However, there are several things make me different from most marriage counselors. One of the big things that makes me different is that I focus exclusively on marriage and adult love relationships. Many licensed counselors are 'generalists'. That means they see individuals, couples, maybe families for issues ranging from anxiety and depression, addictions, personality disorders like bi-polar disorder, trauma and PTSD, self esteem, and a variety of other issues.
Even many who list themselves as Marriage Counselors, also do all those other things. Although I have a background earlier in my career working with many different types of people and issues, over 25 years ago I chose to specialize only in marriage and relationships. If you have a potential heart problem, you would want to go to a cardiologist, not just a family medicine physician. The precious heart of your love and your marriage needs a specialist. If some of those other common issues like anxiety are not just related to the conflict, and continue to have a significant impact even when things are starting to improve, I will refer that person to get some extra help with an individual therapist for that particular issue.
If it's related to the conflict, it usually gets better as the relationship gets better or with just a couple of tools. Most counseling degree programs often require only one or two courses on marriage and relationship counseling. Because I focus on relationships, I have done a lot of advanced training in marriage, relationships and helping couples. And, because it is my passion, I continue to do most of my continuing education in either some couples training with leading marriage experts and researchers like Harville Hendrix, John Gottman, Sue Johnson, Ellyn Bader, or in things related to couples' counseling-- for example, how the brain 'reacts' and goes into self-protection that sets up disconnecting patterns and how to act more from your values, goals, and vision, or how to use knowledge about your brain to be more effective in changing a behavior.
I also use what I learn and teach in my own relationship. Like most therapists, I also use what I have learned from personal relationships in life and from the many years of working with diverse clients with many different issues. I differ from most counselors in that I do not view you or what's happening in your relationship as a diagnosis of some type of 'mental disorder'. The majority of therapists, especially those who take insurance, have to fit you into a diagnosis code from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or most insurance will not pay.
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Most of my couples don't have a mental disorder although it can feel crazy-making at times! Some do have anxiety or depression or something they have already received a diagnosis with another therapist and are getting help. However, they are coming to marriage counseling because they usually have patterns of relating that don't work and they want to feel happier, more connected, more valued, have better communication, or work through conflict and issues as a team that grows stronger together.
THAT is not a mental disorder. It's a sign of health! And many times, it is inaccurate. Sometimes there are disorders, but usually people have or are receiving help with the issue from another counselor or professional.
People's behavior makes sense and is often perfectly 'normal' -- even though ti doesn't work and adds to the problems and unhappiness in the relationship. The 'problem behaviors' or 'patterns' are often normal ways we try to protect ourselves and get love. They don't work, but they are normal. Another thing thing that makes me different from many marriage counselors is in the way I work and my basic philosophy.
I believe conflict is often an opportunity for healing and growth of both people that can make you stronger together. HOW you work with it can make a huge difference in whether it helps or hurts your marriage. I believe in not making couples dependent on a therapist. That means I am always working to teach and coach you in tools you learn in my office so that when issues come up in the future, you have more effective skills to work through them on your own.
I believe in short-term therapy and I use Imago Relationship Therapy. I don't believe in dragging it out for a year. Either you are going to do the work or not. If you do the work, you are likely making progress. If you don't do the work, you won't make much progress. If you wait too long between sessions -- especially in the beginning, you will tend to slip back into old patterns, have conflicts that you are not working with effectively, and take steps backward.
As couples work, I usually like to start spreading sessions out longer because I want couples to be working to implement what they are learning at hom. I want you to come in and work very hard. Then, when you've worked through some of the things that had you stuck, have a grasp of the skills and tools, understand each other more deeply, I want you to then go out and continue to use the tools any time you need them to deepen emotional intimacy and connection and to create win-win approaches to issues.
Of course, if you get stuck, you can come back for a session or two, but I want to empower you to have what you need to continue to strengthen your love and connection, and build the kind of marriage or relationship that you both want.
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I help you discover the one or two 'roots' that fuels most frustrations and hurts. You've probably had the experience where you think you've fixed one frustration, but almost the same conflict pops up later about something else. So, in addition to teaching tools and skills, I help couples find the 1 or 2 'roots' that fuel most of their conflict, frustrations, hurts and misunderstandings. Learning how to work with those 1 or 2 core roots in each partner helps you make more effective changes that are going to have the biggest and most widespread impact.
