Category Archives: About Sofia

Staying Wild: Connecting with the Women’s Temple as Spiritual Practice

Women’s Temple as a Spiritual Practice

by Author Ashleigh Kramer-Walthall, MA, LMHC, PsyD candidate.

Ashleigh.JPGThe Women’s Temple is a sanctuary for the feminine where participants resonate with their empowered selves in joy, freedom and desire. Participants gather in circle to awaken Feminine Love & connection.

I have been attending Women’s Temple for 2 years now with Dr. Melanie Hernand, who serves as a powerful guide and mentor in my life.   I remember feeling so intrigued and elated to be a part of this movement and these ceremonies as I wanted to have a place to safely explore my feelings, curiosities, depth, connection and perspective with other women.

Dr. Melanie Hernand : Dreaming Themes and Channeling the Divine Feminine

My good friend and colleague, Dr. Mel, who specializes in women’s health and wellness, breathwork, meditation and women’s temple practice,  started facilitating Women’s Temple in Santa Cruz. Dr. Mel recognized that she felt called to start organizing one for the women’s community in Santa Cruz.

Dr. Mel says that she often dreams of the themes, or that they simply appear during her meditation practice and that she operates more as a channel for the Divine Feminine. Dr. Mel focuses on cultivating love and consciousness in her life. She makes decisions that continue to support her happiness, her growth, and her wellness. As someone who models the wisdom she shares, when I am in her company I often notice that I feel more aware of my feelings, my needs, my body sensations, more confident, and connected to love and thankfulness .

Ashleigh’s Experience: Staying Wild

11954777_885419194898799_8424658446493401501_n.jpgMy own experiences at Women’s temple have been insightful and powerful. One of the earlier Temples focused on devotion and how devotion shows up in our lives. We were paired up with another woman and each asked to be in the place of the Goddess to receive the devotion, as well as the devotee who offers our worship.

Both roles evoked great emotion for me. As Goddess, I was able to let down my insecurities and deeply open to my worth as a divine entity. I could experience love in every cell of my being.

The experience as devotee to have my Goddess in material form right before my eyes, left me weeping, overflowing with gratitude for this inspiration, this guide, this unconditional supportive force. I was able to weep, bowing down before her and continuously offer my voice and expression of love and appreciation. I actually brought this practice into my relationship with my learning partner, and we continue to devote time to creating ceremony toward deeply honoring each other’s divinity and preciousness.

This most recent Women’s Temple was centered on “staying wild”. This felt in alignment with the ferocity, anger, dynamism that we as many women in the U.S. have been feeling and functioning with since the outcome of the recent presidential election. This theme of staying wild also taps into my rage about the oppression and disparagement of women figures in religious history.

984px-Durga_Barisha_Club_2010_Arnab_Dutta1024px-Goddess_Kali_By_Piyal_Kundu1I love that we celebrate Kali and Durga, powerful Goddesses who represent surmounting fear, creation/destruction and tenacious boundaries. These feminine figures who are revered for their intrepidity and audacity encourage me to feel more comfortable to use my voice to stand up for myself and what I believe in without feeling as though I need to apologize for my needs or ideas. To have a space where I can unleash my fury and my confusion, where it is understood, and welcomed is invaluable to me.

Women’s Temple creates a container for me to make better sense of what is happening internally for me as well as externally. There is so much safety, wisdom, virtue and fortitude cultivated in our times together. Women’s Temple continues to change my life for the better and I am forever grateful for getting to dance and love in this life with these divine women.

Interview with Dr Mel

1) How would you describe the Women’s Temple?

Women’s Temple is a sanctuary for the feminine where we meet from that holy place in our hearts. A practice of embodied spirituality with movement, prayer, connection, and respectful touch. A place for you to be celebrated, seen, and deeply nourished–all of you is welcome here. It is a community of conscious sisterhood.

Together, we create a safe and sacred container to dive deeply into practices that bring us face-to-face with our feminine essence, opening us to the insights we need to live fully awake in this modern life, and support us to relax into the knowing that we are not alone–that we do this together.

2) Is the Women’s Temple a spiritual practice for you? If so can you elaborate?

