Marriage and Family THERAPY PERSONAL GROWTH AND IMPROVEMENT
Joseph Contorer MA MFT: Background, education, training, personal experience
Joseph is originally from Portland, Oregon and has been in Southern California for over 28 years.
His undergraduate training was in Community Health Education, Promotion and Wellness.
Prior to working in the mental health field, Joseph worked in the Corporate Wellness / Health and Fitness industry with Marriott Corporation. Therefore, a focus on holistic health has served as a positive purpose and a foundation to a specialty in mental and emotional health.
- Private Therapy Practice 2000-Present
- County Department of Mental Health/ CPS/LA County DCFS - 1993-2003
- Counseling Centers/Family Service Clinic
- Charter Behavioral Hospital - Adjunctive Therapy
- Marriott Corporation Health/Fitness Education 1990-1993
Since young adulthood, Joseph has developed a greater sense of self and personal empowerment by overcoming adversity and continued evolving.
Joseph has personally been through the therapy process at various points in his life to address depression and anxiety from a young age. He resolved issues like shame and bullying, and later faced the coming out process in his early 20’s. Joseph learned about intuitive eating to better manage compulsive overeating and body image issues. There were various periods of powerful crises, starting with a disabling spinal injury at age 19, several surgeries and then enduring the devastating AIDS epidemic of the late 80’s and mid 90’s. Joseph is a survivor of shattering losses of friends to AIDS as well as accidents, suicides and overdoses. He has made use of these experiences and while they were arduous and unpleasant, they have not been in vain. Joseph has learned many lessons, most of which have been "the hard way," but they are powerful examples of conquering hardship. Life lessons, such as these, combined with education and diverse professional experiences and training have integrated together so that Joseph can be of great empathic assistance to others who are working on themselves.
- Behavior modification
- Bullying/Shame-based abuse
- Compulsive overeating
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Dysfunctional relationships
- Eating Disorder Related Complex (EDRC)™
- Goal Work
- Grief and Loss of many friends prematurely from AIDS, accidents, suicide and self-destruction
- Panic attacks, phobias
Joseph’s Approach to treatment
I believe that psychotherapy should be geared to meet the client’s individual needs and comfort level. I view the therapist to be a provider of objective and supportive understanding, with a general emphasis on unconditional acceptance. It is my intention to support clients in their efforts to explore, address and improve their chosen therapy goals. I believe that ultimately, clients have the power and capability to activate change for themselves.
Often times therapy will identify and explore the “here and now,” present time and address “cognitive-behavioral” components (thoughts-feelings/insight development). Consideration and analysis of past experiences/history, family of origin and earlier development is also often times a valuable element of therapy and may be combined with present or more recent symptomology.
I believe that the past has a direct impact on the present. While focusing on the present is important, there are predictably observed patterns, which are multi-generational. This means that family history, such as the client’s interactions with and between other family members may be repeating in the present time or they may be influencing or causing conflict in the current life. Identifying the less healthy aspects of these patterns is helpful in breaking the cycle of dysfunction. While exploring and understanding the past can be a process of release and vindication, focusing on the present (with implications to the future,) is the only place that we have an option to modify.
The value of the therapeutic relationship and established camaraderie between therapist and client is a critical component of positive therapy outcomes. In an effort to facilitate empathy, accurate understanding and constructive support, I often times take a “psychological snapshot” of the client’s life and reality.
Homework assignments, such as journaling, behavior tracking or completing tasks are also sometimes given as a constructive option for clients to reflect and process between sessions. Helpful referrals to other sources/groups/classes or healthcare providers are also suggested when appropriate to enhance treatment.
Joseph’s Life Matters: Philosophy and Propositions for Healthy Living
- Learning from mistakes includes the notion that you can and should learn from mistakes, even it it means "learning the hard way," you eventually do and will learn.
- Joseph’s theory of psycho-social relativity: Everything is relative to one’s personal level of awareness. This includes self-awareness as well as life, and the external world around you.
- You may figure things out on your own timeline, but at least you figure something out eventually. Inner-work on yourself allows for learning life lessons.
- Understand that every individual has a potential history behind their current presentation/situation. There are reasons for all behavior and scenarios, whether they are considered valid excuses or not. (subjective interpretation.)
