Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: An Interview with Debbie Pincus

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Debbie Pincus, Psychotherapist, MS, LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor)
“Helping you create the life and the relationships you want.”
Founder and Executive Director, The Relationship Center
Author of 11 books, over a dozen articles

Dr. Gramma Karen: Debbie, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I am pleased that my readers and I have this opportunity to learn about your experiences as a family and couples therapist.

I begin by asking you this question: In the past 40 years you’ve been a couples and family therapist, are there any particular issues your clients share with you that have remained pretty much the same?

Debbie Pincus: I would say anxiety is an issue for which my clients have consistently asked for my help — along with the normal and healthy kind of anxiety that spurs us to make positive changes, the kind of anxiety that results in excessive nervousness, fear, worry, and apprehension. So dealing with anxiety remains a core issue that has not changed.

Karen: That said, I assume that a lot of your work is helping your clients to identify the underlying sources of their anxiety. So, in general, in your experience have the sources of anxiety changed over the decades?

Debbie: Most definitely, especially regarding anxiety stemming from ways in which values and norms have changed. For example, with a lessening of earlier taboos on sexual behavior, such as homosexuality, and more acceptance of sex outside marriage, and with people relying less on religious or governmental structures to define appropriate behavior, people have to rely more on themselves to answer the question, “Where do I stand on these issues?”

Trying to figure these things out for oneself, by oneself, can increase anxiety to unhealthy levels. And coming to different conclusions than others come to, as among family members, can cause conflict, all of which can increase anxiety.

Karen: Are there other changes you can point to that have affected underlying sources of anxiety?

Debbie: I would point out how family members being more spread out geographically has played a role in my clients’ issues. With a decline of the extended family all living relatively near each other, thus providing easier physical access to grandparents and aunt and uncles for advice and support, there is more pressure on the nuclear family to meet individual family members’ needs. This kind of pressure increases anxiety.

Karen: As you talk about a decline physical access between family members, it makes me think about how much of today’s interpersonal communication and connectedness is digital. So my question is, are there ways the Internet has impacted you, your practice, or your clients?

Debbie: Most definitely, and mostly in positive ways. With so many of my clients traveling and moving around, we can still work together using Skype and phone sessions when necessary. For example, I am currently working with a college student using Skype; between both our busy schedules and being in different locations, Skype keeps us connected. Another advantage of using Skype is that I can work with groups of clients.

However, I have to point out that even with this technology so readily available, most of my clients still prefer to have one-on-one sessions: They want those personal interactions.

Karen: It’s clear that technology is an advantage to help you stay connected with your clients when it is not possible to be together in person. Do you see any other benefits of technology in your practice?

Debbie: Yes, technology helps me in a couple of ways to stay up-to-date professionally. For example, I can do my own research online. In addition, I can participate in professional organizations’ activities online, as well as be connected with individuals, regardless of where they are. For example, I confer regularly with a colleague in Hong Kong; this access to someone practicing in another culture is great for me personally and professionally. So, thank you, technology!

Karen: It’s clear that technology is a plus to you as a practitioner in many ways. Are there any downsides?

Debbie: For sure. I have the same woe that many others who are technology-connected have: Because people can hit their keyboard 24×7, managing their expectations about when they will hear back from me becomes a necessity.

Karen: Because many of my readers are grandparents, would you speak to the role grandparents play in your practice?

Debbie: Certainly. Grandparents come up quite a bit in my work with families, especially around issues of too much grandparent involvement. Therefore, my focus is often on helping parents set boundaries around grandparent involvement while at the same time helping parents be sensitive to grandparents wanting to feel useful and appreciated. It can be challenging to find the right balance for everyone involved because changes in attitudes can be difficult to make.

Also, although it happens less frequently, intergenerational issues do come up, especially around cultural issues. For example, the American-born and raised mom whose own mother grew up in China can clash over parenting practices. Or the grandparents who come from a culture in which food – and lots of it! – is used for nurturing purposes can cause problems, especially when the types of food served go against the wishes of the parents.

Karen: A final question for you. As you look ahead in terms of your practice, do you anticipate any new issues your clients will be asking you for your help?

Debbie: I am not anticipating a new issue as much as I think I will see the reemergence of an earlier issue. Right after the 2016 presidential election, many clients had what was described as post-election anxiety and depression. Many expressed then, and continue to express, how what they view as a lack of stability and civility, and most important, a lack of leadership in our country, causes them increases in fear and depression. I can anticipate an increase in these kinds of anxieties as we head into the 2020 elections.

Karen: Interesting! I can anticipate that many of my readers will be interested in what you have to say about 2020 pre-election anxiety and depression and its affect on family dynamics and relationships. I invite you to share your thoughts and comments about this at a future date.

In closing, I thank you for helping us better understand more about your practice as a psychotherapist working with couples and families

Debbie: I have enjoyed being interviewed. I would like your readers to know that I welcome their comments and questions.

[Note: Contact Debbie Pincus at (914) 834-4965 or [email protected]]


Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Its All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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