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Martha Stark, MD

The Therapeutic Use of Optimal Stress to Provoke Recovery:
From Cursing the Darkness to Lighting a Candle

Saturday, March 7, 2020


Conference Description (from Martha Stark): 

Long intrigued by the idea that superimposing an acute injury on top of a chronic one is often exactly what the body needs in order to heal, I have come to appreciate that, so too with respect to the mind, the therapeutic provision of “optimal stress” – against the backdrop of an empathically attuned and authentically engaged therapy relationship – is sometimes the magic ingredient needed to overcome the inherent resistance to change so frequently manifested by patients with longstanding emotional injuries and scars. 

With a focus always on the translation of theory into practice, I will be demonstrating the use of optimally stressful psychotherapeutic interventions – custom designed to address the conflict that exists within the patient between what she (adaptively) knows with her head and what she (defensively) feels with her heart. Ongoing use of these anxiety-provoking but ultimately growth-promoting “conflict statements” will trigger recursive cycles of destabilizing disruption followed by restabilizing repair – the cumulative impact of which will be the patient’s attainment of ever more-evolved levels of resilience and adaptive capacity, as “resistance” is transformed into “awareness” (Model 1), “relentless hope” into “acceptance” (Model 2), “re-enactment” into “accountability” (Model 3), and “retreat” into “accessibility” (Model 4). 

Behind this “no pain / no gain” approach is my firm belief in the underlying resilience that patients will inevitably discover within themselves once they are forced to tap into their inborn ability to self-correct in the face of optimal challenge – an innate capacity that will enable them ultimately to advance from cursing the darkness (a less-evolved defensive reaction) to lighting a candle (a more-evolved adaptive response). 

I was inspired by a Christopher Logue poem, which speaks directly to a person’s capacity not only to manage optimally stressful input but also to benefit from it: 

"Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. It’s too high! Come to the edge! And they came and he pushed and they flew... "


About the Presenter: 

Martha Stark, MD, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, is a Holistic (Adult and Child) Psychiatrist / Psychoanalyst and Integrative Medicine Specialist in private practice in Boston, Massachusetts.

Martha is Faculty, Harvard Medical School; Co-Director / Faculty, Center for Psychoanalytic Studies; Faculty, Psychiatry Redefined; Adjunct Faculty, William James College and Smith College School for Social Work; and Former Faculty, Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis, Massachusetts Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology, Boston Institute for Psychotherapy, and Psychoanalytic Couple and Family Institute of New England.

Martha is the author of seven critically acclaimed books on Integrative Psychotherapy (Working with Resistance; A Primer on Working with Resistance; Modes of Therapeutic Action; The Transformative Power of Optimal Stress; Psychotherapeutic Moments; How Does Psychotherapy Work?; and Relentless Hope: The Refusal to Grieve) – award-winning “mandatory reading” at psychoanalytic training institutes and in psychodynamic psychotherapy programs both in the United States and abroad.

Board Certified by the American Association of Integrative Medicine, Martha has contributed chapters to integrative medicine textbooks, including Rattan and Le Bourg’s Hormesis in Health and Disease; Greenblatt and Brogan’s Integrative Therapies for Depression; and Rea and Patel’s Reversibility of Chronic Disease and Hypersensitivity, Volume 4: The Environmental Aspects of Chemical Sensitivity, as well as articles to peer-reviewed toxicology / environmental medicine journals, including Critical Reviews in Toxicology; Dose- Response: Nonlinearity in Biology, Toxicology, and Medicine; and Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine.

Martha also serves on the editorial / advisory boards of various holistic health publications, including Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine; Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal; Journal of the American Association of Integrative Medicine; Advances in Mind-Body Medicine; Gavin Journal of Psychiatry and Cognitive Behavior; and International Journal of Clinical Toxicology, as well as on the scientific advisory board for the Academy of Comprehensive Integrative Medicine.


Learning Objectives:

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to: 

  1. speak to the importance of transforming defense (less-evolved reaction) into adaptation (more-evolved response)
  2. explain the relevance of the concept that “self-organizing systems resist perturbation”
  3. elaborate upon the paradoxical impact of stress on the living system
  4. expound upon the concept that psychotherapy affords patients the opportunity to
  5. achieve belated mastery of previously unmastered experiences
  6. provide two specific examples of “optimally stressful” interventions that, although initially anxiety-provoking, will ultimately be growth-promoting 


DATE: Saturday, March 7, 2020

TIME: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.



REGISTRATION: $150 ($75 for full-time students; $100 for non-profit participants). 

LATE REGISTRATION: Late fee of $25 for registrations received after February 28, 2020.

You may register either through our Online Registration page, or by downloading the 2019-2020 Registration form from our Downloads Page and mailing it to: IPISLC, 150 S. 600 E, #5C, Salt Lake City, Utah 84102. Pre-register to receive readings and parking passes in advance. For registration questions, contact Ashley Mason, CMHC, IPISLC Director of Training, 385-495-1718 or ashley.mason@gmail.com.

STUDENT DISCOUNTS: proof of current full-time enrollment in a course of study related to mental health required (contact Ashley Mason, CMHC at ashley.mason@gmail.com to complete enrollment).

For additional information, contact Ashley Mason, CMHC at ashley.mason@gmail.com or 385-495-1718. Contact IPISLC at ipislc@comcast.net for more information on any of our programs, including objectives, target audience, instructional level of the activity, schedule, cost, refund/cancellation policy, instructor credentials and CE credit.

IPISLC does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, gender, sexual preference or physical handicap.

The International Psychotherapy Institute (IPI) is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. IPI maintains responsibility for the program and its content. IPI is an NBCC Approved Continuing Education Provider (ACEP™) and may offer NBCC approved clock hours for events that meet NBCC requirements. The ACEP solely is responsible for all aspects of the program. IPI is a California Board of Behavioral Sciences approved continuing education provider for MFCC and LCSW licensure (approval #PCE 1508). CE Credits for Social Workers approved by the Utah Chapter of NASW.