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Friday, October 23, 2020

Relationships: The Pros and Cons of Friends With Benefits (FWB)

Having casual sex with a friend, also known as Friends with Benefits (FWB), isn't for everyone.  Many people need the romance and the commitment to feel comfortable with having sex.  Other people don't like to mix friendship with sex.  But there are also many people who say Friends With Benefits works for them, and those people see certain advantages to having casual sex with a friend. This article will look at the pros and cons of FWB (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

Relationships: The Pros and Cons of Friends With Benefits (FWB)

The Different Types of Causal Sex
Before delving into FWB, I think it would be helpful to understand the different types of casual sexual encounters from the most superficial to FWB:
  • One Night Stands: Of all the different sexual encounters, a one night stand is the most superficial with the least emotional commitment.  In fact, there's usually no emotional commitment. One night stands usually occur between strangers or people who are only superficially acquainted.  As the name implies, the encounter lasts one time and then the individuals part.
  • Booty Calls: A step up from one night stands, booty calls are usually between people who are acquainted with each other but who don't have a friendship or a romantic relationship.  One person calls another on the spur of the moment to have sex.  Often, the people involved don't sleep together after they have sex, and there's no commitment.
  • F--k Buddies: One step up from booty calls in terms of knowing one another, f--ck buddies are often friends whose primary objective is to have casual sex.  The relationship is often more about sex than it is about friendship.  They might have sex more often than people who see each other for booty calls.
  • Friends With Benefits (FWB): Of all the casual sexual relationships, people who consider themselves FWB define themselves as mostly friends with the added bonus that they also have sex together.
The Pros and Cons of Friends with Benefits

    No Strings Attached vs. Feelings of Emotional Alienation:
  • Pro:You'll have a person to have sex when you want to be sexual with someone.  This can be a very convenient way to fulfill your sexual needs without making an emotional commitment (if you and your friend mutually agree that this is what you both want).
  • Con: Depending upon the two people involved and their agreement about their arrangement, they might not spend the night together or even show affection for each other after they have sex.  If this is what both people have agreed to, there might not be a problem.  But if one person is feeling especially lonely, this sexual encounter could be alienating and feel lonely.
    No Obligations or Constraints vs. Feelings of Insecurity and Inadequacy:
  • Pro: You don't have to worry about obligations towards this person with regard to holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. You're also free to see other people without the constraints of a committed relationship.
  • Con: Since the two of you can have other relationships and be sexual with other people, you or your friend might feel unexpected jealousy.  This could also bring up feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
    The Possibility of a Deeper Relationship vs. Heartbreak:
  • Pro: What starts out as being only Friends with Benefits could develop into a deeper relationship if both people want to shift the nature of their relationship.
  • Con: Since there is no commitment, it could lead to emotional pain and heartbreak if one person develops deeper feelings and the other doesn't.
Maintaining Boundaries in a Friends With Benefits Relationship
If you're going to be in a FWB relationship, you and your partner need to communicate clearly and honestly about the boundaries and expectations of your relationship and any other relationships that you might be in (i.e., if you're in a primary romantic relationship with someone else).

Even if you have a clear understanding to start, one of the risks of FWB is that you could lose your friend if one of you develops romantic feelings for the other and the other person doesn't develop these feelings. So, it's important to understand that this is a risk.

It's also important to understand that even though the arrangement has the benefit of sex (often frequent sex), part of the boundary setting is usually that there are no other "benefits" like having emotional support during a stressful time.

You also have to prepare yourself that you might get "dropped" when your friend finds someone else where there are deeper feelings.  Or, you might be the person who finds someone else and has to discuss this with your friend.  Even though there was an original understanding that the relationship was only about sex, this can still be painful.

Your FWB Relationship Could Have a Negative Impact on Potential Romantic Partners
Potential partners who might be interested in you could be put off by your FWB relationship because it seems messy or complicated to them, and they might not want to be part of this. As a result, someone you might want to form a deeper relationship with might steer clear of you.

Only You Can Decide If FWB Is Right For You
The decision is yours as to whether you enter into a FWB arrangement with a friend. That's why it's important that you know yourself and what you need. This might be convenient for you if you just got out of a serious relationship and you don't want another serious relationship right now or there's some other reason why you only want to focus on having sex without a commitment.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with these issues, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional.

An objective professional won't tell you what to do, but she can help you to sort out your emotions and get a perspective on what's best for you.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed psychotherapist so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

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

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.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Coping With An Ambivalent Partner: You Want a Committed Relationship, But Your Partner Isn't Sure

In my article, 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love, I discussed the difference between relationships based primarily on sex and relationships based on love. In this article, I'm focusing on coping with an ambivalent partner when you know you want more of a committed relationship instead of a casual sexual relationship (see my article: Dating vs Being in a Relationship).

