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Therapist educates people to understand their emotions

In workshops at both St. Joseph’s Family Center and the Women’s Hearth, and in therapy with individuals, families and couples, Diana Hornbogen educates people to understand their emotions and to control their actions.

Diana Hornbogen
Diana Hornbogen understands those who suffer depression.

A marriage and family therapist at St. Joseph Family Center, her goal is to help individuals and families find hope and encouragement.

She is one of the counselors at the Catholic-based center, helping people of any faith with depression, anxiety, relationship issues and other life challenges through therapy, spirituality, retreats and healing arts.

Ten years ago, she started a private practice on the grounds of St. Joseph Family Center, 1610 N. Superior.  Seven years ago, she became a staff therapist, teaching classes on parenting children of divorce, and on women and anger.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1985 from the University of Utah, she married and was a stay-at-home mother with a blended family for 12 years.  Then she earned a master’s degree in counseling at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., before coming to Seattle for a two-year program in marriage and family therapy at Presbyterian Counseling Service, followed by a two-year internship and becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Key to her marriage and family therapy training was learning to look at individuals as part of different systems.  When one piece of a mobile hanging over a child’s crib is touched, all are affected, Diana pointed out

  A system may include family, school, workplace or any other setting of interaction with others, she said.

Each month, she helps teach two three-hour court approved classes at the center on Parenting Children of Divorce.

“I think of separation and divorce as a death—the death of a relationship, a dream,” Diana said.  “For children, it is the death of the family as they have known it.  What follows is a period of grief, loss and finally acceptance for all family members.”

The class explores parenting behaviors that lessen the trauma of the divorce on children.

Diana teaches two other court-approved courses offered at St. Joseph Family Center: “Men and Anger” and “Women and Anger.”  The classes educate participants to understand their emotions and control their actions.

“Anger is one of five emotions: mad, sad, glad, scared and bored,” she said.  “None of them is good or bad.  As human beings, we have feelings, thoughts and actions. As human beings, we have a choice about how we want to manage these feelings and thoughts.

“For example, if I feel love for my family and think they are the most important part of my life, but come home, kick the dog and shout at everyone, I need to know that actions speak louder than words,” she said.

Diana believes that the more aware people are of their emotions and thoughts, the more power they have to make choices about how they manage or express them. 

“There are both destructive and constructive ways we can communicate,” she said.  “We can decide to rant and rave, or take time out to collect our thoughts and express them in a respectful way.”

In a recent workshop at the Women’s Hearth, she told participants that she is solution-focused rather than problem-focused.

“Problem-focused people tend to complain,” she commented.

The solution-focused method, which she takes from the business world, defines a problem, generates possible solutions, picks one, implements it and then evaluates how it affects the problem. 

“We then have resolution or we try a different possible solution,” she explained.  “It is a positive way of living and helps us use our power to make improvements.” 

Diana also teaches Fair Fighting Skills, using “I statements,” such as “I feel angry when you leave your shoes on the floor because if I don’t see them, I trip.”

“These types of statements lead to generating solutions, so the tripping doesn’t reoccur,” she explained.

Diana also facilitates workshops on Couples Enhancement, Pre-Marriage Preparation, and Blending Families and Step-Relationships.  For example, when working with people before they form blended families, she urges them to liken themselves to two successful companies deciding to merge.

They have a process, she said.

• First, the company heads meet to develop a mission and a mission statement.

• Second, they write their short-term goals and long-term goals. 

• Third, they develop job descriptions for each employee.  

• Then they schedule quarterly reviews.

“I like families to have weekly or at least monthly meetings, so they stay on track,” Diana said.  “The more structure there is in relationships, the more time people have to be spontaneous and romantic, because they are not having the daily argument about whose turn it is to take out the trash.  Ongoing meetings create the opportunity to evaluate what is or is not working.”

She advises families to write out what they agree to do and to be accountable to each other.

When implementing new behaviors or techniques in their lives, Diana reminds clients there is a “learning curve.”

“We may need to fake it until we make it.  To drive a stick shift, I have to practice.  At first, I intensify focus.  Each movement is deliberate.  I may become frustrated and want to go back to an automatic,” she said.  “Sports research indicates we have to practice something (correctly) about 250 times before we begin to develop a ‘body memory.’  That’s why athletes practice. 

“The learning curve is the same when we want to change our thoughts or learn new ways of communicating,” she explained.

She believes if people can address their differences in healthy ways, the world can find healthy ways to resolve differences.

Diana shared that her decision to become a therapist was influenced by the loss of her mother, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed suicide when Diana and her siblings were children and teens.

At her mother’s funeral, she promised that, even though her mother felt her life was not worth living, “I would make my life worth living and would make my time meaningful,” she said.  “When I face adversity and negative situations in life, I try to find an opportunity for learning, improvement and growth.”

Believing life ends quickly enough, she discourages people from thinking about taking “a permanent solution to end temporary problems.”

“When we are depressed, we do not imagine the sun will come out again.  Depression may be an inherited predisposition, like diabetes, so if the gene is in our family, we need to be aware,” she said.  “We need to recognize biological and genetic tendencies in our families, so we can educate ourselves and succeeding generations about self awareness and care,” she said.

Diana has suffered from depression and battled suicidal thoughts, eventually learning to manage her mood disorder with medication.

“We need to alleviate any shame of needing medications.  My mother refused to take them and denied she had a problem,” she said.  “It’s like a diabetic needs to adjust insulin levels.  With depression, brain chemicals—serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine—are out of balance.”

To monitor their moods, she urges those at risk to use tools such as identifying where they are on a scale from 0 (suicidal) to 10 (a peak experience).

“We can aim to be at a 6, 7 or 8.  If we find we are below 5 for two weeks or more, we may talk to a professional.  The slide into a deep depression can happen slowly, so learning to recognize the downward spiral can be lifesaving,” she said.

As an educator on depression, the human mind and communication skills, she suggests: “When we are in trouble or hurt, it can be a signal that we need new skills.  Most people are doing the best they can with their current tools. 

“When we’re ‘stuck,’ we might just need more or different ‘information,’ to reveal options we were not able to envision,” said Diana, adding that faith can be a source of strength for many people.

Spirituality can help people find meaning when they go through losses and transitions, she said, noting that she works with people where they are in their faith, respecting different traditions.

 “Faith can give inspiration and the will to go on.  We each need to find our source of meaning,” she added.

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