NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Importance of Active Listening in Your Relationship

In my prior article,  Are You Having Problems Communicating in Your Relationship,  I began a discussion about communication problems in relationships.  I focused on common communication problems that people often make when they speak to their spouse or partner.  The focus of this article is the importance of active listening, which is a challenge for many couples.

The Importance of Active Listening in Your Relationship

What is Active Listening?
While learning to speak to your spouse or partner is important, learning to be an active listener is just as important.

Many couples have problems communicating with each other because they're not listen to one another.

Sometimes people don't even realize that they're not listening to their spouse because they're so preoccupied with their own thoughts and feelings.

Rather than listening, each person is impatiently waiting for his or her turn to speak.  He or she is focused on what how to respond and make his or her own points.

Unfortunately, when you do that, you miss out on what your spouse is trying to communicate to you.  Usually, your spouse can tell that you're not listening and this becomes frustrating for him or her.

When you're not actively listening to what your spouse has to say, it usually makes him or her angry and hurt.

The First Step is to Become Aware of How You Interact With Your Spouse
The first step is to become aware of whether or not you're an active listener.

Active listening means putting yourself in the other person's shoes and listening empathically.

When you're an active and empathic listener:
  • you're looking at your spouse directly and not averting your gaze
  • you're focused on what your spouse is saying without anything else to distract you
  • you sense what your spouse is saying
  • you're aware of what your spouse is implying even if it's not said explicitly because you're picking up on nonverbal cues as well as what's begin said verbally.  This means that you're listening for more than just the words.
  • you're able to follow and consider what you're spouse is saying
  • you show your spouse by how you listen and acknowledge what he or she says that you're listening
  • you show your spouse not only with words but also by your body language, which is open and receptive that you're actively listening
  • don't focus on what you're going to say next--just focus on what you're spouse is saying

The Next Step:  Develop Active Listening Skills
The next step is to learn to develop the skill of active listening.

Active listening with empathy is a skill that most people need to learn and practice.

Once you've learned to be an active and empathic listener and your spouse also learns this skill, it can go a long way to help improve communication in your relationship.

Some people can learn this skill on their own.  Many people in relationships learn to listen actively by developing this skill in couples counseling.

In my next article, I'll give a fictionalized scenario that demonstrates some of the common communication problems that arise in relationships and how couples therapy can help.

Getting Help
Communication problems are common in many relationships, so you and your spouse or partner are not alone.

Just like any skill, you and your spouse can learn to develop better communication skills in couples counseling with a licensed mental health professional who works with couples.

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

I have worked with many couples to help them improve their communication.

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.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Are You Having Problems Communicating in Your Relationship?

As a psychotherapist who works with individuals and couples, one of the most common complaints that I hear from people who are married or in a committed relationship is that they're having communication problems.  Often, either one or both spouses feel that the other spouse isn't listening and/or they don't like how they're being spoken to by their spouse.

Are You Having Problems Communicating in Your Relationship?

Communication problems that persist can ruin a relationship.

There can be many reasons why your spouse isn't listening to you.

The problem could be related to a problem that your spouse is having, a problem that you're having or both.

Become Aware of How You Communicate With Your Spouse
One of the most common communication problems in relationships is a problem with the way one or both spouses speak to one another.

Before you point your finger at your spouse, consider how you might be able to improve your style of communication:
  • Learn to get to the point rather than repeating yourself and creating a long monologue.   If you go on and one, after a while, your spouse will probably tune out and stop listening to you.
  • Give your spouse a chance to respond to what you're saying.  If you try to monopolize the conversation, your spouse will get frustrated and neither of you will get anywhere with whatever problem you're discussing.
  • Don't preach, scold or lecture your spouse.  Aside from being infantilizing and a big turn off, it also gets in the way of any meaningful communication.
  • If you want to have an open, meaningful conversation with your spouse, avoid making remarks that are hurtful, mean, dismissive, sarcastic, demeaning and disrespectful.  
  • Avoid generalizing and distorting the situation by accusing your spouse with words like "You always..." and "You never..."  This will only make your spouse defensive and angry, and it will get in the way of communication.
  • Avoid rehashing old situations that you've talked about before.  This is one of the most destructive things that people in relationships do, and it creates hostility and resentment.
  • If you have gotten into a habit of complaining and whining a lot, this is a big turn off and your spouse is going to stop listening to you.   Try to become aware of your style of communication and whether you're in the habit of being negative.  
  • Timing can be an issue.  Be aware of what might be going on with your spouse when you want to bring up sensitive topics or problems.  If your spouse is overwhelmed and your topic isn't urgent, consider waiting until the timing is better.  If your spouse is in a better frame of mind, it increases the likelihood that s/he will listen to you.

