Bio / Q & A
Jim Matson is a licensed psychotherapist with a master's degree in Clinical Social Work, in private practice in Houston, Texas, since 1989.
He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and has over 20 years of experience practicing clinical hypnosis.
Jim has conducted accredited hypnosis workshops and seminars for physicians, psychologists, graduate and medical students, and other mental health professionals.
Jim works primarily with individuals exhibiting depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or dissociation. Further, he uses hypnosis in treatment of stress related physical disorders, pain management, and preparation for childbirth.
Q & A
Jim, what do you think is the most common misconception about psychotherapy?
That you must be "crazy" to seek it. The reality is this: in times like these it's common to have some feelings of depression and anxiety. There's so much uncertainty in our world, isn't there? It is easy to feel powerless in our own life — even for the healthiest among us. And for those of us that had some historic difficulties, the feelings get amplified and can leave us feeling overwhelmed. We all need a little help in those circumstances.
How would you correct that misconception?
Easy. I can say with complete confidence that everyone could benefit from therapy at some point in their lives. I'd also say that, now more than ever, the "talking cure" is not really just about talking. You can talk to friends or relatives. Therapists do something quite different.
As a therapist, what do you do?
I provide a safe, confidential relationship, so your therapy can be productive and not needlessly uncomfortable. On that foundation I apply a variety of skills and modern techniques, years of experience, plus of course support and encouragement.
What actually happens in therapy?
Together we explore your mental, emotional and physical distresses. Often there are clues in your history, such as adaptive mechanisms gone awry. We work to redirect such mechanisms so you can recover your balance, move forward, and live a more satisfying and productive life. There's more to it than that, such as exploring how your personal relationships hamper or support your healing process. We address all of it — all of you.
Do you use a particular type of therapy?
Typically, I use the framework of Ego State Therapy, developed by master therapists John and Helen Watkins. The tremendous flexibility of this approach helps address complex issues. Beyond that, I use ideas and practices from a variety of theories and traditions, combining them in unique ways. Thus my interventions can range from cognitive-behavioral to psychoanalytic while drawing on the mindfulness traditions of Buddhist psychology. I work with these various approaches in flexible and creative ways to address your unique needs, to promote healing and recovery.
What about dealing with the past? Do you have to go back and dredge up difficult past events?
The short answer is, it depends. We need a certain level of understanding. For instance, why do you continue to do things that go against your best interest? What's going on? I like to say, "It's not what happened in the past, but how we hold it in the present." When we are unaware of why we think, feel or act as we do, it's useful to explore the past.
How does the past play a role?
Internal conflicts are often based on understandings formulated in childhood. You may still carry these old understandings within you, essentially frozen in a moment of time. They helped you in some way, back then. But they are out of step with your needs today. That is why they often result in patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving that are at odds with our current reality. It causes us to react to events and people in automatic and inappropriate ways that sometimes bring more trouble, more conflict. We think we can't control it. And when that happens, we feel as if we don't understand ourselves. It's disheartening.
What, then, is the goal of therapy?
The goal of Ego State Therapy boils down to creating and maintaining internal harmony. Sounds a bit like Eastern philosophy, doesn't it? Actually, Eastern mystics and traditional Oriental medical practitioners have always stressed the importance of harmony. They view disease and pain as indicators of imbalance. The Western healing tradition looks at things differently, but the result is the same: when we feel conflicted in our feelings, thoughts or behaviors, we are clearly out of balance. Psychotherapy gives us an opportunity to restore balance within the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and sexual aspects of our lives.
So you think that balance within ourselves is essential for mental health?
Absolutely. But it's not just limited to mental health because everything's connected: any aspect of yourself that is neglected or overloaded will necessarily result in other aspects taking up the slack. For example, when your emotional health is chronically neglected, a huge toll is taken on physical health. No wonder researchers find that most physician office visits are stress related.
I see that you use hypnosis. Where does that fit in?
I think clinical hypnosis is very useful when appropriate, especially when physical symptoms are involved. However, I don't use it exclusively — not everyone is able to be hypnotized to the depth that change can occur. Still, it's a valuable tool, one of my favorite therapeutic techniques.
What makes hypnosis so valuable in therapy?
Hypnosis is used in Ego State therapy to identify sources of conflict — and also to harness a person's inner strengths to help resolve these conflicts. While hypnosis is not necessary in all cases, I have generally found it to be the most efficient method of dealing with processes outside of conscious awareness. It's highly effective.
So all you have to do is hypnotize me?
If only hypnosis were a quick fix or magic solution! It's not. Its great value lies in the ability to put us in touch with feelings and experiences that you and I must work on, really work together to resolve. That's not all. Hypnosis also helps us harness your hidden strengths, to move toward wholeness.
I'm not sure I can be hypnotized.
I hear that a lot. We can do a few simple tests to determine whether you're a good candidate for hypnosis. Based on the results, we can choose an intervention that is right for you. I should add that therapeutic hypnosis, when used, is performed with your prior approval.
Earlier you mentioned your eclectic approach. Can you say more about it?
In the last 25 years, I have received training in a great many therapies, each with strengths and weaknesses. Seeking exposure to a variety of spiritual traditions also has expanded my perspective. Thus I am gratified to see spirituality increasingly validated in the helping professions. Further, I have learned tremendously from my clients and continue to do so. My training in clinical hypnosis has led me, like many others, to realize the intimate relationship between emotional and physical health. I believe that we are just beginning to really know how much attending to our emotions can help repair our bodies. These influences inform my therapeutic practice every day.
Does anything else influence your therapeutic practice?
My lifelong interest in the martial arts has led me to Aikido, a nonviolent defensive art that emphasizes harmony in mind, body and spirit. It inspires me to practice what I preach. On other fronts, advances in neuroscience are particularly exciting: new discoveries regarding brain development, function and plasticity will affect how we address the human mind/body and its capacity to heal and grow. But in the end, the most influential forces are the ones most personal to me: my family and friends. Striving to be a good husband, father and friend always makes me a better therapist. It really is all about balance, isn't it?