The Soul Wants to Grow

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

Muerte Logos

I am starting to doubt the medical model of mental health. I am not so sure anymore that when we chose challenging relationships that it means we are having a personality defect or are attracted to the “wrong person”. I am beginning to believe that our soul – the part of us that is consistent, calm and free from anxiety – choses people who confront us in ways that force us to grow.

The way I learned about psychotherapy was that we are essentially shaped in our families: our parents and siblings and close relatives are the first major influences in our lives and form our beliefs about what relationships should look like.

I still believe that. Yet, another aspect of this model is that we continue to be attracted to the same type of people who in some ways resemble our family members. If your father wasn’t really there for you or was absent in your childhood, chances are that you will feel attracted to a similarly unavailable person as you look for a partner. Or, if your mother was depressed and unresponsive as you were growing up, you may feel drawn to someone who too can be moody or uncaring of your needs.

Freud called this dynamic the “repetition compulsion”: somehow we are prone to make the same mistakes over and over until it hits us over the head that we are supposed to do something different, and we have learned our lesson. Many therapists will tell you to stay away from the same type of personality you keep feeling drawn to, because you will never get what you want, and just settle for the nice guy who may be good for you but don’t really feel an attraction to.

But the real lesson is that we have to engage in these relationships to some degree in order to learn about ourselves. We have to feel the despair of not getting what we want from an unavailable person in order to learn that we have to stop looking to others for the fulfillment of our every need. That first and foremost we have to take a close look at ourselves and what we want from life and what we can and should expect from others.

That doesn’t mean we have to stay in a relationship that is chronically frustrating or lifeless. It means that we unconsciously chose it on order to learn about ourselves and to try to overcome what was missing from childhood. If your partner doesn’t embark on this path of growth with you, you don’t have to do all the work alone. If it feels like there is no interest or willingness whatsoever to learn and grow together, it may be time to allow the relationship to end.

The soul wants to grow. It can grow within a relationship, when both partners recognize that unhealthy patterns need to be addressed. Or it can grow in a relationship where both partners are in agreement that they want to continue to learn together.

If neither possibility is on the horizon the soul must move on by itself and find other relationships where it can continue to grow.

 

Andres Rodriguez via Compfight



How to Prevent Sex and Desire from Fading Away

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

 “Good lovers aren’t born, they’re made. You cultivate the erotic. It takes an active focus and intention to see your partner as an erotic person”. These are the words of Ester Perel, the new star in the world of sex therapy. Her popular book “Mating in Captivity” discusses how to deal with the potential fading of lust and romance in longterm relationships.

When asked when they find themselves most drawn to their partner, most people will say something like, when I see them radiant, in their element, passionate or joyful. They see their partner as “the other”, where there is absolutely no caretaking. They are curious and don’t assume to know everything about them. Knowing that life still has surprises, that there is more to discover about your partner is the key to an erotic revival.

One way to bring back the excitement is to utilize an extra email address just to be seductive with each other, suggests Perel. The alternative email address becomes an erotic space that exists only for the sake of playing and flirting. You can come up with different personas in yourself or live out a role play you always wanted to engage in.

In a recent podcast, Perel reminds us that eroticism is not the same as sexuality. While sex is an action, eros happens very much in the mind. “Eroticism means connecting with aliveness”, says the sex therapist.

A good sexual fantasy often offers the solution to the widespread boredom in longterm relationships. Whatever turns you on – toys, stories, things – can be utilized to spice up your sex life.

Too much safety in a relationship can become an obstacle to sexual interest. It especially becomes an issue when one person feels that he or she is doing too much of the care taking. Women in particular get worn out by providing care and nurture and experience attending to their spouses’ sexual needs as just another burden.

Perel suggests that it is important to take responsibility when we contribute to the disconnect by not taking enough time for ourselves. She has coined the phrase “I turn myself off when…” (for example “…I spend all my energy on taking care of the kids”) in order to bring the attention back to the partner who is uninterested in sex. Rather than saying “nothing is turning me on” the phrase “I turn myself off” brings the focus back to the place where desire isn’t owned. Desire requires us to take an interest in oneself.

