Introduction:

Welcome to my Practice Page where I want to present you with more in-depth information about the various issues that I work on frequently with my clients. Though I cover a large range of issues in my Practice, not all will be covered on this page, though they may be part of the resource material I have provided on the Resource page on this web site.

Please feel free to print and study this infomation or pass it along to friend that may need assistance. On the Resource page I have provided the ability to download and/or print the information to be as convenient for you as possible. You can also click on the print link located at the bottom of each page.

The topics covered on this page are listed here. You can access them either by scrolling down the page or by clicking on the item in the list.

Psychotherapy

Most of us are fairly well equipped to deal with life most of the time. Or so we think. Sometimes, though, events and circumstances seem to spin out of our control, and we need help.

"Psychotherapy" is essentially the act of helping people to cope with life events and circumstances which threaten to overwhelm their resources, and to resolve the problems created by these events. A psychotherapist (or "therapist," for short) is simply a people-helper. I'm a helper.

But we do more than help. We teach. We teach people to think about problems from new perspectives, to understand themselves better, to understand what they need (and don't need) from other people, to understand what kind of thinking, what kinds of behavior, and what people are good for them ("healthy") and not good for them ("unhealthy"). We help people to give up unhealthy beliefs and behaviors and to learn how to think and act in healthy ways. We help people to break bad habits and to give up what's making them unhappy ("sick") so that they can be happy ("well"). As we help people, we also provide them with the resources they need to lead happier lives without our help. In that sense, we teach people not to need us.

What kind of psychotherapy would best help you? One way to classify therapy is by how many people, in addition to the therapist, are in the room: Individual (one person), Couples (two people in a close relationship, i.e., parent-child, married, engaged, living together, seriously dating, separated, divorced or divorcing), family (all or part of a family or extended family), or group (two or more people who meet together to focus on common issues, e.g., overeating). These are referred to as therapy perspective, or therapy approach. Within each of these perspectives, many different therapy models have evolved over the years. A few therapists employ all four approaches. Nearly all therapists employ a blend of several different models, depending upon training, experience, practice style, personality, therapy goals, and how the client is responding to therapy.

Whatever perspective or model the therapist uses, research has consistently found that the single most important factor in whether the client feels that therapy has been beneficial is the client's relationship with the therapist, whether the client views the therapist as respectful, caring, and wanting to help.

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Professional Counselors

In order to ensure uniform standards of training and behavior among mental health providers, the state of Georgia in 1986 enacted legislation requiring licensure. (Psychologists and Social Workers had been licensed in Georgia and throughout the U.S. several years prior.) That law established the licenses of Professional Counselor (LPC) and Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I was licensed in Georgia as an LPC in 1994 and as an LMFT in 1997.

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Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor

My earliest clinical experience was in the addictions field, in North Carolina, beginning in 1992. On the basis of training in the addictions field and written and oral examination, I was certified in Georgia in 1994 by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Certification Board of Georgia (ADACB-GA) as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor. In 2000, that certification was upgraded to Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor. ADACB-GA is a member of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC). Certification boards in the majority of other states in the U.S. and in many other countries are members of ICRC and recognize this certification.

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Individual Therapy

“Be kind, for everyone we meet is carrying great burden.”

                               -Anonymous

By the time people contact us, they often have exhausted their own resources and feel that they have lost control of their lives. They're discouraged and unhappy with the direction their life is going. Against that backdrop, they come to us in the belief that we will help them to feel better.

In individual therapy, the therapist's task is to provide support, encouragement, and a sense of hope and direction---without taking charge of the client's life. Maintaining this balance requires that we not simply advise, but that we equip clients with the information and skills they need to continue to make healthy choices---to change---on their own. The goal of therapy is that our clients do feel better in time. However, therapy often stirs uncomfortable feelings. These may include feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness and loss. The task of changing our behavior, even for the better, often feels uncomfortable, as well.

In my view, change requires that we unlearn some things we have learned but which no longer serve our needs. As infants and children, we take in information like sponges. By the time we reach adulthood, our fundamental beliefs and attitudes have already taken shape. We are generally reluctant to give up and to change old beliefs---in part, because our "old" beliefs help us to survive. However, those old beliefs and old behaviors sometimes no longer work very well. In fact, they are often at the core of our unhappiness as adults. Beliefs and behavior which were useful ("adaptive") in our past may have become counter-productive ("maladaptive") in our present-day experience. The good news is that, as adults, we have the capacity for both insight---into how we think and behave---and the ability to change both.

In individual therapy, I help clients to identify the source of their unhappiness and to decide whether their own beliefs could be contributing to their feelings. If people want to change these beliefs, feelings, and behavior, I will help them to change.

