NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Falling In Love With Charisma Instead of Character

An attraction between two people is made of many different aspects, most of which are unconscious (see my article: Confusing Sexual Attraction With Love).  You can be drawn initially to someone's looks, personality, and intelligence.  You might also be bowled over by his or her charisma.  But, beyond charisma, it takes a while to really see who a person is in terms of his or her character and, in the long run, character is much more important than charm (see my article: Are You Ignoring Early Warning Signs in Your Relationship?)

Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

What Does It Mean to Have a Good Character?
Having a good character includes, among other things:
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Loyalty
  • Good judgment
  • Strong Values
How Do People Build Character
Character building usually takes place from an early age when parents teach children morals like "following the Golden Rule" (treating others the way you want to be treated), having a sense of empathy for others, having integrity and being honest.

Character Building Usually Starts at an Early Age

These lessons, which start at a young age, continue on for a lifetime because character building is a lifelong process.

How Do You Assess a Romantic Partner's Character?
As I mentioned before, it takes time.  You need to see this person in many different situations to see how s/he behaves.  As with anything, actions speak louder than words (see my article: Falling In Love With Mr. Wrong Over and Over Again).

Everyone looks good in candlelight.  And when life is going well, you don't necessarily get to see someone's true character.

But when there's a challenging situation in your life or in your partner's life that requires more than just intelligence or charm--that requires honest, integrity, empathy, loyalty or having a sense of values--you're more likely to see if your partner behaves in a way that shows good character.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario which illustrates these points:

Ina met John at her friend's party and she was drawn to him immediately.  He was the handsomest, funniest, most charming man in the room.  Everyone was drawn to him, men and women.

Once they started talking, Ina and John only had eyes for each other.  Within a week, they began dating and spending a lot of time together.

Ina was impressed with how knowledgeable John was about so many interesting topics:  art, movies, languages, real estate, and cooking.

Relationships:  Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

He always complimented her on how she looked and what she wore.  He was attentive to her, and he seemed to hang onto her every word.

He seemed to be the perfect gentleman, and so different from many of the men that she dated before.

Their sex life was exciting and passionate, and Ina felt adventurous in a way she never felt before.

They had many of same interests, including music, art, and a love of dancing.
Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

When Ina introduced him to her close friends, her friends liked him instantly, and found him to be very engaging and charming.  She felt so happy to be with John and that he fit in with her friends.

After several months, Ina had fantasies of spending the rest of her life with John.

Then, about six months later while Ina and John were on vacation, she overheard him having a conversation with a friend about his real estate business.

She was stunned to hear him laugh and say, "Those old geezers who are selling that apartment don't even know what it's worth.  They're selling it way below market rate and they're too stupid to know it."

At first, Ina was so stunned that she couldn't believe what she had heard.  So, when he got off the phone, she asked him about it, and he tried to brush it off and tell her not to worry about it--he was just chatting with a friend.

But Ina grew up learning to respect others, especially the elderly, and she told him that she was surprised at what he said.  She told him that it sounded like he was doing something that was unethical and he was knowingly taking advantage of these older people and enjoying it.

John got defensive and told her he didn't want to talk about it, but when Ina persisted, he exploded, "How do you think I make money?  I make money by investing in properties and then flipping them.  I don't make money by worrying if I'm 'taking advantage of people.'  If you don't understand that, then you're very naive.  Everyone has to look out for himself, and that's what I'm doing--I'm looking out for Number One--me.  There's nothing wrong with what I'm doing."

They argued about this back and forth with John giving her many other examples where he made "good deals" because people didn't understand the value of their property.  This even included family members.

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

As Ina looked at John and listened to him talk, she felt she was no longer looking at the man that she fell in love with several months ago.  He no longer seemed good looking and charming to her.  He just looked ugly to her inside and out.

She knew it was over between them, and she left feeling broken hearted and betrayed.  She thought to herself, "How could I have been fooled by someone who turned out to be so self absorbed, dishonest, uncaring and unethical?"

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

A few weeks later, Ina began therapy to understand how she had been so misled by someone who seemed so wonderful at first.

One of the things that she learned in therapy was that it takes a while to really get to know someone.  She learned that she would need to see someone in good times and bad to really understand what that person is made of and if he is someone with whom she would want to make a long term commitment

People are often attracted to good looks, charm or affluence.  But those are superficial qualities and they're not good predictors of happiness in a relationship.

