In our monthly series, mental health practitioners give us a peek into their professional and personal lives. They share everything from the surprises and challenges of conducting therapy to the biggest barriers for their clients. They also reveal whether they’d pick the same professional path today and how they personally cope with stress.
This month we’re pleased to present our interview with Ashley Eder, a licensed professional counselor in Boulder, Colo. There, Eder works in private practice with teens and adults. In addition to her work as a psychotherapist, she also supervises counselors toward their professional licensure and teaches as affiliate faculty in the counseling program at a local university.
Learn more about Ashley Eder at her website.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
I have been surprised and inspired by the bravery I see in my office. When I am working, I try to maintain a dual awareness of both my client’s reported [and] observed experience and also my own experience. Though I consider myself a pretty brave person interpersonally, I regularly notice in my own body when people have the bravery to tell me something that would have been hard for me to say or describe authentic behavior in their relationships that went against the established relationship dynamic. These acts of courage call me to live up to them in my own life.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
One of the books that has made the biggest positive impression on me is Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal by Belleruth Naparstek. This is really a survivor’s guide to PTSD. Not only does Naparstek understand the experience of trauma and its aftermath, she writes about it from such a compassionate place that it is possible to see the incredible ways that trauma deepens a person’s experience and awareness, and has the potential to create a more intuitive and empathic human being.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
The biggest myth about therapy is that going means you are sick. Going to therapy means you are interested in understanding yourself and your automatic habits so that you have more opportunities to live a purposeful and satisfying life.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
The biggest obstacle I see for clients trying to participate in process-oriented therapy is the habit of approaching themselves or their issues like a particular problem that needs to be solved. In long-term therapy and insight-oriented therapy, everything is relevant about a person, and whatever comes up for them in the course of working together is important information about how they organize their experiences.
Sometimes what comes up will be related to whatever problem has brought them in, but equally often it will be the client’s reaction to talking to the therapist, the experiences the client has in personal relationships or at work, or a history of relating to the world in way that started as a child.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
Something I work with in myself is my own human instinct to want to fix people’s problems or make them feel better in the short run. This might sound surprising to some people — isn’t fixing problems and making people feel better what therapists get paid to do? Not really.
My job as someone’s therapist is to help them hold the entire experience of being a complex, messy, ambivalent human being. Often that looks like going toward pain so that it can resolve, feeling feelings that may have been cut short in the past, and accepting painful situations that cannot be changed.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love the context of connecting deeply and authentically with another human being. So much of everyday life is actually fostered out of a place of disconnection, and I value the opportunity to be with people in a slow, deliberate, considerate place.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Meaning is personally defined, and building a meaningful life means that you take the time to go inward and get to know your values, experiences, biases, and heart. Living from that place is infinitely easier when you know your inner terrain well.
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?
Oh wow, this is a big question for me because counseling is not my first career and it was a winding road that got me here. On the one hand, I’m pleased with where I’ve arrived, and feel like my life experience and the time I had to work with my own issues greatly enhances the quality of my work.
On the other hand, I do wonder sometimes whether pursuing a PhD and working more in academia could have been a good fit as well. I have managed to do some post-graduate research and teaching, but it has taken more deliberation and patience than if I had followed the traditional research path. I would not trade in seeing clients though, and I understand balancing that with a faculty position and a personal life can be very tough.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
I wish people everywhere had the freedom to trust themselves, and the understanding that following your own lead is what will get you where you want to go. It can take a lot of practice to open up to such deep listening, but inside each of us there is wisdom about what feels right and what feels wrong.
Your hunches, your habits, your decisions — they all come from this wisdom, even when they look like they are not on your side. When we open up to trusting these instincts, we have the chance to study them directly and can learn more about their purpose.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I have quite the collection of stress-management approaches because what feels like a good fit depends on the situation and my mood. Trying to stay in a good self-care rhythm is the backbone of it all though, and for me that means regular sleep, regular exercise, food that I enjoy and that feels good in my body, time with people coupled with time alone, intellectual engagement coupled with some good old zoning out, and my own therapy or support.