FINDING THE WAY: “I see clients of all ages who are dealing with anxiety, depression, sexuality issues, family problems, etc. My goal is to help the person explore what it is they really want. It is not always easy to know that.” Karyn Bristol, LCSW, practices in Princeton.
It’s an intense world today.
Texting, tweeting, e-mailing — everyone is wired up, geared up, and constantly connected. The technology is so all-pervasive that one has to make a determined effort to turn off and “un-connect.”
The benefit of high tech notwithstanding, it is also a stress-producer. The sheer speed of life today does not allow for much reflective thought, let alone down-time or relaxation. The temptations of the smartphone, iPod, iPad (and whatever is coming next!) are often so addictive that many people feel uneasy without these “tools”.
Even the youngest among us are affected by the high tech world. In fact, it is really all they know, points out licensed social worker Karyn Bristol. “The kids can’t turn off the hallways of school when they come home,” she notes.
Helping people navigate through difficult times, whether due to anxiety, depression, sexuality issues, or marital problems, is the focus of Ms. Bristol’s work.
While specializing in anxiety issues and adolescents, she does see clients of all ages, including children as young as five. As a licensed social worker, she helps clients deal with a range of issues from bullying in school, to marital problems, to the loss of a job in today’s challenging economy.
In addition to her own practice, one day a week, she works with Princeton gynecologist, Dr. Maria Sophocles. “I will see clients who may be in emotional distress,” explains Ms. Bristol, who opened her practice at 20 Nassau Street in May 2011.
“It is very important to make the person feel comfortable and safe, whatever their age,” she points out. “I am a ‘comfortable stranger’, someone they can talk to in complete confidence.”
Ms. Bristol was always interested in helping people, she adds. A good listener, she was there to help friends with their problems, and this was true during her eight-year career in public relations in Manhattan.
“I enjoyed that time in New York,” she reports, “but then I felt I wanted something different, and I went back to school, to Boston College, and got a master’s degree in social work.”
She then spent one year in a community mental health clinic, working with all age groups. She also spent a year as a therapist in a school for troubled boys, and 10 years as a school counselor in a private boarding school.
Ms. Bristol later worked two years in another community mental health clinic, which also served as the counseling service for Babson College near Boston. During this time, she opened a private practice, working with children as young as five, adolescents, adults, and couples.
“To become a licensed social worker, one must work in the field for a certain number of years, and then pass an exam,” she explains. Achieving that goal, Ms. Bristol was able to move forward in her practice.
“Being a good therapist is not just about listening,” she points out. “We’re working on a problem together through discussion and planning. Each session is completely tailored to the individual. My work is challenging and rewarding in so many ways. I find something new every time I sit with a client. I can gain a new perspective, and the client may also have an interesting and different way of dealing with their problems. Also, people are more resilient than they often realize.”
Ms. Bristol finds interest and satisfaction in treating all ages and offers approaches suitable to each age.
Worries and Feelings
“With a 10-year-old, I’ll begin by telling them about myself,” she explains. “That I’m a person who can help them with their worries and feelings, and that I want to help people feel better. We can also use very concrete strategies if a kid is stressed about school. For example, we may create our own board game as a strategy to determine how they feel and how they can come up with ways to handle the situation. I can also make a book with the child, or we’ll write a song together or use their iPod as a means to address the problem.
“If it’s a case of bullying — being bullied or doing the bullying — we’ll try to look at the reason. Why is someone doing the bullying? Has he or she been bullied themselves? If the child or teen is the object of bullying, we’ll try to find ways to work on their self-confidence and inner strength. Bullying is definitely an issue for kids today.
“In the case of an adolescent, I’ll usually start by asking what’s on their minds. They generally speak right out about it. ‘My parents are driving me crazy!,’ etc.
If some are more reticent, Ms. Bristol tries to find ways to draw them out. We may start by talking about their friends, interests, what they like. Safer subjects. Sometimes, I’ll also suggest that they keep a journal — it’s a good way to get their thoughts out and is very private.”
Helping clients discover new ways of dealing with situations can be an important part of the process, she adds. “I think with many problems, people are still trying to use solutions they used a long time ago, but are not helpful now. They need to find new ways to handle it. We tend to look at the ways we tried to solve something in the past, but that is not serving us now. We need more self-awareness.”
Ms. Bristol typically sees clients for 50 minutes (it can be less for children) once a week. How long the therapy continues can vary, depending on the individual situation. “If it’s an immediate problem, such as a divorce or lost job, or out-of-control child, we can work to address that particular issue and perhaps get to the bottom of it relatively quickly.
“On the other hand, it may also be good to explore the underlying issues, and that can take longer. It’s self-exploration with the goal of self-knowledge and self-reliance.”
It may take a month, six months, a year or more, she says. “It varies so much from individual to individual. It depends on what the person is looking to do and to accomplish.”
Ms. Bristol also points out that, even in our stress-laden society, some stress is healthy. “It gets you moving. It’s bad when it starts to impact you negatively and interfere with your life. It can cause a number of physical problems, including loss of sleep.”
Exercise can be helpful, she notes. It’s good for one generally, of course, and a good way to control anxiety. “Even a 10-minute walk can be helpful. And it’s also important to take some time for yourself — to do something you enjoy, or just some quiet time.”
Ms. Bristol is very happy in her chosen profession. Helping to make a positive impact on someone’s life is greatly important to her. “I feel so lucky when I am sitting down with someone, and I think ‘I love what I’m doing!’ In my work, I look forward to helping people to grow, to change and to feel better. I feel people are amazingly interesting, and I love to learn about them.”
Ms. Bristol sees clients Monday, Thursday, and Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday until 7 p.m. (508) 561-5536.