It takes time to really get to know someone, and you usually get to truly know someone when either you or they are going through a challenging time.

While everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, you can often discern someone's integrity and values when s/he is faced with a moral dilemma or a situation that requires ethical behavior.

Does this person behave with honesty and integrity?  Does s/he have empathy for others?

The two of you might not agree about how to proceed in a particular situation, but if you discover that your partner tends to behave in ways that are selfish, uncaring and dishonest, you would do well to question whether this is someone you want to commit to in a long term relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've had a bad experience in a relationship because you were initially taken in by a charismatic person who turned out to be someone very different from the person you thought he or she was, this can be very confusing and you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional to help you through it (see my article:  Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

Rather than feeling ashamed or guilty about having been taken in by this person, seek help to understand yourself in this situation and to learn to avoid this mistake in the future.

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, September 26, 2015

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma

Many people, who have a traumatic history, avoid coming to therapy because they fear being overwhelmed (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

That's why it's so important for psychotherapists to help clients develop coping strategies while working on emotional trauma so that they can overcome their fears and do the therapeutic work without becoming overwhelmed.

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma 

Before any trauma work begins in therapy, a skilled therapist will help clients to develop the internal resources needed to do the work.

Some clients, who engage in meditation, yoga or other mind-body oriented practices, might already have some internal resources.

Other clients, who might not know how to soothe themselves, will need help from a psychotherapist on how to develop these internal resources.

Internal resources are an important part of preparing to do trauma work.  They allow the client to switch, if necessary, from disturbing memories of trauma to relaxing places within themselves to take a break before resuming the processing of the trauma.

Knowing that they have a way to soothe themselves helps most clients to feel that the trauma work in therapy is manageable so they don't approach the work with overwhelming fear.

Unfortunately, many people who need help to overcome traumatic experiences don't know that skilled trauma therapists facilitate the internal resourcing process, so they avoid coming to therapy because they're too afraid of being overwhelmed.

If they do eventually come to therapy, it's often at the urging of a spouse, their doctor or their employer because the unresolved trauma is causing problems in other areas of their life.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that addresses these issues, which is representative of many similar cases, and I'll discuss how I work:

Tom sought therapy for the first time at the age of 35 at the urging of his wife and his medical doctor.

Despite growing up in a highly dysfunctional family where his mother gambled and his father was physically abusive with everyone in the family, including Tom, Tom did very well in college.

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma 

He established himself in a successful career, he got married and had two children.

Judging from outer appearances, anyone would think that Tom was leading a happy and successful life.  Having a loving wife and children and everything that he needed on a material level, he seemed to be living the American dream.

But, despite external appearances, Tom's inner life was in a state of chaos.  He was good at hiding his anxiety and deep sense of low self worth so that no one would have guessed at his deep unhappiness--except his wife and his doctor, who knew about Tom's panic attacks, anxiety-related stomach problems and his frequent nightmares about the childhood physical abuse he experienced at the hands of his father.

As time went on, Tom experienced an increasing disconnect between the happy facade that he managed to put on for friends and colleagues and his deep unhappiness.

His doctor, who knew Tom and his family for many years, provided Tom with psychoeducation about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) and talked to Tom about how his unresolved trauma from childhood was affecting him now (see my article:  Overcoming Childhood Trauma).

After Tom learned about the ACE study from his doctor, he was amazed that his experiences from so many years ago were still affecting him.

Before he learned about the ACE study, he felt like there was wrong with him since he have everything that he ever wanted, but he still felt anxious and insecure.

His doctor also told him that he could resolve his childhood trauma by getting help in therapy with a psychotherapist who specializes in working on trauma.

Tom was hesitant about seeking help in therapy.  He was afraid that he would be overwhelmed in therapy if he had to delve back into his painful childhood memories.  At the same time, he knew that he needed help.

If Tom came to see me for a consultation, I would explain how I work with clients who have unresolved trauma.

Before processing any traumatic memories, I would get a thorough history of the trauma and family of origin dynamics.  I would also develop an understanding of how the trauma affected him in the past and the present as well as his fears about how it could affect him in the future.

I would help Tom to develop coping skills which, in experiential therapy, is called "resources."