Yes, for me, Women’s Temple feels like home. We are alive & passionate women awakening our hearts with emerging Feminine Rising. We are part of a worldwide current moving, when we gather together, a powerful field is created. We experience our Feminine essence & awakening in devotional practice where all of us are seen and loved. This circle fulfills the deep longing that hungers for connection, love and awakening.
Chameli Ardagh, founder of awakening women, writes:

“An awakening woman is a spiritual rebellion engaged in a glowing and embodied, nothing-held-back love affair with the great mystery. She moves in the world with fierce compassion, grace and freedom, and is passionate about truth, rest and real love. She is fluent in angelic, diva, and in Kali roars. Earth is home and so is infinity.”

Women’s Temple is a spiritual practice where we meet beyond the mind to practice embodiment practices to open the divine feminine essence within each woman. We use meditation, breath, dance, movement, respectful touch, voice, writing and sharing to go deep within and awaken our hearts. All of who we are is welcome in this space and this work heals our relationship with the divine feminine inside and out. It is powerful, nourishing, and deeply fulfilling to the feminine spirit.

Each gathering focuses on a different theme. In this “Stay Wild” Women’s Temple event, we were working with the energies of goddess Kali Ma & Durga (empowerment, creation, annihilation). Our focus was on breaking thru shame, unworthiness, lack, and disempowerment. We are building strategies to recognize our divinity and reclaim our power, while maintaining our feminine essence in the world.

3) How has The Women’s Temple influenced/benefited you?

In essence it has helped me to plant my roots deep down into Her soil, into my body, into the soul food of sisterhood. The Women’s Temple nourishes me in the ancient, timeless magic that sparks when women gather together in ritual until I overflow with a wisdom that speaks as purely as the pulsating Earth, as the tides, white blossoming lilies, falling ash, the rushing river of my soul. It helps me to tune into the subtle rhythms of my body and listen deep for the reply.

4) How do you hope The Women’s Temple benefits others?

We gather to worship and honor the wild, ruthless, soft, luscious, deep, mystic, achingly beautiful feminine root of existence that speaks Life into being. Steeped in beauty, rooted in a wider perspective than the day-to-day, we gather to mirror each other’s immaculate hearts; to remember with every cell that our bodies are miracles of nature; to clear the dust and debris so our true nature has space to seed and sprout as our very lives.

I hope for us to awaken to there being endless love, endless connection in our letting go. The only direction is IN. The Women’s Temple helps us to explore where our fuel is, deep diving, and using all the available fuel at this potent time of our transformation to break thru and let go. The intention is to encourage us to dive into this sacred time together to do our deepest inner work and open to the next greatest version of ourselves. The world is waiting for this movement, the world is waiting for us and our gifts.

About Dr. Melanie Hernand

MelHeadshot-300x300.jpgDr. Mel holds a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley and a Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life Chiropractic College West. She has a passion for helping people create new strategies for reducing pain, dissipating tension and adapting to stress. She effectively helps people connect to their bodies, open up their ability to feel, heal and transform. For the past 17 years Dr. Mel has helped thousands of people transform and awaken to more meaningful and purposeful lives. Dr. Mel specializes in women’s health and wellness, breathwork, meditation and women’s temple practice.


ITP-logo_smallAbout The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does Sofia University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition.





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Is there scientific data supporting an afterlife? Charles Tart explains

Many people wonder about the after life. Is there such a thing or is this just our unconscious mind connecting to our imaginations? Where do we go to find evidence regarding this question – do we rely on religious conceptualizations or review data from near death experiences and interviews and testing with spiritualist mediums?

Dr. Charles Tart, Professor Emeritus from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University, shares his ideas about the data and what people have really experienced.

Intrigued by these topics? Pursuing research on these topics and more at Sofia University is the place to do so. Learn more about our Residential and Global PhD in Transpersonal Psychology. 

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Finding My Research Sweet Spot with Non-symbolic States of Consciousness

By Ph.D student Lindsay Briner

The Power of Exploration and Wonder

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-4-22-40-pmI have an MA in Transpersonal Psychology and a relentless passion toward my own personal evolution. I became interested in the *industry* of transformative technology via Dr. Jeffrey Martin and the Transformative Technology Lab, and for the past year explored options within that industry. With that in mind, I spent several months at the University of Arizona with Dr. Stuart Hameroff (pictured) where I investigated Transcranial Ultrasound Therapy, worked with Deepak Chopra on the Jiyo platform and collaborated with Neurohacker Collective as a research member. I enjoyed exploring innovative technologies with fellow research associates, but I still was not able to chisel away a clear point of focus for 2017. However, these explorations did make me wonder as an industry what we are optimizing for and how do we consensually measure it?

