I approach therapy from multiple perspectives, depending on the needs of the individual. However, I am largely influenced by the following orientations: Humanistic, Mentalization-Based, Psychodynamic, Attachment and Existential. Below is a brief explanation of each of these concepts.
All human behavior begins with a mental state, such as a thought, feeling, belief or desire. The term Mentalization refers to the process of interpreting behavior in terms of mental states, and thinking about thoughts and feelings – one’s own as well as others’. It requires a sense of curiosity, as well as the recognition that we may be incorrect about what is going on in someone’s mind, because mental states (even our own) are not obvious.
For instance, when was the last time someone ignored you, or didn’t respond to you the way you had expected? Or perhaps he or she didn’t look you in the eye, or looked at you in an odd manner? Did you “know” why – what that person was thinking? If you believe you knew what was going in that person’s mind, it may have been something like, “He doesn’t like me”; “She thinks I’m ugly”; “He doesn’t care about me. Nobody cares about anybody”; “She thinks she’s better than me. I’m sick of people thinking they are better than me.” Whatever you thought, it probably didn’t make you feel very good. This is an example of a failure to mentalize.
On the other hand, you are mentalizing.when you avoid jumping to conclusions, and are open to various explanations for a person’s behavior. For instance, “I wonder why he looked at me that way. Maybe he was deep in thought, or didn’t actually see me.” That kind of interpretation does not take you down the road toward feeling judged, self-critical and angry.
The ability to mentalize is foundational to a sense of identity, the ability to manage relationships and experience a sense of security and contentment in the world. All mental disorders – mood disorders (such as depression and anxiety), eating disorders, and personality dysfunction – can be traced to breakdowns in mentalizing at times when it is most needed.
Mentalization-Based Treatment was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, and has been established as an effective evidence-based therapy for personality disorders (including borderline, antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder).
I have found that incorporating mentalization into my practice makes therapy a more comfortable and effective experience, particularly for those who are reluctant about therapy, or who have been frustrated in previous treatment for various reasons. These reasons may include feeling misunderstood, noticing insufficient progress after a long period of time, or struggling with personality patterns or relationship dynamics that do not seem to change.
You may notice you tend to experience the same emotional patterns over and over again in a single relationship, or across multiple relationships. You may, for instance, recognize similar feelings, attract a certain “type” of person, find a way to sabotage things (again), or engage in self-fulfilling prophecies. This is true of everyone, and it is not a coincidence. It is the unconscious mind at work.
Unconsious processes are the driving force behind behaviors, beliefs, emotions and experiences that seem irrational or “crazy,” but which we cannot seem to control or explain. Many people benefit from understanding the meaning behind these highly emotional and confusing experiences. Psychodynamic therapy emphasizes the activity and impact of the unconscious mind. Methods include, free-association (simply talking about whatever comes to mind), dream analysis, projective drawings (drawing particular things and analyzing them together) and identifying traces of past relationships within current ones.
In the psychodynamic framework, we continually ask “why” in an effort to understand the meaning of, and reasons for, internal conflicts and relationship difficulties. We do this together, and always with an attitude of curiosity. Through the process of decoding what may have seemed inexplicable, the “crazy” feelings and experiences become increasingly easy to understand. As a result, chaos in emotions and relationships decreases, as a sense of control and mastery sets in.
Click here for an excellent article on psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Would you consider yourself a lonely person? How easy is it for you to trust people? When you feel anxious or needy, how comfortable are you reaching out to others? Do you pick up the phone? Or do you tell yourself you can handle it alone, as you so often do? These are all questions that involve attachment.
The way we expect that others will respond to our emotions developed in our earliest relationships, generally with our parents. We can often trace our current relationship patterns all the way back to early memories, because they can be so enduring.
For example, the child whose mother is easily irritated by cries for help is likely to seek comfort in other ways to avoid being rejected by her. As an adult, he or she may anticipate that seeking comfort from others in times of need will result in painful rejection, and is therefore, likely to avoid it. Although this person may wish for intimacy in relationships, such vulnerability may be extremely difficult, and even frightening.
This is only one example of how early attachment patterns manifest in painful adult experiences that are not easily understood. However, through effective therapy these deeply ingrained patterns can be changed, to promote the development of trust and intimacy and a greater sense of personal security.
I believe in the extraordinary potential of all people, and I view therapy as a means of realizing that potential. As a person-centered therapist, I see you as an expert with respect to your own experience, and a well-spring of resources for change and growth. Importantly, I recognize the healing power of trusting relationships, and the necessity of an empathic, meaningful connection between us.
Click here for additional information on the humanistic therapist-client relationship.
As humans, we suffer anxiety over the most basic concerns of life. These issues have been identified as: death (which is inevitable), freedom (which gives us innumerable choices), isolation (because we are each physically disconnected from everyone) and meaninglessness (since life has no inherent meaning; we must create it for ourselves). We cannot escape any of these “existential givens”, and are forced to deal with their emotional impact from a young age.
However, the more resilient we are psychologically, the less power these existential givens have over us. For, if you have developed a strong sense of self and, therefore, know your strengths, challenges, interests and values, you will be more likely to relish the freedom to choose your own path; you will have goals and develop skills which you will direct in meaningful ways; and in doing so you will engage with others on terms that are your own. Death is the least frightening to those who lead fulfilling lives.
One of the primary benefit of effective therapy is the development of a strong sense of self, so that joy is available to us, and the most difficult aspects of life, including the existential givens, are manageable.
Click here for a more thorough explanation of existential anxiety.