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.

So, You’re Getting Married?

By now many will have picked the setting for the wedding, worked out the invitations and the mailing list, chosen the reception and honeymoon locations and taken care of many of the details in between.  Now it is just a matter of planning for and going through the wedding itself.

With the time, energy and expense that goes into preparing for a wedding might I suggest that one expense worth considering is pre-marital counseling.  Usually 4-6 sessions can encourage thoughtful conversations before the knot is tied rather than risk potentially explosive confrontations later.

More importantly, there are times when certain insights and new understandings before tying the knot can enrich our lives afterwards.  Especially when it comes to communication skills, conflict resolution coaching to help couples push through tough issues constructively can be priceless.  The skills needed to produce more win/win situations can make all of the difference in contrast to the win/lose scenarios that can be so destructive.


Marriage and Family Therapy

In April 2014 we closed the Trenton office in the southeast part of Michigan to move to Saint Joseph on the southwestern part of the state.  Since July 2014 I have been working as the Lead Minister of the Church of Christ of Saint Joseph, settling in to become better acquainted with God’s people here and the community around us.  My goal has been to discern God’s leading and how my private practice will fit into my ministerial responsibilities.

This year I began seeing clients at the church building and I have found it to be well suited to my needs as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Therefore, I am now taking appointments with individuals, couples and families, dedicated to “Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential” according to the principles of brief, solution-focused marriage and family therapy.



decideLife if filled with opportunities to learn new coping skills.  From the simplest adjustments of growing up to the normal transitions of adolescence into young adulthood we begin a very personal process of learning how to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities.

On the anvil of personal and interpersonal stressors we hone our coping skills by learning and adaptation based upon a wide spectrum of circumstances.  Factors such as the degree of pain we feel, the double-bind of no-win scenarios, our moods, our personal values and principles, past or present traumas and injustices are just a sample of the possibilities that we are called upon to adjust.

Under pressure,  we forge many of our virtues like patience, tenacity, integrity and honesty, compassion, and so forth.  Conversely, our choices also include their opposite such as impatience, weakness, deceitfulness, dishonesty, callousness, etc.  Across the prism of our own unique makeup and experiences we become both who we are today and who we will become tomorrow by the coping choices we make along the way.

In more relaxed times we have opportunities to reflect upon our past experiences and choices as well as the consequences that have unfolded from those dynamic elements of life.  The hope is that our past will provide learning opportunities for our present and future decisions and how we will cope with them.

The Compass

To the extent we make our choices in advance, clarified by our principles and values, we can anticipate times when decisions have to be compassmade with decisiveness and inner peace.  Life presents times when we must navigate our way through surprises, catastrophes, challenges and opportunities where our past and present meet to give us direction based upon those times of reflection and experience.  It is at those times that we choose to either react impulsively based upon the emotions we feel or we act proactively based upon who we are combined with the person we have chosen to become.

Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping clients clarify their principles and values, weigh interpersonal alternatives and consider the potential consequences in their relational systems.  Many times it is the coping systems themselves that require modification to meet new challenges and opportunities.  At other times new coping skills must be learned to move people forward towards their potential as family members, working together to overcome obstacles and manage transitions.


People, Love, Intimacy and Family

woman-talking-to-manTo develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else requires honesty, openness and transparency; being truthful, even when it is painful. Of course, there are many other definitions of this interpersonal phenomenon that depends upon one’s willingness to be vulnerable, choosing to allow someone else into their private world.  Intimacy is a close, personal, private relationship that is warm and friendly.

Positive, intimate relationships are built upon the foundation of trust that is defined by certain assumptions.   Consistent, predictable behavior over a long period of time that reinforce those assumptions breeds a trust that goes deeper than a vow and a promise, penetrating right to the heart of everyday behaviors.  Getting caught doing the right thing fosters reassurance and security…and trust.

Intimacy Toxins

While there are many things that stand in the way of intimacy, perhaps the most pernicious is  lying:  making an untrue statement with the intention of deceiving someone else, creating a false or misleading impression.  It is the poison of intimacy.  It is a toxin that will injure or terminate a relationship, for trust cannot blossom where words and actions are designed to deceive and mask true intentions, not reflect them. 

Nonetheless, a recent Psychology Today article ventures into the gradients of lying, suggesting that we all do it to one degree or another.

Studies show that the average person lies several times a day. Some of those are biggies: “I’ve been faithful to you.” Others are par for the course: “No, your new dress looks good.” Some forms of deception aren’t exactly lies: comb-overs, nodding when you’re not listening. And then there are lies we tell ourselves, as part of healthy self-esteem maintenance or serious delusions. In the end, it appears that we can’t handle the truth. (Psychology Today: Deception)

People look for intimacy in all sorts of places.  Logically, they expect to find it in their families; and, in most cases they do so.  At other times, our hope and desire to find love and acceptance in our family of origin may blind us to the fact that their communications, behaviors and attitudes convey exactly the opposite.

