NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Overcoming a Communication Stalemate in Your Relationship

When couples come to see me in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC, one of the major complaints I hear is that they often get into communication stalemates with each other.  Many of them have problems understanding the needs of their spouses, which leads to these communication stalemate.  The problem often involves misunderstandings about the need for providing emotional support vs the need for giving solutions to problems.

Overcoming a Communication Stalemate in Your Relationship

Let's look at a typical scenario which, in this case, is a composite of the dynamics in many relationships where the two people have difficulty communicating with each other because there is a misunderstanding about what the person with the problem needs from the spouse:

Jean and Bill:
When Jean and Bill came for couples counseling, they both felt frustrated with their inability to communicate with each other.

When they came for couples counseling, they were in their mid-30s, married for three years, and they didn't have children.

Bill worked as a financial consultant from home, and Jean was a senior manager at a large bank.  They both worked long hours, and they both enjoyed their work, even though there were challenges at times.

Usually, at the end of a long day, they would have a late dinner together at home and talk about their day.  At the point when they came to see me, Jean was having a difficult time with one of her colleagues who tended to undermine Jean at senior managers meetings.

When she came home, Jean felt tense and frustrated by this ongoing problem.  But what made her feel even more frustrated was that Bill had a hard time understanding that when she talked to him about this issue, she just wanted his emotional support--not a solution to the problem.  And, even though she had told him this several times, Bill seemed to have difficulty understanding this.

Jean:  "Instead of listening to me and trying to empathize with what I'm going through, he cuts me off by giving possible solutions to the problem.  But I'm not looking for him to 'fix' the problem for me. I just want to be able to vent and feel that he cares about me and he's on my side before we come up with solutions.  I'm not feeling that.  I feel like Bill just wants to jump ahead to problem solving."

Bill:   "I just don't get it.  What's wrong with problem solving and offering possible solutions?  Isn't it better to find a solution to resolve this problem?  And how is it that you don't know I care about you?"

At that point, Bill and Jean were sitting far apart from each other on my couch, both of them glaring at one another. It was obvious that they had been down this road many times before and had come to the same impasse each time.

A Common Communication Problem in Relationships:  Seeking Emotional Support vs Looking For an Immediate Solution
This is a common communication problem in many relationships, and part of the problem is that, generally speaking, men and women often approach problems differently.  It's not a matter of one way being better than another.

Typically speaking, whereas men usually like to get to the solution of a problem quickly, women usually prefer to process their feelings about it first before coming to a solution.  Just like anything else, there are, of course, exceptions to this dynamic between men and women.  Often, depending upon the problem, women usually prefer to come to solutions to problems between people by talking it out, but many men find this frustrating.  They're usually more focused on fixing the problem right away without processing it.

In this case, Bill and Jean were having a hard time understanding where the other one was coming from.  Bill didn't understand that Jean wanted him to be there for her, actively listening to what she said, expressing that he understood how difficult this situation was for Jean and that he loved her.  Instead, he jumped ahead to the practical issue of trying to "fix" the problem.  He wasn't really understanding what she needed from him.  Then, Jean would get very angry and refuse to talk about it.

Jean wasn't communicating in a way that was clear to Bill about what she needed.  Rather than saying, "I just want you to listen to me right now and I want you to show me that you care without jumping to a solution," she would become angry and lose her temper with him.  Her knee-jerk reaction compounded the problem.

As a couples counselor, I helped each of them to step back and look at their situation from the perspective of the other person.  This was challenging for both of them because they had each become so dug in from their own perspectives.

But as we continued to work together and they practiced active listening and being clearer about each of their needs in our couples sessions and at home, they improved their communication, tensions eased, and they became closer.

Jean learned to tell Bill at the beginning of the conversation that she wasn't looking for a solution just yet--she just wanted to vent.  And Bill learned to put himself in Jean's shoes and express love and support.  He also came to realize that talking it out actually helped Jean to come to a better solution than just looking for a solution without going through the process of their discussion.

Overcoming a Communication Stalemate in Your Relationship

Jean also learned that, every so often, Bill would slip up and jump in with a solution.  Rather than losing her temper, Jean learned to be more patient and to understand that Bill was coming from a loving place, and he just needed to be reminded that she just wanted him to listen and express emotional support.

They also learned to limit these discussions to no more than 30 minutes so it didn't take over the rest of the evening, and they could focus on reconnecting with each at the end of the day.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although, as I've said, this is a common communication problem in relationships, couples often have a hard time resolving it on their own, especially if the problem has been going on for a while and hurt feelings and resentment have been building up over time.

A skilled and objective couples counselor can help a couple out of their communication stalemate,

If you and your spouse find yourself  stuck in a communication stalemate, don't keep doing the same things that hasn't been working for you.  Rather than continuing in your stalemate, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has experience helping couples to overcome this problem so you can have a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Problem With Rebound Relationships

A rebound relationship is a relationship that usually occurs shortly after you've ended a serious long term  relationship.  Sometimes, it occurs while someone is still in a relationship because s/he doesn't want to end one relationship without having someone else.

Heartbreak, Fear of Being Alone and Rebound Relationships
Generally speaking, many people go into rebound relationships because they're afraid to be alone.  Often, they're also afraid to go through the painful emotions involved a breakup.  So, rather than dealing with the feelings of loss, they find someone new to be in love with and excited about.

The Problem With Rebound Relationships

So, you might ask:  What's wrong with falling in love again?  And I would respond that, while it's true that some rebound relationships work out, many don't for a variety of reasons.

Why Rebound Relationships Often Don't Work Out:

Fantasies and Projections:
Usually, people who jump right into a new relationship, after being in a prior long term relationship, don't really know the new person that well.  Since they don't know the person that well, they fill in the blanks with wonderful fantasies and projections about who this new person is.

