Written By Elaine Chan-Scherer, LCSW
Couples therapists know that people don’t choose each other for the reasons that they think. Think about it – how many people are not attracted to someone who looks great for them on paper? How many people are attracted to people who seem “wrong” for them? What we call “chemistry”, intense attraction, the Hollywood idea of being in love – are actually the workings of our unconscious.
We develop the idea of what “love” is based on our interactions with our primary caregivers. Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., a famous couples therapist, talks about the “Imago”. This is the image that we develop of love– a compilation of the good and bad from our primary caregivers. When our unconscious spots the imago in another person, we feel attracted. If we had parents who were consistent and caring and able to attend to our needs, we will be attracted to a partner with these traits. If one of our parents abandoned us when we were young, or was emotionally unavailable for us for whatever reasons, then we will be attracted to someone who will eventually trigger that feeling of abandonment.
Both partners, however, are usually unconscious about this. Have you noticed how relationships change after you get married? People often find themselves acting in habitual ways that mimic the emotional interactions in their families of origin. Perhaps it is because the psyche is able to relax. We often find that we ended up, unbeknownst to us, marrying someone who is like our mother or father. There is a healing purpose for this madness. Salvation, you might say. It is necessary for us to marry partners who will recreate our childhood wounding scenarios, because if our partner is able to respond in a way that our caregivers were not, our deepest wounds are healed and we come closer to wholeness.
So, in this view of marriage, conflict is necessary and good. Couples often feel hopeless when they reach a point of severe conflict in their marriages. The feeling is uncomfortable, but if they can work through it (therapy is helpful), the marriage can progress to the next level. Just as our two year olds need to say “no” and our teenagers need to rebel to develop a healthy sense of individuation (knowing that they are whole and separate people), our marriages also need to develop to the level where we are individuals with different needs and wants and desires who choose to be married to each other.
Here are my favorite marriage tips:
Your marriage can be a path toward wholeness for each of you.
Written By Julie Terraciano, MFT
What are the signs that we are arriving at burnout stage? Why might we allow ourselves to get there before we are truly conscious that we have over-extended ourselves? What little “vacations” or breathers might be helpful throughout the year to refresh us?
Since this is vacation season, I have been contemplating these questions as I work with clients and listen to conversations outside the office. It is human nature to seek renewal. Current brain research supports this as well.
Apparently, the brain thrives with: proper hydration, good diet, rest, love (including friendship), exercise, creativity and novelty. Taking ourselves out of our element, out of town, out of state, wherever we might find different activities and different perspectives can be good for our bodies and our souls.
If we are fortunate enough to visit a different culture and lucky enough to immerse ourselves in different ways of being and thinking, these experiences can leave us feeling enlightened. If we can manage to have healthy visits with family or friends, we can return refreshed. If we go away to take part in workshops to pursue our passions, we can restore our energy.
When we don’t have the luxury to take the big trip, little road trips can be helpful. Visiting a friend in a nearby town or another part of the state can give us the change of venue that can support new ways of thinking about old problems.
In therapy, clients sometimes talk about being stuck…in their work, in a relationship, in the way they see themselves, the way they relate to their families, the way they communicate. As their therapist, part of my role is to help them look at these challenges differently, based on what they are telling me and what I sense from their words and their presence in the room.
There are times in all of our experiences when we need a break from our usual way of doing things, our customary way of thinking. I often suggest that clients breathe when faced with a dilemma. Pursuing our own forms of meditation….drawing, writing, music, dance, yoga…all help us breathe differently. Conscious breathing can provide little vacations from habitual ways of being, relief from the annoying and the sometimes terrible challenges that we all come across in our lives.
Written By Terry Potente, LCSW
Like all human endeavors, the practice of psychotherapy has ups and downs, trends and reactions. Since the expanding practice of psychotherapy began in cities at mid 20th century, much has come and gone and come back again. Prior to the professionalization of psychotherapy, mental health treatment was handled by a medicine man, minister, midwife or wise person in the local community who knew the troubled person and the context of the problem. The relationship was intense, personal and often a mix of religion and theater. This is still the norm in many parts of the world.
Universally, an essential element in mental health treatment is the relationship of therapist to client. In the early post war years, psychoanalysis was the trend and the therapist was a figure in the background. Passive, unexpressive, the relationship of the therapist to patient was that of a mirror or blank slate. In extreme reaction to that model came innovators. For example, Murray Bowen out of Georgetown and Salvatore Minuchin out of Philadelphia developed schools in which the therapist was directive, involved, opinionated, and quite intrusive. and often dramatic. The persona and role of the therapist was large. Bowen would hospitalize entire families to challenge behavior and communication patterns of family members. Munuchin set up reenactments in which he would direct the action and responses of family members. Individual psychiatric hospitalization or medication was considered extremely passé.
