11Oct 2017

Eric B. Epstein, Esq.

Eric B. Epstein, Esq., is a Florida and New York licensed attorney, a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator, and a Relationship/Business/Life Coach. Eric has been practicing law since 1995 and concentrates in representing the educational rights of children with special-needs and developmental disabilities, mental health professionals and their businesses/practices, and childcare center/preschool owners and operators. Eric has experience in the following areas:

  • Attorney
  • Mediator & Negotiator
  • Solution-Oriented Coach
  • Business Owner

Eric integrates these professional experiences with his personal life as a husband, and as father of a child with developmental disabilities and chronic medical issues. He is currently a graduate student studying marriage and family therapy. His studies are oriented toward helping individuals, couples and families minimize and resolve conflict, create and implement goals, and develop effective communication skills.

Erica H. Epstein, MS, MA

Erica H. Epstein, M.S., M.A., is a Florida Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern License #IMT2785, a Certified Family Trauma Professional, and a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator. Erica has over 20 years of experience as a professional educator and a pre-school operator & director. And she is the mother of a child with special-needs.

Erica combines this personal and professional experience and skill with compassion and creativity in the field of marriage and family therapy. Erica works with individuals, couples and families navigate challenges in the following areas:

  • Relationships
  • Special Needs Families
  • Anxiety & Stress
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Trauma, Chronic Illness, and Grief
  • Educational Consulting

The goal is to help clients gain perspective, to find practical solutions to problems, and to overcome difficulties in their lives. Erica has had the opportunity to work with many different ethnicities and prides herself in being culturally sensitive.

06Oct 2017

EMDR: A Power Tool for Healing the Brain

Trauma Recovery & Beyond

By Karin Witte, LMHC

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a powerful therapeutic technique for trauma recovery which has proven success in recovering from distressing, often disabling emotional and psychological distress.

There are 2 major types of trauma. Developmental trauma results from childhood abandonment, abuse, and neglect. Shock trauma results from severe, often violent events at any stage of life. EMDR is highly effective in helping trauma survivors with anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and other emotional problems.

How EMDR Works

EMDR works to specifically target the stored traumatic experiences in the brain. It essentially restarts the frozen or stuck information by accessing the nervous system, which is the basis for the mind/body connection; i.e. fight or flight response when the brain senses danger and tells the body to run.

In trauma recovery using EMDR, memory networks are activated, so that new information can be added to help resolve traumatic experiences in a more productive and positive way by stimulating both sides of the brain through eye movement. This is similar to what happens in REM sleep when we dream – we can allow the brain to release the distressing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in our memory networks.

Simply through eye movement, the brain frees itself up to be able to process the experience in a more functional and less distressing way. As troubling images and feelings are processed, resolution and a more peaceful state are achieved. It’s actually your own brain healing itself while you are the one in control of processing the memory.

What EMDR doesn’t do is:

  • Remove the memory; you still remember it, but at a more distant, vague and less distressing level;
  • Remove any information that is valid or that you need to hold on to for your well-being.

What Happens During EMDR Sessions

EMDR generally starts with several sessions where the therapist will take a thorough history, explain the procedure in detail and address any questions or concerns. These initial sessions are key to the process and allow for a safe trusting working relationship, which is imperative to the deeper work of trauma recovery.

During EMDR, the client focuses on a traumatic event and the accompanying body sensations while following the therapist’s fingers with his or her eyes. The therapist moves her/his fingers back and forth or uses “tappers” that the client holds in his or her hands for tactile stimulation. This process is repeated several times until the client no longer feels distress when thinking about the upsetting memory.

Benefits of EMDR

EMDR specifically targets the area in the brain where distressing information is stored by while also integrating therapeutic methods to promote the mind/body connection. The goal in EMDR is to resolve past trauma while maintaining stabilization in the present. It also helps survivors and those with PTSD to access internal resources to cope with any distressing situations that may arise in the future. The following is a snapshot of EMDR benefits:

Before EMDR After EMDR
  • Individual experiences negative event resulting in:
  • Intrusive images or flashbacks
  • Negative thoughts or beliefs
  • Negative emotions and associated physical symptoms (such as anxiety or panic)
  • Individual experiences adaptive learning resulting in elimination or dramatic reduction of:
  • Distressing memories or flashbacks
  • Negative thoughts or beliefs
  • Distressing emotional and/or physical sensations.
  • Empowered new positive self-beliefs
What Happens: What Happens:
  • Information is stored in a negative way
  • Negative information gets replayed
  • May result in limiting a person’s ability to develope positive coping skills or belief systems
  • Information is processed in a more positive and beneficial way
  • Positive adaptive learning takes place
  • Healthy personal development is facilitated
Negative Consequences: Positive Results:
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Low self-esteem and/or self-deprecation
  • A sense of powerlessness, inadequacy, lack of choice and lack of control in managing life and adapting to changes
  • Dissociation (“checking out”)
  • Sense of well-being
  • Ability to use healthy coping skills and beliefs
  • A new understanding of events or experiences
  • Positive behavior change
  • Emergence of adult perspective
  • Self-acceptance
  • Ability to be present in the moment

EMDR & Trauma Recovery – A Personal Experience

My own experience with EMDR reflected this snapshot perfectly. I saw an EMDR therapist to resolve my trauma of losing someone close to me who drowned in the ocean. Prior to these sessions, I suffered with symptoms of PTSD: panic attacks, anxiety and a sense of powerlessness. I was also afraid of my lack of control in the ocean when faced with a strong current. After EMDR, I once again found myself in the midst of an overpowering ocean current and as the current began to take me out to sea, I was able to remain calm and grounded; knowing exactly what I needed to do to get back to shore safely.

It was the positive result of the trauma recovery work I had done in EMDR that allowed me to remain calm and safe in the face of a potentially dangerous situation. I was amazed there was no emotional charge whatsoever! I knew right then I wanted use EMDR to assist other people who suffer from trauma and help them live their best life and reach their full potential.

As I incorporated EMDR into my therapy practice, both my clients and I have experienced significant benefits of this trauma recovery method. As a therapist, the gift of witnessing the positive results that EMDR provides for my clients is one that continues to give; it is my honor to be a guide in the healing of others and I’m privileged to have found such an efficient and effective treatment method.

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma; during childhood or as an adult, and are suffering the negative and lasting effects it has, please know you’re not alone and resolution is possible.

To learn more about trauma recovery and how I can help you in your healing process, please feel free to contact our Center today.

18Sep 2017

Trauma: Recovery and Resolution

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Karin Witte, LMHC

Have you ever experienced a scent or sound that reminded you of a particular person or situation in your life? For example, every time I smell a certain perfume, I’m reminded of my paternal grandmother. Or I’ll walk into a restaurant and I’m immediately reminded of my elementary school cafeteria. The former brings back pleasant memories; the latter, not so much – and I usually don’t stay for a meal. These experiences are functionally similar to what happens in the brain when there is trauma and PTSD.

These scents and sounds are stored in the brain and are unconsciously related to either a positive or negative memory or experience. The same is true for psychological trauma, such as abuse or abandonment. When a traumatic experience occurs, it gets stored in the brain with the visuals, the smells, thoughts and feelings that occurred at that time. The good news is that trauma recovery is possible with professional help.

What Exactly Is Trauma?

Many people experience trauma and the lasting negative effects. Trauma may result from growing up in a chaotic environment or not getting our primary emotional and relational needs met during childhood. Or we may be traumatized by experiencing one or more tragic or violent events, resulting in PTSD.

The 2 major types of trauma are developmental and shock trauma.

Developmental Trauma (refers to events that occur during childhood)

  • Generally results from abuse, neglect or abandonment. These events gradually alter the child’s brain and emotional balance.
  • Examples include abandonment or long-term separation from a parent, an unstable or unsafe environment, neglect, serious illness, physical or sexual abuse and betrayal at the hands of a caregiver; even the loss of a beloved pet can be traumatic to a child.
  • Causes disruptions in the child’s natural psychological growth and development.
  • Has a negative impact on a child’s sense of safety and security in the world.
  • Can result in a sense of fear and helplessness (anxiety) if left unresolved.
  • Alters psychological and emotional development, with life-long negative effects.
  • A wide range of current situations (especially relationship issues) may trigger the underlying, unresolved trauma, resulting in symptoms of anxiety, panic, and/or depression.