Most clients who come to therapy to work on trauma are usually relieved to hear that I help clients to develop coping tools before any processing of trauma begins.

Resourcing for Tom could include, among other things, helping him to learn how to meditate, learning to discover a "safe or relaxing place"within himself, working to help him integrate and reinforce positive memories about himself as well as helping him to develop imaginal interweaves, which involve imagining nurturing, protective and powerful figures in his life  (see my articles:  Why is EMDR? and Empowering Clients in Therapy).

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma

Usually, as I help clients to process their trauma using experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis, clients begin to experience and understand the connections between their current problems and their unresolved problems from childhood.

Experiential therapy is usually successful with helping clients to overcome trauma more effectively than regular talk therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
People with unresolved trauma often don't realize that their fears of working on their trauma in therapy are usually based on events that already occurred in their life.

As adults, we all have a much greater emotional capacity to deal with trauma than we had as children.

When you look for a therapist, ask her how she works (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist

In addition to finding a therapist who is a trauma expert, you also want to sense that the therapist is empathically attuned to you (see my article: A Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Healing For Clients).  This could take a few sessions to determine.

In my professional opinion, experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis are the most effective forms of therapy for most people who have unresolved trauma (see my article: Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Rather than continuing to suffer on your own, get help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma expert and who uses experiential therapy.

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

One of my specialities is helping clients to overcome emotional trauma.

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, September 21, 2015

Midlife Transitions - Part 2: Living the Life You Want to Live

In my last article, I began a discussion about midlife transitions by defining it, giving some of the possible symptoms and possible challenges involved.  In this article, I've provided a scenario to illustrate the points that I outlined in Part 1).

Midlife Transitions: Living Life the Life You Want to Live

The following scenario, which is a fictionalized account that represents many cases with all identifying information changed, is an example of someone who is going through a midlife transition, the challenges that he faced, and how he was helped in therapy.

Ed was in his life 40s when he began to feel a growing sense of dissatisfaction and unease about his life, especially his career.

After he obtained his MBA, he chose a career in finance while he was still in his mid-20s because he
enjoyed his finance courses in college and he wanted a career that would allow him a lifestyle that was different from his parents' lifestyle.

Having grown up in a family where his parents struggled to make ends meet, Ed knew he never wanted to live that way, so he chose a career where he and his family could live comfortably.

During his 25 year marriage, he felt proud that he and his family lived a comfortable life and he put his two children through college without his children having to go into debt.

He was also glad that he survived many of the changes, including many rounds of layoffs, in his field.

But Ed was aware that he was feeling an increasing sense of malaise at work.  What once made him happy in his career no longer held his interest.
Midlife Transition

He began to question whether he was living his life according to his core values.  And the more he questioned what he was doing in his career, the more he realized that his career choice now felt out of synch with his core values.

During his time in high school and freshman year in college, Ed was involved with volunteer activities that gave him a sense of satisfaction, including volunteering with a reading program where he read to young children in elementary school and volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter.  Both programs were important to him because he liked being around young children and he also liked animals.

During his early years in college, he thought he would choose a major that would be part of one of the helping professions.  But as time went on, Ed decided that it was more important to him to earn a good living and never struggle financially like his parents did, so he majored in Economics in college and obtained an MBA in graduate school.

For a time, after he got married, he was able to continue the volunteer activities, which gave him so much satisfaction.  But after he and his wife began having children and he had to put in long hours at work, he stopped volunteering because he didn't have enough time.

Now, just weeks away from his 48th birthday, Ed realized that he wasn't happy at work any more.  Even though he had been promoted and well compensated over the years, his career and his compensation no longer made him happy, and he wasn't sure what to do.

Midlife Transitions: Living the Life You Want to Live

As he became increasingly preoccupied with his dissatisfaction and after several nights of tossing and turning, he spoke to his wife, Susan, about his sense of malaise.

Susan told him that she noticed that he was irritable and grumpy, and she asked him what he wanted to do.  In response, Ed just threw up his hands--he didn't know what to do.  He couldn't just quit his job.

In the past, Ed tended to be a goal-oriented person and he wasn't usually at a loss about what to do when making major life decisions, so this was a new experience for him.  It was confusing and disheartening, and as time went on, it was starting to erode Ed's sense of self confidence.

