I have maintained a private therapy practice in San Diego since 1999. I have a centrally located, modern office in the heart of Mission Valley with disability access and free parking.
In addition to the in-depth education and experience required by all Marriage and Family Therapists, I have received advanced postgraduate training in Washington, D.C. and San Diego. I have been a guest lecturer at Alliant University and am a CAMFT approved supervisor. I have extensive experience assisting clients who want to address:
- Marital and couple issues
- Challenges with a child
- Anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems
- Family conflict
- Substance abuse and dependence
During your first visit I will take a detailed history of your presenting concerns and talk with you about my approach. Appointments are 55 minutes and most clients meet with me every other week, or more or less frequently as needed.
I view individual and relationship problems through the lens of family systems theory. It is my belief that the ability to identify and modify the part self plays in the patterned behavior of the family is the cornerstone of any effort to improve one’s quality of life..
Why Bowen Family Systems Therapy
Of all the theories of human behavior I was exposed to in graduate school, the one that resonated the most was Bowen Family Systems Theory. Murray Bowen, M.D. studied families over time and discovered that all families are subject to the same opposing forces of togetherness and independence. Families differ in how well they manage the challenges of life, but every family and every individual struggles with the same basic issues of how to be a member of the group while remaining a distinct individual.
Bowen theory does not provide an easy path for a clinician, focusing as it does on the personal growth, individual responsibility and maturity of the clinician as the most important factor in successful treatment.
My goal is to continue to deepen my understanding of Bowen Theory for the purposes of enhancing both my personal relationships and my clinical work. I trust that this ongoing effort benefits my clients and my loved ones, now and into the future.
Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, Washington, D.C. 2012-2015
Southern California Training in Bowen Theory, San Diego, CA, 2009-2015
Clinical member, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
Clinical member, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
How to get the most out of therapy using Family Systems Theory
It is inevitable that tension will arise between any two people who spend enough time together. The natural reaction is that one or both of them will involve a third person in the relationship. This can be done through gossip, affairs, “venting” to an outsider, joining together to worry about or blame a third person, or hiring someone to intervene in a conflict (therapists, lawyers, consultants, mediators, etc.). This is what Bowen called “triangling,” the purpose of which is to relieve anxiety in the emotional system by providing it with another “circuit” to run. When the simple triangle is no longer able to absorb the anxiety in the system, another triangle will be created. Bowen saw all relationship systems as connected series of interlocking triangles. (Bowen, 1978, p. 161)
At any moment in time participants in the emotional triangle form a two-insiders one-outsider configuration. This insider-outsider formation can shift rapidly. For example, in a simple triangle between a mother, father, and child, the mother and child may be chatting in the kitchen (insider position) while dad watches TV in the den (outsider position). Then Dad comes into the kitchen and asks the child if she’s done her homework, moving the two of them to the inside position and Mom on the outside. If Mom answers Dad for the child, “Yes, she’s done her homework,” then she’s moved herself into the inside position with Dad, putting the child into the outside position. This is a completely ordinary interaction and simply describes the way humans-and probably other animals as well-form and maintain relationships. Learn about the family systems concept of triangles for use in your own life to help you to get the most out of therapy with Lorna.
Emotional Fusion Generates Anxiety in the Family.
“The young adult who runs away from home never to see his parents again may have more basic attachment to his parents than other siblings who continue to live with their parents.” (Bowen, 1978).
Family members are attached to one another through intense emotional bonds, or fusions. The force of the fusion compels individuals to modify their thoughts and behavior in an effort to maintain harmony. It can be this very effort that paradoxically leads to conflict in some cases.
Throughout life, people tend to automatically recreate variations of their original fusions with their parents in new romantic relationships, friendships, work and other settings. It is common for people to try to escape an anxious fusion by maintaining emotional and/or geographical distance. However, that which remains unresolved will be played out in new relationships or with one’s children.
A primary goal of therapy is to heighten awareness about one’s part in relationship fusions, and to determine goals for behaving with more autonomy and thoughtfulness in the face of emotional pressure to revert to the familiar fused postures.
Is It a Thought or Is It a Feeling?
