EMDR Therapy

EMDR Therapy

EMDR-therapy-Identity-Ann-Arbor

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that was created to help people heal from symptoms of trauma and psychological distress caused by upsetting life experiences. EMDR is performed by a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, social worker or psychologist, who has been formally trained in EMDR therapy and its techniques. At Identity Counseling Psychology, our therapy practice located in Ann Arbor, MI, we offer both traditional talk therapy for issues relating to trauma, as well as EMDR therapy as a form of treatment. IDENTITY clinician Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC, specializes in trauma counseling and has been trained in EMDR therapy. Check out Jaymin’s profile to learn more, or contact us today to schedule an intake. 


What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it’s a unique form of psychotherapy that was created to treat symptoms of trauma, although it doesn’t require patients to talk about the traumatic experiences that they’ve endured. EMDR has been highly beneficial for patients dealing with trauma and PTSD, as opening up about the surrounding events or memories tends to be a painful, slow-moving, and sometimes impossible feat.

The goal of EMDR therapy is to help patients fully process negative past experiences and sort out the feelings, memories, and triggers attached to those experiences so that they can heal in a healthy way. EMDR is an integrative style of therapy, in which practitioners use bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, sounds, or taps, to divert the attention of patients while they recall painful or traumatic memories. Exposure to trauma in this indirect way alleviates its intensity and allows it to be worked through and addressed in a safe setting. Processing past psychological pain is an important step that makes room for healthy healing and coping moving forward.

EMDR sessions follow a specific sequence of phases, which can generally be completed within 4-8 sessions. The therapist and patient can then reevaluate whether more treatment is necessary or wanted. EMDR can be used as a stand-alone therapy or alongside other forms of treatment.

What Does EMDR Therapy Treat?

EMDR therapy is particularly effective for those who struggle to talk about their past experiences. It was originally designed to treat post traumatic stress, but EMDR can be used to address any adverse experiences or negative memories that may be impacting or leading to mental health concerns. 

Therapists have been known to use EMDR for issues like:

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

In EMDR therapy, patients are helped to identify and work through the negative memories or experiences that cause them distress in order to make room for proper healing. There are eight phases in EMDR therapy, which consist of the following steps:

1. History and treatment planning

This phase involves the therapist and the patient reviewing the patient’s past experiences, current concerns, and future goals, as well as identifying the target memories and events that may be traumatic and need to be fully processed. 

2. Preparation

During this phase, the therapist will explain the treatment process and establish trust with the patient. The therapist will also go over coping strategies for any distress or overwhelming feelings that may arise during the treatment. Stress management and coping techniques may include things like deep breathing or mindfulness exercises.

3. Assessment

In this phase, the patient brings the target event to mind and discusses his or her associated negative thoughts, beliefs, and even physical sensations when thinking about the event. The therapist records and evaluates these observations. The therapist and patient together then pick a more positive and desirable cognition or belief related to the event. They discuss, measure and record how true the new, healthier association feels to the patient.

4. Desensitization

Desensitization is the phase where the bilateral stimulation occurs. The client thinks about the target event while the therapist administers sets of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. This stimulation diverts the client’s attention while they are simultaneously giving attention to the target memories. The therapist breaks periodically to check in on the patient and evaluate how they’re feeling. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event feels less disturbing. 

5. Installation

This phase is used to strengthen positive and healthy replacement cognitions related to the event. The desirable beliefs and associations that were previously discussed are the target of the bilateral stimulation in this phase. The therapist again checks in with the client periodically to measure how true the healthier cognitions feel as the bilateral stimulation continues. 

6. Body scan

In this phase the therapist and the patient check in to see if the patient is now able to   bring up memories of the traumatic event without experiencing psychological distress or any negative feelings that aren’t relevant or healthy. If the patient is still not able to process the memory without experiencing unhealthy physical tension or emotional disturbances, continuation of the bilateral stimulation may be deemed necessary. 

7. Closure

Closure is a phase that occurs at the end of every session, even if the target event is not  fully processed. This is important because EMDR therapy can take several sessions to complete, and the patient must always reach stabilization before a session is over and they leave therapy, as bilateral stimulation can be overwhelming, especially at first. Reaching closure can include calming exercises, guided imagery, or discussion of the session. 

8. Reevaluation

This phase occurs at the beginning of every session, and it consists of evaluating and measuring the residual distress related to the target event that may still be in place, as well as evaluating and measuring the perceived accuracy of the new positive beliefs related to the target event. If the client is still experiencing unhealthy levels of disturbance, the session resumes with desensitization. If healthier beliefs are accepted, the patient is ready to move on. Both the patient and the therapist assess the progress that has been made. 


How IDENTITY Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that specializes in counseling for issues related to trauma. Our therapists are passionate about tailoring therapy services to the individual needs of the patient, and this might include techniques like EMDR. Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC offers EMDR therapy at IDENTITY, and is trained in trauma counseling and EMDR techniques. EMDR operates under the theory that disturbing memories, events, or experiences can lead to unwanted mental health symptoms, and that processing trauma is important to make room for healing. However, this is often difficult without the help of a mental health professional. If you are dealing with symptoms of trauma, but struggle to discuss or relay painful emotions, EMDR therapy might be a good fit for you. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.

It is important to note that due to the nature of EMDR therapy and its potential for producing vivid visual imagery and/or body sensations, the clinicians at IDENTITY cannot engage in this therapy with anyone who dissociates or has a dissociative disorder at this time. If you are interested in EMDR, but are unsure if you dissociate, please talk to your therapist. All EMDR clients will be screened for dissociation prior to beginning treatment. 


Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

seasonal-affective-disorder-identity-counseling-psychology-ann-arbor

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan offering therapy services for a wide range of mental health concerns. The therapists at IDENTITY specialize in treating patients with depression and categories of depression, including seasonal affective disorder. If you live in the Ann Arbor area and are struggling with seasonal affective disorder or other forms of depression and would like to seek help, contact us today to learn more about our services and clinicians or to schedule an intake appointment. 


What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s affected by seasonal changes in the weather. SAD is also commonly referred to as “seasonal depression” or “winter blues” and is characterized by cyclical depressive episodes that are triggered by seasonal shifts around the same time every year. For most people with this disorder, symptoms begin in the fall and continue through the winter, leaving them with feelings like low energy and moodiness until spring. For a much smaller number of people, symptoms begin in the spring and continue through the summer. 

