Electronic spying: Impact on couples in the Modern Information Age

By Garth Mintun, LCSW, ACSW

In this modern information age with the Internet, mobile phones and GPS systems, we can share or obtain information at a breathtaking speed. The playing field between the small entrepreneur and the corporation is more equal then ever before, as information is much more widely available and accessible at all levels.

For relationships, this comes as a mixed blessing. While this technology certainly has its advantages, it also provides ample opportunity for crossed boundaries and a lack of privacy. For example, one’s wife, husband, partner or significant other can rather easily spy if they think their partner is not being truthful. Your partner might do this by checking your emails, text messages and phone numbers on your mobile phone, your history on the internet, and transportation monitoring via the GPS locator system.

In the years of being a practicing professional working with relationships and families, it is becoming much more common for me to hear about “evidence collected” via information technology. My sense is that, in adult relationships in the modern age, there is a growing dynamic involving the lack of direct communication about emotional needs and desires. Often, couples state that they quite simply “don’t have time” for this level of communication, given the combination of most people working over 40 hours per week, responsibilities of children, and the pressures of the economic recession.

This “busyness” impacts couples by increasing the possibility that their needs will not get met. The hectic schedule and lack of quality time together tends to reduce communication to purely the essential, and prevents the repair of past emotional wounds. Often the result of this involves one partner blaming the other excessively and the other partner passively resisting the blame by either “stonewalling” or “shutting down”. Couples play the roles of “chase and run.” This can play out when one person is the pursuer in the relationship and the other “runs” by shutting down and not responding (the silent treatment). Couples may reverse roles week by week or day by day. However the pattern created prevents the relationship from growing and old emotional wounds are not healed as the problems intensify.

When emotional wounds are not healed in the relationship, trust breaks down and partners can become fearful that the other is meeting their needs elsewhere. That is when the cell phone monitoring begins to take place and the history of the internet sites comes into play, as one of the partners “collects evidence”. In this modern information age, the information is easy to collect and privacy is invaded. Often then the partner confronts the other with the allegations of betrayal and both partners feel like the victim. The partner that “collects the evidence” feels betrayed because of the traces they had found of their partner’s intimate communication with another individual and the other person feels violated because of the “spying”.

When confronted with marital crisis, couples will sometimes turn for help to a psychotherapist at the point when the “evidence is collected”. The couple begins to work to overcome trust issues, anger, and sadness. The couple also begins to address the breakdown from a chronic period of time when the couple did not significantly repair their emotional disconnect. The relationship can be repaired at this stage if the couple chooses to prioritize time and attention with one another. This step involves setting time aside for weekly therapy and arranging “dates” or time together during the week to “wipe the slate clean.” This provides the couple with a basis to engage in the process of rediscovering why the couple originally came together in the first place.

In summary: if you find yourself “collecting evidence” on your partner, or if you find you are beginning to shut down, then it is time to receive professional help for your relationship. A psychotherapist can be very helpful by assisting you with making time for your relationship. Secondly, once the couple feels the relationship is a priority again, they can work on the emotional barriers that have been keeping them from intimate connection. Thirdly, as the trust builds, the need for electronic tracking will become obsolete. Psychotherapy can help both partners remember the initial “sparks” in their relationship and he provide guidance as both individuals to work together to rekindle those sparks.

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Men Following Traditional Gender Roles Often Won’t Accept Help or Counseling

by Garth Mintun, LCSW, ACSW

You are not alone among men who feel they cannot receive help. You cannot help it; you have been socialized to not receive help and are a part of learned gender roles that have existed in our North American society for over 300 years. Here are some facts regarding men.