Perel believes that monogamy is harder on women. Women are hardwired to try and create safety for their offspring, and that focus can lead to setting aside their sex life  for sake of safety. Women struggle with how to deal with motherhood and taking care of the whole family at same time. The prejudice is that women don’t want sex, but the truth is that the need to create safety and to nurture everybody else had depleted them from feeling their own sexuality. They may not have been seen, nor do they see themselves as a sexual being in a long time. When the partner brings up eroticism, they really are trying to remind them not to forget that part of themselves.

When one partner is uninterested, yet the other is, the latter is put into a painful state of longing. And when that longing is chronically ignored or even ridiculed, it causes frustration. That is when the conversation about what was lost needs to begin. And one thing that was lost is aliveness, which some people attempt to recover with an affair.

“Affairs are not about sex, they are about feeling alive again”, so Perel. When sex is being withheld, there is lots of frustration. At this point, the best thing to do is to have a conversation about missing the other, missing what has been lost and that is not necessarily sex alone. Starting the conversation is paramount.

Infidelity, so Perel, doesn’t always mean that something was missing from the relationship other than simple aliveness. In that case, the infidelity is simply an alarm to put more energy into regenerating the relationship.

 

Foto: Brigitte Deisenhammer via Compfight



Welcome Back!

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • Less than a min read

helloHello again! After a not quite two year long hiatus, I am ready to blog once again. In the meantime, I’ve completed my training in Imago Relationship therapy, which was such a gift to me and deepened my knowledge about relationships, couples dynamics, intimacy and sex therapy. You will read a lot more about these topics. Stay tuned! I am excited to be with you again.

Hand photo available from Shutterstock



Good Bye And Good Luck!

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • Less than a min read

shutterAfter one and a half years, I am retiring my blog about introverts, shy people and all kinds of Gentle Selves, and turn to the new and exciting field of the science of consciousness. It has been an honor to serve all readers who shared my interest, and I want to encourage all the check out my new blog Mind Matters – Neuroscience and Consciousness.

Woman behind shutter image available from Shutterstock.



The Power Of Being An Introvert

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

minimalistic white idol in black background

Introverts and shy people all over rejoice: there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with needing space and quiet, and preferring a low key dinner with a good friend to a loud and extravagant party.

There is nothing wrong with needing time to retreat from the world and recharge your internal batteries, or to feel overwhelmed by too much pressure or too much information.

I’m a latecomer to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s been out for a while, but that doesn’t make its message any less important.

One major point she makes is that introverts are thinkers and creators. “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement”, science journalist Winifred Gallagher is quoted. He concludes that neither Einstein’s theory of relativity nor John Milton’s Paradise Lost was “dashed off by a party animal.”

Susan Cain adds more great achievements by venerable introverts: Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. Even techno revolutionaries like Google founder Sergey Brin or Facebook creator Marc Zuckerberg are included. The list goes on to include Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.

Many of us turn to the mind. We are called cerebral, innovative, brooding, creative. But also spiritual, psychologically minded, curious about the inner workings of all things. Endlessly fascinated by the wonders of nature, and inspired by the journey of discovery.

Of course, not all introverts end up famous. Many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness, fear of conflict, depression and low self esteem.

Many times, our negative self image goes back to the messages we received from our families and our culture. Extroverted children are deemed preferable to quiet ones by lots of parents, for fear that their kids will end up as outsiders or loners. The angst they are putting on their children ends up creating just that: youngers who feel bad about themselves because they don’t live up to the expectations of their surroundings.

Culture does the same. When everyone pulls away from the nerdy kid that may be a loyal and decent being but doesn’t have great social skills, the boy will come to believe that something is wrong with him. In some Asian countries, where extroversion is seen as equivalent to superficiality, introverts are the norm and appreciated accordingly.

