Therapy for Young Adults
Are you feeling stuck, uncertain and unable to make decisions to move your life forward? Do you struggle with a nagging feeling that you are “behind” or not good enough? Do you feel bored and dissatisfied with your career path? Do you feel like you are failing at life when you’ve barely gotten started?
Young adulthood is a period characterized by instability in every area of life, personal, familial, social, educational, and professional. A study of American colleges recently found that over 40% of college student respondents said they felt so depressed in the prior year they found it difficult to function. In the same survey, over 60% reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety,” and nearly 12% reported seriously considering suicide. These college-aged members of Gen-Z, born beginning 1995, are clearly struggling. Their older cohorts, Millenials, born between 1980 and 1994, appear no better off. Millenials are consistently ranked as the most stressed generation alive. These are definitely not “the best years of your life.”
In a climate of unprecedented student debt, high unemployment and social unrest, you are challenged to find purpose, fulfillment, achievement and successful relationships. Reaching the goals of young adulthood has perhaps never been so difficult. Social media complicates matters with its glossy views into others’ shiny successes. FOMO is the norm. Dating issues abound, especially in the age of hookups and internet coupling. Indecision about your career path, your friendships, your romantic relationships is typical. Family pressure is real. New expectations, roles and responsibilities are overwhelming. The independence you demanded in adolescence now seems terrifying. Your self-concept often takes a hit.
You may even feel a bit out of control, as the areas of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control and executive functioning remain undeveloped. It’s not unusual to feel that you are being pulled in competing directions with no compass to guide you. Very likely, stress, anxiety, and/or depression is getting in the way of bringing your best self to your performance and interactions.
I get it. I’ve been there, I’ve researched and studied it, I’m raising kids through it, and I’ve shepherded many clients along its rocky path of overwhelm and confusion. The good news is it’s doable (yes, even by you) and it doesn’t last forever. Therapy offers the opportunity to explore a different, more intentional way of living, providing focused time to elucidate your own beliefs, values, needs and goals, as well as to get real about what is blocking your best life. This is your chance to solidify your own identity, apart from one created in your family of origin. I am a solution-focused therapist who creates a safe, nonjudgmental, empathetic space for you to speak openly and honestly about your concerns, fear and hopes so that, together, we can achieve your goals. I will keep you accountable and challenge you to push yourself, while providing you with the skills and tools to become more mindful, resilient, and compassionate toward yourself and others in your life. You can do this. Adulting doesn’t have to suck this badly.
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
— Albert Ellis
Therapy for High Achievers
You have been called relentless in your drive and ambition. You look like you’re at the top of your game, but you are exhausted. You’re tired of the hussle. Your achievements feel hollow, empty. You may feel isolated, lonely, burned out. Your relationships are suffering. You feel like you might be losing your edge.
High achievers struggle with anxiety and depression, to be sure, but it often manifests in thought patterns and compulsions that are unique to these individuals. You may find that any of the following describes you:
- Despite your fatigue, you feel compelled to continue to maniacally push yourself, fearing what might befall you if you slow down. You cannot seem to rest and downtime feels stressful, like wasted time. Your hobbies and passions have been sacrificed to work or studying. It feels like a matter of survival.
- You suffer from perfectionism, setting excessively high goals for yourself and others. You have trouble delegating and have been called controlling. You may spend inordinate amounts of time in preparation for tasks, procrastinating because you never feel “ready.”
- You are a caretaker in your personal or professional life; saying “no” to others has not been an option. Nor do you ask for help. Still, you are not the partner or parent you want to be. An inability to set boundaries and get your needs met in relationships has likely resulted in resentment and interpersonal struggle.
- You may feel like a fraud, attributing your accomplishments to serendipitous luck, rather than effort or ability. You may fear losing everything if you are “outed.” You are besieged by self-doubt.
- You may suddenly feel like a failure, due to the vulnerability you are recognizing in yourself. You’re a solver of problems, after all; you should not need help. Or maybe you feel guilty seeking help because surely, there are people with much bigger problems.
I understand. My background as a commercial litigation lawyer uniquely situates me to know the stress associated with working in a high-stakes professional environment, as well as the havoc that this lifestyle can wreak on your emotional health. As a therapist, I’ve worked with executives and professionals, as well as graduate, medical and law students, whose drives to succeed have taken their toll.
