What made you decide to become a counselor?
As a young and introverted girl, I came to process the world around me by diving into the thoughts, feelings, and dreams of my inner world. Driven to explore the inner workings of my own mind/body/soul, I was equally interested in what makes other people tick. My introversion and sensitivity allowed me, I believe, to develop a keen awareness and empathy for the pain and suffering of others. From a young age, sensitivity, empathy, and connection were the catalysts that led me down a windy path to a career in the field of mental health.
I learned to love reading fiction in the 5th grade and kindled this passion through college. I was fascinated with the intricate and multilayered process of character development, the altering perspectives of the narrator and characters, whose minds and moments were captured by authors through common themes, metaphor, detailed imagery and evocative language. I was also fascinated by literature on psychology and brain science, where the interplay of the human brain and body, personality and behavior, nature vs. nurture, challenged and shaped my understanding of the relationship between mind, body, and soul.
While I pursued my passion for literature and writing, I became keenly aware of my deepest values that inspired my writing. Whether writing a piece on literary criticism, or an article about local businesses and corporate responsibility, my intention was to reach people from a place of common humanity, to bring awareness to issues of social justice, and to inspire change in myself and others. While the introvert in me still loves working in the background and analyzing theories, I knew that I wanted to help people and that I was willing to move directly into the therapist “spotlight” so to speak, to work on the front line, helping people to heal themselves to improve the world.
As canned as this answer may sound, I cannot speak my truth any other way.
As Walt Whitman states, “The truth is simple. If it was complicated, everyone would understand it.
If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
If I had a magic therapy wand, I would wave it across the world to teach one skill: self-validation, including the following steps.
1) I would help people to become more mindful: We would learn to become grounded in the present moment, listening with curiosity and without judgment to your inner experience. We would experience sadness, hurt, fear, and be present with sensations in the body linked to these emotional experiences. When we sit with ourselves in these experiences, we affirm that we are important and capable of handling our emotions.
3) I would help people normalize their own experience instead of defaulting to shame: It is common to feel ashamed of having emotions. However, it is perfectly normal and healthy to feel angry, embarrassed , hurt, sad, as well as to feel happy, proud , etc. All of our feelings are OKAY as they come with the whole package of the human experience. Yet most of us feel
shame for having feelings, likely because they point to some need in us that is not being met. Remember that we all have needs and remember that no one is happy all the time. When you have intense feelings, ask yourself if most people would feel the same way in your situation. Remind yourself that most people would feel the same way and allow that to be okay.
4) I would spread tools for radical acceptance: The serenity prayer is a common pointer to the meaning of radical acceptance. It is an invocation to a higher power, God, or the universe (depending on one’s belief system) to “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. Acceptance is not giving up. It is a challenging and ambiguous mindset that requires practice and commitment.
5) I would advocate for living with authenticity: Authenticity means being our true selves, not lying to ourselves or pretending to be someone other than who we are. The opposite of self validation is self rejection. This is the greatest degree of invalidation that discredits the very core of our being and often lies at the root of self doubt, shame, and poor self concept. Also, we are not our behaviors; behaviors are just what we do and how we act. Your behavior can be shaped to reflect your authentic self and values, and help you live an authentic life. Still, at our primary level of self, we are human beings, not humans doing. On the other hand, authenticity can also mean we sometimes act out of alignment with our inner compass, if we feel vulnerable and need protection. If we mask our deeper selves in a potentially harmful situation, we are still in alignment with our authentic selves and validating our need for safety and protection.
What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
I regularly work with people experiencing anxiety, depression, chronic pain and issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. I am also developing knowledge and skills to help individuals with eating disorders. I work with clients to hear their stories and aspirations, set obtainable goals, develop coping skills to manage their distressing symptoms. Overall the most common issues people have when first coming to counseling are related to dissatisfaction with some area of their lives and feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about when, how, or even if to begin the process of change. Often people feel a sense of frustration, shame, or deep sorrow and may feel that needing counseling is a sign of failure or weakness.
I want to put this out on the table, with absolute sincerity: Having the awareness that you need help and choosing to seek help from a professional may be one of the most difficult and gutsy things you ever do. It takes tremendous strength to reach out for health and to be open about your life with a relative stranger. I recall going to counseling for the first time, and I understand that it is not without effort and courage to show up for an intake and then RETURN. However, many clients are ready to admit that it took everything they had to come to counseling. And I remind them that no one is making them come to counseling, but it is their inner guidance and commitment to a better life that moves them to do the work only they can do.
Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I believe it is beneficial for professional counselors to experience being in therapy in order to understand what it is like to be a client. I think this helps clinicians cultivate a genuine, compassionate, and empathic approach to therapy.
