Month: April 2016

Couple sitting up in bed, arguing

Three Healthy Steps for Taking Care of a Relationship

Relationships come with their fair share of ups and downs. Love can bring out the best and worst in all of us. While we may love someone, we may not always get along with them. The occasional fight within a relationship is normal and can even be healthy, but there’s a difference disagreeing every so often and having an overall insecure relationship. Relationship insecurity can lead to a lot of turmoil for both partners.

How to Care for a Relationship

Entering and maintaining a close relationship is not unlike caring for a new apartment. Our first assessments are based on what we can easily see. Appearances and first impressions may guide us to our choice to enter a relationship much like they might guide our choice to rent an apartment. However, the next step that frequently accompanies buying a home or even renting is to take a closer inspection. This inspection can reveal some of the more unsightly problems brewing just beneath the surface. “Those beautifully painted walls, it turns out, cover up a large and ominous looking crack. You thought the basement was a great place to make into a media room, but then the inspector reveals that there’s evidence of a mouse infestation. Those windows don’t open and close properly, and under the floors there appears to have been water damage.” says Dr. Susan Whitbourne, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts.

Learning all of the flaws, cracks and crevices in one’s new home can be maddening and disappointing all at once, not unlike learning to spot the flaws in one’s relationships. But it’s all a part of the process. Whether in homeownership or in love, things may not always be what they seem. Forging a good relationship goes beyond just physical attraction. Just as with homes, when it comes to people, expectations may not always meet reality. In response to this, Dr. Whitbourne says “it’s natural to want to walk or run in the other direction. However, if it’s too late to break things off, or you care enough about the person to repair some of the damage, you need a way to fix what’s fixable.”

Thankfully, when it comes to relationships, there is more that we can do to fix the fixable. Psychologist Brian Doss and his colleagues from the University of Miami found that they can use a web-based tool designed to help alleviate relationship distress for couples that would otherwise be in trouble. Another great way to help couples in need is through couples therapy, they note. But their program serves as an alternative to those who prefer internet-based individual therapies. To prove the successfulness of this program, the team conducted a controlled study.

What is IBCT?

According to Dr. Whitbourne, “The type of couples therapy that seems to work best, and also happens to translate well to a web-based adaptation, involves what is called Integrative Couples Behavioral Therapy (ICBT).” What makes ICBT so effective? The success of this approach is likely due to the three key steps it employs, which are as follows:

1. Observe

Dr. Whitbourne alternatively calls this the “home inspection” phase of this treatment. It requires that the individual look, listen, and pay careful attention. In a relationship, this means putting one’s wishes and hopes aside for a moment, as well as one’s desire to defend their own point of view, to try to maintain an objective viewpoint. This is especially important when examining how each partner contributes to the overall quality of the relationship. Because IVCT is a behavioral approach, the focus of the treatment is on actual behavior, not on imagined behavior.

2. Understand

Once patterns have been observed objectively, the next step is to uncover what is behind them. In IBCT, the key is, as Doss and his colleagues explain, to understand how “differences between partners, hidden emotions, external stressors, and patterns of communication might affect the core problem(s).”

3. Respond

The final step is to address the problem or problems the couple is facing. IBCT teaches individuals better ways to communicate with their partners. This can mean mapping out a better course of behavior for oneself and one’s partner. It may also be helpful to realize that there are some problems are just part of the relationship, says Doss. Dr. Whitbourne adds: “For example, one of you may be an extrovert and the other, more introverted. The extrovert has a tendency to leave the introvert out of social conversations. By learning that it’s necessary to develop a more inclusive social style, the extrovert may help alleviate the introvert’s chronic feeling of being ignored.”

Understanding Love

In essence, this process can help not only bring to light some of the deeper issues within the relationship, but can also help couples learn new ways to address and fix them. In doing so, they can effectively repair their relationship insofar as it can be repaired. Once these steps are taken, we can step back and see what other issues need to be addressed. Then rinse and repeat. Relationships change and evolve over time just like people, so their needs will change. Love means addressing these needs as they arise and not being afraid to acknowledge them in the first place.

