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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Working Through Painful Emotions in Therapy

People often start therapy because they can no longer cope with painful emotions related to the past or to current events in their life.  In many cases, initially people avoid dealing with painful emotions for a period of time because they hope that these emotions will go away on their own over time.  But as I mentioned in a prior article, time often doesn't heal all wounds (see my article: Time Doesn't Heal All Wounds).

Working Through Painful Emotions in Therapy

So, when people see that they can no longer bury these emotions and that, in fact, these emotions are having an adverse impact on their life, they decide to come to therapy.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, it's common for most people to feel some degree of anxiety and ambivalence as they anticipate the start of therapy (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Often, people are afraid that they will feel overwhelmed in therapy by the painful emotions that they tried to avoid for so long.  However, psychotherapists who are trained to work with emotional trauma usually know how to titrate the work so that it isn't overwhelming for the client.  In addition, they are usually trained to help the client to de-escalate emotions so that these emotions are more manageable, as opposed to being overwhelming.

Most trauma therapists also prepare clients beforehand to deal with painful emotions that come up, so that they can usually manage their emotions between sessions.

Of course, this doesn't mean that working on a traumatic history will be completely pain free.  But once they begin therapy with a trauma therapist, most clients notice that, in addition to working on trauma in a titrated way, most emotions come in wave patterns with a beginning, middle and end within the same session.  So, the experience usually isn't unrelenting pain.

Also, many trauma therapists will include time to debrief to make sure that clients are feel relatively put together to face the world outside the therapy room after the session is over.  So, even though clients might anticipate that whole sessions will be intolerably painful, they are often surprised to discover that the sessions aren't as painful as they originally anticipated.

Part of the problem for many clients is that they remember what they felt when they were going through the traumatic event and they think they will feel the same way again.  But this usually isn't the case, especially in the case of unresolved childhood trauma.

One of the reasons for this is that, as adults, most people have a greater emotional capacity to deal with difficult emotions as compared to when they were children.

Also, when they're working on unresolved trauma, they are doing it in the presence of a therapist who is empathetic and trained to help the client to maintain dual awareness, which means that while clients are remembering the past, they are also aware that they aren't still in the past--they know that they're sitting with a skilled therapist in the present.  So, the past, even if it's the recent past, usually isn't experienced as being as disturbing as when the trauma originally occurred.

Clients will often comment that working through painful emotions in therapy is a relief because a heavy burden has been lifted from them.  They also begin to notice over time that they are gradually feeling better, experiencing themselves in a new way, and interacting with their loved ones and their environment in a better way.

Many clients have remarked in our sessions that if they had known that dealing with unresolved trauma wasn't as painful as they anticipated, they would have come to therapy much sooner rather than avoiding these issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
While it's understandable that no one wants to feel the pain related to unresolved trauma, these emotions rarely, if ever, resolve on their own and, in fact, these emotions often manifest in other ways, including in physical symptoms.

Working through painful emotions in therapy is a healing process, and healing helps to restore you to your true self (see my article: Becoming Your True Self).

If you have been avoiding dealing with a traumatic issue, you could benefit from working with an experienced trauma therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, AEDP and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I specialize in working with trauma.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Learning Not to Jump to Conclusions and Personalize Other People's Behavior

One of the most challenging lessons to learn in life is to not jump to conclusions and personalize other people's behavior, which is the topic of this article (see my article: How Psychotherapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking).

Learning Not to Jump to Conclusions and Personalize Other People's Behavior

Why Do We Jump to Conclusions and Personalize Other People's Behavior?
When people feel rejected, criticized or neglected in some way, they often feel insecure or anxious and this can trigger other earlier traumatic experiences that made them feel the same way.

Most people won't recognize that their earlier experiences are getting triggered and assume that what they're feeling has to do exclusively with the current situation.

Other people have difficulty distinguishing their feelings from objective facts (see my article: Discovering That Your Feelings Aren't Facts).

How to Keep Yourself From Personalizing Other People's Behavior
It's so easy to jump to conclusions about what's going on with someone else and what it means about you.

But before you personalize someone else's behavior that feels hurtful to you, it's important to stop your thoughts from getting ahead of you so that you don't distort the situation and project your insecurities onto the situation.

It's also important to consider that whatever this person did (or didn't do) might have nothing to do with you.

Fictional Clinical Vignette:  Learning Not to Take Other People's Behavior Personally
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how personalizing someone else's behavior represents distorted thinking and how to handle this type of situation better:

After being broken up for over a year, Ann decided to contact her former boyfriend, Alex, after she heard from mutual friends that he was having some medical problems.

