Author Archives: janbergstrom

What To Do About Family…by Gina Schuchman LICSW


One of the most pressing issues for most people, as they strive to build and maintain healthy lives, is trying to figure out what to do about family. It might be just one or two family members who are causing pain, shame, anxiety or anger, or it might be the whole lot of them.

What causes the most problems in families?

  • History of dysfunction. And this history continues to be dysfunctional in the present. Unresolved abuse/trauma/hurts have a tendency to raise their ugly heads on a regular basis until you understand what they are and heal from them and figure out how to handle the after effects.

  • Past/present blows to SELF ESTEEM.
    • If you were not treated as if you had value in the past, it is likely you will not be feeling good about yourself and will continue to feel as if you are put in the “one-down” position by family members or friends or work relationships. They might actually continue to treat you the same way they did when you were a child with lifelong patterns of interaction being hard to change. No matter what you try to do differently they may stay stuck in these unhealthy and dysfunctional patterns and leave you feeling unworthy, unloveable and full of pain, shame and anger.

    • If your family treated you as if you had more value than others and continue to elevate you above others in the family or the outside world, you will likely carry self-doubt, guilt, pain, and shame as you navigate the real world of relationships.

  • Unhealthy and dysfunctional boundaries.
  • Lack of acceptance of who you are or how you might be different than the rest of the family.
    • As we grow up we might decide we have different values or look at the world differently than the people we grew up with. In some families this is celebrated as they enjoy having new ideas brought in to consider and see it as enlightening and challenging. In other families being different is seen as a threat to the status quo or as rejection and they can reject anything new by trying to change you back or try to beat you down to get you to comply with their idea of how to be. If you stick to your guns you may find yourself on the outside looking in, in your own family.

  • Valuing the needs and wants of all family members in unequal ways.
    • In dysfunctional family systems, not everyone is treated with the same measure of respect and love. There can be one person whose needs and wants pre-empt everyone else. Or there’s a pecking order and people are valued and tended to only after everyone on the list is taken care of first.

  • Not being moderate in response to each other and life in general.

    • It is human nature to react in the extreme and this creates immoderate responses in others. In some families it is not acceptable to show any emotions or talk about any conflicts, while in others it is no holds barred, do and say anything you want, as loud as you want, as violent as you want, as hurtful as you want, with emotions being vomited all over everyone.

So, as you try to get healthy, try to build your own life or family as an adult, you might find yourself doubting whether or not you can do it and still be part of your family. Engaging with them can lead to feeling alienated, shameful, angry, hurt, powerless and hopeless. It can be a tough decision to make when you think you have to decide between having your own life in which you get to be yourself or being part of your family.

Many shrink from this ominous task in fear of losing the connection of their family that has been the grounding they have counted on to keep them anchored and worthy. The fear is that they will be alone forever, unloved and lonely with no meaning to their lives. Yet, to continue to try to fit the square peg of your true self in the round hole of your family’s generations of patterns of relating, can leave you feeling worse.

What to do, what to do?

In the process of growing up/getting healthy/recovery/individuation we have many options for how to handle this. If we continue in immaturity, we react in immoderate ways. We keep quiet, grin and bear it. We rage and manipulate to get our way. As functional adults we try to find the moderate path to being an individual adult who has healthy functional relationships (whenever possible) with our family members.

Seeing a therapist can help you identify what the core issues are so you can decide what you want/need to change and what you can let go of. Once you know the issues you have options on what to do about them.

  • Sometimes just by changing our own behavior and responses can change how others treat us. We can be the best person that we want to be and see if others adjust accordingly.

  • We can start to tell people when we don’t like something and ask them to behave differently with us, setting boundaries and holding the line on a daily basis. For example, many people have parents or siblings who have drinking or drug problems and they create drama and discord and abuse their family members in many different ways. Deciding not to talk to them or visit them when they are under the influence can be a big step towards a healthier life for you even though others will not like it.

  • We can invite family members to join us in counseling to try to work with them on how to improve our relationships. For many family members, once they understand how you’ve been feeling, they are happy to work on adjusting their behavior and have no intention of having you feel unloved or unworthy. Some are unwilling to hear it or feel so attacked they shut down. It’s always worth a try to see if fences can be mended.

