Dr. Barbara Cunningham, MFT in San Diego, CA wins 2019 Spectrum Award
— Read on awards.citybeatnews.com/starpage/view/122474

img_8174At Affordable Counseling, issues of unresolved attachment from one’s family of origin are often connected to patterns of relational functioning in adult life. Sometimes people that have passed continue to occupy space in ways that can interfere with healthy attachment patterns. Writing letters and poetry to a missed parent in therapy may aid in resolution to unfinished business with the deceased. The following poem illustrates this intervention:

“I Still Hear You”

The one organ of contact with existence is Love.

It pulls me backward to your grave,

     Where we talked today…

          Amidst anthills, wilted flowers, and stoic little flags.

Five years, Dad.

Without you, who remembers me?

My loneliness conspires against gratitude’s purest form.

Resentment of your wildman persona

     Rivals childlike reverence for my idealized memory. 

Why are you gone?

Is this message at your burial site my consolation prize?

The marker’s command reassures me that you will…finally…”rest in peace.”

When did YOU ever take orders?

I stand here, staring down, feeling small again.

Hesitant, blood red polished nail, tracing letters of your name,

     etched so bold,

And I fall swiftly through my life passages.

Trusting you,

Moving away from you,

Gaining initiative,

Becoming industrious,

Becoming “me”

Reciting your lessons,

Repeating our promises,

Trying for intimacy

Yet remaining pulled to you,

     as if sucked into a Black Hole,

And I, too, maintain that gravitationally unique orbit pattern.

Manifest Destiny of Dads and Daughters. 

Ambivalence simmers inside.

I mix up the guilt with blessings and blaspheme.

Remarkable how in sacred silence,

     your influence gathers momentum.

Admonishments, affirmations, advice, your chuckle,

Half-expecting you to wink back for an instant…

I caress gently that indifferent marble slab,

     as if to wipe off your sweat.

Quietude screams in my brain.

I break the silence with a soft cry-whisper,

     calling to your memory, entreating you to sign.

I can taste the answer somewhere in my spinal synapses.

For still, Dad, I CAN HEAR YOU in crazy shapes and glimmers,

A kind of shimmery, immutable, star-spangled design.


                                                                August, 2002.


At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA, Dr. Barbara Cunningham emphasizes resilience as a core treatment goal in her model of practice. During periods of darkness, it is the stars that come out to shine. The recession offers a challenge to our resilient nature. Whether the economic downturn has the power to negatively impact your relationship or not has much to do with a couple’s ability to generate creative solutions in times of stress. Those who engage with the problems….in effect, move into the problem instead of shrinking away to avoid dealing with it in a thoughtful and reflective way….will become sparkling stars in their own night skies. Their successful effort to creatively problem solve and then compromise can strengthen a couples’ pride in their ability to weather a storm like a recession together and become stronger, not in spite of an economic problem but because of it! Whether in the context of economic problems or other problems, resilience is the ability to bounce forward, not just back! Marriages that are strong may reflect agreed upon values and practical ways to weather a crisis like a recession. For example, a couple who are effective planners for the future may have saved a nest egg to weather a storm like a recession. Strong couples with safe attachment bonds find strength in their unity and do not feel alone or isolated.

Fights about money are rarely about money. There are intergenerational scripts about money and often people bring opposing narratives about money from their respective families of origin. Such polarized views may be the source of conflict. For example, I see a couple wherein the man is the penny pincher and the woman is a spendthrift. Both partners claim that they were more moderate in their respective relationships with money before marrying one another. The couple essentially are in reaction to one another and become increasingly extreme in their reactivity as they watch their spouse be more extreme in theirs. They co-create their problematic dynamic around money. Thus, underlying emotional issues may underlie money battles. And though Howard Markman, Ph.D. and director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, states that “Money is the number one thing that couples fight about in America,” what is surprising is that for many couples, money fights are not a function of much money you have or don’t have. I have a very wealthy couple in my practice, for example, that fight about money day in and day out. They have more money than they or their children can possibly spend. Yet they argue about money daily.

