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Monday, October 5, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way

Many people resist allowing themselves to feel their feelings fully, especially feelings that are uncomfortable for them, like anger or sadness.  What they don't realize is that by resisting these feelings, they're actually intensifying them.  They might avoid their uncomfortable feelings for a while, but these feelings will probably surface again stronger than ever.

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way Rather than Resisting Your Feelings
The Problem With Resisting Uncomfortable Feelings
Aside from uncomfortable feelings coming back with greater intensity, the psychological energy that it takes to repress these feelings can be exhausting.

For some people, who manage to numb these feelings, they also end up numbing all their feelings so that they don't feel much of anything, not even happiness.

Resisting Uncomfortable Feelings Usually Intensifies Them

Rather than labeling feelings as "good" or "bad," it's important to realize that feelings are a normal part of being human.

This doesn't mean that you have to wallow in them or obsess about them.  It means that you accept yourself as a human being with a range of feelings.

Learning to Feel Your Feelings
Many people, who are afraid of their uncomfortable feelings, are afraid that if they allow themselves to feel their feelings that they will become overwhelmed.

But, for most people, making time and space for feelings usually has the opposite effect, rather than expanding, the feelings tend to settle down.

Feelings are more likely to become overwhelming when they're suppressed (see my article: Coping with Grief).

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feeling in a Healthy Way, Including Sadness and Heartache

Rather than suppressing the feelings that make you feel uncomfortable, here are some tips that you might find helpful:

Rather than avoiding your uncomfortable feelings, create space in your mind and body for them.  

What do I mean by that?  I mean that you allow yourself, at the right time and place, to express your emotions in a healthy way rather than squelching them.

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way, Including Anger

This means that, among the many ways you can allow yourself to feel your feelings in a healthy way, you can cry, talk to a trusted friend or loved one about how you feel, punch a pillow to let out anger or frustration, go for a walk or run, express your emotions in a personal journal or draw.  

The Mind-Body Connection: Feeling Your Feelings in an Embodied Way
Feelings are energy in your body, and the body often holds onto feelings, including unconscious feelings (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

The mind-body connection is important when you're learning to deal with  uncomfortable feelings because the feelings aren't just in your mind, they're also in your body.

Some people like to use movement or dance to express their feelings.  You don't have to be a dancer or "talented" to do this.  

If you can sense into your body, you can feel where your emotions are in your body.  So, for instance, if you feel your hands are clutched in anger, ask yourself what your hands feel like doing in order to express themselves.  Maybe they feel like getting wrung out or maybe they want you to rotate at the wrists.

If you sense that you're holding onto tension in your shoulders, what movement can you make to loosen up your shoulders?

This might feel awkward at first, but your body often knows intuitively what to do and, after a while if you keep trying this, you'll gain a better sense about where uncomfortable emotions are trapped in your body and learn to express them in intuitive ways.

Another example is heart openings poses in yoga where there is a more expansive feeling in your chest.  These poses often release emotion.  It's not unusual for people doing heart opening poses in yoga to feel a release of emotion.  Experienced yoga teachers know this.

Learning to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way Also Means Taking Personal Responsibility
There are some people who think that allowing themselves to feel their feelings means that they can be physically or emotionally abusive towards others.  But that's not what I mean when I say to feel your feelings in a healthy way (see my article: Understanding and Expressing Your Emotions in a Healthy Way).

Feeling your feelings means that you do this in a healthy and responsible way with yourself and other.

No matter what you're feeling, you're still responsible for your feelings.

So, feeling your feelings doesn't mean that you take them out on other people or that you abuse yourself. 

Learning to feel your feelings in a healthy way means that you find healthy outlets to express yourself without abusing yourself or others.

Managing Your Stress Level on a Regular Basis
Aside from allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable feelings that you're aware of in your mind and body, it's also important to manage your stress on a regular basis so these feelings don't get to the point where they overwhelm you (see my article:  Staying Emotionally Grounded During Stressful Times).

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way: Manage Your Stress Levels on a Regular Basis

Find stress management techniques that work best for you.

It's different for everyone.

Whether you practice meditation or yoga, go walking on a regular basis, or whatever works for you, be consistent so that you'll feel more balanced and grounded (see my article: Safe Place Meditation and The Mind-Body Connection: Mindfulness Meditation).

Getting Help in Therapy
There are times when, despite your best efforts to cope on your own, you might need professional help from a licensed mental health professional, especially if you're overwhelmed by a traumatic event (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy).

If you've tried and you're unable to cope with the feelings that are coming up, rather than trying to go it alone, seek professional help, especially if you're feeling depressed or anxious (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you're feeling suicidal, it's important that you get help immediately, which could mean calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room if you feel you're in imminent danger of hurting yourself.