Then, as they get to really know the new person, reality sets in, and they usually discover that this person isn't who they thought s/he was.  And this leads to disappointment.

Unresolved Grief:
Since the motivation for a rebound relationship is often due, in part, to a wish to avoid feeling the pain of a prior breakup, the person who jumps into a new relationship quickly ends up pushing down their grief.

But the grief doesn't just go away.  It can come out in many different ways, including somatically.  Your body holds onto the grief even if you aren't consciously aware of it, and you might find yourself more susceptible to getting sick.

Also, once you begin to feel the disappointment when you realize that your new relationship isn't what you thought it was, you will often feel the emotions related to the unresolved grief along with your disappointment in the new relationship.

When you rebound into a new relationship, as I mentioned earlier, your own fantasies and projections can sweep you off your feet.  At first, you might not realize that the two of you aren't really compatible.  Evaluating compatibility takes time and the rebound relationship often happens too quickly to understand if you're compatible or not.

Let's take a look at a scenario, which is a composite of many different cases, that is typical of the problems related to rebound relationships:

Alice and Bob, who were in their early 30s, were living together for five years when they decided to break up.  They still loved each other very much, but Alice wanted to have children, and Bob didn't.

Alice knew when they started dating that Bob didn't want children, but she fell in love with him and she hoped that, with time, he would change his mind.  But neither of them ever changed their minds about having children, and they each knew that they would be unhappy if they gave in to the other's wishes.

Alice was very aware that time was passing, and she knew that she might have problems with infertility if she waited much longer to have a child.

She struggled with her feelings for a couple of years when she realized that Bob wasn't going to change his mind about having children:  Should she stay with him because they loved each other so much and give up her desire for having children or should she leave the relationship and give herself a chance to meet someone new who would love her and want children too?

What if she didn't meet anyone new that she loved as much as Bob?  Or, what if she met someone new and they had a wonderful relationship, but it turned out that she couldn't have children?

These were very difficult questions that she perseverated about endlessly in her mind.  But, in the end, she knew that having children was a priority for her, and she wouldn't be happy unless she gave herself a chance to be with someone who wanted children.

Although there was no acrimony when she told Bob she thought it was best if they ended their relationship, the breakup was painfully sad.  Bob agreed that it was for the best for each of them, and they agreed that he would move out.

As Alice watched Bob pack his things, she felt her mind reeling:  Bob is a wonderful guy.  Is she making a big mistake by ending their relationship?  What if she never meets anyone as wonderful as Bob?   Although she really knew it was for the best, on some level, she still felt very uncertain about the breakup.

The first few weeks after the breakup, Alice's sadness was excruciating.  She felt like she would never stop crying.  She was tempted to call Bob, who would normally be there for her to comfort her, but they had agreed that it would be best if they didn't have any contact for at least six months.  So, whenever she found herself picking up the phone to call him, she would hang up again.

Alice's friends tried to comfort her, but she felt inconsolable.  Just getting through the day was excruciating.  And the nights alone in the bed that she shared with Bob were even more excruciating.

Until then, she had been avoiding social get-togethers with friends.  But her best friend, Tina, convinced her that staying home alone would only make her feel worse, and she convinced her to come to a friend's birthday party.  Although celebrating was the last thing she felt like doing, Alice knew that isolating herself wasn't good for her, so she agreed, reluctantly, to go.

Alice thought she would just go and stay for an hour and come home.  She was afraid that she wouldn't be such good company.  But there were many friends that she hadn't seen in a long time, and she was surprised that she was actually enjoying herself for the first time in a while.

Then, she saw John talking to her friend Tina.  She couldn't remember when she had seen such a handsome man.  She thought:  Lucky Tina.  Where did she meet him?

But when Tina came over to introduce John to Alice, it turned out that John was Tina's cousin who was visiting from California.

Alice felt an instant attraction to John, and she sensed that he was attracted to her too.  They spent most of the night together talking to each other, and the more she talked to him, the more she liked him.  And, to her delight, he talked about loving children and wanting to eventually have children.

All the while, she thought to herself:  How is it possible that after only a few weeks of being out of my relationship with Bob, I'm so attracted to this guy?

But she was undeniably attracted to John, and she felt swept off her feet after going out with him on a date while he was in NY.

After he returned to California, she thought about John all the time, and they would call each other and text several times a day.  Since her job involved traveling to the West Coast at least once a month, Alice would visit John and he would come to NYC at least once a month.  These visits were eagerly anticipated by both of them, and their time together was passionate.

Alice's friends liked John a lot, and they were happy to see that she met someone that she really liked.  But her best friend, Susan, who knew Alice since their college days, warned Alice to slow down.  She was afraid that Alice was caught in a rebound situation where she was allowing her fantasies of a long term relationship with John to run away with her.  But Alice was so excited and immersed in her new relationship with John that she dismissed Susan's advice.

When John found out a job in NYC, he and Alice decided to live together in her apartment.  A month before he came, Alice redecorated the apartment, made space in the closet for his clothes, and bought new linen.  She was so happy that they could be together now.  They talked every day about how wonderful it would be.

But within a couple of months of John moving in, tension developed between them.  They discovered that they were very different in many ways.

Whereas Alice was an early to bed/early to rise person who sprang out of bed and couldn't wait to begin the day, John would go to sleep late and get up about 11 or 11:30 AM.  She thought John was an early riser too because whenever she visited him or he came to see her in NY, he was up early with her too.  But she soon discovered that this wasn't John's natural inclination.  He keep this schedule he mostly worked from home.

Alice often got to her office at 8 AM to avoid the rush hour crush, and she often stayed at work until 7 PM.  By the time she got home, she was tired, but he was energized from sleeping late and spending time at the gym.