Coping With An Ambivalent Partner in a Relationship

You Want More of a Committed Relationship
Many people are just fine with having a casual sexual relationship, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as both people agree to this.  But if you have been dating someone you really like for several months on a casual basis and you want more of a committed relationship, you might be feeling anxious about bringing it up.

You're Not Sure When to Bring Up "The Talk" About Defining the Relationship
It can be tricky to know when to bring up defining your relationship.  You might be concerned that you're both enjoying each other's company so much that you might ruin things if you bring this up (see my article: Dating: When to Have "the Talk").

This can be tricky if you didn't bring up what you wanted when you first started dating.  It's even trickier if you were happy with a casual sexual relationship when you started dating but now you've developed deeper feelings for this person and you're not sure your partner feels the same way.

Feelings Change, People Change and Relationships Change
You might be concerned that the other person could say that you said one thing at the beginning--that you only wanted casual sex--and now you're saying something else--you want more of a commitment. But feelings change, people change and relationships change too.  So, it shouldn't be so surprising that one or both people in a casual sexual relationship might want something more.

I don't think most people would be surprised if, after several months of dating, you bring up having a committed relationship because casual sexual relationships don't usually last that long.  So, if you've been dating for several months, the relationship is either going to develop into something more serious and committed or it's probably going to fizzle out (for exceptions to this, keep reading below).

Be Honest With Yourself and Your Partner
It's important to start by being honest with yourself. Ask yourself if being in a committed relationship with the person you're dating is really what you want or are you wanting something more because you can't stand being alone and lonely? Are you going to be happy with this particular person in a committed relationship?  

Once you feel sure that you want the person you've been dating to be your committed partner, you need to be honest about your feelings and find out what your partner has in mind.  This conversation doesn't have to be an interrogation, but it's an important conversation to have and it's worth doing it with forethought and intention in a place that's quiet and where you'll have privacy to talk.

Listen and Accept What Your Partner Has to Say
If your partner feels the same way as you do, that's great--the two of you can talk about taking your relationship to the next level. For some couples, this happens naturally because it's clear that the relationship has been going in that direction.

When you and your partner want different things, this is harder to deal with. But, as hard as it might be, you need to listen to what your partner says and, ultimately, you need to accept it and make a decision for yourself about what you want to do.  Do you want to continue the casual sexual relationship or will you feel resentful that your partner isn't giving you what you want?

Don't Nag and Try to Bargain With Your Partner to Get More of a Commitment
If you and your partner aren't on the same page, nagging and bargaining doesn't work.  You can't force your partner into a committed relationship if it's not what s/he wants. 

This might seem obvious, but it's all too common that the person who wants more of a commitment tries to push the other partner into something s/he doesn't want.  Not only does it not work, but it often ruins whatever you currently have with this person and, more importantly, it makes you feel bad about yourself.

After the Talk: You Realize You're With a Reluctant/Ambivalent Partner in Terms of Commitment
Dealing with an ambivalent or reluctant partner is especially difficult. S/he isn't saying "yes" but s/he's not saying "no," so you're not getting a clear answer.  

This is where a lot of people, who want a commitment, get stuck and remain too long in the kind of relationship they don't want because they're hoping to get the ambivalent partner to change his or her mind.  Even when they realize they're not going to convince their partner, they find all kinds of rationalizations for remaining in the relationship that's not meeting their needs:
  • "Well, at least the sex is good.  I might not find anyone else that I enjoy sex with as much."
  • "The devil I know is better than the devil I don't know."
  • "I'm too old to find anyone else, so I might as well remain with him/her" (for this one you can substitute "fat," "tall," "short" or any other description for "old"). 
  • "Who else will want me? At least I know s/he finds me sexually desirable."
  • "There are no good men (women) out there anyway, so I might as well remain in this relationship even if s/he's not meeting my emotional needs."
  • "Maybe s/he will come around eventually if I wait long enough."
A partner who is reluctant or ambivalent might have many reasons for his or her mixed feelings--reasons that s/he might not know about because the reasons are unconscious.

Some people have a fear of making a commitment to anyone--whether it's you or anyone else, so their reluctance might not be about you in particular.  At the same time, you're affected by it, and it can be crazy making for you.

Although it might be hard to see, first, determine that you're not with someone who is stringing you along (see my article: Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are Players, although the title of this article is about men, women can also be players).

You don't need to be manipulated in this kind of relationship with someone who is so selfish and narcissistic (see my articles: Is Your Partner Breadcrumbing You?A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Ruin Your Self EsteemA Relationship With a Narcissistic Person: Where Did the Love Go? and Are You Being Gaslighted?).

