NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Opening Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I am continually amazed at the new possibilities that open up in people's lives when they work through old wounds or trauma that have kept them trapped, sometimes for many years, in old, constricted patterns that have robbed their lives of joy and aliveness.

Opening Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

I have many different treatment modalities that I use, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral treatment, and mind-body oriented psychotherapy like clinical hypnosis, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing, depending upon the needs of the client. I usually find that clients' lives often begin to open up in ways that they never imagined possible when they work through problems that they didn't even realize were holding them back in their lives.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases with no identifying information (to protect confidentiality) is an example of this phenomenon:

Nina was in her early 40s when she came to see me. At the time, she had not been in a relationship for several years.

She was very lonely and wanted to be in a relationship, but whenever she began dating someone that she liked, she was overcome with so much fear and self doubt that, without realizing it at the time, she would find a way to sabotage the relationship before it could develop any further.

Nina realized that she was sabotaging her relationships

It was only after the relationships ended that she realized that she had sabotaged them, but by then it was too late. She knew that she was caught in an old pattern that was keeping her stuck, but she didn't know how to break the cycle.

Not surprisingly, she had the same pattern with her prior psychotherapists. She would become so uncomfortable in her therapy that, even when she liked the therapist at the start of therapy, she would become too anxious to stay in therapy when she and the therapist began delving into some of her core issues.

At the point when she came to see me, she was feeling the same fear and ambivalence about what might come up in therapy that might make her want to run out the door.

Given how fearful and ambivalent Nina felt about beginning therapy again, it was important to begin the work by helping Nina to have a sense of safety in the therapy. We began by doing some emotionally grounding exercises to help her feel calm.

We also worked on her picturing in her mind's eye various friends, allies and protector figures that she could call on in her mind to be with her when she began to feel afraid. In addition, we worked on Nina establishing a safe or relaxing place where she could go in her mind whenever anything that we talked about made her feel too uncomfortable.

Just from doing these simple, but powerful, exercises, I could see her breathing calmed down, her jaw unclenched, and the color came back into her face. These exercises helped Nina to stay present in the sessions and, knowing that we could stop whenever she began to feel too uncomfortable, allowed her to feel safer and in control.

We also worked with her problems in a titrated way. We didn't dive into the most traumatic issues immediately because these issues were too emotionally activating for Nina. Instead, we would do a piece of the work that felt tolerable to her in each session and, based on Somatic Experiencing principles, we might go back and forth between the talking about the problem and Nina visualizing her safe or relaxing place.

In Somatic Experiencing this is called pendulation, which means that the client and therapist "pendulate" between Nina actively working on a problem and experiencing the calm and safety of visualizing the safe place or her supportive friends, allies and protective figures.

This pendulation might happen several times in a session, depending upon Nina's needs. However, as Nina began to build more resilience and emotional capacity over time, she relied on these techniques less.

With regard to Nina's fears and self doubts in intimate relationships, as we explored her family history, we began to make connections between her current feelings and how she was shamed in her family as a child.

Her parents, who were otherwise loving and well-meaning people, were very concerned that their children shouldn't developed "swelled heads" or become too egotistical. So, to counteract this concern, their pattern was to down play any of their children's accomplishments.

So, when any of the children, including Nina, brought home an "A" from school or won a prize for accomplishing something outstanding, rather than praising their children, they would warn them about the dangers of "resting on their laurels" and becoming complacent.

The effect for Nina was that she could almost never feel a sense of healthy pride or joy about what she accomplished. Instead, she developed a pattern of discounting what she had accomplished, and she worried about what she would have to do next. At an early age, her life was robbed of the joy, aliveness, and self confidence she might have felt if she was allowed to bask in healthy pride.

Nina's parents were also very worried and insecure about the future. Even though, from a practical point of view, the family was financially secure and there was no objective reason to think that they would become destitute, both parents lived their lives as if their financial security could be robbed at any moment.

They imparted to their children that they all had to be very careful and on guard about what might happen in the future that could take everything away at a moment's notice. No doubt, Nina's parents were very affected by their own experiences of trauma in their families of origin, and they never went to therapy to work this out.

