Is Independence Ruining Your Relationship? Perhaps.

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Is Independence Ruining Your Relationship? Perhaps. 

We tend to celebrate independence; countries are proud of it, teenagers crave it, adults believe it implies maturity and success. Within relationships, many now assume the general independence of both partners to be a prerequisite for happiness and stability as a couple. Independence in today’s world means strength, bravery, grit, ability, ambition, modernity, liberalism, and happiness. And as for its darker twin, dependence? What does that bring to mind in society today? Shameful. Weak. Childish. Immature. Antiquated. Worthless.

Yikes. Heaven forbid anyone should actually desire dependence. Good luck with that.

So, we’ve established one thing for sure: Independence = Good; Dependence = Bad.

But what if that’s not necessarily the case? And what does all of this have to do with your relationship?

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have worked with many couples, families, and individuals on exploring and questioning these very issues and assumptions. Is there such a thing as too much independence? How much dependency might actually be OK? Where is the line between healthy and unhealthy independence? What ratios of in- vs. de- pendence are the most successful within families and romantic relationships? The answers – or at least the evidence I’ve gathered from my clients thus far - may surprise you.

Guess what? Completely independent partners generally don’t make the happiest couples. Sure, it’s good to have your own interests and friends. It’s good to feel stable on your own two feet. It’s healthy to know you can rely on yourself when you need to. But exalting total independence from your significant other also brings a set of troubles, such as emotional distance, lack of vulnerability, miscommunication, conflict, and more. It’s actually a good thing to develop a bit of interdependence; to exist as a “we” rather than as a “me and you”. To pursue shared interests, to build shared social networks and friends, to rely on one another for support and comfort. “Rely.” There’s a fairly neutral-to-positive word that could just as easily be replaced with depend, but without any of the baggage. It’s OK to rely on your partner. It’s good to rely on your partner. It’s not weak, childish, or antiquated to desire a partner to rely on – to depend on. It’s a sign of strength when you are willing to get vulnerable and authentic with someone, when you are able to depend on them for emotional connection and love.  In a sense, dependence on others is part of what makes us human, and part of what allows us to survive collectively and individually. Not so bad, after all.  

Sometimes it feels as if the pressure to be independent is overwhelming. As if our dependence on others signifies failure. As if independence were the ultimate emblem of success and achievement. This assumption goes hand in hand with our general hyper-focus on the individual as opposed to the community in Western society today, along with the hyper-focus on individual rights, as opposed to communal obligations. Think about it. If my individual rights are priority number one, as opposed to my communal responsibilities, then of course I need to be fully independent of everyone else around me. I need to be ME, free from influence and suggestion, free from expectations and rules, free from it all. I need to fight for my rights first, and then, only then, can I focus on those around me. But we all know this sounds ethically...off. There’s so much more to say on this topic. Maybe in another post. But for now, I digress. Back to interdependence.

Family therapists have long dealt with the importance of interdependence, which I’ll define as the comfortable state between dependence and independence, in which partners and family members are able to depend on one another and connect with one another, while still maintaining their own sense of selfhood and individuality. The fancy therapist term for this is “differentiation”. Psychpage.com gives a great definition:

Differentiation is the process of freeing yourself from your family's processes to define yourself. This means being able to have different opinions and values than your family members but being able to stay emotionally connected to them. It means being able to calmly reflect on a conflicted interaction afterward, realizing your own role in it, and then choosing a different response for the future.”

The main hallmark of Differentiation is actually more focused on connectedness than on independence. The more one is able to stay connected to family without becoming emotionally reactive or irrational, the more differentiated one is. And that’s a good thing. Not separation, not independence, certainly not cut-off. But rather, healthy connection. Interdependence. And even the willingness – the vulnerability - to depend on others, when necessary. That's maturity. 

The Cliff’s Notes version of this post is that independence is not necessarily good for relationships. Interdependence, or Differentiation, is what healthy couples and families need to strive for. Know thyself, but be open to connecting with others. Rely on those closest to you for comfort and love, but have the ability to self-soothe and calm down during conflict. 

This Independence Day, aim to be a more balanced human being; not an independent one.  

Pre-Hotline Suicide Prevention

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Pre-Hotline Suicide Prevention

With the recent tragic deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the topic of suicide has been trending on social media. This is both good and bad, because talking about suicide in a direct, open way can open doors for people contemplating it to seek help, but it is also true that a suicide can trigger clusters of other suicide attempts. I have seen many posts on social media recently in which brave, compassionate people are sharing their own struggles with mental illness and thoughts of taking their own lives. This is refreshing to see, and forges connections between people in a way that the commonly portrayed “highlight reel” of people’s lives does not. This is a start to the many things we can do to address one of the leading causes of death in the US, which is suicide.

I started my career in psychology conducting research for renowned suicide researcher and psychology professor Dr. Thomas Joiner at Florida State University. I completed an Honors thesis about suicide in people with anorexia because I was struck by the fact that this population has the highest rate of completed suicides of any mental illness and I wanted to know why. Dr. Joiner has written several books, including Why People Die By Suicide, about the components of this cause of death, which are 1) perceived burdensomeness- thinking others are better off without you, 2) thwarted belonging- feeling like you don’t fit in or have support from others, and 3) acquired capability- having experienced physically or psychologically taxing experiences that make you more likely to be able to go through with a suicide attempt.

During this time, I also worked for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and learned techniques such as exploring the side of a person that wanted to die and the side of them that wanted to live. I also learned the basis of the counseling skills that I use today- reflective listening, empathy, and validation; skills which show that you can truly hear and understand a person’s pain, express that they are not crazy for having those feelings, and that they are not alone. I also learned that those who call a hotline are usually not those that are truly in danger of dying by suicide- it’s the people who never reach out. Suicide is often an impulsive act that is carried out when a person is at the depths of their negative feelings about themselves and about life, and they have the means to kill themselves readily available.

I believe that suicide prevention starts before the Lifeline phone conversation, the 911 call, or a stay at the psychiatric hospital. It starts with seeing someone alone and reaching out to them, telling people how much they matter to you, listening to people without thinking about yourself or what you’re about to say, and asking someone you’re concerned about in a direct way if they have ever thought about taking their life. It also starts with recognizing that depression is a presence that isn’t who you are, but rather a state of being that distorts reality by telling you that you have no one, you are worthless, and life is too much trouble. Prevention starts with confronting the depression by seeking support from family, friends, a support group or a therapist.

I have been listening to Kevin Hart’s book, I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, about his difficult childhood and path to success, and came across this quote that feels relevant to anyone who feels hopeless, worthless, and bogged down by life’s tragedies. “Life is a story. It’s full of chapters. And the beauty of life is that not only do you get to choose how you interpret each chapter, but your interpretation writes the next chapter. It determines whether it’s comedy or tragedy, fairy tale or horror story, rags-to-riches or riches-to-rags. You can’t control the events that happen to you, but you can control your interpretation of them. So why not choose the story that serves your life the best?” It sounds delusional in a way, but that is the power of the human mind to create its own reality.

It also helps to have a purpose, a reason for living this life. Even people who have been through the worst hardships can turn that suffering into purpose, like Garrett Greer, who broke his neck in an accident and became paralyzed, then used his injury as motivation to become a professional poker player and create a platform to inspire other quadriplegics. The creator of a life-changing therapeutic technique called DBT, Marsha Linehan, used her own suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder to help others with similar problems. Singer Demi Lovato had a severe eating disorder and now uses her music and social media to spread body positive messages. Your purpose doesn’t have to be grand or overly ambitious; it can be as simple as helping just one person, finding what you’re good at and giving that talent away, or seeking happiness in your daily life.