The key for introverts to feel better about themselves is paradoxically not to try and turn into an exuberant extrovert, but to accept and even appreciate the qualities that come with a more introspective nature. Some elements that can come with the personality, like fear of public speaking or social anxiety, can be treated very successfully. But the inherent character will not change.

Nor does it have to.

 

calliope_Muse via Compfight



How Couples Can Break Through An Impasse

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

Love on Tehran`s Roof

Couples who start to think about separation or divorce are in a place of high conflict or high dissatisfaction. Sometimes it’s very easy to find the main culprit in the relationship, especially when there is verbal or physical abuse. But often it’s not so clear cut.

Lots of couples aren’t happy in their marriage, but find themselves unable to end the relationship. There may be an element of co-dependency, maybe there’s children involved, and most importantly, there is still a remnant of good will to try and improve things.

Most of us enter a relationship pondering what we can get out of it and how it fits our needs. When we first meet our partner, there is always the deliberation of how being with them can improve our lives. If you’re an introvert and your spouse is an extrovert, there was at one point probably the idea that both partners can gain from the other person’s personality style. 

It’s similar in conflict situations. We tend to get hung up on questions like “what did I not get from the other?” “How are my needs not met?” “He or she always does this and I am always at the losing end of the battle.”

What we often neglect is the question of “how can I contribute to the well being of our relationship at this point of impasse?” When two differing opinions bump up against each other, it’s very difficult to not just have one’s own point of view in mind, but to simply ponder “what does the relationship need from me right now?”

We tend to forget that it’s not one against the other, but that our job is to find a third solution that both partners can live with. As soon as we can step out of the unproductive cycle of you against me and take a caring look at the good things you and your partner have built together, there is a way out of the impasse.

If disagreement after disagreement has piled up over the years and they all remain unsolved, it may appear easier to just call it quits. But that too is hard to do. So we keep drifting along in what feels like a dead end relationship.

We need to take responsibility for our own failings and to try and improve whatever went wrong, even if it feels daunting. Many times one partner – often women – feels like they have tried everything before, and they are tired of having to fix what’s broken.

Relationships require effort. And having to put in effort is never over. It’s a lifetime task.

 

Mohammadali f. via Compfight



When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry – Part IV

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 5 min read

digitalcoverZOMany people who come to enter codependent relationships with their teachers are–consciously or unconsciously–seeking to empower themselves by associating with a powerful figure. They project all the qualities they feel are lacking in themselves onto the teacher: perseverance, wisdom, enlightenment, strength, and so on. They become fixated on the belief that they can only develop these qualities the closer they are to the teacher.

Making the teacher their therapist, lover, or main confidante in their lives is seen as healing themselves from their sense of lack and inadequacy. Power is highly seductive in these constellations and easily becomes eroticized. The teacher is seen as the one who has the upper hand in all matters. But it is important to remind ourselves that she or he is not.

In her excellent article “Boundary Violations and the Abuse of Power,” psychoanalyst Andrea Celenza interprets the power relationship between analyst and analysand (which is applicable to the relationship between teacher and student) as rooted in three important basic conditions. She speaks of “the seductiveness of the analyst’s power,” which is derived from its setting: Here the seeker who wants something, there the teacher who has something to give.

It is the most fundamental power play a person can get into, because it mirrors the parental relationships. Secondly, there is the metaphorical nature of the power derived by the analytic/spiritual role, which is “to hold and penetrate.” And finally “power is sexy because it always was, i.e., because this is the way love was experienced in its first instantiation. We are born into a power relation, directing our first loving feelings toward those who have a temporal advantage, to those (parents or a parent) who have come before, so to speak. To be in a relationship with a person more powerful than oneself activates memories and expectations of love relationships structured around a power imbalance, of which the parent-child experience is the prototype.”

Empowerment is the key task of every teacher, if he or she is to work successfully with a student. But true psychological empowerment cannot be achieved by continuing the fantasy that personal power will somehow be transferred onto the student if only she or he spends enough time with the teacher, or morphs into the teacher’s clone. Students often easily transfer their power onto a teacher or a spiritual organization. They put all their trust in them, and in the process give up all responsibility for their own lives.

