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

Building Communication with Relationship Therapy

Most couples will argue from time to time. For the most part, this is normal behavior, because loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean always seeing eye to eye. Disagreements are to be expected now and then. Oftentimes, the solution presented will be to improve communication. Magazines frequently supply bullet-pointed lists on how to do this, much like they do to advise readers on how to lose weight. Such lists can range from mildly helpful to significantly damaging.

Connection vs. Communication

Dr. Steven Stosny has treated over 6,000 clients for various forms of abuse, violence, and anger. He works as a consultant in family violence for the Prince George’s County Circuit and District Courts as well as several mental health agencies in Maryland and Virginia. Dr. Stosny also founded CompassionPower in suburban Washington D.C., a sort of “compassion bootcamp” for those suffering from emotional abuse. On the effectiveness of these easy-to-digest lists in magazines, Dr. Stosny states: “It’s not that communication tips are inherently bad. The better ones are like the better diettips: eat less, move more; speak respectfully, listen attentively. They’re unhelpful because people do not communicate primarily by words but by emotional states.”

According to brain imaging, we tend to make our judgments on what a person is saying based on their emotional tone. This includes body language, facial expressions, how distracted they are, eye contact, and tone of voice. Moreover, this judgment occurs before the part of the brain that interprets word meaning is activated. This can make communicating emotional responses to what another person is saying difficult, to say the least. For example, if we feel as though something our partner says is “stupid,” we might use kinder language to express how we really feel. Doing this, however, runs the risk of making us look disingenuous or manipulative. Because of this, Dr. Stosny explains that “Your task is not to say what you want to say in a better way, it’s to compassionately understand your partner’s perspective more fully, which you will certainly fail to do while thinking of your communication technique. Change your emotional state and the words will follow, but it doesn’t work the other way around.”

Dr. Stosny believes that communication stems from connection, not vice versa. According to his experience, relationship problems don’t occur because people can’t figure out better communication methods such as speaking more respectfully or listening better. According to him, it is for this reason that it’s actually misleading to say that people in relationships have communication problems at all! It might feel as though the problem is communication in moments of frustration and sadness, but the real problem is disconnection. When individuals in a relationship are disconnected, they communicate poorly, no matter what techniques they use or what words they choose.

The Problem with Thinking in Relationship Therapy Instead of Feeling

Such techniques, used when those in the relationship feel disconnected, Dr. Stosny explains, “makes them feel manipulated, and not just because the most popular ones are patently unnatural, more suited for a therapist’s office than a living room.” This is because communication techniques, such as those advised in magazines, almost always come with a hidden agenda employed by the person using them. Dr. Stosny says, “The goal is not merely to understand your partner or make yourself understood to your partner; it’s to get him or her to do what you want.”

In fact, many fights in relationships often begin with accusations of miscommunication towards one another. However, communication is not the underlying problem here. The real problem is a fundamental disconnection between partners. After all, connection essentially means being attuned with each other’s emotional states. This attunement isn’t always positive, but it cannot exist within a state of emotional reactivity either. In other words, when we are emotionally reacting through communication, we are often compromising our ability to actually understand what our partner is feeling. The key is to have a balance, not to select one over the other. Unfortunately, communication is too often prioritized over connection.

How to Improve Communication in a Relationship

According to Dr. Stosny, “Positive attunement occurs through interest and caring, i.e., one has to be interested in and show sympathy for the other. Interest and caring, like all emotional states, are conveyed primarily by facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, not by words or communication techniques.” As such, he encourages individuals in relationships to ask themselves the following questions before assuming that the problem in their relationship, or with their partner, is communication:


  1. How curious are you to learn their perspective?
  2. Do you feel emotionally connected to them?
  3. Do you care about how they feel right now?
  4. What do you love and value most about them?

The importance of these questions, Dr. Stosny says, is that “You must convey that you will love and value your partner whether she/he agrees with you or not. Anything short of this devalues the connection – it’s not as important as what you want to talk about, thereby guaranteeing emotional reactivity.”

