Approach and Background

Individuals seek psychotherapy because they want to actively address their concerns or relationships with an experienced professional they can trust and rely on. Because I believe psychotherapy is a collaborative relationship that effects people’s lives, I am present, actively engaged, and offer practical suggestions and useful feedback. I don’t rely on, or necessarily believe in, abstract concepts, jargon, or theories–if you can’t genuinely grasp or feel it, let’s put it aside and continue going. I am more than happy to be told I’m off on something.

I draw  examples from my clinical training and practice, as well as mutually shared life experiences. It’s been helpful to acknowledge our commonalities, and remember we are all striving for similar things, and not alone.

Background

I have been a counselor in a variety of settings since 1998, including elementary and middle schools; residential treatment with adults and children with severe emotional and psychological disabilities; and post-graduate psychotherapy internships that prepared me for private practice. In 2001, I began supervised private practice, and sole private practice in 2006, upon Licensure.

I am a graduate of San Francisco State University, with graduate degrees in English/Creative Writing and Counseling with a specialty in Marriage and Family Therapy. Prior to my training as a psychotherapist, I taught English Composition,  Creative Writing, and Fiction courses at the University, College and Adult Education level.

Schools Of Thought I Draw From:

I consider psychotherapy with all of its theories and approaches, much like the old adage, “All roads lead to Rome.”  Seen in this way, I am not limited to one particular  approach, or fit  individuals  into a template, and able to collaborate with individuals or couples in the unique ways they  need.

To follow are brief outlines of the schools of psychotherapy I draw from and how I might use each in my own practice.

Existential psychotherapy

Existential psychotherapy is partly based on the existential belief that human beings overcome feelings of meaninglessness only by creating one’s own values and meanings. We have the freedom to create these values as well as the responsibility to choose the ones that best authenticate us. Perhaps the individual has let others dictate who or what they are, which  incongruent with who they see themselves as being. By making our own choices we can assume full responsibility for the results and blame no one but ourselves if the result is less than what was desired. The therapist does not try to eliminate the individual’s anxieties, but instead encourages the individual to face them head-on. Alternative paths can be explored together, and the risks these paths present can be collaboratively evaluated so that the individual will be able to make new, more authentic choices, and to emerge from therapy as a differenciated individual.

My use of the Existential approach focuses on finding your unique meaning,  purpose, and direction you want for your life. I encourage you to assume ownership and responsibility for your life, it’s content and direction. I stress striving for what you truly want, and to explore the possibilities of attaining these; whether it be career, creativity, relationships, or some sort of philosophy for life and living. For example, when an individual feels they’ve made a mistake, I help them to recognize these as opportunities for learning. In addition encouraging the individual to give themselves “permission” for the mistake and its consequences reinforces ownership of their life, and how the mistake effects it’s meaning, purpose and direction. So often we refuse authentic contact with our mistakes. As a result we lose contact with our original intentions and purposes—the meaning we hoped to derive. Doing this, we surrender original intentions to shame, or embarrassment and how these mistakes look through others’ eyes more than through our own. Ultimately, it is up to us to determine how we will view mistakes, grow as a result.

Humanistic Therapy/Humanistic Approach

Similar to Existential Psychotherapy, Humanistic Therapy can be summarized by the following five postulates :

  • Human beings cannot be reduced to components.
  • Human beings have in them a uniquely human context.
  • Human consciousness includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people.
  • Human beings have choices co-existing with non desired responsibilities.
  • Human beings are intentional in that they seek meaning, value and creativity.

What I take from this and apply in our work is:

We aren’t just our “issues,”or diagnosis, but a dynamic interplay between our desires and circumstances, our selves and others (relationships), and the on-going striving to make meaning of all of these in the context of our lives.

We want many things, are pulled in many directions, yet saddled with essential, if not inescapable responsibilities which need to be genuinely, if not creatively, negotiated and accepted, if we are to live the life we desire and envision.

Cognitive Psychotherapy

In CBT the therapist and client identify irrational or maladaptive thoughts, assumptions and beliefs that are related to debilitating negative emotions. The therapist then assists the client in dispelling these cognitions through rational, or critical thinking strategies to replace them with more realistic and self-helping alternatives.

