Science of Trust

I took a webinar with John Gottman of the Gottman Institute called “The Science of Trust.” Perhaps Gottman is most famous for his “four horsemen of the apocalypse” theory–that contempt, stonewalling, criticism, and defensiveness poison intimate relationships–and that the long-term success of a partnership can be calculated according to the frequency of these problematic dynamics. This particular webinar about trust explored active, healthy alternatives to repair interpersonal wounds.

Essentially, cognitively-based repairs (appeals to reason, logic, and problem-solving) aren’t as effective within intimate relationships as emotionally-based repairs. For example, empathy, self-disclosure, and investing extra attention/participation into the partnership all work at the emotional level. Emotional interventions help relax someone in distress, thereby encouraging them to make any decisions outside of duress. Within an intimate relationship, logic and “fixing” other’s problems can be experienced as dismissive, shallow, or intrusive.

Many people are not taught intimacy skills–it’s not a formal study in primary school. Some of us learn from family and community role models–other people don’t have this access or experience.

After an interpersonal or developmental trauma, a person is likely to experience hypervigilance–fight/flight responses–and/or avoidance–flight/freeze responses, even within more moderate conflicts. Effective conflict resolution within a healthy relationship requires active participation, deliberation, and transparency from all involved parties. Often, a partner can facilitate a step down the scale of hypervigilance. Gottman and others use the acronym ATTUNE to describe this stance in more detail: awareness, turning towards, tolerance, understanding, non-defensive responding, and empathy. For a great video on empathy, click here: Brene Brown on Empathy.

Does this mean everything has to be hearts, puppies, and sunshine? NO! If people interrupt their conflict or trauma processing, something like the Zeigarnik Effect is likely to happen–people will remember (often at¬†inopportune times) experiences they haven’t ATTUNED to in a healthy relationship. If we haven’t ATTUNED to a partner’s distress, we are most likely telling a negative fictional story about our partner’s abilities.

People who avoid relational conflict have a tendency toward infidelity and and other betrayals, which likely create more (internal) conflict and avoidance.  People who address conflict also practice relaxation and co-construct viable creative solutions, over time, with additional input & information.

October 2017 Updates

My education, development, and contribution to the sex therapy and the broader mental health fields continue. Some recent forms of my expansion include:

  • listening to the Esther Perel podcast, “Where Shall we Begin?” Esther Perel is one of the most prominent modern sex therapists. Her podcast includes extended audio clips from her real sex therapy meetings. It’s incredibly relevant and inspiring.
  • a week-long Internal Family Systems training. Although I decided not to continue part II of this course, it gave me an opportunity to further discern my core assumptions and therapeutic skills. I am grateful for the understanding & commitments I developed from this exploration.
  • defining the concept of “Sexual Deviance” with other mental health professionals. We explored several case studies to identify best practices for therapeutic conceptualization and treatment.
  • reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. You can expect a future book report on this blog!

Summer 2017 Updates

What’s complete…

Summer semester is over. It’s always fun teaching Theories & Methods of Sexual Counseling–and a lot of work on top of a full client load. I work late hours during the summer–but getting to know the students is worth it! UMKC graduates plenty of competent, inspiring Counseling students. These interactions give me great hope and faith for the Counseling profession. Most of my work in private practice is one-on-one or with couples. It’s something special to see 20+ Counseling students apply themselves to clinical case examples.

Every year I squeeze additional information into the course. This year we fit in brief discussions of Intersex clients and Sex with Spinal Cord Injuries. We also expanded our conceptualization of “Sex Addiction” into Out-of-Control Sexual Behavior treatment.

What’s next…

I’ve organized extra time in my schedule each week for proactive research & development! Stay tuned!

Continuing Education

I attended the AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) Annual Conference. Of course it was a good time! Here’s what I studied:

  • Combating Sexual Misconduct in our Schools
  • Bringing Perimenopause into the Light
  • Sexual Education & Ethical Decision-Making
  • Coping with Jealousy
  • Strategies of Human Mating
  • Envisioning Sexual Health
  • The Art of Brief Sexual Assessment
  • Black & Sexual with a Disability
  • Transgender Hormone Referral Letters
  • Interdisciplinary Approach to Sexual Pain

Spring Updates

I’ve immersed myself in several continuing education experiences over the last several months. Some highlights:

  • Treatment of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Histrionic Personality disorders with Daniel J. Fox
  • The 6th Annual Sexuality Conference at KU Med
  • Genital Pain: Pelvic Floor Function & Health with Foundation Concepts Physical Therapy (for cooperative physical & mental health treatment of genital pain)

November and December Updates

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun! Here are my major business updates for November and December 2016, I:

October 2016 News

This October I completed another step towards my Sex Therapist certification. I traveled to Washington DC to complete the Sexual Attitude Reassessment training. The SAR is a 10 hour intensive small group course for psychotherapists. We processed our reactions to various sexual materials–in order to discover and manage any personal biases that may otherwise interfere with successful therapy.

Internal Family Systems

I enjoyed a webinar with Richard Schwartz, developer of the Internal Family Systems therapy model. The IFS model grew out of other family therapy models that examined “roles” each family member inherits in reaction to each other & the family’s overall needs. The IFS model examines various “parts”, or roles, within a person, often developed within confusing family dynamics. For example, an individual is likely to develop various “protector” parts and other parts that are “exiles”–parts that express impulsive or other unwelcome behavior. In the IFS model, healing occurs as each part is attended to with curiosity and awareness. When the parts are understood, they relax and trust a well-informed leader–the “self.”

Schwartz’s IFS website: Center for Self Leadership

Addictions Training

I enjoyed a presentation by Dr. David Willey and Dr. Amalia Bullard regarding medical and psychosocial treatments for addiction. Dr. Willey provided great information about medications that may aid in relapse prevention. For example, antagonist medication can help reduce cravings and change the brain-body’s response when substances are consumed. Dr. Bullard reanimated the importance of Motivational Interviewing.