The Hold Me Tight Weekend Workshop for Couples is based on practices drawn from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), attachment theory, and Sue Johnson’s best-selling book, Hold Me Tight.
The workshop is designed around seven conversations that have been shown to be essential to successful relationships. Relationships can be a cause of stress and pain or a source of comfort and joy. Couples will learn how to understand and improve their relationships via presentations, private exercises, conversations with relationship partners, and by watching video demonstrations.
By utilizing exercises drawn from EFT, Lee Ockenden and Carmen Isais help couples learn how to deal with their feelings together, reach towards each other, be responsive in more loving and positive ways, and move from isolation and frustration to security, emotional safety, and lasting relationship satisfaction. The Hold Me Tight Workshop welcomes all couples.
Recommended reading: Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight; Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
What to Expect
Identify and Address stuck patterns
Break negative cycles that damage and hurt
Make sense of your own emotions
Repair and forgive emotional injuries from the past
Deepen your emotional, physical and sexual connection
Communicate to develop deeper understanding and closeness
When & Where
Begins Friday evening
May 20th-22nd, 2016 in Downtown Davis, California
It is very common for couples to contact me and, in our first conversation prior to an appointment, ask for help in these areas:
Communication ‘Tools’ or ‘Skills’
Intimacy Issues and…last but not least….
”I’m pretty sure my husband is a Narcissist”
One might think that all of these issues are varied and drastically different from one another. What might ‘anger’ issues have to do with ‘infidelity’”? What does ‘communication’ have to do with ‘parenting’ or ‘intimacy’ issues? Actually, this is where therapy becomes therapy vs. communication coaching or teaching.
Follow me here……I can teach you communication skills, I can provide you models for effective parenting, I can provide you with self-soothing/de-escalation skills to interrupt patterns of impulse and anger, we can even identify blocks to vulnerability or access to one’s own emotional responses, and, there is tremendous initial value and insight by acquiring these skill sets….this is important stuff for sure.
However, these are what I deem to be behavioral changes vs authentic changes. Have you ever heard of, or known a ‘dry drunk’ (excuse my slang)? This is person who has changed their maladaptive behavior (alcohol = bad idea) for a less damaging behavior (sober = better idea)…but what about the reason the person drank, or had the affair or was a rigid parent or was prone to rage in the first place? Changing behavior may not change the underlying dynamic…at all. Dry drunks are difficult by nature, a person who has had an affair and stops is no less prone to a relapse than a person refraining from alcohol…..unless underlying issues are addressed.
Behavioral changes are only part of the process. They are put in place to prevent more damage from occurring to the relationship, and, ‘they’ are in no way the fruition of a couple’s journey towards true partnering for life.
What all of these issues in fact have in common is, how we are attached or bonded, to others and ourselves. At the core of us all we have experienced some loss or disconnect in our primary attachments very early in life. Having had firm attachments to a healthy primary care giver, we are able to develop a strong sense of self and maintain that self even in the deepest of relationships. When we have experienced poor attachment or bonding, or, when we have had a strong bond to a primary caregiver with a strong deficit, we develop our own deficits in our ability to access our self. It is from these broken attachments (which literally we all have to some extent) we can cause problems in our relationships. In Susan Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight, she describes healing these attachments to one’s partner and within one’s self as the basis of the most effective approach to couples counseling to date.
As a couples therapist for over 16 years, this model has been extremely complementary to the work I do with couples. This level of work with couples is profound. Each partner is able to see how their own woundedness is working them from the inside-out, affecting perception of their partner, keeping them stuck in a cycle but not understanding exactly what the cycle is, how it starts or how to interrupt it.
As a couples therapist, I will often meet with partners individually, early on, to get a separate assessment of their current perception(s), a sense of their strengths in problem solving and communication, where blind spots might be and, family/relationship history. This more progressive/aggressive approach to treatment is a departure from traditional couples counseling. However, I have yet to work with a couple who has not appreciated this part of the process, and, benefited from it.
The direct benefit to the client is really being heard, without judgement, knee-jerk reactions, making a big plan right away or, taking either side. How it makes the process more efficient is by providing me clearer insight into isolating who is contributing what to the overall dynamic. And when I say ‘efficient’ I mean it saves everyone time, money and allows us to get traction in doing the individual work necessary in closing the distance between partners.
