I work with a range of issues to help you to feel better, grow as an individual, and connect better in relationships, with a focus on improving your well-being and enjoyment of life. I use a holistic, innovative approach to individual psychotherapy with adults, parent coaching, professional consultation and canine integrated services. I combine my conviction in the individual’s potential for growth with current research on holistic health, attachment theory, positive psychology, emotional and nervous system regulation, and advances in neuroscience and brain development.
By applying integrative therapy approaches with innovative practices, I create a safe, supportive experience in which you can explore and grow. Below are descriptions of some of my areas of specialization. Please feel free to ask me about how I might work with your concern, if it is not addressed below.
“But it is true that I'm at the age, at that turn in the road, where one looks back as well as forward to remember one -- where one has been, so it's better to chart where one is going.”
President Barrack Obama, 2017.
Aging is often experienced as a crisis, rather than as an opportunity. Many of us meet our aging process with fear and believe it is synonymous with loss and inevitable decline. Former Pres. Barack Obama’s statement encapsulates the opportunity that aging offers. Middle and old age do not have to be a crisis; it can be an opportunity to move forward without regret. Mature adults have gained invaluable knowledge and self-understanding, made some mistakes and had successes. The vantage point of experience creates fertile ground to do deep and meaningful psychotherapy and prepare for the next stages of your life to be lived well. We can take this “turn in the road” to explore together and come to better understand where you have been, so that you can better decide how you want to live well going forward. Participating in therapy at this time in your life can be a deep, rich and rewarding experience. Whatever the conditions are that bring you into therapy at this time, I will support you to find a way to age with grace, address regret and discover fulfillment now.
Anger is the most common web search performed when people seek therapy. We all experience anger. In fact, one of the important functions healthy anger serves is to motivate us, organize ourselves, and propel us into taking needed action. Anger serves as important feedback, letting us know when something is “wrong," indicating an unmet need, serving to protect us, and generating powerful energy. Anger lets you know that what is happening doesn’t feel okay or isn’t right. Chronic, intense anger that feels overwhelming and out of control, however, can be highly destructive to us and our relationships. There is a frequent misconception that anger must be stopped to be managed or controlled. I understand anger as a useful emotion which we need to learn to take care of and befriend, rather than suppress. I will help you to better understand your anger and learn ways to use the energy to make positive life changes. I often start with helping you recognize the anger warning signs in your body, so you can start to care for your anger before it can escalate.
Anxiety takes many forms. Your anxiety may be a nagging worry you can’t shake. Your anxiety may have a very specific focus or may feel all-consuming and pervasive in your life. No matter how your anxiety manifests, it is one of the most difficult emotional experiences to tolerate. Anxiety takes a physical, emotional and mental toll. You may experience increased heart rate and respiration, distressing physical stress reactions and literally feel like you’re crawling out your skin. Anxiety ultimately is an attempt to predict when something unpleasant or dangerous will happen. It is a neurochemical reaction that is trying to keep us safe, but represents a misfiring of our fight, flight or freeze response. Part of how I work with anxiety is to help you identify and understand what is feeling scary in your life. I might help you find ways to improve your internal sense of safety through mindfulness practices; I will support you to learn body/mind/spirit strategies to change your neurochemistry from fight, flight or freeze by helping you cultivate skills that reduce your physical and emotional stress. Paradoxically, sometimes the right approach with anxiety is to explore it with curiosity, rather than reject or avoid the experience. I will meet you in the discomfort of anxiety, work with you to better understand how it functions in your life and help you learn to move through it in a new way.
You may be feeling resentful. You may feel like you have to say “yes” in order to be loved. These are common signs that your boundaries are being crossed or violated. Or you may automatically say “no” to most requests and have lots of rules to keep people distant and you safe. These are common signs that in order to feel protected your boundaries have become rigid. Most of us sometimes feel that we are not “allowed” to assert ourselves. Establishing healthy boundaries is essential to creating rewarding, respectful relationships with others, and more importantly with yourself. Whether you were brought up by a parent who wasn’t able to respect your boundaries and was controlling, or a parent who did not notice you and was largely absent, or both, you may not have had the opportunity to experience healthy boundaries and closeness. We can work together to support you to develop boundaries which can give you a balance between personal power, beneficial defenses and open-hearted connection. Boundaries are about us knowing our own limits and respecting the limits we set. I will offer guidance exploring the function your current boundaries serve and help you discover how to create boundaries that truly serve you. This can be tender work with great reward. Boundary work takes courage and can be life-changing!
