Book Review: “Hold Me Tight” by Susan Johnson (review by Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT)

Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFTToday, one of our therapists, Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT, is sharing her review of the book “Hold Me Tight” by Susan Johnson

I just finished re-reading what I consider to be some of the best information about couples and relationships out there, Dr. Susan Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight: Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” (2008). Dr. Johnson is the founder of Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and her book explores the attachment principles behind human connection, specifically within intimate partnerships. For many people, this book serves as a complete reframe of conflict within couples. We often try and tackle relationship conflict with tools and skill building. While these things are important, they often miss the mark.

In the book, Dr. Johnson beautifully illustrates how the basis of all human interaction is rooted in emotional connection and attachment. The way we feel safe or not in our partnerships mirrors the way we felt safe our not as infants with our caregivers. If we have a secure attachment with these fundamental people then research finds that we both give and seek love more readily. As it is put in the book, securely attached couples “roll with the hurts better.” These couples are also found to have healthier balance of separateness and togetherness, and tend to even like themselves better.

When we fight with our partner, we are essentially protesting the fact that we feel emotionally disconnected from him or her. Tools and skill-building in this case just won’t cut it. They may help temporarily, but they are kind of like taking pain relievers for chronic headaches that are caused by needing to wear eyeglasses. Learning more skills won’t hurt, but it also certainly won’t solve the problem.

Dr. Johnson describes couple interaction as a dance, “The more I –fill in the blank–, the more you—fill in the blank–, which causes me to continue to—fill in the blank” and the cycle continues over and over again. This is why it feels to couples like they have the same argument over and over again. One week it might be about the dishes and another about parenting responsibilities, but it is the same exhausting fight and the same hurt feelings. They only way to solve the couple conflict is for both people to understand the dance in which they are trapped in its entirety and what their individual steps in the dance look like. Then the couple can unite against the dance they are caught in (which is the problem) and move past it.

Although this is quite a paradigm shift for most of us, I believe it is a hopeful one. If we can master our understanding of the cycles we are caught in, then we can change them. And even more exciting is the fact that once they are altered, the purpose of the fight is diminished. The hopelessness so many couples feel can be transformed into feeling safe and secure so that when issues arise, they are much less of a blow.

~ Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT

Kendra is a therapist at The Catalyst Center. Her specialties include:

Interested in learning more about Kendra or booking a free consultation with her? Kendra Doukas, M.S. LMFT can be reached by calling the Catalyst Center main office at 720-675-7123 or by emailing us directly at CatalystCenterLLC@gmail.com

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Ask a therapist: “Do you constantly analyze your friends and family members?” (answered by Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT)

Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFTToday, we continue our popular series “Ask a Therapist” with one of our therapists, Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT answering one of our most commonly asked questions: “As a therapist, are you constantly analyzing your friends and family?”

This is one of my favorite frequently asked questions. Most people assume therapists are continuous judges on others’ behavior. It seems to be generally assumed that therapists are going to feel the need to jump in and analyze or give you their feedback on everything. My friends and family will make jokes such as, “Oh, what she must be thinking” or “Watch out, she’s a mandated reporter!”

The ironic thing is that therapists are some of the most non-judgmental people around. Most of us become therapists because of some internal belief that all humans are good and are trying their best. Therefore, we actually give you the benefit of the doubt far more than most others will. The other thing to consider is that as therapists, we see a wide array of human behavior and you kind of can’t shock us. Facts that may be appalling to some folks seem almost standard to us.

There is an inherent second part to this question that is critical: the incorrect assumption that therapists can analyze their own relationships. Having a true and accurate analysis of a relationship requires a neutral perspective. Therefore, we cannot establish a fair or accurate assessment of our own relationships because we are half of the equation! So, the next time you wonder if your therapist friend of family member is secretly judging all of your choices, remember that this is most likely the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, you might turn to this person during times when you most need a forgiving opinion.

~ Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT

Kendra is a therapist at The Catalyst Center. Her specialties include:

Interested in learning more about Kendra’s work or booking a free consultation with her? Kendra Doukas, M.S. LMFT can be reached by calling the Catalyst Center main office at 720-675-7123 or by emailing us directly at CatalystCenterLLC@gmail.com

Ask a therapist: “How can I cope with anxiety about the government shut down?” (answered by Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT)

Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFTToday, we continue our popular series “Ask a Therapist” with one of our therapists, Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT answering a question on many of our minds: “How can I cope with anxiety about the government shutdown?”

The government shut down is all over the news, but what does not seem to get talked about is the effect is has on the psyche of the American people. We talk about the economic effects. We talk about the people that are out of work as result. We don’t talk about the anxiety it provokes in many Americans.

