Self-esteem is a concept that is regularly discussed in our culture. Many parents fill their child’s life with activities, play dates, and positive affirmations in the hopes of creating greater confidence. In many cases however, it does not seem to work. The harder we work to build our kids up the lower their self-regard. This post is intended to give you a framework for how to build your child’s self-esteem.
What is Self-esteem?
Self-esteem is made up of a child’s academic and non-academic self-concept, that is, how the child views himself in those two domains. Each domain is broken down further into more specific areas. Academic self-concept is divided into the subjects of math, science, english, and social studies. Non-academic self-concept includes the areas of social, emotional, and physical self-concepts. Global self-esteem is a combination of how the child experiences himself in these areas combined.
What makes Self-esteem?
We know what self-esteem is but what makes one child have more than another. Researchers have found
“The greater the discrepancy between adequacy in some domain and importance of that domain, the greater the negative impact on self-esteem” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).
In other words children grow in self confidence when they experience success in a domain that is highly important to them.
Support and Competence
The role of parents then, is to discover which domain is most important to their child and to support it. Does your child love math but hate soccer? Then, practicing soccer with them may not be the most important thing on the list. You may want to spend more time doing math together and joining them in that love. Discover what is important to your child and support them in that area.
Support from parents is a key way to build self-confidence and so is competence. When a child feels competent in an area that is important to them, their confidence is enhanced. So, focus on providing lessons, activities, and competence building experiences in the areas that are important to your child. As they build competence in these areas they will grow in confidence. If we focus too much energy on too many areas the child may be overwhelmed and tired.
Get help building your child’s self-esteem by talking with Brandy Kruse
I was watching my son’s baseball game the other day and happened to overhear an exchange between two parents and their two sons that compelled me to write this post.
The two boys were joking and laughing with one another through out the game. One of the boys joked with his mother sitting near by and goaded her to ask the other boy why he had been grounded from his smart phone. The second boys father walked up and jokingly gave the reason by saying, “somebody likes the P-O-R-N a little too much”. The father, his son, and the other boy laughed and continued on with their activities.
I began to think through some of what I had been learning from the book Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain written by William M. Struthers. I missed my opportunity to share with this father how pornography hurts his son. But, will share with you now what I have learned about the impact of pornography on boys.
Porn Addiction Corrupts Intimacy
We all, boys included have a built in need for connection with other people. We are driven to seek relationship, closeness and safety with those we love. Pornography corrupts this desire by making intimacy all about the physical act of sex rather than vulnerability, and emotional connection. Struthers states it this way,
“pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings”.
Sex is a part of deep intimacy but it is not the whole picture. Pornography promises the connection that boys long for but delivers shame, guilt, secrecy and pain.
Porn Addiction Consumes the Brain
New brain research demonstrates that experience changes the brain. The viewing of pornography and the subsequent acting out is no different. The more pornography is consumed the greater the impact it has on the brain. Again Struthers describes it well by saying,
“As men [boys] fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed… with each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow”.
The more pornography that is consumed and the younger the age of exposure the more significant the impact will be on the brain.
Thankfully brain research also demonstrates that the brain is plastic. This means that it changes through out the entire course of ones life. So, the neuro-pathways developed in response to viewing pornography can be rewritten over the course of life. So what can you do to help your son?
What Can Parents Do?
Build Emotional Mastery
For those dealing with porn addiction the viewing of pornography and sexual acting out often become the primary way they deal with stress and overwhelming emotions. They never learned how to adaptively regulate emotions and pornography has become the only strategy that works.
“emotional mastery is important because it teaches boys how to regulate and control their feelings. As a father pushes and challenges, he offers an opportunity for his son to experience these human emotions in a safe place.” (pg. 141)
Connect in Relationship
As stated before we all need connection to other people for survival. Struthers says that the depth of porn addiction is correlated with a boys unmet emotional and relational needs. If you are concerned that your son is addicted to porn it may be tempting to avoid discussing it or to distance yourself from him in anger. What he needs however is more connection with you. His needs for connection and intimacy will never be met through pornography. Those needs are only met in genuine connection with you or other loved ones. Move toward your son in relationship communicate compassion and love in the midst of your heart break.
