Love is Transformative

A great relationship increases our ability to love ourselves. It all comes down to the science of love, what most of us would consider an extremely intangible and subjective experience.

The parts of our brains responsible for love and attachment are regulated by each other. As a baby, I learn love through my connection to my caregivers, as reflection in their eyes. Dr. Sue Johnson, in her book Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships asks, “How does a baby know he is delightful?” The baby knows he is delightful because when he looks into his mother’s eyes, he sees delight.

While most of our love template is created when we are young due to the fact that our brain is most primed for taking in information at that stage, we continue to mold and shape the emotional centres of our brain through continued experience in relationship.

The pursuit of self-love is entangled with a loving relationship. I cannot change the template or the dial or filter with which I can love myself by myself. In isolation, my only framework for self love is what I have known, and may be restricted if I was raised by a parent with limited ability to love themselves, who were distracted or not always emotionally available

If I want to change what my self-love dial is set for, I can do that through the eyes of a lover. When I am accepted and loved and can see that in another’s eyes, then a part of my brain recognizes that and recodes my own brain.  Wes Angelozzi sums this up well:

“Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”

I tested this a few years ago. I realized that I was withholding love from parts of my body, especially my stomach. So I asked my partner if he would rub oil on my stomach (which I hated people touching), while I did my best to be present and stay connected to him. He was amazing as he kept checking in with me to see if I was still present, and looked at me with kind loving eyes. I started to relax as I felt accepted and loved in that moment.

As I began to feel safer, I started to explore the edge of my fear. There was still part of me holding back from truly loving myself because I was afraid that my fat would jiggle and he would find it unattractive.

“Will you shake my tummy back and forth and jiggle my fat?”, I blurted, the courage leaving my lips before my brain had time to talk myself out of it. And so he did. My stomach moved back and forth and as it hit my thigh, making ripples there too. Neither of us pulled away, he just kept loving and accepting me with his gaze. I felt my fear dissipate and allowed myself to start loving the way my soft stomach moved back and forth.

That experience was one of the most vulnerable and freeing moments of my life. I went to the edge of my fear, sharing a part of myself that I did not love and I let someone else see that. My partner received what I thought was a terrible part of myself and did not recoil in horror, he accepted and loved me through it. My brain reset my self-love dial.

What happened for me in that moment is explained well in A General Theory of Love, a collaboration between Dr. Thomas Lewis, Dr. Fari Amini and Dr. Richard Lannon. “Those who succeed in revealing themselves to another find the dimness receding from their own visions of self.  Like people awakening from a dream, they slough off the accumulated ill-fitted trappings of unsuitable lives”.

Love is transformative. Love changes our brains. Our relationships help us to increase our ability to love not only each other, but also ourselves.

Christina Bianchini RPC, MPCC

Finding The Right Therapist For You

Finding the right therapist can sometimes feel like an auditioning process, and if you live in an area like Prince George BC, that has a limited number of local therapists, the process can sometimes be frustrating.

I have personally seen several different therapists during my lifetime, and can attest that not all therapists are equal (or were equally effective for me).

I have struggled with:

  • What I deemed as cold or uncaring or unsympathetic therapist (lose 5 lbs before next week’s appointment and you will feel better)
  • Not being able to understand the EFAP telephone therapist because of their strong accent (He was going on about “tissue hookers”…which took me 15 minutes to understand that he meant the “issue of who cares?”)
  • The therapist who told me I was fine and had nothing to be concerned about, when I felt empty and depressed.
  • Therapists who were more concerned about being right about their point of view and not listening to my real concerns. They tended to talk more than listen.

AND, I have had wonderful caring and warm therapists who were attuned to my needs. Who spent hours making me feel safe, seen and soothed. These were the therapists with whom I was able to do my best personal work with.

“Decades of research indicate the provision of therapy is an interpersonal process in which a main curative component is the nature of the therapeutic relationship (Lambert and Barley 2001)”

The therapeutic relationship (or finding the right “fit”) is an essential part of achieving positive outcomes in therapy. In fact, research indicates that the therapeutic relationship is twice as important as the specific techniques and exercises used in therapy (Lambert and Barley 2001).

So how do you find the right therapist for you? If you work from more of an attachment framework like I do, then the safer and more cared for a person feels the greater the outcome.

Here are some things to ponder when selecting the right therapist for you:

Warmth and Empathy

For some clients, the therapist’s office is the first place they experience unconditional positive regard. It will be important to sense that your therapist is warm, friendly and truly cares. They demonstrate the ability to really empathize, to see things from your point of view so that you feel acknowledged, validated and heard. This helps to develop increasing trust over time, and increase the likelihood that the client doesn’t feel alone in their struggles.

Congruence

Is your therapist a real person? You want the feeling that they are being genuinely themselves. The traits of being genuine include be open, honest and sincere, with the absense of phoniness or defensiveness. Therapists are human, and if they can own their mistakes and accept divergent thinking, this helps the client to do the same.

Interest

An interested therapist asks great questions. They are right there with you and gently ask follow up questions to help to deepen their understanding of you and the situation. Often these questions will open up other ways to see and think about a situation that supports the client to work through presenting issues.

Skill

You want to work with a trained and licensed therapist. This is important because licensed therapists are accountable to governing bodies in regard to qualifications, ethics, and ongoing training. This will allow you the confidence that they have received the appropriate training and are constantly upgrading their skills in the ever-evolving field of psychotherapy.

Specialty/Therapeutic Framework

Psychotherapy is a large field of work, and it is impossible to be great at all the different specialties. Just like you wouldn’t go to a podiatrist to deliver a baby, its important to seek a therapist who specializes in your concerns.

In couples therapy for instance, seeing a therapist who does couples work with out specific training is about 35% effective. Research done by Sue Johnson shows that Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples increases positive outcomes to over 70% (Johnson 2008).

The cost to see someone who specializes might be slightly higher or not included under your EFAP plan; however, the benefit is often fewer sessions and a greater chance of success.

Credibility

There is a saying among the therapy realm that you “can’t take a client to a place you haven’t been before”. If the therapist has a hard time connecting with their own thoughts and feelings, it will be difficult for them to authentically support a client to do so.

Credibility for me is about whether or not I am committed to my own ongoing personal work. A great therapist walks the talk and is committed to their own therapy and supervision.

You might know right away that a therapist is the right fit for you and sometimes it might take a few sessions. I want my clients to be as comfortable as they can be so that they get the results they are looking for.

At Repiphany Counselling we offer free 20-minute consultations on the phone and in person so that you can see if one of our counsellors are the right fit for you. Book your free consultation online now at http://repiphany.janeapp.com