Monday, September 22, 2008

Treatment Considerations and a Case Study

This is my first day "on the blog," so I am giving treatment considerations and a case study in lieu of advice. This will not be my usual format, but an opportunity to see how I approach one on one therapy.

Life in this modern world zips by. We are in a fast-paced society that is fueled by impulsively and the need for immediate gratification. To compliment this facet of society, professional and self-help must be geared for a quick solution to a presenting problem.

In the realm of psychotherapy, long gone are the days of an elaborate clinical course utilizing psychoanalytic techniques. The recline on the couch and the reciting of childhood memories have been outmoded due to the restrictions of managed health care, the time constraints and personal demands of the client.

Solution-focused therapy holds the belief that the client has already done allot of deliberate internalizing regarding "the problem." When they present to a therapist, assuming they are fairly high functioning, the process of solving the problem is already well underway. It is the therapist's job to identify the stumbling blocks, obstacles or where the client got stuck in trying to resolve their issues along the way. The therapist may present some ideas to overcome these obstacles that were not previously considered by the client. He/she may propose ways to alter or "tweak" approaches that have already been attempted.

It would be easy but ineffective to mechanize therapy and categorize presenting problems and create pat answers and solutions for those in need. This is where adept and advanced listening skills come into play. The active listener will absorb the details and nuances of the situation and be able to hypothetically place themselves in the clients’s realm while having an appreciation of their background, personality, demeanor and deficits and attributes. I call this ability "Individualizing," the ability to immerse one's self into the present day challenges of the client with an appreciation of their past experience, present dilemma and future aspirations and dreams. I suppose a frivolous analogy could be made with the sci-fi "mind melding" fantasy. This treatment approach is selfless, time consuming and requires a tremendous amount of energy. But I would argue that is the only way to be an effective behavioral counselor. The complicated problem solving process can not take place without these devote approaches to therapy.

A case study:

Korrina was a 35 year old divorced female. She had 2 children and was in skilled trades. She presented as anxious and depressed. She stated she was in a "committed" relationship of almost 2 years. She complained that the relationship was not going anywhere. The commitment she spoke of was very arbitrary and ill defined. Her partner often referred to his own personal freedom as a means to avoid any obligation or emotional support to her. When she would make the subtlest of demands from him, he would castigate and demean her. He felt that she was always trying to pin him down and their weekend plans were often not settled until a day or 2 before they got together.

She realized that they wanted 2 completely different things in this relationship. She had tried to leave him a couple times, but a physical attachment had been formed and the idea of "starting all over again," seemed difficult. The idea of finding someone accepting of her and her preadolescent children, her past failed relationships and her busy work schedule made dumping her self-absorbed friend and finding the "right one" seem like an impossible task. She knew the current relationship was unhealthy to the point of fueling her anxiety and depression, but the physical attachment to her current partner and the belief that she was not "good enough," based on her past failed relationships kept her from moving on.

Korrina was at that immobilized or "stuck" point I referred to earlier. She was an intelligent, emotionally mature woman and had tried to change her life for the better in the past. As her therapist I had to identify the hurdles she had to overcome to solve her problem. It was also my task to identify what assets she had to overcome these obstacles and give her the confidence to operationalize the agents of change.

She had got as far as realizing the poor quality of her relationship and attempting to break things off. The obstacles were her perceived physical and emotional attachment and the belief that she wasn't capable or didn't "deserve" a healthy relationship.

One quick revelation I gave to her was how intertwined these 2 obstacles were. She had been programmed by her current partner to believe that she was inadequate to obtain the closeness she longed for in a relationship. In convincing her of these inadequacies she felt more and more dependent on him. Her physical dependence was not formed from admiration and genuine affection but the irrational belief that she was destined to be in a relationship where her partner was aloof and uncaring. She may have loved him, but for all of the wrong reasons.

The disappointment of her divorce and subsequent failed relationships had made her lose sight of what a healthy relationship was and discard the belief they could exist. I gave her examples of healthy relationship and encouraged her to describe some couples she personally knew who had been happy a long time. We kicked around what made them successful relationships. She began to appreciate that although there may be no prince charming or perfect man for her as she may have expected from a developmental, adolescent schema she had developed, there were healthy relationships out there.

The next task was getting her to refute the demeaning observations that her partner had made to her. He was trying to program her in such a way to keep her under his thumb. Without being flattering or flirtatious I contested his observations about her personality and appearance and help invigorate her self-esteem. I pointed to many of her outstanding personal qualities.

The identification of these personal strengths signaled the next phase of therapy. She was professionally employed in trades, committed to family life and of strong Christian faith. Her ability to love her children and God made an easy transition to self-love and a renewed confidence.

She had tried dating sites in the past, ones geared towards the general population and Christian oriented ones. She had always give them a half-hearted try because the thought of returning to the unhealthy relationship was always there and seemed like an easy way out. And the notion that she was truly in love. This obstacle was now removed due to the recent appreciation of how badly she had been treated, the realization that there was something better out there for her and her more positive self-concept. She began a more vigorous approach to Internet dating. More important she realized the value of her beliefs and children and gleaned the support of church and family. She had become more content, happy for who she was and not beholden to anyone.

After sometime dating several men she found someone who fit her values and beliefs and is fortunate enough to feel the genuine benefits of having someone whom is loving, considerate and caring and appreciates that she gives him all of these things in return. A happy ending.

To review the course of treatment and to try to step-by-step a very personalized process: 1) An identification of "the problem (in the context of the client's personal experience)," and where the client was at in terms of already solving that problem. 2) Specifically pinpointing the obstacles that were cause for the client to fall short of bettering her life. 3) The refuting of irrational beliefs, cognitive errors and long-held schema that were cause for emotional and mental paralysis and 4) The operalization of the client's strengths and assets in overcoming the pinpointed obstacles.

This is an example my approach to therapy. I am eclectic enough to use any modern treatment approach for the betterment of the client. In this case study, short-term, solution focused, cognitive-behavioral and strengths/asset based therapy were the recipe for my client’s betterment. May I leave you with a poem by Bessie Stanley:


To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

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