It’s normal to feel a bit sluggish sometimes during the winter months, and when the days become shorter, colder and darker, people tend to slow down their busy lives and spend more time inside. But for people with seasonal affective disorder, winter brings about depression-like symptoms that are significant and persistent, causing disruption in their everyday lives and impairing their ability to function normally. 

How common is seasonal affective disorder?

Throughout the United States, the prevalence of SAD varies by region. For example, states in the Northeast, where daylight hours are shorter during the winter, have much higher rates of seasonal affective disorder compared to states in the Southeast that are closer to the equator. In New Hampshire, studies have shown that SAD affects almost 10% of the population, whereas in Florida, under 1.5% of people reportedly experience SAD. Overall, seasonal affective disorder is said to impact around 6% of Americans, with women being more likely than men to experience symptoms. 

How does SAD impact mental health?

As with other forms of depression, seasonal affective disorder should be taken seriously, and it has the potential to worsen over time, leading to harmful mental health outcomes if left untreated. Mental health complications that can occur as a result of SAD include:

If you’re struggling with the symptoms of SAD, you are not alone and you don’t need to just “tough it out” or “brush it off” until the spring. SAD is a mental health disorder with diagnosable symptoms and a variety of treatment options. If SAD is impacting your life, consider reaching out to a mental health professional to help you better manage and cope with your symptoms. 

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

In most cases, SAD symptoms emerge during late fall, persist and worsen throughout the winter, and go away during the spring. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of clinical depression, but include some common identifiers that are unique to winter SAD.

Symptoms of winter SAD often include: 

  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling depressed for most of the day, nearly every day
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased irritability 
  • Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
  • Oversleeping
  • Poor mood
  • Relationship problems 
  • Sense of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Sluggishness 
  • Weight gain

What is summer SAD?

Although the majority of people with seasonal affective disorder experience their symptoms in the fall and winter months, there is a small subset of people who struggle with summer SAD. Summer SAD looks a bit different, and symptoms begin in the spring and persist throughout the summer. Aside from the same depression-like symptoms that occur with winter SAD, symptoms of summer SAD tend to manifest as the following:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of mania

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

The exact causes of SAD are still unknown, but researchers are able to point to several factors that likely come into play. These include:

  • Circadian rhythm – Your circadian rhythm is your body’s biological clock and it regulates important functions like sleep, energy, hormone levels, appetite and body temperature. Disruption of this clock is a known trigger of depression. Your brain keeps track of the amount of sunlight you get each day and uses this information to set your internal clock. The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months can throw your body clock out of sync, leading to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin – Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in your levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that affects mood, behavior, and stress response, and lowered levels of serotonin is a known cause of depression.
  • Melatonin – Melatonin is a chemical that regulates sleep patterns and mood. Reduced sunlight in the winter months can disrupt the balance of your body’s melatonin levels and impact sleep and mood, which both play a large role in depression.
  • Gender – Seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men.
  • Age – Seasonal affective disorder occurs more frequently in younger adults compared to older adults.
  • Proximity to the equator – SAD is more common among people who live far from the equator due to the decreased sunlight and shorter days during the winter months.
  • Family history – Having a history of depression in your family, especially of seasonal affective disorder specifically, is known to be a risk factor for developing SAD.  

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Below are some of the common treatments that work well for seasonal affective disorder. The treatment plan that works best for you may include more than one approach. 

Light Therapy for SAD

Light therapy, or phototherapy, is one of the first line treatments for seasonal affective disorder, and it has proven highly effective in reducing symptoms for those with winter SAD. Light therapy treatment involves exposing oneself to bright light via a special device called a light box. A light box mimics natural outdoor light, which is known to help balance the body’s circadian rhythm and increase chemicals in the brain that directly impact mood. During the fall and winter months, when the days are darker, shorter, and colder, we experience a significant reduction in our exposure to natural sunlight and thus all of its antidepressant benefits. Light therapy sessions generally last about 10-15 minutes at first, and then gradually increase depending on the severity of the symptoms. Light therapy is a popular treatment option because people generally start seeing benefits in just a few days to a few weeks, and it has few known side effects.

Research on light therapy is rather limited, and we don’t recommend purchasing a light box or beginning light therapy sessions without talking to your doctor first and making sure that light therapy is a safe and effective treatment option for you. 

Psychotherapy for SAD

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is another popular treatment option for seasonal affective disorder. Psychotherapy is conducted by a licensed mental health professional, like a counselor, therapist or psychologist, and consists of weekly sessions in which the therapist and the patient work together to set individualized goals and reduce the harmful impact that SAD symptoms may be having. Psychotherapy has proven to be very beneficial for people with depression, and a variety of therapeutic approaches and techniques are known to be successful in treating SAD.

Psychotherapy can help SAD patients through…

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy in which patients learn to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that may be making them feel worse
  • Offering healthier, more positive ways to cope with SAD symptoms
  • Reducing harmful coping mechanisms, such as avoidance behavior, through techniques like exposure therapy and setting small, attainable goals
  • Mindfulness and relaxation exercises like deep breathing and meditation that reduce distress 

Self-help tips for coping with SAD

There are some lifestyle changes that you can make on your own to help prevent and improve symptoms of SAD. Some of these include:

  • Stay active and get regular physical exercise
  • Try to spend some time outdoors each day, even on cold or cloudy days
  • Brighten your environment by opening blinds or sitting closer to windows and skylights 
  • Maintain a healthy and regular sleep schedule
  • Do not turn to alcohol or recreational drugs for relief 
  • Keep an active social life and make a conscious effort to connect with friends and loved ones when you’re feeling down 
  • Make healthy, nutritious choices for meals and snacks
  • If you can, plan trips to sunny, warm locations during the winter

How IDENTITY Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that offers counseling services to adults, adolescents, children, and families. The therapists at IDENTITY specialize in treating depression and categories of depression, including seasonal affective disorder. If you live in the Ann Arbor area, and you or someone you love is suffering from symptoms of depression, contact us today to schedule an intake appointment. 


Clinician Interview – Meet Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC

Clinician Interview – Meet Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC

Jaymin-Cox-Identity-Counseling-Psychology-Ann-Arbor
Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC

Interview with Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC

Check out our clinician interview with new IDENTITY therapist, Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC. Jaymin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor practicing at our office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jaymin is passionate about working with adults and young adults dealing with a variety of mental health concerns, offering therapy in specialty areas including trauma and PTSD, addiction, grief, relationships, and self-esteem issues. Contact us today to schedule an intake appointment with Jaymin.