For example, having made a mistake, you might think, “I’m useless and can’t do anything right.” This, in turn, worsens the mood, potentially leading to feelings of depression or anxiety. The problem may be worsened if you react by avoiding activities that trigger such negative feelings.  Behaviorally, this only confirms the negative belief about yourself. As a result, a successful experience becomes more unlikely, which reinforces the original thought of being “useless.” This particular example is considered a self-fulfilling prophecy. But by developing more flexible ways to think and respond, including reducing the avoidance of activities, one develops a means of overcoming negative thought patterns and behaviors, becoming more active, succeed more often, and further reduce the likelihood of  depression and/or anxiety.

One of the criticisms of CBT is that it doesn’t focus on the therapeutic relationship and, in some cases, can feel more educational: i.e.,  skill building; which although helpful, can feel less personal. In my use of CBT, I rely on our relationship in order to gage the meaning their thoughts, verbalized or otherwise, have for you in order to help their recognize their effect within interpersonal relationships.

Psychodynamic

Psychodynamic Theory is based in part on the assumption that an individual’s total personality and reactions at any given time are the product of the interaction between their conscious and/or unconscious mind, genetic constitution, and their early environment, i.e., childhood and family dynamics. In other words, the origins of the present can be found and thus solved in the exploration and understanding of the past. Humorously viewed, Psychodynamics Therapy is where the Therapist mutely gestures towards the “patient” to sit and says in a neutral tone, “Tell me about your childhood…”

Again, while I do not concentrate specifically on one’s past,  I think it’s a given that past relationships create the templates for current relationships, and can be useful to explore in order to reveal, or recognize their influence on present day life and especially relationships. Family happens to be a huge influence, as is school, peers, and other relationships and experiences. Based on this, while Psychodynamic Theory attempts to offer a means to fully understand the individual, it potentially risks overlooking the present dynamic context the individual sees themselves within their current life.

Interpersonal Theory

In Interpersonal psychology the details of patient’s interpersonal interactions with others provided insight into the causes and cures of how the individual sees and experiences themselves. People keep many aspects of interpersonal relationships out of their awareness by selective inattention. Thus it is important for the therapist to inquire into a person’s interactions with others–including those with the therapist, to help them become more aware of their interpersonal patterns.

I feel and believe that the significance of psychotherapy takes place within the relationship between the therapist and client. This is, in part, because the therapist-client relationship offers the opportunity to explore interpersonal communication in a current and significant relationship with the other participating and affected member, i.e. the therapist. But it allows the individual the ability to test out new behaviors, feelings and beliefs that they might not be able to in their outside relationships. In addition, by letting one’s self be known by a trusted other, this experience is taken into one’s consciousness or psyche, and can provide an on-going sense of support, encouragement and belief in one’s self.

Because this is what I do–providing a relationship for individuals to address themselves, their life and relationships, it’s difficult, if not unrealistic, to project an entirely professional stance. It is very personal work, which I take very serious, and means a lot for me to do. But, I believe,  this relationship is about, and for, the client. Who or what the therapist is, for the most part, believed to be incidental, although that is certainly arguable. From my stand point, I assure you it’s real, genuine, and meaningful for both individuals participating in it. Yet because of this and, admittedly, it’s limitations it isn’t perfect, and thus open to question, open understanding, exploration and even frustration as a result.

It is similar to what was written in the section on Humanistic psychology, “Human beings have choices co-existing with non desired responsibilities.” Something can be one thing, while appearing to contradict it, yet do either negate the other? While I’d like to say, no, I’d also rather stay open to the understanding of the question.

Life Coaching

The purpose of Life Coaching is to help a person move forward in whatever way they want to move, not to ‘cure’ them. The Life Coach offers support while the person is learning to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal, occasionally  offering advice and guidance  throughout the process. In the therapeutic context it offer the additional opportunity to explore the beliefs, tendencies or habits, which have gotten in the way of the person previously and so that they do not going forward.

 

All responses, though professionally based, are intended as opinions, and are not a substitute for working with a therapist professionally.