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I am an MFT at the doctoral level. In my work at Affordable Relationship Counseling, I encourage clients to work on their current relational challenges by researching their multigenerational family stories. Over the holidays, I picked up a novel entitled BREAD GIVERS by Anzia Yezierska. I opened it without any more interest than that it was set in 1920’s Lower East Side New York and that, like the earlier experience of my maternal grandparents, it described the Jewish journey of immigrating to the U.S. from Russia during that historical period. Little did I know that within these pages, it would seem as if my mother was communicating with me from heaven about what it was really like for her as a young, Jewish girl and as a teenager. Fiction and nonfiction merged in my brain and my eyes were awash as I imagined how important the sense of belonging and material safety must have been to children of immigrants.

To differentiate a self as protagonist Sara Smolinsky did eluded my mom. Mom was a redheaded beauty. Appearances were of prime importance as providing carte blanche to becoming a successful homemaker with the means to be comfortable. My mother was the third of four. She had one sister, twelve years her senior, a brother who was nine years older and a brother three years younger.

Life was tough in NY for Jewish immigrants like the Smolinskys. Like my grandfather, Sara’s father was pious (he was an Orthodox rabbi) and also very poor. Like Sara’s mother, my maternal Bubbe did not want her daughters to waste time or money to educate themselves. She worried about them having a good life. A secure life, unlike her own hand-to-mouth struggle from day to day. She hoped that her girls’ future would be secured by a good marriage to a successful, Jewish man. This chronic anxiety about her daughters’ mating outcomes had a multigenerationally transmitted quality and, as theoretically predicted, my mother had transmitted it to me in spades. Such anxiety is rarely useful when one is of the age to settle down and be of calm enough mind to intelligently choose a mate.

After I read the last page of this novel, my understanding about so many mysteries about the marital failures in my own family had deepened. It was as if this piece of historical fiction offered me the insight I might have gained if I had gone back to visit my Mom in a Time Machine. Thank you, Anzia Yezierska!

For more information about Dr. Cunningham‘s model of practice, call 619 9906203 0r visit www.cunninghamtherapy.com

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, specializes in issues of grief and loss. Death, divorce, breakups, pet loss, homicide, suicide, career transitions, moves and many other changes all may herald in a period that the client may experience grief and loss. Dr. Cunningham emphasizes that all people belong to an emotional system. Emotional systems are made up of individuals, all of whom are interdependent upon one another to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, exits from the family system may create a kind of “emotional shock wave effect,” wherein relationships shift among members upon the death of an important family member.

As Dr. Cunningham experiences just such a change…the serious illness of her own mother…she is observant of the emotional process swirling about her and within her. She often advises clients not to make major decisions or changes for a year following the death of an important family member or after a divorce. This is a cautious way to insure that the brain calms down enough to make a rational decision. Homo sapiens are a social species. When we lose a profound attachment, it is an automatic impulse to grieve and even to look for a replacement love object to comfort us in our loss. The idea of doing so is normal…letting the passage of time occur to insure the decision is made with reflection is good insurance. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA , licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, often sees clients who present with issues of loneliness around the holidays. It seems that people feel a heightened sense of loss around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Television, movies, magazines, and advertisments seem to emphasize pictures of happy families that are a stark contrast to what people wish they had in their own lives. Often times burned bridges and broken dreams come into bold relief at this time of the year and make it most difficult for people to get through the days of gift giving, Christmas carols, and holiday mirth. Allowing people a safe holding environment to process feelings of vulnerability may be a beginning point.  It takes courage to begin the therapy process. Talk therapy is a proven way to begin. Research has shown that isolation is not good for one’s overall health. If one is not connected, or feels isolated, one is at risk for myriad health problems. Human beings are a social species.  Adaptation to loss can, over time, bring increased integrity and deeper meaning to life. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s strength based model of practice, call 619 9906203 or visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com to get more information.

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Sex addiction is on the rise in India“Families with multiple generations of addiction often tell ‘war stories’ about the previous generation. Frequently, stories are told as jokes because they are so improbable. If grandpa was so drunk he missed the garage and drove into the living room, the family laughs as a defense against the tragedy and chaos of the event. For a child listening , such pandemonium can be concerning, but the child’s reality is everyone is laughing. The incongruity may make it hard for the child to ask questions. After all, if the situation is scary to you, but funny to everyone else, then there must be something wrong with your perceptions.”

