marriage and family therapy

Rediscovering the Soul in Psychology

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By: Seima Diaz, Ed.D, LMFT

Many of us who enter the field of psychology, do so in an attempt to find meaning or gain insight into our own experience. We likely possess a burning desire to help put an end to suffering, our own and others. Throughout my experience working with clients and teaching aspiring therapists studying masters and doctorate level psychology, I have found that I can only influence those around me to the degree in which I myself have evolved.

I hold true to the original definition of the word psychology rooting back to the mid-late 1800s, defining the word psychology as the study of the soul (Goldsmith, 2010). It is only natural then that my work revels in the uncovering of one’s true inner-self as a means of overcoming mental illness and dissatisfaction in life. It has been my experience that a deep exposure of the unconsciousness occurs when an individual seeks spiritual enlightenment. From a therapeutic perspective, the psyche is the segment of us that is most instrumental in achieving behavioral change and improving self-esteem (2010). Lasting change, with limited chance of relapse transpires from an individual diving deep into his darkness and finding his infinite light.

Spirituality means something different for everyone so it is important to allow clients to define and create their own spiritual identity. Think of spirituality as a tool one can use to help their client gain insight, and outgrow what no longer serves them. Below I am going to discuss four techniques that can be used in psychotherapy to reconnect a client with his soul in order to foster self-awareness, insight, positive behavioral change, enhanced self-regulation, and improved interpersonal relationships.

  • Meditation
  • Mirror Self Talk
  • Deep Breathing
  • Mindfulness

Meditation is commonly described as a training of mental attention that awakens us beyond the conditioned mind and habitual thinking (Buddhism for Today, 2017). It induces consciousness and transforms the mind. Meditation practices are techniques that encourage and cultivate focus, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things (2017). By helping our clients engage with a particular meditation practice, we give them the opportunity to learn the patterns and habits of their mind. The practice offers a means to develop new, more positive ways of being. Meditating with your client for the first and last 3 minutes of each session can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of the self and life. I would encourage you to experiment with meditation before utilizing it as a tool in your work with clients. You can find very helpful information on diverse meditation styles here

Mirror Self-Talk is the practice of making a connection with one’s soul through intentional eye contact in a mirror, while saying positive words of support, encouragement, and love to oneself outload. Encouraging clients to connect with themselves in this way, promotes understanding of the mind-body-soul connection while enhancing self-esteem. This can be done in or out of session, ideally as a part of the client’s daily self-care regimen. If you haven’t connected with your own soul in a while, I would encourage you to take a nice long look into your own eyes. As the legendary William Shakespeare once said, “The eyes are the window of the soul.”

Deep Breathing can be important to our health and spiritual development. It is the process of taking a slow deep breath in through the nose, allowing the air to travel all the way to your diaphragm causing your belly to expand, and then exhaling the air slowly through your nose, pulling in your belly toward your spine and exhaling all of the breath in your lungs (Rakal, 2016). The benefits of deep breathing include but are not limited to muscle relaxation, improved functioning of every system in the body, decreased anxiety, a release of endorphins, the detoxification and release of toxins reducing the chance of illness, and a relief of emotional problems (Patel, 2016). Deep breathing also helps foster the mind-body-soul connection by connecting you with the present moment and detaching you from unproductive thoughts and emotions. Encouraging your clients to take deep breaths while processing material in therapy will aid them in their ability to gain insight and heal.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present. It is the moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. Mindful states of being can be achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without attaching to them (Gunaratana, 2015). A dedicated mindful practice can result in improved physical health (stress reduction, improved sleep, weight loss), emotional health (increased empathy and compassion, decreased anxiety and depression), mental health (increased ability to focus, boots in working memory, increased processing speed), and spiritual health (enhanced self-awareness and a stronger connection to one’s higher self) (2015). After teaching your clients how to practice mindfulness within the therapeutic relationship, you can encourage them to develop mindfulness rituals throughout their day to further support their expansion and growth.

It has been my experience that the aforementioned techniques will do wonders in cultivating the mind-body-soul connection in everyone seeking wellness and a meaningful life. It is my hope that you experiment and master each technique before utilizing it in your therapeutic work. In doing so, you will rediscover your higher-self and transform your own life, thus becoming more effective in your work with others.