It takes courage to ask for help, but most people discover that taking the first step of asking for help is usually the hardest and then it tends to get easier from there (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way: Getting Help in Therapy

Recognizing that everyone needs help at some point in his or her life can make it easier to pick up the phone and ask for help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

Even though no one wants to feel unhappy or experience emotional trauma, it's an unfortunate fact of life that we will all have distressful experiences in life.  There's no way to avoid it.  So, it's best to learn to develop resilience in order to strengthen your ability to cope with adversity when it occurs (see my article:  What is Emotional Resilience?)

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

Not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up in a family where they are taught to handle stressful situations or where resilience is modeled for them by their parents.

In fact, many people, who grew in homes where there was overwhelming family stressors, might have learned maladaptive ways of coping with stress.

For example, in families where one or both parents drank excessively, used drugs, gambled compulsively or engaged in other maladaptive behavior, many children integrate these behaviors at an unconscious level, and many of them develop the same dysfunctional behaviors.

It's important to recognize that the integration of these maladaptive behaviors occurs on an unconscious level.

Even though these children might tell themselves that they never want to engage in the same self destructive behaviors, the unconscious mind has taken in what they have experienced with their parents on such a deep level that it can easily become part of their own behavior when they become adults (see my article: Discovering That You've Developed the Same Traits That You Disliked in Your Parents).

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy
Psychotherapists who use the mind-body connection in therapy usually assess clients in therapy to evaluate their strengths, coping skills, and where clients might need help to become more resilient (see my article: Developing Coping Skills in Therapy).

For most people, the issue of resilience isn't so black and white.  It's not a matter of being resilient or not.  Many people bounce back under certain circumstances, but they might find it more challenging in other circumstances.

So part of the clinical assessment is to determine where clients have been able to bounce back in the past and where they find it more challenging.

As part of taking a personal history with a client, a skilled psychotherapist is listening for information about these different circumstances and how they might relate to the current presenting problem that brings the client into therapy.

This helps the mind-body oriented therapist to develop a collaborative treatment plan that can use the client's strengths in one area to help with another.

Even when the client feels (erroneously) that they have no strengths to call upon within themselves or they have problems accessing their underlying strengths, they often know of other people who have exhibited the same strengths that they wish they had.

Or, even if they can't think of anyone that they know personally, they will probably have seen resilience in a character from a movie, TV program or in a book.

A psychotherapist, who works with imaginal interweaves, which are used in mind-body oriented psychotherapy as a way to help clients develop internal resources, can help a client to imagine the strengths the client has seen in others, whether he knows them or not.

The wonderful thing about imagining someone else's emotional resourcefulness is that you tap into your own emotional resourcefulness, possibly resources that you didn't even know you had.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario to illustrate how this works:

Jane came to therapy because her boyfriend had just broken up with her.

On an intellectual level, Jane knew that she had gone through other breakups before and that she eventually bounced back, even though in the beginning she felt completely overwhelmed and hopeless.

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

But on an emotional level, Jane felt helpless and hopeless to deal with the loss of her boyfriend.  So, it was immediately apparent that there was a disconnect between what she knew intellectually, based on her prior experience, and what she felt emotionally.

Jane also blamed herself for the breakup.  She blamed herself even though she couldn't think of anything that she could have done to make her boyfriend want to leave her, and her boyfriend assured her that it had nothing to do with her--he was just incapable of sustaining a relationship.

She had the emotional support of close friends and family members, which she appreciated.  But it made little difference in how she felt.

Jane also had the respect and admiration of her professional colleagues in a challenging career where she had overcome many obstacles to become professionally successfully.

But none of this made any difference for her--she still felt helpless.

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

At least, that's how she felt on an emotionally level.  Logically, she thought that she would probably meet someone new in time.  So, here again was another disconnect between her emotional self and her logical self.

As part of her personal history, Jane revealed that her mother was in and out of her life as a young child.  When she was younger, Jane was given no reason why her mother suddenly came and went.

But as a young adult, she learned that her mother had a drug problem and she attended multiple inpatient rehabs, and this is why she disappeared from Jane's life so many times.

During those times, Jane's maternal aunt would move in to help Jane's father take care of her.  While her aunt made sure that Jane's basic necessities were taken care of, she was emotionally cold and distant with Jane.  And Jane's father worked two jobs, so he was usually out of the house.  When he was home, he was often too tired to interaction with Jane.

So, there was often no one at home to provide her with the love and nurturing that she needed (see my article: What is the Connection Between Child Emotional Neglect and Problems Later On in Adult Relationships).

As an only child, Jane grew up feeling lonely most of the time.  She spent most of her time at home alone playing by herself, wishing that her mother would come back home.

When her mother came home, she would spend time with Jane, which made Jane happy.  Despite her drug problem, her mother could be warm and loving.

But Jane's mother was often inconsistent in her behavior.  She would make promises to Jane, but then she wouldn't keep them.  The most devastating of these broken promises was that she would stay with Jane and she wouldn't go away again.