Susan suggested that Ed consider seeing a psychotherapist to help him to sort things out and make some decisions.  But Ed had never been in therapy before.  He was concerned that therapy would take a long time, and he felt he didn't want to wait a long time to deal with his feelings.

So, Ed spoke with a close friend, Bill, who had been to therapy and asked Bill what he thought.  Bill told Ed that he was helped a lot in therapy when he was facing a major life decision similar to Ed's dilemma.

He told Ed that there are different type of therapists and different types of therapy.  He told Ed that if he wanted an interactive therapist who works in a dynamic way, he should ask about this when he called to make an appointment and get more details when he went for the consultation.

Even though the thought of going to therapy made Ed feel uncomfortable, the prospect of struggling on his own with this issue made him feel even more uncomfortable, so he started looking for a therapist and asking each one how s/he worked.

After a few consultations, Ed found a therapist who was interactive and dynamic.  They worked together to help Ed to discover what he really wanted at this point in his life so that he could take action.

Working together with the therapist, Ed realized that what was once important to him, working in finance and having a high income, was no longer important to him.  He liked being well compensated, but the money didn't compensate for his lack of satisfaction at work.

Exploring Core Values in Therapy and Developing Goals

He and his therapist explored Ed's core values and his current interests, and he was surprised to discover that he had been dissatisfied for quite some time, but he wasn't allowing himself to feel it.

With continued self exploration, Ed was surprised to realize that his volunteer work with children gave him the most satisfaction.  He realized that he wanted to set up his own volunteer reading program where adults would read to children to help them develop an interest in books and reading.

He knew that he couldn't establish this program overnight and he would need to do research and write a grant proposal.  This would take time and effort to establish.

It would also take time for Ed to see himself in a new way.  For most of his life, Ed defined himself in terms of his career.  He wondered what it might be like for him to see himself in this new way after so many years.

Once Ed made up his mind to proceed, he was excited about this new prospect.  More and more, he could imagine himself happily engaged in this new endeavor.  He felt his old confidence coming back, and he realized that this new project would be aligned with his core values.

He and Susan talked about this change and they realized that within two years Ed could retire from his finance job with a compensation package that would still allow them to live comfortably while Ed worked on his new project.

Each week Ed talked in therapy about how he was adjusting emotionally to seeing himself in this new way and how he was dealing with the challenges, both emotional and practical, that were involved.

As he came closer to his retirement, he discussed his idea with his boss and discovered that his firm was interested in contributing financially to the project.

Midlife Transitions: Living the Life You Want to Live

By the time Ed retired and began his new program, he was feeling more alive and full of purpose than he had in many years.  He and his wife were also closer and enjoying each other's company more than ever.  He knew he had made the right decision.

There are as many variations to midlife transitions as there are people who are going through these changes.

Everyone responds to change differently, especially major life changes.

Reevaluating life during your midlife is a common experience for most people.

People are often surprised to discover that they're yearning to return to vocation or interest that they abandoned many years ago.

Midlife is a time to evaluate your life thus far and make important decisions about how you want to live and how you'll accomplish your goals.

People are also surprised that once they've discovered what how they want to live and what they want to do, they experienced a renewed energy and greater satisfaction with life.

Getting Help in Therapy
Major life changes can be challenging as well as exhilarating.

Self exploration to discover what changes you want to make can be difficult to do on your own, especially if you fear making changes.

Struggling on your own with inner conflict and indecision can waste valuable time and can lead nowhere.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist, who works in an interactive and dynamic way, who can help you do the in-depth exploration of your inner world as well as helping you to take action once you've decided what you want to do, can be invaluable.

A skilled therapist can facilitate the process and help you to lead a more 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 people to make changes in their life so they're leading the life they want to lead.

I use many different modalities and work in a creative, dynamic and interactive way.

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, September 14, 2015

Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life - Part 1

In a prior article, Living Authentically - Aligned With Your Values, I discussed that people come to therapy because they're living lives that aren't aligned with their core values.  In this article, I'm focusing on a particular time in life, midlife, when people often reassess their lives and discover that they're not living the life that they want to live, and they're faced with the challenge of making changes so that they'll lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: Making Changes).

Midlife Change

Some people refer to this stage in life as "a midlife crisis" and for many people it does feel like a crisis, but not everyone responds to it in that way.