Free Falling: Working with survivors of trauma

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Free Falling: Working with survivors of trauma

I've had the privilege of working with several of my clients and their families for nearly a year, and we have recently been on the cusp of starting a new phase together. These clients that come to mind have had to endure and survive years of traumatic experiences and losses in a multitude of ways. Working with both clients and their families, the healing process is both for the client and for their parents and siblings who have endured the same traumatic events, or who are deeply impacted by seeing their child or sibling suffer.

I have used the analogy of standing at the edge of a cliff, and gazing down at this seemingly insurmountable abyss of suffering,  memories, and emotions that have been stifled. The tension in the room is always felt as we approached these cliffs, and I've been told by clients that they've never taken anyone else this close to the edge of this cliff before. I feel a great amount of privilege as a therapist to be able to witness this, and I understand the profound task ahead for all of us in the room. As a close friend would say, "that is sacred ground," and that is the point from which healing can really start to begin.

While trauma does not define individuals, it does influence their outlook on life and their identities. The healing process is never simple or easy, and the journey through that abyss inevitably brings up distorted emotions and memories. My clients and I have referred to this process as “taking a dive off the cliff”; and yet, we've also realized that it doesn’t have to be a terrifying plunge, but rather a gentle free fall.

As the individual and family experience this process, they have many moments of doubt, and often feel a desire to turn back and continue locking these parts of themselves away. I recognize that this process can be excruciating, and emotions will arise that no one in the room - including the therapist - has encountered before. Still, the potential for the dual outcome that one can transcend this pain, and also learn to accept and show care for every part of themselves, seems to be what makes the dive off that cliff worthwhile.

Relationship Poker: The benefits of probabilistic thinking

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Relationship Poker: The benefits of probabilistic thinking

Are you working on understanding your partner’s needs? Are you trying to be more attuned and connected with your partner? It may be helpful to think more about what will probably help rather than the exact right or wrong step to take.

Let me give an example. Your partner has asked you to be more emotionally present and connected when she’s expressing anger and sadness about her family. She wants you to connect to her and support her when she’s in this vulnerable state. But, she also doesn’t want to feel like she’s spoon-feeding you. She wants to feel like you are close enough to her to be able to anticipate what she needs “naturally”.

You’ve tried some different strategies in these moments. You want to meet her needs. You want her to feel connected to you and feel your closeness when she’s upset. But, you’ve also made mistakes in the past. You’ve offered problem solving advice, rather than just validating. You’ve tried to hug her when she wasn’t available for that, and been rejected.  You’ve been preoccupied with your own problems and not been available at all. You’ve tried to tell her it will be ok, and invalidated her feelings. You’ve made a joke, and flopped. You’ve tried to use reflective listening, and come off as robotic or too intellectual.

Now, based on all your trial and error, you’re feeling like there is a right choice and a wrong choice. You can succeed or fail. And the result will determine if the strategy you used was right or wrong.

In her new book, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts, Annie Duke, psychologist, author, and poker champion, would call this “resulting,” and it’s a problem. “Resulting” is a natural tendency to use outcome success as our only measure of effective decision making. For our example it would go something like this: “I hugged her quietly and she felt soothed so hugging was the right decision.”   

Duke proposes a more open model for decision making based on her years as a poker player. Poker is a game of skill and chance, or luck. It requires an understanding of probability and an acceptance of luck. And, it is a game that is played swiftly. Each hand takes about two minutes to conclude. There is a norm around this, and in competitive play players can “call the clock” if a player is deliberating too long. This allows the slow player 70 seconds to make up her mind.

 We want to have control in our lives. We want a sense of sureness about the choices we make in any area of our life. We want to deliver on our partner’s needs, so we often seek the right answer when faced with a decision about how to respond. Duke explains that this gives us only two options- success or failure. And it may lead you to do nothing, which probably will equal a bad outcome.

She suggests thinking in a more probabilistic way. What are the odds that a hug will help right now? What are the odds that problem-solving will help right now? Or a joke? You don’t have all the information from your partner. You don’t know if she’s not in the mood for a hug, or if she wants reassurance rather than validation. (You can probably eliminate ignoring her or harshly judging her feelings as inappropriate.) She may not want you to ask her what she needs in a direct way, or maybe she does want that.

Sometimes luck may play a huge part in what feels supportive. Maybe a joke pops into your head that you can deliver with some amazing timing that will really shift the mood and feel supportive. But that kind of joke may only come around once every six months. Or maybe, by chance, you’ve just had a conversation with her brother and you can offer some insights he’s shared with you that will feel caring. We can’t control everything. Chance and luck are an undeniable part of life.

I think you should try to look at your options, knowing this won’t be your last opportunity to be a good partner, and quickly consider the probability of each path. Transparency during this process may be helpful: “Part of me wants to give you a hug and part of me wants to go get you a cup of tea. Would you like a hug?” This shows that you’ve got ideas. You’re not a robot.  You are trying to anticipate her needs and make respectful space for her to own her needs. It opens up space for a discussion rather than a situation where failure is likely.

If you agree that this is a worthwhile way to support each other then you may start to feel more options open up and maybe some become stronger preferences. There can be space for shifting from one strategy to another if the first doesn’t feel right, or even a proposal for a third strategy that would really hit the mark. Your partner may respond, “ I don’t want a hug, I want you to just tell me I’m going to be ok.”  And the effort and transparency may provide the emotional cushion that allows this negotiation to feel supportive.

When it comes to support, we rarely want or need the same response for every situation. And, good supportive responses may be ineffective depending on other factors. If you are sick with the flu you may not want a hug. Consider your options and weigh the probability of their success (quickly!) and make your choice. There are many ways to provide support. Don’t let your fear of failure keep you from trying. Place your bet, hopefully luck will be on your side!

 

Photo by Piotr Łohunko, https://www.pexels.com/photo/cards-poker-cards-poker-back-21827/

Infidelity in Couples Therapy: Will We Get Over This?

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Infidelity in Couples Therapy: Will We Get Over This?

Partners can be unfaithful for many reasons. In the recovery process, those reasons will be uncovered and processed to make sure the past will not repeat itself. But that comes later. The first and most important decision is whether both partners want to move forward and are willing to work on the relationship. Infidelity work is tough for both partners, hurt and unfaithful. It’s intense and evocative of potentially overwhelming emotions. As a therapist, my goal is always to guide couples through this process using a structure and framework to provide safety.

So you’ve been unfaithful or your partner has been unfaithful. You’ve decided to try and move forward with your relationship. Couples often come in to therapy asking; is it even possible to get over this? Will this always be hanging over us?

The couples I’ve seen who have done this work successfully view it as an opportunity to overhaul their relationship. When you’ve been through something as traumatic as infidelity and decided that you still want to continue your relationship, a huge space opens for transformation. One that you and your partner co-create and one that is fulfilling for both of you. I’ve had couples who describe feeling a sense of relief in the aftermath; after all, the worst had happened and there was nowhere to go but up.