Money problems encountered in the Great Recession of the early Twenty First Century may, nevertheless, reflect a lowered divorce rate. People may not be able to afford two households. They may put off divorce. One couple in my practice (http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com) came in for counseling to help them deal with this situation. They wanted to divorce, could not afford it, and were forced to live together till more money came in. In their work with me, they developed a new-found pride in their ability to compromise and make co-habitation work. They are renewing their wedding vows next month.

In other situations, people who become unemployed may find themselves at home together more often. In this increased togetherness, they may experience stress at the change. The delicate balance has been disturbed…a small change can tip the balance and topple stability within a couple’s dynamic.

In my practice at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, I have seen the increased economic stress resulting from joblessness lead to an increase in alcohol and drug abuse. Some of my colleagues are also reporting an increase in cases of domestic violence alongside unemployment rates. Unemployment undoubtedly causes stress, leads to depression and can lead to explosive situations.

Interestingly, newly unemployed partners may move away from traditional gender roles. Research shows that marriages with more egalitarian rather than traditional gender roles fare better. It is useful for couples to take the emotion out of the busy-ness and draw up an agreed-upon list dividing the household and parenting duties in an equitable manner.

In terms of recession and economic stress to a marriage or relationship, the more relevant question to ask is whether or not the marriage is made up of two emotionally mature individuals who do not resort to blame and recrimination in the face of stressors, but rather can unite around finding creative solutions to economic problems. For example, a return to school to increase one’s skills while unemployed may be one example of such a solution. Dr. Cunningham believes that therapy can increase productivity and one’s ability to generate solutions as less energy/anxiety is bound up in the relationship system. Visit her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com to explore whether or not her model of practice may be right for you and your spouse. For those who cannot afford therapy, there are not-for-profit agencies that offer very low-fee services with clinical interns.


1. Do not judge each other’s spending choices too harshly. Do not treat your spouse like a child by telling him/her that his purchase is not necessary or is foolish. This will never resolve spending dilemmas and will only increase resentment and conflict. Instead, strive to respect each other’s adulthood and individuality. Each partner comes from a family that may have a different culture of spending.

2. Listen carefully to your partner’s concerns and ideas about possible solutions. Remain open-minded. Be open to a new re-evaluation of priorities. Learn to negotiate with each other about money issues.

3. Remember that in unity, there is strength. But also remember that respecting difference makes for a stronger sense of unity. Harsh storms weathered together can strengthen a relationship. Successful compromise breeds increased pride in accomplishment.

4. Now may be the perfect time to introduce children to the importance of cooperation, viewing themselves as family team members. Instead of responding with an “automatic” kneejerk response to one another in a stressful economic situation, children can observe the adults managing themselves by talking to one another in a respectful manner and agreeing upon viable solutions.

5. Be aware that our relationship to money may be merely mirroring our parents’ relationship with money or, conversely, we may be reacting to our parents’ relationship with money in a manner that is outside our awareness.

6. Start having open talks about money with each other. Be curious about how your experiences in childhood informed your ideas about money. Let go of “right” and “wrong.” The important goal is to respect your partner’s differences. Look deeper.

7. Share equally the responsibilities of budgeting, investing and saving money. Divide up the tasks. Meet weekly. Don’t fight. Share information. Make collaborative decisions.

8. Each partner should save some autonomy by maintaining a small personal account for their own spending.

At http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, couples get practice in respecting difference and still staying connected. Call 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation.


In extraordinary times, we feel immeasurable gratitude to all people on the front lines of hospital care. Our international fear and crisis knows no boundaries. For those of us who are hunkered down, a little help in the form of talk therapy may be a salve. I am now offering help throughout the state of California in the form of telephone or online therapy. Take a look at my website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com and give me a ring at 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation. Afternoon, evenings, and weekend appointments are available.


