Nevada City marriage counselors navigate the rocky road of relationships

  • September 27, 2012

By Cory Fisher
Staff Writer, The Union -- Nevada County

The steep and narrow road that leads clients to the welcoming Center for Inner Visions seems the perfect metaphor for the path to a fulfilling marriage.

It’s almost as though Belden and Yashi Johnson designed it that way.

Having worked out of their Nevada City office for more than two decades, these marriage and family therapists — married to each other — are all too aware of the challenges couples face on the path to creating a healthy partnership.

In fact, both Yashi and Belden became interested in the therapy field after coming out of painful first marriages.

“Before we met, we had both gravitated to psychology as a way to heal our pain and ended up becoming therapists,” said Yashi. “When we were both 45 we met at a perinatal psychology conference. I felt as though I’d run into a person who was living my life.”

Their connection was instantaneous, almost startling, said Belden.

“On our first date, we were shocked when we both arrived with white roses with red tips, in reference to a poem I’d shared with Yashi earlier,” he said. “Later we exchanged cards and when she opened mine, her face turned white. In it was the same Rumi poem she had written in my card — remarkable synchronicity.”

Since then, the Johnsons have spent their years together examining, as Yashi says, “the interface between what happens in significant relationships and what’s going on inside us. It’s amazing how much people can learn from exploring that. Even if you’re lucky enough to meet your ‘dream’ partner, it’s often an invitation to do more work on yourself.”

Belden agrees.

“We set out bravely, as do most couples in love, to ‘live happily ever after.’ We have. And over more than two decades, we’ve also learned a whole lot about the rapids, eddies and occasional waterfalls that are inherent in the ‘river of love’ into which we plunked our communal canoe: particularly those of ‘yours,’ ‘mine’ and ‘ours’ — whether regarding chores, children, money, friends, time, priorities and any number of other significant differences.”

Bringing with them different areas of expertise, the Johnsons work both separately with clients and as a couple. They also lead couples groups or meet alternately with a client to offer varying perspectives — where, as Belden put it, “one can pick up where the other left off.”

A graduate of Stanford, Yashi went on to graduate school at Fresno State and earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Rosebridge Graduate School of Integrative Therapy.

While working with people with life-threatening illnesses and those recovering from trauma, she found she was interested in the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain, which “fosters awareness and healing via metaphor, images, dreams, intuition, emotion, life challenges and physical symptoms,” she said.

As it turns out, Belden is also no slouch.

The heavyweight boxing champ of his undergraduate class at Harvard, he went on to attend the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he published his first novel and obtained a Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts.

“Only later did I retrain as a therapist and take yet another degree, an M.S. in clinical counseling from Cal State East Bay,” Belden said. “My early trainings focused on the feelings-based therapies: bioenergetics, primal and Gestalt. I cofounded The Primal Center in Berkeley in 1979.”

Belden has recently published a book, “Real Relationship: Essential Tools to Help You Go the Distance.”

“My primary interest is in how we imperfect people navigate our important relationships, particularly our romantic ones,” he said.

In addition to the Center for Inner Visions, the Johnsons also lead an annual “Contacting Mother Earth” backpacking and envisioning seminar in the high Sierra.

The Johnsons stress that what makes their work different is their trust in each client’s own process of healing and growing. They say there are important hidden “gifts” that come out of discontent, lifelong yearnings, dreams and deeply felt emotions.

“When it comes to couples, it’s wonderful to facilitate the movement to kindness and caring from an angry, cold, brow-beaten place,” said Belden. “I love seeing people come out from behind the blocks and masks and say, ‘I now remember who you are and who I am.”

Yashi agrees.

“It’s important to have a therapist who’s been in despair and come out of it,” she said. “We believe it’s possible to find joy in this life walk. It’s rewarding to see people come into their own self love and courage, to bring that honest person to the world. Then you finally get to see who this person was before they were all covered over.”

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