In our monthly interview series we turn the tables and ask therapists questions about their professional and personal lives. We ask them to reveal everything from the triumphs and trials of conducting therapy to whether they’d pick the same path if they had to do it all over again.
We also talk about how they cope with stress, the biggest myth about therapy, their suggestions for leading a meaningful life — and much, much more.
This month we’re pleased to feature Diana Pitaru, who pens the new Psych Central blog “Unleash Your Creativity.” Pitaru, MS, LPC, is a Romanian psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, Colo.
She is passionate about psychology, philosophy, art and culture and how these areas intersect to improve mental health. As such, she offers support to artists, scientists, researchers and creative people who have a history of trauma, feel stuck (creatively or otherwise) and struggle with depression.
Learn more about Pitaru and her practice at www.therapistdiana.com.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
I am surprised with how malleable the field of psychotherapy is in that as a therapist, I have the flexibility to incorporate ideas that come from a wide range of areas (philosophy, art, and culture) in order to help expand my clients’ perspective in a way that deeply resonates with who they are and the path they seek in life.
I was also surprised by the fact that therapy — unlike the way it’s portrayed in the media and my experience as a client — is not a one-way process, but more of a collaboration between therapist and client. I am surprised with how much my clients teach me about the importance of an open mind in order to see what’s in front more clearly.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I thoroughly enjoyed Art &Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking by D. Bayles and T. Orland. While this is not a psychotherapy book, it does a great job of exploring psychology concepts that pertain to the creative person.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
The biggest myth I continue to encounter is that “Therapy is for crazy people.” I hear this myth both with new clients as well as outside the office with acquaintances and I suspect it is the main reason why a lot of people use therapy as a last resort, long after the problem they’ve been dealing with has amplified.
The origins of this myth whether social (transmitted from generation to generation) or from media portray the therapy goer as someone out of touch with reality or psychotic. In reality, therapy is effective and helpful not only for people who struggle with severe clinical issues, but anyone who feels stuck or needs a change in perspective.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
The answer to this question relates closely to the myth of therapy. I think that a lot of new clients have certain expectations about themselves that are not necessarily realistic; based on these expectations, clients (particularly new to therapy) come in feeling like they are broken and need to be fixed, ashamed for seeking therapy and not being able to resolve the issue on their own.
Unrealistic expectations keep us stuck and unless checked, they create a huge obstacle to succeeding in therapy.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
I find that the things that are more challenging in my work are also the reasons why I love what I do. Truly active listening requires me, as a therapist, to be fully engaged with my clients.
It’s almost like a trance, where everything about myself and my life fades to allow room for my client’s story to unfold. It can be challenging and draining to do this for six or seven hours during any day, but the rewards make it all worth it.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love the process of therapy; the beginning when we’re building a relationship that shows a client who’s struggled with relationships that it is possible and that if they can do it in session, they can do it outside of it as well; helping clients learn to trust the process, the relationship, themselves, and me.
I enjoy helping the people I see explore themselves and discover in themselves, things and strengths they thought they lacked. Like many other therapists, I love the “aha” moments, the times when a client has worked hard and finally arrives to a point where he or she can see things clearly.
As a therapist, I get to help people find their path to authenticity and happiness.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Define what “meaningful” means to you and figure out what fears and insecurities keep you from making a conscious decision to start moving in that direction. Discover your inner strengths and ask for help when you’re stuck.
Finally, remember that constantly comparing yourself to other people whose definition of “meaningful” is different than yours, will only take you to their place to be, not yours.
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 would absolutely do it all over again, maybe sooner since my undergrad is in Communication.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
We are all human beings, and by definition we are flawed. There are times when we get so wrapped up in our experiences, feelings, values and beliefs that it becomes hard to take a step back and gain a new perspective, or help ourselves.
Progress in therapy comes with a high price particularly when you are looking for long-term results: it’s never easy to release pain and resolve past issues, it takes a lot of time, effort, and consistency.
Asking for help from a therapist does not equal weakness; it is the smart move to make in order to help yourself.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I check in with myself often, how I feel, how I react to things, what I think, etc. Being self-aware is probably the one tool I can use in order to help myself. Reflection gives me the space I need to figure out what’s going on with me and how I can help myself.
More often than not, after I reflect on an issue, I will engage in a creative activity to process my emotions (I either write, go out to take pictures, or paint).
When I feel stuck and none of the above work, I meet with my therapist for a fresh perspective.