In my next article, I'll discuss active listening and how really listening to your spouse (and vice versa) can help improve your communication.

Getting Help in Therapy
Communication problems that persist in relationships often destroy relationships.

If you and your spouse have tried unsuccessfully on your own to improve your communication, you could benefit from attending couples counseling with a licensed mental health professional who works with couples and can help you to save your relationship.

Learn to Communicate More Effectively With Your Spouse

Attending couples counseling and learning how to communicate more effectively can help you to have a happier more fulfilling 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 website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Talk to Your Partner About Money Before You Get Married or Enter Into a Committed Relationship

If you're about to get married, you might be very busy now taking care of last minute preparations, rewriting your vows, and confirming the honeymoon plans. Maybe you're daydreaming about the wedding and how wonderful it will be to spend the rest of your life with your beloved. But before you say "I do," walk down the aisle hand in hand, and step into the next phase of your life together, there's something very important that you need to do--make sure you talk about money before you get married.

Talk to Your Fiance About Money Before You Get Married

I can't emphasize enough how important this is. Talking about money might not be the most romantic topic to discuss with your soon to be spouse, but in the long run, it can save both of you a lot of headaches in the future.

I realize that talking about money can be uncomfortable. However, as a marriage counselor, I can tell you that one of the biggest problems that bring couples (married or not) into marriage/couples counseling is that they're arguing about money. That doesn't mean that it's too late and they can't learn to reconcile their differences about money but, for most of them, it would have been so much easier if they had sat down and talked about money before they got married.

So what do you talk about and how do you do it?
You and your partner should sit down in a quiet place where you have privacy and share your views about money as well as any debt or other problems you're having with money.

Talk to Your Partner About Money Before You Get Married

Don't assume that you're both on the same page about money because you might be very wrong about this. You'll probably need to have more than just one talk to cover a variety of topics. Here are some tips:

What's important to you each of you?
  • Do you want children? If so, how many?
  • If you have children, will you both continue to work or will one of you stay home?
  • Do you want to buy a house in the future?
  • Do you want to relocate?
  • Do you love living in the city but your partner wants to live in the suburbs?
  • Are you a saver and your partner is a spender?
  • How will you manage your money? Separately? Together? Keep whatever you had before you got married and set up a third account for expenses?
  • What about credit cards? Joint accounts? Separate accounts?
  • What about debt that you incurred before the marriage? Will you work on paying it off together or separately?
  • How will you handle the fact that one of you earns a lot more than the other? Will you divide expenses down the middle or will each of you pay a percentage of your income? Will each of you assume different expenses?
  • What if one of you expects to get an inheritance? How do you handle that? Will that money belong to him/her or will you share it as a couple?
  • What about property that you own before the wedding?
  • Do you need a prenuptial agreement?

A word about your current debt
Don't try to hide it until after the wedding. This will only anger your partner (justifiably so) and lead to mistrust between you.

Talk to Your Fiance About Money Before You Get Married:  Talk About Debt

Don't think that you'll pay it off quietly (somehow) and he or she does not need to know about it. Be honest and open about your debt. It's all going to come out after you're married anyway, so you might as well get it out into the open now.

What if you find out that your partner has a poor credit history or that he or she has been irresponsible about debt?
Does this mean that you have to cancel the wedding and you can never be together? Well, no, not necessarily.

