“Most of my work is based in cognitive behavioral therapy, which essentially means being aware of the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
What was your path to becoming a therapist?
My path towards becoming a therapist was a meandering path for sure. Initially, I thought my route would be through public health but, after working in the field for a few years, I realized I wanted to work directly with individuals. I went to graduate school for social work, still not realizing that psychotherapy was where I was headed. I trained in HIV/AIDS, pediatric oncology, and hospice work. After graduation, I spent seven years at a clinic providing therapy for victims of violent crime and torture. I absolutely fell in love with it and have been treating trauma, and training others to do so, ever since. In the subsequent years, I’ve focused on traumatic grief, trauma in immigrant youth, and supporting those traumatized at work.
What should someone know about working with you?
Clients are the experts in their experiences and first I need to learn from them how they see what they’re going through, what the hardest parts are, and what they make of their struggles. My role is to provide tools and support to help clients manage the things that are making them feel stuck. Once the most pressing issues are addressed, we can move towards finding meaning out of what they’ve experienced. Most of my work is based in cognitive behavioral therapy, which essentially means being aware of the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT is a huge umbrella with hundreds of modalities under it (including mindfulness, somatic awareness, and harm reduction). As we get to know one another, clients and I create goals together and decide roughly how we want to get there. These goals can always change, but I really want clients to know why they’re coming every week, feel that the sessions are useful, and understand why they’re challenged to do the hard work in treatment.
What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant to try therapy?
I really think that the time before going in for your first appointment is by far the hardest part of therapy. Once you’ve taken the step to call and show up, you’re past the worst of it. Your therapist should recognize that courage and help you formulate what it is that you want to get out of your time. Don’t worry, most people have a really hard time articulating this! It’s the therapist’s job to work together with you to create the goals that make sense for you, to let you know what to expect, and to answer any questions you have. Remember, this is your health and your time at stake; if you feel good about the therapist you meet, you’re already on your way!
What are you most excited about within the evolving mental health landscape?
It’s really exciting that evidence-based treatments (meaning treatments that have been shown to be effective in studies) are evolving. I’m seeing that so many practitioners are taking hard looks at standard treatments to make sure they are good cultural fits for the clients they’re seeing at that moment. For example, in collaborating with a network of clinicians treating recent immigrant youth, we’ve all realized that the most lauded treatments aren’t quite landing for them. We’re actively trying to figure out a way to meet the needs of clients whose worldview—including concepts of trauma, healing, and community—aren’t coming from a US/Eurocentric point of view. This is really exciting because it feels both like a radical shift and a return to the basics of meeting clients where they are while considering them partners in solving treatment problems. We’re no longer treating them as people who we need to convince that we’re right.
Have you done any research-based work that you found particularly exciting? How does it inform your practice today?
When I initially started doing therapy, I found that yoga was really helpful for me in managing my own stress. I did some training and taught a bilingual yoga class to women who had been recently traumatized. The women loved it, in large part because they were in a room full of people who had been through similar experiences (and they weren’t asked to say a word). Later, while living in London, a colleague and I created a program to provide free yoga to those who’d lost loved ones to homicide. I did both qualitative and quantitative analyses of what clients felt after a year of yoga. The biggest finding was that yoga had very significant impacts on a client’s sense of numbness and the feeling of being “dead inside” that so many experience after trauma. Talk therapy simply couldn’t get to this symptom, but silent movement in a safe environment did. It’s really exciting to see evidence of how a holistic approach to healing can be more effective and comprehensive than simply sitting and talking.
“I really want clients to know why they’re coming every week, feel that the sessions are useful, and understand why they’re challenged to do the hard work in treatment.”
Interested in speaking with Chelsea?