Throughout the course of a successful marriage or long-term commitment, the two people in the relationship may shift in and out of various roles. For example, one person in the couple may support the other person going back to school. In order to do this, he or she steps into a supporting role, setting aside certain goals or aspirations in order to provide a stable base from which his or her partner can launch in a new direction. There are many gifts of learning inherent in this role—from having the opportunity to embody a nurturing stance to feeling the pleasure of seeing a loved one thrive. When our partner expands his or her horizons, ours expand, too, and we gain access to a world that would otherwise remain closed to us.
However, there is also much to be said for having a turn to be the one stepping outside the box, perhaps taking time to attend to our personal healing, spiritual pursuits, or other interests. In order to maintain balance within our relationships, it’s important that we address these issues each time one person steps into a supporting role so the other can try something new. When we are conscious about acknowledging that one person is bearing a bit more of a burden so that the other can grow, we stand a better chance of making sure the ebb and flow in the relationship remains fair and equal.
The most important part of this process is open communication in which each person has a chance to express how they feel and come to an understanding about the roles they have agreed to play and when they expect them to shift. Each time a dynamic shift occurs, a ceremony of acknowledgment can lend an air of distinction to the moment. This can be a simple dinner date or an elaborate ritual, depending upon what works best for us at the time. Perhaps the most important thing is expressing gratitude to the person in the supporting role and encouragement to the person moving in a new direction. When the flow of feeling and communication is open, a healthy closeness develops that allows each person in the relationship to have a turn at each of these important roles.
Lee Ockenden, M.A. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Davis, California, working with couples, families, individuals and adolescents. Lee has been in practice as a psychotherapist for 11 years. Lee is also the Assistant Director of Behavioral Medicine at the Institute for Restorative Health(4irh.com) in Davis.
“Using a direct and empathetic approach, I believe the best therapy is collaborative and respectful—fostering empowerment and growth. Unlike traditional therapy, by accessing an individuals own intrinsic source of understanding and healing, new perspectives emerge allowing for change to occur through choice.>
“Working with couples is an emmense privilege. Regardless of ‘their’ history, resolving resentments and creating opportunities for intimacy allows for choice and growth towards trust to emmerge.
On Anxiety/ Depression and Trauma:
“The field of psychology has grown so much in the last 20 years. We have access to methods to facilitate healing at a rate that is sometimes astonishing…even for the facilitator. Both EMDR and Neurobehavioral Programs are effective, non-invasive and gentle for the client.”
Who we are and how we relate to the world and others is dictated by the meaning we give to our past. But if we choose to find the purpose in our experiences instead of the pain, we find new resources, giving us the catalyst to change, grow, heal and pursue the life we desire and deserve.
Traditional therapy was founded in psychoanalysis with the assumption that an individual’s growth and change process was hinged on gaining insight and into their behavioral patterns by processing, free-associating and reflecting on their past. Inside this traditional “treatment culture,” it is not uncommon for a client stay in treatment long periods of time, lasting anywhere from three to seven years or more, including multiple sessions per week.
I believe that traditional therapy can foster dependency and create barriers for lasting change. I often hear from new patients who have been to therapy for many years that they felt their last therapist(s) were too passive. Rather than embracing a “backward looking—coping” approach, I embrace a “forward looking—thriving” approach by focusing on resolving barriers to change, identifying solutions and creating choices. This approach, inside a safe supportive and consistent counseling environment, encourages clients to use their own innate resources to heal.
In addition, I am also clear that my clients will ultimately find their support and accountability through their partner, family or community and I encourage my clients to create a healthy support system outside the office.
PTSD is the acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and refers to a cluster of symptoms that result from a past trauma. But what’s a trauma?. Trauma refers to a psychological or emotional imprint that occurs when an event or series events threatens our sense of safety or well-being to the extent that our minds react to protect us from any further exposure.
In order to protect ourselves until we are either healthy enough or supported well enough to address issues from the past, sometimes, our experience or memory of a traumatizing event can be compartmentalized or stored away. PTSD can be diagnosed as soon as 30 days after an event or as long as 30 years or more after an event. The good news is that the healing process can begin at any time.
Trauma survivors often complain of recurring nightmares, sudden tearfulness, flashbacks, aversions to places or people and even somatic/physical discomforts. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), is a technology created about 20 years ago by Francine Shapiro, PhD. EMDR involves systematically bringing highly charged images/experiences to the conscious self without hypnosis where they can be rationally dealt with and resolved into normal memory. This process is rapid and is noted in psychology journals as the most effective treatment available for PTSD.
