“I choose to be direct, active, goal-oriented, and hands-on with my therapy clients, especially early on.”
What was your path to becoming a therapist?
Life has a way of getting us exactly where we are supposed to be. I studied economics at Harvard, and my first career was in consulting. A health crisis in my twenties gave me the time to pause and reflect on what I was most passionate about (the human brain!). This was the impetus to align my life with my values. My training at NYU and UCSD was deeply rooted in the science of psychology and centered on the intersection of medical and mental health. I choose to be direct, active, goal-oriented, and hands-on with my therapy clients, especially early on. Once they experience some relief in their immediate concerns, we work to assess their readiness to question repeating and persistent patterns in their lives. Together, we survey their long standing beliefs, roles, and relationships, and I empower them as they rewrite their stories. Together, we replace dysfunctional habits with new ones that are aligned with their values using cognitive behavioral therapy, ACT, compassion, and mindfulness.
What should someone know about working with you?
Given my background in rehabilitation psychology, I focus on “rebuilding the whole person” after major life changes. During this stage, many individuals arrive with their belief systems shaken to the core. I help them grieve and orient themselves to posttraumatic growth by increasing emotional awareness. Some clients seek help after a health crisis, while others need help with burnout and chronic anxiety. In either case, our longer term focus will be on total life satisfaction, which comes through understanding how we derive meaning and pleasure in life and then taking small steps to change course. I help my clients “consciously unlearn” the limits, labels, and expectations imposed on them by their environments. This goes beyond specific symptom relief for anxiety and often requires that I meet my clients where they are in terms of their motivation. I also assign homework that allows clients to practice new skills between sessions. This often means becoming more observant of our thoughts and actions.
What do you do to continue learning and building competencies as a provider?
Private practice can be an isolating experience professionally and I counteract this consciously by volunteering my time with the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Queer Neuropsychological Society where I focus on projects centered on disability, diversity, inclusion, and equity for marginalized groups. As a researcher in neuroimaging and neuropsychology, I follow academic publications and continue to provide scientific guidance for academic journals as part of the editorial process (i.e., peer review). These endeavors ensure that my work in therapy and cognitive rehabilitation stays current and scientifically supported.
How do your own core values shape your approach to therapy?
Multiculturalism, multilingualism, and immigration define me. I grew up in Turkey, imbued with the collectivism and intense emotional expression that characterizes the majority of the non-Western world. My dedication to learning and my work ethic propelled me from a small town on the Aegean Sea to world-class training institutions. As a Middle Eastern male, I learned how family, work, and societal structures that surround us present with their own arbitrary rules and duties. As individuals, we need to negotiate our own goals and satisfaction against these expectations, which can be tiresome. I have observed what it means to be invisible, angry, unheard, and unseen in the systems we are made to function in and I believe in the transformative power of these emotions once we uncover them. To that end, I borrow a lot from Eastern thought and queer history in my work, and I pay particular attention to the power dynamics that are inherent in the therapy relationship.
What kind of clients do you see? Who do you refer out?
I have clients with complex health histories, histories of trauma, and visible or invisible disabilities who function with the stress of belonging to a minority group on a daily basis. I also have younger clients who are able-bodied individuals and they are trying to become more aware of their life choices and their identity after experiencing burnout, anxiety, low self-esteem, attachment problems, and indecision in their current roles. I feel equally comfortable working with both groups and I am able to meet their psychological assessment and interventional needs. I tend to refer clients to other providers if they are presenting with primary concerns related to schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and/or substance abuse/addiction.
What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant to try therapy?
To benefit from therapy, all you need is to be able to talk and communicate. That’s a good start and therapists are trained to take it from there. Effective therapy eventually changes the way we talk, especially the way we talk to ourselves. We will be happy to guide you. Therapy relationships tend to be more special and much less scary than our anxious minds suggest, and I congratulate you for even making it this far on your journey.
“Once they experience some relief in their immediate concerns, we work to assess their readiness to question repeating and persistent patterns in their lives.”