In our monthly series we turn the tables and ask clinicians all sorts of questions about their professional and personal lives. They reveal everything from what it’s like to conduct therapy to how they cope with stress. They also share the biggest myths about therapy, the biggest obstacles for clients and if they’d pick the same professional path all over again — and much, much more!
This month we’re pleased to share our interview with Barbara Bachmeier, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who pens the Psych Central blog “Bipolar Update.” Bachmeier has served 20 years in the mental health field, providing a variety of services across a wide spectrum of populations and cultures, including communities in Northern California and Guam.
Bachmeier has integrated her expertise in the field of psychology with her passion for spiritual growth. She’s provided various services to individuals who are interested in psychospiritual consolation or personal growth. She embraces an integrated theoretical orientation and an integrated theological orientation while exuding a hint of the mystic in her work as a personal and spiritual growth facilitator.
In addition to being a published author and researcher, Bachmeier currently works with the mentally ill in the State of California prison system. She also provides psychospiritual consultation. Her most recent work includes a series called “Essence of Excellence.” She has used the principles of this work in her therapy and hopes to share this work in a seminar format soon.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
What surprised me the most is the paperwork. It is way beyond progress notes and accounting.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I have read so many wonderful books; I don’t know where to begin. I have read books within the genre of psychology ranging from spiritual, psychoanalytic, behavioral, existential, etc., and they all have their merits. With that said, I am currently reading a very informative book called Forensic CBT: A Handbook for Clinical Practice.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
Therapy is a “cure.” It is not uncommon for a parent or a spouse to drop off their loved one and say, “Fix him or her.” Or even an individual coming to a therapist and saying “fix me.”
For example, I once had a man whose wife had taken the children and left the state with another man. He knocked on my private practice door and said to me, “I need you to get my wife back and fix my marriage.” (Although the man was very intelligent and quite articulate, the word “we” was not yet in his vocabulary.)
Over time, not only did he learn and experience ideas like “we,” and “process”; he also put great effort into change himself. We (the man, his wife, and children, and I, the therapist) also experienced what seemed to be great miracles and transformation as the family ultimately came back together and began to work together as an integrated and interdependent whole connected community/family unit. I sure didn’t do that!
The miraculous result was a combination of the participant’s desire, effort, and openness to learning and change. I was honored to be the one to function as their facilitator.
Whether it is a family, a couple, or an individual who is seeking wellness, recovery, or a better quality of life, the desired goals are always a result of inner changes on the individual level. Therapy facilitates that process.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
I would say that the effort/time involved in making real and lasting change can be an obstacle for many people. Change usually does not result from simply going to the therapist’s office weekly, but rather contemplating what is learned, applying techniques and principles, and working through personal issues can all take effort. This usually requires some “homework” as well as practicing new ways of behaving and thinking outside the therapy room.
People just seem to be on overload and overwhelmed with responsibilities and commitments and might find it difficult to take the additional time to review, practice, and work through. With that said, those who are able to schedule specific short periods of time daily or longer personal self sessions weekly seem to make a lot of progress in less time than they expected.
Another obstacle seems to be the perception that needing help is somehow a sign of weakness. It is not. We are all connected. We must collectively embrace a shift toward understanding that everyone needs help in one thing or another, we all provide services and no human being can thrive, let alone survive without help.
This is one of the many reason why I encourage the individuals that I work with to “Welcome Wellness” © 2011 as this has become my mantra.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
Wellness is an ongoing process. We need regular “self check-ins” and “tuneups” to prevent fatigue and to maintain focus while also keeping our lives in balance. The challenge for me is the same as for my patients — finding that personal time to take care of me, so that I can be a better therapist (and a good example, too).
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
Oh my, there are so many things to love about being a therapist. First, it is congruent with my personal life mission, if you will. In a seminar that I created I facilitate a process through which participants connect with their own “Essence of Excellence” © 2012. Part of this process is to bring to one’s awareness his or her authentic mission for this life. Mine is to serve humanity. So, I do feel like I am serving others in this profession and there is much satisfaction in that.