Anxious business man sitting in a chair, laptop in his lap, hands covering his face

Three Simple Steps for Fighting Anxiety

It is estimated that around 40 million US adults aged 18 and older suffer from an anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders not only in the US but worldwide. Recent studies estimate that approximately 1 in 3 people across the globe are struggling with an anxiety disorder. Among these individuals with anxiety disorder, it is believed that close to 6 million adults suffer from panic-related anxiety in the US alone (approx. 2.7% of the total population).

Interestingly, in most anxiety disorders, excluding social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, women are considerably more likely to be affected than men. Panic-disorder is no exception. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or ADAA, when it comes to panic-disorder anxiety, women are almost twice as likely to be affected than men. That being said, both sexes can suffer from panic attack-inducing anxiety, which typically develops during early adulthood. Moreover, panic anxiety has a high comorbidity rate with major depression, which can only worsen existing symptoms.

At first glance, these numbers and statistics might be intimidating, but what many people don’t realize is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most influential causes is when people do not recognize that their disorder is real and able to be diagnosed. Many people struggling with anxiety may mistakenly classify their anxiety as being harmless paranoia or jitters when, in reality, what they may be experiencing may be more pervasive. Unfortunately, as with any issues pertaining to mental health, anxiety sufferers, too, often face a stigma that recognizing their anxiety as being a legitimate issue means admitting that there is something mentally and fundamentally “wrong” with them.

Anxiety is Highly Treatable

This mode of thinking is not only toxic but dangerous, as well. Mental health is a serious concern, and is not to be dismissed, regardless of how seemingly mild. To have anxiety is not to have something “wrong” with oneself, but rather to acknowledge that there is a challenge that needs to be overcome to sustain a happy and fulfilling life. By reframing this thought pattern, we can not only allow ourselves to feel better about ourselves and what we’re going through, but also we open ourselves up to the opportunity to heal and overcome those challenges we had been facing.

Fear of admitting anxiety can prevent us from seeking the treatment we need to move past it. Anxiety, even when it induces panic-attacks, can be treated by a number of therapies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is among one of the most common options for treating anxiety, but it is far from the only one. Other popular therapeutic treatments for anxiety sufferers include Exposure Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), to name a few.

How to Treat Daily Anxiety

But what happens when treatment isn’t readily accessible? For those of us who do seek regular treatment for our anxiety disorders, there may be times when we are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, like panic attacks, while we’re out and about during our daily lives. In these situations, our therapists are nowhere to be found, and we’re left to face our anxieties more or less on our own. During such times, there are three ways that we can help reduce our symptoms of anxiety, which therapists frequently recommend:

1. Be Mindful

When struggling with panic attacks or other symptoms of anxiety therapists will frequently advise their patients to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches us to ground ourselves in the present moment and our experiences therein, rather than getting stuck in the chaotic whirlwinds that are taking place in our heads. In other words, to be mindful is to be self-aware of oneself and what one is feeling. We might think to ourselves: “ok, what I’m feeling right now is anxiety, I’ve felt this before. I will allow my body to experience these reactions but I know what they are and why I’m feeling them, therefore I can get through this.”

Sometimes, the key to resolving a moment of panic is to not fight it. To fight the body’s natural impulse is to oftentimes validate the reason for feeling anxious. For example, if we’re panicking about being near a certain place, it is better to acknowledge what we are experiencing and why rather than trying to shut down by saying “no! Don’t feel this! This is bad!” Why? Because doing this can sometimes add to our existing feelings of panic by creating a new anxiety surrounding the feeling itself. By being self-aware and allowing the feeling to pass, we can allow ourselves to move beyond the panic more easily rather than adding to it.

2. Don’t Run

Perhaps we’ve heard at some point or another that it’s good to face our fears. More often than not, this is easier said than done. But there is truth to this statement. Building on our previous point, by avoiding a situation that induces panic, we might actually be contributing to the anxiety itself. By avoiding our fears, we actually make them stronger by validating that there is, in fact, something to be afraid of. Because of this, it’s important for us to remember to face our anxieties and allow ourselves to move past those feelings that come with it. This is how we overcome our anxiety and grow, not by avoiding it in the first place.

