Depression Relationship Therapy
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The Psychotherapist's Toolbox

by Karen A. Solomon, LCSW, BCD, CGP, CHt

My colleague and I have focused on various aspects of psychotherapy in recent articles. This month, I am describing some of the tools we use and how they may implement change in peoples’ relationships.

In describing the unique way in which therapists listen, I’ve emphasized how we tune into language and behaviors in an attempt to understand what is being expressed on a deeper emotional level. This provides us with information we can discuss with the patient, leading to important insights and ultimately meaningful communication.

Here are some examples of what I am referring to. Sarcasm is usually a substitute for hostility and anger. It is easier to ask someone “what’s the matter with you: are you deaf? than to say: when you don’t hear me, I feel unimportant and negated, like what I have to say does not matter to you.”

Judgments are also ways in which we may inappropriately express concern. Example: when speaking with a teen, a parent might say: “what’s wrong with you, don’t you know how stupid that is” rather than, I am worried about your choice because I have concerns about possible consequences.” Put downs are classic ways we express anger and hurt. Often, before we even realize how wounded we feel, we strike out; attacking the other person and getting embroiled in an argument, losing sight of what originally bothered us.

In therapy sessions, professionals offer communication alternatives and explore what someone is struggling to say. When people learn to examine their own feelings and risk expressing them, rather than using sarcasm, “joking” around, name calling, etc. they are amazed at the responses elicited in others. When someone tells you how they feel, or why they are concerned, you don’t experience their input as critical or demeaning and you don’t have to defend yourself or strike back.

In all modalities of treatment, therapists are known for asking “what are you feeling?” Patients are sometimes taken aback by this question as they really don’t know what their emotions are. Additionally, they often don’t know why we are asking because their focus is on the behavior or issue they’ve come in with and they believe their feelings are irrelevant. Exposure and interpersonal experience with this new “language” has a profound impact on how they view themselves and one another. If you think about what it is like to have someone express understanding of what you may be going through rather than questioning you, or saying: “you shouldn’t feel that way,” or “that’s crazy,” it may help you to comprehend the healing aspects of compassion and insight. Imagine how your child might feel having you express empathy rather than just anger.

Gaining understanding of oneself inevitably leads to deeper understanding of others. Along with personal growth, wonderful opportunities for significant and constructive dialogue will emerge.

Karen A. Solomon
Office : 631 - 543 - 2050

Commack, New York 11725

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