Talk to Your Fiance About Money Before You Get Married:  What About Poor  Credit?

It depends. Finding out that your partner was irresponsible with credit cards when he was a student and is now doing the right thing by paying them off is very different from finding out that he has a serious gambling problem and he's in denial about it.

Only you can decide what you can live with and what you can't. However, it's also important not to fool yourself into thinking that these problems will go away after you're married because, chances are, they won't.

What if your partner is too uncomfortable to talk about money?
It's understandable that you and your soon to be spouse might feel uncomfortable talking about your personal finances.

Talking about our own money in our society is still a taboo subject and it's true that many people would more readily talk about sex than reveal how much money they earn. So, a certain amount of discomfort is normal. Be patient with one another. You don't need to talk about all the topics at once. Usually, as you begin to have these discussions, it becomes a little easier.

What if your partner refuses to talk about money?
If you're patient and give your partner a chance to get comfortable but he or she adamantly refuses to talk about money or becomes verbally abusive about it, that's a big red flag and it should give you pause.

A partner who refuses to talk about money or who becomes critical of you for wanting to talk about money has issues that you should be concerned about. If it's hard now, it's going to be even harder after you get married.

There may be reasons why your partner is too uncomfortable to talk about money: Maybe it brings up old family issues. Maybe his or her family never talked about money and it was considered a taboo topic to discuss. Maybe it brings up other insecurities. It's better to find this out now. At least, whatever you decide about your future together, you'll be doing it with your eyes open.

Getting Help in Therapy
You and your partner might need professional help to sort these issues out now before they become even bigger issues after you're married. I've helped many couples to work out these issues satisfactorily so that they can go on to have good, stable marriages together.

I am a NYC psychotherapist and couples counselor. To find out more about me, you can visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapis

Call me at (917) 742-2624 to set up a consultation or email me.

See my article:  Talk to Your Spouse About Money

Making Changes: Overcoming Ambivalence

It's not unusual that when we want to make changes in our lives, we also have mixed feelings which keep us stuck and emotionally paralyzed.  However, indecision can become a problem when they weigh us down and keep us from taking action.

Making Changes: Overcoming Ambivalence

Getting Stuck Before Taking Action
Many people are very good at thinking about solutions to their problems, getting advice, planning on paper how they will make the change, but then they get stuck when it comes to actually taking action to make the change.

Often, their own mixed feelings or fears keep them from taking the steps they need to take to make the change--even when they've thought about it a lot and decided that it's the best course to take.

This can be very frustrating for themselves as well as for their loved ones.

While it's important not to be impulsive, especially when making life-changing decisions, it's also important not to get stuck in ambivalence, doubt and indecision.

Why do people, who are often good planners, get stuck before taking the steps they need to take to follow through with their decisions?
The answer to this question is as varied as the many people who get stuck at the point of taking action.

For some people, it's a matter of feeling overwhelmed by anxiety that their decision might be the wrong one.

For other people, who tend to put off making decisions, it's a way of obsessing about their options and trying to find the "perfect" solution when there really isn't one.

Some people, who suffer with low self esteem, don't trust their own judgement. And so on.

Are you stuck at the planning stage about making changes in your life?
Are you feeling frustrated because you don't understand why you can't get to the next step, even though you feel that you really want to make a change?

Rather than being hard on yourself about it and putting yourself down, it's better to become curious about your own process.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you can't seem to get yourself "unstuck," instead of wasting more days, weeks, months or even years, trying to do the same thing on your own that hasn't worked for you before, consider psychotherapy as an option to help you get moving to where you want to go in your life.

Getting Help in Therapy

A licensed mental health professional can help you to overcome the obstacles that are keeping you stuck so you can take action to make the changes you want to make.

I'm a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing who has helped many clients to get "unstuck" so they can take action to lead more fulfilling lives.   

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

Call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me to set up a consultation.

