Sunday, August 21, 2016

What is Dynamic Psychotherapy?

Dynamic Psychotherapy: A Depth-Oriented Approach

There are many approaches to counseling and psychotherapy.  Each approach, and each therapist, answers the question, “How does healing happen?” somewhat differently.  If I were to articulate my approach succinctly, I believe that healing happens in the context of being deeply known and understood such that we can understand ourselves (and others) and thereby grow as more whole people and gain the wisdom and courage to choose well for ourselves and for our relationships. 
Dynamic psychotherapy is an orientation to therapy that facilitates this process.   It is appreciated by clients because the experience of depth listening can uniquely address the deep and various parts of the self and relationships.  This approach helps clients experience and resolve core developmental needs that so often contribute to unresolved relational, sexual or psychological issues.  It can be used to address a variety of presenting problems, whether anxiety, depression, couples communication breakdowns, eating disorders, sexual addiction.  Dynamic psychotherapy as a general orientation may incorporate interventions from other traditions such as cognitive behavioral exercises, EMDR, body work, expressive therapy exercises, etc.  It can be utilized in individual as well as couples work. 

The following is a summary introduction to dynamic psychotherapy by Dr. Lawrence Hedges (used with permission). 

“Dynamic psychotherapy originated with the work of Dr. Sigmund Freud in Vienna in the late nineteenth century. Therapy is both a way of understanding human emotions and of helping people with their relationships and their personal problems. The mature or rational self that functions more or less successfully in the real world is only a part of the total person. The more immature, irrational, or unconscious self functions silently in the background to produce various symptoms and maladaptive behaviors that often intrude into the person's social life, personal relationships, school or work activities, and physical health. In dynamic psychotherapy specific problems are viewed in the context of the whole person. The quest for self-knowledge is seen as the most important key to changing attitudes and behavior.

Dynamic psychotherapy is based on the insight that our personalities are the result of passing through and solving relationship issues at many developmental stages. At any stage, the way we have reacted to events in our lives may have caused us to get stuck at a certain level of insight or problem solving. While we go ahead and mature satisfactorily, in many ways we may carry within us the parts that didn't have a chance to develop. We can have a mature exterior and be functioning more or less successfully, while internally we may feel vulnerable, confused, depressed, angry, afraid, and childlike. We may not feel able to bounce back from rejection, get past blocks, allow our real feelings to surface, or stay in touch with our feelings and desires. Our physical health may be compromised in many ways by emotional and relationship issues.

Dynamic psychotherapy is designed to help the client get in touch with her or his unconscious memories, feelings, and desires that are not readily available to the conscious mind. Therapy is designed to help clients of all ages understand how their unconscious feelings and thoughts affect the ways they act, react, think, feel, and relate. Whether or not therapy works depends a great deal on the client's willingness and ability to experience all relationships deeply, especially the therapeutic relationship. Each client, by expressing her or his story in whatever ways possible to someone who knows how to listen and to give new meanings back, has the opportunity to learn about herself or himself in a new way.

Dynamic psychotherapy can provide a safe place for people of whatever age to discover for themselves their own truths. It provides a unique opportunity to re-experience personal history in a new relationship, to see it in a new way, and to make connections between past and current conflicts that illuminate the way one relates to oneself and to others.

Clients are encouraged to talk about thoughts and feelings that come up about therapy or about the therapist. These feelings are important because elements of one's earliest affections and hostilities toward parents and siblings are often shifted onto the therapist and the process of therapy. This phenomenon, known as "transference," offers a rich source of understanding, for it offers the possibility for people to re-experience and re-work important feelings arising from the past with the maturity they possess in the present.

Dynamic psychotherapy is usually not a short-term therapy as it takes time to explore the complex layers of feeling and experience that make up a person's own unique relationship history. People find that their therapy can easily extend for several years but there is no prescribed length of treatment. Only the people closely involved have a sense of when personal goals have been met. When the client feels she or he has accomplished the desired goals, then a termination date can be set and agreed upon.