As I love and believe in the work I do, I believe it is best practice for self care and client care to seek supervision, professional guidance, and preferably individual counseling as a new professional clinician. In my own experience in counseling, I have learned firstly that it can be scary to open up to another person. Moreover, I have learned to trust my intuition more and to value creativity and “play” as an important part of cultivating a balanced and meaningful life. I also learned to not take myself so seriously and to keep a healthy sense of humor about my mind, dodging its friendly fire periodically day by day.
I learned to say “thank you mind for this critical feedback,” “but I am not buying what you are selling” and keep walking steadily toward my goals. We may all struggle our unique internal dialogue at times, yet we can choose to see the comedy in the unfounded and repetitive stories our minds tell us. At the end of the day I have to be able to laugh at myself, at least a little.
If you could recommend one book to all of your clients, what would it be?
I would recommend “Dark Nights of the Soul” by Thomas Moore. This book reframes the challenges we may face be it the loss of a loved one, coping with chronic anxiety and depression, or facing a chronic illness, as a “Dark Night,” a period of challenge and uncertainty that may ultimately restore us to a life with greater purpose and inner strength. Moore draws upon the works and philosophy of James Hillman in this text. According to Hillman “[d]epression opens the door to beauty of some kind,” in which if you can pause. He reiterates this saying, “[j]ust stop for a minute and you'll realize you're happy just being. I think it's the pursuit that screws up happiness. If we drop the pursuit, it's right here.”
By the way, if I could recommend a 2nd book, more appropriate for adults, it would be “The Soul’s Code: In Search of Charter and Calling” by James Hillman. I had to sneak that in J. It is one of my favorite books.
What inspires you to help others?
I believe that as people become more self-aware, empowered, and oriented to values based living, they are not only healing themselves, but they are also promoting change in their social and family systems. I believe we are all connected and can help improve our world as each person uncovers their authentic selves and finds a life full of purpose and meaning. Humans do learn through observation and modeling after all.
Who is your ideal client?
Um, Bill Murray? Only Joking. Just a pointer to the film “What about Bob” with Bill Murray, in case you clinicians and/or others out there have not seen it and need a good laugh. It is a farcical story about the relationship between a client (Murray) and his therapist (Richard Dreyfuss). I will say no more.
I am open to working with all kinds of people with various concerns. While I specialize in working with adolescents and adults with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, I am open and able to work with your specific concerns. My ideal client may be someone struggling with intense emotional and physical symptoms stemming from various life stressors, who wants help getting “unstuck” and back into their lives. Specifically, I work best with individuals who have some willingness to be in therapy, a willingness to look within themselves as we explore their challenging thoughts and feelings that emerge. It helps if clients have an idea about what their goals are for counseling, but if they do not, part of my job is to help them assess their values and establish achievable goals that will help them build a meaningful life for that client.
How do you personally practice self-care?
First and foremost, I stay as organized and on top of my tasks and priorities as possible. This is a way of paying it forward to my future self who will be grateful she does not have to scramble to get all her ducks in a row under a deadline. For me this means keeping a detailed calendar, organized home and filing system, and paying bills/finishing assignments early. This leaves more time to connect with friends and family, and engage in activities that inspire me.
Another way I practice self care is by honoring my need for solitude in order to replenish my internal resources. This allows time for calm, reflection, and grounding, to connect with my spiritual path through reflection, rest, and connection with nature. Also, listening to music has always been a sacred and energizing space for me. Whether I am listening to rock, oldies, bluegrass, ambient music, freak folk, old country, or drum solos, the rhythms and melodies always soothe me and speak to my soul, lyrics or no.
I consistently rely on self compassion for renewal and take time out each day to engage in an enjoyable activity or experience. For instance, when I get home from work, I energize my home by opening the windows to let the breeze in, lighting candles, burning essential oils and playing ambient music to mark the end of my day and beginning of “me time.” Also, I keep a gratitude journal and write in it daily to enhance joy and appreciation for what I have in my life. into my life. This requires a few minutes every day to note something, someone, or some experience that I am thankful for. This practice helps me to give thanks for the gifts and challenges of life that I might otherwise take for granted or build resentment towards.
For me, extending gratitude is a direct path to loving kindness and compassion, elements that are essential to replenish my spirit and ability to help others. Practicing a loving kindness meditation helps me grow self compassion and extend love to others.
Clearly self care is not selfish. You must replenish your reservoir of love and kindness before you can truly be present to help another. Self care gives you the reserves you will need to share love and kindness with others.
About Our Blog
Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.