My primary role as a psychologist is to provide my clients with a safe, supportive, and growth-oriented environment in which they can learn to reduce troubling symptoms of distress, better face life's challenges, improve their relationships, and reach their full potential.
My style as a therapist tends to be more interactive and direct than neutral, and I work hard to help my patients reach their goals as quickly as possible. I believe that healing and growth take place in the context of a strong therapeutic relationship, and I pay close attention to this aspect of my work.
I employ a variety of tools and techniques to help my patients attain their therapeutic goals, and actively tailor the treatment approach to suit the needs of each individual. I also emphasize treatment methods that are supported by the latest research findings, as appropriate. I maintain a great respect for individual differences, and value the opportunity to work with patients of diverse races, religious and ethic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
With regard to technique, I most commonly operate from Object Relations and Cognitive-Behavioral perspectives. Not to worry, you are not expected to already know what these terms mean and I will summarize them for you below. Very simply put, however, I utilize these two approaches to: A) help you understand how you got to where you are, and: B) help you make desired changes.
Object Relations Psychotherapy
The Object Relations approach to psychotherapy emerged in the early 1930's, inspired primarily by the psychoanalytic movement. This approach is guided by the belief that our early learning experiences in life, particularly in our relationships with significant others, tend to form within us a template or "road map" for subsequent thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Based on early learning, for example, to what extent have you come to believe that you can depend on others, and that you will be accepted and understood by them? On the other hand, to what degree has your experience taught you to guard against trusting or relying upon others, or to avoid being to be vulnerable with them? Have you come to believe that you must only show certain parts of yourself to others in order to receive acceptance and maintain harmony? How do these beliefs impact the way you interact with others in order to receive acceptance and maintain harmony, and potentially limit the degree to which you can feel truly fulfilled in your life and in your relationships?
The Object Relations approach also focuses on the quality of the relationship you maintain with your self, based on the finding that "we learn to treat ourselves the way we were treated." If you learned that your needs and vulnerabilities were not well accepted or allowed by others early in your life, to what degree can you accept these aspects of yourself as an adult? Thus, the template not only guides our view of others, but our view of ourselves as well.
Within the Object Relations framework, the therapeutic process is is designed to help you understand explicitly how your unique template was formed, and to clarify the ways in which this template has shaped your current relationship style, with others and with yourself. Although we do generally have some awareness of how these early experiences have shaped us, all too often the resulting beliefs and attitudes, as well as the accompanying behaviors and habits, continue to operate as "background programs" in our lives, on an automatic and unconscious level. Left unexamined, these powerful habits can act as obstacles in life, yielding outcomes that deviate significantly from what we intend, and preventing us from getting what we truly want and need.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The Cognitive and Cognitive-Behavioral psychotherapy perspectives emerged in the 1950’s and 1960’s, pioneered by former psychoanalysts Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. These new approaches to psychotherapy were developed in response to the need for briefer treatments, and for methods that could be more easily researched and tested for their effectiveness.
Underlying the Cognitive-Behavioral perspective is the assertion that it is not the events and circumstances which occur to us in life that most strongly determine how we think, feel and behave, but the meaning we make of those events and circumstances. In other words, it is the way we interpret and react to what happens to us that determines how we feel about ourselves, our lives, and our future.
For example, the learned habits of interpretation utilized by individuals who struggle with anxiety, depression, and anger, tend to be biased or distorted in some very predictable ways. Depressed individuals commonly focus on only the most negative perceived aspects of themselves, their lives, and their future. They tend to interpret their experience primarily through the lens of past failures and disappointments, overlooking evidence of accomplishments and attainments.
Anxious individuals, on the other hand, have learned to focus their attention upon signs of warning, threat, or potential danger or loss. They are almost solely fixated on their own vulnerability, with little emphasis on strengths, abilities, and positive coping skills.
Finally, angry individuals tend to be most focused upon signs that they are being disrespected, controlled, deceived or otherwise taken advantage of, without considering alternative explanations for their circumstances. Anger also often emerges as a negative reaction to perceived unfairness in the world around us (which is almost everywhere as fairness is not a law of nature), and to the failure of others to behave as they should (again, as if there were a universal code or doctrine that controlled events and the actions of individuals, which there most certainly is not).
So, for anxious, angry, and depressed individuals, interpretations, feelings, and behaviors emerge as a result of the types of beliefs to which they subscribe, and of the data most commonly focused upon. And how exactly is it that we develop these distorted or biased habits of interpretation, the ones that so powerfully drive our emotional and behavioral functioning? Well, it is abundantly clear that nobody wakes up one day and decides, “hmm, given all of my options, I think I’d like to be exclusively alert to possible danger and catastrophe around me, and to distrust anyone who tries to get close to me.” Or, “I would really like to base my value as a person on impossible and perfectionistic standards such that I almost always end up feeling like a failure!” No, we come by these biases and distortions quite honestly, and unconsciously, through our early learning experiences in the world. This is precisely how the Object Relations template meshes with Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, and it illustrates how the two approaches can be powerfully combined in treatment.
In helping you to use CBT to address your problems, we will collaboratively observe and evaluate the ways in which you tend to view yourself, think about yourself, and talk to yourself, and examine the degree to which it is balanced and accurate. With training and practice, we can learn to modify the way we interpret ourselves and our experience, and it doesn’t even have to take very long. Although it is true that most adults who have been “practicing” their habits of distortion and bias for many years have become quite accustomed to, and expert at them (we get better at whatever we practice, and we are always practicing something), change can occur rapidly so long as an active choice is made to do things differently, and the individual’s level of motivation is strong. Motivation to change is probably the single most important driver of success in therapy.
By analogy, if the ability to make catastrophic interpretations was a muscle in the body of a person with anxiety, we would imagine that muscle to be quite well-developed and ripped, as it goes to the gym and gets worked out every day. The counter muscle, however, the one responsible for viewing one’s self and one’s future in a balanced and confident manner, does exist, but it has likely atrophied from lack of use. The identification and strengthening of such underused muscles is precisely the task of CBT.
To illustrate that this is not a particularly mysterious or endless process, you have probably already noticed, just in the brief time you have been reading this material, an at least subtle lifting of your mood. Why? Because your menu of options has just widened, hasn’t it? And that expansion may very well give rise to increased hope about the possibility of change, Very often, it is simply the awareness of cognitive distortions that brings about relief from them. This is one of the reasons why CBT can be effective quite rapidly.