NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Thursday, October 11, 2018

How Experiential Therapy Can Help You to Discover Your Personal Strengths

In my prior article, Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Therapy: You're Much More Than Your Traumatic History, I began a discussion about seeing beyond your traumatic history to discover your personal strengths (see my article: You're Not Defined By Your Diagnosis and Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Psychotherapy).

How Experiential Therapy Can Help You to Discover Your Personal Strengths

As a trauma therapist in New York City, many clients come to see me to overcome their history of trauma. As I'm helping them to overcome their trauma, I'm also assisting them to discover their personal strengths (see my article: A Strengths-Based Perspective in Psychotherapy).

As I mentioned in my prior article, it's important to be able to appreciate the personal strengths that got you through difficult times as well as that you can use these same strengths to cope with whatever challenges you're dealing with now.

Fictionalized Clinical Vignette: How Experiential Therapy Can Help You to Discover and Use Your Personal Strengths:
The following fictionalized clinical vignette, which is representative of many cases in therapy, illustrates how an experiential therapist can help a client to explore and use his personal strengths:

Before Ed began experiential therapy, he had been in conventional talk therapy for several years trying to overcome the effects of the childhood trauma he experienced as a young child.

Ed explained to his new therapist that he was grateful for the work he did with his prior therapist in talk therapy, but he felt no relief from the traumatic effects of childhood emotional neglect and abuse.  This is why, at the suggestion of a friend, he was willing to try experiential therapy.

From the very first session in experiential therapy, Ed noticed the difference in the way his new psychotherapist interacted with him.  Whereas his former therapist, who practiced conventional talk therapy, said very little in his sessions, his new therapist, who was interactive and dynamic.  She also talked about working in a collaborative way so that the therapy would be meaningful and effective for Ed.

In addition, she explained the different types of experiential therapy that she did with individuals, which included EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), Somatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis.  She also explained that her original training was in depth psychotherapy so she had an ability to work deep and do brief therapy at the same time.

Ed could tell from his new therapist's facial expressions, gestures and demeanor that she already seemed to care about him, even though they were just having their initial consultation.  This surprised him because he never experienced this before in therapy.

His therapist emphasized that, in addition to helping him to resolve the effects of his traumatic history, she thought it was equally important to help Ed to explore and experience his personal strengths on an emotional level.

When Ed thought about it, he realized that he never really thought about his personal strengths.  He knew, on an intellectual level, that he had somehow survived the effects of his parents' abuse and neglect, but he never explored how he was able to do this in his prior therapy.

As he thought about it more, he told his new therapist that friends and other relatives who knew him often commented to him that, considering his family history, he accomplished a lot in terms of his success at college and in his career.

But Ed only experienced their praise as mere words.  He knew they were sincere, but he didn't know how to relate to what they were telling him.  He didn't think he had done anything out of the ordinary with regard to surviving his childhood history and being successful.

After his therapist heard his traumatic history, she said she was amazed that he had accomplished so much, and she asked him how he did it.

Ed seemed confused at first, and he said that he didn't know what he did to succeed at college and in his career, "I just did it.  I didn't think it was such a big deal."

Even though, at that point in therapy, Ed couldn't identify his personal strengths, he began to get curious.

In order to help Ed to appreciate that he had personal strengths that helped him, his therapist recommended that he think of his early history and his subsequent successes as if they were about someone else.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, Ed said that he had a close friend, who had a similar family history and similar accomplishments.  Ed told his therapist that when he thought about his friend, he admired his friend for being able to overcome his early challenges so that he could succeed in his career.  But when he thought about his own history and accomplishments, he wasn't able to appreciate them as much as he appreciated his friend's, which made him curious as to why he couldn't appreciate his efforts.

Over time, Ed talked about how both of his parents, who were physically abusive, also told him repeatedly from a young age that he would never amount to anything.  Although on some level, he believed them, he said, he was also determined to be independent of them.

As a result, even though he had low self esteem, he persevered in his studies as if his life depended on it.  And, in many ways, he felt that his life did, in fact, depend on being able to get a good job so he could move out of his parents home.

Since he did well in high school, despite the ongoing abuse and neglect, he was able to get a scholarship to an out of state college where he excelled.  From the time he moved out to go to college, he never moved back home.  He only went for brief visits.

His therapist helped Ed to see that two of his personal strengths were his determination and perseverence despite the challenges at home.  She helped him to appreciate these personal strengths as well as his other strengths, on a visceral emotional level by having him identify the emotions that he felt when he was able to feel good about these strengths and where he felt these emotions in his body.

Initially, this was difficult for Ed because he was so accustomed to minimizing his strengths and accomplishments as being "no big deal."

But one of the things that made it easier for him to eventually appreciate his personal strengths was how his therapist reflected back to him, on a emotional level, how delighted she was that he had these strengths to help him to excel.  He was able to see in her eyes and in her face the genuine caring and delight--something he never experienced with his own parents.

Over time, Ed had what is called a "corrective emotional experience" with his experiential therapist (see my article:  What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?).  In contrast to his early experience with his parents, who were angry, abusive and neglectful, Ed experienced his therapist as being genuinely caring, warm and empathetic.  Compared to his prior therapist, his new therapist was emotionally accessible and enthusiastic about his well-being.

In addition, rather than just having an intellectual understanding of his problems and his personal strengths, Ed was able to develop an ability to actually feel these experiences on a core emotional level. He learned that, in order to make positive changes, being able to experience his innermost, primary emotions was essential for transformation.

These experiences in therapy were new and exciting for Ed, and he looked forward to his therapy sessions with his experiential therapist as he continued to make progress in therapy.

Many clients, who have a history of trauma, are almost exclusively focused on the effects of their trauma and their emotional problems.

While, ultimately, the goal of therapy is to help clients to overcome their trauma, along the way, as part of experiential therapy, it's important for clients to also recognize their personal strengths that allowed them to survive and, in many cases, to thrive despite the obstacles.

Not only does it help clients to appreciate how their strengths helped them in the past, it also helps them to recognize that they have these internal resources to call on in the present.

An experiential therapist is focused on helping to undo the aloneness that clients experienced during their traumatic history by being emotionally accessible to clients as they work through their trauma. She also helps clients to access their personal strengths.

In addition, she strives to help clients to have a new corrective emotional experience in therapy that is healing to clients.  All of this helps clients to overcome trauma and make positive changes in their lives.

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
If you have been unable to resolve your problems on your own or you feel frustrated by intellectual insight that doesn't lead to a healing experience, you owe it to yourself to get help in from a licensed psychotherapist who practices experiential therapy (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Experiential therapy, like AEDP, is an evidence-based therapy that is effective and can lead to a transformation in your life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work 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.