What is your specialty?

I specialize in trauma and addiction issues. Since I began working in the addiction field as an intern in 2014, I have been very aware of the role trauma and PTSD play in people’s lives, and what it can lead people to do. I have created psycho-education projects about trauma, and I have geared my training and orientation towards trauma since I was an intern. It’s my passion, and helping people heal is what I enjoy doing.  

What made you want to become a therapist?

I’ve always wanted to help people, just how I help them has changed as I’ve gotten older. When I was 14 I wanted to be a psychologist, but then that quickly changed to wanting to be in the military. I was in the Navy for a couple of years, and afterwards I returned to school. While I was getting my bachelor’s degree, I ended up volunteering for America Reads, and taught kindergarten one day a week for a year in a low-income area. Through that experience, I decided to get a master’s in social work. My first internship was at the Salvation Army in Tucson, Arizona, which was an inpatient rehab. This was my first experience doing addiction counseling and it ended up being a focus of my career so far.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

When they first come to therapy, I think they can expect to laugh and learn a lot more than they would expect. I try to create a safe and relaxed space where ideas can flow, and people don’t feel judged. My aim is to give people knowledge and tools, and then help them use those tools effectively. I know that I would want to have all of the necessary information about my concerns of the day, and about the tools I could use to achieve my goals. I think people are often surprised at how quickly I can help push away the clutter and get to the bottom of whatever concerns they have. The therapeutic process is a lot less frightening or doom and gloom than people often expect.

How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

From my observation, therapy can create a domino effect in a person’s life. Once you start taking care of your mental health, other things start improving. Therapy helps us understand why we do things that felt unexplainable prior to therapy, but once we know why we do things, it’s easier to use the coping skills we’ve learned, and our problems start to seem manageable. Once we’re able to address our problems in a meaningful way, we often feel better about life and our place in the universe. I think for many of my clients, therapy has given them a space to speak openly about fears they didn’t talk about before and helped them overcome those fears.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It’s ok to shop for a therapist who is the right fit for you. You want someone you feel safe being emotionally open with and someone who is a good listener. Without those two things, it will become very hard to craft solutions to your specific situation. You also want to consider the therapist’s training and experience working with your specific issue, and whether they will challenge you to meet your goals.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

Therapy is like dancing, except the dance is between the client and their lives, and the therapist is the dance instructor. Hopefully, you’ll be a little bit better at dancing every time you leave therapy, and you’ll feel a little better about understanding the steps. 


Visit Jaymin’s profile to learn more about his counseling services or to schedule an appointment. 

Clinician Interview – Meet Miles Cornell, LLPC

Clinician Interview – Meet Miles Cornell, LLPC

Miles-Cornell-MA-LLPC-Identity-Ann-Arbor-Headshot
Miles Cornell, LLPC

Interview with Miles Cornell, LLPC

Check out our clinician interview with the newest member of the IDENTITY team, Miles Cornell, LLPC. Miles is a Limited-License Professional Counselor practicing at our office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Miles is passionate about working with children and adults dealing with a variety of mental health concerns, and offers therapy for specialty issues including trauma, grief and loss, anxiety disorders, family conflict, identity issues, and depression. Contact us today to schedule an intake appointment with Miles. 


What is your specialty?

I have dedicated my career to working with children, adults, and families facing issues relating to trauma, grief and loss, anxiety, depression, and family conflict with particular specialty in working with children ages 5 -12. I primarily utilize Play Therapy and Acceptance-Commitment Therapy interventions, but also implement approaches from Trauma Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Existential Therapy, and Psychodynamic Therapy. 

What made you want to become a therapist?

Every individual possesses an innate value. Ever since I was a teenager, I have held to the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive no matter what life has brought their way. Above all, I believe in hope and feel my work as a therapist has given me the opportunity to help my clients discover that hope is never lost. 

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you? 

Therapy is a journey unique to each individual. My role is to guide and help my clients navigate their personal journey towards discovering their fullest potential. I work hard to maintain an atmosphere that is gracious, supportive, and collaborative. 

How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients? 

Therapy serves as a beautiful process with varied significance for each individual. In my work, I have seen my clients grow into their true self while processing complex trauma. Play Therapy specifically provides a creative, client-centered approach to assist children with processing past trauma, underlying anxieties, and undiscovered emotions in the language that they can understand. I have had clients go from missing school or work due to their anxieties to thriving and taking steps towards their long term goals. 

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It is important to find someone who empowers their clients to discover their inner strengths and become independent. The therapeutic relationship should be part of the journey, not the end destination. My hope for my clients is that they are able to take what they have learned during therapy and apply those tools where they work, live, and play. 

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

Growth can only happen when we set aside the ego and confront the uncomfortable. When that is accomplished, our fears and anxieties are no longer given power to control our destiny. I hope that above all my clients walk away with the belief that their story is not finished and that they are always in process towards becoming their best self.

Visit Miles’ profile to learn more about his counseling services or to schedule an appointment. 

Clinician Interview – Meet Jessica Davis, LPC

Clinician Interview – Meet Jessica Davis, LPC

Jessica-Davis-LPC-Headshot-Identity-Ann-Arbor
Jessica Davis, LPC

Interview with Jessica Davis, LPC

Check out our clinician interview with the newest member of the IDENTITY team, Jessica Davis, LPC. Jessica is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing at our office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jessica is passionate about working with adults and young adults dealing with a variety of mental health concerns, and offers therapy for specialty issues including trauma, depression, anxiety, relationships, personality disorders and more. Jessica is currently accepting new patients. Contact us today to schedule an intake appointment with Jessica. 


What do you specialize in?

I specialize in counseling adults and young adults. I have experience working in university counseling settings, as well as with older adults in a community mental health setting. My clinical experience and interests include relationship concerns, trauma, personality disorders, existential and identity concerns, and issues relating to the LGBTQ+ population.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I have always had an interest in psychology, especially psychopathology. I initially planned to pursue the research side of psychology and worked as a research assistant; during this time, I realized that the part of this work I enjoyed the most was interviewing and interacting with study participants. This value of personal connection led me to pursue mental health counseling.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

The first therapy session will be different from other sessions. The purpose of this session is to gather information, get to know each other, and answer any questions or concerns the client may have about the therapeutic process.  I use the first appointment to begin to understand the client’s background, reasons for seeking treatment, and important people and events that shaped them. Subsequent therapy sessions will consist of deeper exploration, intervention, and work toward therapy goals.

