Sasha Raskin, MA
My Counseling Model
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
As a contemplative therapist in training, my home base is a humanistic and strengths-based approach, that is by itself a synthesis of many western and eastern approaches. From western psychology and psychotherapy, it draws from humanistic psychology, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Jungian analytical theory, Rogerian person-centered therapy, and from positive psychology. From the eastern traditions, contemplative psychotherapy draws from 2,400 years of contemplative practices, psychologies, and philosophies such as Buddhist psychology, meditation, and yoga.
While I find the empathic and person-centered contemplative approach to be incredibly helpful in creating a deep therapeutic bind between my clients and me, I believe it can go to much greater lengths when coupled with much more active marriage and family therapy modalities. Couples and family therapy is a huge umbrella for a myriad of theories and therapy modalities, some drawing from each other, and some improve upon each other. They all, however, look at the world through a systemic point of view. As a certified marriage and family therapist, I am grateful to be able to use the many family therapy theories, assessments, and interventions I have been trained in, including but not limited to Bowenian family therapy, structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, emotionally focused couples and family therapy, narrative therapy, Gottman couples therapy and others (Weeks, 2004).
The theories that I use complement each other by combining cognitive and emotional insight, taking action, and experiential relationship building. The contemplative approach allows the creation of a safe, supportive and empathic environment. The clients learn to put into words their thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and thus gain deep insights and integrate their experience. In contemplative psychtotherapy the sharing and the clarity with a mindful and present therapist allows a sense of calmness of relief for the clients, and a renewed sense of trust in themselves and others. New ways of interactions, together with a deep emotional bond can occur with the contemplative therapist, which can be applied to any other relationships in the clients’ lives. Also, the strengths-based approach, together with the unconditional positive regard of contemplative psychotherapy, empower the clients to view themselves more positively, to believe in themselves, and to feel encouraged to take more risks and step out of their comfort zone.
That being said, contemplative psychotherapy is a highly person-centered model, in which the session is mostly led by the client, and the therapist is mainly providing empathic presence. The therapist is encouraged to let go of any agenda, not to give any advice, and not to be an obstacle between the client and healing. Even though research shows that the therapeutic relationship plays an immense role in how helpful the clients feel the therapy was, this kind of unstructured model can be not very useful in helping the client to create change promptly. Also, the model is more suited towards working with individuals than working with couples or families. Merely listening to a couple in distress or just replaying the same family quarrel in the therapy office will not cut it: There needs be experiential work to experience and practice new ways of interaction to reduce conflict and increase friendship. If the couple or the family would just be having the same fight, even though it is in front of a nodding compassionate therapist, it would be nothing more than a costly fight.
Contemplative psychotherapy is an incredibly powerful tool to create a safe container for therapy to happen. To adapt it for accelerated growth, and for working with couples and families, I use thee call to action, the experiential elements and the systemic view that marriage and family therapy bring to the table.
One might ask, how does the contemplative view, which encourages letting go of agenda and a more passive role of a therapist, work with the more active modalities of family therapy. The answer is that the modalities I use from family therapy are by themselves strengths-based and very much humanistic in nature so that there is an overarching belief in human potential. The systemic view of focusing on the whole system, such as family and the society in large, is very much on correlation with the Buddhist view of interconnectedness that the contemplative psychology theory draws from. In both approaches, humans are connected much more than they think, and when one is affected, many more are affected as well. The systemic theory in family therapy and the Buddhist approach both seek the true meaning and life’s organizing force in our connection with others. Thich Nhat Hanh (1988) in one piece of advice summarizes how this interconnectedness should be nurtured: “If you wish to have children, please do something for the world you will bring them into.” (p. 126)
When I lean more towards the contemplative psychotherapy style, very much affected by the Rogerian client-centered approach, I am not leading nor prompting the. At the same time, many of the interventions of family therapy that I use are very much the opposite, very direct and very much leading the clients towards the goals the identified at the beginning of our work together. The thing is that I do not have to choose one approach or the other. Just like jazz, since I know the rules very well, I can drop the rules entirely and just enjoy being in the moment, completely present, improvising, and letting the interventions to choose themselves. There is tremendous freedom in not subscribing to the active role of a family therapist, or what looks to the outsider as the passive role of the contemplative psychotherapist; I can be both, depending on the client and the moment. Sometimes clients just want to vent and to be listened to. Sometimes they very clearly want to create specific changes in their lives but do not know how. By combining contemplative psychotherapy with family therapy, I can be useful in doing both.