Couples do get through this, but not over it. Not in a negative sense; they work very hard and are very honest with themselves and their partners. They recommit to their relationship and to making it the best it can be. They lower their defenses and learn to communicate in a way that ensures they’ll be heard. They remember where they’ve been and what they’ve learned so they don’t make the same mistakes again. They do it all so they can have the relationship they need moving forward. It’s about moving through and embracing the lessons to be learned.

Therapist Spotlight: Christine Webster, AMFT

CCRC is proud to periodically spotlight one of our staff therapists so as to give you a chance to get to know their unique qualities and interests.  Today's spotlight is on Christine Webster, AMFT.


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1. Why do you believe therapy is effective?

I believe that therapy is effective because I believe that people are naturally oriented to heal. But sometimes life can get in the way of that; whether it be stress, trauma, relational issues or your own coping mechanisms. As a therapist, I see part of my role as helping people identify these blocks and remove them so the natural drive for healing can come to the forefront. 

2. What is a relevant quote to your work? 

“Two truths approach each other. One comes from inside, the other from outside, and where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves.” -Tomas Transformer

I love this quote because it embodies the importance of the therapeutic relationship. I believe therapy should be collaborative, from start to a mutually agreed upon end. Our clients are experts on their own lives and experiences, while therapists have the training (and passion) to utilize our clients experiences for positive change and healing. We can try to be the outside truth that allows our clients to catch sight of themselves. 

3. Do you have a specific focus or interest in your clinical work?

I work with a wide range of issues impacting individuals and couples. I have ample experience in working with couples affected by infidelity or struggling with high levels of conflict in their relationships.  I also enjoy working with individuals who want to focus on forming or strengthening their relationships with others. 

4. If you were not a therapist, what would be your occupation?

I would have loved to work with books in some way. Either in publishing, as an editor or even as a librarian. I’ve had a lifelong love of books and it would be amazing to get to be surrounded by them on a daily basis.

 

Christine currently sees clients at our South Loop location.  

She can be reached by phone at 478-972-2477.

 

 

Conflict-Resolution and Resilience: “Can we try that again?”

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Conflict-Resolution and Resilience: 

“Can we try that again?”

When couples embark on therapy it is often to change patters of conflict that are wound so tightly responses can feel like ‘autopilot’. Yet, courageously they commit to the idea that there is another way to go about conflict: one that is more healthy and productive for everyone involved. Often times this process can become stuck, even when couples have created or acquired excellent new ways to engaged in difficult conversations. Such new options may linger during pivotal moments, but familiar ways sink in and the same pattern unfolds.

       There is a powerful tool that fits well during this time, when new options are emerging but difficult to apply. Sometimes it can feel like unlikeable patters occur quickly and the conflict reaches a point of no return. It may be the case that break is needed. A pause can help shift from patterns of reactivity, and assist with de-escalation of conflict and re-regulation of one’s body and emotions. Moving into a state of positive cognitive regulation can also help expand and integrate one’s awareness to their internal cues and external environment, which supports the brain in finding a empathetic and creative stance towards approaching challenges. Once ready, couples may find it useful to re-approach the difficult conversation and give it another try.

       As a matter of fact, the suggestion can be phrased exactly like that, “Can we try that again?” It emphasizes personal responsibility, honors a shared goal, and suggests an idea to re-direct the interaction in order to stay on course to achieving it. Here is the thing, in order for the suggestion to maintain its useful intent and have an overall positive effect, two steps need to be taken with it:

 

1.     The receiver must be ready to join-in and see the question as an attempt to improve the quality of the relationship and resolution of the conflict. Intentions must be clear by both parties that it does not ‘erase’ what happened before. Rather, they are acknowledging that what happened before was ineffective, and that another way of communicating might work better.

 

2.     Both members must be willing to take a creative stance on what happens next. By this, they must be willing to approach the new attempt as ‘explorers’. They can look out for how it feels to engage or be engaged with in this new way, and the result is has on the process and outcome of the conversation. They may even be willing to provide some immediate feedback on how it went.

 

3.     Then, the suggestion can be introduced. Again, focusing on how it might support the work the couple has committed to. Some options for phrasing it can be (but are certainly not limited to):

 

“I feel like we fell off course from what we are working on, can we try that again?”

 

“I really liked that way of responding to each other that we have been talking about doing, and I would like to apply it here, can we try that again?”

 

“This is an important conversation, and I want to make sure we are able to talk through it, can we try that again?”

 

         Trying to shift ways of engaging with challenging topics can be a long-term process. It can take patience to see a difference in how conflict is handled and the outcome it produces. Creativity and a willingness to keep trying and applying new skills, even when the ‘usual’ way persists, can be the resilience that makes a difference in creating relationships worth wanting.

How To Talk To Your "Workaholic" Partner

How To Talk To Your "Workaholic" Partner

Many couples encounter difficulties when it comes to navigating work/life balance, especially when one or both partners has a particularly demanding job. These days, certain industries encourage total focus on work, to the detriment of personal relationships and family life. It can be a challenge to discuss your concerns with your partner while respecting their focus on their career. Here are a few tips for how to talk to your partner about their work habits or job if you feel negatively affected.

 

1. Make sure to wait for a relaxed moment to bring up your concerns with your partner. 

 

2. Try communicating your concerns about your partner’s job or habits by focusing on how you feel, rather than on your partner’s actions. For example: “I’ve been missing our time together lately, I’ve been feeling kind of lonely,” as opposed to, “you’re always working at night”.

 

3. Always try to understand and validate your partner’s position before stating your own. For example, “I know you have a ton of deadlines to meet and barely any time to get it all done. That must be incredibly stressful, and of course you want to be as dedicated and efficient as possible, I get that. I also want to figure out a way for us to hang out, though, because I miss you.”

 

4. Consider ways to problem-solve around your partner’s job requirements or habits. For example, if it drives you nuts that your partner needs to be available to customers 24/7, perhaps there is a creative way for them be reachable without constantly interrupting your time together. Something like an hourly email check rather than an alert each time a new query arrives, or an automatic response that can let customers know they will be answered by the end of the business day. You can suggest brainstorming creative ideas together.

 

5. The more you pursue and complain, the more your partner will tend to withdraw or become defensive. It’s a well-known relationship dynamic.  Try laying off the digs and complaints about their job for a while, and see if that makes any difference. You may be surprised at their increased willingness to acknowledge the negative effects of their job or work habits on your relationship once you’ve stopped bringing up the subject as often. 

 

6. Try switching to more positive and supportive comments in general regarding their job, if you can. This may seem counterintuitive, but generally once your partner feels they have your support, they will probably be more open to considering ways in which they can improve or change the negative and challenging aspects. 

 

7. Take some time to consider the reality of the situation. For example, is this a temporary problem due to a huge project with an upcoming deadline, or is this something that will bother you for as long as your partner is at this job or in this career? Is your partner driving the problem or is someone they work for or with really the root of the issue? Is your partner happy and fulfilled at their "bad" job, or do they also wish they could switch careers or change their habits? All of these factors will affect whether and how you approach the issue together. 

 

8. Most people have relationship challenges both at home and at work. Much as you feel that your partner's job is affecting your relationship in negative ways, I can almost guarantee that they are also feeling similar pressures in the workplace as well, either from coworkers or employers/employees. Try asking your partner about their workplace relationships and how they are being affected by them. They will probably appreciate your empathy and consideration of the other important relationships in their life, and the conversation will bring greater insight to the ways in which their job or habits affect and are affected by all those around them. 

