The Good-Enough Father


Authored by Alyssa Strenger, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist

Almost three years ago my dad was throwing me around under the stars at my wedding dance like he was a professional swing dancer. My initial shock quickly faded into a giddy trust, and I allowed my dad to toss me in the air without fear or hesitation knowing my Dad would catch me. He did.

Researchers have highlighted the role of fathers as much more than secondary parents or babysitters. Dads are essential for the emotional, social, and physical development of their children, and perfection is not required; just be good-enough. Children of involved fathers have higher levels of confidence and motivation as well as improved thinking skills and social adeptness. These characteristics are nurtured through the secure attachment children have with their fathers, knowing that if he throws them in the air he will catch them. Secure attachment allows children to feel safe when frightened or uncomfortable, feel confident enough to explore their world knowing dad has their back, and learn to accept and tolerate their emotions.1

The good news is that developing a secure attachment is more intuitive than one might think. Dads are just as biologically prepared to care for their infants as mothers. In fact, the bonding hormone oxytocin has also been found to increase in men’s brains after the birth of a child and is linked to more active parenting behaviors.2 So knowing you were made for this, here are four ways to strengthen the father-child bond.

First, remember that spending time with your child is about quality and consistency. Even if you are a dad who works full time, setting aside some quality time every day to be present with your child will have an immeasurable impact. Play with your children, read to them, follow them on adventures, or have Saturday breakfast dates. It does not matter what you do, it just matters that you show up.

Second, have conversations with your child. Take time to ask specific, open-ended questions about the day (e.g., What did you do on your play date with Sam? How’s your volleyball serve coming along? What’s been hard?). Let your child see that you are curious about the little things. Believe it or not, you are more valuable than the screens they are looking at!

Third, show affection to your child. Vocalize your love over and over again, even when all you get in response is a tired, “I knoooooowwww, Dad.” Give the hugs, the kisses, and the hair tussles. Provide descriptive praise and affirmation for the budding person and not just the accomplishments (e.g. You felt nervous to go to the dance but you still went—that was brave. You got your sister’s bottle when I asked you to—that was so helpful!)

Last, allow yourself to be good-enough not perfect. You can’t catch ‘em all, and the adequately prepared child needs an occasional fall—except if you’ve tossed her in the air, then try to catch her. All your child needs for you to be is good-enough.


1Hoffman, K., Cooper, G., & Powell, B. (2017) Raising a Secure Child. The Guilford Press: New York, New York.




The Consequences of Not Feeling

Most men have been rewarded for not feeling

Men often have an experience before they have an understanding of it. An event may prompt a man to feel a vague sense of discomfort, but it will only be made truly meaningful once he understands the precise emotions that were elicited. For example, being publicly reprimanded by your boss may make you feel uneasy, but understanding that the feeling was shame will equip you with greater knowledge and guide you about what to do next.   

Ideally all men would have learned how to identify what they’re feeling, but often the opposite is true. Most men have been rewarded for not feeling. They have received messages early in life, both overtly and covertly, that displaying emotions undermines other masculine ideals like strength and stability. These messages are often given by an important male figure in the boy’s early life, such as his father. The risk of appearing non-masculine and betraying this male figure is likely too great of a consequence, so he learns that emotional expression must be abandoned. These messages continue to be reinforced throughout childhood and adolescence. Once in adulthood, the consequences of not feeling become most noticeable in the domains of friendships, romantic relationships, work performance, and the use of unhelpful, short-term fixes. Thankfully, therapy provides solutions to these dilemmas.  


Most men state that their most important friendships are with other men. When both men have been told not to feel, the friendship may be restricted to participating in hobbies or discussing sports or politics. These relationships can provide a degree of satisfaction, but they do not often provide a context to share the richness of emotional lives that most men crave.

Romantic Relationships

Men are often criticized for not being fully present in their romantic relationships. Whether it is with a girlfriend or a spouse, a man’s inability to feel emotions is often perceived as disengagement or disinterest by his partner. When disagreements arise and a resolution is needed, most partners want to know what the man feels and how to avoid a similar disagreement in the future. When men cannot label what they feel, repairing romantic relationships becomes problematic.

Work Performance

Professional success is quantified by outcomes, not intent. Since being successful at work is a value held by most men, they understand that a measurable goal must be achieved.  The culture of many companies privileges masculine ideals and reinforces the idea that it doesn’t matter what you feel, as long as you reach the goal. When emotional inhibition is seen as necessary for success, it is no wonder that some men feel dissatisfied with their professional lives and wish to be more fulfilled in their occupation.  

