Family Matters with REESELAW Podcast

Episode 5: Helping Families Cope with Transitions

Episode 5: Helping Families Cope with Transitions

At some point in our lives we all find ourselves stuck, fearful, overwhelmed or perhaps uncertain how to resolve issues such as grief, loss, anger, financial hardship, and relationship problems. Perhaps you have decided it may be beneficial to seek professional help. In this episode, we talk with David Tyson, a licensed clinical social workers who works independently as a private practice clinician and often presenting educational seminars. David is licensed in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.


Catherine Reese: Welcome to Family Matters with ReeseLaw. We are a family law firm based in Fairfax with an office in Prince William County and serve the Northern Virginia area. This is our fifth podcast episode and we will be talking with David Tyson; a long-time colleague and resource of the firm and its clients on mental health matters. David will be talking about how mental health professionals can help families cope with the many transitions they face, be it Covid related, family structure related or other matters. Welcome, David.

As a disclaimer, material in this podcast is not offered, nor should it be construed as legal advice. The material in our podcast has been prepared and published for informational purposes only. You should not act or rely upon information contained in these materials without specifically seeking professional advice; be that from a mental health provider or from an attorney.

So, David, I'd love to hear how your profession helps families cope with transitions in their lives, such as those that I've just mentioned. I think they have a few common denominators, is right?

David Tyson: Yes, they do. I think the most common one and the thing that's always present when somebody comes for help is stress and how it's affecting them. And to be able to help people understand that with stress, there's also the opportunity, there's a need actually to adapt to it or to reduce it or both. But then there's this opportunity to adapt and to even transform.

Catherine Reese: Transforming is a very interesting word and I think a lot of people want some transformation out of this process. And then, of course, it will or this process being working with family law attorney and having your life structure change. But it's also something that they are looking forward to and getting excited about, but they might not know exactly how to do it. So could you talk a little bit about how you and your profession meet the needs of people who come for help?

David Tyson: Sure. I think a couple of things. Number one, I like to start with just a sense of curiosity about people and to enter a relationship with them with a curiosity to get to know them, to get to know their circumstance, what they bring, their personal circumstance or interpersonal and their task issues. Stress is always there. And then how have they dealt with that? And then I have a lot of things I do to try to help people understand new ways. Stress is actually necessary. If we don't have a little bit of stress, we don't get to our peak performance. But too much stress takes us over the top and then we start to feel like we're getting less done and frustrated. So helping those and the stressors unfortunately, often are co-occurring and cumulative, so people will start to experience many stressors added on and they won't actually name them or deal with them and they'll tend to pretend they're not there and the stressors don't play that game. So they just get less done and feel frustrated. So being able to recognize that is often part of it. I help people to understand that they are a system in a system.

I've worked with the bio psychosocial spiritual approach that helps with all of those different aspects of our biology, where we came from, what our genes have for us, our education, our thinking processes, the psycho, and the social what is our support system look like? How do we even view ourselves in our society and in our social system? And then spirituality can be a great resource. So helping to just identify that people are complex, they're in a complex world dealing with other complex people. So those are some of the approaches. I also like to discuss the brain to help people understand that that thing with which they're making decisions, even though it's not visible, is operating all the time and it's really important for us to all understand the basics of how it works. That we have a neocortex, which is the most sophisticated part, allows us to be creative and thoughtful. The midbrain is where fight flight freeze resides and we can tell when we're there because our body starts to talk to us about when we're there and then the brain stem.


But theres also the left and right hemisphere of the brain. The left is logical, linear language. The right is the seat of emotion and so they just need to know that if their brain is in a war with itself, almost always the right wins, the emotional side will win. So you have to have a negotiation internally. You have to integrate your brain and that gives you the best outcome.

Catherine Reese: And the thinking and scientific results about the brain have changed dramatically over the years, have they not, as far as thinking and believing where change occurs, how it occurs, the fact that we carry trauma in our genes, that science isn't very old in the world of science, is that?

David Tyson: No, it's not. For the longest, people thought that the modern thought was that the brain was done developing and just in a decay mode after the mid-20s and they've since discovered that almost anything can be unlearned and relearned and so the brain continues to develop. But as we age, you get through the big really physiological brain structure changes of young kids and teens. Those are the big changes that occur. But then the brain continues to adapt and to learn and it just does it differently. It requires what I would call just a practice, but a persistent practice. If we practice something in a direction, it's like learning how to ride a bike; the first time you try it, it's not pretty, and then after a while you're riding in the out. It's good.