Through my lived experiences to discover my area of focus, I have come to realize that the future of human development, education and medicine, through the exponential growth of technology, is destined for human optimization. We are at the cusp of an emergent human ontology with a new interdisciplinary epistemology of neuroscience with technology.

Finding Clarity at the Transformative Technology Lab

My coursework as a PhD student at Sofia University has been complemented with work at the Transformative Technology Lab (TTL) with Dr. Jeffery Martin. The lab is a niche space where technology intersects with transpersonal psychology. The aim of the Lab is to evolve psychology’s working axiom of wellness, from one merely transcending acute distress, to one tapping the outer reaches of human potential.I thoughtfully examined how my contribution at this intersection can be maximized and chose to look at the Finder’s Course.

The goal of Dr.Martin’sFinder’s Course is to help people obtain Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience (PNSE) which includes the states of consciousness commonly known as enlightenment, non-duality, and unitive experience. Such states are not inherently spiritual or religious, nor limited to any particular culture or population, and they can form differently according to various personal experiences.

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-4-22-24-pmIn January of 2017, Dr.Jeffery Martin launched his 10th Finder’s Course research protocol with 2,000 participants. The Finder’s Course collects data from participants on the progress of their psychological states throughout the 4-month program. Dr.Martin’s most recent study achieved strong validation, with approximately 73% of participants reaching ongoing non-symbolic experience in less than 4 months during the program. The program utilizes various methodologies to achieve this, such as positive psychology techniques, mindfulness practices, meditation, and use the transformative technologies such as the Muse neuro-feedback technology for meditation. (Pictured – Jeffery Martin in white & Lindsay Briner)

Curiosity Brings Focus

Over the last year as a research associate at the TTL, I delved into Finder’s Course data and gained an understanding of Dr. Martin’s approach and strategy. His human optimization techniques not only lead to what are often perceived as spiritual experiences, but more broadly form a framework for groundbreaking states of wellbeing. For example, PNSE is linked to significantly decreased depression and anxiety, and enhanced physical health and sense of purpose in life.

I relate to and am fascinated by this material, often reflecting on my own experiences of PNSE. Last year, I began experimenting with nootropics to assist in my levels of productivity and ability to concentrate on tasks. As I was taking these supplements, I began observing an increase in my ability to access and maintain higher states of PNSE while also increasing focus, motivation, and productivity.

I experienced a flow-state from the productivity, yet also experienced states of PNSE. This may be difficult to understand if you are not familiar with these states, but the experience of sustained, calm focus, backdropped by a general sense of wellbeing, is an experience I desire to help other people access and maintain. I want people to be able to feel so deeply connected to nature — to experience a unitive, non-dual awareness — while remaining grounded, healthy, and more productive in a meaningful way than ever before.

Because of my extraordinary results from my own use of nootropics, along with my curiosity to deepen the scholarship on this emerging field of human optimization, I felt I would be potentially well suited for the lab’s extraordinary research vision.

Finding My Research Sweet Spot

This desire caused me to approach Dr. Martin in the lab one day with an idea with which I was ready to hit the ground running. And now, I am excited to say that in January 2017, I started collecting data on cognitive performance with three experimental groups during the 10th Finder’s Course. A particular point of emphasis within my work will be investigating the effects of nootropics or “smart drugs” on Finder’s Course participants. Nootropics provide cognitive enhancements, and are intended for people who have a good physiological and psychological baseline of health.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 4.34.22 PM.pngThe work will show how increasing one’s processing capability of symbolic states may influence one’s relationship to non-symbolic states. The data collection in the Finder’s Course has great implications for engineering specific states for human optimization across various applications. I am honored to work alongside him as I move into my final stages of the PhD program.


For so long, psychology and medicine have been focused on pathology. At the Transformative Technology Lab, we are focusing on healthy individuals and asking, “How do we advance our need to be more healthy into true optimization?”

This last year has revealed to me how humankind is now at the very precipice of our next great civilizational epoch. Fifteen years ago, “social media” was a virtually unknown phrase and concept, and so too, “transformative technology” will become the next great societal wave of influence. It may end up under a slightly different name- “human optimization”, “neurotech”, “transtech”, etc.- but it is clear that there is an emerging coalescence of brilliance and technology across the world, centered around the concept of transcending previous assumed limits of individual neurophysiology. This includes any technological methods that enhance wellbeing, such as non-invasive brain stimulation (i.e. ultrasound, tDCS, tACS), virtual reality, augmented reality, brain-computer interface (i.e. microchips, Elon Musks’ brain lace), neuro-feedback, all bio-feedback devices, and much more.


