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Posts Tagged ‘Family of Origin Counseling’

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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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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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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Nine psychological tasks for a good marriage

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

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

Thanks to Judith S. Wallerstein, PhD, co-author of the book The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts and to Dr. Carolyn Jacobs, Director of Southern California Education and Training in Bowen Family Systems Theory and Psychotherapy.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham‘s model of practice please visit her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone conultation. It is better to seek marriage counseling earlier in the course of marital problems. Do not delay-call today!

 

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Dr. Murray Bowen, pioneering figure in marriage and family therapy, presented the groundbreaking idea that there are two competing life forces, and the tension between these life forces is always at play in relationship systems. On one hand, human beings have a need to be connected to important others. On the other hand, they have the need to be a separate self. How to balance these reciprocal forces in a way that works for oneself while at the same time having the ability to respect a partner’s differing needs for connection and separateness is the stuff of good therapy….learn more by reading my model of practice at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.comand get some free tips just for stopping by.

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One of my clients complains that it is almost predictable that when she and her husband have had a weekend that has been unusually close and harmonious, he will invariable start a fight or put up walls to push her away. She recalls how wonderfully he surprised her with a phenomenal anniversary staycation. She was so impressed with his efforts, so touched by his many acts of tenderness and affection-indeed, the weekend was full of positive and unforgettable memories. Then, BOOM! He started a fight with her over some trivial issue that neither of them could remember in session. When one thinks about this phenomenon, it seems contradictory that problems would develop right after good times. Yet I hear similar stories frequently in my practice! So what gives?

I believe that safe and secure bonds make for an intimacy that can stand the test of time. One area of unsafety for one partner may set up a mirror opposite area of unsafety for the other partner. For example, I have a married client who is pursuer. She is always going after her partner for “more.” He becomes reactive to her hot pursuit and then distances even more. And herein lies their troublesome sequence, which escalates the second one partner either makes a further move “toward” or the other partner makes a further move “away.” In terms of unsafety, the pursuer has fears of being “left,” of being unimportant, unneeded, and maybe even being abandoned. The distancer has fears of being swallowed up by the relationship demands, feeling incorporated into the being of his wife, and of losing self. He begins to wonder where he stops and she begins. As Harriet Lerner insightfully notes, “Many of our problems…occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.”

There is hope for couples who get “stuck” in this unhelpful sequence. To be able to know how to remain, at times, separate from an intimate other while, at other times, remaining connected to an intimate other is, from my theoretical practice perspective, the stuff of healthy relationship dynamics that can stand the test of time. The effort to master this challenging but rewarding relational dance takes time and a commitment to practicing theory between sessions. Please visit me at my web site to learn more about my model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping: Just go to http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com/ and look around!
I welcome the opportunity to talk to you!

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

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

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

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

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20140707-192412-69852722.jpgSeven Tips To Improve Your Marriage @ ClinicalPsychotherapists.comThe ability to achieve a fulfilling and long term marriage reflects emotional maturity and resilience. It is often taken for granted that successful marriages just “happen.” Indeed, I disagree. I think that marriage is not for children. Marriages require the best of one’s adulthood. It is necessary that each partner keep their eye on the prize, the success of the marriage. Below are seven tips to improve the quality of your marriage. At my Affordable Relationship Counseling practice in San Diego, I routinely counsel my clients in these areas, and they often report back to me their positive results.

1. Remember that love is a verb. If love is an action, keep your eye on what you are doing for the love between you. Do not make demands on your partner. Develop strategies to help you self-soothe your anxiety when he or she is not doing what you wish they would. There are myriad ways to self soothe, such as exercising, seeing a friend, doing a crossword, reading a book, writing a journal, or listening to some good music. Keep your focus on yourself rather than on your partner to get to a changed place in your dynamic. You cannot change another. The only person you can change is yourself.

2. Make your marriage the number one priority. This means that you have a weekly date night. Do not veer from this tradition except in the face of illness or an urgent work or school-related deadline. Make sure the date you plan involves time to talk rather than just viewing a movie.
Take turns planning the surprise date for the other. Develop a tradition just for the two of you, such as Care Days. With Care Days, you each select one day of the week that you will regularly be pampered with acts that each of you have previously identified to the other. These acts will be tangible, observable acts that make you feel as if your partner cares to make you feel good.

3. As individuals and as a couple, do not forget to acknowledge the triumphant things you have achieved separately and together. Keep your eye on what you are doing right rather than on what you have done wrong. Have a solution-focus, not a problem focus.

4. Develop your own assertiveness skills, In other words, know your bottom line. Decide what you will do and won’t do in relationship to your partner. And be proud that you are a principle-driven partner.

5. Consider all your “yes-es” carefully. Instead of just going along and accommodating in order to avoid making waves, be willing to say no. Also, do not let angers pile up like so many old clothes piled up in the middle of the room. They will clutter your positive feelings, create escalating resentment, and can lead to explosions. Monitor and express your truest feelings….self awareness and then the ability to “be a self” is key in good marriages.