I have had many clients over the past few weeks bring this up in session. Many of them feel crazy for bringing it up and express concern that they might be turning into “conspiracy theorists.” Historically when a shutdown has happened, we eventually pull through and the shutdown ends. However, it is incredibly anxiety-provoking because no one has any certainty about this fact. We don’t have research and evidence regarding the systemic effects of the shutdown. Rather, we see these issues as they arise and hope enough people are still at work to tackle them. For many of us it can feel like, what’s next?

The reason that something like this is so anxiety provoking (not to mention infuriating and depressing) is that it hits deep against our sense of control. For most of us, the shutdown is completely out of our control and most people don’t feel comfortable with that. We all label some people as “control freaks” but in my experience as a clinician, most of us get very anxious when we are trapped in a situation over which we have little to no control. My suggestion is to break down the feeling of lack of control so that it is not so black and white. There are many things we can do for ourselves to cope with this difficult time.

Yes, there is little we can do as individuals to end the shutdown; however, this does not leave us powerless to how we can cope with it. First of all, we can control what we choose to listen to. For many people, this might need to allow themselves to find one or two sources and intentionally partake in media coverage so that they have some information. For others yet, this may be a great time to go on a media hiatus because listening is too anxiety-provoking altogether. Secondly, we need to take steps to help ourselves feel safe. We must first recognize this perceived threat of safety as incredibly reasonable and warranted. It is understandable that people are currently questioning whether or not we are safe from scares such as food borne illnesses and terrorists. These folks might feel better buying a fire safe box and getting documents in order, having an “emergency bag” prepared, or even taking a “wilderness” class.

The most essential thing is for people to know that they are not crazy for feeling scared, anxious, or hopeless and ready to flee to the hills. This is a big deal. We each need to be gentle with ourselves and brainstorm small ways to increase our feeling of safety and control.

~ Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT

Kendra is a therapist at The Catalyst Center. Her specialties include:

Interested in learning more about Kendra or booking a free consultation with her? Kendra Doukas, M.S. LMFT can be reached by calling the Catalyst Center main office at 720-675-7123 or by emailing us directly at CatalystCenterLLC@gmail.com

Ask a therapist: “Why is therapy effective?” (answered by Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT)

Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFTToday, we continue our popular series “Ask a Therapist” with one of our therapists, Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT answering one of our most commonly asked questions: “Why is therapy effective?”

Unconditional Positive Regard: The Key to Connection

I often get asked the question, “Why is therapy effective?” Those of us that are therapists think long and hard about this question. We know that it works because we see the evidence first hand; However, the concrete reason can be (or at least for me was) quite difficult to articulate. Research in “common factors” looks across different models and structures of therapy in an attempt to answer this very question: Why is therapy effective? This research over and over again indicates the “goodness of fit” between clinician and client is a critical factor. I got to thinking, what does this really mean? What can I do as a therapist to improve the chances of a good fit? Is it just some mystical connection that will either be there or not, or is there more to it?

Session after session I started to think more about why and how I am successful with my clients. One day the answer made itself abundantly clear: Unconditional positive regard, a term I had learned long ago in my training. One of the most fundamental human needs is to be truly witnessed by another. For someone to say to us literally or figuratively, “I hear you, I see you, I understand you, and I’m not going anywhere” is incredibly powerful. Imagine a world where every child got a constant message of an adult truly witnessing him or her.

Many of us did not get this message as children, or at least not consistently enough, and still do not get it today. My job as a therapist is to be this missing witness; to send the message that I care about your well-being, no matter what and with no strings attached. Is this not what a healthy partnership provides us? Is this not the ultimate goal of parenting? Is this not what we all seek out in our friendships?

Once I had this eureka moment, it became the number one goal in my therapy and in my life. Please do not misunderstand me and think I am saying that this means we should accept everyone’s choices and behaviors unconditionally. Challenging my clients unhealthy choices and behaviors is critically important to helping them grow and change. I would not be a good therapist if I just smiled and nodded and told my clients they were perfect. Unconditional positive regard comes into play here, too; I am able to challenge my clients on anything I need to because they are secure in the knowledge that it is coming from a place of love and acceptance. Since my clients know that I genuinely care about them, when I challenge them on something they are much less defensive and are able to really hear my feedback.

In a world  where space between us seems to grow wider and the true connections between us seems to be dwindling, it makes sense that many of us feel a huge lack of connection. There is good research to suggest that humans have been so successful due to our use of social connections, playing an even more critical role in our evolution than our big brains or critical thinking skills than we once believed.

Let’s do more of what we as a species do best. I challenge each of us to work to truly bear witness to one another and send the vital message of unconditional positive regard.

~ Kendra Doukas, MS, LMFT

Kendra is a therapist at The Catalyst Center. Her specialties include:

Kendra Doukas, M.S. LMFT can be reached by calling the main office at 720-675-7123 or by emailing us directly atCatalystCenterLLC@gmail.com