How Therapy Works

Being human means that challenges are unavoidable. It is our belief that therapy is a gift of personal reflection, self compassion, and relief from suffering. We feel privileged to guide our clients as they discover their authentic selves and enhance their life experiences and relationships.

 

Positive Psychology

In recent years, the field of psychology has begun to shift toward a strengths-based approach to treatment.  Prominent figuresin psychology emphasize the importance of building character strengths and relying on skill development for the promotion of social-emotional well-being.  The shift from a deficit-based approach to a positive, growth-based approach has encouraged clinicians to explore creative interventions that were previously outside of the realm of traditional psychology.

A foundational concept is the idea of flow.  Csikszentmihalyi has described flow as a feeling of complete emotional absorption with an activity.  In the state of flow, less pressing concerns, such as time of day, pre-existing worries, and ego seem to fade from attention, and people are at the height of creativity, attunement, and effectiveness.2  People experience flow in everyday life through participation in sports, hobbies, games, and art. Somewhere in the middle of an exciting creative process, whether it is playing a sport or painting a masterpiece, it is easy to lose oneself in the creative moment.  At this moment, time seems to disappear and the performer’s creative objective becomes paramount.

Some therapists have begun to use the concept of flow to unlock amazing opportunities for growth in the therapeutic process.  While flow has been colloquially described as “living in the moment,” clinicians have been able to facilitate such experiences through the development of emotional competency.  With central tenets that focus on happiness, authenticity, and strengths, Positive Psychology has engendered a new wave of enthusiasm from mental health providers and individuals alike.

 

Empathy

Empathy is an emotional response to the emotions of others.  The interpersonal nature of this idea suggests that one’s emotional attunement to another person may be a building block for successful social interactions.  Early studies showed that empathy can be measured in six- and seven-year-old children through inquiring about the child’s emotional state after witnessing a peer show strong emotion.3  Later researchers studied the behavioral tendencies of preschool children and found that the relation between empathy and cooperation can be observed before entering kindergarten.  In one study, children who scored higher on an empathy measure tended to show a higher frequency of cooperative play.4  These findings drew attention to the practical behavioral correlates of strong or poor empathic ability.

 

What role does empathy have in therapy?

More recently, researchers have also investigated how empathy is related to clinical progress.  Empathic responses from the therapist have been found to strongly influence therapy outcome.5  The fact that this finding is consistent across therapeutic approaches underscores that empathy is an interpersonal phenomenon that seems to foster a deep healing connection between two people.  Most importantly, many people find that participation in therapy actually improves their own empathic abilities, which are, in turn, used to improve personal relationships.
Read more about the development of empathy here.

 

References
  1. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. (read the article)
  2. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row. (find out more here)
  3. Feshbach, N. D., & Roe, K. (1968). Empathy in six- and seven-year-olds. Child Development, 39(1), 133-145. doi:10.2307/1127365
  4. Marcus, R. F., Telleen, S., & Roke, E. J. (1979). Relation between cooperation and empathy in young children. Developmental Psychology15(3), 346-347. (read the article)
  5. Elliott, R., Bohart, A. C., Watson, J. C., & Greenberg, L. S. (2011). Empathy.  Psychotherapy48(1), 43-49. doi:10.1037/a0022187 (read the article)