Category Archives: Counseling

Counseling is solution-focused, Marriage and Family Therapy offered in the mid-western Michigan region.  The emphasis is upon relational, interpersonal systems within which we all live, work and play.

Areas served include the communities of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, North Muskegon, Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, Fruitport, Ravenna, Bridgeton, Twin Lake, Dalton, Whitehall, and beyond.

Anger and Irrational Expectations

Flip Wilson – 1969

Sometimes our expectations create difficulties when others let us down or our goals are not achieved.  In our anger and disappointment there are several ways to react at those times.  Sometimes our expectations are rational and reasonable.  At other times, when we closely examine them, our expectations have been irrational and need to be adjusted to fit reality.

The comedian Flip Wilson’s character, Geraldine, from the 1970’s and 1980’s used to decry that “The devil made me do it” to explain why she made certain choices.  Part of what made the character so funny was that, at one time or another, we all use projection and blame to explain why we feel certain ways, to justify our behavior or to absolve ourselves from responsibility.

This approach to seeing the world is fraught with difficulties that can seriously impact relationships.  When we believe people ‘should’ act in certain ways we betray our own perspectives about how things should be without giving adequate attention to reality; i.e., the way things are.  This can create problems when people do not act or say things the way you or I think that they should act or say them.

Albert Ellis, the father or Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, was influenced by the tradition of ancient Stoicism.  In this philosophy reason and logic are the governing principles that guide the thoughts and feelings of the person who would be wise.  The first-century philosopher Epictetus is one example of Stoicism that reaffirms many of the concepts that underlie this approach to problem solving.  I love his tongue-in-cheek approach to this topic.

IRRATIONAL IDEA NO. 1: “I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances or else I will rate as a rotton person” (p. 39).  This philosophy goes a long way to perfecting the art of perfectionism!

IRRATIONAL IDEA NO. 2: “Others must treat me considerately and kindly and in precisely the way I want them to treat me.  If they don’t, society and the universe should severely blame, damn and punish them for their inconsideration” (p. 41).

IRRATIONAL IDEA NO. 3: “The world (and the people in it) must arrange conditions under which I live so that I get everything that I want when I want it.  And further, conditions must exist so that I don’t get what I don’t want. Moreover, I usually must get what I want quickly and easily” (p. 42).

The sub-points of each of these “Irrational Ideas” step on a few nerves in Ellis’ book, Anger: How to Live With and Without It but if you keep wondering why others make you angry or why you are not able to get things done because of the actions of others, this could be a helpful read.

Albert Ellis (1913-2007)

Counseling and Faith

For more than thirty years I have been counseling people as either, in the beginning, a ministerial graduate student or during my career as a minister in the Christian faith.  So, naturally, people have correctly assumed that I was a Christian.  More specifically, they usually assumed, correctly again, that I was a Christian counselor within the churches of Christ.  With those assumptions they knew that we would agree on many things, including many doctrinal issues that were unique to our particular branch of a specific religious movement in America known as the Restoration Movement.

Having been in private practice for a couple of years now whether or not I am a Christian Marriage and Family Therapist seems to have taken on a new meaning that is fascinating.  Some correctly assume that I am in favor of strong marriages and families as the means for raising strong children from a Christian perspective.   At the same time, most understand that, morally and ethically, I am bound to respect the values of the clients that I see and their individual faith systems.

Much more will be written on this topic.  Today, the important point is that the fact that I am a Christian means certain things across belief systems.  These values are important to me and underlie every aspect of my work with people:

  • Honesty: What good is therapy if we cannot be honest with each other?  Learning to be honest and transparent is an important ingredient to good communication and strong, working relationships.
  •  Integrity: Related to honesty is the intention of the therapist to be a person of his or her word.  Scheming and deceptive practices do not make sense when we are working to strengthen trust and confidence in one another.
  • Respect: Therapy is strategic, solution-focused and, when possible, biased towards brevity.  The time and energy it takes to solve problems and move on is too precious to use for anything other than working to accomplish the goals of the client and to help them move on with life.

The list will go on over time as I update this article from time to time but the point I wish to make is that because I am a Christian I accept people where they are in life, encourage them to overcome obstacles, manage  transitions and achieve their potential as they define their obstacles, transitions and potential.



Pre-Marital Counseling

There are many tools available to the Marriage and Family Therapist to help a couple prepare for marriage.  Pre-Marital Counseling holds great potential as the perfect wedding gift that keeps on giving for years afterwards.

First is the simple intake interview.  During this time the therapist interviews each partner one-on-one to learn about their family history, their own life experiences and the challenges they have faced.  Counselors ask questions in order to understand more of the personality of each person: their preferences, their fears and their concerns.