With another turn of events, the concept of "chemical imbalance" defined mental health problems and medication became the therapist with the actual therapist as a prescriber or a referral to a prescriber of meds. The act of talking to a therapist was considered a fairly useless means of treating mental illness or mental problems, very passé. very undramatic and "scientific".
Yet there was always a counter culture of practice. Virginia Satir, flamboyant and caring, promoted healthy relationships as the key to mental health even in the face of insults by peers. Jungians continued to practice deep, spiritually based, talk therapy. Relationship between client/patient and therapist was the important element. The more intuitive, relational style was sought out by seekers but wasn't considered "scientific" by the medical elite. Yet therapists, perhaps guiltily at times, sought a deeply relational practice, in which empathy, attachment and atunement made the work more satisfying and intuitively successful.
Written By Elaine Chan-Scherer, LCSW
Our lives are full of beginnings and endings. I used to hate endings. But I am beginning to see how important it is to end, so that something else can begin. We see this in nature – after summer we have fall and winter. We begin and end a school year, or a calendar year. I am writing this as the year of the Tiger ends and the year of the Rabbit begins. When this article is printed, it will be the season when Christians contemplate the last part of Jesus’ human life. We need to end one thing to make space for another thing to emerge.
John O’Donohue, in his wonderful book of blessings called To Bless the Space Between Us, introduces his chapter called “Beyond Endings” with these words:
“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey - a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart. Due to the current overlay of therapy terminology in our language, everyone now seems to wish for "closure". This word is unfortunate; it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience. Creatures made of clay with porous skin and porous minds are quite incapable of the hermetic sealing that the strategy of "closure" seems to imply. The word completion is a truer word. Each experience has within it a dynamic of unfolding and a narrative of emergence. Oscar Wilde once said, "The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realized is right." When a person manages to trust experience and be open to it, the experience finds its own way to realization. Though such an ending may be awkward and painful, there is a sense of wholesomeness and authenticity about it. Then the heart will gradually find that this stage has run its course and the ending is substantial and true. Eventually the person emerges with a deeper sense of freedom, certainty, and integration.”
When coming upon the ending of a particularly life-nurturing relationship for me, O’Donohue’s idea of “completion” was helpful. I could feel “complete” instead of holding on to the idea that I was missing a part of me. Something in the relationship, and in me, was now “complete.” This is different from the idea of “closure” which allows less access into the richness of my past interactions.
It is easier when “completions” occur by our choice. However, even in endings that are not by choice, this sense of “completion” can be authentic. It may take longer to feel complete, but it is possible. Different layers are a part of this completion process. My father died when I was a teenager. Decades later, I am still discovering subtle layers of understanding that contribute to “completion” and wholeness.
We often help our clients in this process of completion. The process involves creating space and safety for any unprocessed feelings to emerge. We create this space and safety through deep listening. The client feels accurately heard and/or seen. We use different methodologies including dream work, art, observation of and integration of the body and its language, ritual, and active listening and reflection to connect to unconscious parts of the psyche. We understand that the psyche attempts to protect us when we are confronted with something we don’t like by going around what it perceives as a threat. We, as therapists, are guides in being able to hold the “awkward and painful” so that these feelings are integrated into a sense of being whole and complete.
“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey - a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart.” Here’s to forgotten parts of the heart. May we rediscover these parts in ourselves and allow these parts to come forth in others.
Written By Tina Smelser, MFT
I have been thinking about the meaning of practice lately, and would like to share some of my thoughts with you. I’ve been realizing that pretty much everything I am doing is practicing something. For example, if I am not practicing standing up straight, I am practicing not standing up straight. I first had this realization a couple of years ago, when I had let myself go too long without a vacation. I started looking ahead excessively, overly focused on my upcoming vacation, unwittingly practicing being somewhere other than where I was in the present. What I discovered was that once I actually was on the vacation, it was very difficult to give up what I had been practicing. When I was hiking in the woods, I was looking forward to eating lunch. When I was eating lunch, I was thinking ahead to the book I wanted to read. When I was reading the book, I was anticipating taking a nap. It took me a couple of days to actually be there, enjoying what I had been looking forward to as it was happening! I try to remind myself now that if I want an enjoyable vacation, it would be better to practice being fully where I am in non-vacation mode, making it easier to be really be there when I reach the vacation!
