In our monthly interview series, we turn the tables and ask therapists a slew of questions about their work and lives. They give us a rare glimpse into their experiences working with clients, from what’s surprised them the most to what’s been the most challenging. They also share the biggest myth about therapy, their best advice for leading a meaningful life, how they personally cope with stress — and lots more.
This month we’re happy to share our interview with Cori Dixon-Fyle, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and founder of Thriving Path, LLC, a counseling practice in Chicago, Ill.
Dixon-Fyle has experience providing guidance and therapeutic services to individuals (infancy to elderly), couples and families with a wide array of conditions. Her specialized work includes: depression and anxiety; grief and loss; coping will chronic or terminal illness; life transitions; relationship struggles; healing from divorce; fertility issues; and “emerging adults.”
Prior to private practice, Dixon-Fyle gained experience in community mental health, early intervention, hospital-based social work and independent counseling practices.
Dixon-Fyle blends keen mindfulness with psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral approaches to create a safe and open experience for each client. She also works from an acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) background. She uses a strengths-based approach to assist individuals in gaining insight and creating positive, meaningful growth.
Learn more about Dixon-Fyle and her work here.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
I’ve been surprised at just how fulfilling my role is as a therapist as I get to join people on their journey to deeper self-discovery and development of more meaning and value in their life.
I’ve been surprised, yet pleased at just how many people of all walks of life enter therapy. So many people armor themselves up with a smile and false confidence and are actually truly hurting inside. I’ve had many clients who look, on the outside, as if they have the perfect life — they are beautiful, have great jobs, wonderful relationships and many friends. Yet many of these folks struggle with feelings like anxiety and depression and haven’t yet had an outlet to work on developing ways to cope with this.
I also was surprised with just how many people struggle with the ultimate difficult emotion of shame, which is the feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. However, even through the simple process of opening up and sharing their story with an empathic therapist, shame can begin to dissipate by being brought into the lightness.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
So hard to choose just one, so I’m listing three!
I love the classic go-to of Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I use it often with the couples that I see. But I also often encourage singles (people dating and working towards a relationship) to read this too. It helps them to learn what was missing in past relationships and gain courage to look/ask for the type of love they want and show affection to others in a meaningful and productive way.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. This is an incredible book that helps readers develop the tools to live a life rooted in worthiness and authenticity. This is helpful for anyone, but especially those that derive their worth from how much they hustle and get done in any given day.
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. This introduces the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy framework in an easy-to-understand manner. With lots of metaphors and exercises, this book helps readers develop ways to better manage negative thoughts and feelings and to live a mindful life, within their values.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
I find that people often come in with a misconception about what the therapy session looks like and how the therapist acts in session. I’ve had people who assumed that they just come in, actually lay down on the couch and talk for 50 minutes, with the therapist just listening and nodding their head, not offering much feedback.
On the other extreme, others come in expecting that the therapist will tell them exactly what to do with the issue which with they are grappling. I find it most helpful if the therapist and client both take an active give-and-take role in the therapy process, rather than being a blank wall or an advice-giver.
Another myth I often see is that potential clients assume that all therapists are hippy, new-agey pie-in-the-sky people that will be the constant, positive cheerleader. This is not always the case as therapists are trained to empathically recognize patterns and often challenge clients to have the courage to rework these patterns. I often tell my clients, I won’t “co-sign their bulls#@t.” I won’t just nod my head and agree with clients if I feel that they’d be better helped by taking a step back and truly exploring their patterns.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Making change is hard. We often stay with what is safe and predictable, even though we know deep down it isn’t the healthy choice. We stay in controlling relationships and unfulfilling jobs often because we are afraid to deal with the uncertainty and unknown of what the other side looks like. Choosing courage over comfort is often very difficult for clients. But once they are willing to take that courageous leap, they often engage in a much more fulfilling life.
I also see shame as being a difficult obstacle in therapy, one that often hinders people from being willing to come to therapy in the first place. People often experience primary emotions like anxiety, depression, or anger, but then experience secondary emotions on top of that, like shame and guilt, about the primary emotions they are experiencing. To counter this shame, clients need to bring forward self-compassion, and the non-judgmental realization that they are human.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
Maintaining the boundary around my own home life can sometimes be challenging due to holding so much pain and suffering from others. However, I realize I must practice what I preach and tend to my self-care on a regular basis. I also journal and use music as a release to be able to be fully present, whether in a personal or professional setting.
Another challenging piece is recognizing that people take different amounts of time to open up to themselves and their challenges and thus to make changes. As a therapist, I cannot “knock” insight into someone if they are not yet ready. Instead, I have to have the patience to give them the space they need to come to realizations and new perspectives in their own time.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I absolutely love what I do! I love being able to work alongside someone to develop a life with meaning and to see the transition from hopelessness to a renewed sense of hope and engagement in life. I often feel like the passenger while I help the driver (client) navigate the road ahead.
The therapy space is unique in that I am able to spend time with people in their raw and authentic state, which so few of us allow ourselves to be in. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to connect and help individuals and couples empower themselves and develop the coping skills they need to thrive in life.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Try to wake up every morning with the mindset that you are already rooted in worthiness and do not have to prove it to anyone nor yourself. When thinking about living a meaningful life, I recite the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis and often ask my clients to imagine themselves at their own funeral at the age of around 90.
I encourage them to imagine their friends, children and/or grandchildren eulogizing them and ask them what they hope that these individuals will say about how they lived their “dash”—that space between the beginning and end of their life.
8. If you had your schooling and career choice to do all over again, would you choose the same professional path? If not, what would you do differently and why?
I was on a path towards law school and life as a lawyer, when I realized that I actually was living a life based on others’ values and expectations. The night before law school was supposed to start, I finally admitted to myself that I truly deep down sought a life as a therapist. It was my “quarter-life crisis,” but I am so glad I took that brave step to veer from the path I had been going down to move instead towards a more meaningful life for myself.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
I’d like for clients to realize that therapy is not just for people with “problems.” One of my clients refers to her therapy sessions as “mind-spa,” which helps to realize that counseling and therapy is just as pro-actively important as any other wellness practice like eating healthy and exercising.
It’s helpful to know at the beginning, sometimes therapy results in your feelings getting worse before getting better as often it is difficult for people to authentically come to terms with their difficulties. It’s a strength to recognize that you would benefit from a non-judgmental and safe space to process through your current emotional needs, relationship dynamics and lifestyle patterns.
Healing the past, connecting with others with deeper intimacy and vulnerability, living authentically, communicating more effectively and creating more meaning as we navigate through this life are just some of the possibilities that compassionate and collaborative therapy can offer.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
To cope with stress, I exercise, meditate, garden and spend time with my family, friends and dog. I also love to plan vacations. Even if the upcoming trip is far in the future, the simple act of daydreaming about the vacation helps to ground me and give my mind a mental respite.