NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

As a psychotherapist who is a trauma specialist in New York City, I have written many articles about healing trauma, including: 

In this article, I'm focusing on the healing effect of emotionally reparative relationships for people who have experienced childhood trauma.

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

As you may know, early emotional trauma can have devastating effects psychologically, physically and interpersonally.

Although you can't change what happened to you in the past, emotionally reparative relationships can help you to heal (see my article: You Can't Change the Past, But You Can Change How the Past Affects You Now).

What is an Emotionally Reparative Relationship?
An emotionally reparative relationship is a relationship that is emotionally supportive and nurturing.

Unlike the neglectful or abusive relationships that traumatized individuals had with parents and others in their childhood, these supportive people are there for them now.

These reparative relationships can be with a spouse or significant other, loving friendships, a close mentoring relationship, a loving pet and so on.

You can also have an emotionally reparative relationship with a skilled psychotherapist (see my article: The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative to the Client).

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

Choosing Healthy Relationships is a Challenge For Childhood Trauma Survivors
The challenge for people who experienced childhood trauma is that they often choose people who will hurt or betray them (see my articles: Relationships: Are You Attracted to People Who Hurt You?).

Choosing hurtful or abusive relationships are usually unconscious choices.

Due to a childhood history of being mistreated, it's often difficult to know how to discern people who will be loving from people who will be abusive (see my article: Emotionally Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?).

The other major problem is that if ,when they were children, people couldn't trust their parents, it's understandable that they would wonder if they can trust others as adults (see my article: Adults Who Were Neglected as Children Often Have Problems Trusting Others).

Mistrust can lead to social isolation and shying away from relationships--both romantic relationships and friendships (see my article: Overcoming Social Isolation and Loneliness).

The Effect of Emotional Trauma Can Be Fear, Mistrust, Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation leads to loneliness.  So, every so often, to overcome their loneliness, they might open up to meeting someone new, hoping that this new person will treat them well.

But if they have little or no experience in how to choose healthy people to be in their lives, they haven't developed the necessary skills to make healthy choices.

In addition, the unconscious mind can be a powerful factor in being drawn to what's familiar.

So, if what's familiar to them is mistreatment, without realizing it, they often choose people who will be hurtful (see my article: Choosing "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again).

Choosing someone who is hurtful confirms their "reality" that people can't be trusted and opening up to new people will only lead to emotional pain.

It's easy to see how this could lead to an ongoing cycle from fear and mistrust to social isolation to loneliness to opening up (to overcome feelings of loneliness) and then to making poor choices again.  Then, the cycle starts again going back to fear, social isolation, loneliness and so on.

Eventually, many people, who are caught up in this cycle over and over, give up on relationships altogether.

They decide that it's too painful to open up to others and they remain alone.  Their thinking is usually:  It's better to be alone than to risk getting hurt again (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

This is very unfortunate because they don't see how their own unconscious mind leads them to keep choosing what's familiar and that if they worked through their early trauma in therapy, they could free themselves from their early history and make better choices (see my article: Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

Doing Trauma Therapy to Overcome Early Trauma
While the thought of being in therapy to work through early trauma might seem daunting, it's far less daunting than the prospect of continuing to choose people who are hurtful or abusive or giving up on relationships altogether.

There are many different ways of working on early trauma.

In my professional opinion, the most effective modalities are mind-body oriented therapy, such as EMDR Therapy, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

Doing Trauma Work in Therapy to Overcome Early Trauma

A skilled trauma therapist will make sure that clients are emotionally ready to do trauma work.

This will include doing the necessary preparation in terms of developing internal and external resources so the work isn't retraumatizing to clients (see my article: Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma).

As I mentioned earlier, you can't change what you didn't get in your childhood, so it's important to grieve for the abuse, emotional deprivation and major losses.

There's no fixed time when the grief is over, especially when the trauma involves multiple losses or mistreatment on many levels.

But, in most cases, with help in trauma therapy, the grief eventually subsides, which can feel like a big weight has been lifted from you.