- The destiny of destiny: Different outcomes can result from what would otherwise be contradictory precursors. For example, a seemingly more fortunate advantaged individual may have been raised with financial or other similar advantages. This prototype can still destroy their lives for a variety of reasons. In contrast, a person who had a more challenging earlier life including various realities like poverty, various forms of abuse, alcoholic family or mental illness in the family, could still develop in to a strong sufficient confident person.
- Some people endured an extremely dysfunctional, mentally ill or alcoholic family upbringing. There is a need to choose to fight that much harder rather than succumb to a victim mode or remaining a subjugated pacifist.
- Success- you keep on fighting and pursuing your dreams and goals. If one trajectory is blocked, you proceed with another route. If the other routes are also eventually not obtained, you proceed with a different goal to work towards.
- Blaming is bad news- it is distressing behavior when some people persistently blame others for their failures, their inadequacies and their poor choices.
- Luck of the Draw: There are factors that would predictably render some individuals as just luckier to begin with, thus having a greater likelihood for success and overcoming adversity. Some do have to work harder and with less-than others. Therefore, they can opt to make a choice to persevere.
- If you have any of the above issues, such as adversity, challenges, problems and limitations, you have the option to make a change. It will hopefully be worth it to do so even with the hard work or hurdles along the way to generate an improved situation/resolution.
- Behaviors: Change or modify destructive, counter-productive unhealthy behaviors and thought processes.
- Boundaries: Learn about and implement healthier boundaries between you and the external environment.
(See section under Chemical Dependency page on "Boundary Alert.")
- Critical Thinking: Ask yourself: "Does this really makes sense?" especially pertaining to magical thinking/religious fanaticism and given today's alarmist social media storm full of exaggerated, embellished drama and sensationalism.
Read between the lines.
- Individuality vs. Conforming: Aspire to be yourself as opposed to conforming, which hinders evolving.
- Less Comparing: Keep issues, experiences and goals relevant to personal level of awareness.
De-emphasize competition and comparison with others.
- Mistakes: Learn from past mistakes vs. repeating unhealthy patterns. Difficult but rewarding.
- Moderation: Stay in the middle zone of the overall continuum of life vs. falling victim to “All-or-Nothing Thinking”
(black or white) and other “Cognitive Distortions” Also, see Section on Depression and Mood Disorders: ”
- Personal Responsibility: and ownership for self vs. being in denial or blaming others; commit to overcome challenges. Focus on gratitude vs. attitude.
- Solutions vs. Problems: Focus on the solution to the problem, rather than the problem itself.
- Tragedy turns into Triumph: Better to be or become the victor than remain, be or become a victim.
Areas of Interest/Specialty
Therapy- what to expect, how does it work?
"Therapy for the mind"... Psychotherapy, also referred to as "counseling," is a process that helps people learn about themselves, their environment and ways to handle their roles and relationships. Psychotherapy is a treatment and experience that is designed to bring about changes in emotions, mood, attitudes and behaviors as well as the client's personal adjustment to self and others.
Therapy is appropriate for almost anyone and can help a variety of conditions. Often times, people seek treatment to address unpleasant feelings and situations in their lives. Frequently, they hope to develop an improved understanding about individual identity, which may include personal growth and exploration.
Psychotherapy addresses the underlying origins of a wide array of problems. Symptoms of relationship/interpersonal difficulties, depression and anxiety are some of the commonly reported reasons to seek treatment. Addiction to drugs and alcohol, eating disorders, feeling out of control, hopeless, stuck or blocked, confused or insecure are some other struggles that can be helped through counseling.
Therapy works by exploring and confronting issues in a constructive empathetic manner that may not have otherwise been effectively assessed. The alternative is that clients continue to exhibit symptoms and or “act-out” the manifestations of the various conditions they are seeking treatment for. This treatment does not include specific medical or legal advice. Referrals will be given for any needs that cannot be provided from this psychotherapy.
Unique consideration is assessed for each individual client based on presenting issues and specific therapeutic needs. Individual psychotherapy can encourage clients to gain a improved insight, self-awareness and self-empowerment. Therapy may also:
- Elevate or stabilize mood and containment of anxiety or panic.
