Monday, June 25, 2012

Nuts and Bolts Series: The Elements of Change

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it's me. ~Author Unknown

"Can people really change"?
I invariably answer the question the same way. I believe everyone has the ability to change and grow under the ideal circumstance and with the right approach.

My philosophy and approach to therapy is a practical one, in which the client and therapist partner together to identify strengths, clarify goals, and develop a plan to achieve those goals. Therapy is not something that is administered, the way a medical doctor administers a medicine. It is a journey that one undertakes, a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness that cannot be rivaled. Understanding yourself, and engaging in self-examination, can be one of the most rewarding, and also scariest, tasks of your life. But, as poet Robert Frost states in his work A Servant to Servant "The best way out is always through" - you must take an honest look inside yourself to move forward.

So, what are the elements of change? Obviously these vary from person to person, but we can look at them in three main categories:  Insight, Motivation, and a Tour Guide. Let's look at these one by one:


In my therapy practice, I often hear a common theme, "My life isn't working", "I am not happy", "I am stuck".  One of the firsts tasks in therapy is to find out what's wrong, what works well, and to begin to  identify goals of therapy.  Insight is a key component of this process. Insight is understanding the specific cause of impact of a certain situation or behavior. For example, a person with low self-esteem may realize that they feel poorly about themselves because they were always put down by a parent. This past hurt has carried over into their feelings and beliefs about themselves in the present day.   Understanding this process is the first step at improving the way we feel about ourselves, and the first step in the journey of changing our lives.


Motivation is the desire or interest in doing something. Without motivation, we would not get out of bed, go to work or accomplish our goals. The motivation to change and grow is an important key to therapy. I often hear clients discuss their problems, without real motivation to change. Change is hard, it often hurts, and it's work every bit of the pain to becoming the person you want to be. Patients sometimes realize they have negative patterns or habits in their lives, or they have past hurts they need to heal, but the lack the commitment and motivation to attend therapy sessions or do the hard work that entails.  This is similar to enrolling in a class, but not doing any of the work, and having poor attendance to boot! You won't get your money's worth and certainly won't learn as much as you want.

Tour Guide (aka Psychologist)

The last component to lasting change is someone who has the skills, expertise, compassion and training to serve as your guide in this process. Like the Sherpa who guides the mountain climber at the highest reaches of the Himalayas, the Psychologists uses their knowledge, education, training and intuition to help clients unlock their hidden potential and guides them in solving their life's mysteries.

Different mental health professional have different levels of education, training and experience. Psychologists are often doctoral level professionals, and have the highest level of education and training, often with an internship and research experience. In addition, psychologists have the experience and training to do psychological assessment and testing, such as IQ testing. Other mental health workers, such as licensed social workers, or licensed professional counselors, have a Master's degree and have supervised experience in counseling. Other non licensed professional act as life coaches or executive coaches and often have a certificate and training in coaching.

If you are interested in the exciting process of therapy and self awareness, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!!!

Michelle Herrigel is a licensed psychologists in Northeast PA, serving adolescents, adults and families with a variety of concerns. She currently practices therapy in her Mountainhome, PA office. For more info, or to schedule an appointment, please see her contact info by viewing her profile or contact her at

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies. ~Author Unknown

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nuts and Bolts Series: The Common Sense in Family Therapy

There is an old saying that "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree". When you really think about that, it makes a lot of sense that who we ARE largely depends on those who raised us, for better or worse.  As a psychologist, I am often surprised at how many people try to change themselves, or their children, without taking that one fact into account: We are a product of both our genetics and our environment (Nature vs. nurture).  You can't change who your family is, but you can certainly improve those strained family relationships and create a more peaceful and harmonious environment in the home. 

This blog will briefly outline the nuts and bolts of family therapy and explain what you can expect when you schedule your first appointment with the psychologist.

I have experienced many intakes where parents have the same request:  "Fix my kid".  But what most adults fail to realize, is that "fixing" a child is a much more monumental task than simply having their child in the office, or setting up a star chart on the wall. Insomuch as the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, there is another, equally important premise, that "it takes a village to raise a child".

Each member of the family plays an important and influential role in the development of the child, and the interplay between family members is often the most telling benchmark of the functioning of the entire family.   I have often found that after months of therapy I can have just one family session and learn more about that person and the situation in the ONE SESSION with other family members.

Family therapy, is a very powerful, and often complex, form of counseling that includes all members of the family in the session to view the issue that's brought them in for treatment, from many completely different angles.  The first task of the psychologist is to understand each of these viewpoints, and work to help each member of the family come to a place of better understanding, improved communication, and increased tolerance.

Families seek help from a psychologist for many reasons - a traumatic event such as a family loss or illness, addiction issues within a specific family member, behavioral challenges or even simple communication difficulties. No matter the type or size of the problem, family strife and conflict is both stressful and anxiety-provoking. Here are some quick facts about family therapy to help you get started:

1.  Family therapy is often short term. Most treatments last less than six months.

2. Family therapy is often focused on family relationships or communication patterns within the family. Poor communication is like faulty wiring in your wall.  At best, it can cause crossed signals, at worst it can cause a blow up or fire. Therapy can help sort out these patterns and improve communication habits in the family.

3. At times, individual family members will participate in their own therapy to address concerns specific to them.

4. Family therapy sessions can last around 60 to 90 minutes, depending upon your family's specific situation and issues presented to the psychologist.

5.  The family will set goals and learn to meet specific challenges through this experience. Your family will learn new ways to interact and understand each other to overcome unhealthy or damaging patterns of relating to each other.

6.  Family therapy will focus on finding the family's strengths to build a strong foundation for addressing problems and crisis situations.

7. The psychologist will create a safe environment in which family members can express their feelings and work out issues. Ground rules will be set from the first session.

It's important to realize that therapy should not be entered into lightly. It's hard work, but well worth the effort. All therapy involves an honest exploration of yourself, and family therapy is no exception. If you are struggling with family concerns, or believe that your family could benefit from therapy, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!

Michelle Herrigel is a licensed psychologists in Northeast PA, serving adolescents, adults and families with a variety of concerns. She currently practices therapy in her Mountainhome, PA office. For more info, or to schedule an appointment, please see her contact info by viewing her profile or contact her at


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