There is also much joy when the people whom I serve tell me that their quality of life is improving. I get to be a part of that process and connect with people in very meaningful ways. I don’t think a day goes by that I am not touched, or enlightened, or learn something significant as a result of the work that I do.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Live from the inside out. Focus more on cleaning, healing, purifying, nurturing and growing your inner environment than on reacting to your outer environment. With that said, if you are willing to learn detachment, and connection to your deepest soul self, that part of being that is beyond the “illusions” of this world, you can discover your “first cause” essence.
When you operate from this place within yourself, you become aware of the fact that the “gift” that you are here to give the world, is you. Within this “you,” you will find intuitions, talents, and energies that beg for expression. It is from this place that we begin to conceptualize a way to channel these energies as we explore how they are here within us, to bestow upon this manifest world in which we move, breath and have our being.
And this is our purpose in life. Fulfilling this purpose, or calling, will bring meaning to our life. Once an individual has an idea of this essence, this general purpose, she or he can then begin to develop meaningful life goals to help guide the creative process of manifesting and service in a very real way with tangible outcomes.
The spectacular rewards of following such a path include enormous awakenings and stronger awareness of who we are and what our relationship to the Source of All Being is, while transforming that awareness into life choices, careers, projects, etc. (I call this The Dance).
We no longer believe, but rather, we know from a place beyond language that we are, and what we came to this world to do, and where we are going. We are here for a short while to learn, to grow, and receive, and then to give from whom we have become and what we have within; understanding the meaning of life will lead to a meaningful life. It is so simple that it often eludes us, but in those moments when we understand, we are content.
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?
Definitely. I would absolutely follow the same professional path. The field of psychology has no end to it, from the behavioral to the psychodynamic to the spiritual. I have been able to serve many different populations, and to live in many interesting places.
I am just as involved in my own personal development and personal growth as my patients. I am able to put into practice what I believe and live a holistic life because my work is congruent with who I am as a person and my values and my life path.
When I am not seeing patients, I am learning, or practicing, or teaching (through my writing). So, as you can see, I don’t have to compartmentalize my life so much. Yes, if I had to choose my schooling and career all over again, I would choose the same professional path.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
You are not alone. Needing help means that you are a human being. You deserve the help. You are worth it. The purpose of participating in therapy is to get the help that you deserve in paving your own way to wellness. The process will help you become more independent while also showing you your own power to connect with others in an interdependent manner. In reality, we are all connected. In “reality,” there is no doctor and patient, but rather we, as human beings are an interconnected fabulous force of spirit.
Therapy will help you tune into your own personal inner strength, while facilitating your awareness of your connection to other, resulting in both the strength and ability to stand through life on your terms, while also experiencing being part of a greater whole. You will experience feeling comfortable receiving the support that you deserve as a human being, while you also discover your unique gifts that you will use to make a contribution to humanity. In this way, your awareness your life purpose will become clearer and your life will feel more meaningful to you.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I am very actively living a spiritual life. This includes much prayer, meditation, and continuous learning. I combine my spiritual practices with a lot of the cognitive behavioral techniques that I teach many of my patients who desire to learn behavioral techniques. I have trained my own mind to respond to stress automatically.
For example, I find myself taking those three deep breaths quite often during the day. These breaths are triggered by even minor stress. I then have what I call level 1 through level 3 stress. For level 1 stress, I have trained my mind to automatically select a prayer or song and “play it” (in my head). Stress will “trigger” the song or prayer.
Sometimes it is one of several prayers that will automatically come to me and I will say it to myself, other times it is a happy song (my happy songs are “The Bear Necessities” and “Chim Chim Cherree”).
When I am at a level 2 stress, I will take a break and pull out my prayers and read a special one that always does the trick. When I am at a level 3 stress, I will take time out and either go to the pool at the gym and swim, or get a massage; then go home, relax and sleep.