what to expect
Relationship. This is the great work and central focus of psychotherapy. It is not easy or comfortable work, however, and can be further complicated by traumatic experiences. But healing and growth are not beyond reach. They are the natural byproducts of safe, nurturing and supportive relationships -- those that allow us to risk vulnerability. In our work together, we will establish a frame of mutual authenticity, trust and collaboration -- a therapeutic relationship that also feels real, because it is. Together, we will hold the goal -- not of avoiding relational conflict altogether, which would be impractical and unrealistic -- but of learning to navigate conflicts, as they arise, with greater skill and resilience, and with more compassion toward ourselves and each other. Because conflict need not destroy relationships and can, when viewed as an opportunity for growth, lead to understanding, meaningful connection and stronger relational bonds. My intention is that, together, we create the kind of connection that can help to empower you in relationship.
Embodiment. Carl Jung once said, "Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain." The healing power of the body transcends what we know of its biology. In somatically-based therapies and psychotherapies -- just as with art, dance, yoga and a great many other expressive and/or contemplative mediums -- the body's healing potential extends also to the mind. As a culture, however, we Westerners have learned to live in a perpetual state of disembodiment, with greater emphasis on things of a "heady", intellectual and highly verbal nature. And we do so, largely without awareness that the majority of human communication is actually embodied and nonverbal (e.g. body posture, facial expression, tone of voice). In this state of socially sanctioned disconnect, we are unacquainted with the sacred, unspoken language of our bodies. We lack a basic awareness of how our bodies respond to perceived threats and/or traumas. We are cut off from an inner knowing that our bodies are innately wise -- that they are working for us, and not against us. Research has shown that slowing down, noticing and even naming these somatic sensations, as they're happening, can help to calm the primal part of the brain responsible for survival instincts, emotion and memory, all of which can become overstimulated in cases of trauma. In our work together, and at a pace that's comfortable for you, we will practice tuning in to our bodies, becoming more aware of their various sensations, and exploring what those sensations are communicating to/about us, each other and our surroundings. We will discover, and rediscover, the body's potential to be one of our most informative and immediate resources.
Context. Western mainstream culture tells us that we are the product, and at the mercy, of our own willpower (or lack thereof). But you did not get to where you are today -- for better or worse -- all by yourself. Your life has been informed by the unique confluence of your relationships, family, neighborhood, traumas, beliefs, habits, health, biology, school, work, financial status, access to resources and many, many other social and environmental constructs and influences. To ignore these influences is to miss some of the key ingredients that have constructed your unique worldview. Together, we will explore the various roles these pieces may be playing in your life, and work to give them voice.
Curiosity. Leading with curiosity, rather than critique, is essential to the process of productive inquiry. But in the meaning-making machine of the mind, assumptions and judgments often arise, quickly filling up any quiet space and choking out any available air for discovery. Whether judgments about ourselves or judgments of others, at some point, we all experience them. We experience them because we forget that we don't actually know what others are thinking, and we don't actually know what's going to happen next. This experience of uncertainty, or not knowing, can feel intolerable -- and even unsafe at times -- to our minds, which so desperately yearn to know. And when we think we know something already, then there is no room for inquiry and, consequently, no room for growth. To fully embrace the experience of not knowing is to fully confront reality -- where limitation, growth and freedom can truly, and harmoniously, coexist. In our therapeutic collaboration, we will practice opening up more of this mental and emotional space, in order to make room for more conscious growth and expansion.
Integrity. By this, I mean wholeness and authenticity, which may be considered two unique, albeit related, expressions of the same idea. But few of us experience these states as any kind of sustained reality. More often, we feel torn, conflicted, fragmented, and inauthentic. These feelings of conflict, both internal and external, are a normal part of being human. And conflict is useful, and even necessary, for growth. But sometimes, the war waged within can prevent us from being the person we want to be, the person we truly are. Under pressure from societal, cultural and familial expectations, we inevitably find fault with certain parts of ourselves, and fearing rejection, we do our best to hide these unwanted or undesirable parts from the world -- and even ourselves. Over time, this hiding leads to feelings of fragmentation, compartmentalization and inauthenticity. Exhaustion overwhelms us. Maybe we realize how much energy it requires to be continually hiding who we really are. Maybe we realize that we don't actually even know who we really are. Wherever we are in the journey, when we are instead able to welcome in and explore these discarded parts, offering them space to be seen and heard and fully validated, we can begin, piece by piece, to see and experience the whole, authentic person. And so, in therapy, our focus becomes less about "fixing" or "changing" anything at all, and more about accepting and re-integrating the parts of ourselves that remain hidden or forgotten. As Carl Rogers once said, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change".
Metaphor. Symbolic imagery brings a richness and accessibility to psychological work that cannot always be communicated or understood using words alone. The power and mystery of metaphors lie in their quality of being simultaneously symbolic and real. We are perhaps most familiar with the language of symbols and images as they appear to us in dreams. But symbols and images also manifest in more mundane ways throughout our lives -- for example, in how we drive our vehicles, how we care for ourselves, how we manage our energy, time and money, and more. How we move through the world each day reveals much about who we are and what motivates us in life and relationship, including those areas in which we need additional work. And when we're paying attention, as we will in our work together, the teachings and insights we gain are truly beyond measure.
Play. Believe it or not, imagination can actually help to make some things more real, via the aliveness it nurtures within us. Whether in the form of envisioning the life we'd like to create for ourselves, or simply learning to enjoy a little more fun, play and humor can be a gateway for utterly profound revelation. I've heard it said -- and I agree -- that "if you're taking life too seriously, you're not taking it seriously enough." In fact, one of my favorite archetypal characters is that of the Fool, who invites us to embrace the lighter side of life, and to enjoy it just as it is, without the usual pressing need to make sense of its many twists and turns. For surely, if only as a means of occasional relief from the relentless prison of a brooding mind, there is great wisdom to be found in remaining open to some degree of humor and silliness. Just ask me... I'm pretty funny.
Angela is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapy Intern and Counselor-in-Residence at The Relational Center in Los Angeles, California, where she provides counseling and psychoeducation to adults and adolescents of diverse cultural backgrounds. Sessions by appointment only. Please contact Angela for more information.