Dynamic psychotherapy aims to help people experience life more deeply, enjoy more satisfying relationships, resolve painful conflicts, and better integrate all the parts of their personalities. Perhaps its greatest potential gift is the essential freedom to change and to continue to grow in relationships.”
In the context of a consultation, I would be happy to assess what approach might be most beneficial to address your concerns.  Please contact me by phone (714-262-4445, ext. 2) or email ( to set up an appointment. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Taking a Time-Out, for Couples

How can you and your significant other manage a conversation that is escalating into a fight?  You know how you feel when the cycle is in motion...  You get triggered... and then you find yourself unable to refrain from yelling, or bringing up the past, or blaming or shutting down.  We sometimes hope that this time the conversation will end differently.  But usually it doesn't.  Often hurtful words are exchanged, deepening the disconnection.

When couples get stuck in destructive patterns of fighting, calling a time-out can help interrupt it.

A time-out is a structured format that interrupts a negative cycle by allowing time for the body and the brain to recover from the physiological arousal of fight/flight/freeze that can get activated in the face of conflict.  With a time-out a person can more likely transition to using the part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) that is capable of thoughtfulness, awareness and care.

There are important elements that help a "time out" be successful, rather than an exercise in frustration or failure.  For example, essential to "calling a time-out" is an honest commitment to resume the conversation at a specific time.  This helps the partner who would rather continue the conversation/fight feel some reassurance that the time-out isn't "just an avoidance tactic."

A time-out can give a couple a needed break to come back to each other in a more constructive way.  But calling a time-out isn't easy... it requires agreement, discipline and practice.  If you are needing a tool to help decrease destructive conflicts and increase connection, give it a try! 

When I work with couples we read through the following structured way of calling a time-out, consider how it might be helpful, how it might be difficult, and then, if they think it will be beneficial, they agree to practice the following the steps.

Successfully implementing this has helped many couples feel more confident, loving and secure.  Let me know how it goes!  -- Catherine Morrill       

So, here it is...
How to Take a Time-Out
 A time-out can help you avoid saying or doing things that will hurt your relationship.  A time-out is NOT meant to help you avoid issues.  It is a tool that can help you regain perspective so that you CAN more successfully work through and resolve an issue.

Start by becoming familiar with the indicators that you need a time-out.  They may include:
·        You are so overwhelmed by your feelings of anger, frustration, jealousy or other strong emotion that you can’t relate meaningfully.

·        You want to escalate the conflict to prove your point or “make” the other person hear you.

·        You want to bring up things from the past that you know would be hurtful.

·        You have lost perspective and are no longer thinking about resolution or understanding.

·        You are unable to articulate your thoughts and feelings in a meaningful way.  Perhaps you are blaming the other person or are shut down.

·        You are not able to listen to your partner.  You may be interrupting, making assumptions and/or dismissing what s/he is saying.

·        You are feeling unsafe.
Then Take a Time-Out Using These Steps:
1.      Call a Time-Out

a.      State that you need a time-out.  Ie: “I need a time-out.”  NOT “You” or “We” …need a time out.

b.      Affirm that you are willing to continue the conversation.

c.      Suggest and agree on a time to continue the conversation.
2.      Do some individual work: relax, reflect, remember

·        Do something to release the emotional intensity: deep breathing, go for a walk/run, go outside, pray/meditate, take a shower.

·        Ask yourself what triggered your emotional response.  Journal your thoughts and feelings to help you understand what is happening inside of you.  Utilize the “What are we Fighting About” sheet to consider the layers.

·        Remember what’s important: creating a win-win and understanding one another is more important than “winning” the fight.

3.      Resume the conversation

·        Listen generously, seeking to understand his/her thoughts and feelings.

·        Share your own thoughts, feelings and needs.

·        Consider what you could repair by apologizing [see apology blog].

A time-out is simple (in some ways) but by no means easy.  And it isn't one size fits all.  For help in your relationship, I welcome you to contact me to set up a consultation.  You can email me at or call me at 714.262.4445, ext. 2. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas 2015 reflection: Offering our Gifts out of Gratitude

Gifts are inextricably linked to Christmas, aren’t they?  We can’t imagine Christmas without presents!  Though Christmas has been somewhat hijacked by retailers, at the heart of it, it’s about love and gratitude leading us to generous gift-giving. 

The gift of Jesus, the arrival of a savior, was long anticipated.  And His entrance into the world has caused people through the generations to pause, find hope, and then worship, offering their hearts and their lives in gratitude.  Don and I-- having been captivated by Jesus ourselves-- we are compelled to honor God and give to others out of the abundance of what we have received.

