I like to talk with my patients in depth, especially at this time of crisis in the world, asking about their lives, and ways they are helping themselves, as well as ways they might be able to better deal with and cope with their fears. I like to ask questions that might never have been asked before, especially related to their fears about the health and financial stresses at the moment, that can unlock details about their lives in a way that leads to more hopeful attitudes and creative coping strategies. READ MORE
I also like to listen closely as a person speaks, and to notice not only what they say but also how they say it. Sometimes a person will tell me something that made them upset but they smile as they tell me. I might ask about that. Sometimes a person says “I had the craziest dream last night!! It made absolutely NO sense!” Those tend to be the dreams that are saying something important and never before realized about the person’s experience. The more bizarre the imagery the better! Freud said we disguise events in our dreams to get past our 'censor.' I also encourage patients to share their feedback about how well understood they feel by me in the session. Some sessions can feel better than others! And in group therapy, my co-leader and I encourage members of our group to share their dreams, feelings, thoughts and reactions about us with us, and about other members of the group with everyone in the group.
I like to help someone map out the way their personality is constructed, noting certain parts of themselves that they like and are proud of and parts that they feel cause them trouble, or pain, and that they want to get rid of. I explain that we all have an internal family living inside us, consisting of all sorts of qualities and feelings, and that it’s our job to help them get to know that family, so that their various family of ‘parts’ can live in harmony. People often come to therapy because their internal family is divided and in constant conflict, and I like to teach patients how to become a peace maker so that the war inside them can transform into a new beginning.
Some people ask for specific guidelines about how they can think about themselves and their lives differently, so that they can feel less depressed, or manage their anxiety more effectively. I can help you discover your own guidelines, and I can recommend books you might want to read . I will gladly assign homework between sessions if someone requests it. I keep detailed notes from session to session noting any homework I assigned, so that we can track whether they did it and if so, whether it was helpful.
I also like to use EMDR, which is a technique that induces a dream-like, image-filled narrative about a person’s life. EMDR can help us understand how somebody’s memories have been stored. The point? To help ease somebody’s ‘stuckness’ about a particular situation. It’s not uncommon for a person to feel that they are going around in circles about a particular issue in their life (e.g. relationship difficulties, work unhappiness, negative body image ) Over the course of my life I have undergone psychoanalysis, cognitive behavior therapy and EMDR myself. I feel confident about these approaches because I have first- hand experience that they work, and work well, in a multitude of ways and it’s very rewarding to see how these approaches are helpful to my patients as well.
SYMPTOMES OF LEARNED HELPLESSNESS-WHICH CAN BE OVERCOME!! low self esteem, impulsive self- destructive behavior, outburst of rage toward people you love, drinking or drugging excessively, nightmares, feeling spacey, highly distracted, acting like a robot or even concerns that you have a ‘split’ personality. If you think you may have been traumatized and you want to develop a more balanced and integrated sense of yourself, Active Understanding can help. At Active Understanding, psychotherapy is designed to help you get clearer about your past and stronger in the present. Through talk therapy, EMDR, understanding your Internal Family System (all the different parts of yourself), and recommending books and other resources on the matter, Active Understanding is a process that can help you become an expert at helping yourself cope with life and realize more of your dreams.
There are ways to cope with fear, to cope with change, that involve responsible behavior as well as constructive coping strategies. CBT teaches people to recognize when they are catastrophizing and to learn to break their thinking into parts, one thought at a time. This slows the racing fantasies, and protects the immune system from overwhelm. Psychoanalytic ideas can help people move beyond the defense of denial, that can help someone deal with reality in doses, an insight at a time, so they don't go into feelings of overwhelm which undermine the immune system.
I have had so much help over the years from teachers, supervisors, analysts, friends and family. My father taught me about how complex personality can be and how one person can play a multitude of roles without even realizing it. My mother taught me that I could do almost anything I set my mind to do, and her faith in me was a gift. My undergraduate years in WV and NYC taught me to find my own way of understanding life, and to expand my horizons. Living in California acquainted me with the U of the Pacific and the use of behavior analysis- which empowered me to take risks in my personal and professional life. At the U of Northern Colorado I loved working with children in play therapy and with adults using psychodynamic, humanistic and group theories. My supervisor at the Northern Westchester Guidance Clinic in Mt Kisco, NY, Christine Masters, supported me as I treated children and adolescents with abuse histories, individually and in groups, and she also taught me to empathize with their parents.. Then NYC became my therapy home, and Albert Ellis, Paul Wachtel, Tony Bass, Jack O'Brien, Joyce Whitby, Lois Adler, and Colette Linnihan-through their writings and their practices- helped me to become a more fully alive and integrated human being.
Last but not least, I thank my nephew, the artist Christopher Hunter, MFA, of 828 Design, in Asheville, NC, for his continual support with this website as well his exquisite design of my conference posters for SEPI, ISSTD and APA.
My mission is to promote understanding, acceptance and action-with regard to being the best you can be, growing older with confidence, transforming trauma into strength, and having more fun than fear along the way!
"When individuals reach old age, the aging stereotypes internalized in childhood, and then reinforced for decades, become self stereotypes that contribute to unnecessary and tragic emotional and cognitive decline"
My practice is also devoted to helping people become aware of negative stereotypes about becoming older that then become activated with each approaching birthday. During psychotherapy sessions we work to uncover and replace those negative stereotypes with constructive and exciting (and factual) alternatives. Like with trauma, there is tremendous stigma in our culture about aging, that involves ignorance and prejudice. This ignorance and prejudice contributes to depression, anxiety, apathy and significant decline in healthy functioning that is absolutely unnecessary and a tremendous loss for our culture as a whole.