Part of working on trauma in therapy is also helping you to develop the insight and skills you didn't develop earlier in terms of choosing healthier people in your life, so you don't continue to make the same mistakes, which lead to getting hurt again (see my article: Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships and  Choosing Healthier Relationships).

Developing Healthy Relationships
Choosing healthier relationships can include:
  • Developing friendships with people who are trustworthy, emotionally supportive and nurturing.  Healthy people can be there for you in ways that your family might not have been when you were growing up (see my article: Emotional Support From Your Family of Choice).
  • Choosing a romantic partner who is loving, kind and supportive, who will be there for you in good times and in bad.
  • Choosing wise people in the form of mentors, teachers or spiritual leaders who will provide inspiration, motivation and guidance.
  • Choosing a caring psychotherapist who will be attuned to your emotional needs and who will help you to overcome early trauma and to make healthy choices in your life.
  • Loving and caring for a pet, who provides unconditional love (see my article: Our Pets Help Us to Be Healthier and Happier).

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

These relationships can be emotionally healing.  They can fill in the emotional "holes" that were left due to early abuse or neglect.  They can provide the nurturance and love you didn't get in your childhood.

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

It's also important that these relationships are reciprocal.

In healthy relationships, the emotional support, love and nurturance go both ways.  It's not a one way street.

So, part of the work in therapy is also to learn how to be in reciprocal relationships.

This is important because many people who have had abuse or neglect in early childhood often become other people's rescuers (see my article: How to Stop Being the "Rescuer" in Your Family).

They're always the ones that others go to for help, whether it's emotional, financial or some other kind of help.  But they don't allow others to be supportive of them or they choose people who aren't capable of being supportive.

Other people who were traumatized as children hope to be the ones who are rescued (see my article: Overcoming Fantasies of Being Rescued).  They feel a need to be overly dependent upon others.

So, healthy, mature relationships include both give and take over time and aren't about rescuing or being rescued.  They are mutually supportive relationships.

Emotionally reparative relationships can help to heal the effects of early childhood trauma.

It's usually necessary to first do trauma work in therapy to get to the point where you feel open enough and ready to make healthy choices in relationships, so you don't keep making unhealthy choices.

Part of the work is grieving for your losses and healing from your childhood experiences, but also recognizing that it's possible to get love and emotional support in new relationships.

Healthy relationships, whether it's a friendship or a romantic relationship, include reciprocity so that it's a mutually supportive relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
As I've mentioned in previous articles, untreated emotional trauma can have serious consequences in terms of emotional and physical health.

Healing Trauma: Getting Help in Therapy

Untreated emotional trauma can also have a damaging effect on your marriage, your relationships with your children and other important relationships.

Rather than getting caught in a cycle of fear, mistrust, isolation and despair, you can get help with a skilled trauma therapist so that you can free yourself from your trauma history to live a happier 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 clients to overcome their trauma history to lead more fulfilling lives.

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

How One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

One person can make a difference in an emotionally traumatized child's life (see my article: Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience).  More about this later in this article.

How Even One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

First some background:

The ACE Study
A landmark study that was conducted in 1998, called the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study found that the more types of emotional trauma a person experienced, the more likely it is that they  will develop social, behavioral, and emotional problems and the adult onset of chronic medical problems.

These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include:
  • direct emotional, physical and sexual abuse
  • a mother being treated violently
  • a family member with substance abuse or mental illness
  • parental separation and divorce
  • a house member incarcerated
  • emotional and physical neglect
Some specialists also include experiencing racism or witnessing violence, which I believe are also very important categories.

At around the same time that of the ACE study, Harvard researchers and pediatricians were conducting research on toxic stress.

They discovered that repeated and continuous exposure of toxic stress can have a negative impact on a child's brain development.  Their findings led them to question whether childhood trauma could be prevented or it's impact could be reduced.

How One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

As a psychotherapist, who specializes in helping clients to overcome emotional trauma, I've worked with many clients who have experienced both shock trauma and developmental trauma.

