I want to answer some questions that come up frequently from those that are interested in working with me.
Question: Why is your practice named "Invictus Psychological Services"?
Answer: "Invictus" is a latin word that means unconquered, or undefeated. My goal as a therapist is to help individuals fight back against the psychological pressures that rob them of living richer lives, of enjoying each day, and of fully realizing their potential. All too often I've seen the toll that depression, anxiety, trauma and other emotional challenges bring. I've listened to client's as they describe life stories that starkly sketch out the grave costs involved when one is overcome by these stressors. But I've also seen men and women who tenaciously fought to regain their lives, and who successfully overcame the emotional challenges that had seemed insurmountable in the past. They were renewed by their efforts, victorious in their pursuit of a better life, undefeated in the face of great challenges. That outcome is what I want each client to achieve. My expectation is that through our work together an attitude, and perspective, will begin to grow in you that is best described by the word invictus.
Question: I have heard that anxiety and depression are caused by genetics, that they are inherited from one or both parents. Is that true, and if it is then what is the use of going to therapy?
Answer: While it is true that anxiety and depression frequently have a genetic component, it is important to realize that genetics is only one of many factors that may cause someone to struggle with anxiety or depression. What research shows is that genetics causes some people to be more predisposed to become anxious, or depressed. The research does not show, however, that genetics makes it inevitable that someone will become anxious or depressed. Another way to think about it is that genetics causes some individuals to have a lower threshold for when anxiety or depression will be triggered by various circumstances in life. Learning different skills and habits can change this threshold.
Which leads to the following question: What can you do if you happen to be someone who is genetically inclined to experience anxiety or depression? Quite a bit is the answer. Don't for a moment think that there is nothing to be done if you are naturally anxious or depressed. One's mood is not like one's height, or bone structure: a fixed trait. Everyone's mood varies throughout the day and week which means it is not fixed. With effective therapy it is possible to find what works to lower your anxiety, and brighten your mood - and then practice engaging in those mental practices, or physical activities, more often. Likewise, learning how to avoid those things in life that trigger anxiety or depression is also useful. In addition to that one can, with a little reflection, figure out what activities create a stronger sense of balance and well being. For some it may mean engaging in exercise, actively practicing their religious faith, being in the outdoors, etc. For others it may mean having quality time with family and friends, engaging their creativity through painting, music, or photography. The exact activities will vary with the individual, but once these are identified it is helpful to regularly schedule them into your week just as you would any other activity that is important for your health.
The main thing to keep in mind is that genetics is not a life sentence, it does not require that one live with overwhelming depression or anxiety. For some people their genetic makeup may, however, mean that depression or anxiety will be something that needs to be constantly gaurded against, and measures taken to insure that it does not gain a foothold. But this is much like someone who is predisposed to have diabetes and needs to be watchful about he, or she, eats. The bottom line? Thousands of people have learned how to overcome these problems. Chances are you can do so as well.
Question: Is it possible to overcome the impact of trauma, and if so how can therapy be of help?
Answer: In the last thirty years psychotherapy research has focused intensely on how best to help people who have experienced trauma. As a result of these efforts a great deal has been learned regarding how to effectively resolve the psychological impact of trauma. Numerous research studies have shown that for many people psychotherapy can help restore a sense of peace, drastically reduce anxiety, enhance trust and a feeling of well being. Different forms of therapy are often used to achieve these results when working with trauma symptoms, but most often (no matter the specific form of therapy utilized) it will involve reviewing the event(s) that led to trauma, and helping the individual recover a sense of calm and self-mastery when confronted with such painful memories. When one can do this successfully, the trauma loses much of its disruptive power. Moreover, many people find that if they can uncover a meaningful life lesson within the traumatic experience, some way in which they have grown stronger or wiser, then this too promotes healing.
Some individuals would rather not discuss the trauma. When this is the case it requires an alternate approach be taken. Recent research shows much promise when such clients learn to focus on the present, 'live in moment' some would say, and keep focused on what is currently going well in life. At times people will say that very little is going well, so there is not much in that regard to focus upon. When this is the case I've found that a brief discussion often uncovers that there are at least a few more positive aspects of their current life than they had first identified. Moreover, by focusing even on a few, sometimes apparently insignificant, strengths and pleasures one finds that very quickly this part of life expands. There are specific strategies for making this process more effective, some of which are discussed in my blog posts.
Question: Does therapy work?
