Stephen Shostek - Portland Therapist & Counselor

Upper Tryon Creek in Portland's Marshall Park

Counseling Services

If you want to know more about the perspectives that guide me...

Integrating Perspectives

The theorist, author and therapist Irvin Yalom gave a piece of advice to therapists that I've found relevant for my approach to therapy: "The therapist must strive to create a new therapy for every patient.", Yalom advises. Yalom is speaking about the spontaneity and genuineness with which he meets his clients - an emphasis on attitude rather than on technique. I strive to meet each of my clients in that unique and genuine way that Yalom advises by adapting the broad range of what I've studied for your particular needs.

The style of counseling therapy that I practice is an integration of several perspectives. Principles from the Existential-Humanist (E-H) perspective provide the primary guidance for my work. I integrate mind-body therapy and other perspectives into the E-H perspective in my approach to counseling. I bring together a rich set of counseling and therapy perspectives and methods so that I can meet you as the unique person who you are, and assist you in meeting your goals.

Let's take a closer look at these perspectives, starting with the Existential-Humanistic perspective.

Existential-Humanistic Perspective

The Existential-Humanistic (E-H) Perspective draws on two twentieth century movements for its principles and focus: the humanistic movement of the mid-twentieth century and existential philosophy of the late-nineteenth and twentieth century. The two movements were brought together in the 1950's by a few key influencers in the US who recognized them as a natural fit for addressing the concerns of their times.

Humanist Perspective

The humanistic movement was formed by theorists and practitioners like Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May and others who advocated that the sufferings of ordinary people not be treated as pathology and not be treated mechanistically or deterministically. They advocated a "client centered" therapy process focused on a client's personal growth, the actualizing of their potentials, and support for their ordinary, difficult times. Rogers is especially known for advocating that clients be met with "unconditional positive regard" in therapy, later described as "an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us even knowing our failings."

The historians who write about the early years of the humanistic movement say that at the time, this new movement stood in stark contrast to the prevailing theoretical orientation and practice which was characterized by the determinism of Freud's legacy and a pathologizing approach in the medical model. In contrast, the humanistic movement opened the door to what we now embrace as personal growth. It emphasized self actualization by engaging one's highest qualities in a cause bigger than one's self. It also opened the door to bringing spirituality into the picture as theorists and authors like Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl considered the self-transcendent and spiritual side of human experience.

Since that time, humanistic thought has had a profound influence on American mainstream culture. It's had a broad impact on fields such as education, nursing, organizational development and for a time the humanistic perspective influenced the APA - Rogers and Maslow were both past presidents. If you've heard phrases like "personal growth", "self actualization", or "hierarchy of needs" in literature or conversation then you've been exposed to humanistic thinking.

Next up - existential philosophy.

Existential Philosophy in Therapy

Rollo May is credited by some as the American therapist and theorist who brought European existential thought into the realm of therapy in the US. In "Origins and Significance of the Existential Movement" May wrote that existentialism offers a "unique and specific portrayal of the... predicament of western contemporary man." What better to ground a contemporary therapy in than a philosophy that addresses predicaments? The people of the 50's and 60's certainly faced their share of predicaments just as we do today. The humanistic movement had opened the door to a non-pathologizing view of human experience and this attitude was well met in existential philosophy. And like Rollo May said - people had predicaments to confront.

The existential philosophers of the late nineteenth century and twentieth century were concerned with a wide range of matters related to living, feeling, and experiencing life not merely through abstract thinking but through passionate and authentic living. Existential thinkers advocated that individuals face their confusion or disorientation in life and create meaning or find the freedom to create personal meaning in life. They concerned themselves with a wide range of topics: the factuality of individual limitations, with freedom and responsibility, with acting as an authentic self, with hope and the loss of hope, and with a range of other concerns. The inquiry that had been underway among this group of philosophers was interesting and inspiring for many in the newly formed humanistic group in the US.

Rollo May observed that the European existential movement was developed by many thinkers and had no single clear originator or thinker. One consequence of having many different thinkers is that each contributor naturally had their own particular interests and each added their own contributions. This broad focus makes it difficult to concisely or briefly define the movement. The same would be true of the American development of Existential-Humanism. May was joined in the E-H movement by other influential therapists and authors who contributed their own particular interests to the E-H perspective including James Bugental, Irvin Yalom and Viktor Frankl. Each added their own particular interest or perspective to the movement, all of which are useful and well worth considering.

Irvin Yalom describes existential therapy as a means to come to terms with "life's givens." These givens include life themes like coming to terms with limitations and being finite; freedom within the context of limitations; the need to create meaning; the need for relationships; personal subjectivity; coming to terms with responsibility; acting as an authentic self; and other themes that you might recognize from your own lived experience. Some scholars of existential philosophy summarize these as a set of five major existential concerns: death, isolation, identity, freedom, and meaning.

Yalom advocates that existential therapy is characterized more by its attitude than by any specific technique. This existential attitude in therapy focuses on spontaneity, authenticity, honesty, and presence among other qualities. According to James Bugental, the attitude of presence is necessary for the exploration of life's difficulties and predicaments, and necessary in order to fully participate in life at its deepest levels. Bugental advises that this quality of presence requires that we participate as fully as possible in situations and relationships, without reservation or hesitation.

Other important attitudes and qualities of E-H therapy include an emphasis on here-and-now experience; importance of the therapist-client relationship; valuing subjective experience; importance of empathy; importance of concern, will and intentionality; recognition of being vs. doing; and the importance of spontaneous, authentic engagement.