On the one hand, just the thought of contacting Alex was enough to make Ann feel anxious and insecure with regard to how Alex would respond to her.  But on the other hand, she knew Alex was kind to her and, when she could be objective about it, she thought he probably would respond well, especially since they were on relatively good terms when she broke up with him.

After she left a message on his voicemail, she waited to hear back from him.  But after several days went by, she began to think that Alex might be angry with her after all, and he might not want to talk to her.

When she checked with a mutual friend, Ann found out that Alex had recuperated, he was doing relatively well, and he was back to work again.  This only fueled even more of Ann's insecurity and anxiety.

As each day passed, Ann became even more convinced that she had made a mistake by leaving a message for Alex.  She felt ashamed about reaching out to him. Her thoughts veered to earlier situations when she felt rejected and ashamed, including times when her father pushed her away as a child when she tried to hug him when he came home from work.

After two weeks had passed, Ann confided in her close friend, Rina, that she was feeling ashamed and angry that Alex hadn't returned her call.  Rina, who knew Alex, told Ann that there was probably a good reason why Alex wasn't calling.  She said she doubted that Alex was angry with her, and she advised Ann not to personalize Alex's lack of response.

By the third week, Alex called Ann and apologized profusely for not getting back to her sooner.  He told her that he had lost his phone with all his personal contacts, and he had only recently found it.  He said he really appreciated hearing from her and he was feeling much better.

Jumping to conclusions and personalizing other people's behavior is a common problem for many people, especially people who have an early traumatic history of being neglected or abused.  When people are triggered, it can be difficult to distinguish the current issue from the past.

It helps to develop the ability to stop your thoughts, which might be distorted, and question the conclusions that you've jumped to about the other person and the situation.

Being patient and getting more information is also helpful so that you don't automatically feel anxious or insecure when, in fact, the other person's behavior might have nothing to do with you.

This applies to personal situations as well as work-related situations (e.g., where a supervisor might seem angry with you but, in fact, is angry because of personal problems).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you find that you have a tendency to personalize other people's behavior due to your own early history, you could benefit from seeing a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to make distinctions between the past and the present and also assist you to work through your early traumatic history.

Getting help in therapy for this issue can help you to have a more fulfilling and meaningful life without the distorted thoughts that can cause so much angst.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Psychotherapist's Role in Holding Open the Possibility for the Client's Transformation

Aside from creating a holding environment where the client feels safe and comfortable with the therapist and the therapeutic process, an experiential therapist also holds open the possibility for the client's transformation.


What Does It Mean For the Therapist to Hold Open the Possibility for the Client's Transformation?
Many clients come to therapy feeling doubtful and pessimistic about making positive changes.  There is obviously a part of them that hopes they can change, but there is often a bigger part of them that fears they won't change and they'll be exactly where they started before they began therapy.

A skilled experiential therapist creates a space first in her own mind and then intersubjectively between the client and the therapist for the possibility of positive change--and not just any change but a transformation that makes a significant difference for the client (see my article: Psychotherapy: An Intersubjective Experience Between the Client and the Psychotherapist and A Psychotherapist's Beliefs About Psychotherapy Affects How the Therapist Works With You).

The therapist can often see possibilities even when the client cannot.  This isn't a Pollyanna notion or something that is "woo-woo."  This is based on the therapist assessing the client's personal strengths and history as well the signs of resilience in the client (see my article: Discovering Your Personal Strengths in PsychotherapyHow Experiential Psychotherapy Can Help You to Develop Your Personal Strengths and A Strengths-Based Perspective in Psychotherapy).

Fictional Clinical Vignette: The Psychotherapist's Role in Holding Open the Possibility For the Client's Transformation
The following fictional vignette, which is based on many different cases with no identifying information, illustrates this particular aspect of the psychotherapist's role:

After he relapsed on alcohol after five years of sobriety, Sam began psychotherapy.

During his first session, Sam expressed the despair about achieving sobriety again.  He talked about his relapse, which occurred while he was on a recent company retreat, "I allowed my colleagues to persuade me to drink after our meeting, even though I knew it was a mistake.  I convinced myself  that I could control it and have just one beer.  Then, I was off to the races and one drink turned into five and then I drank the whole weekend.  When I got back from the company retreat, I spoke with my A.A. sponsor and he recommended that I get into therapy.  So, here I am, but I feel like a total failure and I don't think I can get back to where I was in terms of my sobriety."

Listening to his history of struggling with alcoholism from the time he was a teenager, his long family history of drinking, childhood emotional abuse, and Sam's five year history of recovery, his therapist could tell that Sam had a lot of personal strengths (see my article: Why Is It That It's Often the Healthiest Person in a Dysfunctional Family Who Seeks Help in Therapy?).