-Dr. Patrick Carnes, Recovery Zone, Vol 1. (Pg 137)

Since San Diego’s Mayor Bob Filner has been a heated subject of controversy, the topic of sex addiction has dominated the air waves in our town. I have often depicted sex addiction as a disease of intimacy. Like all forms of addiction, I consider it an escape from uncomfortable emotions associated with close relationships with significant others. Addictive patterns that trigger compulsive behaviors often result in surges of neurochemical highs, whether from behaviors such as sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, etc., and such behavioral habits can rarely be addressed in short term behavioral therapy. It took a long time for people to be wired by their formative experiences and it will take a long time to rewire their brains to react differently.

Make no mistake, I am a great believer in the transformative power of psychotherapy. I just do not believe in tips, tricks, tools and techniques…psychotherapy should not be “showtime.” It is process. I ask my clients to trust in the process. I ask them to be patient with the process. Developing insight takes time. Hard work. Asking the right questions should generate more questions. Sex addiction, like other addictions, is an ineffective coping mechanism used to self soothe and to escape from the discomfort of intimacy.  Those who would have sex without considering longterm, potential consequences to their behavior have an opportunity to look for ways to heal the wound within, so they can, over time and with a lot of hard work,  increase their capacity for intimacy. To learn more about Dr. Barbara Cunningham, MFT, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling, , Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers couples counseling to couples expecting their first child. She encourages new parents to seek counseling as insurance, knowing that such transitions can add stress and create challenges going forward into new roles and responsibilities. With evening hours to accommodate working couples and affordable rates, Dr. Cunningham can work with couples to get them onto a path assuring success. As wonderful and miraculous as a new baby is to both parents, all change brings with it accompanying adjustment and resultant stress. To learn more about her expert marriage counseling services, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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At Affordable Couples Counseling in San Diego, California, licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers couples the opportunity to strengthen the foundation upon which their relationship rests. Research suggests that couples wait an average of six years before seeking help when their relationship is in trouble. The stigma attached to seeking professional help is still ever present in our society. Yet it is far cheaper and the course of therapy may be significantly shorter if couples begin sooner rather than later when their relationship becomes “stuck” in unhelpful patterns.

Premarital therapy offers couples opportunities to discuss hot button issues in a safe, holding environment with a neutral third party. Professionals can facilitate discussion and encourage the respect for difference typified in the healthiest of marriages.

Interestingly, one of the least happy times in marriage may be after the birth of the first child. Often times, the father may feel pushed to the “outside” with the demands of a newborn. Working on the marriage during the pregnancy and preparing for the birth may be a wise investment. A division of labor generated in advance, for example, is one idea that may be helpful.

Distancer/pursuer cycles can create chronic problems that increase the intensity of dissatisfaction on both sides. Such problems are better addressed early on.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s marriage counseling and couples counseling services, visit her website at http://wwww.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation

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Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist, often suggests books to her clients that may be an accompaniment to aspects of their treatment journey in couples counseling or individual counseling. One such recommendation to clients exploring existential themes has been EINSTEINS DREAMS by Alan Lightman. Below is a review of Lightman’s novel.