The Benefits of Therapy

Have you been thinking about starting therapy? Possibly, you've been on the fence for a while, you have mixed feelings about it or you feel anxious about starting the process. In this post, I discuss some of the benefits of participating in psychotherapy and what to look for in a therapist.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy

Factors that Contribute to a Successful Therapy
One of the most important factors in determining whether psychotherapy will be beneficial to you is finding a psychotherapist that you feel comfortable with.

You might not be able to tell this from the initial consultation, especially if you're anxious. But usually after a few sessions, you have a sense as to whether or not you feel a rapport with a therapist.

Another important factor is how you use your psychotherapy sessions: Bringing in issues that you want to work on; thinking about what you and your therapist discussed between sessions and bringing in your reflections to the next session; coming to therapy sessions on a regular basis, and being open to the therapeutic process.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy

Having an objective person who is trained to help you overcome your problems
People who have never participated in psychotherapy will often ask, "What's the difference between talking to a psychotherapist or talking to a friend?" This is an excellent question.

If you're seeing a licensed psychotherapist who has been trained to help clients overcome their problems, you're working with a professional that has the skills and experience to help you work through your issues, as compared to your friend, who might be a good listener but who lacks these skills.

Also, when you see a licensed mental health professional, you're discussing your problems with someone who is objective and whose only stake in the situation is to see you overcome your problems and feel better, whereas your friends and family members, without even realizing it, might not be objective.

Overcoming Problems that are Keeping You Stuck
When you participate in psychotherapy, you can overcome problems that are keeping you stuck in your personal life or in your career. These problems have often been obstacles to your well-being for months or years.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy:  Overcoming Problems That Are Keeping You Stuck

While there are no guarantees, assuming that you and your psychotherapist are a good "fit," you're more likely to overcome your problems if you participate in psychotherapy than if you keep trying on your own to do the same things that have not worked in the past.

Freeing Yourself from Your History
As most people know, many problems of a longstanding and intractable nature have their origins in childhood. For example, if you're suffering with low self esteem or you have a long history of choosing partners who don't treat you well, if you suffer with an eating disorder, if you feel depressed or anxious, often, this is the result of unresolved childhood issues.

When you're able to work through these issues in psychotherapy, you're able to free yourself from childhood issues that were holding you back. To liberate yourself from these problems can be an amazing feeling. The alternative is to live the rest of your life with these unresolved issues as obstacles to your happiness and well-being.

Overcoming Physical Problems that are Related to Emotional Problems
In many cases, participating in psychotherapy can alleviate physical problems that result from emotional problems. "How can this be?," you might ask.

The answer is that the mind and the body are connected, and when you struggle to cope with emotional problems, you can develop certain physical symptoms that are directly related to your emotional issues. These might include: tension headaches, muscle tightness and pain, certain types of asthma, backaches, neck pain, upset stomach and other gastrointestinal problems, feeling tired most of the time, and so on.

While it's always important to see your doctor to rule out medical issues, many of these physical symptoms are directly related to unresolved psychological problems and are often alleviated when the emotional problems are resolved.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy:  Physical Problems Are Often Related to Psychological Issues

Many people go to their doctors to deal with physical problems only to be told that their doctors cannot find any physical reason for these issues. At that point, most doctors who understand the mind-body connection will recommend that their patients see a psychotherapist.

Gaining Insight into Yourself
If you're open to the psychotherapeutic process, you can gain tremendous insight into yourself and your relationships. The type of insight that I'm referring to is not just an intellectual insight. While intellectual insight is important, by itself, intellectual insight often does not lead to actual change.

Gaining emotional insight, insight that you can feel, is what actually provides a shift in how you feel, as well as how you think and act. Gaining emotional insight into your problems can help you to change old habits and behaviors that are keeping you stuck.

How deep you go will depend on what you're looking for in the psychotherapeutic process as well as the skills, training and experience of your psychotherapist.

When you choose a psychotherapist, there are other issues to consider:

Finding a Psychotherapist
As I mentioned previously, it's important to find someone that you're comfortable with and who has the skills, training and experience required for the particular issues that you want to work on.

