By far, the most common situation causing people to seek counseling is experiencing difficulties in their personal relationships. Relationship challenges with spouses, children, extended family, friends, bosses and co-workers will inevitably arise to some degree in any relationship.
When situations reach a critical point is often when people reach out for help. The relationship may be marked by high conflict. Or, problematic interactional patterns persist, in spite of attempts to change those behaviors. People essentially feel stuck.
Understanding how the relational system functions and reactive patterns of behavior have developed can be a first step. Learning new strategies and communication skills can improve emotional connection with others.
At times, a deeper exploration of self may be helpful to uncover the inner dynamics that drive one's behavior. Inner conflicts, unresolved past experiences, or traumas might play a role in shaping behavior and interactions with others. Insight is helpful, but learning tools to manage strong emotional patterns and new strategies of interacting can help grow a stronger self and stronger relationships.
People have many different goals when it comes to relationship healing or resolution. In working with a wide array of situations, I take a holistic and integrative approach that best suits an individual's needs and goals.
For some individuals, a simple solution-focused approach is most useful. Embracing new perspectives, learning new ways to communicate or approaching old problems with new insights, may be what is most practical and desirable.
For others, the change they seek may necessitate some exploration of the past, including childhood situations or even past traumatic experiences. Our inner dynamics form the background and foundation upon which our outward patterns manifest. To the degree that early childhood situations impact our current relationships and functioning is the degree to which this part of our life might need to be explored, in order to clarify what drives us and to gain insight into the problem.
Cognitive-behavioral approaches encourage greater insight into problematic situations and the use of new behaviors. Learning new ways to interact and communicate in challenging situations empowers clients with tools to enhance closeness and facilitate problem resolution.
In most cases, some level of emotional processing is helpful. Moving through tough emotional places and developing skills in regulating one's emotions is both practical and healing. I teach mindfulness skills, body-centered awareness and meditation and relaxation techniques to assist in this process.
However, work to improve relationships doesn't have to wait until there is a crisis.
While couple's counseling or family therapy may be most useful, sometimes only one individual is willing to seek help. The good news is change can happen, even with only one willing participant.
Seeking individual counseling to change interactional patterns is worth the effort. As one individual changes, the "system"--be it a marriage, a parent/child relationship or one's relationship with a co-worker or boss, too, can change for the better.
Deeper work with EMDR or Brainspotting may be needed in order to reprocess past experiences that have negatively shaped one and that adversely influence current interations. In this process, one gains insight and can fundamentally rewire old conditioned patterns and diminish strong negative emotional responses.
I use a family systems approach, too, in relationship counseling to help individuals understand the roles they play in relationships and clarify dynamics and interactional patterns.
AMY WINTERS, LCSW
PSYCHOTHERAPY FOR ADULTS