In our monthly series clinicians are the ones who take the couch to give readers a glimpse into their lives. They reveal everything from the professional — such as their biggest hurdle when conducting therapy — to the personal — such as how they deal with stress. They also share insights on the therapy process and leading a meaningful life, among other tidbits.
This month we’re thrilled to feature Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who writes one of the most popular blogs on Psych Central: Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Goldstein sees clients at his private practice in West Los Angeles. He is the author of The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.
He’s also created other valuable resources on mindfulness, including the Mindful Solutions audio series, Mindfulness Meditations for the Troubled Sleeper and Mindfulness Meditations for the Frantic Parent.
Learn more about Elisha Goldstein at his website.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
How big the gift of being of service can be. I have the privilege of knowing people intimately and supporting them in being happy. When I sit with that, it gives me an immense sense of purpose. I’m also lucky enough to be a teacher for other therapists as I often train many in the field of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. The ripple effects give me immense joy.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
Well, besides The Now Effect (wink) – I’m a big fan of books that keep it simple. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who writes simply and elegantly and I am a fan of many of his works. Taming the Tiger Within and The Miracle of Mindfulness are some of my favorites.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That there’s an end goal. I don’t mean that people need to be in therapy for an indefinite time, but there’s a faulty notion of achieving some end state. This focus makes therapy more difficult as the mind is cluttered with an expectation instead of focusing on learning.
Even if insurance only covers 10 sessions and wants to hear the end goal, we have to always keep in mind that therapy is a vehicle for learning, and while we can begin to master certain ways of being, growing and learning about ourselves in life never ends.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Translating what happens in session into their daily life. There are magical moments of insight that can happen in a therapy session. A feeling that something has really shifted mentally, physically at times and even spiritually.
But when we get back in our daily environments we slip back into old patterns and the insights are mere whispers that we often can’t hear. A big part of the work in psychotherapy is about bringing intention to reconnect with the insights and practices from therapy into the other 167 hours of the week.
Finding ways to create reminders that work and stick is an invaluable tool. The best reminders come in the form of relationships.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
A couple things come to mind. The first is that at times I care so much about my clients that I take them home with me and that may affect my life outside of the office. But I’ve gotten better over time of not doing that as much and when it does [happen], there’s still a lot of meaning in it. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who’s also a psychologist and can relate.
The second is challenging myself to stay present in the face of uncertainty within a session. There are times when I’m not sure where things are going or what “to do.” It’s important to remember that there’s richness in uncertainty; to be able to “be with” it cultivates courage, self-trust and creative potential.
When you bring it into the relationship between therapist and client, it builds trust between the two. This trust is the foundation for change.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
Living what I feel my purpose is. Being of service, there’s no greater gift.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Find what is meaningful to you in life and take steps to make those actionable. Look at the activities in your day and see where the spaces are that are either neutral or depleting. See if you can replace some of these with more meaningful activities and see what happens. Ultimately as therapists we want our clients’ experience to be their guide, not our advice. This builds self-trust, which is a fundamental factor in resiliency and happiness.
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?
Absolutely. I took a risk a while back leaving a profession that provided me some golden handcuffs (making good money, but wasn’t aligned with a sense of purpose for me.) I re-entered into a rickety financial position pouring everything I had and taken loans to go back to school.
It was a great risk to take. Now, I’m very happy working with people individually, running Mindfulness-Based groups, speaking, training therapists, creating the Mindfulness at Work™ with eMindful.com, a program that is currently in Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and many other multi-national corporations and writing meaningful and practical books like The Now Effect, Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler and co-authoring A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
The best way to enter therapy is to see it as a learning process, not something to achieve. This drops our anxieties over imperfections and frees up energy to open up to the wonders in life we’re not seeing.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I have a daily mindfulness practice, play with my kids, [take] rigorous walks, eat healthy, try and get good sleep when my kids allow it, [have] a weekly gratitude roundtable with family and practice, practice, practice self-compassion.