Unhelpful, Short-Term Fixes

It is an enticing idea that denying an emotion will make it disappear, but it doesn’t work. Avoiding a feeling will only make that feeling grow over time. Many men know it is unreasonable to expect an emotion will evaporate if avoided, but they also don’t know how to get unstuck. The map out of the stuck place is confusing and the undesired emotion must be quelled somehow. Therefore, men commonly adopt a set of behaviors to compensate for their inability to feel emotions. A variety of numbing behaviors, like alcohol use, sexual activity, or over reliance on technology, provide momentary relief from these painful emotions. Relief does occur, but the brevity of the fix often leaves men feeling even more stuck than when they started.

How to Feel Better

These consequences do not have to be permanent. There are steps that men can take to regain the power and confidence they lost by neglecting emotions. Individual therapy and men’s group therapy are powerful mediums that can help men feel better. However, it’s important that men find a therapist who is knowledgeable of men’s issues. I’ve maintained a focus on men’s issues in research and clinical practice because I believe that men find more success in therapy when their therapist is well-acquainted with these ideas. Learn more here about how therapy with men is different and or schedule an initial phone consultation here.


Real Change Takes Real Time

pursue long-term growth, not quick fixes.




Whenever a friend tells me that they’ve started long-term therapy, I feel proud and excited. I am proud that they have courageously sought to explore feelings that were once too scary to share with someone else, and excited that they will grow in understanding and insight.

Sometimes these friends return in a few weeks and ask me the same two questions: “Why doesn’t my therapist give me advice?” and “Why aren’t my problems fixed in four sessions?” My response to both questions is the same, “Because real change takes real time.”  

I admit that the lure of a short-term fix is intoxicating. The promise of immediate results has become endemic to our culture. We are guaranteed to lose 15 lbs. in 10 days and become a millionaire by the weekend if we act now! These claims are unsuccessful because they are made irrespective of important considerations like process and value. We know that there is a trustworthy process we must follow to lose weight or save money, and neither can be completed overnight. These short-term schemes that value immediacy over other qualities, like commitment and patience, fail because they have a flawed understanding of how change happens. Lasting growth is created by first understanding the processes of change, trusting and committing to these processes, and then reaping the hard-fought rewards like increased awareness and improved relationships.

It is for these reasons why therapists who value long-term growth will refrain from offering advice. Advice is a short-term fix, a Band-Aid that will be sufficient for a minor cut but inadequate for a deep wound. When therapy is relegated to advice giving or highly directive statements (“do this, don’t do that”), the process of change is stifled. Change must entail exploring what elements of the past are influencing current behavior, not simply obeying what a therapist tells you to do.

Therapy that enables lasting change will also necessarily be longer than four (or six, or eight) sessions. I wish this wasn’t the case. Most clients wish this too. We both wish that acquiring awareness didn’t require weeks of work, both inside and outside the therapy room. We wish that there was a wonder pill, a steroid that would accelerate growth and enable a quick erasure of anxiety. But this solution isn’t viable. Just like a fad diet that helps you shed water weight but does little to impact the core of the problem, the benefit of quick-fix therapy is often short-lived.

At first glance, this picture of long-term therapy looks pretty bleak. Who would want to commit to a long-term investment if a short-term fix would suffice? Thankfully, decades of psychological research and practice have confirmed that long-term therapy produces long-term growth. The vehicle to long-term change is not a quick fix, but a trusting, collaborative relationship with a therapist who enables safe exploration of thoughts, feelings, desires, and behavior.

The notion that real change takes real time has been a foundation of my clinical practice. I have witnessed many clients invest in this process and enjoy the lasting impact of long-term therapy. If you're interested in learning more about my approach to therapy, learn more here. You can also call for a free phone consultation or book an appointment here.

How Does Therapy Help?

Effective therapy involves Three Components

We only invest in a process if we know how it is going to help. We buy a Blue Apron membership because we know it’ll ease the burden of cooking, and we pay a mechanic to fix squealing brakes because we know they are necessary to drive a car. But many of us do not start therapy because we don’t know how it actually helps.    

Even though we don’t know how therapy helps, we intuitively know when something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Just like squealing brakes that will not repair on their own, past trauma, broken relationships, and feelings like anger and shame will continue to negatively impact us until we seek help.  

The prescription for effective therapy involves three components: providing insight and new experiences within the context of a therapeutic relationship.

Insight is knowing what we feel, what we do, and why we do it. We often know when something feels bad, even though we can’t determine why we feel that way. Or, we find ourselves caught in repetitive cycles of doing what we don’t want to do. We may spend a lot of time thinking of solutions on our own, but it’s hard to independently gain insight. Therapy helps because it involves discovering fresh perspectives on persistent problems.

Therapy also provides an environment to create new experiences. Many of us are stuck in old patterns we have learned in childhood: don’t feel angry, don’t have needs, figure things out on your own. These messages become fixated in adulthood and negatively impact our identity and relationship with others. Like a laboratory where discoveries are made, therapy is a space to create new experiences that can be transferred into our everyday lives.  

