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Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, LICSW
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Elisabeth J. LaMotte LICSW is a psychotherapist in private practice and author of Overcoming Your Parents’ Divorce: 5 Steps to a Happy Relationship. She is the founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center. She has been practicing therapy for over fifteen years, and her book was a finalist in the 2008 National Best Book Awards in the Relationship category. She was recently a third round finalist in Good Morning America’s Advice Guru search. Out of over 15,000 applications, she was among fewer than 50 third-round finalists. With extensive radio and media experience she is an expert in issues related to divorce, dating and relationships. Visit her website to learn more.

Entries by Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, LICSW

Two Strikingly Similar Films Celebrate Professional Fulfillment

(0) Comments | Posted November 25, 2014 | 10:39 AM

Viewing the recent DVD releases Chef and Begin Again, some startling similarities challenge viewers to rethink what it means to cultivate professional satisfaction.

Both films feature a gifted male artist who seems past his prime and is struggling through a mid-life professional crisis.

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Can Every Lemon Make Lemonade?

(0) Comments | Posted November 17, 2014 | 10:58 AM

Like any therapist, I hear a lot about loss. I emphasize that loss can be a catalyst for growth and change. A photograph of a bowl of bright lemons hangs in my office, and I wrote a book about divorce with a chapter titled "Making Lemons Into Lemonade."

I'm...

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Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage

(0) Comments | Posted October 2, 2014 | 6:34 PM

Molly Wizenberg's blog, Orangette, was named the world's best food blog by the London Times. Her lively 2014 memoir about her husband Brandon's dream of opening a pizza joint in Seattle and what happens along the way says as much about maintaining a healthy, happy albeit imperfect marriage as it...

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Frontera: A Conversation About Immigration and an Essay on Grief

(0) Comments | Posted August 21, 2014 | 8:10 PM

Michael Berry's timely new film, Frontera, is sure to stir controversy and conversation. Currently available on demand and through iTunes, Frontera opens in theaters on September 5th. The film's backdrop is the border between Mexico and Arizona where Ed Harris plays a retired Sheriff living on...

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Cinema Therapy and Robin Williams

(0) Comments | Posted August 18, 2014 | 11:57 AM

Cinema therapy is an aspect of psychotherapy that is gaining attention these days. This approach involves the therapist's suggestion of various films that relate to the issues the client wants to address. Film's power to help and to heal, and therefore complement that therapeutic process, may be one of the...

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A Case for Pre-Marital Counseling

(3) Comments | Posted April 22, 2014 | 6:52 PM

I recently had an interesting discussion with a panel of colleagues about the value of couples therapy. The question was this: "Can all couples, even those who are happily married, benefit from working with a skilled couples therapist?"

Some of my colleagues made interesting points about prevention and maintenance and how pre-emptive therapy may give happy couples a chance to make sure they are taking good care of their relationship. My colleague's angle is compelling. Why wait for the problem to arise? Why not nip it in the bud by working on the relationship before potential problems have a chance to surface? Clinician's often site John Gottman's research that most couples are unhappy for years before entering therapy. Gottman likens waiting too long to seek therapy to walking around on a broken leg for years and therefore inflicting permanent damage that could have been fixed much more effectively in the beginning.

I agree that if a problem arises in a marriage, it is optimal to seek help sooner rather than later. However, achieving a happy marriage is a tremendous feat. For those who get there organically, I believe they have created something precious and important. If there is no reported problem, such as infidelity, poor communication, or loss of sexual desire, I believe a happy marriage does not necessitate a therapist's intervention.

I grew up with a surgeon for a step-father and his motto was: "If it's not broke, don't fix it." This message informs my perspective. My observation is that if both halves of a couple report that they feel happy and satisfied with their marriage, they have built something substantial and the value in seeking to tweak or modify such a union seems limited.

Where I do view universal value in some form of pre-emptive relationship counseling is during a couples' engagement, as they prepare to marry. Marriage is perhaps the biggest single decision an individual will make, and it's ramifications are extraordinary and lasting. While statistics are limited on the benefits of pre-marital counseling, an interesting study recently reported in the New York Times described significant benefits of brief counseling before or early in marriage. The study compared the CARE and PREP methods of couples counseling as well as film viewing followed by guided discussions. The CARE approach emphasizes building empathy while the PREP approach emphasizes communication skills. The film approach was extremely hands-off with minimal clinical involvement. All three groups were half as likely to separate or divorce three years later when compared to the couples who did not engage in any pre-marital intervention.

It is useful to make a slight distinction between therapy and counseling. Therapy is defined as "treatment intended to heal or relieve a disorder." Counseling, is defined as "the provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties." Counseling's definition does not assume that a "disorder" must be present. Hence we refer to "pre-marital counseling" not "pre-marital therapy".

Whether couples seek counseling through their place of worship or through a trained clinician, pre-marital counseling provides a valuable platform to ensure that each person knows as much as possible about the other before making what will hopefully be a life-long commitment. (The clinician should have either certification or a license specific to couples therapy.)

Pre-marital counseling should be a place where each person acknowledges what they anticipate will be their relationship's greatest strengths and greatest challenges. A common fantasy that engaged couples may have is that certain challenges will resolve or disappear simply through the act of marrying. This is rarely if ever the case. In fact, most couples struggle with the same challenges throughout their marriage. What distinguishes the healthy marriages is an ability to take these challenges to a different level so that, over time, they become less problematic. Pre-marital counseling can be a safe place to identify these assumptions if they exist and to explore such assumptions sooner, rather than later.

