My Approach to Psychotherapy
Psychoanalytic psychotherapy offers a second chance to develop, to heal, and to strengthen the personality.
It strengthens the mind by building self-knowledge and emotional muscle.
Psychotherapy is a continuously-evolving field. I draw upon the science of human development, the rich and ever-changing psychoanalytic tradition, and my own 20 years of experience to provide what I believe is an extremely helpful and effective approach to therapy.
Early Challenges Build Strength
I work with all ages, from infants to seniors. My daily experience teaches me, with the most vivid lessons, about the developmental dilemmas that confront people across their life spans.
These universal human challenges, first confronted in infancy, we meet again and again throughout our lives. When we resolve these dilemmas, we stand upon a sturdy foundation for mental health. These dilemmas include:
- Trusting that love is stronger than hate. Infants, laughing during peek-a-boo or soothed after a nighttime terror, are learning to handle feelings and to trust that their beloved parents, hated when they disappear, always return.
- Staying connected while enjoying autonomy. Toddlers, whose ambitions often surpass their abilities, want to do everything independently. Weathering frustrations as they learn to master their own bodies and minds, toddlers share their new-found pride with their parents, whom they still need more than they can admit.
- Developing a moral compass. Preschoolers, dressing up as mom or dad, longing to usurp their privileged positions, must learn to enjoy their childhoods and to patiently wait for the satisfactions of grown-up privileges. To achieve this realistic solution, preschoolers develop an inner helper, a personal guide modeled upon their parents. When realistic and firm, this inner helper, or conscience, fortifies self-restraint.
As we go through life, we carry the lessons learned in our struggles with the earliest human dilemmas from one stage to the next. These life-lessons become the building blocks of our mind. And the keystone of a robust mind is what has been called “emotional muscle,” the strength to handle feelings.
The term "emotional muscle" comes from the book Building Emotional Muscle by psychoanalysts Kerry Kelly Novick and Jack Novick.
I have consulted with Ms. Novick for over eight years.
Upon this bedrock can we build realistic thinking, endurance for work, self-esteem, and the capacity to love others.
Weak Emotional Muscle
We can see how troubles arise. Whoever lacks emotional muscle, must fall back on weaker strategies that later become roadblocks to growth.
Lacking emotional strength, for example, the slighted little boy, seeing his friends at play, hurls blocks. As a teenager, when jealous, he insults his friends, and finally, as a husband, feeling neglected, he sullenly withdraws from his wife. In each instance, his tantrums make his life harder than it has to be.
Both early and later relationships strengthen or weaken emotional muscles, and development is forever.
In a similar way, emotional weakness may appear as anxiety, depression, learning inhibitions, compulsive behavior, or social difficulties. Of course, biological vulnerabilities contribute to emotional problems. However, neuroscience shows that life experience, both before and after birth, interacts with genetic potential to sculpt the brain regions used to handle feelings. Thus, both early and later relationships strengthen or weaken emotional muscles. In this way, development is forever.
How Psychotherapy Builds Emotional Muscle
Psychotherapy, a relationship available to anyone, strengthens emotional muscle. It teaches new ways to solve problems and builds strength to handle feelings.
To begin, we trace the natural history of your troubles, examining how you first mismanaged your feelings and what prevented you from learning more effective strategies. Then, recognizing that all behavior is meaningful, we watch for current forms of old coping strategies during sessions.
For example, to escape the pain of jealousy, the patient who as a preschooler would have tried to run out of the room, and as a teenager would have endlessly criticized me, as an adult digresses and changes topics.
Having identified the natural history of these automatic defenses and seen them in action, we begin to perceive feelings long avoided and then discover more flexible ways to handle feelings.
My daily work with children has sensitized me to the vulnerabilities behind adult defenses and keeps fresh in my mind the earliest human dilemmas. This repeated sequence of catching old defenses, then allowing new experiences, builds emotional strength. It also creates, gradually, over time, the most enduring source of emotional strength, which is self-knowledge.
In psychotherapy, people talk about whatever is on their minds. Sometimes they discuss daily problems, and when I see an obvious solution, I share it. But I always keep one eye on the higher goal of self-understanding and of identifying the troubles that have enfeebled emotional muscles.
This “free space” deepens psychotherapy into an intense psychoanalytic experience.
To do this, I protect time to talk about dreams, fantasies, wishes, and longings. This “free space,” repeated again and again in frequent, regular meetings, deepens psychotherapy into an intense psychoanalytic experience. This can often help you, not just to resolve the troubles that prompted therapy, but to become more active in your life, to more effectively use your mind, and to form more satisfying relationships.
This is your second chance at development, the greatest gift of the psychoanalytic tradition, a gift I take great joy in offering to people of all ages.