3. Take Deep Breaths

The third and final technique for reducing symptoms of anxiety is a bit of a cliche but that’s only because it’s truly effective. Take deep, mindful breaths. More than just breathing, focus on the sensation of each inhale and exhale; the feeling of your lungs expanding and contracting, pressing against your diaphragm. Why do this? Because it can allow us to surpass feelings of panic rather than be bombarded by them. Focusing  on breathing or another tangible, calming, physical experience, can reduce our muscle tension and overall feeling of anxiousness, which can contribute to the severity of panic attacks. Visualization can also help, wherein one places themselves in a situation or place that causes them to feel peaceful rather than anxious.

Regardless of what technique is used, anxiety can be overcome. Going to therapy can help us fortify ourselves against our anxiety by teaching us coping methods such as these that we can use when symptoms arise so that we can address those feelings of discomfort rather than confront them. Through careful treatment, anxiety sufferers can hope to reach a point where their anxiety no longer prevents them from leading a fulfilling and happy life. In essence, there are answers available to those who seek them.

To schedule an appointment with one of our therapists, call 561-338-7725

Couple sitting up in bed, arguing

How Views on Sex are Changing in Couples Therapy

For many years, the subject of sex has been shrouded in myth and taboo. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that many medical professionals  also tended to believe more conservative but ultimately unsubstantiated claims about human sexuality and relationships. Modern medicine, however, has made impressive strides within the past decade alone. These days, our understanding of the spectrum of sex, love, and everything in-between has expanded far beyond the perceptions of our ancestors. That being said, we still have a ways to go. Just like society grows and evolves over time, so does therapy and the treatments we provide to individuals seeking help for their personal, and oftentimes  intimate, lives.

Learning About Sex Shouldn’t be Taboo

Dr. David J. Ley is a clinical psychologist who practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s worked for years treating various issues dealing with sexuality throughout his career. When he began his practice, Dr. Ley focused primarily on perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse. However, in later years he’s expanded his work to include fostering and promoting healthy sexuality, as well as raising awareness of normative sexual behaviors. According to Dr. Ley, the challenge that many modern therapists face in learning about human sexuality is facing educational barriers.

He explains: “A minority of mental health, social work or medical training programs offer graduate-level training in sexuality issues, beyond covering the paraphiliasand sexual disorders included in DSM-5. Some programs address sexual diversity issues, but not all. Few, if any, states require specific training in sexuality issues in order to qualify for licensure. Only a very few states (California and Florida when I last looked) require a license or documented training in order to call oneself a sex therapist.”

Sex Myths that Need to be Eliminated

The fact that the taboo surrounding sex and relationships persists even in academic and legal circles is problematic for those care professionals who find themselves addressing these subjects in their work. Because of this, there are a few remaining yet pervasive myths about sex and relationships that modern therapy is working to at the very least question, if not completely eliminate. In Dr. Ley’s experience, some of these myths are as follows:

1. Kinks are Rare (and also Unhealthy)

The notion of fetishes and paraphilias was introduced sometime during the 1800’s. Since then, many therapists traditionally believed that such behaviors were considered unusual and rare, and worse yet, abnormal. Luckily, the DSM-5, which has become the go-to diagnostic tool for mental health professionals, now establishes a distinction between paraphilic interests and disorders. What this means is that it is now acknowledged that individuals can have “unusual” sexual interests without experiencing distress or dysfunction.

Other countries have taken this a step further. Dr. Ley notes that “In Scandinavia, they abolished the paraphilia diagnoses several years ago, with no regrets or reconsiderations in the time since.” Moreover, he reveals that according to Canadian statistics, nearly half of the population claims to have at least one “unusual” sexual interest. Perhaps they’re not so unusual after all. After all, what exactly is “normal” in terms of sexuality? This question is fairly difficult to answer considering the diversity of sexual interests in existence. The ultimate goal is that the  interest in question is consensual and doesn’t permanently physically harm the individual or individuals engaging in it.