  • We can limit our contacts with people we don’t feel safe or valued with. You might have a family that gets together every week for a big family party and you leave feeling terrible every time. Maybe start to go less often and see if you can tolerate it any better. You might feel better knowing you only have to see them once a month or twice a year. Some people have felt obligated to speak to a parent daily even though the conversations leave them feeling depleted and full of shame. Deciding that you have the right to choose can improve your life pretty quickly, maybe less often or maybe limit it to 5-15 minutes instead of the 2 hour “chats”.


  • Last resort, for many, is to let go of family members and build a new “family”. Each of us gets to decide for ourselves when enough is enough. If this happens for you, be assured that there are many people who have chosen this path and found wonderful people who like them just the way they are, who have their back and have better connection skills to build a new core group with. It is not “second best” if your first best makes you miserable.


Be kind to yourself and try to figure out what brings you joy. You have the right, and you deserve, to feel joy in your relationships. Relationships, like people, are perfectly imperfect, and so you should not expect constant joy. What you can hope for and expect is to have people in your inner circle who are kind, loving, respectful and generous who are “works in progress” themselves and willing to grow and change to build empathic connection in relationships with you. Trust me, there are many people, like you, in the world looking for a new group to belong to.


The Quick-Start Guide to Healing Trauma and Psychological Wounds by Neil Strauss

A  Framework For Transformation

Over the course of writing The Truth, I came to develop a very specific take on healing trauma, specifically developmental trauma, as I slowly but surely reduced my own.

As an overall framework for psychological healing, think of the childhood pain and shame we store—and the dysfunctional behaviors and thoughts created by them—as cancerous tumors attached to the heart by a short elastic cord.

And when we go through intensive therapeutic processes, such as the chair work I experienced in the book, we’re able for just a moment to pull that ugly tumor out of our chest and get a glimpse of who we really are without it, to see the difference between our authentic self and the reactive self who makes a mess of our life.

However, when the process ends, the elastic snaps back and the trauma fastens once again to our heart, until after a few hours or days or weeks back in daily reality, we can no longer tell the difference between our truth and our wounds.

But if we stretch the elastic enough times, eventually it will wear out. And when we release it, the load it’s carrying will no longer snap back into us, but instead hang outside limply, a passenger in our life but no longer in the cockpit.

Specific Steps To Deep Change

With this framework in mind, the first step is to find a therapeutic process that’s powerful enough to stretch the elastic. Typically, this means setting time aside for a two-to-five day experiential intensive. This will allow you to dive deep into your past and bring up feelings in a way that a one-hour therapy-room session typically can’t.

I find talk therapy, in particular, less effective for deep healing and change, especially since so many of the wounds we carry are emotional, often created before we were capable of talking or having intellectual thoughts.

For some people, a single workshop may be enough to experience a life-changing shift. For others, going to several over the course of a few years may be necessary. And a few people may require more extensive in-patient therapy.

Whatever the case may be, just going to intensives or workshops is not enough. It’s important to maintain any shifts, revelations, or improvements after the first healing experience with the following four things:

*Consistent Support: Decades of dysfunctional behavior can’t be eliminated in a weekend. To keep your head right, it’s important to retain a regular regimen of individual or, even better, group therapy with others who share similar wounds. Even if it’s just a monthly or bi-monthly hour-long phone call.

*Self care: If you take care of your mind, body, and soul through healthy eating, exercise, positive self-talk, appropriate boundaries, sleeping well, and a practice such as yoga or meditation, you will be less vulnerable to your past dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs. A lack of self care typically leads to a lack of self regulation.

*Tools: Through therapy, reading, and research, you can gather tactics and techniques for retaining your new healthy, functional behavior and thoughts. Sometimes, when under too much pressure, stress, or poor self-care, you may begin to backslide into old habits of dysfunctional behavior. And it’s important to use a tool here—for example, using non-violent communication, focusing on slow diaphragm breathing, or having an inner dialogue to soothe your agitated inner child—to keep from going over the psychological cliff.

*Patience: When cleaning a room, it gets more messy before it gets orderly. The same is true of cleaning your mind. Often, as you begin the healing process, you will begin feeling the pain or shame that your dysfunctional behavior was protecting you from. But if you can tolerate those raw feelings and process them in a healthy way this time, then you will no longer need the dysfunctional behavior. It won’t have a purpose because there’s no longer any toxic shame or pain to avoid. At other times, a behavior or belief that you thought you defeated may rear its head again. Don’t get frustrated. Think of self-improvement as climbing a mountain. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re in the same place you started, but the truth is that you’ve climbed higher and you’re just looking at the same view.



