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In an old Greek myth, a host named Procrustes had a peculiar fetish for making his guests fit their bed at night. Instead of trying to “fit” a person’s needs into one school of therapy, I do my best to make sure my therapeutic approach fits a person’s needs. While my techniques are varied, my style does lean in one direction. I have a reputation among therapists for being extremely active and direct in the form of an “active advocacy”. Many clients have found themselves dissatisfied with prior therapists who have merely been passive and emotionally supportive. My style is more ambitious. The first thing I do is to help the person clarify goals and get an agreement about what we are trying to accomplish. From then on, I direct focus and energy toward whatever will be most helpful toward reaching those goals. Very often, a person’s history is relevant in understanding how certain emotions or beliefs became conditioned to their current state. However, I find that insight and understanding alone are usually insufficient to produce most emotional changes. To bring about changes in emotion or emotionally determined behavior, a well-designed plan of intervention is necessary. When I make recommendations for a course of intervention, I always explain the principles of psychology and emotion behind it.
In the course of therapy, I do a fair amount of personalized teaching. One way that I do rely on insight is to teach a person how to influence their emotions. Our emotions follow a somewhat different set of rules than ordinary behavior. Usually, we can immediately choose how we want to behave. With emotions, we can’t. Our feelings are learned in a different way than what we think of as ordinary learning. We learn to feel certain ways through either powerful or repetitive emotional experience. The technical term is called “conditioning.” My style of therapy has been influenced by my years of study of psychophysiology and how emotions are “conditioned.” My theoretical orientation incorporates Russian research on perception and conditioned reflexes as well as western research on the brain circuitry of attention, perception, emotions and learning. I have found that while our emotional conditioning can’t be immediately changed, it can be gradually altered if we learn to use the correct tools. Very effective therapists will use tools like these and people can make dramatic changes in their feelings. So the paradox is this: feelings can be changed but you just need to learn some new rules about how to influence them without trying to control them.