NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Transforming Nightmares Through Creative Dream Work

I've been rereading Stephen LaBerge's book, Lucid Dreaming because of my strong interest in dreams in general, and lucid dreams in particular.  One of the recommendations he makes about dealing with nightmares is that, rather than avoiding them, to deal directly with nightmarish figures in dreams, which is a creative form of dreamwork to help overcome unconscious aspects that crop up in our dreams.


Transforming Nightmares Through Creative Dream Work

For most of us, our usual reaction to waking up from a nightmare is to be glad we've awoken and want to immediately avoid thinking about it. But I agree with Dr. LaBerge that avoiding the unpleasant aspects of dreams and thinking we're now off the hook is, as he states, a little like a prisoner who digs his way out of his prison cell only to find that he's in the cell next door.  You haven't escaped. You've merely exchanged one cell for another, and whatever unresolved issues you might be having remain unconscious for potentially more nightmares.

Lucid Dream Work with Nightmares While Asleep
Dr. LaBerge has recommendations in his book on how to do dream work with nightmares while in a lucid state in the dream as well as strategies for dealing with nightmarish figures while awake.  The main focus of the book is how to achieve lucidity in dreams while asleep, which can be a very exciting and useful state to achieve.  But learning to transform nightmarish figures after the dream by having a "dialogue" with them can also be a creative solution to overcoming nightmares.

Dr. LaBerge recommends that, even in a waking state, we can use our imagination to create this dialogue with the figure from the nightmare by asking this figure who s/he is and what message he or she might have for you.  This can be done with paper and pen (or on computer).  In order to do this, we must suspend disbelief while we're doing this exercise and not worry about looking silly.  Anyway, you're likely to be doing this on your own, so why worry about what other people might think?  You'd be doing this to overcome an unpleasant experience so it doesn't continue to recur.

Dream Work and Hypnotherapy
This same type of dream work can also be done with a skilled hypnotherapist who works with dreams and who can help you to get back into the dream state to do the work. It often feels safer to do dreamwork with a trained therapist, especially for recurring dreams, rather than trying to do it on your own.  It all depends on how comfortable you are doing the work.

Lucid Dreams

In any case, I recommend the book, "Lucid Dreaming" by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, which can be obtained in either paperback or as an e-book.  The advantage of the paperback is that you get a CD with helpful suggestions.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR clinician, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.  I have also helped many clients to find creative solutions to their problems.

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

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

You can also read my article about Dream Incubation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Relationships: Is There Room in Your Relationship for Your Feelings?

As a psychotherapist in New York City, who sees both individuals and couples, one of the most common problems that clients bring to therapy is that they feel there isn't room in their relationships for them to express their feelings.

There can be many reasons why this problem occurs.  Often, it goes beyond a problem with communication, although this is usually a factor.  The more challenging factor is that there has usually been a dynamic in the relationship where one person, who tends to be the more dominant person in the relationship, has more control over the emotional tenor, how the couple spends time, financial decisions, and other aspects of the relationship.  In other words, there's a power differential between them.

When I see individuals or couples where this is a problem, the person who is less dominant in the relationship often complains that whenever s/he tries to talk about unpleasant feelings, like feeling ignored or unmet emotional needs, the partner either refuses to hear it or minimizes the feelings.  For the person who feels unheard, over time, this often causes hurt, anger and resentment. If the dynamic persists, it can erode the relationship.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates this relationship dynamic:

Dan and Sue:
Dan and Sue, both in their late 30s, were married for 10 years.  They had two sons (6 and 7).  They got married while Dan was in law school.  In the early years, Sue worked as an office manager while Dan completed law school.  They were very in love and had common values.

The main problem that brought them into marriage counseling, from Sue's point of view, was that she felt Dan wasn't open to hearing her talk about her unmet emotional needs.

Relationships:  Is There Room in Your Relationship for Your Feelings?

She felt he tended to shut her down or, if she persisted in trying to talk to him, he would get angry and they would argue.  Lately, these arguments were becoming more frequent, and they were starting to erode the relationship.  From Dan's point of view, Sue was making unreasonable emotional demands on him.  When he got home from his stressful job, he didn't want to have these discussions.  He didn't want to be confronted by Sue's emotional demands.  Sue countered that, even when she tried to find a better time to talk, Dan was still dismissive of her feelings.

As they talked about their relationship, it became apparent that this dynamic began early on.  In the beginning, when Dan was in law school, he had a lot of time constraints. Sue learned to be emotionally accommodating, keeping most of her concerns to herself.  She thought this dynamic would change once Dan completed law school and became an attorney.  But once he became an attorney in a top law firm, he had to work very long hours.  When he got home, he was exhausted.  He often spent most evenings and weekends working, leaving Sue feeling  lonely. Whenever she tried to talk to Dan about it, he got angry and felt unappreciated. From his point of view, he was doing all of this for them.

