Addiction is a very widespread problem in our society. In addition to drugs and alcohol, other common addictions are gambling, sex, internet/gaming, and shopping. Therapy can help people get to the root of their addictions. Usually the addiction is a symptom of other deeper issues that are not being addressed directly. I often recommend in conjunction with individual therapy that the patient attend a 12 step program as well (i.e. AA, NA). I have experience running addiction groups for alcohol/drugs and eating disorders/ exercise. Group therapy can help the addict feel less ashamed and isolated in their struggle. Though addiction can be difficult to overcome, many of my patients have done so and felt the process of therapy was essential.
Eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in Western society. Many people with eating disorders feel misunderstood and frustrated. I have experience in treating eating disorders in both private practice and in a hospital setting. The eating disorder is often a symptom of other psychological problems. Addressing these psychological problems in therapy is essential in combating this disorder. It is not helpful to tell a patient or family member to eat more. The patient knows this but does not want to/is too conflicted to comply. Sometimes issues behind the eating disorder include control, coping with a mother who is too enmeshed and a father who is absent or distant,and perfectionism. The patient frequently focuses on the food and body so as not to experience other feelings and that may be uncomfortable or painful.
Psychotherapy has been shown to be beneficial to many patients. In one of the most comprehensive studies (Howard et al), 50% of patients showed mental health improvement after 12 sessions and 80% after 6 months of psychotherapy. Therapy offers what is called a corrective emotional experience. This means that the patient shares his feelings and thoughts to a nonjudgmental empathic listener which helps the patient heal. The patient often then feels validated, and thus values and understands their own feelings more. I have witnessed many patients lead more fulfilling lives with more career success and meaningful relationships. Symptoms such as anxiety, depression often diminish. I have heard patients say that they still have problems of course, but that things seem more manageable and less overwhelming.
Psychodynamic therapy is focused on understanding the patient’s unconscious. The reasons that drive the patient to behave in a certain way are examined. The past as well as the present are analyzed to have the patient realize what is underneath their actions. The patient can then be better able to change harmful behaviors when they realize why they are doing them and how these behaviors may have even helped them in the past.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is focused on challenging thoughts (cognitions) that lead to behaviors. Irrational thoughts are pointed out and the therapist questions help the patient to see how the way they are thinking can be harmful. For example people who expect social rejection may actually do things (poor eye contact, for example) that beget rejection.
I tend to use a combination of these therapies according to the patient’s needs and comfort level. I also believe that one cannot get too bogged down in psychological theories and has to be practical as well.
Sports psychology is a growing field as more and more athletes are realizing what a significant role the mental aspect of the game plays. I have worked with athletes from the professional and collegiate levels to the junior and recreational players. The common goal for athletes is to perform optimally. Research supports the techniques of cognitive behavioral approach, visualization, and relaxation. I work with athletes to not only apply these concepts to their sport but to also perform better at work or school.