I listen deeply, collaborate closely, and think creatively to help you reach your dreams.
Michele's Views on the Therapeutic Process
Life is filled with challenges that affect each of us in different ways. I believe that how we approach and overcome those challenges help shape us and allow us to experience life to the fullest.
My philosophy for therapy is both collaborative and holistic. I view therapy as a collaboration between my clients and myself, and as your therapist, I will strive to understand your goals and help you identify barriers to achieving them. I hope to empower you with a gift that will deepen your overall quality of life beyond mere problem-solving. I believe successful therapy embodies a deep respect for the uniqueness of each person with whom I work. I take in to account the mind, body, spirit, and the relationships of my clients, as I consider those elements vital for therapeutic growth.
Because every person is unique, I listen very carefully to everything you say and custom tailor the therapeutic process to your specific needs and goals. Our sessions will be SAFE, CARING, AND CONFIDENTIAL so you can freely express yourself. Together, we'll start where you are today, build on what's healthy, identify and resolve your limiting issues, and nurture positive qualities to help unlock your potential for the kind of enjoyable life you deserve!
People often have been told that they have mental illness and that this is something that they might have to suffer or deal with for an extended period of their lives—or even forever! I do not view mental illness as an isolated event. Mental illness has multiple influencing factors, which generally include genetics, personality traits, relationships, social and cultural influences, and life experiences. Although these factors might influence our lives, they do not have to define or determine how much pain, grief, or suffering we are going to experience. There are treatments and things that YOU can do to help yourself increase happiness and joy in your life.
You do not have to suffer.
Therefore, treatment is not focused on searching solely for the cause of the problem; rather instead, treatment prioritizes helping the client find solutions to end their suffering. Treatment planning is done collaboratively; I work with clients together to outline the goals of treatment.
You may not realize it, but therapists have different approaches to therapy; it is often referred to as a therapist’s theoretical orientation. Therapy can be extremely effective when the approach being used is tailored to helping you achieve your goals. Simply stated, a therapeutic orientation is a modality that a therapist uses when working with a client.
As part of the training to become a therapist, we are introduced to different theories that offer different understandings about how a person’s problems develop and how those problems can be solved. These concepts about the development of problems and how they are best resolved are called a therapist’s theoretical orientation. It is the basic guiding principle in organizing a treatment and will provide information on how a therapist is likely to interact with you.
Depending on your needs and goals, different approaches to therapy can offer help and healing. I have expertise in a range of therapeutic methods that have proven to be effective. I keep abreast of advances in therapeutic modalities and the latest research. After evaluating your situation, I will choose from a range of different psychotherapeutic approaches, implementing the one that will best suit you and/or your family. When choosing an approach, I always take into consideration your personality, time, goals, the presenting problem, and empirical scientific evidence that supports the best treatment plan for you and/or your loved ones. Being that I am a collaborative therapist, I will involve you in your treatment plan and continually check in to make sure we are on the right path.
I do not have a “one approach fits all” philosophy of therapy. Some approaches work well for some people, while other people respond better to a different approach. I use an integrative approach based on models that are evidence-based (scientifically-supported). Having said that, it is probably most accurate to say the foundations of my therapeutic orientation models can best be described by the following modalities: systems theory, experiential therapies, strength-based-therapies, and mindfulness-based therapies.
When appropriate I do use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies when working with clients, but I often feel that only using that model of therapy as a stand-alone treatment does not fully serve or meet clients’ needs. CBT does, however, have great tools that can help people cope with difficult emotions. When working with couples, I often use Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which is one of the most scientifically proven models of successfully couples counseling.
My clinical approach overall has a very positive theoretical orientation that believes people are competent and resourceful. The focus, therefore, is not on a continuous discussion of problems but on finding solutions for them. Therapy sessions involve exploring how my clients (individuals, couples, or families) would like things to be different, how to make those differences happen, and how to recognize what signs indicate changes are happening.
Systems Theory considers how the complex interactions of relationships influence our current psychological and emotional health. It’s the belief that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another. Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from their families, communities, or society. As a systems therapist, I always consider the client's many environments and relationships, including family, friends, work, school, and community. I use a collaborative approach to therapy, making decisions about the goals and directions of therapy together with the client.
