Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Check Your Expectations

I live in the District of Columbia and often travel from NW to SE by way of the I-395 tunnels. Between the 2 tunnels is an area that has a speed camera and the speed limit is 45mph. Every time I drive through this tunnel and approach this area, drivers in front of me slow down to about 40 mph and creep through this section, and then hit the gas pedal and drive as if they are in the Indy 500 through the remainder of the tunnel.

This annoys me to no end.

Every time I approach this section, I hope (and pray) that the people will just keep driving at a normal speed (the speed limit!) but it never happens- they slow down to 40mph and creep through this section. Every time this happens I am annoyed.

Last week as I had this experience it sparked the idea for this blog entry: Check Your Expectations. The sub-title would be Especially When Dealing With Other People.

Many of my clients discuss relationships during our sessions, and often the focus is frustration with a friend or loved one's behavior. Often times people want those close to them to change what they see as problematic behaviors, and I can say that many times these requests are reasonable. For instance, it is reasonable to wish that your mother/father/sibling/romantic partner were more supportive- many people could benefit from more support. But what happens when requests for more support have been made and nothing changes? This is a difficult position indeed. But one thing that I have my clients do is "check their expectations".

Think about what you know about your mother/father/sibling/romantic partner: have they ever exhibited the traits that you desire? If so, it may be time to have a discussion with them about what has changed. BUT, if you are hoping for something that you have never or rarely gotten from this person, this is a time when expectations need to be checked.

In my case, I know with 95% certainty that people are going to creep through the speed trap between the I-395 tunnel, so hoping and wishing it doesn't happen, then getting all worked up when it does is futile. I'm wasting my emotional energy. What I could do is work on my patience- it only takes about 5 to 10 seconds anyway to get through this area, and that's a tiny portion of my day. I really just have to "move on" and learn to deal with it.

Of course, close relationships are more complicated, but a similar logic can apply. If you desire support from your mother/father/sibling/romantic partner but that is not their strong point, it may be best for you to find ways to get your needs met in other ways rather than continuing to chase what may never be.

This is a hard pill to swallow, and I admit that I cringe a little when I write it. Therapy is not always warm and fuzzy, and I wish that I did have that magic pill that my clients sometimes request :) I believe that people can change, but each individual has to be moved by their own motivation to do so. If your mother/father/sibling/significant other does not provide that thing that you want or change a behavior, what do you do?!

First, examine whether there are ways that they do a little of what you want, or if it comes in a different package. When working with couples I often discuss "The Five Love Languages", which in general terms means the way in which people express their love to those around them (e.g., Acts of Service; Physical Touch; Affirmations; Quality Time; and Gifts). More often than not, partners have different love languages and desire that their partner show love in ways that the partner is not most comfortable, and there is dissatisfaction with the love language that is being demonstrated. I personally believe that it is helpful for partners to understand where the other is coming from and be able to better interpret the behavior of his/her partner, which (hopefully) will increase satisfaction with the relationship.

Second, if you find that, no, they do not display any of the behavior that you desire, it may be time to accept that what you want is not going to happen. You may even need to grieve the loss of this hope. This is hard and very disappointing, but I think that it is an important step toward moving forward and getting your needs met in life.

Third, find people who do provide what you need. A single person/relationship will not supply all of your needs (we will discuss relationships at a later date). Thus, it is very important that you find people and relationships that provide what you need so that this desire does not go unmet.

I hope this helps- please feel free to ask questions.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Well, it's been a LONG time since I've blogged, but, again, I have committed to blog on a weekly basis.

Let's dive right in!

A hot topic in therapy with many of my clients is what I call "polarization". This is the idea that life/situations/people can be viewed in black or white terms (e.g., good/bad). Social psychology literature states that people use mental shortcuts to categorize their environment in order to ease the process of taking in and processing a lot of information at once. This works in some situations, but I often find that being stuck in polarized thinking leads to emotional distress and/or confusion, and also may lead people to act in ways that are not in their best interest.

