Do I Need Therapy?

In recent years the idea of therapy has gained significant credibility.  What was once hidden due to a negative stigma, is now rather mainstream due to the significant successes that people now talk about in everyday life.  The results of therapy depend on a person’s particular situation but often include the ability to handle life’s challenges better than before. Therapy provides you with the tools you can use to manage problems that used to feel unsurmountable.

I have helped my clients through radical transformations in both their personal and professional lives.  Sometimes this includes decreased anxiety and depression, a better relationship with their spouse, and/or better interactions at work.  Whatever issue you are dealing with, committing to even just a few visits with a therapist can help.

Most individuals start down the path to therapy asking, “Do I need therapy?” Or another common question is “Can therapy really help me?”  Most of the time, if you are asking the question, you already know that the answer is yes.

If you are looking for some guidance or a list of criteria to help make your decision, here are some common signs that therapy can help you thrive in life:  

  1. You are stuck in your job or feel blasé about life.  
  2. You have uncomfortable anxiety that is causing you to avoid certain situations.
  3. Depression is having a negative impact on your life.
  4. You are struggling with infertility.
  5. You and your spouse are not getting along at all.
  6. You are going through, or just went through, a hard time.

We can work closely together out of my NYC office, and tease out the issues that are causing problems.  Often breaking them down into small pieces helps you see a more manageable process and allows you to move forward.

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What Can You Learn in Couples Therapy?

New York is a stressful place to live in.  While the hustle and bustle of the city can bring energy to your life, there is also a pressure to keep up and always be moving.  People rarely take a few minutes to decompress and check in with their spouse on a regular basis. Usually, when life is strained, perhaps with infertility issues or pressure from work, many individuals unknowingly, take it out on their significant other and then their most important relationship is strained.  

When I work with couples in my Manhattan office, it is usually at a time when there is a problem with their relationship.  They are not communicating or they are constantly fighting and it is usually never about the issue at hand but more about underlying feelings.  I help couples develop a strong set of skills to strengthen their relationship. There are three areas to work on in order to prevent arguments from escalating:

  1. Remember why you liked each other in the first place.  When there are problems, individuals tend to negatively view their partner.  It is always a good idea to step back and remind yourselves of why and how you came together in the first place.  You may even want to develop a list of what initially attracted you to each other. 
  2. Relationship problems are rarely the fault of one partner.  So, before you get into a heated discussion or “attack” your partner because of something he/she did, take a minute to think about how you could have contributed to the disagreement. When you start a discussion, you can then frame the issue with a spirit of cooperation.   
  3. Stop making assumptions.  When you assume your partner meant something or is thinking something (or didn’t mean or think) you waste significant emotional space on what may be very far from the truth. Before wasting your precious time, give your partner the benefit of doubt and talk.  

Every couple is going to have a bit of conflict now and again; it is only natural.  The best defense against escalated fights is a solid relationship. Compliment each other often, schedule regular time alone and date nights, and set aside time to check in about issues so they do not become major problems.

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Managing Work/Life Stressors

Many factors have contributed to the apparent increase in anxiety and depression in recent years. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, social media allows us to see many problems in the lives of others, and some sensitive people find themselves absorbing other people’s pain. But very commonly, stressors at work are the cause of anxiety and depression.

What could some of these stressors include? Increased workload, for one thing. Employees have much heavier workloads today than they did 15-20 years ago, and a person can only function at 150% for so long. Poor communication at work and a sense (accurate or not) that no one at work cares about how stressed out they are, add to this pressure. Finally, there are often personality conflicts at work that cause great anxiety.

So, what steps should you take to lessen your stress?

