What is psychotherapy and counseling?

Although human beings have an innate ability to self-heal, when difficult situations arise, people often become overwhelmed and unable to access their coping skills and strengths. In addition, people sometimes simply do not have the information to understand what is happening with their feelings. Talking to family members can pose difficulty as they may be part of the problem and turning to them may only make matters seem worse. Turning only to friends may take too much of a toll on the relationship, causing you to feel more isolated. While self-help books are interesting and can help map out the nature of your feelings, for the most part, they do not relieve the distress. If you decide to work with a psychotherapist, you will get the assistance you need with the objectivity that neither family nor friends can offer.

Psychotherapy may involve work on current problems, immediate crisis, or long-term difficulties. Depending on the nature of the difficulties, the work may be short-term or long-term, and may involve working with an individual, a couple, a family or a combination of the various modalities.

Psychotherapy and counseling is:

  • An interpersonal relationship which enables you to develop understanding about yourself and to make changes in your life
  • A commitment to and an investment in yourself
  • A place where you talk, openly and honestly to, as well as use a variety of therapeutic activities with, a mental health professional who has been extensively trained in human behavior and change
  • A process that helps you to understand your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and relationships
  • A safe, confidential, non-judgmental environment where you can identify and come to terms with emotions and needs

Psychotherapy and the human brain

Having basic knowledge of the human brain is useful in understanding how and why psychotherapy can be helpful. The human brain is broadly divided into the right and left hemispheres, and the lower/middle/higher brain regions. The right hemisphere processes nonverbal, unconscious, emotional and sensory experiences immediately, transferring these information to the left hemisphere via the corpus callosum (bridge between hemispheres), to be slowly understood and analyzed consciously, verbally, cognitively and logically. The lower brain region (midbrain) processes sensory experiences which are connected to emotional expression processed in the middle region (limbic), finally being understood cognitively in the upper brain region (cortex). In order for an individual to be able to make true changes within him/herself, both the emotional right brain and verbal left brain, as well as the sensory and emotional lower regions and cognitive upper regions must be accessed. Sessions with Dr. Ohnogi will incorporate therapeutic interventions targeting the whole brain, working horizontally on both the right and left hemispheres and vertically from the bottom to top regions of the brain.

Trauma and psychotherapy

When a person experiences trauma, his/her brain is directly affected. Under normal circumstances, the human brain immediately processes experiences through senses in the lower right brain region, connecting the sensory experience to emotions and gradually processing that information cognitively in the upper left brain region. When one is in the midst of a traumatic experience, the brain automatically goes into self-preservation mode, temporarily shutting down areas of the brain that uses a lot of energy, mainly the left hemisphere and the upper region of the brain. Thus, the traumatic experience that a person has, will be processed mainly in the lower right brain region, storing the trauma as sensory and emotional memories. Once the traumatic situation is over and the brain assesses that it is no longer under threat, the upper left brain region comes back on line, however, the trauma memories are left stored in the lower right brain region. Thus, for one to be able to access these trauma memories, they would need to utilize an intervention which taps into the lower right brain region. Words and talking is processed in the upper left brain region, while play and creative activities directly accesses the lower right brain region. Thus, use of play and creative activities is invaluable when one has experienced a trauma, regardless of the age, gender or culture of that individual.

Your child’s psychotherapy and counseling

It is common for children to experience occasional problems as they grow and mature. They experience conflicts at home over such issues as toilet training, bedtime and homework. They encounter problems with parents (caregivers) and peers as they attempt to establish a personal identity and practice relating to others. They experience conflict with teachers as academic and behavioral demands increase. As a child is faced with new situations, demands and expectations, it is common for the child to experience emotional ups and downs characterized by feelings of sadness, fear and anger. These reactions tend to be short-lived, and usually do not significantly interfere with the child’s life. However, occasionally a child’s response to life’s pressures may become severe, and the parents’ attempts to help their child may be unsuccessful. At times such as these, professional assistance may be warranted. Parents (caregivers) can recognize when their child may need or benefit from psychological treatment and realize that such intervention is not in any way a sign of parental failure. Psychotherapy offers children the opportunity to identify, understand and process problems and to develop necessary coping skills. It is important to recognize that without appropriate and timely treatment, a child’s problems may become severe and lead to more serious, long-lasting difficulties. Child psychologists possess specialized knowledge and skills that enable them to identify problem behaviors and formulate appropriate interventions. A psychologist trained to work with children and families can develop individualized treatment plans appropriate to each child and family’s specific needs.

Play therapy and your child’s brain

Unlike adults, children’s natural means of self-expression and communication is through play. Their verbal capacity is still in the midst of development, the part of their brain processing language continuing to learn and grow. The younger the child, his/her predominant brain functioning is the right hemisphere and the lower and middle regions of the brain. In working through an issue, a child will benefit from treatment that is geared towards his/her lower right brain. Play, unlike words, directly stimulates and is processed by the lower/middle right brain area. Thus, utilization of play therapy in treatment with children is the most developmentally appropriate and brain changing effective modality in supporting a child deal with the various issues s/he is facing.

What about parents’ (caregiver) involvement in treatment?

Parents (caregivers) usually want to do the right thing for their children. Unfortunately, they do not always have the knowledge of effective parenting skills, especially in raising a unique needs child or a child having an out of the ordinary experience, or they may not have the tools to implement their knowledge. Parents (caregivers) also may have their own emotional difficulties and that will make it very difficult for them to fulfill the needs of their children. Parents (caregivers) are always included in the treatment process when children are the main focus of psychotherapy/counseling. They have a need to be involved and informed, and they have the right and responsibility to participate in their children’s growth and healing. Parental (caregiver) involvement is a crucial component of every child’s treatment. From the first session, parents (caregivers) are relied upon for information concerning their child’s development, behavior, relationships, and habits and they are closely consulted regarding the goals of treatment. Parents (caregivers) are partners in the treatment process and provide critical feedback regarding the effectiveness of interventions as they are developed and implemented. Children especially feel cared for, worthy, supported and special when parents (caregivers) work together as a team in helping them deal with the issue at hand. Psychotherapy also provides the opportunity to address parental (caregiver) concerns, educate parents (caregivers) regarding their child’s unique needs, and assist them in meeting these needs in an appropriate, effective fashion.

Parent (caregiver) –child attachment

The ability for a person to form relationships with other people is developed early in life. The attachment, or bond, that the child creates with their main caregiver (s) in infancy and toddlerhood, defines his/her attachment style for life. This attachment style is enhanced throughout the rest of the individual’s childhood, depending on the relationship style that s/he has with his/her main caregiver (s). If the child has created and maintained a positive relationship with his/her parents (caregivers) the child can develop a stable attachment style. This will mean that the child views him/herself as a worthy and lovable person, that others are supportive and pleasant to be with, and that the world is a safe place where one can safely explore. If the child has created and maintained a negative relationship with his/her parents, the child may develop an unstable attachment style. This will mean that the child views him/herself as an unworthy and unlovable person, that others are threatening and unpleasant to be with, and that the world is a dangerous place that one has to hide from or fight against. The attachment style that develops in childhood, is one that defines his/her style of interpersonal relationship for life. This is one of the many important life lasting things that the human brain learns through repeated interactions with his/her caregivers during childhood. Thus, creating opportunities for repeated positive interactions between child and caregiver will help the child with his/her interpersonal relationships for life.

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