How do you know if you're experiencing polarized thinking? If you use "definite" words: always, never, every time, everybody, nobody, etc. Here are some examples:

"I never do anything right"
"People always disappoint- that's why I don't do relationships"
"This (bad thing) happens every time I do (whatever)"
"Everybody else has an easier time with (whatever)"

If you have ever caught yourself saying or thinking anything similar to the above statements you are "polarizing"- assuming that life/situations etc are black and white. But, as you know, life is rarely (ever?) that way. All of the above statements can be challenged and proven to be untrue all the time.

In my experience, polarization leads to negative feelings and lack of movement in a positive direction. For instance, if you think that people always disappoint you, you will most likely shy away from relationships or limit the amount of intimacy you allow yourself to experience. This may keep you "safe" from hurt, but prevents you from the joy that can be found in close, intimate relationships. It is important to be mindful of who you allow into your inner circle (which is a topic I will discuss soon), but completely blocking everyone out is a disservice to you.

To discover if you are "polarizing", pay attention to the thoughts that surround the negative feelings you experience (aside from situations that naturally lead to sadness (e.g., the death of a loved one), but those may be complicated by "polarizing" thoughts as well). If you find that you are polarizing, I suggest that you challenge the definite word in the negative thought. Recognize that there are times when the thought happens, but there are also times when whatever you are thinking does not happen. It takes time to get to the point where you are able to recognize polarizing thoughts and challenge them, as you did not start doing this overnight, but eventually you will be able to catch these thoughts and challenge them before they negatively impact your feelings and actions.

Be well :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What is Therapy? Part II

Good afternoon all- I'm back with Part II of my "What is Therapy?" series. Today is Monday, right? :)

Today I will be discussing the roles in therapy- those of the therapist and the client. Like I mentioned on Friday, opinions about these roles may vary among therapists so this post will reflect my point of view. I'll start with the therapist.

The media has provided a variety of images of the therapists- they range from neurotic to pensive/quiet to Freudian (e.g., a couch and questions about the client's mother). I had no experience with therapists or therapy prior to beginning my master's and doctoral studies, and during my first couple of years of grad school I "acted like a therapist"- my version was pensive, quiet, staunch, and very neutral. I later learned to "be myself" as a therapist (go figure! novel concept!) versus trying to ascribe to a "type". Therefore, for me, how I present as a therapist is pretty close to how I interact with others in my outside life.

Moving on to what a therapist actually "does". First- it is true that as a therapist I listen to my clients- but that's not all I do. As I'm listening I begin to paint a picture of my client. I think that therapy- as the therapist- is like putting together a puzzle: I start with a picture of the person (e.g., how they look, the initial statement of the problem/concern that brought them in, and other demographic information) but must then put all of the pieces together. At my initial client sessions I like to draw a Genogram, which is a "family picture"- who is in the immediate family (e.g., a client's parents and siblings or a spouse/significant other and children) and how these members interact/get along with one another and the client. I believe that there are generational connections between a client's current functioning and past (and present) family relationship experiences. This is my starting point in therapy. So, while the client is sharing relevant information about his/her past I am piecing it together by making preliminary hypotheses about links to present behaviors/concerns etc. Sometimes the piece is a "fit" and other times it's not- just like putting together a puzzle.

After gathering background information I ask the client to share his/her goals for therapy. This is part one of the client's role in therapy. Sometimes clients have clear goals for therapy (e.g., to improve a relationship, to be less anxious or depressed, etc) and other times they are not sure- either is okay. I help the clients with clear goals break each goal down in a way that we may observe the changes (e.g., I will have fewer arguments with my significant other) and help those without goals formulate them. At subsequent sessions I ask that my clients come to session with things to discuss. I generally ask clients something like, "How have you been since our last session?" and let them go from there. While the client talks I keep the goals in mind and observe ways in which movement towards (or away from) the goals occurred during the previous week.

In summary, my role as the therapist is to listen and integrate and the role of the client is to provide us with a starting point at each session (e.g., "I had a good/bad/ok week").

I will probably have more to say about this over time. Look for Part III of "What is Therapy"- the title will be, "How long do I have to be Here?!".

Be well-

Dr. Stanley

Friday, June 18, 2010

What is Therapy? Part I

Welcome back to PsychoBLOGgle! As promised, today I will share my thoughts on therapy- so let's get started.