It can be difficult to reach out for help when struggling with pornography. Our culture tends to view porn addiction as one of the things that cannot be talked about. Reach out to trusted friends, a pastor or professional counselor to walk with you and your son through the struggle.
If you, your son, or someone you know struggles with porn addiction and you are ready to get help please call me at 217-231-1413 and I will help you build the emotional mastery and connection you both need.
Learn more from William Struthers by Watching this Helpful Video.
I graduated with my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision on May 12, 2018. I was privileged to be the commencement speaker for Adams State University’s graduate school ceremony. Below is the text of my Address:
Graduates!! Is this a great day or what?!!
If you are like me, there were moments in the last several years when you thought this moment would never get here. You are relieved, thankful, and excited to walk across that stage. Today is a GREAT DAY!
Family members, friends, and supporters this is a great day!
This is the day you get your loved one back. It is as though they have been on a long journey and today you pick them up at the airport! Hopefully they have not lost their luggage.
Adams State Administration, Faculty, and Staff today is the culmination of years of planning and hard work. It is a birthday of sorts. You celebrate and honor a new crop of graduates poised to enter their respective fields with energy, excitement, and passion. Today is a Great Day!
I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of this moment and the degrees we receive today. For us graduates these robes, hats, and diplomas represent a pinnacle of academic success. We have spent countless hours, immeasurable amounts of energy, and years of disciplined focus to accomplish what is awarded in this commencement. Only about 8% of people earn a graduate degree. There are a lot of really smart and hard working people in this room. It is incredible to have done this it is a rare accomplishment. It is as though we have scaled Mt. Everest.
This is a historic moment for Adams State University. It is the first time that the university has awarded the degree of Ph.D. Conversations and plans for this moment began to take shape in 2009. 5 years later the counselor education department enrolled its first group of Doctoral students. Now, 4 years after our initial interviews, “cohort 1” will be awarded our degrees. We have often discussed how thankful we are to have been members of this first cohort. First, we are thankful because we have grown close and could not have done it with out one another. Second, we are thankful because of the level of commitment, support, and excellence demonstrated by the counselor education department and Adams State University. The awarding of these first Ph.D. degrees is truly a huge accomplishment.
A great accomplishment is that the ultimate meaning to be found in awarding and earning these degrees? Did we do all this work and sacrifice all that time, just so we could say, “I did it”? We have reached a “Mt. Everest” moment. Here we are sitting on the summit soaking in the beautiful view, but Why? Why in the world would we go through all that we have gone through for (a piece of paper, a funny hat, and a fancy robe) this?
Did you know that 30% of the deaths on Mt. Everest over the last 100 years have occurred while descending from the summit? These men and women made it all the way to the top but never made it home to share the experience with their loved ones and communities.
Service Through Presence
Fellow graduates, administration, faculty, and staff I don’t seek to minimize the accomplishments of the day. I have come to believe, however, that in my journey, and I think maybe in yours the ascent to great accomplishment is meaningless without a descent into a life of service.
If the accomplishment is to be meaningful then it has to be more than the paper, the hat, and the robe. I think the best way to make these things more than just accomplishment is to take what we have learned, return home (descend) and serve those we love and our communities.
I confess that I am not good at this. I began this doctoral program hoping that more experience and education would create a safe distance between the most difficult people in my community and myself. I think I hoped for more peace of mind, safety, and something easier. It is tempting to return home and live in this distance. I am convicted, however, that just the opposite is needed.
Henri Nouwen, a 20th century theologian, professor, and author describes in his book, “The Wounded Healer” what the most difficult people in our communities need, he says,
“The emptiness of the past and the future can never be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being”
Our accomplishments are made meaningful when they compel us to be PRESENT with those we love and our community. Nouwen goes on to explain what this life of service through presence may cost us.