1. Men, like the western lone hero solve all their problems and other peoples problems by themselves.
2. Showing emotions is a weakness to avoid at all cost.
3. Being close or emotionally vulnerable to another man could be perceived as “gay” and that makes me withdraw emotionally and want to appear invincible.
4. Suicide is the leading cause of death for white males between the ages of 15 to 24 and the rates increase dramatically as men age.
5. Men commit suicide up to 8 times more then women and twice the amount of women are diagnosed for depression. 50% fewer men are in counseling then women.
6. Men die in this country 7 years on average before women die.
7. 90% of the homicide/suicide offenders are men
8. Men bond through drinking together or sports activities, fact or Myth? ( myth-relationship is at a superficial level)
9. Men often rely on one woman usually to meet all emotional needs.
10. Boys are nine times more likely to suffer from hyperactivity then girls

Along with these facts are certain “ codes of masculinity ( Pollack and Levant) which requires men to be aggressive, dominant, achievement oriented, competitive, rigidly self –sufficient, adventure seeking , willing to take risks, emotionally restricted and constituted to avoid all things feminine” Quotes from “New Psychotherapy for Men, by William S Pollack and Ronald F. Levant

How Men can take Action

Your personal crisis is your opportunity to change. Take advantage of this experience, i.e., failed relationship (s), career burnout, events that lead to depression, anxiety, and isolation and reach out for help. Please don’t try to be a super hero from Hollywood and ask for help from your support system or receive professional help.

First educate yourself on how the myths of gender are unrealistic in real life and often consists the opposite for us. Never being vulnerable means emotionally “breaking “sooner or later and becoming more vulnerable. Paradoxically, becoming more vulnerable and giving your restricted feelings a voice may make you stronger.

Secondly, go into a consulting or counseling relationship to work on emotional crisis, depression, situational crisis to “stop the emotional bleeding”, help repair some of the relationship (s) and learn how you catch yourself personally in the Male Myth or gender role bias. A therapist/consultant who is aware of male issues and has done his own work on himself is a must with this kind of work.

Thirdly, after one to one counseling, go to a men’s therapy or support group and learn how to interact with other men who want to become more authentic and break out of the gender role box. The combination of education, one on one counseling and therapy/support group is the best combination promoting authenticity with inner peace in the world.

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Do you need Help with Depression?

Garth Mintun, LCSW, ACSW

How do you know if have “clinical depression”? The best way to find out is to talk to a mental health professional. A few “red flags” may help you decide to seek help.

1. Do you feel tired or have low energy all the time?

2. Do you either get too much sleep or not enough sleep?

3. Do you either eat very little or too much?

4. Do your friends tell you that you have changed and “are not yourself”

5. Do you feel isolated and alone?

6. Have you lost your support group, i.e., friends, family, relatives, work buddies, partners, spouse, boy/friend or girlfriend?

7. Do you feel sad and not know why?

8. Do you sometimes day dream of what the world would be like without you?

9. Do you notice it is difficult to focus at work and home and your productive nature has suffered?

10. Do you notice that you rarely smile, laugh or joke?

11. Do you sometimes become angry at the slightest provocation beyond the scope of the event?

12. Do you feel at a loss but don’t know what to do about it?

13. Do you find your concentration at work and at home is decreased, as though you feel you have an intermittent memory problem?

Saying yes to three or more of the above would indicate that you need to talk with a mental health professional and if you answer yes to eight, this is a strong indicator that therapy or counseling could be generally helpful.

You might also consider the strength and nature of your support system, and ask yourself if it is adequate and responsive to your needs.
Isolating and withdrawing from your normal activities can be a strong indicator of depression.
Both depression that is related to an event in your life and clinical depression tend to present with similar symptoms and both can benefit from mental health services

Research is consistent in finding that depression has best treatment results when the client receives a combination of medication and talk therapy services. Recent research indicates that when the side effects of medication are accounted for, talk therapy does at least as well as medication and perhaps better (see for more details). Also indicated in the research is that talk therapy is mandated when the symptoms of clinical depression are severe (see for more details).

Often a mental health professional and/or a psychotherapist can help you find a therapeutic group as well as individual counseling to help address the symptoms and causes of depression. When nurturing and caring people are seemingly absent in your life professional help in the form of individual therapy and group therapy can be very beneficial. The therapist and /or group can become the support you need until you find a natural support structure.

Often clinical depression has ramifications for a marriage, relationship and/or if one has children. Sometimes there are secondary effects on families and couples in which the other person becomes angry, sad or feels like they lost their “old friend, they once knew”. Whatever is the case for a person suffering from depression it is imperative to receive help quickly because depression has the potential to escalate to suicide or death wish ideation? With extreme severe depression, with suicide and death ideation, hospitalization inpatient/outpatient intensive such as partial hospitalization or ILP may be necessary. Insurance generally covers treatment for this service as well as out patient therapy.