Many people can tell from the first session if they're comfortable with a particular psychotherapist. Most others, due to anxiety or other issues, need to see a therapist for a few sessions before they can tell if she or he is the right therapist for them.

Aside from the technical skills involved with being a psychotherapist, you also want to get a sense that the therapist is empathetic and caring towards you while maintaining professional boundaries.

How Long is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy can be short-term if you have a particular issue that you want to work on that can be resolved in a few sessions. As previously mentioned, if you use your managed care mental health benefits, the length of your treatment will often be determined by your insurance company. Other than that, an example of short-term therapy is using clinical hypnosis to stop smoking or to overcome other negative habits.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy:  There is Long-Term and Short-Term Therapy

Another example would be using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy to overcome a particular fear, like fear of driving again after a car accident. I describe both of these forms of treatment in detail in earlier posts. There are also many other examples of short-term issues. Cognitive behavioral treatment can also be effective in overcoming certain phobias or anxiety-related issues.

Psychotherapy can also be of a more long-term process if you have the curiosity to explore your issues in a more in depth, psychodynamic way. Exploring your unconscious thoughts, fantasies and your dreams would be part of a more psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Even clients who initially have fears or concerns about psychotherapy usually find the process to be gratifying. The important thing is to know that you're not alone, and many other people have dealt with and resolved issues that you're struggling with now in therapy. Rather than continuing to suffer, it's important to get help.

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

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients in both short-term and long-term therapy. 

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, October 20, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect If Your Relationship Survives

In a recent New York Times article by Anna North, Here's the Thing That Lasting Love is All About, she discussed how new research has determined that how you see your relationship--whether you see yourselves as "soul mates" or as two people "on a journey" who are facing obstacles and working together to overcome these obstacles--affects how you cope with problems in your relationship.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect if Your Relationship Survives

According to the research that Ms. North cites in her article, people who see themselves as "destined" to be together, or as some people call it,"soul mates," often don't work as hard as people who take the view that their relationship is like a journey with its inevitable ups and downs.

The research that she mentions indicates that people in a relationship where they see themselves as destined to be together often feel their so-called soul mate is the one and only person and the relationship should be "easy."

This type of thinking implies that when things go wrong, as they invariably do, they often question whether this is actually the person that they should be with rather than working on their problems.

People who see their relationship as being part of a journey usually understand that there will be good times, bad times and in between times, and they will need to work on their relationship when problems arise.

Using the metaphor of a journey, helps them to take the long view rather than assuming that destiny will make for an easy relationship.

In many ways, the research that Ms. North cites in her article confirms what I have observed in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC working with individual adults and couples.

In addition, problems arise when each person in the relationship has different perceptions about relationships.

The following is an example of two people in a relationship where one person thinks in terms of soul mates and destiny, and the other person sees relationships as a journey (as always, this example is a composite of many different cases with all identifying changed to protect confidentiality):

Ann and Bill:
During the first three months of their relationship, Ann and Bill were very happy together.  They met through their political volunteer work and hit it off immediately.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect If Your Relationship Survives

Bill had been in a couple of short relationships before that didn't work out.  But after he met Ann, he felt he understood why these prior relationships didn't work--because he was meant to be with Ann.  As far he was concerned, destiny brought them together and he saw Ann as being his soul mate.

Ann, who was a few years older than Bill, had been in a couple of long term relationships.  She had a different view of relationships.

Based on her prior her experience with relationships, she felt that after the initial stage of the relationship where everything is new and exciting, a couple will begin to confront issues that need to be worked on.  She considered her relationship with Bill to be new.

She knew they were still getting to know each other.  She also considered their relationship to be a long term process where they would deal with whatever issues came up along the way.

In their fourth month together, they got into an argument about how much time to spend together.  Until then, they were spending almost everyday together, and Ann was hardly seeing her friends.  When she told Bill that she wanted to have time to see her friends on her own, he didn't understand.

His feeling was that, since they were soul mates, they didn't need anyone else in their lives and they should be able to fulfill all of each other's needs.