Much of Marriage and Family Therapy involves examining the relational realities of life.  This often means assessing the best ways to address the positives and the negatives in a way that respects boundaries, acknowledges tensions, accentuates the positives and adjusts behaviors to those influences that are toxic.  Many tools are available to the seasoned therapist ranging from personal interviews with individuals, couples and families to a variety of testing instruments.

Southshore Counseling, LLC: Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential.

Positives From Negatives

Which words will you choose?


Sometimes the difference between a positive and a negative statement is as simple as our choice of words.  Gary Smalley in his book Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy creates a positive reframe of negative expressions.  While he intended to use this insight with married couples, the fact is that positive interpretations can be very important in reshaping and even motivating people as a general rule.  Next time, before you state a person’s negative trait, consider the following list of alternative, positive statements:



Nosy                                      Overly alert or sociable

Touchy                                  Very Sensitive

Manipulating                      A resourceful person with creative ideas

Stingy                                    Thrifty

Talkative                              Expressive or Dynamic

Flighty                                   Enthusiastic with Cheerful Vitality

Too Serious                        Sincere and earnest with strong convictions

Too Bold                              Strong convictions, uncompromising, high personal standards

Rigid                                      Well disciplined with strong convictions

Overbearing                        Confident; sure of him/her self

A Dreamer                           Creative and Imaginative

Too Fussy                             Organized and Efficient

Being thoughtful about how we say things tells another person that they are important, that you respect their trait…even though it may drive you crazy sometimes… and that you appreciate how their trait complements your own.  Conversely, focusing on the negative traits with out putting in the effort to say it in a positive way tells the other person that they are not important, that you do not respect their trait and that you do not appreciate their different perspective.

It takes only a little imagination to deduce which approach produces the better effect in the end.   If you want to discourage another person, make frequent observations about their negative trait.  To encourage them, consider the alternative of letting their trait inspire positive, creative observations that emphasize the positive qualities of their trait.

*Smalley, Gary. Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy, 2000, pp. 156-157.

Success and Significance

John Maxwell, in The Journey From Success to Significance (2004) talks about the distinction between being successful and being significant.  Becoming successful implies having achieved an end point at which point the journey is complete.  Becoming significant, on the other hand, is measured by one’s usefulness in the relationships formed, the decisions made and the actions taken over the course of one’s life.  Focusing beyond one’s self, significance is more than achieving a goal, it has more to do with giving, loving, serving, encouraging, helping and adding value to others.  It is a process, not an end point.  Put succinctly, “Success is when I add value to myself.  Significance is when I add value to others” (pp. 7-9).

Here are some suggestions he makes for…

…Setting the Course for Significant Growth (pp. 43-45)

1. Attitude – Knowing How To Feel

A sense of life as an adventure opens one to continual attitude of anticipation.  Attitude can make all of the difference.

2. Priorities – Knowing How To Choose

Focus upon your priorities so that you expend energy on the important things, becoming an expert in a few areas that you have selected.  This clarifies when to say ‘Yes’ and when to say ‘No’.

3. Vision – Knowing How To See

Based upon your values and priorities you are able to see beyond the present circumstances to know how to navigate them. For the believer, focusing upon God’s principles and priorities gives transforming power to see where we need to go.

4. Direction – Knowing How To Begin

Beginning with the end in mind informs the initial steps that need to be taken to get started.  The key: get started.

5. Creativity – Knowing How To Think

When we move forward with our attitude, priorities, vision, direction in line we can adapt to life’s hazards and obstacles without losing the important things.

6. Responsibility – Knowing How To Finish

Looking back, significance would then be measured by the faces of those who have been helped along the way.

The continual process of achieving significance requires stretching beyond that with which we are comfortable and reaching out for the possibilities, wherever they may lead (p.47).

1. Most people avoid stretching.

2. Most people want to be motivated before stretching.

3. Most people feel vulnerable when they stretch.

4. Most people need affirmation to keep stretching.

5. Most people don’t realize that the need to stretch never ends.

6. Most people look back at stretching experiences as their finest hours.

7. The few who stretch all their lives inspire future generations.

In conclusion, stretching requires an inner compass, and sense of direction and principles to guide you along the way.  As confidence grows stretching becomes a way of life to test those values and expand the power of their influence.

Marriage and Family Therapists can help coach individuals, couples and families in setting the course and guiding their direction for stretching beyond themselves.  At Southshore Counseling, LLC, we focus upon helping people manage hurdles, overcome obstacles, and reach their potential based upon their values and priorities.  Call (734) 676-3775 to set up your first free session to explore the possibilities.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

seasonal-affective-disorder-mainSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very common during certain seasons of every  year.  In fact, during the winter season this year it has been especially difficult for those who may already struggle with depression.  Extreme cold coupled with heavy snowfall has led to people burrowing in and only going outside on a need-to-go basis.  A common recommendation is for full-spectrum lighting and other simple ideas.

For symptoms and treatment options you may benefit from the brief article in WebMD or you may want to explore the seasonal challenges with a therapist.  The Mayo Clinic also provides trustworthy information to guide you as you address your own symptoms or those of a loved one.

Each of those resources will recommend counseling for very good reasons.  For one thing, mood swings may be seasonal or it may be systemic.  Whether or not medications are needed, marriage and family therapy can help individuals navigate interpersonal factors and other factors that may contribute to mood and emotional distress and instability.

