Want to get a glimpse into a therapist’s world? Learn what therapy is really like? And get some wise advice for your own life?
We’re kick-starting a 10-question series, “Clinicians on the Couch,” which will appear each month here on Psych Central. We’ll interview a new therapist about everything from the biggest myth about therapy to the biggest obstacle for clients to the best advice for a meaningful life.
This month, we spoke with psychotherapist Julie Hanks, LCSW, the director of Wasatch Family Therapy and author of the popular Psych Central blog Private Practice Toolbox. Hanks also is a writer, media consultant and singer/songwriter! You can learn more about her at her website.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
I am always amazed at how well people function considering the emotional and relational baggage or mental illness that they’re dealing with. Humans are amazingly resilient, and as a parent myself, I find that particularly reassuring.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I’m in the process of completing my certification as an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist (EFT) so I’ve really been digging into the work of Dr. Sue Johnson: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection, and Hold Me Tight: 7 Conversations For A Lifetime of Love.
I LOVE this model and it speaks to how I already frame my own life and relationships and how I conceptualize my clinical work. Coming from a large, close-knit family, I’ve always been curious about the impact of family relationships, and I naturally frame my life — past and present — in terms of emotions, relationships, attachment styles. By nature, I am an emotion-focused and expressive person so becoming an emotionally focused therapist was a natural fit.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
The biggest therapy myth is that going to therapy is a sign of personal weakness or it means that you’re “crazy.” Well, we’re all a little “crazy,” aren’t we?
Everyone has emotional baggage from childhood and other wounds along the way that a therapist can help you sort through. I sincerely believe that everyone can benefit from talking to someone “outside” of their real life during times of transition, confusion, or emotional difficulty.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
The biggest obstacle for clients in therapy is resisting taking responsibility for their own life, and progress. It’s painful to shift from feeling like your life happens to you, to the understanding that you are a powerful creator of your own life.
That doesn’t mean you dictate every event, but you understand the power you have to decide what meaning you’ll give to your experiences and what you’ll do with them.
For example, I’ve worked with clients who were horrifically abused in the past who have courageously worked through their painful experiences and come to a place of freedom to create a fulfilling and meaningful life. I am so inspired by the bravery of my clients.
“Everything happens for you, not to you.” – Byron Katie
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
The most challenging part of being a therapist is feeling drained sometimes by absorbing others’ emotions. While it’s an honor to “sit” with clients in their most painful experiences, fears, wounds, it’s also tiring.
My emotional sensitivity is a double-edged sword. It’s why I’m effective in my clinical work, and yet it is also difficult to turn off that sensitivity. I have learned to prioritize alone time so I can feel my own feelings without emotional interference from others.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love helping people find their voice, their passions, their gifts, their mission, and provide guidance to resolve the events, emotions, patterns or beliefs that keep them from fully expressing their best self in their lives and relationships.
I see the good and the worth in every human being and reflect that back to my clients until they can fully experience their worth and potential for themselves.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Learn to love, respect, and accept yourself, so you can share your best self in your relationships, and with the world. Reach out and be willing to be emotionally vulnerable in your relationships. Let others know how much you love them and how much you value them.
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?
Definitely! I have never regretted my path. Not one minute of it.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
Clients tend to feel like they’re the only ones suffering. I wished they understood that they are not alone.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
My best stress coping strategy is to be fully engaged with the people I love, and in the things that I love. I really value what I feel “called” in my heart to do and I value what I want to do. That may sound simple, but if something doesn’t interest me, I generally don’t do it. I don’t want to spend energy and time resenting or resisting my life. I don’t have time for things that don’t sound energizing.
My relationships help me cope with stress. As an external processor, I need to talk things through with someone else to make sense of my experience and to get comfort and support so I value spending time connecting with my family and friends. The older I get, the more I appreciate having eight amazing siblings who really “know where I’m coming from” and who have enough shared DNA that they “get” my idiosyncrasies.
I prioritize self-care by taking a hot bath nightly to unwind, journaling weekly, and exercising regularly. Oh, and according to my kids I’m also a “professional napper.”