For many people, midlife, roughly defined from about age 40-60+, is viewed as a transitional time to assess how they're living their life now and how they want to live the rest of their life, especially if they're unhappy with where they are now (see my article: Navigating Life's Transitions)

Defining Midlife Transition
Let's start by defining what we mean by this transitional time in midlife, which can include:
  • Questioning the meaning of life
  • Questioning how you've been living your life and major decisions you've made in the past, which could include relationships, career and other major life decisions
  • Questioning your faith/religion or lack of faith/religion
  • Being preoccupied about aging and death
  • Feeling confused about how you see yourself, others, and life in general
  • Feeling bored and dissatisfied with life as it is now, including relationships, career, and overall lifestyle
  • Feeling a general sense of restlessness
  • Feeling a yearning to do something new and different
  • Daydreaming about living a different kind of life, possibly in a different place with different people
  • Feeling generally irritable and anger, which is not part of how you usually feel
  • Noticing age-related changes in your body, including weight gain, hair loss, wrinkles, menopausal symptoms and other age-related changes
  • Feeling less attractive
  • Feeling a loss of confidence
  • Acting out with alcohol, drugs, gambling, overspending, food or with a sexual affair
  • Lack of libido with your partner or spouse
  • Feeling nostalgic for a time when you were younger
  • Daydreaming about "the one who got away" (a former romantic interest)
  • And other related reactions

Not everyone who has some of the experiences listed above is going through a midlife crisis.
Much will depend on how you respond to the need for change.

Some people experience it as exhilarating and filled with new possibilities.

Other people respond with fear (see my articles: Fear of Change and Making Changes Within Yourself to Live the Life You Want).

Why Do People Go Through Midlife Transition?
Going through a midlife transition is a natural part of being human.

For some people, it occurs because of a major change in their lives or a major change in someone close to them, which could include:
  • Losing a job
  • Coping with a major illness
  • Coping with a problem with a spouse or partner, including infidelity or other forms of betrayal
  • Going through a divorce or breakup of a relationship
  • Death of a parent or sibling
  • Death of a spouse or significant other
  • Death of a child
  • Losing a close friend
  • Considering reconciling a relationship with a parent, sibling or former lover or friend
  • Shocking personal news 
  • Financial crisis
  • Other major losses or changes
For other people, it comes naturally at a certain age or time in life when they're faced with the reality of their own mortality.

Realizing that time is precious, they question how they want to spend the rest of their life so that they don't look back with regret about what they "could've" or "would've" done and didn't do.

Even though going through a midlife transition can be challenging and confusing, the alternative, which  would be living life in a mindless way without taking time to reassess your life, is more challenging in the long run and can lead to regret in old age without recourse for change at that point (see my article: Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone).

I'll continue this discussion in my next article with a scenario that illustrates some of the points that I've made in this article (see Part 2 of this topic).

Getting Help in Therapy
A midlife transition is usually a process.  It's not a change that's usually made in a day or a week.  It often occurs in stages and it's a normal part of life (see my article: Being Open to New Possibilities).

If you're struggling with midlife questions and issues, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to navigate through this challenging time.

Rather than struggling on your own, a licensed psychotherapist can help to facilitate this process by assessing your life so far, where you are, where you'd like to be, what you would need to do to get there and how to overcome the emotional blocks that might get in the way of your taking action.

With help, you could be navigate through this change and lead the life that you want to live.

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 individuals and couples going through a midlife transition.

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.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time

Many people find it difficult to make decisions about their lives, whether it involves family, romantic, relationships, friendships or career.  They approach decision making as if it is a "do or die" endeavor and fail to recognize that, with time, as the old saying goes:  "Indecision becomes decision" (anonymous quote).

Fear of Making Decisions:  Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time

Why Are People Afraid to Make Decision?
People who have a tendency to approach decision making with fear act as if whatever decision they make will put them on an unchangeable collision course with death.

But when you think about it, in many cases decisions that are made can be changed.

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time

So, for instance, if you're considering career options, rather than thinking that you'll be spending the rest of your life in a particular career, which makes possible decisions seem very daunting, you can recognize that many people change careers several times in a lifetime for a variety of reasons.

