Approach to therapy…
“No road is long with good company.”
– Turkish proverb
Effective therapy solves problems, but it should do more than that. Therapy can and should enhance a person’s ability to meet life. In good therapy, this happens again and again.
People come to therapy for all kinds of reasons: relationship troubles, relief from depression & anxiety, what-have-you. Finding that relief is the first order of business. But people who undergo psychotherapy usually get more than just relief. As they learn new ways of relating—to themselves and others—their lives begin to open in new directions. Their relationships improve. They feel stronger. They engage more. They start to meet life differently.
A good therapist listens to you—intently—because listening is the foundation of the work. In order to help you move forward, a therapist needs to have a rich understanding of what’s happening in your life and world. In addition to mastering the fundamentals of the craft, the therapist needs to be able to sense the subtleties, complexities, and nuances that make you and your situation unique. In this way, therapy becomes collaborative and empowering. A good therapist supports you, and at the same time challenges you to grow.
Psychotherapy is much more of an art than a science, and the difference between practitioners is great. Still, a substantial body of research has emerged in the last twenty years that is directly relevant to clinical practice. It shows us what good therapy is, does, and how it works. My years at MIT instilled in me a respect for rigorous research and an appreciation for how it can and should influence practice. Recent advances in developmental neurobiology have made it clear that the nervous system is far more malleable than once believed, and have given us a way of understanding how and why psychotherapy works—how and why people can make such significant changes in their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors, even after years of being stuck in the same painful patterns. Research on “Neuroplasticity” has opened new vistas, as has our growing understanding of the central roled played by the emotional processing centers in the limbic system. Finally, the scientific study of memory and the primacy of affective neuroscience have led to significant advances in psychotherapeutic practice over the last two decades—particularly in the areas of both discrete and developmental trauma.
For those of you who are interested in some of the scientific background that shines light on how and why good therapy works, I highly recommend the writings of the cognitive scientist Joseph LeDoux at NYU, the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran at the University of California San Diego, the affective neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp at Washington State University, and the psychiatrist Dan Siegel’s work on interpersonal neurobiology. Daniel Goleman’s book, Social Intelligence, offers a very good general introduction to—and overview of—a body of neuroscientific research that has immediate relevance for psychotherapy. And Diana Fosha’s books—The Transforming Power of Affect, and The Healing Power of Emotion—give an excellent introduction to the increasingly recognized & pivotal role that emotion plays in catalyzing psychological growth and change.
My travels—both literal and intellectual—have exposed me to a wide variety of methods for helping people change. Fundamental to all of them, however, is a personal relationship in which the client feels understood by the therapist. That’s the foundation. My approach relies on developing a deep understanding of the intricacies of my clients’ worlds, outer and inner. From there, I draw on years of work, study, and training in contemporary Gestalt Therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, AEDP, Ericksonian hypnosis, family systems theory, EMDR, and Emotionally-Focused Therapy. Existential psychotherapy has also had a significant influence on my thinking.
My education in the sciences and the arts laid the groundwork for what I do. My study of the world’s spiritual traditions—as well as my own personal practices and experiences with those traditions—inform my work at a still deeper level.
Most importantly, I’ve had the great privilege of working with some of the best clinicians in the world: dedicated healers who have opened to life in profound ways, question continually, and share what they’ve learned. The several lineages to which I am privileged to be connected—directly and indirectly—guide me, hold me, inspire me, and humble me. In my work and in my life, I try to honor them as deeply as I can.
Below are a few fundamental beliefs that have grown out of many years of clinical practice:
- People know a great deal more than they’re aware of
- Finding current solutions is more helpful than analyzing past causes
- We are more than just thinking heads perched on bodies. Our bodies carry a great deal of information that we rarely pay attention to
- “Symptoms” sometimes serve a crucial purpose; they can be a way of calling attention to something important
- People already have all the inner resources they need; when they’re stuck, it often means they haven’t yet learned how to access and work with those resources
- Some changes will happen only if people don’t push; some will happen only if they do
- People thrive when they feel that their closest relationships are secure
- People need a sense that their therapist deeply understands them and their situation
- Good therapy requires a good relationship. A good relationship is one in which therapist and client speak freely and openly to each other
- People make the best choices available to them at the time, given:
o their current beliefs about what’s possible and what’s not
o their current perceptions of “reality”
o their current ideas about how others will react
- People are constantly learning—even when they’re unaware of it. Human beings are always learning something
- Adding new behaviors is more helpful than taking away old ones
- People are more resilient than they think
- The human nervous system is a staggeringly complex, amazingly adaptive, miraculously potent instrument. We’ve only just begun to understand the extent of its capabilities for self-healing and regeneration
- Each person’s way of experiencing the world is significantly different from every other person’s way of experiencing the world
- Sometimes genuine witnessing is the most important step in helping a person move forward
- Change is inevitable