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The Power of Presence – Mindfulness based Therapy

The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been present in multiple practices throughout the world for millenniums. Its origin has been traced to Hinduism in 1500 BCE and was introduced to the field of psychology in the 20th century. Mindfulness is a mental state which consists of achieving a deeper awareness of one’s body and mind by focusing on the present moment. It is utilized in many therapeutic practices such as Mindfulness-based stress reduction, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

Mindfulness is more than an intervention, it is a way of life. According to an article on the benefits of mindfulness by the American Psychological Association, mindfulness has been shown to:


  • rumination
  • stress
  • emotional reactivity


  • working memory
  • focused attention
  • cognitive flexibility
  • relationship satisfaction

Techniques used in Mindfulness based therapy

mindset-743166_960_720During sessions, therapists can use various tools in order to help their clients achieve a state of mindfulness. Some of the techniques used include breathing meditation, sitting meditation, and body sensation meditation. The techniques can be used at any time and whenever needed.

It is also recommended to practice mindfulness outside of therapy. There are various practices promoting mindfulness such as yoga, qigong, tai chi, as well as the meditations mentioned above. The goal is to focus on oneself and on the present moment.

Mindfulness Based Therapy at Sofia University

Mindfulness is one of the major educational teaching models at Sofia University that provides the foundation for deep transformational growth and enhanced personal experience of the subject matter.Faculty understand the stress and anxiety experienced daily by both students and humanity in general, and the school’s mission is to teach students how to integrate and transcend these stressors.

Almost every in-person psychology class begins and ends with meditation and centering, while other classes are entirely focused on mindfulness. Courses such as “Transpersonal Skills Labs (Yoga, Ai-kido)”, “Meditation & Mindfulness”, and “Creative Expression” are examples of such mindfully focused courses.

If you’re interested to learn more about yourself, as well as how to help others in a mindful and transpersonal environment, then Sofia University is meant for you! Have a look at our degrees to find what resonates best.

Hope you join the family 🙂
A bientôt!

Here are some external resources if you would like to learn more about mindfulness:







Mindfulness quote borrowed from Goodreads 

About the Author

paramanBlog writer Pierre Araman is a student in the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program. He is an international student originally from France who has lived in many different countries around the world. Serendipity brought him to Sofia University.  His goal to fuse spirituality and science in the field of psychology is based on the belief that body, mind, & soul have not been fully integrated in either domain. Promoting Sofia University is a passion as well as he believes the university is a unique and wonderful environment. You can contact Pierre at

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The Wisdom of the Body : Somatic Based Therapy

The mind-body clash has disguised the truth that psychotherapy is physiology. When a person starts therapy, he isn’t beginning a pale conversation; he is stepping into a somatic state of relatedness” -Thomas Lewis

What is Somatic-Based Therapy?

Merriam-Webster defines somatic as “relating to, or affecting the body especially as distinguished from the psyche.” Somatic therapists believe that past traumas, emotions, and experiences can become trapped within the body and then externalized by posture, facial expressions, etc and/or internalized through muscular pain and other types of body language.

Somatic therapy is a holistic approach to healing traumas through different techniques such as dance or other body movement, breathing exercises, massage, voice work, and more. There are various forms of somatic therapies such as Core energetics, Bodynamics, Hakomi, and Bioenergetic analysis.

The father of Somatic-Based therapy is Wilhelm_Reich_in_his_mid-twenties.JPGan Austrian psychoanalyst,Wilhelm Reich, who became known for his idea of muscular armour. Muscular armour aka Segmental Armouring Theory, states that all living organisms contain a life force which Reich named as orgone energy. When the orgone energy does not flow properly through the body due to various reasons (in this context trauma), the body will internalize and/or externalize the blockages through various means. When the blockages are identified and then worked through, it enables the release of extra orgone energy or repletion depending on the needs in order to rebalance the body to a natural equilibrium.

Techniques used in Somatic-Based therapy

As mentioned earlier, somatic-based therapy utilizes different techniques in order to help the body process traumas. The needs of clients are met depending on their own preferences. For instance, dance is known to be an efficient technique to release traumas through body movements.


Another technique is acting/drama and/or vocal exercises which would require the client to verbalize and/or exteriorize the trauma through movements and voice work. Also, different massages can be used such as energetic massages and/or physical massages. Breathing and grounding exercises can also be used along meditation, visualization, and mindfulness. Somatic-Based therapy has a wide array of tools which clients can choose from.

