Every month we talk with a different clinician about the ins and outs of being a therapist. They reveal the trials, triumphs and surprises of conducting therapy. They also share what they wish their clients knew along with their advice for leading a meaningful life. Plus, they reveal personal tidbits, such as how they cope with stress, and if they’d choose the same professional path today.
This month we’re pleased to feature Jonice Webb, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Lexington, Mass., where she specializes in the treatment of couples and families. She pens the popular blog “Childhood Emotional Neglect” on Psych Central.
Webb is the author of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. She resides in the Boston area with her husband and two teenage children. Learn more about Webb at her website and Facebook page.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
When I was a new psychologist just starting out, I thought there would be a day when I would have seen pretty much everything when it comes to psychology. What I’ve realized over the last 20 years of practicing is that will never happen. No matter how much experience I get or how much I read or do, people still surprise me.
I think it’s because the human mind is so complex, not only biologically, but in interactions with the environment. There’s just no way to know or anticipate the infinite possibilities. It’s amazing to me how similar people are, and yet how very different each person is from every other.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I recently read The Healing Power of Emotion by Fosha, Seigel and Solomon, and I think it’s fascinating. Affective neuroscience is the new frontier.
I love anything Malcolm Gladwell writes. His books all have a psychological bent and make me think about the world a little differently. Other favorites are Daniel Goldman’s Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence.
I’m a bit of a psychology geek so I love research. To keep up on the newest psychology research as it comes out, besides reading journals, I subscribe to PsyBlog. It gives me a summary of what’s new, and then I can go look up the study itself to read more. I recommend it for people who are not mental health professionals as well.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
I think it’s the notion that real change and progress should be sudden or dramatic. People naturally seek “aha” moments and can fail to see the gradual progress they are making. In my experience, the most important, lasting and meaningful changes happen bit-by-bit, step-by-step, not all at once.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Guilt and self-blame. It’s hard for us not to blame ourselves for our own issues. And it seems that the people who are the least guilty feel the most guilt. Essentially both guilt and self-blame get in the way of the process of recognizing a problem, taking ownership of it in a healthy way, and starting to tackle it.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
I often find myself wondering how an old patient is doing. I think it’s tough for us therapists who become truly connected and invested in our patients. If we do a good job, then by definition we have to say goodbye to them. We may hear from them in the future, or not. There are many, many people out there who I wonder how they are doing and what they’re up to. But it’s okay. After all, it’s just part of the package of being a therapist.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love everything about it. I feel so lucky that I get to do this for a living. Some people get a rush from racing motorcycles or jumping out of planes. My rush comes from understanding who a client really is, what his or her problems are, and helping him heal. I find people’s minds fascinating, and I learn something from every single client.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Don’t look for money or possessions to make you feel fulfilled. I think that emotional connection is the biggest source of meaning and purpose in life, and that is backed up by research.
A big part of my professional and writing efforts go toward helping people pay more attention to what they are feeling and why because our emotions are what connect us to ourselves, other people, and the world. It’s all about emotional connection. We all need it, and those who have it are more fulfilled and overall happier.
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?
When I was 10 years old I had already decided that I wanted to be a psychologist (I grew up watching Bob Newhart). I’m definitely in the right profession. If I had to choose a different career, though, I’ve always thought it would be fun to be a virologist. Studying viruses and trying to defeat them would be fun.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
Actually there are two things.
First is that when it comes to healing and change, insight isn’t enough; it must be followed up by action. Generally clients will only get out of therapy as much as they put in. I will give them my all, but that will only go so far unless they also give theirs. Real and lasting progress requires effort between sessions.
Second is Attachment Theory. We therapists live and breathe it because we know how real and true it is. Attachment Theory in a nutshell is the scientifically proven fact that a child’s relationship with his parents has a direct effect upon his adult personality, choices, struggles and issues. If the general public understood this and applied it to themselves, therapy would be easier and quicker for most people.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I find that exercise and talking are my two best stress relievers. I run, swim and mountain bike as often as possible, and I always feel relaxed during and afterward. My favorite thing to do is any of those activities with my husband or a friend. It’s like pressing the Reset Button for me.