I have found that it is often the case that, even where there was emotional, physical and sexual abuse or neglect, adults, who experienced trauma as children, can often name at least one person in their childhood who made a difference in their life.

How One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

These often include relatives outside the immediate family, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, family friends, therapists and others who provided emotional support that helped to mitigate the emotional trauma they were experiencing as children.

Even when clients come to therapy and they can't immediately think of someone in their life who made a difference, over time, while working in therapy, they often remember people that they haven't thought of in a long time and realize how important those people were to their emotional survival.

The following is a fictionalized vignette, which is a composite based on many different cases with no identifying information, illustrates these points:

Mike came to therapy after many years of experiencing very little joy in his life.

How One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

He was married and gainfully employed, and he was able to function in his daily life.  But he always felt "there's something missing."  Mike felt an emptiness in his internal world.

When his therapist explored his family history, it became evident that, as an only child with emotionally distant parents, he was lonely and emotionally neglected (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma History From an Adult Perspective and Overcoming the Trauma of Parental Alienation).

How One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

His parents, who were both focused on their professional careers, didn't plan to have children.

At a young age, Mike learned from his parents that he was "a mistake" (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).  Even though his parents joked about this, Mike felt emotionally wounded by it and he sensed the truth behind their jokes:  They didn't want him.

Mike was often left in the care of a full time nanny, who was efficient, but cold and emotionally withholding (see my article: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?)

As he explored his feelings about himself, he realized that he felt like an unlovable person (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

Mike's therapist prepared Mike to do EMDR Therapy to help Mike overcome the trauma he experienced as a child which resulted in his feeling unlovable (see my article: How Does EMDR Therapy Work?).

As part of EMDR therapy preparation, EMDR therapists often ask clients to remember people in their lives, either past or present, who were nurturing, protective or wise figures in their life (see my article: Developing Coping Strategies and Resources Before Beginning Trauma Processing in Therapy).

When his therapist asked Mike about people in his life who were emotionally supportive of him when he was growing up, Mike couldn't think of anyone from the past or present.  Not even his wife--they were together, but they were emotionally estranged.

How Even One Person Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Person's Life

As mentioned earlier, his parents were cold and withholding, and Mike had no siblings.  He and his parents also had very little contact with extended family, so there were no relatives that Mike could think of from his childhood who were nurturing.

During the preparation phase of EMDR, clients can identify any emotionally supportive people--whether they are "real" (people that they've known) or people they don't know but whom they imagine are nurturing, including people from a movie or TV programs, historical figure, characters from a book, and so on.

The important aspect of this part of the work is for clients to be able to have internal access to an emotionally supportive figure that they can imagine while they're doing the trauma work.  This helps them to sense emotional support, especially during the therapy work.  This, of course, would be in addition to the emotional support from the therapist.

When there has been emotional neglect or abuse, clients often have a hard time coming up with anyone from their life or someone imagined.

There can be such a pervasive feeling of being "unlovable" that, even when there actually were people who were supportive, these clients often don't have immediate access to those memories because they feel so unlovable and undeserving of love and nurturance.

After thinking about it for a while, Mike couldn't think of anyone from his life, so he chose a person from a program that he used to watch as a child, Mister Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Initially, Mike said he felt "silly" imagining Mister Rogers being there with him, but he understood the importance of re-experiencing his traumatic memories while sensing the presence of a nurturing figure, so he imagined Mister Rogers sitting next to him.

At first, it felt contrived to Mike, but as he continued to do it, he was surprised that he could actually feel the love and support of this kind person that he used to watch on TV.

As an emblematic memory of his feeling unlovable, the memory that Mike chose to work on was being told by his mother that he was "a mistake."

Even as he recalled his mother's words and how she laughed, as if she were making a joke, Mike felt profound waves of sadness and shame.

But, when the sadness and shame felt overwhelming, he was able to temporarily shift his attention away from the memory to imagining the emotional comfort of Mister Rogers.   At that point, he really understood the importance of the EMDR preparation work and using nurturing figures.

