Sometimes all you need is someone to listen - just listen. Good listening is something we need desperately at times and it's hard to find. Most people don't know how to listen. They think they've had the same experience and know just how you feel, they give advice, dismiss your feelings, and make judgments. I often say that if people knew how to listen to each other, a lot of therapists would be out of work. So some of what I do is nothing fancy - just listening with an open heart to someone going through a hard time. They don't need me to solve their problems; just to listen. Clients often find that when they talk to a good listener, the listen to themselves for the first time.
If you are looking for practical help for problems in your life, we would begin with counseling. When we do counseling, we work on ordinary problems, usually those pertaining to work or relationships. We explore the problems and look for better understanding of why things are going the way they are and how you can make a difference. We stay mostly at a common sense level in the present. My orientation in doing counseling is to help you understand and make your life work better. To that end, I ask questions and I give information, interpretations, suggestions, and, occasionally, advice. I may also give you assignments to do between sessions.
This approach is required if your problems are general, deep and pervasive, having to do with how you experience your self and your life and with the way certain negative patterns keep repeating in your life. Examples would be low self-esteem, shame, sense of inadequacy, dependency, passivity, some kinds of depression, some kinds of anxiety, unusual vulnerability, difficulties with intimacy, inability to stop playing out patterns from childhood, inability to realize your career potential, powerful emotions being triggered in certain situations, etc. For these problems, counseling offers only superficial help.
In psychodynamic therapy, also called "depth therapy," we look below the obvious, conscious, adult level of the situation. We look for implicit notions of who you are, the kind of world you live in, and your strategies for coping that were formed early in life. In a sense, we go back in time and rescue the parts that are still coping with your childhood environment. There are numerous approaches, models, and techniques that fall under the general rubric of "psychodynamic therapy."
A valid criticism of psychodynamic therapy has been that it didn't get beyond mere understanding; it helped you explain but not change. In recent years, however, a number of psychodynamic approaches have been developed that are quite effective at producing real change. The trick is to get beyond "talking about it" to "working on it."
If you are suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences, none of the approaches above will help you very much. Not all bad experiences are traumatic. Trauma, as clinically defined, refers to certain kinds of experiences in which the nervous system is overwhelmed, usually in fear or shame. When reminders of these experiences occur, we do not experience them as memories. We feel as if the event is happening again. We react with extreme actions or emotions or, sometimes, by shutting down mentally and emotionally.
Neuroscience has found that traumas are encoded in a different part of the brain from normal memories. That's why it can last a lifetime. Therapists who specialize in trauma agree that trauma cannot be released from the nervous system with the methods of the usual verbal psychotherapy. The areas affected are below the verbal level of the brain. To treat trauma, several approaches have evolved which do get to the relevant areas of the brain. See EMDR and EFT Therapy.
If what you want is to make some positive change in your life or to achieve some goal, then coaching may be more appropriate than therapy. I call what I do "coaching" when I am teaching, encouraging, training, motivating and in general assisting you to move forward. I may coach you to learn a new skill or to accomplish a goal. I might coach you to calm your mind and relax your body. I might coach you to organize your desk and your life so that you can get things done (which I often do with my ADD clients). I might coach you to assert yourself with people. I might coach you in the use of a therapeutic technique so that you can work with your emotional issues on your own.
Coaching is positive, forward-looking, action-oriented work. For me, therapy and coaching are kind of the yin and yang of facilitating change. Coaching is yang - taking hold of a vision in the future and moving toward it. Therapy is yin - letting go of patterns learned in the past so you can move on. They support each other. It's like driving a car. If you don't put your foot on the gas, you will not move forward. If you keep your foot on the brake, you will also not move forward. The gas peddle is the vision, goals, intentions, plans for what you want in your future. The brake is your resistance to who and where you are in the present, your fears, shame, anger, and negative beliefs. Coaching helps you strongly apply the gas. Therapy helps you get your foot off the brake.