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Archive for the ‘multigenerational couples therapy’ Category

Last Picture Mom and My Brothers were Photographed Together

LAST Photo of Family Together Left, My deceased brother, Jeffrey (9 months before his suicide and four months before his only marriage); Ex-husband, Ric; Me, Brother, Gary; nephew, Caden (Gary’s grandson); and the matriarch and glue of the family, Edythe Mark, celebrating a remarkable run of leading her family for 90 years. The occasion was a birthday surprise party for her, planned by my devoted daughters, Nicole and Allison.

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Tonight marks three years since my sweet, younger brother gave up all hope for joy and a future. Instead, he broke all our hearts and ended his life. He struggled with the monkey on his back since he was thirteen. We were a middle class family, and Jeff was the youngest kid on a block of kids that stuck together like Gorilla Glue. He wanted desperately to fit in with his older brother, Gary, and the other cool boys who traveled together like a pack. As vulnerable to peer pressure as he was to pleasing his parents, my baby brother would cop an attitude and try to act the part of a street smart teen. In reality, the more the others made fun of him for being “Jargus” or called him pejorative names like “Blockhead,” the more determined he became to win acceptance by taking more and more risks.

Like teens everywhere, it was important to Jeff to belong. He never outgrew the need to be accepted to the point that he would sacrifice himself to do so. He took other people’s temperatures to determine how he should feel. His “selfhood” was defined not by his own ideas and values so much as by what he thought other important people expected of him or what he could do to belong and gain acceptance. The amount of energy he and his parents put into one another and into him determined how much he would depend upon relationship in later life to survive. He never grew away from a profound need to be cared for and nurtured to the same level he experienced with his parents as a child. It created in him extreme relationship dependence. If he believed, for example, that a teacher disliked him, he could not perform. Relationship environments that were warm and nurturing were crucial to his functioning.

Jeffrey entered the world of heroin addiction at thirteen. While the other boys experimented with heroin, Jeff married her. In fact, my brother took heroin as his mistress till the end of his life at 56 years old. His escapist behavior reflected a high level of anxiety, borne of unresolved emotional attachment to his parents. He remained a child in relation to both of them….never related adult to adult, even as an elderly man. It was difficult for him to know, for example, when one of his decisions was more reactive to someone telling him what to do ( an authority figure or even a girlfriend or the mother of his child) or when a decision was truly a reflective one. In other words, Jeff could not easily distinguish between his thoughts and his feelings. It was difficult for him to know when he was merely acting in reaction to being told what to do or when he truly was acting out of a thought out or reflective response.

As a very young child, Jeff had frequent petite mal seizures. His parents worried and took him to Mayo Clinic and myriad doctors to try to figure out what was going on and to alleviate the physical symptoms. They may have inadvertently created many of his emotional symptoms by allowing him to bend and break the rules, lest he become upset from the same consequences the other two received as a matter of course-and suffer another seizure! Because his well meaning but anxious mother and father believed his bad temper could create medical crisis, he held inordinate power in the home. Medical crisis was most certainly created anyway…the terminal illness, however, was not epilepsy, but addiction to opiates. Anxiety was ubiquitous in the household, passed frantically back and forth among family members like a hot potato.

Jeff enjoyed being indulged, yet resented Gary and Barbara as being favored for their academic achievement. Even at his mother’s 90th birthday, he made a toast to his beloved mother and publicly and proudly referred to himself as “your baby boy.”

Jeff was not permitted to learn from struggle. His parents meant well. But they overhelped, making it a foregone conclusion that he would underhelp himself when it came to overcoming his dependence upon heroin. If he had potential trouble with the law, they would hover, rushing in to rescue and to alleviate the very pain that motivates people to change. They believed they were doing the best by him, but, in reality, their parenting choices were made to calm themselves and, in the process, unwittingly rob their youngest son of normal growth and development. He would not mature, and heroin was the crutch that allowed him to ignore this developmental lag. His parents needed to maintain their anxious focus just as much as Jeff needed to fulfill their dark expectations. It was a reciprocal feedback loop. The same template of intensity…of neediness…would follow him in his adult romantic relationships. And theory suggests he would settle down with a woman needing about the same amount of attention as he needed.

