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About Stephanie 

Stephanie Sterling M.A. LPC

As a young child, I remember being both fascinated and curious about people. My father and I often would go shopping with my mother, and while we waited, would sit and “people watch” -- observing others interacting and relating in the various ways that people do. I also had (and still have) a voracious appetite for reading. I read often as a child and so very much enjoyed stories of all kinds. Stories have a way of giving others a perspective they have not heard or considered before. Stories help us to know we are not alone in our experiences in this world. Stories connect the past, present, and the future in a way nothing else can. As a counselor, these two pieces of my personal identity - observation and love of stories - blend together beautifully in such a way that allow me to use these parts of me to help others. I felt led to this profession many years after a very positive experience with a counselor in my teenage years following my younger brother’s diagnosis of leukemia. It was in the presence of a counselor where I was given a safe space to explore and tell the story of that experience in a way that was life-giving despite being in the midst of fear and sadness.

My professional identity as a therapist is a relational one. While I do believe that therapy designed to help someone understand themselves better, therapy that assists one in figuring out what makes them “tick”, helps them learn where their reactions to things come from, what behaviors create problems for them, and understand where those behaviors originate can be tremendously beneficial, I feel strongly that as human beings we cannot FULLY understand ourselves outside of the context of our relationships. I explore with clients the possibility that the symptoms they may be experiencing stem from difficulties in relationships or from feeling “disconnected” from the people they care about. We are social creatures who developed attachment bonds early in life with those who primarily cared for us. As we grow older, without being aware of it, we seek to connect to others who replicate positive relationship experiences while simultaneously seeking to correct negative relationship experiences in order to experience healing in ourselves through our relationships. Problems arise when the negative experiences remain unhealed and unresolved causing significant amounts of distress. I think this fits well into my identity given that this perspective recognizes the blend of observable human behavior and how behind the behavior is a story trying to be told. It is a story of attachment and our desire to have secure bonds with others and about our distress when we do not experience that security.

I love the relationship that is forged between myself and my clients. I often find that what is so healing about psychotherapy is the experience provided to the client by the therapist. I explain to clients that my expertise is in the understanding of my client’s bonding needs and how those needs manifest in life and behaviors, but that the relationship is the vehicle through which a client gains experience of how safety and security should feel.

There has been a lot of “buzz” recently in the counseling profession regarding trauma and our former understanding of it in light of more current research. Through advancements in brain imaging and through our ever increasing knowledge of how the brain develops and forms under different emotional and relational circumstances, we are gaining more knowledge and understanding about the effects of trauma on this development and the lasting consequences of that trauma, especially in our relationships.

In addition to the therapy that I do, I am also the clinical coordinator for Valley Pastoral Counseling Center. In this role, it is my responsibility to take care of all of the inquiries we receive regarding access to the counseling services we offer. I am also responsible for keeping up to date on the changes in the health care laws and insurance regulations, and I am responsible for obtaining and facilitating the coordination of continuing education for all of the therapists in the office.

My “Niche” in Counseling

As a beginning therapist, I often heard from colleagues and others in the profession that I needed to find a "niche", a particular population of client that I could specialize in treating, since the counseling profession encompasses such a broad range of areas in which to develop skill. This particular task seemed quite daunting, if not impossible at first, since as a beginning therapist I felt barely qualified to make such a decision. What also made that task nearly impossible was that at that time EVERY kind of presenting problem for therapy interested me. Over the years that changed as I engaged in exploration of many areas of interest. Settling on a specialty ended up being a rather passive process, much to my surprise. Instead of me finding "IT";"IT" found me.

I was asked several years ago to facilitate a marriage enrichment seminar that was to be held over a two day period for a local church. To be sure I had enough information to present for two days, I dug into several resource materials in an effort to plan both a lecture and a set of exercises for the weekend retreat. This was the beginning of what would become a passionate desire to help couples in crisis regain and maintain connection in their relationships. The primary resource I re-discovered in the process of preparing for the marriage seminar was a book written by Harville Hendrix called Getting the Love You Want. In his book Hendrix discusses the basic tenets of a form of marital counseling he termed Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT). IRT is a method of couple’s therapy that integrates the major theories of personality, behavioral science, physiology, and spiritual discipline. It emphasizes the use of your primary love relationship as the vehicle for both marital and individual growth and looks at how the conflicts experienced between partners is actually healing trying to take place and should NOT be viewed as evidence of incompatibility.

Through the process of using the techniques and teaching couples in crisis the skills and tools of Imago Relationship Therapy, I have experienced tremendous change in the way I do couples therapy and have witnessed the ability a couple has to experience connection with one another despite serious conflict. As my practice with the use of Imago has evolved, I have also incorporated Emotionally Focused Therapy into my work with couples. Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT, is very similar to Imago in theory, the primary difference being the emphasis placed on accessing the emotion required for couples to experience connection. Emotions are responsible for one human being’s ability to connect with another human being. Without emotions, humans would be reduced to mere logical beings, computing with one another as robots might.

Additionally, I have discovered that many clients who have experienced trauma in their lives respond very well to the use of EFT in addressing issues of emotional distress and relationship detachment. With current research showing increased numbers of people suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Acute Stress Syndrome, or complex trauma, EFT has become an empirically proven form of therapy.

Given the variety of factors that contribute to a couple’s (or an individual within a couple) source of distress in their lives, I have found a blend of EFT and IRT to be the most effective form of couple’s therapy. I have seen couples take a relationship on the brink of destruction and transform it into a beautiful connection between two people. More importantly, IRT and EFT aren't just for couples in crisis. I have seen couples who have what they consider to be a good relationship with one another utilize the therapy I do to work through the places where they are stuck in disconnection as partners. I have seen couples with no complaints about their relationship use the tools to move into a level of connection, intimacy, and personal healing and growth beyond anything they could have imagined. And even though both IRT and EFT were created for relationship restoration, I have found them to be effective in working with individuals who are seeking to alleviate depression, anxiety, and other symptoms often related to the relationship problems they are experiencing.
If you are experiencing disconnection in your relationship with your significant other and are interested in restoring connection and intimacy, please do not hesitate to contact me to see if IRT and EFT are a good fit for you.

  300 Chestnut Ave. Waynesboro, Virginia 22980
  Phone: 540-943-8722  Fax: 540-943-5068
Valley Pastoral  
Counseling Center