Individual therapy may be either short-term (as few as 6-8 visits) or longer term, depending upon the client's goals. If the client prefers to focus on a particular or limited issue (e.g., difficulty getting along with a co-worker or supervisor), a few visits may be all that we will need. But, if there is a more complex issue or if the client wants to work at a deeper level (for example, to change a tendency to be perfectionistic or demanding of himself or others), deeper insight and long-term change will require more time. Generally, in the beginning stages of therapy, I focus more on the particular concern for which the client is seeking my help. As therapy progresses, the client often realizes that similar beliefs and attitudes are contributing to issues in other areas of his life, as well.

My style of individual therapy is a mix of approaches which reflect my training and experience. I often adapt my approach to fit the client's goals and to better "connect" with the client. My style is strongly influenced by Solution Focused Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

If you are considering Individual Therapy, you might want to read the INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOTHERAPY AGREEMENT on the Policies Page of this website. If you decide to call for an apppointment, or if you are coming in for an appointment, reviewing this agreement may help to answer your questions so that you will be more comfortable.

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Couples Therapy

The Case for Couples Therapy

"The bond with the person you live out your life with – the one you grow up and grow old with – is the single most important connection you will ever have."

Terrence Real, The New Rules of Marriage.

More U.S. marriages than ever are ending in divorce.  According to data collected by the U.S. Census in 2004, among men and women who had married between 1970 and 1974, only 44 percent were still married 30 years later. (Nearly all marriages that ended by 30 years resulted from divorce rather than the death of a spouse.)

According to U.S. census data, divorce rates here skyrocketed during the divorce boom of 1965-1974 and have changed little during the intervening 30 years.  Several studies found that divorce rates in the U.S. during the period 1965-1985 increased by 20 to 25 percent.1

1SOURCE: Sharon Jayson, USA Today, 9/19/07: "Divorce Threat Persists Throughout Marriage."

Why the dramatic increase?  Perhaps chief among the factors contributing to this "boom" in divorces was no-fault divorce legislation. Thirty-two states passed no-fault laws between 1965 and 1974.  These laws effectively changed the cultural norm, weakening the notion of accountability for failure of the relationship and lowering our expectations of marriage.  By 1974, partners could leave a marriage on the premise that a short period of separation constituted an irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.

Other factors have doubtless contributed to maintaining the postwar U.S. divorce rate, as well.  Among these are the added complexity of our lives and the increased and conflicting demands on couples' time, attention and resources.   These demands stem from multiple factors, including dual careers, increased mobility of nuclear families (and separation from the support of extended families), ever-higher expectations of what it means to be "successful," poor adult role models when growing up, and increasingly less time and energy to nurture the love and friendship which bring couples together in the first place.

Both men and women in marriages which they describe as happy and stable also report improved physical health (e.g., lower rates of heart attack, breast cancer and prostate cancer), higher career satisfaction, and more resilience in the face of stress. The children of these marriages have more secure attachments as children and tend to go on into stable and happy relationships as adults.

My Philosophy

Contrary to popular belief, the most common complaints I hear from couples seeking marital therapy are related not to sex and finances, but rather, (1) "I'm exhausted," 2) "I'm not in love any more," (3) "We can't seem to talk without it turning into a fight," and (4) "We treat each other like roommates."

Couples typically struggle with these issues on their own for months, even years, before they seek help from "outside."  Ongoing or escalating conflict has left them feeling discouraged, angry, and disillusioned.  By this time, one or both partners are often wondering if their differences are "irreconcilable" and whether divorce is the only remedy left, and many couples simply bypass the couple’s therapist on their way to divorce.

Among my core beliefs are these:

  1. Friendship is at the foundation of viable, healthy marriage.

  2. In order to survive and to thrive, friendship requires that we learn and put into practice some basic skills in communicating mutual trust and respect.

  3. Anger and disagreements happen in every marriage.  It's how we handle these disagreements that's important.  Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are all destructive to marriage, as they are to any friendship.  However, conflict does not signal "irreconcilable differences," nor does it signal the end of any possibility for a happy and healthy marriage.

  4. By and large, we choose the person whom we marry for the right reasons, although we are not fully aware of all the reasons when we marry that person.

  5. Conflict is inevitable in any intimate relationship.  If couples learn to sort out and to resolve these disputes thoughtfully and respectfully, each partner feels understood and respected, and mutual trust and friendship deepens.   There's another benefit: while disagreements often expose old wounds, when handled thoughtfully, they can bring us new insight into ourselves and are opportunities to heal old wounds from our past.

  6. Research has demonstrated that, if both partners learn and practice some fundamental steps to communicate with their partner, if each respects and responds thoughtfully to what he learns through that communication, and if they each agree to end  active addiction, physical abuse, and inappropriate extramarital relationships, the couple is likely to remain married and to be happily married years later.