At Affordable Relationship Counseling, Dr. Cunningham is always on the lookout for affordable date ideas. Below are some ideas:

  1. The nearly 200M San Diego Public Library building opened in 2013 and is free to enter. It is a site to behold and explore.
  2. On various Tuesday’s each month, the museums in Balboa Park offer free general admission to residents if the County of San Diego and to active military and their dependents. Be prepared to show valid identification with residency information on it.
  3. Admission to the Botanical Building is always free. The lath building was built for the 1915-16 Exposition and now houses over 2100 tropical plants and palms. It is open every day except Thursdays and is one of the most photographed spots in San Diego. You can picnic on the grassy areas in front of it, too.
  4. Admission to the Timken Museum in Balboa Park is free. Not only does it House American, French, and Russian works of art but its one of the most important Midcentury buildings in San Diego.
  5. Visit Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1758 by Junipero Serra. Pair a visit here with time wandering around Old Town. Splurge on a margarita at Casa Guadalajara to finish the day.
  6. A walk, run, bike ride, or skate down the Mission Beach Boardwalk is an awesome way to spend the day in San Diego. For extra excitement, hit the rollercoaster at seaside Belmont Park Amusement.
  7. Tide pool in La Jolla or Hotel Del tide pools. Carrillo National Monument also has tide pools. Check times.
  8. Organize a late night grunion run from March through August during full or new moon cycles.
  9. Go to an outdoor movie in summer at Waterfront Park.
  10. Walk the meditation garden at the Self Realization Fellowship in Encinitas (open to public).

Call 619 9906203 to see if it makes sense to book an initial appointment to jumpstart your couples connection! Make the call today!

“In the end, it is always character that moves history, for good or ill.” John McCain

Our nation is experiencing a spiritual divide, the likes of which it has not seen in decades. Some journalists have called the 2020 election the most important contest since 1865! In death, McCain has emerged as a giant of character. Perhaps the contrast between Trump’s partisanship and lack of loyalty to anyone who doesn’t serve his purposes was the perfect foil for McCain’s star to sparkle ever brighter in death.

At Affordable Relationship Counseling, Dr. Barbara Cunningham emphasizes the notion that all good therapy, no matter what the presenting issue, results in a more robust sense of acting in line with one’s highest principles. When one emerges from therapy with a more polished character, one’s posture in the face of relational challenge is always more effective. I am convinced of that fact. Let’s use the example of Senator McCain to consider what that looks like.

It can be tricky to define “character.” McCain’s behavior personified it:

  • He remained loyal to his peers, even though it meant torture for several more years when he was a POW.
  • He had the capacity and humanness to reach across the aisle to understand another viewpoint.
  • He could disagree without becoming disagreeable.
  • He could be an “I” when his whole group screamed to be a “We.” (Thumbs down on critical Healthcare vote)
  • He knew where he stopped and his party began.
  • He conducted himself with honesty and dignity.

How does your own character stack up against a statesman like McCain? How would your loved ones and closest friends describe your temperament, behaviors when under pressure, and capacity for empathy? Do you have a bottom line? Are you clear on what you will and will not do in important relationship dynamics? Do you know where you stop and the other person begins? Is your word your bond or do you act in “bad faith?”

Therapy can help you write your own story in a way that sparkles with actions made in “good faith.” Call Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego, at 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation. You wont’t regret it. Namaste.

Edwin Friedman compared cancer cells to immature family systems in his book entitled A FAILURE OF NERVE: LEADERSHIP IN THE AGE OF THE QUICK FIX. The comparison resonated with me. Undifferentiated cells are less mature than differentiated ones, just as undifferentiated, multigenerational family systems may reflect immaturity and undifferentiation. Both immature cancer cells and immature individuals within an emotional family system may lack the capacity to self regulate. Relationship disturbances among cells or among individuals are related to inflammatory outcomes. Chaos and aggressive behavior can take over, both in undifferentiated cells and in immature, reactive people. The comparisons are myriad and may be explored in Friedman’s intriguing book. Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist, invites new and continuing cancer patients who wish to process complicated and confusing emotions to call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation. Stop by her website for some free tips at www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