As a young child, not knowing that her mother was struggling with a drug addiction, Jane would believe her mother each time that she promised that she would never go away.  And each time Jane was heart broken when she came home from school and she discovered that her aunt was there because her mother had gone away again.

With no explanation as to why her mother left, Jane would blame herself, as most young children do under these circumstances.  She thought she must have done something "bad" for her mother to leave her again.  She would go over and over in her mind what she could have done to make her mother angry (she assumed her mother left each time because she was angry with Jane), but she couldn't come up with anything.

Based on Jane's description of her history of blaming herself as a child for her mother's absences and also blaming herself for the recent breakup, it was apparent that there was an old ingrained unconscious pattern that was repeating itself over and over with people who were emotionally unreliable (see my article: Falling In Love With "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again).

As part of helping Jane to develop internal emotional resources, I asked her to bring in 10 memories where she felt confident about herself (see my article: Coping Strategies in Mind-Body Psychotherapy: Remember Memories of Feeling Confident).

It was not a surprise that Jane's positive memories involved achievements in school and in her career because her academic and career achievements were where Jane felt the most confident.

I used clinical hypnosis to help Jane to remember one experience at a time where she felt strong and confident.  Despite feeling helpless and hopeless about her romantic life, Jane was able to access that confident part of herself, and we used hypnosis to help her strengthen those experiences within herself.

Initially, when I talked to Jane about positive role models for imaginal interweaves, she couldn't think of anyone in her life that was a powerful, nurturing or wise person.  But I encouraged Jane to think beyond her immediate family  and friends to possible experiences with teachers, mentors or other people who had a positive influence on her.

Then, Jane remembered a high school teacher that she admired who was warm and friendly and who motivated and encouraged Jane.  Beyond that, Jane's knew that her teacher saw something special in her and this helped Jane to feel more confident in herself.

She also remembered an older professor who was wise and kind, and a former supervisor who was a mentor whom she also considered to be a wise person.

In addition, Jane remembered a few female characters from books that she read that she admired for their strength and perseverance, so we also used them as part of her imaginal interweaves.

Then, we used EMDR to help Jane overcome her feelings of helplessness and hopelessness about the recent breakup.

During the EMDR processing, we did a "float back," also known as a "bridge back" or "affect bridge" to take Jane back to her earliest memories of feeling abandoned by her mother (see my article: Healing Old Emotional Wounds).

Jane began to realize that what made her romantic breakups so devastating was that these earlier memories of being abandoned, which were still powerful for her, got triggered.

So, in working on the earliest memories of feeling unloved and abandoned, she was able to work through the early trauma as well as the feelings of being abandoned in the recent breakup.

Developing a More Resilient Self in Therapy

EMDR is also a powerful treatment modality that helps clients to make connections where there have been disconnections.  So, Jane's emotional feelings and her logical thinking about herself became more integrated.

Jane also realized that she had a lot of strengths that she had been unaware of and that she could call on these strengthens during difficult times.  All of this helped Jane to develop a much more resilient self.

Some people are fortunate to have developed resilience as they were growing up, and their resilience helps them as adults to get through tough times.

Many other people are resilient in some areas of their life, like Jane who overcame obstacles in her career to become successful, but they might be more vulnerable emotionally in their personal lives because of their family history.

A skilled psychotherapist, who knows how to help clients to develop a more resilient self, takes a full history, assessing the client's strengths and vulnerabilities, and provides clients with tools to develop resilience.  This process will be different for each client.

When there has been significant emotional trauma, an experienced therapist, who uses mind-body oriented therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing or clinical hypnosis, will also help the client to work through the trauma.

Reading an article about developing a more resilient self in therapy might make it seem that this work is quick.  But, even though mind-body oriented therapy usually works faster than talk therapy, it's not a quick fix, especially if there is longstanding complex trauma.  With longstanding trauma, it can take anywhere from months to years, but there is often relief along the way.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have tried to overcome your emotional problems on your own and you feel stuck, you could benefit from getting help in therapy from a licensed mental health professional who uses mind-body oriented therapy.

Developing Resilience: Getting Help in Therapy

Although you might feel hopeless, you might also be surprised to discover the many strengths that you do have that you have overlooked and that can emerge in a mind-body oriented therapy.

Rather than suffering on your own, you could be helped in therapy to transcend your problems to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and adults.

Helping clients to recognize their strengths, develop a more resilient self and overcome emotional trauma are my specialties.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

An attraction between two people is made of many different aspects, most of which are unconscious (see my article: Confusing Sexual Attraction With Love).  You can be drawn initially to someone's looks, personality, and intelligence.  You might also be bowled over by his or her charisma.  But, beyond charisma, it takes a while to really see who a person is in terms of his or her character and, in the long run, character is much more important than charm (see my article: Are You Ignoring Early Warning Signs in Your Relationship?)