As time went on, they discovered other incompatibilities.  He was more of a home body and she liked to socialize more with friends.  She assumed that because she met him at a party and they went out a lot before they moved in together that he liked to socialize.  But she found out that he usually didn't go to parties and, other than going out to dinner or a movie with her, John didn't like to socialize that much. So, after John moved in, Alice would end up going to social events alone.

A few months after they began living together, they also began getting on each other's nerves with the kinds of habits that two people only discover when they move in together.  At the same time, they stopped having sex and they began to co-exist like roommates with neither of them acknowledging to each other that their relationship was spiraling down.

This saddened Alice and she realized that their relationship wasn't going to work.  As she wondered how she would broach the topic with John, he brought it up one day when she got home.  After they spoke, John packed his things and moved into a hotel until he could find his own apartment.

Alice cried harder that night than she ever did, and she realized that she was crying for the end of this short relationship and even more so for the end of her long term relationship with Bob.

She realized she had a lot of unresolved grief because she never gave herself a chance to grieve for her relationship with Bob before she got involved with John.  And she and John got involved so quickly that they never dated so they could get to know each other over time.

A few weeks after the breakup with John, Alice began therapy with me to deal with her losses and to understand why she feared being alone so much that she jumped into another relationship on the rebound.  Gradually, Alice began to work through her sadness and fear.

Getting Help in Therapy
These issues are more common than most people think.

If Alice's story resonates with you and you're struggling to overcome the emotional pain of loss, a rebound relationship or your fear of being alone, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health practitioner who has experience helping therapy clients to overcome these problems.

With help, you can lead a fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many psychotherapy clients to overcome the emotional pain associated with breakups and fear of being alone.

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

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

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Relationships: Are You a Stonewaller?

In his book, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, relationship expert, John Gottman discusses the concept of stonewalling in relationships.  

What is Stonewalling in a Relationship?
According to Dr. Gottman, stonewalling is a maladaptive defense mechanism that occurs when a person in a relationship withdraws emotionally from the partner because s/he feels overwhelmed by whatever is going on in the relationship.

Stonewalling in a Relationship

As a psychotherapist in NYC who works with individual adults and couples, I've seen many clients who either stonewall their partners or who are in a relations
hip with someone who stonewalls.

Let's look at the following scenario, which is a composite of many different cases to protect confidentiality, to see how stonewalling can affect a relationship:

Nina and John:
When Nina and John came to couples counseling, they were a couple in their mid-50s who were contemplating divorce.  As many couples do, they decided to give their relationship a last ditch effort in couples counseling before they filed for divorce.

Nina's main complaint was that whenever they were having one of their frequent arguments, John would tune her out by either hiding behind a newspaper or going into another room.  Then, she would usually follow him and try to get him to talk to her, to no avail.

She said she knew, even when they were in the same room, that he was tuning her out because he had a distracted, blank look on his face.  She knew he wasn't listening to her, and this infuriated her even more.

Whenever this happened, she said, the more she frustrated she felt, the more she would yell, and the more she yelled, the more John would withdraw into himself.

When it was John's turn to talk, he said that, at the start of their arguments, he would attempt to respond to Nina but, after a while, he felt so overwhelmed by her hostility that he just couldn't listen to her any more.

At that point, he felt the need to withdraw from her.  As John explained his reaction, I recognized that he would become "flooded" (overwhelmed) by emotions which led to his stonewalling.

Based on their description of their dynamic, John and Nina were caught in a dysfunctional pattern.  I explained to them that they were both reacting to one another in ways that made the situation worse.  It was no wonder that their relationship had spiraled down to the point where they were considering a divorce.

Yet, as I told them, it was evident that they still loved each other.  When I asked them to talk about the early days in their relationship, there were signs of the love that brought them together when they first met.  They both talked fondly about how they met and what drew each of them to the other.  They also smiled at each other as they reminisced about those early days.

I saw this as a hopeful sign, as compared to couples who give only a vague, neutral or hostile description of the early stage of their relationship.

I also noticed that even when they argued in the couples counseling sessions, each of them made small reparative gestures towards each other.  Nina would touch John's arm lightly when she saw him getting upset. John would sometimes make a joke that would make Nina laugh.

I also saw this as a hopeful sign.

Reparative Gestures in a Relationship:
As John Gottman describes in his book, when one or both people in a relationship can make reparative attempts and the other person responds positively to it, it can break the tension and there is often hope that the relationship can be salvaged.

According to Dr. Gottman, frequent displays of contempt is a destructive dynamic in a relationship.  But if there are reparative gestures that break the tension, this usually indicates that contempt hasn't completely destroyed the relationship.  This has also been my experience with couples in couples counseling.

As it turned out, Nina and John were able to work through their problems in couples counseling because they still cared about each other and there was still something there to be salvaged.

Getting Help in Therapy
If, after reading this article, you recognize the stonewalling dynamic in your relationship, you and your spouse can get help to salvage your relationship.   

Working with an experienced couples counselor, you can both learn better ways of interacting in your relationship.

Just as with any problem, the earlier you get help, the better.  So don't wait until it's too late.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many couples learn to develop healthier ways of interacting with each other so they could be happier in their relationship.

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

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy

One of the biggest challenges for adults who grew up with childhood trauma is learning how to have healthy adult relationships.  

Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy

If you didn't grow up in a loving, secure environment with people you could count on, how do you learn to trust people when you're an adult?  This often becomes especially challenging as an adult when choosing romantic partners.

Choosing a Healthy Romantic Relationship
People who grew up in loving, secure families start out with a strong emotional foundation as adults.  Generally speaking, they're more likely to choose healthy romantic partners as compared with people who grew up in dysfunctional families.

If they happen to enter into a relationship with someone who turns out not to be a caring or reliable person, they're more likely to leave that relationship because they know what it's like to be in a caring, secure relationship based on their early childhood experiences with their parents.  And they expect to be treated well in their adult relationships.

Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families often gravitate to romantic partners who are either uncaring, unreliable or even abusive.

