Monday, May 11, 2015

5 Secrets To Good Therapy

There's a huge difference between choosing a medical doctor and choosing a psychotherapist. While both look at symptoms and offer treatment, the therapeutic relationship is far more complex and personal. Even though most therapists receive the same basic training, the dynamics between patient and client are as variable as the personalities inside the room.

When evaluating your own therapy experience, trust yourself. Your therapist might be highly qualified or come highly recommended. But only you know if your therapist is the right one for you. 

1. Do you enjoy going to see your therapist? 

It's a given that people seek out therapy when they are in emotional pain. Break-ups, loss of a loved one and debilitating anxiety or depression are common reasons to seek out therapy. Just because your life is in pain, doesn't mean the experience has to be painful. Ideally, you should look forward to going to therapy. That's because your therapist provides a comfortable, soothing retreat.

If you find yourself dreading your therapy appointments, it's a good idea to do some soul searching. Are there concrete reasons for your discomfort? Does the therapist remind you of someone else? Would your therapist be open to your feedback? If you feel that there are 'irreconcilable differences', it's OK to see someone else. Just be honest and communicate. The way you behave with your therapist mimics your behavior in real life. Treat her with the kind of respect you'd like for yourself. 

2. Do you feel heard? 

There's a big difference between someone who listens halfheartedly and someone who hears you. In therapy, the goal is to be heard and understood. You ought to leave each session feeling that your therapist really 'gets' what you are saying. 

An attentive therapist will do more than just nod her head. She'll ask probing questions and paraphrase what your'e saying. She'll listen with an air of curiosity and openness. If she's not quite getting you, she'll let you know. You and your therapist are a team. And that team is based on you and your therapy goals. 

3. Does your therapist talk too much about herself?

The therapy room is all about you. That's why you are paying a professional. And that's the luxury of therapy. The focus of meetings are totally about your life. Sometimes therapists will disclose something personal in order to make a point. 

Usually that's OK. However if it is excessive to the point that you feel a need to help her, be careful. Therapy is not about making a friend. It's a unique relationship based on boundaries and a structured frame. The frame is the therapy room. The less you know about your therapist, the better the therapy. Freud called that transference. He recommended that the therapist be a 'blank screen'. This allows you to experience a relationship with someone who might have been absent or gave you less than what you needed. Usually that would be a parent, caretaker or teacher. Therapy is often about being re-parented or unconditionally accepted by an authority figure. Your therapist needs to let you assign the role most needed for your own personal healing. 

4. Does your therapist tell you what to do?

Life coaches tell you what to do. Therapists empower you so that you can make your own decisions. By providing a space of unconditional acceptance and support, you will learn how to tune in and get a sense of what you really want. You will learn to understand the difference between distorted feelings and fact. These skills are life sustaining and will serve you for the rest of your life. You will learn how to make rational decisions on your own. You will never be told what to do. 

Sometimes it's tempting to ask for advice. While she may tell you what she would do if she were in your shoes, ultimately only you know what's best for you. Your therapist serves as a guide; never an authority figure. 

5. Does your therapist judge?

The therapy room promises to be nonjudgmental. But do you feel that way? Remember that oftentimes we feel judged when we aren't. That's because we project feelings from others on to the person we are interacting with in the moment. That projection is a form of transference. Sometimes we unconsciously seek out disapproval because it's familiar. Just because you feel comfortable in your old shoes, it doesn't mean they are right for your feet. 

You need to be cognizant of how you are being treated in the therapy room. Don't assume the worst. But at the same time, don't take the blame. If you feel you are being judged, check it out with your therapist. 

It just may be a case of transference. Or, your therapist might actually have strong opinions. Remember they are human too. A good therapist will admit mistakes and find truth in what you are saying. You have the right to a non-judgmental environment. 

In Summary

The therapy experience is as unique as you and the person you are seeing. Unlike the doctor/patient experience, it's not all about science. It's a relationship based on compatibility, communication and trust. 

These days, online therapy websites are as utilized as online dating websites. And that's the way many are seeking a therapist. They look at pictures, profiles and fees. They send a few emails, make a phone call and set up an appointment. It's very hit or miss. 

Sometimes people are happy with their choice but sometimes they aren't. However, unlike a date, most people feel that they are stuck in their choice. They feel compelled to stick it out but more often they give up on the idea of therapy. They judge one experience and condemn the entire process. 

You have rights and you have say. It's okay to exercise your opinion. And, if your communications fall on deaf ears, it's okay to break up and move on. 

Move on to the next therapist but don't give up on therapy. Therapy is a wonderful, healing and life affirming experience. Yes, I'm a therapist. And yes, I do my best to live up to standards I've shared with you.

This article was written for and appears on Ravishly.

© 2015 Jackie A Castro, MA, LMFT

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Not So Smart After All: 5 Mistakes Couples Make With Their Phones

It's human nature to reminisce about the past. It's easy to glorify our old boyfriends and girlfriends decades after the fact. We used to keep these thoughts to ourselves. Now there's an easy way to act on our daydreams.

Smart Phones. We love them. We take them everywhere. We bedazzle them with stylish cases. They help us pass the time while waiting. But did you know that your beloved 6 inches of plastic and programming could very well be the trigger that leads to relationship discord?

As a Marriage Family Therapist and relationship specialist, smart phones play a surprisingly huge role in relationship drama. The following are five of the most common mistakes people make with their smart phones:

1. Using Facebook and other social media when you're with your partner.

"My wife used to greet me with a kiss when I got home from work. Now she barely looks up from her phone. It seems like no matter where we are, or what we're doing, she's buried in Facebook."

