In 1979, a 35-year-old MIT-trained molecular biologist had a vision of what his life’s work—his “karmic assignment”—would be. He’d bring the ancient Eastern disciplines he’d followed for 13 years—mindfulness meditation and yoga—to chronically sick people right here in modern America. What’s more, he’d bring these practices into the very belly of the Western scientific beast. Not exactly a modest scheme. But Jon Kabat-Zinn, the originator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), would manage to pull it off. Since then, mindfulness has spilled out of the healthcare/psychotherapy world and into the rest of society. But the explosive growth of mindfulness in America has also inevitably triggered a backlash. Read More
The problems we suffer with anxiety often continue not because we have symptoms, but because we resist the fact that we’re experiencing symptoms—doing our utmost to block out the symptoms, rather than getting to know them a little bit. Most of our clients come to us trying to end something unpleasant, seeking both comfort and predictability in their lives. The desire for a life without stress or doubt is perfectly natural. And yet, we compound our clients’ problems when we collude in their goal of simply making the unpleasantness go away. Our objective should not simply be to block their discomfort and allay their doubts, but to help reduce their suffering—ultimately, a completely different task. Read More
Insomnia. Almost everybody has it at one time or another. Some poor souls live (or barely live) with it. It’s hard to know exactly how widespread it is—prevalence rates are all over the map. But some researchers are drawing the conclusion that midnight or early-morning insomnia is possibly more “natural” than the pattern of eight hours straight sleep that we’ve come to expect, but often fail to achieve. Perhaps, the implication is, we ought to accept the reality of those hours awake and cultivate a better attitude toward the inevitable—we should accept and make friends with those wakeful hours in the middle of the night. Read More
Over the years, I’ve worked with many couples who complain bitterly that the other kisses or touches, fondles, caresses, strokes the “wrong” way. I used to take these complaints at face value, trying to help the couple solve their problems through various forms of marital bargaining, until I realized that their sexual dissatisfactions didn’t stem from ignorance, ineptitude, or a “failure to communicate.” Instead of trying to spackle over these normal and typical “dysfunctional” sexual patterns with a heavy coat of how-to lessons, I have learned that it makes much more sense to help the couple analyze their behavior, to look for the meaning of what they were already doing before they focused on changing the mechanics.
Over several thousand years, different cultures around the world have discovered how to nurture the seed of a specifically human capacity for mentally stepping outside the rat cage of our Read More
In the late 1980s and 1990s, after the growing recognition that child abuse was far more prevalent than had been believed, an increasingly vocal adult survivors’ movement began to form, determined to bring to light the previously ignored subject of child abuse. During this period, research psychologist Elizabeth Loftus emerged as the most prominent public critic of the notion that memories of childhood abuse could be recovered years later. In this interview, she reflects on her role in the memory wars of the 1990s and whether our increasing understanding of the brain has illuminated the difference between real and false memories. Read More
From the moment I met the Correys in my waiting room, I was baffled about why they were together. Frank was tall, good looking and suave; Donna dowdy and sullen. Every other week for a year, I saw them, during which time I tried pretty much every trick in my therapeutic arsenal. And in spite of all my efforts, the Correys were one of my most spectacular failures. Gradually, I let my own values prejudice me against Donna. In the end, I learned that with no respect, there can be no connection. And without connection, therapy loses its meaning.
In the West, we reverberate between sexual obsession and sexual shame. No wonder we feel split within ourselves and from each other. Modern sex therapy helps thousands with simple, effective behavioral techniques, usually focused narrowly on achieving erection, intercourse or orgasm. Yet few of us have much of a clue about the more profound joys of sexuality. Presaged by the popularity in the 1960s of the Kama Sutra, a 3rd-century Indian sex manual, Tantra has become a postmodern hybrid. The goal in Tantra is to move arousal to the brain in an explosion of enlightenment and bliss. In Tantra, sex is not a dirty detour from the path to God, it is the path. Read More
For me, working with girls is what I do with the greatest interest and passion. Like many female therapists who have this specialty, I had my own tough times as a teenager. I have wells of empathy to draw on, and can stay attuned with them more easily than with males, or females of other ages. Our bond is implicit, and by being as fully authentic, connected, and present as I know how, I help them make it explicit. Here are four of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my therapeutic work with adolescent girls. Read More
The hallmark of cognitive therapy is understanding clients’ reactions—emotional and behavioral—in terms of how they interpret situations. The repeated themes in people’s thinking and behavior finally make sense once we understand the basic way they view themselves, their world, and other people. But cognitive therapy goes beyond helping people understand their thoughts and behaviors in sessions. People actually get better by making small changes in their thinking and behavior every day. As therapy progresses, homework assignments and relapse prevention become essential parts of the approach. Read More
When I first began seeing couples in therapy, I was struck by how people became totally unglued with their partners—enraged and aggressive or almost catatonically mute. I was in way over my head. But soon, I realized an obvious truth: marriages were primarily about the emotional responsiveness that we call love; about fundamental human attachment. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), the systemic, empirically supported model of therapy I’ve developed, allows us to understand what happens at key moments of change and make these moments happen. This means that we can not only heal relationships: we can create relationships that heal. Read More