Depression can be debilitating. You might feel hopeless, have no energy, or can’t enjoy the things you used to enjoy. You may just want to curl up in a ball and stay in bed, or you may wake up at three in the morning with a sense of dread and a critical voice in your head. Depression seems to disable the very things you need to feel better. One way to understand depression is that it is a disconnection from oneself and others. It has been called disconnection from the ability to experience love. Another way to understand depression is that it is similar to an autoimmune disease. Your resilience (connection to your life, to yourself, to others, energy and sleep) or your “healthy immune response” is dismantled by depression, and the part of us which defends against external threats instead attacks you with self-critical judgment.
In my experience, depression is often a symptom of something else, such as trauma or neglect. I find it important when dealing with depression to help you find the root cause of your depression, while supporting you at the same time to reengage with your life. Cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT), of which I am trained in, are often front-line in treating depression. While useful to understand the impact your thoughts have on your feelings, CBT only represents part of the picture. The cultivation of mindful self-compassion can be an important first step to help you turn off the self-attack and critical voice. Curiosity and gratitude can also help support the creation of attitudes that are resistant to depression. I have a large toolbox of approaches available to help you find your way back to feeling hope and joy in your life and reconnecting to yourself and others. We can work together to discover how to best support you to find your way through.
You may at times feel at the mercy of your emotions or disconnected from your feelings. Your emotions may fluctuate wildly or feel absent. Instead of your feelings helping guide you, you might experience your feelings as causing disruptions in your relationships or at your work. You may feel very reactive or shut down. Do you ever wish you were able to easily soothe and calm yourself? Has anyone ever said you are too sensitive, too intense, or not sensitive enough? Befriending your feelings and linking your thoughts, your feelings and your body is central to mental health and well-being.
Emotions serve crucial functions. Feelings are not optional or less important than thoughts or reason. In fact, feelings influence and shape our thoughts and behavior, as much as the other way around. Feelings “code salience” – that is, they help us remember what is important and allow us to make predictions on how to respond to our world. Feelings are critical for us to connect to others, feel love and experience belonging. Emotional regulation is the ability to respond to our life with a range of feelings that is flexible enough to permit needed spontaneous reactions or more considered responses. We can work together to help you develop the needed skills to access and increase your ability to befriend and manage your feelings, while focusing on better understanding your emotions. Methods of improving your ability to regulate your emotions might include mindfulness practices, exploring self-care strategies, discovering ways to increase your awareness of, and tolerance for, your emotions and learning to master surfing the powerful waves of emotion.
Grief and Loss
There is no way for us to avoid grief or loss. Grieving and loss are normal parts of life. There are many types of grief and loss. You might experience the loss at watching your baby grow into a toddler, even as you meet this child’s growth with joyful anticipation. Sometimes the change of the season, the shifting light of fall, can make us aware of the passage of time and you may experience loss. The loss of a loved one is life-changing. Grief can have complications and become extended without support. Sadly, grief and loss are often treated as something you need to get over. I adhere to the hospice philosophy that loss is something you must go through. I believe it is important to honor the people and the experiences in our life that shape us. In order to have access to all of our feelings such as joy, happiness and peace, we also have to be able to accept and experience hurt and sadness. My approach in working with loss is to help you grieve fully, without being overwhelmed. My goal is for you to be able to remember your loved one over time with more joy than sadness, to move through grief and accept as best as you are able, and to ultimately understand your loss.
Happiness and Joy
Feeling better is only the first step to well-being. Not feeling bad is definitely something to celebrate. Central to how I practice is the cultivation of positive states of mind including happiness and joy. The term neuroplasticity may not sound promising - however, it is the most exciting concept I’ve heard in the past 20 years! What does this mean? There is overwhelming evidence your brain does not stop forming or “wiring at the age of five” as was once believed. In fact, neuroscience teaches us that we continue to grow and are able to change throughout our life span. Experience-dependent neuroplasticity is the concept that you can support your brain to change for the better by cultivating and savoring positive experiences.
Happiness is often defined as being dependent on external conditions that cause you to feel happy, like getting a raise or your child getting into college. Joy is defined as a more abiding state. Joy is understood as an internal experience which comes when you are at peace with who you are and how you are living your life. A flower garden is an excellent metaphor for cultivating positive states of being. As part of therapy with me, I will offer experiences to help you create optimal conditions to support your happiness and joy to bloom!