Maybe the career that they chose originally suited them at the time and no longer suits them.  Possibly, they're in a better position to do what they always wanted to do but didn't have the opportunity to do.  And so on.

Making No Decision, By Default, Becomes a Decision
You can only stand on the fence for so long before no decision becomes a decision.

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes Decision With Time

So, for instance, if you spend your whole life wondering whether or not you want to get married and you pass up compatible romantic partners along the way, at some point when you're at the end of your life, you can look back and see that your indecision became a decision to remain single.

Depending upon how you feel about being single, that might be fine.  But if you live to regret your indecision, you realize that, by default, you chose to remain single, even though you might have done it passively.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario of how indecision becomes a decision with regard to a romantic relationship:

Tom grew up in a household where his parents were constantly bickering and at odds with each other.

At an early age, Tom decided that he never wanted to get married because he believed that, even when two people entered into a marriage loving each other, over time, marriage spoiled everything.

During his senior year in college, he met Lori, a kind, intelligent, attractive woman who had many similar interests to Tom.

After they graduated college, Tom and Lori moved in together.  They lived together happily for several years--until Lori brought up marriage and having children.

Lori was already aware of Tom's feelings about marriage, but she hoped that he would change his mind  as time passed and he could see how happy they were with each other.

Tom was committed to their relationship, but he had a deep seated fear that everything would change, as it had for his parents, if he and Lori got married.

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes Decision With Time

Over the next few years, Lori was patient and he and Lori continued to talk about the possibility of getting married.

Although his fears softened somewhat over time, Tom couldn't make a decision, one way or the other, as to whether he would marry Lori.  On the one hand, this was something that Lori really wanted and he didn't want to lose her.  On the other hand, he didn't want to ruin the good relationship that they had by getting married.

But as time went by, tension grew between them about the possibility of marriage.

Feeling that she was  coming to the end of her patience, Lori told Tom that she wanted to have children with Tom and she wanted to do this as a married couple.  She didn't want to wait any longer to have children.

Reluctantly, she told Tom that she felt his indecision about marriage was actually a decision, by default, not to get married.  She told him that she would stay with him until the end of the year and if by that time, nothing changed, she would leave.

Tom also wanted to have children and, for his part, he would have been willing to have children with Lori while they were living together.  But he realized now that, for Lori, this wasn't an option.

Feeling the pressure mount and not knowing what else to do, Tom sought help from a licensed mental health professional.

As part of his therapy, Tom worked through his fears, which stemmed from unresolved emotional wounds from childhood.

Overcoming Fear of Making Decisions

Over time, Tom recognized that his perspective about marriage was distorted by his experience of his parents' marriage, and that he and Lori had a much healthier relationship.  This allowed him to make a decision to get married to Lori and start a family.

When you're trying to make a decision, there are no guarantees that, whatever you choose, things will work out.

But, over time, no decision becomes a passive decision to do nothing, and that's usually the worst choice.

Like Tom in the fictionalized scenario above, many people have problems making decisions because of unresolved emotional issues that taint their decision making process.  In many other cases, people learned as children to be anxious about making decisions.

Getting Help in Therapy
One of the worst feelings that someone can have at end of his or her life is to look back and say, "If only I had…" (fill in the blank) when it's now too late.

If you have a decision to make where you have been on the fence for a while, you're probably aware that, at some point, doing nothing becomes a decision not to change, and this is probably not the option that you want.

So, rather than allow time to make the decision for you by default, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist, who has experience helping clients in situations similar to yours.

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 with fear of making a decisions to overcome this fear so they could lead 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.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings So You Can Heal

As a psychotherapist, many clients tell me that, before they came to therapy, they tried to suppress painful feelings because they were afraid that they would be overwhelmed.  But, as most people discover, when you try to suppress painful feelings, these feelings actually intensify.  So, in order to heal emotionally, you need to allow yourself to feel your feelings, and if you find this too difficult to do on your own, you can work with a psychotherapist who is trained to help clients through this healing process.

Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings So You Can Heal

Feeling Your Feelings Can Free Up More Energy Within You
Aside from intensifying the emotional pain, suppressing your feelings also takes a lot of energy.

Many people who have worked through painful feelings in therapy realize just how much energy it took to suppress these feelings because they're suddenly aware of how much more energy they have since they stopped suppressing their painful feelings.