So when Ann told him that she had certain interests that were important to her and that she knew weren't important to Bill, he began to question whether he and Ann should be together.

From Bill's point of view, soul mates shouldn't be having this type of problem:  The relationship should be easy and if they didn't see eye to eye about this, maybe they weren't meant to be together.

Bill's attitude upset Ann and she suggested that they start couples counseling.  But Bill wasn't sure that he believed in couples counseling.  He felt that if two people were meant to be together, they shouldn't need help from a therapist.

When he talked it over with his best friend, Andy, Bill was shocked to discover that Andy and his wife had been in couples counseling the year before for problems that they were having.

Bill always thought of Andy and Sally as being soul mates who were "perfect" for one another, so hearing that they attended couples counseling and worked through their differences challenged Bill's view of their relationship as well as relationships in general.

Andy encouraged Bill to keep an open mind and not look at relationships with such an "all or nothing" view.

Since Bill admired Andy and Sally, he decided to take his advice, even though it didn't feel right to him, and he agreed to attend couples counseling with Ann.

It took a few months in couples counseling before Bill became really open to seeing that relationships could be more complicated than he had imagined.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect if Your Relationship Survives

Even after he began to accept this, part of him still wanted to believe that relationships were either "meant to be" or not.  He was giving up a romantic ideal that he had held for all of his life.

Over time, as Bill and Ann continued in couples counseling and Bill talked to other people that he knew in relationships, he realized that no one that he knew had an "ideal" relationship.  Everyone who had been together for a while had issues that they had to work on.

Gradually, Bill and Ann worked out a compromise over time in therapy.  Bill came to see, reluctantly, that he couldn't fulfill all of Ann's needs and she couldn't fulfill all of his needs.

Although Bill was disappointed about this at first, he also realized that this took a lot of pressure off each of them as individuals as well as the relationship.

Ann and Bill worked out a compromise that allowed each of them to have time together, time with their friends, and down time where each of them had time to themselves.

Rather than seeing their relationship as being part of destiny, Bill began to feel good that they were each choosing to be together because they wanted to be rather than feeling that a force beyond them was controlling things.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect If Your Relationship Will Survive
Also, the tools that each of them developed in couples counseling helped them in many other areas of their relationship.

Having a Lasting Relationship
Most people who have been in stable long term relationships will tell you that their longevity is due in large part to their flexibility, the compromises that they have each been willing to make, as well as taking the long view, in realistic terms (as opposed to idealizing relationships), about their relationship.

Having a Lasting Relationship

Most of them would say that there were bumps along the road, but they didn't see these bumps as problematic in themselves.

What is most important, most couples would say, is how they go about navigating the bumps.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many couples benefit from attending couples counseling to help them negotiate the challenges that come with any relationship after a while.

If you and your partner are having difficulties that the two of you have been unable to work out on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who can help you to develop the skills and tools to be happier in your relationship.

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, October 13, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Staying Calm When You're in the Middle of Chaos

"You are the sky.  Everything else--it's just the weather:" Pema Chodron

Staying Calm When You're in the Middle of Chaos

The ability to stay calm during chaotic times is a natural ability for some people who seem to be able to stay focused and centered despite the chaos that is going on around them.

For other people, it's a matter of developing and practicing this skill.

Staying Calm When You're in the Middle of Chaos

The good news is that this skill can be learned by most people, and practicing can increase your ability to use this skill.

Ideally, the best time to learn to develop the ability to stay calm during stressful times is when things are relatively calm in your life.