How I Work With Couples

Research indicates that healing and change occur in marital therapy, no matter what the theoretical approach.  Few, if any, therapists work strictly from a single approach advanced by a particular "expert" in the field.

In working with couples, I draw from six decades of life experience, 38 years of marriage, 17 years of clinical experience, and from the combined experience and research of three people, in particular, in the field of couples therapy: Harville Hendrix, John Gottman, and Terrence Real.  These three share the view that basic skills in communication are absolutely necessary to marital satisfaction, and that most of us are not well prepared with these skills.  Each has also made distinct contributions of his own.

Everyone needs to feel understood.   In intimate relationships, feeling understood is basic to our feeling valued by, and in turn to valuing, our partner.  Harville Hendrix recognized that couples desperately want to understand their partner's point of view but that few of us have learned to actively listen to our partner, to recognize how our unconscious expectations, biases and defenses often interfere with what we hear, and to filter these out.   Hendrix' work in Imago Therapy provides a framework to understand how our past experiences influence what we hear and what we seek from others, particularly from our partners.

John Gottman agrees that communication is important, but he sees friendship as the foundation of a sound relationship.   Whatever differences and conflicts bring couples to seek help, we seem to share a universal notion of friendship, what it means to be a friend, and standards for how friends treat each other.  John Gottman is one of the country's few empirical researchers on marital satisfaction.  Through this research, he has found specific ways which are particularly effective in teaching couples to build mutual trust, respect and shared meaning.

Terrence Real, like John Gottman, stresses the importance of respect and friendship in the marital relationship.  However, he provides additional insight into how each partner's mistaken and often-unconscious beliefs about himself and his partner profoundly influence feelings and behavior toward the partner.  (He refers to these beliefs as negative expectations, or one's core negative image, of his partner.)  In addition, Real offers specific suggestions to help couples work through and dispel these beliefs, so that they can learn to relate as respectful, rational, and loving adults.

Couples Therapy vs. Individual Therapy

Couples therapy differs in at least two important respects from individual therapy.  First, the focus in couples therapy is the relationship itself.  In order to maintain that focus, and to reassure both partners that I'm working for the benefit of the relationship, I meet with both partners together for nearly every visit.   Second, couples therapy is generally more structured than individual therapy.  Unstructured couples therapy generally doesn't work well.  During the early sessions, our focus is on assessing the state of the relationship.  Because the overall goal of therapy is that partners learn to communicate in order to resolve conflict and to strengthen the bonds of trust and friendship, I encourage couples in every session to talk to each other.  My role is primarily that of a coach, rather than an expert.

In order to provide sufficient time to explore more complex issues with both partners, I recommend 90-minute sessions.   However, we may need to limit sessions to 45 minutes (for example, to comply with insurance plans).  I devote the first three sessions (or six sessions if appointments are limited to 45 minutes) to a comprehensive assessment.  During these sessions, we will discuss each of your concerns, expectations, your family and personal history, and the history of the current relationship.  I pay attention to how you and your partner are interacting.  During the third (or sixth) session, I will offer feedback regarding the strengths and areas of concern I have identified in your relationship and in how you communicate.  Of course, if you decide to continue couples therapy beyond the initial assessment, we will continue to assess and monitor your progress during subsequent sessions, and I may offer suggestions about what to discuss, but I will encourage the couple to agree to the agenda we follow for each session.

If you are considering Couples Therapy, you might want to read the COUPLES PSYCHOTHERAPY AGREEMENT on the Policies Page of this website. If you decide to call for an apppointment, or if you are coming in for an appointment, reviewing this agreement may help to answer your questions so that you will be more comfortable.

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Marriage and Family Therapist

The practice of psychotherapy grew out of work in the early twentieth century with individual patients. The prevailing model at the time was the psychoanalytic model, based on work by Sigmund Freud, and most practitioners were psychiatrists. As the field matured, therapists began to realize that, sometimes, the changes clients made were only temporary and that their clients were "back-sliding.". When they began to notice how clients interacted with their with spouses and families, they discovered that couples and families interact in repetitive patterns. They also found that, because these patterns lend a certain familiarity and predictability to relationships and have survival value (at least to our ancestral families), they are strongly resistant to change, even if they are not working for the benefit of the individuals in the relationship.

By the 1960's, many therapists were finding that clients were often better able to sustain changes in their behavior---and that both the client and the client's relationships with the family were influenced positively---when family members were included. They also found that, in order to work effectively with couples and families, they needed to learn a different "mindset" and to develop additional clinical skills.

As universities and institutes developed programs to train therapists to do this work, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy was established to promote consistently high standards nationwide for the training, practice and licensing of MFT's, and to serve as a resource about Family Therapy.

A substantial amount of additional coursework and supervised clinical experience with couples and families is required---beyond what is required for Professional Counselors---in order to be licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

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