Somatic-Based Therapy at Sofia University:

There are multiple classes where you will be introduced to Somatic-Based Therapy and its effectiveness on yourself as well as on clients. Classes such as “Creative Expression” and “Psychotherapy Theory and Interventions” are good environments where you will be able to conduct your own somatic exploration and how to communicate with your body. You will also be introduced to the different interventions and how to use them efficiently. If you feel like this might be a good tool for you to have, come join us at Sofia University!

Faculty Connections: Manuela Mischke-Reeds, MA, MFT

843a32cc-c314-4ab4-b81a-7b0ec5ec0371.jpgManuela Mischke-Reeds, MA, MFT, is an international teacher and writer of mindfulness-based somatic psychology. She co-directs the Hakomi Institute of California and teaches in the US, Europe, and Australia. A meditation practitioner for over 25 years, Manuela lectures, consults and trains professionals in mindfulness, attachment, trauma, and movement therapy. She maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Menlo Park, CA.
Manuela frequently lectures at conferences and Universities and has been faculty for the past 15 years at JFK University, Sofia University, and The California Institute of Integral Studies in California.


Come join the family 🙂

A bientôt! by Pierre Araman


Somatic Body Oriented Studies

If you would like to read about studies conducted on the effectiveness of Somatic-Based Therapy, here are some links:

The Effectiveness of Body-Oriented Psychotherapy:

Empirical Support for Somatic Regulation in the Treatment of Traumatized Adolescents:

Neuroscience in Somatic Psychotherapy:


Book 1:

Book 2:,204,203,200_.jpg

Book 3:,204,203,200_.jpg

Energetics Institute:


Blog writer Pierre Araman is a student in the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program who enjoys sharing his growing knowledge of therapy and therapeutic technique with the wider audience.

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Growing Our Human Potential in the Workplace

By George Zimmer, ITP Honorary Doctorate Recipient and Chairman, CEO & Founder at Generation Tux and zTailors

To succeed in business and maximize innovation in the 21st century, we need to unleash the energy and potentials that lie within meaningful relationships and inspired human connectedness. While the 20th century was about products and feeding the supply chain, today’s work world is about relationships. To build productive human relationships, the essential ingredients are trust and fairness – supported by competence, authenticity, caring, compassion and kindness. We must inspire creativity, encourage risk-taking, and boost the cultivation of reciprocity in order to develop leadership for a truly conscious capitalism.

How do we create an environment of trust and fairness that fosters these qualities? In my experience, it involves several dimensions. To thrive, conscious businesses need to focus on developing our organization’s social and emotional intelligence. While skills are important to success, we must also recognize the importance of personality and attitude in a healthy work environment.

Leadership is about two things: character and competence. Creating a learning culture where people can develop their human capacities is a key to the kind of success in which innovation and creativity can flourish. Pixar is a great example of how this key leads to winning outcomes for all stakeholders.

What about when our employees mess up? Of course, we must respond to employee mistakes appropriately, especially mistakes affecting customers. At the same time, we need to be forgiving and even encouraging of missteps. Mistakes can be the fodder on which new behaviors are born.

Placing value on experimentation and the generation of new ideas can lead to breakthroughs. We need to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and teach within our organizations. As noted by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, in his book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration: “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.” John Lassiter’s remake of Toy Story is just one example of risk taking that paid off.

Giving our employees the benefit of the doubt can foster trust and develop loyalty and commitment for the long haul. Our companies will thrive when our employees are met with challenge. They must also be greeted with the support and encouragement that comes when they don’t have to hide their mistakes.

Encouraging transparency makes for a work environment characterized by honesty and integrity. Enhancing personal relationships within the corporate environment enhances reciprocity and good will among employees. It also leads, according to the latest science, employees to be happier and healthier. This makes good business sense.

Developing a culture of conscious business is about supporting creativity and removing the blockade of fear. One of the myths of leadership is that the leader is certain of his or her decisions. This is a fallacy from everything I’ve observed.

The first thing to understand about decision-making is that we’re rarely certain. Most of the time we’re just making our best guess. Any leader, when they are honest, will freely admit that we reach many decisions, sometimes very important decisions, by simply making a probability call based on our experience.  We’re not certain.  But yet as the leader, we need to project confidence about the decision.

Bringing the fullness of our human potential into business and our world may serve to invite a kind of positive workplace culture that creates authentic meaning, purpose, and a better experience. Ultimately, it serves the bottom line.  While there’s ample research about the role of reciprocity and productivity in the workplace, there is less research to show the interconnectedness of the employee’s experience and the way they transmit those positive feelings into each transaction.  This benefits all of our stakeholders. Some things are just intuitive.