Several weeks into processing this memory, Mike suddenly remembered Mr. Blake, who had been like a Mister Rogers to him when he was a child.

Remembering Mr. Blake was part of the memory reconsolidating aspect of EMDR therapy. It helped Mike to access these positive memories about Mr. Blake.

How One Person, Like Mr. Blake, Can Make a Difference in a Traumatized Child's Life

Once he remembered Mr. Blake, Mike was surprised that he didn't think of Mr. Blake before when he and his therapist were working on the EMDR preparation phase.

Then, Mike remembered many of his talks with Mr. Blake and, for the first time in his life, Mike became fully aware of the positive effect that Mr. Blake had on his life.  It was like an epiphany to Mike.

Mike remembered that he did well in school, but he was very quiet and kept to himself.

He also remembered that the school bullies would pick on him, taunting and harassing him all the way home from school because they sensed his vulnerability.

One day, as Mike was leaving school, the same bullies followed him and began calling him names.

Just as one of the bullies started tugging on Mike's jacket, their teacher, Mr. Blake, who was nearby, confronted the bullies, reprimanded them and threatened them with disciplinary action if they ever bothered Mike again.  This frightened the bullies and they ran off.

Mr. Blake took Mike aside and told him that he could come to him at any time if the bullies bothered him again or if he needed to talk about anything else.  Mike was grateful, but he was too shy to say anything except "Thank you" in a near whisper.

During the next few years, Mr. Blake would often talk to Mike after school to find out how Mike was doing, even after Mike was no longer in his class.

Unlike his parents, Mr. Blake was kind and empathetic and took an interest in what Mike had to say, and  Mike began opening up more to him to tell him about his interests.  Mr. Blake listened and praised Mike and encouraged him to pursue his interests.

When Mike was in high school, he would sometimes drop by his old school to talk to Mr. Blake.  During those visits, Mr. Blake encouraged Mike to go to college, even though Mike was filled with self doubt about applying to college.

Based on Mike's hard work in high school and Mr. Blake's encouragement, Mike got into the college of his choice.  Mike maintained contact with Mr. Blake for a while, but the demands of college soon overtook Mike's time and they lost contact.

By the time Mike came to therapy many years later, he had initially forgotten about Mr. Blake but, as previously mentioned, EMDR therapy helped him to access these memories, even though he wasn't consciously aware of them.

When he was younger, he didn't really understand the difference Mr. Blake made for him.  But now that he was accessing these memories about Mr. Blake, Mike was able to look back at those times and realize how pivotal his interactions with Mr. Blake were in his life.

Mike talked to his therapist about how, without Mr. Blake, he probably wouldn't have developed some of his interests and he wouldn't have gone to college.  He knew his life would have been very different without this mentoring and guidance.

As Mike talked about this, he realized that Mr. Blake really cared about him, and Mike was emotionally moved by this.  He couldn't believe that he went through his life feeling that no one really cared about him when Mr. Blake took the time to talk to him and obviously cared.

From then on, Mike used his memory of Mr. Blake as a nurturing figure to continue to do the trauma work.

As he continued to do the work, Mike suddenly remembered other people, who were kind and nurturing to him in small ways but, until then, Mike had forgotten all about them.

Mike also realized that, despite the emotional neglect that he experienced as a child, he was also a resilient person and he overcame many obstacles in his life from childhood through adulthood.  This really helped Mike to feel good about himself.

Working Through Early Childhood Trauma as an Adult 

Over time, Mike was able to overcome his feelings of being unlovable and, as he did, he opened up more to his wife.  He discovered that, until then, his wife experienced him as emotionally detached and didn't know how to approach him.  She assumed that he didn't love her anymore.

She didn't realize what an emotional rut he had been in for such a long time until he processed his childhood trauma and began coming out of his rut. As Mike felt more alive, he was able to rekindle his relationship with her.

Even in situations where children are abused or neglected, one person's can make a positive difference in a child's life by being emotionally attuned and caring.