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How To Heal Your Broken Heart

By Margy Davis-Mintun, LCSW, ACSW

Please answer the following questions (true or false) to rate your coping after a break up. ( answers at the end of the article)

1. T F I had high expectations of my significant other and the person did not live up to my ideals.

2. T F I felt blindsighted by him/her leaving me.

3. T F I felt that I was in love until we became married, and then he/she was not the same person.

4. T F I feel the pain of being rejected by not only her/him and am re-living every rejection in my life.

5. T F I keep asking myself , what if……. and I seem to obsess about being dumped.

6. T F I will never allow myself to be hurt again and refuse to have another relationship.

7. T F I can’t stand to be alone and will quickly establish a new intimate relationship.

8. T F I don’t want to talk to anybody about this break up and I can handle it all myself.

9. T F Sometimes professional counseling and group work can help me map a strategy to heal my emotional wounds after this breakup.

10. T F I am basically a good person and will use this break-up to reflect on how I can make changes in my next relationship.

In relationships there is always the matter of coping with disappointment and loss. This begins in the early phase of relationship in which you meet someone and feel this instant connection. In the early phase of relationship we are enchanted with the illusion of who we believe we have met. We begin by having a relationship with our idealized version of our partner. Slowly over time we begin to replace the mental construction we’ve developed of who they are with the facts as they slowly build in the context of time together. This process of the early phase of relationship is very important as we slowly deconstruct our fantasy of our partner so that we can build a more authentic relationship with the person they are. Often relationships that move very fast can bypass this process and the relationship continues to be based on “fill in the blanks” that we have created, rather than based on who we actually are. The fact is that no one is a perfect match and each of us will have to come to terms with aspects of the other that are not to our liking.

Have you ever met someone, and you think you know who they are and then, as you get to know them, “they are not who I thought they were”. This is a common phenomenon in many relationships, including friendships. Taking time to get to know who you are dating and “falling in love with” allows you to more fully grasp the nuances and discover the gifts and the not so wonderful parts of who they are.

In short term relationships/marriages, often the discovery of your partner’s actual identity will create much conflict and ultimately terminate the relationship. This occurs because who they are is not really who you thought and as you begin to loose interest and hope, you disengage from the relationship.

The other important aspect of getting to know someone has to do with the bottom line of what compromises each of you is willing to make against your ideal version of who you want as a partner. Common interests, values, belief systems, and the ability to accept who they are become critical factors in relationships. Often there is a false belief that if you continue in the relationship you can change them so that you can tolerate the parts you don’t like. It can be very disillusioning when a partner either doesn’t change and/or you find yourself increasingly less tolerant of them. These are common factors that bring stress and frustration to relationships that end in breakups or divorce.

The focus of this discussion will be on the recovery process of a “broken heart” and hopefully help deter the “lonely heart” experience. One of the least emphasized aspects of relationships is the repair of oneself after a difficult and heart rendering end of relationship. It is common for individuals to experience a sense of failure, self criticism, rage, isolation, self righteousness and depression, just to name a few reactions to loss.
Grief is a time to allow oneself to begin to let go and mend from sorrow and loss. Within grief, the emotions are in an active state of change. Despair about being alone is a strong pull that can keep you in a very unhealthy state of trying to hold on and digging yourself deeper into depression. Sometimes there can be a belief that what you feel at the time a relationship ends will last forever. We tend to project this desperate feeling of loss into our entire future and overwhelm ourselves with a sense of urgency to fix everything right now. This can be seen in relationships that are “on again off again” as avoidance of the ending and the fear of never finding someone again. These endings can be very destructive to the couple as the only string that holds then together is the fear of ending and not the desire for the other.