Second is testing which can range from the standard personality inventories to detect any psychological or emotional challenges to assessments that highlight personal preferences and  styles.  Other inventories are specifically designed to help couples evaluate their compatibilities and points of potential conflict.  As the therapist gets to know the couple better he or she is better able to determine which evaluations would be most helpful.

Third is the family genogram which is a time of discovery for the couple to explore their own family histories.  Insights are gained by interviewing family members along their family tree to discover more about each other’s heritage and background.  Some take it so far as to interview distant relatives that they may not have had a relationship with before.  Others will actually visit old homesteads, cemeteries and family landmarks.

Other aspects often covered in the counseling process include religious, financial and occupational issues.  Sometimes other professionals are consulted when potential challenges are detected from health issues to legal matters.  Pre-marital counseling can focus on specific concerns that the therapist uncovers and need specialized attention such as communication training, parenting expectations, living arrangements and housekeeping assumptions.

Counseling is particularly helpful when families blend.  With children of each partner involved in the merging process the ability to address both the marital and the family issues that will arise can be invaluable.  With its emphasis upon the interactional and relational patterns within  each family, Marriage and Family Therapy can be effective prevention for helping couples avoid many of the hazards that often cripple families early in their marriage and in step-parenting.

The key is that the Marriage and Family Therapist is focused upon the dynamics of the family system and helping the couple explore as many aspects of their relationship as possible before they tie the knot.   With all of the time and energy that goes into a wedding and honeymoon that will last from a few hours to a few weeks, it just makes sense to take the time to look at those aspects of their marriage that will carry them through each day for the rest of their lives.



Solution-Focused, Brief Marriage and Family Therapy

What is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)?

As the name suggests, it is about being brief and focusing on solutions, rather than on problems. We learned a long time ago that when there is a problem, many professionals spend a great deal of time thinking, talking, and analyzing the problems, while the suffering goes on. It occurred to a team of mental health professionals at the Brief Family Therapy Center that so much time and energy, as well as many resources, are spent on talking about problems, rather than thinking about what might help us to get to solutions that would bring on realistic, reasonable relief as quickly as possible.

We discovered that problems do not happen all the time. Even the most chronic problems have periods or times when the difficulties do not occur or are less intense. By studying these times when problems are less severe or even absent, we discovered that people do many positive things that they are not fully aware of. By bringing these small successes into their awareness and repeating the successful things they do when the problem is less severe, people improve their lives and become more confident about themselves.

And, of course, there is nothing like experiencing small successes to help a person become more hopeful about themselves and their life. When they are more hopeful, they become more interested in creating a better life for themselves and their families. They become more hopeful about their future and want to achieve more.

Because these solutions appear occasionally and are already within the person, repeating these successful behaviors is easier than learning a whole new set of solutions that may have worked for someone else. Thus, the brief part was born. Since it takes less effort, people can readily become more eager to repeat the successful behaviors and make further changes.

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy has taken almost 30 years to develop into what it is today. It is simple to learn, but difficult to practice because our old learning gets in the way. The model continues to evolve and change. It is increasingly taken out of the therapy or counseling room and applied in a wide variety of settings where people want to get along or work together.

About Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

by Insoo Kim Berg


Shoreline Counselor, LLC: Mission Statement

The Marriage and Family Therapy mission of Shoreline Counselor, LLC is to actively promote  and encourage healthy marriages and families in western Michigan and beyond by helping them overcome obstacles, manage transitions, and reach their potential.

The goal of Shoreline Counselor, LLC is to lead the way in quality, professional Marriage and Family Therapy services. The philosophy of business of Shoreline Counselor, LLC is to positively impact the lives of people by promoting activities and practices that will encourage healthy marriage and family relationships by repairing the damage, restoring relationships and helping them thrive.

Marriage and Family Therapy is a core mental health discipline that is a cost-effective, short-term, and results-oriented form of treatment.  It is based upon the research and theory that problems are best diagnosed and treated in the context of marriages and families.  While therapy is conducted predominantly with individuals, special training in family systems and psychotherapy views a client’s symptoms and interaction patterns within their existing environment.

Shoreline Counselor, LLC uniquely provides licensed, professional Marriage and Family Therapy that is owned and operated by a Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.  As the owner and therapist, Stephen Pylkas specializes in helping people when they are struggling with decisions about, for example, whether or not to divorce, changing careers, caring for aging parents, and agreeing about parenting strategies.  Helping families address problems with children and adolescents, in-laws, finances and communication skills are the most common challenges.


