It’s safe to say that many people enter therapy for what we therapists refer to as “symptom reduction.” “Help me get rid of my anxiety and depression,” clients say. It makes sense – we all want our anxiety and depression to go away because these symptoms cause us so much pain. At the same time, these symptoms are just that, symptoms of a deeper, as yet unknown, problem(s). In the same way that a physician will not just treat a patient’s fever but attempt to diagnose the underlying illness, so too I see the job of psychotherapy as discovering deeper causes and root problems. Continue reading “The Role of Symptoms”
Many survivors of childhood abuse struggle with the question of how much contact to maintain with their family of origin. Not only is this an internally painful topic, it also brings the pain of misunderstandings and judgment by others. During the holiday season in particular, many survivors field questions about “going back home” and “visiting family.” At times, these queries open up old wounds and bring hurt and anger to the surface. Continue reading “Thoughts on Family Estrangement”
I sometimes receive requests from clients for books to aid in their healing process from a difficult childhood. And there are times I suggest books that I feel are a particularly good fit for a client’s situation. Here are 3 books I’ve read and recommend: Continue reading “3 Recommended Books for Survivors of Difficult Childhoods”
Lately I’m feeling inspired by Janina Fisher’s work on shame. Pervasive feelings of shame are often the result of childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma. Through the process of expanding my knowledge and working with clients, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the relationship between shame, the inner critic, and self-loathing.
Shame begins as an interpersonal experience between the child and caregivers in his or her life. When parents are limited in their ability to provide “good enough” parenting they often resort to punishments to keep the child in line, or discharge their own anger. Punishment can involve acts of commission, such as overt abuse, or acts of omission, withholding love and care. Both experiences are felt as a threat to survival by the smaller and more helpless child who depends on his parents for all his needs.
When humans are faced with a threat to survival, we typically attempt our first line of defense: fight or flight. Yet those strategies are often ineffective in cases of childhood abuse. The child often cannot escape her parents whom she also depends on for her very survival. And fighting a bigger and scarier parent is not only ineffective but can result in more severe punishment. At that point, the body and brain turns to it’s last available defense strategy: freeze. By becoming still and not resisting the abuse, the child protects himself from the consequences of fight or flight. Continue reading “Shame, Inner Critic, and Self-Loathing”
In a recent article several amazing mental health professionals offered advice for new clients to therapy. One of the main themes was the importance of the therapist-client relationship. In my view, that relationship is often misunderstood. Clients may wonder why the therapy relationship is important. Isn’t psychotherapy just a service one receives? Do therapists really care about their patients? In this article, I’d like to delve a bit more into the therapeutic relationship, incorporating both my experiences as a therapist and a client in therapy.
In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth? Carl Rogers