Sunday, August 18, 2013

Is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for you?

Many people enter therapy at their wits' end with the expectation of a quick relief. There is this widespread belief that the therapist has magical tools to help them fix the problems or see the world anew, happy and peaceful. Well, the magical tool here is the uninhibited and honest talking of the client. For this particular reason, psychotherapy is also known as the "talking cure".

In psychodynamic psychotherapy, everything is essentially in the client's talking. The well-trained therapist's role is to listen non judgmentally; to make links between the past and the present symptoms; and to interpret what he/she thinks is going on with the client in order to increase the latter's awareness. The rest is almost all up to the client: Is he/she able to think about therapist's interpretation? Can she/he agree/disagree with the therapist? Does he/she have enough ego-strength to face the pain of the process? We can add several other  questions to this list to show the essence of psychodynamic psychotherapy. The questions above also show why most people quit prematurely.

Take a look at the list below to decide whether this kind of in-depth therapy is for you.
  • You realize troublesome patterns in your relationships or behaviors.
  • You want help with feelings/ issues that have bothered you for a long time.
  • You want help for a problem that is unclear to you.
  • You tried other type of therapies in the past or medications that didn't help as much as you had hoped.
  • You are curious about yourself and open to explore your feelings.
  • You are open to a less structured, collaborative exploration, which would not require "homework", exercises or worksheets. 
If you answered "yes" to most questions above and are ready for a long-term therapy process, which will lead you towards a less defensive and more courageous life,  psychodynamic psychotherapy might be for you.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What is Wrong with My Middle-Schooler?

In the literature of Developmental Psychology, adolescence is considered as the second most drastic period of individuation; after the “toddlerhood” and before the “midlife crisis”. Parents of children roughly between the ages of 10-15 notice sooner or later that there was a golden decade of peace, love, and understanding that is common in the early years of parent-child relationship. They come to realize that the little sweet girl or boy that they once had has become a moody door slammer, who seeks refuge in her/his room, in music or in friends. In her book My Teenage Werewolf, Lauren Kessler says, “ I am in mourning for the old days, not the days of diapers but the days of being part of everything they did, of calming their fears and taking away their hurts, of teaching them to read and ride bikes, to swim, to dance”.  Many parents experience a sense of grief for the loss of the “little child”, as well as for the loss of their all-influential role in the life of their children.  
This is the situation for many parents whose children reach puberty. I think the first thing that parents need to do is to allow themselves to “mourn for the old days” and at the same time to realize that this is a transitional time where family members’ roles need adjustments. 
What happens during early adolescence that shakes the family structure so profoundly? Last year I attended a seminar and the speaker started her presentation with this question: “Has anyone seen something more obnoxious than a 7th grade girl”? The question was answered with a loud laughter from the audience. The rest of the talk was about the brain development during adolescence. We are all aware of the physical and hormonal changes and their outcomes during this phase of life. However, the story is more complex than that. Recent neuro-scientific studies shed light on our understanding of adolescents’ behaviors that often puzzle us adults. The researchers explain this with the development of brain parts; the front part of the brain, the frontal lobes is the seat of rational decision-making, emotional and impulse control, and moral reasoning. As Kessler puts it, this is the “cop” part of the brain that would stop a person from talking back, lashing out, slamming doors and so on. The bad news is that the frontal lobes are the last part of the brain to reach maturity, often not until the early twenties. I do not suggest here that parents should excuse all rude, disrespectful, disruptive behaviors because of the discoveries in neuroscience, however, this information helps us understand how "teen's brain" function and put things in perspective.
Beside the brain development, adolescence is a time of massive changes. In search of their identity, teens become more and more distant from their parents, both physically and emotionally. They prefer to spend time with peers or alone, rather than with families. Their relationship with peers provides them with a miniature community in which they “rehearse” various roles and identities. With this regard, it is essential for teens to have this opportunity. Many parents fall into the trap of taking this “distance” personally and as rejection.  We need to keep in mind that this separation, displaying itself as a strong preference for peers and privacy, serves a developmental need in becoming a healthy, independent adult. 
Risk-taking is another major behavior change that one can observe in adolescents. Young people are naturally very curious about life and that curiosity shows itself in experimenting “adult-only” activities (alcohol, smoking, sex etc.) Risk-taking and experimenting are both normal and frightening and one study shows that periodic acting-out behavior during adolescence –as long as the child is not diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder- may actually reflect a normal, healthy adolescent personality. (Phelan, 1998) As parents, we need to realize that experimentation is normal while at the same time trying to discourage its dangerous forms. 
Another important characteristic of young adolescents is self-consciousness. Self-consciousness always goes hand in hand with egocentricity, which translates into a “13 year old girl spending hours in front of a mirror before going out”. The adolescent feels like the whole world is watching and everything revolves around him/her.  That also brings a huge fear of failure and sensitivity for being criticized. It is important for parents to empathize with their teen’s self-consciousness and take the time to remember their own teenage years. 
The purpose of this post is to give parents a brief account of what they might observe in their pubescent/young adolescent child. Of course, there is a variation among teens and not all teens follow the script. No matter where they are in the spectrum, parents should expect to face some challenges. It is not unusual to feel discouraged, however, bearing in mind that children/teens are “work in progress” may bring a sense of peace. Our primary role as adults, during this phase of “rebirth”- as Richard Frankel puts it- is to guide them without being too intrusive. 