The issue of seeking help to create a new way of being is complicated by the fact that an accomplished way of life is rewarded by our society, monetarily and in terms of respect and status. Moreover, you may worry that seeking support is a betrayal of your self-sufficiency, that it might make you “soft,” or that you may actually need your inner critic to bolster your performance. You may be concerned that it would be dangerous to be compassionate with yourself or to reduce the anxiety that has seemed to fuel you.
The opposite is actually true. Your resilience and productivity will increase when you are able to drop the shackles of this lifestyle. It is draining your spirit. Self-worth is not achieved; it is your birthright. I work with high achievers to expand your identity to encompass more than your accomplishments. You will strengthen your sense of self and your ability to recover from setbacks. You will become more balanced and flexible. You will learn that you can trust yourself to work hard even without the whips of anxiety snapping at your back. We will explore who you are, the origin of your drive to achieve, what you value and how you can create your best life. In a gentle and respectful way, in a safe, compassionate space, we will work together to improve your relationships and increase connection with others. Survival mode is not living. It’s time to exhale.
“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Therapy for Women
Living as a woman means frequent reinvention and transition, being pulled in competing directions by our changing roles, life circumstances, hormonal shifts. We are daughters, mothers and friends; we are significant others and spouses; we are entrepreneurs, business women, employees. We struggle to balance our home lives with career and professional advancement, while negotiating the expectations of society. We live by a set of rules that, while rarely articulated, is universally understood:
Motherhood. If you work, you are a bad mother; if you stay home to raise your children, you must have little else to offer the world. If you do not invest in your children’s lives, involving them in an endless string of activities, volunteering in their classrooms, knowing their teachers and coaches and making them kale smoothies, you are negligent; if you do invest in these ways, you are living through your children because you have no life of your own. If you pull back on your career to raise children, you often lose professional respect and self-worth. And, regardless of employment outside the home, like the 1950’s housewife, you are expected to keep the household running while bearing responsibility for the majority of the chores and child-rearing tasks.
The workplace. Pressures that women feel in the workplace are pervasive. If you have children and a family to distract you from your career, you may be perceived by your employer as a liability. You want to be seen as committed to your work, so you feel compelled to work harder to prove yourself, even foregoing time with family to establish your dedication. Conversely, you may be suspect or pitied if you have chosen to remain single and/or child-free. Sexism is still very much a part of our work culture. Microaggressions, sexual harassment and gender discrimination often go unredressed due to fears of retaliation and victim-blaming. So women suck it up or risk being labelled “bitches.”
The image. Youth and beauty have been the primary sources of female power throughout history. Women are expected, regardless of life responsibilities or age, to be ultra-fit, youthful, pretty, stylish and well-coiffed. In the age of cosmetic surgery and 24-hour fitness, the pressure is relentless, past middle age. Social media with its airbrushed images exacerbates the issue.
Relationships. Women are often everything to everyone, “good girls.” You may have a hard time saying no to others, even if it means putting yourself last. You go along to get along. You find it difficult to communicate honestly to others about what you need or want. You may be hypersensitive to abandonment and rejection, feeling on some level that you “need” even relationships that may not be healthy for you. Still, you feel alone and lonely, never finding the intimacy you crave.
Emotions. Women and girls are often told that they are “too intense,” “too emotional” or “dramatic.” They are accused of using emotion to manipulate others. Women learn to control their emotions, to hide them, in order not to be judged or abandoned, to be taken seriously, to avoid the “crazy” moniker. Emotionality and even the need for connection is disrespected by our society, in favor of strict rationality and independence.
Trauma. Women are more likely than men to experience sexual abuse at all ages. One in three women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. Eighty-five percent of intimate partner violence is perpetrated on women. Emotional and verbal abuse against women in relationships is rampant.
Midlife disappearance. Midlife can be hard on women, but most challenging may be the ubiquitous silence and lack of representation that women feel during this time. Ageism is real; older women become invisible, disappear. It is also a time riddled with unspoken challenges: empty-nesting, parenting older children, caring for aging parents, losing a spouse through death or divorce, re-engaging in the workforce after years away and hormonal changes. Not surprisingly, given the strictures and under which women live, we are 20-40 percent more likely to develop a mental illness. We lose connection with our “selves,” our inner wisdom and guidance, through a frenzied pursuit of “feminine success” as society defines it. We stop trusting ourselves, lose our identities. We experience sadness, guilt, anxiety, fear, fatigue, insomnia, inability to concentrate. We are twice as likely to experience an eating disorder as men.