IMAGINING TIME

In the novel entitled EINSTEINS DREAMS, Alan Lightman challenges the reader with the possibilities within each of us for imagining time, existence, and relativity. Thirty dated vignettes describe notions of time imagined during young Einstein’s dream states. These entries are introduced by a prologue wherein the reader meets Einstein at precisely six ten a.m. at the patent office in Berne, Switzerland, his place of employment. It is on this morning in late June of 1905 that the protagonist submits his electrifying paper on the Special Theory of Relativity to a typist. The novel spans only three hours, ending when the typist arrives at the office. Sandwiched between are the thirty dreams and three interludes that predate the prologue and epilogue, during which time Einstein obsessed on his theory and dreamed of myriad temporal worlds through the prismatic lens of human experience. It is fitting that LIghtman uses Einstein as a vehicle through which to paint the existential dilemmas and joys of human existence, and the reader-clinician who has a systemic orientation may draw many parallels between the imaginary worlds and exigencies of real life within individual and family life cycles of development.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity ushered in an era that challenged linear ways of viewing the universe in many disciplines, not the least of which was psychology. Einstein shattered previous thought when he proved that time is not an absolute. What he discovered was that if you sat on a train that is either stationery or moving at a constant speed and look at another passing train without viewing the landscape, you will not be able to ascertain which train is moving and which train is at rest; you can only say that each train moves past the other at a certain relative speed. Similarly, in the psychological world of relativistic (circular) causality, no reality exists in a vacuum, but rather depends on the interconnectedness of people and events as they move through time. A second for one person may feel different than a second for another, and the view that one person sees may be quite different from that seen by another. The idea that distance and time are not absolute and depend on the motion of the observer is akin to the idea that members of a family can only be viewed in their roles in relation to one another, to the times that precede them generationally, to the times in which they live, and to the individual and shared goals they may have for the future. In addition to the fact that the normative and non-normative changes within the normal family life cycle have a circular causality, there is also a constant dialectic action and a holistic reality, wherein the family is greater than the sum total of all its members. Culturally-directed timetables, familial, intergenerational interpretation of those timeframes, and individual developmental rhythms shape the personalities, behavior, thoughts, and outcomes of people, families, and nations. Indeed, various issues cogent to the clinician in the field of marriage and family therapy must be considered against the backdrop of time.

Subjective time is dramatically different from the mechanical time upon which most societies base their members’ lives. To spend a month on a surfboard on the island of Tavarua in the Fiji Islands might seem like a shorter month than to spend a month awaiting results of a biopsy. A jetlagged individual can attest to the relativity of temporal perception. Such a dichotomy is a dialectical phenomenon that exists in our lives continuously and is described as a literal fantasy in young Einstein’s entry dated 24 April 1905 (“There are two times, mechanical and body”). To analyze the meanings of subjective and objective time is to realize the impact of time on human behavior: the rewards, consequences, limitations, possibilities, attitudes, values, belief systems, and lifestyles. And, as in the novel, everything is connected and relative to other variables, not the least of which is human reactions to the passage of time. Some worlds in the novel are bustling and chock full of action; in others, there is little that happens. In most of Lightman’s imagined worlds, the concept of linear continuity, which defines our sense of time, does not exist. What is common to all the worlds in EINSTEIN’S DREAMS is that the characters’ lives are defined by the limits the nature of time places on what is possible.

In fragmented time, relationships cannot develop. In backwards time, life demands a loss of achievement and knowledge. In fact, in a world where one dies to be born, the conventional birth mother would be seen not as the giver of life, but as the taker of life. It is interesting to consider, for example, how this might change attachment or object relations theory. The child would avoid the primary caregiver and avoid attachment to her as the woman who would signal the end of life.Death would not be the dreaded villain, but the welcomed friend. The thought of “life after death” would be looked upon with horror.

Lightman is himself an example of the dialectical nature of existence. He is a distinguished physicist and professor of creative writing at MIT, seemingly paradoxical interests. Similarly, Eisnstein discovers a theory about the outside world, even though he is a loner who lives primarily in an inner world. Indeed, EINSTEIN’S DREAMS is less a reflection of many worlds and more a reflection of all the lenses through which an individual could view his own world.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s couples counseling practice, visit her website at www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling, Dr. Barbara Cunningham is guided, in large part, by the principles of Dr. Murray Bowen. Dr. Bowen offered a broad perspective on viewing clinical problems. He required an assessment of contextual factors within and between generations as far as one could research facts of family functioning. Such an assessment allowed one to view individual and family functioning as one might view a football game at the top of the bleachers instead of on the fifty yard line. What follows are favorite quotes on the subject from this seminal thinker in the field of marriage and family therapy as well as from E. O. Wilson., who influenced Dr. Bowen’s thinking.

“Family systems theory is based on the assumptions that the human is a product of evolution and that human behavior is significantly regulated by the same natural processes that regulate the behavior of all other living things.”

‘”Symbiotic relationships are a fact of nature and have an important evolutionary function.[Even]…the mother-patient symbiosis observed in schizophrenia was based on a deep (in the evolutionary sense) biological process as well as on a more obvious psychological process.”