Second, even if the person you're dating isn't manipulative and selfish, you need to figure out if you're with someone who will never make a real commitment to anyone because s/he wants to continue seeing other people.  Maybe the idea of being committed to one person makes him or her feel claustrophobic or bored.

Sometimes, the ambivalent/reluctant partner hasn't matured yet. S/he might be an adult in terms of chronological age, but s/he might be much younger in terms of maturity.  In other words, your partner might still have a lot of growing up to do regardless of whether s/he's 25, 35 or 45. And if that's the case, only you can decide if you're going to wait around to see if s/he matures into the kind of person who can make a commitment.

Another issue is that your partner might have attachment style issues, which are difficult to change if s/he isn't in therapy (see my articles: Understanding the Avoidant Attachment Style of Emotionally Unavailable People and How an Avoidant Attachment Style Affects You and Your Relationship).

Only you can decide how long you can deal with an ambivalent partner when you're not getting what you want.  After a while, you'll probably want to consider that no decision becomes a decision.  In other words, an "I don't know" becomes a "No" because it will likely become too painful for you to keep waiting for your partner to choose a commitment with you (see my article: When Indecision Becomes a Decision).

The ambivalent partner can also trigger in you feelings of being unworthy (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

Aside from narcissistic or manipulative people, there are also people who just know they don't want to be in a committed relationship.  They're not pathological in any way.  They might be kind and wonderful people, but they just want something different from what you want. Still, this can be very painful for you because it's still a rejection of what you want and can feel like a rejection of you.

Maintain Your Autonomy and Don't Be Overly Dependent on Your Partner
While the two of you are deciding if you will take your casual relationship to the next level, maintain a sense of autonomy with your own friends and interests.  

If you're only focused on your relationship with your partner or you're overly dependent upon your partner to meet your needs (regardless of the status of your relationship), you're putting your entire sense of well-being in this person's hands.  

The healthiest relationships are ones where each person can maintain a degree of autonomy while also being able to share in the experience of the relationship.

Get Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with a difference between what you want and what your partner wants, you could benefit from the help of a skilled psychotherapist.

Life is short, and if you allow yourself to remain stuck for too long, you're going to feel increasingly unhappy and it will take longer for you to recover from this situation.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to overcome your problems so you can move on with your life.

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

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 17, 2020

Sex Tips For Men: How Men Can Be Better Sex Partners With Women

Generally, men and women are different when it comes to sexual arousal. Foreplay is an important part of sex, especially for women.  Unlike most men, who become sexually aroused easily, with certain exceptions, most women take longer to get aroused. So, men need to take their time and focus on women first if they want to have a mutually satisfying sex life (see my article: Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship).

Sex Tips For Men: How Men Can Be Better Sex Partners With Women

A Woman's Body is More Complicated Than a Man's Body: The Orgasm Gap
One of the biggest complaints that women who come for couples counseling have is that their partners don't take the time to please them during sex.  

Most men can have an erection on command.  According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average man can have an orgasm in as little as 5 minutes, but the average woman it can take 17 minutes to reach orgasm.

Given the orgasm gap, if the average man skips foreplay during sex, their partners will be just starting to warm up when he has his orgasm, which would make sex frustrating and not as enjoyable for the woman.  

