Mindfulness and self-exploration
My style of counseling is heavily influenced by mindfulness, which is a non-judgmental, felt awareness of whatever is happening in our experience. I have been a dedicated practitioner of mindfulness since 2000 and continue to be amazed by the power of this simple tool. As the counselor, I am using mindfulness to notice what is going on with you and in myself in relation to you. I do this by paying attention to the body, thoughts and emotions. I will encourage you to also become aware of what is happening in your body and mind, which can involve slowing down to bring more attention to what can feel like a flood of sensations and words.
Mindfulness helps us to see clearly the many elements that are arising in any experience and also to have more choice in how we respond. We can only work with that which we are aware of. We can’t change something that we don’t even know exists.
We will start with seeing what is here right now. The fight with your partner may have happened yesterday, but right now, as you talk about it, emotions and thoughts arise that we will investigate. We practice being less ensnared by our habitual reactions by seeing them arise and pass and by studying the underlying beliefs that are fueling them. We slowly strengthen the more balanced vantage point that mindful awareness offers.
Awareness invites us to listen below the words and behind the story, paying attention to the knot in our stomach or the tension in our jaw. Sometimes our true feelings are buried beneath our stories, beliefs and reactions. It’s very helpful to listen more deeply and identify those root feelings that are fueling our behaviors. When we unpack what is actually going on, we can then choose how to react to those feelings or beliefs. An empowering quality of mindfulness and wisdom is the ability to choose a more skillful response.
Practicing new behaviors
It is not enough just to be mindful of our stories or to understand why our habits persist. Insight alone is not curative because it does not transform our behavior. I wish it was that simple! Recent scientific research and the work of psychologist Donald Hebb and others have shown that when neurons fire together, they wire together. This means that our habitual behaviors have become automatic through years of practice. But current research has also shown that neuroplasticity exists throughout our lives, which means that we can change the patterns of which neurons fire together and how we respond to life. One effective way to make these changes is through mindfulness and practicing new behaviors.
For example, often when I walk into a room of people that I don’t know, I feel shy and anxious, my heartbeat increases and I start sweating. I can practice a new reaction to a roomful of strangers by first noticing my habitual response and then by not fighting that response nor believing the self-story connected to that response, e.g. “I have to get out of here” or “I won’t find anyone here who will like me.” Instead, I can see this all happening and recognize, “Oh yeah, this is how I respond to a roomful of strangers. It’s unpleasant but I can tolerate it.” When my heartbeat slows down a bit I can choose how I want to react, “All right, I know that I feel really shy and awkward right now, but I’m just going to try talking to one person and see how that goes.” Then I can look for the least intimidating person near me and try talking. In this way, I stop believing my story and start forming new behaviors, both in my thoughts and actions.
Learning new behaviors can take time and commitment. In our work together we will develop a realistic schedule to practice new behaviors and meet your goals. I know that most of us are extremely busy and can’t imagine another “should” in our long list of things to do. We will find practice times that will require minimal extra commitment, such as using times when you are driving, doing daily chores, or lying in bed to fall asleep. We will try to find at least 15 minutes a day when you can practice relaxation or formal mindfulness. Practice is what translates our insights into actions that help us reach the goals we define in our work together.
Clearly I have been strongly influenced by mindfulness-based approaches to working with most presenting problems, especially stress reduction, anxiety and addictions. The mindfulness approach has strong parallels to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), so I integrate interventions from these modalities when appropriate. I also use the Hakomi Method, which emphasizes mindfulness of emotions and body and encourages the client to listen internally for information as it arises from within.
My Master’s level education and internships were strongly rooted in Psychodynamic therapy, which uses the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client to reveal relational styles and promote growth in the client. I was also influenced by Gestalt therapy, which focuses on the here and now and encourages the client to take accountability for her behavior and try new ways of interacting. More recently I have been influenced by Narrative Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy and Positive Psychology. I draw upon all of these psychological styles to develop an eclectic mix that is different for every client, depending on his or her needs and interests.
Counseling vs. Psychotherapy
You might be confused about the difference between counseling and therapy and which form I am offering. Psychotherapy is usually an in-depth, long term therapeutic process that could encourage the client to go into vulnerable states for the benefit of insight and healing. The relationship between therapist and client can become very emotionally charged and this is used for the benefit of the client’s growth. The client has the opportunity to be emotionally held in a loving and vulnerable relationship which can heal past traumas and disappointments.
Counseling may sometimes look like therapy, and vice versa. Both modalities provide empathic listening and emotional support in a professional, confidential relationship. But generally speaking, counseling is more focused on the client reaching concrete goals that they have defined with the counselor. A counselor is often more directive and will sometimes give advice, which a psychotherapist often refrains from doing. In counseling, there is less emphasis on analyzing the therapeutic relationship, inviting cathartic emotional releases and working in vulnerable emotional states. Thus the techniques used in counseling and psychotherapy are often different.
Different clients and different presenting issues will fit better with one modality or the other. In our initial free consultation, I will be assessing whether online counseling or in-person psychotherapy will match your needs. Additionally, certain circumstances, such as working with extreme anxiety and addictions, require working with someone in-person and are not appropriate for online counseling. If you need or prefer in-person psychotherapy, I offer this service in Boston or I can direct you to local resources if you live elsewhere.