2. Porn Inevitably Leads to Divorce

Porn is perhaps one of the most controversial subjects not only in discussing human sexuality but also in terms of ethics. As always, discretion is key, but while there are many aspects of pornography that frequently inspire debate, some accusations are more founded than others. A popular myth links porn viewing with higher rates of divorce. In fact, there are some who allege that pornography is involved in a whopping 50% of divorces. According to Dr. Ley, the origins of this statement are two-fold. First: “the Family Research Council has asserted that they conducted research, and found that porn was involved in over 50% of divorces. But the Family Research Council is a group founded by James Dobson, which promotes ‘traditional family values’ and lobbies against divorce, pornography, abortion, gay rights, gay adoption and gay marriage.”

It’s worth acknowledging that the findings produced by the FRC were not published in a research journal nor were they subjected to peer review, making their legitimacy highly questionable at best. Dr. Ley explains that the second source of this statistic may be linked with The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. During a 2003 conference, the Academy allegedly surveyed 350 of their attorneys. According to this survey, around half of these lawyers reported that porn played some part on their client’s divorces. However, this information is suspect because, as Dr. Ley explains: “Because the methodology is unclear, we don’t know if they said they’d seen it in half of divorces, or if half of the attorneys had EVER seen it at least once. But again, this survey has never been published, and these data and methods never analyzed.”

Part of the old stigma against pornography with regards to relationships derives from its use by those who are depressed or lonely as a means of mediating the problems in their relationships rather than facing them head on. That being said, although increased porn usage can be a symptom of relationship troubles, it isn’t necessarily a cause. The real cause lies in the structure of the relationship itself.

3. Casual Sex is Unhealthy

Because sex has been long considered taboo, it follows that the practice of casual sex is seen as an unhealthy practice that is to be avoided. There are many, even within the medical community, who think that sex outside of an emotionally-committed relationship is inherently unhealthy because it is less meaningful. In our society, we might find ourselves faced with the now antiquated viewpoint that casual sex is somehow cheap and dirty when compared with the more emotionally-invested bonding sex seen as part of an ideal committed relationship. It doesn’t help, then, that the research on casual sex is difficult to sort through since it’s very nuanced and multifaceted.

According to Dr. Ley, “Some research has shown that many women experience depression after casual sex, and are less likely to have orgasms.” Meanwhile, further research suggests that the individual’s experience during a casual encounter depends entirely on their attitudes towards it which predict how they’ll end up feeling. For example, if someone thinks that casual sex is bad and cheap they might feel guilty after an encounter. Conversely, if someone doesn’t have these reservations prior to their session of casual intimacy they might not have these bad feelings. The subject of casual sex in its entirety is complex and subjective to individual experience, meaning that classifying it as entirely bad or unhealthy is likely an assumption steeped in one’s own bias.

Times are Changing, So are Relationship Dynamics

While there still exists many misconceptions about sex things are definitely changing and evolving for the better. The science of human sexuality has expanded far beyond the theories and beliefs of its predecessors. This is doubly true for therapy. Today’s therapists have made great strides in the treatment of relationships and reparation of personal and intimate lives. Modern therapy, while still continuously learning and adapting, is now a better resource than ever to dispel some of these harmful myths.

True, there are some therapists who might hold fast to their personal beliefs more than others, and this can influence their methods of treating their clients. However, Dr. Ley explains that “licensed clinical practitioners are held by their ethics to practice based on the best, most current clinical information available. They are also prohibited from engaging in stigmatizing treatments, regardless of the therapists’ religious beliefs.” As such, one should not be afraid to talk with their therapist about any aspect of their lives that they feel might be affecting the health of their relationships, their relationship with themselves, or their overall happiness and quality of life.

Would you like to learn more about Couples Therapy at Proliance Center? Contact our office @ 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment.
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