Depression and the Paralysis of Analysis

Paralysis of Analysis

A personality test tells me that I like to leave all of my options open until the very last second so that I can make the most informed decisions.  The idea of making a decision before all of the options have had a chance to play out or the newer ones have had a chance to emerge is maddening.  So much so that I often get locked up in the paralysis of analysis and depression.

When locked up in the paralysis of analysis it is hard to make a decision…and so we choose not to make a decision…which really is a decision…which we don’t want to make…so we make one in order to not make one.  The paralysis of analysis.

Many see the paralysis of analysis as procrastination which is understandable because the two concepts are similar in outward appearance.  The problem is that procrastination has kind of a negative tinge to it that causes one to think that the person doing it is somewhat deficient or in error.  All that is needed is often metaphorically referenced as the need for “a swift kick in the rear” or “a thump on the head.”

This way of viewing the inordinate amount of time required to take action is not as attractive as is the thoughtful, intentional, methodical, systematic efforts of one who is engaged in the paralysis of analysis.  For one thing, this is not an idle analysis; rather, it is the active pursuit of the best possible choice by weighing every option and considering every possible eventuality.  The fact that the one engaged in this pursuit waits until the very last minute belies a deliberate, intentional, highly planned decision not to decide until it becomes imperative and critically important.  Deadlines are very important to those who wrestle with the paralysis of analysis.

There is a sense in which, however, the paralysis of analysis can begin to resemble a type of depression in which the analysis becomes overwhelming.  This is especially true when the classic double-bind raises its head; i.e., there is no right answer, all options involve hardship and pain.  It is at that point that waiting around for another option begins to make sense.  An option with less pain and hardship is certainly more desirable.  While the hope for a painless solution is all but gone, some middle-ground between the extremes where it is sort-of painful and sort-of hard becomes increasingly attractive but, at the same time, increasingly illusive.  In other words, your options really stink.

It is at this point that the paralysis of analysis transforms into any number of metaphorical descriptions such a deep, dark pit that swallows you or a swirling whirlpool that sucks you under, bobbing for air.  Unable to decide what to do leads the person caught in this spin cycle to make a decision to do nothing.

That is when things become even more intriguing and overwhelming.  Rarely do the choices we make occur in isolation to other dilemmas that have their own consequences that ripple across the surface of our tranquility of indecision.  In other words, deciding not to decide can lead to more decisions that have to be made which require more planning and, unfortunately, more decision making.  This is when another metaphor comes in handy, most commonly referred to as ‘snowballing’ which describes the small snowball released at the peak of the mountain that, as it descends, grows in magnitude and velocity until it can’t be stopped.

Sometimes life can become that snowball.

The result is a disorientation that distorts the sense of emotional equilibrium, seems unalterable in the corse that is taken and unstoppable because of the mass and weight of the consequences.  In the process a sense of helplessness to change course becomes coupled with a sense of hopelessness that the end result can be anything but bad. Out of desperation you try anything and everything until you exhaust your creative options, finally concluding that the only solution is to give up in the valley of paralysis of analysis; the ultimate decision to not decide.  In other words: depression.

This is when a marriage and family therapist can be particularly helpful as he or she helps a person discern the best course to salvage those matters within their, what Steven Covey calls “Circle of Concern,” distinguishing between those choices that are open to one’s influence and those that are not.  To read more on the challenge of depression check out the article at the AAMFT website entitled Depression.

Stephen Pylkas, LMFT 734-658-7649


The Holiday Blues

Preparing for the Holidays

We all know how the holidays ought to be: mom, dad and the kids gathered around the grandparent’s dining table to enjoy the holiday feast.  Norman Rockwell caught this American  spirit in many of his paintings.  This certainly is not a time for the holiday blues!

For many, however, the holidays can be a very difficult time.  Most commonly we grieve over the bittersweet memories of family members and friends who are no longer with us.  Other memories are more jaded with painful recollections of holiday meals ruined for any number of reasons that still baffle and bewilder.  Sometimes those memories can overshadow the present to the point that we can’t shake the depression and we feel stuck, unable to find the joy and the happiness for which we long..


Marriage and Family Therapists are uniquely trained and experienced in helping families when they confront these roadblocks to the proverbial ‘Happy Holidays.’  No magic wands or secret codes.  In fact, learning how to integrate our past with today’s
reality and move on can be a great deal of hard work.  Sometimes, the key is finding a patient confidant who can come alongside you and your spouse or your family and help you find a new path 
with new skills for handling old challenges. 

There is no charge for the first session just to consider whether or not this is the time and if we can help.  Give Steve a call at 734-658-7649.


Marriage: Conflict Resolution Skills


Arriving at mutually gratifying solutions to problems can be a challenging experience for couples.

