Archive for February, 2013

At Affordable Relationship Counseling, Dr.Barbara Cunningham,licensed marriage and family therapist, provides couples and individuals with insight based psychotherapy to create more satisfied, connected lives. One aspect of that journey is described below. Evening hours and affordable rates are available. The office is open from Tuesday through Fridays, beginning at noon or one and going as late as nine p.m.

To me, poetry is the word transformed at the edge of experience. It works on a creative level to transport people to the borders of their interpretive struggles. Providing clients with a poem to read that is relevant to their presenting problems and/or asking them to write a poem about these problems are interventions that can be harnessed to help cope with and/or give new meaning to misery and suffering. Nothing is as important as touching pain at a level beyond intellect. Thus, in addition to clinicians’ creation of written lists of symptoms and presenting problems, perhaps poetry, with its compression and speed and intensity, is an especially useful exercise for the therapist. Seeing intense family and couple interactions can stuff the therapist with countertransference that needs to be worked out with more than an intellectually based consultation. Reading and writing poetry can create a healing place not only for the elderly client who may be working on his/her life review, but also for the therapist. Paying attention to the way the poem looks on the page and being aware of rhyme and line endings can actually slow us down and make us listen with different ears. Poetry has the power to make us see the heart of the matter.

If a therapist is not one to enjoy creative writing, at the least, poetry should be on his/her professional reading lists. The synthesis of feeling captured in brevity is another lens through which to view all experience and, especially, ultimate concerns. The sounds and sense of words in a poem seem to touch our brains in a way that speaks to our spirits. Poetry has healing power. It speaks to emotions. It is experiential.

The use of metaphor has been recognized by mental health leaders such as Jung, Milton Erickson, Jay Haley, and Edward Friedman as a way to access the unconscious needs, wishes, thoughts, and fears of the human being. It follows that there probably is an important connection between suffering, recovery, and the writing and reading of poetry. It is a different way to talk to each other. There is something about condensed language and structure that seems useful in times of trauma, including the crisis of aging and dying. Maybe by reading or writing a poem, a client can gain some sense of control. It can tease out the nuances of symptoms, habits, feelings, and beliefs that can help guide the way forward. It may be part of the road leading into the unconscious. We can turn to poetry to repair some damage. In the aftermath of 9/11, I remember seeing an eruption of poetry. It seemed to be a common means of exchange during those traumatic months following the attacks. Discursive language did not seem able to touch the horror the way that poems could. Poetry is a powerful way to capture the subjective and spiritual core of experience. It can take us to places that our intellect cannot access. It can help us to process unresolved issues.

To learn more about my model of practice, visit my web site at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for additional information.


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Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist,  is a proponent of bibliotherapy and believes that little children adjusting to big changes can benefit from a bibliotherapeutic approach. Talking about sensitive topics is difficult for all of us, and and children are no exception. Whether in play or through the magic of an imaginative and beautifully illustrated narrative, children seem to be able to approach their grief and frustration if psychotherapists provide them with an avenue to go from the outside (story) to the inward emotions and thoughts. What follows is Dr. Cunningham’s review of a great example of this sort of book:

THE SEA CAT DREAMS, by J. R. Poulter, is a beautifully written tale that helps children consider the nature of change. The power of this narrative is in its subtlety. A cat is born on a farm, winds up hidden in a bag of a salty sailor, gets taken from his home to remain with the departing sailor, and after a time at sea, “meows the sailor’s eulogy.” The cat is given to his widow and serves as a comfort to her. At each age and stage of the cat’s life, past times are remembered with the nostalgia that only comes from memory.

Humans are the only species aware of their own impermanence. It may be with the first observation of a falling, dead leaf that a child has a blossoming notion, though dim, of this fact of mortality. However, for the child who comes up close and personal with mortality at a younger age, whether because of the death of a pet or a relative,this book can open a healing dialogue.

With beautiful illustrations and lyrical content, clinicians who treat children coping with change (and change is the one consistent fact of any life course) will want to keep this book on their bookshelf. In THE SEA CAT DREAMS, J.R. Poulter writes metaphorically about the unexpected twists and turns that can occur in life. This little book is a valuable resource for youngsters struggling with difficult changes or who are just adjusting to normal changes, like a move or a new sibling. I highly recommend this book and commend the author for addressing change in a way that can be reflected upon by the very young. Review by Barbara Cunningham, Psy.D., MFT

Dr. Cunningham specializes in issues of grief and loss, and treats these issues from a bibliotherapeutic and play perspective with children.
To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s psychotherapy and family counseling  practice, visit her at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, offers insightful counseling for individuals and couples.  Psychotherapy can provide an opportunity to improve peoples’ capacity to see their part in problematic relationship dynamics. As Valentines Day approaches, some couples may be reminded that they have needed couples counseling for a long time and have simply been putting it off. It takes courage to embark upon a course of marriage counseling, relationship counseling, or individual counseling aimed at sorting out relationship questions. It requires people to search within and stop” fingerpointing,” expecting the marriage and family therapist to “fix” their partner.  Dr. Bowen’s natural family systems approach can offer frustrated couples a new way to think about what is happening between them. Indeed, this model of therapy can empower people by creating a growing knowledge that the only person they can change is themselves. What is exciting is that a change in one will predictably produce change in the dynamic flowing between two people over time.  Listed below are some quotes from Dr. Bowen that seem applicable to couples looking for a way toward increased fulfillment and greater satisfaction in their relationship. These quotes are taken from various chapters in the book entitled Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (Murray Bowen, 1978):

(Relationships often cycle)…”through intense closeness, conflict that provides a period of emotional distance, the makeup, and another period of intense closeness.”  (p. 204)

“Many spouses experience the closest and most open relationship in their adult lives during courtship.” (p. 203)

“Two spouses begin a marriage with lifestyle patterns and levels of differentiation developed in their families-of-origin. Mating, marriage, and reproduction are governed to a significant degree by emotional-instinctual forces. The way the spouses handle them in dating and courtship and in timing and planning the marriage provides one of the best views of the level of differentiation of the spouses. The lower the level of differentiation [the cornerstone of Bowen family systems theory], the greater the potential problems for the future.” (p. 376)

“People pick spouses who have the same levels of differentiation.” (p. 377)

“Early thoughts about marriage and children are more prominent in the female than the male….A female whose early thoughts and fantasies go more to the children they will have than the man they will marry, tend to become the mothers of impaired children.” (p. 380)

“Differentiation deals with working on one’s own self [in the context of relationship], with controlling self, with becoming a more responsible person, and permitting others to be themselves.” (p. 409)

Thus, if Valentines Day is a disturbing reminder that you remain frustrated and “stuck” in negative cycles as a couple or with your partner, perhaps the holiday is a good time to take charge and make the call to a marriage counselor or relationship therapist. Dr. Cunningham offers evening hours to accommodate working couples and a complimentary 15 minute telephone consultation to see if it makes sense to book an initial appointment. She can be reached at 619 9906203.  Do not delay-make the call today!


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