Catherine Reese: How does the education that you provide help people propel themselves forward?

David Tyson: I think educating about the brain, educating about family systems, the complex system of systems helps people to understand where they come from and that they don't have to be defined by their past, that they can learn new things, new ways and recognize things earlier. They can expand their options and so their future is not defined by the past.

Catherine Reese: That would be reassuring for a lot of people to understand when their world is in the middle of being turned upside down.

David Tyson: Yes, because oftentimes people feel captive in that place, and if you can help them understand that they're free, that they have free will choices, that this is a lot about empowering and that their choices matter, but they have choices.

Catherine Reese: And they have triggers from the past often, whether it's recent past or as far back as childhood that can play into what they do now and how they might react now. But those can also be worked through, correct?

David Tyson: Absolutely. Triggers are interesting in that when somebody is triggered, it's triggered out of the present into a past feeling state, and they're often not aware of it in the present moment. But others around them might be and might be able to ask a simple question like how are you doing? Or what are you feeling? Something that causes them to elevate out of their midbrain, into their neocortex, to recognize that they're actually out of time and place and then they can return. But I think being able to attend to those, they can be attended to; we can be healed of traumas; some of it by awareness. But if it's actually a post-traumatic stress response, then that takes a little bit more work. But that can still be overcome by-- there's a variety of good clinical methods with good success out there.

Catherine Reese: Excellent. And people have a lot of desires when they come to see somebody in your profession or somebody in my profession, they may be realistic, they may not be and then we have the triggers in play and then we usually have communication issues that are present. So what can you tell us about what you share with clients to help them understand their desires and how they might be able to meet them? Is that helpful in getting them over some of their triggers and to the other side?

David Tyson: I think so. Number one, just having a conversation with them tends to start to open their horizons a little bit.


The most difficult places I think people find themselves in, is when they have lost the sense of desire that they kind of don't have any anymore, and that takes a little bit more work. It's almost like a depression takes a little while to get out of that. But to inquire about people's desires, see if they can start to have a vision, a new vision for their future. Let them think about it a little bit. That's why I enjoy the collaborative because we let them do the brainstorming for a while and then we can kick in with other ideas if they run dry. But then let them go again because the brain is an amazing thing and once they start going and start to experience their creativity, their options will start to open and they'll become more hopeful.

Catherine Reese: Excellent. Do you see this tying to communication and issues in the present as far as how the client may work with a professional and what they need to understand about the fact that they can get to a good outcome, the fact that being in a bad mood is not necessarily depression, feeling your life changes happening is not necessarily a bad thing; things along those lines?

David Tyson: Yeah. So it's a good, complex statement about communication, about the feelings, about stressors being involved, and I think that that's a time to be in conversation. That's why it's good to have an attorney or a therapist or a mental health coach present to help, to encourage. But early learning; most people are not aware of what they learned early. They just operate automatically on it. And so being able to acquaint people with new ideas, new options, if they can start to practice in a new way, they'll have a different outcome, they'll have a different experience and so some people get stuck. And when theyre oftentimes under stress, people kind of revert to old skills, and sometimes that's not a good idea.

Catherine Reese: No, I have one to ask you about, because it's something that we see in family law and having been trained as a counselor in obtaining my master's and just observing families for the last 22 years, I'm often flummoxed by the person who will go against their own wishes in order to punish the other side. They feel so strongly the need to punish that they literally don't get what they want out of it. What would you share with us about the origin of the desire to punish and how we can help that person around that or through it I should say?

David Tyson: Yeah, I think through it is really a great way to state it because it's present. It's very young, it's early, I think terrible twos, and if they don't get what they want when they want it, then they're going to pitch a fit or whatever, even if it's going to cost them whatever reward is sitting there on the table for them. It's selfish, which is just something to recognize, not something to name necessarily with them. But it's a self-orientation. It's a very constricted view. It's also a little bit of a sense of justice. In other words, if somebody has suffered loss or pain, then it seems or feels just that the other person feel or experience loss in the same way or in a way that's may be worse. So retribution is a common way of looking at this concept of punishing. The problem with retribution is it's not the end game and it doesn't play well. It doesn't play well publicly and it doesn't play well interpersonally, and so to help somebody to understand that that is an option, but probably not the best option and to help them to start to see other options. But the whole concept of punishment is fear based and it's about control, and they need to be able to have a sense of control without inflicting damage or wound on others.


Especially when it comes right back on them and they're losing the very thing that they're wanting. And that's what you're referring to, as people will give up their own gain to punish somebody else.