Sex Tips For Men
  • Number 1 Tip: Ladies First: If you want to have sex that's satisfying for both of you, focus your attention on the woman: Ladies first--before thinking about your own sexual gratification.  Don't be selfish (see tips below).
  • Every Woman is Different: Get to know what she likes before you have sex with her. Don't make assumptions.  If she's open to having sex with you and you know you have consent, ask her what she likes.  Ask her to share her sexual fantasies with you and share your fantasies with her. 
  • Be Clean and Well Groomed: There are few things that are more of a sexual turn off for a woman than being with a man who hasn't taken the time to get clean and well groomed.  
  • Foreplay Can Start Before You Get Into the Bedroom: Foreplay can start before you even see her. If the two of you have been apart most of the day, assuming this isn't a hook up with someone you've just met, let her know that you're thinking about her.  
  • Create an Environment for Enjoyable Sex: Rather than just "jumping right in," create the right environment for good sex.  Before you invite her into your bedroom, take the time to tidy up.  If the room is a mess, you might be able to ignore it, but it might be distracting for her, and you don't want distractions while the two of you are having sex. No distractions also means you turn off and put away your phone, turn off the TV and close your computer.  Clean sheets, low lights and music are conducive to relaxing and having good sex and will help to create the mood. 
  • Sexual Pleasure Begins in the Brain: The brain knows two types of sexual pleasure: Anticipation and consummation. During anticipatory pleasure, pleasure builds up in anticipation of the sexual pleasure (this is also true for other forms of pleasure, like the anticipation of eating a delicious meal). During consummatory pleasure, you feel pleasure of getting what you've been craving. To have more satisfying sex, you want to build the anticipation as much a possible.  Usually, more the sexual tension builds up, the more pleasurable the orgasm will be.
  • Take Your Time When You Get Undressed: When you're in the mood for sex, your first inclination might be to rip off your clothes and jump into bed.  But this is rarely sexually arousing for women. It makes you look sexually inexperienced and as if you don't care about her sexual needs. So, instead of rushing to take off your clothes, take your time.  You don't have to do a striptease for her (although this could be powerfully arousing).  Just slow down as you take off each article of clothing so the sexual tension builds up for her.
  • Get Educated and Don't Go Right For Clitoris Before She's Sexually Aroused: Every woman is going to be different.  The clitoris is amazing, but most women need to be kissed and caressed first before you dive right for the clitoris.  The clitoris is also easy to find even for sexually inexperienced men. The inner labia (the lips) form a hood over the clitoris, which protects the clitoris from direct stimulation. For most women, the clitoris is a small bud that protrudes outward slightly.  Compared to the penis glans, the tip of the clitoris has twice as many nerve endings--15,000, so it's highly sensitive to touch and sexual arousal. As a result, the clitoris is crucial for sexual orgasm for most women.
  • Get Educated and Don't Go Right For the G-spot Before She's Sexually Aroused: The G-spot, which was named after a German gynecologist, Dr. Ernst Grafenberg, is a little harder to find than the clitoris because it's inside the vagina. It's a slightly bumpy spot about 2 inches inside the vagina.  Even though the G-spot has been studied since the 1940s, there's still a disagreement as to whether it's a continuation of the clitoris or not. Even some women might be unfamiliar as to exactly where their G-spot begins, but the two of you can have fun with locating it during foreplay.  After she has warmed up to sex, then you can stimulate her clitoris and G-spot.  Assuming she likes this, it can be immensely pleasurable for her.
  • Be Respectful of Your Partner: Take your time and be respectful of your partner. Be aware that many women have body issues due to emotional trauma and pressures that society puts on them to look and be a certain way.  Some women also experience "slut shaming" or get called "'hoes" because they enjoy sex.  Communicate and find out what's going on with your partner both before and after sex.
Getting Help in Therapy
Sexual problems is one of the major problems that people talk about in couples therapy.  

In relationships where one partner isn't willing to go for couples therapy, individuals often come to therapy on their own to cope with the problem.

If you and your partner are having problems with your sex life, you can benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional.

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

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.


7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love

In a previous article, Confusing Sexual Attraction With Love, I began a discussion about the difference between lust and love because so many people confuse the two.  In this article, I'll be discussing why intense sexual chemistry by itself isn't enough for a long term relationship and the signs that your relationship might be based on lust and not love.

Sexual Chemistry and Dopamine Highs During the Initial Stage of Dating
During the initial stage of dating when sexual chemistry and dopamine levels are soaring, it's easy to confuse lust and love.  This is especially true when one or both people really want to be in a long term relationship. The strong need for love and commitment can delude someone into believing that there's more to the relationship than there really is.

7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love

In the age of dating apps it's never been easier to confuse love and lust.  Many of these apps, especially the hook up apps, are set up for people to choose potential dates based on sexual attraction alone (see my article: Dating vs Being in a Relationship).

Although physical attraction and sexual chemistry are an important part of any new relationship, when that's all there is, it's not going to result in a lasting relationship.  More than likely, it will result in a relationship that lasts as long as there is intense sexual chemistry.  Once that's gone, the relationship often fizzles out.

You Want a Committed Relationship But Your Partner Wants Friends With Benefits (FWB)
If it's understood by both people that your relationship is about hooking up and Friends With Benefits (FWB) and not about being in a long term relationship, there's nothing wrong with that.  

But it's often the case that one person in the relationship wants more of a long term commitment and the other doesn't.  She or he might be willing to wait a while hoping that a deeper relationship will develop from a mostly sexual relationship, but when it doesn't, that's when arguments and resentment begin.

The person who wants a "forever relationship" usually begins complaining that, while sex might be great, the other person isn't meeting their emotional needs.  And the person who only wants a sexual relationship often cuts out at that point because s/he really can't meet the other person's emotional needs and the demands become too burdensome for him or her.

7 Signs That Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not on Love
As painful as it might be, it's important to recognize and accept a relationship dynamic for what it is and not for what you want it to be.  If you're constantly trying to get a deeper commitment from a partner, over time this is going to erode your self esteem and, if you're already lacking self confidence, you're going to feel even more insecure.

