In our monthly interview series we feature a different clinician who gives readers a sneak peek into their professional and personal lives. They reveal everything from the trials and triumphs of conducting therapy to their best insight for leading a meaningful life.
They also share the biggest myth about therapy and the one thing they wish their clients knew about treatment and mental illness.
This month I’m pleased to feature Carmen C. Cool MA, LPC, a psychotherapist and educator in Boulder, Colo., whose work I greatly admire. Cool helps individuals end the cycle of dieting and overeating. Along the way, they also unravel their body stories and learn to trust their bodies and themselves.
In addition, Cool is a champion for youth to raise their voice and create new cultural norms around body image. She founded a nonprofit organization called Boulder Youth Body Alliance, which works with teens to become body positive ambassadors in their schools and communities.
Cool has presented at many national conferences on the prevention of eating disorders, and on Health At Every Size ®, a powerful model for working with weight concerns.
She was named “Most Inspiring Individual” in Boulder County in 2012, and received the Excellence in Eating Disorder Advocacy Award in Washington DC in 2013.
Learn more about Cool at her website www.carmencool.com.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
How much it has impacted my life as well. It is such an incredible privilege to witness my client’s challenges and celebrations, and to advocate for them.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I just started reading Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel. I’m fascinated to learn more about interpersonal neurobiology and how I can be a better ally to young people.
One of my all-time favorites is The Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life by Jean Baker Miller. It has informed every aspect of my work as a therapist.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
One that I bump up against a lot is the idea that the relationship between therapist and client is not a real relationship. Of course the relationship is in service of my client’s growth, but the relationship between the two of us as human beings is very real.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
For the work that I do – one of the biggest obstacles is someone wanting to heal from an eating disorder/disordered eating and lose weight at the same time. The pull towards weight loss is so compelling, and culturally supported, that it’s hard to let go of in service of achieving true well-being and peace.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
The most challenging thing for me has been learning that having a private practice is running a business. I have thought of myself as a “therapist,” but not as a “business owner.” It’s something I’m working with right now.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love the experience of someone feeling deeply met, seen, heard, and understood. I feel it’s such a privilege to sit with women as they go through the process of learning to trust their bodies and rely on their bodies as a source of deep wisdom.
I also love finding a balance between working one-on-one and working in the community, between providing treatment and working in prevention. To blend being a therapist with being an advocate and activist is very fulfilling for me.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Everyone finds meaning in different things and in different ways. To find what has heart and meaning for you, I’d offer this: You can trust yourself, and you can trust your body.
Having an allegiance to yourself and a loving partnership with your body can help guide you towards what’s true for you.
The power is in the present moment. So much of the time we’re trying to get “there” and forget to be where we are. Life is wonderfully complex, and the complexity of being human is worth making room for.
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?
This is actually my second career path and I would do it all over again. My training, my niche, my colleagues, my practice – all of it has stretched me and grown me in ways I could have never imagined.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
I wish that people in general would lay down the stigma associated with mental illness and therapy.
I wish my clients knew that they aren’t “broken” and don’t need to be “fixed.” We live in such a self-improvement oriented culture that it gets hard to make changes that are good for us – without confusing it with the idea that we will only be good if we make those changes. I wish my clients knew that they were already whole.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I think of self-care as an ethical issue for a therapist, so I make self-care a priority and check-in with myself about what that looks like on any given day.
I love to hang out with dogs, and once a year I get a little bit obsessed with watching live eagle cams. Watching eggs hatch and the glorious bald eagle parents raise their eaglets is the best reality television around.
I orient myself towards what feels nourishing and allow that to guide me. Stress strategies for me can look like long lavender baths, laying on the floor listening to Vivaldi, truth-telling with a trusted friend, letting my body be in movement, getting lost in a good book of fiction, and plenty of solitude.