Women are not pathological, but society’s expectations of us often are. It is liberating to begin to dismantle unhealthy societal norms and to recognize, “I am not my symptoms; my symptoms are a result of my experience.” Although you live within a context of a culture, you can rewrite your own story and begin to internalize a new set of rules. Relief is available through reconnecting with your inner self, identifying core values and aligning your choices with them, recognizing attainable professional and personal goals instead of chasing the unrealistic, learning to be a “good enough mother” and to advocate for yourself to find support and equality at home, challenging the irrational thinking that leads to perfectionism, learning to manage emotions so that they are less overwhelming, cultivating mindfulness techniques to avoid reactivity, learning self-care and self-compassion, and finding your tribe to battle isolation.
It’s time to start living your own life. I will listen to your unique story, attune to your needs, and provide a safe, compassionate space for your to explore the person you want to be and the way you want to live. Working by your side, I will help you to create a fulfilling, meaningful and authentic relationship with yourself, so that you are able to connect with your inner wisdom and find peace.
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
— Nora Ephron
Therapy for Life Transitions and Loss
“You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” - UnknownChange is uncomfortable and constant. Expectations fail us. We resist transition, even when it has been planned or was predicted, as in the case of a graduation, a new baby or retirement. Whenever we move forward, we leave an old way of being behind and we grieve pieces of it. But when a transition is unplanned or when our reaction to the change is less adaptive than we had anticipated, it can feel like crisis. There are job losses, deaths, divorces, heartbreak. Children leave home, illness shocks us, infidelity happens. Life can suddenly feel overwhelming, surreal, incapacitating. Our sense of ourselves is shifted and we feel lost and alone, out of control. Nothing feels solid.
Regardless of the life transition you are facing, you might keep running into a wave of fear —a fear of failure, rejection, discomfort—or enormous challenges that you don’t feel ready to face. You may not even be sure what you’re afraid of, but anxiety may be tempting you to stay put or wish you could go back in time. The good news is that this place of uncertainty is actually an opportunity for self-exploration, where profound growth is possible. This is where we learn and become, where we must access our deepest strength to tolerate the “not knowing.” This is where we meet our resilience and reconnect with our inner wisdom and understanding that no matter what life holds, we have the capacity to move forward. Our work is to honor the loss while envisioning a different future. Much can be taken from us as humans, but we retain the ability to choose our reaction in any set of circumstances.
Therapy can help bring insight, define values, strengthen identity and purpose, and enhance coping and problem-solving, to forge a path forward. If you feel stuck, fearing the future or grieving the past, I can help. I will hold space for you to get in touch with your innate power, gain a new perspective on the difficulties in front of you, and learn effective ways to manage the stress and anxiety that accompany change. With support and guidance, you will learn to access your inner wisdom, distinguish what you have the power to change from what you need to let go, and reframe problems to shift your perspective. I will help you gain clarity about what you want to cultivate in your life.
External forces don’t have to shake your foundation or throw you into distress; you always have control over how you perceive changes and challenges. Transition can be a gift. You truly can handle whatever life throws your way. And you don’t have to go it alone. With support and a willingness to self-explore, you can respond to change, experience deep growth and create a better, richer, more satisfying life.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Therapy for Anxiety and Worry
Anxiety feels heavy, like a weight on your chest, like you can’t catch your breath. It can seem relentless and overwhelming, as if no matter what you do, you cannot find relief. Perhaps you have a persistent sense that something is going to go wrong and you won’t be able to handle it. Maybe you feel that others are judging you and you worry about criticism or rejection. Or you could fear a particular type of experience or situation, like going to an unfamiliar place. Maybe you’ve experienced a panic attack, with a racing heart and shortness of breath, and believed you were having a heart attack or even dying. Or you could be passing up job opportunities or social activities because you’re afraid you can’t handle situations feeling like you do. Concerns about your family, career, health, finances or life purpose might be uncontrollably looping through your mind. You may even have anxiety about your anxiety!
Living with anxiety is miserable, exhausting and isolating; it drains your spirit, making even small tasks monumentally difficult. Your fears may interrupt your ability go to the grocery store, attend an event or leave your residence. Sleep eludes you; you are foggy, irritable and unable to focus. Decision-making is impossible. Even time with family and friends is tainted with anxiety’s weight, that undeniable feeling of impending doom. We cannot connect with others from a place of fear; we cannot be present. You may be trying to cope by numbing your distressing feelings and bodily sensations through drinking, substance use or unhealthy distractions. Or you may feel that you are doing everything “right,” all to no avail in alleviating the pain. It is like continually running from a tiger. There is no peace.