The belief in one’s weakness becomes a power tactic in itself. By displaying only the fragile parts of the self, the student remains in an ongoing state of disempowerment. She or he signals the teacher not to hurt them but in the process may render the person in authority unable to communicate authentically. This is how a teacher gets stuck in a nurturing position and has to make a conscious effort to not infantilize, but instead to challenge the student so she or he can tap into their own strength.

Some students give up all the power they have previously attained in their lives, hoping that, if they offer it to their idealized teacher, it will be renewed and replenished and enhanced in ways that will enable them to transcend all difficulties they have in their personal lives. Rejecting the ongoing offerings of love is ultimately what empowers the student.

Many students fantasize that becoming a teacher themselves will give them status and power. Just by wearing the robe, or by having the title of dharma heir, they will be elevated to a role that inherently makes them adored and healed in a way that their lives suddenly will be meaningful and without problems. But power cannot be transferred through dharma talks or even the symbolic act of dharma transmission. It can only be achieved by the continuous dismantlement of the inherent belief that the student is inferior and powerless–and by assuming responsibility for one’s own life.

Many people see power in a hierarchical way, as dominance, mastery, or command over others–or, looked at from the other side, as something lacking, vulnerable, inferior, weak. But there is another form of power that is not dependent on the relationship to another person. It is personal power, a sense of inner strength and integrity that represents the power to do something, rather than the power over someone else. “Power originates from a deep psychological source, from the very center of the self,” writes psychoanalyst Ester Person in her highly readable work Feeling Strong. “Power that we can own derives more from a strong sense of self than any position we might hold.”

Compliance and defiance are distortions of interpersonal power. Trying to please someone who seems to “have it all” disempowers because it caters to another person. Power is the ability to act, to try to reach whatever goal we have in mind. The way to get to this place is self-understanding, because it enables us to shake off past learned behaviors and enter new paths of relating and growth. The basic tools to tap into this power are already in us. “Power comes from intelligence, resourcefulness, likeability, creativity, availability, persistence. . . love, compassion, forgiveness, humility,” writes Person. Who among us doesn’t already possess some of these qualities? But we give them up voluntarily in the belief that someone else’s perceived perfection can finally make us whole.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that much of how we perceive others to be is a projection of our own fears, hopes, thoughts, and beliefs. It has been said that the Dalai Lama too has stated that “all of life is a projection.” We experience ourselves as powerless even though we do have power somewhere in our lives. We were able to grow up, find a profession, form relationships. But these powers are forgotten when we compare ourselves to others.

Yet they are within us. But then we split them off and project them outwards, just as we do in idealization. We split off both, the positive and the negative parts of ourselves and project them onto the teacher. Initially they were the intelligent and compassionate ones, even though we have carried these traits with us all along. We were the ones who felt inept, fallible, like hungry ghosts. When we go through an experience of betrayal, this whole world is turned upside down. That is when we become righteous and victimized, and they turn into villains and traitors.

Whenever someone stirs up intense emotions, we have to look inside and see whether projection is at work. Whatever we become infatuated with, whatever we become enraged by, lies somewhere within ourselves. This doesn’t mean that teachers are off the hook, and that betrayal isn’t a very real occurrence. But we tend to fail to turn the mirror onto ourselves and see just how much we project onto the world. Nobody can make us feel a certain way without our participation.

Looking at our own projections is extremely painful and not easily achieved. The mind blocks off these important insights to protect our psychological self from pain. But it is an important tool on our way to penetrate the confusion of our minds and to become fully ourselves. Jung wrote, “Why it is so desirable that a man should be individuated? Not only is it desirable, it is absolutely indispensable, because, through his contamination with others, he falls into situations and commits actions, which bring him into disharmony with himself. . . . When a man can say of his states and actions, ‘As I am, so I act,’ he can be at one with himself, even though it be difficult, and he can accept responsibility for himself even though he struggles against it.”