Self-Nurturance and Self- Care
In our crazy busy, 24/7 world, taking care of yourself and nurturing yourself is often at the bottom of the to-do list, after taking care of all your responsibilities and everybody else. Taking out the trash, doing your taxes, getting work done, taking care of your children, even sorting the recycling comes first. The truth is nurturance and self-care is absolutely essential to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being! Self-care is preventative and restorative, providing you with ways to reduce stress and enhance resilience. Self-care is particularly important, if you feel confused by the question, “what do I want?” Many women, but also men, seem to feel self-care is self-indulgent or somehow believe they don’t “deserve” nurturance. Looking into the beliefs about self-care can be useful in understanding oneself and beginning to find the answer to the question, “what do I need?” Self-care is seldom prioritized in traditional therapy. Built into my practice of psychotherapy, however, is supporting you to nurture and care for yourself. We can gently work together to help you answer this seemingly simple and critically important question, “what is it I need and how do I give myself the care I need?” I will support you to discover ways to care for, and about yourself, and develop your own intentional practice to nurture yourself.
Spirituality and Existential Issues
I used to tell my son when he was young, cuddled up with me at night and wanting answers to the big “why” questions: “You are made of stardust and light. You belong to, and are part of this universe, as much as anyone else… as much as the animals and trees are a part, as much as the planets and the stars are a part of the universe, you too belong. Life is a great mystery and you get to explore this mystery!” Literally we are physically made up of the substance of stars! And the light of the sun makes life possible. We are beings of the universe.
We enter into therapy as a whole human being with deep longings; a yearning to understand ourselves better, a desire to make sense of the existential big life questions; to explore what is possible, to belong and to find or express our unique understanding of the mystery of being alive. We are so much more than a cluster of symptoms or problems! I hold a broad understanding of spirituality and see it as the process of awakening to life. I understand spirituality as the practice of deepening our connection to ourselves and others, to the world and the mysteries of being alive. Body, mind and spirit are not separate. Our minds work to make sense of concepts and ideas, but it is through our body that we directly connect to and experience the world. It is our spirit that bridges the sense experiences and reasoning to enrich our life, and awake to our full potential. In this way religion, meditation, parenting, relationships, dog training, gardening, even work can all be spiritual practices which have the potential to wake us up.
I honor your religious beliefs, your metaphysical or scientific understanding and invite your spirituality into the therapy process to the extent you would like spirituality to be integrated. Whether you are traditionally religious or agnostic, follow a mystic, contemplative or metaphysical path, or you seek your answers in science and reason, I welcome your type of knowing and your spiritual practice. I will gladly support your exploration of the “big questions.” There is room in my practice of therapy to incorporate your understanding, wisdom and faith into your therapy process. You are, after all, made of stardust and light!
Trauma, Abuse & Neglect
Trauma is the experience of intense overwhelm of the body, mind and spirit. It can be the result of a life-threatening event or the ongoing experience of toxic levels of stress. There is the trauma caused by natural disaster. There is also the trauma of a life-threatening illness or the often overwhelming experience of medical treatment. Trauma can be caused by abuse and neglect. Perhaps the most difficult form of traumatic experience is what I call the betrayal of human connection, such as childhood abuse or domestic violence. Trauma can leave a legacy, like a footprint, in our nervous systems, and on our very sense of self. Your trauma may have happened in the past, but it plays out in the present. We cannot change what was, but we can work together to assist you to find ways to transform how trauma is impacting your life today.
Essential to working with trauma in therapy is helping you establish a sense of internal safety and a sense of internal control. Equally important is assisting you to learn new skills to better regulate your arousal. In terms of trauma, arousal can be understood as your biological, emotional and cognitive response to perceived threat. If you’ve experienced trauma, your fight/flight (hyper arousal) or freeze (state of shutdown or hypo arousal) mechanisms may be almost permanently engaged or very easily triggered. Trauma therapy by necessity needs move at a slow pace. The aftermath of trauma often leaves people feeling alone and alienated. You do not have to go through this experience alone. Trust in the therapeutic relationship and the process only happens with time. We will work together to help you recognize and honor the ways you brilliantly adapted to survive, before “discarding” the strategies that are no longer serving you. Together we can address the impact of trauma on your body, mind and spirit and help you to move beyond survival to reclaim your life.
The list of specialization areas above is not all-inclusive. Please contact me to inquire about how I might best work with your issue if it was not listed.