At the time, children might have little to no understanding of the impact that this person is making in their life.  But later on in life, when they look back, especially if they're in therapy, they often become aware of how important this person was to them for their emotional survival and well-being.

As time goes by, it's not unusual for some people to forget about these pivotal people in their lives, especially if there is significant emotional trauma.

EMDR therapy and other forms of experiential therapy, like Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis often help clients to have access to these memories, which can have a profound healing effect (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Can Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Getting Help in Therapy
As discovered in the ACE study and many years before that, going back to the time of Freud and the early days of psychoanalysis, childhood emotional neglect and abuse can have an adverse impact on adults' emotional and physical well-being with the adult often developing chronic physical ailments.

These detrimental effects usually carry over into adulthood.  But many adults, who feel anxious, depressed, emotionally numb or who have chronic ailments don't realize that what they're feeling is the result of their earlier childhood experiences.

They also don't realize that they can be helped in therapy to overcome these problems.

If you're feeling unhappy with yourself and your life, you're not alone.

You can be helped to overcome your problems with the help of a skilled mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

The first step is making a phone call to set up a consultation.

While it might be the hardest step in the process, it can lead to positive changes in your life (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

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 psychological trauma, and I have helped many clients to overcome trauma to live fulfilling lives.

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why You Can't "Think" Yourself Into Mental Health and Wellness

Understanding and developing insight into your problems is important but, unfortunately, it's often not enough to change your problems (see my article: Healing From the Inside Out: Why Understanding Your Problems Isn't Enough).

Why You Can't Think Yourself Into Mental Health and Wellness

Many people either never go to therapy to deal with emotional problems and many others leave therapy prematurely because they believe they can "think" themselves into wellness (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

There's no denying that understanding and developing insight into your problems is important, but it's only the first step.  You use your logical mind to understand and try not to repeat the same problems, if it's in your power.

But when your problems are deeply rooted in psychological trauma, your logical mind often isn't enough.  You need help from a licensed mental health professional to help resolve on the underlying problems that go beyond the logical part of your brain.  You need a skilled therapist to help you deal with the problem on the level of the emotional brain.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized vignette that illustrates these points:

Ed grew up in a family that was nearly destroyed by his father's gambling.  He saw first hand how the family struggled whenever his father lost money at casinos.

When Ed was 10, his mother threatened to leave the father if he didn't stop gambling, so the father stopped going to the casinos.  Instead, he started drinking heavily.

Ed's mother resigned herself to being in a marriage with a man who came home and locked himself in his "man cave" in the basement and drank every night.  She was relieved that, at least, she could pay the bills.  But they continued to drift apart.

As is often the case when people give up an addiction without getting help for the underlying issues, drinking replaced the gambling and led to the father having a fatal heart attack when he was in his early 50s.

By that time, Ed was a successful manager at a top company in NYC and married to a woman that he met in college.

Looking at Ed from the outside, it appeared to most people that Ed "had it all" (see my article:

But Ed had a big secret that he was very ashamed of:   Whenever he got paid, he made big bets on sports events.

Sometimes he won, and sometimes he lost.  But no one, except the person who placed bets for him, knew about his betting, not even his wife.

Sometimes, to cover his losses, he had to withdraw money from his savings.  Then, he was desperate to recoup his losses and he would frantically place more bets.

Logically, Ed knew that he needed to stop betting, but he couldn't control his impulses.  He kept chasing his losses and if he won, he wanted to win more.

One day, his wife, Nina, happened to look at their bank statement and she was shocked to see such a low balance compared to what had been in the account only a few months ago.

Normally, she didn't look at the statements because let Ed manage their finances.  So, when she saw the balance, her first thought was that either the bank made a mistake or someone hacked into their account.

When Ed got home, she showed him the statement and asked him what he thought had happened.  At first, he hung his head and didn't respond, and Nina began to feel sick.

Reluctantly, Ed told her about his gambling problem and that he had been withdrawing the money.  Nina went into the bedroom and began to cry.