Jeffrey worked with his father in the multigenerational family scrap metal business and proved himself to  be a talented-nay a gifted- entrepreneur. Money was a commodity he knew how to create and to increase. Still,the intensity between father and son was as strong as the fusion between mother and son. As the child most tied in to the family system…the epileptic one, the addicted one, and the one in the family business….the baby of the family was thus less free to grow and develop.He was always the anxious focus of his parents. The anxiety has a contagion. It is never helpful.

The individuals in this family prided themselves in being ‘”close.” Yet being very close can stifle the spirit and ultimately predict emotional cutoff. Drugs are one way people cut off from one another and even from themselves. In our family, we were so undifferentiated that if one person had an itch, everyone else scratched. It was hard to know where one family member started and the  other one ended.

When people give up “self” to the group, it is normal to feel an anxiety borne of the fear that one has allowed themselves to disappear….to be incorporated into the group. It is a survival instinct then to cut off from others if one becomes too aware that there is no “self” left. Similarly, the one who cuts off creates a reactivity in the “left” one and the distancer/pursuer dance may begin.

To some extent, we all struggle to carve a bit of individuality out of all the togetherness that is part of being a family. There are many ways people cope with the anxiety borne of this fear of being incorporated or swallowed up into a system. Some people use substance to escape their fear that they are alienated from themselves, that they are broken….broken in love.

The lack of capacity to remain connected is paradoxically related to one’s inability to hold on to oneself in relationship to important others. Furthermore, the indulged grown child may lack a belief in their own personal agency and self efficacy. Often they believe they are at the mercy of the universe and there is a desperate kind of effort to escape the inner, chronic pain of disconnection and escalating ruptured relationships. Denial and defensiveness keep these people stuck and lonely.

Jeff’s life was defined by repeated efforts to overcome opiate dependence with the accompanying crisis and relationship loss. Bridges were burned beyond repair before his fiftieth year. When complete contact with his one child was severed…a beautiful, bright,thirteen year old daughter who adored him…his life took a lethal turn for the worse. Stints in prison and debilitating depression followed that emotional cutoff, which occurred, not coincidentally, the year following his father’s death in 1997.

Jeff panicked at the prospect of losing his mother to death. He had grieved inconsolably for years, for he had lost his most prized relationship-his thirteen-year-old daughter. Additionally, he had lost huge amounts of money, reputation, a beautiful home, the freedom to live near his family in California, and, sadly, the love of his life and the mother of his daughter. After his latest stint in prison, he met a random woman in a bar and invested his heart, soul, and wallet into winning her. She was a rough woman, many years his junior. He would marry her thirteen months prior to his mother’s death.

In the end, he believed the woman exploited him. Against the advice of friends and family, he had rushed to marry her , fearing he was aging and anticipating being “utterly and completely alone.” When that marriage went South, he became frightened. Humiliated. A desperado. He packed it in. By marrying her, he had tried one last time to find an adult relational home and recoup his myriad losses over his life course. But his tendency toward fusion made him too anxious to allow himself to love or be loved. So it all went from bad to worse.  This final loss was more than he could bear. Life became stripped of meaning. No relational home seemed available to Jeff. He was terrified at the prospect of being alone.

Murray Bowen, one of the foremost pioneers of marriage and family therapy, believed family members profoundly affect one another and that death is one example of this profound interdependence. Ripple effects or emotional shock waves can usually be observed in members closest to the ill or dying member. Changes such as marriages, divorces, obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, or even workaholism all provide escape from the emotional  processes swirling about the family system. Physical illness and even death may follow after the death of a spouse or child. Bowen defined the ” ‘Emotional Shock Wave’ as a network of underground aftershocks…occurring most often after the death or threatened death of a significant family member.” (1978). The connectedness of major life events following serious illness and death may stimulate vigorous denial of any connection between the death and the events. He believed that this denial and subsequent occurance of serious life events occurred most frequently in families with a high degree of fusion or emotional “oneness.”Grief and loss work in the form of family of origin research can help people become a bit more aware of these tendencies to be reactive to the “undifferentiated ego mass” of the family and to operate within the fusion.The effort can help them move through the grief process in a timely and healing manner and also gain more basic self in the process.