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

What Does It Mean to Have a Good Character?
Having a good character includes, among other things:
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Loyalty
  • Good judgment
  • Strong Values
How Do People Build Character
Character building usually takes place from an early age when parents teach children morals like "following the Golden Rule" (treating others the way you want to be treated), having a sense of empathy for others, having integrity and being honest.

Character Building Usually Starts at an Early Age When Parents Teach Children Morals

These lessons, which start at a young age, continue on for a lifetime because character building is a lifelong process.

How Do You Assess a Romantic Partner's Character?
As I mentioned before, it takes time.  You need to see this person in many different situations to see how s/he behaves.  As with anything, actions speak louder than words (see my article: Falling In Love With Mr. Wrong Over and Over Again).

Everyone looks good in candlelight.  And when life is going well, you don't necessarily get to see someone's true character.

But when there's a challenging situation in your life or in your partner's life that requires more than just intelligence or charm--that requires honest, integrity, empathy, loyalty or having a sense of values--you're more likely to see if your partner behaves in a way that shows good character.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario which illustrates these points:

Ina met John at her friend's party and she was drawn to him immediately.  He was the handsomest, funniest, most charming man in the room.  Everyone was drawn to him, men and women.

Once they started talking, Ina and John only had eyes for each other.  Within a week, they began dating and spending a lot of time together.

Ina was impressed with how knowledgeable John was about so many interesting topics:  art, movies, languages, real estate, and cooking.

Relationships:  Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

He always complimented her on how she looked and what she wore.  He was attentive to her, and he seemed to hang onto her every word.

He seemed to be the perfect gentleman, and so different from many of the men that she dated before.

Their sex life was exciting and passionate, and Ina felt adventurous in a way she never felt before.

They had many of same interests, including music, art, and a love of dancing.
Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

When Ina introduced him to her close friends, her friends liked him instantly, and found him to be very engaging and charming.  She felt so happy to be with John and that he fit in with her friends.

After several months, Ina had fantasies of spending the rest of her life with John.

Then, about six months later while Ina and John were on vacation, she overheard him having a conversation with a friend about his real estate business.

She was stunned to hear him laugh and say, "Those old geezers who are selling that apartment don't even know what it's worth.  They're selling it way below market rate and they're too stupid to know it."

At first, Ina was so stunned that she couldn't believe what she had heard.  So, when he got off the phone, she asked him about it, and he tried to brush it off and tell her not to worry about it--he was just chatting with a friend.

But Ina grew up learning to respect others, especially the elderly, and she told him that she was surprised at what he said.  She told him that it sounded like he was doing something that was unethical and he was knowingly taking advantage of these older people and enjoying it.

John got defensive and told her he didn't want to talk about it, but when Ina persisted, he exploded, "How do you think I make money?  I make money by investing in properties and then flipping them.  I don't make money by worrying if I'm 'taking advantage of people.'  If you don't understand that, then you're very naive.  Everyone has to look out for himself, and that's what I'm doing--I'm looking out for Number One--me.  There's nothing wrong with what I'm doing."

They argued about this back and forth with John giving her many other examples where he made "good deals" because people didn't understand the value of their property.  This even included family members.

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

As Ina looked at John and listened to him talk, she felt she was no longer looking at the man that she fell in love with several months ago.  He no longer seemed good looking and charming to her.  He just looked ugly to her inside and out.

She knew it was over between them, and she left feeling broken hearted and betrayed.  She thought to herself, "How could I have been fooled by someone who turned out to be so self absorbed, dishonest, uncaring and unethical?"

Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character

A few weeks later, Ina began therapy to understand how she had been so misled by someone who seemed so wonderful at first.

One of the things that she learned in therapy was that it takes a while to really get to know someone.  She learned that she would need to see someone in good times and bad to really understand what that person is made of and if he is someone with whom she would want to make a long term commitment

People are often attracted to good looks, charm or affluence.  But those are superficial qualities and they're not good predictors of happiness in a relationship.

It takes time to really get to know someone, and you usually get to truly know someone when either you or they are going through a challenging time.

While everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, you can often discern someone's integrity and values when s/he is faced with a moral dilemma or a situation that requires ethical behavior.

Does this person behave with honesty and integrity?  Does s/he have empathy for others?

The two of you might not agree about how to proceed in a particular situation, but if you discover that your partner tends to behave in ways that are selfish, uncaring and dishonest, you would do well to question whether this is someone you want to commit to in a long term relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've had a bad experience in a relationship because you were initially taken in by a charismatic person who turned out to be someone very different from the person you thought he or she was, this can be very confusing and you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional to help you through it (see my article:  Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

Rather than feeling ashamed or guilty about having been taken in by this person, seek help to understand yourself in this situation and to learn to avoid this mistake in the future.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma

Many people, who have a traumatic history, avoid coming to therapy because they fear being overwhelmed (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

That's why it's so important for psychotherapists to help clients develop coping strategies while working on emotional trauma so that they can overcome their fears and do the therapeutic work without becoming overwhelmed.

