My Approach to Therapy
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, intrusive, 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, narcissistic and abusive relationships, 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!
To schedule a therapy appointment with Harper fill out our contact form.