He says, “Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in their own heart and even losing their precious peace of mind? In short, who can take away suffering without entering it?”
Our descent into a life of service through PRESENCE will require suffering. Suffering? I was hoping for less stress and less chaos. I was thinking about a more sanitized version of “helping others”. Something, where I equip others to get dirty while remaining at a safe distance.
I have come to realize that “safe distance” is not part of the servants vocabulary. Service through presence is a dangerous endeavor.
Mahatma Ghandi said, “ The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”
John Maxwell said, “leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.
The bible uses a farming analogy to equate service with death,
“I tell you the truth unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” John 12:23.
I am so sorry to be such a downer, This is a GREAT DAY after all
Yet, I believe that today is made even greater when we consider it a commissioning for service.
May we relish our time at the summit today. Take a moment to enjoy the view and celebrate the obstacles overcome.
Then, tomorrow may we descend into our communities to serve through presence. It will not be easy, it may come at incredible cost, BUT it will be MEANINGFUL
Dialectical Behavior Therapy is an evidence-based form of counseling that was developed for the treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Marsha Linehan developed the model by combining the commonly used concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with mindfulness and meditation practices. Research has demonstrated that dialectical behavior therapy is an effective treatment for BPD and has contributed to improvement in overall functioning for adolescents.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Four Phases
DBT consists of four phases and four modules of treatment. Each phase is focused on a specific area of treatment with the overall goal of decreasing self-harm, improving compliance with counseling, and reducing other high risk behaviors.
Phase one of treatment focuses on establishing safety by reducing self-harm behaviors. Self-harm is viewed as the culmination of a chain of events that begin with powerful emotions. Emotional dis-regulation stemming from an internal or external trigger overwhelms the client leading toward the use of self-harm to stop the unbearable feelings. DBT assists clients in learning to tolerate the overwhelming emotions through the use of more adaptive and less harmful coping strategies.
Phase two of treatment is focused on desensitization of past traumatic experiences and events. Unresolved traumatic experiences and messages are susceptible to present triggers leading toward overwhelming emotions. Once safety has been established and the clients window of emotional tolerance has been widened they are ready to process the experience at the core of the issue.
Phase three of Dialectical Behavior Therapy centers around building everyday life skills and behaviors. This phase focuses on self-respect, individual goals, and the application of new learning to future endeavors.
Phase four of the treatment plan involves the integration of spirituality, acceptance of self, individual goals, coping skills, and future planning. This phase seeks to apply the newly acquired skills to a broader context and looks toward future growth and achievement.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Four Modules
The four modules of DBT are interspersed through out the four phases of treatment. These modules are core mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance.
Mindfulness is the practice of “Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” Jon Kabat-Zinn.
DBT assists the client in focusing on the experience of all five senses in the present moment. The counselor might ask the client to notice 5 colors, 4 sounds, 3 smells, and 1 taste right at this time. This focus on the present pulls the client out of the overwhelming emotions and into the safety of the therapy room. Mindfulness can be used to increase emotion tolerance and ground oneself in reality when experiencing difficult flashbacks or negative thoughts.
Emotion regulation enhances the client’s ability to regulate oneself in the moment. It focuses on adaptive coping strategies rather than harmful ones. These strategies may involve understanding and labeling emotions, increasing positive emotional experiences to counterbalance negative experiences, and decreasing emotional pain by letting go and taking the opposite action.
Interpersonal effectiveness focuses on enhancing the client’s communication and relationship skills. The main objective is to enhance one’s ability to ask for what is needed and to say no when appropriate.
The fourth module of Dialectical Behavior Therapy is distress tolerance. Sometimes people avoid uncomfortable feelings, in DBT however, the goal is to understand that negative feelings are a normal part of life. Since negative feelings are normal it is helpful to learn to accept these feelings. DBT teaches adaptive ways of coping with the difficulty in the moment. Distress tolerance skills are distract, self-sooth, improve the moment, and focus on the pros and cons.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy – What next?