If you’re ready to start exploring your psyche, unpacking your emotions, and healing your wounds (and we’re all wounded in varying degrees), here are a few places and therapies I recommend starting with.

I’ve focused on the centers, counsellors, and therapies I had positive experiences with while writing The Truth. As such, some of the sections focus on relationship healing.

There are of course many other workshops and therapies that have helped others. So if you’d like to add your own recommendations, please do so in the Comments section here:

Trauma-Healing Workshops
  • The Society Inner Game Intensive: (Conflict of Interest Note: These are workshops that I facilitate, usually with the same therapists who helped me in The Truth.)
Trauma-Healing Therapies
  • Group Therapy
    • I have yet to find a good website for finding a group, and recommend reaching out to local therapists you trust or forming one yourself with a professional faciliatator. If all else fails, here’s a possible online resource to start with:
Relationship Intensives for Individuals
Relationship Intensives for Couples
Recommended Reading for Trauma Healing
Recommended Reading for Relationship Healing
Diagnostic Tools

Teens: Installing Resiliency for the Journey by Catherine Mollner MA., LPC

I am deeply grateful to Pia Mellody for her excellent work in identifying and describing the healthy attributes of the human person.

The world is getting bigger for teens as they embark on the monumental task of exploring their identity, discovering whom they are and becoming a member of a wider society. They need the help and support of the adults in their lives as they traverse this journey.

Your affirmation, nurturing, and direction provide a firmer foundation as teenagers move away while they stay close. From the teen’s perspective, “If I know you are there, and that you have my back, I can move out into the world and figure out who I am”.
Providing support on the journey is easier when familiar with the terrain of the land known as adolescence. Teens take another run at the developmental stages. Remember when they were toddlers and began to discover they were separate beings? While we sometimes think of it as “the terrible twos”, it really is a wonderful thing as the child realizes, “Hey, you want me to do one thing, and I want to do something else. I’m different than you!” It is the beginning of self-care and independence. True, there’s a road to hoe ahead. Nonetheless … whew! We do not want them to be dependent throughout their lifespan.

What are some of the peaks and valleys that make up the land of adolescence? They are suffering from a severe case of comparisonitis as they assess their skills, achievements and sense of value related to what they see others doing. If they come up short, their sense of self-esteem plummets.

They are pushing for autonomy. They have moved out of the child phase of “what can you do for me?” and are currently in the adolescent phase of “let me do it myself” before getting to the adult stage of “what can I do for you?”
They are plagued by a time warp problem. They cannot link events together to form a comprehensive view of their own history. It is difficult for them to see that because they didn’t study they got a bad grade. Or that because they missed curfew, they cannot use the car next weekend. While it may befuddle us that they are blind to the consequences, this time warp phenomenon is a defense mechanism. If they connected these events, they would experience more guilt, shame and anger than they could manage.

Teens are very egocentric and see themselves as more important than they really are. It helps to remember that it requires an incredible amount of energy, self-focus and ability to change to become an adult. Remember, they are moving from dependency, to independence, with the final destination of interdependence.

Teens believe they are invulnerable, and that nothing bad can happen to them. They take risks thinking they will not get caught. They take drugs thinking they will not become addicted. They think they can stay out late and not get mugged. They pull the fire alarm and are surprised when they get in trouble.

Their friends become vitally important as a source of support and security. Acceptance in a group and a “best friend” contribute significantly to their sense of competency and confidence. At the same time, they are more sensitive and vulnerable to peer humiliation. To protect against disapproval they choose friends who are similar. Think of it more as a coping strategy rather than not being able to think for themselves.

At times teens can be very dependent, and at other times absolutely rebellious. Sometimes cooperative, while other times confused about the rules and testing them to the hilt. They will at times be unreasonable and illogical, while other times surprisingly sensible. Sometimes they seem so mature … and other times amazingly immature.

This inconsistency is normal … chaotic … but normal. In part it has to do with the uneven rate of brain development. During adolescence, the part of the brain that can think logically develops faster than the part of the brain that regulates emotion.

