Every month we chat with a different clinician about everything from what it’s like to see clients to how they cope with stress. Practitioners give us a glimpse into both their professional and personal lives. Plus, they share other tidbits, such as their thoughts on the biggest myth about therapy and leading a meaningful life.
This month we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Torrance, Calif. Since 2001 Kromberg has worked with a variety of clients, including individuals with eating disorders and their loved ones.
She also has a passion for writing about women’s issues and relationships, inspired by her work with women, couples and families. She explores how the unconscious influences our relationships in her Psych Central blog “Inside Out: Clean Out the Closet of Your Unconscious.”
Plus, Kromberg serves as a consultant to the Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s Medical Stabilization Program for eating disorders. And she’s taken four years of classes at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles, and will continue her professional education at the Gestalt Institute of Los Angeles in Fall 2013.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
Probably the way people reacted to me outside of work in personal or social situations. After getting my undergraduate degree, I taught high school for three years before returning to graduate school to get my doctorate in psychology. When I was a teacher and people asked me what I did for work, everyone was delighted to talk to me about my profession.
After I started grad school and now that I’m a psychologist, when people hear what I do, they become nervous. They either assume I’m whacko or that I’m secretly trying to determine if they’re whacko. I always want to say, “Don’t worry, I won’t bite! I promise I’m not trying to analyze you!”
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
That’s a hard one because there are so many amazing books. My top three (in no particular order) are: Trauma and Human Existence by Robert Stolorow, Ph.D., The Suffering Stranger by Donna Orange, Ph.D., and Transforming Narcissism by Frank Lachmann, Ph.D.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That therapy is supposed to help you feel happy all the time. To me, that’s impossible. My goal is to help people deal with the painful feelings that accompany many of life’s circumstances and help them see that they don’t need to be afraid of certain difficult feelings.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Realizing that therapy is a commitment to work. Many people believe that just by coming in to see me, I can make things better for them. I always ask people to think of me like hiring a personal trainer to help you get physically healthy.
I will do the best I can to guide you in the direction that you want to go, and I will definitely be there with you for support, pep talks and tough love, but you have to do the work. I can’t do it for you.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
I would imagine it’s similar to what’s hard about being a parent. You have to give people the space to do what they need to do and let them set the pace of the therapy. Sometimes people make decisions that I don’t agree with, but after stating my piece, I have to let them find their own way, in their own time, hoping that they know that no matter what, I’m here for them to celebrate or help pick up the pieces.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I really love people. I love hearing their stories and learning about their lives and perspectives. I love how much I learn and grow by helping them learn and grow. The entire journey has been so rich.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Try to remember that life’s answers are never about changing what’s on the outside. The answer is always about shifting on the inside. Oh! And also try to get comfortable making a huge fool out of yourself. It will open up your 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?
It’s hard to imagine not doing what I do. Although I always thought if I could be on two career paths, I’d like to be a detective. That is also a career that involves understanding people, perspectives and contexts and trying to put the pieces together for a better understanding.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
If you are willing to work, there is always hope. No matter what has happened or what mistakes you’ve made, there is always hope. Don’t ever give up on yourself.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I am in my own therapy and have been since I started graduate school. I don’t feel like I can ask people to work harder than I’m willing to work. I should add that I believe being in therapy is necessary for doing the work that I do. Therapy helps me process my feelings about my work and my life. My therapist challenges me constantly to learn and grow, so that I can help others learn and grow.