NEW YEAR, NEW YOU: 
4 Steps to Making 2018 Yours

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NEW YEAR, NEW YOU: 4 Steps to Making 2018 Yours

As we get further into adulthood, the markings of time become fewer and further between. We aren't in school any longer, and most years don't seem to bring a noteworthy event (new job, move to a new city, illness, end/beginning of a relationship). We often feel like years blur one into the next, without separation to mark change. This makes it important to utilize the markers of time we DO have, one being the end of a current and beginning of a new calendar year. 

 

I like to utilize this time to recognize and honor the events and experiences of last year, and consider what changes float up as of utmost priority. My clients and I do this work together at the end of December and beginning of January, to really set the tone and theme for their change narrative. One of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher Plato, who said “The beginning is the most important part of the work”. This is when we set the tone for what we pay attention to, and what we pay attention to grows. Setting healthy narratives and habits early on can help them become lasting throughout the year, and lasting positive change that is aligned with our values and needs is what makes a fulfilling life. So let’s consider the four steps you can do to help move further towards fulfillment in 2018:

 

1) VALIDATE FIRST: Recognize What Has Worked well


All my clients hear this from me ad nauseam. The FIRST step to getting to any new truth is to validate what you've been through. This means, we need to reflect on 2017. The highs, the lows (and we know there have been some lows). And the gratitude for what went well and what we accomplished, even if it's just "Surviving" with some semblance of sanity. Validate FIRST before anything can happen next. It was a hard year, and you got through it.

 

2) REFLECT on What You Didn't Accomplish

What do you wish you had more of last year, and what could you stand to have less of? When a year ends, the weight and gravity of the negatives can often outweigh the triumphs. Instead of ruminating and sitting in the distress, feel it to learn from it. This is our body’s way of providing data to us. If it felt bad, this is something you would like to change (be it your weight, your lack of progress at work, not speaking up enough, your toxic relationship, or just dressing better). 

 

3) SET ATTAINABLE GOALS for 2018
 

Divvy up your goals into smaller steps that you can write in a planner. Instead of “Lose 30 lbs”, consider “Work out 3 times per week (with a focus on losing 1 lb per month).” Instead of “Stop Fighting with my Partner”, consider “Attend weekly couple’s therapy and go on one date night per month”. Research shows that smaller goal-setting and goal-achieving creates small surges of dopamine in our brain that excites us and makes us eager for more. Those attainable goals give us the energy and confidence to achieve another small, attainable goal. Remember, “attainable goal” means a goal you can realistically achieve within a single number of days or weeks.
 

4) ENACT CHANGE via small Steps:

 

Plan what you will do by writing it down. I highly encourage getting a planner to create a plan of action and set yourself up for success. The weekly portion helps with the small steps, and the monthly view allow us to see trends and themes. Get creative with it – use colored highlighters and stickers to organize tasks, anything that gets you more hyped to use it! You can be accountable to yourself when you have a place and space to write, reflect, and plan. Electronic apps and calendars help you sync those goals and plans with a friend or partner, and allow you to set reminders, which are KEY to any system of planning for change (Loop Habit Tracker and Productive are apps that allow you to keep track of your goals, and even offer statistics on how you’re doing, if you’re into data to help create real lasting change). If it’s not something that’s currently part of your life, you will likely need a multitude of reminders to keep from neglecting your new goal.

 

And once it is written down, start DOING. This is obviously the most important part of the process. Most of us wait for the perfect time, when we are finally “ready”, but the sooner you start, the sooner new routines will become integrated into your life. Start meditating 5 minutes every morning. Sign up for and attend a fitness class you've been meaning to take. Apply for that job that will take you to the next step in your career, even if you feel you "aren't ready yet". Call that friend you’ve been wanting to reconnect with for years. Make an appointment with a Therapist to help sort out your difficulties with forgiveness. Do the things you planned to make this year more in line with your needs and desires. Your future self will thank you.

 

Therapist Spotlight: Anikó Blake, AMFT

NCRC is proud to periodically spotlight one of our staff therapists so as to give you a chance to get to know their unique qualities and interests.  Today's spotlight is on Anikó Blake.


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1. Why did you decide to become a therapist?

The therapist’s role, and the therapeutic environment, appealed to me at a very early age. Witnessing by proxy the shifts that can occur through the power of a human-to-human relationship had me in awe. Relationships continue to be a fascination of mine, and the basis from which I center my readings, research, and curiosities. I am a life-long learner of the endless facets of human connection. Being a therapist has been a rewarding medium to help others help themselves in making the most of the relationships in their lives- including the one they have with themselves.

2. How do you think change happens?

Change happens when we perceive opportunity in our lives. Sometimes change is a matter of shifting from one ‘place’ or ‘state’ to another that we predict, plan for, or are required to face. From partnered to single, from adolescence to adulthood, from healthy to chronically sick. Yet, often it occurs by bravely stepping into a state of unknowingness, and leaving the safety and security of our previous reality behind. It is less about knowing where we are going, but having a plan for moving. What I find beautiful about embracing uncertainty is it makes room for ‘arrivals’ along the way that we may be unaware are possible. Uncertainty thrives on creativity, internal strength, relational endurance, and hope. This practice allows for change to happen in the now, and also provides a practice for how to create it in the future. True change cannot be taught or gifted, it must be created and owned by the person seeking it.

3. Do you have a certain therapeutic style, method, or model of therapy that you generally use?

My work is guided by the belief that how we interact with ourselves and our surroundings at one point served a useful purpose- or perhaps still does. Sometimes these purposes are made useful by our families or communities, and may be learned intuitively. Therapy can be the process of relieving ourselves from continuing thoughts and behaviors that no longer suit our goals or fit our values. It is a rewarding experience in therapy when my clients can find new ways of being with themselves and others that reflects their complete, authentic self.

4. What is your educational and professional background? 

I was born and raised in Chicago, and attended both private and public schools throughout my education. My undergraduate studies were completed at DePaul University in psychology, with a focus on human development and interpersonal communication. An interest in the role of words and dialogue in intimate relationships lead me to complete an honors research project and paper, which focused on the use of swear words in couples’ conflict. Main finding: it depends! My continued interest in the intersection of culture, family-of-origin, gender, race, and other forms of identity in relationships brought me to The Family Institute at Northwestern University. In their Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Program I completed two years of rigorous coursework, over five-hundred hours of hands-on therapy experience, and contributed to the development of a pre-marital workshop. 

5. Do you have a specific focus or interest in your clinical work?

During graduate school, I received my Prepare/Enrich Facilitator certification. I am passionate about helping couples, particularly in the early stages of their relationship, in creating a foundation for long-lasting relational well-being. Often this is work is conducted in a relational context, but truly the work starts from within each person. It brings me great fulfillment to see couples collaborate on creating a relationship worth wanting, while developing more self-awareness and compassion in the process.

Beginning this month, I will also c0-lead a women’s group with Meredith Cohn Srivastava, a neighbor psychotherapist at our Northside clinic. This is a weekly group, focusing on identity and self-awareness, that has been running for five years. In the future, I plan to create additional groups centered around challenges I frequently see clients facing, not limited to: healing after an abortion, transition into parenthood, and expanding relational self-awareness. 