  1. Limit your social media and news consumption. There are many problems in the world; don’t make them your own.
  2. Start writing down events or conditions that cause you stress when they come to your notice. This act of writing them down can sometimes alleviate the discomfort right away. By seeing them in writing, you can sometimes see a solution or realize they’re not as big as they seem.
  3. As you determine the stressors that aren’t easily resolved, consider talking to the appropriate person. Often this is your direct manager. Without creating a combative atmosphere, try to present these stressful conditions, acknowledge that you think they may be affecting your performance, and ask for some suggestions regarding how they can be overcome. By acknowledging the manager’s authority and admitting you may be doing less than your best, you create a positive environment in which the manager recognizes you want to do better and are coming to him or her for help. Many times adjustments can be made that not only improve the situation but also improve relationships.
  4. Take time after work to unwind. Don’t open emails or take calls from work unless they’re absolutely necessary. Create a calming ritual at the end of the day.

These steps will help you manage the unmanageable stressors in your life. Keep in mind that if your anxiety or depression is so bad that you can’t get out of bed or don’t want to eat or take care of yourself, you should talk to a professional. When I work with my clients, I assist them in building skills to help them combat the stress of life.  It is a tricky dance to find your balance but entirely possible. If you can’t do it on your own, I am here to help you.

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Teen Depression and Cell Phone Use – Is There a Connection?

There’s no doubt there has been a frightening increase in depression and suicides in recent years, particularly among teenage girls. According to the CDC, between 2010 and 2015, suicide among girls increased by 65% and severe depression increased by 58%. This is truly alarming. Changes just don’t happen that quickly without a major change in social conditions or behavior. What could be one contributing factor that might have brought about such a rapid and negative change? The cell phone.

Although “smartphones” that could do more than just make phone calls existed in the 1990s, it wasn’t until 2007, when Apple released the iPhone with its internet capabilities, that cell phone ownership among adults and teens became almost universal.

But how could a cell phone explain this dramatic and negative impact? Researchers are still trying to explain the many factors that could cause such a jump, but there’s clearly a correlation.

Let’s look at the teen issue.  The CDC found that 48% of teens who spent 5+ hours per day on their phones thought about suicide, compared to 28% of those who spent one hour per day on their phones. The question is: Do more vulnerable teens use cell phones more, or do cell phones cause teens to be more vulnerable? The answer could be both.

Cell phones are literally at our fingertips and can provide us with virtually any information or stimulation that we desire at any time. Some teens and adults use their phones as an escape—when pressure builds, they turn to their phones for solace. But this could actually be exacerbating the problem by preventing them from developing healthy coping mechanisms or problem-solving skills.

Social media is another problem. While it may seem that social media is making “social connections,” very little true human interaction is taking place. Teens often compare themselves negatively to the whitewashed lives of the people they see online. They create posts looking for “likes,” and when they don’t get enough, they can experience lower feelings of self-worth. Even more dangerous is the increased incidence of cyber-bullying.

If you think your cell phone addiction is contributing to your depression, here are a few simple steps to take:

  1. Have mandatory times every day when you unplug.  Use this time to read a book, call a friend, or get out and take a walk without checking for updates.  
  2. If you are part of a family, have a no cell phone rule at the dinner table.  This will help each member of your family reconnect and place importance on real-world interactions.
  3. Do not run to check your cell phone first thing in the morning.  Instead, take time to connect with your day through deep breaths, meditation, a walk outside, and/or sitting for breakfast with your family, your partner, a newspaper or pet.  

While the phone itself may be innocuous, its applications can both worsen problems for already depressed or anxious teens and create problems, through lower self-esteem and bullying, in teens who might not otherwise have developed them.

As a therapist in NYC, I encourage parents to talk with their children about cell phone use and help them see where it can help them and also where it can harm them. This may begin to turn back the tide of depression.

 

Articles referenced:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/12/11/phone-addiction-is-real-and-so-are-its-mental-health-risks/#137e831813df

http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/08/19/teens-and-mobile-phones-over-the-past-five-years-pew-internet-looks-back/

 

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When You are Fighting all the Time

Are you and your spouse fighting all the time?  All relationships go through ups and downs, but the stress that constant fighting puts on your life can be substantial.  At times you may want to throw in the towel and other times you may be saying “I just want to fix this.”

