Happy February to you all! This month we will continue focusing on holistic therapy and stress management. We will look at different forms of therapy such as individual therapy, young adult therapy, couples therapy, and something of vital importance for all our relationships: communication.
Communication appears in all therapies across the board as both a source of problems or as a solution to them. In all therapies, including holistic therapy, a major add-on to most problems, whether it be in individual therapy, young adult therapy, or couples therapy is stress. This stress can intensify the symptoms that bring people to therapy in the first place, especially in the forms of holistic therapy. We don’t just focus on a single cause, symptom, or problem, we look at the system of problems presented and the effects of these problems on all areas of life. This means stress management becomes vital in therapy and when acknowledged, can become part of the whole and what makes holistic therapy ‘holistic.’
Again and again in regards to stress, regardless of what the presenting problem is, I find individuals in need of stress management. We cannot truly enter therapy if we are living in our primal brain, in the fight, flight, or freeze with constant high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. We need to reduce stress to a level where rational, cognitive, and emotional states can be integrated when we are not under the influence of primal stress hormones. We all need and can benefit from stress management.
Whether it be individual therapy, young adult therapy, or couples therapy, without addressing the stressors in our lives, we cannot make the most out of therapy. On top of that, we have many who come to therapy because of stressful jobs, stressful relationships, stressful life experiences, the stress of social distancing and social isolation, burnout, and the list goes on. This is why addressing stress and its sources are so vital for making therapy truly holistic therapy. Again, we cannot divorce stress management from other aspects of our therapy and our lives.
I find that one of the greatest sources of stress can often stem from communication or miscommunication. This can result in negative communication, lack of communication, fear of communicating to superiors, not bothering to communicate needs to partners, failing to communicate boundaries to children, or failing to communicate with ourselves. Additionally, we may fail to listen to the communications from our own sense of our body, our intuitions, our “gut” brain, our dreams, our symptoms, our unconscious actions.
All holistic therapies address children, parents, young adults, and couples. In some ways, individual therapy is also a form of systems therapy. In this sense, individual therapy becomes couples therapy, or children’s therapy, or young adult therapy, even when there is only one person in the room. This occurs because the client seeks to COMMUNICATE to the therapist one’s present internal strife, one’s experiences in childhood, adolescence, and in romantic relationships.
In fact, therapy only works through COMMUNICATION. It is a communication-cure. That is why it was initially called the “talking cure.” Curing oneself through speech and hearing oneself speak to one’s therapist and hearing the therapist speak back to oneself.
How we talk to ourselves and how we communicate can increase or decrease our stress levels. We are responsible for how, what, and to whom we speak. There is self-responsibility in stress management.
Because February is the month of “love” and the month of St. Valentine’s Day, I will offer you a method of stress reduction in your communication, in the form of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” developed by famed couples therapy experts: The Gottman’s and their method (The Gottman Method). These four horsemen are what destroy relationships through speech and relating. If we can become aware of how we use them and how not to use these aspects of unhealthy communication, we can begin to increase positive and relational strengthening methods of speech in our love relationships and our relationships with others. This month, let’s experiment with NOT using these destructive aspects of communication to increase our relational health and also as a means of stress management within relationships.
Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
- Criticism: of another’s character or personality. Different from the critique of another’s actions. Ex: “You are so lazy” vs “I know you don’t like doing this for me but it would be helpful if you could…”
- Contempt: meanness through disrespect, mocking, sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling mimicking, eye-rolling, and scoffing.
- Defensiveness: typically the response to criticism. Fishing for excuses, playing innocent victim — showing our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously — that we aren’t listening.
- Stonewalling: Usually a response to contempt. Withdrawing from interaction, shutting down, stopping responding towards the other. Tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in distracting or obsessive behaviors to avoid.
Let’s change our stress in relationships by changing our communications and try to find a new way to communicate with others that do not use these detrimental strategies. We can explore more next time!