Ed tried to convince her that he had a "good feeling" about an upcoming football game and he knew he would win.  He only wanted to place one more bet to recoup his losses and then he would stop.

Ed and Nina argued for most of the night, and both of them called out sick from work the next day.

After being up all night, Ed promised Nina that he would never bet again.  He apologized profusely for keeping these secrets and betraying her.

Nina responded by telling Ed to seek help in therapy.  But Ed knew what he needed to do--he needed to stop gambling.  He told Nina that he didn't need a therapist to tell him this.  He could do it on his own.

For the next few months, whenever the person who placed his bets called him to find out it he wanted to place a bet, Ed told him that he wasn't going to bet anymore.  Each time, when he got off the phone, Ed felt dejected and tired, as if he was physically ill.

After a while, Ed began to feel bored and depressed.  He was tempted to place a bet on a basketball game, but he told himself over and over that he had promised his wife that he wouldn't do it, so he couldn't do it.  But he knew that he really wanted to do it, so he struggled with this internal conflict.

Then, one day, one of his colleagues, Jim, called Ed into his office and showed him a picture of a sexy, beautiful woman.

Ed knew Jim's family and he knew the woman in the picture wasn't Jim's wife, so he asked him about the woman.  Jim closed the office to his door and told Ed about the woman, who was with an escort service.

He told Ed in a low voice that he saw this woman from the escort service every few weeks and since he started seeing her, he felt on top of the world.  He said she told him that he was sexy and attractive and he felt like "a million bucks."

Then, Jim told Ed that he should call the service and have fun with one of the beautiful escorts.  He told him that they're very discrete and his wife would never know.

Ed laughed it off, but the image of the beautiful, sexy woman stayed in his mind.  He fantasized about how much fun it would be to be with her.  The more he thought about the happier he felt.

When Ed realized that he was feeling so good by just thinking about it, he told himself that he could try the service once and then never do it again.  He wouldn't tell anyone about it, not even Jim.  It would be his secret (see my articles: Infidelity: Married, Bored and Cheating and Overcoming Addiction: Boredom as a Relapse Trigger).

At the time, Ed didn't know about cross addiction and how a person could replace one addiction, like gambling, with another addiction, like sexual addiction.

Months later, his wife discovered an ad for an escort service in the pocket to Ed's jeans as she was doing laundry and got very upset.

When Ed got home, she threw the ad on his lap.  Ed froze and remained silent.

A week later, Ed began therapy with a psychotherapist who specialized in working with addictions, even though he wasn't convinced that he needed to be in therapy.

Over time, Ed learned about cross addiction and remembered that his father stopped gambling and began drinking heavily.

He also began doing the necessary work to understand the underlying issues that were part of his addiction, in addition to the possible genetic component, and what triggered him.

The work wasn't easy or quick but, gradually, Ed began to realize that he couldn't just "think" himself into wellness.  He couldn't just tell himself not to gambling or engage in sex with escorts because that wasn't enough to override the deeper emotional issues that had to be worked through in therapy.

As he worked through the underlying emotional trauma and became aware of his triggers, Ed's impulse to gamble or have sex with escorts began to diminish because the underlying issues were getting worked on.

At the same time, Ed knew that he could never allow himself to become complacent and, along with therapy, he also attended Gambler's Anonymous and worked the 12 Steps with a sponsor.

There's a common misperception that if you understand your problems, you can avoid making the same mistakes.

While this might be true for certain problems, when you're dealing with more complex issues that have involve unconscious underlying issues, just telling yourself "to stop" isn't enough.

You might have the best intentions of never engaging in this behavior again, but it's not enough.

As many people know who have tried to stop engaging in addictive or dysfunctional behavior, it's very easy to replace one dysfunctional behavior with another, as the vignette above illustrates.

Whether it's gambling, sexual addiction or any other addictive behavior, you can get the same dopamine "rush" from many different types of dysfunctional behavior and this makes it difficult to stop.