Relationships are More than Just Words

Relationship therapy can be a good forum for bringing these feelings and issues of connection out into the open to better understand them. Sometimes, bringing attention to these problems can allow couples to better address them. Therapists often can supply advice or suggest exercises to employ to remind individuals in a relationship to remember to consider how one another is feeling. Emotional connection and communication, however, are fundamentally two different things. “Emotional state,” Dr. Stosny says, “ is a mental state that begins with a resolve to show compassion and love.” It begins with a decision made early in one’s relationship to chose to feel connected. When we make this choice, we have a more reasonable chance that our partner will reciprocate this connectedness. This will then lead to better communication.



Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

The Five Stages of Ending a Long-Term Relationship

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign that a relationship is simply not working out. However, relationship problems can be complicated, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not it’s time to leave, or if we should stay and keep trying. In some cases, the former option is the best one for ourselves and our partner. Trying to maintain an ultimately toxic relationship can have numerous adverse physical and psychological side effects.

The Dangers of Staying in a Toxic Relationship

Studies have shown that those who stay in such relationships rather than ending them are negatively impacted in their self-esteem, perception of self-worth, and overall ability to seek enjoyment in life. That being said, actually ending a relationship can be a very painful process, which is why many of us try to avoid it. In other cases, however, ending a bad relationship can be a huge relief. There are also instances where, rather than acting manipulatively or abusively, both partners have just gradually drifted apart. In this scenario, neither person may be right or wrong, rather their interests and personalities may have just developed separately from one another, and therefore they are no longer compatible.

Ultimately, while we try to maintain the relationships that are good, or have the potential to be, sometimes relationships that cannot be repaired must come to an end. This doesn’t mean that anyone has failed or that they deserve to be vilified. Instead, it’s better to perceive it as a change in life stages. As one door closes, another opens somewhere else.

The 5 Stages of Ending a Relationship

But how can we know if our relationship is meeting its end? As it turns out, there are a few signs to look out for that can indicate whether or not a relationship has run its course.In fact, psychologists from the University of Tennessee, Vanessa Handsel, Kathrin Ritter, and Todd Moore developed a scale this year to examine the stages that they believed to concur with the end of a relationship. Their main interest was actually to determine how long it normally took for individuals involved in violent relationships to be able to remove themselves from their situation. That being said, their scale is actually applicable to all individuals in unhappy relationships.

These researchers based their scale on a more general theory created by James Prochaska in the 80’s and 90’s. This theory suggests that major changes in life involve a 5 stage process. In essence, any big life change, including the ending of a close relationship, is more than just a simple yes/no or stay/leave dichotomy. The model, then, known as the “State of Change” model, assumes that there are certain steps which precede this change and those that follow it. By understanding these changes, we can better help those who are struggling in this difficult time. This model can also help therapists and counselors better attend to the needs of their patients who are undergoing a major life change and help them through the transition.

When tested in a study, the questionnaire based on this model, called the “Stages of Change in Relationship Status,” or SCORS, was found to be quite effective in determining where participants were in terms of their decision to leave their relationship. However, they also found that even those who believe they are ready to make the necessary change in their relationship may hesitate to do so when the time comes to actually make that change.

Are You Ready to End Your Relationship?

This in mind, the scale itself has been shown to be highly effective at determining what stage an individual is in with regards to whether or not they are ready to initiate a change in their relationship. Below are the five stages that the researchers identified:

1. Precontemplation

At this stage, no change is really being considered. The couple is happy with the relationship as it is, and feel that there is nothing they would like to change. They also do not feel as though there is anything wrong with the relationship or anything they should do differently.

2. Contemplation

Here is when one or both of the partners begin to think about ending the relationship. They recognize that they are unhappy or that the relationship itself is unhealthy. At this point, they believe their relationship to be a problem, and they acknowledge that the relationship is having a harmful impact on them.

3. Preparation

Despite the difficulty they know they will face, the preparation stage is where individuals in a relationship begin to make plans to end that relationship. They may have even started trying to end the relationship or asking for help in doing so. However, they would like to end the relationship soon, even if they aren’t sure how to do so.

4. Action

This is the point of initiation. One of the partners has begun to try to end the relationship. This can mean that they’ve started talking less to their partner during their time together. They also may be thinking of their partner less and less, and instead prefer to spend time with others.