You are not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the United States, affecting 40 million Americans. Struggling with anxiety doesn’t mean you are broken or flawed. In fact, we need a certain amount of anxiety; without it, we would have no motivation to be productive and move forward in our lives. Anxiety is also our natural warning system, giving us notice that we may be in peril. We are wired to find anxiety unpleasant so that we move away from danger. When we are threatened, the brain and body will go into a fight/flight/freeze response, which is linked to our instinct for self-preservation. This system worked well to avoid a lurking predator in the days of cave people, but it works less well now, when those three responses are not necessarily appropriate to the threats we face. And, when anxiety sets in, we become hyper-vigilant, perceiving threat where none actually exists.
Although worry and stress are normal, consistent hyper-vigilance is not. If you feel like the tiger is always chasing you, you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder, such as a specific phobia, panic disorder, social anxiety, performance anxiety, generalized anxiety or a combination of these. If so, there is help and hope for relief. I have helped many people learn new ways to manage anxiety, build confidence and learn to live a more fulfilling life. Because anxiety manifests in the body, brain and behavior, the protocol for relief addresses these, as well. You will learn relaxation and mindfulness skills to stabilize yourself and deactivate the intense physiological response to stress, you will learn to recognize, challenge and replace negative, harmful thoughts with more self-compassionate and self-respectful messages, and you will learn to confront your fears to change behavior and move forward with greater resilience. By gaining an understanding of how anxiety functions in the body and in the mind and learning realistic tools for coping with stress, you can begin living with authenticity and peace.
“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. We walk around all our lives thinking about things that will never happen. We worry, dread, and fear what hasn’t happened and what probably never will.”
— Mark Twain
Therapy for Depression and Sadness
Everyone feels sad or "blue" on occasion. It is also perfectly normal to grieve over upsetting life experiences, such as a major illness, a death in the family, a loss of a job or a divorce. For most people, these feelings of grief and sadness tend to lessen with the passing of time. However, if a person’s feelings of sadness last for two weeks or longer, and if they interfere with daily life activities, something more serious than "feeling blue" may be going on.
You may feel that a heavy, dark cloud has descended on your life and you just can’t escape it. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless and to blame themselves for having these feelings. You may feel overwhelmed and exhausted, with no energy to participate in your life; even routine activities feel like too much. You may withdraw from family and friends, or even have thoughts of death or suicide. This is no way to live.
Depression can be a function of body or brain chemistry that influences mood or thought processes, or it can be “situational,” caused by aspects of a person’s life that are perceived as out of balance. I will hold a safe, compassionate space for you to identify the factors that contribute to your depression and to deal with these causes. You will learn to identify options for your future and set goals, shift negative and distorted thinking patterns that contribute to feelings of hopelessness, improve patterns of interacting with others to increase your connectedness and social supports, and regain your sense of optimism and control over your life. Therapy can lift the fog of depression and lead to a broader view of who you are and what you can achieve in your life. Let’s partner to get you to a better place.
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Therapy for Trauma: EMDR
The symptoms of trauma can come over you like a wave. You may feel suddenly nervous or unsafe, seemingly for no reason. Or perhaps you struggle with looping thoughts, uncomfortable memories, intrusive flashbacks or nightmares. Maybe you feel ashamed about what happened, wondering if it was your fault. You may find concentration impossible and be unable to focus on tasks. Or it could be that you feel at times disconnected from your body and the world around you, a numbed out version of your prior self. You may be confused by strong feelings of fear, anger, sadness or guilt.
Dealing with life in the wake of trauma can be overwhelming, exhausting and isolating. You likely feel unable to trust anyone, even yourself. You might feel unable to be vulnerable with others and find it difficult—even impossible—to form healthy, lasting relationships, especially if part of you believes you don’t deserve happiness. You probably try to avoid people, situations or sensations that could bring you back to the traumatic memory. You might be trying to bury the pain by using alcohol, drugs, food or other unhealthy distractions for temporary relief. You may feel so consumed by distressing thoughts and memories that you simply cannot engage in the present moment. You likely wish that you could let go of painful thoughts and emotions and feel safe with others and within yourself.