Why Getting it Wrong Can be the First Step to Getting it Right in Practicum

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By: Aneesah Muhammad, Irvine Graduate Campus

Practicum, it’s the part of our education experience where any graduate student in a marriage and family therapy program, contends with the most anxiety. We anticipate practicum with hopes that our prerequisite courses will have magically transformed us into experts who can fix our client’s lives. Although Anxiety tells us that this is not even remotely possible, we still hope that it is the case. When we reach practicum, we find that anxiety spoke the truth to us. We have not become experts, and our clients cannot be fixed. This is the bad news. The good news is that not being an expert is fertile ground for lots of wonderful things to blossom such as a curiosity about who our clients really are and a burgeoning of ideas about how we can collaborate with them for their treatment. As a first semester, practicum student, I found it refreshing that I was not the only one to bring wisdom into the therapy room. The responsibility to address problems affecting my clients did not rest solely on my shoulders. Clients bring their wisdom, and hopefully agency, to the treatment process. In light of this new insight, I was able to give myself permission to get things wrong and not be perfect.

As students, we can be so afraid of getting it wrong, especially in front of other people. The fear sometimes creeps up on us, beckons to us, and convinces us that we shouldn’t put ourselves out there. “If you reveal your ignorance, you will look like a fool,” it says. But what better time to appear not to know than when we are expected to know the least? Although we will never know everything— even after becoming licensed—practicum is a time to demonstrate what we don’t know as much as what we do know. Our supervisors need to be made clearly aware of what we are doing in the therapy rooms so that that they can offer us guidance and correction when we need it. Sometimes we are being recorded, and sometimes we simply have to tell our supervisors what makes us unsure when sitting with a client, what makes us uncomfortable, what came up for us and what real questions we have. Otherwise, we will be moving around in the dark with no one to help us to see. Ultimately what we want is to become better therapists. In Practicum, we are no longer just graduate students working towards high GPAs, but student therapists applying theories learned and testing out interventions.

My practicum training is in narrative therapy which requires me to think about problems in a vastly different way that I am accustomed to thinking of them. Having a supervisor who is informed by narrative ideas, and is very empathic and collaborative, is just the nurturing environment that I needed to take calculated risks. My goals as a therapist and my chosen practicum site were a perfect fit. The culture at my site gives me the courage to engage and be vulnerable about what I don’t know. This transparent approach enables my supervisors to assist me with aligning my intentions for interventions with postmodern ideas and approaches to treatment. As therapists, it’s not always what we are doing that matters but how we think about what we are doing. That said, I can think of an instance where one of my fellow therapists, at my practicum site, proposed an intervention to help with a couple in conflict. She asked our supervisors for their thoughts about her assigning reading material to the couple: a pop psychology relationship book. At the time, I was sure that she would be told that this is a bad idea based on my knowledge that there are not a lot of books, of that genre, written from a narrative approach. This is not what she was told. Instead of being advised one way or another, she was questioned about her intentions. She was asked how she thinks that the ideas in the chosen book would inform her work with the couple. I suspect that if my colleague were to say that the intent of the book was to discuss dominant ideas about relationships and to give the clients background for deconstructing those ideas, the proposal would have gotten a green light. The approval would have been in spite of the fact that the proposed literature was not likely to come from our chosen theoretical orientation.

The above anecdote is why many supervisors will not tell their student therapists what is right and what is wrong. This might be a source of frustration for students, just starting out, as it was for me. We want to know the correct way to treat our clients. Conversely, the reality is that there are many right answers or right ways to go about treatment; just as there are many “right” ways for our clients to live their lives. To contend with the frustration, we student therapists need to start trusting ourselves. My practicum site is fantastic in teaching theory and interventions, but the art of therapy is learned through trial and error. Based on my practicum experiences, so far, I have concluded that designing therapeutic questions or exercises, with my client’s well-being in mind, ultimately leads to a favorable result. With these collections of positive outcomes, my anxiety over doing the right thing has gone down tremendously. Subsequently, my confidence as a therapist is steadily on the incline.

“The New Shape of Romantic Love” Webinar Highlights

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On November 20th, I attended a Web-lecture, “The New Science of Romantic Love: What You Understand, You Can Shape” presented by Dr. Sue Johnson at Cal Southern University in Irvine, CA. The lecture was also available to watch live online through Cal Southern’s webpage.

I was excited to learn about one of the most powerful forces on Earth- love. Dr. Sue Johnson is an expert on Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) and utilizes it to help couples repair their relationships. Emotionally Focused Therapy is best used to expand partners’ emotional responses, create new types of interactions between the couple, and foster secure bonding between partners.The basics of EFT Empathic Reflection that Dr. Johnson covered are validations- creates alliance and safety, focus during sessions, and cohesion through organization.

In addition to explaining EFT and how it is used as a “dance” between partners, Dr. Johnson also discussed John Bowlby’s attachment styles and how they influence adult romantic relationships. The ideas that held my interest throughout the lecture include: secure attachment bonds lead to emotional responsiveness while insecure attachment leads to anxious emotional responsiveness. Furthermore, my biggest take-away point was learning how a cue of rejection or criticism from a person you’re connected with is processed the same way as physical pain in the brain.