4. Maintenance

This stage means sticking with the relationship’s end. It may mean changing one’s daily routine to avoid contact with their partner, or avoiding places where they know they might run into them. Partners, or former partners, at this stage begin to get rid of any items which remind them of their relationship. They also declare that they will never revisit this relationship again. This is often the most difficult stage to achieve.

Every Relationship Offers a Lesson

Knowledge of these stages and their resulting impact on an individual or individuals within a relationship can help those close to them provide the support they need during these challenging times. This information can also help therapists to develop accurate advice and strategies to help their patients cope with, process, and ultimately understand how they’re feeling as their relationship comes to a close. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn is that despite being in a relationship, both partners are also individuals, with individual needs that need to be addressed and taken care of. If the relationship itself doesn’t recognize and attend to this, then it is not mutually beneficial. In that case, if things are becoming one-sided, or if no one is happy, it may be time to end the relationship. Whatever the case may be, no one has to be alone.

Call our office @ 800-278-9354 or fill out a confidential contact form to learn more about relationship therapy in Boca Raton.
Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

Smell The Roses: The Benefits of Nature Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and responsibilities, it can be hard to remember to take time to “stop and smell the roses,” as they say. However, the world around us is full of beauty and tranquility which can do wonders for our mental health. In fact, studies are starting to show that taking some time to go outside and experience nature can be therapeutic. Dr. Emily Deans is a board-certified adult psychiatrist who specializes in evolutionary psychiatry and nature therapy. Dr. Dean believes that our bodies and minds fare best in circumstances and environments for which they had evolved. She explains that “one major difference between our current lifestyle and those of our evolutionary past is an increasing distance from natural settings with increased urbanization.”

Modernity vs. Mental Health

While modernity certainly has its perks (better medical and scientific knowledge as well as the convenience of technology) our modern lives can also be responsible for heightened levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Interestingly, in the past, when a person was ill they were usually recommended a holiday or excursion to a quiet, peaceful countryside or seashore. The idea was that by removing the individual from the overwhelming environment of the city, they’d be much more likely to recover from their ailments and restore their spirits. According to Dr. Dean, “the popularity of vacations to beautiful national parks, camping, outward bound, and even local breaks for a picturesque walk in a local greenspace to clear the mind would speak to some empirical evidence that nature does soothe the savage beast.” And she’s not alone in this assumption, as many scientists are now examining the health benefits of nature therapy with more interest than ever before.

Nowadays, more than 50% of people live in urban, modernized areas. This number is estimated to increase to more than 70% by the year 2050. We are far more removed from the natural world around us than our ancestors ever were, and this has come with a number of consequences. This increased urbanization has been associated with higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness. Comparatively speaking, those who grew up in more rural settings have been shown to have lower levels of stress. Actually, following a large, 20 year-long study, scientists found that exposure to more greenspace has a more positive effect on an individual’s overall wellbeing. Moreover, even just images and sounds of nature have been shown to decrease levels of stress for individuals who were also exposed to negative stimuli.

A Study in Nature Therapy

Dr. Dean cites a “large survey of mental health and neighborhood greenspace in Wisconsin,” which reveals that there was a “significant correlation between the availability of nature and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress,” as further proof of the existence of this positive relationship. In addition to these studies, there have been many more which have produced similar findings. Dr. Gregory Bratman and his colleagues conducted one such study at Stanford, the results of which have been published. In this particular study, a small group of healthy volunteers were instructed to go for a 5 kilometer walk around the San Francisco Bay area. Half of these participants embarked on a scenic walk viewing the local mountains and bay, whereas the other half walked along the busy streets of the area. The researchers found that the individuals who took the nature walk reported decreased feelings of anxiety, rumination, and other negative feelings. These participants even demonstrated improved performance on cognitive tests when compared with their counterparts who had walked in the city.

Later in the study, the researchers conducted MRIs and measured blood flow in the brain for healthy individuals who went for a 90 minute walk in either a natural or urban setting. They found that those who walked through nature had less activity in an area of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This area is associated with rumination, which is a symptom of both anxiety and depression, and causes the individual to worry about the same distressing thoughts repetitively.