Differentiation of self is defined as your ability to distinguish between your thoughts and feelings in your relationships. Ultimately, the goal of therapy is to increase your level of differentiation. The less well-differentiated you are, the more dependent you will be on the acceptance and approval of others. This dependence will prompt you to either adjust what you think, say, and do to please others or else decide what others should be like and pressure them to conform.
Characteristic of a higher level of differentiation is the willingness and ability to recognize your realistic dependence on others, and the ability to stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking based on facts from thinking clouded by emotionality. Thoughtfully acquired principles help guide decision-making about important family and social issues, making you less at the mercy of your feelings of the moment. You can act selflessly, but acting in the best interests of the group is a thoughtful choice, not a reaction to pressure from the group. Confident in your thinking, you can either support another’s view without following blindly or reject another view without making anyone a “bad guy”. This is a lifelong journey, as no one is ever “differentiated”. It’s always a work in progress. The higher your level of differentiation, the fewer the interpersonal difficulties you’ll tend to have, and the easier time you’ll have coping with life’s inevitable challenges. You’ll also find it easier to be intimate with your loved ones because closeness won’t feel like being “swallowed up”.
According to Ed Friedman (Friedman, 1999, p. 183):
- Differentiation refers to a direction in life rather than a state of being:
- Differentiation is the capacity to take a stand in an intense emotional system.
- Differentiation is saying “I” when others are demanding “we”.
- Differentiation is containing one’s reactivity to the reactivity of others, which includes the ability to avoid being polarized.
- Differentiation is maintaining a non-anxious presence in the face of anxious others.
- Differentiation is knowing where one ends and another begins.
- Differentiation is being able to cease automatically being one of the system’s emotional dominoes.
- Differentiation is being clear about one’s own personal values and goals.
- Differentiation is taking maximum responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others or the context.
Do you accept health insurance?
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I think my husband and I need couple’s counseling but he won’t come in, what should I do to convince him?
I should be able to figure things out on my own. How can a therapist help?
My mother is emotionally abusive. She’s the one who should be getting counseling, right?
What diagnoses do you specialize in?
If you are a family therapist does that mean you only work with the whole family?
I have an individual therapist and she says my husband and I should see someone else for couple’s counseling. Will you see us?
Michael Nelson is a prelicensed clinician who has graduated with his master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. He is currently working towards obtaining his California licensure. Michael practices under Lorna’s direct supervision and training (Lorna Hecht-Zablow, MFC35604) but is able to offer his excellent services at a lower fee.
Michael Nelson, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern IMF #76130, is 54 year-old San Diego native, who brings a wealth of life experience to the therapy room.
He worked for over 20 years in the restaurant industry, specializing in food production, and management. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Guitar Performance from San Diego State University, performs weekly at the Lodge Torrey Pines, and teaches music at the Chula Vista Academy of Music. He completed his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at SDSU, and entered the world of psychotherapy. This “calling” was no surprise; as his parents, grandmother, and great-grandmother were teachers and counselors. From Michaels’s earliest days, he was exposed to discussions regarding the self, strengths, the effects of family of origin, the effects of society, sexuality, gender roles, expectations for one’s self and others, challenges, dreams, predicaments and potentials. He is very excited and energized by the opportunity to work with people and carry on this family legacy.
Like many other people, Michael experienced anxiety, relational difficulties, and a period of estrangement from his family. His thinking about his position in his family of origin changed when he encountered Bowen Family Systems (BFS) theory in his graduate work. Dr. Bowen’s theory is based on Eight Concepts, which include triangles, differentiation of self, nuclear family emotional process, multi-generational transmission process, emotional cutoff, sibling position, and societal emotional process. Michael reconnected with his family, and engaged in thoughtful communication with family members. This personal experience with BFS theory increases his effectiveness as a therapist.
Michael works in a variety of clinical settings and has accrued over 2000 hours of supervised professional experience. In the past, he conducted individual and family psychotherapy at Hoover High School, with a highly diverse client base. Michael conducted individual, couple, and family psychotherapy sessions at the YMCA’s Youth and Family Services clinical program. He facilitates a YMCA Kinship support group, which offers support to relative caregivers of children whose parents are unable to care for them. He serves Roosevelt Middle School as the YMCA Healthy Start Building Bridges Coordinator, where he provides support for students and their families. In addition, he provides psychotherapy to bereaved family members through VITAS Innovative Hospice Care. Finally, Michael caps off this job list with the addition of his Internship under the Supervision of Lorna Hecht-Zablow, MFT, License #MFC 35604. With this wide range of experience, it is Michael’s great honor and privilege to offer his services to you as a psychotherapist.