American entrepreneur and founder of Men’s Wearhouse, George Zimmer’s experience caring for his mother, who died of cancer, led him to support research into the therapeutic use of MDMA.

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Systems Therapy: Change One Thing, Change Everything

By Pierre Araman

What is Systems Therapy?

Systems therapy aims to help each member of a group gain insight on their role as well as on the role of their peers in order to maximize the healthy functionality of the whole. Systems therapy can be utilized with families, couples, communities, or organizations so as to resolve conflicts and/or other relational issues.

The theory behind Systems Therapy is based on the idea that the environment (in this particular case family and/or community) is primordial for the psychological health and recovery of clients. Changes made to one component of the environment can affect the whole system for the better or for the worse depending on the system.


A famous branch of Systems therapy is known as Family systems theory which was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen in the late 1960s. In Family systems therapy, participants are encouraged to be themselves in order for the therapist as well as other members of the family to see the cause and effect of certain behaviors. When the negative behaviors have been identified, participants can realize the impacts they may have on the system and modify the negative behaviors into healthy behaviors for the benefit of the entire family as well as for themselves.

Other forms of family therapy branching from Bowen’s Family systems theory and that you may have heard of are: Intergenerational family therapy, Structural family therapy, and Strategic family therapy. If you would like to learn more about these therapies, click on the images below.



Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 10.40.19 AM.png

Dr. Murray Bowen developed eight concepts which can be identified and worked on during Family therapy. The concepts are:

  • Emotional Cutoff – When a member distances themselves emotionally/physically from their family in order to reduce stress/tension.
  • Family Projection Process – When parents’ issues are transferred unto the child/children. Common issues are emotional concerns, anxiety, and relationship difficulties.
  • Nuclear Family Emotional Process – Four areas identified by Bowen where families tend to have the most difficulties: problematic behaviors, impaired functionality in children, intimate partner conflict, and emotional distance.
  • Differentiation of Self – Bowen’s core concept – The ability of a person to differentiate themselves from their family in order to achieve their life goals. A low level of differentiation means that the person has difficulties maintaining individuality and can experience emotional fusion with others. A high level of differentiation means that the person can maintain healthy emotional contacts with the group while keeping their individuality.
  • Sibling position – The belief that the youngest, middle, and oldest children have specific roles within the family system due to different factors such as discipline, expectations, etc
  • Emotional Triangle – When anxiety is introduced to a dyad, a third person is used as a resource to reduce the anxiety. It is common for emotional triangle to become unhealthy as two sides are in harmony and one in conflict. An example of an emotional triangle would be a child included in a parental dispute.
  • Societal Emotional Process – When instability is present within the emotional system of society, it can reverberate and have a negative impact on the emotional system of the family (e.g. natural catastrophe, periods of regression, etc).
  • Multigenerational Transmission Process – Bowen’s belief that individuals seek partners with the same level of differentiation which is then passed on to their children. When the level of differentiation is increased, the pattern can be broken and as a result, increase the level of differentiation of the next generations.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-10-46-40-amOverall, Family system therapy can be overwhelming although extremely rewarding. Once the system has been reorganized, it benefits the whole. The role of Systems therapist is to identify concepts described above and to modify the unhealthy behaviors into positive and rewarding attitudes. The process can be short or lengthily depending on the resilience of the members of the system.

If you would like to learn more about Systems therapy, here are two research papers on the effectiveness of family and relationship therapy:

 Systems Therapy at Sofia University

If Systems therapy interests you and you would like to learn more and to gain some experience within that field, Sofia University offers the unique experience of participating in group therapy with your cohort as well as covering the different theories in class. Check out our Masters in Counseling Psychology program which incorporates interactive learning through role play, giving you the tools necessary to carry you through different systems therapies such as family therapy, couple therapy, group therapy, and more!

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The Art and Science of Healthy Relationships

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-44-34-amBy PhD student, Michelle Pate, MA, MBA

Did you know there is a very important element to creating a healthy relationship that lasts? The people who have this in their relationship say it is what bonds them and makes their relationship grow. The ones who don’t have it either complain or get to work on improving themselves to be a good partner. Some don’t even know it exists and wonder why they get awful partners.