What are some attributes of emotional health and resiliency and what role can adults play to coax their installation in the younger generation?

Let’s begin with the relationship with self. The truth is that everyone on the planet has inherent worth. No one earns this inherent worth, so it cannot be lost. It cannot be made more or less than what it is. Everybody has the same amount of inherent worth. We differ in every other respect; our appearance, strengths, weaknesses, intelligence, likes and dislikes. But in terms of the inherent dignity, value and worth of the human person, we are all alike. No one is worth more or worth less than anyone else. This is the truth. We either remember it, or forget it. But it is the unchanging truth.

For most of us, as we get socialized into our families, communities, and peer groups, we start to forget the truth of our inherent worth and come to believe that our worth is determined by external things. Some people look to their performance as an indication of their worth. Others come to believe their worth is determined by how they look, the clothes they wear or how much money they have. Some people think their worth is dictated by what others think of them. While all of these things can be either pleasant or unpleasant, they are fleeting. They are external and not an indication of the truth of our inherent worth. It helps to remember that inherent worth cannot be raised by strengths or lowered by weaknesses. Those who do not apply the concept of internally based self-esteem to themselves will try to obtain a sense of value through the affirmations of others or by comparing themselves to others. Teens are notorious for this.

When based upon externals rather than being connected to the truth of inherent value, the sense of worth slides up and down. Sometimes teens will look around and find that they got the best grade in the class, or played a phenomenal soccer game, drive the spiffiest car or are the most popular (today). This could be the makings for a great day. However, potential doom is always lurking around the corner. Next week someone else might play a better game. For the teen who wasn’t invited to the “cool party”, did not make it to National History Day, or missed the easy catch in center field, misery is certain as their sense of external value drains away.

Sometimes to cope with the instability of externally based self-esteem teens will imagine that they are better than others so they raise their sense of worth. While there may be some transitory benefits when a teen sits on their grandiose perch of excellence in some outer source of value, it doesn’t feel good to others to be looked down upon. The pain of grandiosity shows up in relationships. Getting up every day and facing the world for teens who believe they are worth less than others is painful. We can help teens appreciate their strengths rather than using them to feel better than others. We can help them have compassion for their weaknesses. When teens remember their worth, they have an easier time seeing the inherent worth of others.

Being in a healthy relationship with self paves the way for healthy relationships with others. This brings us to the second attribute of emotional health and resiliency for teens; boundaries. There are two components of a healthy boundary system. The first is that a boundary offers protection from harmful words, emotions and ideas that could be directed toward the teenager. When their protective boundary is in good working order, teens are able to better keep themselves from being a victim. The second component of a boundary system is containment. With an up and running containment boundary, teens are more likely to be considerate of others and aware of the words, actions and energy they send out into the world. A boundary is different than a wall. A wall does a great job of offering protection, yet there is no way to be connected through a wall. When a teen is walled off, they are not listening to what is important to others and they are not telling others what is important to them. On the other hand, without a boundary at all, there is more than enough connection, but no protection. When a teen is all open and vulnerable, they are very reactive to what others are thinking and feeling, and often feel blamed. They also have a ready-fire-aim approach to interaction. Everything that pops in their mind quickly comes out their mouth without being filtered.

Launching into adulthood requires that teens start to know how they tick, tock and trigger. We humans are multifaceted creatures. Mind, body, emotion and behavior all weave together in the whole of our being (and doing).

When we see, hear, or experience something, the data goes into our brains where we assign it meaning. Think of it as an automatic thought. The manner in which we experience something happens inside our head. This produces an emotion. Along with the thought, emotions are the “go juice” for our behavior, which has consequences. It is important for teens to know and practice the human capacity to think about our thinking. The automatic thought is just the beginning. A different thought (hopefully a more realistic one) can produce a different emotion, fueling more adaptive behavior with better results.

Often teens will have a sense of impending doom, but not know how to stop the dominos from falling. If they can identify the thought fueling the discomfort, they have an opportunity to turn the tide.