By the time they had their two sons, Sue felt even more lonely.  Dan relied on Sue to make most of the decisions about the children.  He spent time with their sons, but there seemed to be less and less time for Dan and Sue as a couple.  Over time, Sue began to wonder if she would be happier with someone else.  Lately, one of her male colleagues began flirting with her.  Sue was flattered, and she began fantasizing about what it might be like to have an affair with this man.  When she realized that she was having these fantasies more often, she became concerned.  At that point, she told Dan that she thought their marriage was in serious trouble, and if they couldn't work out these problems, they should consider divorce.

When Sue discussed how the male colleague's attention made her realize that she could, possibly, leave her marriage for a more satisfying relationship (although not with her colleague), Dan was shocked.  He has to reassess how preoccupied he was with work and his unwilingness to listen to Sue's concerns.  He didn't want to lose his marriage and his family.

Over time, in marriage counseling, Dan and Sue learned how to prioritize their relationship. It wasn't quick or easy. They learned how to be more empathic towards each other's emotional needs.  Dan no longer dismissed Sue's feelings.  Sue learned how and when Dan would be more receptive to hearing her.  Dan became more emotionally attuned towards his own feelings, which he realized he was ignoring.  Overall, they developed a more satisfying relationship and they enjoyed children more because they were happier with each other.

The case example above presents one possible dynamic, but there are many variations on this theme.  Men often come in complaining about women who are not emotionally attuned to their needs.  Gay and lesbian individuals and couples come in with similar issues.  This type of problem isn't about gender or sexual orientation.  It's a common problem for many couples.  It's also often a dynamic that can be changed in couples or marriage counseling, especially if he couples come in sooner rather than later and if both people are motivated to make changes.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're in a relationship where one or both of you feel your emotional needs aren't being met and there's no room to discuss this between you, you owe it to yourself and your partner to seek professional help from a licensed therapist who has expertise in this area. It's possible to have a more emotionally satisfying relationship with the right help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist who sees individuals and couples.

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Coping With Complicated Grief and Unresolved Mourning

Complicated grief and unresolved mourning often occurs when there is a delay in the mourning process. If unresolved mourning persists, over time, it can result in major depression, anxiety or posttraumatic disorder (PTSD). Complicated grief can occur for many reasons.

Coping With Complicated Grief and Unresolved Mourning

The vignette below, which I'm providing with permission from a friend (changing her name to protect her privacy) illustrates how unresolved mourning can lead to further emotional complications over time:

When Mary was nine years old, her father died from a sudden heart attack.  Due to the suddenness of her father's death, Mary's mother went into shock and she was physically and emotionally unavailable for Mary.  Mary, who was very close to her father was left to deal with her own overwhelming grief on her own.  Most of the family was focused on helping Mary's mother through the emotional ordeal.

Coping With Complicated Grief and Unresolved Mourning

To complicate matters, Mary, who was a quiet girl, appeared to be handling the loss relatively well.  What the family didn't understand was that Mary was emotionally dissociated because her father's death was too overwhelming for her.  What appeared to be Mary's calm demeanor was, in fact, a dissociation.  Since she had no one to comfort her, Mary retreated into herself emotionally, and no one could see what was happening to her.

Over the years, Mary had frequent dreams where her father would appear to her and tell her that he wasn't dead.  These recurring dreams usually took a familiar form where Mary would turn around and then when she turned back, her father was gone.  She continued to have these dreams throughout her adulthood. The result was that Mary's internal experience of her father went into a netherworld where she felt she was continually waiting to wake up and discover that her father's death was all a dream.

Over the years, Mary's internal experience of her father became as shadowy and ghost-like as her dreams.  At times, even though she knew rationally that he had lived and she had wonderful memories of their times together, a part of her felt felt like he had never existed.  This was a very confusing experience, and it made her feel like she was losing her mind.

After many failed attempts to have romantic relationships with men, she decided to see a psychotherapist to try to understand her experiences.

It was at that point that she learned that she had PTSD stemming from her complicated grief and unresolved mourning.  As she began to integrate her experiences related to father's death, she was able to finally mourn her loss. She also integrated her memories, both positive and negative, so that her experience of her father coalesced, rather than being stuck in a dissociated netherworld.

Prior to going to therapy, Mary feared dealing with her unresolved grief.  She feared that she would be overwhelmed with sorrow.

But once she began therapy, she realized that dealing with her grief, although sad, was a healing experience.  It also helped her to be able to sustain a romantic relationship with the man she eventually  married.  She was no longer afraid to open herself up to a loving relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy:
As a psychotherapist in NYC, I have helped many clients to overcome the effects of complicated grief and unresolved mourning.

If you are someone who is having difficulty mourning the loss of a loved one, you owe to yourself and those who are close to you to get help.

Getting Help in Therapy

Mourning isn't easy, but living with the constant  pain of loss that feels like it will never end, usually leads to even deeper emotional pain.

Healing is possible with an experienced psychotherapist who has expertise in complicated grief and unresolved mourning.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I work dynamically with clients in a supportive environment.  I am also certified in mind-body oriented psychotherapy, which includes clinical hypnosis,  Somatic Experiencing, and EMDR.

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

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