Posts Tagged ‘glbt counseling’

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

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

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

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

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

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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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 At Affordable Relationship Counseling, Dr. Cunningham encourages couples to keep it fresh!  Generating creative ways to have fun together is one way to celebrate your commitment to one another. Such efforts help to make your relationship remain new and exciting. With Valentines Day just over a month away, why not surprise one another with dates that are outside the norm for several weekends in February? If you focus on doing your part to excite your partner with fun and adventure, you increase the chance that you will not need to seek couples counseling down the road. Here are a few ideas to create a unique experience that will result in a special relationship memory.

1. Create a five-star dining experience in your own backyard. Cover outdoor table with white linen. Decorate with a  floral centerpiece and candles. Play some background music…soft, sensual, romantic. Each of you prepare a surprise dish to accompany dinner or dessert. Be sure to take a picture or three for posterity!

2. Make your own conversation cards. Get a package of 3×5 index cards. Each partner generates 5 questions or topics that they are truly interested in learning more about the thinking of their partner. Print these questions or topics out on five cards each. Plan a “talk to one another” night. Make popcorn…or have a glass of wine. Take turns pulling a card. Talk. Practice active listening skills. Show your interest by asking more questions. Make eye contact. Body language and facial expressions should reflect engagement. Laugh. Kiss. Hug.  Be conscious of your own communication skills.

3. Write a poem together.

4. Agree to make your Valentines Day gifts to one another music. Make a romantic and personal collection to share with your partner. Play some of the music on a craft evening, when you make a collage together that in one way or another reflects your favorite memories throughout the history of your relationship.

5. Create couples‘ gratitude jars. Decorate each jar with a name tag and some ribbon. Spend one month looking to find things that you like about your partner or their behavior in a given moment. Write it out. Be specific. Fold  up each paper detailing and dating it. Put it in the jar. Try to find at least a couple of things each day. Open your jars on Valentine’s Day.

You both can enjoy generating more ideas that result in new and fun experiences. If you are interested in picking up some free relationship tips, browse Dr. Cunningham’s website: http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or if you think relationship counseling may be right for you at this point in your relationship, you can receive a complimentary telephone consultation by calling 619 9906203.

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Infidelity and Relationship Resource Books

“People change and forget to tell each other.” Lillian Hellman

At her office in San Diego, California, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, specializes in relationship counseling for individuals and for couples. Dr. Cunningham often treats people suffering from the sense of betrayal that results from infidelity. Listed below are some good reads to help people as they struggle to come to terms with this profoundly difficult relationship challenge.

“The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart” by Constance Ahrons
If you determine that your relationship is unsalvageable, this is a fine resource for making the best of a very sad choice. It is an especially important book if you have children.

“Tell Me No Lies: How to Face the Truth and Build a Loving Marriage” by Ellyn Bader and Peter T. Pearson
Written by two psychologists who specialize in marriages and relationships, the book focuses on how we inadvertently or deliberately lie to our partners to avoid conflict. The authors bring their own marriage to the text as well as sample couples who illustrate the choices couples make that result in strengthening or weakening relationships and intimacy.

“Straight talk About Betrayal: A Self-Help Guide for Couples” by Donna R. Bellafiore
This small book is a powerhouse of information about the stages of emotional responses that couples go through with any significant betrayal. The author provides the reader with simple, clear and powerful information and a guide for how to work their way out of the haze that a betrayal brings to a relationship. The reader is empowered with steps to help them maintain stability and how to determine if the partners want to recover and rebuild the relationship.

“My Husband’s Affair became the BEST thing that ever happened to me” by Anne Bercht
This book is written for the reader who is in the throes of a partner’s betrayal and needs encouragement to know she’s not crazy nor alone in her agony AND that she will survive the pain and devastation. The author is frank and open about her own odyssey through the betrayal and provides the reader with exacting details about how the awfulness of the discovery later became the opening for a new and better relationship with her husband.

