NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

Even though no one wants to feel unhappy or experience emotional trauma, it's an unfortunate fact of life that we will all have distressful experiences in life.  There's no way to avoid it.  So, it's best to learn to develop resilience in order to strengthen your ability to cope with adversity when it occurs (see my article:  What is Emotional Resilience?)

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

Not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up in a family where they are taught to handle stressful situations or where resilience is modeled for them by their parents.

In fact, many people, who grew in homes where there was overwhelming family stressors, might have learned maladaptive ways of coping with stress.

For example, in families where one or both parents drank excessively, used drugs, gambled compulsively or engaged in other maladaptive behavior, many children integrate these behaviors at an unconscious level, and many of them develop the same dysfunctional behaviors.

It's important to recognize that the integration of these maladaptive behaviors occurs on an unconscious level.

Even though these children might tell themselves that they never want to engage in the same self destructive behaviors, the unconscious mind has taken in what they have experienced with their parents on such a deep level that it can easily become part of their own behavior when they become adults (see my article: Discovering That You've Developed the Same Traits That You Disliked in Your Parents).

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy
Psychotherapists who use the mind-body connection in therapy usually assess clients in therapy to evaluate their strengths, coping skills, and where clients might need help to become more resilient (see my article: Developing Coping Skills in Therapy).

For most people, the issue of resilience isn't so black and white.  It's not a matter of being resilient or not.  Many people bounce back under certain circumstances, but they might find it more challenging in other circumstances.

So part of the clinical assessment is to determine where clients have been able to bounce back in the past and where they find it more challenging.

As part of taking a personal history with a client, a skilled psychotherapist is listening for information about these different circumstances and how they might relate to the current presenting problem that brings the client into therapy.

This helps the mind-body oriented therapist to develop a collaborative treatment plan that can use the client's strengths in one area to help with another.

Even when the client feels (erroneously) that they have no strengths to call upon within themselves or they have problems accessing their underlying strengths, they often know of other people who have exhibited the same strengths that they wish they had.

Or, even if they can't think of anyone that they know personally, they will probably have seen resilience in a character from a movie, TV program or in a book.

A psychotherapist, who works with imaginal interweaves, which are used in mind-body oriented psychotherapy as a way to help clients develop internal resources, can help a client to imagine the strengths the client has seen in others, whether he knows them or not.

The wonderful thing about imagining someone else's emotional resourcefulness is that you tap into your own emotional resourcefulness, possibly resources that you didn't even know you had.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario to illustrate how this works:

Jane came to therapy because her boyfriend had just broken up with her.

On an intellectual level, Jane knew that she had gone through other breakups before and that she eventually bounced back, even though in the beginning she felt completely overwhelmed and hopeless.

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

But on an emotional level, Jane felt helpless and hopeless to deal with the loss of her boyfriend.  So, it was immediately apparent that there was a disconnect between what she knew intellectually, based on her prior experience, and what she felt emotionally.

Jane also blamed herself for the breakup.  She blamed herself even though she couldn't think of anything that she could have done to make her boyfriend want to leave her, and her boyfriend assured her that it had nothing to do with her--he was just incapable of sustaining a relationship.

She had the emotional support of close friends and family members, which she appreciated.  But it made little difference in how she felt.

Jane also had the respect and admiration of her professional colleagues in a challenging career where she had overcome many obstacles to become professionally successfully.

But none of this made any difference for her--she still felt helpless.

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

At least, that's how she felt on an emotionally level.  Logically, she thought that she would probably meet someone new in time.  So, here again was another disconnect between her emotional self and her logical self.

As part of her personal history, Jane revealed that her mother was in and out of her life as a young child.  When she was younger, Jane was given no reason why her mother suddenly came and went.

But as a young adult, she learned that her mother had a drug problem and she attended multiple inpatient rehabs, and this is why she disappeared from Jane's life so many times.

During those times, Jane's maternal aunt would move in to help Jane's father take care of her.  While her aunt made sure that Jane's basic necessities were taken care of, she was emotionally cold and distant with Jane.  And Jane's father worked two jobs, so he was usually out of the house.  When he was home, he was often too tired to interaction with Jane.

So, there was often no one at home to provide her with the love and nurturing that she needed (see my article: What is the Connection Between Child Emotional Neglect and Problems Later On in Adult Relationships).

As an only child, Jane grew up feeling lonely most of the time.  She spent most of her time at home alone playing by herself, wishing that her mother would come back home.

When her mother came home, she would spend time with Jane, which made Jane happy.  Despite her drug problem, her mother could be warm and loving.

