by Lou Mancinelli
When her mother died of breast cancer when she was eight, Ruth Feinblum, LCSW, was introduced to the experience of pain early on. Her family knew a bright psychologist who helped her deal with her emotions. She was inspired and later studied psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned enough credits for two degrees, the other one in dancing. In 2008, Feinblum, 40, founded Growth Solutions Counseling, a therapy practice in Center City.
For two Wednesday evenings this June, through the Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT), Feinblum will teach “Erasing Old Habits,” a course designed to help participants develop skills they need to make the changes they want in their lives, whether it be watching less television, quitting drinking or leading a healthier lifestyle.
Erasing bad habits can be a journey likened to the old story about the strength of an oak tree that grew over time. Perhaps you are part of a couple used to arguing and fighting. Feinblum contends that this could be looked at from a positive angle, as a way to learn more about your partner and build critical problem-resolving skills in your relationship. These are all things that have been discussed during her previous MALT classes, and Feinblum imagines she will navigate them again at her upcoming classes this June.
“You have to take a moment to understand why people are stuck in their habits and what it’s giving them,” Feinblum said about understanding the architecture of habit. That means understanding the triggers and the associations that accompany the act.
The thing people have asked Feinblum most in her classes is why hasn’t the change in behavior worked yet. “It’s usually because the change takes really long, and they don’t know how to break it up in chunks,” she said.
After living and working in Richmond for a number of years after graduating in 2002, weaving part-time jobs in between, she moved to the Philadelphia area and earned her master’s degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College in 2004. She lived in Mt. Airy for one year in 2005 and took a MALT course but moved to West Philadelphia to be closer to her work. “I really wanted a job that I felt was meaningful and gave back to the world.”
Before opening her own practice, Ruth worked at a practice in Huntingdon Valley. When she first opened Growth Solutions Counseling, she worked 40 hours a week in Huntingdon Valley, then saw her private patients on Sunday and Thursday evenings. Within a few years she was at her own practice three days a week, and by 2010, it had evolved into a full-time operation. She now sees up to 30 patients a month.
She’s learned in her practice, training and education, which includes a post-master’s certificate in cognitive behavioral therapy, also from Bryn Mawr, how to help people “slowly, over time” erase old or bad habits, “by building other habits.”
This means building a solid plan to rely on in times of stress, and learning techniques to do this. These are things that sound simple, but it takes time because our motivation wavers. “We don’t have all the energy in the world.” Who feels like working on one certain thing all the time? “You have to be a little bit vigilant to erase a habit … we tend to forget that.” She added that your brain is constructing a new neuropathway while another one atrophies.
“In the process of change you have to come up with a different thought,” she said. You need to interpret the situation in a new way. This is an integral part of how she helps couples contemplating divorce or who were recently divorced.
“It’s okay to say what you mean, but if it’s done in a harsh way, then the other person gets reactive.” She said that understanding this is essential to breaking down a problem and in its place building a system of understanding and communication.
For more information about Ruth Feinblum, visit growthsolutioncounseling.com. For more information about the “Erasing Old Habits,” offered on Wednesdays, June 17 and 24, 7-8:15 p.m., at Mt. Airy Read and Eat, 7141 Germantown Ave., visit mtairylearningtree.org or call 215-843-6333.