Not only did Sam begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous on his own in his mid-20s, even though his family tried to dissuade him from going, he also successfully worked the 12 Steps with his sponsor and felt he benefited from doing it.  He was also an active participant on his A.A. meetings in terms of providing service for the meetings and he welcomed newcomers who were struggling with alcoholism.

As a teenager, despite his drinking, Sam achieved above average grades and got a college scholarship, even though his family placed little value in education and tried to persuade him not to go because they thought it was a waste of time.

When his therapist asked Sam if he had emotional support from anyone else in his family or from a mentor or coach, Sam said he had no one.  But he said he was determined to move out of a dysfunctional family environment where his father and older brothers drank heavily and he knew that a college education was necessary for him to realize his independence.

After he graduated college with honors, despite heavy drinking, he went onto law school and landed a good job in a top law firm.

Right around the time that Sam began his new job, he realized that he couldn't continue to drink heavily if he wanted to succeed, and he sought help in Alcoholics Anonymous.

He explained to his therapist that it was especially challenging for him to get sober because, similar to his family, many of the attorneys at his company, including the partners, drank heavily.  In fact, drinking was part of the culture in his company, and the attorneys were expected to take out their clients for drinks.

Sam said he knew that he wouldn't stand a chance of achieving sobriety without the support of a sponsor, so he jumped at the chance to talk to an A.A. member with many years of sobriety who was among the members who stood up at the beginners meeting and offered to be an interim sponsor.

His sponsor, who was also an attorney, helped Sam to work the 12 steps and become aware of his triggers to drinking.  He also helped him to navigate the tricky situations at work where there would be heavy drinking with partners and clients.

Sam explained to his therapist that, looking back on it, he realized that his alcohol relapse began even before he picked up his first drink.  He said it began when he cut back on the number of A.A. meetings he was attending and stopped talking as frequently to his sponsor.  Then, it culminated in not using the tools that his sponsor helped him to develop and in believing that he could have just one drink to be "one of the guys" at the company retreat.

When she heard about his family history, his psychotherapist could see that much of Sam's self doubt and fear were rooted in his history with a father who constantly criticized and belittled Sam.  Even though Sam struggled against his father's emotional abuse, there was a part of him that internalized and believed what his father said about him.

During the initial stage of therapy, his therapist sensed that Sam wasn't ready to hear her assessment that he had a lot of strengths and that if she said it at that point, he would deny it and might even leave therapy.  So, instead, she asked him if he was willing to work hard in therapy to see if he could become sober again.  When he told her that he was willing, they set up a treatment plan, which included increasing his A.A. meetings and talking to his sponsor daily as well as once a week therapy.

As his therapist formed a therapeutic alliance with Sam and felt that he was comfortable with her, she began to point out and praise him for the positive steps that he was taking.  She also pointed out his positive qualities that helped him to begin making changes.

Since his therapist was an experiential therapist, she was actively engaged in the therapy and expressed her genuine delight as he got back on track with his sobriety because she knew that this corrective emotional experience was necessary, especially given the history of emotional abuse in his family (see my articles: With Experiential Psychotherapy, There Are No Blank-Slate Psychotherapists - Part 1 and Part 2).

At that point in therapy, Sam was able to take in his therapist's emotional support and her view of him as someone who had the personal strengths to achieve an emotional transformation.

After Sam had a few months of sobriety, his therapist introduced the idea of EMDR therapy to work on the underlying trauma that was a factor in his relapse (see my articles:How Does EMDR Therapy Work: EMDR and the Brain and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Over time, Sam's confidence increased and he was able to acknowledge that he had many personal strengths that he could use to cope and maintain his sobriety in addition to therapy and his sober support system.

By the time Sam completed therapy, he realized that his therapist had believed in him all along and that this was a big part of his being able to sustain his sobriety and transform his life.

A skilled psychotherapist is able to hold open the possibility for clients' transformation even when clients are at a low point in therapy.

Being able to assess clients' personal strengths, as well as their challenges, and keeping in mind that with help most people's inclination is to move towards health and well-being, an experienced psychotherapist can hold open a space for positive change--especially when clients cannot see it for themselves.

Even when this holding open of a space for transformation isn't articulated by the psychotherapist, I believe that it is transmitted unconsciously in the intersubjective space between clients and their therapists.

Many clients recognize in hindsight that the therapist's role of holding onto the possibility of positive change was instrumental in helping them to achieve these changes.