After a while, they often feel so overwhelmed with trying to discern who is trustworthy and who's not that they avoid relationships altogether and choose to be alone.  But this usually leaves them feeling lonely and in despair.

Working Through Childhood Trauma in Psychotherapy
After having a few romantic relationships that don't work out, people who grew up in dysfunctional families, often find it harder to bounce back from these disappointing experiences, and they're fearful of getting romantically involved again (see my blog article: Overcoming the Fear of Falling In Love and Getting Hurt Again).

If they happen to seek out therapy with a trauma therapist, they will often discover that, before they're able to develop the ability to choose an emotionally healthy partner, they need to work through their childhood trauma (see my blog article: Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma).

Let's look at an example, which, as always, is a composite of many psychotherapy cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality:

When Marie was born, her mother, who was a young single mother, left Marie in the care of an elderly aunt so she could pursue a new relationship with a man who didn't like children.

Marie's elderly aunt did the best she could to take care of Marie, but she was often too tired to spend a lot of time interacting with her, so Marie was often left alone.

Marie only saw her mother sporadically.  Sometimes, she would spend a few nights with her, but she would want to quickly return to her aunt's house because the mother's boyfriend was a raging alcoholic or who would hit her mother and threaten and frighten Marie.

When Marie was five, her elderly aunt died.  Marie thought of her aunt as her mother because she was the only caregiver she had ever known.  None of the family talked to Marie about the aunt's death or how Marie felt about this loss.

Since none of the family wanted Marie, she went to live with a family friend who already had several older children, and who had little time for Marie.  The older children, who were already in their teens, wanted very little to do with Marie, so, she grew up to be a lonely child.

Marie was often bullied in school by children who sensed her emotional vulnerability.  She had one friend, who was also bullied, and they stuck together until this friend moved away.

By the time Marie was 17, she had been moved around among several family friends.  It was obvious to Marie that none of them really wanted her, but they didn't want to see her enter into the foster care system.  Her last experience with a physically and emotionally abusive woman was so bad that by the time she graduated high school, Marie got a job and moved out on her own.

When Marie came to therapy, she was in her mid-30s and she had been in a string of abusive romantic relationships.  She was depressed and she felt hopeless about ever being able to have a healthy relationship.

Over time, Marie discovered in therapy that her childhood traumatic experiences had a significant impact on the type of men that she chose to be in a relationship with.  Becoming aware of the impact of her early experiences was a start, but it wasn't enough to change things for Marie.

Marie needed to work through her childhood history of abuse and neglect in order to grieve and move on.  We used EMDR, a therapy developed specifically for helping people overcome trauma.

Since there were so much trauma, including being left by her mother, emotional neglect, the death of her aunt,   the effect of being bullied, the chaos of being around so much between caregivers, emotional and physical abuse, and her experiences in dysfunctional romantic relationships as an adult, the work wasn't quick.

Over time, Marie was able to work through her childhood trauma, and she began to make better choices with regard to the men she dated.  Eventually, Marie entered into a healthy relationship and, for the first time in her life, she was happy in a relationship.

There Are No Quick Fixes For Working Through Trauma
There are no quick fixes when it comes to working through trauma, especially longstanding trauma that originated in childhood.

As a psychotherapist with extensive experience helping clients work through trauma, I have found trauma therapies like EMDR and Somatic Experiencing to be more effective in resolving trauma than regular talk therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling on your own with unresolved trauma that has affected your ability to make healthy choices for yourself, you're not alone.

Help is available, and you owe it to yourself to get professional help from a licensed mental health practitioner who is trauma therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

As a trauma therapist, who helps clients to work through emotional trauma, and I have helped many clients overcome their trauma so they could lead 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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Achieving Your Goals With Perseverance

To achieve your goals, you often hear that you need to persevere and pursue your goals with resolve and tenacity.  While it's certainly true that few long term goals are achieved by happenstance, it's also true that, along the way, there are times when you need to be flexible and open to new ideas and possibilities.  Often, it's a matter of balancing perseverance and flexibility.

Achieving Your Goals With Perseverance

Let's take a look at the example below, which is a composite of many cases, and illustrates the importance of how balancing perseverance and flexibility can help to achieve long-term goals:

Dana had a lifelong dream of having her own clothing store.  By time she was in her early 30s, she had worked in the fashion industry, including upscale clothing stores, for several years.  At that point, more than anything, she wanted to be her own boss.

Her father agreed to provide the initial capital for her to start her business with the understanding that she see a business consultant first to get advice.  Her father agreed to pay for the consultant.  Initially, Dana balked at the idea of hiring a consultant because she felt she already knew what she needed to do to have a successful business.

She was ready to work hard to make her business successful.  She didn't want anyone else interfering with her ideas.  She wished she didn't have to rely on her father's money to start her business.  But she knew she couldn't do it without his help and her father wouldn't provide her with the capital to start the business unless she agreed to see the consultant.  So, she agreed reluctantly.

The consultant made recommendations that were counter to what Dana had in mind.  The consultant recommended that, before she opened her business, she should first take a continuing education course on how to start a business since she had no experience. But Dana quickly brushed this off.  He also recommended that she start small and keep her overhead low.  But Dana bristled at the idea that she would have to start small.

She felt both her father and the consultant didn't have enough confidence in her.  And, instead of following the consultant's recommendations, she plunged ahead and she sought a large space in a trendy area of Manhattan.  Never having rented commercial space before, she was shocked at the rent and that the landlord wanted a co-signer.

When her father refused to co-sign, Dana was forced to take a smaller space with lower rent.  She was somewhat deflated by this, but she felt she had no choice but to go along with it.

During the first few months, Dana was shocked at how many hours she had to put in to keep the business going.  She was more than willing to work hard, but she had little to show for it monetarily at the end of the month.  The consultant advised her that she would probably lose money the first year, but she couldn't believe how much money her business was losing.