How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

For many clients, it can be beneficial to have a relationship in which they are fully supported and heard. I have seen my clients benefit from having the time and space to process and explore concerns, learning new coping skills to manage their distress, and understanding how their beliefs about themselves and the world have been shaped.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

I believe that the most important contributor to success in therapy is a close, collaborative, and genuine therapist-client relationship. I recognize how difficult it may be to share deeply personal fears, thoughts, and experiences with another person. My goal is to create a comfortable and supportive environment in which you can fully express yourself without fear of judgement.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope clients walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves, the skills to tolerate distress, and the ability to incorporate what they learn about themselves into their daily life.

Visit Jessica’s profile to learn more about her counseling services or to schedule an appointment.

Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

social-anxiety-identity-counseling-psychology-ann-arbor-michigan-psychotherapy

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that treats a variety of mental health concerns in children, teens and adults. Our team of therapists specializes in counseling for anxiety disorders including social anxiety. To learn more about our services or how therapy can help you or a loved one who’s struggling with social anxiety, contact us today. To find out more about our licensed clinicians and their specialty areas, check out our team page

What Is Social Anxiety?

It’s normal to feel nervous in certain social or performance situations, like how going on a first date or giving a presentation may cause butterflies in your stomach. It’s also normal to at least sometimes worry a bit too much about what others think of you. So what sets Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, apart from typical nervousness? 

In social anxiety disorder, anxiety is severe and persistent, and everyday interactions cause significant feelings of fear, embarrassment and self-consciousness. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by avoidance of social and performance situations where a person might be judged, criticized or rejected, and it can be so serious that it interferes with daily routines, work, school, and important relationships.

People with social anxiety almost always experience physical symptoms, and worry about appearing visibly anxious when their anxiety is triggered. These physical symptoms might include things like blushing, stumbling over words, sweating, or rapid heart-rate, and can develop into a full-blown panic attack. People dealing with social anxiety usually know that their reactions are unreasonable, and want to control them so that they can be more social, but feel powerless against their anxiety.

Common situations that can trigger social anxiety might include:

  • Going on dates
  • Job interviews
  • Parties
  • Public speaking
  • Business meetings
  • Reading aloud in class
  • Meeting with an authority figure
  • Being the center of attention

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

It’s important to note that everybody is different and it’s normal for comfort levels in social situations to vary depending on factors like personality and life experience. Some people are naturally more reserved and shy, especially during childhood, and this isn’t necessarily a sign of social anxiety disorder or that a child will one day develop social anxiety. On the other hand, some people are naturally more outgoing and extroverted, and these people can have social anxiety too.

Behavioral Symptoms

People with social anxiety disorder tend to have lower self-esteem and put a lot of energy into avoiding their triggers. As a result, social anxiety commonly manifests in the following behaviors:

  • Apologizing often
  • Avoiding situations where you  might be the center of attention
  • Avoiding smiling at people or making eye contact 
  • Finding excuses to leave a situation, like going to the bathroom 
  • Keeping conversations focused toward others rather than yourself
  • Leaving social situations abruptly
  • Mentally checking out of situations, or daydreaming
  • Not contributing or saying very little in conversations
  • Seeking frequent reassurance from others
  • Spending excessive amounts of time preparing for social situations
  • Trying to blend in or not draw attention to yourself
  • Using alcohol to cope in social situations 

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can, and often do, accompany social anxiety. These might include:

  • Blushing
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling that your mind has gone blank
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Shaky voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Upset stomach

How Does Social Anxiety Affect You? 

Social anxiety disorder, when left untreated, can significantly impact your life. Social anxiety symptoms tend to be very disruptive and can interfere with daily routines, performance at work or school, and interpersonal relationships. Social anxiety also has negative mental health consequences, as people with the disorder are at an increased risk for developing clinical depression and substance use disorders.

Harmful effects of social anxiety can include:


Self-Help Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

Although social anxiety disorder generally requires help from a mental health professional like a therapist or counselor, there are some strategies that you can employ on your own to reduce symptoms, improve coping abilities, and overcome personal hurdles. Treatment isn’t always available or affordable, and if you or someone you love is struggling with social anxiety, we recommend the following self-help strategies to deal with social anxiety disorder in a healthy and effective way. 

Ask for Help with Getting Help

Sometimes, having social anxiety can make it especially difficult to seek professional help. Reaching out to strangers can be very tough for someone with social anxiety, but there are ways around this. Fear shouldn’t stop you from getting the help that you deserve for your mental health needs. If your social anxiety is keeping you from starting counseling, we recommend:

  • Asking a supportive family member or friend to contact a therapist or psychologist for you first. They can even help you set up your first appointment.
  • Writing an email to the mental health professional that you’d like to meet with instead of making a phone call. This tends to be easier for people with social anxiety. (At IDENTITY, we make it easy to write a quick online message to set up an appointment with any of our therapists through our contact page.)
  • Finding a therapist who practices online therapy. In recent years, more and more counseling practices offer online therapy. There are also apps and platforms to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in your online therapist. 

Self-Care

Self-care is always important when it comes to managing your mental health. There’s so much that you can do to care for your emotional and psychological well-being, but below we’ve narrowed down some of the best self-care strategies for social anxiety disorder in particular.  If you have social anxiety, consider making time for following self-care steps:

  • Join a local or online support group for people with social anxiety 
  • Get regular physical exercise in a way that you enjoy 
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake 
  • Create healthy sleeping habits
  • Read a book about social anxiety 
  • Practice mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga 
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Perform random acts of kindness for others
  • Make time for hobbies that help you relax

Practice Your Social Skills

Knowing that you’re prepared and have put in the work is always a good way to reduce anxiety. We recommend applying this mindset to your social life. Start by thinking about your recent social encounters. Try to Identify the social skills that could use the most improvement or that you most commonly avoid. Below are some strategies for practicing and developing your social and communication skills:

  • Assertiveness – Many people with social anxiety have low self-confidence and lack assertiveness when communicating with others. Learn to become more assertive by making a point to practice communicating your needs in a calm and relaxed way that respects the needs of others. Usually, this takes the form of “I” statements, like “I feel disrespected when you interrupt me in meetings.” 
  • Nonverbal communication – People with social anxiety often adopt a “closed-off” stance in social situations and are reluctant to make direct eye contact or start conversations with others. They usually do these things without even realizing it, and aren’t aware of how it may be received. Practice relaxed posture, eye contact, and holding your hands at your sides to help you appear more confident and approachable in social situations. 
  • Verbal communication – Learning how to converse well with others can be very beneficial in reducing social anxiety symptoms. Practice joining in group conversations by listening first and then making a comment about what’s already being discussed. For example, “Are you talking about the midterm exam? I couldn’t figure out the extra credit question either.” It’s also important to practice being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, and sharing stories about yourself.