Trauma is defined as a deeply disturbing or distressing experience in which someone feels powerless or out of control. Trauma can range from small, single incidents to long-term repetitive and complex experiences. Circumstances of trauma typically involve a loss of control, betrayal, abuse of power, helplessness, pain, confusion and/or loss. It is estimated that 70 percent of American adults will experience some form of trauma over the course of their lives, and almost half of the nation’s children will experience serious childhood trauma. Whether you experienced or witnessed a single-incident trauma, such as an accident or assault, or an ongoing, complex trauma, such as abuse or neglect, you are not alone.
It is important to know that if you are struggling with life-disrupting memories, flashbacks, nightmares or fears, you are not damaged or weak. Traumatic experiences interrupt the way the brain adaptively processes and stores information, making it difficult to put the trauma into its proper context. This means that the memory, along with the images, emotions, thoughts and physical sensations associated with it, do not feel like they are truly in the past. Instead, the experience—or fragments of it—can pop up at any time. Because trauma is stored in our bodies, instead of in the form of narratives about our past, we can experience it as immediate and in the present. It can be triggered by a touch, smell, sound or other sensory reminder of what happened.
Trauma therapy can help release the pain of the past. It is possible for you to live with a sense of comfort, security and self-assurance. I will work with you to create a holistic treatment plan that focuses on the entirety of you, including your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. In my practice, I use several empirically based and effective treatments, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which has been widely researched and proven to be the most effective form of treatment for trauma.
EMDR is not just talk therapy. The insights you gain in EMDR result from your own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes, not from your therapist’s interpretation. Our bodies are hard-wired for healing. Your mind has its own natural healing mechanism, which automatically works to process and store information in order to help you regain stability and well-being. However, a traumatic experience can block that mechanism and your emotional wounds can fester, producing ongoing suffering. Through EMDR, you can activate the natural healing process in your brain, releasing the block and restoring the balance needed for lasting relief and peace. By a combination of EMDR’s free association and bilateral neural stimulation, trauma can be brought to resolution and your anxiety, fears and negative thoughts are replaced with new insights and positive beliefs.
The human psyche has a tremendous capacity for recovery and growth. While it may sound trite, traumatic events, besides causing genuine suffering, are also opportunities for growth. When we’ve experienced trauma and are suffering, we are more likely to reach out to others and ask for (and offer) help. We explore who’s available to get closer to us. We discover strengths we didn’t know we had. We examine the ways we’ve lived our lives prior to the trauma, creating an opportunity to make profound changes in areas we might have otherwise left unexamined and untouched.
Still, the prospect of trauma therapy can be scary. You may be afraid of talking about the memories. You will find, though, that as you talk in a safe space about what happened, the past will begin to lose its power. As a compassionate and nonjudgmental therapist, I will always work collaboratively with you, at your pace. I will never push you. If you lose hope, I will hold it for you. We will gently explore your challenges in a confidential space where you can feel comfortable expressing yourself. You will learn mindfulness, grounding, stabilization and cognitive techniques to effectively manage your life, and when we begin EMDR, it will be a mutual decision based on your history, needs and goals.
Trauma therapy can give you an increased sense of control over your life, help you feel more empowered and better able to engage with others and enable you to more effectively reach your potential. Trauma takes you out of connection with your inner self. As you cultivate increased awareness of your core authentic self and are able to access your innate wisdom, you can also nurture healthier, more intimate relationships with those around you. You can let go of fear to be truly present in your life. No matter what you have experienced, healing is possible and you deserve it.
“Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it- it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”
— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
“Unless you love someone, nothing else makes any sense.” —e.e. cummingsLove is a very special kind of emotional bond, the need for which is wired into our brain by millions of years of evolution. It is a survival imperative. The basic need for attachment with a significant other begins at birth with our primary caregivers and follows us throughout our lives. The human brain codes isolation and abandonment as danger; conversely, the touch and emotional responsiveness of a loved one is coded as safety, a safety that promotes the flexibility and courage for us as individuals to reach our potential. Attachment theory states that we need a safe haven relationship to turn to when life is too much for us, that offers us a secure base from which to venture confidently into the world. This need for emotional connection is not a sentimental notion. In fact, it is now clear that emotional isolation is more dangerous to our health than smoking or obesity, and that it doubles the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. We are not meant to walk this earth alone or to handle life’s uncertainties without the support of caring others. It is not surprising that most Americans rate finding a loving relationship as their main life goal, ahead of career or financial success.
