Welcome to Clinton Power + Associate’s new associate: psychologist, Heather Bray.
I’m thrilled to welcome our new associate, psychologist Heather Bray, to the Clinton Power + Associates team.
Heather Bray has over 16 years of experience working with individuals and couples with relationship issues. She has a passion for helping couples transform their relationship. Heather has had great success with couples that have given up hope of resolving their long-standing relationship issues.
So I interviewed Heather to find out more about her approach to working with relationship issues and her philosophy of how people change in relationship counselling.
Listen to the interview below or read the transcript underneath the audio.
***UPDATE, December 2017: Please note, Heather Bray no longer works for Clinton Power + Associates***
You can read more about Heather’s training and qualifications here.
Clinton Power: Hello, this is Clinton Power here, and it’s my great pleasure to be speaking today with psychologist, Heather Bray, who is my new associate. I’m very excited to be speaking to her. Hello, Heather. How are you?
Heather Bray: Hi, Clinton. I’m well. Nice to be here.
Clinton Power: It’s great to have you here and I wanted to use this opportunity to really introduce you to the people who read our blog and people that maybe want to get to know a bit more about you. Maybe they’re thinking they want some help with a relationship issue or some couples therapy, and I thought this is a great way for people just to get a sense of who you are and how you work. I guess my first question is to you, how did you come to be interested in working with couples and relationship issues?
Heather Bray: I’ve always been fascinated by the human condition, as long as I have memory, and I remember watching my parents very carefully as a child, and I was interested in the dynamics of their relationship from as early as I can remember, and that sort of surged my interest in psychology. As I’ve gone on to study more, the family system is my key point of reference, and seeing the couple as a kind of nuclear extension of the now co-created new family and so therefore, in order to understand families it’s so important to understand the dynamics of the couple.
Clinton Power: Yeah, I so agree with that. It’s kind of the blueprint we grow up with isn’t it? As much as you’d like to think that you’re not influenced by it, it’s impossible not to be influenced by the family system.
Heather Bray: Absolutely.
Clinton Power: One of the things I always find interesting is … I see this a lot with online dating. I don’t know if you’ve come across this, Heather, but people say, “I’m not interested in people with baggage,” or, “I’m looking for a baggage-free person.” This idea that somehow we can go into a relationship and not be carrying the influence of our history or previous relationships or past hurts and pains. What are your thoughts about that?
Heather Bray: Well, I would see that statement as a warning sign, to be honest. If somebody were to be wanting to magically dispel what they would term baggage, which I would term intensity, then they are unresolved and afraid on an unconscious level, of it, or in a deep denial, all of which means that there’s going to be some massive learning in their relationship systems that will come to play because unconsciously we’re going to draw forth those unresolved issues from our family system. It’s an undeniable reality and we just simply can’t control it consciously. We can only work with it consciously.
Clinton Power: Yes, one of my mentors, Stan Tatkin, has this phrase which I always love and I share with couples and individuals a lot, which is people are difficult, pets are easy. Like if you want easy, you can get a pet, but just the nature of bringing people together as you’re kind of inferring here, is that the nature of bringing two minds together, two different people with different histories, will raise issues. I’m interested to hear from you what are some of the most common issues that you see couples struggling with in your practice?
Heather Bray: You know, I think there’s so many different ways this particular theme that I wanted to bring up plays out. There’s just a myriad of examples that can spring forth from it, but I would say at the core that one of the common themes is people feeling disappointed, frustrated, and unmet in their core needs, and that would look like a disparity around giving and receiving and about cooperation on all matter of things, from planning holidays to what time you got there for dinner on Friday night. It’s kind of that core basis within a relationship where there’s a kind of values and needs that are potentially unmatched and unmet, and I think that’s largely because the individual is not able to articulate, own and ask for those conversations or endeavours that would get them feeling met. That, of course, has a massive origin in to their original experiences as early as primary attachment to later on experiences of trauma.
Clinton Power: Yeah, I’m really on the same page with you about this, Heather, and one of the ways I see it, and I’m curious to know if you look at it this way, is that it’s almost like there’s a call to action here for each person in the relationship. I guess this is the healing aspect of being in a relationship where each of you perhaps aren’t getting those core relationship needs met, but if your partner can stretch to start to meet those needs, and you can stretch to start to meet your partner’s needs, even if it’s something that’s uncomfortable or it’s out of your comfort zone, that often that can be a place of healing. What’s been your experience around that?
Heather Bray: Absolutely, Clinton. I couldn’t agree with you more about that. I see the relational system as a primary place of healing. I really do believe that that is the higher spiritual purpose of this kind of union. Unfortunately, the risk of it being a healing endeavour means that it can equally be a re-traumatizing endeavour, and I believe that that is often where people are at when they’re seeking out couples counselling. I think that it’s not just about reaching and meeting the needs of your partner.