“Trauma constantly confronts us with our fragility and with man’s inhumanity to man but also with our extraordinary resilience. I have been able to do this work for so long because it drew me to explore our sources of joy, creativity, meaning, and connection—all the things that make life worth living.”
Finally, my practice is devoted to helping people who feel that they are doing okay, but not great, to learn new ways of understanding, accepting and teaching themselves ‘new tricks’ so that their lives are filled with more fun and more life, more adventures to look forward to, as opposed to merely ‘treading water’ and waiting passively for something better (like a job, a love affair, winning the lottery) to come along.
"We may have to work harder, take more risks, and even accept failure when we move out of our safe beta hiding place. It has to be worth it for us to change - but the rewards can be great."
I am so fortunate to have
been taught, supervised and analyzed by the best professionals in both cognitive
and behavior therapy, as well as interpersonal and relational psychoanalysis.
Paul Wachtel PhD, in his groundbreaking book Psychoanalysis and Behavior Therapy (1977;1997) paved the way for myself and an entire generation of therapists to consider the possibility of working ‘integratively’. I am very grateful to him for introducing such a radical and creative ‘paradigm shift’ in the field of mental health.
The late Martin Gipson, Ph.D. at the University of the Pacific was an amazing mentor in Applied Behavior Analysis and introduced me to Paul Wachtel’s book PSYCHOANALYSIS AND BEHAVIOR THERAPY.
Juan Ramirez, Ph.D. at the University of Northern Colorado, faithfully supported me during my doctoral dissertation on aggression in young boys, and my research interests in feminist behavior therapy.
In New York the late Albert Ellis, Ph.D. gave me my first job and co wrote WHY AM I ALWAYS BROKE: HOW TO BE SANE ABOUT MONEY with me, which to this day is still an excellent resource for people wanting to apply principles of cognitive behavior therapy to their financial lives.
At MANHATTAN INSTITUTE FOR PSYCHOANALYSIS I was very lucky. Joyce Whitby, LCSW introduced me to the practice of psychoanalysis and was wonderfully supportive during this fascinating journey. Lois Adler, PhD was my first analytic supervisor and taught me very honestly about transference and countertransference. Nick Papouchis PhD was an excellent role model for asking questions with a gentle touch. Jack O'Brien, LCSW, introduced me in an experiential way to the important ideas of Larry Epstein, PhD and Hyman Spotnitz, MD. Tony Bass PhD, editor extraordinaire of the award winning journal PSYCHOANALYTIC DIALOGUES, introduced me to Relational Psychoanalysis in both theory and in practice. Irwin Hirsch, PhD, one of the founders of Manhattan Institute, through his many writings, as well as intensive group supervision, has inspired me, especially through his award winning book COASTING IN THE COUNTERTRANSFERENCE: CONFLICTS OF SELF INTEREST BETWEEN ANALYST AND PATIENT.
From an intensive trauma related perspective, I want to acknowledge the help I have received from my supervisors and colleagues at the Integrative Trauma Treatment Clinic at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies, (NIP) in New York City. In particular I want to thank Colette Linnihan, LCSW, an accomplished psychoanalyst/psychotherapist and an expert on attachment issues, who has provided me with invaluable guidance regarding the use of EMDR and IFS (Internal Family Systems) in the treatment of trauma.
I also want to thank Mark Sehl, PhD for his demonstrated expertise in modern psychoanalysis. His training and supervision group for therapists has taught me a lot.
Thomas Ogden’s (2005) passion for and interest in the process of dreaming resonates with my own. His belief that the patient “comes into being in the process of dreaming his lived emotional experience” serves as a guiding light for my work as a psychoanalyst. Wilfred Bion (1959) believed that the process of thinking is emotionally painful, that change often feels catastrophic, and that, therefore, “it requires two minds to think one’s most disturbing thoughts.” His theories of how psychoanalysis heals have been extremely helpful.
Intellectually and emotionally, Louis Cozolino, PhD has inspired me with his vast knowledge about aging (THE HEALTHY AGING BRAIN -2008). I have quoted him multiple times throughout this website and I think his ideas about social status and mental health, in his book WHY THERAPY WORKS, 2015, should be required reading for all therapists.
In terms of research, Becca Levy, PhD has published a number of rigorous and innovative studies on the negative effects of prejudice, particularly age stereotyping. She and her colleagues offer all of us hope that one day becoming older will be, for the most part, a seamless and satisfying journey towards wholeness.
Personally, I want to thank my family for supporting my interest in psychology, particularly my brother Burt for being such a courageous advocate for knowledge, and my sister Chris for her constant support and faith in me as I wrote my first book, and my sister Nancy for her loving support while we were growing up. More immediately, I thank my friend and colleague Christine Masters, PhD and my nephew John and his wife Bonnie, for being so supportive of my desire to highlight issues of aging and trauma in this website.
And last but not least, I sincerely thank my nephew Christopher Hunter, MFA, a gifted artist and a partner at 828:design in Asheville NC. for designing all the beautiful words and images that you see here.
"Our ability to love and be loved does not diminish with age"