And yet, relationships are hard. If you are feeling hurt, lonely or frustrated in your relationship, you are not alone. Relationship distress is the single most common reason for seeking therapy. It is painful to perceive your relationship as being stuck and disconnected. You may not feel seen, heard or valued by your partner. Or maybe you have the same argument over and over without any resolution. Perhaps your partner seems emotionally unavailable or increasingly critical. You may have experienced an affair or other violation of trust, and you are struggling to feel safe or to ask for forgiveness. You may feel that your world is falling apart and you are at a loss as to how to rebuild your bond. It is not unusual for couples to fall into painful patterns of interaction that further distance partners from each other. A very common pattern is for one partner to shut down and become more distant, while the other partner becomes increasingly angry, critical and confrontational. This dynamic causes couples to withdraw from one another and disconnection creeps in.
Although disheartening, the development of negative dynamics is not unusual or abnormal. When couples argue, it is usually due to not feeling emotionally connected, safe, or secure with their intimate partners. When emotional safety feels threatened, it triggers the fight/flight/freeze response in our brains, causing us to take defensive positions in an effort to protect ourselves from emotional pain. The inability to be vulnerable with the person on whom we rely the most can create feelings of hopelessness, self-doubt, resentment and fear. Fortunately, with the help of a therapist who is committed to an attachment perspective, you and your partner can get in touch with your deeper emotions, enhance healthy communication and feel valued and validated in your relationship.
Through relationship counseling, you and your partner will learn that secure connection is shaped by mutual emotional accessibility and responsiveness. The fights that matter in a relationship are only superficially about the kids or money. The most empirically valid form of couples therapy currently in use, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), demonstrates that the real questions that drive negative patterns of interactions are, “Do I matter to you?,” “Can I count on you?,” “Do you value me for who I am?,” and “Will you be there when I need you?” In other words, “Do you have my back?” EFT gets to the root of the problem, rather than merely addressing symptoms. As a couple, you can learn to identify the primary emotions underlying your conflict, such as loneliness, low self-worth, or the simple desire to feel loved, and develop healthy ways to safely express relationship needs and concerns. I will never side with one of you over the other—you and your partner are not the problem—your dynamic is. You will learn to better understand your negative patterns and how to shift them, so that you can more effectively resolve conflict and improve emotional, physical and sexual intimacy.
I work with couples of all types, regardless of sexual orientation, gender or racial identification, to create more fulfilling, meaningful and authentic relationships. Whether you are dating, planning a wedding or have celebrated many anniversaries, couples counseling can buttress your romantic bond. In fact, it can make an already good relationship better; deep problems are not a prerequisite to working toward having more fun together, building a better parenting partnership or fostering an even deeper connection. And if your partner is resistant to the idea of therapy, I encourage you to come in by yourself. By gaining a better understanding of your role in your relationship dynamic, you can begin to shift the way you approach your partner and nurture increased patience, compassion and understanding. A relationship is a system and a culture; by changing your part of the pattern, you will likely prompt your partner to change his or hers, as well. Through couples therapy, you can find the closeness, intimacy and peace you long for in your relationship.
“Love never dies of a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings, but never of natural death.”
— Anaïs Nin
Discernment and Divorce Counseling
Divorce is one of the most stressful and disorienting life events a person can face. It is ranked second only to the death of a spouse in the level of emotional distress created by the experience, and many argue that divorce can be even more devastating, given its conflictual nature and financial and familial impact.
Considering the level of life disruption to be expected, intentionality during the process is critical, from the decision regarding whether to end your marriage, through the rebuilding period following divorce. Clarity in the midst of this significant ending is a tall order. The breaking of the attachment bond with your spouse is experienced by your mind as a threat to survival, throwing you into your “fight or flight” system, where mindless reactivity is the norm and rational decision-making is impossible. In other words, in a period of time where pragmatic thought is crucial, logic takes leave of us.
Divorce counseling is designed to shepherd you through the process so as to minimize suffering. It is a relatively new type of therapy and is not a “one size fits all” approach. Every individual and couple facing dissolution of their bond will experience the stages differently, from deciding to separate, to creating a new life as a single person and coparenting, if children are involved. For this reason, therapy is necessarily customized to the needs of each client. I specialize in helping people before, during and after divorce, from discerning whether to end your relationship, through building a new life, post-divorce.