That's why 'problem-solving' by itself is often more like a 'band-aid'. It doesn't address what causes the wound to keep reappearing or re-opening, so the same 'issue' pops up about a different topic. And problem-solving alone often does not create the inner motivation for change and often does not fully address the underlying concerns, fears or longings of one or both partners.. I don't let couple fight in my office and then try to referee the fight OR just nod and say I understand.
I teach you ways to work with issues in ways that often deepen understanding and connection instead of adding more disconnection by fighting. When you can truly understand each other, and the effect you sometimes have without meaning to, you can often come up with creative and effective ways to approach the situation, and sometimes just dissolve that conflict. I DO give homework for you as a couple -- some of which you do or practice together, and some of which may ask you to reflect or make a list of something individually.
This is not 'busy' work. Homeworks are building blocks to help you make more progress more quickly. I am also different from most therapists in that I am a big believer in sharing my notes, my thoughts, with YOU. In my experience, sharing my notes or thoughts after some sessions helps you think about and process things more fully after a session and it allows you to clarify something that I may have misunderstood or not understood fully. But even counselors can miss things, or misunderstand something -- which is why it is important to check out things with you!
Marriage counseling is not a counselor doing something to or for you. It is you and the counselor, each with a different perspective and different skills, working together to empower you to build the marriage the two of you want. So it's important we all share our insights, ideas, strategies with each other to give you the best possible path forward. Over the years I have worked with many couples in a same sex relationship or marriage.
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I am not knowledgeable enough about transgender issues, so I would recommend that you find someone else if that is an aspect of the help you need. However, if you are coming for issues like communication in your marriage, working with conflict or ineffective patterns, and you happen to identify as transgender, I am happy to work with you.
Yes, there are people who I would not take, and some who need to do some other work first: If there is a history of domestic violence, joint couples counseling is usually not wise because what is said in session can be used against you later and possibly put you in danger -- OR, it will cause you to hide things and not be fully honest in counseling. I have worked with couples where the incident that brought them in was that in a middle of an argument, one pushed the other or something minor.
But it is not a pattern of domestic violence or coercion and that is usually workable as a couple. If there are addictions or drinking or other substance use that is considered a problem by ONE of you, you will need to actively be addressing that with a specialist in addictions and be drug-free or sober for 3 or 4 months before you do couples counseling with me. Your counselor can help you know when you are ready for couples counseling.
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It only takes one time to undermine weeks or months of progress as a couple. You want to come to me because you or your spouse is depressed, suffers from anxiety, has bi-polar disorder, or severe and persistent erratic behavior that is affecting your marriage. Again, my focus is the marriage or relationship. Get help with those oher things first, then when your counselor thinks you are ready for marriage counseling, I am willing to work with you.
Having said that, some of your spouse's behavior may look like an over-reaction or 'unhealthy' to YOU and may be just be part of the fight or flight reaction when something accidentally triggers him or her in the relationship. THAT I do work with.
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That probably happens in most couples who come in! So I will work with couples after an affair. Sometimes it is not easy for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the other person pursues them to continue the affair.
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In those situations where you want to, are committed to, but need some help, ending the affair as part of rebuilding trust and emotional safety is essential as an early goal. No matter what the reason for the affair is and there are a variety of reasons why they happen , the betrayal does major damage to the spouse and to the marriage or primary relationship. Rebuilding trust is core. Trust can never be rebuilt with an affair still open. Increasing connection and vulnerability won't happen with an affair still open.
Recovery from an affair takes longer than anyone wants, but it is possible. Couples can go forward and create a stronger marriage than they had before if both are willing to work. I have clients, family and friends of different faith backgrounds and some who consider themselves agnostic or atheist. If spirituality is an important part of your life, I am comfortable with that and would encourage you to draw on that as a resource for building or repairing your marriage or relationship.
We can incorporate that in your work. At the same time, I do not believe in imposing my path on anyone else.
I don't decide that -- it's up to you! I am warm, down-to-earth, understanding, practical, straightforward in a kind way, optimistic and value integrity. I am a big believer in choosing gratitude as one path to happiness as an individual and in my relationships.
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