DBT is a well researched treatment model that helps adolescents and adults struggling with emotion regulation, self-harm, depression, or anxiety. If you are looking for a therapist trained to provide DBT go HERE to meet Danielle. If you have questions about getting started in DBT treatment or would like to schedule an appointment Call 217-231-1413.
Sometimes in marriage counseling we encounter couples that overcome their demon dialogues, create a new dance of intimacy, and rewrite the story of their marriage. Yet, just when it appears they will move to a deeper level of connection one partner brings up a seminal incident that they just can’t seem to “let go”. Susan Johnson describes these hard to let go moments as “relationship traumas” and states that many times they include one partner feeling a profound sense of abandonment. Such incidents may include an overwhelmed husband isolating in his bedroom just after learning about his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Or maybe it involved a wife’s difficulty in showing empathy for the death of her husbands father.
Susan Johnson offers six steps to forgiveness in marriage for relational traumas.
The hurt partner speaks his/her hurt
The hurt partner describes the wound without attacking the other. The partner may use words like “I felt…alone, abandoned”. This communication is not about the details of the incident but the feelings and experience of the one hurt. The pain, which in the past had been covered with anger and criticism, is now revealed in honesty and vulnerability.
Presence and Acknowledgement
The injuring partner remains emotionally present as the hurt partner shares their experience. The injuring partner now more fully understands how their actions hurt the other. This new understanding leads to an acknowledgment of hurt and creates the safety needed to move forward.
Risk and Vulnerability
Both partners soften towards the other moving from the defensiveness of “you will never hurt me again” to “I think I can trust you now”. The new position of trust and openness allows for both partners to express emotion surrounding the incident leading to deeper understanding and connection.
Owning the Mistake
The injuring partner is now able to take full responsibility for how their actions impacted the hurting partner. This probably includes a heartfelt apology. The injuring partner is able to communicate deep regret, empathy, validation, and a commitment to “being there” in the future.
The next step is for partners to communicate with one another what they need in the present. This will most likely include presence, touch, responsiveness, awareness, and connection.
Rewriting the story
The couple is now ready to create a new story surrounding the incident. The new story describes how the incident damaged trust in the relationship. It also highlights what led to the demon dialogues. But, the resolution of the story is shaped by how the couple confronted the pain of the incident and was able to heal through the process of openness, vulnerability, risk, and connection.
Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.
My last post regarding couples counseling discussed the three demon dialogues described by Susan Johnson in her book Created for Connection. The three patterns of conflict most common in couples counseling are called find the bad guy, the protest polka, and freeze and flee. Each dialogue is a unique pattern of couple interaction driven by the partners need for attachment. When a partner feels disconnected from their spouse their “attachment alarm” goes off. The resulting sense of losing their partner leads to a “primal panic”. Most people respond to this primal panic in one of two ways. They become demanding or clingy in a desperate effort to reconnect with their loved one or they shutdown and pull away in an attempt to manage the overwhelming loss.
Fortunately, couples counseling restores connection in marriages that are stuck in one of the three demon dialogues. As I wrote about in this post creating a “secure base” is one of the first steps to restoring the connection that allows for a new dance. Couples counseling focuses on establishing this secure base by fostering dialogue that consists of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement of the partners.
Couples Counseling Fosters Accessibility
An accessible partner is one that is “there” when reached for. When feeling alone, scared, and vulnerable we reach out to our loved ones in an attempt to gain comfort and safety. When a partner is accessible they remain present for their spouse and provide empathy, validation, and compassion. Although this reaching may come across as anger the responsive spouse views the “reach” as a need driven by hurt and fear. An accessible spouse sends an implied message of “you are not alone”, “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together”.