Marriages, like all relationships, take work.  Over time many problems can be worked out if you both recognize there is a problem and both want to work on it.  As a relationship therapist in NYC, I help couples when they are struggling by working closely with them as individuals and as a couple to get them back on track.  Marriage counselors can help both partners get to the heart of the issues by uncovering the tools necessary to solve problems.

A good first step is to book an appointment with an experienced relationship counselor.  As you contemplate this, here are a few first steps to try.

  1. Realize that this is normal.  All relationships have conflict.
  2. Acknowledge that you need some help to move past this. If your partner does not agree then you can come in for a session by yourself.  Sometimes just having one of you start the process can make a huge difference.
  3. Take a big time out.  This can save you both from saying things out of anger that you really do not mean.  Sometimes the best thing for you to do is remove yourself physically from your environment, which is a good temporary solution.  Just taking a walk around the block can bring relief. Remember to let your partner know that you will be back.
  4. If you think you can start to talk (without fighting) then you and your partner could try communicating.  Give each other interrupted time to say what is on their mind.  This can work well if you both prepare to remain calm and you stay on the subject.
  5. Do not further aggravate the situation.  If your spouse does not get along with your parents, then during this time don’t make him/her go to dinner with your folks.  If money is an issue then don’t make your spouse feel shame because he/she does not have a high paying job.

Sometimes the topic of the argument isn’t the problem at all and there is a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.  Couples therapy can help you dig to get to those core issues and then build a stronger relationship by working through each of them.

When I work with couples in my NYC office I see the transformation in couples who are willing to work hard as we progress through sessions.   Men and women come into my office often feeling disconnected from each other and together we work to try and build a much healthier marriage and relationship.

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Problems in Your Marriage: Is Co-Dependency to Blame?

Often couples therapy starts with one spouse or partner coming to my office with a laundry list of complaints about the other.  They do not feel appreciated, they feel they do everything for the relationship and feel “less than” in the eyes of their spouse. They think that if they try harder or do more, they will get the attention and love they seek.

There are many reasons why a relationship takes a particular path and co-dependency is an involved and complicated reason why some relationships are unhealthy. If you research this on the internet you may see scary words that indicate there may be a serious problem.  And sometimes the word “narcissist” is used to describe the other partner.  Co-dependency sometimes arises in marriage and identifying it is the first step toward unraveling the patterns that keep you stuck in that type of relationship.   In marriage, one partner depending on the other for happiness creates unhappiness.

The process of developing a co-dependent relationship evolves over time and it stems from how you learned to interact in your family of origin. We get subtle and not so subtle cues on what is expected of us and how receiving and giving love is conditional.

We see this issue when one spouse just wants to to make the other happy at a cost to themselves.  This can happen at any stage of the relationship, especially when there are financial, work and outside family pressures.  Your spouse is upset over something completely outside of your control but you feel you have to make it better.  You try to find ways to improve a situation that is not within your ability to do so.  This leads to frustration as well as feelings of inadequacy so you try even harder next time.

Working together, I can help you identify the triggers that unconsciously push you to seek out comfort, resolution, connection and love through overcompensation. It is difficult to change set patterns because by doing so we expose ourselves to feeling uncomfortable and unsettled. By identifying co-dependency and accepting that this is a pattern in your relationship, we can explore ways for you to connect without totally overwhelming your partner.

Most importantly, if you are prone to co-dependency we can start to unravel the wounds that began the dysfunctional process by which you seek out love.

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Empathy and Depression

Is it possible to have “too much” compassion? You may not be aware that taking on the pain of others in order to ease someone else’s distress may overburden your own emotional health. But, what does that mean? If you have a great capacity for empathy, it means that you may absorb other people’s pain, stress, anxiety, and anger. When you say, “I feel your pain”, you really mean it.

If you are already dealing with depression, adding the burden of other people’s angst can be overwhelming. Empathizing too much can lead to feelings of helplessness and anxiety. With today’s constant barrage of information and social media culture, you can even end up taking on the emotional energy of people you don’t know.

