In our monthly series, clinicians share the behind-the-scenes of their work and life. They talk about what it’s like to conduct therapy — the surprises, trials and triumphs — and how they personally cope with stress. They also reveal what they wish their clients knew about treatment and their best advice for leading a fulfilling life.
This month we had the pleasure of talking to Christina Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in women’s emotional health across the lifespan; pregnancy and postpartum mental health; grief and loss; and parenting.
Hibbert is the founder of the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition and author of the upcoming memoir This is How We Grow. A frequent speaker, she’s been called “The Singing Psychologist,” and often shares an original song or two when she speaks.
Hibbert is the mother of six energetic kids and has a private practice in Flagstaff, AZ. Get to know Christina Hibbert by visiting her website at www.drchristinahibbert.com.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
How similar we all are on the inside, despite how we appear on the outside. Deep down, we all just want acceptance and love.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
My all-time favorite “greatest” book is Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves, by C. Terry Warner (I’ve read it 3 times!). Warner shows us how we “betray ourselves” in relationships by failing to act on impulses to do the “right” thing. Then, we end up fighting to protect our self-betrayal and this blocks out love.
For instance, if a dad hears his newborn cry and thinks “I should feed him so my wife can sleep,” but then falls asleep instead, he has betrayed himself. He then has to tell her all the “reasons why” he didn’t wake up (“I work all day, you know!”); she feels hurt, so does he, and the love has vanished. Understanding these principles has changed my world, and now it helps me change others’ worlds too!
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That the therapist is going to “fix” you. That’s not it at all. Therapy is a partnership, and when both parties do their part, change is the result. The therapist offers insights, suggestions, and tools, and the client implements them in his or her life. That’s what therapy is all about.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Implementing the insight gained from therapy into real life. One of the most common questions I get as a psychologist is: “What stops us (human beings) from making the change we know we need to make?”
And all I can say to that is that making change is tough business. But it’s also simpler than we think. It can take just an instant to choose to change — just an instant to make up your mind and do it.
Instead, we are our own worst enemies, standing in the way of the change we desire. My job is to not only help clients see and understand the need for change, but to help them “get out of their own way,” and let change happen.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
The emotional drain. It’s lovely to get to know clients on such a deep level — to be there with them in their most intimate moments. But it can take a lot out of you if you’re not careful.
I have to consciously choose to leave it all behind when I go home, and I have to set limits on how much I can give to clients so I still have enough to give to my family and myself. (For instance, at this time I only see clients one day a week. I spend the other days being a “stay-at-home-mom” while also blogging for my website and working on my upcoming book!)
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
The deep connection with clients. There’s nothing like feeling someone’s heart and helping them heal it. It bonds you for life. I also love being a psychologist for the opportunities it provides for other types of connections; through speaking, teaching, and writing I also connect with people. It’s wonderful to have a career with so many options.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Make “space” to check in with yourself each day. Even 5-10 minutes to be still, meditate, ponder, or pray will make a huge difference in creating a meaningful life, for it will allow you to “unplug” and instead “tune in” to what really matters.
Ask yourself, “What matters most to me?” Then listen, and write it down. Compare everything you do each day to your list of “what matters most.” Pay attention to the things that do matter, and get rid of all that doesn’t. Repeat this process often, and your life will be full of love, joy, and meaning.
(Hibbert has written more on these topics in her posts “What Matters Most,” and “Joy is in the Moments: 3 Tips for Discovering & Appreciating the Joy in 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 would absolutely choose the same path. I love what I do. The only thing I might do differently is add a minor in music and songwriting. It’s a favorite hobby of mine I often incorporate into my talks and seminars, and I’d love to have more expertise in that area!
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
That’s there’s so much more to life than just “feeling better.” Many of us are simply hoping to overcome mental illness—to just “feel better.” But we’re shooting far too low. That’s why my tagline is “Overcoming, Becoming, Flourishing.”
I want everyone to know that life isn’t just about overcoming challenges—it’s about becoming who we’re meant to be and even living a life that’s flourishing!
Don’t settle for just “being better.” Keep with it until you’re “better than better”!
10. What do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I put myself to bed early as often as I can so I can be up early and feel rested the next day. I take an “hour of power” each morning, including exercise, meditation, prayer, and scripture study before getting the kids ready and out the door. This gets me centered and focused on what really matters for my day. I strive to give my family my full attention when I’m with them, so I’m very careful about taking on new projects that can’t be done in the few hours when everyone’s at school.
I take a little time each afternoon to rest, read, nap or relax before my kids get home and my “night shift” begins. I also know I need time alone to de-stress and I love to travel, so I try to get away for a night or two as often as I can (with six kids, leaving the house is often the only chance I get to just “be me”!).
I also take baths, walks, talk with my husband, and get a massage at least once a month. And music is a great stress-reliever! If I’m really needing help, I’ll sit down at the piano or guitar and write a new song or sing!