7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love:
  • 1. You Only Think and Talk About Sex With Your Partner: While it's important in any relationship to be able to talk about sex and what turns you on, if that's the only thing the two of you talk about, your relationship is probably not developing into something more substantial.  Talking about sex is fun, exciting and a turn on, but if you want a long term relationship, the two of you need to form a deeper connection, if that's possible, by talking about things that are meaningful to you.  If both of you want a deeper relationship, you need to find a way to build more emotional intimacy into your relationship and not just sexual intimacy.  If not, the relationship remains shallow and probably won't last long.
  • 2. You're Only Happy When You're Having Sex With Your Partner: If you're not happy with your partner outside the bedroom, it's often a sign that there's not much else going on in your relationship and your emotional needs aren't being met. You might not have shared interests, hobbies or like the same things.  Without more substantial interests and mutual friends, your relationship is going to remain shallow, and if you want a long term relationship, it's going to be a disappointing experience. 
  • 3. You Always Stay Home With Your Partner: Instead of going out on dates and having new experiences outside the bedroom, the two of you stay home all or most of the time.  If one or both of you want a deeper, more committed relationship, the two of you need to be more than just a booty call for each other.  Going out and having new experiences helps to deepen your connection and give depth to your relationship.
  • 4. You Only Spend Time Together Late at Night: If you're only getting together late at night, more than likely you're in a booty call situation.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, like you or your partner work unusual hours, only spending late night hours together isn't the basis for a long term relationship.
  • 5. You're Not Emotionally Vulnerable With Each Other: To develop a deeper, more emotionally intimate relationship, you need more than just sexual intimacy--you need emotional intimacy.  Opening up with each other emotionally is one way to develop emotional intimacy.  This assumes that both you and your partner have the desire and maturity to do this, and you trust each other enough to be vulnerable (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Emotional Intimacy).
  • 6. You Only Make Up After Arguments By Having Sex: While "make up sex" is hot and fun, part of developing an emotionally intimate relationship is that arguments and differences are talked about and worked through.  If the two of you only make up by having sex, nothing gets worked through and, as a result, you're going to keep having the same problems and the same arguments over and over again.  To build a deeper connection, the two of you need to be able to talk through your differences and come to a resolution.  
  • 7. You Don't Trust Your Partner: Trust is the cornerstone of any committed relationship. While you might not have a commitment to be exclusive with one another when you first start dating, if you're several months or more into the relationship and you can't trust your partner to be monogamous, you're lacking a basic ingredient in your relationship--trust.  Wishing and hoping that your partner will one day be monogamous with you isn't the basis for a long term relationship because no amount of wishing can make it happen.  While it's true that some people change and can make more of a commitment, you have to be honest with yourself about the current status of your relationship. If you think you're with a player and you're constantly checking your partner's phone or looking to see if s/he is still on a dating app to hook up with other people, you're not going to feel good about yourself or the relationship (see my article: Relationships: Oxytocin, Trust and Empathy).
Know What You Want, Be Willing to Say It, and See Your Relationship Clearly For What It Is
Denial can be very powerful, and it's easy to delude yourself when you have a strong wish that clouds your vision as to the true nature of your relationship. 

If you want a casual sexual relationship, it can be a very enjoyable experience for as long as it lasts, and there's nothing wrong with that--as long as you and your partner are on the same page about it.  But if what the two of you want is different, it's important to acknowledge and come to terms with it or end the relationship.

If you've just gotten out of a long term relationship or you're in the initial getting-to-know-you stage of dating someone, you might not know what you want or what you want from the particular person you're dating. But if you're clear about what you want, it's better not to waste time trying to make the relationship into what you want when it's not happening.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're confused about what you want or you have a pattern of getting into dysfunctional relationships, you could benefit from getting help in therapy.

A skilled therapist can help you to understand and change self destructive patterns.

Rather than struggling alone, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

Friday, October 16, 2020

Experiential Therapy: Going Slower Brings Faster and Deeper Change

The title of this article might sound like a contradiction, so you might ask: How can slowing down in experiential therapy brings about faster and deeper change?  I'll discuss why this is true in this article.  In prior articles, I've discussed what experiential therapy is and why it's more effective than regular talk therapy (see my articles: Getting to the Core of Your Problems With Experiential Therapy and Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).  

Experiential Therapy: Going Slower Brings Faster and Deeper Change

What Does "Slowing Down" Mean in Experiential Therapy?
As I've mentioned in prior articles, whereas regular talk therapy is a top down process, experiential therapy includes both top down and bottom up processing (see my article: What's the Difference Between Top Down and Bottom Up Therapy?).

In regular talk therapy you're usually talking about the problem as opposed to experiencing it in an embodied way that is much more than just talking about it.  As an embodied experience, you're integrating the mind-body connection (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Why Does Slowing Down Help You to Sense the Mind-Body Connection in Therapy?
Our bodies hold the memories and imprint of our experiences, including both conscious and unconscious experiences.

