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Do You Need Help Coming Out Of The Dark?

December 7, 2018

I always have a tune stuck in my head!  This week it is a song from when I was in high school called “Coming Out of The Dark.”  The music video showed Gloria (the singer) literally rebuilding her physical strength after a dark time in her life.  She is lifting weights and coming out of the dark.  Recently, I have been going to exercise classes and lifting weights.  I ran a 12 minute mile on Wednesday, which has not happened in several years.  The song is fitting for me physically. And mentally.

Mentally, I have been coming out of some dark times in my life.  I feel like my world is opening up, and I can look around to see happiness and joy.  I went through a dark time several years ago when I felt helpless.  I became overburdened with financial problems as a small business owner when the economy tanked over ten years ago.  This was coupled with having to deal with a sociopath who would not leave me alone.  I hated going to the mailbox at that time in my life! And then my third child had special needs.  Caring for him was like caring for three children.  Sometimes, I would sit down at my laptop to finally do my administrative work exhausted from hours of care taking for clients and my family, and I would end up writing “help me” in the google search engine box.  And then I would delete it and go back to doing whatever I needed to do for work.

For years, I had to compartmentalize my own fear, emotional pain, and darkness for hours and days at a time so that I could help my clients who were dealing with relationship problems and their own darkness.  I had to see my own therapist at times to deal with the “help me” I was writing in the google search engine box.  I prayed to God that he would be faithful to me.  (I respect my clients who are not religious, however I have found comfort in the prayers I learned as a child).  I found small glimpses of light in other people, and I found solace in the habits and routines I learned from my mother and grandmother.  No matter how much I felt I was struggling emotionally, there was a sense of order in taking care of my family’s daily routines.   

I did this.  I compartmentalized.  I consoled and mentored my clients even while I was internally battling and fighting against darkness every day within myself. 

I am stronger for it.  And my business is financially stronger for it.  My marriage with my husband is strong as we have weathered and endured much together.  Our children are thriving.  I almost always have found love to give even in the dark where there is a battleground .  You should know that I am Coming Out of Darkness Into A Very. Bright. Light.  God has been faithful to me.  I keep praying now that I will get a few years with less suffering.  I am holding my breath, hoping nothing else bad will happen so we can share some of our prosperity, and I can breathe deeply.

When I validate my clients about many things, they look surprised to see that I understand and have the right words to explain their darkness.  I have always been sensitive to understand the feelings of others.  But there is nothing like living in darkness to really understand what it can feel like.

These winter days are dark and gray.  The holiday time can create more feelings of despair for people who are going through hard times without enough support.  More people struggle with suicidal thoughts, depression, and grief this time of year.  If you are one of them, I hope you will read this story and reach out for help.  Research shows that just 5 sessions of talk therapy alone can drastically reduce depression symptoms and lighten feelings of grief and sadness.  

Almost every day there is an appointment available at one of our locations with myself or one of my associates.   If you need help, you need help.  Do not hesitate or wait until the darkness consumes you.  It is better to Come Out Of The Darkness…  

I Love You Dad

December 6, 2018

Yesterday I was on the treadmill at the gym, and the funeral of our former President was on television.  George W was giving a tribute to his father, and he described his last words to his father who could hear him but could not speak.  “I Love You Dad.”  He discussed his fathers’ strengths and weaknesses, and the ways as a child that he had tested his Dad.

The tribute resonated with me, and I automatically had thoughts of both my clients and my own father.

My own father is second to none, and yet of course I challenged him.  When I was 23, I gave my father a terrible time for a few years especially while studying to be a family therapist.  I didn’t rebel in all the typical ways that a young person might.  However, I challenged him intellectually and emotionally.  The worst things I could actually fault him for were things such as agreeing with my Mom that my athletic shorts always had to be longer than all the other girls on my teams.  And, he sometimes had his mind somewhere else.  He was building a national company while raising five kids, of course his mind was somewhere else.   I complained that there was not enough space in our family to hold different religious and intellectual viewpoints.  While all true, now I can also see the positive that my Dad gave me a strong moral compass, and I certainly knew what the boundaries and expectations were.  My own father started out financially poor, however he and my mother were almost never not working in the home and on the farm; and now they own a national manufacturing company, numerous farms, and two beautiful homes.  But most importantly, my Dad loves me.  I feel unconditional love from my father despite the fact he did not feel he experienced that from his own.

