Erica Blystone, LCSW
I graduated from UVA with a BA in Psychology and received my master's at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Social Work. I'm married and have two young children. I've been practicing therapy for 20 years with a variety of people with regard to age, life stage, diagnosis, cultural background, sexual orientation, gender identification, economic background, and legal and medical circumstances. The longer I'm in this field the more fascinated I am with how people work, how relationship dynamics develop and morph, and how important it is to know our own value and trust our resilience. And how, by moving through life with intentionality, we can become who we want to be and create a life we love. It's the "intentionality" part we sometimes need help with. That's where effective therapy comes in. Read more about it here.
I work with adults (age 18 and up): Individual Therapy, Couples Counseling, and several Relationship Resolution & Dissolution services. Read on to learn about my specialties and how I approach our work. And then, when you're ready, come in and tell me about you.
The past two decades of partnering with people in times of struggle have shown me that we often underestimate our own resilience. It results in a fear of "not enough": resources (time, money, etc.), self (intelligence, resilience, etc.), or others (trustworthiness, kindness, etc.). And during a crisis like COVID-19 this fear might be amplified due to very real changes in how we have to live. The fear of scarcity leads to worry, anger, depression, low self-esteem, suspicion, loneliness, guilt, frustration, resentment, shame, bitterness, malaise, contempt, panic... all the emotions we try so hard to avoid. Through compassion, support, and psychoeducation I help people develop insights, learn skills, and intentionally use both acceptance and change to become the person they want to be. My blend of insight-oriented, cognitive-behavioral therapy allows us as a team to dig deep to figure out what your beliefs are about yourself and the world, notice how these beliefs affect your life, and find the right balance of change and acceptance to believe what is true and move through life congruent with your values.
People who see me for individual therapy come for a variety of reasons: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, grief and loss, AD/HD, personality issues, self-esteem/self-concept problems, relationship concerns, sex and gender issues, support and guidance with parenting children from toddlerhood to adulthood, fertility/pregnancy/post-partum issues, trauma, stress management/work-life balance, increasing baseline happiness, and growth work. I do not see clients for substance abuse or eating disorder treatment as those issues require expertise I do not have.
Relationships are challenging, and for many they've become even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. Whether a couple is being forced together or apart, with or without kids, it can take its toll on a relationship. I am intrigued by the dynamic connection that exists within a couple, the problems couples often face, and a couple’s resilience. As a neutral party I create a safe space in session for people to be their vulnerable, authentic selves. I strive to get to know all three clients well (each person and the relationship) while helping the couple make change starting Day 1. My overall goal is to teach a couple how to always be on the team: have effective conflict without fighting, "play" together more, and enjoy deeper intimacy. Together, we explore the relationship's strengths and areas for work. Through meaningful sessions and purposeful home assignments couples learn how to cultivate better understanding and appreciation for each other, develop insights and skills to build individual and joint resilience so it's easier to stay on the team during conflict, and strengthen a sense of connectedness and friendship so there is a strong positive foundation for when things get hard. In each session we focus not just on content (the what) but on process (the how), allowing people to apply what they've learned to anything that comes up at home.
I work with couples of any age, stage, culture, background, orientation, sex, and gender. I am trained through Level 2 in the Gottman Method and use that approach to strengthen conflict management and communication skills; enhance various types of intimacy; increase respect, admiration, and acceptance; create shared meaning and a shared life vision; deal with mental health issues in the context of the relationship; and heal from infidelity and other crises. I work with couples navigating transitions in life such as the birth of a child, career changes, moving, family crises, remarrying and blending families, launching a child, retirement, and unilateral self-discovery that can sometimes throw a relationship off course.
Divorce Services/Discernment Counseling
The changes families have been put through during the coronavirus pandemic are intense: forced together or apart, homeschooling the kids, remote working together or perhaps not working at all... under already difficult circumstances it might be more than a marriage can take - without some help. I was moved to specialize in separation and divorce by my desire to decrease the potential for a negative outcome for the children involved. Divorce doesn’t have to be a devastating event in a child’s life. Studies show that the two factors contributing most to a positive outcome for children in divorce is low parental conflict and a strong, healthy attachment to each parent. As a neutral divorce professional I help parents anywhere on the continuum from amicable to high-conflict navigate this often difficult period. For several years I worked as a Parent Coordinator for NC Family Courts and saw first-hand the damage chronic conflict can do to family members, particularly the children. I am on the board of directors for the Center for Cooperative Parenting, an organization that trains professionals serving families in the process of separating, divorcing, or co-parenting.
In Marriage Closure Therapy I help people get closure once the decision has been made to end the marriage. Sometimes one or both partners struggle with denial, anger, sadness, or ambivalence about ending the marriage. Sometimes one partner is confused about why the other has made this decision. I help partners communicate with each other through their asynchronous grief so they can move forward in a healthy and effective way.
As a Divorce Consultant I provide guidance on how to separate. While there is no one “right way” to separate, there are guidelines that minimize negative consequences for all involved, particularly the children. Together we create a parenting plan (custody schedule) that fits the family's lives, and we explore how to tell the children about the divorce and talk to them about it over the years. We also make a plan to change the living arrangements in a way that causes as little disruption as possible.
I am a Child Specialist within Collaborative Divorce, a type of Alternative Dispute Resolution that has been gaining traction over the past three decades. In Collaborative Divorce each party has a specially trained attorney for guidance, support, and protection throughout the process. The parties agree not to litigate and their attorneys work together to find a “win-win” settlement. The Child Neutral Specialist meets with each child one time and in a feedback session serves as the “voice of the child” and helps parents understand their child’s experience in the divorce, notes areas of concern, and makes recommendations to the parents.
As a Co-parenting Therapist I work with divorced parents who struggle to co-parent effectively. In this work we quickly identify contentious issues and, in either joint or individual sessions, I teach new processes for working through these specific conflicts so parents can generalize what they've learned in session to any issue that comes up in the future. Typically these skills are around decreasing emotion, keeping the children in focus, communicating effectively, navigating conflict without hostility, problem-solving competently, and engaging in a business-like relationship or perhaps even an as amicable parenting team.
In Discernment Counseling I help couples struggling with the possibility of divorce, where at least one person is unsure about staying in the marriage (and usually the other person wants to save it). This course of work is time-limited and focuses on each partner individually better understanding each person's contributions to the problems. The goal is to get clarity and confidence about which path to take: stay in the marriage as it is, pursue divorce, or wholeheartedly agree to 6 months of couples counseling.