In this monthly series, we turn the tables, and interview clinicians all about their professional and personal lives. They answer questions on everything from the challenges of being a therapist to the rewards. They also share their advice for living a fuller life along with how they cope with stress.
This month we have the pleasure of interviewing Gerti Schoen, a psychoanalyst and couples counselor in private practice in New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey. Before she immigrated to the U.S., Schoen worked as a professional print and radio journalist in her native country of Germany.
Schoen is the author of The Gentle Self, a self-help book about depression and anxiety, and a blog of the same name here at Psych Central. Her new book Buddha Betrayed is about spiritual abuse and the pitfalls of working with a spiritual teacher.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
Just how similar we all are. Everyone struggles with periods of sadness or anxiety, couples bicker about similar things as my husband and I do. The ‘human condition’ that life isn’t perfect applies to everybody.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
The one I frequently recommend is Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, a much-needed book about how to foster self-compassion. I very much like Susan Cain’s Quiet, which will reassure all the introverts out there that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Right now I am reading You Can Go Home Again by Monica McGoldrick. It’s a stunning account of how our family histories make us into who we are.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That you can bring about change within a few weeks and it lasts forever. It’s possible to change quickly, but it often doesn’t last very long without putting in all the hard work that is required to change the brain.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Accepting that life is painful and that confronting one’s issues is painful.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
Confrontation. It gives me anxiety when people get very aggressive with me. But it doesn’t happen very often and, when it does, I try to deal with it constructively and honestly.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
It’s a field that never gets boring. The human mind is a vast source of ideas and feeling. You can never dive too deep; you will always find new treasures to be discovered.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
To accept that life isn’t perfect and pain is a part of being alive. If you can deal with that, you can deal with everything.
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?
It would have been interesting to learn about psychoanalysis in my native country, Germany, first before studying it here in the U.S. to see how it is utilized and interpreted in different countries.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
[I wish clients knew] that you can’t just pop a pill and all your worries will go away.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
[I practice] yoga, go out in nature, plant flowers, take a nap, have a cup of coffee and slow down.