Catherine Reese: It's hard to argue with their logic, because in my view, there's a lack of logic. The emotions are in control and spending five dollars to pursue a penny doesn't make any sense and I think somewhere in their brain they understand that. But the desire to punish can override. As I think you mentioned earlier, emotions will rule the day and take over the logic part. Was that correct?

David Tyson: Yes, and I have heard people say,"Well, I'll spend the five dollars to get the penny," because it's the principle of the thing and so then you just have to start to be curious, "Okay, tell me about that principal?" Because that principal isn't really one. It's a feeling and so if you can help them to see and then to see the worth and to see their own gain or loss or just a sense of the benefit of kindness goes a long ways even in conflict. But I think you have to start first with empathizing whatever is underneath. So underneath that sense of retribution or punishing is obviously hurt, fear. Those are always undergirding anything that has to do with anger or anger acted out. So you want to try to help them to get out of a fearful place, into a hopeful place.

Catherine Reese: And how do we help the person who is essentially the one being punished? How is it best dealt with for the benefit of the person dealing with the results of what's coming from the other side?

David Tyson:Yeah. Again, if you can encourage them to empathize with the underlying emotion and not just look at the behavior, and this can happen in a litigation or collaborative setting or at home, so it doesn't matter where it is. The idea is that we have a little bit of empathy, understand that the other person is hurting and then instead of coming back in spades. So then you move from it's like popcorn from one person in conflict to now everybody's in conflict to okay, how can I ask a question about what somebody's interests are or what they're feeling so that we can get to a constructive conversation instead of this conflict that is polarizing?

Catherine Reese: Right, because we don't want the question to be a trigger to bring more bad behavior. So they've got to understand who they're working with. So in a collaborative process, of course, we have coaches involved which will help the person-- they both people will help the person who might be the target learn to best respond to the punisher in a way that allows the punisher to possibly hear the other person better and the message that they're trying to send and make sure that the message is correct and doesn't have a lot of ambiguities to it. Mindful awareness and having that related to everything that comes out of your own mouth as a person sitting at that conference table makes a big difference than kind of announcing what your plan for the world is or just saying, "This is the way it's going to be. Have a nice day." The cases continue in collaborative when we get to good places, but some of them do kind of quietly start with that. But they do. So we had talked about the victim mentality. In what settings do you think it's most useful to be able to move from fear and position taking and alienating to the considered curious and inviting constructive conversations? Is there any limits on that or would that be across the board?

David Tyson: I think that's across the board and I actually think it's important that it is across the board. We don't want to just pull out good ways of being and thinking in a crisis.


It's what we practice on a day to day that we're most likely to rely on. And so across the spectrum, if we can start to look at opportunities to the expand the options, to be curious about someone else, to be empathetic with what they're feeling, to ask questions, I think one of the greatest skills in life is to ask good questions, not trapping questions, not buy questions, but questions that explore and help the person you're asking to explore what is their deeper interest and desire. And often than they can start to let go and letting go, stepping away from the ledge, all of those are things that we try to help people with because it's unproductive for them and it's actually dangerous for what they want, if not emotionally and physically and relationally.

Catherine Reese: Right and we need them to speak about what they want in a positive way rather than, "I don't want her to have the house, but I want to have a nice house to live in," or whatever the case may be. And it's, again, a great advantage to have the collaborative setting. But otherwise, what we call it in family law is interest based negotiations where you don't have to abandon your position. But look at it, figure out why it's of interest to you, how it will get you to your goal. Is your goal a good goal? And function from that level of the individual parties interests which don't include; I don't want the other person to X. Trying to control another person's behavior is very common in family law.

David Tyson: And impossible. We're in charge of ourselves, be able to own that, be able to allow the other person, but how to encourage them not to take a look. So I don't want them to have is retribution. If you say what do you want? And they tell you what they don't want the other person to have. Yes, that's that is a ‘desire. But it's really about, well, what would you like to see? How would you see this going forward? In other words, help them to expand their vision past the retribution, past the punishment and to look at what's best for the family, especially.

Catherine Reese: Right because they are going to be creating a new life and we want them to go into that as satisfied as they can possibly be, meaning that they did set aside some of their negative feelings and look at what do they really want and were they able to get what they need out of the process. Here's your certificate for a new and perfect life, but we do try to give everybody the tools that they need to get to where they want to go for all realistic outcomes, whether it's this scheduling of the children or where you live and all of that, it can be so many different factors. Well, because unfortunately, not everything settled out of court, even though that's less expensive, sometimes it just cannot seem to happen. So my question for you would be, what have you found to be quick, workable, grounding or other mechanisms to help someone walking into a deposition, a court or a big meeting be able to calm and center themselves so that they can really be listening and contributing to the meeting or whatever the process is in a way that's useful to them?