Since her father agreed to pay the rent for the first year, she wasn't worried about losing the space, but she felt guilty about going through her father's money with nothing to show for it.  To make matters worse, she discovered that her part time sales associate was stealing money from the register, so she had to let her go.

By the second year, the business continued to lose money at an alarming rate, which Dana couldn't understand.  She had originally thought that hard work and perseverance would lead to success, but this clearly wasn't the case.

When Dana's father told her that he wouldn't foot the bill for the rent any more, Dana felt like a failure.  They had to hire an attorney to get Dana out of her commercial lease.  After settling with the landlord and closing her business, Dana felt depressed.

Dana had to move back into her parents' home because she had no money to pay rent on her apartment, which made her feel worse.  For the first month, she was so depressed that she could barely get out of bed.

By the second month, when her parents told her that she needed to get a job, she reluctantly went back to her old job.  She feared that her old boss and coworkers would see her as a failure, but everyone was very kind to her.  Even so, she could barely look anyone in the eye when she first returned.

As her depression got worse, she came to see me for therapy to begin picking up the pieces of her life.  Initially, we worked on basic coping skills because Dana was having problems just getting out of bed and getting through the day.

After a few weeks, Dana was ready to deal with her grief about losing her business.  As we explored her experiences, she was able to see that a big part of her problem was a combination of her misconception that perseverance alone would make her successful and her inflexibility to follow advice from a seasoned business consultant.

Dana realized now that there were so many things she didn't know about having her own business, and she would have benefited from taking the continuing education course that the consultant recommended.

She also realized that, contrary to her feeling that she was "a total failure," there were a lot of things that she did right:  She had a good sense of what customers wanted and her merchandise sold, but her income was still so much less than her overhead.  She realized now that she had been too stubborn to see that there was a lot more that she would have needed to know to be successful.

After several months in therapy, Dana began to recover from her loss, and she signed up for the continuing education course on how to start her own business.  She also found a business partner to share in the expenses for her next clothing store.  After taking the course, she was in a much better position to try her hand again at having her own business.

It was a humbling experience for Dana, but her new willingness to be flexible and learn from her experience contributed to her eventual success.

Perseverance Isn't Always Enough
As Dana learned, hard work and perseverance isn't always enough for you to achieve your goals.  Sometimes, you need to be flexible and compromise in order to be successful.  This isn't always obvious at the start.  Often, you don't realize the need for flexibility until you're already involved in your project.

Many people, like Dana, have strong beliefs and fixed ideas about what they want to do and how they want to do it.  Successful people learn from experience and recognize when it's necessary to either change course or make modifications to their plan.

Getting Help in Therapy
If Dana's story resonates for you in a particular area of your life and you're having difficulty overcoming this problem on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist.

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

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many psychotherapy clients to achieve their goals.

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

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

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Balancing Your Career and Your Personal Life

It seems to me that, for a variety of reasons, it's getting harder to balance a successful career with a fulfilling personal life.  As a psychotherapist in New York City, I often hear therapy clients lament the fact that their career has taken over so much of their time that they have less and less time for their personal lives (see my article: Living a Balance Life as a Path to Happiness).

Balancing Your Career and Your Personal Life

Being Too Available After Work Hours
With all our technological advances, many people are finding themselves overloaded with information and the demands of being available nearly 24/7.  Even for people who want to have more of a balance between their work and personal life, they feel compelled to be available after work hours because of the competitive nature of their careers.  They often tell me that they fear that if they don't make themselves available when they're home, their colleagues, who are more available, will surpass them at work.

The dilemma is that when you're unable to set boundaries so that your work isn't encroaching upon your personal time, you're often less productive.  And, in the long run, you're much more likely to suffer burnout.  After all, you're human--you're not a machine.  And even machines break down after a while if they're not maintained.

So how can balance your career and your personal life so that you can take care of yourself?

Here are some tips:

Quality of Life: Weigh Your Career Options and Consider Your Priorities
Before you accept a new job, consider how demanding the job will be and how it will affect your personal life.

If you know that you'd be unhappy with a job where you would be expected to spend a lot of extra time, which would take away from your personal life, think about how this will affect the quality of your life.

Some people, who are new to their careers, are willing to spend a lot of extra time at the start of their careers as opposed to people who are in the late stage of their careers.  Only you can decide what's right for you.

If you have a spouse or significant other, you would be wise to consult with him or her about how this might affect your relationship.  Relationships need to be nurtured and there's no substitute for time together.

I'm aware that this isn't as simple as it sounds.  Many people take demanding jobs because they are lucrative and the money could pay for a home, their children's education, nice vacations and other things that are desirable.  But once they're in the job, they discover that the job is so demanding that they don't even have time to take the vacations that they fantasized about because they're too busy at work.

The Importance of Self Care

Take Breaks During the Workday
Cumulative stress and burnout are more common today than they were 15 or 20 years ago.  Economic uncertainty and workplace insecurities often keep employees going like a gerbil on a wheel.

But even if you have a very stressful job, there are often times when you can take breaks, even if it's for 20-30 minutes to regroup.  Usually, people find that taking even a short break helps them to feel refreshed and reinvigorated for whatever tasks they're engaged in.

Take Vacations
Aside from taking daily breaks, it's very important to take a vacation away from work and away from your daily routine.

Many people are afraid to take a vacation because they feel their work will suffer if they're not around to do it.  Usually, it's just the opposite--getting away for a week or two actually allows you to come back refreshed.

Maintain Non-Work-Related Interests
When all you do is focus on your work and you have no interests or hobbies outside of work, you don't give yourself a chance to leave your work behind.

Just like taking breaks at work is important, having other interests that are non-work related will often make you a more well rounded and creative person.  You'll come back to your work projects refreshed.

