Archive for September, 2010

         Counseling is a useful avenue toward affecting change in oneself and within one’s relationships. I believe that change does not happen in a comfort zone. Change happens inside the paradox of enough comfort for safety and enough discomfort to motivate a person to trade the familiar misery for the unfamiliar change. Thus, I think that there is an optimal amount of discomfort that is conducive toward motivating a person to change. If the discomfort is too overwhelming, the thinking part of the brain shuts down and new learning/insight cannot occur.  The person feels paralyzed by fear of the unknown. If the discomfort is decreased just enough to allow a person to tolerate the low-level misery (for example, with antidepressants), they are not motivated to move forward. Instead, they may wallow. They may become “emotional slackers.” Good counseling helps a person to change. When the therapist believes the client can “hear” a new point and/or the client’s ego defenses are intact enough to let go of an old effort at adaptation, the therapist may encourage the client to let go of defenses that no longer serve him/her as coping mechanisms.  Pearl Buck once said, “All birth is unwilling.” To push toward change and empowerment is akin to going to a fitness center for the heart. To develop the capacity to evolve is a lot like developing muscle. The more often you dare yourself to be brave and go to new emotional landscapes within your relationship systems, the braver you get! To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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In Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular book entitled EAT PRAY LOVE, she describes a common problem that presents itself in my couples counseling practice. That problem is a couple who have become so attached as to be joined at the hip. Dr. Murray Bowen described as fusion what Elizabeth Gilbert’s protagonist details below:

“Moreover, I have boundary issues with men. Or maybe that’s not fair to say. To have issues with boundaries, one must have boundaries in the first place, right? But I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. YOu can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time–everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain. I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word). I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and  more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else.”

In this passage, Gilbert describes how NOT to have a love affair. In the last line of the quote, the protagonist (predictably) runs away to become infatuated with another. She allows herself to get smothered so that she cannot breathe. The survival instinct compels her to cut off from her original lover and get involved with another. She craves connection. She moves toward “togetherness” automatically as she begins a love relationship and preserves little self. She disappears into the other. This is a red flag. It foretells a high likelihood of  an eventual rupture in an intimate connection. To reduce this level of fusion with a romantic partner is to build insurance that the relationship can last. To learn more about this model of practice, visit http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com.

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Dr. Edwin Friedman was a wise man and prolific writer. He taught in the graduate school at the university from which I graduated before I opened my practice. I wish I had not missed hearing his wisdom directly. Listed below is one of my favorite quotes from this philosopher/therapist/teacher:

“The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that
insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.
Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric,
or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them.  Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower.
Attitudes are the real figures of speech.”
–Edwin H. Friedman

Dr. Friedman promoted ideas that were originated by Dr. Murray Bowen. His take on these ideas was not “purist,” but he had a strong message and way to communicate these ideas to the lay public that was effective and far-reaching. I highly recommend his book entitled FRIEDMAN’S FABLES, little parables that illustrate Bowen theory. The book of fables comes with an insert of discussion questions. I am currently reading his book on leadership consulting, called A FAILURE OF NERVE and look forward to following it with his book on family systems in churches and snynogogues (GENERATION TO GENERATION). Don’t miss the opportunity to peruse and then consider these useful ideas about what makes us tick in the context of our important personal and professional relationships.

To learn more about my model of practice, visit my web site at www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complementary telephone consultation!

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Research on what makes a marriage work shows that people in a good marriage have completed these psychological “tasks”:

  • Separate emotionally from the family you grew up in; not to the point of estrangement, but enough so that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings.
  • Build togetherness based on a shared intimacy and identity, while at the same time set boundaries to protect each partner’s autonomy.
  • Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations.
  • For couples with children, embrace the daunting roles of parenthood and absorb the impact of a baby’s entrance into the marriage. Learn to continue the work of protecting the privacy of you and your spouse as a couple.
  • Confront and master the inevitable crises of life.
  • Maintain the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity. The marriage should be a safe haven in which partners are able to express their differences, anger and conflict.
  • Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
  • Nurture and comfort each other, satisfying each partner‘s needs for dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support.
  • Keep alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time.

Thanks to Judith S. Wallerstein, PhD, co-author of the book The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts.

For more information on Dr. Cunningham‘s model of practice, visit her at her web site: http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com



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