So the first step in the break up is to allow yourself some time to sort out the decision to let go of the relationship, and/or the impact of the decision made by another to end the relationship. This allows you to review the factors that brought you to this point, and let yourself experience the feelings that emerge without taking action, just being in the moment of loss. This is not a time for action, rather a time for reflection. It may be that fear and anger flood you emotionally, which is a natural reaction to loss. The feeling of rejection and the angst of rejecting are also common powerful emotional responses to ending a relationship. These feelings of guilt, rage, and/or rejection can often cloud the process of allowing yourself to experience grief.

The healing process is not rapid, and often triggers other past losses and sorrow. As these feelings blend, the emotional response often intensifies and coping becomes more difficult.

For healing, it is important to reach out to loved ones, utilize your support systems, engage in physical activity, write in a personal journal and begin to understand what your part was in the breakdown of the relationship/marriage. We often come from hurt/anger and want to blame others; it’s easy to find fault in our partner. Another common response is to accept full blame and feel self loathing.

Healing and change come from being able to understand and discover our contribution to the relationship ending. This understanding enables us to grow and to make changes in behaviors that are destructive to our relationships. This allows us to feel empowered instead of hopeless about the future. If it’s all their fault, we are absolutely powerless and helpless. If we can claim our part, however, we have something to take hold of to become stronger and more capable in future relationships.

Support groups and therapeutic groups that address grief associated with the loss of a relationship create a structured environment for learning together how to cope with loss. This offers an opportunity to get feedback and to hear observations from others. We can learn from others’ experiences and minimize isolation within a positive environment which promotes growth and change.

Sometimes individual counseling in conjunction with group work provides added help as you cope with loss. This is particularly useful to address past triggers that often are surfaced in times of grief and loss.

Sometimes individuals want to give up on any possibility for future healthy relationships. Many close down emotionally, fearing they cannot ever succeed in relationships. Other times individuals will throw themselves into random relationships to avoid the pain of being alone and try to turn off the feelings of grief. Both of these methods of coping have little success in creating growth or change for positive future outcomes.

Choosing to be reflective, going slow with any new relationship with a long courtship phase, and joining either a therapeutic therapy group for “broken hearts” or a support group is important. Try to remember to “go slow” and do not succumb to extreme thinking of giving up on relationships or quickly moving into another intimate relationship. In mapping out your strategy, you may want to seek professional psychotherapy or counseling. (See other articles in Psychotherapy Perspective blog for assistance with seeking professional help)

****Answers to emotional I Q on relationships

1. true
2. true
3. true
4. true
5. true
6. true
7. true
8. false
9. true
10. true

If you answered one question true (or 8. false) you have awareness of your “broken heart” and, with reflection and help, can emotionally heal yourself.

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Parenting Teenagers and Discipline in the Modern Age

We know it is difficult being a parent in this present age, but it is also difficult to be a teenager today as well. Never before has “good judgment” been so crucial to survival. As part of the boomer population, I don’t remember that my bad judgments would have the range of severe consequences. Sexually transmitted disease such as HIV, potent drugs and pills and pornography are every day risks for teens. My mistakes back when I was a teenager did not often have the consequences of permanent injury or death. With sexually transmitted disease and HIV, permanent injury and death are real possibilities in this present day world for teens. Never before in our history have children had to make so many risky choices by themselves.

At the same time, I never had the internet growing up. While the internet can give me wonderful relevant information, it also allows predators into my home through the computer. How wonderful and awful at the same time is this technology! It’s wonderful because we can broaden our whole world and allow ourselves to be exposed to diverse ideas and cultures that were not imaginable over 10 years ago. It’s awful because of the diversity of violence, hate and sex available to teens in graphic form, i.e. hate groups, pornography, etc.

In my private Indianapolis-based counseling practice, parents often ask, “What do we teach our kids that can compete with what the media and their friends tell them?” Of course there are no “right answers” and I struggle with the same questions. With teens especially, I believe the media, culture and their friends have more influence in direct communication than parents do. However that does not mean that parents do not have influence; I believe parents do, and they have to change their tactics of parenting when their children are teens because the previous ways of communication no longer work effectively.

Parents are the most obvious role models of how to be a man and a woman, mom and dad, and wife and husband. The most important aspect to me is that values be communicated more by the action of a parent rather than through the spoken word. The role of the parent and the discipline of the child are demonstrated by the action rather than words. Words are secondary, and I believe questions are better than statements when confronting your teen on a subject that requires critical thinking.

