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An Empathetic Ear

Dan Marcone’s interest in mental health is rooted in his youth. He grew up in a warm, loving home, but struggled with anxiety and depression for years without knowing how to describe those challenges. 

Like any good mental-health professional will emphasize, though, nothing is quite as formative as those childhood experiences. And nothing cuts through emotional barriers, mental-health hurdles, and psychological wounds quite like empathy’s compassionate understanding, which is why it’s the bedrock principle upon which Marcone founded Seasons Counseling Orlando. 

The Winter Park-based counseling center specializes in a range of therapy options spanning traditional services like individual, child, couples, and family counseling. In addition, Season Counseling Orlando offers increasingly popular services like Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Neurofeedback, or EEG biofeedback, which is based on electrical brain activity. 

“Empathy is a core value for us,” says the licensed mental-health counselor and Center Director. “I believe that through validation and empathy, anything can heal. It activates that soothing system that causes a release of oxytocin and connection and bonding that helps people feel safe and open up. As a kid, I had a lot of love … but I felt alone a lot, so I think part of my strategy was to really care for people because I wanted close relationships. I kind of developed it through my own messiness—people-pleasing and things like that—so when I got into therapy, I realized these patterns of protection become superpowers when you heal them.”

In addition to leading with empathy, Marcone’s own experiences also underscore the reality of how indelibly impactful one’s childhood experiences are in shaping the adult they become. As simplified examples: The “crucial years” between 0-3 are when foundationally critical elements like “the attachment systems that will repeat themselves in relationships throughout their lives” begin to form; through 7 years, a child is developing their ability to self-regulate; and from 7-14 years is when their social-relating system needs to be nurtured the most. 

“Childhood is everything in shaping behavior,” says Marcone. “It’s in our coding, it’s in our identity formation.” 

Those early years are so intertwined with a person’s future self that Seasons Counseling’s family therapy focuses on breaking generational trauma that parents with unresolved childhood damage often engage. Parents unknowingly repeat in their own child through learned patterns of unhealthy parenting styles. Mindfully identifying one’s parental style—“authoritarian, authoritative, laissez-faire, how do they engage the child”—in a safe environment helps work through the issues that manifest in continuing a cycle of generational trauma.    

“The best way to help is to be a good parent,” he says. “Childhood development is absolutely the most important time to be healthy as parents. If we bring children along, we really need to be working on ourselves because the best way to raise great kids is to work on yourself as a parent, dealing with your own stress. … Parents have to understand their own messiness, and we help them realize that sometimes parents have to give what they didn’t get.”

It’s especially important to be a cycle-breaker because, while help is always available to a person at any point in their life to overcome a turbulent upbringing’s lingering issues, their neurobiology is permanently altered. Rather than the brain’s frontal cortex, “our highest function, the CEO of all these complex systems,” operating at its fullest, healthiest capacity, it’s inhibited leaving “those lower functions to run the show,” essentially freezing a person in the perpetual state of fight, flight, freezing or fawning survival responses that comes with constantly living in anxiety or stress. 

“Trauma changes your brain forever,” he explains. “Trauma’s not the thing that happened: It’s what happens in your brain. … There’s an activation in your nervous system that causes a shift to subcortical states, like your limbic system and brain stem, and that begins to run the show. You go from having a brain that’s wired for connection to a brain that’s wired for protection.”

That’s why Marcone and the Seasons Counseling team are ardent advocates of mental fitness. While it might not be possible to rewire a brain forever impacted by trauma, there are ways to gently retrain it that include engaging the whole body. 

“The body is where trauma is stored,” notes Marcone. “We have biofeedback, where we help people understand what heart-rate variability is. Your heart has neurons in it, so it’s reporting to your brain faster than your brain is reporting to your heart. Emotional regulation is big because feelings energize action. … We help people understand their emotions through the data we get through biofeedback.”

After all, that holistic approach to treating the entire patient—plus leading with empathy—is the best way to make someone feel whole again. 

“When you’re in a vulnerable place with someone and they’re able to make space for their brokenness or their hurt or their woundedness, and they feel safe with you in that space with them, that’s when the healing happens,” Marcone says. “And six months from that, they’ll be in an even better place.” 


Seasons Counseling Orlando
2300 Lee Road, Winter Park
(407) 960.3938