Month: January 2017

A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

The Key to “Good” Therapy and Stronger Relationships

Good therapy is an excellent means of mediating challenges within our personal relationships. Often overlooked is the relationship between the therapist and the patient. This relationship, although different from those in the patient’s personal life, can get to a very personal level. Therapy cannot be effective without a strong connection between therapist and patient. “Good” therapy is facilitated through trust and open communication, both of which are essential to the healing process of the patient. Research confirms this. In fact, one study, published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, revealed that among the factors that influence client outcomes in therapy include specific therapy techniques and what the authors call “common factors.” These common factors are defined as “empathy, warmth, and the therapeutic relationship,” which are shown to correlate more strongly with patient outcome than “specialized treatment interventions.”

The alliance between the therapist and the patient is not only important but integral to initiating positive change. Through this relationship, a transformation takes place, but only if a healthy connection is established between therapist and patient. The authors of the study mentioned above add that “decades of research indicate that the provision of therapy is an interpersonal process in which a main curative component is the nature of the therapeutic relationship.” Thus, they urge that clinicians remember this as being “the foundation of our efforts to help others.” Therefore, the improvement of psychotherapy as a practice lies in focusing on “improving one’s ability to relate to clients and tailoring that relationship to individual clients.”

Dr. Lisa Firestone is a clinical psychologist and Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association, an organization dedicated to saving lives and enhancing mental health in order to address social problems such as suicide, child abuse, violence, and troubled personal relationships. Dr. Firestone explains that “a good therapist has a deep interest in their client as an individual and will see and relate to them in ways that are sensitively tailored to the person’s specific needs.” As such, there is no “one-size-fits-all” in terms of effective therapeutic treatment. This is because no person is exactly like another, therefore successful treatment must be personalized. Thus, therapists must strive to be authentic, with genuine human feelings, and able to tune in to the state of their patients to build trust and mutual understanding.

Building on Personal Relationship Skills is the Beginning to Good Therapy

Many problems that therapists often hear about stem from personal relationship issues. Knowing this, it begins to make sense why healing, then, would also come from a relationship. According to Dr. Firestone, “an attuned therapist can offer a person, not just a new way of looking at themselves but at relationships in general.” Taking note from attachment research, we learn that one of the most significant predictors of attachment patterns in our relationships is those that we have growing up and the attachment strategies that form from them. This stage of our lives shapes the reactions we have and create later in our lives, as well as those we create in others. Dr. Firestone says that “the best way to form healthier, more secure attachments is to make sense and feel the full pain of our story.” This “coherent narrative,” as it is also known, is a process of self-understanding which is one of the gifts of the therapeutic process. The therapist, through their empathy and curiosity, creates a safe space in which the patient can explore their own personal narrative and begin to make sense of it and their experiences.

Finding a Fresh Start through Good Therapy

By reacting to their patient with attunement and reflection, the patient can learn to form a new model of attachment which can benefit them in their own lives. In fact, as Dr. Firestone explains, “the formation of a secure attachment to the therapist has been shown to be significantly associated with greater reductions in client distress. By experiencing a secure attachment with a good therapist, the person can feel safe to start to resolve some of their old traumas and evolve their model of relating.” This is yet another reason why the establishment of trust is not only necessary but essential to the success of the therapy’s outcome.

Trust is the foundation upon which the patient feels secure enough to reveal their true selves, including all fears, anxieties, insecurities, and vulnerabilities. People who seek good therapy pull back their defenses and, in doing so, lay bare what they truly want and need to be fulfilled, including their hopes and aspirations. Through this, we can learn not only who we are, but also who we want to become, and from there, make the necessary steps towards our metamorphosis. Through good therapy, we learn how to distinguish our true feelings, priorities, and qualities, from the negativity which prevents us from achieving our full potential.

 

If you’d like to sit and talk with one of our Boca Raton therapists, please call our office @ 800-378-9354.
A man in his 20's who seems tired and anxious as he sits on a couch, looking out a window.