For many people, it opens up a new world.  They talk about feeling "more alive" and energetic as well as being open to new experiences.

Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in Therapy in a Safe and Supportive Environment
It's understandable that anyone might want to avoid feeling emotional pain, especially if he's trying to do it on his own.

If the feelings are related to an emotional trauma, experiencing painful feelings on your own can bring up memories of being alone when the trauma occurred, especially if they occurred when you were a child.

Early childhood emotional trauma is compounded when a child goes through it without emotional support from a compassionate adult.

But, for a variety of reasons, the adults in the child's environment might not be emotionally available to soothe the child.  They might be depressed or overwhelmed themselves.  So, the child goes through it alone and this adds to the child's trauma.

As a result, it's especially important for people who went through early childhood trauma to be in therapy in a supportive environment with a therapist who is skilled in helping clients to work through trauma in a gentle way.

I emphasize the word "gentle" because working on trauma in therapy needs to be done in a way where the work feels manageable and the client feels emotionally safe.

For people who have had complex trauma, "safe" might be a relative term, and it could take a while before they feel safe enough with a therapist before they can process the trauma in therapy.

Developing Internal Coping Skills in Therapy to Process the Trauma
Even though many clients who come to therapy want to "get rid of the bad feelings as quickly as possible," this is usually counterproductive because it's often too overwhelming to plunge into the deepest part of the trauma immediately.

After the initial stage of therapy where the client reveals the presenting problem and his history, the trauma therapist needs to assess the client's internal coping skills to assess his capacity to handle doing the work.

If it seems like the client will be easily overwhelmed, the therapist needs to help the client to develop the internal coping skills to do the work.  This preparation stage is a very important stage of therapy that is often overlooked by inexperienced therapists who might yield to a client's demands to start working directly on the trauma immediately.

Preparing the client to develop internal coping skills to process the trauma is called "resourcing" (see my article about resourcing).

Developing Internal Coping Skills in Therapy

In addition to having a compassionate, skilled therapist, developing internal resources gives the client the tools necessary to deal with whatever comes up during the therapy session or between sessions.

After clients have developed the internal resources to process emotional trauma, most clients say that processing the trauma in therapy feels like a manageable process, and many of them wish they had not waited to get help.

In addition to helping clients to prepare for trauma work, a skilled therapist knows how to track what's going on emotionally with the client in session and also teaches the client how to track their own feelings.

How does the therapist help the client to track their own feelings?  Well, there are many ways.  One of the most important ways is to help the client to recognize what's going on in the client's body (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Mind).

The body holds both conscious and unconscious emotions, so if the client is able to identify those emotions based on what she feels in her body, she will develop a greater capacity to access and identify feelings.

The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Holds Conscious and Unconscious Emotions

For many clients who have been traumatized, learning to access and identify feelings in the body is something that has to be learned with the help of the therapist because they might be emotionally numb at first.

Emotional numbing is a defense mechanism that might have been very helpful if a child was  overwhelmed with emotion and there was no one to help her.  But emotional numbing as an adult isn't helpful--it gets in the way of knowing what you feel.  It also gets in the way of having relationships with other people.

Not only that--when you numb yourself, you don't just numb the painful feelings, you numb all your feelings, including the happy ones.  After a while, you just feel emotionally "flat."

Experiential Therapy in Trauma Work
Over the years, I've discovered that regular talk therapy isn't always effective for all clients who come to therapy to work on traumatic experiences.

One of the problems with regular talk therapy for many clients, especially clients who have been in talk therapy before, is that they learn how to talk about the trauma so that it remains an intellectual experience for them and not a healing experience.

Rather than feeling their feelings, they've learned to intellectualize about it.  They can describe it and explain it and even have intellectual insight about their problem, but they still feel the same--nothing changes.

It's as if their heads are separated experientially from their bodies, which makes it difficult to access their emotions.

There are different types of experiential therapy that, in my professional opinion, are better for processing emotional trauma than talk therapy, and these include:  EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Coherence Therapy and clinical hypnosis (see my article: Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Choosing a Psychotherapist
One of the best predictors of a good outcome in therapy is a good therapeutic rapport between the client and the therapist.