As the person in the family system who apparently absorbed much of the anxiety for the system and accommodated more than was healthy for him to do in life, Jeffrey dealt with his relational crises/mental health challenges through self medication. He had struggled since his early teens, becoming stuck in a cycle of addiction, subsequent relationship heartbreaks,and repeated incarcerations.Shame, rejection, and regret haunted him most days of his life. He tried and failed to kick over and over again, in expensive rehab after expensive rehab.

The stigma our society has placed upon seeking mental health services is dangerous, especially in a shrinking world of escalating changes occurring at breakneck speed. Suicide is a genuine health issue, like cancer or diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the United States. About 30,000 people  die by suicide every year–more people than by murder or HIV.

For sibling survivors of suicide, there is never closure–only reduced frequency and intensity over time. Sibling loss is not honored as much as parental loss; yet a sibling should be in our lives longer than anyone else. It is a profound loss to be the remainder…the surviving sibling, who shares fifty per cent of our DNA and huge amounts of life experience.

My dear brother, Jeff,  had physically left the premises on a hot July night in 2012. I found his suicide note in my mailbox upon arriving home from work after nine one night, and I remember my cry sounding less than human-more like an animal howl. I knew my mother would not be much longer for this world, because they were so close as to be like one organism. She had two more years for us to love her and cherish her.

Since Jeff died on July 19, 2012 and since Mom died in March of last year, family members close to Jeff have also experienced huge changes. There have been babies born, talk of divorce, real estate deals, major moves,weight loss, new romantic partnerships, an emotional cutoff, and returns to college. Mother’s caregiver of twenty five years has suddenly developed serious cardiac problems.

Changes in reaction to entrances and exits from the family system reflect the notion that change always is accompanied by stress. The intense emotional process that defines a family system in the face of illness and death demands that individuals closest to the deceased take especially good care of themselves in the months and even years following life threatening illness and death.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham‘s systemic model of marriage and family therapy practice, visit her website at www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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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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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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Dr. Barbara Cunningham, a licensed marriage and family therapist, practices couples counseling in the heart of San Diego. Dr. Cunningham believes that relationship counseling is not for the faint of heart–it takes courage to look within. Listed below are some of her favorite quotes on marriage and relationships.

“We just say the divorce didn’t work out.” Joe, who remarried his wife after they divorced.

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” Mignon McLaughlin

“I now think of marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we’ve hit a rough spot in a marriage that’s actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now–with this person, in this season? That the moral, existential question we face when our marrige is in trouble.”  Bill Doherty

“Committing to staying calm is the first key to committing to staying married.” Hal Runkel, founder of the SCREAM FREE INSTITUTE

“The FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOLCALYPSE predict an ailing marrige: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt. The worst of these is Contempt.” John Gottman 

“Love is no assignment for cowards.” Ovid

Dr. Cunningham offers affordable rates and evening hours to accommodate working couples in the heart of San Diego. You are welcome to call her to receive a complimentary phone consultation at 619 9906203. Also, pick up some free tips just for stopping by to check out her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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As a licensed marriage and family therapist in the heart of San Diego, Dr. Barbara Cunningham enjoys a busy and interesting private practice. Research has shown that couples who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship wait an average of 6 years before seeking marriage counseling. The sooner a couple seeks help, the better the prognosis to return the couple to a state of harmony and mutual fulfillment and perhaps even take the couple to an even better place than they may have been before presenting problems emerged. Listed below are some quick tips to consider when choosing a couples therapist:

1. Is the graduate training of the potential counselor in psychology, in social work, or in marriage and family therapy? In contrast to many other training programs in therapy and counseling, marriage and family therapists are specially trained to see all problems in the context of relationships. It is a way of seeing how the problem may be embedded in other stories of attachment in each partner’s family system and in their current story. Looking at problems through the lens of the marriage and family therapist is akin to seeing a football game at the top of the bleachers instead of on the 50 yard line. It is a broader picture of what is really going on with the couple.