In emphasizing attitudes over technique and methodology, E-H therapy differentiates itself from manualized, scripted, or technique-heavy styles of therapy. In E-H therapy it's not about technique - it's about the attitude and the context it creates. For this reason, the Existential-Humanistic perspective offers an ideal framework in which to integrate a wide variety of techniques and methods. The E-H framework and attitudes provide a context in which to meet and examine your way of being in life as you encounter life's givens. Within that context and style of meeting, therapy methods and technique can be engaged to deepen your self-understanding and fundamentally change how you relate to and live your life.

Mind-Body Therapy with Core Energetics

In addition to the E-H perspective, my work is also influenced by a mind-body therapy called Core Energetics. I utilize methods from mind-body therapy with clients who are interested in working physically or in a mind-body way. I find that mind-body therapy integrates well with the E-H perspective and that the E-H perspective brings out the best in mind-body therapy.

Core Energetics is in the family of therapies that are sometimes called "body centered" or "somatic" since they work with the way you structure emotion and thought in your body as well as mentally. As in other therapy methods, Core Energetics counseling therapy aims to develop self-understanding about your beliefs, feelings, attitudes and inner life. Unlike strictly "talk therapy" methods, Core Energetics therapy also addresses your body along with your mind in examining how those beliefs, feelings, and inner life are sustained and reinforced in your body. Your body can also be active in the work of developing new capabilities that your may find helpful for lasting change.

In our earliest years, when we're learning and developing how to relate to and be in the world, we use our bodies to regulate our feelings and to shape our behaviors. The repeated, habitual patterns of reacting, feeling and behavior that we develop form strongly held ideas in the mind, repeated patterns of feelings in our emotions, and specific patterns of muscular tension and weakness in our bodies. Those muscular patterns create a somatic attitude that persists physically and works in synchrony with our mind's attitudes. These patterns and attitudes are sometimes referred to as character structure or as character styles in body-centered or somatic therapies.

In the physical work of Core Energetics, your body can be addressed in a number of ways along with your mind to meet your goals for effective and lasting change. For example, you might find additional self-discovery by engaging your muscular tensions and weaknesses and learning more about your habitual patterns of tension. Or, deepening awareness of feelings in your body may help you to open further to your own feelings and the needs your feelings alert you to. You may find it helpful to move and use your body as you develop capacities that you've so far left undeveloped. Your body may need to be prepared to support the changes you wish for physically. Or, you may find it helpful to engage your body to deal better with stress and cultivate more calm. The list of possibilities could be quite long for engaging your body in concert with your mind toward your personal growth. Methods from mind-body therapy are available to assist you.

History and Development of Core Energetics

The Core Energetics approach to personal growth was developed by John Pierrakos M.D. and is a further refinement of Bioenergetics, which was developed by Alexander Lowen M.D. and John Pierrakos. Lowen and Pierrakos were students of Wilhelm Reich M.D. after Reich's move to the US from Europe. Following their studies with Reich, Lowen and Pierrakos added their own refinements to Reich's discoveries and principles to produce the systematic way of working that became Bioenergetics and then Core Energetics. These therapies are sometimes referred to as Neo-Reichian since they derive from Reich's foundational ideas.

All of the Neo-Reichian somatic or body-centered therapy methods trace their development back to Reich's fundamental discoveries and formulations. In Reich's pioneering work on the mind-body connection, he observed that during our early years while our character and personality are developing, we use our bodies to support, reinforce and sustain the structure of our developing character. Reich discovered that he could make progress in working with people not only through the mind and emotions but also by working with the muscular and physical characteristics of their particular character structure. Reich called this principle "Functional Identity". Reich observed that the physical characteristics of a character structure served the same function as the mental characteristics in developing and sustaining the structure and both are thus "functionally identical." In Reich's words: "When a character inhibition would fail to respond to psychic influencing, I would work at the corresponding somatic attitude. Conversely, when a disturbing muscular attitude proved difficult of access, I would work on its characterological expression and thus loosen it up."

Putting it all Together: The Integration of Perspectives

Working with your whole person - body, feelings, mind, deeper intentions, and inner world to address life's givens is a powerful way to grow and make lasting change. I focus with you on your concerns and engage with you, drawing upon the perspectives, attitudes and methods described above.

Stephen Shostek

No-Cost Initial Consult

I offer a no-cost initial consultation session to make evaluating my counseling services easier. A time to get answers to your questions, learn more about my methods, talk about your concerns, and get a sense of my style. Schedule a no-cost initial consultation with my online scheduler, through email to me or by phone to 503-963-8600 at my Portland therapy office.


" And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. "

Anais Nin

Venice Evening

" Dreams are necessary to life. "

Anais Nin

Nootka Island

"Our culture treats the mind and body as if they are separate entities, and I want to reconnect the two."

Dr. John Ratey, from Spark

Lowrie Bay Sunset

"Remember then: there is only one time that is important - Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. "

Leo Tolstoy, from What Men Live By and Other Tales

Questions About My Portland Counseling Services?

You can read more about my background, perspectives in counseling therapy, Portland Therapist Blog, classes and group work at the navbar links above. Questions? You can send me email and I also invite you to arrange a no-cost initial consult through my online scheduler or through email to meet with me at my Portland therapy office to get answers. You can also find me by phone to 503-963-8600.

Counseling for personal growth to resolve your concerns and find the fulfillment you want.

Phone: (503)963-8600
819 SE Morrison St, suite 130, Portland, OR 97214

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