Mindfulness-based therapies (ACT, DBT, MBCBT) are being incorporated more widely into present day therapies (outside of religious practices) with huge success rates for both emotional and physical distress. Western science is now confirming one of the pillars of age-old Eastern philosophies: the mind and body are inextricably linked. Researchers/clinicians working at the mind-body frontier are learning exactly how thoughts and feelings are mirrored in the body and can be accessed through sensing into the body. Mind/body therapists work with these states using the tools of Mindfulness (focused, non-judgmental awareness of the present moment) and Body Awareness (application of mindfulness to physical sensations) to explore and shift mental/emotional states.
Mindfulness is not a new phenomenon; in fact, living a Buddhist “lifestyle” mostly developed its ancient roots. New research in neuroscience has found evidence that learning, integrating, or practicing daily mindfulness can help you to regulate your mood. Mindful awareness is a Buddhist concept that involves the idea of focusing one’s attention on mindfulness in the body, mindfulness of feelings and sensations, and mindfulness of the mind. When you are mindful, you are actually being present; you are in the NOW. When you are able to focus on the NOW, you are able to harness your power. When we are in the NOW, we are able to think clearly and, therefore, make better decisions. In my practice, I am observing your ability to think clearly and be present
Mindfulness is a useful skill, and for some, an approach to life. According to Kabat-Zinn (1990), mindfulness is moving your awareness to the present moment while at the same time allowing yourself to completely accept each aspect of your experience without trying to change any one part. The past is gone and the future is unknown, therefore, the present is the only moment you have. It is the only moment when learning, acting, choosing, changing and healing can be done. When the mind is dominated by anxiety, fear, and dissatisfaction, it is difficult to feel calm or relaxed.
Common Therapeutic Models Used in my Practice: (NOT EXCLUSIVE)
EXPERIENTIAL & SYSTEMS THERAPY
The goal of Systems Therapy is for an individual or group to gain insight into each member’s role as it relates to the healthy functionality of the whole. Systems Therapy can be applied to individuals, couples, families, communities, and organizations. The technique relies on identifying specific behavior patterns and how each member responds to anxiety within the dynamic. By doing this, the individual participants can begin to understand and transform their patterns to more adaptive, productive behaviors.
In viewing a problem systemically, a therapist will look at all the factors, which bear some relation to the reported symptoms. Factors could be family members, friends, culture, communication dynamics, the education system, the natural environment, etc. Systems theory suggests that we look at problems collectively as opposed to scapegoating an individual, thus reducing defensiveness, which generally offers more motivation for the change process.
Family systems theory is more than a therapeutic technique. It is a philosophy that searches for the causes of behavior, not in the individual alone, but in the interactions among the members of a group. The basic rationale is that all parts of the family are interrelated. Further, the family has properties of its own that can be known only by looking at the relationships and interactions among all members.
Emotionally-Focused-Therapy (Couples Therapy)
Emotionally Focused Therapy—often simply called EFT—is a form of therapy that strives to help couples identify the underlying emotions that are guiding their relationship. All humans are designed to turn towards each other in times of distress, but when a negative cycle emerges in a relationship, one partner may not be available to tend to the needs of the other. EFT aims to help couples/families figure out how to improve their communication cycle through the acknowledgment and communication of honest emotions.
EFT assumes that all adult attachment relationships seek the same mutual comfort and love that you require from your parents when you’re a child. EFT can help bring to light why couples continue to foster an attachment to each other even when their relationship is in distress or hurt feelings are involved and figure out a way to improve those attachments.
Strength-Based Therapies and Post-Modern Approaches
Narrative Therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counseling that considers people the expert in their own lives. It views problems as something people experience rather than something they "are" and assumes that people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities that will assist them in reducing the influence of problems in their lives. In other words, the person is not the problem—the problem is the problem. Narrative therapy reduces the influence of problems so that people can get back in touch with their wisdom, values, hopes, and dreams as well as experience a new sense of self, self-in-relationship, and self-in-the-world. These practices are most powerful when people experience them in connection with valued others.