The transition from automatic to intentional thinking takes a lot of effort, knowledge and skill. You can help by teaching them to own their own thoughts, emotions and behavior. They’re watching you, and taking in what they see. Model it by not blaming others for your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Secondly, allow them to share their thoughts and emotions. Remember, you don’t have to agree with their perspective to acknowledge that they have it. It helps to have an attitude of curiosity rather than control. When you have this attitude of curiosity, it helps the teen identify their thoughts and feelings. The more they do this, the healthier and more resilient they become. You can also help by not putting teens in situations where they have to stuff their emotions. Emotions don’t tend to change by stuffing. Instead they brew and either erupt in a fury, or leak out sideways. A more resilient approach is to acknowledge the emotion and identify the thought that created it.

All of this helps teens internalize a value system, so they can operate from the inside out rather than the outside in. Young children focus on following the rules to avoid getting in trouble or trying to win approval. During adolescence, we want our teens to internalize the values we have tried to transmit. Sometimes that process is messy as they test out what works for them and experience the consequences of experimenting with different ways of doing things. Hopefully the pain leads to growth and the internalization of healthy values.

We all have a desire to be seen, heard and known. It is affirming to teens when the adults in their lives notice and tune into their emotions. While being on the other side of an angry teen can be uncomfortable. It can help to know that anger is almost always a secondary emotion that covers up fear or pain. The helplessness and vulnerability that come along with fear and pain can be intolerable. So anger comes in on the heels as a more powerful emotion, and teens feel strong rather than weak. Rather than going toe to toe with the anger, be curious and try to connect with the underlying emotion.

Remember the acronym WAIT (why am I talking). Often, teens don’t care what we know until they know that we care. We can show we care by listening. Adults have a better developed ability for delayed gratification. Listen first. Teens will be able to listen to our point of view more easily if they have first shared their perspective and know that it has been heard.

Remembering inherent worth; developing a healthy boundary system; understanding the connection between thought, emotions, behavior and results. It is all part of creating balance, health and resiliency.

You can help the teens in your lives shore up the ability to remember their inherent worth in three ways. First, as you esteem yourself. They are listening when you demean yourself. Secondly, as you esteem your colleagues, spouse and friends. They are watching the ways in which you interact and talk about others. Thirdly, how you esteem them. Your attitude – what is going on between your ears – matters more than you might think. It helps to have an attitude of: “I take joy in your very existence”. Thoughts like this leak out in a way that affirms their being. It conveys to them that you see them, hear them and know them. You can affirm their doing by appreciating their accomplishments. However, remember that their doing neither adds to nor diminishes their inherent worth. Nonetheless, it needs to be noticed and encouraged. You also can help by correcting them so they can improve their doing. Teens need to correct their doing for growth and capability. Provide corrections in a supportive manner. Making mistakes is part of the growth process. This is where it really pays off to have made a distinction between their being and doing. It helps to make praise as specific as criticism.

It is also important to be aware of how serious depressive illness can be for teenagers. Depression is an illness, not a weakness. More than just feeling down in the dumps, it is pervasive, intense and attacks the mind and body at the same time. It differs from stress and sadness in that it is associated with an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that control mood, sleep and appetite.

When people think of depression, what often comes to mind is sadness, tears and a sense of being constantly burdened. However, two often overlooked signs of depression; especially in teenagers; are irritability and agitation. Because low energy and impaired concentration get in the way of completing tasks and follow through on projects, depression can interfere with work, school, friends/family life and responsibilities. Changes in energy, sleep pattern and appetite can be a warning sign. Concentration, decision making and organizational skills deteriorate. Memory suffers; even someone with a good memory has trouble recalling information, particularly if it was recently learned. Quite a liability for a high school student. Not only is thought process altered by depression, but thought content is changed as well. Suddenly, the world is seen through gloomy glasses. They feel like a loser, in an unfair world, dreading a miserable future.

Each of these changes … physical, emotional and social … chips away at a teenager’s sense of well being.

Be aware of the signs of suicide. While some signs of suicidality are obvious (like a person saying they want to die), other signs may be more subtle. Giving away valued possessions, preparing a will, or making amends. Knowing someone who has committed suicide increases the likelihood as does a family history of severe depression or suicide. Usually it is not so much that the depressed person wants to die. They just want the pain to end, and they have trouble seeing other paths out of the misery.

If a teenager talks about suicide, take it seriously. Most who commit suicide are not in treatment at the time of their death. Often with treatment, suicidal thoughts will disappear.