One of my many reasons for working with individuals with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and PTSD is that they all carry a very good prognosis. Meaning that, when treated properly, we can expect positive results and we can expect them to last.
When I hear of someone or meet someone who has suffered from long-term generalized anxiety or Panic Attacks I feel a sense of urgency to make changes early on. There is simply no reason why a person should suffer with either of these debilitating clusters of symptoms.
Anxiety and Panic are expressions of a problem at a deeper level. Much like pain in the body, anxiety is a signal that something needs to change. Part of the work is discovering what change needs to occur, part of the work is finding behaviors to manage, reduce or eliminate the attacks/anxiety and part of the work is trusting the change that occurs over the long run.
That being said, treatment approaches can involve emotional, behavioral, environmental, familial and spiritual aspects of a person’s life. While the work to minimize the suffering is primary, the secondary changes that occur in this exploration enrich every aspect a persons’ life.
I work with individuals with problems with anxiety, PTSD, trauma as well as with couples and adolescents.
Anxiety is one of the most common and debilitating issues on the planet. Anti-anxiety medication is a multi-billion dollar industry and appears to be epidemic partly due to cultural issues as well as personal/experiential issues.
The intervention list for Anxiety is extensive. Treatment can include medications from the SSRI class or benzodiazepine class. The former manipulates the chemical and electrical impulses of the brain, the latter have both a sedative and addictive quality. When in crisis, or, when indicated in working in treatment with severe traumatic history or PTSD, both of these classes of medication have their respective place. They can provide a behavioral window of opportunity to allow treatment to occur while resolving highly charged memories or triggers.
There are also many non-medical interventions of which I will name a few; yoga, meditation/mindfulness practice, T’ai Chi, vigorous exercise, life-management, boundaries work, nutritional and homeopathic approaches and the list goes…….
In my experience the most effective interventions are the simplest and the most mobile. While we have no certainty how one medication will work for us based on our own chemistry, and we don’t all have the time or the funds to access a yoga studio or a Naturopathic physician….we all have our breath.
Our breathing patterns are our first physiological response to a perceived threat in our environment. A hastening amount of oxygen coming into our lungs causes a cascade of changes in the body i.e. increased heart rate, a change in our perception of our self and our environment as well as hormonal and adrenal surges.
By learning simple and brief breathing techniques we can prevent and/or intervene and ‘short-circuit’ an episode of anxiety and Panic Attacks as well. Regular practice can immediately reduce the overall level of anxiety in your life as well as increase a sense of peace and groundedness.
While learning these skills will be invaluable, they may be the first step in resolving the root cause of the anxiety/panic attack. If this is the case for you, please seek professional help. Anxiety, panic attacks, trauma and PTSD all have a very good prognosis if treated correctly.
I work with Anxiety, Panic Attacks/Trauma/PTSD, couples and adolescents. Please see my ‘About Lee’ page.
Those of us on the path of personal and spiritual growth have a tendency to analyze our unhappiness in order to find the causes and make improvements. But it is just as important, if not more so, to analyze our happiness. Since we have the ability to rise above and observe our emotions, we can recognize when we are feeling joyful and content. Then we can harness the power of the moment by savoring our feelings and taking time to be grateful for them.
Recognition is the first step in creating change, therefore recognizing what it feels like to be happy is the first step toward sustaining happiness in our lives. We can examine how joy feels in our bodies and what thoughts run through our minds in times of bliss. Without diminishing its power, we can retrace our steps to discover what may have put us in this frame of mind, and then we can take note of the choices we’ve made while there. We might realize that we are generally more giving and forgiving when there’s a smile on our face, or that we are more likely to laugh off small annoyances and the actions of others when they don’t resonate with our light mood.
Once we know what it feels like and can identify some of the triggers and are aware of our actions, we can recreate that happiness when we are feeling low. Knowing that like attracts like, we can pull ourselves out of a blue mood by focusing on joy. We might find that forcing ourselves to be giving and forgiving, even when it doesn’t seem to come naturally, helps us to reconnect with the joy that usually precedes it. If we can identify a song, a picture, or a pet as a happiness trigger, we can use them as tools to recapture joy if we are having trouble finding it. By focusing our energy on analyzing happiness and all that it encompasses, we feed, nurture, and attract more of it into our lives, eventually making a habit of happiness.