At Southshore Counseling, LLC, the first session is free.  During that first session we can consider some of the factors that may contribute to the sense of overwhelming sadness and begin to develop a treatment plan.  Call 734-676-3775 to set up an appointment with Stephen Pylkas, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Insurance, Private Practice, Security and Marriage & Family Therapy

Stephen P. Pylkas, MTh
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

My brief marriage and family therapy private practice does not accept insurance and places a high value on security and privacy.  There are many advantages to this.

  1. You get what you pay for.  To get your money’s worth, you may be more invested in finding solutions and fixing problems as soon as possible.
  2. Fewer therapy sessions.  People want what they pay for and the therapist knows it.  We work to solve problems within ten sessions.
  3. First appointments schedule sooner.   We usually schedule the first appointment within a week of your call.
  4. Your information is private.  No reports go to your employer or insurance company.  No electronic transfers of information without your expressly written consent.
  5. Your records are secure.  Personal information and clinical notes are all handwritten with pen and paper.  All testing and assessments are manually scored by the therapist himself and stored in a secure place.  There is no risk of hacking or breeches of online data security when there is nothing online to find.
  6. First session is free.   We both need an opportunity to weigh the options before deciding whether this is the best course for you at this time.

To schedule your first appointment call 734-676-3775, email me at or complete the confidential form below and I will usually respond within 24 hours.  

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Extramarital Affairs


Extramarital affairs are among the most powerful disruptors to marital relationships.  The stories can be complex but the messages can fall into at least four categories.

First: I want out!  When a partner has finally given up, lost any interest in starting over or attempting to resurrect lost feelings, they may begin devising an exit strategy.  In this out-of-the-door scenario there are several options to choose from beginning with the direct approach of honestly reporting the status of the relationship to one’s partner.  On the other hand, intimidated by the consequences of honest discussion another person may initiate an affair, leaving obvious clues to one’s partner, anticipating that they will discover them and initiate the termination of the marriagefor them.  While neither of these possibilities are necessarily fatal to the relationship, they are among the most challenging for couples to reconcile.

Second: Listen to me!  In some cases the partner who is stepping out on the marriage wants desperately to receive the attention from their partner; but, they no longer feel that they are being heard.  The affair almost becomes an act of desperation for action, moving the relationship into the fast lane for change.  The hope for the best is what motivates it.  The fear of the worst is what keeps it secret until it is discovered.  When it is discovered and they are finally confronted by their spouse there is almost a sense of relief mixed in with the grief of a broken trust and the guilt and shame over not having the courage to live honestly with their partner.

Third: I did it for our marriage!  There is a logical leap that occurs when a partner actually believes an extramarital affair can help his or her marriage.  It begins with one partner’s dissatisfaction with the relationship.  Attempts to help it change for the better have failed and even made the relationship worse because of the vulnerability that one invites when they verbalize their discontent.  Punished or snubbed by their partner, they decide that attempts to reconcile will not work, they remove this topic of discussion from the table, and they submerge into going-through-the-motions numbness.  The affair opens the door to a life of excitement and intrigue on the side while they spare their partner the pressure to bend to theirdesires.  Indeed, their marriage may even improve for a while as the affair continues, taking pressure off the relationship for change; but, in the end, the revelation of the affair will be explosive and potentially catastrophic to the marriage.


Fourth: “I’m in love!”  No matter what may be the reason for the affair, the spouse engaged in the affair can become emotionally torn between his or her love for their spouse and the infatuation found in their newly acquired partner.  This can be one of the significant magnets for the affair.  Realizing they will have to choose between one or the other they prolong their agony by deciding not to decide.  While straddling this fence of decisive indecision, the chances are pretty good that the illicit relationship is not encumbered with normal family pressures such as children, mortgages, credit card debt and the other usual household responsibilities and interpersonal tensions.   Indeed, the false sense of unencumbered affection–that is an illusion–is hypnotic in its attraction.  At the same time, their spouse is aware of their foibles and failures, good and bad traits and propensities.  Add to that the full weight of maintaining a household and the daily grind of working through multi-leveled responsibilities can create a sameness that pales in comparison to the heady excitement of secret trysts and dangerous rendezvouses.  ‘Falling in love’ with the illusion while ‘falling out of love’ with the one to whom they vowed fidelity forever,  they finally announce: “I have fallen out of love with you.  I’m in love with another person.”

If you know someone who is engaged in a ‘secret’ affair–or if you are in the midst of one yourself–there is helpful advice available to increase the probability of saving the marriage.  One helpful example is an article by Joe Beam entitled “How to Confess An Affair Without Losing Your Marriage.” Living with honesty, trust and integrity are important values that contrast sharply with keeping secrets and deceiving one’s partner about something that goes to the heart of the marriage relationship. 

In the end, there are many factors that can contribute to extramarital affairs.  When the affair is revealed the offense can often mask the factors that led the affair until trust is restored and a shared working agreement between partners is established.  Marriage and Family Therapists have been specially trained to help couples work through the issues in a constructive way.