As I think about all of this in regards to my own father, I happen to have several fathers in my private practice who are currently working to understand their relationships with their children.  In every case, their child is going through the differentiation process.  Mentally healthy human beings go through a time in their life when they differentiate from their parents.  This allows them to be able to eventually attach to a new partner and create their own nuclear family.  Most people differentiate in their teen years during high school, others when they are in their early to mid -20’s, and other people don’t even fully differentiate from a parent until they are well into middle age.  The most healthy age to differentiate is during adolescence or early in young adulthood, and there is generally at least some turmoil in the parent/child relationship.  Several fathers I am currently working are dealing with their child’s complaints even while they keep making typical parental sacrifices for their children.  Including – they are paying to come to my office and help their child differentiate from them.  Which means listening and validating and accepting the things that their child does not understand or agree with about their parenting.  About whatever troubles the family has had (every family has some kind of trouble)  Without getting angry (at least not for long).  And With Love.

At the end of this process will be a fully differentiated, more mentally healthy adult who knows their father loves them even when they don’t agree, even if they do not like certain things about one another.  They know that at least sometimes their father will apologize.  This is a gift that fathers give their children, and the most loving fathers do this with grace and humility.  They say “I am sorry” and “I will always be here for you no matter what.”  In many cases, this is the most difficult for fathers who did not experience a loving differentiation from their own Dad.  Without grace, the road to differentiation will be more stormy and challenging.

Now that I am going through my own children’s differentiation process and after twenty years of being a therapist, I know that I am immensely blessed.  Not only was my father an amazing provider, he was an honest and good man.  He loved me despite my storms.  I now have the perspective of knowing how many girls do not even have a father to cherish them.  Whereas mine often praised my talents, and he always protected my interests and my self-confidence.  So many girls whose fathers did not protect them.  Girls whose fathers ran after them with belts.  Some who were raped night after night by their own father.  For years.  Whereas my own father protected me many times from bad situations.  Girls whose fathers sat in the recliner all night every evening while my father helped with dishes and played hide and seek.  Girls whose dads drank away the family money while mine generously made sure that I could go on band trips and buy new jeans every time I grew an inch taller.

The point of this story is to encourage you if you are going through a stormy differentiation with your own child.  It is likely to get better.  At some point your slightly entitled young person (hopefully she is not studying to be a psychologist and thinks she knows everything) – will get some perspective and say, “I love you Dad.”

If You Are A Therapist…. Continuing Education Possibilities For You

December 5, 2018

Dr. Stephanie is Teaching Two Classes For

Continuing Education Units This Winter

Conflict Repair Strategies: Eighteen Cutting Edge Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions for Peaceful Influence

Dec 27, 2018 in Dundalk, MD
10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Registration at

Therapy Disruption: 6 Strategies for Helping to Promote Change and Mindset Breakthroughs in Our Clients

January 28, 2018 in Owings Mills, MD

10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Registration at

Look What You Did …

November 30, 2018

You helped me become a Gottman Certified Therapist!  Thank you …

Many of you who were my clients in couples therapy gave permission for me to video your sessions.  My mentor at the reputable Gottman Institute reviewed some of the videos and guided me on how to improve my interventions.   Along with video review, I just completed all the requirements to be a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist!!! To accomplish this goal, I had to complete 8 days of classes, attend 10 hours of mentoring and video review, and document practicing Gottman interventions during over 100 hours of clinical work.

I am thankful to my mentor Dr William Bumberry for giving me lots of great feedback on how to improve my skills as a couples therapist.  Even after 15 years of practicing full time as a licensed marriage and family therapist, there is always room for improvement!  I learned a lot, in particular how to apply Gottman’s research about what predicts divorce versus what predicts a successful marriage to the couples I am a clinician for.

My next steps are to improve even more at helping clients with creating a solid Sound Relationship House. I am also planning to learn how to present Weekend Workshops and Retreats for the Gottman Institute, and I hope to become a trainer as well!

I also have an idea for the Gottmans regarding how to help couples reduce defensiveness and accept responsibility.  Many of you have experienced using the metaphor of a customer service counter for your relationship as a way to respond to complaints in a non-defensive way.   It will be interesting to see if this idea or metaphor will be something that the Gottmans like…  I will keep you posted!!!

Most Couples Who Enter Therapy Have Waited Way Too Long!

March 23, 2018

Today, I was at the Psychotherapy Networker Conference in Washington D.C.  I attended a seminar by the pioneers of Marriage Research, Dr. John Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Gottman (see my cool picture above).  The Gottmans are pretty much among the most famous in the field of Couples Therapy, so I stalked them for a picture!  They have recently analyzed the data from 40,000 couples who went into Couples Therapy during recent years.  Some of them were my own couples who completed the Relationship Checkup!

