I approach my clients' difficulties as problems that we can work on together, rather than as illnesses. I prefer that you define or choose the problems you want to work on, and I do not believe in adjusting my clients to fit my theories. While we certainly spend some time figuring out where problems come from, I think more of the answers are found in trying something new or different. Finding ways to draw on your own strengths and skills will enable you to deal with problems in the present and in the future.
Following is a list of frequent therapeutic goals that I have special expertise with.
Creating Sustainable Polyamory
I have lived a consciously open sexual lifestyle in many different forms since 1969. Writing The Ethical Slut has been the culmination of a long career of learning and exploration. I have extensive experience in intentional communities, alternative families and childrearing, and lesbian, gay and pansexual subcultures. I love supporting people in creating the relationships and lifestyles that work for them. Unlearning jealousy is a healing path. I have come to believe, through forty years of experience in polyamory, that what we call jealousy is actually a manifestation of a conflict we carry inside of us, which we fear we are unable to manage and believe that we have no power to change. Feeling helpless, we become tempted to project this fear onto our partners and insist that they take care of it for us by promising not to love or desire anyone else.
To unlearn jealousy is to make friends with our fears, welcome them back home, and offer ourselves comfort and healing. Once we are confident that we can take care of ourselves when we feel less than fabulous, managing jealousy becomes easy, and we no longer need to fear it. After forty years of nonmonogamy, I still get jealous, but it has become a sort of non-event, sometimes even a delight of sorts as I find new ways to be nice to myself.
Relationship Conflicts Conflict management means learning to handle disagreements and arguments more fruitfully, however heated they may become. Conflict in relationships is about striving together to evolve the relationship to its next higher level, and then the one after that, and so on. Most of us have been taught to avoid conflict at all costs. Anger can be a scary feeling, but it is also a powerful messenger that often tells us what we want to work toward. I work to help you get comfortable enough with conflict to develop good tools in communicating and in taking care of yourselves and each other. Then, as conflict becomes manageable, you can reap all the benefits of intimacy and keep growing together.
Disability, Serious Illness, and AIDS
I have worked personally and professionally with people with AIDS, cancer, and other serious and/or disabling medical conditions for nearly thirty years. I can help you rediscover the will to thrive. I have learned that enhanced health and improved quality of life can be achieved by dealing positively with the depression and loss that accompany all serious physical ailments. Psychotherapy can help you to live with what you can’t change and improve your healthy by asserting yourself with medical providers and insurance companies, getting better care, maximizing your wellness, and building a rewarding life in the present, in the body you are currently inhabiting. Sometimes psychotherapy can help you get healthy. And sometimes psychotherapy can help you prepare for the end of life when that event appears on the horizon.
Surviving Childhood Trauma and Abuse
The ultimate betrayal is for a child to be abused, physically, sexually, and/or emotionally, by the adults in the family they need to rely on for their survival. Abuse, as well as serious illness or other trauma in childhood, can result in longstanding problems. Children learn terrible things from abuse, and never get to learn what a safe and healthy childhood might offer them – experiences of being loved and protected, boundaries that aren’t violated, and a proud identity.
Becoming conscious of childhood trauma is very difficult. Many of us have worked virtually our whole lives to not remember the trauma. We may have learned habits of disassociation and avoidance, which protected us when we were young, but now block us from being fully conscious. The task of therapy becomes to convince our emotional memories that we are now adults and can take care of ourselves. We are now safe. There is nothing to fear in the present. We have already survived.
I have opened many cans of worms with abuse survivors since I started working with these issues back in 1979. I think we often try to put a lid on memories of trauma and the overwhelming feelings that are connected to those memories. We tell ourselves that in order to never feel this bad again, we will keep that lid on forever. What we can do in therapy is find safe ways to lift that lid and perhaps take out one little worm, watch it crawl around, and then put it back in the can and put the lid back on. Cans of worms don't actually explode when you look at them in a clear and supportive light.
Depression, Anxiety, Panic, Mood Swings, Grief, and Other Emotional Concerns
Most people come to therapy to deal with emotional pain. I like to work with people to build containers for difficult emotions - what you might think of as conscious defenses. It helps to treat overwhelming emotions much as you would the flu - by being kind to yourself. When you feel confident that you can take care of yourself when you are scared or in pain, then you can afford to stay conscious while you feel your emotions and learn from them. Then painful feelings can no longer drive you anywhere you don’t choose to go, and healing can begin. Medications can be useful and/or necessary, sometimes for brief periods to get through a difficult time, and sometimes for a longer term. I have extensive experience coordinating with physicians and psychiatrists. For most people, medication alone is not enough. Therapy is a powerful tool for the resolution of emotional problems. Most research studies have come to the same conclusion: the ideal treatment cannot be simplified to a choice between medications or therapy. Everyone does better with therapy, whether or not they get help from medications.
All intense emotions can feel frightening. Jung pointed out that most of us experience our emotions as if they were being done to us, or happening to us, and not something that we are doing. I like to work with people to own their emotions and develop their abilities to make choices about how they feel.