Couples Counseling Fosters Responsiveness
A responsive partner is “moved” by the reach of the other. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by another’s emotion and we instinctively hide from it, stuff it down, or deny it. This appears as cold, unresponsive, and distant to a partner in pain. A responsive partner is able to “feel” the other with a deep understanding of the hurt, loss, and fear. Understanding ones partner in this way creates a sense of moving toward each other. The reaching out has worked and the hurting partner experiences re-connection.
Couples Counseling Fosters Engagement
An engaged partner is “moved” by the emotion and pain of his/her partner and stays “in” it. They are able to maintain the connection with the partner throughout the difficult time. They do not run away from the powerful emotions, downplay them, or seek to minimize them. An engaged partner is able to feel the emotion while experiencing a safe connection with self and the other.
Start the Conversation
You can begin these A.R.E. conversations with your partner today. Although it takes practice ,as you work you will experience more connection. Couples counseling can also be effective when learning to be accessible, responsive and engaged. If you would like to overcome the power of the demon dialogues you can start the process today by calling 217-231-1413.
Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.
Marriage counseling is the process of recognizing and reshaping the relational dance between two partners. In a previous post (linked here) I discussed this process as presented by Susan Johnson the developer of Emotion Focused Couples Therapy. Susan describes emotion as the music that drives the interaction (dance steps) of the marriage relationship. In her book Created For Connection she discusses the three most common “dances” of a distressed marriage and calls them the “demon dialogues”. According to Johnson, these dialogues are rooted in the couple’s deep need for connection with one another rather than conflict, communication deficits, or skill deficits.
The demon dialogues emerge when a couple that has lost their sense of connectedness encounters a moment of stress or conflict. When the partners feel disconnected from one another the normal stressors of marriage tend to get sidetracked by one of the three demon dialogues. However, when both partners in the marriage feel safely connected to one another managing the stress of parenting or financial concern can be navigated in a way that creates more connection. The demon dialogues spin out of control leading to more stress, hurt feelings, and increased disconnection.
Marriage Dialogue 1: Find the Bad Guy
This dance occurs when both partners are stuck using attack as a way to protect ones self from feeling vulnerable, alone, or unsafe. Each partner blames the other for the problem because disconnection has made it unsafe to vulnerably acknowledge ones own responsibility in the situation. John blames the family’s financial issues on Mary’s irresponsible spending habits, while Mary blames John for not working hard enough to provide for the family. The pattern is cyclical in that the more one is blamed the more disconnected and unsafe they feel. The lack of safety puts each partner “on guard” for the attack of the other. A hypersensitive stance may cause the partners to see threat where there is none. This leads to more frequent attacks and ever increasing difficulty in resolving conflict.
Marriage Dialogue 2: Protest Polka
The most common pattern encountered in marriage counseling is the pursuer-distancer dynamic. Susan Johnson calls it the protest polka. One partner protests against the growing disconnection in the marriage by pursuing the other. Many times this pursuit feels more like demanding or criticism to the partner causing them to withdraw. The more the distancer withdraws the more the pursuer criticizes or protests. The pursuer is looking for reassurance about questions such as “do you care about me?”, “do I matter to you?”, “am I important” while the distancer is attempting to protect ones self from feelings of inadequacy, not being good enough, and failure.
Marriage Dialogue 3: Freeze and Flee
The final dialogue is one of silence. Both partners hunker down in their respective fox holes and hope is nearly gone. The pursuer has no more energy to protest and therefore shuts down to protect ones self from hurt and loneliness. The distancer is finally enjoying some peace but remains disconnected as a way to protect against a sneak attack. Each partner has tried everything they know to fix the problem but nothing has worked. They feel frozen, stuck in a dance that brings deeper and deeper hurt; therefore they flee by either leaving the marriage or resigning themselves to a lonely loveless relationship.
The solution to the three demon dialogues is connection. When couples feel safely connected to one another they are able to navigate stress and conflict in more flexible, vulnerable, and adaptive ways. Connection creates the secure sense that your partner will be there for you, will notice you, will respond to you, and is reliable for you no matter the circumstance. Restoration is possible even in the most difficult of situations. It takes incredibly hard work, it takes time, and it takes risk.