This element is so very necessary to our well-being, but many have been conditioned to not believe this element is necessary or obtainable in a relationship. They go through several years of continuous partnerships and are confused why it doesn’t last. Or they coexist in the relationship and spend most of their time in their separate worlds.

I was watching Oprah several years back and an amazing guest was sharing what makes relationships work. He had done several studies with couples and was showing his scientific results. Before this day, I did not know that relationships could be qualified as science! His information was so pertinent to my life that day, it permanently changed my goals and what I was looking for in a relationship. When I was learning counseling psychology in graduate school (2001-2006), I studied this man’s work in more detail to learn how to help couples have more successful relationships.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-48-05-amThis man was John Gottman, PhD. He is a psychologist, relationship expert, researcher, professor, and author who devotes his career observing couples’ interactions and writing books on his work. He now asserts that he knows on a scientific level what works for long term relationship happiness. He says he can predict in five minutes of observing a couple, with 91% accuracy, whether a couple will stay together or split up. This was a huge claim, and I had enough heartbreak, so I listened intently.

Gottman stated the evidence showed that a couple’s FRIENDSHIP is the biggest indicator in knowing whether they would be together years into the future. This is so blatantly obvious; I don’t know how I had missed it. I thought about the qualities I had in my close friendships and was determined to look for a relationship that had elements of friendship in them. It was tough for me, because I had seen a lot of dysfunctional relationships in my family. I was conditioned to believe I didn’t need a man, and it wasn’t possible to have a best friend in a partner. So with this knowledge from Gottman, I started to deepen my understanding and beliefs of what a good friend is and become this kind of person myself.


My list of friendship qualities I started to consider in a mate:

  • Do we genuinely LIKE each other?
  • Do we like spending time together?
  • Do we have things in common we like to do together?
  • Are we comfortable with each other?
  • Do we listen to each other?
  • Do we share funny stories and laugh with each other?
  • Can we relax and have fun with each other?
  • Do we simply like being together even when we aren’t doing anything?
  • When a conflict comes up, do we work together to find a solution?
  • Do we make up and reconcile after we have an argument?
  • Do we admire each other?

Good friends speak well of each other. The couples who make it long term speak highly of their partner. They are positive about the future of the relationship. They have many great things they admire about their partner. Their friendship is a bond of mutual affection and a refuge from the world.

When you think about your relationship, how deep is your friendship? Do you notice areas where you could learn more about your partner and contribute to their life? How can you learn more about them so you can support their dreams? How can you be a better FRIEND to your partner?

To read more about creating a deeper friendship with your mate, I recommend you read John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (I find it valuable even if you aren’t married). He has outlined many qualities of friendship and bonding that we can pursue to make our relationships even more satisfying and fun.

Taking your relationship to a deeper level simply by being more interested in your partner’s life is greatly nurturing to both of you. Friendship keeps you interested in the other person. Friendship helps a new relationship flourish. Friendship keeps long term relationships vital and alive. With friendship, there is always something new to learn about each other because we are deeply interested our loved one’s life.

To create more goodness in your relationship and to learn more about John Gottman and his work, please visit

You can also participate in helping couples achieve greater happiness in their relationships through Gottman’s Training Institute:

Core Clinical Training

Join the 60,000+ clinicians around the world that have trained in Gottman Method Couples Therapy and use our proven assessment techniques and interventions in their work with couples. Click here for more information.



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What is Psychodynamic Therapy?

By Pierre Araman

Psychodynamic theory is a school of depth psychology encompassing the theories and ideas of famous psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, Erik Erikson.

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on accessing information hidden in the unconscious and utilizing different techniques to reduce psychic tensions. Principally, psychodynamic therapists concentrate on clients’ past relationships as well as the therapeutic alliance (the relationship between the client and the therapist) so as to uncover unresolved conflicts.

One theory is that childhood traumas can negatively impact present relationships and can lead people to develop unhealthy defense mechanisms, which are unconscious systems developed by a person’s ego to protect themselves against anxiety. Some of the most common defense mechanisms are denial (refusal to admit external reality/events), rationalization (inaccurate reasons to explain behavior), and projection (projecting personal negative traits onto others). By working through the defenses and restructuring the core of the psychopathology, psychodynamic therapists help clients cultivate better self-understanding and develop more accurate views of reality.

Techniques Used in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapists use different tools to access a client’s unconscious such as free association, transference / counter-transference, dreams interpretations, and insights from the client and the therapist.