Tell Others About Your Social Anxiety

Your close friends and family may already know or have an idea that you have social anxiety, but it can be therapeutic, cathartic, and helpful in everyday life to share with others about your condition. If someone is important to you, talking with them about your symptoms and experiences can help them gain a better understanding of what you’re going through, and in turn, build a deeper and stronger connection between the two of you. If you’re feeling nervous to tell a friend or loved one that you have social anxiety, try to arrange a time where you can sit down and talk quietly and uninterrupted. You can also make a list of bullet points that you feel are important; this will help you if you tend to freeze up or your mind goes blank when you’re feeling nervous. 

It can also be beneficial to talk to your employer about your social anxiety so that you can receive accommodations or support that you might need in the workplace.


How Can IDENTITY Help?

Social anxiety disorder is a chronic mental health condition, but it does respond well to treatment. Treatment from a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, or  psychologist has been known to greatly reduce symptoms, improve confidence, and increase the quality of life for those with social anxiety.

Psychological counseling or psychotherapy, has proven to be very beneficial, and many forms of therapy are known to be effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most popular approach for social anxiety, as it works by helping patients identify and combat the incorrect and negative beliefs about themselves that actually worsen their social anxiety. In therapy, the clinician and the patient work together to help the patient improve their coping skills and develop stronger self-confidence, engaging in exercises like social skills training, role-playing, and exposure therapy. 

IDENTITY is a psychotherapy practice located in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specializes in treating social anxiety disorder. Our licensed therapists are experienced in helping patients overcome and cope with social anxiety, and are passionate about seeing clients achieve growth and accomplish their goals. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and you or someone you love is dealing with social anxiety, contact us today to schedule an intake or learn more about our counseling services. 


How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

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Identity Counseling Psychology is an Ann Arbor counseling and psychotherapy practice specializing in therapy for anxiety disorders, clinical depression, grief, trauma, relationships, substance abuse, panic attacks, self-esteem, identity, motivation and more. Our licensed therapists are passionate about helping patients live their most fulfilled lives, and our team is experienced in a variety of therapeutic approaches, techniques and frameworks, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). If you’re interested in starting counseling or learning more about how ACT can help you or a loved one, contact us today. 

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a modern form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, performed by a licensed mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or social worker. ACT is an action-oriented approach to therapy, using mindfulness techniques to help patients develop psychological flexibility and live a life that’s more in line with their goals and values.

ACT is a unique approach to counseling because it doesn’t consider patients with psychological distress or symptoms of a mental health disorder to be pathological. Patients of ACT are not viewed as flawed or damaged, and the goal of therapy is not to “fix” them. Rather than trying to control, relieve, change or avoid a negative emotion or the side effect of a mental health condition, ACT seeks to help patients accept and learn to live with the uncomfortable cognitive patterns that other therapies try to get rid of or reduce. ACT encourages self-love and empathy for all of one’s emotions and experiences, no matter how troubling or potentially destructive they may seem, giving patients the chance to move on with their lives and thrive as the person that they are. 

What Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Treat?

ACT can be offered as individual counseling, couples counseling or group counseling, and as both long-term and short-term treatment. Acceptance-commitment therapy can be helpful for a wide range of clinical populations and mental health concerns. Unlike most modern forms of therapy, symptom reduction isn’t the goal when it comes to ACT, although it is almost always a byproduct. 

One objective of the acceptance-commitment approach is to help patients stop viewing their unwanted thoughts and feelings as “symptoms” of a disorder. Instead, they’re encouraged to start viewing distress, in whatever form it may come, as an uncomfortable, but harmless and temporary event in their minds, separate from who they are as people. Therapists practicing ACT know that once a mental health struggle is labeled as a “symptom,” there’s a subsequent struggle to fix or get rid of that symptom. In ACT, the goal is to accept the struggles that we have without allowing them to create even more struggles or hold us back from being who we want to be. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been used effectively to help treat the following mental health concerns:

How Does Acceptance-Commitment Therapy Work?

The main goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to help patients develop psychological flexibility, which can be defined as “the ability to be present, open up, and do what matters.” In ACT sessions, patients focus on three key processes: letting go of emotional control, acceptance of unwanted private experiences (thoughts, memories, emotions, cognitive patterns, etc.), and commitment toward living a life in line with their core values. 

Letting Go of Emotional Control

ACT begins with the patient confronting their own agenda of emotional control. Most patients come to therapy in hopes of learning to control painful feelings and fix unwanted emotional responses, having failed in their past attempts to do so. The therapist encourages the patient to examine the ways in which they’ve tried to cope with, avoid or find relief from the mental health issue that they came in for. What are the strategies they have used to gain emotional control? 

The therapist and the patient run through the list together, making note of the strategies that can be harmful if used long term, and confronting which strategies actually end up making the patient feel worse than the unwanted emotion itself. They then take a realistic look at the efficacy of the emotional control strategies that may seem harmless. Have they helped consistently? Have they helped significantly? Are they worth the time, energy and money that the patient has put into them? How do they impact the patient’s quality of life? 

Some examples of strategies to control emotional discomfort might include:

  • Therapy that aims to change unwanted cognitive processes
  • Antidepressant / anti-anxiety medication
  • Drinking alcohol before bed 
  • Not opening up to new people 
  • Avoiding social events
  • Therapy that analyzes one’s childhood
  • Blaming genetics, parents, or upbringing for mental health issues
  • Deep breathing
  • Watching TV
  • Eating
  • Gambling
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Self-harm
  • Ruminating
  • Chastising oneself

When patients come to the realization that their attempts at emotional control are part of the problem, not the solution, they become more open to the idea of letting go and learning to accept themselves as they are. In ACT, patients learn that when they resist emotional discomfort, not only do they become distressed by the distress itself, but they also do whatever they can to make the feeling go away, regardless of the long term costs. 