Finally, therapy helps when it is delivered in the context of a collaborative, empathic relationship. Insight and new experiences are important, but long-term change is achieved in the context of a therapeutic relationship. Without the context of a relationship, therapy is like reading a self-help book; it may provide some momentary help, but you are left craving a deeper connection to help understand your problem.

The mission of Chicago Collaborative Psychotherapy is to create lasting change. Through years of conducting therapy, I have found that these three components are necessary to reach this goal. If you are interested in learning more, call me for a free phone consultation or learn more about how to find a good therapist.  

Jay-Z Thinks You Should Start Therapy

If there is a blueprint to success, Jay-Z is the chief architect. He is one of the best-selling musicians of all time who masterfully delivers rhymes about his personal experiences. His music is confessional and unapologetic, whether he is talking about growing up in the housing projects of Brooklyn or defying barriers to become the richest hip-hop musician in the world.

After a highly public elevator incident in 2014, speculation arose about infidelity. Three years later, he addressed these rumors in the release of the 4:44 album. In consistent form from his early career, he used this album to share intimate details of his personal life, including allusions to attending therapy.

In an interview with the editor of the New York Times, Jay-Z was asked outright, “This album sounds to me like a therapy session. Have you been in therapy?” In his unmistakable Brooklyn accent, he immediately, confidently replies, “Yeah yeah.”

He shares how therapy led to greater awareness as to how he shutdown emotions in order to survive painful childhood events, such as his father’s absence. He credits therapy with understanding how men who raised him hid their emotions in order to protect themselves from being perceived as wounded or weak. “You have to you shut down all emotions… you can’t connect. And all things happen from there.”

He details how learning to suppress emotions robbed him of happiness, even at the height of his professional success. “I was hiding,” he states. “The strangest thing a man can do is cry. To expose your feelings, to be vulnerable to the world? That’s real strength. You feel like you have to be this guarded person. That’s not real. That’s fake.” He offers these insights in a celebratory tone, as if he is finally freed from false childhood messages about what a man should be.

As the interview concludes, his attitude is hopeful. “The next chapter is (knowing) the most beautiful things are not objects. The most beautiful things are inside.” He cites his friendships, his relationship with his mother, and the growth he has achieved in therapy as evidence for this claim. He speaks with the assuredness of someone who has worked hard to understand the influence of his past and is enjoying the freedom of arriving on the other side.

Jay-Z’s experiences are common for many men. If you are interested in learning how you could benefit from therapy, call me for a free phone consultation or schedule an appointment here.

Depression in Men: Understanding the Missing Piece


Avoiding help and being a man have become synonymous. From professional athletes to sitcom portrayals of dads, we are told that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and he often has to do it alone.   

A main reason why men avoid seeking help is due to gender role socialization, the beliefs and expectations that we have for how a man should think and behave. Men should value certain ideals, such as being in control, being financial providers, and restricting emotions. When men allow themselves to experience emotions, it should be only anger or rage. These emotions propel the man to action versus emotions like sadness, shame, or loneliness, which heighten vulnerability and undermine the power and control he has been taught to seek.

When men restrict emotions, they also restrict expressions of emotions, such as crying. Boys who are raised to believe that crying is weakness eventually grow up to be men who are skilled at hiding their true feelings.

This phenomenon becomes meaningful in the assessment and treatment of men with depression. Many therapists are trained to see emotions, such as sad mood, as the hallmark symptom of depression. But how do we accurately assess and treat depression if a man avoids emotions? Instead of the stereotypical sad mood, men may exhibit masculine-specific depressive symptoms such as anger, conflict with family or spouse, increased substance use, or workaholism.

At face value, these symptoms are not assumed to be related to depression. The image of an angry person and a depressed person are quite different. However, men may feel safety expressing anger more than sadness, or may use substances to blunt the impact of depression. I have seen many men in therapy who believed that their problem was mismanaged anger, drinking a little too much, or not knowing how to communicate with their spouse. When we examined these symptoms through the lens of depression, therapy became more meaningful. These men were able to acknowledge the long-lasting impact of depression and gained insight to change.

Many men do not realize that there is a hidden link between masculinity and depression. Men need to receive therapy that acknowledges gender influences and examines how they influence psychological wellness. My specialization in men’s issues led me to become a psychologist in the U.S. Navy and contributor to the academic journal, Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Learn more about my approach to therapy here or schedule an initial phone consultation here.

Contributions from Rabinowitz & Cochran (2008).

How Do I Find a Good Therapist?


A good therapist was twice as effective as ANy antidepressant medication.

The decision to start therapy is not taken lightly. Some individuals feel unsure about starting therapy, feeling hopeful that it can help and cautiously concerned about revisiting old wounds. Once ambivalence clears and the firm decision to begin therapy is made, the looming question remains: How do I find a good therapist?