Allow Time For Your Spouse/Significant Other, Family and Friends
Scheduling pleasurable activities with your spouse, partner, family and friends are essential to nurturing your close relationships.

It's so easy to allow yourself to become so inundated by work that you neglect your relationship with your spouse or significant other.  In a prior blog article, Creating Special Times Together, I discuss the importance of taking the time to create special times for your relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people have difficulty balancing their career and personal life and they need help.  If you're having problems, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health practitioner who has experiencing helping people to create balance in their lives.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to live more balanced and fulfilling lives.

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

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

Friday, July 19, 2013

Resilience: Tips on Coping with Life's Inevitable Ups and Downs

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to talk to a friend's elderly mother about her resilience and I wrote about it in my blog post called Resilience: Bouncing Back From Life's Challenges.

Today, I would like to focus on the topic of resilience and provide some tips on how you can learn to become more resilient so you can cope with life's inevitable ups and downs.

Resilience: Tips on Coping With Life's Ups and Downs

Tips on Coping With Life's Ups and Downs:
Manage Your Stress:  Stress is an inevitable part of life.  It's important that you manage your stress so that you don't become overwhelmed by being in a constant state of stress.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Exercise Regularly: Whether your regular exercise is walking, stretching, running, going to the gym, taking an exercise class or doing yoga, regular exercise that's the right level for you and that you enjoy can make all the difference in managing your stress and elevating your mood.
  • Meditate:  Spending at least a few minutes a day meditating can also help relieve stress.  There are many different ways to meditate.  I usually teach my psychotherapy clients to do a meditation called the Safe Place meditation (also called the Relaxing Place meditation).  See my blog article:  Wellness: Safe Place Meditation for more details on how you can learn to do relatively simple, enjoyable meditation.
  • Use Humor to Have Fun:  Most people don't usually equate psychotherapy with having fun, but in my blog article, Humor Can Be an Effective Tool in Psychotherapy, I discuss how many of my clients, who are starting to feel better, can often see the humorous side of a situation that they might not have been able to see before.  When it's used in a tactful way, humor can be an effective way of managing stress and building a sense of resilience.  A sense of humor can be a great source of inner strength and fun.
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle:  Eating nutritiously, getting enough sleep, and reducing your alcohol intake are all part of a healthy lifestyle.  In a prior blog article, Tips For Self Care for Caregivers, I discuss the importance of self care. The article focuses on caregivers, but most of the tips that I give can apply to anyone.
  • Keep Things in Perspective:  Ask yourself:  How many times have you worried about a particular problem only to find that the problem isn't as bad as you thought?  Worrying about the problem didn't help, and it might have actually gotten in the way of your being able to problem solve.  Being able to keep things in perspective can help you become more aware of what's really important to you and what's not.  Sometimes, you have to let go of certain things that, in the long run, really aren't that important.  In my blog article, Accepting the Things You Cannot Change and Having the Courage to Change the Things You Can, I discuss this important concept which is a central part of most recovery programs.  In my blog article, Are You Overreacting to Routine Disappointments?, I discuss how you can learn to let go of routine disappointments so you're not constantly overreacting.
  • Find Meaning in Your Life:  In my blog article, A Search For a Meaningful Life, I discuss Victor Frankl, a psychoanalyst who was developed Logotherapy and who has been an inspiration to millions of people.  Dr. Frankl was a holocaust survivor.  Even at the lowest point in his life while he was in a Nazi concentration camp and he thought his beloved wife was probably dead, he found meaning in the every day things of life.  His attitude was that although his captors could imprison his body, they couldn't imprison his mind. Finding meaning in your life is often a matter of becoming more aware of the things you have to be grateful for, even in the midst of adversity.  Most of us have never had to go through the ordeals that Victor Frankl endured, so it's worthwhile to ask yourself what you're focusing on:  Do you tend to focus on the negative to the exclusion of seeing the positive things in your life?
  • Stay Connected With Your Emotional Support System:  Having supportive friends and family can make a tremendous difference when it comes to managing stress.  Talking about things that are bothering you can help alleviate stress.  At the same time, it's important to choose wisely when it comes to talking about your problems.  You want to choose people that you trust and that you know have your best interests at heart.

A Short Scenario of Being Resilient and Coping With Life's Ups and Downs:

Mary is a friend who is a hospital emergency room social worker.  She has one of the most stressful jobs you can have in health care, and she's been doing this job for over 15 years.  Everyday she deals with a steady stream of patients who are in crisis either physically or mentally.

Mary told me that she has seen many other ER social workers with a lot less time on the job who have crashed and burned under the unrelenting stress.  So, I asked her how she has been able to deal with her stressful job at the same time that she is raising a family, and the things she told me are the same tips that I've provided above.

First:  Mary starts everyday by either going to the gym or going for a long walk before she gets to her job.  On the days when she doesn't have time to get to the gym, she gets off the subway one stop before her regular train stop and walks the rest of the way.  It takes her an extra 15 minutes, but she feels it's worth it in terms of managing her stress.

Second:  During her lunch hour, she finds an empty office and listens to guided meditation recordings that help her to relax.  She told me, "I can feel my whole body start to relax as I listen to the meditation and feel myself being transported to a relaxing place in my mind."

Third:  Mary told me that it's very tempting, especially when she's busy, to grab whatever junk food she  might find at the lobby news stand, but she makes sure she brings a healthy lunch with her so she's not tempted to eat junk, which might be momentarily gratifying, but will make eventually pack on the pounds.

Fourth:  Mary and her colleagues spend time, even if it's a few minutes, talking about their day.  They also usually find something funny to joke about to relieve stress.

Fifth:  Mary has a lot of good close friends that she talks to on a regular basis.  She has even maintained college friendships. She has also developed new friendships among colleagues.  She has one of the best emotional support systems of all the people that I know.