Frankel, R. (1998) Adolescent Psyche: Jungian and Winnicottian Perspectives, New York: Routledge
Kessler, L. (2010) My Teenage Werewolf, New York: Penguin Group, Inc
Phelan, T. W. (1998) Surviving Your Adolescents-How to Manage and Let Go Your 13-18 Year Olds, Glen    Ellyn, IL: Child Management, Inc

Picture credit: © Hurricanehank | <a href="">Dreamstime Stock Photos</a> & <a href="">Stock Free Images</a>

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What is Play Therapy?

Those who work in the field of child psychotherapy and psychoanalysis know the name "D.W. Winnicott" very well. Winnicott was an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst whose work with children and mothers led to the greater understanding of psychological development. A central theme in Winnicott's work was the idea of play. Indeed, I owe the name of my blog, "The Potential Space" to him.

(For more information on Winnicott,  click here )

Many parents who bring their children for therapy are puzzled with the idea of "play" in therapy and how it works. Isn't it what their children do all day at home? Actually, not any more-especially since the invention of video games. What we see nowadays are children who are confined within the tiny screens of  tablets, smart phones, DS's and electronics in general, which restrict imagination, creativity, social interaction and exploration inside and outside. But this is a topic in itself.

Now back to play therapy and why it is different than simply "playing at home". Here are a few important aspects of play therapy:

  • It is a proven therapeutic modality. Association of Play Therapy (APT) defines it as "the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development."
  • It is a way of communication. Children do not have the verbal abilities to express complex emotions, thoughts and conflicts. Play therapy allows the child to "speak" to the therapist without words. Toys are used as "words" onto which the child projects feelings, conflicts, the world within their mind.
  • It has a therapeutic power in itself. Children do not have much control in real-life situations. By "pretending" they have power over the world and make reality conform to their wishes. This in return, helps children feel competent and satisfied by the sense of efficacy, which especially diminishes with traumatic events. 
  • It is a learning experience. Play therapy conducted by a trained therapist provides children with the opportunity to process their feelings, to assess their behaviors and to develop appropriate coping skills. Through play, they explore who they are and learn how to relate to their self and others in more positive and realistic ways. 
  • It is a self-motivated activity.  No child between the ages of 3-12 opposes to come to a safe place, where self-expression is fully encouraged by an attuned therapist, whose responses cultivate respect, empathy and freedom with a sense of responsibility. 
  • It is beneficial for a wide range of psychosocial problems including but not limited to: Posttraumatic Stress Disorders, Anxiety and Phobias, Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Mood Disorders, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders, Social Skills Deficits, Grief and Loss. 
As an eight-year-old girl put it, "In here, I turn myself inside out and give my self a shake, shake, shake and finally I get glad all over that I am me." (Axline, 1947)

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Hi! My name is Yeshim Oz and I am a psychotherapist practicing in Omaha, Nebraska.  I am currently enrolled in Psychoanalytic training program at Greater Kansas City Psychoanalytic Institute.

 For more information about my practice and services visit

The purpose of this blog is to give you a glimpse of the field of psychotherapy and related issues, including information about different therapeutic modalities, answers to questions I often hear from my clients, child development and developmental disorders, strategies that might help in dealing with stress and such. You will also find some writings about Psychoanalysis and related topics.

Thank you for visiting The Potential Space and check back soon for new posts.