NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Experiencing Happiness as Part of Your Future Self in Clinical Hypnosis

I read an article in the New York TimesWhat a Great Trip! And I'm Not Even There Yet, by Stephanie Rosenbloom.  After reading the article, which related to travel, I saw similarities between the anticipation of a happy event (as stated in the article) and a hypnotic technique used in clinical hypnosis where a therapy client can experience a Future Self.  I've written about the concept of the Future Self in an earlier article, Experiencing Your Future Self: The Person You Want to Become.  I would like to expand on this concept in this article.

Experiencing Happiness as Your Future Self in Clinical Hypnosis

The Psychological Connection Between Anticipation and Happiness
In Ms. Rosenbloom's article, she writes about the psychological connection between anticipation and happiness as it relates to looking forward to a vacation.  She cites psychological research in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life, where social scientists found that vacationers felt most happy at the point when they were anticipating their vacations because there's a build up of excitement and positive expectations.

She also discusses research by Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who is a leading happiness researcher, who says that there is an art to savoring or anticipating an upcoming vacation.  According to this article, by immersing oneself in such things as reading novels, blogs, watching films, TV programs about the place you plan to visit, you build up positive expectation.  In addition, it also helps to smooth over minor discrepancies between the fantasy of the trip and the reality.

The Psychological Connection Between Positive Anticipation and Happiness

I've never seen the research on this topic, but the concept that this immersion process beforehand can enhance a vacationers experience is familiar to me.  Six months before I went to Italy for the first time, I was not only reading travel books, but I was immersing myself in Italian literature, short stories and listening to Italian language CDs in anticipation of my vacation.  After a few weeks of this immersion process, part of me felt like I was already in Italy.

During that time, I read The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone and when I saw Michelangelo's works of art in Italy, especially the Sistine Chapel in Rome, I was very moved, and like I was seeing the work of an old friend.

Experiencing Happiness as Your Future Self in Clinical Hypnosis
In much the same way that excitement and anticipatory feelings of happiness can build up with immersion in things related to an upcoming event, an experienced hypnotherapist can assist you to discover the aspect of yourself that is called your Future Self in your unconscious mind.

The effect of discovering your Future Self can be profound because it involves the limbic system in the brain (see my article about the triune brain, including the limbic system or reptilian brain).

Experiencing Happiness as Part of Your Future Self in Clinical Hypnosis

Beyond being just a mental rehearsal of who you want to be, allowing your imagination to experience your Future Self in clinical hypnosis connects these feelings for you on an unconscious level.  A trained hypnotherapist can also give a client a post hypnotic suggestion that helps to enhance and anchor this experience.

There has also been research at world renown research laboratories about the success of hypnosis in helping depressed clients to overcome their depression (see Psychology Today article by psychologist, Michael Yapko, Clinical Hypnosis Enhances Treatment) for more details).

Getting Help
Many people, who are unhappy or depressed feel resigned to their lives never changing.  This is usually a symptom of their depression.  But you don't need to suffer alone.  When performed by an experienced hypnotherapist, clinical hypnosis can be an effective form of treatment to help a client overcome depression and provide an enhanced sense of self.

When choosing a hypnotherapist for clinical hypnosis, always make sure that the clinician is a licensed mental health professional.

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, May 19, 2014

Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Successes Along the Way to the Final Goal

In an earlier article, Staying Positive and Focused on Your Goals, I discussed strategies for successfully accomplishing your goals.  In this article, I'd like to focus on a specific aspect of success in achieving goals, which is learning to celebrate the steps along the way to achieving your ultimate goal.

Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Successes Along the Way

Staying Motivated
Often, when people are so focused on achieving goals, they only give themselves credit at the point when they have completed the goal and not for the interim steps that represent small successes along the way.

In order to stay motivated to stick with a big goal, rather than only focusing on the end result, it's important to acknowledge and feel good about all the steps along the way that add up to a big transformational goal.  

When you feel good about the steps that you're taking, you're more likely to stay focused on your goal than when you don't' attribute much importance to each step.

