Thirty-years ago I was homeless and roaming the streets on the streets of Newport, RI. I was alienated from most of my relationships because I was suffering from an addiction. Miraculously, I was graced with an opportunity to get help, and I embraced it. The help came in the form of kindness and openness from others who had suffered addictions and successfully recovered. They began to love me until I could love myself. I also learned about myself and how addictions led to my downfall and it’s impact on all of my relationships through 12-step programs like. Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics. Studying and practicing the 12-Steps laid the foundation for me to learn humility, compassion, empathy and set in motion a deep desire and passion to help others transform and live deep, meaningful, productive and happy lives. Today, I live a life of passionate service and I am committed to helping others as a Certified in IMAGO Relationship Therapist, Seminar Leader, Teacher, Marriage Scholar and Published Author with more than 25 years experience as a psychotherapist.
For the past 13 years I have been working exclusively with married and committed couples, helping them to reconnect and re-establish their bond, create a new chapter of marriage, raise emotionally conscious children, and live out their wildest dreams for themselves … for their relationship with meaning and deep purpose. I have been privileged to have been trained by world-renown marriage experts. The work I do with couples is based in a variety of relational models including Imago Relationship Therapy, Relational Neurobiology, the Philosophy of Martin Buber and Appreciative Inquiry.
My calling as a couples therapist came as the result of growing up in a family where there was violence, chronic infidelity and addiction. Although my parents did their very best, the relational skills I learned in my family led me to replay those patterns and behaviors in my own relationships. After hitting another bottom, this time in relationships, I sought out individual and group therapy and learned healthier ways of being and loving in my relationships. I have received enormous benefits for all my hard work and I don’t take it for granted how difficult it is to unlearn destructive behavior patterns and re-learn what is actually innate in all of us–the ability to genuinely give love and receive the love.
The special moments, inspiration and passion I have for assisting with couples is inspired by my 10 year marriage to my wife Yael. After years of our own relationship struggles and near break up(s), we sought help from several Imagotherapists and now we have become “practiced enough” in the skills that I also teach couples—that we trust the process immensely. It’s our “relational practice.” Imagotherapy is proven effective for helping couples move past nitpicking, walking on eggshells with each other, blaming, revisiting ancient grievances, and into a much kinder direction. That’s the big challenge–to move away from the problems and into what they really want.
I have said to couples that, I always my partner to know that I am on her side of the bridge, listening and respecting her, and that she is not alone in her struggles. My capacity to listen continues to grow as I continue to learn how to listen. Listening is a time when I explore the landscape of her world in my heart and bringing my very best, ]my higher self] to the table. As a couples psychotherapist it is crucial for me to practice and live what I teach so that couples know when I’m teaching them how to listen and talk with each other, they also know I am with them … supporting them, holding the hope for them until they can feel it again … thinking about them, listening to them, empowering them, being real with them, and bringing my full presence, excitement, hope and joy to them.
“For one human being to love another human being: That is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person – it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances.” Rainer Maria Rilke From Letters to a Young Poet – 1904
Couples have said: “Paula is pure presence. She is funny, real and she will help us work out what we need to. I’ve never met a couples therapist like that.”
“She is an amazing and passionate therapist/coach. She has opened our eyes (and ears) to not only what my spouse needs, but what I need as well.”
“It’s not what I expected. Our last therapist made my husband feel like the bad guy, and then told us to go do individual therapy. Paula was different. She helped us to feel safe individually and … together in the process.”
Professional Bio & Publications
Dr. Paula M. Smith is a Certified IMAGO Therapist; Marriage Builder, Teacher, former Adjunct Faculty at Harvard Divinity School, Certified Hypnotherapist, writer and published author. A native of New Orleans and the oldest of eight children, Paula has always had a passion for helping others. In 2005, Paula returned to her home state Louisiana to work with children and families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Paula received a teaching appointment to the Harvard Divinity School and published the article Post-Katrina Theology in Harvard Divinity Magazine.
Paula’s mission is “to create a new way to love and to transform the world one couples at a time.” Paula deeply believes that fulfillment, happiness and peace begins in our own homes. If there is no healing in the home there is no healing in the world. Conscious couple-hood is the primary source of sustainable social change and world peace.
Paula has her Doctorate, Master of Divinity in Religion, Race & Culture from Harvard University-Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Antioch University New England and Certified in IMAGO Relationship Therapy and trained in Encounter Centered Couples Therapy. She is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage Family Therapy, American Psychological Association, Rhode Island Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, clinical member of IMAGO Relationship International and member of the Harvard Alumni Association.
She is the co-author of Marriage & Family Therapy Training Programs and Their Integration of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identities published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy and Post Katrina Theology published in Harvard Divinity Magazine. Paula wrote in Options Magazine, called “Ask Paula.” Her office is located at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, Rhode Island where she works offers couples private sessions, workshops, couple circles and supervision and support to therapists interested in learning how to teach couples the IMAGO theory & therapy and also in Encounter Centered Couples Therapy (EcCT) theory and therapy. Paula also as online community where she blogs bi-monthly about love and creating successful relationships.