The birth of Jesus compels the offering of gifts of all sorts.  I think of the gifts of the wise men.  Having been stirred in their spirits to follow a star, they found the newborn and presented him with gifts befitting of a king.  Their journey to Jesus, their worship, and their gifts are beautifully captured in the words of this wonderfully familiar hymn:   

We three kings of Orient are,

Bearing gifts we traverse afar,

Field and fountain, moor and mountain,

Following yonder star.


O star of wonder, star of night,

Star with royal beauty bright;

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.

Don and I see the offerings at the Soul Restoration Project as a central part of our worship, an offering of love and gratitude.  Whether or not the name of Jesus is ever spoken with a person we meet with, we hold our work as holy.  We get to participate in the restoring of hope and life to those God deeply loves.  We delight in giving of ourselves for the development and healing of men, women, couples and families. 

This year we focused on honing our skills for the sake of those we serve.  Don was certified as a sexual addiction therapist through the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.  And I received advanced training in the treatment of eating disorders through the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals.  Our intern program also continued to develop into a more effective learning community enabling us to serve more people, more effectively.  All of these areas of growth have a direct impact on the quality of the care we offer.   

This Christmas we hope that you have quiet moments of reflection on the awe-inspiring gift of the Star of Wonder... and that you experience overflowing worship and gratitude! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christmas 2014 Reflection: the Incarnation and the Body

[I sent this blog out early in December but am just getting it posted here.  Happy New Year!]

I think that Christmas gets better with age!  Not the Santa part, but my appreciation of the depth of the beautiful gift of God in Jesus.  I am struck this year by the implications of the mysterious miracle that God chose to be resident in flesh and blood, like our own. 

As the SRP staff, we’ve been reflecting on the very physical aspect of Christ’s incarnation and the good news that God came to dwell with us, in human form… and our need to experience value and healing in how we relate to our own bodies.   I think about our own stories and those who come to us for help.  Consider…      

·        The teenager who cuts, mutilating her body, in the hopes of expressing and releasing her pain. 

·        The sex addict who, seeking intimacy, becomes more disconnected relationally and increasingly at odds with the good of his sexuality. 

·        The sexual abuse victim whose body was violated, and how she carries this pain in her body and mind.     

·        The man who overeats and misuses food, coping with emotional pain, and developing a myriad of health issues.

·        The woman who compares her body to the airbrushed media version and disdains herself.

·        The person who is preoccupied with social media and internet relating, lacking face-to-face contact and the accompanying eye contact, hugs and hands to hold.
Listening for and responding to the real needs of the body brings healing.  After all, God created the body as good and desires to restore wholeness.  Religions too often teach their followers to disdain the body.  The incarnation of Jesus does just the opposite; Christ’s coming underscores the sacredness of the human body.  In Jesus’ coming as a human being, God Himself inhabits the bodily human experience.  Awe inspiring!  We hear echoes of the declaration made in the creation story that, “It is good!” 

Jesus does not save us from our humanity; He saves us from our sin.  And He saves us so that we can be fully human.  Not only does God shout out that the human person is His most prized creation, He goes even further to say that the body is now His temple, His sacred dwelling place.   

This Christmas we celebrate, with wonder and awe, God’s incarnation.  We celebrate this joyously in one of my favorite Christmas hymns, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:      

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King

Indeed the newborn King is glorious, and He ushers in the era of God-with-us, in our flesh.  At SRP, we participate in the tender and compassionate ministry of Jesus, listening deeply to the heart, soul and body to bring healing to the person and their relationships. 
I hope that this year as you celebrate Jesus’ birth, you experience how much God loves you… in the flesh, 


Monday, November 3, 2014

Relationship Repair: 5 Elements of an Apology

It is common for couples to come for therapy after a significant fight or betrayal.  An important part of the healing process consists of apologizing to the other.  But we may not know how to fully apologize.  I hope the following post helps you consider various elements of an apology and can help guide you in your apologizing as well as helping you recognize what you most desire to hear when s/he apologizes to you.   

Learning to apologize is vital to repairing relationships. On the one hand, many of us learned very young – like in kindergarten-- to say, “sorry.”  On the other hand, apologizing can be very difficult—especially when we feel hurt.  Offering an apology authentically requires that we take the focus off of how we’ve been hurt.  In our apology we take responsibility for our contribution to the conflict or breakdown in the relationship.  When we are on the receiving end of an apology, we may feel hurt if someone’s apology seems lacking.  Personally, I often think, “I just want to hear him/her say ‘I’m sorry’.”   Others aren’t impressed by the words "I'm sorry" and really want to see concrete efforts to change. 

