We interviewed Brook Sprowl (mylatherapy.com; LCSW). Below you will find her thoughts on improving communication.

Why should couples with problems seek therapy?

Couples seek therapy for help with communication. Obviously communication is a really important part of a healthy relationship. At the same time, communication problems are a symptom of deeper issues. You can say the right words and your partner can see through it pretty easily if it’s not coming from the right place. Communication issues give us a window into other unresolved issues from our past that need to be addressed. We begin to resolve those deeper issues and learn how to regulate them in couple therapy. We also learn to communicate vulnerably as opposed to defensively. That can really help a couple get back on track with their relationship. 

It’s about a lot of deeper issues that are triggered by the relationship. The relationship is the lens through which we’re seeing other unresolved issues and trauma. Those things are inevitably going to affect us until we start to face and deal with them.  

What types of problems do you usually address with your clients? Which are the most difficult to deal with?  

Most things trace back to the stereotypical childhood trauma and most people come in without an awareness of how their childhood has affected them. As they say, “a fish doesn’t know it’s wet.” When we’re raised in a home that’s dysfunctional in certain ways it’s invisible to us. It’s like the air we breath, so we don’t really realize some of the patterns that we have. Even very healthy and happy families have issues. A lot of people will say, “oh, my parents were supportive, it’s not my childhood.” When we peek beneath the surface we see that inevitably our parents did have an impact and did influence the way that were behaving, and our issues, in our relationships and in our lives. 

We have this culture of self blame and self apologizing. What I’ve learned which has really been interesting to me is that it’s not the way our parents treated us that has the most impact on us. It’s the way that our parents treat themselves and treat one another. We internalize their unconscious issues, and patterns, and behaviors in the way that they relate to their feelings and their anxiety.

I read an article about body image and they said that children are not influenced as much by what their parents say about the children’s bodies but they’re influenced by the way their parents treat and think about their own bodies. Parents may have put pressure on themselves, been perfectionistic or very hard on themselves, and that’s what the client has internalized. They can’t see it because it wasn’t actually how they were treated directly.

Have you worked with LGBT couples? 

Absolutely. I work with a lot of gay clients. I actually trained an L.G.B.T. organization in grad school. I’m very versed in working with that community. 

What are some of the issues LGBT couples deal with, especially if their parents were not LGBT?

Of course, people with issues of sexuality have a whole other set of damaging cultural ideas about their sexuality that they can internalize. They’re often bullied from a young age. There’s definitely a lot of trauma in terms of how accepting their parents are of their sexuality and how accepting their peers or their sexuality. 

Age is a huge component. Of course that’s a huge factor in how traumatic it is to grow up with those cultural influences about your sexuality. Thirty years ago, for people who grew up at that time, it was a very different world. We’re progressively becoming more accepting as a society toward a lot of these issues. Unfortunately, while it’s gotten better in some ways, there’s still a lot of hatred and bias, including heterosexist thinking and very homophobic worldviews.

All of those cultural influences affect one’s view of oneself and can create shame. Sometimes one member of the couple is more out than another. One member of a couple may be really open with their friends and family about their sexuality and another member of the couple may be more closeted. Being sensitive to the needs of both partners while navigating those kinds of issues within the couple can be really complicated.

For example, the partner who’s more out is going to say ‘hey, I want you more integrated in my life. I don’t want to hide you.’ The partner who is more closet is going to say hey I’m not ready to be more integrated into your life because I’m afraid that certain people are going to find out. And so, that’s a you know extremely complex issue to navigate in both circumstances.

So, when it comes to working with LGBT couples or with same sex couples, do you suggest individual therapy in addition to couples therapy?

I usually suggest both for any couple, not just LGBT couples. Most of the time issues that we see emerging within a couple are individual issues that are just getting triggered in the relationship. It’s infrequent but I do see couples from time to time that can benefit just some couples therapy. It’s really up to you know how dedicated people are in terms of their time and money, how much they want to invest in this process. In general, chances are that people who are coming to couples therapy have some individual stuff that they probably need to look at too.  

What are some of the factors potential patients should consider before working with a therapist? Specifically, with respect to time and financial commitment.  

Normally we recommend meeting once a week to start. There’s just no way to predict how long it’s going to take.

There’s a concept in therapy called the presenting problem and the presenting problem is what you come in the door with. Once we start resolving the presenting problem we see issues that lead us to the problem. For example, it’s quite common that a client will come and saying hey, I’m dealing with a breakup that’s why I’m in therapy. I just need to get over this. In exploring what’s coming up in the breakup they start to discover co-dependency this issue or unresolved trauma. It can be a chain reaction of awareness

It really depends on how deep someone wants to go. People have different levels of you know aspirations in terms of how kind of self-aware and psychologically developed they want to be. When working with clients it’s a collaborative conversation about how long they want treatment to go. I make my recommendations if I see things that maybe they’re not seeing that we might want to work on I point them out, but I always leave it up to the client. People really need to go at their own pace in terms of their healing. If a therapist and sort of pushing it upon them, it will alienate the client. It’s not actually going to help them. It really has to be from the heart. Healing has to come from an internal drive, not something that’s imposed by the therapist.

That is a very compassionate approach. Is it likely that patients will get that kind of attention and thoughtfulness from the other therapists on your team? 

Absolutely. I only consider people on to my team who I have the most tremendous respect for and trust in. We work closely together–we meet to collaborate every two weeks, sometimes more often. I really love the therapist on my team. It’sa  group of really lovely, empathetic, caring people. We’re doing our own work in terms of self development and growing and we really support each other in that way. We help each other in terms of our professional growth and working with clients clinically, but we also support each other personally and help each other look at our own issues that impact our work with clients.

I feel really blessed. Right now we’re all woman. I’m the owner of the practice and wouldn’t let somebody on my team that I didn’t totally trust. For every therapist position, I get about fifty applications. Luckily I don’t have to settle and I wouldn’t settle, even if I didn’t get so many applications. I wouldn’t be able to recommend people to clients so I didn’t believe in.

How can people who are interested in your services get in contact with you?

They can reach me on my cellphone, they can reach me by email, and we all have our contact information on our website which is mylatherapy.com. That has all our locations and each therapists’ cell phone numbers and e-mail address so we are very accessible, as you can tell.