My website’s homepage provides a brief statement about how I envision therapy. Below is a more in-depth description of my therapeutic perspective and how I work with clients.
In technical terms, I mostly utilize a cognitive-interpersonal approach, but also draw from elements of existential theory and mindfulness. What does that mean?
As humans, we are driven to preserve our connections to others. For this purpose, the mental framework we use to interpret our experiences and guide our actions is built through current and past relationship experiences which create, reinforce, or disconfirm the beliefs we have about ourselves and others, determine what aspects of ourselves we will show or hide in order to avoid rejection, and help us decide how vulnerable we can be with others. We may also experience various traumatic events that contribute. The way that we think about ourselves and others, and our interpretations of experiences, greatly affects how we feel, behave, and how we view our past, present, and future.
Often we may find that the information in our mental framework becomes erroneous and/or limited, the interpretations we are making are negatively biased, and it is no longer working effectively given new situations/experiences, people, personal growth, life stages, etc… We need to make some updates and assess what information is still accurate for us (or was even accurate in the first place), what approaches are still actually useful, and what new approaches or skills we want to add to our repertoire. Also, certain mental illnesses like depression and anxiety tend to produce a set of very similar skewed thought processes (i.e., cognitive distortions) that are both a result of the illness and also help to perpetuate it. Addressing our thoughts and interpretations can make a positive difference in how we feel and how we see ourselves.
Emotional awareness is crucial, as emotions give us excellent feedback that we need to pay attention to. Often times, we put great effort into avoiding our emotions, which causes us more distress in the long run. The flip side of avoidance is the danger of ruminating in negative emotions for too long, which is not mentally helpful either. I like to think of emotions like taking a bath. You want to lie in the bath long enough to experience the benefits but, if left too long, the water goes cold and your fingers get pruney. Mindfulness approaches can often help, as mindfulness involves being aware and present with experiences, thoughts, and emotions, without latching on to them and getting pulled into overanalyzing and ruminating. Creative expression is also a valuable emotional outlet that I enjoy exploring with clients (if that is something that interests them).
How does this affect how I conduct therapy?
I will ask you many questions about your family, culture, religion, relationships, and anything else that has contributed to building your internal world and beliefs about yourself and others. It is very important to me to respect and understand your racial, cultural, religious, and sexual identity.
We will explore your thoughts/thought processes and I will likely request that you keep a thought log in-between sessions, as thoughts can be difficult to recall in retrospect. We can then begin to identify thought patterns that tend to occur when you are distressed and to use what we learn to help you notice more quickly when you are becoming distressed, explore the experiences that contributed, and challenge any thoughts that may be inaccurate/distorted.
We will talk about your emotions in depth and explore: what you learned about emotions growing up, what emotions are difficult to express, where you experience emotions in your body (i.e., tight chest, shoulder tenseness), and how you handle emotions (i.e., express, repress, channel). I welcome any creative work, such as art, writing, and music that you may wish to share for emotional expression and to also help better understand what you are experiencing. The use of relaxation, breathing techniques, and mindfulness meditation may also be incorporated into your therapy.
The image below represents my approach to therapy. It was inspired initially by the Libana song “I Have a Million Nightingales [on the branches of my heart].” My experience of providing therapy is helping someone to hold their burdens, their sorrows, their pains, and what they despise about themselves by welcoming these “nightingales” to come perch on the branches of my heart until the person is able to grow, get in touch with their strengths, and carry their nightingales on their own.
Painting by Emily Pimpinella, digital birds courtesy of Brusheezy.com/members/midnightstouch