Let's compare two examples, which are fictionalized accounts of many people's experience of working on goals:

Mary's Story:
After her doctor warned her that she was prediabetic, Mary decided that she was going to lose 50 lbs with a combination of a change in diet and increased exercise.  She joined the gym and she also joined Weight Watchers and attended their support groups.  She also started therapy to try to understand what triggered her overeating and to develop better coping skills.

Achieving Your Goals: Mary's Story

After the month, Mary lost 7 lbs., which her friends, therapist and Watch Watcher peer group applauded.  But Mary was unable to accept their praise, and she was only focused on her end goal of losing 50 lbs.  She brushed off the praise by saying, "But I'm still very overweight and I won't be happy until I lose the 50 lbs."

By the second month, Mary lost another 5 lbs., and even though the people who were part of her emotional support system, once again, praised this accomplishment, Mary was beginning to feel discouraged.  

Even though her doctor told her that she was losing weight at a healthy rate and, if she continued with her healthier lifestyle she would eventually get to her goal, Mary still felt down because she wasn't "there yet" at her goal.

By the third month, Mary was still berating herself.   Even though she lost another 5 lbs., rather than using the coping strategies that she learned in therapy, she felt so discouraged and impatient that she had not lost the 50 lbs. that she stopped dieting and exercising; she stopped going to therapy, and she resumed her unhealthy lifestyle until she gained back all of the weight that she lost.

Betty's Story:
Betty's doctor told Betty that she needed to lose 50 lbs in order to avoid developing diabetes, which runs in the family.  Betty knew that it would take a while for her to accomplish her goal of losing 50 lbs and that it wouldn't be easy.  She knew it would be a process.

So, in order to stay motivated, she set reasonable interim goals to the final goal of losing 50 lbs.  Her goal was to lose 5 lbs per month over 10 months.  She joined the gym and Weight Watchers, and she also started therapy to stay motivated and manage the emotional triggers that caused her overeating.

Betty also made a plan that she would reward herself for every 5 lbs that she lost along the way.  So, after she lost the first 5 lbs., she treated herself to a massage, and after she lost the second 5 lbs., she treated herself to a day out with friends to see a play.

Achieving Your Goals: Betty's Story

Betty was able to take in the praise of friends and other supporters and allow it to sink in so she felt good about herself along the way.  This, in turn, kept her motivated while she learned to deal with the emotional triggers of overeating in her therapy.  

Within 10 months, Betty achieved her ultimate goal of losing 50 lbs. and she learned how to keep it off with the new coping skills she learned in therapy as well as the other healthy habits she learned in therapy.

Comparing the Two Scenarios:
It's obvious from comparing the two scenarios that Betty was successful in achieving her overall goal by:
  • breaking down her goal into smaller, manageable parts
  • seeing her final goal as a process and being patient
  • rewarding herself for her smaller successes to stay motivated along the way to her ultimate goal
  • being able to feel good about herself and accept praise from her emotional support system
  • sticking with her plan, learning new strategies, making changes and not getting discouraged
We can compare this to running a marathon vs a sprint.  If a marathon runner started the race by only focusing on the end result, s/he might get discouraged before the halfway mark.  Being able to complete the race (or achieve the ultimate goal) means having a strategy to go the distance.

Getting Help in Therapy
Even when people know that they need to celebrate their small successes along the way, there are often emotional obstacles that make it difficult for them to do this for themselves, especially if they don't feel good about themselves.

Many people struggle with this issue, and everyone needs help at some point in their lives, so you're not alone.

Getting help from a licensed mental health professional and sticking with therapy can help you to overcome the particular emotional obstacles that are keeping you from accomplishing your goals.

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 clients to achieve their goals and live more fulfilling lives.

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

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Achieving Your Goals: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Create a Vision of What You Want

We've all heard about how important it is to set goals in order to have the life that you want.  But for many people goal setting remains a mystery.  They're not sure where to start.  So, in this article, I'm focusing on the first stage of goal setting, which is creating a vision of what you want.