Based on research and clinical experience, skilled psychotherapists now know that change happens on an emotional level--not just on an intellectual level.  Regular talk therapy usually remains on an intellectual level. 

This is why the body needs to be included along with the mind in the therapeutic process.  Without the body, the therapeutic process is usually just an intellectual process, and while intellectual insight is important, it often doesn't bring change at the root of the problem.

When you can connect to what's happening to you on an embodied emotional way, you and your therapist can work deeper and change occurs faster (for illustration of how this works, read the clinical vignette below).

Most experiential therapists are aware that each client has a different level of tolerance when it comes to working deeper, so they will help clients to modulate the experience so it remains within a manageable level (see my article: Expanding Your Window of Tolerance.)  

Aside from the therapist being attuned to what's happening to the client in session and between sessions, the therapist also relies on feedback from the client (see my article: The Healing Potential of the Therapist's Empathic Attunement and The Creation of the Holding Environment in Therapy).

What is Experiential Therapy?
Experiential therapy includes many different types of mind-body oriented therapy, including Somatic ExperiencingEMDR therapy (Eye Movement Densensitization and Reprocessing), AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy) and Ego States work (also known as Internal Family Systems and Parts work).

Based on the individual client's needs, the various modalities of experiential therapy mentioned above can include:
  • Learning to regulate emotions, thoughts and physical reactions with the help of the therapist
  • An internal somatic focus and felt sense of the connection between the mind and body
  • Working with here-and-now experiences
  • Working with trauma memories to rework these memories so they are no longer traumatizing
  • Calming, breathing and grounding techniques
  • With with various aspects of self, also known as parts
  • Having imagined dialogues in the therapy session (also known as role play, Gestalt chair work or in AEDP as Portrayals)
  • Overcoming various emotional blocks that create obstacles to healing
Each of the above experiential modalities mentioned above is different but, as previously mentioned, they all have in common that they are mind-body oriented.  Some people respond better to one modality than another.  So, it's helpful for the experiential therapist to have many different ways of working.

In some cases, while doing one type of therapy, the therapist might need to temporarily switch to or integrate another modality.  

For instance, if an experiential therapist is doing EMDR therapy with a client and the they come up against an emotional block in the therapy, the therapist might need to work with a particular aspect of the client (often referred to as a "part") to clear the block before resuming EMDR (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Skilled experiential therapists anticipate emotional blocks and they're ready to deal with them as they occur.  The block might be a part of the client that feels "I don't deserve to feel better" or "I'm unlovable." 

Until this block is cleared, it will continue to be an obstacle in the work, which is why it's so important to address the block as a "part" and not the whole of the client. After all the client wouldn't be coming to therapy if s/he didn't have a much larger part of him or herself that wanted to heal.  

Anticipating emotional blocks and being aware that the client has many different aspects of him or herself helps the experiential therapist not to get caught in the trap of seeing emotional blocks as "resistance," which isn't helpful to the therapy (see my article: Psychotherapists Need to Stop Labeling Emotional Blocks as "Resistance" and Stigmatizing Clients By Calling Them "Help Rejecting").

How Does An Experiential Therapist Help You to Slow Down in Experiential Therapy?
In experiential therapy slowing down means you and your therapist are taking the time to notice not only what you're thinking but also the emotions that you're experiencing in the body.  If you've never done this before or you're not attuned to what's going on in your body, an experiential therapist can help you to learn how to do it.

Everyone is different in terms of their levels of awareness of the mind-body connection.  Some people feel little or no connection to their feelings and where they're experiencing them in their body.  

Other people might have a vague awareness or they only know when they're experiencing certain emotions that don't make them feel emotionally vulnerable (e.g, they might be aware of when they're angry but not when they're sad).

Slowing down and sensing into your body usually involves tuning into the emotions you feel somewhere between your throat and your gut.  Sometimes anxiety or stress might be felt in the shoulders or back (physical tension or aches) and someone who is unaware of the emotional connection might only think of the experience as physical.

It takes practice to connect emotions and sensations in the body. I often suggest to clients that it's similar to how they might sense into their throat if they're trying to figure out if they have a sore throat in the morning or if their throat is just dry.  This is an example from a book called The Power of Focusing by Anne Wiser Cornell, which I often recommend to clients as a way to start learning to be attuned to emotions in the body.

A Clinical Example: How Slowing Down in Experiential Therapy Brings Faster and Deeper Change:
The following clinical vignette is a fictional scenario that is representative of what many clients experience in experiential therapy:

Before working with an experiential therapist, Ted attended talk therapy with several therapists over a period of 10 years. He learned a lot about how his childhood trauma affected his adult relationships, including his romantic relationships as well as his work-related relationships.  

