“The therapist’s job is to figure out what you as an individual, with your own experiences, hang-ups, and strengths, need to hear to improve your own life.”
What was your path to becoming a therapist?
As an undergraduate, I took an internship at a psychiatric hospital. Unexpectedly, I loved it so much that I worked there an extra semester. I found that working with people who suffered from the most profound and difficult psychiatric issues illuminated how everyone thinks and feels. From there, I went on to work with a variety of people in diverse clinical settings and gained experiential training that still serves me in my work now. I have always had an academic bent, and I pursued psychoanalytic training and cognitive behavioral therapy training as a postgraduate. I took a break when my son was born, and when he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder I became interested in autism, neurodiversity, and caretaker stress. I also enjoy working with comedians and performing artists because I have an interest in those fields.
What should someone know about working with you?
I think that therapy is most effective when it focuses on solutions. When I first see new clients, I get a sense of their history with the belief that understanding past experiences can help us craft solutions to the issues they wrestle with in their day-to-day lives. I find that giving clients actionable steps to take before our next session makes therapy more useful, because the insights we discover in the office can be applied to life outside the practice room. Sessions usually involve a review of the week prior and how well (or poorly) the tools we’ve developed have worked and then fine-tuning the work to advance toward a client’s goals. At the same time, I believe that therapy should not be doctrinaire. I've had clients find my usual methods unhelpful or uncomfortable. When that happens, I abandon them in favor of what the client feels is effective. They’re the boss. Above all else, therapy should not feel like a visit to an emotional dentist. A therapist you feel comfortable enough to laugh with is sometimes a therapist you feel comfortable enough with to share material that might otherwise be difficult to talk about.
How does collaboration with other providers inform your work?
One of the great problems in American health care is compartmentalization. When my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, referrals were made for occupational therapy, speech therapy, applied behavioral analysis, psychiatry, and a nutritionist. The members of the team each worked diligently in their area of expertise, but didn’t really communicate with one another. I think collaboration with experts from other disciplines works best when a cross-pollination of resources and insight is encouraged. Each member of a team can enhance the efforts of other members of a multidisciplinary team if a spirit of collegiality is actively nourished. At the same time, intellectual and professional humility is absolutely essential if collaboration is to be effective. I know less than any psychiatrist about the action of psychotropic medication and I know nothing whatsoever about acupuncture. Collegiality requires an appreciation of the limits of one’s own discipline and an awareness of one’s own limitations within a discipline. Collegiality and curiosity about other areas of expertise are the keystones of professional collaboration.
What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant to try therapy?
Whatever you think therapy will be like, you’re probably wrong. I say that because therapy is about individual people. The therapist’s job is to figure out what you as an individual, with your own experiences, hang-ups, and strengths, need to hear to improve your own life. A supervisor of mine once said that a good therapist is always trying to run themselves out of business. That means that therapy is there for you to work on things that help you feel better and that you can carry away to use on your own. You aren’t signing up for a lifelong journey if that’s not what you want. Even if you find that therapy isn’t for you, the experience is 100% survivable! Therapists aren’t in the business of changing you into someone that you wouldn’t recognize or pushing you so far out of your comfort zone that you feel even worse. Therapy is there to help you learn to live better.
What are you most excited about within the evolving mental health landscape
I am particularly excited by the concept of spectrum-based diagnostic criteria that has emerged in the wake of the DSM-5 revisions of autism diagnoses. The move from “Autistic Disorder” to “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is riddled with problems but also has tremendous promise for conceptualizing mental health and illness. The move to Autism Spectrum Disorder was an acknowledgment that the symptoms and characteristics that constitute autism are very nuanced and often defy the kind of binary exclusionary criteria that the old way of thinking relied on. New conceptualizations about human experience indicate that it is usually controlled more by a dial than by a switch. The shift in diagnosis from a “disorder” to a spectrum of symptoms and severities opens up the understanding of the illness and opens treatment to more people.
“I think collaboration with experts from other disciplines works best when a cross-pollination of resources and insight is encouraged.”