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma 

Before any trauma work begins in therapy, a skilled therapist will help clients to develop the internal resources needed to do the work.

Some clients, who engage in meditation, yoga or other mind-body oriented practices, might already have some internal resources.

Other clients, who might not know how to soothe themselves, will need help from a psychotherapist on how to develop these internal resources.

Internal resources are an important part of preparing to do trauma work.  They allow the client to switch, if necessary, from disturbing memories of trauma to relaxing places within themselves to take a break before resuming the processing of the trauma.

Knowing that they have a way to soothe themselves helps most clients to feel that the trauma work in therapy is manageable so they don't approach the work with overwhelming fear.

Unfortunately, many people who need help to overcome traumatic experiences don't know that skilled trauma therapists facilitate the internal resourcing process, so they avoid coming to therapy because they're too afraid of being overwhelmed.

If they do eventually come to therapy, it's often at the urging of a spouse, their doctor or their employer because the unresolved trauma is causing problems in other areas of their life.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that addresses these issues, which is representative of many similar cases, and I'll discuss how I work:

Tom sought therapy for the first time at the age of 35 at the urging of his wife and his medical doctor.

Despite growing up in a highly dysfunctional family where his mother gambled and his father was physically abusive with everyone in the family, including Tom, Tom did very well in college.

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma 

He established himself in a successful career, he got married and had two children.

Judging from outer appearances, anyone would think that Tom was leading a happy and successful life.  Having a loving wife and children and everything that he needed on a material level, he seemed to be living the American dream.

But, despite external appearances, Tom's inner life was in a state of chaos.  He was good at hiding his anxiety and deep sense of low self worth so that no one would have guessed at his deep unhappiness--except his wife and his doctor, who knew about Tom's panic attacks, anxiety-related stomach problems and his frequent nightmares about the childhood physical abuse he experienced at the hands of his father.

As time went on, Tom experienced an increasing disconnect between the happy facade that he managed to put on for friends and colleagues and his deep unhappiness.

His doctor, who knew Tom and his family for many years, provided Tom with psychoeducation about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) and talked to Tom about how his unresolved trauma from childhood was affecting him now (see my article:  Overcoming Childhood Trauma).

After Tom learned about the ACE study from his doctor, he was amazed that his experiences from so many years ago were still affecting him.

Before he learned about the ACE study, he felt like there was wrong with him since he have everything that he ever wanted, but he still felt anxious and insecure.

His doctor also told him that he could resolve his childhood trauma by getting help in therapy with a psychotherapist who specializes in working on trauma.

Tom was hesitant about seeking help in therapy.  He was afraid that he would be overwhelmed in therapy if he had to delve back into his painful childhood memories.  At the same time, he knew that he needed help.

If Tom came to see me for a consultation, I would explain how I work with clients who have unresolved trauma.

Before processing any traumatic memories, I would get a thorough history of the trauma and family of origin dynamics.  I would also develop an understanding of how the trauma affected him in the past and the present as well as his fears about how it could affect him in the future.

I would help Tom to develop coping skills which, in experiential therapy, is called "resources."

Most clients who come to therapy to work on trauma are usually relieved to hear that I help clients to develop coping tools before any processing of trauma begins.

Resourcing for Tom could include, among other things, helping him to learn how to meditate, learning to discover a "safe or relaxing place"within himself, working to help him integrate and reinforce positive memories about himself as well as helping him to develop imaginal interweaves, which involve imagining nurturing, protective and powerful figures in his life  (see my articles:  Why is EMDR? and Empowering Clients in Therapy).

Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma

Usually, as I help clients to process their trauma using experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis, clients begin to experience and understand the connections between their current problems and their unresolved problems from childhood.

Experiential therapy is usually successful with helping clients to overcome trauma more effectively than regular talk therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
People with unresolved trauma often don't realize that their fears of working on their trauma in therapy are usually based on events that already occurred in their life.

As adults, we all have a much greater emotional capacity to deal with trauma than we had as children.

When you look for a therapist, ask her how she works (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist

In addition to finding a therapist who is a trauma expert, you also want to sense that the therapist is empathically attuned to you (see my article: A Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Healing For Clients).  This could take a few sessions to determine.

In my professional opinion, experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis are the most effective forms of therapy for most people who have unresolved trauma (see my article: Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Rather than continuing to suffer on your own, get help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma expert and who uses experiential therapy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialities is helping clients to overcome emotional trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Midlife Transitions - Part 2: Living the Life You Want to Live

In my last article, I began a discussion about midlife transitions by defining it, giving some of the possible symptoms and possible challenges involved.  In this article, I've provided a scenario to illustrate the points that I outlined in the prior article.

