My Philosophy of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a special kind of interpersonal relationship designed to activate, strengthen and focus the natural healing abilities of the human mind. We have an innate ability to recover from psychological injuries and deprivations, similar to our ability to recover from physical wounds. Emotional healing, however, is not a one-person process. A supportive relationship with another person creates the ideal conditions for emotional growth and repair.

A therapeutic relationship is one in which a person is understood and valued both as an individual and as a member of the human community. Our shared experience includes the desire to be happy, and to be free from pain and fear. We struggle with life as others have struggled, and we react to difficulties in characteristically human ways. At the same time, there has never been another person exactly like you or me.

Human beings generally want to feel understood, wanted and appreciated by people who are important to them. Many people have had too few of these experiences, and have received too much disapproval, rejection, abuse or indifference. Because significant others failed to empathize or identify with them, they concluded early in life that they were not like other people. As adults, they may still think that their natural human emotions and needs are wrong, bad, or crazy. Many of my clients tell me that they don’t know what “normal” is, let alone whether they qualify for that label.

People who call me for the first time almost always ask: “What kind of therapy do you do?” Because of the value I place on individuality I have never limited my practice to any one kind of therapy. From the start of my career, the guiding principle of my work has been a question: “How can I be myself and also be most helpful to my clients?”

A person may also feel different from other people as a result of having lived through unusual experiences. Individuals who have survived wars, disasters, violent crimes, or other traumatic events often feel so changed, they don’t even recognize themselves. Many traumatized people express the belief that no one can understand them, except possibly for others who went through the same event. At the same time, they may secretly wonder if other people would react in a different and superior way to similar situations.

Psychologists have expert knowledge about how human beings think, feel and react, both in ordinary situations and under intense stress. I can help my clients understand themselves in terms of what they have been through, and I offer information about how other people have reacted to similar experiences. I want to know how it feels to walk in my clients’ shoes, and be with them emotionally as they talk about their most personal feelings. People are usually very relieved to learn that they are not alone, that they have reacted in human ways to life’s difficulties, and that another person cares enough to try to understand them.

It makes sense that we need relationships to feel like part of the human community, but we also get to know ourselves as individuals in relation to other people. Our self-images are shaped to a large degree by what we hear other people say about us and how they treat us. The outline of our identity is drawn where the sense of “self” stops, and the sense of the “other” starts. No matter how similar another person may be to us in viewpoints, preferences, desires and goals, we are never exactly alike. Healthy psychological development is based to a large extent on how well we integrate all the information we receive about ourselves into a well defined, positively valued image of our unique individuality.

Even though a lot of our ideas about ourselves are learned from other people, I believe that within every person a true self always strives for expression and recognition. When another person really “gets” us, what they say about us “rings true,” and we feel very connected to him or her. Relationships in which we feel truly seen, heard, and accepted also help us to love and support ourselves. We become more independent as a result of getting the recognition we need from someone else. One of my major goals as a therapist is to provide the best possible conditions for the emergence of the true self, in which the client’s humanity and individuality are revealed simultaneously. For both the client and the therapist these beautiful, profound experiences of wholeness are a wellspring from which deep and lasting changes flow.

Although my work is not primarily about techniques, when I have a specific application in mind I do use various techniques developed within the established schools of psychotherapy. My flexibility and the breadth of my training allow me to integrate a wide range of therapeutic strategies with my therapeutic philosophy and working style. I regularly review professional literature and offer my clients information about the state of the art in therapeutic approaches to their issues. My clients are free to accept or reject my suggestions, and are encouraged to present their own ideas about how we might work together.

If I am able to communicate that I connect both with my client’s humanity and his or her uniqueness, our relationship deepens, mutual trust develops, and desirable changes unfold. Most clients sooner or later recognize and accept that I too am a human being and an individual. That is why therapists who succeed in facilitating deep and lasting change for a client are changed themselves in the process. Like all good interpersonal relationships, successful therapy is beneficial to everyone involved.