“If animals are forced into abnormal proximitiy, they will seek distance through other means, such as hiding or averting direct gaze (E. O. Wilson, 1975)

“Differentiation [is a concept that] defines people according to the degree of fusion between emotional or intellectual functioning. This characteristic is so universal it can be used as a way of categorizing all people on a single continuum. At the lower extreme are those whose emotions and intellect are so fused that their lives are dominated by the automatic emotional system. These are the people who are less flexible, less adaptable, and more emotionally dependent on those about them. They are easily stressed into dysfunction, and it is difficult for them to recover from dysfunction. They inherit a high percentage of all human problems. At the other extreme are those who are more differentiated…[they] are more flexible, more adaptable, and more independent of the emotionality about them. They cope better with life stresses, their life courses are more orderly and successful, and they are remarkably free of human problems.”

“The concept of differentiation has to do with self and not with others. Differentiation deals iwth working on one’s own self, with controlling self, with becoming a more responsible person, and permitting others to be themselves.”

“All things being equal, the basic level of differentiation is finally established about the time the young adult establishes self separately from his family of origin.”

“Levels of differentiation are transmitted from generation to generation.”

Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers evening hours to accommodate working people who seek couples counseling and she also offers affordable rates. Her San Diego counseling office is located in the heart of Mission Valley and is open Mondays through Thursday’s. Call her for a complimentary telephone consultation at 619 9906203 or visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com to obtain more information.

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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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Dear Newlyweds,

Congratulations on your marriage. It can be perfectly normal to find the beginning months of marriage a difficult adjustment. Do not despair. Give yourselves time to grow into your new roles. Transitions in life–even wonderful ones–require “getting used to” time. This is the nature of change–until you get used to a new landscape, there is struggle and, ultimately, if you are determined, mastery. You are embarking upon a  wonderful and fantastic adventure. What follows are some thoughts that are the result of my long life and my years in counseling couples of all ages with any variety of presenting problems.

Transparency with another person can become increasingly difficult as this person becomes more and more important to you. It has been said that courtship is the most open time in a relationship. There is less fear about “ruffling feathers,” because there is less need and thus no great trauma should the relationship go south as a result of something said. Work toward increasing your capacity to be transparent. Remember, there is a universal aversion to risking disapproval from people we love. The work is to be “a self” and push back against that aversion. Wall socket connections can result when two people work hard at connecting with one another on ever deepening, authentic levels.

Marriage is less about the outcome of any argument you may have…keep your eye on your process and your part in sustaining it if it is useful or interrupting it if it is a negative cycle.

Love is an action-love is a verb. Instead of waiting to “see” if your partner is going to change first or do “x, y, or z” for you, get busy and add value to your relationship!

The only person you can change is yourself. Get your anxious focus off trying to fix your partner. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see.”

View all challenges between you as opportunities. Marriage can only be a “growing up machine” if you look for better and more creative ways to solve your problems.

Care less about being “right” and care more about being connected.

The primary adjustment when you decide to blend your life with another person’s life is to move from being independent to interdependent. Give yourself credit when you work on discriminating between your thoughts (reflective) and your feelings (reactive) in trying to accomplish a functional reciprocity on your own end.

David Schnarch has likened marriage to a crucible. Getting your own needs met in feeling connected while at the same time honoring your own need for separateness is only one part of it. The interlocking challenge is honoring your partners’ need for the same, which may be in a different ratio than your own. There can be a perfect balance until some internal or outside stressor tips the scales and you have at once a couples challenge and an opportunity to grow in your love as a result of dancing well together.

View marriage as the ultimate exercise in self regulation.  Those who are most important to us represent our best opportunity.

In a sense, marriage offers the ultimate opportunity to “share,” but as grownups. Respect the systemic concept of mutual influence. Although it is true that married people may codetermine one another–for every action, there is a counter reaction–try to carve a bit of individuality out of all of that togetherness.  Know the difference between “giving in” (you will resent the other person over time) and deciding you can willingly and proactively compromise on a given issue.

These ideas represent, in part, Dr. Cunningham’s thoughts on marital challenges that present themselves to couples embarking upon a life journey together. To learn more about her model of practice, visit http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or  call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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