This is a type of practice that is unconscious, where we get better at a behavior by repeating it, but without even realizing that we are doing so. We do this all the time with body postures, messages we tell ourselves, ways we communicate with others.
There is also conscious practice, where we purposefully set aside time, space, and energy to engage in a specific behavior. It might be a creative pursuit, such as music, writing, or drawing. It might be the physical practice of a sport, the spiritual practice of meditation or prayer, or the physical/spiritual practice of a body/mind discipline such as yoga or T’ai Chi. There is great power in practicing whatever it might be and observing the changes over time in yourself and in the form you have chosen to practice. To nurture your practice, you may want to find a class, a group, a teacher. You may want to set aside a specific time of day when you know your energy is most in sync with the practice, as well as a place that is as conducive as possible. Having these frameworks in place can help support your intention to practice.
In looking for inspiration for this article, I turned to a couple of my favorite books, The Listening Book-Discovering Your Own Music, by W.A. Mathieu, and Free Play-The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, by Stephen Nachmanovitch. In The Listening book, in a small chapter called, “Telephoning Counts”, Mathieu writes of the importance of the preliminaries of practice, likening it to clearing the forest as part of building the house. He says that when you are dialing the number of the babysitter so that you will have time to practice, you can say to yourself, “I’m doing music now”. (p. 79).
In Free Play, Nachmanovitch writes about the difference between the typical western way of looking at practice, and the typical eastern way of looking at practice. “The Western idea of practice is to acquire a skill. It is very much related to our work ethic, which enjoins us to endure struggle or boredom now in return for future rewards. The Eastern idea of practice, on the other hand, is to create the person, or rather to actualize the complete person who is already there. This is not practice for something, but complete practice, which suffices unto itself”. (p. 67-68). He also stresses the importance of ritually preparing for practice, and finds that in preparing to create, he is already creating. (p. 74).
Practice takes discipline. The discipline of doing something even when you might not really feel like it. In the contemporary New Age mentality, there is an underlying directive to “Follow your Bliss”, or “Go with the Flow”. I wonder, does this contradict the idea of practice, which might not always feel like bliss, or flow? Perhaps a way to hold both is in seeing the bliss or the flow as the overarching inspiration, while understanding that the small steps on the path may not feel always blissful or flowing, but may be a necessary part of the journey.
With my therapy clients, I encourage viewing change as a process. For example, to learn how to manage one’s anger, it takes practice to recognize the early signs of anger, practice to disengage from it, and practice to find a constructive way to express it. After practicing other ways, often for years, the new behaviors may feel foreign. It takes repetition for the new ways to start to feel familiar. I have read that it takes 21 days to change a habit. While I tend to balk at statements that give one number that supposedly can apply to everyone for anything, I can appreciate idea of practice that is implicit in this statement.
I hope that these ideas have spurred your thoughts, and will encourage reflection about what you may be consciously or unconsciously practicing in your life.
Written By Elaine Chan-Scherer, LCSW
I had the opportunity this week to feel really stressed out. I call it an opportunity because it gives me something of current interest to share with you. Fortunately, I’ve been in enough therapy, done enough therapy, taken enough courses, read enough books...to have some idea of what to do about it. Of course, every body and every psyche responds differently, but I will share my tips with you.
If you feel panicked,
The reason this works is that when you are panicked, your brain is sending signals that you are in danger. Your adrenaline is running and your flight/fight/freeze response is kicked into gear. The blood leaves your limbs to get your heart pumping so you can run. That is why you may perspire, feel your heart pounding, and not be able to think clearly. You want to do things to let your brain know that you are not in immediate danger. Chances are some past trauma is being triggered in you. Trauma memories are different from regular memories – the mind thinks that you are in the midst of real danger again and responds appropriately for the past danger but not for the current situation. You can thank your body for trying to protect you and then give it signals that the danger was in the past and you are actually safe right now. The tapping helps with stimulating both sides of the brain. The hugging and swaddling help to calm down the nervous system. When our bodies are forming, the skin is formed at the same time as the nervous system, so the skin is very sensitive.
If you are feeling anxious,
This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope some of these tips may help you. The reason that psychotherapy is more helpful in reducing stress and anxiety than reading an article is because we are all different and have different things that may be causing the stress. When trying to identify the stressors and while working on specific solutions to address the stressors, it is often nurturing and helpful to have an objective guide.