Show your teen how you think. Your values, respect and interest in your child may go further than telling them how to be or how to act. Being observant of your own communication style with your spouse, the teen, and others may have more influence on them than anything you tell directly tell your teenager. Asking questions in a non-judgmental way to help them understand that the consequences of their behavior may go further than “laying down the law”. The act of helping your child think things through and develop critical thinking is a lifetime gift.

For example, your teen says that some of the other kids he/she admires are drinking or taking drugs. Harping on your fears, the illegality, and consequences of the actions will not teach her/him to think for her/himself. On the contrary, your words will probably fall on deaf ears or may cut off communication with your teen on this subject. However, if you ask him/her to think with questions such as:

 What does drinking do for your friend __________?
 What does drinking do for you, how does it help you or hurt you?
 What are the consequences if you are caught by the police/lose control/drive?
 What if you don’t do what your friends do (drinking)? How would they react? How would you feel?

Of course, if your child is in ever-present danger, you supply the safety net and avert the danger of high risk. At the same time, let the teenager think the problem through, including all of the consequences. If you can teach a child how to think, this will serve him/her forever. Combined with being a good role model and learning how to think critically, your teen will be well equipped to make decisions both in childhood and as an adult.

The biggest problem with authoritarian parental discipline is that it does not provide space for the child to learn from natural consequences. Often authoritarian discipline prevents the child from learning through mistakes. As a result, later as a teenager he/she may rebel, making it more difficult to keep him/her safe. If, for example, Johnny drinks and drives, then natural consequences are losing his car privileges for a while until he can demonstrate that he/she will be responsible. He/she may also give you ideas for natural consequences for drinking. Natural consequences, providing the teen with a way to “redeem” him/herself with trust, is a wonderful way parents can teach teens to be mature. With natural consequences, dialogue is needed to problem-solve and to determine what actions should be taken to remedy the act. A spirited dialogue with the parents and teen through open communication shows the child that, although he/she does not have final say, he/she at the very least plays an important part in the act of considering the consequences. Parents want to be sure that they allow their teens the opportunity to gain their trust back without impossible consequences.

When using natural consequences as a part of parental discipline, it is advisable to use “I messages”. The parent is questioning the behavior, but not questioning the character of the child. This is very important. The behavior of drinking is unwise and immature at a school function, but the child’s character is not devalued. When talking to the child about inappropriate drinking, the parent may say, “Son, I am disappointed in your behavior of drinking at the school dance and would like to know what you think the legal consequences would be if the school officials found out.” In addition, a parent might say, “I wonder what you believe the natural consequences for drinking at school should be?”. The focus of the parent should stay on the behavior of the child and not the character of the child.

In summary, I believe that we are teaching our young people how to have problem-solving skills and how to think critically, so that they will know how to make good decisions when they are adults. We are teaching them respect for rules as well as respect for others by being respectful in our contact with them. If we prescribe the arbitrary discipline or only punish, the child may not learn critical lessons of life. Open the door with your teenager and create the experience of problem solving, natural consequences, and critical thinking as gifts they can use the rest of their life.

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How do I know when I need Professional Psychotherapy or Counseling?

By Garth Mintun, LCSW

As a psychotherapist in Indianapolis Indiana, often clients ask me “how do I know when I need help or professional psychotherapy?” I usually reply by asking them to ask themselves the following questions:

Do you feel like you have been in a “rut” for a long time and don’t know how to get out of it?

Do you have anxiety or sad thoughts come over you and does this affect any major part of your life, i.e., home, relationship, work, financial and /or legal problems.

Do you find something seems to come over you and makes you behave in a way in which you feel is not you?

Do you feel terribly insecure or have fear of abandonment?

Do you sometimes wish you were not living?

Do you feel contempt for your significant other or does he/she feel contempt for you?

Do you sometimes participate in compulsive behavior too much, i.e., gambling, drinking, drugs, shopping, cleaning or anything compulsive (meaning that you are not sure that you can stop the behavior)?