Starting next year, I will also be obtaining extra clinical experience in systemic-based Play Therapy. This method of therapy is a wonderful medium for children to best communicate and grow through using the developmentally appropriate language of play. In the future, I plan on integrating these tools in adult and family psychotherapy, as well, as they can be a wonderful way to boost the creative thinking that is often set aside in adulthood. A favorite quote of mine, by George Bernard Shaw, is “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” I am excited to see the ways I may assist my clients through using play to express thoughts, emotions, and experiences to help them reach their therapeutic goals and improve their overall well-being.

 

Anikó currently sees clients at our Ravenswood location. 

She can be reached by phone at (773) 242-7276.

 

 

Do Your Consequences For Children Teach or Just Punish?

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Do Your Consequences For Children Teach or Just Punish?

By: Gabe Seldess, LMFT

I like advocating for children’s consequences that are aimed toward teaching life skills.   A consequence is obviously put in place to call attention to a mistake of some degree.  Taking a toy away, setting a time out, restricting activities are all ways we can emphasize that a bad decision isn’t okay.  I don’t personally support spankings, but this is also something that can signal that a limit or rule has been breached.  It may not always be clear to a child why they are getting in trouble, so take time when your child is calm to specify why there was a punishment.  A popular example is when a child is angry:  being angry is okay, what someone does because of it is not always so.  A child may think anger needs to be suppressed as opposed to managed if there isn’t time spent on isolating issues.   Consistent reaction to enforce rules and set consequences can help children recognize family expectations, social norms, and safety issues.

Once your child knows what behaviors are okay and which ones will lead to trouble, is that enough?

I’d argue usually no.  Children will often learn what the limits and expectations are, but not always what the best behavior would have been in a situation, or even how to do it.  With anger issues, a child may learn that hitting is not accepted, but may not know what else to do when he or she is that upset.  Incorporating additional aspects to a consequence may help to not only stop a behavior, but prevent it in the future.  Additionally, some elements of consequences can help teach empathy, respect, and self-reflection, which can also be beneficial life skills. 

Consequences that only take things away may miss the mark because they only teach what not to do.  When an activity is taken away from a child (No TV!) that is a great opportunity to replace it with something else.  For example, “No TV today, instead you are going to practice your deep breathing and relaxation”.   Writing an apology, spending time cleaning the mess that was made, or using TV time to get an original task ignored completed are other examples.  Take time to teach the needed skills, to teach responsibility, and to re-enforce the fact that when parents say something needs to get done, it gets done.

 If a child gets home late, it makes sense to either take the privilege away or make curfew earlier.  But for how long?  Some parents say, “… for one week, Missy!”, but what does the child learn?  A teaching consequence may be that the new rule is in place until Missy can show better respect overall for rules or demonstrates a different skill.  What if Missy didn’t get curfew back until she was able to get her homework done AND the dishes done on time for a week?  Would that demonstrate that she understands expectations as a whole?  What if Missy has to report to her parents the ways in which she impacted them, acknowledging the worry, lost sleep, and frustration that comes with wondering where a child is?  Might this help re-inforce empathy skills and awareness of one’s impact on others? 

As you know, it is not always possible to control a child.  Sometimes what we have is an opportunity to teach, try to contain, and guide them to wiser options.   When you are making consequences for your child, consider it a teachable moment.

Please check out the following web sites:

www.Empoweringparents.com

www.Loveandlogic.com

Further posts will address identifying values and skills you want your children to have (these can guide what you teach and what behaviors you govern) and also how to negotiate and coordinate with your co-parent around consequences and parenting styles that work for you child. 

Boundaries and self-esteem: how caregivers can encourage life-long empowerment for their children

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Boundaries and Self-esteem:

How Caregivers Can Encourage Life-long Empowerment for Their Children

By: Anikó Blake, AMFT

There's a magical moment when we are infants and discover where another’s body ends and ours begins. More literally the separateness starts when our umbilical cord is cut and we truly become our own bodily mechanism. Our own entity. Early on, we begin to determine what is our touch versus another’s, something that experts call self-world differentiation. In fact, by the time we are four months old we begin selecting what we do and do not want to touch. In an interview with Scientific America, researcher Anne Bigelow describes that, “…early understanding of self and early understanding of other is developed through interaction. It teaches babies basic lessons that they have some agency in the world… as opposed to just being helpless to whatever happens to them.” A crucial form of this interaction is skin to skin contact. Touch is an essential component to overall development, and the mechanism from which we begin to develop our earliest sense of self

Self-esteem is how we define our worth, and developed through knowing that we have a choice in how we treat ourselves and how others treat us. What we need in order to acquire healthy self-esteem is experience making choices about our own bodies and confidence that the choices will make us feel good about ourselves. Even at a very young age, these choices are a matter of both safety and enjoyment in life. If we need that sense of control over our environment early on, in order to feel safe and confident, why is that adults seem to avoid talking about boundaries and consent until children are well into adolescence? And why only in the context of romantic or sexual relationships? Let us back it up a bit, shall we?

The data is clear that encouraging infants and children to create their own boundaries for touch facilitates healthy development and relational success throughout life. And as a bonus, it comes with the relief that talks about consent by parents and caregivers do not have to wait until it has to do with sexual intimacy.  Caregivers can and should facilitate everyday, age-appropriate, and applicable conversations that encourage safety and self-esteem throughout life. These conversations prepare children for making some more challenging decision about touch later in life. Below is a template you can use to give these early conversations a try:

Create a context: Children need to understand the nature of context. For example, here are the situations in which it is acceptable to do X, and here are the situations in which it is unacceptable to do X. Talking about context is preferable to saying that something is always bad. Framing behaviors in terms of contexts also helps kids adhere to social guidelines without experiencing shame. By talking about contexts, children learn that certain types of touch are not allowed in certain locations or with certain people, rather than it is bad to touch or that they are a bad person for touching. 

Provide options: Knowing that there are choices for the types touch that children can give and receive helps children:

1) foster a sense of autonomy and confidence.

2) trust their internal cues for safety and enjoyment of touch.

This also means teaching them how to advocate for options, though developing the language of “can I have a _____ instead” or “I do not like ____ but I do like ____”. Consider talking with children about what types of touch they do and do not like, before they have to decide.

Model your own boundaries: Providing children with insight about how you read your internal cues and preferences can help children learn useful language for describing their own. It can also help them learn empathy through tuning in to another person’s experiences and facial and body cues. For example, offer some commentary when other people touch you or when you touch yourself, such as, “I do like how it feels when my body is held here but not here.”

Stay consistent: Keeping the same messages allows children to know that the rules of personal choice matter regardless of the context or person. For example, children have a right to choose how the say to goodbye to someone (hug, high-five, no touch, etc.) regardless if it is a grandparent or classmate.

A great aspect of encouraging boundaries and self-esteem across a child’s development, and into adulthood, is it follows what they are already doing! From infancy, children are looking to become “embodied bodies”: to be seen, felt, and understood by others. The synergy of helping children experience wanted and enjoyable touch while helping them seek it, as well, is that it promotes self-awareness and a positive relationship with touch. This foundation of empowerment paves the way for children to become better advocates for their needs and their safety throughout life. That way, when the topic of touch becomes about sexual intimacy, children are already well equipped to know how to advocate for their own safety and enjoyment while reading the cues of others, as well.

