Simi Valley Family Magazine --

Summer 1996 issue

What is Therapy?

Deborah Tucker, M.A.

Many people have misconceptions as to what psychotherapy really is. Some think that only "crazy " people go to therapy, or that it is only called for if a person has an incredibly severe problem. Some think that going to therapy means that one is incapacitated by problems, or that it is somehow "weak" to ask for help. Not so! I have come to realize that, in more than fifteen years of working with people, psychotherapy is both a down-to-earth problem-solving approach, and a compelling, ever-deepening process of cleansing both the psyche and the soul.

At its most basic, therapy is a sensible response to the discovery that some aspect of our lives is not working well. We certainly feel no shame in seeking help from a physician if our physical ailments don't heal themselves, or from a speech therapist if our child's lisp doesn't improve. Although it is painful to admit that our marriage is not working or we are stuck in a negative pattern with our child, it can be a tremendous relief to learn that many others have successfully resolved the same type of problem. Viewed in this light, therapy can be seen as a practical way of seeking an unbiased viewpoint in order to change patterns that aren't working well.

At its most profound, therapy can be a deep search within ourselves, in order to effect lasting personality change so that we are more equipped to master life's challenges. Hurts from the past, previously unconscious, are brought to light, examined and resolved. The process is similar to finding hidden areas of infection that, while old and walled-off, are causing the entire body to be ill. Only when the infection is brought to the surface and released can healing begin. Even then, old patterns that were learned in order to cope with the infection will have to change so that healthy functioning is possible. Clients who journey this road are courageous and extremely committed to developing lasting health, even though the healing process may be uncomfortable.

The question of what therapy is can also be answered by looking briefly at what a therapist is. Once again, our definitions will range from the simplest to the more complex. A very basic definition of a therapist is a consultant -- one who gives advice or information about areas of emotional functioning. Counseling done in the areas of improving parenting skills, communication or adaptation to certain living situations are examples of the consultant role a therapist can play.

A therapist may also function as a facilitator, one who observes interactions that aren't working well, and then encourages patterns that are more adaptive. In couples or family therapy, the therapist may take a very active role in pinpointing communication styles that are not working, and helping the participants to learn different styles within the session, so that they can practice these at home. In individual therapy, the therapist may act as facilitator when the focus is on patterns of behavior that are blocking the client from achieving important life goals, such as developing relationships, career advancement, or improving self-esteem.

When a client feels the need to work even more deeply, the therapist functions as a very focused mirror. The client and therapist work together as a specialized team, with the therapist noting and reflecting back to the client the many reactions that occur as the client is working on material that links together present conflicts and past events. It is at this level that very profound realizations can be made, and thus permanent improvements in functioning can take place. It is here, too, that many clients struggle with important spiritual issues.

Therapy is a complex process, and clients tend to work on more than one level at a time. While I have talked about different "levels" of therapy and different therapist "roles", they really tend to merge and blend together to some degree. The common thread is an awareness that therapists and clients function as a team, that the struggle may be difficult at times, but the end result can be deeply rewarding.


When Our Children Suffer Loss

Wendy Wilkinson, M.S.

Loss is a part of life. We wish it wasn't. It hurts to lose someone or something we value. Even if the end of one season of our life means the beginning of something new, fresh and exciting, we still hate to see the old season go.

Children also hate loss and change. Because they are less in control of their lives, loss and change can sometimes seem very overwhelming and frightening. Anything from the death of a goldfish won at a fair two days earlier, to moving away from friends and family, can cause our children a lot of sadness.

Because we love our children we don't want them to feel sad. We want them to have happy childhoods, filled with warm and loving experiences. I believe this is one reason why we tend to shield our children from their own sadness when they are grieving a loss. Often we find ourselves saying such things to tour children as, "Sparky is in a much better place now. He is very happy, so we should be happy too." Or we may want to run out and replace that lost pet with another, to ease the pain. Or, on a more serious note, when a beloved relative dies, or it there is a divorce in the family, we may find ourselves putting on a "good face" for the child, so they won't know how sad we are, thinking that they won't be so sad if we don't talk about it too much.