In addition, although they were well liked in their community, when they were behind closed doors at home with Nina and their siblings, her parents warned them against trusting people too much outside of their family.

As a child, whenever Nina brought home a new friend, her parents were polite and friendly. But when that friend left, her parents expressed their wariness about what these friends' parents might be like and that Nina had to be very careful with "outsiders."

Although Nina could see, even when she was a young child, that her parents' fears and worries were extreme, she couldn't help internalizing these fears herself. As an adult, she realized that these fears that she internalized kept her from getting very close to men.

She wanted very much to be different from her parents, but her parents' repeated warnings, from the time that Nina was very young, caused the internalization process to go very deep in her. So that, even though she wanted to be different, she continued to have these same fears.

Nina described her pattern in romantic relationships to be one where she started out really liking the man that she was seeing and wanting to spend time with him. But then her doubts and fears about herself and about this new man in her life would take over and she would find a way to end the relationship.

To start breaking this pattern, we worked gradually to disentangle Nina's positive feelings from her doubts and fears.

There is a technique in Somatic Experiencing called "uncoupling" where the Somatic Experiencing therapist helps the client to disentangle two or more emotions that have become over associated in a distorted way.

These over associations (or "over couplings", as they are called in Somatic Experiencing) can be very powerful and this can take time. Often, we don't even realize that these over couplings are a part of our emotional makeup until we start working on these feelings.

Very often, once a client has "uncoupled" a tangle of emotional distortions, they feel a sense of new energy and new possibilities opening up for them. In Somatic Experiencing this is often compared to having a bunch of colorful pipe cleaners that were tangled together and which are disentangled and separated.

After these feelings are uncoupled, clients can often see what belongs to them now and what are the old feelings from "back then" that no longer apply. It can be a very empowering experience.

Nina and I also worked on allowing herself to feel good about her accomplishments without allowing those old feelings that crept up on her ruin her healthy sense of pride and joy. This involved another uncoupling process to separate out healthy feelings of pride, which are normal, from feeling shame and fear about feeling "too good" about herself.

Whenever Nina was able to allow herself to feel good in session, we worked towards helping her to amplify those feelings in her body and allowing herself to bask and luxuriate in them so that she could re-establish a sense of joy, vigor, and healthy pride in herself.

The work was not easy for Nina but, over time, she began to see that she was opening up to new possibilities in her life. She was more open to allowing herself to take more emotional risks by opening up more to people, which would have been unthinkable for her before. She started dating again and when she felt her fear and self doubt beginning to get in the way, she used the resources that she developed in our therapy sessions to overcome them.

Her emotional range of resiliency continued to expand until she could feel a real sense of aliveness and joy that she had not felt in many years. She described it as feeling more like herself. She began to trust her judgment more with regard to choosing healthy relationships. She was more open to meeting and connecting with new people so she was no longer lonely. She also met the man that she eventually married.

Nina successfully completed therapy

By the time Nina successfully completed therapy, she almost looked like a different person. The worry, fear and doubt that had been etched in her face were gone. She had a sense of aliveness and vitality. She also allowed herself to take in the love from her husband that she needed and deserved and she was also able to allow herself to give love freely to him in return.

Getting Help in Therapy
Often, people are stuck in old patterns that keep their lives small and constricted. Their emotions are tamped down. These patterns rob their lives of aliveness and joy, but they don't realize it or, if they do, they don't know how to change it.

If you're aware that you have emotional patterns that are preventing you from living life fully, you owe it to yourself to break free from these patterns by getting help from a licensed psychotherapist who has experience working with these issues.

To overcome these patterns, my professional experience has been that mind-body oriented psychotherapy offers possibilities that regular talk therapy often doesn't offer.

As I mentioned earlier,I work in many different ways and I often combine different techniques, depending upon the needs of the client. Every client is unique and my work is collaborative, so that each treatment plan is a collaboration with the client.

About Me
I am a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing therapist, and EMDR therapist in NYC.

I have helped many clients to overcome old emotional patterns so they can open their lives to new possibilities and a sense of joy and aliveness.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.