But Jane's mother was often inconsistent in her behavior.  She would make promises to Jane, but then she wouldn't keep them.  The most devastating of these broken promises was that she would stay with Jane and she wouldn't go away again.

As a young child, not knowing that her mother was struggling with a drug addiction, Jane would believe her mother each time that she promised that she would never go away.  And each time Jane was heart broken when she came home from school and she discovered that her aunt was there because her mother had gone away again.

With no explanation as to why her mother left, Jane would blame herself, as most young children do under these circumstances.  She thought she must have done something "bad" for her mother to leave her again.  She would go over and over in her mind what she could have done to make her mother angry (she assumed her mother left each time because she was angry with Jane), but she couldn't come up with anything.

Based on Jane's description of her history of blaming herself as a child for her mother's absences and also blaming herself for the recent breakup, it was apparent that there was an old ingrained unconscious pattern that was repeating itself over and over with people who were emotionally unreliable (see my article: Falling In Love With "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again).

As part of helping Jane to develop internal emotional resources, I asked her to bring in 10 memories where she felt confident about herself (see my article: Coping Strategies in Mind-Body Psychotherapy: Remember Memories of Feeling Confident).

It was not a surprise that Jane's positive memories involved achievements in school and in her career because her academic and career achievements were where Jane felt the most confident.

I used clinical hypnosis to help Jane to remember one experience at a time where she felt strong and confident.  Despite feeling helpless and hopeless about her romantic life, Jane was able to access that confident part of herself, and we used hypnosis to help her strengthen those experiences within herself.

Initially, when I talked to Jane about positive role models for imaginal interweaves, she couldn't think of anyone in her life that was a powerful, nurturing or wise person.  But I encouraged Jane to think beyond her immediate family  and friends to possible experiences with teachers, mentors or other people who had a positive influence on her.

Then, Jane remembered a high school teacher that she admired who was warm and friendly and who motivated and encouraged Jane.  Beyond that, Jane's knew that her teacher saw something special in her and this helped Jane to feel more confident in herself.

She also remembered an older professor who was wise and kind, and a former supervisor who was a mentor whom she also considered to be a wise person.

In addition, Jane remembered a few female characters from books that she read that she admired for their strength and perseverance, so we also used them as part of her imaginal interweaves.

Then, we used EMDR to help Jane overcome her feelings of helplessness and hopelessness about the recent breakup.

During the EMDR processing, we did a "float back," also known as a "bridge back" or "affect bridge" to take Jane back to her earliest memories of feeling abandoned by her mother (see my article: Healing Old Emotional Wounds).

Jane began to realize that what made her romantic breakups so devastating was that these earlier memories of being abandoned, which were still powerful for her, got triggered.

So, in working on the earliest memories of feeling unloved and abandoned, she was able to work through the early trauma as well as the feelings of being abandoned in the recent breakup.

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

EMDR is also a powerful treatment modality that helps clients to make connections where there have been disconnections.  So, Jane's emotional feelings and her logical thinking about herself became more integrated.

Jane also realized that she had a lot of strengths that she had been unaware of and that she could call on these strengthens during difficult times.  All of this helped Jane to develop a much more resilient self.

Some people are fortunate to have developed resilience as they were growing up, and their resilience helps them as adults to get through tough times.

Many other people are resilient in some areas of their life, like Jane who overcame obstacles in her career to become successful, but they might be more vulnerable emotionally in their personal lives because of their family history.

A skilled psychotherapist, who knows how to help clients to develop a more resilient self, takes a full history, assessing the client's strengths and vulnerabilities, and provides clients with tools to develop resilience.  This process will be different for each client.

When there has been significant emotional trauma, an experienced therapist, who uses mind-body oriented therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing or clinical hypnosis, will also help the client to work through the trauma.

Reading an article about developing a more resilient self in therapy might make it seem that this work is quick.  But, even though mind-body oriented therapy usually works faster than talk therapy, it's not a quick fix, especially if there is longstanding complex trauma.  With longstanding trauma, it can take anywhere from months to years, but there is often relief along the way.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have tried to overcome your emotional problems on your own and you feel stuck, you could benefit from getting help in therapy from a licensed mental health professional who uses mind-body oriented therapy.

Developing Resilience: Getting Help in Therapy

Although you might feel hopeless, you might also be surprised to discover the many strengths that you do have that you have overlooked and that can emerge in a mind-body oriented therapy.

Rather than suffering on your own, you could be helped in therapy to transcend your problems to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

Helping clients to recognize their strengths, develop a more resilient self and overcome emotional trauma are my specialties.

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.