Sixth:  Since Mary has been a competent ER social worker for a long time, so she has a good sense of her self worth.  Even when she might be dealing with a difficult administrator, she maintains her cool and keeps her sense of perspective.

There are times when there are fatalities in the ER, which are difficult for everyone.  But Mary has learned to deal with these traumatic incidents by asking herself if she did everything possible that she could to help the patient.  If she knows she did everything she could, she doesn't blame herself.  She and her colleagues also support one another through those difficult times.

Seventh:  Last, but not least, Mary finds a lot of meaning in her personal life as well as in her career.  On most days, she feels grateful for the loving people and good things in her life.  Although she isn't part of a formal religion, she has a sense of spirituality in nature, and she tries to be in nature as often as possible because she finds it nurturing.

Mary has had plenty of adversity in her life, but she has developed the capacity to bounce back because of her resilience and her strong support system.

Getting Help in Therapy
Not everyone is as fortunate as Mary to have developed resilience and have a strong support system.  Many people are struggling on their own and they haven't developed the resilience to deal with life's adversity.

Even people who have a strong support system often find that there are times in their lives when they need the help of a licensed mental health practitioner.

If you feel overwhelmed by your problems, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping clients to become more resilient so they can overcome their problems.

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

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many psychotherapy clients to overcome their problems so they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Learning to Develop Healthy Boundaries Within an Enmeshed Family

As an adult, learning to develop healthy boundaries with your family of origin can be difficult, especially if you come from an enmeshed family (see my article:  Overcoming Shame: Enmeshed Families).

Learning to Develop Healthy Boundaries Within an Enmeshed Family

Learning to Develop Healthy Boundaries Within an Enmeshed Family: Adolescence Through 20s, 30s and Beyond
Learning to separate emotionally in a healthy way from your family of origin is something that everyone goes through in your adolescence, 20s, 30s and beyond.

During adolescence, teens usually begin to identify more with their peers and less so with their parents and siblings.  This is part of normal development.  This is usually the beginning of having some autonomy that is age appropriate.

In healthy families, parents usually understand that this is part of normal adolescent emotional development and make allowances for some of the turbulent changes that take place during this period.

But in enmeshed families, one or both parents often take offense to an adolescent who is going through these changes.  They don't recognize this as part of normal development and often see it as a form of betrayal.  This creates even more tension in what can be a very confusing time for a teen.

Most teens will rebel against parents who try to keep them enmeshed in the family system.  This, in turn, often leads to a clash of wills as these parents try to force their teens to bend to their will and the teens are just as adamant that they're not going to knuckle under.

Learning to Develop Healthy Boundaries in an Enmeshed Family: Teenage Rebellion

Other teens succumb to the parents' guilt-inducing tactics and fall in line completely with their parents' wishes to remain part of an enmeshed family system.  These teens and their parents don't realize that this will have repercussions for the teens later on in adulthood because they haven't learned to develop healthy emotional boundaries in an age appropriate way.  They are much more likely to choose romantic partners who are codependent and who also want an enmeshed romantic relationship.

Other teens struggle somewhere in between on an continuum, asserting themselves in certain situations and not in others, making adolescence a very difficult period in their lives.

I've seen many parents make matters worse by continually trying to up the ante, to no avail.  They don't realize that they're actually doing more damage to their relationships with their children than if they had more patience and understanding.

As teens develop into young adults in their 20s and 30s, the period of healthy emotional separation and individuation continues.  Once young adults in their 20s and 30s can move out of the family household, this helps, but it's not the complete answer for many adults who continue to struggle their whole lives to have a healthy emotional life rather than continuing to feel trapped in an enmeshed family.

Developing Healthy Boundaries Within an Enmeshed Family: An Inner Conflict Between What You Think and What You Feel
As I mentioned in my prior blog post about enmeshed families, shame and guilt are the two emotions that are prevalent for teens and adults who grew up in enmeshed families.

Even people who manage to set healthy boundaries with their families often continue to struggle with  shame and guilt, as if they're doing something wrong or against their families.

This can be difficult to overcome on your own.  You might know on an intellectual level that what they're doing for themselves is right, but it continues to feel wrong.  This inner conflict between thinking and feeling can be exhausting.

Overcoming Guilt and Shame With Mind-Body Psychotherapy
In my experience, the most effective type of therapy to overcome the guilt and shame involved in this type of situation is mind-body psychotherapy which helps to integrate the various aspects of yourself that are in conflict.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how mind-body psychotherapy can help someone who is struggling with this issue:

Sonia was born on an island in the Caribbean, and she came to the US with her parents and maternal grandparents when she was a year old.

By the time she was a teenager, Sonia, like many teens, wanted to spend more time with friends her age.  But her parents insisted that she spend most of her free time with the family.

Sonia loved her family, but she longed to be with her friends.  She pleaded with her parents to let her go out to visit friends, but her parents didn't want her visiting her friends' homes, nor did they want Sonia's friends coming over.

Both of Sonia's parents grew up in households where they had many siblings, so they didn't feel the need to make friends outside the family.  They didn't understand that Sonia, who was an only child, was lonely and needed to develop close friendships of her own.

Whenever Sonia would try to explain to her parents that she just wanted to see her friends, her parents couldn't understand why she would want to see her friends at their homes since she had just seen them at school.

When Sonia turned 16, she began sneaking out of the house at night.  Her parents thought she was in her room doing her homework, but she climbed out the fire escape in her room to go see her friends.

This went on for a while--until one evening when Sonia's mother went to her room and discovered that Sonia wasn't home.

When Sonia came back up the fire escape, she was shocked to find her mother sitting in her room.  From then on, Sonia and her parents had a lot of conflict until Sonia was old enough to go away to college.  After she left, she never moved back in.  After graduation, she shared an apartment with friends she met at college and only saw her parents occasionally.