In essence, within a narrative therapy approach, the focus is not on experts solving problems, it is on people discovering through conversations the hopeful, preferred, and previously unrecognized and hidden possibilities contained within themselves and their unspoken story-lines. Clients are encouraged to recognize innate abilities, healthy impulses, skills, attitudes, and behaviors to empower them in re-authoring their life stories into narratives of hope and strength. Narrative Therapy is an approach to therapy that places the experiences of the person coming to therapy in a central position of importance. A therapist may be an expert in therapy, but you are the expert in your life.
A solution-focused therapeutic approach is based upon the social construction philosophy. It focuses on what clients want to achieve through therapy rather than on the problem(s) that made them seek help. The approach does not focus on the past, but instead, focuses on the present and future. The therapist uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision their preferred future, and then, the therapist and client start attending to any moves towards it, whether these are small increments or larger changes. To support this, questions are asked about the client’s story, strengths, and resources, as well as about exceptions to the problem.
Solution-focused therapy focuses on discovering what people are doing that works. It helps them deliberately use that knowledge to eliminate problems. This approach encourages people to move out of analyzing the nature of the problem and how it arose and, instead, to begin to find solutions and take action to solve it.
The past is important in the sense that it has influenced us and has brought us to where we are today, but letting it determine the future may lead us astray. Instead, solution-focused therapists suggest acknowledging the past and then getting on with the process of change. One way to solve a problem then is not to analyze why the problem arose, but to change what can be done to solve it. Although some traditional approaches to therapy teach us that feelings cause behavior, solution-oriented thinking suggests that perhaps new actions can create new feelings.
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within them, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of a person’s strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurture, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance. In this new paradigm, human beings are seen as self-organizing, self-directed, adaptive entities that have the power to make choices that lead them to become healthy, happy people.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes people more likely to experience joyful and happy lives. The research looks at strengths and virtues that help individuals and communities thrive. The belief of the field is that people want to live meaningful and fulfilled lives.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT is a mindfulness-based therapeutic practice that encourages clients to identify what values are personally important and to take action on those values. ACT encourages clients to accept and embrace what is out of their personal control while developing a flexibility to alter the things they can. ACT generally applies six core principles (cognitive defusion, acceptance, contact with the present moment, observing the self, values, and committed action). Therapists practicing ACT help clients commit to goals based on their personal values with the ultimate goal of bringing more meaning to life.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT combines mindfulness meditation with cognitive therapy. It was developed to help people with recurrent depression develop new ways of handling depressive thoughts, distressing emotions, and anxious feelings so that they are less likely to have relapses. MBCT is mindfulness in therapy that was originally developed to help people who were vulnerable to problems, such as depression, from relapsing and experiencing repeated bouts of illness. MBCT has been shown to be very helpful when applied to people struggling with eating disorders and chronic pain.
Regardless of theoretical orientations and approaches, without feeling a strong therapeutic connection with your therapist, the models and techniques almost become useless. In therapy, one of the most import factors in successful therapy outcomes is the therapeutic relationship you have with your therapist. The therapeutic relationship is unique in that, for many clients, it might be a connection they have not had with another person where profound feelings, beliefs, and thoughts are exposed. Therapy should provide the client with an open and safe setting that emphasizes self-exploration and change without the client feeling the need to censor or conform.
The client-therapist relationship is essential to establishing a successful outcome by promoting a willingness for the client to share and engage with the therapist. It is also important that therapy remain client-focused by discussing and defining the goals of the client, rather than the therapist imposing their own mandates and judgments.
I want my clients to experience me as understanding, easy to talk to, empathic, warm, caring, honest, and sincere. If you are looking for a professional who is welcoming, highly experienced, sensitive, and down to earth—someone who doesn’t rely on manufactured techniques, but believes in the healing power of a deep and creative therapeutic relationship, then we just might work well together.
The kind of therapy I provide can best be understood as a special kind of relationship in which you come to experience enough trust, where you will feel deeply received and profoundly understood in an atmosphere of respect and collaboration. When working with me you will likely feel heard and understood, yet gently challenged and stretched as well.
At the heart of who I am as a therapist, my top priority is helping you truly live a happier, more satisfying life.