Here we are going to break down an apology into five basic elements.  Each element is important for a complete apology but each person usually has a particular element that is most meaningful to him/her.  When we identify our partner's needs, we can speak this his/her heart.  Likewise, when we identify what is most important to us, we can teach our partners to meet our needs.  The following is a brief description of the five elements. 
#1: Expressing Emotion and Empathy.  “I’m so sorry, I know I hurt you.”
In this first element, the goal is to communicate sincerity and sorrow over causing hurt. The apologizing partner showing empathy, stepping into their partner’s heart, acknowledging the hurt they caused and expressing sorrow over it.  There is a need to share that you feel badly – guilt, shame, pain at how you’ve hurt the other.  And then offering some understanding and a desire to really know how you’ve hurt the other person.  “I can see you were afraid, felt abandoned, were embarrassed, etc.”  In this part,  be specific so that the offended partner feels you understand his/her feelings and that you are not sweeping the issue under the rug.  For some, the most important element is this heartfelt, sincere “I am sorry.”
Important note: In the “I’m sorry,” there are no “buts.”  If there is a “but,” the apology becomes an attack. 

#2: Accepting Responsibility. “I was wrong.”
The second element involves the apologizing partner accepting responsibility for the wrong behavior.  It is admitting to one’s mistakes.  It can be tempting to explain what happened and let ourselves off the hook rather than admit that we were wrong.  Even if circumstances interfered with our intentions, we can experience freedom by acknowledging that our actions fell short.  For some, hearing someone take ownership for their err is the most helpful part of an apology.  Here are a couple of ways this might sound:
·        I know that what I did was wrong.  I could try to excuse myself, but there is no excuse.  Pure and simple what I did was selfish and wrong. 
·        I made a big mistake.  At the time, I didn’t think about it.  But in retrospect, I see that is the problem.  I wish I had thought before I acted. 
·        The way I spoke to you was wrong, it was unkind and unloving.  My words were cutting, and I was defensive and selfish.    
·        I repeated the action that I’ve done many times before.  I really messed up.  I know that it was wrong. 

#3: Making It Right. “What can I do to make it right?”
For some people, hearing an acknowledgment of the wrong and an apology is less significant than knowing that the person wants to do something to show care.  When we are wounded by our partner’s actions, we wonder if s/he still loves us.  Restitution can help demonstrate our commitment to the relationship.  Author Andy Stanley writes, “A willingness to do something to try to make up for the pain I have caused you is evidence of a true apology.  A voice inside us says, ‘I ought to do something to make amends for what I have done.’” (p. 54)  It can be helpful to ask what you can do to make up for the loss.  What matters is that the person who was offended experience your care.  Perhaps making restitution would involve fixing what you accidentally broke, bringing them a treat or planning a special time for that person.
#4: Genuine Repentance. “I’ll try not to do that again.”
Genuine repentance is making movement toward changing how we relate in the future.  Sometimes this relatively easy; as we learn what we do that hurts the other, we find ourselves able to shift appropriately.  But other times this is much more difficult.  If our behavior is deep-seated it may be quite difficult to shift.  Perhaps an addiction or habits of sloth, verbal criticism or anger run deep.   In these cases, a commitment to growth requires humble and transparent admission of the ongoing struggle.  Availing ourselves of outside support can help demonstrate our commitment to change.  Perhaps that would include counseling, a support group, accountability, etc.

#5: Requesting Forgiveness. “Will you please forgive me?”
Asking for forgiveness offers the opportunity for the other to not only accept your apology but to extend grace to you.  Sometimes we assume if we acknowledge that we messed up that this is enough.  Asking for forgiveness acknowledges the opportunity the offended person has to give you grace.  It gives the offended person the opportunity to respond and to absolve you of your sin against him/her.  It clears the path toward reconciliation. 
In the course of the small conflicts that arise in daily living, all five elements are unlikely to be needed.  And for apologies for significant breakdowns of trust such as an affair, a careful application of each of these elements is vital.  For all couples, and in our most significant relationships at work and in our families, it can bring repair to conflicts in more complete ways.   

