s way of being in the room is what will allow you to heal and maintain a good therapeutic relationship. These things would be more along the lines of warmth, reliability, empathy and eye contact.

3.     Similar to online dating, it’s not helpful to make judgment calls solely based on what the person is like on paper. You can’t possibly know if you will like someone unless you meet them in person. Go for several “first sessions” with a few different therapists to see how you feel in the room. It usually takes at least 3 visits to know if it’s a good fit.

4.     A common mistake with online dating is the tendency to focus on what the other person has as opposed to what you need. In looking for a therapist, you must identify what you are needing from this person to find a good fit. Are you needing immediate relief from panic attacks? Or maybe you are looking for a solid, healing relationship that can develop over time. Knowing what you want will help you narrow your choices down based on certain criteria of the therapist.

5.     Doing your homework before going on a first date makes everything go more smoothly. Do the same with your therapist search by digging as deep into the clinician’s credentials and training as possible. The more information you have, the more secure you will feel in making a good decision about who you want to begin working with. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions, and to really get to know who will be treating you.

The therapeutic relationship can be one of the most important relational experiences of your life. Taking the time to do it right, and not rushing through the process will ensure that you find the right fit for you and your 

Filed under Therapy