Clinicians on the Couch: 10 Questions with Psychotherapist Amy TatsumiIn our monthly interview series we ask clinicians to do something they rarely do at work: talk about themselves. We ask them to reveal everything from the trials and triumphs of conducting therapy to how they personally cope with stress.

This month we’re pleased to feature Amy Tatsumi, MA, LPC, ATR-BC, a psychotherapist, art therapist and a certified Daring Way Facilitator/Consultant. Tatsumi works with women, men and teens who are worried, stressed, alone, depressed, disconnected, or stuck in their relationships, careers, and lives.

She helps clients reconnect with the people and parts of their lives that matter most in healthy, meaningful and authentic ways. She offers a wide variety of treatment modalities, such as art making, sandplay and mind-body work to support clients in getting unstuck.

Learn more about Tatsumi and her work at her website.

1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?

I am continually in awe of the work that clients do in therapy. It feels like an honor to be a part of a client’s process, and I am grateful to be able to witness their transformation over time.

2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW. Brené is the founder and Chief Learning and Research Officer of The Daring Way — a training and certification program for helping professionals who want to facilitate her work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness.

Clinicians on the Couch

I am a Certified Daring Way Facilitator/Consultant, and her research and the program have changed my life personally and professionally. In my private practice, I integrate it in work with individual and group psychotherapy clients, as well as with supervision and consultation clients.

3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?

In my experience, the biggest myth is: Coming to therapy/getting help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help and committing to one’s own therapy process takes courage for many clients. Each time a new potential client reaches out and connects with me, I am struck by their ability to bravely step into vulnerability by asking for help and support.

This feels especially big to me because clients usually feel anything but courage when it comes to asking for help. As a therapist, I am continually honored to be able to accompany clients on their brave journey to understand and work through their strengths, struggles, and story.

4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?

The majority of clients I see feel that they are alone in their struggles or in their story. They may be able to apply strategies and tools for managing symptoms from individual therapy, but they continue to feel disconnected from themselves and others. This disconnection and aloneness often keeps clients stuck.

Within individual therapy, a therapist can meet a client where he or she is with their feelings, struggles, or story of disconnection. However, it can be challenging for a client to believe they are not alone. I find group work to be one of the most powerful platforms for clients’ individual work to become unstuck and feel more connected to themselves and others.

The group offers a space to know that each of us has strengths and struggles and a story. I consistently receive feedback from groups that coming into the group they felt like they were the only one who struggled and felt that everyone else had life figured out.

By the end of the group, members report knowing: They are not alone. They have a new perspective about their shared humanness and a reinvigorated dedication to further unpacking this work in individual therapy and practicing connection in their daily lives.

5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?

For me, it is practicing aligning my values with my work/life balance. This is a focus area of client work, and it is important for me to hold integrity to the work. I believe that I am “walking my talk” by making space for the personal and professional.

This sometimes looks like midcourse corrections in order to recalibrate to be able to live out my values. Stepping into a new flow can feel anything but comfortable at first, but trusting the process allows me to ease into knowing that I’m aligning my decisions with my values. Being anchored in my values allows me to be more flexible and ride life’s waves of ups and downs as they come.

6. What do you love about being a therapist?

Being able to help clients creatively transform. I love to support clients in thinking and feeling outside of the box by dreaming big. I see the biggest cumulative change when clients seize the opportunities in small moments to practice living authentically.

This ranges from walking with one’s head up in a crowded street and making eye contact when clients previously didn’t feel worthy of being seen to saying yes to oneself and no to a request that previously felt like an obligation that would lead to resentment and disconnection. Clients gain momentum with this, and over time, a ripple effect of connection and authenticity occurs in their lives and relationships.

7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?

Connecting to ourselves and the people we care about the most in authentic, meaningful and healthy ways and knowing that we belong is a practice and powerful experience. It can be rewarding and challenging and many other things, and it is worth it.

Poet David Whyte eloquently describes this experience in his poem, “The House of Belonging.” This excerpt of the poem below touches on the power and process of belonging and connection.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.
This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging.

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 believe that everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t change anything in my journey of being/becoming a therapist – even the uncomfortable, difficult, and messy experiences and moments.

Some of my greatest teachers have been my clients, colleagues, supervisors, therapist, communities, systems, and professors. They have taught me much about life, people, and myself. I am honored to accompany people on their journey as their therapist or supervisor and grateful to have them on mine.

9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?

Getting treatment and support can make a huge difference. It can get better. You can feel more like your authentic self and connected to the people and parts of your life that you care most about through the work you do in psychotherapy and with the additional support of medication for some.

10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?

I have a variety of go-tos that I use depending on the experience of stress that I’m having. For some situations, as an introvert, I tend to be able to re-balance with more solitude-based experiences — being in nature or water, practicing yoga or making art.

When the stress stems from my inner critic, I find that reaching out to people whom I trust and value practicing mutual vulnerability and empathy is very supportive.

As a daily means of cultivating a less busy/stressful life, I also try to have playfulness, joy, ease, faith, gratitude, and compassion as touchstone moments throughout the day. This looks different each day and can range from a post-it sized drawing to metta meditation to smiling at metro passengers on my commute to reconnecting with old friends.