Many start with consulting online listing sites, but our technology-driven culture does not help ease this complicated task. We have become accustomed to opening an app, being bombarded with options, and making a decision in seconds. This process is repeated, whether it’s swiping through a list of potential dating partners or scoping reviews for a restaurant. However, finding a good therapist is different from researching a brunch spot and requires a more thoughtful method.  

This process becomes even more difficult when we consider how therapy is different from other healthcare services. Imagine you are enjoying a perfect weekend on the ski slopes until you meet the wrong side of the pine tree. You come to find out you need surgery to repair your ACL. You would prefer that your surgeon is empathetic and genuine, but you ultimately need her to perform the surgery well. Personality characteristics are secondary to her main job of repairing your ACL.

In psychotherapy, personality characteristics are at the forefront of the healing process. Decades of research confirms that the relationship between the therapist and the client is the tool that creates good outcomes in therapy, even more so than the therapist’s technique or experience [1]. When these conditions are met, the results are astounding. A summary of research shows clients believed a good therapist was twice as effective as any FDA approved antidepressant medication [2].

So what factors make for a good therapist? Findings are resolute that good experiences in therapy are dependent on a therapist’s strong relational qualities [3]. An effective therapist must display empathy, or a continual effort to compassionately understand, in order to help a client recognize their own feelings. Reduction in depressed mood, enhanced self-esteem, and increased insight are all direct byproducts of an empathetic therapist [4].

In addition to empathy, good therapists demonstrate genuineness. These therapists relate to their clients authentically and transparently, understanding them as real people and not as a list of complaints to be cured. Genuineness enhances the relationship between therapist and client, which in turn enhances the client’s progression toward goals. Clients who reported improvement in therapy believed that their therapist’s genuineness was the most important aspect of the treatment [5].

Finally, a good therapist will be able to identify when the client's goals aren't being met. Better outcomes prevail when clients and therapists address ways in which therapy isn’t working and seek to correct this process [6]. Good therapists will also seek to repair conflicts with clients. Therapy can also be an emotionally taxing experience where misunderstandings occasionally emerge. Therapists who address these instances and explore ways to correct them create better therapeutic outcomes than therapists who avoid discussing them [7].

The type of therapy offered at CCP strives to model these qualities. Learn more about the services provided here or schedule an appointment here.

[1] Luborsky et al. (1986) [2] Turner, Matthews, Linardatos, Tell, & Rosenthal (2008) [3] Keenan & Rubin (2016) [4] Watson, McMullen, Prosser, & Bedard (2011) [5] Curtis, Field, Knaan-Kostman, & Mannix (2004) [6] Safran, Muran, & Eubanks-Carter (2011) [7] Ibid

Therapy with Men is Different (and why this matters)

Therapy with men is different. Choosing a therapist who understands these differences matters.


My interest in men’s issues began while working at a community mental health agency. I was the only male therapist on staff which meant any male client who requested a male was automatically matched with me. I became curious about some recurring themes I heard in the therapy room. My training at this agency eventually concluded, but my interest in men’s issues persisted.

I joined the U.S. Navy as an active duty psychologist to continue to provide mental health services to men. My experiences in the Navy have shown me that there are common beliefs men have regarding seeking therapy.

“I should be able to do it on my own.”

Most men arrive to a therapist’s waiting room with ambivalence. They have been instructed to be ruggedly individualistic since childhood, and when this fails, they are at a loss as to how to solicit help. The therapeutic process is fundamentally about collaboration and recognition rather than individualism. Journeying with men while they understand their psychological needs for relationships can be a highly curative factor.

“Behavior should be valued over feelings.”

Most men are socialized to believe that feelings are unproductive. They may rhetorically ask, “Why feel sad? Sadness over a loss will not undo the loss.” In these instances, therapy can be helpful to understand flexible emotional expression. While feeling sadness is not going to undo a loss, feeling sad may help unresolved grief.

“I don’t have a problem feeling emotions. I get angry all the time.”

Anger is an emotion that some men are not afraid to feel because it propels them toward action. Inaction is often avoided by men as it can be associated with weakness, indecisiveness, or other traits stereotypically opposed to what they believe a man should be. Therapy illuminates how other emotional processes can also promote action, such as approach instead of avoidance after experiencing shame.

 “I’ve tried therapy before but I ended before I felt better.”

Men have historically lower rates of mental health seeking behavior than their female counterparts. They may also end therapy prematurely when compared to women. This unfortunate reality may be reduced if men are informed about the process of therapy from the beginning. Reminding men that participating in therapy may elicit conflict with earlier messages they’ve received about masculinity (e.g.., that it’s difficult to relinquish control and vulnerability is not weakness) can help to improve success in therapy.

If you've recognized some of these statements, schedule a free phone consultation here or learn more about my approach and credentials here.