Getting Help in Therapy
Experiential psychotherapists tend to be more present and actively involved in therapy.  They have seen clients' transformation against all odds and recognize the signs and signals that clients have the personal strengths necessary to make positive changes (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy).

If you're struggling with problems that you have been unable to overcome on your own, you could benefit from working with an experiential psychotherapist who can help you to achieve a transformational experience in your life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC experiential psychotherapist who uses contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis, and emotionally focused therapy (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to overcome their history of trauma as well as their own self doubts to achieve transformational experiences in their lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship

Being in an emotionally intimate and loving relationship is a desire that most people have.  But achieving emotional intimacy in a relationship can be scary for many people because it involves being emotionally vulnerable (see my article: The Emotional Vulnerability of Being in a Relationship).

Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship

The wish to remain "safe" and avoid danger, rather than being vulnerable, is something that many people struggle with, especially if their emotional needs weren't met as children.

These people often experienced criticism, emotional neglect and shame when they sought love as children, so it's understandable that they fear getting close to someone in a relationship--even though closeness is what they really desire (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

When children are emotionally neglected, they hide the more emotionally vulnerable parts of themselves in order to protect themselves.  This was an adaptive thing to do as a child because to continue to allow themselves to yearn for what they weren't getting as children would only bring more emotional pain.

Allowing Yourself to Be Emotionally Vulnerable in a Romantic Relationship
If you were emotionally neglected as a child or if you had bad experiences in prior relationships, you don't suddenly become comfortable with emotional vulnerability (see my article: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?).

That self protective part of you that took care of you as a child or in a prior emotionally abusive relationship continues to operate in the same way--until you take steps to make room for emotional vulnerability.

Sometimes the pain of being alone and lonely is greater than the fear of being emotionally vulnerable, and this creates the impetus for opening up to a romantic partner (see my article: Overcoming Loneliness and Social Isolation).

But allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable can still be daunting.

The truth is, whether you realize it or not, to be human is to be emotionally vulnerable.  You can try to protect yourself and avoid emotional intimacy in a romantic relationship, but you're still vulnerable in other relationships with loved ones.  It's just a part of life.  

The first step in overcoming your fear of emotional vulnerability is to become aware of your fear.

Noticing the physical and emotional cues to your avoidance can take practice because, when your fear has been longstanding, your avoidance is so automatic that you don't notice it. 

As I have mentioned in a prior article, becoming aware of your emotions usually starts with noticing what's going on in your body.  

Being present and aware of your body takes practice.  A "body scan," where you have quiet time and privacy to sense into your body to see where you're holding onto tension, is a good start.

Start from the crown of your head and slowly descend from the crown to your face, throat, chest and down to your gut.  Along the way, notice if you're holding onto tension in any particular area and then try to identify the emotion that goes with the tension.

The book, The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self Healing, by Ann Weiser Cornell is a simple how-to book on developing a "felt sense" of what's going on for you physically and emotionally.  She has practically exercises to help you develop your ability to become aware of your emotions.

Using these exercises, you can check in with yourself periodically during the day to sense what's going on for you.

Once you become more experienced with sensing your emotions, you'll discover when your fear of emotional vulnerability is operating and getting in your way.

Then, it's a matter of consciously making room for emotional vulnerability in romantic relationships with a person you can trust.

How do you know if you can trust someone enough to be emotionally vulnerable?  You need to get to know them over time and, if s/he feels safe enough, you can begin to take a risk of opening up emotionally to this person.

Getting Help in Therapy
Past trauma, including emotional neglect or abuse as a child as well as traumatic experiences in prior relationships, can make it difficult for you to achieve an emotionally intimate relationship because it feels too frightening to you.

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to work through the earlier traumatic experiences so you can gradually learn to be emotionally vulnerable to have the love and emotional intimacy that you long for in your life.

Rather than vacillating between hope and dread, you can get help in trauma therapy to feel hopeful and secure enough to take the emotional risks to achieve emotional intimacy.

About Me

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome their traumatic experiences so they can live more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

How Experiential Therapy Can Help You to Discover Your Personal Strengths

In my prior article, Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Therapy: You're Much More Than Your Traumatic History, I began a discussion about seeing beyond your traumatic history to discover your personal strengths (see my article: You're Not Defined By Your Diagnosis and Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Psychotherapy).

How Experiential Therapy Can Help You to Discover Your Personal Strengths
As a trauma therapist in New York City, many clients come to see me to overcome their history of trauma.  As I'm helping them to overcome their trauma, I'm also assisting them to discover their personal strengths (see my article: A Strengths-Based Perspective in Psychotherapy).