If we can slowly introduce ourselves to the concept, working with our projections is a highly valuable tool to attain self knowledge. Jung understood that we can’t pretend or force our projections to just go away. That would be another form of spiritual bypassing. He writes, “The recognition of something as projection should never be understood as a purely intellectual process. Intellectual insight dissolves a projection only when it is ripe for dissolution. But when it is not, it is impossible to withdraw libido from it by an intellectual judgment or by an act of will.”

This means that we simply can’t avoid being hung up on a teacher or professor or some other  idealized person for a while, because we have to process all the emotions that come with it. Intellectual knowledge is no substitute for the process of emotionally working through one’s past trauma. There is no shortcut to enlightenment. 

Growing up is a painful process, and the longer we try to transfer the responsibilities that come with it onto another, seemingly stronger person, the longer it takes to become fully oneself. Yet this is the reward of having to go through all this pain: empowerment, self knowledge, and having a shot at becoming a fully realized being.

 



When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry – Part III

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

digitalcoverZOLove and care are at the heart of every functioning spiritual student-teacher relationship. It is almost never equally mutual or even palpable in overt ways, and it may never be acknowledged. It can come in many different forms and includes struggles and resistance. But the intensity of every significant bond that is forged in this arena implies by its nature the presence of affection and love.

Unfortunately, the nature of this love is often not understood. Students come to love their teachers for their compassion and wisdom, but will add transferential expectations of the past that distort their image of the teacher.

Teachers frequently underestimate the depth and nature of their students’ love, contribute to an unnecessary and inappropriate eroticization, and cause more suffering. The students end up feeling betrayed and exploited, and the damage done is difficult to heal.

The most harmful reason for teacher-student relationships gone awry is probably enacted sexual misconduct. Most of the time, such affairs involve a male teacher and a female student, although it does happen in different gender constellations as well. The psychological dynamics at work are idealization, regression, and psychological merger fantasies in both student and teacher.

One prevalent desire for many students, male or female, whether they have affairs with their teachers or not, is the wish to be special to the teacher.

A close relationship with an idealized authority figure makes the student special by affiliation. It almost doesn’t matter whether the relationship is physically sexual, non-physically eroticized, chronically flirtatious, or emotionally intimate on both sides. “When a woman makes any kind of compromise with inappropriate sexual expression from a man, she yields control over her own intimate boundaries and begins a dangerous collaboration that can lead to her victimization,” writes psychiatrist Peter Rutter in his book Sex in the Forbidden Zone.

He stresses that inappropriate conduct almost always precludes victimization, because it is typically the man who is in power: He has control over her psychological and spiritual well being. “The mere presence of sexual innuendo from a man who has power over her can become a barrier to her development. But the most critical damage lies in the silencing of her own voice and the violation of her sense of self.”

Rutter concludes that any sexual behavior by a man in power within what he calls the “forbidden zone” – i.e. bosses, coaches, therapists, priests, teachers, professors and so on – is inherently exploitative of a woman’s trust.

Spiritual teachers must be keenly aware that any kind of seductive behavior towards an admirer is inherently exploitative. It is the first step to prevent spiritual abuse of the vulnerable.

 

 



When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry, Part II

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 2 min read

 

digitalcoverZO

In my previous post, I discussed the pitfalls of idealization and just how easy it is to put a seemingly highly evolved person on a pedestal. What often comes with idealization is a certain degree of regression, which means that the admirer goes back to a psychologically less mature place and looks up to the spiritual teacher from an almost childlike place. This is what puts the person in authority in such a powerful place.

Spiritual leaders, and people in the healing professions, must become especially familiar with how idealization and regression works in the minds of the vulnerable, and make every effort to show them their whole personality–“warts and all.”

The way to go about  showing one’s true face as a  teacher (or any other person in authority) is to slowly introduce the students to one’s less favorable sides, and to stop responding to, or even reject, their declarations of love and adoration.