When you first meet a psychotherapist for a consultation, it's important to be able to distinguish your general feeling of anxiety about coming for therapy from whether or not you feel comfortable with the therapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you've had a significant history of emotional trauma, especially early childhood trauma, you might find it difficult to trust anyone.

This is understandable and an experienced, compassionate therapist will understand that it might take a while for you to develop enough trust to begin processing the trauma.  With the help of your therapist, you might need to spend more time building a rapport and doing preparation for processing the trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although allowing yourself to feel painful feelings can seem like a daunting and scary process, avoiding feeling your emotions only make things worse.

The only way to heal emotionally is by going through the process.

Ensuring the best possible experience in therapy involves choosing an experienced and skilled psychotherapist with whom you feel a rapport.

If trying to deal with your problems on your own hasn't worked for you, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to heal and live a more fulfilling life.

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

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma.

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend

As a psychotherapist, I often hear people, who have never been in therapy, ask the question, "How is talking to a therapist different from talking to a friend?"  This comes up often enough for people considering going to therapy that I think it's worth discussing in this article.

How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend

Many people, who have never been to therapy, think that there's no difference between speaking with a  licensed mental health practitioner and speaking with a friend.  They feel that the only difference is that they have to pay a therapist and they don't have to pay a friend, but working on your issues with a licensed psychotherapist is very different from talking to a friend.

Let's take a closer look at the differences:

Licensed Psychotherapists are Trained Mental Health Professionals
To be a licensed psychotherapist in New York, you have to get special training.  Aside from getting a graduate degree, a therapist must have of several years of experience in the field before she can call herself a licensed therapist.

Aside from taking mental health courses in graduate school, this also includes two internships as well as a fair amount of clinical supervision.

How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend

Psychotherapists who want more in-depth clinical training attend four more years of advanced training beyond graduate school as I did when I attended postgraduate mental health training.

Psychotherapists in New York also have to continue to develop professionally by attending continuing education courses to continue developing their clinical skills.

By the time a therapist is licensed in New York, she has already worked in the field for a while and has seen many clients.

An experienced therapist knows how to be attuned to clients (see my article:  A Psychotherapist's Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative to Clients).

Licensed Psychotherapists Are Objective
Whereas your friends are caring and compassionate, they're usually not objective.  They might automatically take your side without being objective enough to see your situation in all of its complexity.  They might tell you what you want to hear or they might have some stake in the situation that you're dealing with at the time.

In addition, they might allow their personal feelings to get in the way of hearing what you have to say, especially if they're dealing with similar problems.

How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend

Psychotherapists are trained to be objective.  They're also trained to help you look at your problems from many different angles, possibly angles that you haven't considered before.  They can help you to develop new insights into yourself so that you can grow as a person.

In addition, they can help you to understand how your current problem might be related to your history.  This is often difficult for most people to do if they're not trained as a psychotherapist.

Licensed Psychotherapists Must Keep Your Sessions Confidential
Except under a few circumstances that involve either suicide, homicide or child or elder abuse, your psychotherapy sessions are confidential.

While your friend might inadvertently reveal your personal problems to someone else, your therapist is bound by confidentiality.

Also, therapists are trained to create a safe and emotionally supportive environment for clients without judging them (see my article: The Creation of a "Holding Environment" in Therapy).

In addition, many people, who are concerned about a friend or a family member being judgmental, prefer to talk to a therapist about their problems.

Licensed Psychotherapists Are Trained to Maintain Appropriate Boundaries in Therapy Sessions
Along with maintaining confidentiality, psychotherapists get training to maintain professional ethics.

An experienced therapist knows how to develop a rapport with clients while maintaining appropriate boundaries.

How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend

Licensed Psychotherapists Keep the Focus on You
Whereas your friend might want to also talk about her problems when you already feel overwhelmed by your own, a therapist focuses on you.

The therapy session is a time and place that is dedicated to only you.  The therapist isn't going to be talking about her problems.

The Importance of Having an Emotional Support System Outside of Therapy
As I've written in a prior article, it's important to have an emotional support system outside of therapy (see my article: Emotional Support From Your Family of Choice).

It's not a matter of choosing friends or choosing to be in therapy.  Both are important and have different roles in your life.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've never attended therapy before, you might find it helpful to read my article, How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

There are times when we all need help.  If you haven't been able work out your problems on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who can help you work through your problems so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

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.