As I mentioned in my prior article, it's important to be able to appreciate the personal strengths that got you through difficult times as well as that you can use these same strengths to cope with whatever challenges you're dealing with now.

Fictionalized Clinical Vignette: How Experiential Therapy Can Help You to Discover and Use Your Personal Strengths:
The following fictionalized clinical vignette, which is representative of many cases in therapy, illustrates how an experiential therapist can help a client to explore and use his personal strengths:

Before Ed began experiential therapy, he had been in conventional talk therapy for several years trying to overcome the effects of the childhood trauma he experienced as a young child.

Ed explained to his new therapist that he was grateful for the work he did with his prior therapist in talk therapy, but he felt no relief from the traumatic effects of childhood emotional neglect and abuse.  This is why, at the suggestion of a friend, he was willing to try experiential therapy.

From the very first session in experiential therapy, Ed noticed the difference in the way his new psychotherapist interacted with him.  Whereas his former therapist, who practiced conventional talk therapy, said very little in his sessions, his new therapist, who was interactive and dynamic.  She also talked about working in a collaborative way so that the therapy would be meaningful and effective for Ed.

In addition, she explained the different types of experiential therapy that she did with individuals, which included EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), Somatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis.  She also explained that her original training was in depth psychotherapy so she had an ability to work deep and do brief therapy at the same time.

Ed could tell from his new therapist's facial expressions, gestures and demeanor that she already seemed to care about him, even though they were just having their initial consultation.  This surprised him because he never experienced this before in therapy.

His therapist emphasized that, in addition to helping him to resolve the effects of his traumatic history, she thought it was equally important to help Ed to explore and experience his personal strengths on an emotional level.

When Ed thought about it, he realized that he never really thought about his personal strengths.  He knew, on an intellectual level, that he had somehow survived the effects of his parents' abuse and neglect, but he never explored how he was able to do this in his prior therapy.

As he thought about it more, he told his new therapist that friends and other relatives who knew him often commented to him that, considering his family history, he accomplished a lot in terms of his success at college and in his career.

But Ed only experienced their praise as mere words.  He knew they were sincere, but he didn't know how to relate to what they were telling him.  He didn't think he had done anything out of the ordinary with regard to surviving his childhood history and being successful.

After his therapist heard his traumatic history, she said she was amazed that he had accomplished so much, and she asked him how he did it.

Ed seemed confused at first, and he said that he didn't know what he did to succeed at college and in his career, "I just did it.  I didn't think it was such a big deal."

Even though, at that point in therapy, Ed couldn't identify his personal strengths, he began to get curious.

In order to help Ed to appreciate that he had personal strengths that helped him, his therapist recommended that he think of his early history and his subsequent successes as if they were about someone else.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, Ed said that he had a close friend, who had a similar family history and similar accomplishments.  Ed told his therapist that when he thought about his friend, he admired his friend for being able to overcome his early challenges so that he could succeed in his career.  But when he thought about his own history and accomplishments, he wasn't able to appreciate them as much as he appreciated his friend's, which made him curious as to why he couldn't appreciate his efforts.

Over time, Ed talked about how both of his parents, who were physically abusive, also told him repeatedly from a young age that he would never amount to anything.  Although on some level, he believed them, he said, he was also determined to be independent of them.

As a result, even though he had low self esteem, he persevered in his studies as if his life depended on it.  And, in many ways, he felt that his life did, in fact, depend on being able to get a good job so he could move out of his parents home.

Since he did well in high school, despite the ongoing abuse and neglect, he was able to get a scholarship to an out of state college where he excelled.  From the time he moved out to go to college, he never moved back home.  He only went for brief visits.

His therapist helped Ed to see that two of his personal strengths were his determination and perseverence despite the challenges at home.  She helped him to appreciate these personal strengths as well as his other strengths, on a visceral emotional level by having him identify the emotions that he felt when he was able to feel good about these strengths and where he felt these emotions in his body.

Initially, this was difficult for Ed because he was so accustomed to minimizing his strengths and accomplishments as being "no big deal."

But one of the things that made it easier for him to eventually appreciate his personal strengths was how his therapist reflected back to him, on a emotional level, how delighted she was that he had these strengths to help him to excel.  He was able to see in her eyes and in her face the genuine caring and delight--something he never experienced with his own parents.

Over time, Ed had what is called a "corrective emotional experience" with his experiential therapist (see my article:  What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?).  In contrast to his early experience with his parents, who were angry, abusive and neglectful, Ed experienced his therapist as being genuinely caring, warm and empathetic.  Compared to his prior therapist, his new therapist was emotionally accessible and enthusiastic about his well-being.