Of course, it’s convenient to leave them in a  state of admiration–the more flattery there is, the easier it is to actually buy into it. Who among us doesn’t want to believe just how great we are when met with flattery and adoration? But it won’t serve anybody in the long run. The more realistic the teacher can be about his or her own capabilities, the more realistic the student sees the world altogether.

This is how students move out of those vulnerable states of regression and childlike attachment, and progress towards a more mature way of relating to others that includes obstacles and conflict  resolution rather than avoids it.

When this gradual erosion of idealization and infantile longings doesn’t take place and is disturbed or cut off by a traumatic rupture in the relationship, the student is in danger of continuing to search for the perfect teacher, or relationship, that will give what is expected. Even when there is not a big bang but just a disappointed, lukewarm drifting  apart, the disillusionment can leave a mark.

A persistent hunger for love and validation may remain, which includes an inability or unwillingness to deal with the more frustrating realities of life. “We shrink  rather than open our hearts when we become our teachers’ clones, puppets or wannabees,” writes Scott Edelstein in his book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. “There is the delusion that someone who is wise, enlightened or spiritually advanced is somehow superhuman. They aren’t.”

The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this dynamic as well. Coming of age during the time when Adolph Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer was wary of the psychological vulnerability of those who give themselves over to  the yearning for an all-powerful authority and demanded that those in power take responsibility.

“A true leader must know the limitations of his authority”, he wrote in a speech quoted in the book Bonhoeffer: Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. “If he understands his functions in any other way than as it is rooted  in fact, if he doesn’t continue to tell his followers quite clearly the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers who would always make him their idol, then the image of the leader will pass over into the image of the misleader. The true leader must always be able to disillusion. He has to lead the individual into his own maturity.”

 



When Spiritual Relationships Go Awry, Part I

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP • 1 min read

digitalcoverZO

 

The story of spiritual relationships going bad has been repeating itself in many ways in virtually every religion. We think about the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church. Violent outbursts in cults like the Branch Davidians. And bitter disillusionment when a spiritual leader we turn to ends up not having our best interest at heart.

Eastern religions in America have not been spared. There have been sex scandals in Yoga centers all over the country, where self proclaimed gurus betrayed the trust of their students and exploited their position for their own personal or financial gain.

Buddhism in America too has had its controversies. This is what my new book Buddha Betrayed wants to explore. Teachers in Zen as well as other Buddhist schools of thought have been accused of sexual misconduct and boundary violations, mostly between male teachers and their female students.

Initially it involved teachers from India, Japan and other Asian countries who came to America, unfamiliar with the social conduct and flat hierarchical structures of this country, who ended up exploiting their students’ trust and their position of power. But there were many others who followed in their footsteps, and the psychological damage done can be traumatic.

My book is trying to explore what kind of pitfalls religious seekers must become aware of in their own minds, when they engage in a relationship with a spiritual teacher.

Perhaps the most prevalent and potentially harmful phenomenon is idealization. Often just the uniform of such a person – the robe, the foreign name, the shaved head – instills respect and awe.   We want to believe that this teacher, who may have done spiritual work for many decades, has fully overcome all their shortcomings and imperfections and is now a fully mature and transcended being.

We expect them to have their live together. We want them to be kind and understanding at all times, and firm and decisive when needed. We want them to have psychological insight and give us spiritual guidance. In short, we want them to be perfect.

But the truth is that they are not. Spiritual teachers have developed an interest in spirituality because they often come from a place of psychological suffering and have a desire to overcome the petty egotism of everyday human life. Many of them have worked hard to get to a place of serenity and altruism, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still struggle with all the conflicts of the human condition.

In order to have a functioning relationship with a spiritual teacher, the students must work to gain insight into their own illusions, and to overcome their tendencies to idealize and to project all power onto the seemingly enlightened teacher. Only when we can see the other person for who they are can we let go of our own tendencies to see ourselves as inferior or lacking, and grown into a mature and well rounded being.

 



 
The Gentle Self Buddha Betrayed
Gerti Schoen is the author of The Gentle Self
and her latest book, Buddha Betrayed. Check them
out on Amazon.com today!

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