While miserable, the good news is that depression is very treatable. The causes of depression are varied and include biochemistry, environmental, behavioral, emotional and social components. So, the approach to recovery needs to be multi-faceted as well.

One way therapy tries to break the cycle of distress is at the point of thought. Another place to try and break the cycle is through behavior.

When teens try to control things they can’t, they tend to become angry or anxious when they realize things aren’t happening in the way they want. Perhaps trying to get their parents to put in a swimming pool, buy a cabin, and a fancy sports car … like everybody else. They may also take responsibility for things outside their control. Perhaps needing for everybody to like them all the time. This adds to their distress.

Relaxation strategies help decrease anxiety and get out of the limbic system brain function of fight/flight/freeze, so frontal lobe thinking can happen.

Another therapeutic component is to ensure basic emotional needs are being met. These needs include having a source of nurturing and affirmation; a place to belong and have a sense of connection and being a part of something; a sense of making a meaningful contribution; a way to have success experiences and a sense of competency.

We can also take a look at the way the teen is relating to others … family, school, friends … intervention here can play a role in breaking the cycle.

Some parts of therapy are extremely pragmatic and focus on problem solving – helping the teen think; “Here’s where I am, here’s my goal, is what I am doing heading me in the right direction? If not, what can I do to get pointed in the right direction and unstuck?”

As you aim to be present to, support, care for and offer guidance to the teens in your life, remember that you are human, imperfect and fallible. The human condition is messy. We could stray off the path, and may make bad calls. To keep moving ahead, it helps to debrief after a mistake so we learn from it and don’t fall into despair.

What was I thinking when I did this? What did I expect to happen? What exactly went wrong? How did my mistake affect people around me? What can I do now to repair this mistake? If I’m ever in this situation again, what will I do differently? What have I learned? This is an important attitude for us to have about ourselves, as well as an important attitude to have toward our teens. Again, teens will pick this up by watching how we treat ourselves, our peers, our spouses, and them. Being able to accept ourselves as imperfect … albeit well meaning … humans … is one of the most lofty and productive goals to be sought during these brief, guiding, enforcing, and care giving years. The teenagers in your life don’t need you to be perfect … because, as human beings, they themselves will never be perfect either.

You help them when you model for them how to make the most of their strengths, come to grips with their limitations, and manage their humanness to become the best they can be.

by Catherine Mollner

Family of Origin Workshops or Bottom Up Trauma Work by Jan Bergstrom, LMHC

Every year on a regular basis I conduct family of origin workshops called “Healing Our Core Issues”. They investigate the origins of adult dysfunctional behaviors. These workshops are based on the empowering work of Pia Mellody.

During this dynamic educational and experiential process, participants learn to identify and address those early childhood issues, which have fueled various addictions, depression, eating disorders and painful relationships. The program is not about blaming caregivers; it is about getting in touch with the feelings that follow any less-than-nurturing event that occurred in the past, and resolving the consequential grief and anguish. The “Healing Our Core Issues” Workshop in separated into four phases:

Informational Phase – during this phase, participants will learn about the two forms of trauma: Abandonment and neglect, which is a parent being too far away or enmeshment, a parent being too close. Participants discover what kind and to what degree of trauma they got, and how it shows up today. Participants will begin to understand the relationship between the child and the adult as perceived by the child.

Debriefing Phase – This phase consists of delving into the past and recollecting less-than-nurturing and/or abusive childhood experiences and identifying associated thinking and feelings.

Experiential Phase – In this phase, participants will re-experience childhood in a safe and nurturing environment. They will release painful emotions and begin to reclaim their rights and personal power through Inner Child and Feelings Reduction work.

Ongoing Recovery and Empowerment Strategies – Lastly participants will receive a set of strategies, tools, and resources to make permanent these empowering principles in their daily lives.

This workshop ultimately assists the client in being able to live more fully from their functional adult self. Most clients are aware that without some therapy or intensive work, they struggle and slide into “trauma reactions” in their interactions. Through the education and three experiential processes during the workshop, they work toward the goal of”having their own back” and being empowered.

In reviewing their childhood, then accepting and speaking the truth of what occurred they make an adult to child connection, by meeting the needs of the younger parts that are wounded during childhood. This essentially is a process of re-parenting them. Finally they work to protect and stand up for their childhood parts and step fully into functional adult by learning to care for self, advocate for self, shedding emotions and beliefs that no longer work.

