I am a licensed psychotherapist with Great Lakes Psychology Group in Clarkston, Michigan. For individual therapy for children or adults: To schedule an initial appointment or see if your insurance is accepted, call 1-800-693-1916 or visit www.GreatLakesPsychologyGroup.com
For couples or relationship therapy, contact me at Harper West @ me . com.
- Mood Disorders: Anxiety, Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: I am an expert in helping people who are experiencing “anxiety” and “depression.” I understand how their self-critical thoughts can trigger these emotional responses. I use emotionally focused therapies, not cognitive-behavioral therapy, to address emotions that drive thoughts, beliefs, and actions. I use the research-based protocol of Compassion-Focused Therapy, which helps reduce self-blame and self-doubt, which decreases the threat response in the brain and body, reducing anxiety and depression.
- Marriage Counseling and Couples Counseling using Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFCT)
- Difficult Relationships: I can help you understand how to better deal with the difficult personalities in your life, including those with Bi-Polar Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-social Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (aka Other-Blamers or “toxic people”.)
- Child and Family Psychotherapy using Attachment-Focused Family Therapy
- Parenting Education to Improve Child Behaviors and Emotional Maturity
- Mindfulness Meditation Training to improve self-awareness and self-acceptance
- Assertiveness Training
- Anger Management
- Domestic Violence Interventions
My Approach to Psychotherapy
If you have hesitated to come to therapy because of fears of being stigmatized as “mentally ill,” you are in the right place. I am among a group of thought leaders in the psychology profession who reject the myth that things like “anxiety,” “depression,” “ADHD,” and “bi-polar disorder” are biological illnesses or imbalances in brain neurochemicals. There is no research to support this myth.
I dislike using these labels and educate patients of all ages that these are emotional and behavioral problems, not diseases. These problems can be improved with psychotherapy. They do not need medications, which have harmful side effects and often make symptoms such as anxiety and depression worse.
Most of these emotional problems are the result of:
- parents who were or are harsh, dismissive, abusive, anxious, depressed, self-absorbed, addicted or rejecting
- childhood experiences, especially traumas such as physical or emotional abuse
- learned responses to traumatic experiences that increase self-criticism or self-blaming, leading to anxiety and depression
- natural emotional responses to life experience, such as the fear response (“fight-flight-freeze”) that increases anxiety
- normal human needs and responses, such as the need for acceptance, love and approval (attachment)
The Power of Shame
Perhaps your parents were critical or merely unemotional and cold. You learned to judge or reject yourself. Maybe you were bullied as a child or sexually molested. You might have concluded that you were “not good enough” or “everything is my fault.”
The fear of being ashamed and rejected by others is one of our deepest human fears, rooted in primal survival needs. It is important for you to know that these fears can cause you to behave in ways that are unhealthy for yourself and others.
You may become excessively self-critical or Self-Blaming in an attempt to “fix” yourself and find acceptance among others and with yourself. Or you may work hard to avoid blame by distancing from relationships (Blame Avoidance). Some people may become Other-Blamers who have low self-worth, but manage this experience by shifting blame to others, refusing to apologize, or refusing to be wrong. This may be labeled by other clinicians as “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” “Borderline Personality Disorder,” or “Bi-Polar Disorder.”
All of these types of personalities need to learn a new way of relating to themselves — with warmth, compassion, and acceptance, rather than harsh rejection.
When a person is critical toward herself, it triggers internal states of self-loathing that cause the brain and body to be stressed. One response is to become anxious and under-regulated emotionally — worried, over-thinking, fidgety, hyperactive, hyper-vigilant to threat, over-reactive emotionally, distracted, unfocused, perfectionistic, compulsive or obsessive. In contrast, another response is to over-regulate emotions to handle stress, leading to “depression,” with low motivation, lack of emotional self-awareness, and under-functioning.
Quite simply, many people have learned unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors that may have worked well for them as a child. However, these coping skills no longer are helpful in relationships with others — or with themselves.
There is Help
I help people learn new patterns of relating to themselves so they improve their sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and calmness.
Therapy for individual adults generally focuses on:
- learning mindfulness meditation to permit a calm, observing mind regarding self-critical and self-shaming messages
- self-compassion skills to replace negative self-talk
- understanding your relationship with parents or in other relationships that led to unhealthy adult relationship patterns and poor self-acceptance
- re-narrating traumas so that they are less anxiety-producing and do not trigger self-judgment
These issues are deeply personal to me, because I once suffered from low self-worth and chose to seek therapy and undergo extensive personal self-exploration. The good news is that through self-acceptance I was able to completely transform my personality, becoming much more confident and assertive.
I have read extensively on spirituality and Buddhism, social and evolutionary psychology, career choice, domestic violence treatment and prevention, personality disorders, interpersonal neurobiology, trauma, and other topics. I have personal experience in wellness issues, including mindfulness meditation, yoga, nutrition and food intolerances, exercise, and sports psychology, giving me an understanding of how these can help resolve emotional issues.
I believe that therapy should be short-term, generally lasting months not years. While I am happy to spend time with clients, you should be out living your life, not talking about your life in therapy!
Further Thoughts on Psychotherapy
Discover Your Best You.
Psychotherapy isn’t about learning how to cope with a fictitious “disease.”
It is about accepting yourself wholeheartedly and uncovering what is already there: the real, flawed, authentic self that makes you a unique individual.
I can help you recognize and develop your existing emotional strengths through self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-compassion.
As you get to know yourself better, you’ll understand why you behave and feel as you do, with the possibility of real, long-term change.
Psychotherapy is exciting, positive, and life-improving — an experience that can benefit everyone.
Afraid of Making the Leap to Therapy? Read this:
Because coming to therapy can be frightening to some, I especially like this letter that was written to advice columnist Carolyn Hax for what it says about clients seeking therapy and the therapist’s role:
You often advise letter-writers to seek therapy or other professional help. After a lot of hemming and hawing and bouts of denial, I have decided to take the leap. What should I expect? I waver so often between thinking I’m completely normal and totally whacked that I’m not sure I could articulately answer a simple “What brings you here?” Now that I have convinced myself I need the help, I’m nervous about actually doing it. – Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Consider what therapists see day after day: not just your shade of “totally whacked,” but the whole rainbow. Just go in there and say what you said here. It’s not your job to form your thoughts into perfect phrases; it’s a therapist’s job to put you at ease with telling the truth.
Learn more about my experience and credentials.