Combining the modalities mentioned above, however, is both an art and a skill. I need to be always attentive to the needs of the clients, determining when is that I need to be merely warm and attentive, and when are the clients stuck in a loop, trapped in retelling the same story over and over again. Or enacting the same old unhelpful behaviors with their partners or family members in the office. Depending on the situation I might step in, and be more active-directive, and probing, sometimes even challenging, deferring more towards the active styles of family therapy. For example, in couples therapy, especially starting with the fourth session, after I gathered all the information I needed, when I am doing emotionally focused couples therapy, it is me who many times that will be doing most of the talking, rephrasing and integrating my client's experiences, for the sake of both clients. In this way, they can both feel seen and heard by me, and start to feel safe, to go deeper into exploring their feeling. I will gradually begin incorporating more emotion words so that we can move from just sharing content of the problems in the couple’s relationship towards exploring the emotional impact that the negative cycle has on them, and by doing so moving them towards a deep emotional bond. In doing so, I have a clear agenda: to facilitate the couple’s work towards a secure attachment.
Therefore my personalized integrative theoretical model for conceptualization and treatment of individuals, couples, and families includes a cyclical flow between three components:
The thread that glues all these components together is the therapeutic relationship, which stems from the humanistic, person-centered and holistic view which is the center of contemplative psychotherapy. None of this work would be possible if the therapist fails to create a sense of safety, warmth, compassion and unconditional positive regard. If the therapist does succeed in that, gradually of course, then there is space for the therapeutic work to occur, and there is a buy-in on the client’s end to experiment with sometimes very new interventions of the family therapy modalities. In other words, being a contemplative psychotherapist gives me the ground to indeed support my clients in an empathic way to experiment with new ways of being in the world, both in terms of more vulnerable sharing, and taking further action in the world, in the office, and in their everyday life. Thus, we use the therapeutic alliance for the sake of growth and healing. The paradox of change from Gestalt therapy (Yontef, 2005) then comes into play: If the client feels fully accepted, then there is a safe ground to experiment with change. The fear of failure is diminished as well as the fear of success. If the client knows and feels that no matter what they do in the world, they will be unconditionally accepted by me, they give themselves permission to play. Just like the child that developed a secure attachment with their parent in childhood feels comfortable as an adult to step outside of the comfort zone because they did so successfully many times as a child, the same way, supported by the accepting therapeutic relationship, clients can step out of their comfort zone and allow growth to manifest.
The contemplative practices and psychologies that are incorporated in the contemplative psychotherapy model are excellent to to support my clients and me in the sometimes intensive and lengthy therapeutic work. Mindfulness plays a big part in helping me be calm and present even amid most challenging moments, for example when a client shares a trauma or when an argument between a couple or family members get escalated. I remain to be grounded by doing mindfulness practices at the moment, for example, focusing on my breath throughout the session, and maintaining a daily meditation practice, and in doing so, I make sure that I am fully there for the clients to support them through the struggles, without them worrying about needing to take care of and safeguarding me from their problems. Additionally, almost all of my clients start a meditation practice from the moment we start working together. The tremendous benefits that a meditation practice brings are extensively supported by research (AsapSCIENCE, 2015; Kabat-Zinn, 2016). By helping my clients to create the habit of meditating daily, many times using accountability, we create another source of support, that is available for them for free, every day. Self-care is then expanded from one weekly therapy session to a daily practice that promotes relaxation and also prevents stress. In the longer term, meditation also brings powerful insights, and these can be further explored in therapy. After the meditation practice has been established, and many times in parallel, or instead, if the clients do not feel that meditation practice is something they want, we explore and practice mindfulness in the session. I may do a grounding exercise in the meeting if I see that the client’s nervous system is overwhelmed. In this way, I introduce a simple way to deal with overwhelm at the moment and also help the client to come back to a place where the therapy session can be useful.
My personal values and worldview have a lot to do with my model. The Buddhist idea in contemplative psychotherapy that everything is temporary and one does not need to take it personally is something I reflect on a lot during the sessions. In doing so, there can be a relief from the idea that things should always be perfect, or that when things are not going the way my clients want, it is them against the world. The sense of constant struggle can be lifted, and acceptance, together with more daring to change things that my clients want to change can be accomplished.
I also believe in the tremendous power of family, and romantic relationships. This brought me not just to working with families and couples and learning as much as I can about the many family therapy modalities, but also working from that model even when working with individuals. My assessment always includes getting as much information as I can about the people and family members in their lives, including the relationships among them. I keep referring to these people when appropriate as sources of support, especially when my clients feel that they have to do everything themselves, or when they are afraid to seek assistance from others. I believe that we are primarily social creatures and that our lives are tremendously enriched by a deep emotional connection to others. One of my goals in therapy is to create such a connection between myself and my clients and help and empower them to do so in their other relationships. I believe that this is such an important goal, that the majority of the time that I spend in therapy with family and couples, we do experiential work with them connecting with each other in a more profound, and more vulnerable way.
