Conner Cress on Naming Harm & Renaming our Stories
Conner Cress is a Northwest Family Life affiliate therapist.
You speak of being drawn to attachment based theory and work. Tell us about your theory of change.
I believe healing and change most powerfully occurs within the relational realm. Attachment therapists believe that what’s broken in relationship is healed in relationship, meaning, the wounds we acquire in our formative relationships can be healed through redemptive relational experiences. Sometimes we carry relational wounds from our past without even knowing and the therapeutic relationship can be a helpful and insightful vessel to explore the way these wounds and ways of relating are no longer helpful for the client. This looks like paying attention to the “here and now,” which essentially means noticing the relational dances that are co-created between a therapist and client in the present moment. These dynamics are often rich material to begin exploring how past wounding and trauma have informed the ways clients live and connect with others.
You’ve mentioned that sometimes people forget about the relationship they have with themselves. What do you mean by this?
It’s easy to think of “relationship” as the connection between “another person and I,” or maybe “God and I.” But we often forget our relationship to self. Often this is due to lies spoken over us in the past by caregivers and loved ones such as “we’re not enough, too much, too broken, etc.” These names and beliefs we internalize in abuse, trauma, and broken relationships can alter the way we see ourselves and what we believe to be true about who we are. Often, what brings us to a place of wanting to discover more of our own story and start the therapeutic journey is a yearning for change or a feeling of stuckness in our current way of being. To have a different kind of relationship with self, to be able to offer kindness and more empathy towards ourselves, calls us to courageously step into the stories and experiences that have harmed us and named us what we are not. Healing and redemption only comes from re-naming what we’ve known to be true of ourselves. Only then can we begin reimagining a new story for ourselves.
Talk to us about ways people might forge new connections with themselves and thus others.
Therapy is a great place to start because talking about our present almost always leads us to a story of the past. Being able to name harm that has been done to us often seems like a paradox, but even from a neurophysiological level, it allows us to safely process it in healthier and new ways. Therapy can be a place to gain more freedom to discover yourself and live into who you are, strength to set boundaries, deeper enjoyment of intimate relationships, and greater courage to take risks and be creative.
When people see themselves or the world in a black and white fashion, it can put them in a bind. Talk about exploring the grey with your clients, working with both/and.
Binds are incredibly frustrating, and it is often easier to think in terms of black and white: “This is good, that is bad.” But in these binds, if we allow ourselves, we can discover a complexity that leads to greater empathy towards self and others. I often wonder with clients about the nuances of a story that holds pain—and while every person has their own unique story of trauma and abuse and their way of relating to these stories, I believe by appreciating the bind we can begin to open the window to working with the grief, anger, and sadness and move towards offering ourselves kindness, care, and compassion.
What are some of the reasons that people seek therapy?
Maybe you’re tired of “how things are” in your current life situation or relationships. There are definitely entry points into therapy that seem “obvious,” like dealing with a death of a loved one, or remembering and wanting to work through one’s past abuse and trauma. People may talk themselves out of seeking therapy because “they’re not as messed up as others,” or something similar. However, seeking therapy for any reason, like the desire for better intimate relationships with others, improved communication, and healthier ways of being are good enough reasons to pursue growth, healing, and freedom.
What kind of people do you see in your practice, and around what types of issues?
I am drawn to working with individuals around physical and emotional intimacy issues with both self and partners, unwanted sexual behaviors, and identity issues. As these can be such dynamic and interconnected struggles, there are other touch-points of anxiety, depression, shame, and family of origin issues that I work with. I am particularly passionate about working with young men around pornography addictions and struggles as well as the ways in which toxic masculinity has been used against them, deeply wounding them and telling them who they can and should be.
Why were you drawn to work with Northwest Family Life as a therapist?
I was really drawn to the message of hope, healing, and redemption that Northwest Family Life believes is possible, particularly around issues of domestic violence and addictions. NWFL’s ethos and mission really resonated with my passion and calling to walk alongside others in their own journey of healing and I’m thrilled to be a part of such a community.
Talk about what kind of needs people might try to meet through addictions.
We often look to something outside of ourselves to regulate our thoughts and emotions. On a neurological level, these attempts at regulation by going to substances or processes create connections in our brain that often release neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins in great quantities. These feel great, but overtime and through repetition, end up creating a very real connection of “I need this or I’m not going to be okay.” In healthy attachments we are offered attunement and have our emotions and struggles mirrored in empathic ways that allow us to regulate and soothe ourselves. This can lead to re-wiring in the brain to no longer need substances or process addictions for this regulation. While there are many addiction programs and schools of thought that are very valid (and extremely helpful), I often start from the point of “You were trying to meet a need and you did it the only way you knew how… Now, what was that need?”
What kind of barriers might people have to getting therapy?
Typical barriers may be cost, scheduling, finding the right therapist—one that’s available at that—or just not knowing where to start. The biggest barriers, though, are believing that it’s not worth the effort and the ambivalence of starting the journey. People might really want change in their lives, but may also be thinking that they’ve “survived” this far so what’s the point? The point is about moving towards thriving and new, healthier ways of relating to self and others.
As well as being a gifted therapist, you are also a bit of an entrepreneur. You even started a nonprofit in high school that was focused on bringing people clean water toThird World Countries. Tell us about your new venture, Open Therapy.
Open Therapy (OT) is a web platform which combines the best of database technology, dynamic search filtering, professional networking, client-therapist discovery, and online listings for your practice.In essence, it’s a website that is directing clients to the best therapist for them. For therapists, it’s an efficient tool to better manage their practice and the clients they want to work with. It’s a therapist directory that pulls from all the therapists in our database and makes them visible to potential clients through our highly filtered algorithms of availability, issues, insurance, and referrals. For clients, most directories are a needle in a haystack and clients can often be discouraged in their process of finding the “right therapist.” With Open Therapy, all they need is a name of someone they’ve heard of or trust. Regardless of whether they’re available, they will find a therapist that will work best with their financial, emotional, and geographical needs.
You can connect with Conner here. Open Therapy is currently in the beta phase of development; we look forward to sharing it with you when it launches soon.