I have been at Psychological Counseling Services (PCS) since 2012. One of the most difficult parts of being a therapist is meeting a client in their current crisis and as you join and get to know them better, you realize there is a treasure-trove of historical harms that desperately need attention and may even be exacerbating the issue at hand. In a weekly or bi-weekly therapy model, however, there may be little time to excavate and address the root of the matter.
I’ll give you an example: A client enters therapy for their significant other’s betrayal, and they struggle to find strength and obtain positive traction. Underneath this recent trauma lies the fact they lost a parent in a car accident when they were twelve and maybe they were also severely bullied in high school, or their parents fought constantly and eventually divorced.
It’s not that they cannot heal in weekly therapy, they can; it will just take much longer. Not only because there may be a complex history of trauma, but also because “real life” just has the advantage. We are all familiar with the scientific word “homeostasis”, or as my beloved colleague, Marilyn Murray (PCS Trauma Consultant and author of “The Murray Method”) would say, “the baseline for normal”. It means we have formed a certain muscle memory around how things tend to be, and we become comfortable in that space and often resist change or the unknown. Therefore, it is common for a client to grab important insights within the confines of the one to two hours a week in a therapy office, but then outside the office the pull towards the “old baseline” wins out. They want to make changes but need a space and time to build traction and momentum in a different direction. It is then that intensive therapy becomes an appealing suggestion and opportunity.
The PCS Intensive Program
The PCS Intensive is a weekly offering built around “The Murray Method,” developed by Marilyn Murray in the early 1980’s. Clients begin the process on a Saturday, with Marilyn’s workshop and explore “The Scindo (Latin for “split”) Syndrome,” looking at how adverse childhood events cause “survivor” parts to develop, who try to cope and manage their powerless and painful circumstances, the Circles of Intimacy, helping to organize a hierarchy of healthy intimate connections, and lastly, the Trauma Egg, a document the client creates that chronicles difficult traumatic life events, so the client can understand patterns in negative internalized messages and coping styles.
From there, the client begins the weekly process of over 30 individual therapy hours, which include Family Systems, CBT, DBT, Emotionally-Focused Therapy, Art Therapy, EMDR, and other experiential therapies. Additionally, there are 25 group hours, that includes Equine Therapy, Psychodrama, Anger and Forgiveness, Compulsivity, Codependency, Emotional Regulation, Communication, Mindfulness, Boundaries, Courageous Living, and the Power of Positivity and Play.
The days are roughly 7AM to 7:30PM with a few short breaks in the middle, and the individual work ends Friday at 5PM. The intensive then concludes with a follow-up to Marilyn’s Workshop on Saturday morning (9AM to 12PM).
The groups are mixed-gender and incorporate individual and couple’s clients who are dealing with a broad scope of issues, including substance and process addictions, complex trauma, relational trauma and issues, betrayal, divorce, blended family concerns, grief, career concerns, and severe life crises.
No matter what modality is used, all the therapists speak the same language in terms of helping clients grieve what they needed and deserved, but did not receive. Clients are helped to grow a wise-minded, healthy, balanced Adult Self who can “parent” the parts of self that get activated in grief/sadness, over-functioning or over-caretaking, defensiveness, anger, rebellion, or deception.
A PCS Intensive works for those who are:
- Highly motivated and want to jump-start their therapeutic process and utilize a program where sessions build off one another, creating a greater possibility of transformational change.
- “Stuck” and desire a safe place to face their fear of what change will mean in their life, fear of the unknown.
Making some progress in weekly or bi-weekly therapy, but not the broader changes they are looking for.
Busy with work and home and find it difficult to keep consistent weekly or bi-weekly appointments and would prefer a shorter, but more intensive span of time to create movement.
Experiencing an intense current crisis and struggle to manage daily living, needing a space to stabilize and strengthen in grounding and coping skills.
Making some gains in recovery, but still experience relapses due to their need to process the deeper causal roots to their problematic or addictive behaviors.
A PCS Intensive does NOT work for those who are:
- Signing up because someone else in their life is making them do it, and they otherwise would stay home.
- Pointing the finger in defensiveness and blame, struggling to face what makes them difficult to those around them.
- Using the intensive as a checklist, and uninterested in making genuine changes.
- Resist transparency and are not ready to tell the truth.
- Experiencing severe mental illness, including auditory hallucinations, extreme paranoia or delusional thoughts.
- Actively suicidal or homicidal.
- Continuing to act out or use substances.
The work I get to do with intensive clients is a unique and fulfilling aspect to my job, because I typically get to help heal deep, difficult life experiences and I get to do that work as part of a therapeutic team. Each intensive has a Case Manager and a team of 4-5 additional therapist who are assigned different areas of focus, such as a genogram, a trauma egg, setting up targets and processing with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), somatic experiencing, experiential work, addiction and relapse prevention work, relational processing, understanding offensive behaviors and patterns, healthy intimacy, boundary-work, and health and wellness work.
Typically, clients arrive guarded, unsure and at times, overwhelmed. Still, the process begins very quickly by excavating their history and significant life experiences, in order to understand patterns and themes that have impacted their lives. As clients gradually begin to open-up, they start to positively affect each other and instigate change. The bonding begins early with Equine Therapy on Sunday evening and intensifies as they experience their first Psychodrama Group process, where they help a volunteer from the group put a piece of their story in action with the goal of experiencing catharsis and resolution. By Tuesday morning, they typically are ready to share in a meaningful way in their first processing group. The more clients talk about what is uncomfortable to share, the more they inspire others in the group to do the same. The sharing is spiritually powerful and moving, because clients are allowing themselves to be vulnerable and experience real connection; a connection they are encouraged to replicate with the important and healthy people in their lives.
Many clients will express how much they “get it” in an intellectual way. However, what frustrates them is how much they do not feel it. The most satisfying aspect of my job typically happens closer to the end of the week when I witness a client fundamentally shift what was once intellectual, into a “felt” experience; they no longer know they are lovable, deserving, worthy, good-enough, empowered or trust-worthy, they feel it.
At the end of my first week at PCS, I saw a client from the East Coast who completed a 2-week process, smiling, whistling and practically skipping to his car. He jumped in and was headed to the airport – back home, back to his family. I don’t think his journey ended that day, in fact, he was really at the end of the beginning, but it was awesome to see how good he felt!