Midlife Transitions: Living Life the Life You Want to Live

The following scenario, which is a fictionalized account that represents many cases with all identifying information changed, is an example of someone who is going through a midlife transition, the challenges that he faced, and how he was helped in therapy.

Ed was in his life 40s when he began to feel a growing sense of dissatisfaction and unease about his life, especially his career.

After he obtained his MBA, he chose a career in finance while he was still in his mid-20s because he
enjoyed his finance courses in college and he wanted a career that would allow him a lifestyle that was different from his parents' lifestyle.

Having grown up in a family where his parents struggled to make ends meet, Ed knew he never wanted to live that way, so he chose a career where he and his family could live comfortably.

During his 25 year marriage, he felt proud that he and his family lived a comfortable life and he put his two children through college without his children having to go into debt.

He was also glad that he survived many of the changes, including many rounds of layoffs, in his field.

But Ed was aware that he was feeling an increasing sense of malaise at work.  What once made him happy in his career no longer held his interest.
Midlife Transition

He began to question whether he was living his life according to his core values.  And the more he questioned what he was doing in his career, the more he realized that his career choice now felt out of synch with his core values.

During his time in high school and freshman year in college, Ed was involved with volunteer activities that gave him a sense of satisfaction, including volunteering with a reading program where he read to young children in elementary school and volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter.  Both programs were important to him because he liked being around young children and he also liked animals.

During his early years in college, he thought he would choose a major that would be part of one of the helping professions.  But as time went on, Ed decided that it was more important to him to earn a good living and never struggle financially like his parents did, so he majored in Economics in college and obtained an MBA in graduate school.

For a time, after he got married, he was able to continue the volunteer activities, which gave him so much satisfaction.  But after he and his wife began having children and he had to put in long hours at work, he stopped volunteering because he didn't have enough time.

Now, just weeks away from his 48th birthday, Ed realized that he wasn't happy at work any more.  Even though he had been promoted and well compensated over the years, his career and his compensation no longer made him happy, and he wasn't sure what to do.

Midlife Transitions: Living the Life You Want to Live

As he became increasingly preoccupied with his dissatisfaction and after several nights of tossing and turning, he spoke to his wife, Susan, about his sense of malaise.

Susan told him that she noticed that he was irritable and grumpy, and she asked him what he wanted to do.  In response, Ed just threw up his hands--he didn't know what to do.  He couldn't just quit his job.

In the past, Ed tended to be a goal-oriented person and he wasn't usually at a loss about what to do when making major life decisions, so this was a new experience for him.  It was confusing and disheartening, and as time went on, it was starting to erode Ed's sense of self confidence.

Susan suggested that Ed consider seeing a psychotherapist to help him to sort things out and make some decisions.  But Ed had never been in therapy before.  He was concerned that therapy would take a long time, and he felt he didn't want to wait a long time to deal with his feelings.

So, Ed spoke with a close friend, Bill, who had been to therapy and asked Bill what he thought.  Bill told Ed that he was helped a lot in therapy when he was facing a major life decision similar to Ed's dilemma.

He told Ed that there are different type of therapists and different types of therapy.  He told Ed that if he wanted an interactive therapist who works in a dynamic way, he should ask about this when he called to make an appointment and get more details when he went for the consultation.

Even though the thought of going to therapy made Ed feel uncomfortable, the prospect of struggling on his own with this issue made him feel even more uncomfortable, so he started looking for a therapist and asking each one how s/he worked.

After a few consultations, Ed found a therapist who was interactive and dynamic.  They worked together to help Ed to discover what he really wanted at this point in his life so that he could take action.

Working together with the therapist, Ed realized that what was once important to him, working in finance and having a high income, was no longer important to him.  He liked being well compensated, but the money didn't compensate for his lack of satisfaction at work.

Exploring Core Values in Therapy and Developing Goals

He and his therapist explored Ed's core values and his current interests, and he was surprised to discover that he had been dissatisfied for quite some time, but he wasn't allowing himself to feel it.

With continued self exploration, Ed was surprised to realize that his volunteer work with children gave him the most satisfaction.  He realized that he wanted to set up his own volunteer reading program where adults would read to children to help them develop an interest in books and reading.

He knew that he couldn't establish this program overnight and he would need to do research and write a grant proposal.  This would take time and effort to establish.

It would also take time for Ed to see himself in a new way.  For most of his life, Ed defined himself in terms of his career.  He wondered what it might be like for him to see himself in this new way after so many years.

Once Ed made up his mind to proceed, he was excited about this new prospect.  More and more, he could imagine himself happily engaged in this new endeavor.  He felt his old confidence coming back, and he realized that this new project would be aligned with his core values.

He and Susan talked about this change and they realized that within two years Ed could retire from his finance job with a compensation package that would still allow them to live comfortably while Ed worked on his new project.

Each week Ed talked in therapy about how he was adjusting emotionally to seeing himself in this new way and how he was dealing with the challenges, both emotional and practical, that were involved.

