Accentuate the positive
By Carole LaMond/ Staff Writer
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Co-workers often introduce psychotherapist Fred Gerhard as "Dr. Optimism" and that's just fine with him.
"The benefits of optimism are actually striking," said Gerhard with a smile. "I've always been interested in optimism and how it helps people be more resilient."
A licensed clinical psychologist and licensed mental health counselor with doctoral level training, Gerhard has opened a Sudbury office to help clients change what feels insurmountable in their lives, and enjoy the process, whether it is therapy to work through depression or personal coaching to achieve a goal.
"Inspirations, Positive Psychotherapy & Creative Coaching, Inc," Gerhard's Sudbury practice, is located at 353 Boston Post Road, near Mill Village, on the first floor of an historic white building that is also home to Vignettes and Tracy Rogers Photography.
Gerhard plans to treat adults, but also has experience treating teenagers.
"Positive therapy goes beyond traditional therapy because it focuses on positive attributes that we identify to help people flourish and thrive, things like happiness and creativity," said Gerhard. "The medical model is to focus on troubles and pain. People come to therapy because they are in pain, but positive therapy focuses on moving forward rather than focusing on the pain."
The benefits of possessing an optimistic attitude are striking, said Gerhard who has done research on optimism, and can have positive effects on everything from the immune system to athletic performance.
"Optimism must be in us for some reason to survive," said Gerhard. "Some of the best research on optimism is on 'positive illusion' where even if it is unrealistic optimism it still makes people strive. The more you strive, the more chances you have to achieve."
Gerhard uses techniques from different psychotherapy traditions such as person-centered, interpersonal, cognitive, motivational and experiential, "whatever makes sense for that person." He has been a therapist since 1988.
"My way of working is pretty much trying to learn the psychological language of the person I'm working with because everyone has their own way of perceiving, feeling, or making sense of the world, so the therapy has to be individualized," said Gerhard.
Coaching is an exploding field, according to Gerhard, and helps a person achieve a desired goal.
"Coaching looks at strengths and it aims at creating a balance. It is always results-directed. People come to coaching because they want something to happen, they are looking for a result in their personal or business life," said Gerhard. "The real difference is that therapy deals with some sort of pain, and coaching really doesn't."
Gerhard likes to give "homework" that can help move a client forward. As a coach he might have a client look at 12 different areas of his or her life and rate them, from one to 10, on how well each area is working. The exercise makes it easy to prioritize areas on which to concentrate.
"People come to coaching because they feel stuck, but they often posses the skills they need and just don't know it. People are usually surprised by how quickly they can move forward," said Gerhard. "What coaching does is it makes things clear for people and suddenly they are able to do what they wanted to do."
As a psychotherapist Gerhard is also able to "see it coming" and suggest therapy for a coaching client if depression or a conflict in a relationship is blocking the achievement of a goal.
Gerhard plans to build his Sudbury practice over time and continue his work at the UMass Memorial Hospital outpatient clinic, Community Healthlink, in Worcester.
"I've been promoting positive therapy there all along," said Gerhard. "Dr. Januszewski and I created a psychotherapy group in Worcester called Affective Solutions. It's a lot of fun. He and I are writing a book based on some of the ideas that have come out of that group."
Gerhard has extensive experience with group therapy and has led special groups such as a men's group, a group of poets and a wellness group which focuses on how to stay healthy.
"The benefit of a group is that you get a lot more feedback from a lot of different minds," said Gerhard. "You get to see how people are getting better and how something might work in your life."
Married with two children and a resident of Acton, Gerhard, 43, is a roll-with-the punches optimist, who practices positive thinking in his own life. When a December ice storm created a delayed school start for children Ross, 11, and Katrina, 9, Gerhard brought them along rather than canceling an interview with a reporter. The children are helping Gerhard decorate his Sudbury office. Gerhard's wife teaches at the Apple Valley Montessori School in Sudbury.
Positive psychology can lead to positive outcomes, according to Gerhard, and it is possible to bring a sunnier outlook to life through therapy or coaching.
"It is interesting that when you are born and when you are a child you have a natural sense of optimism. Then as you get older you experience bad events, or people tell you not to be that way, and you lose it," said Gerhard. "But you can regain it."
To reach Fred Gerhard at Inspirations: Positive Psychotherapy & Creative Coaching, Inc. phone 978-443-0714 or visit www.InspirationsHere.com.