Mindfulness

There are six core principles of ACT used to help patients develop psychological flexibility. The first four principles are techniques based in the practices of mindfulness. 

Defining features of mindfulness that are important to psychological flexibility and ACT include:

  • Living in the present moment
  • Engaging fully in what you’re doing rather than getting lost in thought
  • Bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience and accepting it with openness 
  • Calmly acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations
  • Allowing your feelings to come and go as they are, letting them be instead of trying to control them

Values Clarification

The last two core principles of ACT employ exercises in something called values clarification, which helps patients remember the values that are most important to them in life. Once a patient defines their values, they can learn to use them as a compass, pointing them in the right direction when painful emotions or coping mechanisms begin to lead them astray or cloud their judgement. Making a commitment to acting in line with these values allows patients to take purposeful action in their lives and behave in ways that reflect them at their core, rather than in ways that are a response to their psychological discomfort.

For example, a patient seeking anxiety treatment may list “spending meaningful time with family” as one of their core values. The next time they’re invited to a triggering family gathering, they’ll still feel anxiety, despite their time in ACT. Maybe they’re scared of being judged by their parents, or maybe they’re worried about being compared to their siblings. This anxiety will still come up, but now, instead of allowing it to guide their decision making, they’ll remember their commitment to their core values and attend the family event despite their discomfort. In the past, the patient may have decided to drink a few beers before the event to take the edge off, or make an excuse and stay home. But in ACT, patients find the inner strength and willingness to accept and feel unwanted emotions so that they can live a life that reflects what they value. 

Six Core Principles of ACT

The following principles are employed throughout Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with the goal of helping patients reach a state of psychological flexibility. Through mindfulness and values clarification exercises, these principles encourage them to accept their truths and live more fulfilled, purpose driven lives.

  1. Cognitive Defusion – Defusing threatening or uncomfortable thoughts, memories, and cognitions by recognizing them as nothing more than an ever changing stream of pictures, words and sounds that exists in the mind. Understanding their temporary and harmless nature disarms them, and they’re no longer seen as threats that must be obeyed, or objective truths and facts about one’s character.  
  2. Acceptance – Making room for unpleasant emotions, sensations, urges and cognitions, allowing them to come and go without struggle or analysis. 
  3. Contact with the present moment – Bringing full awareness to the present moment with openness and receptiveness to whatever it is that one experiences.  
  4. The Observing Self – Observing thoughts and feelings as something separate from one’s true self and not part of the essence of what makes them who they are. 
  5. Values – Clarifying what’s most important to someone in their life, and what sort of person they want to be. 
  6. Committed Action – Setting goals and taking action that is guided by one’s core personal values. 

How IDENTITY Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology offers psychotherapy services in Ann Arbor, MI to adults, teens, kids, and families for a variety of mental health issues. Our therapists are trained in mindfulness techniques and a variety of therapeutic approaches, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. If you think that you or someone you know might benefit from ACT, mindfulness, or a multimodal approach to therapy, contact us today to set up an intake appointment or learn more about our practice.


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Clinician Interview – Meet Joe Jaster, LPC

Clinician Interview – Meet Joe Jaster, LPC

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Joe Jaster, LPC

Interview with Joe Jaster, LPC

Check out our clinician interview with the newest team member at IDENTITY, Joe Jaster, LPC. Joe is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing at our counseling and psychotherapy practice, Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC, located in Ann Arbor, MI. Joe is passionate about helping adults and adolescents cope with, manage, and recover from issues relating to addiction and substance abuse. Joe is currently accepting new patients. Contact us today to schedule an intake appointment with Joe. 


What is your specialty?

The primary focus of my practice is substance abuse in adolescents.  However, I do see adults who are experiencing addiction problems as well. Drug craving, seeking and using drugs, and other compulsive behaviors are the essence of addiction. They are extremely difficult to control, and much more difficult than any physical dependence. For an addict, there is no motivation more powerful than drug craving. The task of treatment is to regain control over drug craving, seeking and use.  This is my goal with every one of my patients.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I started my career in the business world and went to school to study Business Management. I spent many years doing all the jobs that you would associate with this occupation. At one point, I had numerous people reporting to me.  Part of my job was to help my people develop and learn new skills. While this was rewarding, I found it did not contribute enough to my feelings of self worth. I decided to return to school and pursue a degree in Guidance and Counseling.  I wanted to help people who struggled through life. This is also my way of giving back to society.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

My first session with a client is called an intake. This is designed to help the counselor determine the severity of the issue and any extenuating circumstances that might help or hinder the process of recovery.  It is also used to begin to establish a level of trust between the client and myself. It is vital for my client to understand that I am non-judgmental, patient, caring and supportive. It is also important to understand that what we discuss is private between us and will not be shared.  After the first session we will work on defining the problem(s), examining the behavioral issues and building a solution to help support recovery.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

Therapy provides a safe place for clients to talk without fear of judgment and practice new ways of thinking about themselves and others. It will hopefully help clients discover their negative behavior patterns, fears and what triggers their particular negative cycles. This type of activity will hopefully lead to the change that my clients’ desire.  It takes courage, dedication and the mindset of “ ‘I’ can do this.” I have seen my clients develop entire new ways of coping, gain a better understanding of their negative actions, increase their confidence and find freedom to enjoy their lives once again.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

Not all therapists are a perfect match for a client. The therapist must be familiar with the client’s type of problem, have outstanding communication skills, patience and analytical and problem solving abilities.  Additionally, the therapist must be able to maintain strict professional ethics, as well as adhere to patient confidentiality standards. The patient must feel comfortable with the therapist. These are all necessary components required to establish that much needed level of trust.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I want my clients to walk away with the tools that are necessary for them to cope with their addiction. They should have an increased level of understanding of their triggers and the necessary actions required to diffuse those situations. My clients should have an increased level of confidence and self trust.  Most importantly, my clients should leave with an “I CAN DO IT” attitude.


Visit Joe’s profile to learn more about his counseling services, or to schedule an appointment.