First and foremost: therapy is a relationship, and it is most effective when a comfortable and collaborative relationship is established between the client and the therapist. Research has consistently demonstrated this (e.g., Frank and Gunderson, 1990), and I have experienced this in my own work with clients. I have had more than one client share with me that he/she terminated therapy after a couple of sessions due to a lack of comfort with the therapist. This does not mean that some therapists are better than others, but instead demonstrates the importance of the "therapeutic alliance" in the therapeutic process.

So now you may be wondering how this relationship is formed- this is a complex question that I can not answer. Think of your own relationships- why are you drawn to those who you have chosen to have in your inner circle? There may be tangible reasons, like shared interests or experiences, but there's probably an element of "je ne sais quios"- that thing you can't put into words but contributes to the bond you share with those close to you. I believe that the "je ne sais quios" plays a large role in the development of the therapeutic alliance because the more tangible elements of a "traditional" relationship are not present.

The therapist/client relationship is an unusual one. I use the word "traditional" above to describe relationships in which there exists mutual exchange among the participants. The therapeutic relationship differs from this because it is a one-sided relationship- all of the energy and attention is focused solely on the client's needs. Clients sometimes struggle to adjust to this reality, especially the ones who are used to focusing the majority of their energy and attention on others. To many it feels odd to sit in a room with another person for about an hour and talk only about oneself- I have actually had clients tell me this directly. It may feel uncomfortable at first but over time clients adjust to the process and understand the role that each person (e.g., the client and the therapist) holds in the relationship.

This seems like a good stopping point for now. When I began writing this morning (yes- I started this post this morning!) I realized that I have a lot to say about therapy and should take my time walking through the process with you. Look for Part II of "What is Therapy" on Monday- at that time I will discuss the role of the therapist and the client. One thing to keep in mind- and I will remind you of this on Monday- is that therapists may have differences of opinion about their role and the role of their clients due to philosophical differences. So the post on Monday will reflect my philosophy of therapy.

Be well this weekend and enjoy your rest.

Dr. Stanley

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Welcome to PsychoBLOGgle! My name is Dr. Stanley and I am a licensed Psychologist in the District of Columbia. I provide individual, family/couples, and group counseling services to adolescents and adults. I believe that therapy can be a very useful tool, but I am aware that the process of therapy and mental health issues remain a big mystery to a large portion of the general population. Some believe that therapy is reserved for "crazy people" (their words- not mine!) or that seeking therapy is a sign of weakness in "normal" people. Additionally, some assume that therapists "just listen" to their clients and some even believe that therapists brainwash their patients! I plan to address many such questions and concerns and to provide general information about the mental health field.

The name of the blog is a play on the word "psychobabble", which is defined as "Language characterized by the often inaccurate use of jargon from psychiatry and psychotherapy" (The Free Dictionary by Farlex). My hope is that this blog will demystify the process of therapy and provide more accurate information about the field of psychology than what exists in the media, pop culture, etc.

Before I get started I have to provide some Disclaimers:

This blog is for informational purposes only.

The opinions expressed on this blog are my own and are based on my experiences and personal philosophy of counseling/psychotherapy.

I DO NOT provide online psychotherapy and this blog was not created for that purpose. I will answer general questions about the field of psychology and psychotherapy but WILL NOT give advice or guidance about personal problems or situations etc. My next blog post will provide an overview of therapy, which will explain the importance of the relationship between the therapist and the client. I do not develop therapeutic relationships online and will not do so through communications through this blog. Additionally, it takes time for me to get a full picture of a client's concerns, and I don't generally give "advice" (which will also be discussed in my next post). So, to reiterate, this blog WILL NOT provide online therapy.

This website and the information provided is not to be used as a stand-in for therapy or mental health treatment. If you are in need of either I can direct you to websites that may provide you with resources for locating services.

If you are in crisis, dial 911 to access your local hospital and emergency services providers. I DO NOT RESPOND TO PERSONAL CRISES ONLINE.

Thank you for your cooperation and I look forward to sharing with you through this blog!

Dr. Stanley