These are the underlying principles by which I work. Each one is powerful in and of itself, but when combined, they offer a strong and cohesive, yet gentle and respectful way to practice therapy.
Ecological BalanceWe live in our own little ecological environment. All of the elements of our life have to be in balance and not polluted for the whole to work at its optimum level. That is why I emphasize working towards a good balance of your personal ecology. Are you sleep deprived? Overly stressed? Are you getting enough nutrients in the food you eat? Do you get enough exercise, sunlight, recreation, inspiration? Do you have a medical problem that is dragging you down emotionally? In short, is the rest of your life in balance?
I look at my clients not as walking diagnoses, but as thinking, feeling, spiritual human beings who are struggling with life’s issues; people who need an ally in their struggles, someone a bit removed from their situation, with experience at finding creative ways to make their difficulties subside and their greatness emerge.
I don’t see pathology when a client walks through the door. Rather, I look for the spiritual essence of each person. No matter how hurt, angry, or unlovable a person looks on the outside, or feels on the inside, down at the core there is a heroic, lovable, uniquely creative individual who has been trapped by life’s circumstances. By looking for strengths rather than the deficits, I am able to help people find the archetype, or model, right within themselves of the person they want to become. This is not to deny that illness happens, it merely prioritized pathology to a very small part of who a person is. There are many ways in which people are larger than their afflictions. By working with and nurturing those healthiest aspects they tend to grow and, in comparison, the less healthy parts diminish. Human beings are designed to heal themselves. We just need to remove the conditions that block that healing.
Body, mind, and spirit are one. Like the facets of a diamond we can see and work with an individual from any of their aspects. But, we must never forget that whatever we do on one level will affect the other levels. We can use this principle to our advantage when things are looking stuck in therapy. By hopping from a mind-based approach to a somatic or a spiritual approach we can navigate around the difficult and scary parts of the journey. Because of my background and my interests I have a very large toolbox from which to draw the tools with specificity to the presenting problem. Remember the old saying: “When all you have is a hammer, the whole world begins to look like nails.” I intuitively, and with much forethought, tune my approach to each person’s expectations, talents, and interests. You are a unique individual; you deserve your very own treatment approach.
Many therapists believed that you have to confront clients very intensely to break through their ego defenses. And, it is true that if you don’t get through their defense mechanisms you are in danger of becoming their next “drinking buddy,” someone whose shoulder they come to cry on, but without having to do any real changing.
I have frequently witnessed the hard confrontational approach do more harm than good. The client, feeling under attack, grows bigger and tougher defenses. If you keep pushing until you break through, you end up with a lot of collateral damage in the form of traumatic injuries to the psyche. The Hippocratic Oath should also apply to psychotherapists: First, do no harm!
I take the “Aikido approach” to therapy. You will recall that Aikido is a martial art based on the principle that you first join with your opponent’s energy and then redirect it. It is effective even when an attacker is much larger than yourself because you are really just redirecting their own energy, as opposed to boxing or wrestling where you are very much powering through with your own energy and stamina. People who have experienced this form of martial arts report that when they tried to attack the Aikido master they actually felt compassionately supported as he took them down and disarmed them. The same is true when using this approach in therapy. Clients feel very taken care of, but at the same time they can’t help but change for the better.
I work to build rapport and treat clients with non-judgmental honesty, respect, and genuineness. When you get that I am really on your side, you lower the drawbridge and let me inside where we can peacefully examine your life and how to renegotiate the things that are not working for you. People build walls out of fear. Creating safety through non-violent gentle reflection is the fastest way to get results.
Some people have had so many attacks on the very core of their being that they do not easily give up their defensive postures. With these people I have found it easiest to work somatically. Recalling the principle of Unity above, we can affect the psyche by working through the body. These types of people will have built a toughness into their bodies, that Wilhelm Reich, a contemporary of Freud and grandfather of somatic psychology, called “body armor.” This toughness helps them feel safe, but at the price of limited mobility and loss of their freedom of expression. Aches, pains, depression, or anxiety will also accompany this protection. These kinds of people tend to perceive deep bodywork not as an assault on their defenses, but as a relief from the restrictions they feel. For them, by first freeing up the body armor that keeps the world at bay, and then coming back to psychotherapy, we can keep our work together productive but without having to resort to ‘violent’ confrontation to get there.
I always work with the world’s best co-therapist…you. We work together in a unified team towards the goals that you set. I believe you are your own best expert. My job is to help you tune-in to parts of yourself that you may have not learned to listen to, and also to help point out parts of yourself that may be working at cross purposes to other parts. By demonstrating the model of working collaboratively, you end up internalizing that model, so all of your parts play together like a beautiful symphony.
True healing takes not only insight and catharsis as Freud emphasized, and not only correction of negative thought patterns as the cognitive therapists emphasize, and not only behavioral change, as the behaviorists argue. True healing takes all of these plus a deep emotional and spiritual integration. Getting to know oneself as an important part of God and the Universe, and seeing others in that same light is the end result of this deep and profound journey. Joseph Campbell spoke of the ‘Hero’s Journey.’ As in our mythology, each of us in life must go into the underworld (the unconscious) and do battle with (our inner) demons. In the process of conquering those demons we emerge a changed and fulfilled person, wiser and more compassionate.
Connection, Compassion and Contribution
The end goal, and the prerequisites for a fulfilling life are to be connected deeply with others, to feel compassion toward yourself and others, and to make a contribution to your loved ones, your community, and your world. Along with the presenting problem these are things that we work towards. They are the sustaining nurturance to the spirit, without which you can expect to have emotional and psychological symptoms. That is why they can’t be overlooked, even if they seem completely unrelated to the presenting symptom.