- Analyze and clarify historical issues and their relevance to current symptoms.
- Integrate specific objectives treatment planning/life goals.
- Potentially improve varied interpersonal relationships and exchanges.
- Support client efforts to manage compulsive behaviors and addictions (sometimes also including various adjunctive referrals, like recovery programs and other group support systems.)
While a friend or family member can be supportive, a psychotherapist is specifically trained to identify and treat underlying issues of personal, relational and family dynamics. Furthermore, a therapist is a neutral party, while a friend is already someone known personally, who may be biased and therefore less able to be diplomatic. Personal growth and insight can be greatly accelerated with professional treatment. While friends and family members may be comforting, and some of them may even possess similar para-professional “therapist-like skills,” the client-therapist relationship is designated and symbolic in different ways and does not function in the same framework as a personal friend or family member might.
Some perceptions may trivialize psychotherapy as being for weak, crazy or overly self-indulgent people. Working on yourself by improving and growing with the assistance of proper professional guidance is certainly not indicative of a weak character. In fact, those that seek therapy or other recovery services are inevitably more proactive than those who do not. Some people are less comfortable and may be prone to deny, minimize, repress and avoid delving in to the underlying causes, history and drives of their more debilitating problems (such as depression, anxiety, anger, abuse history, addictions, personality problems and interpersonal problems.)
Other than situations that would be considered “Danger to self or others,” psychotherapy is a confidential process. A signed “Authorization for Release of Information” is commonly utilized when the client permits the clinician to consult with other therapists or physicians/etc. to coordinate care. The only exceptions where releases are not required would be the legal mandate for therapists to report immediate danger, abuse or reasonably suspected abuse of clients to self, other adults, dependent adults, elderly or children/minors.
Length of Treatment
HOW LONG DOES THERAPY TAKE?
There is no formal set time frame for individual therapy. Generally, therapy is most effective if it is consistent and uninterrupted. Ideally, this means initially meeting at least 1 time per week and more if necessary. Many clients see their therapist on a regular, on-going basis. The period of time clients decide to remain in therapy depends on individual needs; progress and relief might not be immediately evident. There may be times when clients feel less hopeless or even “stuck” before they realize the scope and importance of improvements.
People seek therapy or are referred to (seek) psychotherapy for a variety of mental health and psycho-social issues; some are more severe than others. There are more common pre-cursors where psychotherapy is indicated for mental health treatment. Examples are conditions such as depression, anxiety, addictions, interpersonal/relationship/family problems and distress.
Some people find themselves in therapy for other valuable reasons, such as personal growth and achieving an elevated level of self-awareness and insight. In recent years therapy is sought for other matters as well, such as “coaching” (which is technically not the same as psychotherapy, although it has a therapeutic effect or some similar elements.)
Identifying and Unblocking Feelings and Emotions
What role do emotions and feelings, especially “repressed feelings” play as it pertains to psychological wellbeing/psychotherapy? Sigmund Freud MD, sometimes referred to as “The Father of Psychology,” suggested that depression was actually a function of "anger turned inward'." What Dr. Freud meant was that when strong feelings, such as anger, love, hate or jealousy, etc., are not properly channeled or expressed, they are repressed. The psyche then reverts to a sort of emotional shutdown. The combination of emotional blockage, difficulty and frustration in identifying and expressing feelings can lead to more severe feelings of inadequacy and depression.
Many people have become experts at repressing their feelings. Therapy is useful to explore feelings of depression and anxiety that underlie repression. Anger, rage, resentment, jealousy, fear and self-contempt may also be related to repression.
Typically, compulsive behaviors such as substance abuse, over-eating, co-dependency, and "acting-out" are dysfunctional methods used to manage anxiety and emotional disturbances. Negative self-dialogue and self-destructive actions/choices are other ways some people may manage these types of unpleasant feelings rather than face them directly.
The Psychotherapy process can explore the meaning and origins of your discomfort. Identifying, exploring, discussing or journaling about feelings and emotions may accomplish this. By actively engaging in this treatment, clients are provided with a constructive opportunity to recognize and manage these thoughts, emotions and behaviors.