About Erla Christens, M.S., Registered Psychologist

Erla Christens is a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists. Erla received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Concordia University in Montreal and her Masters in Counselling Psychology from Athabasca University. Erla has provided counselling both in Europe and Canada to adolescents, adults, couples, and groups dealing with psychological trauma, depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, codependency, self-esteem issues, emotional and sexual abuse, substance dependence, and eating disorders. Erla aims to create a comfortable atmosphere during her sessions and puts a great emphasis on monitoring the progress and outcome of therapy to ensure that therapy is benefiting her clients and serving their best interests. Erla is fluent in French and Italian, in addition to English. She has completed Level 1 of Gottman Method training for couples therapy.


an interview with Erla Christens

What are some of your assumptions or theories that inform your therapy approach with couples?

It really depends on the individual client and the dynamics of their interactions. Generality speaking, I draw from Attachment Theory to identify ways that childhood experiences might have unconsciously shaped the path to today's communication patterns and interaction with others.

I use ideas from Bowen’s Family System theory to evaluate the levels of differentiation and fusion in each family member; with the goal of re-establishing a balanced exchange in the couple. I also draw a lot on John Gottman’s methods for couple’s therapy.


In your view and experience, what is it that invites people to change in couples therapy?

Acceptance, humbleness and courage, sometimes other emotions--perhaps not so positive ones--but at the core, no matter the reasons, there is that inner voice that acknowledges something is not working. The courage to admit there is always room for improvement and that it starts with “me,” and that we can get the most out of everything if we work together as a couple. In other words, allowing oneself to be vulnerable and the willingness to learn the tools to make it happen.


What do you see as your primary tasks as a clinician when working with people to facilitate change?

First, learning from them; being fully there to understand my clients’ hurts, wants, and ideals. Assisting them to form their own goals for therapy and working together as a team to reach them. I aim to focus on my client’s positive sides and strengths to create a space a safe space for them to be who they aspire to be.

 

What do you think your clients most remember about you after working with you?

I’d like to think that they would remember the feeling of comfort the comes when someone understands.


What do you want the couples you work with to feel, know and experience in their first session with you?

I want them to feel hope. I want them to know that breaking ineffective patterns is tough. At times, certain circumstances feel insurmountable and overwhelming. The unknown is the worse! BUT couples who pass through a rough patch and get through it, become stronger than they ever were before.


What has your own experience in a committed relationship taught you personally?

That relationships are more about commitment than the euphoria and excitement we associate with love.

Realizing that the flaws I might perceive in my partner could be partially a reflection of my own flaws or state of mind in the moment. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and putting myself in his shoes. Consciously focusing on the positive side of things and on my partner’s qualities will put me in a better mood than ruminating over unfortunate incidents (we all have them).

I often make use of the following questions before I communicate anything of “importance” to him:

  • Is it the right time to bring this up? 

  • If he were to say the same thing to me, how would I feel? Then I modify what I need to say accordingly.

  • If he is saying this to me, what is he expecting from me as a response/action? How is he feeling right now? Depending on the situation, I check with him.

  • If I were to ask something from him, how likely is it that I will see what I want to happen, actually happen? If it is not likely, then I don’t say it. BUT, I question myself what drove me to want to say that? And then aim to work through it.

What message do you most want to convey to the couples you work with?

We are not born with highly effective social skills. Some people learn them as they grow, and some people learn them as adults. When we are spread too thin, our behaviour can be erratic. That’s not a reflection of who you are or who you are as a couple.

We perceive the world according to what we expect to see, and what we expect to see is partially based on our past experiences. If, in the past, we were hurt or criticized, then we expect to be hurt and criticized. We will notice people who will “hurt” us and criticize us and we will latch on to that. If our experiences start to change, then that can alter our expectations. It’s as if we construct our own future.



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