The Importance of Couples Boundary Work by Jan Bergstrom, LMHC

When a couple initially comes to see me for a 2-hour intake session, I have already asked them each to fill out my intake form. I study their intake sheets and am prepared with many questions. I ask each partner how they see their relationship and to give me specific examples of the presenting problem. I spend about 40 minutes with each one on how they see the relationship with the other partner present. I then formulate their “dance” or the pattern in which they communicate. Some couples experience this pattern as a vicious cycle that keeps them stuck in relationship, which results in building walls, distance, loneliness and frustration. In my work with couples, they get a clearer understanding of the old learned behaviors from their family of origin and how these patterns keep them stuck. Then, I teach ways to find new behaviors that create more satisfaction and intimacy in their relationship. Ultimately through this practice, couples make choices to move from habitual behaviors (relational patterns from past) to new learned and healthy functional behaviors. The relationship grows to become more about mutual sharing and intimacy and away from a vicious alienating cycle.

There are times when this “top down” approach to couples work is not enough. The couple keeps sliding back to the old patterns of behaving. I may then recommend that some “bottom up” work needs to happen. As I mentioned on the treatment page for individuals, this is more experiential and investigates the beginnings of family of origin trauma. I usually recommend that each individual of the couple do an “intensive” workshop to help create awareness and growth through an experiential process of treatment. This workshop is “Healing Our Core Issues”. I conduct separate workshops for men and for women in my private practice on a regular basis. Please see my page on workshops for further information. If these historical patterns or woundings are not addressed, they keep persistently erupting in a couple’s communication.

Using these, methodologies with couples create positive changes within 4-6 months. Couples start experiencing more connection in the relationship through the practice of using healthy boundaries and learning new skills. These therapies are unique and extraordinarily effective. After a couple of months, much of the couples work revolves around using their speaking and listening boundaries. This method of communication takes practice so that there is only one speaker and one listener at any one time. Through effective use of internal boundaries, the communication gets clearer, effective and authentic which creates truth and intimacy in their relationship.

I do offer Couples Boundary workshops in my private practice. Couples learn effective ground rules to achieve and sustain true intimacy, attain self-esteem and emotional stability, understand their strengths and limitations and acquire concrete tools for building healthy relationships.

Your ability to be relational lies in your ability stay relational in the face of someone else’s disconnection. — Pia Mellody

Working Pia Mellody’s Model of Co-dependence with Individuals by Jan Bergstrom, LMHC

When an individual comes to see me, I work with them to map out and understand their family of origin experience. The purpose of reviewing what happened is NOT to stay in the past, however to understand how those patterns or woundings show up in their present life and relationships. I use Pia Mellody’s model of working with co-dependence that looks at these states of immaturity in one of the five areas: Self Esteem (how were they valued), Boundaries (how were they protected physically and emotionally), Reality (how they were validated in their sense of self), Self Care and Interdependence (how they had their needs met or not), and Moderation (how limits were set and enforced in the family). Everyone has damage in one if not all of these areas growing up.

After debriefing the client on how they adapted in their family of origin, the educating process begins. Teaching the Five Core Self Skills of loving the self, protecting the self (through use of internal boundaries), creating and knowing the self, taking care of the self interdependently, and containing and moderating the self, creates a foundational base that supports healing, growth and renewal.

In addition, another essential part of this process is to begin to understand how “parts of selves” were created to survive their family system. These parts of selves are wounded and adapted and these states show up in their adult lives currently. So the process of therapy begins by cultivating a more functional self to intervene with these states or re-parent them. Strengthening and growing a functional adult self is essential for successful relationships

Eventually through this process of therapy, clients realize that being healthy and relational is nothing you have, it is what you “do”. Living life fully and intimately comes from a commitment to this daily practice. This kind of mindful awareness and action results in more satisfaction, joy in one’s life, and encourages each individual to incorporate a “practice”.

Sometimes it is necessary for bottom up work, when cognitive understanding of one’s family of origin trauma is not sufficient to create change and healing. I recommend that client’s do an “intensive” workshop to help create awareness and growth through an experiential process of treatment. This workshop is “Healing Our Core Issues”. I conduct this workshop in my private practice on a regular basis.