As he came closer to his retirement, he discussed his idea with his boss and discovered that his firm was interested in contributing financially to the project.

Midlife Transitions: Living the Life You Want to Live

By the time Ed retired and began his new program, he was feeling more alive and full of purpose than he had in many years.  He and his wife were also closer and enjoying each other's company more than ever.  He knew he had made the right decision.

There are as many variations to midlife transitions as there are people who are going through these changes.

Everyone responds to change differently, especially major life changes.

Reevaluating life during your midlife is a common experience for most people.

People are often surprised to discover that they're yearning to return to vocation or interest that they abandoned many years ago.

Midlife is a time to evaluate your life thus far and make important decisions about how you want to live and how you'll accomplish your goals.

People are also surprised that once they've discovered what how they want to live and what they want to do, they experienced a renewed energy and greater satisfaction with life.

Getting Help in Therapy
Major life changes can be challenging as well as exhilarating.

Self exploration to discover what changes you want to make can be difficult to do on your own, especially if you fear making changes.

Struggling on your own with inner conflict and indecision can waste valuable time and can lead nowhere.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist, who works in an interactive and dynamic way, who can help you do the in-depth exploration of your inner world as well as helping you to take action once you've decided what you want to do, can be invaluable.

A skilled therapist can facilitate the process and help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.  

I have helped many people to make changes in their life so they're leading the life they want to lead.

I use many different modalities and work in a creative, dynamic and interactive way.

To find out  more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life - Part 1

In a prior article, Living Authentically - Aligned With Your Values, I discussed that people come to therapy because they're living lives that aren't aligned with their core values.  In this article, I'm focusing on a particular time in life, midlife, when people often reassess their lives and discover that they're not living the life that they want to live, and they're faced with the challenge of making changes so that they'll lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: Making Changes).

Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Living the Life You Want to Live

Some people refer to this stage in life as "a midlife crisis" and for many people it does feel like a crisis, but not everyone responds to it in that way.

For many people, midlife, roughly defined from about age 40-60+, is viewed as a transitional time to assess how they're living their life now and how they want to live the rest of their life, especially if they're unhappy with where they are now (see my article: Navigating Life's Transitions)

Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Living the Life You Want to Live

Defining Midlife Transition
Let's start by defining what we mean by this transitional time in midlife, which can include:
  • Questioning the meaning of life
  • Questioning how you've been living your life and major decisions you've made in the past, which could include relationships, career and other major life decisions
  • Questioning your faith/religion or lack of faith/religion
  • Being preoccupied about aging and death
  • Feeling confused about how you see yourself, others, and life in general
  • Feeling bored and dissatisfied with life as it is now, including relationships, career, and overall lifestyle
  • Feeling a general sense of restlessness
  • Feeling a yearning to do something new and different
  • Daydreaming about living a different kind of life, possibly in a different place with different people
  • Feeling generally irritable and anger, which is not part of how you usually feel
  • Noticing age-related changes in your body, including weight gain, hair loss, wrinkles, menopausal symptoms and other age-related changes
  • Feeling less attractive
  • Feeling a loss of confidence
  • Acting out with alcohol, drugs, gambling, overspending, food or with a sexual affair
  • Lack of libido with your partner or spouse
  • Feeling nostalgic for a time when you were younger
  • Daydreaming about "the one who got away" (a former romantic interest)
  • And other related reactions

Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Living the Life You Want to Live

Not everyone who has some of the experiences listed above is going through a midlife crisis.  Much will depend on how you respond to the need for change.

Some people experience it as exhilarating and filled with new possibilities.

Other people respond with fear (see my articles: Fear of Change and Making Changes Within Yourself to Live the Life You Want).

Why Do People Go Through Midlife Transition?
Going through a midlife transition is a natural part of being human.

For some people, it occurs because of a major change in their lives or a major change in someone close to them, which could include:
  • Losing a job
  • Coping with a major illness
  • Coping with a problem with a spouse or partner, including infidelity or other forms of betrayal
  • Going through a divorce or breakup of a relationship
  • Death of a parent or sibling
  • Death of a spouse or significant other
  • Death of a child
  • Losing a close friend
  • Considering reconciling a relationship with a parent, sibling or former lover or friend
  • Shocking personal news 
  • Financial crisis
  • Other major losses or changes
For other people, it comes naturally at a certain age or time in life when they're faced with the reality of their own mortality.

Realizing that time is precious, they question how they want to spend the rest of their life so that they don't look back with regret about what they "could've" or "would've" done and didn't do.

Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Living the Life You Want to Live

Even though going through a midlife transition can be challenging and confusing, the alternative, which  would be living life in a mindless way without taking time to reassess your life, is more challenging in the long run and can lead to regret in old age without recourse for change at that point (see my article: Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone).

I'll continue this discussion in my next article with a scenario that illustrates some of the points that I've made in this article.

