In this regular series, we interview a different clinician every month about everything from the trials and triumphs of being a therapist to the biggest myth about therapy to the roadblocks clients face in session.
This month we had the pleasure of interviewing John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, life coach and parenting expert.
Below, Duffy discusses the power of therapy, his favorite mental health books, his best advice for leading a meaningful life, how he copes with stress and much more.
Duffy has been working with teens, tweens and their families for more than 15 years. He is the author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.
He appears regularly on the “Morning Blend” on NBC-TV in Milwaukee as an expert on parenting and relationships. He also has served as an expert for a number of radio and television programs, including the nationally syndicated “Mr. Dad” program with best-selling author Armin Brott, and “The Lite Show” on WNTD in Chicago.
Learn more about John Duffy at his website.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
After learning so much about different theories and techniques, I am always surprised by the potency of the connection between therapist and client as the driving force for change. I find myself focusing more on the relationship, and the skill of listening actively, more than anything else in any given hour. The relationship as change agent never fails to amaze me.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
Though it is a years-old novel, Love’s Executioner by Yalom is among my favorites, an excellent guide to what works, and what tends to drive failure, in therapy. I’m inspired by the writing of Dr. Wayne Dyer, especially (as one might guess) Inspiration, which I recommend frequently to my clients.
I also recently read The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson. I find that my clients, many of them busy working parents, feel that protecting time to care for themselves is selfish and indulgent. Richardson insists on self-care, and suggests that we cannot be our best for anyone else if we cannot be our best for ourselves. I love this book.
Finally, at the risk of seeming overly self-promotional, I suggest that all parents of teens read my book, The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. It is derived from my experience with teens and parents, and offers a method for parenting teens that removes some of the fear, and suggests teens are more likely to heed the words of parents with whom they share a joyful, loving connection.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
I find that a lot of people continue to believe that therapy is only indicated if you or your family is in crisis, or you are suffering from profound, debilitating mental illness. I find that therapy is often least effective during times of crisis, as therapists can only serve as crisis managers. I far prefer someone come into therapy seeking change outside the specter of crisis.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
I find the toughest thing for clients is commitment to, and trust in, the process of therapy. To be fair, I don’t think either of these is easy, especially during an initial foray into therapy, as there is significant risk and vulnerability affiliated with engaging in therapy. Still, the sooner one is willing to exhibit the courage do so, the more efficient and effective the process can be.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
Personally, I’m not very good at saying “no.” So, if a situation is presented to me in which I think my work can be helpful, I tend to say yes, whether it be therapy, consultation, speaking or writing. As a result, I find that I often fail to protect sufficient time for me and my own family. Perhaps I should talk to a therapist about that!
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
The very nature of the job is a privilege. To be privy to my clients’ stories, and to play a role in facilitating, and witnessing, positive change in their lives, is the greatest joy. It’s the best possible job, and perhaps the one I’m best suited for.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
I love this question. There are two things. First, bear witness to your moments, as they are all you have. Second, a mentor of mine suggested that each of us carries greatness in some way. So seek your greatness. And trust that, even if you do not discover it all at once, it is there. And if you continue to work toward your greatness, you will fulfill and achieve it. This is another great joy of 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 have chosen the same path. Before pursuing psychology, I was an accountant for several years. This job was a terrible match for me and my skills, nearly comical. So, I did some different things with my life before heading this way. I experienced great joys, and suffered some hardships and losses as well. Without the richness of that experience, I don’t think I’d be nearly as effective as I am in my work today.
So I have no regrets.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
Conventional wisdom dictates that therapy is difficult, and it is. But what I wish my clients knew coming into the process is that there can be great joy associated with it as well. I do like to think of therapy as a joyful process of growth and enrichment. Sometimes I think the word “treatment” does our profession a disservice.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I do several things. First I diversify my career. Along with direct clinical work, I write frequently and speak quite a bit as well. These help me to bring balance to my work.
I also find it critically important to have a life outside of work. I spend a lot of time with my wife and my son, talking and laughing. I work out regularly, and strum my guitar occasionally.
I’m working toward protecting time for yoga and meditation, so I can feel increasingly more centered and energized. Without some balance in our lives, I think the best of therapists risks burnout.
And I have no interest in that. I still have a lot to do.