Did you know that On average, couples are having problems for SIX YEARS before they even seek help, and in about 65 % of couples, one person is already seriously considering divorce!  Before even seeking help…  I definitely believe this is true, but it kind of makes me sad…

This is NOT GOOD!  I mean, it’s good that people are seeking help but guys, you are making our job as marriage therapist pretty tough if you wait so long and things get to the CRISIS stage.  It’s not that we can’t help at that point, because I have helped many couples to resolve their crisis.  But honestly, others have just waited too long…

Why do couples wait this long?  I would really like to hear your thoughts on this..  Because – really, the stigma for therapy has long gone away…  It’s pretty much en vogue now.  So why wait until one of you is about to leave?  I know so many people who won’t pay for couples therapy but they will take a vacation, then they fight on the vacation.  Does that make any sense?  Why not spend a few days of vacation money or some other luxury to have a happy marriage?  Why not put more value on each other and learning how to communicate?

I am urging you, if you are having problems… please  seek help before the alarm bells are going off and you are in crisis.

As I see it, we need to put as much energy into our marriages and our relationships – including money – as we did when we were courting and engaged.  Have fun!  Do nice things for each other.  And, if you can’t work out a problem (which is likely causing you to not have fun anymore) then, I hope you will fix it before it’s too late!

At-Home Date Night

March 16, 2018

Many relationship therapists prescribe date night for couples who need to rebuild a relationship that has become dull and ho-hum.   While I totally agree with this plan, I have also had couples who feel that it is too much of a financial burden.  And couples with young children have the additional logistical and financial burden of hiring, scheduling, and paying a sitter.   While it’s great to have a date night to get out away from the stresses of work, household chores, child rearing, and the distraction of several additional technological devices … sometimes it’s just plain not realistic.

Which is why I recommend “At-Home Date Night!”  Speaking from personal experience, my husband and I have perfected the concept of At-Home Date Night.  Pretty much any Friday or Saturday night when we are both at home and it’s not a scheduled date night to go out somewhere, it just a given that we have “At-Home Date Night.”  It is automatic and expected…. at 8:30 pm when our younger child is in bed and our teens are either out with friends or have went off to play video games or read a book. . . . . we have our date night at home.  The rules are: 1) no doing any household chores; 2) no talking with other people on the phone; 3) no devices or social media.  The only “device” allowed is turning on the television if we mutually agree we would like to snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie or a television show that we both like.  At-Home Date Night often includes a glass of wine with some cheese or popcorn but not always.  It always includes at least a few minutes to talk about anything on our mind that we have not had time to discuss during the week.   These nights are just as meaningful as going out so long as we stick to the rules and have quality time with few interruptions and a little romance.  I recommend a fire in the fireplace, some time rocking on the front porch, lighting a candle, or turning on music.

So, that’s my version of “At-Home Date Night.”  I recommend you set it up with your partner.  Make it expected on certain nights of the week that work for your schedule!  Follow the rules, make it romantic, talk with each other, and let me know how it goes!

Detoxify Your Love Life

March 14, 2018

Recently I was thinking about how people set goals to detoxify their body.  Sometimes they do a juice cleanse.  Always they set goals to completely avoid all sugar, alcohol, caffeine, soda, and anything that is not healthy for their body.  This is so great for wellness!  I am actually not one who has done a full detox for days at a time but I do fast regularly.  I have recently lost 10 pounds doing the Warrior Fast.  I eat only a few snacks of protein or fruits and vegetables during the morning and afternoon.  Generally, I am probably intaking about 400 calories during the day.  Then, in the evening I eat a regular dinner with portion control and only one portion of carbohydrates.  I still eat some kind of a snack before bed, sometimes more protein or some popcorn.  I am feeling amazing with tons of energy.

Just recently I was thinking, what if I did a detox for my relationship and get my clients to do the same?  I started today, and I am challenging myself for 30 days.  No complaints or criticism towards my husband, only positive comments.  I am going to be extra supportive and loving.  Today, I left a voice mail that was just nice and thoughtful like back when we were dating.  In recent years, it seems like we are so busy each day that if I get his voice mail I just hang up and text him whatever my question is.  Today, I got the voice mail again (he is with customers).  Sigh.  But instead of hanging up I left a nice voice mail.  Maybe that’s akin to a fruit smoothie?

All right people, let me know how this goes.  I think it’s going to be really bring some closeness and passion back into my relationship, and I am committed to making it work even if….. I mean when my husband gets a little grouchy!


Couples Who Celebrate Together Stay Together

March 10, 2018

Did you know that “couples who celebrate together, stay together” ??? I have been thinking about this more the past couple days because it was my husband’s birthday on Wednesday …

Some people will say they are not into the whole Hallmark thing and that stuff is fake.  The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to honor a special day in your relationship.  Although… if your partner would like you to be a little more generous with your dollars around special days, you should probably reconsider.  Why?

Research by Gottman and Colleagues shows that one of the predictors for relationship success (along with good complaint resolution) is Creating Shared Meaning.  There are many ways for couples to create shared meaning, including have dreams and plans for the future.  However, one important predictor for relationship success is having shared rituals during holidays.

