Counseling for Life Issues

“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin

Counseling or supportive therapy can be effective in addressing everyday life issues. It is supportive in nature and may include the use of advice, problem-solving strategies, coping strategies such as meditation or relaxation techniques and learning new ways of viewing and understanding a problem. These services are focused on relieving any troubling symptoms and resolving current life problems, within a safe, supportive, professional environment. (I use the words counseling and therapy interchangeably).

Having been a therapist for many years, I have considerable experience counseling clients with a wide variety of distressing symptoms and life problems.

Benefits of Counseling Include:

  • Gaining perspective on your behavior, emotions and relationships
  • Identifying problematic or ineffective patterns of thinking that may be inferring with your quality of life
  • The relief that comes from expressing difficult feelings in a safe, caring environment
  • Alleviating anxiety, depression, resentment and anger
  • Improving communication skills
  • Learning more effective ways to resolve conflict
  • Addressing pain and working though loss
  • Learning coping skills to better deal with stress, frustration and disappointment

Counseling Methods

I am trained and experienced in a variety of counseling methods. I am comfortable drawing from and integrating varied methods to meet the needs of the individual or couple. Some of the counseling methods that I incorporate include:

Solution-Focused Counseling (also called Solution-Focused Therapy)

This is a goal oriented approach that aims at finding quick solutions to problems in living, rather than focusing on the symptoms or issues that brought the individual to therapy. Solution-focused therapy emphasizes achieving present and future goals over understanding past experiences. I find this approach can be more helpful when combined with other methods.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is a type of counseling in which negative patterns of thought about oneself, others and the world are challenged in order to change unwanted behavior patterns or resolve difficult feeling states such as depression, anxiety and resentment. CBT is usually focused on the present. It is time-limited and oriented toward problem-solving oriented. Clients learn to identify distorted thinking, to modify beliefs, to relate to others in different ways, and to change problematic behaviors.

I worked for many years as a cognitive therapist before orienting more toward depth psychology. During that time, I saw clients derive great benefit from learning more about how specific patterns of thinking and believing were interfering with their moods, relationships and overall quality of life. I also experienced those benefits personally though my own considerable work with a cognitive approach. I appreciated the value of this learning, especially the ways people were empowered by understanding how their patterns of thinking affected feelings and choices.

However I also saw clients whose gains with CBT seemed temporary. As time passed, I came to recognize that CBT, with its focus on conscious thinking and solutions for the present, often failed to address more underlying patterns, often unconscious, that were influencing clients’ thoughts, feelings and choices. Gradually I became convinced that depth psychological approaches had more to offer than CBT alone, especially for people with long-standing or repetitive patterns. This recognition led me to pursue training in Jungian Analysis.

Today I continue to use aspects of cognitive therapy in all my work. No matter what difficulty clients struggle to resolve, or at what level of depth they are working, there are almost always some distortions in thinking or some self-defeating beliefs. However, I find that results tend to be deeper and longer lasting when I integrate cognitive therapy within other depth psychological approaches.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

This combines the ideas of cognitive therapy with meditative practices and aims for the cultivation of mindfulness as an attitude toward life. The heart of this work lies in becoming acquainted with the modes of mind that often characterize unhappiness, depression or anxiety, while simultaneously learning to develop a new relationship to them.

Mindfulness-based approaches are designed to deliberately focus the individual’s attention on the present experience in a way that is non-judgmental. Mindfulness has its roots in meditation techniques, particularly Buddhist meditation.  It involves learning to intentionally direct one’s focus away from thoughts or feelings that would otherwise preoccupy the individual, such as frightening or depressing thoughts, and instead observe and accept the present situation and all it has to offer, regardless of whether that is good or bad.

Mindfulness can be very helpful for relieving immediate emotional symptoms related to various psychological issues. Once the skill of mindfulness has been learned, clients are often able to integrate this technique into many distressing situations in order to maintain a sense of emotional control in what might otherwise be an overwhelming experience.

However, it takes dedication and much practice to achieve mindfulness and I have found that sometimes it is hard for people in severe states of depression or anxiety to perform the necessary practice outside counseling sessions. In addition, some people encounter the same difficulty as those using primarily CBT: because the underlying issues are not addressed, relief can be temporary. While it is extremely useful to have immediate coping skills for difficult emotional situations, many people do not truly heal until they get to the bottom of what has been troubling them, and this usually required working with the unconscious as well as the conscious mind.

I incorporate mindfulness into my practice when the client requests it or if I feel the client will benefit from it. I have been a mediator for over 30 years and am experienced with Buddhist meditation as well as various forms of yoga meditation and breathing. I also utilize guided visualization as a coping skill for overwhelming states of depression and anxiety between therapy sessions.

For a thought-provoking discussion of the current popularity as well as the limitations of mindfulness approaches to therapy, read this brief article here.