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The Short Version: Gretchen Blycker, LMHC, uses mindfulness-based psychotherapy in her Jamestown, Rhode Island, mental health practice to help couples regain their sexual health. Her relational health therapy also enables individuals and couples to focus on what they want in life, sex, and relationships while promoting healing from past trauma. Gretchen’s unique take on psychotherapy comes from her own varied background. She is trained in yoga and massage and sees how practices from multiple disciplines and regions of the world are interconnected. She also understands how sexual and emotional dysfunction can impact functions in many spheres of a relationship.
Gretchen Blycker, LMHC, believes one of the most significant issues couples face is an unwillingness to be vulnerable with one another. And she mentions how the overuse of pornography, in particular, is affecting this unwillingness.
“Pornography engages the pleasure and reward system that can impact sexual arousal in a way that is less about intimacy and is more about being an observer to novel sexual cues,” she said. “This is a problem because it removes the complexity of being vulnerable in a relationship, navigating communication, and demonstrating sexual empathy.”
But pornography isn’t the only reason individuals may stop relying on their partners.
“Secret behaviors are another problem — like turning away from your partner to work through things on your own,” Gretchen said. “Sexuality in relationships is quite complex.”
These are only some of the issues Gretchen sees in her therapy practice, Hälsosam, which means “healthy, mindful, connected living” in Swedish. Although Gretchen closed her massage therapy practice, she draws from her knowledge and therapeutic experiences to talk with clients about how to integrate mindful attuned touch in their connection with a partner. She also teaches about how to integrate mindfulness-based tools for the sexual healing that individuals and couples need to become more affirmed in all aspects of their lives.
“I support people in exploring themselves, identifying their values and beliefs, and aligning habits and behaviors with those values and beliefs,” Gretchen said of her role as a therapist.
As part of her practice, Gretchen helps clients understand why they might feel closed off from their partners — or themselves. A healthy sex life is important, and while sexuality may be confined to certain areas, the impact of dysfunction can be far-reaching.
“There is often a lack of understanding about where one’s sexual energy goes that can impact people who aren’t actively engaged in connecting with a partner,” Gretchen said. “That lack of understanding impacts the trust, pleasure, and rejuvenation of a bond over time.”
But considering one’s sexual health and interests can be freeing — especially for couples — and Gretchen’s mission is to bring couples closer together.
“I work with people who have been in long-term relationships where they have barriers to experiencing each other in new ways,” she said. “It can be relieving to allow some space for more freedom and connection in a relationship.”
While Gretchen’s practice is rooted in the principles of psychotherapy, she also brings inspiring ideas from different practices and cultures. Her varied educational and life background inspired that diversity.
“I went to massage school, and, in the practicum class, we would both give and receive treatment. I developed a deep understanding of the many pathways to access information through focusing awareness within the body and inner experiences of sensation, emotion, and tuning in towards understanding other people. I learned through the language of touch,” she said.
Similarly, Gretchen also trained in yoga. Later, she began integrating mindfulness techniques from Eastern religion, as well as using her perspective as a wife and mother to inform her practice.
“I am influenced by Eastern philosophy and Buddhist psychology — that mindfulness, compassion, and acknowledgment of the interconnectivity of humanity contributes to a felt sense of unity,” she said.
Eventually, her varied interests led her to psychotherapy. Specifically, she wanted to become a licensed mental health counselor in a graduate program that would appreciate her other interests and not force her to put them aside.
She found the right one.
“I attended a holistic counseling program that integrated the body, the mind, and a spiritual component,” she said. “I went on to complete an internship at a sexual health center, which helped to integrate that piece. And all the while I was working as a massage therapist.”
Gretchen incorporated all of her training when she started her own practice to offer help for clients with multifaceted issues. After all, she chose each of her methods and techniques because of their ability to connect people.
One of her most artistic practices is her poetry.
“The expressive arts give insight or expression to our inner experiences of love or sexuality. The poetry I’ve written draws from a distillation of themes of sexuality, whether it’s sacred sexuality or problematic pornography use or communicating in relationships,” she said. “When I’ve offered a poem for a client to mindfully listen to, I encourage people to notice what arises within in response. That way, the exploration becomes about what it evoked that is personal to them. This at times has helped people to formulate language to describe the nuances of their emotions, which is helpful in communicating with a partner. When they identify a perspective within a poem they have a felt sense of not being alone, of feeling understood, and they can share that with their partner.”
Gretchen finds common threads running throughout many of the world’s healing practices, and she has little difficulty finding shared experiences among her clientele. One recurring theme is her clients’ unwillingness or inability to connect with their bodies.
“It was common to have people feel surprised about what was happening with their bodies,” she said. “When I gave a massage, clients were surprised by the areas that were tight. Pain can be a motivating factor to pay attention to, so in massage therapy school, we were trained to be conscious of that. The body doesn’t lie. Touch doesn’t lie.”
Gretchen said she thinks many people have negative associations with their bodies because of the negativity that often surrounds sexuality and pleasure, which can create barriers to intimacy.
But how can clients find ways to be better in tune with their bodies?
“Be conscious and grounded in being connected to yourself,” she said. “Create safety around another person who chooses to be in a vulnerable position. Trust is also important, as are integrity and boundaries.”
She also mentions the benefits of knowing yourself and your own sexual preferences before committing to a partner.
“Understanding one’s own pleasure is an ongoing process and self-stimulation can provide useful information,” she said. “It’s important for a person to connect with themselves in a loving way. It is also important to communicate with a partner about what feels like loving connection.”
As her practice demonstrates, Gretchen doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all model for sexual and emotional health. Improving our relationship with our bodies isn’t enough because so many parts of a person are involved in creating well-being and satisfaction.
“Because I specialize in sexual health, I do believe all parts of us are related,” Gretchen said.
With that idea in mind, Gretchen proposes a set of interconnected practices that improve a person’s overall satisfaction. Her model provides the framework for organizing the complex emotions tethered to health and sexual relationships.
“I feel grateful to spend time with people in a sacred territory when they choose to open up and explore tender parts of themselves.” — Gretchen Blycker, LMHC
While Gretchen focuses mainly on sexual health, the effects of her work echo in many areas of her clients’ lives.
“When people can get clear and connected with their authentic sexual selves — in ways that are proactive — they benefit their entire lives moving forward,” she said.
Gretchen also feels a great sense of satisfaction about the role she plays in her clients’ lives.
“I feel grateful to spend time with people in a sacred territory when they choose to open up and explore tender parts of themselves,” she said. “I’m glad that I get to work with people who identify what’s important: healing, reconnecting with their whole selves, and reconnecting in relationships.”