Even though Sonia took steps to set healthy boundaries with her family so she could have a life of her own, she still felt very guilt and ashamed, as if she had let her family down.

Her parents remained rigid in their expectations and this made the occasional family visits very tense.

By the time Sonia was in her mid-20s, she was feeling increasingly guilty and ashamed, caught between doing what she knew was right for herself, but feeling like she wasn't "a good daughter." So, she came to see me in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC to try to work out this issue.

Using a combination of Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis, I helped Sonia to feel entitled to having a life of her own.  We worked to integrate the different aspects of herself which were in conflict with each other.

Sonia learned that she couldn't change her parents, but she could change herself.  Over time, as she became more comfortable with the decisions she made for herself as an adult, she also learned to have more compassion for her parents who grew up in a different time and culture.

At that point, she was better able to be compassionate because she felt comfortable with herself.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether it's clinical hypnosisSomatic Experiencing or EMDR, when practiced by a licensed psychotherapist, these mind-body treatment modalities can help access the unconscious mind to heal the internal conflict so you can, not only think, but also feel that you deserve a life of your own.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works 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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Experiential Psychotherapy and the Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind

As I've mentioned in prior blog articles, including Mind-Body Psychotherapy: What Your Body Is Telling You, integrating the mind-body connection in therapy offers many advantages over regular talk therapy, one of them being that emotional states in the body offer a window into the unconscious mind.

Experiential Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind

What is Experiential Psychotherapy?
Experiential psychotherapy is a general name for different types of psychotherapy that integrate the mind-body connection, including: AEDP, clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy), EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing, to name just a few.

How Does Mind-Body Psychotherapy Offer a Window Into the Unconscious Mind?
Many people know that dreams offer a window into the unconscious.  I enjoy working with clients' dreams in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC.  The problem is that not everyone remembers their dreams.  But everyone has access to his or her body, and a therapist who works with the mind-body connection can help psychotherapy clients access what's happening in the body in terms of embodied emotional states.

Let's take a look at an example of this with a composite case, which represents many different psychotherapy cases:  

Rita had been to several different therapists over the course of her 20s and 30s prior to coming to see me.  Although she felt she benefited from talk therapy, she also felt there was something missing that she was unable to get to in her prior experiences with therapy.

Rita came to me because she knew that, in addition to doing talk therapy and EMDR, I use Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis with my psychotherapy clients.

At first, Rita had a hard time putting her feelings into words.  But when we focused on what she was experiencing in her body, she was able to sense into her physical sensations and gradually identify the emotions that went with those physical sensations.

So, for example, when I asked Rita to sense into her body, she said she sensed a heaviness in her upper abdominal area.  I asked Rita to stay with that, as long as it felt tolerable to her.  Then, after a few minutes, she said that she sensed, within the heaviness in her upper abdomen, a hollowness.

We stayed with that hollowness and, gradually, emotions emerged.  I saw tears begin to stream down Rita's face, and she was able to say she felt very sad.  I asked Rita to stay with the sadness and, after a few minutes, she had a memory of being alone as a young child crying for her mother.

Over the next several sessions, as we continued to work with the physical sensations that Rita sensed in her body and the accompanying emotions, more memories emerged.

As we continued to work together, what emerged was early childhood memories of feeling sad in a household where Rita was raised by a single mother who worked three jobs to support them.  As a result, Rita was often alone and lonely.

As an adult, even when Rita was in a healthy, loving romantic relationship, she often felt this heavy feeling in the upper abdomen, a hollow feeling of sadness and loneliness.  Even though she wasn't alone any more, she continued to feel the unresolved emotions from her childhood.

Part of the work was helping Rita to separate "then" (her childhood experiences) from "now" (her adult life) using a combination of Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

Another part of the work was helping Rita heal from her earlier emotional wounds.  We did this by working with the child part of her that felt a deep longing to be loved and nurtured.

In a relaxed state, Rita, as her adult self, had an inner dialogue with her child self, expressing love and compassion for this child self.  Then, she sensed into that child part and she was able to take in the love and compassion that her adult self was giving.

I also helped Rita to imagine a nurturing parental figure who could have been there for her when she was younger.  She chose an uncle, who actually lived out of state when she was a child, but when he was around, he was loving and emotionally supportive.

With guidance in therapy, Rita sensed back into her childhood experience as a lonely child feeling her unmet emotional needs and longing.   Then, she imagined that her uncle was sitting next to her with his arm around her.  She sensed the physical sensation of his loving gesture and how that felt in her body both physically and emotionally.

Then, I helped Rita to hold onto this experience with a technique called "anchoring" in clinical hypnosis, so she could access the felt sense of this nurturing experience whenever she needed it.

Access to the Unconscious Experience With Somatic Experiencing
As I mentioned earlier, there are various types of mind-body psychotherapy that help people to access unconscious experience by sensing into what they feel in their bodies.

Different people sense into their bodies in different ways.  Many people start with what's happening to them physically.  Others have an intuitive sense.  Others close their eyes get visual images.

It doesn't matter how someone begins the process of accessing their emotional and physical states in their bodies to get to their unconscious mind.  The important thing is that the body provides a way to access the unconscious mind and it's a matter of learning how to tune in.

Learning to Tune Into the Body to Sense Physical and Emotional States
Many people need to learn how to tune into the body to sense physical and emotional states because it doesn't come naturally to them.  For clients who have difficulty, I help them with a step-by-step process that most people can learn.

I usually recommend that people read Ann Weiser Cornell's book, The Power of Focusing - A Practical Guide to Emotional Self Healing, a book that helps people to develop a felt sense of their experiences in an easy, accessible way.

Getting Help
Whether you've had prior experiences in psychotherapy or not, if you would like to have a deeper understanding of yourself and get to the root of your problems so you can heal emotionally, you could benefit from working with a licensed therapist who uses the mind-body connection in therapy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works 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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.