But it doesn't always happen that way, so here are some tips for how to stay calm during chaotic or stressful times:

Tips for Staying Calm During Chaos
  • Remember to Breathe:  This might sound strange, but it's often the case that when we're under stress or pressure, our breathing becomes shallow, and some people don't realize that they've stopped breathing for seconds at a time.  Also, breathing in a shallow way can make you more anxious.  So, remembering to take a couple of deep breaths can be very helpful (also see my article:  Learning to Relax: Square Breathing).
  • Take Breaks:  Often when we're going through chaotic or stressful times, we think that it's better to keep going nonstop. But making yourself exhausted will only add to your stress.  If you're not in a situation that's an emergency that requires immediate action (like leaving a burning building), it's important to take breaks--even if the breaks are 5 or 10 minutes.  Taking time to regroup can help you to approach the situation feeling refreshed.
  • Stop and Think:  Rather than leaping into action impulsively and working yourself and others into a panic, stop and think, even if it's for a moment, about what's needed in this situation.  Certain situations require immediate action, but many situations would be better handled by reflecting first on what's needed before taking action hastily.  
  • Recognize What You Can and Can't Control:  This isn't always easy to see.  But when it's clear that there are elements of the situation that are beyond your control, don't waste your time and effort on things that you can't change.  Try to solve what you can as efficiently and effectively as you can, and leave the bigger issues to those who are equipped and responsible for handling them.
  • Maintain a Balanced Perspective:  This suggestion goes along with Stop and Think.  During a chaotic situation, it's easy to lose perspective and panic.  Many people, who lose their perspective, end up making the wrong decisions and that makes the situation worse.  By keeping your perspective and asking yourself how you (and those close to you) are directly affected by the situation, you can approach the problem with a clear mind and make better decisions.
  • Maintain Your Healthy Routines:  Some people become so consumed with problem solving or "putting out fires" during chaotic times that they abandon the healthy routines that help them to cope.  Although you might need to modify your routines during stressful times (depending upon what's going on), you can make your situation even more stressful if you completely abandon the healthy routines that help you on a regular basis, like going to the gym, meditating or whatever you do to maintain a sense of well-being.
  • Maintain a Healthy Attitude:  Your perspective about life and situations at hand affect how you think and feel about these situations as well as how you react to them.  It's important to be able to take a step back, even if it's momentarily, to be mindful of how you're responding to the situation that you're dealing with at the time.  If you know yourself well enough to know that you tend to see "the glass as half empty" rather than "half full" most of the time, ask yourself if this attitude is affecting how you're dealing with the problem that you're facing and if you're seeing it in an overly negative way.
  • Get Emotional Support: It's important to stay in contact with people who are emotionally supportive.  Even if supportive friends or family aren't directly involved in the situation, just being able to talk it out can help relieve stress and remind you that there are people who care about you.

Getting Help in Therapy
At times, despite your best efforts, if you're overwhelmed, you might need the help of a licensed mental health professional to assist you emotionally.

A skilled therapist can help you not just to manage the chaos that you're in, but s/he can also assist you to develop healthy coping skills that would help you in any difficult situation.

Getting Help in Therapy

An experienced psychotherapist can also help you to see if the current situation is triggering emotions from old unresolved emotional wounds and help you to work through prior trauma.

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.

Also see my article:  The Mind-Body Connection: Mindfulness Meditation

Monday, October 6, 2014

Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self: The Benefits of Mindfulness in Therapy

In a prior article, Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self: What is Mindfulness?, I began a discussion about mindfulness by defining it, discussing its origins, describing some of the similarities between mindfulness and psychotherapy, and beginning to describe some of the benefits of combining mindfulness and therapy.

Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self:  The Benefits of Mindfulness in Therapy

As I mentioned in my prior article, many psychotherapists, especially therapists who value the importance of the mind-body connection, are now using mindfulness interventions as a resource with clients.

I often teach clients how to use mindfulness in therapy, and how to use mindfulness meditation to develop increased awareness of themselves and others.

Mindfulness meditation is usually associated with Vipassana, a form of meditation that comes from Theravada Buddhism.

The word Vipassana is a Pali word which means insight or awareness.  Vipassana is used to help develop awareness or mindfulness.