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas’ book, The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships. 

To take an online Apologies Language Personal Profile assessment, go to: Also available in a PDF.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Help for Stressed Parents and Children: A Resource List

Not long ago I taught a seminar on "Parenting Under Extreme Stress."  I taught on signs of stress in children and the most common stressors.  We focused on how parents can manage the stress of parenting when life is particularly stressful and how to help their children manage stress.  With all of the amazing work being done currently in the area of applied neuroscience (particularly by Daniel Siegel), there are amazing resources available to help change old patterns of reactivity and overwhelm.  Here is my list of recommended resources (with links to that can support you in parenting:


There are many resources geared towards families dealing with specific types of stress or loss.  Please contact me for further, specific recommendations.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anticipating Comfort: A Christmas Reflection

As Christmas approaches, I am enjoying the signs and symbols of the holidays… the candles, the lights, the shopping for gifts, the food, the gatherings, the music, the childlike whimsy.  These signs and symbols mediate comfort to my soul.  This year, it struck me, how in this season of Advent (literally “coming”), we are awaiting the coming of real comfort. 
Real comfort is not to be confused with false comfort.  False comforts avoid our real sorrows with whatever… shopping, food, internet, busyness, etc.  Real comfort is different.  It touches our real sorrow.  To experience real comfort in the face of loss and uncertainty is a great gift.  It is perhaps the greatest Gift, known now in part, to be known completely when we are fully with God, forever.    
Immanuel, God with us, comforts in many ways.  Perhaps we experience real comfort comes through a song that touches our soul, or through something we read or a mystical sense of God’s presence.  Perhaps we experience comfort through the care of a beloved friend.  In our work as therapists at SRP, one of our goals is to be with people in such a way that they experience comfort in their pain, disappointments and challenges.  Our hope is that this way of being, this relationship, will be a conduit of true comfort, meeting each person at their point of need. 

Comfort soothes in our time of affliction or distress.  Sometimes our distress is on the surface.  We find ourselves in touch with our loss.  For many of us this is uncomfortable; we feel naked.  Such vulnerability is risky.  We often fear being judged and we judge ourselves.  We feel weak.  Or we fear the pain will overwhelm us.  Other times our wounds and fears remain hidden below the surface driving us unaware.  Experiencing comfort is complex… and vulnerable.  

To receive true comfort we need to experience our true sorrow.  We are invited into the darkness of our loss and uncertainty with the promise that Comfort can be experienced.  We may struggle in the darkness.  In our fallen world, and to varying degrees in our personal histories, comfort is hit or miss.  If every time we had a need we experienced comfort, we could more easily trust that our needs would be met.  Advent holds the promise of the coming of Comfort.  It is promised.  This place of darkness, of waiting for comfort, is not an easy place, but it can be a holy experience, a place of courage and faith… and the doorway into comforting connection.   
Don Diva and I are both aware of our need for comfort this Christmas season.  For Don, this has been a year of transition.  He stepped out in faith and vision as he transitioned from the ministry where he served full-time for over 15 years to his work full-time as a therapist with the SRP.  His prior ministry was the context where he and his wife Erin met, married and began their family.  It was home base.  This exciting and planned change holds the promise of new areas of service and the next growth step in his vocation as a therapist, but it comes with the uncertainties inherent in change.  He needs comfort to steady himself and his family in the transition. 

For me, this year involved many losses and changes related to my father being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  The losses for my father and for our family have been manifold.  Shortly after my dad was diagnosed I connected with a friend’s friend whose father had passed away from ALS.  She welcomed me to “a club of amazing people and resources” in the ALS community, that, as she put it, “no one wanted to join.”  Comfort comes through many sources.  God’s comfort is incarnate in so many ways.   

Awaiting true comfort is central to Advent.  Consider the beginning of Handel’s Messiah, taken from Isaiah 40, a passage that prophesies the coming of Jesus,

Comfort, comfort ye my people, Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem Of the peace that waits for them,
Tell her that her sins I cover, And her warfare now is over. 

Jesus came into our world in all of the vulnerability of a baby to bring comfort to a distressed world.  He ushered in a new age of Comfort.  Likewise Jesus’ comfort comes to us in our darkness… in our losses and uncertainty. 

I hope that you experience His Comfort this Christmas as we celebrate the promise of His coming Comfort,