Shock Trauma (severe, often violent traumatic events during any stage of life)

  • Involves a sudden threat that is perceived as overwhelming and/or life threatening.
  • Examples include serious car accidents, violence, rape, natural disasters, sudden death of a loved one, battlefield assault and war.
  • Usually results in symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder – disturbing memories or dreams, anxiety, flashbacks, depression, irritability and anger, insomnia, and others).

To this day, whenever I see images of the 9/11 attacks or the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I’m immediately flooded with emotion and feel tightness in my stomach, chest and throat. These are indications of post-traumatic distress.

Developmental and Shock Trauma – Comparison

Developmental Trauma Shock Trauma
  • Distressing childhood events (parental absence, neglect, abandonment, abuse, family conflict, divorce, being bullied, learning challenges, etc.)
  • Trauma accumulates over time from childhood;
  • Effects of trauma are pervasive and ongoing;
  • Often there are few or no distressing flashbacks;
  • Results in negative beliefs, emotions and body sensations, such as people pleasing, difficulty trusting others, fear of conflict; self-sabotage.
  • A catastrophic, often violent situation or threat;
  • May be a single or multiple event trauma;
  • May be pervasive in the case of multiple single event traumas;
  • Most often involves distressing flashbacks of the event(s);
  • Results in negative beliefs, distressing emotions and/or physical sensations months or years after event;
  • Lasting negative effect on a person’s sense of safety in the world (such as anxiety, panic, phobias, & PTSD).

Resolution and Recovery

There are several therapeutic modalities proven to be effective for trauma recovery. The first step toward resolution is to find a therapist who is educated and trained in trauma recovery.

Medical research shows that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one of the most effective treatment methods for trauma recovery. EMDR is a powerful therapeutic technique which is highly effective in reducing or eliminating anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post-traumatic stress and other emotional and behavioral problems.

In my therapy practice, I’ve observed many successful outcomes – healing the mind, body and spirit from the negative effects of trauma by integrating EMDR with breath work, guided meditation, mindfulness practices and yoga.

If you or someone you know suffers from trauma, please know there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. For additional information about trauma, trauma recovery and EMDR, please contact our Center today.


02Aug 2017

Sneak Preview
From Connections: Workbook for Couples
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

This is an excerpt from the new Connections: Workbook for Couples, which is scheduled for publication in October, 2017. This Workbook is a companion guide to our marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives. It will include information about love and marriage, the true causes of relationship distress, and tools for relationship repair and creative solutions. The Workbook includes exercises designed to help couples create loving connection and partnership.

In Section Two, “The Nature of Relationship Distress,” the 4 primary causes of relationship distress are identified. Men who are emotionally and relationally underdeveloped are marital saboteurs. These “LATE Men” are a major cause of relationship distress.

How LATE Men Sabotage Relationships

To overstate the obvious, men and women do relationship differently. Women have more relationship skills than men. Men tend to be more disconnected emotionally. Many years ago, I was walking down the beach with my sister and we were talking about these differences. She told me that “All men are emotionally crippled.” This may be a bit of an overstatement, but tragically, it’s mostly true.

The LATE Men – A Major Cause of Relationship Distress
Why do so many men sabotage their most important relationships? I’ve specialized in counseling for men, couples therapy, and personal growth workshops for over 30 years. A majority of these men struggle with relationships and other adult responsibilities. They lack emotional fluency, they’re untrained in relationship skills, they have shame issues, and anger management problems. I call them The LATE Men: Adult men who function as Lost, Angry Teenagers. They are often stuck in an adolescent level of development – literally, LATE to grow into full adult functioning.

The role of men historically has been to protect and provide for their families and community. Men have primarily been defined by their work roles, not by their relationships. But the male role has changed dramatically in recent history, as a result of revolutionary economic and social changes. In the past, there was no need or expectation for men to communicate in an intimate manner. No need to talk about their feelings, to be emotionally sensitive to others, to “validate” their female partner, or to be emotionally supportive in marriage. The LATE Men are relationally behind the times, and their parents didn’t have the knowledge or skills to help them evolve.

The new, more empowered role of women in our society presents a great challenge to The LATE Men. Today, women compete with men in the same workforce, and these enlightened, empowered women expect, often demand that men carry an equal load at home with meals, child care and other traditionally “female” tasks. Those same women also require emotional connection, support, and open communication. But LATE Men haven’t been trained or socialized to meet these new expectations and demands.