That is absolutely part of the healing mechanism, but it’s the work of the individual to actually be able to come into contact with their own need and be able to then accept the efforts, imperfect as they may be, of their partner, to attempt and eventually meet them in that place. I really always see the couple work coming back to the individuals taking responsibility for their injuries and their healing, and the willingness, because without that willingness it won’t matter how much a partner strives, they will never be able to satisfy that need of the other.
Clinton Power: Now, Heather, you also work with singles and people that are not in a relationship. What are some of the most common issues that you find present into your office with these people?
Heather Bray: You know, it’s interesting, because when singles come in it’s often dealing with various levels … I call that kind of existential crisis of a loss of some kind. It could be any kind of loss of a significant other in their life or a job, or a sense of purpose in life, or their own illness, or something … The arrival of a depression or an increase in anxiety, or something often around their relational system that’s pushed in on them that hits them most personally, and they’re not ready to work on it within the couple, but they’re needing to understand why they’re feeling so reactive, and that could equally be their children pushing them in that way.
I guess it’s kind of a very broad reach of what drives people to want to understand themselves. It could be the emergence of trauma from the past. I find, and I’m sure, and I wonder about how you’ve found it, that life tends to deal cards to people that just activate those things that they have had buried for so many years and that all of a sudden they’re happily working away and feeling like everything’s great, and then whammo, somebody comes into the office or their life in some fashion and just rocks the boat and memories start flooding, and there’s just this whole new, unclear, murky area of self-growth that they didn’t opt for.
Clinton Power: I’ve seen that happen as well here, and I was also thinking one of the very common presentations I’ve seen over the years have been probably more women than men, but sometimes men, but singles coming into the office and feeling incredibly frustrated, lonely, disconnected. Some might have been on the online dating merry-go-round for months or even years, and even getting to a place of despair about whether it’s even possible to meet a partner that they can have a long-term relationship with. How do you work with those types of issues?
Heather Bray: Yeah, I have seen that too, and I’ve had such lovely experiences of helping people turn their life around in that environment. I guess for the cases that I’m thinking of right now, the main thing has been about turning their focus from seeking to appreciating, and to be able to start to see themselves as such an incredibly valuable and beautiful person and successful person, and networked person. I worked with those people to return to their primary interest.
We’ve often gone back into thinking about things that they enjoyed as children and in many cases they’ve picked up some of those activities and kind of reconnected themselves, and through that started to have a really deep connection to their own amazing capacity. In that, their lives have flowered and blossomed, and from that has attracted some really lovely connections that have ended in marriages and long-term partnerships, and so it was kind of like that journey that you are out seeking and you come back and you realise the pot of gold is under your old favourite chair.
Clinton Power: That’s a great metaphor and it’s so enormously satisfying when you see that happen. Now, let’s talk a little bit more about your approach with working with couples. If you have a couple that comes into your office, maybe they’re feeling disconnected. They may be feeling despair, they’ve been fighting. They just can’t seem to find common ground and resolve their issues. What’s your approach to working with a couple like this?
Heather Bray: I have a few stages of approach, depending on how the couple want to attend to the issue, because I’m aware that there are various levels and there are sometimes circumstances of urgency that need to be attended to, so I’m always directed by the goals of the clients at hand, and obviously I need to share my reality around how possible it is to attend to things in those ways, given that I’m going to help guide this healing process. My endeavour is first to try to match that as best as possible. In the first session it’s really laying out what the goals might be and looking structurally at some of the dynamics through the examples of the conflict and challenges that are presenting.
From there it’s a bit of a formulation around how we would go and best meet those goals. Typically I, as a systemic theorist, I would want to attend to the immediacy and then invite the couple to look into their own family systems so that they can start to understand what has fuelled their own life course that has contributed to what’s going on in the couple relationship. Because in my experience I have, as we spoke about earlier, never, ever seen the dynamics not be influenced by those trans-generational themes.
Clinton Power: Yeah, it’s so important to have a look at what the experiences were in the family of origin. What have you noticed can happen to a couple as they start to work in therapy? What types of change have you noticed, and how do you believe change actually happens in a relationship?
Heather Bray: What I have noticed is that the couples come … The mere fact of their willingness to show up in therapy, and if they can take the next step of taking the focus off the other as being the problem, and coming back to the collaborative endeavour of sorting out their relationship, when those milestones are met, I have seen miracles arise in their opening up of their understanding of themselves and of each other, and of the families that they’re connected to, their patience increase with themselves and each other and the families that they’re connected to, and how those core actions of patience and openness and understanding lead to an increase in compassion and empathy and love that sustains the platform for healing, connection and satisfaction and happiness.