If you would like to start this journey toward restoring connection with your spouse call me at 217-231-1413.
Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.
“The presence of sad, empty, or irritable mood, accompanied by somatic, and cognitive changes that significantly affect the individual’s capacity to function”
More specifically the DSM lists the criteria for a Major depressive episode as
5 or more of the following symptoms when they occur during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms is depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
Diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
Significant weight loss or gain when not dieting, or change in appetite
Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly everyday
Movement agitation or slowing
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
Diminished ability to think or concentrate
Recurrent thoughts of death
If your teen exhibits some of these symptoms, what are you to do?
Pay attention to thoughts:
Depression is primarily about mood, but our thoughts can have a significant impact on the way we feel. So, helping your teen to label and verbalize his/her thoughts can be very helpful. Sometimes teenagers get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking and are not aware of the pattern. Verbalizing these thoughts helps your teen to become more aware of them and how they are impacting feelings. Talk with your teen about their thoughts and ask them to decide if they are unhelpful. If the thoughts are unhelpful brainstorm new, more helpful thoughts that can replace the negative cycle. Through practice they will begin to recognize and understand how thoughts impact mood. Go HERE to read more about ways to get your teen talking.
Pay attention to Feelings:
Some teens have a hard time expressing what they feel. They are really good at bottling their feelings inside. Unfortunately, for most teens bottled up feelings lead towards explosions of anger or periods of depression. So, helping your teen to express their feelings (no matter how difficult) is a great way to improve mood. You can do this by empathizing with their emotions. Empathy is a three-step process:
Listen carefully to what your teen is saying
Go inside yourself and ask, “what would I be feeling right now”
Express your empathy through a statement such as
You feel ______________because _______________.
Empathizing with your teen’s feelings helps them to be more aware, and makes you a safe place for emotional discussion.
Seek Professional Help:
Sometimes, all of our best efforts do not have the impact we hope for and it is necessary to seek professional help. Reaching out to your primary medical provider is a good place to start. Most practitioners can provide an initial screening for depression and suggest trusted resources for mental health services. Professional Counselors (LCPC) are specifically trained and licensed by their respective states to provide treatment for depression. It can be unsettling but a professional counselor can accurately diagnose the problem and provide individualized treatment to meet the needs or your teen. The best counselors create a strong sense of safety for their clients. They develop specific goals and openly discuss treatment strategies.
Helping your teen with depression may seem difficult. Start by paying attention to their thoughts and feelings. If your teen does not improve or things get worse, talk to your primary medical provider or a professional counselor. They will walk with you on the journey to healing.
To learn more about my approach to individual counseling go HERE
To learn more about how I use EMDR to treat depression go HERE
If your teen is depressed call me at 217-231-1413 to get help.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Marriage counseling for couples that have experienced disconnection, infidelity, conflict, or separation is one of the most important services I have the privilege of providing. Often time’s couples come to me not knowing exactly what went wrong in their relationship. Not only that, they struggle to figure out how to make things better. I am honored to walk with them as they discover the three key strategies for healing a hurting marriage
Marriage Counseling – Creating a Secure Base
The first task of marriage counseling is creating a space in which both partners feel safe, heard, and respected no matter the circumstance. It is crucial that this sense of safety be created between the counselor and the couple, as well as between the couple themselves. John Bowlby says, “From the cradle to the grave, we all need a secure base”. Early in life primary caregivers function as this secure base. Parents create an environment in which children are safe to explore the world, while knowing that they can return to the protection and nurture of their parents when needed. The marriage relationship serves a similar function for couples. Ideally it serves as a context in which both partners exercise dependence on one another for the nurture and love we all need. This context, however, also allows autonomy for both partners to express themselves through work, play, and individual preferences. My first goal, then, in marriage counseling is to make the counseling relationship a safe place in which the marriage relationship can develop into a secure base for the couple.