In fact, most men are quite limited because, while growing up, they weren’t taught how to feel or to communicate relationally – rather, they were taught to stuff their feelings and to disconnect emotionally and relationally. Psychologist Terry Real says that men have been deprived of their hearts, and women have been deprived of their voice. Men are taught not to feel (historically, only anger was acceptable in men – “big boys don’t cry”). And until very recently women were taught compliance in a patriarchal model of the family – so they had no voice. Women were dependent on emotionally unavailable men, and now many of them are angry and demanding more. The world of relationship has been thrown into a crisis state.

Women are unhappy in their marriages because they want men to be more related than most men know how to be. And men are unhappy in their marriages because their women seem so unhappy with them. Terry Real (The New Rules of Marriage)

Counseling for Men Improves Relationships

The sad truth is that men want and need connection – including the LATE Men. In fact, they need emotional connection and support just as much as women. But men are afraid of closeness and intimacy because they’re taught to be strong (“be a man”), to be powerful, in control, and to protect against vulnerability at all costs. Psychologist Stephen Bergman describes the “relational paradox” today’s men struggle with:

The boy is placed in a terrible bind: on the one hand, he feels the pressure to disconnect for self-achievement (to be especially good at doing things or fixing things, to be competent in the world); on the other hand, he still has a strong yearning for connection. (from A New Psychology of Men)

Intimacy is threatening because LATE Men don’t have the knowledge or skills to manage the feelings and relationship demands necessary in marriage and deeply committed relationships. That’s an important reason why men tend to sexualize relationships – they are far more capable of sex than they are of emotional intimacy.

What can be done to help the LATE Men and their wives and partners? Couples therapy and counseling for men is highly effective in teaching men emotional and relationship skills, such as:

  • Identify, understand and talk about feelings
  • Listen openly, without judgement, and with compassion
  • Practice expressive intimacy and affection
  • Staying emotionally connected even during times of relationship distress
  • Express relationship needs openly without pressure, control or demands
  • Using empathy to understand partners’ viewpoint and preferences

Connections: Marriage Retreats & Couples Therapy Intensives

The Connections Workbook will be available through our web site, and on Amazon.com this winter.

Couples who attend one of our Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives will receive complimentary copies of the Workbook.

For additional information, or to pre-order the Workbook, please contact us today.

27Jun 2017

Life Lessons from the Dog Beach

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Hugo is 18 months old and weighs about 30 pounds. He’s our French Bulldog (the breed is also referred to as “Frenchies”). Hugo, like many Frenchies, is a big personality in a small package. He loves people and other dogs, and he’s exceptionally playful and affectionate. Hugo brings us endless, unconditional joy and love – and he’s taught me some important life lessons. Spending time with Hugo is one of my favorite coping skills – he’s a black and white, four-legged, tongue-wagging stress management gift.

About a year ago, we started taking Hugo to the dog beach every Sunday afternoon. We live about 2 miles from the beach in South Florida. I was resistant to the idea at first. Sunday afternoons used to be the time I reserved for completing any weekend chores, and maybe carving out an hour or so to relax. I thought that going to the dog beach would be one more task in my long list of responsibilities and demands. The dog beach required permits and fees, schlepping beach chairs, and cleaning up beach sand after we returned home. But Hugo (and my wife) insisted that we give it a try.

I didn’t like the experience – I totally loved it. When we let Hugo off his leash – about 50 beach yards from the ocean – he took off like a bat out of hell. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast, kicking up clouds of beach sand behind him. Watching his little butt wiggle side-to-side as he scooted toward the water brought a huge smile to my face. I laughed until I cried. Hugo became one of my greatest teachers. He taught me how to appreciate life in an entirely new way.