In addition, rather than just having an intellectual understanding of his problems and his personal strengths, Ed was able to develop an ability to actually feel these experiences on a core emotional level. He learned that, in order to make positive changes, being able to experience his innermost, primary emotions was essential for transformation.

These experiences in therapy were new and exciting for Ed, and he looked forward to his therapy sessions with his experiential therapist as he continued to make progress in therapy.

Many clients, who have a history of trauma, are almost exclusively focused on the effects of their trauma and their emotional problems.

While, ultimately, the goal of therapy is to help clients to overcome their trauma, along the way, as part of experiential therapy, it's important for clients to also recognize their personal strengths that allowed them to survive and, in many cases, to thrive despite the obstacles.

Not only does it help clients to appreciate how their strengths helped them in the past, it also helps them to recognize that they have these internal resources to call on in the present.

An experiential therapist is focused on helping to undo the aloneness that clients experienced during their traumatic history by being emotionally accessible to clients as they work through their trauma. She also helps clients to access their personal strengths.

In addition, she strives to help clients to have a new corrective emotional experience in therapy that is healing to clients.  All of this helps clients to overcome trauma and make positive changes in their lives.

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
If you have been unable to resolve your problems on your own or you feel frustrated by intellectual insight that doesn't lead to a healing experience, you owe it to yourself to get help in from a licensed psychotherapist who practices experiential therapy (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Experiential therapy, like AEDP, is an evidence-based therapy that is effective and can lead to a transformation in your life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Therapy: You're Much More Than Your Traumatic History

In a prior article, You're Not Defined By Your Diagnosis, I discussed how clients, who have been in prior therapy, often think of themselves as defined by their diagnosis ("I'm depressed" or "I'm anxious") rather than seeing the totality of who they are, including their strengths.

Similarly, when clients come to therapy to deal with a traumatic history, their self concept is often defined by their trauma--rather than also seeing their resilience and personal strengths (see my article: A Strengths Based Perspective in Psychotherapy).  This is especially true of clients who have been in conventional talk therapy.

Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Therapy: You're Much More Than Your Traumatic History

As I mentioned in the prior article, it's not a matter of being in denial about the client's negative experiences.  It's more about seeing their problems as well as seeing beyond those problems to include everything that's positive about them.

As a psychotherapist in New York City, who specializes in working with trauma, I take a holistic view of clients and want to help them build on their strengths as well as helping them to overcome unresolved trauma.

Clients, who have been in prior therapy, are often accustomed to being pathologized to the point where all they see about themselves are the "negative" parts that they want to overcome.

While I understand a client's need to focus on the trauma and trauma therapy is one of my specialties, I also want the client to appreciate the parts of that helped him or her to get through the traumatic experiences and excel in other areas of life.

As part of AEDP therapy (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), which is an experiential therapy, I help clients to take the time to really internalize their experiences of their strengths at the same time that I help them to overcome their traumatic experiences (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy).

Part of AEDP therapy is helping clients to have a deep sense of their personal strengths, which can feel unusual, at first, for clients who are so focused on their problems.

This might mean slowing things down experientially when a client talks about an obstacle s/he overcame or a courageous stance that s/he took. Interestingly, slowing things down experientially actually helps to speed the work up in the long run.

By slowing down the work at that point, I'm helping the client to have more than just an intellectual understanding of their strengths.  Instead, in addition to their intellectual understanding, I'm helping the client to have an embodied experience of his or her strengths.  In doing so, I'm helping the client to have a more integrated mind-body experience.

You might ask, "Why is this important?"

Well, it's an important part of helping a client to have a transformative experience in which s/he recognizes that the trauma history is only one part of who s/he is and there is so much more than the trauma.

It also helps the client to see that they have internal resources and coping skills that s/he can call upon when faced with adversity.  This is a crucial part of the way I work with clients who have been traumatized.

Anyone who has survived a traumatic history has personal strengths that got him or her through.

Being able to recognize and value those strengths is a part of AEDP work in therapy and in all experiential modalities that I use, including EMDR therapy, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette that illustrates how I work with clients' strengths while helping them to overcome trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Being pathologized in therapy by psychotherapists who only focus on diagnosis or "the problem" makes overcoming trauma more difficult and can diminish your sense of self.

If you have been struggling with unresolved problems, you owe it to yourself to seek help from a skilled licensed psychotherapist who has a strengths-based perspective.