More Nature, More Peace of Mind

Dr. Dean summarizes these findings thusly: “in a world and environment where our brains are working overtime and we think and roll over ideas and worry, exposure to nature seems to get us out of our heads, with likely positive longitudinal benefits.” So what can we do to maximize our time in nature? Dr. Dean suggests that in our increasingly urbanized world, the creation of more accessible greenspaces can do wonders for our collective mental health. Not to mention, doing so can help preserve the natural beauty of the world around us for generations to come.

Picture of a brain lit up with machine pieces inside of it.

Automatic Thoughts vs. Conscious Thoughts

Beyond our conscious minds is something that is called the automatic mind. This is responsible for processing information automatically, that is, without our conscious awareness. In other words, this is the part of our minds that allows us to understand our surroundings and experiences without us having to focus on things individually. That would be exhausting, not to mention overwhelming!

Automatic minds are active in pretty much everything we do. For example, when we drive, we may be paying attention to the road, but simultaneously thinking about the day’s events. Maybe we’re mulling over a conversation we had with a coworker, or trying to figure out if we left the stove on. This is our automatic mind at work – we’re able to think about our day whilst managing to move our hands on the wheel, our feet on the pedal, and watch the road all at once! When the need arises, however, we can seamlessly shift towards conscious attention. In most cases, we snap out of our unconscious reveries when we realize we’re approaching our exit or need to make a turn to reach our destination.

Understanding the Dynamic – Automatic vs. Conscious Mind

Our thinking can operate on two levels – conscious and unconscious, or automatic. Sigmund Freud was a pioneer in this field and his work examining the unconscious mind is well documented. However, psychology has progressed a long way since then. In Freud’s theories, the unconscious mind was a battlefield where a war waged between instinct, which existed in the dark corner of our minds called the id, and our level-headed problem-solving egos. According to Freud, we developed defense mechanisms like repression, projection, and displacement to protect our conscious minds from this battle within ourselves. This understanding of how the mind works largely influenced the dichotomy between reason and passion that was especially popular in the 20th century.

These days many cognitive psychologists perceive the mind a bit differently.  For example, rather than seeing our unconscious minds as some sort of battlefield full of inner conflict and turmoil, they perceive it as an automatic mind full of sophisticated information. These days, our unconscious mind is more of a processor that sifts through all of our stimuli to allow us to better prioritize and respond to information. In fact, we owe a lot of our daily behaviors to these automatic processes which enable us to act outside of our ordinary awareness.

Introducing the The Mind Trap

Negative thinking can operate on an automatic level. This happens when we find ourselves falling habitually into negative mindsets. Dr. Jeffrey Nevid, Director of the Clinical Psychology program and Professor of Psychology at St. Johns University explains: “when our thinking becomes reflexive or automatic, we suspend our ability to control how we think about our experiences.  We feel angry because we think angering thoughts, sad because we think depressing thoughts, and anxious because we think worrisome thoughts.” Dr. Nevid refers to these automatic negative thoughts as “mind traps,” and they are usually distorted and exaggerated, especially when consciously compared to reality. However, if we don’t point these negative thoughts out, they can continue to harm us unconsciously, leaving an impact on our overall emotional and mental health.

Emotions Cannot Exist in a Vacuum

Dr. Nevid explains that “emotions cannot exist in a thought vacuum any more than fire can exist in an oxygen vacuum.” According to him, our troubling emotions are actually the result of excess meanings which we impose on events we experience. To become aware of these misconceptions, he suggests that we can become better aware of them, and, as a result, we can correct them by inserting rational alternatives instead.

Dr. Nevid provides an example in the form of the teachings of ancient stoic philosopher Epictetus. He says that “we are not influenced by things themselves, but by our opinions or interpretations of things.” It is for this reason that in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) patients are guided by therapists through processes of identifying their triggering thoughts which contribute to their emotional distress. Through this they are then taught to substitute these thoughts with more rational and adaptive modes of thinking.

We can learn to both recognize and correct disruptive thoughts which lead to behavioral problems and emotional turmoil. A rational dialogue with oneself can make a big difference in terms of dealing with troubling emotional effects like anxiety, depression, worry, and anger.

