Gene Lichtenstein, LMFT
Listening to stories recounted to me when I was a young foreign correspondent and documentary filmmaker helped guide me through a side door to psychotherapy, first as a clinical psychologist and later as a marriage and family therapist. I learned the importance of listening to what was being said and what was left unsaid.
The transition itself from journalist to psychologist occurred when a group of college psychiatrists invited me to write and direct a documentary film. It focused on college students coping with drugs and sex and identity—and, most of all, with their parents. That year-long experience persuaded me to become more than a curious and sympathetic observer.
I started my new career with a return to school. My coursework was at Boston College, my clinical training and research at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and at MIT in Cambridge.
But I carried my past with me, knowing that the most important part of the therapeutic process is, like reporting and making films, the connection between people. Therapy for me was and is collaborative: A process in which we explore experience along with the narratives that shape our lives.
HOW I WORK
Over the years I have worked with adults and adolescents whose lives were shaken by a host of mental health concerns. I’ve primarily specialized in depression, anxiety, and trauma. I have also worked with couples and families struggling over boundaries, individuation, and trust; and with artists and writers stymied by creative blocks.
I find that the story about “what is wrong” prevents us from seeing our own strength and resiliency. We become stuck in the way we view ourselves and fail to see all our gifts, all the obstacles we have overcome. Narrative Therapy incorporates innovative methods for changing these stories, “the truths we cling to” about our lives.
Often we hold fast to these “truths” for they serve specific and personal needs. The result is that what may be an effective treatment for one person may not be suited to another. Therapy is not like medicine. There is no blood test that tells us “aha, depression.” While I don’t have a blood test to administer, I do have decades of knowledge and training and practice honed by a great deal of life experience.
Initially I was trained in the traditional psychodynamic approaches, which include object relations theory, attachment theory, and the interplay between present and past. These theories still remain useful and pertinent to many of the more modern treatment modalities that I draw upon.
Today, however, my starting point is to connect with the client, to discover a person, not to treat an illness. I often favor a Narrative Therapy approach, in which the effects of a current problem are explored and emphasized more than its causes from the past.
The cornerstone of Narrative Therapy is to look for the arc of a story in the client’s life so as to help him weave together a new narrative. The process pivots on finding an alternate story, one that is powerful and transformative, but also authentic. One that the client can own.
In my practice I often utilize Gestalt methods such as psychodrama and role-playing. It serves as a form of interaction in the therapeutic process, and we proceed wherever the client’s life and strengths take us. I use humor, when appropriate, because it helps to be able to laugh, even about painful things. I look for ways to empower my clients by teaching them to uncover their own resources and to develop their own skills.
At times I have turned to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) particularly when working with addiction or with men and women trapped by an all-or-nothing form of thinking.
I also incorporate Solution Focused Therapy, a brief therapy method designed for those intent on solving a specific problem rather than dealing with issues that date to the past. In this approach, which always is concerned with the present and the future, the client is the leader and the therapist is present as a catalyst to the process.
The therapists and theorists who have had the greatest impact on my practice are Milton Erickson and Jay Haley both of whom were imaginative, highly creative, and wise. They taught me to free myself to become a therapist willing to explore all possibilities in the room.
I look forward to exploring what possibilities may emerge between us as we enter this “room” together.
Office Location(s): Online and Mobile