“Around the House and in the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement” by Dominique Browning
A good book to read as you’re recovering from an infidelity alone or when you’re choosing a divorce. Browning provides hope that you will recover and rediscover yourself.

“Back from Betrayal: Saving a Marriage, A Family, A Life” by Suzy Farbman; Afterword by Burton Farbman
This book is written by a woman who discovered her husband’s infidelity after twenty-five years of marriage. She does an excellent job of communicating her devastation and sense of disorientation. The book includes the details of her recovery from the hurt and her personal work to heal in therapy. A wonderful addition to the book is the afterword by her husband, who writes honestly and frankly about his infidelities, his reasoning and his reckoning with his choices, and their effects on his wife, himself, and their marriage. This is an excellent book to read once you have gotten past the initial shock of the discovery.

“If the Buddha Married: Creating Enduring Relationships on a Spiritual Path” by Charlotte Kasl
This book offers practical and sound guidance to remind the reader of what contributes to a strong, loving, and growing partnership. It’s a great primer on marriage.

“Letting Go of Anger: The 10 Most Common Anger Styles and What to Do About Them” by Ron Potter-Efron and Pat Potter-Efron
Both authors are family therapists and offer a simple and elegant description of the ways most of us express anger immaturely. The book also provides a clear description of what mature and responsible anger looks and sounds like. This is an excellent book that I recommend to many of my clients.

After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful” by Janis Abrahms Spring
Janis Spring is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping couples overcome infidelities. Her book is a salve for those who are suffering from the discovery of betrayal and is equally as profound for the unfaithful partner. She does a fine job of describing what each partner is going through. She also presents the reader with checklists and practical ways to negotiate rebuilding trust.

“Surviving Infidelity: Making Decisions, Recovering from Pain” by Rona Subotnik and Gloria Harris
This is a nuts-and-bolts approach to making the decision to stay or go. It offers a range of considerations and helps the reader with specific ways to deal with obsessive thoughts and many fears and feelings.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice in relationship counseling, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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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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Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “relationship” as a “continuing attachment or association between persons, firms, etc, specifically one between lovers.” A relationship between lovers is dynamic, not static. It is defined by an emotional process flowing between the two partners and is affected not only by shared experiences, but also by the  emotional processes they have “inherited” in their respective multigenerational legacies. A relationship between lovers or between spouses in marriage is almost always deeper than a relationship between friends. Each action and reaction between the two intensely involved people is co-determined. Thus, the interactional dynamic in a marriage or in a romantic relationship is a developing process of evolving sequences of interaction. Since the relationship is dynamic and informed by co-determined experiences, marriage counseling offers the potential for positive change. Indeed, forward movement may occur as a result of successful couples therapy.  If a therapist can help the partners direct their attention to their own improved self management in the face of extreme sensitivity to one another, each person may experience increased marital satisfaction or relationship harmony.  To become increasingly aware of the emotional process running between them–identifying and then changing the negative, “stuck” cycles–is a far more effective effort than getting so stuck in the “content”  without paying attention to the less obvious but pervasive emotional forces driving the content or presenting problems.

When relationship systems are “stuck” in negative interaction sequences, couples often feel hopeless that their dynamic will ever change.  From the perspective of the way I think about couples, what is most important is to shift each partner from an anxious focus on trying to “fix” the other to a deepening focus on managing one’s own reactivity and hypersensitivity to his/her partner instead. This means that one is freer to determine a thoughtful or less reactive response to the other rather than being governed or determined by the emotional process running between them.

To become increasingly adept at the fundamentals of self management in the face of  inevitable feelings of reactivity to one’s partner is a lifelong process. However, a course of therapy can set each partner on their way to achieving greater freedom in making intelligent, meaningful responses in the context of a connected relationship. In this effort to become less reactive and more reflective in one’s responses, one develops an increasing ability to shift one’s perspective from other to self and the ability to notice when the anxiety within is too high to do so (and taking a break till one calms down enough to renew one’s effort) . One becomes increasingly responsible for one’s responses.  This may be achieved by continually asking oneself the question, “What is my partner up against as a result of being married [living with] me?” This simple question may challenge one’s own stubborn and defensive mindset, thus shifting one’s sense from being at the mercy of the other to having an internal locus of control. “I cannot change the other person, but if I work on myself, something will change anyway.”