David Tyson: Yeah, so just referring back to some of the things that we've talked about, what we want them in is their neocortex. Where we don't want them is fight flight freeze their midbrain or in the brain stem, which looks like depression and really passivity. So being able to have somebody think requires some coaching along the way. If they can be well prepared, then that goes a long way, could even have them. So novelty, especially when it's perceived as potentially threatening, is particularly queuing to the brain. So they could go watch a deposition for somebody else just to see what the environment looks like so that it's not that novel when they go in, it's more personal when they go in. But then there are lots of little coping skills like taking a breath. Often just taking one deep breath in and letting it out slowly.


It actually has a physiological response to calm. There are other multisensory things that people can do. Some people carry a smooth rock in their hand and just hold on to that and rub the smooth rock or something fuzzy if they like fuzzy rather than smooth. Those are tactile things that can calm people. The sense of smell; lavender is a calming so you can put just a drop of lavender on your wrist or something and then smell that periodically and it's got a calming effect. So all of those good self-talk, and so this is where you have to pay attention to where somebody comes from. Good self-talk is practiced, and so you want them to have a practice. If they don't have a practice, then you're going to have to encourage them, be with them and emphasize.

Catherine Reese: Yeah, and we do and sometimes we ask clients if we can speak with their therapist. I had a long term client who was seeing a therapist long term, but they hadn't really gotten to grounding activities and we had a hearing coming up and I needed that client to have some grounding. So I told her what I could, and then I spoke with a therapist and said, okay, well, can we do this and that? And we've got this coming up and I can take her on a tour of the courthouse in advance so they know what's going on. There's actually live court in some places in Northern Virginia, and so that was helpful. And then I had a lady who we drove about 40 minutes to a deposition and she was terrified. As a lawyer, I'm like, "You're going to sit at a conference table and you're going to answer questions and you're going to tell the truth and you know what the truth is. So okay, you're going to be fine." Didn't change the fact she was terrified. So we did breathing exercises the FDA approved 478 breathing for the whole 40 minutes, and she was totally calm when we got there. And she said, "I will do this, but then can we just go to lunch?" "We'll get to lunch soon enough. Let's do this part first." But it really helped her feel more centered and cleared her brain. It really just kind of was a clearing of her mind just by doing the breathing technique.

David Tyson: Its very calming and that's what you want, because it's the lack of calm, its the excitement, its the adrenaline that takes us to our midbrain and when we get to our midbrain, we don't think as well, but we feel very frantic.

Catherine Reese: Yes, and fearful.

David Tyson: Absolutely!

Catherine Reese: Fear is a big issue because everybody is afraid of the unknown. And while I might have done this for 22 years, this is probably their first time and it's very scary because it's their whole life. And so we need to have compassion and empathy and understanding on our side of the fence and I think we do that really well and we help clients identify resources such as yourself. I would like to hear what practice areas do you cover? What can somebody call you on? I believe you do individual, you do you do family, you do collaborative. But if you can fill us in a little bit more.

David Tyson: Sure. I've done a lot of things that I don't quite do anymore, but I still apply them. So I've done parent co-ordination, for example, and so I still work with parents who have parent co-coordinators, but I'm helping them to resolve and reconcile too. So a lot of my practice is individuals, couples, relational, family work. I do family systems work with young families and older families. Sometimes conflict lasts a long time in families and it's helpful to get that resolved. So a lot of the work that I do is about conflict resolution and that can happen in a person. So people are in conflict with themselves or conflict with others and so I try to help people with that. I do participate in parenting planning, whether it's through litigation or I am also a collaborative coach. I'm involved with the collaborative process, which I think is wonderful and presents just all kinds of positive options, good holding for people as they go.

Catherine Reese: There's nothing I love better than the fact that the two people walk out happy and having a conversation and changing the baby seat out in the car in the parking lot. That does not happen in litigation cases at all.


Well, David, I want to thank you for being our guest today and sharing your insight on ways to cope with mental health challenges and thank you for joining us today on Family Matters with ReeseLaw.

Please subscribe to our podcast channel so that you will not miss an episode. Our next one up is financial experts and how they help in divorce. You can visit our website at and Davids site at www.tysonandmurphy.comfor more information. Thank you so much David. I appreciate it.

David Tyson: Thank you Kate. Really appreciate what you do.

Catherine Reese: Thank you.

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