Even simple conversations can become problems when the skills for listening carefully are not developed adequately.  Learning to value understanding over insistence upon being understood can be  huge but necessary step.

When things begin to go wrong, communications become win/lose battles for power and control.  The danger for this pattern of communication means one person believes that they have convinced the other of their argument.  Just because the other person has stopped arguing for their position, however, it does not necessarily mean that they have been persuaded; they just stopped arguing.

Sometimes the negotiations lead to each partner agreeing to compromise where each person giving up something in order to end the  struggle.  There are times when agreeing to disagree helps life go forward.  The hope is that we will return to the topic to flesh out more details and come to a point of resolution.  Too much compromise in a relationship, however, keeps couples from experiencing the joy that comes with getting on the same page together.

Enough win/lose and compromise over time can lead to ‘the silent treatment’ because the goal becomes the cessation of hostilities instead of working through conflict.  The silent, conflict-avoiding ‘resolution’ patterns can lead to ticking time bombs.

The goal is to learn the needed skills for developing win/win scenarios and being willing to expend the energy to make it happen.  Marriage and Family Therapists are specially trained to help couples learn, practice and implement these special skills.  This is one of those aspects of relating that, when practiced as a lifestyle, can generalize to satisfying scenarios in other relationships as well.


Marriage: Communication


It’s impossible to not communicate.  Therefore, it is among the most important ingredients in marriage.  You are going to communicate, so why not choose to communicate in ways that bring out the best in others while, at the same time,  being honest and true to yourself?.

So many elements go into clearly conveying a message from one person to another.  For example, if you have ever struggled to put your thoughts into words then you already know that communication can be a real challenge.  Assuming that the other person actually heard what you meant to say with the words you chose to use can be dangerous!  Add a little body language that is not consistent with what you meant to say and a little noise like texting on a phone, a blaring TV or radio, a crying baby, etc. and the simplest efforts at communication can be incredibly complex.

But, we still tend to assume that the other person heard what we meant to say.  Rather than expending the needed effort to make sure that we are speaking clearly and being heard accurately, we go on with our lives without giving our communications another thought.

That can be dangerous when the other person hears something very different from what we intended to say.  Add a little anger and negative assumptions to the mix and communication can be deadly to a marriage.

Marriage and Family Therapists are specially trained to help people work through the miscommunications and learn the skills necessary to help people do better.  Communication is never a perfect endeavor.  Actually, it really is hard work.  Instead of working into another frenzy over what he or she just said, why not get to work on getting on the same page?


Considering Divorce

The use of the “D” word can either be a cry for help or an announcement that a decision has been made.  It either case, when the word ‘divorce’ comes up it could be time to make an appointment with a Marriage and Family Therapist who has been rigorously trained to address a broad range of problems that any marriage can face.

Marriage and family therapy may be able to help…

…if you are contemplating divorce;

…if you are in the midst of the divorce process; or

…after the divorce is over.

At any point in the process marriage and family therapy can be helpful, especially when children are involved.  From communication issues to differences in childrearing practices or the trust issues of an affair, the challenges can be serious and even deadly to a marriage.  Diagnosing the problems is only the first part of the process.  The marriage and family therapist will work with everyone involved to determine the goals of therapy and to suggest options for working through them.

The key is that there are other options…

For divorce to be the only option, one or both partners have decided that they have exhausted all possible options.  Certainly, it can seem to be that way at times; but, sometimes a fresh perspective from a professional can surface new alternatives.  Furthermore, a marriage and family therapist can guide families in the change process and help them choose to repair the damage done, renew their commitments to each other and even thrive in ways never imagined before.

One of the things that sets marriage and family therapists apart is their systems approach to interpersonal relationships.  While couples are often spending time trying to blame one another, the marriage and family therapist is looking to identify the behaviors and interpersonal patterns that perpetuate problems.  This is a key to understanding and aiding individuals and families as they try to hold together in times of conflict and dissatisfaction.  Once, when we discover what those issues are and we begin to address them in a healthy, mutually respectful way, couples often decide to give it another try.

When there are no other options…

Still, if a couple decides to go forward with a divorce a marriage and family therapist can often help them through the process in a way that is more mutually beneficial. When there are children involved, they can often work to help couples develop the skills and acquire the tools to help them work together to the benefit of their kids. If this is your present challenge, the website for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has some helpful advice about Divorce and Children.

Paying it forward…

Before spending thousands of dollars on lawyers and mediation, why not give it one last try and spend some time giving marriage and family therapy a try? What have you got to lose? Better yet, think of what you have to gain if you work it all out!

Speak one-on-one, confidentially, with a counselor. Contact Steve at and let’s see if we can partner together to work it out.