How endlessly fascinating I find my clients, and how much of myself I need to bring to the therapeutic process. Psychotherapy definitely involves both the head and the heart, to my great relief.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I have some long-time favorites: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and Full-Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Newer books are Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan and Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley.
With references to numerous research studies, Begley describes how mindfulness and psychotherapy modify our brains in both their structure and function, and how such shifts can alter long-standing mood and behavior patterns.
Recent neuroscience has clearly demonstrated that we don’t have to get “stuck in our ways,” that we are either strengthening or weakening neural pathways every day, and that we’re never too old to change and grow.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That you have to have a significant problem to go to therapy. While therapy definitely needs to address potential psychological disturbances and life problems, the goal of therapy need not be merely the absence of distress.
Therapy can help you recognize and develop your strengths and creativity. After all, even professional athletes who are already exceptional in their field have coaches and physical trainers to point out slight or major adjustments the athlete can make and help him or her achieve their potential. It can be the same with therapy — often people want to go from “good” to “great.”
Also, it’s a myth that therapy is deadly serious. I often find myself laughing with my clients, even as we navigate serious issues.
[Another myth is] that there’s only one “right” type of therapy, or at least only one right type of therapy for a particular individual. In reality, when the therapist-client relationship is positive and nurturing, the emphasis in therapy can shift.
For instance, sometimes more directive therapy, aimed at changes in behavior, is what’s called for. At other times, more introspection or expression of feelings is the path to take.
Thirdly, [it’s a myth] that therapy is primarily about analysis. Successful therapy is just as much about taking constructive action. True, some exploration of negative belief systems is usually needed, but then changing one’s behavior is key.
In addition, [another myths is] that therapy consists of just sitting around, talking about problems. In fact, effective therapy involves taking action and making changes, some of which may be uncomfortable.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
One [obstacle is] the belief that therapy will always “feel good” and that something is wrong if symptoms temporarily increase. Yes, it’s generally true that as clients gain awareness of their habitual thought processes and behavior patterns, and they learn and practice new skills, clients will be able to manage their life more effectively.
However, as a result clients may take on greater challenges in their life, such as asking for a promotion at work or becoming more assertive in their personal relationships. Getting out of one’s comfort zone can feel “harder,” at least at first, but this is often a sign of progress.
Two, clients often aren’t willing to do their “homework” and use the skills they’ve learned in their day-to-day life. Such a scenario is like taking a weekly violin lesson but not practicing between lessons. The real-world practice is where the rubber meets the road. People need to be willing to change and do the necessary work.
Three, negative self-talk, as if somehow beating ourselves up enough will motivate us to change.
Four, underestimating the effort involved in breaking long-standing habits. The perseverance and faith required are immense — but change is always possible.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
[It is] trying to stay on a path of growth myself. This is also a great opportunity, because dealing with my own challenges gives me greater empathy for my clients, while also recognizing that no two people are exactly alike.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I’m honored that clients trust me with the intimate details of their lives and their most private feelings and thoughts. I’m honored to play a part in their personal journey and to watch them grow and achieve goals they’ve set for themselves. I’m fortunate to witness my clients’ courage and creativity.
I also love that therapy blends art and logic. For instance, while cognitive-behavioral therapy provides a structure and standardized exercises, I always want to pay attention to adapting the techniques and the timing of their application to the client.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Find a purpose — your purpose. Listen closely to your heart and pursue what you personally find meaningful. Take small and consistent steps toward your goals, knowing that as you learn more about yourself and life, your goals may change.
If you’re not clear on your values and desires, try to identify them but don’t worry if your vision isn’t crystal clear — you don’t have to see the entire road to take the next indicated step.
Happiness is an inside job. It’s not so much about feeling euphoric all the time, but in finding your own balance and purpose.
Befriend your feelings, rather than trying to avoid them. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.”
Don’t strive for perfection — your purpose is to be true to yourself. Learn to trust and follow your intuition. Recognize that while other people can offer advice and point out what you may not be seeing, you have to make your own decisions. And making no decision is a decision.
Be sure to have some fun every day — don’t wait until that magic time in the future when everything will be “perfect.”
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?
Since my childhood I’ve been fascinated by people’s characters, the mysteries of interpersonal relationships, the power of emotions, and why people do what they do. It’s hard for me to imagine a career in which interpersonal connection, emotional expression, and becoming more acquainted with one’s authentic self weren’t prominent players.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
If one form of treatment doesn’t work for you, persevere and experiment with different treatment regimes. Don’t give up. You need to find what works for you.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I try to meditate daily. Also, I get in a physical workout each morning, which gets my endorphins going and relaxes me.
I have people in my life with whom I can share my feelings (close friends, family).
Being in my own therapy has also helped me to see my patterns and work through difficult decisions.
“Just do it” – I tackle that project I’ve been procrastinating about, call that friend, etc. Feeling a sense of achievement can be both invigorating and relaxing.
I try to get eight hours of sleep a night.
I’ve kept a daily journal for over 25 years and write in it daily.
I make a list of 10 things for which I’m grateful and e-mail it to a friend every day.
I laugh a lot, which is very healing.
I sing in the car or in my home. This is cathartic and reduces my stress, although it has been known to distress other people in the vicinity!