Counseling style / philosophy
As with many practitioners today my primary approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is so popular largely because it’s received the most support from scientific research. The premise is that some (if not much) of our emotional discomfort stems from our own maladaptive ways of thinking, such as how we interpret interpersonal interactions or assess the general state of our lives. Cognition means thinking, so half of CBT is learning to identify and correct our dysfunctional thoughts. Important to note, this does not always mean learning to “Think positive!” Indeed, trying to force positive thinking when it’s not warranted can actually be dysfunctional itself.
Although working on maladaptive thinking is important, research and experience show that this is not always enough. Often we still have to act—to deliberately face our fears and such—to teach our heart that what our mind knows is true. This is the behavioral aspect of CBT. Sometimes we can practice adaptive behaviors in the therapy room but I may also encourage you to do “homework” elsewhere. Don’t worry: We’ll collaborate on assignments so I won’t try to force you to do anything too far from your comfort zone.
CBT purists focus on the problems of the present and will not be too concerned about a client's past. However, I find that understanding where our maladaptive thoughts and behaviors came from can be very therapeutic because it provides a framework around which we can make sense of it all. We begin to realize that our less desirable traits don’t make us bad but instead are learned behaviors that were actually appropriate at one time, given the circumstances. I find that aspects of attachment theory and object relations theory can help explain how we got to be the way we are, that is, through our early formative experiences and relationships with family members and others. So yes, I will be interested in what it was like growing up in your home and such. It’s almost always relevant, despite how cliche that may sound.
Finally, I also incorporate some aspects of existential therapy which explores issues related to one’s sense of purpose and the meaning to life. For many people the world is a very scary place regardless of their upbringing. Making some sense of the chaos—or in some cases, learning to accept the senselessness—can be a vital part of our growth.
Expect the tone of our sessions to vary, potentially from lively and fun to gravely serious. There may even be a time for some degree of irreverence. Overall I foster an environment where it’s safe to discuss absolutely anything. Interpersonally, I have been described as warm, sensitive, and supportive but I also believe in what I like to call “gentle confrontation”; If our work isn’t making you at least a little uncomfortable at times we’re probably not making as much progress as we could. And I welcome you to speak your mind, even if you fear it might make me uncomfortable.
As suggested above, also know that I don’t believe that relentless positive thinking is the path to happiness. In fact, I think we’re setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment if we are overly committed to the popular fantasies of “happiness.” Instead, we’ll be seeking something more akin to "peace" and "contentment," which allow for some suffering but with better tools with which to cope.