How We Create Experience
And how we can change it
We are meaning-making beings.
Primarily unconsciously, and largely directed by implicit memory, we observe our external reality, interpret it, and attach meaning to it. We create a subjective internal experience.
But the meaning we make depends on how we've learned to organize and interpret the world.
And central to this organization are our beliefs. "I'm safe," "I belong," "I'm worthy," and "I'm enough," give rise to a very different organization of experience than their counterparts.
Change the organization. Change the meaning. Change the experience.
Because the Label Means Relatively Little
And the approach means everything
It's not that labels aren't important. But there's an important distinction that must be made -
Labels describe a cluster of symptoms. They say nothing about the underlying cause.
While it may seem like semantics at first blush, it's the difference between managing symptoms and treating the cause. The unfortunate truth is that the disease-model approach fosters surface-level care.
And while symptom management is important, we don't want to be managing symptoms forever.
Mental and emotional distress are not diseases. They're symptoms, like a fever. They're a sign that there something is going wrong that needs to be addressed.
When we look past the label to the underlying cause, then the goals for therapy go from palliative care to curative treatment.
By processing through our past and the events that have led us to where we are, we can resolve their emotional impact and let them take their place in our personal history rather than simply learning to live with the aftermath.
And to continue with the metaphor, while you might give a child a Tylenol to break their fever, you probably wouldn't ignore the raging infection that gave rise to it.
We all have a basic human need for connection, validation, acceptance, purpose and self worth. When any of these needs are unmet, depression is a natural result. Thus, depression is less a disease than it is a symptom - a sign that something is going on that needs to be addressed.
Sometimes present circumstances are leaving those needs unfulfilled. Sometimes our developmental history has endowed us with internalized messages that conflict with those needs; perhaps we've been hurt in connection, received scorn and judgement instead of validation and acceptance, or been taught that we lack purpose or are not valued. Whatever the cause, I help clients transform depression by addressing both the implicit memories and explicit circumstances that are keeping them shackled.
At its core, anxiety is rooted in the belief that things are not safe. And beliefs about safety, with their connection to survival, are not stored in our cognitive mind. As anyone who's struggled with anxiety or panic well knows, our logical, rational mind is usually not the part that's running the show when symptoms flare up. Instead, beliefs about safety are stored viscerally, encoded in the nervous system as implicit memories, motor patterns and fight or flight responses.
Neurologically, this makes sense - if you really aren't safe, you don't want the prolonged process of having to think about what to do next, you want it to happen reflexively. This mental bipass is very adaptive. Unfortunately, it's also why cognitive and analytical approaches to treatment often fall short.
By combining psychodynamic approaches with somatic and nervous-system techniques, I help clients to not only manage the symptoms, but to heal the underlying cause.
Have you ever stop to think why there's a war on drugs to combat substance abuse, and yet no one points to addictive properties of cards as the cause of gambling addiction?
There's a incongruence there that points to an important truth: substances don't cause addiction. Pain causes addiction.
We all need strategies to cope. Some of us have sufficient adaptive coping strategies to deal with the pain we have been dealt. Some of us haven't been so lucky. And in the absence of adaptive mechanisms to manage pain, what's left are maladaptive alternatives.
While abstinence may be an important first step for many, it's at best half the picture. An abstinent person whose still in pain is a person whose white-knuckling sobriety. By working with clients to not only stop the behaviour, but to resolve the pain it's medicating, I help clients move from resisting the urge to not needing the crutch.
Relationships are inherently challenging. While intimate connection serves some of our deepest human needs, it also tends to confront our deepest insecurities.
Our patterns and models for how to be in relationship are installed at a very young age. And even if we've had wonderful examples for those patterns, it doesn't mean that they match our partners’.
From conflict and poor communication to emotional distance and infidelity, the core of many relational issues are often rooted in our own attachment patterns.
By assisting couples in moving past the content of their disagreements to the issues that underly them, I help clients to not only address their present concerns, but to transform their way of being in relationship in general.