2. If the potential candidate trained as a marriage and family therapist, did they attend a COAMFT accredited graduate program?

3. Is the potential therapist trained at the masters or doctoral level in marriage and family therapy? Is the candidate a clinical intern who is collecting hours toward licensure or is the candidate already a licensed marriage and family therapist?

4. Does the potential therapist have experience being in therapy themselves? It has often been said that you cannot take a client farther than you have travelled yourself. Therapy is a kind of journey that allows you to go to emotional places that you may never have been before. This takes courage. You want a therapist who, from experience, has compassion for what you are up against in your efforts to get maxium gain from the therapy experience.

5. How long has the candidate been in practice?  Do they specialize in seeing certain relationship problems? Ages? Do they have a “niche?” Special expertise?

Even after you’ve selected a relationship therapist and had a few sessions, I suggest that you evaluate the therapy you are receiving. Here are a few areas to keep your eye on:

  • Skilled marriage counselors will not just sit there passively or nod their head “empathically” while you and your partner spend most of the session arguing just like you do at home; they will interrupt your unproductive fights to offer guidelines and teach new relationship principles that will help you manage yourself in the challenging context of intimacy.
  • Effective therapists will not get triangled into your issues by choosing a side with whom to align themselves. They will never view one partner as the main cause of the marital problems; they will try to help you and your partner each be able to visualize your own part in the co-determined issues.  When partners are most anxious, it is human nature to try to “blame” and point fingers. Good therapy work helps each partner manage themselves in a way to increase their respective capacity to own their own part and take responsibility for their own improvement rather than trying to “fix” their partner.
  • An ethical psychotherapist will never directly tell you to stay married or get divorced; in fact, giving such direct advice is specifically addressed as not ethical in the code of ethics of most professional associations.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s systemic model of practice, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.comor call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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As a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, I practice couples therapy and individual therapy using an intergenerational perspective. I specialize in helping couples and individuals live more meaningfully in their most important relationships. Relationship counseling and individual counseling is better to seek sooner rather than later when one experiences chronic challenges in relational functioning. Research has shown that couples typically wait 6 years before seeking couples counseling. It is wiser to get help earlier and before problems fester, causing resentments to harden and become more resistant to treatment.

Dr. Murray Bowen was a pioneer of marriage and family therapy.   He believed that human beings live in interdependent emotional systems. His insights are profound. I am guided, in large part, by his ideas. James Framo, another early MFT leader, observed that clinically, Bowen’s ideas address the basic question of how one can deal with one’s family’s nuttiness without cutting off from the family. Just as Socrates urged people, “Know thyself,” Dr. Bowen encouraged people to “Know your family.”  Such an effort can enhance one’s ability to live in a more fulfilled way in one’s current relationships. In an early post I listed five of my favorite quotes from Murray Bowen. Below are *more quotes that typify Bowen’s deep and unique  level of understanding of the human condition:

“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….Homo sapiens are far more like other life forms than different from them.”

“One of the most important aspects of family dysfunction is an equal degree of overfunction in another part of the family system. It is factual that dysfunctioning and overfunctioning exist together. ..An example would be the dominating (overfunctioning) mother and passive father.”

“The more a therapist learns about a family, the more the family learns about itself; and the more the family learns, the more the therapist learns, in a cycle which continues.”

“The overall [clinical] goal [is] to help family members become ‘system experts’ who could know [their family system] so well that the family could readjust itself without the help of an outside expert, if and when the family system was again stressed.”

“Relationships are cyclical. There is one phase of calm, comfortable closeness. This can shift to anxious, uncomfortable overcloseness with the incorporation of the ‘self” of one by the ‘self ‘ of the other. There there is the phase of distant rejection in which the two can literally repel each other. In some families, the relationship can cycle through the phases at frequent intervals. In oher families, the cycle can stay relatively fixed for long periods.”