Achieving Your Goals: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Create a Vision of What You Want

Goal Setting:  Creating a Vision of What You Want
In order to set goals for yourself, you need to know what you want.  Although this sounds logical, for many people, this is a big stumbling block because they don't know what they want.

In many ways, the initial stage of goal setting, creating a vision, can be the most fun stage.  

By relaxing and using your imagination, you can begin to create a vision for yourself that will help you to realize what you want.

Achieving Your Goals: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Create a Vision of What You Want

During the early 1980s, I read a book by Shakti Gawain called Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Life.

In this book, Ms. Gawain outlines how you can use, among other things, mental imagery to free up your imagination so you can create visualizations as the starting point of your goal setting process.  I would recommend this book as a start if you're having a problem at the initial stage of goal setting.

I recommend, at this stage, that people just allow themselves the freedom to visualize whatever their imagination comes up with without censoring themselves.

Allow yourself to dream and play with ideas.  Later on, you can get more specific.  But at this stage it's important to allow yourself to "play" with the images that come up without judging them.

Goal Setting:  Concretizing the Images and Using Your Vision as a Road Map to Achieve Your Goals
The next stage would be to write down the images or ideas that come to you.

It's important to capture your images and ideas and to concretize them in some way.  Whether this means writing down a list or, if you want to take more time and be creative, drawing or making collages that are symbolic of what you want.

Achieving Your Goals: Creating a Road Map

Symbols can be powerful representations that help to stimulate your imagination even more and also help you to develop other ideas.

Whichever way you choose to concretize what comes up in your imagination, capturing it in a concrete way, on the most basic level, helps you to remember it rather than allowing it to slip away like a puff of smoke.  It also helps to reinforce whatever comes up and helps you to create a road map to follow to achieve your goals.

Goal Setting: Clinical Hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing
For many people, who try to use their imagination to create a vision of what they want, nothing comes. No matter how hard they try, their minds remain blank and all they see when they close their eyes is, well, nothing.

Initially, when I first tried to do visualizations many years ago, I also got nothing.  I had friends who had wonderful, very detailed technicolor visualizations.  I was happy for them, but I also wished that I could do more than draw a blank when I closed my eyes.

Over time, I practiced visualizing and I got much better at it (see my article:  Wellness: Learning to Visualize in Meditation for helpful tips on improving your visualization skills).

For people who really feel stuck, clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy), as conducted by a licensed mental health professional who is a hypnotherapist, can help you to relax and open up to that creative part of yourself that you might not have even realized was part of you.

People have many preconceived ideas about clinical hypnosis, based on seeing stage hypnosis by a lay hypnotist, which is a distortion of what clinical hypnosis really is.

Achieving Your Goals: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Create a Vision of What You Want

Somatic Experiencing is a mind-body oriented therapy that can allow you, among other things, to tap into your creative imagination (see my article:  Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind to understand Somatic Experiencing).

When clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing are used together, they can become powerful tools for transformation.

Working with a licensed therapist who is trained in hypnotherapy and Somatic Experiencing can help to free your imagination so that you can create a vision of your goals so you can realize your goals.

Getting Help in Therapy
Since I began using Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis with my clients in my psychotherapy private practice several years ago, I have found, in many cases, that these mind-body oriented techniques are often more powerful than regular talk therapy for people who feel stuck.

Rather than struggling on your own, you can overcome whatever is blocking you from creating what you want in your life by working with a therapist who is trained in clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing.

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 people to create and achieve their goals so they can live a more fulfilling life.

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, May 5, 2014

Understanding the Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Guilt and shame are two emotions that are often confused, but there are basic differences between them. In earlier articles about shame, including Overcoming Shame, I discussed shame, what it is, what causes shame, and what can be done to overcome shame.  In this article, I will describe the differences between guilt and shame and give examples to clarify those differences.