 

Above is a great place to start, but if you are looking for more check out the articles below:

 

“It’s never too early to teach children about consent and boundaries” by Anne Theriault for the Washington Post

 

“Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21” by Alyssa Royse, Joanna Schroeder, Julie Gillis and Jamie Utt for everdayfeminism.com

 

5 everyday ways to teach your kids about consent” by Lisa McCrohan for upworthy.com

 

To Give and To Get: A Combined Buddhist/Jewish Relationship Formula

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To Give and To Get:

A Combined Buddhist/Jewish Relationship Formula

By: Josh Hetherington, LMFT.

Mindfulness.

Lately I’ve been reconnecting with some Buddhist writing. It underscores a lot of ideas about mindfulness, which I see as a nearly universally useful concept. Everyone can benefit from a mindfulness practice. I like a simple breathing meditation where you focus on your breathing and then notice when you start thinking about something else and pull your attention back to your breathing. It’s easy. You can’t really do it wrong. Sit down. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on your breathing, the sensation of your breathing, the feeling of your breathing in your body. Then, when you notice your thoughts drifting away, catch your attention and pull it back to the sensation of breathing. It’s not really relaxing, necessarily, but sometimes that’s a side effect. Relaxation is not the goal. The goal is practicing the skill of focusing your attention and feeling that you have some control over your thoughts. This practice is derived from Buddhist meditation. Here’s a decent video to lead you through the exercise.

My appreciation for this practice and its impact on so many issues that we all struggle with has led me to look at Buddhism off and on over the last 15 years.  I’m currently reading the Dalai Lama’s book about Happiness from about 10 years ago. It provides a nice overview of many concepts and highlights the goal of finding happiness in your life.

 

Freedom From Reliance on Attachments.

I struggle with the part of the book that relates to attachment. The Dalai Lama describes how relying on relationships for happiness is a mistake. In fact, he talks about attachment – to things, people, ideas, or memories -  being something one must pull away from in order to be happy. I may have this wrong, but I interpreted this to mean that he believes overreliance on our attachments can make us unhappy.

I’ve been a firm believer in Attachment Theory for many years. Briefly, Attachment Theory posits that when babies are born they develop and expand an innate connection to caregivers that provides the platform for emotional wellbeing. The work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth seems ironclad.  But it is a theory. Additionally, it hasn’t moved into adult relationships with as much empirical data supporting it. Of course we all are affected by our experiences in childhood, but while much research has borne out the effects of caregiver attachments on children’s behaviors and relationships, there isn’t as much clear evidence of specifically how those attachments impact us as adults.  Several good therapy models (Sue Johnson’s EFT is probably the most widely used) make sense and have good outcomes, but there are many factors that inform our connections in relationship as adults.

Research also indicates that the happiest people are those who are connected to at least one – if not several -  other people.  The Dalai Lama doesn’t suggest that we should be isolated. His message is clear: be open to all people, and all living, sentient beings.  So being connected to others is important for happiness; he simply warns against relying on our attachments to people as THE SOURCE of our happiness. That expectation is too much pressure on relationships to provide, and ultimately fails.

 

A Focus on Giving.

I talk a lot about needs with clients: “are your needs getting met in your relationship?” A colleague of mine, Shira Galston, suggested recently that it may be just as important to look at your “gives” in a relationship.  She talked about the Hebrew word for love, “ahava,” being rooted in the word for give, “hav,”, and how this etymology mirrors the Jewish conception of love itself being rooted primarily in giving.  This is a tremendous idea for any partner to consider, excluding of course anyone being exploited in an abusive relationship. Of course we have needs. But maybe, sometimes, we focus too much on what we need to receive from our partners rather than on what we can give.

 

Bringing it All Together.

Maybe a formula for happier relationships could combine ideas from both these religious foundations: Don’t expect to have all of your happiness come from your attachment to your partner, and focus more on what you can give rather than lamenting what you don’t get.

 

Shifting beliefs and behaviors is hard. A mindfulness practice will make it easier to challenge your beliefs and try to make adjustments in your perception.  So try to do it 7-20 minutes every day. With practice and intention, you can ultimately move forward into a happier place, and happier relationships as well.

 

 

Therapist Spotlight: Grace Norberg, LMFT

NCRC is proud to periodically spotlight one of our staff therapists so as to give you a chance to get to know their unique qualities and interests.  Today's spotlight is on Grace Norberg, LMFT.


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1. Why did you decide to become a therapist?

When I was a teenager I was quite existential, and questioned, “Why am I here? What is my purpose?” The only good answer to those questions that I found is that life is only meaningful for me if I am helping others. At the time I was attending therapy due to my parents’ divorce, and saw that becoming a therapist was the perfect way for me to help others lead happier, more fulfilling lives and by proxy, myself.

 

2. What is your educational and professional background? 

I attended Florida State University for undergrad and double majored in Psychology and Creative Writing. I have always loved stories- reading them, writing them, hearing them and making them up in my head. My love of stories is also a part of myself as a therapist.

After undergraduate I took a year off to figure out what type of therapist I wanted to be, and found Marriage and Family Therapy. It felt completely in line with my belief that connection is the most basic need of all humans. I went to Northwestern for the most intense two years of immersive therapy called the Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Program, and came out first and foremost a better and more self-aware person, as well as a skilled relationship therapist.

 

3. Where do you see yourself professionally over time? Do you have any particular goals as a therapist?

I see myself expanding my practice to not only helping people within the therapy room, but also reaching greater numbers of people through social media, speaking engagements, and activism. When I first set out on this journey as a helping professional I thought I would be satisfied with just being a good therapist, but after recent experiences observing authors, politicians, podcast creators, yoga instructors and even Instagrammers, I am inspired to do more.

 

4. How do you think change happens?

To quote myself, “Change happens when one can no longer emotionally afford to stay the same.” I have seen time and again that the number one requirement for lasting change is a true desire to do so. Please read my latest blog on change at www.gracenorberg.com!

 

5. If you were not a therapist, what would be your occupation? 

I would be a chef! I love watching cooking shows and even was interviewed to potentially be on Cooks vs. Cons. I’m vegan and have several cookbooks that I use to make delicious plant-based meals.

 

6. Do you have a favorite or relevant quote to your work?

“My life is better when I assume people are doing their best.” – Brene Brown in Rising Strong. I highly recommend this book! This quote helped me realize that when I start to feel victimized or that someone is a bad person, in reality that person is just doing the best they can with the resources they have currently. They are at a place in their journey where they are unable to see how they are hurting others, possibly because of their own past trauma. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but lets me know that it is on me to set boundaries with them.

 

7. Do you have a favorite charity cause and why?

I support anything animal related! PAWS Chicago is my favorite charity because that is where I adopted my cat, Kitty. I volunteered there for a short time after my cat of 17 years passed away and was drawn to Kitty because she looked so much like my old cat. I also foster kittens for All 4 the Love of Cats, a nonprofit that houses abandoned and stray cats awaiting adoption in Petco and Petsmarts in the north suburbs.

 

8. Anything else you would like to add about yourself as a therapist or as an individual?

I want everyone to know that I am a human first, and a therapist second. These identities are strongly intertwined, but I want it to be known that I don’t always do or say the right thing, I’m not always kind and understanding, I get angry, sad and frustrated, I don’t have the perfect relationships with my friends, family and partner, etc. I’m still on my journey, and I will be for the rest of my life, and that’s what it’s all about!