You don’t need to carry any more emotional baggage than you already have! Sometimes, clients can be confused when they are completely overwhelmed with negative feelings, not realizing that some of the pain they are feeling is not even “their own”. During our discussions, we can help tease apart this complex web of emotions.

If you are feeling depressed, it is important to take an inventory of your life to see what may be making you feel sad. Often we are unaware of the triggers and it is important to understand that some of the sadness is coming from outside sources. When we recognize that depression may develop as a result of overexposure to the sadness of others we can turn that empathy toward ourselves so that we can heal while we try to heal someone else.

  • Turn your increased sensitivity inward. Extend the feelings of compassion and kindness, that you normally reserve for others, to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Have empathy for your own situation.
  • Use positive self-talk. If you empathize with a friend going through a rough time, you offer words of encouragement, sympathy, and care. Use those same words in your own inner monologue. Simply put – don’t be harder on yourself than you would be on your friend.
  • Turn empathy into action. Use your compassionate energy to help someone in need. For example, if you have a friend who is feeling unwell – actively help them by making soup and delivering it, offer to walk their dog, fetch them groceries, or put together a simple care package of a fluffy blanket and a fun magazine. Turning your feelings into action will not only help your friend feel better, it will improve your mood and outlook as well.

Empathy can certainly be a double-edged sword. While it allows you to understand and have compassion for those around you, it can also be overwhelming. Living in a big, bustling city like NYC exposes you to untold amounts of emotional input from all of the people with whom you come in contact. Learning how to manage empathy and not let it increase or cause feelings of depression is an essential skill. Working together, we can explore your complex feelings and work out a plan that allows your natural empathy to be a positive force in your life.

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Starting Couples Counseling

In the beginning of a relationship, it’s hard to imagine that there would ever be a need for couples counseling. You are happy, in sync, in love. But, the realities of life slowly re-emerge, especially in the hustle and bustle of NYC. For a multitude of reasons, some couples get off track. In those cases, counseling can help restore effective communication and help you move the relationship forward in a positive way.

But, even with the promise of a better future, many couples approach counseling with fear and uncertainty. Let me try and dispel some of those fears. Here are a few fast facts about what couples counseling is not all about.

  • It is not about assigning blame.
  • It is not about pointing fingers and leveling accusations.
  • It is not about escalating arguments.

So, what can you expect from couples counseling then? Couples counseling is designed for both individuals to gain a deeper understanding of their role in the relationship and acquire new skills in communication and conflict resolution. In our sessions, I will listen to BOTH partners – not just one. Both perspectives are equally important and equal time, attention and understanding is imperative.

From a practical perspective, our first few sessions will likely focus on establishing goals and gathering information. These sessions may be together as a couple, or on an individual basis. I tailor my approach and our sessions to each unique situation.

Yet, while every couple is different, establishing good communication skills is essential for every relationship – both in and out of therapy. I can help you learn more effective ways to communicate. I will help you listen, truly hear, and respond to each other in ways that will build, rather than tear down, your relationship. When it comes to conflict, we can work on developing skills that will allow you to resolve differences without fighting.

If you believe that couples counseling would be beneficial for your relationship, it may still take some effort to convince your partner to commit to the process with you. In these cases, it is important that you approach the subject in a calm manner and truly listen to your partner’s concerns, without interrupting. If your partner has questions – I would be happy to discuss the process with them prior to getting started.

Couples counseling is an investment in your relationship and in yourself. The understanding, tools, and skills you acquire will improve relationships in many facets of your life including work, family and friendships. In the supportive, non-judgmental setting of our sessions, you can begin a process that will bring more connection, kindness, and calm into your life.

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Coping with Infertility

Recently, Giuliana Rancic shared her very private struggle with infertility with readers of USA Today.  Stories by people in the public eye who struggle with anxiety, depression and infertility can bring comfort to many who read their words. We realize that no amount of fame or fortune can protect someone from life’s challenges .