Hugo’s Life Lessons

  1. Change your environment – Like many South Florida residents, we rarely go the beach. We live here, work here, and complain about all of the tourists who clog the roads and restaurants during vacation season. After years of summer beach vacations when we lived up north, the thrill was gone. Now we go to the beach every Sunday, and it’s like I never knew what I was missing. Now I see this environment through Hugo’s eyes – it’s a wonderful playground filled with interesting characters. Changing my environment every week is refreshing and invigorating – it changes my point of view and my emotional state.
  2. Be in the moment – For many years now I’ve practiced and taught mindfulness and various meditative practices. One of the most important functions and benefits of mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. Being in the moment allows us to focus and concentrate more clearly, and to appreciate the value of every experience. Hugo is a living example of this Zen-like principle. He is fully engaged in the moment, without a care in the world. Every Sunday he invites me to join him in each precious moment.
  3. Take a break – Are you in a rut? Are you bored with the “same old” thing? Are you stressed out and overwhelmed by life’s demands? Maybe it’s time to take a break. More specifically, it’s time to prioritize and schedule life-enhancing, rejuvenating activities. I’m not talking about crashing in front of the TV, or escaping into video games or shopping trips. Hugo taught me some unexpected benefits of prioritizing routine, scheduled breaks. These Sunday outings are now a sacred part of our schedule. Our weekly trips to the beach create a true, mentally healthy attitude adjustment.
  4. Disconnect – Research studies show that the majority of adults spend more time on their mobile devices, computers, and TV than they do in direct connection with other people (even their spouse and children). We see a lot of people who bring their dogs to the beach every Sunday. Rarely do we see them using their phones. It’s like some kind of time warp, taking us back to the days when people interacted without texts, tags, or emojis.
  5. Reconnect emotionally – I love the way Hugo scampers up the shore line, in hot pursuit of some dog that’s much bigger and faster – and just when we think we need to run after him, he turns around and runs back to us. This happens repeatedly every Sunday. He knows we’re his people. And the connection is emotionally based. Brain science shows us that we are hard-wired for this type of emotional connection (humans and dogs have very similar brain structures). Our limbic system and amygdala react with danger signals to abandonment and loss – and rewards us with pleasurable sensations when we reconnect. This release of oxytocin (the love hormone) is probably the best stress-buster of all time. Hugo is the embodiment of limbic resonance (we literally feel each other emotionally).
  6. Make new friends – Hugo is my role model. He just runs right up to anybody – a dog or a person – ready to play or to be petted. He’s not self-conscious, and doesn’t worry about rejection or being judged. And if some dog doesn’t like him (all of the people do!), he doesn’t sulk, and he doesn’t take it personally. He just moves on the next animal. It’s what most little kids do before the world teaches them to fear.
  7. Take risks – We love watching Hugo play with other dogs and run into the surf. He knows his limits (most of the time – he’s still pretty young and a little reckless). He can’t swim – he sinks in the water like a bowling ball. But he’s learned to go as far into the surf as possible – he’s even learned to time the waves crashing into the shore. He seems to be quite fearless (although a big pink inflatable raft gave him pause one time – he froze in his paw prints, letting out his characteristic “woo-woo-wooo”). As I get older, I notice that I’m a little more conservative – a little more risk averse. Sometimes to a fault. I’m working at putting myself into Hugo’s shoes – or paws.
  8. Appreciate vicarious joy – I’ve always appreciated the value of positive experiences. A loving embrace, beautiful music, a great movie, travel, a good book. Hugo reminds me of raising children. The joy you get from watching them experience new things. Thank you, Hugo, for giving me the gift of vicarious joy. It’s like every week at the beach is brand new – something he’s never done before. His excitement and passion is no less than it was a year ago – after 52 Sundays at the beach. When I’m stressed out or feeling low, all I need to do is to think about Hugo prancing across that beach without a care in the world.
  9. Be light hearted – (Thank you to one of my clients who talked to me about this today. He’s learning how to get out of his head, and into his heart.) Hugo has the gift of a small cerebral cortex – humans have the gift, and the curse, of a large one. That’s our thinking brain. Hugo never thinks it through at the beach. He just does it – with lots of heart and gusto. I’m thinking (but not too much!) about getting a tattoo with a drawing of Hugo, and the motto “What would Hugo do?”
  10. Run-Play-Rest – Running is healthy and life-affirming. We run for exercise and we run for survival (running to work every day). Play is for kids and for dogs. And for our inner child. All adults need healthy play – it nourishes and restores our youthful vitality. And then we need to rest. Hugo runs, chases and plays with other dogs, and then he collapses, exhausted, resting until the next opportunity comes along. Thank you, Hugo, for reminding us of our essence – our very nature. I’ll meet you at the beach next Sunday!

If you’d like to see more pictures of Hugo at the beach – or if you want more information about stress management and coping skills – please contact us today.