The Benefits of Using Mindfulness Interventions in Therapy

By using mindfulness in therapy, clients can:
  • increase their capacity for emotion regulation in therapy as well as in everyday life
  • decrease their reactivity to situations that would normally evoke a reactive response
  • decrease perseveration
  • increase their ability to be flexible in their responsiveness
  • increase attentional capacities
  • improve their interpersonal relationships
An Example of a Mindfulness Intervention in Therapy
An example of a mindfulness intervention, as it could be used in a therapy sessions, is as follows:

A therapist, who is working with a client who is processing a traumatic memory, is tracking what is going with the client during their session in terms of his emotions, breathing, facial expression, body language and overall demeanor.  

The therapist notices that as the client continues to talk about being physically abused by his father, the client has a far away gaze, his face has become pale, his jaw is clenched, his breathing is shallow and his body has become tense and rigid.

The therapist senses that the client is no longer in the here-and-now--he is back fully in the traumatic memory of being physically abused.

Rather than allowing the client to remain stuck in this traumatic response, the therapist helps the client to come back to the here-and-now by asking him to breathe and notice what he senses in his body.

As she watches the client increase his breathing, she asks him to slowly scan his body and notice what he is sensing.

As the client begins to calm down, the therapist reminds the client that he can use this mindfulness technique at any time when anything is bothering him.  This helps the client to feel empowered.

When the client is calmer, the therapist will ask the client if he wants to continue processing the traumatic memory or if he wants to stay in this calm state.  She leaves it up to the client, who is the best judge of what he needs at that moment.

Developing Mindfulness as a Skill
Like any new skill, for mindfulness to be effective, you need to practice it.

Many people find it helpful to use a mindfulness recording, like one of the recordings developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, to help guide them.

Developing this skill doesn't mean being "perfect" or judging yourself for not being where you want to be with your mindfulness practice.

In fact, practicing without judgment or attachment is a basic concept in mindfulness.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you feeling anxious, depressed or struggling with unresolved trauma, you owe it to yourself to get help from 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.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self: What is Mindfulness?

The use of mindfulness as part of psychotherapy has become increasingly popular over the last several years.  The popularity of mindfulness can be attributed, in large part, to the development of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) as well as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self:  What is Mindfulness?

But for many people who are new to therapy or to mindfulness concepts, mindfulness still remains somewhat of a mystery.  So before I discuss the benefits of mindfulness, I thought it would be best to first define it as well as look at its origins.

What is Mindfulness?
The word "mindfulness" comes from the Pali word "sati," which means having awareness, attention and remembering.

Being in a mindful state involves getting quiet and having an awareness of the present moment.

When clients practice mindfulness, they have an awareness of their own internal and reflective states without attachment or judgment.

Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self:  What is Mindfulness?

According to the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness enables a sense of connection with others.

He uses the term "interbeing," which is a Buddhist concept which says that by living in the present moment, one can experience the interconnection of all beings.

The Buddhist concept of "interbeing" is similar to the psychological concept of intersubjectivity.

In psychology, intersubjectivity refers to a relational form of therapy where the emphasis is on the intersubjective dynamic between the client and the therapist.

How is Mindfulness Similar to Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy and mindfulness can both:
  • help clients to develop the ability to understand their own as well as others'  behavior
  • emphasize the fluid and temporary nature of internal states
  • enhance emotional regulation and mental flexibility
  • allow clients to be aware in the present moment
  • emphasize the intersubjective dynamic between self and others
Mindfulness as a Resource in Psychotherapy
Since mindfulness can help clients to regulate their emotions, I often help clients to develop mindfulness as a resource in our sessions as well as in their everyday lives.

Mindfulness is especially helpful when clients are processing painful traumatic experiences in therapy.  It allows them to have a dual awareness of processing painful memories as well the present moment of being in therapy room with the therapist.

Mindfulness as a Resource in Psychotherapy

Rather than getting overwhelmed by difficult, powerful emotions, using mindfulness in therapy can help clients to experience these emotions at the same time that they develop an observing self.  This helps clients to manage their emotions.

In a future article, I'll discuss the benefits of using mindfulness in psychotherapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point in his or her own life.

If you're struggling with painful emotions that you've been unable to overcome on your own, you could benefit from attending therapy with 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.