Although he appreciated the insight he developed and being able to make the connections to his past, his problems didn't change.  He continued to have the same problems.

A friend, who successfully worked through his problems in experiential therapy, recommended that Ted contact an experiential therapist, so he did.  During the initial consultation, Ted felt comfortable with the therapist so he decided to work with her on a once-a-week basis.

Ted was accustomed to talking about himself from his previous talk therapy sessions.  When he talked about his childhood trauma, he could list all the big traumatic experiences without a problem.  But when his therapist asked him how it felt to talk to her about it, Ted realized that he felt her attunement to him in a way he never felt before with other therapists and this new experience moved him.  He could tell that she really wanted to know what it was like for him.

He also realized that in his previous therapies he almost never talked about the good times in his childhood, but in his current therapy his therapist was not only encouraging him to remember the good times, she was helping him to deepen his positive experiences of those times so he could use those memories as positive resources in their work together (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Skills)

His therapist helped Ted to have a felt sense of those experiences by noticing what emotions these memories brought up and where he felt these emotions in his body.  She explained to Ted that by slowing down to notice his emotions and where he felt them in the body, he would deepen his experience, which would accelerate the work.  She also told him that this acceleration would only go as fast as it felt safe for him and that he was in charge of this process at all times.  This was also a completely new experience for Ted.  

By continuing to slow down and notice his emotions and bodily experiences, Ted realized that he had glossed over many of experiences in his prior therapies.  In his current therapy he could feel a shift in him each time he took the time to slow down and notice the felt sense of his experience.  

Over time, Ted felt transformed by his work with his experiential therapist in a way he had never felt before in regular talk therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
The experience of many clients who have attended talk therapy has been that they develop insight into their problems but their problems don't change.  

The advantage of experiential therapy is that it works on both a top down (intellectual) and bottom up (body) level so it integrates the mind-body connection.  

Since change occurs with the integration of mind and body, experiential therapy brings about meaningful transformation.

If you haven't been able to make the kinds of lasting changes that you desire, you could benefit from working with an experiential therapist.

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

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.

What is the Felt Sense in Experiential Therapy?

There is a concept known as the "felt sense" that is central to all modalities of experiential therapy, including EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Somatic ExperiencingAEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy) and EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples).  

What is the Felt Sense in Experiential Therapy?

What is the Felt Sense?
Eugene Gendlin developed the concept of the felt sense in the 1960s and he included it as a central part of his experiential therapy known as Focusing.  Since the 1960s, the felt sense has become an essential part of all cutting edge experiential therapies.  

Experiential therapists help clients to develop a felt sense by teaching them to tune into their embodied experiences of emotions and memories.  

By tuning into these embodied experiences, clients increase their awareness of the connection between their physical and emotional experiences, which is the integration of the mind-body connection (see my article: Experiential Therapy and the Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

How Do You Detect the Felt Sense?
Developing an awareness of the felt sense takes practice.  It starts with turning your attention inward to notice what you're aware of in your body.  

For instance, when you close your eyes and focus on your body, you might notice you feel a tightness in your throat, and your therapist would ask you to stay with that sensation in your throat if it felt tolerable to you.  As you continue tuning into your throat, you might sense not only that the muscles in your throat feel tight but you also feel an emotion connected to that physical sensation--sadness.  

As you continue focusing on that bodily sensation and emotion in your throat, you might also become aware that this is a very familiar experience to you--you have felt it many times before when you tried not to cry.  

Then, as you continue focusing, a memory might come of your father telling you, "Don't cry. Big boys don't cry" and how you choked back your emotion in shame when you heard your father say this (see my article: Overcoming Shame in Experiential Therapy).

As you continuing focusing on your physical and emotional experiences in your throat and you tell your therapist what you're experiencing, you might feel a loosening of the muscles in your throat as you release the emotions that have been pent up for a long time.

This example is just one of many that clients in experiential therapy have experienced.  Other examples could include noticing a heaviness in your chest that's related to pent up sadness or a tightness in your jaw that's related to unreleased anger and so on.

A skilled experiential therapist can help you to modulate your experiences in session so that they remain manageable for you and you're not overwhelmed (see my article: Expanding Your Window of Tolerance).

How is Working With the Felt Sense in Experiential Therapy Different From Talk Therapy?
Talk therapy usually focuses on helping clients to develop intellectual insight into their problems.  While this is important, it often doesn't change clients' problems (see my article: Why is Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy?).

As shown in the example above, the felt sense in experiential therapy isn't just about intellectual insight.  It's an embodied experience that integrates both the mind and the body, and as such, it brings greater awareness on both levels and offers a window into the unconscious mind.

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, experiential therapy includes many different mind-body oriented psychotherapy modalities.