Girl with dress and rain boots on walking through rain puddles.

Five Techniques to Move Forward through Difficult Times

It can be said that life’s a journey. The only way to progress through this journey is to take steps forward. Throughout our lives we will encounter a number of twists and turns, perhaps even a few pitfalls. Obstacles make life challenging and rewarding. It’s important to remember that even though we may find life difficult at times, we must continue moving forward.

Depression and anxiety can make moving forward seem impossible at times. Overcoming these challenges starts as simply putting one foot in front of the other. Learning small daily strategies can help dismantle the overwhelming negative feelings caused by anxiety and depression, and other similar disorders. This can be hard, especially when we find ourselves in the midst of a difficult crossroads, or a path that seemingly leads to nowhere. The only way we can find our way is to continue moving forward.

Five Tips to Continue Moving Forward in Therapy

1. Don’t Give Up

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly – don’t give up! Just because an obstacle emerges, no matter what size, does not mean that the journey is over. Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a multi-award winning psychotherapist, explains that “once you quit, it is never quite the same. Whether it’s a relationship, a job, or your life, you are in charge of your choices. Giving up may enter your mind, but find some way to keep going, even if you have to do things a little differently.” So when the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to find another path, or, to find a way to overcome the obstacle obstructing your way. The journey continues from there.

2. Stay Positive

It may seem a bit cliche to say that positivity is key, but the truth is often worth repeating. A positive mindset can make all the difference when it comes to progressing through one’s life and it’s challenges. It is also important to remember that the world is not our enemy. True, we will all face our own shares of ups and downs, but when we are confronted by the “downs”, we must remember that they don’t happen because the universe hates us or that we are the victims of some sort of terrible cosmic vendetta. Rather, by adopting the perception that the world around us exists to do us good, we can learn to see the opportunities that surround us, instead of just focusing on the obstacles. In this way, we open ourselves up to the possibility to flourish, and learn not to assume failure.

3. Take Things One Day at a Time

A simple yet effective piece of advice is also to take things one day – or one step – at a time. Trying to tackle problems head on all at once is the easiest way to get overwhelmed and, consequently, want to just give up. Instead, it helps to learn to tackle things one at a time. For example, if we’re having problems within a relationship, attempting to fix all of them at once can seem not only difficult but outright impossible, which can lead us to feeling defeated before we even try. But by approaching our problems one step at a time, we can improve this relationship by strengthening the parts that comprise it. To begin with, we might start by improving communication, then maybe we schedule more dates or quality time. One-by-one we take on the things that were causing us to feel upset and stressed, and by doing so we not only improve the health of our relationship, but our own personal health as well.We don’t need to do everything at once in order to see progress. In fact, we may find that it is easier to move forward when we are taking steps, rather than large, uncoordinated leaps.

4. Go at Your Own Pace

Life is not a race, therefore there is no need to rush progress. Dr. Goldsmith states that “you may have been beaten down, but you are not broken. Even if you have suffered and lived through a life-altering trauma, if you still have a beating heart and air in your lungs, you can get back on your feet.” The key is doing what we can, when we can, and taking breaks when we need to. These periods of rest can be what we need in order to get the energy to continue forward. However, we must remember that taking breaks should not be the same thing as stopping entirely. In other words, if we’re trying to get healthier and decide to have a cheat day, we shouldn’t allow that day to become everyday, otherwise it defeats the purpose. We must continue on our journeys, but there is nothing wrong with taking time every now and then to collect ourselves and refocus on what we really want in life.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Disappointment

Unfortunately, disappointment as natural to life as as breathing. People from all walks of life experience disappointment, regardless of who they are. That being said, disappointments, while admittedly discouraging, should never stop us from moving forward. There is nothing wrong with feeling disappointed from time-to-time, but disappointment is not an excuse to give up or stop trying to accomplish what we want. No matter what, we must keep going. After all, we have a lot to see and do before our journeys end. So why stop here?

Learn more about moving forward through the journey of self-improvement and mental health treatment by calling our office @ 800-378-9354.
Young friends laying on the grass in a park, having fun.

