My Approach and Training
Alec Wilson, PsyD
I’m a licensed psychologist with over 10 years experience working with adults and couples. My approach is humanistic and relational, I believe people are essentially good, with the capacity to self-actualize, and that effective therapy occurs in the context of a strong working relationship. I’ve trained extensively in Gestalt therapy and integrate elements of emotion-focused, existential, and cognitive theory in my work. My approach with couples is called Collaborative Couples Therapy, developed by Dan Wile, PhD.
I believe effective therapists remain active in their own growth and are open to change. My own experiences with travel, friends, family, backpacking, music, writing, as well as my work with clients, have all changed me and allowed me to grow. Being a therapist is a great job. I enjoy bringing my energy, vitality, and sense of ground to the work I do.
Please read on to learn more about my training and approach.
A good working relationship is the foundation for successful counseling. Whether you are an individual or couple, the sense that your therapist accepts and understands you as a person is the first step toward any change or growth in therapy.
Here are some elements of a strong therapeutic relationship between client and therapist:
- They develop trust—the client feels personally understood and is safe to share vulnerability, anger, disagreements with the therapist, etc.
- They talk about the basic goals of the therapy.
- They talk about the course therapy will take, in other words what the approach will be and what the sessions will look like.
- They have a shared understanding of the time-frame for the therapy.
- They have the ability to backtrack and repair the therapeutic relationship when misunderstandings occur.
- They are able to honestly negotiate breaks or other changes in the therapy when appropriate.
Starting off on the right foot—with openness and honesty—is the foundation of my practice.
My style is forthright and interactive—I don’t “just listen”, I will give you feedback and let you know what I think about the issues you bring in.
Often, my work with clients includes a balance of active therapy (concrete game-planning that results in relief from present-day problems and provides an immediate focus for counseling) and depth therapy (an exploration of personal dynamics with roots in the past). Most people begin by working on the issues that brought them in (e.g., couples’ issues, a breakup, job change, depression, etc.). Regardless of your focus we will orient to the issues that you find important and I will coach you to use therapy in the way it works best for you.
I will encourage you to stay active in your own counseling by stretching yourself to express how you feel, by asking me questions, by challenging my ideas, and by doing your own research and reading outside the therapy room. Likewise, I will sometimes challenge you and ask tough questions. I will support and encourage your unedited expression of honesty. I enjoy the process of counseling and I strive to keep learning and to keep my perspective open.
My work with relationship issues spans a broad spectrum: I help individuals and couples with communication, fear of intimacy/commitment, breakups, single life, successful dating, affair recovery, heartbreak, divorce, new love, and more.
I help many people with personal growth work. Self-actualization; better assertiveness; better boundaries; increased awareness of needs, values, and feelings; more joy, creativity, and expressiveness; and more rewarding connections with others are all benefits of personal growth work.
If a change in your life (or lack thereof!) is causing you to feel stuck, depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, I can help you work through it. We will team up to help you cope with your feelings and develop a plan so you can take the next steps in your life. I help people recover from breakups, job loss/change, divorce, affairs, moving to a new town, etc. I support people to find their purpose again.
I use an integrative approach in my work—I’ve trained in several major counseling theories and I find it helpful to draw upon elements of each in order to keep counseling fresh and preserve the complexity of the people I work with.
Here are the main theoretical orientations to counseling I use:
Gestalt therapy helps people get in touch with and talk honestly about their unfulfilled needs. It raises awareness of the protective patterns people have established in their lives—patterns that often end up playing a restrictive, deadening role. Gestalt is a strengths-based perspective that does not pathologize people by reducing them only to a diagnosis or set of issues. It’s an approach that results in an expanded, more confident sense of self.
ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
One linchpin concept of ACT is experiential avoidance. People spend a lot of energy trying to avoid and deny the unpleasant parts of their lives. ACT highlights the benefit of leaning into your fears and emotions so you can acknowledge what needs change and can continue to act in your life despite suffering. If you wait until everything in your life is perfect before you choose to move forward, how long will that take?
Collaborative Couples Therapy (CCT)
CCT helps couples talk about what they really want in their relationship. We have all heard that relationships take compromise, but CCT starts with the idea that it is healthy to share your unedited, uncompromised needs and dreams with your partner. Couples infuse their relationship with honesty and spark when they express their ideal wants with each other, rather than their usual “fallback position.” I help couples work toward taking the risk of free expression. This process helps bring you and your partner closer to fulfilling the dreams you each keep inside. In my experience, most couples find CCT refreshing and beneficial, especially if their communication is shut down and they find themselves playing out painful, emotionally distant patterns with each other.
Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)
It is well accepted these days both in popular culture and in the field of mental health that expressing and experiencing your emotions is associated with relief. EFT helps people come into contact with their feelings and explore the totality of that experience. Emotions are important because they are the body’s signal that something in our environment needs our attention. Something is going on—good , bad, or otherwise—that requires action. Learning to recognize the difference between primary and secondary feelings is a huge benefit for many people. When we recognize our primary emotions and feel them, we free up energy that was being used unproductively—typically to avoid something unpleasant. The outcome is that we are able to acknowledge, experience and then move on from unresolved emotions that were holding us back.
In addition to the counseling orientations listed above I have trained in and used effective, holistic, and wellness-based therapies for treating depression and anxiety.
I’ve worked as a Portland therapist in private practice since 2008. I’m entering my 10th year as a therapist and have worked with adults of all ages at organizations approved by the American Psychological Association (APA): Portland State University, Central Washington University, Lifeworks NW (Beaverton), Pacific University’s Psychological Service Center (Downtown Portland), and Pacific University’s Counseling Center (Forest Grove). My Clinical Psychology Doctorate (PsyD) is from Pacific University.
If you have questions about my approach or would like to schedule an appointment don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Phone: (503) 757-6259
3050 SE Division, Suite 260, Portland, OR (In the ‘D Street’ building.)