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Archive for the ‘Couples Counseling San Diego’ Category

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.

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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!

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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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