For many couples, pre-marital counseling is a positive, affirming and bonding experience that enhances their commitment to marry. It is so easy to get carried away with meaningless but pressing details such as which cake flavor to choose, what floral arrangement works best and whether to send out save-the-date notifications. Pre-Marital Counseling can help couples keep their priorities grounded and focused on what the wedding preparations represent -- the decision to build a life together.

If you are engaged or contemplating engagement and do not plan to pursue pre-marital counseling, be sure to read Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriageand Monica Mendez Leahy's 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married. Many of my clients have found these resources incredibly helpful. If you are happily married but toying with the idea of couples therapy, be sure to read Elizabeth Weil's book No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better.

Sometimes a good book can be a great friend and can save you time, money and emotional...

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Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone: Lessons from Downton Abbey

(0) Comments | Posted February 25, 2014 | 3:59 PM

Many people initiate therapy because they are aware that something needs to change. Unfortunately, change is not always easy or intuitive. Through years of work as a therapist, I have noticed that when someone is stuck, helping them to exit their comfort zone often serves as a catalyst for personal...

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Facing Rejection With Dignity: Lessons From Downton Abbey

(0) Comments | Posted February 18, 2014 | 12:16 PM

No relationship comes with a guarantee, and rejection is always a possibility. This week's episode of Downton Abbey highlights three painful rejection scenarios: Ivy rejects Alfred, Alfred rejects Daisy and Mary rejects Lord Gillingham (yet again). In all instances, these characters demonstrate grace, honesty and dignity.

Rejection is incredibly painful....

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Call in the Auntie Brigade! Lessons from Downton Abbey

(2) Comments | Posted February 11, 2014 | 12:48 PM

Crisis is in the air this week at Downton Abbey, and the decision about whom to turn to seems clear. Whether it is 1922 or 2014, there is no one like an aunt.

Lady Edith is pregnant, unwed, and the father (whom she adores) has disappeared without a word....

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Matters of the Heart: Lessons From Downton Abbey

(0) Comments | Posted February 4, 2014 | 9:05 AM

As Valentine's Day approaches, love is in the air in all shapes and forms at Downton Abbey. When it comes to matters of the heart, Sunday night's episode reminds us that whether it is 1922 or 2014, certain truths about love are timeless.

Never Know You...

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Developing Feelings for Someone New?

(1) Comments | Posted February 3, 2014 | 12:38 PM

When a marriage is going through challenging times, it is extremely common to become consumed with thoughts about how there must be something out there that is better. These ideas can feel especially powerful if there is someone else in the picture. As one of my therapy clients recently described:

...
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Respecting the Past and Embracing the Future: Lessons From Downton Abbey

(0) Comments | Posted January 31, 2014 | 10:08 PM

As a therapist in D.C., I have worked with many clients struggling to adapt to the Internet revolution and its transformation of the print industry. D.C. is obviously a career-driven town, with many journalists, writers and researchers who must figure out how to make their professional way in this almost...

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On Family Secrets: Lessons From Downton Abbey

(0) Comments | Posted January 23, 2014 | 5:38 PM

From a psychological perspective, Downton Abbey continues to demonstrate that while times may change, many aspects of the human experience remain the same. Family secrets, a standout theme from the most recent episode, were as complicated and problematic 1922 as they are today. Anna and Tom's concurrent secrets and their...

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Adjusting to Loss: Lessons from 'Downton Abbey'

(0) Comments | Posted January 14, 2014 | 4:24 PM

Warnings: Contains spoilers!

One of the most common reasons that people seek therapy is in order to adjust to a loss or a traumatic event. This week's episode of Downton Abbey explores this painful and difficult process with keen insights and tremendous depth. Whether it is 1922 or 2014, coping...

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Should Grandparents Interfere? -- Lessons From Downton Abbey

(0) Comments | Posted January 8, 2014 | 6:21 PM

Downton Abbey's opening episode of season four was as full of relevant life lessons as ever. The obvious takeaway from the season premiere is that while women in the workplace have come a long way, many of the challenges remain the same. Regardless of the era, a woman...

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Juggling Christmas With Divorced Parents

(0) Comments | Posted December 22, 2013 | 2:34 PM

Navigating the holiday season with divorced parents is somewhat like walking a tightrope: at any moment one can plunge into dangerous territory, and it requires tremendous balance, skill and practice to avoid disaster.

People with divorced parents spend countless holidays practicing this precarious act. Sadly, many continue to experience...

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The Lowland

(0) Comments | Posted December 9, 2013 | 3:08 PM

As a therapist, I read books looking for themes and messages that may challenge and help my clients. Sibling relationships are often an important topic throughout the therapeutic process, and Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel, The Lowland, is on the psychological level of classics like East of Eden in...

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What's the Best Way to 'Win' an Argument?

(26) Comments | Posted October 3, 2013 | 6:17 PM

This Sunday, Ann Leary wrote a beautiful New York Times "Modern Love" column about her marriage to actor Dennis Leary. She chronicles the high and low points of her marriage, focusing honestly on the painful lows. She admits that things got bad enough that they told their therapist...

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Thinking of Getting Engaged? Sometimes a Good Book Can Be a Good Friend

(1) Comments | Posted September 23, 2013 | 12:27 PM

As a therapist practicing since 1995, one of the most common requests I receive is for a good book about marriage. This request is especially common among newly engaged couples and people who are struggling to decide whether to marry their current partner.

There are some interesting self-help books...

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The Way Way Back and the Importance of Surrogate Parenting

(2) Comments | Posted September 11, 2013 | 10:27 AM

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's heartwarming, psychologically astute film The Way Way Back has all of the elements of a perfect end-of-summer film. The beautiful beach, the carefree boat rides, the classic water park, the welcoming summer house and the breezy outdoor dinners remind us what we will...

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