Clinton Power: Yeah, I want to highlight something you said there, Heather, which is that the importance of each partner focusing on what they can do to be a better partner or to not blame the other, to not continue to wait for change in their partner, and I often say to couples myself, “To help you get the quickest, the fastest results, to really help you get the outcomes you want, the more you can focus on yourself and what you can do differently, and focusing on your goals, and being aware of your own limitations and things that might get in the way of you being the partner you want to be, that’s going to really help you bring about change.” Because couples can get stuck very quickly by continuing the point the finger at their partner, or just waiting for them to change before they start to change. Have you seen that as well?
Heather Bray: Oh, absolutely, and there will be no change in those circumstances. I have at times needed to point that out, that we can continue to go around and round a circle, but unless both parties are taking … I have a little diagram that I draw sometimes, and if parties aren’t taking 100% responsibility for their own life experience, including their 50% of the relationship, then we really are not able to get on a page where we can start to properly work.
I think that that is something for people to review within themselves before they attend, because otherwise it’s not necessarily couples counselling, but rather mediation. Of course, I’m a skilled mediator, and I’m very happy to provide those services, but that’s when there’s a goal that needs to be met and the blame is still left, and they’re not really looking to heal and collaborate towards reunion, but they’re looking to manage the un-comfortability of separation or a particular endeavour that is at hand and they’re going to have the experience of a lose-lose to win outcome, which is what mediation is all about.
Clinton Power: Now, Heather would you be able to share a story of a couple you’ve worked with which was a success story, a couple that had a good outcome from working with you?
Heather Bray: Sure. That would be a pleasure. I guess all of a sudden in my mind I’m having a cascade of so many, and I’m just going to focus on one that didn’t involve children, because a lot of the time some of the families or couples that I’ve worked with, it really … There’s been a lot of dynamic around getting back to their relationship and getting out of the entanglement with the children, and I think that that’s a really important part of couples work within a family, but this particular couple that I’m thinking of, I worked with for quite a long time. It was a very conflicted relationship for many, many years, and they had gone to so many relationship therapists that they were literally thinking they shouldn’t even bother.
Somehow we happened upon each other, or they decided … One of the doctors of the wife, actually, suggested that she just try me and they came together, and it was such a rewarding experience because right from the first session, they walked out thinking, “Oh, this is different.” There was somehow a disarming that happened in that session. Now, I can’t exactly explain how that happened because of course everything’s co-created and this was quite a few years ago, but it was such a rewarding experience because they kept coming back and we did work for a really long time, and what they came to understand over time was how their lives and the imprinting of their lives had been fuelling the way they perceived the other in the relationship.
What they came to realise was that they completely misinterpreted each other over some areas of their life, and in that were responding defensively in a way that was perpetuating a hurt and a longstanding suffering that once they saw clearly, they were able to get a completely different view of, and they were able to start to heal that wound in their own way and recognise that their partner was not actually responding as they had perceived in the past. It completely transformed their relationship and their level of trust for one another. In that level of trust increasing it gave them more space and scope to just manage the everyday injustices with a more open and willing ability to communicate and connect. They just blossomed and their life blossomed, and to my knowledge they’re still out there flowering and happily ever after.
Clinton Power: That’s a great story, Heather. I love hearing how just that shift, which may seem like quite a simple and practical shift, but how it really, as you said, it transformed their whole perception of each other and the relationship.
Heather Bray: Yes, and it took time, because of course, you can notice something like that, but for that to become an embedded experience, they needed to stay in therapy for awhile and keep reviewing it and watch how often that dynamic came up, and be able to see, “Oh, my, here it is again. It looks totally different, but here, ultimately, the core of that disruption was the same dynamic again.” They kept … It was the consistency and the regularity of their therapy experience that helped them evaluate and get armed with the tools that has set them forward into, to my knowledge, not need therapy in the future.
Clinton Power: Great. Well, Heather, I’m so pleased you’re joining our practice as an associate, and one of the reasons I wanted you to join our team is because you’re so passionate about relationship issues. Certainly speaking to you today has just affirmed that this is something you care about very deeply and that’s something important to me as well, that everyone on our team is passionate about working with couples and individuals with relationship issues. Heather has just joined our team and she’s now taking clients at our Woolloomooloo office.
If you happen to be listening to this interview or you’re reading the transcript, you can certainly reach her and contact Heather, and Heather’s able to provide you a 15-minute free phone consult as well if you’d like to connect with her and find out a bit more about her approach and how she works. The best way to do that is just to book online through clintonpower.com.au. Heather, thank you so much. I really appreciate you giving up your time and your generosity in speaking to me today.
Heather Bray: It’s been a great pleasure, Clinton. Thank you, and I’m really excited about joining your team.
Clinton Power: Thanks so much, Heather. Bye for now.
Heather Bray: Bye for now.
***Please note Heather Bray no longer works for Clinton Power + Associates***