Do you continue to be in an abusive (emotional and or physical) relationship and feel all alone and powerless?

Do you feel life has passed you by?

Do you have many physical illnesses or are you sick often?

Do you feel you could do something to harm yourself in any way, like sabotaging your job, relationship or yourself in any way?

Do you have nobody you can trust to talk to?

If you answer yes to one of the questions , it may indicate that you could be a good candidate for psychotherapy since all the questions involve deep emotional issues that are difficult to “self help” and change by yourself. If you answer two “yes” then in my professional opinion to receive professonal help soon!

Paradoxically, when people feel good they may need psychotherapy. Little know questions are the following:

Are you excited about life and wish to explore obstacles that get in your way of happiness?

Have you been partaking in a self awareness process for years but feel that you are getting stuck and want professional help to take you to the next level?

Do you get along with your significant other and want to take the relationship to a new wonderful level?

Do you have difficulty with transitions in life and just need a little help in the process of change?

Are most things in life good, but just one little area nags at your for attention and you want to deal with it?

Of course there are no right answers and this is just the opinion of this author. It is my belief if one question fits for you, then psychotherapy or counseling may be helpful. Also it is important to ask your psychotherapist if they have had psychotherapy themselves. It is our belief that psychotherapists need to be alert to their own biases and are more effective when they “walk the walk “of their clients and seek help too.

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The Benefit of Groups and What is a Therapeutic Group

By Margy Davis-Mintun, LCSW

Group work has been around in the United States since the early 1900’s used primarily by Social Workers until the late 1960’s when “encounter groups” made group work popular. There are a variety of groups, most known are groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous which are support groups around a common theme. Intensive out patient and inpatient hospital programs have groups that tend to be more psycho educational in nature, where the purpose is to increase cognitive understanding of behaviors and promote change.

The type of group I will be describing is what is called therapeutic groups. These groups are closed, meaning there is a designated group membership meeting for a predetermined length of time. The nature of this group is to create a safe environment in which to experiment with getting and giving feedback and exploring new behaviors and responses in a social context.

Therapeutic groups tend to contain elements that enable a simulation of family and community experiences. In this context, a member can address issues of family of origin and break through past barriers in order to find release from old ways of being which originated in the family. Societal and cultural discourses can also be addressed and promote how members of the group can respond to the community in a different way.

These groups also allow for members to provide support to each other both in the form of understanding and empathy as well as support around gentle confrontation allowing members to experience conflict in a positive manner and to see themselves through the eyes of others.

An important aspect of group therapy comes from the group context allowing the member to receive feedback about how they are seen by others and in what ways they generate being seen as genuinely who they are and/or being seen in the manner they want to portray themselves. Even beyond those two choices, group members may see aspects of each other that are “shadow” (out of our awareness) that an individual may perceive they conceal.

The objective of group therapy is to increase self awareness, increase social comfort, allow exploration of new behaviors, provide support, develop skills, and promote more genuine interactions with others.

The format of group work is open ended, with facilitators providing opportunities for sharing within the group, encouraging risk taking and openly talking with others about one’s experiences. The facilitator also encourages feedback and participation of members in providing support to each other. Reflection by the person “working in group” and by the group members is another added benefit to therapeutic group therapy.

Group therapy is based on the premise of confidentiality, so that what is shared in the group remains private and individuals are honored in this manner. Group therapy also is based on a screening process by facilitators to assure that members are well suited for this therapeutic process and ready for group work. Sometimes there is a theme that defines the nature of the group and other times its open and the members themselves bring forth the themes they are working on.

In group therapy the work occurs both by the individual who in that circumstance is identified as “working” on an issue as well as the participants who are witness to the work and are impacted by similar themes in their own lives. This unique element of group therapy enriches the process for all members. The universality of the human experience is one of the most powerful elements of group therapy.

Groups are generally less expensive than individual psychotherapy and the experiences generated are often multiplied for every person in the group. The dynamics of multiple experiences and reflections often means more feedback and support than what individual psychotherapy provides. Each time a person does therapeutic work, this in turns “sparks” therapeutic work and reflections for everyone in the group.

