I offer psychotherapy to individual adults and couples. Regardless of the exact treatment approach, my overarching goal in each therapy course is to create a partnership with you where we work out together what process and focus will work best. Because I’m trained and practiced in a variety of approaches, I tailor an individualized treatment plan to fit you and your cultural life narrative. As a psychologist, I’ve found most of the skills involved in engaging in therapy are universal, and get positive feedback from my clients about their therapeutic experiences. I find the neuropsychological literature around compassion-focused therapy, mindfulness and polyvagal theory compelling. Taken as a whole, they point to the importance of developing more safeness in our nervous systems as a way to ease and bolster our complex evolutionary path in our modern and fast-paced world.
In terms of specific theoretical approaches, I often find beginning with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) very useful to jump-start our alliance and understanding of what’s causing distress. I also often use modern modalities (aka contextual third-wave approaches) with clients such as compassion-focused therapy and mindfulness, and draw upon more traditional therapy approaches like psychodynamic and interpersonal talk therapy.
Below are the evidence-based therapy modalities that when integrated together, I have found to be the fastest and most universally helpful. One of the things I particularly appreciate about all of these modalities, is the inherent message that people are not problems to be solved but complex beings with lives to be lived.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
I draw from therapies under the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) umbrella. CBT has become the treatment of choice in recent years for numerous mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) falls under the CBT umbrella. ACT represents a shorter-term, symptom-focused therapy that highlights the current situation and patterns that maintain the current issues and creates explicit treatment goals. There is heavy emphasis in ACT (and in compassion-focused therapy discussed below) on attentional skills building and deepening our identification to our values. As many evidence-based clinicians do, I use a formulation-driven approach to therapy, which pulls from the research and theory of CBT and integrates that with the clients’ individual story. At the beginning of therapy, a clinical formulation is typically created in partnership with the client. This formulation elegantly captures important problem-development information, the current issue, maintaining factors and the clients’ treatment goals. Acceptance and commitment therapy offers valuable paths to articulating and living more meaningful lives.
Within ACT, I draw on models of different well-known problematic patterns to help the client get a concise understanding of where their sticking points are. This jointly-made clinical formulation, as well as a focus on functional assessment of distress and skills building to monitor therapy progress are hallmarks of well-delivered CBT and ACT.
Compassion Focused Therapy and Mindfulness
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is another biopsychosocial theory like ACT that helps us broaden and deepen our perspective and connection to ourselves and our lives. One of the major strengths of CFT is the emphasis on broadening our contextual awareness of our common humanity and neurophysiological framework. A main feature here is encouraging clients to foster more helpful relationships with themselves and develop more neurologically-informed emotion regulation abilities. In CFT, we practice developing more attentional regulation via mindfulness and compassion-focused exercises. These types of foci allow us to settle and reset our nervous system by creating more internal safeness. This is a major mechanism of change in CFT. Here we can use the neuroplasticity of our brains to our advantage. New neurological connections and focused change can tilt our evolved orientation away from threat and survival towards connection and contentment in our more recently evolved neocortex and affiliative system.
I group CFT and mindfulness together because many of the benefits of mindfulness come practicing a compassionate motivation, where we are deeply guided by our values and the motivation to be helpful to ourselves and others in our transitory lives. With roots in eastern meditative practices and wisdom traditions, both CFT and mindfulness are incredibly useful approaches to organize our attention and full life experiences (the ‘full beautiful catastrophe’ of our lives; Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Mindfulness in the simplest terms can be described as learning to choose our focus and quality of attention. Dr. Kabat-Zinn (founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction clinic in Massachusetts) describes mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way to the present moment with a non-judgmental stance. Thich Nhat Hahn (global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist) has translated mindfulness to mean familiarization, and speaks of becoming more awake and open-hearted in the world. There have been numerous studies to date showing the positive effects of practicing compassionate mindfulness; from stress reduction and reductions in numerous mental health symptoms, anatomical and functional brain changes, and an overall general sense of physical and mental well-being.
When we practice mindfulness, we direct our attention to our current moment over and over again. Every mindfulness exercise (whether a formal sit-down type meditation, practicing a movement meditation or in an informal mindful stance while living our lives), is in essence this redirection to the present moment. One of the major benefits of exercising our attention and brains in these ways is that we increase our psychological flexibility. When learning to cultivate more mindful moments, the aim is to adopt a stance where we allow what is currently happening around us and inside of us to simply be as it is, without trying to change it or identifying too much with it. Here there is an ongoing practice of shifting from a ‘doing’ frame of mind to a ‘being’ frame of mind. Spending more time just being can feel like joyful play therapy for adults. By learning to be more fully present and accepting in our daily lives, we get to live more fully, in each moment and accept with joy and wonder the arising and unfolding of our days. I have found that integrating some amount of mindfulness and CFT framework into treatment represent powerful interventions that help clients find and maintain a balanced sense of self.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy and Attachment
Historically, psychodynamic therapy has its roots in Freudian psychoanalytic therapy. Modern psychodynamic therapy is a longer-term approach that is characterized by a focus not only on the present-day situation, but also looks at how important past relationships and events inform the present. The clinical theory here suggest that we often recreate dynamics that we learned many years ago. These long-standing dynamics can make us rigid in the ways we relate and think about ourselves, others and the world. These dynamics are formed in our early years and often subconsciously carried with us inflexibly into our current lives. We often find that what worked in those earlier situations isn’t helpful now. Untangling and understanding how and why problems are arising can be extremely useful in moving forward and having new experiences with ourselves and others.
Within the psychodynamic therapeutic relationship, being deeply, accurately and compassionately known by another person is often an incredibly empowering tool that clients can use to establish more effective ways of living, working and loving. Even when I don’t explicitly use this more traditional psychotherapy approach, I find that having been trained in psychodynamic therapy helps me understand and work with the narrative heart of stories in a more anchored and meaningful way. This historically-informed viewpoint is helpful in my couples work as well. Having more clarity on the legacies of our personal attachment histories in our relationships can ease a lot of tension in our lives.