‘Don’t let things fester’

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Marriage/family therapist

Laura Cianchette, 331 Cottage Road, South Portland

For more than 15 years, Laura Cianchette, former school teacher turned therapist, has been helping families, individuals and couples overcome a variety of issues such as anxiety, depression, parenting and relationship challenges. Overall, she finds her job to be very rewarding.

“I learn something from every one of my clients,” said 59-year-old Cianchette. “I’ve done home-based work with families, generally families with kids who are either at-risk of having to leave the home or who are coming back into the home.”

Cianchette, who runs a private practice on Cottage Road in South Portland, said she feels honored that people share their lives with her, mostly because therapy “involves the process of connection and trust.”

She works with her clients to identify and change unhealthy behavioral patterns through mindful techniques.

Her experience years ago as a long-term substitute teacher at Massabesic High School in Waterboro and later as a psycho-educational specialist for St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, she said, were the catalyst for her career change.

“I was really interested in how we grow up, and how the families we grow up in affect who we become as adults,” said Cianchette.

Her current caseload consists primarily of couples and individuals, many of whom are baby boomers. Her goal is to help her clients live a happier and more fulfilling life.

“I work with couples that have communication issues and differences in how they deal with money, and how they parent,” said Cianchette. “They are looking for some help getting closer together, and compromising, which is really hard sometimes.”

Cianchette and her husband of 26 years, Dan, live in Portland with their two teenage children. She is a member of both the Maine and American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.

My Generation had a chance to talk with Cianchette about some of the family or relationship issues that baby boomers face and the advice she has for boomers about maintaining their marriages.

Q What inspired you to become a licensed marriage and family therapist?

A I went to graduate school in my early 30s to become a teacher. When I graduated, there were not many jobs available for high school English teachers. After several short-term positions, I was offered a job as a psycho-educational specialist to develop a program to support students at a psychiatric hospital. Both at the hospital and at the high schools, I discovered how important attachments and emotional health were to my students. Often kids came back from vacations a mess, and I realized later it was from the cutting of the school connection, which provided some stability in otherwise chaotic lives.

My place on the treatment team at the hospital gave me the language to think about my role from a therapeutic angle. After three years, the program closed and I decided to return to graduate school. I always wanted to understand what drives behavior. So, I think it was a natural progression for me to move from teacher to therapist.

Q What are some family or relationship issues that couples from the baby boomer generation face?

A I think the relational issues are basically the same whether one is a baby boomer generation or not. We either grow up with parents who are emotionally healthy, helping us to feel safe and trusting, or we have parents who perhaps did not have secure emotional connections with their own caregivers, and this is more or less passed down to us. I try to help clients explore this “inheritance.”

Q What is your relationship like with your children?

A I was much older than most of my peers when I had children. My midwife told me not to worry, that I would have more wisdom (if less energy) than the younger women. I’m still hanging on to that as I’m parenting my teenagers.

I think we have a good relationship. Every stage in their development tends to upset my “parental equilibrium.” I have to figure out when to let go and when to be a little more involved. My biggest challenge currently is calming myself down, listening with an open mind and not jumping in to fix things or prevent them from making mistakes. I was once told, “We want to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” The thought helps when I feel stuck on a parenting decision.

Q What was your family life like growing up?

A I am the oldest of seven. We have a joke in my family that I was the one who would help everyone get along and do what they were supposed to do. I think it was in my nature to want calm and harmony.

Q As a baby boomer parent, how are you dealing with your kids becoming more like a friend?

A I’m not sure I agree with the premise that we follow that evolution. I will always be the parent of my children, regardless of how old we all are. I know I will have a different relationship with them as adults but I’m not sure I envision it in quite the terms of “friend.”

Q What advice do you have for longtime couples about maintaining their marriage?

A Don’t let things fester. The longer problems go unaddressed, the worse they get.

Laura Cianchette

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