Freeing yourself from your traumatic history and, at the same time, recognizing that you have strengths can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

With Experiential Therapy, There Are No Blank-Slate Therapists - Part 2

In my prior article, I began a discussion about how experiential psychotherapy is different from conventional psychotherapy.  I discussed that some therapists in conventional therapy still work with their clients from a stance of neutrality with little to no self disclosure.  This is in contrast to experiential therapy where the psychotherapist is a dynamic, empathic, emotionally accessible, and a collaborative presence in the therapy session with the client (see my article: Why Experiential Psychotherapy is More Effective Than Conventional Talk Therapy).

With Experiential Therapy, There Are No Blank-Slate Therapists

Fictional Clinical Vignette: With Experiential Therapy, There Are No Blank-Slate Therapists
The following fictional clinical vignette, which is representative of the issues being discussed in this article, illustrates the difference between experiential psychotherapy and conventional psychotherapy where the therapist takes a neutral stance with the client:

Attending therapy twice a week, Alan endured long silences in his therapy sessions with his conventional talk therapy psychotherapist.

Alan dreaded these silences because it reminded him of the times when he was a young child and he and his parents sat in stony silence at the dinner table.  During those days, when he attempted to talk at the dinner table about things that went on at school, his father would reprimand him, "Be quiet and eat your food" (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Afterwards, his mother would oversee his nightly ritual of washing up and putting on his pajamas before he went to bed.  He often wished that his mother would read him a bedtime story, which is what his friend, Tom's mom would do when Tom went to bed.  But having asked his mother for a  bedtime story in the past, Alan knew that his mother would reject his request and just tell him to go to sleep.

As he lay on the couch in his therapist's office for his second session of the week, he stared at the ceiling as he became increasingly uncomfortable.  From behind him, Alan could hear his therapist shift slightly in his chair, but that was the only sound that Alan heard.  He knew from his prior sessions that his therapist could go nearly an entire session without saying anything if Alan didn't know what to say.  Alan dreaded those long silences and he hoped this wouldn't be one of those sessions.

Clearing his throat to speak, Alan said in a low voice, "I'm not sure what else to talk about.  We have discussed so many times before how I feel like I'm an unlovable person and how lonely that is for me.  I don't know what else to say about it" (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

From behind him, Alan heard his therapist writing, but his therapist didn't respond to Alan's remark.  Alan thought about how he had been coming to therapy with Dr. Walsh for three years, and he felt he wasn't making any progress.  In the past, when he mentioned this to Dr. Walsh, he told Alan that it would take many years of therapy for Alan to see progress (see my article: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time).

Alan, who was about to turn 35, didn't feel like he could endure his emotional pain without relief for several more years.  Whenever he told his therapist this in the past and asked his therapist what he thought was getting in the way of his progress, his therapist turned the question back on Alan and asked Alan what he thought.  But Alan didn't know what he thought, and this was frustrating to him.

After enduring another session where they were mostly silent, Alan left feeling worse than before the session.  As he walked to meet his friend, Ed, for coffee, Alan thought about how he knew nothing about Dr. Walsh even though he had been attending twice-a-week sessions with him for three years.

At one point in an earlier session, he asked Dr. Walsh if he had ever experienced feeling as insecure in his life as Alan was feeling, but Alan didn't get an answer.  Dr. Walsh, once again, turned the question back on Alan and wanted to explore the question rather than answer it.  This left Alan feeling like he had done something wrong by asking the question, and he felt ashamed.

On the rare occasions when Alan looked back to see Dr. Walsh, he saw a very serious, authoritarian look at Dr. Walsh's face similar to the look that his father used to give him.  During those times, Alan wondered if Dr. Walsh even liked him or thought about him when they weren't in session.

In the coffee shop, Alan shared his frustration with Ed about his therapy sessions, "I just feel like I'm getting nowhere in my therapy, and I worry sometimes that my therapist might not even like me.  He's kind of distant and impersonal in the sessions so it's hard to tell."

Ed looked surprised.  He said his therapist was completely different--she was emotionally engaged, supportive and dynamic in their therapy sessions.  He told Alan that she was active in helping him to get to the underlying emotions (also called primary emotions) that were at the core of his problems, and this helped him to start making changes.

In addition, Ed explained, she occasionally shared stories that let Ed know that she understood his problems.  There were also times, he said, when they laughed in session, and Ed felt how this helped to release tension and open him up to the therapeutic process (see my article: Humor Can Be Effective in Therapy).

Alan was shocked to hear that Ed's experience in psychotherapy was so different from his own, and he asked Ed, "What type of therapy are you doing?"

Ed responded, "My therapist is an experiential therapist who does all kinds of therapy, including AEDP, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.  Maybe you should have a consultation with an experiential therapist." Alan thought about it for a minute and then asked Ed to get a referral from his therapist to another experiential therapist.

