Childhood traumas, family and individual crises, and self-destructive scenarios often feel like irreversible life sentences, but they can be transformed from within.
My success counseling couples and individuals draws greatly from the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems Therapy (see www.selfleadership.org) as well as to Schwartz's colleague Toni Herbine-Blank, founder of “Intimacy from the Inside Out,”(see www.toniherbineblank.com) a program for couples using the IFS model as its base.
Over twenty years and many books ago, Schwartz developed a very different model for doing "talk therapy." Encouraging his patients to battle and "overcome" the parts of them that were getting in the way was, he realized, a futile exercise. The more clients fought to overcome whatever was bothering them, the harder they found themselves battling these strong parts.
Rather than fighting those bothersome parts, Schwartz had the key insight of trying to understand them. He extended a certain curiosity and compassion towards them -- these internal parts that make us tick. Why was a certain part acting the way it was acting? Why was it causing his patients to drink, or starve, or overwork? How do conflicting parts impact a marriage, a relationship, or oneself?
Schwartz's breakthrough came when treating a young woman who was a "cutter." In one session Schwartz asked her if the voice telling her to cut herself would promise not to do anything for a week until the next appointment. The woman appeared on schedule, but with a huge self-inflicted gash on her forehead. Schwartz realized the cutting part (or voice) was stronger than he was. So what was it trying to do?
It turns out that cutting part was at one time of great service to this young woman. Because at an early age she had been sexually abused repeatedly by a family member. Cutting herself was a way of distracting herself from the terrible pain. Did the cutting part realize that the little girl it was protecting was now a grown woman who could protect herself? No, but after some time in therapy, it did and it learned to relax its hold on his patient. The part didn’t need to “protect” her in that way anymore from the internal suffering.
Since then, Schwartz's insightful model has become recognized internationally for revolutionizing a number of related disciplines: individual and marriage counseling, couples and family counseling, life coaching, treatment for trauma and chronic pain. Exciting research and training at Harvard's teaching hospitals using the model look promising. For more information on Schwartz and the IFS model go to www.selfleadership.org.
Who are my clients?
I feel very grateful to the individuals as well as couples who entrust themselves and their parts to this journey of “unburdening” of a lifetime of pain. My clients come from all walks of life: a tapestry of nationalities, professions, histories, age, sexual orientation, families, marriages and partnerships, languages, and hopes.
Each share a desire to soften the self-criticism, feel connected, loved, and be at peace within themselves and the world.
Occasionally, the individuals and couples I counsel kid me that tend to I serve as their own personal memory bank. They're struck by the fact that long after they have forgotten some particular detail about their lives and relationships, that detail remains with me.
I guess I would say I'm inherently curious about what makes individuals tick. That's a fine trait to an extent, but our work is ultimately not about my active listening skills, brilliant advice, or shrewd psychotherapeutic interpretations. Rather, the focus of the work is about that individual, or couple; not about my wisdom or ability to “change” behavior.
As Richard Schwartz wrote, and I would agree, effective treatment is about how and when we arrive at understanding different parts of ourselves. Acknowledging those different parts and appreciating them marks the beginning of important changes.
Sooner than later, what once felt like paralyzing anger or sadness no longer feels that way. Wounded marriages and relationships open to healing and forgiveness. Derailed careers regain their passion.
An individual life, a marriage, a relationship that is rich in “creativity, compassion, curiosity, confidence, connectedness, courage, and clarity” becomes possible again. These are the “C” words, the qualities of SELF described in Schwartz’s work.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to talking with you personally.