 

Grace currently sees clients at our Ravenswood location. 

She can be reached by phone at (786) 239-5280.

 

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Guest Post: How to Know Whether You Need Couples Counseling

Do You Need Couples Counseling?

 

This guest post was submitted by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, a counselor and speaker in Baltimore, MD, and the director of the Baltimore Therapy Center.

 

Every relationship has its ups and downs. Fights and arguments are a normal part a living as a pair. But how does one know if things have gone too far? When is it time to seek professional help for relationship problems? Here are a few red flags that might indicate to you it's time to consider speaking with a counselor to hash out the rough spots in your relationship.

 

You keep having fights about the same subject.

 

If there is an issue that keeps coming up in your  interactions and souring your relationship, that is something to look at. Big differences in opinions, perspectives, or values can cause a serious rift in a relationship - but they don't have to. As it turns out, research shows that many if not most couples live with “irreconcilable differences” -  so the problem is not that you have them, but how you handle them. If the question of how you spend your money, or the role of your parents in your lives, or your child-rearing practices keeps coming up and turning nasty, getting professional help to sort through the issue is critical. These important conversations can be difficult to have, but with a compassionate and competent counselor you can learn how to live and love together even in the face of such differences.

 

You keep having fights about any subject at all.

 

For some couples, it's not one specific issue, but every issue. Anything they try to discuss turns into an argument. Any topic is fertile ground for mean comments, criticism, and contempt.  The subject matter may be significant or trivial, but the real problem is generally not the subject that is being discussed but rather a much more global issue that is plaguing the relationship that is not being dealt with. The frustrations and resentment over that issue end up coloring every other discussion that you have and turning your home into a battlefield. When everything is a fight, a therapist can be a great resource for helping uncover what is going on underneath that and resolving the tension that is leading to these constant arguments.

 

You never fight at all.

 

To be clear, It is probably a good thing if you and your partner  never come to blows. But as we said above, arguments are a normal part of a relationship. If the two of you never disagree and there's never any conflict of opinions at all, it's a good bet that one or both of you are quashing your frustrations and allowing resentment to build up. It's okay to be angry with your partner. It's okay to not like something they are doing. It is far worse to drive those emotions inside and not deal with them - eventually they will explode outwards, or simply kill the emotional attachment in a relationship so that it quietly but surely falls apart.

 

This is not a comprehensive list of problems that might be helped by couples counseling.  If you are seeing any of these red flags in your relationship or other problems you have been unable to solve on your own, please contact us to see how we can help you.

 


Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, is a counselor and speaker in Baltimore, MD, where he provides individual and couples therapy as the director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. He can be reached at Raffi@baltimoretherapycenter.com.

Becoming a We: 4 Ways To Shift Your Thinking To Thrive In Your Relationship

By: Jennifer Litner, AMFT

One of the challenges adults experience early on in an intimate partnership is establishing the ‘we’ in their relationship. When two single individuals have spent a great deal of time living and working independently, otherwise operating as a ‘me’, the path to discovering the ‘we’ can feel complicated. Even mundane decisions like household cleaning or figuring out whose family to visit for holidays require compromise. Especially if you’re someone who identifies as self-reliant or self-sufficient, it can sometimes feel like a major shift to depend on someone in an intimate way. Whether it be grieving a loss or sharing your fears, we know that the degree to which partners are able to be vulnerable with one another and hold a space for one another significantly influences the depth of intimacy they feel in their relationship. Keep these tips in mind as you reflect on developing the ‘we’ in your own relationship.

 

Opening up is hard to do…

 

What opportunities do you have to let your partner in? Take the chance to let your partner care for you when you aren’t feeling your best either physically or emotionally. Yes, you could probably take care of yourself (that’s the ‘me’ talking) and self care is important. However, letting your partner in by allowing them to care for you will help you deepen the intimacy you already have.

 

Discuss your visions for your future.

 

How do you envision your life moving forward with your significant other? What goals do you have as a couple? Developing shared dreams together can be a really intimate experience and is also a way for you each to stay connected to your passions.

 

Strive for balance.

 

When it comes to a daily-routine and your social life, which activities will you stay involved independently and in which ones will you include your partner? Maintaining friendships and hobbies that are important to you outside of your relationship is healthy, as is making time to spend together and grow as a couple. Exploring your expectations for how each of you want to spend your free time is one of the best ways to stay on target.

 

Create positive vibes at home.

 

Merging homes within a relationship can be a big step for many couples. Each of you likely have preferences about the way in which you keep your home, so creating space for each of your needs and hearing new ideas is an important process. When thinking about your home, consider, what do each of you need to feel relaxed and at peace?

 

Becoming a ‘we’ is an adjustment, especially if you’ve been a ‘me’ for quite some time. It’s also something that more than likely no one has ever taught you how to do before. Be patient with yourself and remember, therapy is always an option if you find yourself feeling stuck.

 

Jennifer currently sees clients at our Ravenswood location. 

She can be reached by phone at (847) 868-2018.

Choosing Change: 5 steps to enacting lasting change in your life

By: Grace Norberg, LMFT

A therapist is usually thought of as a professional whom someone goes to when they need to talk or vent about issues or life stressors. However, the way I was trained at the Family Institute at Northwestern University was that the purpose of therapy is to help people change. There can absolutely be some use in talking and venting, but therapy with a concrete, actionable goal can accomplish so much more. Being in a position to ask others to be brave and change, I am also deeply committed to changing myself. I know intimately the pain and struggle that comes along with realizing you are unhappy with your life, and the challenges associated with attempting to transform it.

Since change is so uncomfortable, a saying of mine is that “change becomes a necessary step once we can no longer emotionally afford to stay the same.” Homeostasis feels familiar at least, even if it isn’t the happiest state. How many times have you said “I want to eat better,” or “I want to stop yelling at my kids,” but a few days later, there you are with the potato chips or screaming at the top of your lungs. Lasting change requires a number of things, including a heartfelt realization that it is necessary.

Here, I outline research-backed factors that can help you break out of that homeostasis and achieve your goals:

  1. Simply taking the first step toward change by attending an initial therapy session can make a huge difference. In a 2006 study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, 88% of people’s presenting symptoms improved after just one therapy session. This doesn’t mean their goals were met completely, but something about the act of seeking and showing up to therapy helps. In my work, I notice the strength it requires to decide to seek help and fight feelings of fear and vulnerability to show up and talk to a stranger about your problems. I am a firm believer that all people inherently possess the inner strength necessary for change – but many of us just need the expertise and training of a therapist to help bring that out.
  2. The therapeutic relationship, or alliance, is touted among therapists as the most important ingredient in change. According to the book Common Factors in Couple and Family Therapy (2009), this alliance is comprised of tasks, goals, and bonds. Tasks are what the therapist tells you to do in the room or at home, such as practicing a new way of telling your partner about your needs or writing a gratitude journal. Goals for treatment should be set in the first few sessions but should also be reviewed periodically to see whether they are being met or have changed. Lastly, “bonds” are your feeling of connection with the therapist which can be derived from how much empathy you feel from them, their ability to remain nonjudgmental, or in plain terms, whether you like them as a person.
  3. Motivational Interviewing is a well-researched and effective therapeutic style. The essence of MI is helping people articulate their goals and ways they would like to change, in their own words. In my experience, it means more than if I were to just tell someone what to do. I am not you, so how can I assume to know what will work for you? In my own therapy, I have noticed that if my therapist starts lecturing me, my eyes start to glaze over. It’s easier to be invested in and remember the words that come out of your own mouth.
  4. We all have heard the saying that “10,000 hours of continuous practice are needed to become an expert” (Gladwell, 2008). Change takes practice. Couples that would like to improve their communication need to learn new patterns of relating. People with difficulty setting boundaries in their life might need to say no more often. We have all learned patterns and schemas, often in childhood, that direct how we view and take on the world. It is incredibly hard to change thoughts and behaviors we have held for such a long time. You must practice over and over, make mistakes, and still persist.
  5. Lastly, Dialectical Behavior Therapy has been found to be the most effective treatment for people with Borderline Personality Disorder and intractable self-harming and suicidal behaviors. The definition of dialectical is integrating opposites, which I believe is relevant to everyone. I encourage you to accept and love yourself the way you are now, but to also seek change. When I ask my clients what they are most afraid of in relationships or in life, it usually boils down to fear of not being good enough. Not a good enough mother, partner, friend, employee, boss, body, etc. I want you to reframe that and say, “I AM enough, AND I deserve to keep getting better”. Nathaniel Branden, a renowned therapist and writer about self-esteem, said, “the first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.