Until you work through the underlying issues and discover your triggers, you will, most likely, continue to struggle or "white knuckle it" for a while, risking your relationship, your family, your job and everything that is precious to you.

Getting Help in Therapy
It's not easy asking for help (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

It's much easier to be in denial and to tell yourself that you can do it on your own.

Many people wait until they lose everything before they seek help, but it doesn't have to be that way (see my article:  The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change).

Taking the first step of setting up a consultation can be your first step in your recovery.

Working with a skilled psychotherapist who has experience helping people with addictive behavior and emotional trauma can help to free you from an unhappy existence.

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 the emotional trauma that is creating problems in their lives.

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking

Generally, most people don't spend a lot of time trying to understand their particular style of thinking.  Many people are unaware that they engage in distorted thinking (also known as cognitive distortions).  But when you're in therapy, you have a unique opportunity to understand and change distorted thinking (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking

What is Distorted Thinking?
Here's a list of cognitive distortions and definitions:
  • Catastrophizing
  • All of nothing thinking
  • Taking things personally
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Overgeneralization
  • Fallacy of fairness
  • Blaming or externalizing
  • Emotional reasoning
  • The need to be right
  • Filtering

When people catastrophize, they tend to exaggerate situations.  They can expect a disaster when, objectively, there is no reason to expect disaster.  

Distorted Thinking: Catastrophizing

For instance, a person who catastrophizes can hear a weather report for a few inches of snow and this builds in her mind until she is convinced that there will be a huge snowstorm even when there is no evidence of this.  She will usually go around in a state of anxiety and excitedly tell others to expect a big snowstorm (see my article: Are You Catastrophizing?)

All or Nothing Thinking (see my article: Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking)

Taking Things Personally
People who tend to take things personally see others' words and deeds as being directed at them when it's not.

Distorted Thinking: Taking Things Personally

An example of this might be:  A new policy is announced that changes the way sales managers are compensated.  The person who tends to take things personally will think that the policy is aimed at her when, in fact, it's for everyone on the sales team.

Jumping to Conclusions
People who jump to conclusions will make assumptions without having objective facts, and they will assume that they're right.  For instance, someone who runs into a neighbor, who looks angry, might assume that the neighbor is angry with him--when in fact the neighbor is angry about something that has nothing to do with him.  

People who engage in overgeneralization often take one instance of something happening and make the assumption, based on that one instance, that this is how it is always.  For instance, if a writer submits an article to be published and her article is rejected, she assumes that this is how it will always be when she submits articles.  She is engaging in overgeneralization.

Fallacy of Fairness
Many children grow up thinking that the world should be "fair" and, as adults, when they encounter situations which are "unfair," it contradicts their way of thinking.

Distorted Thinking: Fallacy of Fairness

But, as we know, the world isn't "fair."

Blaming or Externalizing
When people have a tendency to engage in blaming (also known as externalizing), they don't take responsibility for their own thinking, feelings or actions.  

Distorted Thinking: Blaming or Externalizing

Instead, they put the responsibility on others.  An example of this is a person who didn't complete an assignment.  Instead of taking responsibility for not completing the assignment, he blames a coworker for distracting him.

Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning is when a person assumes that whatever he feels must be true.  An example of this would be a person who feels that a person doesn't like her based on her own emotions rather than anything objective that is happening with the other person or the situation.  Reasoning is based solely on emotion.

The Need to Be Right
The need to be right involves a need to prove that one's opinion, feelings or actions are correct even  in the face of contrary facts.  

Distorted Thinking: The Need to Be Right

Someone who needs to be right will argue his opinion regardless of what the other person says.  Being right is more important than the relationship with the other person, how it makes the other person feel or whether or not it's objectively true.

Filtering involves paying attention to only certain aspects of a situation and not to others.  For instance, a person who tends to engage in filtering might only pay attention to the negative side of a situation rather than looking at the whole picture which includes positive aspects.