Also known as “pre-divorce” or “break-up” counseling, discernment counseling is a therapeutic approach designed for those struggling with the decision of whether to end their relationship. Mixed agenda couples, where one partner is “leaning out” (considering divorce) and the other is “leaning in” (wants to work on the marriage), make up 40 percent of those contemplating divorce. Or maybe you are both unsure of what to do. The stakes are too high to make the wrong decision. Couples must move out of reactivity and engage in understanding and empathy to identify alternatives to divorce or to have a more amicable, emotionally healthy split. This is an opportunity to slow down the process, to be deliberate in judging your next steps.
The question of whether to break up means very heavy lifting in couples therapy. Important exploration includes asking: Are we happy? Is this getting better? Do we believe that with help things could get better? How do we weigh lack of happiness in some areas of the relationship against contentment or stability in other areas? Therapy involves joint time with both partners, as well as time with each partner, individually. There is a lot to talk about during the individual sessions; each of you has a story to tell. The joint time will allow you to better understand your partner’s perspective. You will explore how you got to this point and examine all options to move forward.
When couples are deciding whether or not to break up, I work to help partners tolerate hearing things that are painful. There is often a tendency to hold back information or to be defensive, both of which get in the way of hearing the honest truth. Couples may avoid discussing hurtful issues from the past, like lack of sex, overspending, parenting differences, and perceived emotional abandonment. Sometimes there is a sort of shared denial, which must be given up in favor of seeing what is in front of us. And your realities may be very different.
If you are “leaning out” of your marriage, you may feel unheard, frustrated, like you just want to give up. Your perspective has not been taken seriously and the effort you have made to improve your relationship has left you even more hopeless. There is no air in the room when the two of you are together. Even vacations suck. The passion is gone and you just don’t feel like keeping up appearances. You want a life—deserve one! But divorce? It’s so final. Still, you can’t continue this way, not for anybody. Not even for your kids. You may need help finding the words to explain your position. You definitely need clarity, confidence, and an end to the struggle of deciding.
If you are the “leaning in” partner, you may have known there were problems, but you never thought it would come to this. Everything you believed to be true is suddenly not. Your world is rocked. You feel angry, betrayed, terrified. You feel disempowered, but like your spouse, you have work to do. You need to decide if you want to keep this marriage and if so, why it’s worth fighting for. You need to learn to manage your anxiety and emotions so that you are able to show up as your best self in this relationship and take responsibility for your part in its deterioration. If you don’t want to end your marriage, how you choose to conduct yourself at this point really matters.
The goal of discernment counseling is to reflect upon and consider the best course of action for you, calmly, rationally, and seriously. You don’t have to be sure you want to remain married; you don’t have to be convinced that you want a divorce. There is no pressure to pursue any given path. At the conclusion, you will make an informed, ideally mutual decision to (1) dissolve the marriage in a collaborative and constructive way, (2) wholeheartedly work to renew the marriage, typically committing to six months of intensive effort, or (3) do nothing and decide later (most people hate this option).
If a couple ultimately resolves to break up and wants to do it thoughtfully, couples therapy becomes important for two reasons. First, a therapist can provide emotional guidance with communication and the difficult feelings of grief, denial, anger and hurt that inevitably come up. Second, a therapist can help to navigate practical issues that aren’t the domain of a legal conversation, such as: How and when do we tell our families? How do we agree to handle things if one of us starts a new relationship? How might we deal with jealousy? What if we want to get back together? Or if one of the kids is angry? What if, as sometimes happens, romantic feelings increase as the separation gets closer? Consciously ending a relationship can be confusing. Working together, I can help you and your partner to compassionately negotiate the process in a safe, nonjudgmental space, where vulnerability is invited and brings growth and healing.
“Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
Divorce Counseling and Post-Divorce Support
“For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most interesting thing about me. Now it’s not.” – Nora Ephron
No one expects to find themselves in the process of dissolving a marriage. In the best of circumstances, divorce is heart wrenching and life-altering, the loss of a life partner, a dream, the safety of what was and could have been. You may lose your home, your comfortable, secure lifestyle, financial stability, social status, time with your children, relationships with friends and family, and your identity—the very sense of who you are in the world. Regardless of the length of your marriage, it was a time when you were part of a team. You were not alone in your decision-making or everyday life. Divorce is an inherently lonely pursuit, recovery is a process and support is critical.
