By Ruby Baird
Citizen News, March 13, 1985
Living, learning, and loving is the overall theme that has found its home at the Danbury Counseling Center for Couples and Parents. The uniqueness of the center is the thrust of having a male-female team working together to help individuals or couples solve problems.
“We rented an apartment and converted it to an office.” Dr. Robert Helfand says with youthful enthusiasm. “We felt that a home would be a good start for a counseling center for couples, parents, and children. The atmosphere is homey.” Note: Robert now uses his other name, Israel.
The office gives a warm feeling. It is the enthusiasm and the positive feeling that people with problems find here that makes this a different type of counseling center.
“The individual is mind, body, and spirit; you can’t separate the person,” Dr. Helfand says. “It is important to treat the person as a whole, not cure a symptom, but to teach him HOW to help himself. That’s the key – teaching someone how to change or how to cope. ”
Two New Fairfield residents, Robert Helfand, Ph.D. and Cathleen Worthing, BS, MS, offer a wide variety of programs at their offices at 2 Foster Street in Danbury. This article will deal with only two of the counseling opportunities available.
Filial (parent-child) therapy is primarily led by Cathleen Worthing, but there are instances where she and Dr. Helfand work together. The effectiveness of the program tells its own story. Using a “play session” as the basis of communication, a child has the opportunity to express his feelings in an atmosphere where he or she is not rejected no matter how unacceptable the behavior has been.
“One of our first cases was extremely rewarding,” Mr. Helfand says. “Parents brought us a young child who, for the past year, had been behaving in a strange manner. He had become regressive and aggressive. The parents were visibly upset, and the child hid in the corner behind a large plant. He kept pretending that he had a communicator, similar to the one in Star Trek, and asked to be beamed up to the moon. We asked him to go into the ‘play area’ and just play with the toys. The children are told that the play area is a special place, marked by the end of the carpet, and the child may play with any of the toys there. The parents, and Cathy and I, stay on the other side of the play area and talk to the child while he plays. This child punched the punching bag and demonstrated that he liked it by hitting it harder. Yes, there was a child at school that he would like to hit.
“Then he went to the toy chest and started playing with the dolls. He finally took out a mother doll and a baby doll. He put the baby doll on the mother doll and repeatedly asked to be taken home. Then he got out another doll, a doctor figure, and gave him some play money and again asked to be taken home.
“The parents had told the child a year ago that he was adopted and when he was unresponsive to it, they never pursued it with positive feelings. The end of the story is a happy one. The family is now intact, but the parents have learned a valuable tool in watching and listening to their child at play.
“Play therapy, or filial therapy, was introduced in a book written by Bernice Gerney in 1945, which still is the only handbook which encompasses the scope of play therapy. The results speak for itself. Cathy will have a private session with the parent and child and then the child is invited into a special area to play. Children have a difficult time verbalizing their feelings, but play is a child’s work; it is how they communicate and work out their inner feelings. Once in the play area the parent and Cathy watch them play, and Cathy encourages them to act out their feelings while she verbalizes to the child what he is doing without criticizing. The child can agree or disagree either verbally or through his actions and the means of communication have begun.” Bob is clearly pleased with the results.
“It really is exciting,” he continues. “The parents actually learn how to play with their child, and the child learns how to communicate his feelings to his parents through the play process. Once the understanding of the technique is developed, a parent can use it to ease his child through the development stages.”
The filial therapy program is a fine tool for helping a child to acquire better behavior. For the frustrated parent whose child will not listen, the hyperactive child, the occasional bedwetter, a teacher concerned with a shy and withdrawn student, filial therapy offers hope for the resolution of the problems which are affecting the relationship of the child with his parents, his peers and his school environment.
Cathleen Worthing originally worked with pre-school children in the teaching profession. She holds a B.A. in Early Childhood Education from Ohio Wesleyan University. She worked as a youth worker for the Nassau County New York Department of Social Services and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling from the University of Bridgeport. She has done specialized post-graduate work with Dr. Barry Ginsberg from the Center for Relationship Enhancement.
“This center is taking everything that I have studied and observed as a teacher and putting it all together,” Cathy says. “As a teacher, I saw the problem child and wanted to help; then I worked with troubled youth and couldn’t teach. But when I had finished my counseling degree, I realized the excitement of being able to put all those aspects together to help others.
Dr. Robert Helfand earned his Ph.D. in Education and Behavioral Science from Columbia Pacific University, his Masters Degree in Human Resources and Counseling from the University of Bridgeport, and his B.A. from the State University of New York. He is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, a member of the American Health Counselors Association, is certified by the State of Connecticut as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and is a Certified Hypnotherapist.
“The more that I learned and the more that I practiced, I realized the divisions within the mental health field,” Bob says. “I wanted to be able to put it all together. I felt that there was something missing. Here at the Center I feel we’re putting it all together.
“The relationship enhancement program is for the development of individuals within a relationship. The relationship can be husband-wife, an engaged couple who want to make sure that they are taking the right step, a couple who wonder where their honeymoon passion went, a teenage boy and his father who cannot agree, or even a newly retired couple who are returning to a more intimate relationship. Our lives are made up of relationships,” Dr. Helfand continues, “within families, friends, school, business. Our goal is to help people learn how to communicate in a way that dignifies individuals.
“The male and female therapists working together as a team has a decisive advantage when working with a couple,” Bob says. “Traditional marriage counseling separates the couple. Either they are seen one at a time by the same therapist or they seek out two different counselors. Cathy and I are a couple treating a couple. If we disagree, we stop and resolve our differences right there, and the couple watches us resolve an issue. The inter-action allows both parties to relate. Working together, we’ve found that many couples stay together, where in the traditional analytical process, separation and divorce usually occur..
“We deal with the structure, not the content.” Dr. Helfand says. “If a couple is fighting, it is not important what the issue is, but how they deal with it, the techniques that they use for communication. Giving them the tools to communicate is the key to change.”
Dr. Helfand has held numerous seminars, on stress management. He taught the IBM seminars on a “Plan for Life” and just recently completed courses at Life Styles in Ridgetield and at Players in Danbury. He has conducted seminars for the Danbury Police Department and Danbury Fire Department. In the near future, he will hold a mini-course at their current office on Foster Street in Danbury.
He is the author of Marital Conservation and is waiting for publication of his second book entitled The Divorce Conspiracy. He has reviewed articles for the New Book of Knowledge.
Cathleen Worthing will be offering introductory sessions for individuals who are interested in “play therapy’ for their children. The technique is applicable for ages four through twelve.
The Danbury Counseling Center for Couples and Parents offers the expertise of an accomplished male and female team who have found that they get results through the totalistic approach. Both are dynamic individuals who practice what they preach. Hours are by appointment only and the office is located at 2 Foster Street in Danbury. For additional information. call 748-3241.
Note: Cathleen Worthing and Robert Helfand are both available for speaking engagements for local organizations.