The Connection Between Sleep and Anxiety

One of the most overlooked and yet essential components of good mental health is enough sleep. Without enough sleep, each day can seem longer and more strenuous. Stress and overwork can be exhausting not just for our bodies, but our minds a well.  Anxiety and sleep are much more closely connected than most people think. Anxiety causes the mind to race at a million miles per minute resulting in overwhelming thoughts, which make it difficult for us to properly relax. Instead, we may experience heightened, intense emotions, such as fear, anger, or strong feelings of sadness. During stress, our bodies also release more hormones, like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which contribute to bodily tension by making us more aware and raising our heart rate and blood pressure. Anxiety can be exhausting, leading to a vicious cycle of feeling tired and anxious day in and day out.

Poor Sleep and Anxiety – A Never Ending Cycle

When feeling anxious, it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. We may find ourselves waking early for no reason other than our own feelings of stress, causing us to feel “out of it” throughout the day. Symptoms associated with anxiety resulting from lack of sleep can be indicative of the beginnings of insomnia. There are various forms of this condition, which is normally the result of periods of high anxiety. In fact, extreme stress, typically caused by unexpected life events or challenges, can cause what is known as acute insomnia. This condition comes on suddenly and lasts for a few days. By comparison, chronic insomnia occurs when such anxiety symptoms are constantly present. Chronic insomnia can last at least a month or more, which only contributes to existing feelings of anxiety.

Dr. Michael Breuss, clinical psychologist and Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as well as a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, explains that “stress and sleep exist in a bidirectional relationship. Just as stress and anxiety trigger insomnia and other sleep problems, lack of sleep increases stress and anxiety.” Without proper sleep, we are likely to be more susceptible to symptoms of irritability, aggression, feeling overwhelmed, lacking energy or motivation, difficulty concentrating, or even heightened emotional sensitivity. This increased susceptibility also increases the risk of suffering from greater mental and physical illness as lack of sleep can really wear us down. Thankfully, therapists have offered a number of ways that we can manage stress and anxiety and improve our sleep cycles to ensure the rest we need to be both happy and healthy.

Three Things to Try to Sleep Better

1. Biofeedback

One technique commonly recommended by healthcare professionals is a practice known as biofeedback. These techniques help us collect information about the body which raises our awareness of stress, allowing us the opportunity to relax before things progress any further. In biofeedback, sensors track and measure various physical functions including heart rate, perspiration, breathing, body temperature, muscle movement, and sleep stages. These measurements help us better understand our stress levels. When we learn to be aware of the physical changes we experience at the onset of stress, we can better prepare ourselves to combat these uncomfortable feelings using effective relaxation methods.

2. Autogenic Training

Another proven, although admittedly lesser known method of reducing stress-related sleep deprivation is autogenic training, or AT. AT incorporates various exercises to help us focus our attention on the physical sensations our body is experiencing. Similar to how biofeedback works, this heightened awareness places us back in control of our own experiences, with both our body and mind. AT training focuses on generating sensations of heaviness and warmth in various regions of the body. Using visual images and verbal cues, therapists can employ AT to help calm racing thoughts. Patients are encouraged to practice these exercises regularly, as they can help manage stress on a daily basis.

3. Guided Imagery

Many therapists employ guided imagery as a part of their primary treatment technique as it can be a successful way of helping the patient better understand their own thoughts and experiences. As Dr. Breuss explains: “When we imagine something, our bodies respond as though they were actually experiencing that moment.” Thus, this mind-body technique engages all of our senses, connecting our conscious and unconscious mind. This can help direct us towards more positive physical responses, like better sleep. In fact, guided images can be used with various goals in mind, among which is reducing mental stress and nighttime anxiety. Therapists can help the patient develop a successful practice for guided imagery which the patient can then practice on their own in an as-needed basis.

Physical and Mental Relaxation

The benefits of genuine physical and mental relaxation are well documented. These techniques have been tested and proven to be effective to treat a variety of symptoms of late night anxiety, stress, and insomnia. For best results, it is recommended that we combine these practices with other forms of therapeutic intervention. After all, the best way to remedy a problem is to uncover its source. Therapy can help determine what is causing us this unnecessary stress and, in doing so, help us discover the best path to treat these negative feelings. Through this, perhaps we can finally learn to relax.

Speak with a Boca Raton therapist today about how to cope with anxiety and poor sleep cycles @ 800-378-9354.
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