6. Avoid what John Gottman, a pioneer in marriage and family therapy, calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Defensive communication, Critical communication, Contemptuous Communication, or Stonewalling (lack of communication). Research has shown that these forms of communication are lethal to a marriage.

7. Learn to respect–and even- celebrate difference in one another. Yes, opposites often attract. Learn to acknowledge the reciprocity in your relationship. Yin and Yang, Dark and Light, Close and Distant, Distancing and Pursuing, Over-functioning and under-functioning….these examples and other opposites are always at play in relationships as they are in life. Getting to acceptance on opposing and opposite forces and tolerating the contradictions is part and parcel of relational maturity.

If you want to learn more about my model of practice and pick up some more free tips just for stopping, come to http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com/ or call 619-990-6203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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Role of the Therapist (Typical Intervention Techniques and Process Used in Sessions)

Bowen family systems theory is unique in its emphasis upon the self-development of the therapist.  Thus, I continually work on an increasingly healthy separation from my own family of origin in a way that I still remain connected. 

Friedman (1991) points out that “Bowen has consistently maintained that it is hard for the patient to mature beyond the maturity level of the therapist, no matter how good his or her technique” (p. 138).  In fact, Friedman explains that “In Bowen theory, the differentiation of the therapist is the technique” (p. 138).  One cannot possibly be a Bowen therapist merely by reading about it or taking workshops (Kerr, 1981).  The therapist must go through an emotional transformation, which happens experientially after continued exposure to revisiting one’s family of origin while applying the complex ideas of the theory.  Work with one’s family of origin and work with a supervisor is a central part of the therapist’s development.  Similarly, psychoanalysts must first complete their own psychoanalysis with a supervising analyst, before they are deemed competent to analyze clients.

It is important to maintain a non-anxious presence.  To be objective and to promote differentiation in others is directly related to the being of the therapist, not to his/her technical skills (Friedman, 1991).  To be able to think in terms of the system and not the emotionality or content requires a high level of differentiation.  I push myself to work continually at separating my thoughts from feelings and knowing where I stop and my client begins.

I am warm, respectful, engaging, and matter of fact in asking questions.  I maintain a collaborative atmosphere in all stages of treatment.  The process of gathering family facts is, in itself, collaborative and inherently conducive to reducing anxiety.  Additionally, the types of questions asked move the client toward a deepening appreciation for pattern and process.  In a sense, I assume the role of researcher and am always curious.  One question leads to another, and the calmer I am, the more I can call on my best thinking to expand the line of questioning into broadening perspectives.  Eventually, clients begin to see replicating patterns from past to present and connections between events in their nuclear families and family of origin legacies.

I encourage family members to speak through me rather than to each other.  By remaining a non-anxious presence in a triangle, I can induce a change in the relationship of the other two that would not occur if the same things were said in the absence of the therapist.

In my work with couples, I work to identify and reflect back repetitive, dysfunctional cycles of interaction early in treatment.  For example, I want to identify patterns such as distancer/pursuer, overfunction/underfunction, or withdrawer/blamer.  Initial progress is facilitated if the couple becomes aware of their pattern early in treatment and works toward interrupting it.

There are times when I depart from The Bowen method of having a couple talk through me.  For example, in the early phases of marital therapy, I believe that it is important to assess a couple’s ability to talk to one another about sensitive material.  To assess their ability to connect with one another, I may ask them to turn to one another and repeat important things to the other that they have just said to me.  I watch their verbal and nonverbal styles of communication carefully.  As treatment continues, I use the same method to heighten important material.  I encourage communication in which one assumes responsibility for oneself, whether it is about expressing wishes for space or connection. 

I am a coach, in that I teach differentiation moves, or ways that the client can increase his/her neutrality, especially in hot triangles.  I also act as an educator in teaching the family about family systems dynamics.  Often, I diagram or illustrate BFST concepts on a white board to increase clients’ ability to think about their processes in a systemic way.  Homework may include relevant readings and letter writing assignments, which may or may not be mailed.  Clients may be asked to journal and/or generate questions to ask their extended family members.  Photograph albums and videos brought to session touch the past, adding a rich layer of experience to the treatment and also enhancing the joining effort of the therapist.  This material may also aid in the effort to bridge cutoff, resolve attachment, or make contact with the deceased.  Socratic questions that highlight process over content challenge the client to engage his/her cognitive process. 

Kerr and Bowen (1988) encourage therapists to use humor and playfulness where appropriate, but warn that the maturity and differentiation of the therapist is critical to communicating that what is taken so seriously by the family can be seen in a humorous light.  The client is honored as the expert on his/her own family and is often asked questions that lead him/her to take responsibility for his/her part in a family problem.  A helpful guideline is that within the session, I work on making myself “small.”  Such an effort means that I have succeeded in being a non-anxious presence who does not overfunction for the client.

To learn more about this model of therapy practice, visit Dr. Cunningham’s web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com. Dr. Cunningham, whose practice is conveniently located in the heart of San Diego, specializes in treating individuals and couples.

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