Clinician Interview – Meet Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Clinician Interview – Meet Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

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Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Interview with Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Check out our interview with Ann Arbor, MI counselor, Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW. Danielle is a licensed therapist practicing at Identity Counseling Psychology, a counseling and psychotherapy practice located on Washtenaw Avenue in the heart of Ann Arbor, MI. Danielle is passionate about helping people cope with a variety of mental health concerns and is currently accepting new patients. Danielle offers therapy for children, teens and adults. Contact us to schedule an intake appointment with Danielle.


What is your specialty?

I specialize in working with children and adults who have experienced trauma, or really hard events that made them fear for their safety or the safety of someone else. I particularly specialize in helping families with very young children work through trauma.  Sometimes people feel like they should just “get over” things that have happened to them, but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes we all need more support, especially after experiencing something traumatic.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I first realized I wanted to be a therapist when I was in high school and started learning about the different theories behind behavior and emotional well-being.  I recognized then that I was fascinated with how our brains and bodies respond to our experiences in the world, and how therapy can actually change brain chemistry and processing!  Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my own life experiences, which has shaped the models of therapy with which I resonate most.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

Therapy can feel intimidating at first, and I want all of my clients to have the experience of therapy moving at his/her own pace. It is important that we have time to develop trust in our relationship, and so most of the early sessions are about my getting to know who the client is, what s/he is hoping for from therapy, and experiences that might make it easier or harder to engage in therapy.  With adults this is often a free-flowing conversation over time, and with kids it often looks like engaging in play and other activities that help the child communicate who s/he is and what s/he needs. The beginning of therapy is also a time when clients get to know my style and can ask questions about the process. Over time, therapy sessions can look different for every client because I tailor each session to the needs of the person in the therapy space.

How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

Therapy is meant to be a space of exploration and growth, and I’ve seen that be the case for many people.  I’ve worked with children and families who have been able to deepen their relationships, use those relationships to resolve behavioral concerns, and learn new ways of interacting with each other and the world. Some clients I’ve worked with have talked about feeling like fuller humans through the process of therapy because they’ve gained greater access to their emotions and are no longer preoccupied with hard experiences.  Others have learned that they are worthy of time and attention, and have grown in their sense of self and purpose. My role as a therapist is to create and hold a space for clients to bring anything they need to in order to work through the barriers impacting their lives.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It’s so important to look for a therapist whose style is a match for the goals you have in treatment. There are lots of different ways of doing therapy and being a therapist, and finding the person you feel you can build a connection with is the most important piece when finding a therapist.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

My hope is that all of my clients grow in their important relationships with others and in their relationship with themselves.  People need other people, and it’s through relationships that we can continue to grow and thrive. When we can understand ourselves and our relationships, change becomes not only possible, but inevitable!


Visit Danielle’s profile to lean more about her counseling services, or to schedule an appointment.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy

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What Is Psychodynamic Therapy?

Psychodynamic Therapy is a longstanding form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, performed by a mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist or counselor. Psychodynamic Therapy aims to help patients become more self-aware, confront inner conflict, and understand the foundation and formation of their psychological processes and behavioral patterns. Unlike more goal-oriented therapeutic approaches, Psychodynamic Therapy is open-ended and less structured, allowing the patient to lead the conversation and explore their emotions, relationships and past experiences in an authentic and uninhibited way. 

Psychodynamic Therapy is rooted in Freud’s 19th century theories of psychoanalysis, and although it looks much different in modern practice, Psychodynamic Therapy still uses techniques informed by Freudian thought and psychoanalysis today. Psychodynamic Therapy’s unique focus on understanding how and why psychological issues and dysfunctional patterns were developed in the first place, rather than simply on trying to cope with and change them, has been beneficial to many patients over the years, especially when it comes to seeing long-term results and overcoming trauma. 

What Does Psychodynamic Therapy Treat?

Psychodynamic Therapy has been helpful for many patients, as it addresses a variety of factors that are known to cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Through the exploration of topics such as early childhood experiences and attachments, current relationship issues, coping and defense mechanisms, and distressing  feelings, urges and thoughts, Psychodynamic Therapy allows patients to get to the root of and move past the hurdles in their lives.

Psychodynamic Therapy has been known to reduce symptoms for the following mental health issues:

Psychodynamic Theory

Although Psychodynamic Therapy has been updated and simplified over the years, the theories and core concepts that support it can be traced back to Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. While not all of Freud’s ideas are still relevant in today’s practice, a handful of his core theories are central to Psychodynamic Therapy and inform its most popular techniques.

The Unconscious

Freud believed that the human mind has multiple levels. There’s a conscious level of the mind, which contains the things that we can remember and are aware of, and there’s an unconscious level of the mind, which contains the things that we cannot remember and are unaware of. According to Freud, the unconscious mind holds things like our early memories, our gut instincts, our deepest urges, fears and desires, our patterns of thought and behavior and our psychological processes that were developed during childhood. 

Psychodynamic Therapy places a large emphasis on the unconscious mind, where we tend to push feelings and thoughts that are too painful to face, and memories and beliefs that we might be ashamed of. However, these emotions and impulses still affect us and influence our behavior even though they are outside of our awareness. For example, a person might avoid romantic relationships that bring up painful memories of their parents’ divorce without realizing they’re doing so, keeping them from reaching important milestones in their lives like starting a family or falling in love. A trained Psychodynamic Therapist knows how to recognize these patterns of behavior and help patients confront the contents of their unconscious mind that might be holding them back from reaching their full potential. 

By encouraging open discussion and reflection, the Psychodynamic Therapist is able to pinpoint important themes and topics in a patient’s life, probing them with follow up questions and opening up their minds. The goal in Psychodynamic Therapy is to make the unconscious conscious, helping patients to take back control over the harmful feelings and dysfunctional patterns that have been holding them back. For catharsis, or relief from psychological distress, to occur, the client must gain the self-awareness to confront unresolved conflicts, repressed emotions, and maladaptive behaviors. 

Inner Conflict (Id, Ego and Superego)

Resolving inner conflicts is a major goal in Psychodynamic Therapy. Oftentimes, inner conflicts exist in the unconscious mind without our knowledge, but still manifest in our everyday behavior and emotions, taking a toll on our mental health. Freud theorized that there are three components of the human mind, two of which are constantly acting in opposition to each other, and one of which is meant to mediate that opposition.