Clients who work with experiential therapists usually discover that using the mind-body connection to work on their problems is a more integrative approach that brings about transformative experiences in less time than regular talk therapy.

If you have been struggling on your own, you're not alone.  An experiential psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are getting in the way of making positive changes in your life.  

Rather than continuing to struggle on your own, seek help from an experiential therapist so you can live a more fulfilling life.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome traumatic experiences (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about it 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 15, 2020

The End of An Unhappy Relationship: The 5 Stages of Change

Being in a relationship that is a safe haven for each person is what most people want in a relationship.  But even a relationship that starts out as a safe haven can change over time without one or both people being fully aware of it.  

For instance, in the midst of a busy, stressful life with many competing responsibilities, people might be unaware that they're growing apart, especially if the changes occur slowly over time.  

Also, many people--even people who have some degree of awareness of the problems--are often in denial about it (see my articles: Telltale Signs That You and Your Spouse Are Growing Apart and How Do You Know If You're in An Unhealthy Relationship?)

The End of An Unhappy Relationship: The 5 Stages of Change 
So, let's start by taking a look at the five stages of a relationship that's in the process of ending based on research in 2016 by psychologists from the University of Tennessee.  

The End of An Unhappy Relationship: The 5 Stages of Change

Although the stages in this model are presented in a linear way, the process isn't always linear.  

Many couples remain in a state of denial about the problems or they go through stages in a different order. 
In addition, there are also relationships that are on again and off again repeatedly and indefinitely (see my articles: The Heartbreak of the On Again-Off Again Relationship and Considering Starting Over in Relationship? Think Twice: What's Changed?) or people who remain together throughout their lives even though they're very unhappy (more about this later in the article).
  • Stage 1: The Precontemplative Stage - Denial: Everything seems fine to one or both people in the relationship. They usually don't see a need for change and they're in denial about the problems.
  • Stage 2: The Contemplation Stage - Beginning to Consider There Are Problems: One or both people in the relationship are beginning to consider that they might have problems. They might be thinking about it, but they're not ready to fully admit it or take action.
  • Stage 3: The Preparation Stage: Making Plans to End the Relationship: This is the stage that often occurs if the couple doesn't get help in couples therapy or if they get help and it's too late to salvage of the relationship. The couple might be talking about the possibility of ending the relationship.  They might also be making initial plans to end the relationship in this stage, but the plans aren't final yet.
  • Stage 4: The Taking Action Stage: This is the stage where one or both people take steps to end the relationship.  It might start by spending less time thinking about each other, spending less time together or avoiding one another.  It could end with a discussion about the relationship being irreconcilable.  One or both people might move out if they're living together. They might be consulting with divorce attorneys if they're married or taking other psychological and practical steps to end the relationship.
  • Stage 5: The Maintenance Stage: One or both people take steps to solidify the end of the relationship.  This could involve getting rid of gifts, clothes and other mementos related to the relationship. Also, one or both people feel even more sure that they never want to go back to the relationship.
These stages are similar to the Stages of Change developed by the alcoholism researchers, Carlo C. DiClemente and J.O. Prochaska.  Their model includes 6 Stages.  However, the basic premise is similar--that change is usually a process.

Just to reiterate: For the sake of simplicity, these stages are presented in a linear way based on research, but couples often have their own dynamics in a problematic relationship.  

There are some volatile relationships, especially where there are borderline personality traits involved, where the dynamic might go from the Precontemplation Stage (denial) to the Taking Action Stage (ending the relationship), getting back together and going back into denial about the problems (back to the Precontemplation Stage).

There are couples that remain together, even though they're unhappy, for various practical or psychological reasons, among them: financial, fear of being alone, fear of trying to meet someone new ("the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know"), keeping the relationship together for the children, and so on (see my article: Are Your Fears of Being Alone and Lonely Keeping You in An Unhappy Relationship?).

If a couple does nothing about their problems, even if they remain together, chances are good that the quality of the relationship will continue to deteriorate. 

At that point, there could be problems with infidelity, especially if they have a need to feel desirable and they feel undesirable or bored in their relationship (see my articles: The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable and Married, Bored and Cheating Online).

Getting Help in Therapy Early
It's easier to resolve problems in a relationship early on when a couple is considering whether there there might be problems (Stage 2: The Contemplation Stage) as compared to the later stages.

Unfortunately, many couples wait too long to get help.  At that point, they decide to make a last ditch effort to save the relationship.  Although it's possible to salvage a relationship at any point if both people are committed to it, like anything else, once problems are entrenched, it's more difficult.  

If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship, you could benefit from seeing a couples therapist (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples?).  

An experienced couples therapist can help you to either work through your problems or to end the relationship amicably while being your best selves.  So, rather than wait, seek help sooner rather than later.

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

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.