Every month we turn the tables and ask different clinicians all kinds of questions about how they work and how they live. They share everything from what they love about being a therapist to the most challenging part. They share the biggest myth about therapy and the biggest obstacle for their clients. They also reveal how they cope with stress and whether they’d travel the same professional path today, along with many more interesting tidbits and illuminating insights.
This month we’re pleased to feature Rebecca Wong, LCSW, a relationship therapist and professional consultant in New York’s Hudson Valley. She lives there with her husband, two children and a few four-legged mischief makers.
Wong is the creator of Connectfulness, a research-based practice that encourages you to explore and embrace every aspect of your humanity — including everything that’s marvelous and messy. She uses this approach to help her clients and colleagues understand, manage and value their own humanity as a tool to connect to themselves and all of the important people in their lives. Wong believes that our relationships are reflections of who we really are and every interaction is an opportunity for evolution. Every day she embraces life as a beautiful, messy, serendipitous adventure.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
Perhaps my biggest surprise about being a therapist has been the daily inspiration for self-growth and discovery. As humans we are all seeking security in our lives and relationships. Being a therapist doesn’t change that quest, but it does highlight the need to tend to my own stuff and relationships, and the deeper I go… the more I want to discover.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
It’s a toss up between the last two: Brené Brown’s Rising Strong and Dr. Dan Siegel’s Neurobiology of We. I’ve recently discovered Audible — and whoa! — it’s my new preferred means of digesting books, especially when they are being read by the author. I’ve always been a very auditory learner so this isn’t a surprise; it makes it fun for me to geek out more!
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
The biggest myth might just be that modalities matter. Don’t get me wrong, evidence-based modalities certainly have their place in treatment, but they may not be the end all be all. Research continues to show that how a therapist works with a client is far less indicative of outcome then the relationship between therapist and client. Healing occurs in the context of relationship.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
I find that for most people, the biggest obstacle is often slowing down and tuning inward. We live in such a fast-paced, busy world. The importance of slowing down and tuning in often seems to compete with the modern need for productivity. And yet the irony is that when people can work through the need for fast results, tune into themselves and their relationships, the results start popping up with way more consistency. I often tell my clients that fast is slow and slow is fast.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
The most challenging part of being a therapist is making sure that I practice what I teach. Making sure that I too take time to slow down every day. As a working mom of two, I also live a pretty busy life. I make sure to literally schedule my “white space” so that I feel recharged and ready to connect when I go home to my husband and kids.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I am inspired by my clients every day. I cherish my role of holding a sacred space for personal and interpersonal growth. And for bearing witness to all the mushy gushy messy vulnerable moments of growth, and tears and sweat. Being human is hard stuff; we are all in it together.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Most people spend something between “too much” and “not enough” of their limited energy tending to relationships, family, work, and all of the other little details of life. Each day feels like a struggle against time. Energy is finite. Demands are endless. Love and togetherness so often get lost in the chaos.
I’m probably starting to sound redundant, but seriously: slow down. Pay attention to the little moments in your relationships. The little everyday moments are the moments where you either attend to your life and relationships or you miss them. If you want to find more meaning in your life, slow down and appreciate what is right in front of you and nurture those little moments.
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?
Absolutely. Maybe. And, I’m not sure. I’ve always been a dreamer and explorer. If I had it all to do all over again, would I take exactly the same path? I hope I would try something different and learn something new. Still, I would bet that I’d wind up in a very similar place. I feel guided to this work.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
We humans are a funny bunch, we all suffer. It’s the essence of being human. It’s how we are wired to survive. To some extent we are all insecure, anxious and full of unmet needs. In understanding that you are not alone you find community, and we thrive in connection to others, not in isolation.
The problem is, connection is often what triggers many insecurities. The truth is that intimacy and connection emerge and deepen because of those insecurities. And when you practice noticing your own patterns — both in how you treat yourself and how you treat others — you’ll start to notice that your relationship patterns begin to shift so that everyone feels more secure and understood.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I start by taking stock of what’s stressing me out and try to explore that, be it with my husband, my own therapist, colleagues, friends or in my journal. I also prioritize my family and our relationships. No matter what stressors are impacting me in my life, I want to be as mindful as I can of the effects of that stress on my loved ones. And that doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to keep my stress from them, but I will be attuned to it and looking for its impact if it arises.
I also make sure to give myself down time. Scheduled time on my calendar with no agenda. I call this time “white space” and it helps me breathe. Ritualistic moments of tuning in with my husband, roughhousing, art projects and explorations with our kids, daily walks with our dog… these are the moments that I cherish and attend to every day to keep myself and my relationships resilient.