Marriage and Family Therapy Discussions

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Marriage and Family Therapy Discussions

Gratitude Making Marriages Last Longer

by Sierra Sparks, MFT on 05/28/18

Gratitude seems to be the new hot word lately. I have to admit, I'm bought in.Yes, I do believe in the power of positive thoughts, affirmations and quantum attraction. Today, I decided to do some research on the science behind gratitude in relationships (being that I'm a relationship therapist) and came across a very interesting research study from the University of Georgia. The study revealed that a key ingredient to improving marriages is gratitude. Believing that your spouse deeply appreciates and values you directly influences how you feel about your relationship and your spouse in turn as well as your level of relational commitment. In fact, spousal expression of gratitude was the number one predictor of marriage quality. 

Interesting, however this proves challenging when one partner or the other begins to feel unappreciated and undervalued. This can lead to a vicious stalemate on love. Sadly, this is where I meet most couples and sometimes neither want to budge to attend the others needs of admiration, praise, attention and affection. One person shifting the cycle can divert the negative pattern to a more positive one and a healthy, happy relationship. 
What is the solution? Gratitude. The old saying is true, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Shift the dynamic and practice making a list of 10 things your grateful for in your relationship. Share one a day for 10 days. Watch how your relationship begins to shift and in turn, you feel more valued and loved as well. 

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy - Sierra Family Therapy

by Sierra Sparks, MFT on 01/03/18

I often get asked what my approach is to couples work. I always respond that I pull from many theories depending on the needs of my couple. One theory that I often use is EFT. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) is an approach to couples therapy that looks at the attachment bond between couples and instead of seeing the conflict as a problem, we look at conflict in terms of unmet need. For example, partner one complains that the other never has time for them and is always rushing about and partner b says that partner a does not really care about them and has no appreciation. Possible unmet needs in this scenario might be that partner a feels uncared for, unlovable and not good enough. Partner b may be feeling unseen, unappreciated and unloved. When I work with my couples I am looking for these unmet needs. I work to build a solid foundation of communication and then uncover these needs. Together, we heal these and work to see the challenge as a team. The challenge is healing one another's (each partner working to heal the others) unmet need.

Here is a resource for a great book, Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson (founder of EFT)

Call for an appointment. We accept most insurances including Anthem Blue Cross and many Medi-Cal plans (530)913-5054

I wish you healing and health! Happy New Year 2018!

Enneagram Testing is Helpful for Relationships

by Sierra Sparks, MFT on 07/21/17

Therapy is a way to get in touch with yourself, get to know yourself and get to know other people as well. Another way is through personality testing like the Myers-Briggs personality test and the Enneagram.

The Myers-Briggs a few times to help direct me in career choices but not as often used as a tool for self-discovery.

There is a great book: The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Reading this book, one can be better understood as to why they react in certain ways to life events, relationships, etc.

What Is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a model of human personality that involves nine interconnected personality types. Each personality is represented by a number.

The Nine Types

Here are the nine personality types as described by Cron and Stabile:

Type One: The Perfectionist. Ethical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.

Type Two: The Helper. Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.

Type Three: The Performer. Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.

Type Four: The Romantic. Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their feelings and avoid being ordinary.

Type Five: The Investigator. Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.

Type Six: The Loyalist. Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.

Type Seven: The Enthusiast. Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.

Type Eight: The Challenger. Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.

Type Nine: The Peacemaker. Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.

Each Type Has a Deadly Sin. This is because each strength often has weakness or can become out of balance into something possibly unhealthy.

Your Type and Your Marriage/Relationship

By looking at your type you can begin to look at how you interrelate in relationship to others. This often comes from early childhood modeling and/or possible traumas.

To test yourself:

Need Counseling? Contact us for therapy in Grass Valley and/or Nevada City area 530-913-5054

Anxious or Anxiety Disorder

by Sierra Sparks, MFT on 04/24/17

Some amount of anxiety day to day is normal as our lives fluctuate, change and worries arise. However, do you know the difference between normal anxious feelings and an anxiety disorder? More normal anxiety might look like worry about being able to pay a bill or landing a job. An anxiety disorder on the other hand, is constant worry (rational and/or irrational) that is causing significant distress and interfering with your life. If you begin to avoid certain situations for fear of judgement and embarrassment then you may be experiencing and anxiety disorder. Other things to look for: panic attacks and fear of having another one, avoidance of places or objects, preoccupation with the anxious thoughts, or reoccurring nightmares and flashbacks.
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder it is important to seek help now. The sooner you can start combating your negative thoughts and feelings the easier it will be. Stress and anxiety have an extremely negative effect on your body and anxiety can present in physical symptoms as well.
Need help? Sierra Family Therapy (530)913-5054

Depressed Teen

by Sierra Sparks, MFT on 04/14/17

Research shows that 10-15% of teens report to being depressed. When looking into depression researchers discovered that the majority of adolescents reporting that they were depressed said that the number one reason was because of a parental conflict. Also, divorced parents who are still fighting have the highest rate of depressed children (18%).


Parenting is not easy and children who are depressed can be even more challenging to parent. For example, males tend to show their depression in the form of anger and this can create a vicious cycle of argument in the family dynamic.


What can you do as a parent? Talk about it. Just the simple gesture of showing that you care and are concerned can help alleviate your teens depression. Leave open room for communication and be non-judgmental. It is not helpful to minimize the experience of your teen (for example, “it’s not that bad” or “you’ll get over it” or “you’re fine). Also remember that you can validate feelings without validating the behavior (for example, “you must feel really sad but I’m worried that you are cutting”).


Seek counseling. Whether it is for your teen or your marriage (in the case of conflict), counseling offers a safe place to discuss feelings and thoughts without judgment.