“When I am introduced to a client, I look and listen with maximum attention.”
What was your path to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?
I was previously a film editor for documentaries on social justice; looking at people over and over gave me the impression that I knew them. After my wife and I had our first child, the erratic nature of the film business forced me to acknowledge I needed to do something more stable. Friends and family told me that I was a very good listener and had an accepting, nonjudgmental way about me. I enrolled at Columbia University's School of Social Work. I went to an institute for behavior and cognitive therapy AND a program for psychoanalytic psychotherapy. My first internship was in a day program for people who had severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI). Contrary to what I expected, I fell in love with them. This connected to being a film editor, looking repeatedly at people with much harder lives than my own. My supervisor and the psychiatrist at the day program said I had great clinical skills, and I was allowed to dive into the work, DOING something.
What should someone know about working with you?
Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips said that therapy was basically about the client and therapist getting to know each other. It's more than that, but I think the spirit of the statement is right, including the implication that the therapist doesn't need to be a distant, forbidding figure. When I am introduced to a client, I look and listen with maximum attention. Part of what I explain is how this thing, therapy, works, before stepping back into the role with the client’s knowledge of the process. I use homework selectively when I am trying to help the client learn new tools and perspectives. I like to work with clients who have questions, even when they don't know them yet. I need clients to have curiosity or to allow me to help them develop curiosity about why they do what they do. I also encourage them toward greater cognitive flexibility and functional ability, as I believe these can lead to greater health and the ability to do what they need to do.
How do your core values shape your approach to therapy?
Working on films about social justice and meeting people with severe and persistent mental illness helped me develop a set of values in this area. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) talks a lot about values and gives ideas on how you can find little gestures toward enacting those values, including valued actions. You put these together and feel like you're doing something productive in the short-term as well as the long-term, ultimately building a pretty fulfilling life. I've had a life of what could be considered privilege; I've gone to some pretty good schools and lived in clean and safe homes. But, I've also had some struggles that might be called lived experience. In addition to poor folks and those with SPMI-type problems, I believe there are a lot of middle-class and upper-class people who have a hard time. They may be reluctant to get treatment for mental health. With most of my clients, I will recognize they're on a mountain, but I'm also on another mountain.
“I need clients to have curiosity or to allow me to help them develop curiosity about why they do what they do.”