Answer: Absolutely yes. There is now over fifty years of research focused on answering this question and the results are clear... therapy is an effective means for resolving anxiety, depression and trauma. Does it work for everyone? Of course not, but for the majority of people it is a significant help. This conclusion is backed up by hundreds of research studies. I want to take a moment to point out something that is cruciual, the two conditions under which therapy is generally most effective.
One: When a person finds a skilled counselor who they trust, and with whom they feel comfortable.
Two: When the person seeking therapy is highly motivated to make changes in his or her life.
This is not very different from many other areas of life where one is seeking to make changes. Learning to play a musical instrument, for example, is most likely to lead to success when the student has a good rapport with a skilled music teacher, and is motivated to practice between lessons. Personal training is most effective when one has a good relationship with a knowledgeable trainer, and is diligent in following the exercise program between meetings with the trainer. So too with therapy, a good relationship with the counselor and hard work lead to the best outcomes.
Question: Does therapy go on for years?
Answer: Generally no. It is very rare for therapy to continue even for one year. The focus of my practice is on helping individuals accomplish their goals in as short a time as possible. In most cases this requires months, not years. The exact amount of time, however, varies with each individual (although it is worth adding that in my thirty years of experience there have been less than a dozen instances when someone was seen for a year or longer). Two things that are often the biggest determiners of how long therapy lasts include: the severity of the problem being focused upon, and; the number of goals a person decides to tackle. I've worked with individuals who have reached their goals within a few weeks. Likewise, I've worked with others who decided to continue in therapy for several years (even after reaching their initial goal) because they found the work of therapy so rewarding on an ongoing basis. But again, my objective is to help you succeed just as soon as possible.
Question: It seems to me that you should be able to solve your problems on your own. Isn't going to therapy a sign of weakness?
Answer: The short answer is "Not at all." I could end there but because the equation "therapy=weakness" is such a common misconception, some further comments are in order. It may be that some people firmly avoid enlisting the help of a counselor because psychotherapy has so often been associated with having a "mental illness." If you start with that idea it does not take very much to conclude that working with a therapist is an admission of being "mentally ill", which in turn suggests that one is mentally diminished or weak.
That view, however, falls apart once one realizes that the concerns that most people work on when seeing a therapist are best described as "problems in living", or "problems with unleashing one's potential by overcoming those obstacles that stand in their way." This in no way leads to the conclusion that the person has a mental illness, nor that he or she is weak.
Instead it is a sign that someone is eager to make positive changes in life, recognizes what has been holding him or her back, and is taking action to move forward. We see examples of this same approach in many other areas of life. For example, you will find it in friends and family members who wish to lose weight and get in shape - if they hire a personal trainer would this be considered a sign of weakness? What about the person who finds himself feeling lost after being promoted to manager, and then enrolls in management training courses so as to do his best in living up to the new challenge? Is he weak for seeking out this assistance? The woman who runs a small business and finds that sales have taken an unexpected turn downwards? Is she weak for hiring a consultant?
The examples that could be given are nearly endless, and each would underscore that going to a therapist is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign that one has identified a problem and is determined to find a solution. So determined, that he or she is willing to consult with other people in order to succeed.
Question: Is it true that in therapy you have to lay down on a coach and say whatever comes to mind?
Answer: That is a popular stereotype, but it is far from the truth. It comes from the practice of psychoanalysis where a client is expected to lay on a couch and say whatever pops into his or her head (this is termed 'free association'). Although that form of therapy is still practiced, especially on the east coast, it is very rare. Extremely rare: perhaps because there is almost no research to suggest that it is effective.
Question: Is it true that in PSYCHOtherapy the therapist just sits across from you with a blank expression, clip board in hand, nodding and saying "Hmmmm. Very interesting."
Answer: Only in the movies, or with a therapist who tends to be tongue tied. It is true, however, that most therapists do their best to avoid being overly talkative. They prefer to have the client do most of the speaking. The reason for this approach is that it is the client who knows what is important to discuss, and it is the client who should be listened to and focused upon. Even so, you should expect that your therapist has something to say, and is able to easily engage you in meaningful conversations. If you ever work with a therapist who remains quiet for unreasonably long periods of time, I suggest you ask him, or her, if there is a point to their being so taciturn. If the therapist responds with a well thought out answer, well and good. If, however, the therapist responds with silence, or by asking you "Does my silence make you uncomfortable?", I would look for a new therapist. Life is too short.