Breast Cancer

I woke up one day in April, 2017 to an unwelcome surprise. A grave set of medical eyes looked at me in a private hospital room to tell me they were almost certain I had the big C. The journey has been grueling and is never over; yet even in existential crises, there are silver linings. Be present. Enjoy each moment. Be a role model for bravery and resilience. Look for opportunities to laugh. Change your dietary lifestyle. Move! Nurture your friendships. Be aware that we ALL are here on a temporary lease, so ENJOY! Take one day at a time. Distraction is a wonderful defense. Stay off the message boards! Appreciate your loved ones every chance you get. Seek therapy to deal with breast cancer, if the turbulence is too rough. Feel free to call me, a seasoned traveler, at cunninghamtherapy.com. Yes you can have a complimentary consultation if you call Dr. Barbara Cunningham,at 619 9906203. Every challenge hides opportunities. Let us begin the search!

I am ever grateful for the intense training I had and for my continuing commitment to study in Bowen Family Systems Theory. Here is a favorite quote I keep in the back of my mind when working with couples at www.cunninghamtherapy.com

“When any member of an emotional system can control his own emotional reactiveness and accurately observe the functioning of the system and his/her part in it, and can avoid counter attacking when he is provoked and when he can maintain an active relationship with the other key members without withdrawing or becoming silent, the entire system will change in a series of predictable ways.”

Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, page 486, Dr. Murray Bowen, pioneer in marriage and family therapy.

Systems couples counseling can result in transformative marital dynamics. Call Dr. Barbara Cunningham at 619 990-6203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

In my San Diego counseling practice at Cunninghamtherapy.com, I have observed a client have a “lightbulb moment” quickly when I have spontaneously come up with a good metaphor. It is sometimes effective to come up with metaphors that are related to the client’s occupation.Most of the time, a good metaphor advances a deepening dialogue and can even access unconscious material. Below are some examples of metaphors I have used (although I have never met a phor I didn’t like!)

…You are just flying through some turbulence. This, too, shall pass.

…You are actually in the vestibule (hallway) of positive, groundbreaking change if you can just find the hidden nugget in this current challenge

…Would you rather be right or be connected?

…What is your partner up against being in a relationship with YOU?

…A tug-of-war doesn’t work if only one pulls. Can you let go?

…Your dynamic is like a teeter totter. Think about your cycles of opposite postures: distancer/pursuer/ or overfunctioner/underfunctioner, or saver/spender, etc

In illustrating the dynamic in an affair, I point out to clients that a three legged stool is more stable than a two legged stool but ONLY in the short run. The relief one gets in the short run (eg “Whew, I’m not broken in love after all!”) often creates just enough complacency to gel into place the chronic problem between the original insiders and keep the problem alive.

…Marriage and family therapy is different from other mental health disciplines. It is broader. It is like climbing to the top of the bleachers to see the game from afar. Now one can see how each individual in the system plays into the gestalt instead of the typical view of the individual practitioner, who tends to view the game from the fifty yard line.

…When a client softens into a more vulnerable posture, I may tentatively ask softly, “How old are you now?”

…Use my red, Russian nesting doll set on the end table and invite thoughts of how the preceding generation in one way or another informs the next. Ask what comes to mind about that. Also, might ask a nervous client to handle the dolls—twisting and untwisting—in session.

I invite you to call me for a complimentary telephone consultation at 619 9906203. Take advantage of the seasoned services of Dr. Cunningham, MFT and begin your couples counseling or individual counseling experience with Cunninghamtherapy.com in this brand new year. You will be glad that you did!

 Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point in their lives.

Although these are daunting statistics, the good news is that the majority of women can survive breast cancer if it’s discovered and treated early.

Women who hear the words “You have breast cancer”are catapulted into a new reality immediately upon receiving their diagnosis. It can help to talk to a professional about your feelings, thoughts and fears. Please do not hesitate to call me if this is what has happened to you or to a loved one. I have walked that road and have the wisdom, training, and life experience to offer compassion, empathy, and direction. You can reach me at 619 9906203.Look around my website to learn more about me and get some free tips just for stopping by at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com
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