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Couples, Relationships and "Fix"

By Garth Mintun, LCSW

Work solutions aren’t necessarily transferable to “fix” relationship problems. What you do on the job does not necessarily mean it will work at home. For example, if an engineer, attorney, clerk or technical person tries to fix the relationship with his/her intimate significant other; the results may not be what he/she wants. At our employment we are trained to fix problems and are paid to be “problem solvers”. The problem solving method usually works like this:
*isolate the problem and find what is “not working”
* Rationally figure out what the problem is and try to fix it
* Minimize the bad effects of the problem
* Plan a pro-active solution to the problem

Intimate relationships involve a different process. First it involves emotional and physical “sparks” which in our western culture is called “falling in love”. Then the couple goes through a courtship period of time where they learn how to be with each other and see if they can get along after the “honeymoon “period which is often an infatuation state of mind where both are on their best behavior. The couple often imagines what it like is to live together and try to picture themselves as a “unit”. Both bring their “stories” of the good and bad of their life into the relationship. Some relationships even believe
that their significant other will “fill the other half” and they are more whole when they are together. Both individuals when they come together as a couple bring stories of how they were raised by their parents, how their parents interacted together and how they fit into the family. All these old histories go into the new relationship. And guess what happens when couples bring all this together………………..they change too and are different than they used to be.

So what happens if a couple works with a relationship problem and one of the couple tries to fix “the problem” as if they were at work? Usually one of the couple becomes the “rational one” and is not emotional while the other is “emotional” and is upset about the so called problem with the relationship. Let’s pick a “problem” with couples for example “trust”. One of the individuals has a trust issue with the other. Let’s say there was an emotional affair with another and this brings up discourse in the relationship. The person, who had the “affair”, admits it and then tries to fix the issue. He/she may think that if they say “I won’t do it again, the problem is fixed”. But alas, when he/she tries to “fix” the problem, it moves to another issue, the problem does not stay fixed on one point or theme. The person who has the affair presents a plan for fidelity and wants to move on. However the other person wants to talk about what happened and will bring up many issues of how it affected him/her. So just when the one who had an affair thinks that he/she has a solution to the problem by promising fidelity, the problem shifts. Now the affair becomes a trust, listening and judgment issue. The problems seem to be escalating and the person who had the affair, feels beat up and tries to stop the talking by silence or cutting off from the conversation. This seems to make matters worse and then the other party mentions separating or divorce.

The couple could not “fix “the problem with tools used at work because there were many factors in the relationship that caused the affair to be the symptom of the relationship difficulty. Infidelity was not the only breakdown; there were many cracks in the relationship. Every time the couple tried to fix the problem, more problems came up and it was very exhausting for them.

It is our experience that it is helpful that couples understand that the aftermath of an affair is very difficult and cannot be fixed like problems at work. Feelings and stories of pain need to be honored and shared with the couple over the infidelity. The pain and hurt of what the “other did to them” needs to be transitioned to how the couple can keep destructive forces out of their relationship. We collaborate together on how to keep the “destructive forces” out of their relationship. We often ask couples to externalize the “problems” and encourage them to collaborate against the “problem” utilizing strategies that have assisted them in the past and access alternative stories of how they have been helpful to each other in the past. This enables the couple to develop comprehensive response together warding off the “destructive forces” which try to come in their relationship.

In relationships the problem solving model at work is too static and views problems to be fixed. Relationships are never static and couples continually add to the stories of their relationship through experiencing emotion and logic together. Unlike work, couples are the experts of their life and they have the ability to change their life together as expertly as they want.

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Being Open in Psychotherapy

by Garth Mintun, LCSW, CSW-G

Being open to others and accepting is very important in psychotherapy. Often we (as psychotherapists) talk the talk, but may not “walk the walk”. To walk the walk takes considerable awareness of self and often we have to put aside the conventional knowledge aside to be open and accepting of/toward others.

