About Harper West
Harper West, MA, LLP, is a licensed psychotherapist at Great Lakes Psychology Group in Clarkston, Michigan. If you would like to schedule an initial appointment or see if your insurance is accepted, call 1-800-693-1916 or visit www.GreatLakesPsychologyGroup.com
Harper is an expert on self-acceptance and self-compassion
“By teaching myself mindful self-acceptance, I fundamentally changed from being hamstrung by self-doubt and self-criticism to truly being calm and self-assured. In relationships with others I am no longer submissive and conflict-avoiding by default in an effort to gain their approval. I use prompt, forthright, assertive communication to set healthy boundaries. However, I am proudest of the new relationship I have with myself. I can respond with kindness and compassion when I am feeling emotionally distressed. I can be my own secure attachment figure, without having an unhealthy dependence on others for my emotional needs.”
As a psychotherapist, she works with individuals, families and couples, specializing in helping individuals improve compassionate self-acceptance, strengthen self-worth, manage fear and shame, and develop mindfulness.
- 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.
- Marriage and Couples Counseling using Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFCT)
- Difficult Relationships: I can help you understand how to better deal with the difficult or “toxic” personalities in your life, including those with Bi-Polar Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder
- 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 Intervention
Education & Training
Harper graduated from Michigan State University and earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology following a career in corporate marketing communications.
Harper has completed an externship in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFCT) and additional advanced training in EFCT.
Harper has also completed advanced training in Mindful Self-Compassion and Compassion-Focused Therapy.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Harper to a six-year term on the Michigan Board of Psychology beginning 1/1/2021.
Harper is a contributing writer to the #4 New York Times and #1 Amazon bestseller “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” (Lee ed., 2017) and “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” (Lee ed., 2019). Harper is also author of the award-winning book Pack Leader Psychology, which combines simple ideas from the animal world, such as the “fight-or-flight” response, with the latest in social psychology and neuroscience to explain human behavior and relationships. In 2020 she was the lead editor and a contributor for a Special Edition of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology entitled: “Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Stories of Ethical Activism in the Age of Trump.”
She is a speaker and trainer on topics such as self-acceptance, mindfulness, the effect of trauma on anxiety and depression, ADHD, relationships, domestic violence and parenting. Subscribe to her YouTube channel to get her current posts.
She was asked to present on her Self-Acceptance Psychology concepts at the 2018 annual conference of the International Society of Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) in Toronto, Canada.
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!
Intrusive parents can cause children to feel a need to exert control and gain a sense of autonomy, perhaps through behaviors such as refusing to toilet train, as this child had. Others may develop issues with food, becoming picky eaters or refusing to eat. In adolescence this may show up as the eating disorders of anorexia or bulimia, extreme rebelliousness, and promiscuous sexual behavior.
It is so very sad that the wounded and traumatized narcissistic child inadvertently harms and traumatizes his or her siblings. We can be understanding that they do this in an attempt to get their own emotional needs met, but, as all narcs do, they sow emotional destruction in the relationships around them. It is sad, too, that the victims are left without the close, loving, supportive relationship of a brother or sister — a deep, relational trauma and loss that can affect their sense of self and safety in relationships throughout their life.