A Saturday Stroll Through Central Park with Sandra Stingle

Central Park picture of Lisa and Sandra StingleShe had the New York accent, and that insider edge I love. And before I knew it, I was strolling through Central Park on a gorgeous Saturday morning humming Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

Sandra Stingle, a new TEAM-CBT colleague I met at David Burns’s Newark, NJ trauma treatment workshop in late April, invited me to her Upper West Side apartment on a sunny Saturday to tour a slice of the city. So after the two-day workshop, where I finally met my New York TEAM-CBT colleagues Taylor Chesney,  Robert Schachter, Donna Fish, Lynne Spevack, Elise Munoz, Maria Cristina Latorre, Maria Makarian, and Andrea Greer, I pointed my compass east.

David hopped in a car headed for Philadelphia to finish his three-city tour that started in McLean, VA, just west of Washington, DC.  I headed for the Big Apple. My son, Matt, a UCSB student, flew into Newark from Los Angeles and met me at the workshop. We Ubered late that cold, wet night to our Chelsea Airbnb — our home base for the next three days. Early Saturday, we taxied north to No. 1 W.64th St. and met Sandra, who planned our morning trip for maximum cultural pleasure.

We took the elevator up 42 floors of One Lincoln Plaza overlooking sprawling, lush green Central Park in Manhattan. The 360-view felt like I was standing in a Magnavox color movie.

We then took our heads out of the clouds and headed across Central Park West where we picked up a coffee at Le Pain Quotidien — a Parisian cafe across from Sheep Meadow at the historic Mineral Springs– and walked through the mid-19th century European-styled park. There, Sandra convinced me, we’d find breakfast for under $4. I couldn’t say no. If nothing else, I was curious about the insider’s $4 breakfast. My skeptical Airbnb host quipped, “Keep your expectations low.”

I’d visited NYC several times since my first visit in 1974 as a Northern Virginia high schooler on an exchange program. I’d fallen in love with the people, their accents, their energy, their cutting edginess. They were people I wanted to know because they were in the know.  Those opinionated New Yorkers, with their delis, lox, and bagels, “KAH-fees,” music, art, fashion, high finance, creativity, culture and street smarts were — and always will be — cool.

Sandra is one of those New Yorkers — energetic, bright, savvy, insightful, caring, friendly and generous. Like other New Yorkers, she walks and talks fast. She has places to go and people to meet.  She loves the vibrancy and creativity of her city.  She grew up here as Sandra Fromer, was educated at Barnard College and Columbia University where she also has served as an adjunct assistant professor of psychology. She has spent the last 47 years as a practicing clinical psychologist, trained as a psychoanalyst but is well-versed in a wide variety of approaches that she tailors to fit her clients. She has studied human sexuality with Helen Kaplan, Imago Relationship Therapy with Harville Hendrix,  as well as John Gray and John Gottman. And now she’s learning more about TEAM-CBT therapy with David Burns.

Long-time colleague David Bricker, one of New York City’s TEAM-CBT trainers, piqued her interest in the new approach to therapy. She flew out to San Francisco to attend a four-day intensive with David Burns two years ago and was mesmerized.

“My dear friend David,  whom I tremendously respect, had been raving about his excitement about TEAM which inspired me to take the San Francisco intensive,” Sandra recalls. “The intensive convinced me I had to know more.  At the intensive, I met Elise Munoz and that further encouraged me to pursue training. When I got back to New York I took and enjoyed Taylor Chesney’s group. Later I continued enjoying and practicing it in Elise’s and David’s group. That led me to want more so I did another intensive in San Francisco.  I was excited to be an assistant and also to sing and dance with Brandon Vance and his group in the chorus of his original song “Sitting on Paradoxical Bay” in which I was one of the Distortions! “

This city is heavily populated with psychoanalysts who eschew other schools of therapies. So I was curious to know what caught Sandra’s interest in David Burns and his new TEAM-CBT.

“I’m most attracted to TEAM because it emphasizes that there is no one right way.  That it’s tools not schools of therapy. TEAM emphasizes empathy, not “my way or the highway power struggles,” she noted.  “We are trying to do it all and use it all while still respecting that we are not know it all’s, and so we fail fast, with open hands, and a very big dose of humor wherever possible.”

