The Yellow Umbrella


2018 Eastwood Road (Eastwood Executive Suites)
Wilmington, NC 28403

Background & Influences


Background & Influences

Most psychologists become psychologists after growing up with adversity and difficult life experiences. This was true for me. As a child and young woman, I was exposed to significant trauma. Trauma is a word that can make people uncomfortable, but it simply means “an experience that overwhelms our capacity to cope.” Trauma can be big, like surviving a tsunami, or small, like the daily water torture of a parent not noticing our emotions. In either case, we can be deeply impacted.

Given my traumatic legacy, it is no surprise that in my adult life I have been on a quest to understand trauma and to learn how to heal it. This interest led naturally to a career in psychology. I entered a psychodynamic graduate training program after undergraduate studies in psychology.

Psychodynamic therapy interested me because it focuses on getting to the bottom of things. Rather than just trying to fix symptoms, this approach works to uncover the factors causing the symptoms, both conscious and unconscious. The goal is: (1) to create insight that changes the way we see and experience ourselves and the world; and, (2) to achieve catharsis or release of suppressed emotion that has been stored in the body. As a result of insight & emotional release, people are able to love and work.

Freud & Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Freud, the founder of this movement, taught me that our relationships in the first five years of life are vital in shaping who we become as people. A young child internalizes his relationships with caretakers and develops mental models about how how the world works. Mental models are very strong and cannot be changed easily. We carry them with us into adulthood, unless we work very hard to alter them.

Due to our mental models, we tend to see ourselves the way that we were seen as children; and, we tend to get into relationships that are like those we have known. This tendency to repeat childhood templates in adult life is called the “repetition compulsion.”

In psychodynamic therapy, looking at our past is considered vital. But, the goal is not to blame our parents. We want to heal ourselves, and this requires love and forgiveness for both us and them. Ultimately, we are accountable for our own lives and feelings no matter how we were raised.

Having done my own recovery work, I can say that I’ve been there, and I can help you recover, too. I hope the little bit I have shared about my life helps you know that I understand what it is like to be traumatized and to suffer.

Alice Miller & The True Self

As I continued to explore trauma and the psyche, I found Alice Miller, another famous psychoanalyst, who helped me appreciate how devastating trauma can be on the developing person. She wrote The Drama of the Gifted Child, which focuses on the harm done to a child by parents who do not see, mirror, or value the child for himself. This kind of relational trauma can happen for many reasons. Parents may become self-absorbed or distracted due to mental illness, physical illness, addiction, divorce, poverty, etc.

Miller proposed that the unseen child learns to get emotional supplies by pleasing parents. The child develops a false self, a mode of behaving to win love by supporting the parent’s goals and values. The child buries his true self—the lively, authentic part of self that inconveniences or displeases the parent. Therapy seeks to recover the true self and thereby re-establish the authentic core of the personality.

Jung & The Self

Looking deeper into the true self, I came upon the work of Carl Jung. Jung believes that the true self is connected to a deeper intelligence within the psyche called the Self. The Self is a spiritual component of the psyche that contains wisdom and guides us toward wholeness.

Jung teaches that we can accesses buried parts of the true self by paying attention to communications from the Self—which include dreams, symbols, and images from active imagination. The psyche can begin to heal itself by integrating this information. Dream work is an important component of any therapy, and most patients enjoy learning how to make sense of these powerful communications that come from their own depths.

Bowlby & Attachment Theory

After being steeped in psychodynamic depth work from Freud to Jung and beyond, I took an interest in research that supported these theories. In my dissertation, I began to study John Bowlby, who is the father of attachment theory (e.g. the way the child bonds with caretakers). Bowlby observed bonding behavior in young children who had been hospitalized or orphaned in WWII Britain and discovered two patterns: secure and insecure.

Emotionally available, attuned parenting creates secure attachment. These children become self-assured and feel the world is a benign place where you can get help if you need it. Emotionally unavailable and poorly attuned parenting creates insecure attachment. These children develop little self-esteem and mistrust the world and other people. They don’t expect others to be available to meet their needs.

“Secure” and “insecure” working models have been found to influence many aspects of later life. They determine: the nature of adult romantic relationships, how we describe childhood experience as adults, and the ability to form bonds with peers during our school years.

The Importance of Attachment & Bonding

Freud, Miller, Jung, and Bowlby all teach that our early experiences with caretakers are critical because these bonds determine many aspects of later life. Relational experience with an available, attuned other is necessary to create secure bonds or to heal damaged bonds. And, a relational experience lacking attunement and availability creates fear, insecurity, and mistrust.

This learning has guided my approach to treatment for many years. I work to create emotional attunement, to encourage the expression of the true self, and to identify and change maladaptive internal working models.

The Limitations of Insight: The Body Neglected

As a result of many years of practice, I learned that my approach is valuable but had limitations. I could only get so far with psychodynamic insight; many symptoms remained even after insight was achieved. And, the mind could understand a trauma yet not be free of its impact on the body.

I then turned to the body as a potential source of wisdom and healing. I began to study body-oriented therapies to find the missing piece. Could focus on the body help people become more whole, heal trauma, and fundamentally revise negative scripts?

I studied sensorimotor psychotherapy, hakomi, bioenergetics, trauma release, and energy therapies (e.g. AIT, Energy Tapping/EFT). I participated as a student and a patient in most of these somatic modalities and spent many years both in workshops and in therapy with international trainers. I learned that focusing on the body does heal trauma and eradicate a variety of symptoms, especially those caused by PTSD.

The Body + The Brain

I have found that healing can be speeded up even more by including the brain in the process. Due to rapid new developments in neuroscience, brain-based techniques like EMDR and Brainspotting are emerging which accelerate change, particularly in altering our long standing beliefs.

Attachment in Romantic Relationships

My most recent adventure has been to take a step beyond looking within the psyche to begin looking between psyches. I have been studying EFT couple’s therapy which is an attachment based model of romantic relationships. EFT proposes that we are wired for relationship and function optimally when we are in a partnership, not alone. This approach demonstrates that even as adults we are looking for a secure attachment with our partner, which is created by availability and attunement—just as in childhood. This approach focuses on repairing attachment injuries within the couple to create a more secure bond.

Summary & Conclusion

From my diverse experience, I have concluded that healing requires familiarity with many approaches and many techniques. Insight, emotional release, mental models, attunement, somatic release, brain change, and attachment all have their place in the healing spectrum. I believe that a holistic approach that incorporates them all to be the most effective. This is not always a quick or easy treatment, but it leads to very satisfying results for those who have endurance and a natural curiosity about the psyche and its mechanisms.

Due to the complexities of my approach, I am an ideal therapist for people who have been in therapy but feel stuck and want to go to a deeper level. I am also an ideal therapist for individuals who are new to therapy but sense they have deep or long-standing issues that may require commitment to a more in depth therapy process.

"Underneath the mess, everything is marvelous. I'm sure of it."

--Andrea Scher