  • The Id – Freud theorized that the Id is the most primitive part of our mind. The Id resides in the unconscious mind, containing things like repressed desires, shameful memories, sexual drive and aggressive urges. The Id is motivated only by pleasure, and Freud believed that it was the only active part of the human mind during infancy and very early childhood.
  • The Superego – According to Freud, as children grow and begin to experience the world, they eventually develop the Superego. This is our moral conscience, and it enforces the psychological processes that are necessary to exist in civilized society. The Superego contains our value system, feelings of guilt, knowledge of right from wrong, and the standards to which we hold ourselves and others. 
  • The Ego – Freud held that the Id and the Superego are in constant conflict, and the Ego is the mediator between the two. The Ego allows for rational decision making and drives the ability to satisfy the impulsive needs and urges of the Id in a way that is acceptable to the Superego. For example, if we are upset at work and our impulse is to cry, but we know that crying in the office is considered unprofessional, we might decide to go to the bathroom and take a moment to cry privately, returning to work once we feel better.

In Psychodynamic Therapy, patients examine why they want what they want and how they behave to get there, taking a more objective look at their own processes for dealing with conflict and satisfying or coping with the urges of the unconscious mind.

How Does Psychodynamic Therapy Work?

Psychodynamic Therapy is based on the Freudian principle that our deepest and most formative emotions and memories are buried in our unconscious mind, meaning that without self-awareness and guided self-reflection, we usually don’t even know that they exist are or how they affect us. Psychodynamic therapists encourage open, uninhibited discussion, drawing out painful feelings, early memories and unresolved conflicts during therapy sessions that might have been otherwise forgotten or avoided. This process can take time and requires an especially strong patient-therapist relationship, as the patient won’t achieve true vulnerability until he or she feels comfortable opening up to the therapist. This is why Psychodynamic Therapy tends to last longer than other forms of counseling, usually requiring anywhere from 6 months to 2 years of weekly 1 hour sessions. In Psychodynamic Therapy, the therapist looks for patterns of thought and behavior that recur throughout the patient’s life and points them out to the patient, sharing their insights and encouraging the patient to make relevant connections. By helping patients confront the early experiences, unresolved conflicts, and repressed emotions that impact their present-day lives, Psychodynamic Therapy gives patients the self-awareness to take control of their feelings, reactions and relationships.

Transference

The relationship between the therapist and the patient is uniquely important in Psychodynamic Therapy, as it is used as a mirror through which the therapist can gain insight into how the patient navigates relationships in the real world. Freud theorized that humans learn how to interact with others from their early-life attachments and relationships with their primary caregivers, and that this is then reflected in their adult relationships. 

Transference refers to when a patient projects feelings for family members or loved ones onto the therapist during counseling sessions, and can demonstrate how a patient interacts with others in the  real world. Transference is a useful tool for therapists as they try to understand the early life experiences and psychological processes that affect their patient’s present-day lives. A good Psychodynamic Therapist is aware of transference and looks for patterns in the therapist-patient dynamic that mirror some of the patient’s other interpersonal conflicts. The therapist then shares these insights with the patient to help them become more self-aware. 

Defense Mechanisms

Oftentimes, patients are held back from reaching their full potential because they’ve developed defense mechanisms to avoid dealing with memories or emotions that cause them pain or distress. A Psychodynamic Therapist is trained to recognize unconscious defense mechanisms and help patients break them down so that the underlying issues can be addressed and made sense of.

Below are a few common defense mechanisms:

  • Denial – Refusing to believe a truth or face an emotion that is too painful to accept. 
  • Regression – Returning to an earlier state of consciousness, like childhood, to minimize or avoid distressing situations. 
  • Repression – Subconsciously pushing painful memories or thoughts out of conscious awareness and forgetting that they ever happened or existed. 
  • Sublimation – Channeling the energy from a distressing or painful situation into something else to avoid dealing with the original negative event. 
  • Rationalization- Attempting to logically justify immoral, upsetting, or socially unacceptable behavior to avoid having to deal with the causes for that behavior.

Free Association

Free association is one of the most important parts of Psychodynamic Therapy, and helps set it apart from other therapeutic approaches. Free association refers to how the Psychodynamic Therapist allows the patient to lead the discussion during therapy sessions. This practice encourages the  patient to tap into his or her emotions and thoughts in the most authentic way, and ensures that the therapist is not leading the patient in any particular direction. A patient’s unconscious desires, memories and patterns will not be revealed during therapy unless the patient is able to be fully vulnerable and true to themselves.

Types of Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy can come in many forms, including more traditional counseling methods like individual talk therapy and family therapy, and more abstract approaches like art therapy and music therapy.  Below are some common types of Psychodynamic Therapy that differ in style and execution, but are all grounded in the overarching principles of psychodynamic theory.

  • Brief Psychodynamic Therapy – Brief Psychodynamic Therapy tends to last around 25 sessions and enables the patient to examine and address unresolved conflicts, such as childhood trauma, or mental health issues and symptoms, like agoraphobia and somatic pain. 
  • Long-term Psychodynamic Therapy – Long-term Psychodynamic Therapy usually requires at least 2 years of sessions and is meant to change dysfunctional psychological processes that were developed during childhood and are ingrained in a patient’s adult personality, holding them back from reaching their full potential. 
  • Psychodynamic Family Therapy – Psychodynamic Family Therapy tends to be more long-term and addresses chronic problems within a family, emphasizing the importance of exploring relationship issues and patterns of conflict throughout a family history. 
  • Psychodynamic Art Therapy – Psychodynamic Art Therapy can be used in a variety of ways and doesn’t require any artistic talent or experience. Patients can express feelings through the creation of art, discuss the emotions evoked by certain pieces of art, find and discuss personal meaning in pieces of art, and connect pieces of art to different events from their childhood. 
  • Psychodynamic Music Therapy – Psychodynamic Music Therapy can be beneficial for patients with high levels of anxiety or fear who have trouble opening up to a therapist verbally. This approach does not require any musical background or knowledge and encourages self-expression and communication through music. The therapist pays attention to how the patient goes about creating music and the patient can use music as a form of emotional release.

How Identity Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan made up of a group of passionate, licensed therapists that are trained and experienced in Psychodynamic Therapy. Identity helps adults and adolescents cope with and manage mental health issues like anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, and relationship issues. If you live in the Ann Arbor area and are interested in, or have questions about Psychodynamic Therapy, please contact us today.