  • Free associations are spontaneous and unconscious mental connections made by the brain. They are usually insightful and help therapists determine unconscious views of clients. In other words, the therapist says a word and the client says whatever comes to mind without thinking.
  • Transference and counter-transference refer to negative and/or positive personality traits that are projected onto the therapist by the client and vice versa. For example, a client might say that the therapist reminds them of a parent or a persecutor. Another example would be a therapist referring a client to a colleague because the client reminds them of their child or they are being triggered in some way.
  • Dream analysis speaks for itself. Some themes are recurrent while other require deeper personal interpretation/analysis by the client and/or therapist. Different interpretative tools can be used such as intuition/insights, mythology, metaphor, etc.
  • The therapeutic alliance is one of the most important interventions of psychodynamic psychotherapy. Therapists focus on their relationship with the client to determine the impact it may have on therapy. Some questions considered by a therapist might be: “Would the client be ready to hear this at this time? Does the client feel safe? Is there enough trust to inquire about a certain topic? etc.”
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy also has its own diagnostic manual called the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM). Besides sharing a similar name with the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM), the DSM describes observable symptoms and the PDM outlines subjective experiences.

For more information on this particular form of psychotherapy, here is a preview from a book by Richard F. Summers & Jacques P. Barber (2010) named “Psychodynamic Therapy: A Guide to Evidence-Based Practice, as well as other resources.

Psychodynamic Therapy has been found through research to be effective. A study conducted by Jonathan Shedler (2010) called “The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy” states that clients “maintain therapeutic gains and appear to continue to improve after treatment ends”.

Psychodynamic therapy and Clinical Programs at Sofia University

Psychodynamic therapy is explored and practiced in different classes such as “History and Systems of Psychology”, “Psychotherapy Theory and Interventions”, “Clinical Practicum”, and more. We are currently covering this theory in my “Transpersonal Theory & Literature” class as well as practicing the different interventions through role playing with other students. Whether you are interested in the PsyD, PhD, or Master’s program; you will have access to in-depth experiences and knowledge of the theory at Sofia University.

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Humanistic Therapy: The Healing Power of Empathy

by Pierre Araman


What is Humanistic Therapy?

Humanism is the study of an individual as a whole being. It is a perspective of psychology that looks at humans as innately ‘good’. Clients are considered experts on their own lives and thus, humanistic therapists do not psychoanalyze or judge. Instead, they focus on empathy through a non-directive approach that facilitates connection between client and therapist.

The goal of humanistic therapy is to focus on growth and self-actualization (self-development) and to help clients identify their strengths in the present moment. There are various types of humanistic therapies such as Gestalt, Psychosynthesis, and Solution-focused therapy, to name a few. One of the most famous humanistic therapy practices is called Client-centered therapy or Rogerian psychotherapy.

Client-centered therapy was developed by Carl Rogers in the 1950s from the perspective that people organically develop towards their full potential over time. However, life experiences such as trauma and accidents distort and/or block the drive to fulfill one’s potential.

Some life experiences are called ‘conditions of worth’. These occur when we evaluate our own experiences through the values and beliefs of others instead of ourselves. Many people do this by discounting their own experiences in order to receive conditional positive regard or acceptance from others. As a result, a Social Self and a True Self are created. The Social Self is a self-concept based largely on the expectations of others and the True Self is a self-concept based on our actual feelings about our experiences. In order for the Self’s to be congruent with one another, Rogerian therapists focus on cultivating unconditional positive regard for their clients.

Techniques used in Client-Centered therapy:

Since each client is considered unique and are considered the expert on their own lives, there are no specific techniques used in Rogerian psychotherapy. Rogerian therapists instead offer their unconditional positive regard, empathy, and skillful non-directive reflections in order to help their clients reach their full potential.

Here is a video of Carl Rogers practicing Client-Centered therapy. As you watch the video, you can see that he does not judge nor direct the client in any particular way:

Here are additional resources if you are interested to learn more about Carl Rogers or about humanistic therapies:

Here are also two studies demonstrating the effectiveness of Person-Centered Therapies:

Humanistic Therapy at Sofia University

The Master of Arts in Counseling program at Sofia University introduces the tenets and practices of Humanistic theory. The competent and compassionate faculty at Sofia University provide great insight into this theory and help students learn how to apply these skills in their work with clients. Classes such as “Critical Thinking in Clinical Psychology”, “History and Systems of Psychology”, “Psychotherapy theory and Interventions” are just a few of the classes that may introduce you to this type of work.

Special thanks to Dr. Sersecion’s lecture on Humanistic Psychology.

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