It is always essential for me to remember that my particular model is not a perfect fit for everyone. Some clients might benefit much more from a very structured clear model, such as CBT. Some clients might just want to talk about their week, and goal setting in therapy might sound utterly alien to them. I completely understand that, and the Buddhist idea of non-attachment is definitely helpful in that, together with not taking it personally.
That being said, I strive to make sure that I do the best on my end, to fit the model to needs of my clients, also from an ethical standpoint and while considering multicultural and diversity issues. For example, I am cautious with cultural appropriation. Even though Buddhist concepts are very close to my heart, and are a central piece in contemplative psychotherapy, my office is not filled with statues of Buddha. Some clients might not feel comfortable with that, and I do not want to devalue cultural pieces of Buddhist countries where I did not grew up at. Another critical point for me is to make sure that I listen to the needs of my clients. If they need to create a specific change in their life, I will not indulge in a lengthy contemplative psychotherapy process of emotional exploration.
For example, let us assume Tonny, a thirty years old Buddhist male from India comes to see me because he has been unemployed for two years and is living with his parents. He experiences a lot of shame and guilt since he is entirely supported by his parents. Their savings are also running out, and they implied that they can no longer support Tonny. My primary goal is first to create a safe and accepting container for Tommy to feel heard, seen and validated, both for his struggle and his emotional experience. While the contemplative psychotherapy model implies non-agenda and letting the client lead the session, there is a dire need on my client’s end, and for his family for him to find a job, and avoiding that would be doing them a disservice. I would ask him about his goals, and if he is open to it, I will work with him on finding a job. To do so, I would incorporate interventions and theory from family therapy. Using solutions focused brief therapy I would look at what he really wants to achieve, and how he can gradually get there, and what stops him. Using structural family therapy, I would identify power dynamics, alliances and sub-groups that might be keeping him in that role in his family, and would definitely offer to be his parents in. Using strategic family therapy interventions, I would work with him individually or with his family towards the specific goal of individuation and finding a job, and if the family so desires, moving out to his own place. I would be careful not to try and impose the American individualistic view of leaving the house at the age of 18-24 since it might not be culturally appropriate. I would also be careful not to share with him concepts from Buddhism since this is his own culture. My personal integrative counseling model also guides me as a counselor educator, beyond being a therapist. First of all, I emphasize continually to my students that there are many ways to do therapy, and that different client need different things. I encourage my students to develop their style. I also invite them to explore with me their own thoughts emotions and physical sensations, to achieve more profound insight into their processes, as well as creating a deep, vulnerable relationship with me and each other. I emphasize self-care, as well as the values of connection, empathy, secure attachment, and unconditional positive regard.
Sasha Raskin, MA, is an international #1 bestselling co-author , the founder and CEO of Go New , a transformational education program, a life, and business coach and a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO. He is working on a P.h.D in Counseling Education and Supervision and is an adjunct faculty at the Contemplative Counseling master’s program at Naropa University, from which he also graduated. Sasha has been in the mental health field for more than 10 years, worked with youth at risk, recovery, mental health hospitals, and coached individuals, couples, families, startups, and groups. He has created mindfulness stress reduction and music therapy programs within different organizations. Whether it’s in person or via phone/video calls, Sasha uses cutting-edge, research-based techniques to help his clients around the world to thrive.
As a coach Sasha Raskin provides individual and group coaching in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls, drawing from over ten years of experience. His services include: life coaching, business coaching, career coaching, ADD / ADHD coaching, leadership coaching, and executive coaching. Schedule your free 20-minute coaching phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
As a counselor in Boulder, CO, Sasha provides individual counseling in Boulder, CO , family therapy in Boulder, CO, and couples therapy in Boulder, CO, marriage counseling in Boulder, Colorado, and couples intensives / couples retreats, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience. Schedule your free 20-minute psychotherapy phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
AsapSCIENCE. (2015, January 18). The Scientific Power of Meditation [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw71zanwMnY
Thich Nhat Hanh (1988)
Yontef, G. M. (2005). Gestalt theory of change. In A. L. Woldt & S. M. Toman (Eds.), Gestalt therapy: History, theory, and practice (pp. 81–100). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2016). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hachette Books.
Minuchin, S., Nichols, M. P., & Lee, W. (2007). Assessing families and couples: From symptom to system. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Weeks, G. (2004). Handbook of Family Therapy. [VitalSource]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9780203490419/
White, J. M., & Klein, D. M. (2008). Family theories (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
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