Christina Heymoss, IMF #89534, is a pre-licensed clinician who has graduated with her degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Alliant International University. She is currently working towards gaining her hours for licensure in the state of California under the supervision of Lorna Hecht-Zablow, LMFT#35604.
Christina values making mental health a priority, and is eager to see clients that want to begin the process for themselves or with their partner. Her aim is to make individuals and couples feel comfortable in session, yet gently challenged to take a step towards an alternative way of thinking. Christina offers a sliding scale so that clients don't feel that getting the help they need is out of reach.
Christina’s primary interests surround couples and relationship issues. Her population focus is young adults, college students, and those in their 20’s and 30’s. In her experience, many couples find that they spend more of their time in conflict than in the loving relationship they had in the beginning. Attempts to address relationship issues often result in pointing blame at self or a partner for being the main contributor to the relationship’s problems. Christina’s focus is to help couples look at their conflict as the result of the interactions between the partners. It takes two to tango. Both partners fuel each other in different ways.
Christina encourages future clients to bring their issues with dating, co-habitation, long-term relationships, and marriage to therapy. If both partners are not willing participants, Christina provides individual counseling to those who want to begin their own journey of change.
Before graduate school, Christina had exposure to a lot of different aspects of mental health. Beginning at age 17, Christina started working in a funeral home, much to the surprise and curiosity of her family and peers. She maintained employment there throughout college and after graduating, finding fulfillment in assisting the needs of grieving families. As an undergraduate student, Christina was a substance abuse evaluator intern, conducting assessments for individuals on trial for drug-related crimes and helping develop treatment plans. Pursuing her interest in psychology, Christina was a research assistant in Burt Lab at MSU, where she performed assessments in child twin studies. She examined associations between genes, peers, family relationships, moods, and acting-out behaviors. As a treatment technician at an alcohol and drug recovery center, Christina learned about the recovery process and assisted those suffering from addiction.
Most recently, Christina completed her graduate school clinical experience providing therapy to individuals, couples, and families. Her practicum offered her the opportunity to lead domestic violence and anger management groups. This helped Christina learn empathy for a very stigmatized population, and support them in gaining insight about their behaviors while holding them accountable for managing their anger. Providing therapy to couples and being able to witness firsthand the relationship dynamic sharpened Christina’s ability to relate to both parties and identify the reciprocity in a relationship. Part of her practicum also included providing individual and group therapy to teenagers at a reformative high school, helping them to work through the obstacles that prevented them from being successful students. Therapy with the high school students included in-depth systems work looking at familial issues as a contributing factor towards the students’ presenting problems.
As a student at Alliant, Christina was exposed to many different theories about human behavior. She found herself straying from the more popular theories about behavior, including those that focused solely on the importance of an emotional connection or suggested that completion of charts and worksheets can create lasting change. Christina learned about Bowen Family Systems during a practicum class with a Bowen supervisor (Lorna Hecht, as a matter of fact!) This class ignited Christina’s thinking about family systems, and she found herself leaving class armed with knowledge about the family emotional system. Christina gently began to apply some of Bowen’s concepts to her own life. In doing her own differentiation-of -self-work, she is learning about the power of the family system.
Thinking ‘systems’ lead Christina away from the narrow perspective that clients come to therapy with an individualistic presenting problem. Essentially, individuals and couples come to therapy with their reactions to problems within their interpersonal relationships. The emotional reactions are preventing clear, responsible decisions from being made. The more fused one is with others, the less he/she is able to make healthy decisions for self. In families, friendships, and romantic relationships, it is common for the individuals to give up self to preserve harmony, or keep the peace. This happens in tiny ways every day. Another way of managing anxiety is to emotionally distance oneself, or cut-off from others. This also promotes to an unhealthy relationship balance. Christina concludes from Bowen’s theory that people function at their best when they find a balance between "I" and "we."
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