How Cognitive Distortions Create Problems
As you can see from the descriptions above, these cognitive distortions can be rigid and applied across the board to many different situations.

The problem is that the person who engages in cognitive distortions is usually unaware of it and it can cause many problems for himself as well as others due to his lack of awareness.

How Cognitive Distortions Create Problems

Due to a person's tenacity in using cognitive distortions and their ingrained nature, there is little possibility for change if s/he cannot take in new information from the outside.

Other people, including a spouse, sibling, friend or a supervisor can try to help the person to see how his thinking is distorted, but this is often disregarded by the person using cognitive distortions.

Not only do cognitive distortions create problems for others--they also create internal problems for the person who engages in them.

For instance, in the example above on overgeneralization, the writer, who believes that her writing will always be rejected, might give up too soon and stop writing or stop submitting her writing.  In doing so, she deprives herself of the joy of writing or the anticipated joy of seeing her work published.  She also deprives potential readers of the satisfaction of reading her writing.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking
When you're in therapy, your therapist is usually trained to detect cognitive distortions, among other things.

While your family or friends might actually believe in the same cognitive distortions that you do or they might get tired of trying to get you to see the distortions, a skilled therapist will be attuned to distorted thinking and help you in a tactful way to be aware of it and to change it.

How Therapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking

Changing distorted thinking isn't always easy.  You need to feel safe enough in your relationship with your therapist to hear her and also be open to looking at your own way of thinking and relating.  

Even if you feel comfortable with your psychotherapist and you're open to self reflection, there might be other obstacles getting in your way.

It's the psychotherapist's job to help you to identify the underlying reasons why you might be ambivalent about change.  And, let's face it, most people are at least somewhat ambivalent about change even when they come to therapy to make specific changes.

For example, the writer who overgeneralizes based on one rejection will have to look at what it would mean if she let go of this cognitive distortion.  

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking

One possibility might be that if she opens up to the possibility that she is the one who is getting in her own way of writing or submitting work to publishers, she would need to face her own internal fears, whatever they might be.  

There can be many deeper levels involving the unconscious that will need to be unearthed, exposed to the light of day, and explored.  The underlying unconscious reasons might have nothing to do with what the writer identifies as her conscious reasons.

For example, staying with the same example of the writer:  What if her mother always wanted to be a writer, but because she was a stay at home mom, her lifelong dream of being a writer never materialized?  As a result, the writer feels guilty that she might succeed as a writer and her mother did not.

If these feelings of guilt come up as the deepest layer of unconscious material, the writer might assume that she will ruin her relationship with her mother by succeeding where her mother did not.  And, since she doesn't want to ruin her relationship with her mother, she stops writing, not realizing this underlying unconscious reason.

The writer's assumption (that she will ruin her relationship with her mother by succeeding) might also be a distortion because it's possible that, contrary to what the writer thinks, her mother might be delighted to see her daughter succeed as a writer.

But if this unconscious material is never exposed, the writer and the therapist could go round and round for a long time just talking about how the writer is using overgeneralization.

To get to the unconscious material, a skilled therapist must be trained in how to get to these underlying emotions, whether the therapist uses psychodynamic psychotherapy, clinical hypnosis, Coherence Therapy or any one of a number of modalities that deals with unconscious thinking and emotions.

So, it's not enough to identify the particular cognitive distortion.  A skilled psychotherapist must also be able to get to the deeper underlying causes of the problem, otherwise the therapy will remain superficial.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you suspect that your style of thinking could be getting in your own way or compromising your interpersonal relationships, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get help in therapy.

Freeing yourself from cognitive distortions and the underlying unconscious thinking and emotions that are driving them will change your life and the lives of those you love.

Rather than suffering on your own, get help from a licensed psychotherapist who is skilled in helping clients to identify their cognitive distortions, get to the root cause of the problem, and make healthy changes.

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

My original training is in psychodynamic psychotherapy.  I also use cognitive behavioral therapy when it is needed.

I have helped many clients to overcome their own cognitive distortions and make lasting changes so they can 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.