“The basic building block of any emotional system is the triangle. ”

“Important changes [between the couple] accompany the birth of children.”

“The problem of the ‘triangled’ child presents one of the most difficult problems in family psychotherapy.

Dr. Murray Bowen was one of the important pioneers in marriage and family therapy. As a clinician who specializes in relationship counseling, I am guided, in large part, by his ideas. To learn more about my model of practice, visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

* Quotes are cited from FAMILY THERAPY IN CLINICAL PRACTICE by Murray Bowen (1978)

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See full size imageAchieving a vibrant and fulfilling marriage over the longterm is one of the greatest developmental triumphs known to our species. At Affordable Relationship Counseling: Dr. Barbara Cunningham, MFT addresses marital challenges from a Bowen Family Systems Perspective (to learn more about this model, visit her website and click on model of practice at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com).  In this blog, you will find some introductory remarks about the model.

At a Bowen Family Systems Theory  (BFST)conference in San Diego on March 10, Dr. Dan Papero, faculty member at the Bowen Center for the Study of the family, quotes an old Mennonite woman who says, “Perfect relationships exist only in heaven, where there is no need for them.” Relationships may be thought of as open laboratories to work on regulating oneself and focusing on one’s own part in the face of relationship challenges. One learns to think systems, which is easier when calm. When one is stirred up, it is very challenging to think systems. Therapy aims to help each client achieve greater mastery in his/her ability to do so.

Many people mistakenly believe that love should be easy and that it is “not meant to be” if it takes too much work. Wrong! Couples often make the mistakes of trying to “fix” the other person. The only person you can truly change is yourself–how you perceive what is said or done and how you may consider the myriad ways you could respond to “other” and bring out a different result. In this sense, marriages are people-growing machines. To stay separate from your partner at times and know that you CAN is one facet of building the muscle to stay together over the long haul without cutting off. People cut off when they feel smothered or the threat of incorporation. Other people, often in response to the distancer, feel their partner is blocking access, putting up walls, or even planning to leave them. Providing this frightened partner emotional safety that distance is temporary and that he/she is not being abandoned helps the pursuer tolerate the occasional distancing dance in the other. It is in this tension between needs for togetherness and separateness  that people appear troubled in their relationship in my office. Getting to a the family of origin context of what each partner learned to do in their respective families-of-origin when anxious in close relationships is part and parcel of the therapeutic effort. Developing a research attitude as one looks back over one’s family legacy in the context of BFST helps people get more objective about how they came to be who they are as marital partners and as individuals.

Bowen Family Sysgtems Theory, which in many ways guides my practice, was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen. In the late 1950’s, Dr. Bowen observed that schizophrenic patients he treated relapsed soon after discharge from inpatient treatment programs (Bowen, 1978). After observing this outcome, Dr. Bowen decided to experiment by hospitalizing the entire family along with the schizophrenic patient. Obtaining more favorable results,  Bowen came to conclude that the FAMILY, not the INDIVIDUAL, was the proper unit of treatment. He viewed families as interdependent emotional systems. Where there appeared a change in one person, it was predictable that there would be compensatory changes in other members of that family system. Bowen formulated 8 interlocking concepts, all of which had to viewed in relation to one another, much like problems people bring to therapy have to be viewed within a broader context. This view is broader and is known as a systemic view: how are one’s problems embedded in the context of their multigenerational family legacy, their nuclear family and larger society?

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 consultation.

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As a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, I practice couples therapy and individual therapy using an intergenerational perspective. I specialize in helping couples and individuals live more meaningfully in their most important relationships. Relationship counseling and individual counseling is better to seek sooner rather than later when one experiences chronic challenges in relational functioning. Research has shown that couples typically wait 6 years before seeking couples counseling. It is wiser to get help earlier and before problems fester, causing resentments to harden and become more resistant to treatment.