The Difference Between Good Friendship and Unhealthy Friends

Friends can be one of our strongest support systems. In some cases, friends may even be as close as family. Friends can offer a shoulder to cry on, or words of inspiring wisdom to help us get back on our feet. However, not all friendships are equal. While there are those that allow us to grow and flourish there are others that may be hindering our personal development. Such relationships are toxic and usually lead to more problems than solutions for all those involved. Because of this, it is usually a good idea to take a look at those closest to us and the relationships in our lives and determine which are truly helping us, and which are causing unnecessary pain.

Quality over Quantity – A Lesson in Friendship

Good friendships are ones that are authentic and true. Good friends provide us with intimacy, allowing us to feel free to be ourselves. In a good friendship, we feel as though we are understood, accepted, and appreciated. Through these relationships we feel validated and we know that we are cared for, regardless of what each day may bring. Overall, our friendships can have a strong impact on our well-being, as many previous studies have shown. However, on the other hand, negative personal relationships can cause interpersonal distress. This is one of the biggest reasons that many individuals seek help from a therapist or counselor in the first place. The therapist, then, provides healing through empathetic support and guidance in a trusting relationship. The same relationship the client is lacking with friends.

The Consequences of Bad Friendships

Bad friendships lack genuine caring and can lead to the development of various mental health disorders including depression and anxiety. They can also lead to a lack of confidence in other relationships, thereby resulting in less trust and more conflict. Individuals who have had bad experiences in friendships have been shown to have difficulty establishing and maintaining intimacy or communicating how they feel effectively. Perhaps in their bad friendships, they were frequently shut out or silenced when they tried expressing themselves. This can lead to a residual silence which carries over into other interpersonal connections.

When we come out of a bad relationship, including friendships, we might feel less responsive or willing to talk things through, regardless of their importance to ourselves or those close to us. We may also feel as though our thoughts and opinions don’t matter or that we shouldn’t trouble anyone else. However, expressing oneself is a necessary and healthy part of any relationship, this includes when we’re experiencing negative emotions, so long as we’re not attempting to take those feelings out on others in a destructive manner.

Signs to Look for in Good Friendships

When determining whether or not a friendship is actually good or healthy, there are several questions that come to mind. Below are a list of key characteristics we should be on the lookout for when deciding whether our friendships are actually having a positive impact on our lives, or are causing unwarranted pain and stress.

1. Are They Genuine?

The first and arguably one of the most important things to look out for when it comes to friendships are whether or not the individuals whom we call friends are actually genuine. Friends do not frequently lie to one another. A good, healthy friendship is founded upon openness, honesty, and authenticity. Good friends also make one another a priority rather than a back-up plan. If we feel as though we aren’t valued by certain friends, then it is likely time to seek new friendships that give us the respect and appreciation we truly deserve.

2. Do They Value Me?

Building off of the previous question, good friends make their friends feel valued. In any good relationship, we are loved for who we are, not who we are wanted to be. This goes for friendships as well. Good friends love and respect their friends for their true selves, not some idealized image or desired outcome.

3. Are They Interested?

Yet another highly important question to consider is whether or not one’s friends actually care. True friends are interested in our happiness and success. They want to celebrate with us when things go well, and support us when they don’t. Bad friends, on the other hand, don’t seem to care either way. They also have a tendency to put their perspective above anyone else’s, and are more likely to try to make us see things their way than listen to our own point-of-view.

Can Therapy Help with Friendships?

Therapy can be a good way to regain a sense of trust and support that may be lacking in our personal relationships, but it cannot fix those relationships single-handedly. While our therapist can help guide us on how to communicate effectively with those closest to us, we must ultimately decide on the course of action that will be of the greatest benefit. In some cases, this might mean ending a friendship where we aren’t being valued or respected. Our therapist can help us through this difficult decision-making process and provide the empathetic understanding needed to overcome any personal struggle.

To talk with a Boca Raton therapist about improving friendships and other relationships, call our office to schedule an appointment @ 800-378-9354.


Black and white picture of a man putting his hand onto his own shadow in disgust.