She admires David’s modest and humble approach to therapy, which emphasizes aligning with resistance and seeing it as something that reflects what’s good about a client versus a negative paradigm in which many therapists try to confront and break down resistance to help the client move forward.

“His approach does not analyze resistance, which I felt was critical and negative, and attacking, but rather looking at both sides and in fact truly honoring and respecting the good things symptoms say about the client.  The advantages of staying as you are and not changing and what it might say that’s very positive about you, and you might not want to change” she added.

NYC — in the mid-1970s — was a darker, grimmer but still electrifying time to live and visit. But this time was eye-opening. As Sandra led us over buzzing streets, I was pleasantly surprised to find it bright and inviting. NYC had morphed into a Millennial’s dream — clean, colorful, and cleansed. Yellow and red tulips burst forth around leafy trees. Spring has arrived in the Big Apple while the California influence of healthy living, Sandra noted, was beginning to show itself. “We’re bringing more the country to the city. We are getting healthier,” she said
The city was cleansed — for the most part– of filth, rats and ne’er-do-wells that once claimed this historic city. Turning off Columbus Avenue, we slipped into the exclusive Southern Italian restaurant The Leopard at des Artistes at 1 West 67th Street where we admired Howard Chandler Christy’s  provocative mural series, “Fantasy Scenes with Naked Beauties,” completed circa 1935 in his Hotel des Artistes studio. The 1917 Gothic-styled gem was once an artist’s cooperative and home to dancer Isadora Duncan and playwright Noel Coward.

Central Park — the backdrop to famous movies such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is also an urban vacation for both rich and poor where they can feel like they are in the country as they pass by sheep in the meadow, admire Japanese Cherry blossoms, row boats on placid lakes, stroll miles of winding paths with their dogs, or sing under the bridges. Scenes reminiscent of Monet or Rembrandt landscapes abound.  It’s like public art. “Central Park is the place where even if you don’t have much money, you can enjoy yourself,” Sandra noted.

Sandra is sensible and stylish, not snobby, wearing her fashionable sunhat and sunglasses with a lovely navy and white walking outfit. Sauntering next to her in my Old Navy sandals, Whole Foods T-Shirt over Target leggings, I felt underdressed standing beside this petite and beautiful New York fashion statement. I forgot that when I come “Back East” from living “Out West” in Denver, Colorado, that I need to dress it up a bit. The humidity index was high and so was my wet mop, shoulder-length hair. “Forget about it,” I said it to myself in my best New Yorker voice.

I’d like to say we spent the day talking about the nuances of TEAM-CBT, but lest I exaggerate. My son tired of our banter. He was polite but eager to walk among the people his age, listen to to the singers under the bridge, and admire the musicians. So we pushed through and landed at The Loeb Boathouse where we found the deal of the day — our $4 breakfast at the take out counter.  I ordered the delicious $3.49 three egg-white omelette with spinach, mushrooms, and feta cheese. “What a deal,” my inner New Yorker quipped.Take that, Airbnb host,” I laughed smugly with my newly acquired sophistication.

We spent quiet moments on Adirondack benches surrounded by leafy green trees providing shade, pondering the meaning of life, how history repeats itself, life after death and legacies we leave on earth. One of the things I will remember most about Sandra is how kind and patient she was with my career-seeking son — listening and offering wisdom. She’s a natural mentor.  If her life’s passion is to plant seeds for growth in others, I witnessed this first hand. And I was grateful.

Our final stop on the Sandra’s Saturday tour, led us into the “Strawberry Fields,” the memorial to Beatle John Lennon. It’s a quiet zone where guests can pay their tributes to the musician who in 1980 was assassinated a block away in front of his apartment, The Dakota, 1 W 72nd Street.

I have loved, studied and worked with New Yorkers my entire adolescent and adult life. (They are my preferred type, although true love has no common sense, so I married a native Chicagoan.) I know that some New Yorkers can fit the harsh stereotype. But over my 40-plus years of loving, learning and collaborating with them, I know they’re teddy bears on the inside. And I believe that once you befriend a New Yorker, you have a friend for life.

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