Psychotherapy helps with relationship problems, emotional issues, and symptom reduction. The focus is on increasing awareness of emotions, patterns of relating, and triggers for behaviors needing change. It is valuable to understand how current struggles began and what purpose behaviors or symptoms may be serving. It is also vital to identify the strengths one brings to therapy.
Understanding the parts of ourselves that are just out of our awareness can feel challenging but not nearly as difficult as avoiding these parts. Facing weaknesses and vulnerabilities means taking risks that help us know ourselves better and have greater closeness in our relationships.
The therapist and client will work together to develop strategies that will work best for making changes. Sessions are generally held once a week or sometimes twice a week.
Distressed couples enter therapy focused on painful events and behaviors. Caught up in negative patterns, they describe what is happening to them rather than what they are feeling and needing from each other. They are often engaged in reactive anger and unable to listen to each other's emotions. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) looks at what is taking place within the relationship, the repetitive behavior patterns that the couple has become stuck in and the unexpressed emotions and needs of each partner. This approach aims to identify what the behavior is really about: fear of rejection, fear of abandonment and the longing for connection wired in all of us.
EFT teaches each partner how to be responsive to the needs of their partner by focusing on the underlying emotions and by identifying the repetitive, cyclic patterns in the relationship. The goal is for the couple to learn to work together to notice when their negative cycle is happening, step back from the ‘dance’ and begin to put new responses into place. It teaches couples how to talk to each other in new ways and create new ways of interacting.
People look to their partners to be reassured, know that they matter and find safety in their relationship. EFT is an effective and focused approach to healing relationships and helping couples deepen their connection.
In recent years, EFT has been found to be highly effective with families as well as couples. I have had success teaching EFT skills to families with adolescents and young adult children.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an intensive therapy approach used to deal with traumatic relationships and events. The approach is based on scientific research which demonstrates when a person is anxious or in a state of heightened alert, the brain cannot process the highly distressing experience. Essentially, the experience becomes “frozen in time” because the accompanying emotions are not felt and therefore do not get processed. As a result, recalling the memories constantly feels like reliving the event for the first time. The negative impact of the memories interferes with relating to people and keeping a balanced perspective on life.
The EMDR International Association describes the process in the following way:
“During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc. and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event. The therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other dual attention stimulation of the brain, while the client focuses on the disturbing material, and the client just notices whatever comes to mind without making any effort to control direction or content. Each person will process information uniquely, based on personal experiences and values. Sets of eye movements are continued until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about oneself; for example, “I did the best I could.” During EMDR, the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session, most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.”
EMDR is a physiologically based psychotherapy which not only processes the emotions associated with trauma, but also images, sounds and smells. While the memory is not erased, it becomes far less upsetting to recall.
EMDR is used as an integrative part of psychotherapy or as the main treatment. It is highly effective in treating PTSD, anxiety, disturbing memories, performance anxiety, sexual and physical abuse and for stress reduction.
The practice of psychoanalysis has changed dramatically from Freud’s time when the analyst sat back and made interpretations to the patient who accepted the doctor’s opinion.
Today’s practice, known as Contemporary Psychoanalysis, is an effective method for people seeking to make deep and lasting changes. Theorists and researchers have come to understand that a person’s childhood as well as their current relationships and life experience influence their personality. The analyst works closely with the patient to develop an understanding of what’s happening in their present life, using past experiences as a backdrop. Patients also learn about themselves by exploring the interactions taking place in the relationship between themselves and the analyst.
Contemporary analysis offers the full participation of the analyst in a dialogue with the patient. Sessions are held twice or perhaps three times a week. The patient has the benefit of an analyst who has completed advanced training at a psychoanalytic institute.
Adolescence is a unique time when sorting out questions about separating from parents and forming one’s own identity are the main struggles. When our world can be more dehumanizing than not, teens need to be guided back to their own feelings and helped to identify pleasurable activities that will not be harmful. Many teens see the benefit of having a person outside the family to sort out confusing feelings and make sense of the world.
When parents and teens are not hearing each other it can be helpful to meet together with the therapist together.
Dr. Hoffer has expertise in identifying and referring adolescents to wilderness programs and residential treatment when indicated.
When a young child is seen for therapy, optimally the therapist becomes an ally to the parents as well. Parents learn new ways to view the impact of their own parenting style on their child's unique personality and stage of development. Some parents come in seeking help for common problems of childhood; at other times a child may get stuck at a developmental juncture and need professional intervention in the form of the child's own therapy.
All therapists benefit from the objective voice of a trusted colleague during their professional lives. A private, supportive environment to discuss the inevitable challenges of clinical work is available. Dr. Hoffer has a Certificate in Supervision from the Center for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis of New Jersey and is certified to supervise LSWs.
Dr. Janet S. Hoffer
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