Psychotherapy – relationship to self, others and alternative lifestyles: Interview with Kathleen M. Kelley, LCSW

Kathleen M. Kelley, LCSW, Clinical Social Work Therapist, graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work, with offices on Broadway in Manhattan, NYC. Kelley has a certificate in psychoanalysis  from the National Institute of the Psychotherapies. Her client focus ranges from teenagers through adulthood. She works with a variety of clients and in particular with lesbian, gay and alternative lifestyles.

NP: What is your approach to psychotherapy?

Kelley: Emotional wellbeing is an integral part to leading a balanced and fulfilling life. When there is emotional dis-ease, there is pain and suffering. These are key indicators that there is a need to slow down, take stock and process how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. Therapy offers the space and time to slow down, reflect and gain clarity into our emotional experiences. Everyone has the inherent capacity to heal within themselves at any given moment. Love, patience, non-judgment and trust are the guideposts that allow and encourage healing to occur.

NP: What are the primary relationships issues you work with today?

Kelley: The major relationship issue that I focus on with every person I work with is the relationship to self. The relationship to your self is primary and from that point, all other relationships become mirrors to this original root relationship. Regardless of racial, ethnic, cultural background, sexual orientation, gender identity, or age, I have noticed the same underlying need to be valued and understood, to feel heard, appreciated, accepted and to be known. How a person feels about, talks to, and treats him/herself is of utmost importance when negotiating the outside world of relationships. If someone is carrying around a subconscious belief that he/she is not good enough and doesn’t deserve love, the relationships that person attracts will either reinforce these negative beliefs or that person will be unable to accept the loving relationship he/she is in. Psychotherapy can be a helpful space to look deeper into ourselves and understand how and why we feel the way we do and from there, how this impacts our relationships.

NP: Is there a cultural shift in the dynamics of relationships and a better understanding of those issues?

Kelley: In general, I feel our culture is focusing more on holistic and natural ways of being. There is greater acceptance within the interconnectedness of the universe as well as the interconnectedness between our mind/body/soul. So many people I work with talk about blogs they are reading, pod casts that they recently listened to that are helping them navigate relationships, reflect on their own situations, and educating them on communication skills, meditations practices, and self-care techniques. It’s uplifting and I feel that this shift is elevating our collective consciousness and sparking motivation to look within and make positive changes.

NP: Family, marriage, gender identity and sexual orientation are experiencing shifts. In what directions are we leaning?

Kelley: There is a much more expansive sense of what makes up a family today and with that a greater acceptance of our differences and uniqueness. Thinking about the greater issues of family, marriage, gender identity, and sexual orientation, I have noticed collectively with those I work with, a much more fluid sense of gender and sexual orientation, and a far greater acceptance towards gay marriage. Men and women in general are expanding gender roles in their relationships, and embracing both the feminine and masculine energies within. I have noticed more men seeking psychotherapy to gain a better understanding of their emotions and feelings in an effort to improve their relationships. And I have also noticed more women discussing their feelings about being the ‘breadwinner’ in their family and the associated dynamics.

NP: Do you see greater tolerance and understanding in human relationships or are we adrift?

Kelley: All of the people I work with are actively working on shifting their relationship to themselves and others to a more honest and compassionate place. My internal reaction to this question is that we are not adrift, but on a steady path towards integration and healing. I work with people very closely, one on one, so my everyday world is zoomed into the micro level of shifts in our society. When a person is shifting his/her way of being, there is a palpable grieving process that inevitably needs space to be processed. We all need to let go of ways of being that no longer work for us, and create the space to change, evolve, and move forward. But old ways are habitual, familiar, perhaps modeled after the way we grew up, and we are often surprisingly attached to them. Shifting internally doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, patience, and support.

NP: How would you define the age in which we live in terms of relationships and the various forms of marriage and partnerships?

Kelley: I think during a time when the divorce rate in this country is so high, we live in an age when relationships are vehicles for growth and transformation. Changing the perception that relationships are ‘just supposed to feel right’ and ‘are easy when they are meant to be’ is important because growth and transformation can be very messy, challenging, and disorienting and marriages and partnerships take a lot of work, focus and energy. Intimate relationships are supposed to bring you closer to yourself, and with self-awareness you can step outside the dynamics of the relationship for a moment and ask yourself how you feel in the relationship and why you may feel that way. From this observing place, you can hold in your mind that there is something very important to be learned through your relationship and by taking care of yourself which includes allowing yourself to feel how you feel, you are more able to take care of the relationship.