Taking the first steps to change may be what tips the scale of a revolution of self. After that, choosing the right therapist, articulating your goals, practicing new patterns, and loving yourself as-is can take you far.

These are just a few points important to me as a therapist, but I’d love to hear the ways in which you have helped yourself enact lasting change, or strategies you’ve provided to others in their journey to change.  Let me know in the comments!

~ Grace

Grace currently sees clients at our Ravenswood location.  She can be reached by phone at (786)239-5280.

Therapist Spotlight: Monique Brown, AMFT

NCRC is proud to periodically spotlight one of our staff therapists so as to give you a chance to get to know their unique qualities and interests.  Today's spotlight is on Monique Brown, AMFT.


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1. Do you have a specific focus or interest in your clinical work? 

I deeply value working with survivors of trauma. The work is difficult yet extremely rewarding. I have been trained in Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) and have used various narrative and trauma focused therapy with my adult clients. I have led multiple 16 week trauma focused groups that give clients tools for managing psychosomatic and somatic symptoms of post traumatic stress. 

 

2. Do you have a certain therapeutic style, method, or model of therapy that you generally use?

My goal is always to remain curious. The beauty of our work is for me to share in the truth telling of each individual narrative and explore the connections my clients have made about the chapters in their lives. Our work is always collaborative. As far as models of therapy are concerned, I have a very eclectic approach to therapy. I try to really remain culturally sensitive in session. Sometimes, sticking to a particular model doesn't address certain needs a client may face and I will use tools from another intervention that better suits the work we are doing. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I do often find myself using Family Systems theory as the foundation for our work because I find it important to understand a client's cultural and family narrative before I can understand the person that is sitting across from me.

 

3. What makes you unique as a therapist?

I am a Black, Queer, Woman raised on the south side of Chicago, the youngest of 6 children, educated at Northwestern twice. There is a story there and I bring all of who I am to the therapy room. I use my narrative to inform my culturally sensitive and affirming work with my clients. I love the work I do and I genuinely feel that I was meant to be a therapist.

 

4. How do you think change happens?

My favorite quote by Carl Jung sums up my feelings quite nicely: "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." I strongly believe that the work of therapy happens through the relationship between therapist and client. Who I am interacts with who they are and change is a benevolent byproduct of that interaction for both parties. 

 

5. What are you most thankful for?

I am thankful for Love. I am thankful for the way it frees up space in cramped minds and crowded hearts and opens doors to new possibilities. I am thankful for how limitless and abounding Love is. It never seems to be in short supply. I am thankful for the ways it heals and never harms, comforts and never leaves anyone lonely. I am thankful for those who choose to dance to the rhythm of Love's melody and share it with every soul they encounter. I am thankful for the way Love liberates. I am certain that our test as humans is to show love without letting our humanity taint our expression. Be free! 

 

Monique currently sees clients at our Ravenswood and Loop locations.  She can be reached by phone at (773)819-5407.

 

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Introducing NCRC's newest service! Amity Chicago: Business Relationship Counseling

Relationships are hard. All relationships. Whether between spouses, partners, friends, siblings, parents and children, and even between business partners. In fact, did you know that co founder conflict is the #1 reason businesses fail? 

Couples go to couple therapy. Families go to family therapy. And now, coworkers finally have a destination for their own relational therapy needs. NCRC is proud to introduce our newest partner and service: Amity Chicago!

Co-founded by NCRC associates Shira Galston and Myra Castaneda, Amity Chicago is a new and innovative relational counseling service geared specifically towards business partners, co founders, co workers, and company teams. 

Shira and Myra are very excited to bring this service to the Chicago business and startup scene. They plan on bringing their therapeutic expertise and skills into a world that is mostly unfamiliar with this type of service, even though it is sorely needed. Many co founders and coworkers face similar issues to any other couple, such as communication difficulties, conflict, lack of trust and transparency, and burnout. Generally, they either ignore the issue until it destroys the company, or they seek help from others trained in business management consulting, rather than someone with specific training in relational therapy. Amity Chicago hopes to fill this gap, and provide sorely needed counseling and workshops for these teams. 

Check out their new website, www.AmityChicago.com, for more information, and feel free to let your friends and associates know about this great new service!

Therapist Spotlight: Jennifer Litner, AMFT

NCRC is proud to periodically spotlight one of our staff therapists so as to give you a chance to get to know their unique qualities and interests.  Today's spotlight is on Jennifer Litner, AMFT.


 Jennifer Litner, AMFT

Jennifer Litner, AMFT

1.     Do you have a specific focus or interest in your clinical work?

I have a growing specialization in sex therapy and sexuality-related concerns, so the majority of my clinical work is reflective of that focus. I enjoy working with couples and individual adults. I am also working towards my certification in sex therapy and pursuing a PhD in Human Sexuality.

2.     Do you have a certain therapeutic style, method, or model of therapy that you generally use?

A great deal of my clinical work is informed by CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy). I pretty much use a blend of these models depending on what a client needs in the moment.

3.     What makes you unique as a therapist?

I like to think that I am incredibly resourceful and genuine, which many of my clients appreciate. I enjoy helping people find creative ways to cope with challenges and I'm not afraid to use a sense of humor while sharing examples or metaphors. 

4.     Do you have any favorite books or movies or music?

I really enjoy listening to live music, especially Jazz and brass bands like Rebirth, The Revivalists and Trombone Shorty. I am also a big fan of country music.

As far as literature, I really enjoy when authors incorporate research into their writing. Some of my recommended go-to reads include Come As You Are, Loving Bravely, Mating in Captivity, Hold Me Tight, Loving With The Brain In Mind and Modern Romance.

5.     Do you have a favorite charity or non-profit organization or cause?

Bright Pink is one of my favorite local organizations! I really believe in their mission of encouraging women to be proactive and self aware about their breast and ovarian health. It's so important that women have a warm and supportive place to turn to while making informed medical decisions (to prevent cancer); we are so lucky that Bright Pink is headquartered here in Chicago.

Jennifer currently sees clients at our Ravenswood location.  She can be reached by phone at (847) 868-2018.