Dr. Murray Bowen was a pioneer of marriage and family therapy.   He believed that human beings live in interdependent emotional systems. His insights are profound. I am guided, in large part, by his ideas. James Framo, another early MFT leader, observed that clinically, Bowen’s ideas address the basic question of how one can deal with one’s family’s nuttiness without cutting off from the family. Just as Socrates urged people, “Know thyself,” Dr. Bowen encouraged people to “Know your family.”  Such an effort can enhance one’s ability to live in a more fulfilled way in one’s current relationships. Below are *five quotes that typify Bowen’s deep and unique  level of understanding of the human condition:

“Schizophrenia is made up of the essence of human experience  many times distilled. With our incapacity to look at ourselves, we have much to learn about ourselves by studying the least mature among us.” -M. Bowen

“One of the most important aspects of family dysfunction is an equal degree of overfunction in another part of the family system. It is factual that dysfunctioning and overfunctioning exist together.” -M. Bowen

“The overall goal [of counseling] is to help family members become ‘systems experts’ who could know [their] family system so well that the family could readjust itself without the help of an expert.” -M. Bowen

“The basic building block of any emotional system is the triangle.” -M. Bowen

“The ‘Emotional Shock Wave’ is a network of underground ‘aftershocks’ of serious life events that can occur anywhere in the extended family system in the months or years following serious emotional events in the family.” -M. Bowen

Dr. Cunningham specializes in seeing couples and individuals in her office in the heart of San Diego. To learn more about her insight-based, intergenerational model of practice and get some tips just for stopping by, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

You may also receive a complimentary telephone consultation by calling her at 619 9906203.

*Five quotes from Dr. Murray Bowen are cited within a book entitled FAMILY THERAPY IN CLINICAL PRACTICE (1978) by Murray Bowen (Jason Aronson: Northvale, NJ).

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In my San Diego marriage counseling and couples counseling practice, I have learned that our “automatic” response in the face of anxiety is to make the problem all about what our partner is doing wrong. Such a blaming attitude rarely moves a relationship forward. As a family systems specialist and relationship counselor, I encourage couples to focus on their own part in an unhelpful dynamic. In order to help them do so, I ask them to become a researcher on their own multigenerational context. Questions asked may, in part, answer “Who am I in the context of my relationship functioning and how did I get this way? What shaped me to be who I am as a husband, wife, or significant other?” This cognitive or “researcher” attitude inherently calms people down and decreases the anxious focus on symptoms or presenting issues. As each person calms down while doing research on their own family of origin, the couple can move into the next phase of directly engaging with problems that are present in the here and know.  The research on one’s own family engages the cognitive brain and cools down the emotional brain–emotionality usually dominates thoughtfulness and any effort to shift the balance can be helpful in moving forward in a more positive way in the couples’ challenges.

In an article entitled “Family Systems with Alcoholism, A Case Study,” Ann McKnight (1998) underlines the notion that information is power. She suggests several questions one might ask important members of one’s family of origin, some of which are listed below:

Can the family shift from viewing [an impairment or symptom] as an individual problem to viewing the [impairment or symptom] as a family problem?

Can the family come to view the [impairment or symptom] as a disguised opporunity to allow members to understand their relationship system rather than as a disease to be cured in an individual?

How do people in the family hold on to their personal boundaries?

How do family members manage to stay connected?

Are there many examples of emotional cutoffs between family members?

How do people play out underfunctioning and overfunctioning reciprocal positions in the family?

What is the maturity level of each person? Of the family? (Define emotional maturity as a combination of impulse control and whether a person can function in a hostile relationship environment whether at work or at school)

Look at the functioning of people in both work and in relationships. How many times were parents, aunts and uncles married? What did people do for a living?

How do certain family-of-origin patterns repeat themselves in subsequent generations, including in your nuclear family today?

How did people in the family-of-origin bind anxiety?

Can you identify any multigenerational patterns of strength in your multigenerational legacy?

Many other questions can be generated in order to become a scholar on oneself. In relationship counseling contexts, it is always helpful to learn more about one’s origins before focusing on what one’s part is in an unhelpful relationship dynamic. 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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