Many couples plan and create rituals naturally while others struggle with formalizing special events.  BOTH people in a relationship have to put in some effort and planning for traditions and rituals to be SHARED.  If only one person is doing all the planning, preparing, and celebrating and the other person does not participate or help, then the rituals tend to not be as positive.

I have definitely heard some people complain in couples therapy when it comes to a Birthday or Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or other special holidays that their partner does not get them a card or do anything special to honor the day whereas they do a lot for their partner.  This is not a good sign, so if you are guilty of not participating and making holidays special… you might want to Step It Up…

In our house, birthdays happen not only on the day of the birthday but the weekend before or after.  That is when the whole family gets together for a special dinner, cake, and opening gifts.  That often can’t happen on the day of the actual birthday.  So, on my husband’s birthday this past Wednesday we couldn’t all be together because my daughter is off at college.  I still made him a nice dinner at home, and my 7 year old helped me to put balloons in his office and bake a homemade cake with his favorite peanut butter frosting.  Then, last night we had some quality time together just him and I.  Now, on Sunday the whole family including my daughter will meet for dinner at a restaurant and we will have another cake and he will open gifts and cards.  This is our tradition for everyone’s birthday, it’s like a birthday week celebration.   I hope you enjoy your traditions and holidays, and if you need work in this area talk with your partner and find ways to SHARE the celebration…



Build Closeness In Your Relationship By Sharing Your Dislikes and Complaints

March 8, 2018

Some people have the idea that it’s not good to bring up relationship complaints or problems!  They worry this will create conflict, and there are a whole lot of people in the world who are avoidant of conflict.  But here’s the thing, talking about a complaint or a concern that you have does not have to lead to conflict or fighting!

In fact, bring up a concern in the right way can actually make you closer and bring intimacy in your relationship.  After all, you want your partner to know the real you.  Intimacy is based on know who you really are – even the things that bother you or hurt your feelings.  Trust me when I told you that holding your feelings in and bottling things up is never a good long term approach for your relationship.

You will always have some complaints about your partner – that’s a normal part of being in a close relationship with someone.  If you are in a marriage or a more serious relationship that means you’re sharing a house, a bank account, and a bed.  So, how could you not have some complaints from time to time?  However, be careful to bring up complaints in the right way!

There is a world of a difference between a complaint and criticism.  According to research by Dr. John Gottman, bringing up complaints as a criticism is a predictor for relationship failure. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman explains that “a complaint focuses on a specific behavior or event. Criticism is global and expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other person.”

For example, if the kitchen sink is full of dishes when you get home from work and you say to your partner, “Why didn’t you do the dishes? You never keep the kitchen clean,” that’s criticism because it expresses a negative judgment of your partner.  On the other hand, a complaint made the right way would simply say, “I am really tired from work, will you do the dishes tonight?”  Or, you might say, “When you forget to do the dishes, it makes me feel overhwelmed seeing them in the sink after work.  I need to come home and feel like I can rest.  It would mean a lot to me if you could do the dishes before I get home.”

 Complaints can be constructive and positive for your relationship.  YOU are valuable and worthy of having your complaints heard and resolved.  You can learn more about how to make complaints the right way and to resolve them in your relationship!

My Sweetie’s Birthday

March 7, 2018

It is  my husband Brendan’s birthday!  This is a picture of my Sweetie Brendan and me at a St. Jude’s Hospital Fundraiser in New York a couple years ago, hosted by Eric Trump.  Many of you may not know that my husband sells large steel buildings, and he sold a building to Eric back in 2014.  It was a really fun evening, great food, and we spent time with a family whose child was in remission from cancer.

I am so lucky to be married to Brendan.  For one thing, he works so hard selling American Steel to support our family.  We both work hard, but he puts in longer days than I do (I need more sleep to feel good each day).  He has always supported my dreams for my business.  The best thing about Brendan is that he gets right in there and does everything with me from advocating for all three of our children, helping with interventions for our child with autism, and cooking on the weekends so I can help more people in my private practice. But the best thing for me is that I trust him to be there for me, for us, and that he will always work out problems with me even if sometimes it takes us a few times discussing something to get it fully resolved.  (We are both Type A personalities and a little stubborn).

I remember back in graduate school studying to be a Marriage Therapist, I read a book called Peer Marriage about the benefits of having an equitable partnership.  At that time, I thought I would never have the kind of supportive partnership that the book described!  However, now I feel that Brendan and I have created a Peer Marriage!  We both support each other’s careers and dreams… as well as dreams for our family.  We still have obstacles we are overcoming – our life and relationship is far from perfect – but I trust we will figure it out in together in this journey called life….

I am getting dinner ready for tonight to celebrate when he finishes traveling from up North.  Fingers crossed he doesn’t get stuck in traffic!  Love you sweetie!

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