Negative Thoughts and Feelings About Ourselves

Everyone has insecurities. As such, it’s not unusual for someone to have the occasional bad day when it comes to their self-esteem. When faced with these days, remind yourself of all of the qualities and traits that you should feel proud of. Everyone is entitled to an off-day, once in awhile. When these days grow more frequent, it may be a sign of some underlying trouble. We are most often kinder to others than we are to ourselves. The negative thoughts and feelings that we save for ourselves are seldom something we would ever say to someone else. So why don’t we care just as much when the pain is self-inflicted? When it comes to scrutiny or harsh expectations, we are often our own worst enemies. Try to mend the relationship with yourself and turn animosity into generosity. In other words, learn to be your own best friends.

Negative Feelings Can Lead to Self-Abuse

Negative feelings about ourselves rarely go unaccompanied by self-abuse. In fact, clinical assistant professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Seth Gillihan, explains that “negative thoughts and feeling about ourselves often go along with treating ourselves badly. For example, we might verbally abuse ourselves, deprive ourselves of sleep, eat poorly, or abuse substances that harm our bodies.” We may never think of harming one of our close friends or even an acquaintance, and yet when we feel negatively about ourselves we become much more likely to administer self-abuse. We are no more deserving of such treatment than anyone else, and yet we somehow feel as though we are. Negative mindsets such as these can have a harmful effect on one’s health, happiness, and well-being. We deserve to be happy and healthy just as we would hope for our friends. In this way, we must learn to view ourselves similarly. As a friend, not a foe.

We might think to ourselves that if we just ignore our negative thoughts and feelings that we have about ourselves, they will go away. This is almost never the case. Many people try to compensate for their negative thoughts about self by being overly nice to others. Placing emphasis on other people can mean neglecting our own wants and needs, thereby contributing, not easing our bad spirits. Dr. Gillihan says that “we might be very considerate toward everyone in our lives except for the person who inhabits our own skin.” The problem is learning to view ourselves as someone of value. We are just as valuable as those closest to us, we just need to learn to see this for ourselves. Our friends and loved ones know this to be true, which is why they want what’s best for us. We are worth knowing and loving. This can be difficult to remember when we’re too busy talking down to ourselves or acting as our own abusers. No one deserves to suffer an abusive relationship, especially if they are fulfilling that role themselves.

Negative Self-Treatment: A Vicious Cycle

Dr. Gillihan provides the following example to illustrate how negative self-treatment can affect one’s self-esteem and perception of self: “imagine being in a relationship with a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner who never asks how you’re doing. (Hopefully this is not your reality.) Imagine if this person never attended to your needs or did anything nice for you, and if s/he did, it was begrudgingly and with minimal effort.” Such treatment is almost guaranteed to have a negative impact on one’s perception of their own self-worth, which will only worsen the treatment in question. The same logic applies to self-inflicted negativity. When we treat ourselves badly, we are only contributing to the problem of our own negative emotions and low self-esteem. The only way to break the cycle is to realize that we deserve better. We deserve to be happy with ourselves and in our lives.

Fake Self-Love Till You Make It

How can we break out of this dangerous cycle of negative thoughts about ourselves? Dr. Gillihan recommends that while changing thoughts can be helpful to some extent, the way to see real results is through changing our behavior. He explains: “even if we don’t feel it, we can choose to act as though we love ourselves. Act as if you’re someone who matters. We can, in fact, fake it, and the feelings often follow.” In other words, “fake it ‘till you make it.” This old adage holds more truth than we may have previously realized. When we alter our behavior, through reconditioning, we can also alter our mindset. We might start by treating ourselves to a nice lunch, whether at a dining place or homemade. In fact, we might take the time to thoughtfully plan our day, including time for at least one activity we truly enjoy. While running from place to place trying to complete tasks and fulfill obligations it can be easy to neglect ourselves along the way. We should remember to include time for what we want, not just what we need, and in doing so, build positive emotions towards ourselves through what we like. And perhaps most importantly, we should surround ourselves with those who help us become the best versions of ourselves, not those who bring us down. After all, relationships can have a huge impact on our happiness and well-being.