Getting Help in Therapy
A midlife transition is usually a process.  It's not a change that's usually made in a day or a week.  It often occurs in stages and it's a normal part of life (see my article: Being Open to New Possibilities).

If you're struggling with midlife questions and issues, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to navigate through this challenging time.

Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Leading the Life You Want To Live

Rather than struggling on your own, a licensed psychotherapist can help to facilitate this process by assessing your life so far, where you are, where you'd like to be, what you would need to do to get there and how to overcome the emotional blocks that might get in the way of your taking action.

With help, you could be navigate through this change and lead the life that you want to live.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples going through a midlife transition.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time

Many people find it difficult to make decisions about their lives, whether it involves family, romantic, relationships, friendships or career.  They approach decision making as if it is a "do or die" endeavor and fail to recognize that, with time, as the old saying goes:  "Indecision becomes decision" (anonymous quote).

Fear of Making Decisions:  Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time

Why Are People Afraid to Make Decision?
People who have a tendency to approach decision making with fear act as if whatever decision they make will put them on an unchangeable collision course with death.

But when you think about it, in many cases decisions that are made can be changed.

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time

So, for instance, if you're considering career options, rather than thinking that you'll be spending the rest of your life in a particular career, which makes possible decisions seem very daunting, you can recognize that many people change careers several times in a lifetime for a variety of reasons.

Maybe the career that they chose originally suited them at the time and no longer suits them.  Possibly, they're in a better position to do what they always wanted to do but didn't have the opportunity to do.  And so on.

Making No Decision, By Default, Becomes a Decision
You can only stand on the fence for so long before no decision becomes a decision.

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes Decision With Time

So, for instance, if you spend your whole life wondering whether or not you want to get married and you pass up compatible romantic partners along the way, at some point when you're at the end of your life, you can look back and see that your indecision became a decision to remain single.

Depending upon how you feel about being single, that might be fine.  But if you live to regret your indecision, you realize that, by default, you chose to remain single, even though you might have done it passively.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario of how indecision becomes a decision with regard to a romantic relationship:

Tom grew up in a household where his parents were constantly bickering and at odds with each other.

At an early age, Tom decided that he never wanted to get married because he believed that, even when two people entered into a marriage loving each other, over time, marriage spoiled everything.

During his senior year in college, he met Lori, a kind, intelligent, attractive woman who had many similar interests to Tom.

After they graduated college, Tom and Lori moved in together.  They lived together happily for several years--until Lori brought up marriage and having children.

Lori was already aware of Tom's feelings about marriage, but she hoped that he would change his mind  as time passed and he could see how happy they were with each other.

Tom was committed to their relationship, but he had a deep seated fear that everything would change, as it had for his parents, if he and Lori got married.

Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes Decision With Time

Over the next few years, Lori was patient and he and Lori continued to talk about the possibility of getting married.

Although his fears softened somewhat over time, Tom couldn't make a decision, one way or the other, as to whether he would marry Lori.  On the one hand, this was something that Lori really wanted and he didn't want to lose her.  On the other hand, he didn't want to ruin the good relationship that they had by getting married.

But as time went by, tension grew between them about the possibility of marriage.

Feeling that she was  coming to the end of her patience, Lori told Tom that she wanted to have children with Tom and she wanted to do this as a married couple.  She didn't want to wait any longer to have children.

Reluctantly, she told Tom that she felt his indecision about marriage was actually a decision, by default, not to get married.  She told him that she would stay with him until the end of the year and if by that time, nothing changed, she would leave.

Tom also wanted to have children and, for his part, he would have been willing to have children with Lori while they were living together.  But he realized now that, for Lori, this wasn't an option.

Feeling the pressure mount and not knowing what else to do, Tom sought help from a licensed mental health professional.

As part of his therapy, Tom worked through his fears, which stemmed from unresolved emotional wounds from childhood.

Overcoming Fear of Making Decisions

Over time, Tom recognized that his perspective about marriage was distorted by his experience of his parents' marriage, and that he and Lori had a much healthier relationship.  This allowed him to make a decision to get married to Lori and start a family.

When you're trying to make a decision, there are no guarantees that, whatever you choose, things will work out.

But, over time, no decision becomes a passive decision to do nothing, and that's usually the worst choice.

Like Tom in the fictionalized scenario above, many people have problems making decisions because of unresolved emotional issues that taint their decision making process.  In many other cases, people learned as children to be anxious about making decisions.

Getting Help in Therapy
One of the worst feelings that someone can have at end of his or her life is to look back and say, "If only I had…" (fill in the blank) when it's now too late.

If you have a decision to make where you have been on the fence for a while, you're probably aware that, at some point, doing nothing becomes a decision not to change, and this is probably not the option that you want.

So, rather than allow time to make the decision for you by default, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist, who has experience helping clients in situations similar to yours.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients with fear of making a decisions to overcome this fear so they could lead a more fulfilling life.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.