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Shelley Karliner, LICSW, and Tricia Bassing, LICSW, Licensed Psychotherapists image


and interactions every day. What we say, how we say it, what we do, and how we do it shapes the way we feel. Sometimes the way we respond gets in the way of hearing what others are saying, seeing what others may be experiencing, or understanding why something is happening. This can leave us feeling alone with our experience and prevent us from connecting with others, being happy, or achieving our goals.

Shelley Karliner and Tricia Bassing are Licensed Clinical Social Workers trained in Social Therapy, a humanistic approach to emotional development. You can learn about Social Therapy in the following scenes, which illustrate some of the tenets of Social Therapy in action.



Being There on Behalf of the Relationship

RACHEL: I want to stop by Nancy’s and pick up my books before we go home.
LINDSAY: I don’t have time for that right now.
RACHEL: It’s just a few more minutes. I need those books for tonight.
LINDSAY: I need to get home. You’ll have to get those books later.

Imagine this interaction in the following way:

RACHEL: I want to stop by Nancy’s and pick up my books before we go home.
LINDSAY: I was hoping to be home by 11:00 to do some work. Can we pick up the books later?
RACHEL: Okay, I’ll drop you off at home and then go back out for the books. I need to get them today.
LINDSAY: Thanks. I’m sorry you have to make another trip out.
RACHEL: No problem. We’ve been out all morning and I understand you have some other things to do.

In the first conversation, Rachel and Lindsay each represent their own self-interest and get into a disagreement. Neither Rachel nor Lindsay considers how to respond in a way that supports the relationship.

The second interaction is a dialogue that takes care of the relationship between the two women. Lindsay meets Rachel’s request with a response that lets Rachel know why she needs to get home. Likewise, Rachel meets Lindsay’s request to go home in a way that responds both to Lindsay’s needs and her own. Their needs do not get set up in competition with each other.

Social therapy teaches us how to attend to the interests and needs of the relationship, in addition to the needs of the individuals in the relationship. We live life in community with others, and we can learn to act in ways that make relationships deeper and more satisfying.

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 Being There on Behalf of the Relationship
 Relating to Life as an Improvisation
 Creating Environments
 Radical Acceptance
 Stop Idealizing
 Slowing Down
 “Yes, and,” vs. “No, but”

Relating to Life as an Improvisation

SONIA: Honey, where are you? The kids and I are at the zoo waiting for you.
MIGUEL: I know, but I’m stuck at work. I won’t be able to meet you until later.
SONIA: We planned this trip to the zoo just to be with you and you aren’t even coming? MIGUEL: I’ll be there when I get there. Let me get back to work, and I’ll call you when I finish.

Here’s another way this conversation could have played out:

SONIA: Honey, where are you? The kids and I are at the zoo waiting for you.
MIGUEL: I’m sorry; I’m delayed at work. Can you wait for another 20 minutes until I can get there?
SONIA: OK, we will go back to the Panda House; that’s their favorite!
MIGUEL: Great; please tell them that I will be there soon, and I’m sorry.

In the first scenario, Sonia has expectations that Miguel cannot meet. Sonia hastily reacts to the change in plans, and Miguel gets defensive. A fun family event at the zoo is likely to turn into a bitter argument.

The second example highlights Sonia’s flexibility when she relates to life as an improvisation. She has to improvise when Miguel’s plans change, and she accepts the changes without judgment or anger.

Social therapy can help you develop the capacity to be ready for the unknown and accept what life brings in a way less stressful to yourself and those around you. Life is ever changing, and having the ability to improvise helps you be ready for the unexpected.

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Over the last few years, more and more clients have requested to do their sessions online rather than come to the office.  They cite the convenience and privacy of doing therapy from the comfort of their own home or workplace. They report that online therapy saves the time and hassle of driving, parking or traveling on public transportation. And they say that the intimacy of the Face-to-face therapeutic work quickly brings us together, making it feel like we are in the same room.


Interested in Online Therapy?


Creating Environments

STEVE: I updated the website this morning; have you had a chance to look at it?
CHRIS: Yeah, I did. Why didn’t you upload the new pages?
STEVE: I did what I thought I was supposed to do.
CHRIS: Well, it is clear that you didn’t understand the assignment.

Consider this conversation another way:

STEVE: I updated the website this morning; have you had a chance to look at it?
CHRIS: Yes, and I think the pages you updated look good. When will you have time to upload the new pages?
STEVE: New pages?  I’m not sure I know what new pages you’re referring to.
CHRIS: Okay, then let’s talk about them. Do you have time to talk now?

In the first exchange, Chris only points out the negatives of Steve’s work and probably makes Steve feel demoralized and inadequate. Being critical of Steve does not create a positive work environment.

Chris’s response in the second passage creates an environment where Steve can ask questions and clarify what was expected of him. Chris recognizes the positive aspects of Steve’s efforts even though the work is incomplete and offers to explain what needs to be finished. This allows the two men to have a better working relationship.

Social therapy doesn’t seek to change people, but to change environments. These environments create possibilities for people to do something they might not have been able to do under different circumstances.

