My Approach to Psychotherapy
Another psychologist once wrote that any therapy that is not safe enough never gets off the ground, while any therapy that is not challenging enough never ends (i.e., the problem is never solved). These ideas resonate strongly with me. Consequently, I strive to create an environment of trust and safety, in which patients are able to hear and make use of my observations and questions, knowing they are not being criticized or judged. Creating the right balance of safety and challenge constitutes the art of psychotherapy.
What I actually do in a therapy session includes a combination of active listening, supportive comments, making observations, asking questions (sometimes simply for information, but more often to try to help an individual think more clearly or deeply about an issue), and collaborative problem solving.
Conceptually, I am committed to the idea that problems and symptoms do not arise randomly but rather are the product of the individual’s unique personality organization when subjected to stress. Compared with some other approaches this is a more holistic way of understanding people and, in addition to focusing on the present situation, it may also involve an exploration of past history, relationships, and ways of coping. Looking at an individual’s habitual ways of coping and of perceiving the world—his or her character style—takes on central importance in my approach.
In the world of psychology and psychotherapy, character style refers to an individual’s habitual attitudes, behaviors, and ways of thinking and feeling. There are some classic character styles that most people have heard of, such as the obsessive-compulsive, the dependent, or the narcissistic, but for most individuals character is much more unique and does not necessarily fall into one of the classic categories. Character functions to help with self-regulation; character is what we “do” when faced with some kind of threat or challenge. It is how we defend ourselves. As such, character is a necessary and adaptive aspect of our psychology. But our characteristic ways of coping and defending can also become distorted and rigid due to a variety of developmental and other life experiences. It is the task of psychotherapy to better understand maladaptive coping patterns and to help the individual make changes.