For example, when you think of a diagnosis do you think the person “holds” the problem inside of them? When I hear a diagnosis I need to “set it aside” to see the person in front of me! It is too bad that medical theory concentrates on the “pathology” and not the wellness of the person. What if we were to diagnosis people on wellness? What if we called people with the terms like “warmly resonating”, “friendly and articulate”, intensely honest, emotionally beautiful, and open to new ideas and holistically abundant? What if people came to therapy for helping a family member, “fit into the family more completely”? Instead of a child having school problems, what if the school came to the psychotherapist and asked how to help change the institution so the child could learn more of what he/she or the parents wanted. What if there was no normal and everybody was special in their own way? What if instead of an “addiction problem”, the issue was that the person “learned compulsivity very quickly” and the help were to assist this “gifted “person attends to other ways of learning compulsivity in ways they want to be.”

In narrative therapy (Michael White, David Epston, the use of externalization is used to address “problems” as something outside the person. Narrative therapy uses the persons own words to describe the external “problem” rather than the so called diagnosis in the therapy process. The alternative stories rather then the problem stories are favored in therapy and the client is considered the “expert” while the therapist helps collaborate with the person against the external problem. The problem is addressed and externalized with the therapist and person collaborating with each other against the problem. If a client brings up a traditional diagnosis and names it such, we try to assist the client in externalizing it and finding ways of “keeping the problem at bay”.

In summary, we psychotherapists need to be open to our clients and the expertness they bring to the process. If we were more open to learning from our clients and question our professional assumptions more, perhaps we could be more open to others and ourselves.

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A Notion of Change

By Margy Davis-Mintun, LCSW

Through the years I’ve been intrigued with the idea of change and growth and how that process actually takes place. I recall being at an in-service back in the days when I worked in health care and learning that children don’t grow in small continuous increments, rather they can grow an inch or a quarter of an inch in a 24 hour period of time. That idea seemed strange to me, and challenged my concept of growth as a very slow continuous process.

As I turn to examine change in terms of human behavior, what strikes me in my work, is that the process of awakening to change is rather slow, as we gain new insights, new ideas, new ways of understanding ourselves and our stories. However the actual moment of change seems to be rather radical and instant, when our entire body/mind/spirit transforms and a new reality is embodied!

Have you ever noticed that you have believed or experienced something in life a particular way and then one day, that old way of being/thinking has just vanished and has been replaced with a new perspective?

An example I can use in my life, is that I used to feel/believe that I was responsible for making sure that everything in my life “worked”. I used to think that if I were not on top of all matters, my life would fall apart, and what would follow is that I would somehow lose my sense of purpose and meaning. This is quite ridiculous, of course, but nevertheless this was a fundamental belief that guided many of my choices and most of my interpretations. It seems like I “worked” in my own psychotherapy on this for an extensive period of time. Cognitively and intellectually I realize that of course these ideas were filled with flaws and that my grandiosity was beyond the scope of truth. Still, I held on to these notions and guarded them for “dear life”, they were for me defining, and I wasn’t about to give them up. These beliefs allowed me to think of myself as sacrificing and to hold noble meaning in my life.

Of course to maintain this story, I had to push aside the awareness of my helplessness, of my limitations and of my vulnerability. Some how, life did not feel safe enough to allow for my fraility, at least not for me to openly recognize it.

Yet one day, when I woke up to the diagnosis of cancer, all that I held in my belief system fell apart. I had to face the falsehood of my story, that somehow I in my arrogant and/or childlike way I held the notion of having so much more control than I ever actually had. In a moment I realized that a belief system integral to my self concept was in fact false, not only false because my intellect understood that to be so, but false because my being knew that to be true.
It was at this point that I began to understand in a “felt” sense, that change is not so much a process, but rather a momentary shift in the way we think, a shift that allows for new beliefs to create new embodied experiences in a magnificently irreversible manner. This was the equivalent of the twenty four hour growth spurt of our childhood body
This experience led me to continue to explore the relationship between our beliefs and our experience, particularly related to the shift that allows us to become free to embrace something new in our life view.

When in the process of psychotherapy, we sometimes wonder if things will ever change, the journey can seem long and winding. We are often preoccupied with the “desert” of our problems, beliefs and limitations. Then suddenly we shift and unexpectedly change happens, we see the “oasis” in the desert! Like the child growing an inch overnight, a shift in our world/personal view. To me, this is what a Notion of Change is all about!

More to come…………………………..

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