You must now learn to be single, to coparent well, to build a new future. It can feel overwhelming. You may have anxiety about dating or reentering the workforce after decades away from these pursuits. If you inhabit your marital home, you may be haunted by ghosts of the past. You have lost your routines, your sense of safety in the world, your grounding. You may wake up in the middle of the night, unable to conceive that this is actually your life. It is traumatic.
When divorce is high-conflict, the emotional carnage can be even worse. High-conflict exes tend to create chaos by threatening or instigating lawsuits, violating court orders, engaging in custody battles, playing games with visitation and/or child support, badmouthing you and making false allegations. Routine drop-offs become melodramatic events. Hostile texts and harassing emails are commonplace. The drama can become debilitating. Therapy provides a safe, nonjudgmental space for you to be heard and understood.
Divorce counseling can help you to navigate logistical challenges and build a new life by encouraging:
- Acceptance of and grieving the end of your marriage, while focusing on the opportunity for personal growth and a new beginning;
- Insight, personal responsibility and ownership regarding your part in the negative patterns leading to the demise of your relationship, so that you do not repeat these dynamics in the future;
- Connection with values, intentions and goals, to move forward with purpose;
- Cooperation, effective communication and avoidance of blame and angry interactions in the separation process;
- Conflict-resolution strategies for healthy co-parenting and to protect children from parental conflict;
- Effective boundary setting and assertiveness going forward to avoid misunderstandings and form healthy relationships;
- Coping skills to regulate emotions to remain intentional in interactions with your ex and children;
- Objective clarity and reality-testing to make better judgments and decisions; and
- Self-care and self-compassion to heal and cope with emotional overwhelm.
This is a very scary time. I understand, from both a personal and professional perspective. It is painful, lonely and you may feel that your world has crumbled around you. I will partner with you to traverse this new terrain together, in a safe, compassionate space where you are able to be authentic, have your story heard, grieve the losses, and gain clarity moving forward. This really is a new beginning and there is life after this relationship.
“Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading that blanket, throwing it up, watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands.”
— Amy Poehler, Yes Please
Mediation and Collaborative Divorce
Divorce is a traumatic life transition. It makes good sense to determine how you and your spouse might peacefully accomplish dissolution of your marriage, so as to preserve relationships and minimize collateral damage to your family. Both mediation and collaborative divorce offer opportunities for efficient and compassionate resolution of the process, outside of the destructive arena of litigation. Your specific circumstances will determine which process is most appropriate. I am trained and practice in both areas.
The mediation process typically involves only the parties and a mediator, and is directed toward settling all of the issues in your divorce, including the division of assets and obligations, the care and custody of your children, and spousal and child support obligations. Mediation is more amicable and affordable than litigation. It is confidential, controlled by the couple (not the court), and can improve communication between you and your spouse, to avoid future conflicts.
However, while mediation is generally a powerful and successful process, it requires both spouses to be willing to negotiate in good faith and be open to compromise. Very high conflict couples may find this challenging. Power imbalances between spouses may also complicate mediation. In these cases, collaborative divorce should be considered.
The primary goal of the collaborative divorce process is to reach an agreement out of court, through fair and transparent proceedings involving a team of professions chosen by both parties. While there is some flexibility in creating your team, it typically consists of two lawyers, along with at least one neutral mental health professional (the “collaborative divorce coach” or “communication coach”) and a neutral financial professional.
As a collaborative divorce coach, I am a licensed mental health professional, with specific training in family dynamics, communication skills, negotiation, and the collaborative law process. An integral member of the collaborative team, the neutral coach facilitates communication among all participants in the process, and addresses any emotional obstacles that keep either member of the couple from effective functioning. The coach meets with the couple, both together and individually, to identify values, goals and priorities, to understand the couple’s dynamics, and to instruct the spouses on emotional regulation and intentionality. The coach educates the rest of the team in how best to work with the couple, facilitates the joint meetings, assists in developing the parenting plan where children are involved, and supports the couple in healthy co-parenting skills.
Divorce can be destructive. Although my role as your coach in this process is not to engage in therapy with you, significant healing is possible through collaborative practice, which elevates the interests of your family as a whole over those of either partner, and prioritizes not only a peaceful resolution, but also the maintenance and health of ongoing important relationships. Collaborative divorce offers you a gentler, less combative and more honest way to end your marriage, with a focus on your future.
“You can fire your secretary, divorce your spouse, abandon your children. But they remain your co-authors forever.”
— Ellen Goodman