Self management skills involve the identification of triggers to reactivity to the other and the ability to modify or even modulate the reactivity. Developing a research attitude is a cognitive exercise that can cool down the burning reactivity. Such an effort may include learning more about the multigenerational aspects of oneself. This means asking questions of extended family resources that lead to increased awareness about one’s multigenerational legacy and how it may be relevant to one’s own currrent relationship functioning. It is kind of like being a detective of one’s own identity. Asking good questions. Reading a book or two about the theory driving the model of practice. Engaging one’s cognitive brain can calm down one’s emotional brain so that one can make better choices in the context of relationship challenges. What did people do when anxious in close relationships in my family-of-orign? How is one generation in my family in reaction to another–in other words, how did each generation shape the next generation, including, of course, my own?

The ability to bend into problems instead of turning away or avoiding difficult situations in the relationship is increased in effective therapy. Each partner can be thought of as an exercise machine for the other–fitness of the heart requires discipline, determination and an increasing willingness and ability to to take on endurance challenges. Being able to listen to difficult material from your partner without striking out in defense–to hear what is being said underneath the content and being able to consider it without needing to “retort”–is part of improving one’s ability to stay “in it” with another. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of relationship counseling, please call her for a complimentary phone consultation or visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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Couples counseling that is effective looks to identify the reciprocity in a couple’s sequences or cycles of behavior and then to empower the couple to interrupt this reciprocal functioning. Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Michael Kerr (1988), pioneers in the field of marriage and family therapy, frequently noticed that “[couples] functioned in reciprocal relation to one another….It was if one person gained or ‘borrowed’ strength in relationship to the other person having lost or given up strength. The functioning of one person, therefore, could not be adequately understood out of the context of the functioning of the people closely involved with him” (p. 7).*

Thus, the ability to think in opposites is helpful when one is working to shift a negative dynamic in a couple’s pattern of behavior. There are many examples of reciprocity in a couples relationship, some of which include overfunctioning/underfunctioning, pursuing/withdrawing; spending/saving;  or liberal parenting style/strict parenting style. In the case of overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity, for example, the overfunctioner is, in actuality, defining the underfunctioning of the other person and vice-versa. This is disempowerment at its best! It is usually the overfunctioning partner who is in more discomfort and, therefore, the therapist will work first with this person to decrease the overfunctioning. The underfunctioning partner has a “cushier,” more comfortable position and may not be as motivated toward change.  Can you think of any more examples of reciprocal or opposite positions in your own couples dynamic? The key is to remember that a couple may be exaggerating their “automatic” behavior in reaction to their partner’s mirror opposite “automatic” behavior. Thus, polarization is the outcome over time in the old adage “opposites attract.” While attraction to an “opposite” may be true initially, the very thing that may have once attracted begins to repel.  

The work is often to identify the partner who is in the most emotional pain as the person to begin to work with in decreasing their “go to” position and perhaps taking on the opposite behavior.  The person who is working to decrease his/her automatic functioning in response to his/her partner may be pressured to “change back” by the other partner in the early stages of efforts to change. The strength of a couples system to try to hold on to its equilibrium, even if the equilibrium is not useful, is fierce! The couples dynamic is stuck, and, even though not useful, may be difficult to change!  The therapist coaches the change partner to just “hold on” to the change and, eventually, the other partner may begin to respond by toning down their behavior in the opposite direction. This is the beginning of a true shift in a “stuck” dynamic. To learn more about reciprocity and couples counseling with Dr. Cunningham, call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation. You may also visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

*Kerr, M.E. & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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