You may know of Giuliana and her husband Bill (both of reality TV fame).  Their path of dealing with infertility has been well documented and discussed over the years including several other health issues they have had to contend with.  I applaud their willingness to share their stories and connect with others who are struggling.  Their infertility journey did bring them to surrogacy and their son Duke.

When you read about Giuliana’s struggle with infertility, you realize one theme that kept them going – hope.  Hope carried Giuliana through when she realized that what was so “normal” for other people was not going to happen for her – the idea of conceiving a child herself.  Her strong sense of hope helped her manage IVF, which for many couples can be an unbearable time filled with uncertainty and expense.

How can you manage to find and then maintain some hope when going through IVF?  It can be difficult but I can help.  When clients approach me for help, they often come in frightened, ashamed, confused, tired, angry and depressed.  They have been struggling with issues of infertility for some time and have hit the emotional wall.

We often start by examining the full range of emotions that occur, and there are many.  You may feel scared that you will never be able to conceive a child, angry that your body is not working as it should, jealous of your friends and family members who seem to easily get pregnant, and dread the idea of dealing with the doctors, tests and medications.

Validation is a key component in the beginning of our work – you have the right to feel exactly as you do. When someone is struggling with infertility, they often keep their deepest feelings to themselves. Our task is to help you manage the negative emotions so that they don’t dominate your perspective on what you are going through. I provide a safe space to fully experience whatever emotion you may be feeling and expressing your emotions can bring about a sense of relief.

As Giuliana states, research can help alleviate your anxiety by providing you with a greater understanding of what types of treatment options are available.  The science behind fertility treatment is constantly evolving so it is helpful to try and find out what is most current so that you can make educated choices. It is critical to find good doctors to work with who have good success rates.  I would add that finding a great therapist who can help you stay positive is also a vital part of your journey toward having a child.

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Communication and Infertility

You’ve been trying to conceive a baby for some time and still you are not pregnant. You worry that something may be wrong.  Sometimes, this is the most difficult stage in the process of dealing with infertility – just admitting there could be a problem.

Sometimes admitting the problem, even to yourself, is just plain scary.  It means you have to face the reality that this might be difficult…and not natural.  You may be wondering “will I ever have a child?”  When you walk down the street in NYC you see other new moms pushing baby strollers and you just cringe on the inside…and you also cry, out of fear and frustration.

The first thing to do is work together with your partner, doctor and a therapist to come to a place of acceptance that you might have an issue. This comes with helping you gently forgive your body for not cooperating and living with some fear about the future – both in terms of what you will go through and also if you will ever conceive.

How you talk to yourself:  Clear and positive messages to yourself will help you ride the storm or infertility.  You can certainly get angry and sad, but also be loving and gentle.  Setting a positive attitude does not guarantee success but it will enable you to carry on and bear the weight of decisions you and your partner will be facing as you try to make plans for having a baby.

Communicate with your spouse:  Couples experience infertility at the same time but they process it in different ways.  For instance, a woman who feels like a pin cushion needs a sensitive partner.  When a man goes through testing he may feel as if his “manhood” is being called into question.  It is important to know that this is not about one of you, it is about both.  It does not matter where the medical obstacles lie, it is just critical that you face them together.

Discussions with your doctor:  There are so many things that can be medically corrected these days, but you have to find a doctor who meets your needs.  Your medical history may play a part in what is going on, and your doctor is only going to have that information if you share it.  Your entire medical history, including your reproductive history, should be fully discussed.

Bring it all to therapy:  all of these discussions can be exhausting and mixed with the myriad of emotions you are having, it can sometimes feel like it is too much to handle.  If you find yourself getting bitter, resentful or depressed it is best to see a therapist.  Sometimes a impartial and caring person can help you sort through emotions and options and give you the clarity you need to move forward.

Action, self-care and a hefty does of communication will help you navigate the often uncertain and scary path you will walk when attempting to conceive a child.  Make it about you and your partner taking on the goal of getting pregnant- together – and you will find yourself better prepared to handle what comes your way.

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