Marriage Counseling – Expanding Emotional Experience
Susan Johnson describes emotion as “the music in the dance of adult intimacy”. Emotion is the beat that drives the interactions between couples. Many couples are stuck in a painful dance that creates greater and greater distance, rather than deeper intimacy and safety. They are not aware of the role that emotional experience plays in this dance and therefore have a hard time changing the steps. My second goal in marriage counseling is to enhance and expand both partners emotional experience in the relationship. This process entails a deliberate exploration, validation, and acceptance of the internal experience of both partners. A deeper experience and expression of the emotional music of the relationship will allow the partners to experience one another in new and more connected ways. These new experiences create a new “melody” for the relationship, which allows for healing to begin.
Marriage Counseling – Choreographing a New Dance
If emotion is “the music in the dance of adult intimacy” then interactions are the dance steps. Susan Johnson describes the distressed couples dance as “rigidly organized interactions”. She argues that it is the rigid nature of interactions, driven by emotions, triggered from unmet attachment needs that lead to distress in a marriage. My third goal in marriage counseling is to choreograph a new interactional dance. This new dance takes into account the new “melody” created by enhancing and expanding the emotional experience of the couple. The new dance allows a wife to experience her “uncaring” husband as hurt and scared. It enables a husband to experience his “critical” wife as overwhelmed and lonely. The new melody and new dance steps are slowly practiced and rehearsed in a way that enhances safety and respects individual experience.
The couple begins to draw closer to one another in trust and love. They begin to experience that returning home can be an experience of returning to a “secure base”
At times counseling seems like a secret and mysterious thing. Counselors rarely talk about what happens in a session. People are hesitant to tell others if they have been in counseling. Some counseling professionals use big words, with abstract meanings that add to the mystery.
Thankfully there has been a lot of research done to understand exactly what makes counseling effective for 75% to 80% of the people who experience it (Levy, Ablon & Kachele, 2012). Much of the research focused on what those in counseling find most helpful. They attribute 40% of change to outside factors like internal resources and life circumstances. 30% of change is attributed to the counselor/counselee relationship, 15% to hope or expectations of change, and 15% to technique or interventions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014). So, if you have ever wondered how going to counseling would help here are four things that give counseling the power to change.
The Counseling Relationship
Carl Rogers described empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence as the three most important factors in the counseling relationship (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014). Empathy is the feeling you get when someone truly understands you. They seem to have experienced what you have experienced and are feeling it with you in that very moment. Unconditional positive regard is the radical acceptance of you just as you are. In counseling it is the opportunity to share the deepest parts of your self and to have them accepted no matter how dark or scary. Congruence is the ability of your counselor to be authentic while providing clear, sensitive, and helpful feedback (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).
Hope and expectation
Those that experience the most benefit from counseling are those that have hope and expectation that it can work. They are fully engaged in the counseling process and understand that although counseling will be uncomfortable it is worth the effort. Motivation is another factor that leads to increased benefit. Willingness to self-disclose, confront problems, take risks, and try new things are all important factors in the counseling process.
Specific techniques implemented by the counselor are another important part of counseling success. A counselor must be able to create an environment of safety and trust for the client. It is also important that the counselor have a variety of interventions to choose from depending on the unique circumstances each client is facing. In my practice I use techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). I adapt each of these techniques to address the specific needs of the individual or family.
Counseling with Presence
The best description I have found of how counseling works was given by Henri Nouwen in his book “Wounded Healer” he says,
“The emptiness of the past and the future can ever be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being.”
Counseling is about sharing your story in the presence of an empathic, accepting, and authentic human being. It is in sharing this experience that one can begin to feel more human, more loved, and more connected to God, themselves, and others.
If you would like to begin this journey to connection call me at 217-231-1413
Levy, R. A., Ablon, J. S., & Kachele, H. (Eds.). (2012). Psychodynamic psychotherapy research. New York, NY: Humana Press.
Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L. W. (2014). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.