By the following week, Alan was sitting in an experiential therapist's office having a consultation.  He noticed the big difference in how he felt with this therapist immediately.  Not only was she warm and emotionally accessible, she sat facing him (rather than behind him) and he could see that she was emotionally attuned to what he said (see my article: The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative For the Client).

Rather than coming across as a blank screen, Ed realized, this therapist allowed Ed to see that she was intensely engaged in their session.  She also shared with Ed how she experienced him in the session which felt heartfelt and genuine.

In addition, she explained how experiential therapy was different from conventional talk therapy (see my article: What's the Difference Between "Top Down" and "Bottom Up" Approaches to Therapy?).

During his next session with Dr. Walsh, Alan revealed that he had gone for a consultation with another psychotherapist who did experiential therapy.  Hoping that Dr. Walsh would respond, Alan waited in vain.  After several minutes had passed, Alan told Dr. Walsh that he felt the other therapist was more attuned to him, but Dr. Walsh said nothing, which brought back more memories of his silent childhood dinners with his parents.

Alan knew from his prior therapy that there was a termination phase before ending therapy, so he told Dr. Walsh that he would like to have a few more sessions to end therapy and then he wanted to move on to work with an experiential therapist.

During the next three sessions, things remained basically the same in Alan's sessions with Dr. Walsh. He encouraged Alan to talk about what he felt he had gained from their therapy together, and Alan told him that he felt he had gained some insight into his problems.  But what Alan didn't tell him was that, even though he had gained intellectual insight, he felt nothing had changed or shifted in his life. He felt his problems remained the same (see my article: Healing From the Inside Out: Why Understanding Your Problems Isn't Enough).

At the end of the last session with Dr. Walsh, Alan wasn't sure what to do, so he offered to shake Dr. Walsh's hand as he was about to leave.  He noticed how reluctant Dr. Walsh was to extend his hand, which hurt Alan's feelings.  But Dr. Walsh did, reluctantly, extend his hand, shook Alan's hand and told him that he could return to therapy with him in the future.  His words sounded pro forma to Alan, as if Dr. Walsh had said these words many times before.  Then, it was over, and Alan walked out feeling empty.

During the initial stage of experiential therapy, Alan was surprised that his new therapist was so dynamic.  She was so engaged in their conversation that, for the first time in his experience with psychotherapy, Alan didn't feel alone with his problems, which was such a relief to him.  He felt like his new therapist actually cared about him and his well-being.

Not only that.  When he was ready, she helped him to access the underlying emotions involved with his feeling like an unlovable person.  They talked about his relationship with his parents, but the difference, compared to his prior therapy, was that she explained the importance of the mind-body connection and she helped him to connect to his emotions in his body about those experiences (see my article: Experiential Psychotherapy: Learning to Sense Emotions in the Body).

After a while, Alan began to understand that "talking about" his problems only provided him with intellectual insight.  But since experiential therapy used the mind-body connection, in addition to insight, he also had a deep sense of something shifting for him at a core level.  Even more important, he felt a sense of hope that he could change.

Over time, he realized that for him to make the kind of changes that he wanted, he had to make those changes based on his primary emotions, which his new therapist was helping him to access.

Gradually, Alan began to sense a shift in how he felt based on his shifting emotions and the positive regard he felt from his therapist (see my article: What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?).

As illustrated in the clinical vignette above, rather than taking a neutral, impersonal stance, the experiential therapist is attuned to the client and emotionally engaged.

Along with her clinical training and expertise, the experiential therapist uses her own emotional experience to attune to the client and help the client to access the primary emotions that lead to change.

The experiential psychotherapist is aware of the brain's neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to change based on learning and experience.

There are many problems with the neutral stance in conventional psychotherapy, including the triggering of earlier emotional experiences of emotional neglect.  This, of course, isn't the intention of the neutral stance, but if often occurs.

In addition, experiential therapy, which uses the mind-body connection, tends to be faster than conventional talk therapy (see my article: Experiential Psychotherapy and the Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
If you have been struggling with unresolved problems, you could benefit from working with an experiential therapist.

Experiential therapy tends to be more effective and work faster than conventional therapy.

Rather than struggling on your own, you could begin to get a sense of emotional relief as you work towards freeing yourself from problems that keep you stuck.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC experiential therapist, who works with individual adults and couples.

I work in an dynamic, interactive and collaborate way using cutting edge modalities, including EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), clinical hypnosis, AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), Somatic Experiencing, contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy, and Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.