Couples complain bitterly about coming home to busy thumbs rather than wiling lips. Social media, texting and electronic communications are killing intimacy.

Business transactions and communications used to be limited to the basic work week schedule. Not anymore. These days business is literally taking place 24/7. People text or email whenever a thought pops into their head. And they also seem to expect a reply as instantaneous as the communique. There's no thought that a person might be out to dinner, spending time with the family or having sex. These days, the electronic intrusion takes precedence over everything else. 

We're forgetting how to be present with each other in the moment. Most couples are not even aware of the damage that phones and social media are causing. Look no further than your smart phone to see a device that ostensibly brings the world together, but tears couples apart.

Set your priorities straight. If it's something that can wait until tomorrow, make sure and do that. Friends and business acquaintances will soon get the hint and be more cognizant of when to contact you. Be proactive with your phone. Remember you control the phone, the phone doesn't control you.

2. Texting when you're with your partner. 

"She's always texting. Sometimes it happens even when we're in bed watching TV. 

She tells me that it has to do with business matters that can't wait. More often, she's just chatting with a friend. I try to be patient but sometimes I can't help but feel like I'm second fiddle to her phone."

It's one thing to check your calendar and it's another thing to text. A text conversation is the same as a phone conversation with one important difference. It's completely private. Would you whisper to someone else in front of your spouse? Would you have a side conversation while your partner is standing right beside you? That's what you're doing when texting. It's rude and unnecessary. And more and more it's becoming a point of contention in long-term relationships. 

Keep text conversations to a minimum when spending time with your partner. Be courteous and put the phones down. If  you absolutely need to have that text exchange, be sure to inform your  significant other why you are sending or receiving a text. Better yet, show him your phone. That way no one is left guessing or feeling slighted.

3. Snooping on your partner's phone. 

"Can you imagine? I woke up from surgery and Beverly was glaring at me.Turns out she was reading my texts the whole time I was under. Now she's seeing things that aren't true. I hate the constant distrust. This kind of snooping behavior is a real turn off."

We can't help but look. It's ever so tempting. But poring through your partner's text messages almost never ends up well. Invariably, someone is violated or busted. 

Most commonly, the texts are misinterpreted. Beverly found messages to his ex-wife of 15 years. Since the divorce was amicable, some of the messages were friendly. As a result, Beverly jumped to conclusions. Her boyfriend hated the false accusations so he ended the relationship. Ironically, this is what Beverly feared most, but she literally pushed him away. 

Make judgments based on real evidence, not inconclusive text messages. When you think something is off, go to the source. That's your partner. Talk and talk again. Go see a marriage counselor to learn how to communicate. Don't bicker about meaningless texts usually interpreted out of context. Resist the urge to look. You'll be happier and your relationship will be able to have the chance it deserves. 

4. Trusting your cell phone to keep a secret. 

"He told me that he blocked her! He told me he would never communicate with her again. But once again we're out to dinner and she's texting him. And he texted her right back. I'm tired of his excuses. I know for sure now that I can't trust him."

It is virtually impossible to lie these days. Still, many people feel that they can get away with it. And then they inevitably get caught, create mistrust, and trigger feelings of pain, anger and betrayal.

In the past, many of us were told that telling a fib keeps the peace. So we 'worked late' when we were really at the bar. We bought dresses on 'sale' when we really paid full price. We told 'white lies' and generally got away with them.

These days our phones give us away. GPS devices make us easy to track. Emails offer all kinds of receipts and hints of our whereabouts. We keep personal notes, recorded messages and automatic reminders that offer a great deal of information. We might as well be honest. Our electronic world offers no other choice!

5. Communicating secretly with an ex.

"I was shocked by the butterflies in my stomach when Bobby found me on Instagram! I didn't see the harm in communicating with an ex since he lives out of state. What I didn't figure on were my deep emotions. I'm feeling confused now. I find myself feeling more connected to him than my own husband!"

In a not so distant past, couples shared a home line. The phone would ring and somebody would answer it. The caller would identify themselves and leave a message with whomever picked up. Since the phone would be centrally located, everyone in the house would hear one side of the conversation. There was very little privacy and it worked out fine. 

These days the smart phone individualizes communication. We have maximum privacy. Texting and social media provides a quiet way to converse. No one can hear what we have to say. Many couples are taking advantage of their new found freedom. And that liberty is causing problems!

It's human nature to reminisce about the past. It's easy to glorify our old boyfriends and girlfriends decades after the fact. We used to keep these thoughts to ourselves. Now  there's an easy way to act on our daydreams. And while it's OK to  contact friends, it's not OK to contact or encourage communication with former lovers. It never ends well.

Bobby didn't know that his ex girlfriend's husband of 13 years had lost his job 16 months prior. Or that they were having major financial and personal problems. Problems that didn't get posted. As a result, she was feeling vulnerable and latched on to Jim. And Jim himself was married with kids. It didn't take long before a big mess developed.

Take pause before contacting an ex. If you are the recipient of the contact, tell your current partner right away. Committed relationships were not designed to be secretive!

In Summary

Smart  phones are designed to make our lives easier and more organized, but  it's up to you to use their undeniable power for good. Not deception. Enjoy all they have to offer, but be aware of the effects they could be having on your relationship. Always be mindful of who and how you communicate with others.

If you think you need to skulk around in the shadows of your phone, re-think your behavior. And if you think you need to be a detective check into your own feelings about trust. 

This article was written for and appears on Ravishly.

© 2015 Jackie A Castro, MA, LMFT