Shame vs Guilt

Let's take a look at the differences between guilt and shame:

Differences Between Guilt and Shame:
  • Shame is a Pervasive Feeling About Oneself vs Guilt Which is Usually About Behavior: Whereas shame is often a pervasive, negative feeling that people have about themselves that can be emotionally crippling in severe cases ("I'm a bad person"), guilt isn't a feeling about oneself--it's a feeling about a particular behavior ("I did something bad").
  • Shame Has No Redeeming Qualities Whereas Guilt Can Lead to Taking Responsibility and to Change: There are no redeeming qualities to being ashamed of oneself.  When people feel ashamed, they feel badly about themselves and it often makes them want to isolate or avoid whatever makes them feel ashamed.   Shame about oneself can actually cause someone to avoid looking at whatever s/he feels ashamed about.  But feeling guilty can force someone to look at himself or herself and take responsibility for negative behavior.  Feeling guilty can have redeeming aspects to it if it leads to people making amends for things they feel badly about doing.  Feeling guilty can lead to making an effort to reconcile with others and to making other changes.  Guilt can help people to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
  • Shame Can Be Longstanding Whereas Guilt is Often Transitory: Whereas feeling guilty about a particular behavior is often temporary, feeling ashamed often goes to the core of how a person feels about him or herself.
  • Shame Can Contribute to Depression and Anxiety:  Feeling ashamed can contribute to mental health problems, like depression and anxiety, because it's an overall pervasive feeling about oneself.  It usually goes to the core of how people feel about themselves, whereas guilt usually does not affect people in this way.

Examples of the Difference Between Shame and Guilt

Joe felt ashamed because he felt so socially inept that he avoided attending gatherings, including the funeral service for his friend's mother.

Feeling Ashamed and Avoiding People and Situations

His shame had a snowballing effect because not only did he avoid the funeral, but he felt so ashamed of himself that he avoided calling his friend or going to places where he knew his friend would be.  After a while, Joe and his friend became estranged, which made Joe feel even more ashamed.

Sharon felt guilty that she didn't go to her friend's mother's funeral service because the timing was too close to her own mother's death and it was too hard for her.

Feeling Guilty and Apologizing

But she called her friend in advance to express her condolences and offered to see her one-on-one when she knew her friend would be alone and feeling lonely after everyone else had gone.  Her friend accepted her apology and they remained close friends.

Betty suffered with a lot of shame because she gained 20 lbs over the last year due to overeating.  Her doctor recommended that Betty see a nutritionist to change her eating habits, seek help in therapy to overcome the underlying issues to her overeating, and go to the gym to exercise.  But Betty felt that her weight gain made her "ugly."

Feeling Ashamed, Isolated and Immobilized

Instead of taking steps to lose weight, she isolated herself at home and continued to berate herself for gaining the weight.   This, in turn, made her feel more ashamed and she continued to overeat to deal with her pervasive feelings of shame.  It became a vicious cycle.

Cindy felt guilty about overeating for the last year and gaining 20 lbs.  Her doctor advised her that Cindy needed to take steps to lose the weight for health reasons.  Cindy knew that she was successful at losing weight in the past and that she could do it again.

Feeling Guilty But Taking Steps to Get Healthy

Rather than dwelling on the fact that she had been overeating, she made a commitment to her doctor and to herself to make important lifestyle changes to get healthy.  Then, she made an appointment with a nutritionist to develop better eating habits.  She contacted a therapist to deal with the underlying issues involved with her overeating.  She also began going to the gym three times a week.  Whenever she was tempted to overeat, she remembered how guilty she felt in the past, and she used that feeling to motivate herself to change.  As she lost weight and got healthier, she felt more motivated to continue getting healthier.

Shame and Guilt Can Be Difficult to Handle on Your Own
While it might be easier to overcome feelings of guilt, as compared to feelings of shame, they can both be difficult to overcome on your own.

Getting Help in Therapy
People who tend to suffer with shame often have a hard time asking for help because they feel they don't deserve it (see my article:  Overcoming the Shame that Keeps You From Going to Therapy).

Getting Help in Therapy

But everybody needs help at some point, especially when it comes to overcoming guilt or shame.

When you work with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping clients to overcome guilt or shame, you're usually able to work out these feelings in a way you can't on your own.

Letting go of difficult feelings that are holding you back in your life can free you to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.

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

I have helped many clients to overcome feelings of guilt and shame.

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.