White Pine Behavioral Health

Joel Guarna, PhD
Licensed Psychologist


Office Location:
25 Middle Street
Portland, ME  04101


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Even before we have met, I have ideas about you.  These are not universal truths, these are my beliefs and assumptions.  Let me share these ideas with you as they may give you some idea where I stand and from where I will start therapy with you. 

You are not a disorder
People should never be reduced to their diagnoses. While you may have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, or Alcohol Dependence, your identity should not revolve around these labels. How much would I know about you if all I knew was your diagnosis? Not much. You are a whole person. Like every person, you have strengths and weaknesses, admirable and less admirable qualities, and more or less helpful tendencies in your thinking and actions. During our meetings, we will examine your problems in the context of your whole life. It is undeniable that our personal histories shape who we are today. We will review events from your past that continue to “show up” and influence your current life. However, we will spend much more time on your present life in the here-and-now—and the future life you would like to set in motion. We will re-discover your strengths and values and use them—both to set a direction and to get you moving in that direction. If, like many people, you have already become very identified with your problems or the roles they seem to force you into—let’s change that, and soon.

You are not sick
While our culture tends to favor medical and disease models over all others, there are serious limitations to using such models with psychological problems. It is certainly true that many psychological problems have biological or physiological components, such as inherited vulnerability (genetic) or gross differences in brain chemistry compared to others without similar problems. However, these differences alone are very unlikely to provide an adequate explanation for any difficult life situation you may be in. More importantly, these differences alone provide very little direction for you, especially if you are ready to take active steps to change your situation. The whole truth is that most persons suffering from depression, anxiety, problems with stress, or other common emotional health problems, are facing problems that are much different than the flu, cancer, or diabetes. Even if your problems are, in fact, rooted in a medical problem, you are not only or merely sick. You also have significant wellness and health in you. By promoting your emotional and physical health, we can help you move forward with your life. 
    Q: My physician says that I have a psychiatric problem that is rooted in my biology and neurochemistry and is a disease.  Are you saying that my physician is wrong?
 No. Many disorders, such as bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder) and schizophrenia, for example, are generally understood to be rooted in biological and neurochemical dysfunction.  Many others are understood to be strongly influenced by biological factors.  The difference here is one of emphasis.  My stated assumption that "you are not sick" is simply saying that over-identification with this illness is unlikely to empower you to change.  No one is solely or merely ill, we all have much health and strength in us.  Identifying as "sick" leads many people to have mistaken beliefs about being unable to change or beliefs that medical treatments are the only or best course for change.  While medical treatments are often necessary or beneficial, they are often best used as one component of a comprehensive strategy for change.  For most disorders, the existing research strongly supports this view.  It is likely that the best "whole package" strategy for change should address your behavior, your thinking, your lifestyle, your responses to stress, your relationships with others, and your struggle with difficult private content (thoughts, feelings, memories). 

You are already whole
Many people fear that they are incomplete or “bad” because of unhelpful programming from their past. Consider this: What are some of the judgments you make about yourself? During your worst moments, what do you say to yourself or call yourself? Now consider this: Are these judgments, labels, and harsh names new? Have you just started to think about yourself like this recently? Chances are, the answer to these questions is “no.” In fact, if you are like most people, these internal criticisms and judgments are probably very old and probably have been there in some form since you were quite young. How many times have you thought “I am my harshest critic” or “I am my worst enemy?” There is an element of truth in these thoughts, isn’t there? Now, it may seem like you need to get rid of this programming, this unhelpful internal voice, before you can move forward with your life. But there is a trap here. How long have you already been trying to get those judgments to go away, to stop, or to ring “false” instead of ring “true?” Apparently, the way to get unstuck and away from those harsh inner critics is NOT common sense, obvious, or easy. That is the bad news. But here is the good news: You can begin to move forward now, with this programming still intact. Rather than changing those voices in your head, let’s work on changing your life. The place to disprove these ideas (if we must) is NOT in your head, it is in your day-to-day life, in your actions, and in your relationships. This is what your therapy can be about. Many of the most profound moments in therapy occur when people realize that they already have what they need to begin to move forward with their lives.

You are already good
Many people will react negatively even to such a simple statement: you are already good. Others believe this statement but will hear a quiet “yes, but…” in the background even as they agree. So, what does this mean? Briefly consider your values—what matters most to you in your life. Below are a few questions to help you identify some of your values.

  • What is most important to you?

  • What would you like your life to be about?

  • If _______ [your problem] were to disappear overnight, what would you do?

  • If you could freely choose your direction in life, where would you go?

  • If your _______ [pick a problem area, like your relationships with others, your role as parent, your health, your job, your spiritual life] suddenly started working for you, what would be different?

Your true values are perfect
What was it like to consider these questions? Yes, there sometimes is some pain in reviewing our values—we often do not live up them, and realizing this can be painful. There is a lot more that could be said about this. Right now, let’s not lose the focus: Underneath our complicated lives, many of us retain clear and clearly good values, unblemished from our life experiences, bad choices, unfortunate life events and trauma, mistakes, and struggles. Moving forward often has more to do with re-discovering our values, polishing them up, and beginning to move in accord with them again. Even if this is painful at first, this way usually reveals a more vital and workable way of living over the long-term. I often compare this to finding a compass, long-lost in the back of some junk drawer, but still completely functional.


Office Location & Mailing Address
25 Middle Street
Portland, ME  04101


  Phone: 207-272-8500
Fax: 207-773-7386

Copyright 2006
White Pine Behavioral Health LLC