Unfortunately, loss and change are unavoidable in life. The important thing is not to shield our children from these losses, but to help them learn the skill necessary to deal with losses. This skill is called "grief".

In their workbook, Recovery from Loss, Dalue and Juanita Ryan state: "Grief makes it possible for us to face the painful reality of our losses, incorporate those losses into our understanding of life and somehow move on. The purpose of grief is not to help us forget what we have lost, but to help us grow in understanding, compassion and courage in the midst of our losses.."

Here are a few suggestions on helping your children learn how to grieve.

  1. Be a good example. Be appropriately open with your children about your own feelings. By appropriate I mean, do not share with them details which are beyond their understanding and maturity level. Also, make sure they understand you are okay with your feelings, and they are not responsible to take care of you or to make you feel better. It is important that we remain in the parent role, and they remain in the child role.
  2. Listen to their feelings without trying to "fix" them. It is much better to repeat what you hear them saying ("Yes, it really feels bad") than to deny what they are feeling ("Oh, it's not that bad. It was just a goldfish!"). This may leave you feeling helpless to make your child "feel better," but by letting your child feel the bad feelings, you are teaching him that bad feelings come, and go, and that's okay.
  3. Let your child decide what he or she needs to do to understand the loss in their life. This may mean keeping momentos, taking pictures, talking about and crying about something or someone over and over. Children have a short "grief span". They tend to grieve in short spurts and then leave it completely for a time. This is why your child, who was so broken up about his pet dying one minute, wants to go out and play the next minute. Don't worry, they will probably return to their grief later. Depending upon the significance of the loss to their lives, they may return to grieving, periodically, for years to come.

Most importantly, don't shield your children from the small losses that occur in their lives. Letting them experience their grief over the smaller losses will prepare them for the larger losses later on.


21 Ways to Have Fun With Your Kids This Summer

Sue White, M.A.

Summer is coming and with it the opportunity to take advantage of longer days free of homework. Why not use this summer to build memories of fun times together as a family? Below I offer 21 ideas to spark your imagination and create some fun in your home.

  1. Take the train to the zoo or beach.
  2. Use time you spend in the car to sing or play your children's favorite tapes. On longer trips try listening to a book on tape.
  3. Visit the Children's Museum in Pasadena or Los Angeles. Both offer "hands on" experiences.
  4. Go to a family camp with your church, scouts or get together with other families and go camping.
  5. Declare vacation days throughout the summer. Go to the beach, out to eat or do what it takes to create that more relaxed vacation atmosphere for the day. Use your imagination.
  6. Go for a hike in the hills or hike one of the park trails.
  7. Relate family stories, family history or legends. Wonder together about what life might have been like for past or future generations in your family.
  8. Have a water fight. Use Balloons, hoses, buckets, etc.
  9. Sleep outside or have an inside family slumber party.
  10. Go to Olvera Street, China Town, Little Korea, etc. Expose your children to different cultures in a fun way.
  11. Plan time away from home with each child individually. Make sure they have your undivided attention.
  12. Get together with other families for an evening of baseball, basketball, or skating.
  13. Tell your kids stories about when they were younger.
  14. Let the kids plan, cook and serve a meal to the family. Even a very young child can make a sandwich.
  15. Celebrate an unexpected occasion; a lost tooth, a flower blooming, the temperature changing 5 degrees. Be creative.
  16. Go to an outdoor concert sponsored by Parks & Recreation.
  17. Plan/produce a video. Let the kids take the lead.
  18. Have a beginning of summer, mid-summer or end of summer party. Get everyone involved in the planning.
  19. Go for picnics in parks or places you've never been.
  20. Set up a table for a large puzzle or project.
  21. Take the family out for ice cream. Encourage everyone to try a new flavor. Ask for samples.

There could be more than 21 choices. What is it that can make something as simple as a hike or as involved as producing a video fun? It's all in how it's approached. Take a deep breath, relax, make sure everyone is well rested, plans are kept simple and guidelines are set in advance. If approached with an attitude of encouragement, lots of energy and a playful spirit, even taking out the trash or painting a fence can be fun. So use your imagination and have a great summer!


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