Stephen J. Cummings, PhD
Clinical Psychologist

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


 



PSYCHOTHERAPY
In order to come to a psychotherapist, you seek clarity from confusion, release from ambivalence, and a sense of choice and freedom in the midst of depression. The rhythm and pace of change is difficult to predict. If you stick with the process over a long enough period of time, some real changes can actually occur.

A problem arises when the person who becomes a client encounters resistance to changing the very things that clearly cause unhappiness. What we must do initially is to identify the nodal points of resistance and respect their existence, honoring their historical usefulness during our developing years.

Genuine change takes a lot of time and courage, patience and tolerance of ambiguity. Plus some financial commitment. In spite of all the magic advertised by the latest American cures, real personality alteration accrues for adults at a gradual pace.

Sometimes you may be referred for a medication evaluation to see if you can benefit sufficiently from temporary chemical intervention to calm down, focus, and actively participate in your psychotherapy process. You may also be administered psychological testing in order for us to get at aspects of yourself that may be submerged or not reported.

Because I have had exposure to such a wide variety of training experiences, my approach is necessarily eclectic and pragmatic. I was originally a behaviorist who incorporated social learning theory into my practice. These cognitive-behavioral schemas became intermixed with psychoanalytic training I got during my post-doctoral internship. Accordingly, my approach varies with the needs of each client. There is no doubt that the client-therapist relationship is far more important than specific techniques. Trust and comfort are essential to self-disclosure and openness to change. My style is informal, pragmatic and interactive. I view the therapeutic relationship as a partnership between client and therapist. The success of your therapy rests largely on your openness, active participation, and commitment to change in the face of resistance.

Some people require new thinking habits and behavior, while others need to learn social skills. For persons with longstanding issues, it is essential to understand and process childhood experiences, identify key events, complete unfinished feelings, and learn to better recognize, label, and express thoughts and reactions. Psychotherapy often entails recalling unpleasant aspects of your personal history and/or experiencing some discomfort. Experiencing these feelings, rather than denying them, within a corrective therapeutic setting, can lead to reduced levels of distress, better relationships, improved interpersonal skills, and a greater sense of autonomy.

PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS
I have done a wide variety of psychological evaluations in the past 29 years. I enjoy the challenge of asking useful questions, conducting psychological testing, and making sense out of a situation in order to provide recommendations. Depending upon the project's purpose and scope, I conduct an initial interview to understand your goals and the ultimate purpose of the evaluation. I will then communicate to you my tentative plan for completing the evaluation. Ordinarily, I will administer personality inventories and/or intelligence testing to supplement my own observations. In many cases, I recommend contact with collateral third parties such as teachers, relatives, and objective professionals. If you have documents relevant to your situation, they are essential in understanding the background of your case. I may conduct a series of interviews, if necessary, to obtain clarity about what is so and what is not so. I then write a thorough and timely evaluation.

The range of evaluations is broad and may include the following situations: Child Custody/Parenting Plans; Court-ordered Psychological Evaluations to Assess Competency and Risk; Mitigation Assessments for Attorneys; School/Residential Placement for Children; Learning Disabilities or High Achieving Students; Juvenile Hall Assessments; Workplace Harassment; Civil Law Suits alleging injuries; Treatment Recommendations.

My fees are $250/hour, slightly below the average for this area. If testimony or depositions is required, I charge $300/hour. Generally speaking, I have fast turn-around time and occasionally work on weekends to accommodate our mutual schedules.

COUPLES COUNSELING
I am a psychologist who does marital counseling out of my home office. In the course of my career, I have seen many couples in trouble and I've observed certain patterns of behavior that impede upon a loving relationship. Once, when I was in a graduate school class, the ever-wise professor asked the brilliant graduate students what was the definition of love? All of the prima donnas raised their eager hands to supply the obvious answer. The professor, as was his habit, just shook his head from side to side. Finally, when we were out of ideas, he said: "It's simple. Love = Fascination + Exclusivity." Back in those days, the very commitment to exclusivity was defined only in sexual terms as open marriages were in vogue back then.

Fascination is the basis for the original attraction. It is not only sexual and passionate but it refers to a desire to know more and more about your partner. Exclusivity meant that you would rather be with your partner more than anyone else in the world. This seems like a tall order, but to the extent that married couples deviate from a sense of fascination and desire for exclusivity, a series of strategies arise that become proboematic:

  1. AWAY: We are away from our partner when we withdraw in a wide variety of ways. We may space out, become distracted with work concerns, smoke excessive marijuiana, and perhaps worst of all these days, engage in Screen Addiction. The latter subsumes TV, Facebook, surfing the Internet and yes ......video games. Sometimes both parties construct a parallel marriage in which they cohabit functionally, even with children, but they rarely interact intimately and may become asexual with one another. The ultimate away strategy is to engage in extramarital affairs. This leads to secretive behavior, shame, and a split of the marital attachment. The partner usually gets busted at some point, often leaving evidence on his/her cell phone or computer desktop. It is likely that this away behavior occurs because of a barely perceptible slide into boredom that neither party acknowledges. The couple may even go to marital therapy but in some cases, they collude by omitting their true feelings of loneliness. This preserves the "as if" marriage but both parties privately remain dissatisfied.

  2. AGAINST: As you might imagine, this strategy subsumes aggression, both verbal and physical. Instead of retreating to away distractions and addictions, one or both partners become hypercritical towards one another. They may actively anticipate what the other is about to say or utter "always" and "never" accusations which condemn their counterpart. Rather than owning feelings this strategy objectifies the other as the intimate enemy, to be controlled and dominated. Anger issues necessarily surface in a dominant/submissive marriage that has become unbalanced. Alcohol abuse can potentiate aggression, sometimes leading to physical escalation, legal issues, and ultimately, divorce. Just to clarify, it is not only the male who transgresses in this strategy. I've had plenty of cases in which the female drives her husband crazy with constant complaints and becomes an injustice collector of past wrongs.

  3. TOWARDS: This strategy is more subtle and involves excessive dependence on one party upon the other. This goes way beyond exclusivity to the point where one partner sucks the life blood from his/her counterpart, often engaging in crisis creation, attention getting behaviors, and demands for physical intimacy that ignore the desires of the other. Invariably, this strategy leads to away behavior, and alienation, much to the consternation of the dependent partner who sees her/himself as affectionate and loving. If the relatively independent partner does not reciprocate, e.g., with texts, presents, money, or sex, the offended dependent partner may engage in the against strategy.

All of this probably seems dismally pessimistic. To some extent, we all engage in these strategies, and clearly, it is a matter of extremes. The therapeutic goals include recognizing and acknowledging the strategies and devising means of modifying them so that each  party's needs may be met some of the time. I placed an ad in the Yellow Pages years ago which generated one phone call: I was offering premarital therapy so that engaged couples could examine and articulate what they wanted out of marriage, and anticipate possible pitfalls before making a commitment. People seldom do this because by acknowledging possible problems, they fear it will raise red flags and ruin their marital prospects. According to some anecdotal research I have read, there is a decent percentage of couples who experienced significant doubts at the onset of their marriage. These doubts are often raised years later in marital therapy!  


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2011 Stephen J. Cummings, PhD. All rights reserved.