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Radical Acceptance

SARA: I thought you were going to be home earlier; why didn’t you call and tell me you were running late?
MATT: I’m only 20 minutes late.
SARA: How can you not think about me and my feelings?
MATT: What’s the big deal?

From here, the conversation likely escalates into a full-blown argument, perhaps even a screaming match. Sara and Matt will end up angry and hurt.

Let’s see another way that Sara and Matt could have handled this.

SARA: I thought you were going to be home earlier; why didn’t you call and tell me you were running late?
MATT: I’m sorry, Sara; I didn’t intend to upset you. It was inconsiderate of me not to call.
SARA: You know I get very worried when you are late.
MATT: I lost track of time. I’ll pay more attention next time. And I appreciate your concern.

The first example highlights the way something relatively small to one person is huge to another. Sara is hurt and confronts Matt, putting him on the defensive.

In the second example, Matt reads Sara’s emotions and sees that 20 minutes to him is not the same as 20 minutes to her. He acknowledges her feelings and doesn’t get defensive.

Social therapy will help you recognize opportunities to be accepting of how others see and experience situations, instead of fighting with them to try to make them see things your way.

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Stop Idealizing

SCOTT: I can’t believe you aren’t going to be here for my birthday.
JOSE: This trip has been planned since before we met, Scott.
SCOTT: If you really cared about me, you would change it.
JOSE: Are you kidding me? That’s ridiculous.

In this scene, Scott has an idealization about what it means for his partner to care about him. Jose gets defensive and is unkind in response to Scott’s implication that he doesn’t care about him.

Consider this scenario played out in a different way:

SCOTT: I can’t believe you aren’t going to be here for my birthday.
JOSE: I’m sorry I can’t be here. I would still like to celebrate your birthday with you. Let’s plan something special for when I get back, OK?
SCOTT: OK, I’d like that. Something late is better than not celebrating at all.
JOSE: Thanks for understanding, and I’m glad we can look forward to celebrating your birthday together.

In the second example, Scott and Jose avoid degrading and blaming each other for what is not possible. Instead, they focus on what they will be able to do.

Social therapy helps you give up idealizations of the way you think things should be. Instead of being disappointed by yourself, others, your job, or your life, you can focus on discovering what might be and what is possible in your life.

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Slowing Down

TOM: It's your turn to do the dishes.
NICK: I did the dishes this morning.
TOM: Well, I did them last night, and there were only a few dishes this morning.
NICK: Well, I took out the garbage two weeks in a row and weeded the garden.

Back and forth the argument goes. Pretty soon someone storms out, slamming the door. Both people are left feeling angry and hurt by what just happened.

Let's see another way to have this conversation:

TOM: It's your turn to do the dishes.
NICK: What’s up?  You seem edgy.
TOM: Well, I just think I'm doing more than my share.
NICK: Why don’t we sit down and go over the house chores and see what we can work out, because I've been feeling a little overwhelmed myself.

In the first example, Nick begins a competition over who does more around the house.

In our second example, Nick senses Tom's frustration. He engages Tom in a way that both addresses the chores and cares for their relationship.

In our social therapy practice, we help you develop the capacity to slow down and consider all the possibilities of what could be occurring during any given moment. There are many ways slowing down can be helpful in learning more about our own feelings as well as the feelings of those around us, creating much deeper and satisfying relationships.

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“Yes, and” vs. “No, but”

ZAHRA I’m sorry I haven’t called you back for a while. I’ve been really busy.
FAREEHA: Everyone’s busy. That’s no excuse.
ZAHRA: Well, if that’s how you feel about it, maybe I shouldn’t have called back at all.
FAREEHA: Maybe you shouldn’t have.

Two friends, each negating the other’s experience, end up having a disagreement that could potentially put their relationship on shaky ground.

Let’s see how else this could have played out.

ZAHRA: I’m sorry I haven’t called you back for a while. I’ve been really busy.
FAREEHA: What’s been going on?
ZAHRA: Well, I had a huge report due at school, and the panel I volunteered for ended up in a total mess.
FAREEHA: Sorry you’ve been having a rough time. It is strange for me not to hear from you for so long. I was starting to feel taken for granted.
ZAHRA: I’m really sorry. I wasn’t expecting to be so overwhelmed the last few weeks.

In the first example, Fareeha completely negates Zahra’s recent life experience. She doesn’t accept Zahra’s apology nor her reason for not getting back to her sooner. She very quickly responds with a “no, but” instead of a “yes, and” response, creating tension in their relationship.

In the second example, Fareeha says “yes” to the fact that Zahra was having a hard time, “and” lets her know how Zahra’s lack of communication made Fareeha feel. By acknowledging Zahra’s experience Fareeha is able to say how she feels without putting Zahra on the defensive. If we frame all of our conversations with “yes, and” instead of “no, but” we increase the likelihood of being acknowledged in return, thus having more caring

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Shelley Karliner and Tricia Bassing, Licensed Psychotherapist
4115 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 203, Washington, DC 20016
202-244-0442 —

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