At the end of the day, we will always have ourselves. Therefore we must learn to love who we are. We are our own longest-lasting and strongest relationship and this relationship is one worth caring for and nurturing. While it may feel awkward at first, self-love is entirely possible. It doesn’t have to be forced, rather, it can grow organically through regular self-care and kind treatment.

If you’d like to talk to one of our therapists about the negative feelings that you are having about yourself, please call our office @ 800-378-9354.
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.
A happy couple sitting by the pool. Woman is kissing man on side of head as man smiles.

Could Your Relationship Benefit from Couples Therapy?

As the holidays draw nearer it can seem as though there are never enough hours in the day to get everything we want done. From decorating to gift shopping and planning get-togethers, we may find ourselves so wrapped up in seemingly endless preparations, that we consequently neglect other important things. Namely, ourselves and our partners. In fact, many relationships tend to suffer during the holiday season. After all, holiday stress impacts those closest to us as much as we are impacted. Because of this, tension within the relationship can be at an all time high, leading to an increased likelihood of arguments and fights. When both partners are stressed, it can be difficult to mediate the conflicts within the relationship from the inside. Sometimes, a having the help of an experienced couples therapist can be exactly what a relationship needs to thrive.

Guiding Relationships Through Difficult Times

As a result, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a couples therapist to help us through this challenging time of year, as well as through any other contentious periods we may face with our partners. As two separate individuals, we will not always see eye to eye, however, learning to communicate through these differences and disagreements can make the difference between a healthy functioning relationship and an unhealthy one. The role of the couple’s therapist, then, is to help facilitate and guide this communication to insure any problems are being properly addressed in a healthy and constructive manner. Still wondering why couple’s therapy is the best choice for maintaining a good relationship throughout the year?

Four Ways a Couples Therapist Can be Helpful

1. High Success Rate

Part of what makes couple’s therapy such a good choice for couples in need of communication guidance or conflict mediation is that it actually works. In fact, studies have shown that couple’s therapy is successful in around 70% of cases, where the couples report that attending regular sessions has actually helped their relationship. This effectiveness rate is similar to other forms of therapy. However, when looking to attend couple’s therapy, it must be understood that it is a specialty and therefore not something that any individual therapist can practice effectively unless they are properly qualified.

2. Don’t Wait

It can be easy to put ourselves and our relationships last on the list of priorities, particularly at this time of year. However, waiting is often the worst option. The longer we wait to mend our relationships the more likely they are to deteriorate, and rapidly! Even if things seem alright right now, a slight increase in conflict or a subtle yet noticeable rise in tension can be warning signs of what’s to come. As such we must learn to be proactive about taking care of our relationship and bridging any gaps in communication, which couple’s therapy happens to be excellent for.

3. Don’t Treat, Prevent

The best treatment for any problems within a relationship is prevention. As previously mentioned, waiting to address problems that arise does more harm than good. Conflict won’t just go away if we ignore it. While we might feel as though we’re avoiding small arguments in the short-term, we’re actually allowing problems to build up in the background. Inevitably, all of the disagreements and miscommunications we were avoiding will come to a head. To avoid this and to better prepare ourselves to mediate conflict we should enlist the help of a professional. Couple’s therapy is an effective means of improving trust, openness, and mutual commitment.

4. Not Everything Will be Perfect (and That’s Okay!)

There may have been a time when we dreamed of having the perfect fairy tale romance. But real life is far from fairy tales in many ways. There is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship. In fact, striving for perfection can put an unnecessary strain on ourselves and our partners. When we look for a perfect romance, we may become more focused on fulfilling a role of perfect partner than being ourselves and feeling comfortable with our partners in our own skin. Because of this, we should instead focus on being fulfilled and happy. Sometimes, we are likely to disagree on things.

Couples Therapy Can Improve Most Relationships

Couples therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is a bad one, so long as those differing beliefs and opinions are discussed openly and respectfully and some sort of decision is made. Either we can make a determination on what path we’d like to follow, or we decide to respect our differences and move on. “To each their own” as the saying goes. Either way, there is nothing wrong with needing or asking for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, and asking for help is not an indication that the relationship is doomed or that we’ve failed somehow. Usually, quite the opposite.

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

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