My Approach

Some of you are entering psychotherapy for the first time and don’t know quite what to expect. Others have sought therapy before and may or may not have been satisfied with their experience. When people first contact me, the question I hear most often is, “can tell me how you do therapy?” I usually answer that I vary my approach, depending on their needs. This is not a dodge. They’ve asked a question that doesn’t have a simple, one-size-fits-all answer.

I then add that in general, I’m not one of those therapists who sits and nods with a knowing look, offering nothing more as they speak of their most difficult challenges. But my level of interaction is also balanced with listening, when that’s called for. I don’t think it’s helpful for me to dominate the conversation like some television therapists who excel in telling people what to do. I do recognize that often people need direction, education or skills training, and I’ll provide this. But situations vary. Some need to speak about what’s emotionally important to someone who will listen without interrupting. They often apologize for “rambling,” but I tell them that self-discovery doesn’t unfold in straight lines. You may need to wander through your thoughts and feelings. This helps you have a spontaneous experience of self that’s hard to come by in other contexts, and I’m supportive of that.

Psychotherapy is Inherently Challenging

People who haven’t had therapy may not know how scared a person can feel when revealing their private selves. But let’s face it, for most of us, it’s hard to talk about sensitive issues! The problems that bring people to seek professional help are usually so challenging that they’ve been been unable to solve them themselves. This situation can inherently induce feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy. To open oneself up this way is extremely vulnerable and it requires the presence of another who can put you at ease.

Those who enter therapy primarily for self-discovery can find the process paradoxical. One of my meditation teachers uses the metaphor of a flashlight to describe the mind. You shine the light of awareness on your reality to explore it. But trying to explore your own mind can seem like trying to turn the flashlight back on itself! [1] The key, I’ve found, is to trust simple awareness and allow yourself to not know until you do.

How My Approach Was Formed

Some psychotherapy graduate schools no longer require students to experience their own therapy. I believe this is a serious mistake! It fails to address the hang-ups almost any person has, and these can get in the way of accurately seeing or helping another. I’ve had my own needs for inner searching and change, coming from a challenging family background and growing up in a tumultuous time. I had to find my own way and for a long time didn’t know where to start. In my early years of self-exploration, I encountered many approaches to healing. Most promised fast and pervasive results, but which was best? I don’t know if there’s a correct answer to this. I tried spiritual and New Age paths first and found there was an underlying reality. Then there was the Human Potential Movement, with a bias for delving into one’s strongest feelings and letting them out. But this didn’t integrate feeling with thinking or build stable self-reliance. Then I began my master’s in clinical psychology program and learned of the many factors that can shape a personality, some of them starting in one’s family upbringing. I entered psychotherapy and found this helpful, but I wasn’t ready to fully reveal myself.

I finally found the courage to face a therapist and speak of my fears, frustrations, and delve into the mysteries of the unconscious. This process was scary at first and became more comfortable over time. I came to look forward to my sessions. Mine was a journey of slow, steady healing and emerging creativity. It was one of bringing together thinking, feeling and intuition, developing trust in my own unconscious processes and tolerance for experiencing intense emotions. When I completed that piece of work, I wasn’t “done” but was in a better, more peaceful place. I have come to find the journey of self-knowledge and inner peace to be an ongoing process. [2]

After earning a master’s degree, I ran out of funds, and it took many years before I could return to complete my training. Then I eventually enrolled in a doctoral program with depth and vision. Unlike many schools, Pacifica Graduate Institute helped orient its students to the history of psychology and truths that should not be left behind. Several years of internship and experience in private practice taught me that historical, depth approaches need to be balanced by the realistic need to ease suffering quickly. Thus, I apply the current cognitive behavioral approaches when these are most relevant. But I also have in mind the effects of childhood development on personality structure and functioning. A postdoctoral fellowship at Kaiser helped me coordinate with psychiatrists and other medical staff, learning about how some people benefit greatly from medication and others need help coping with health issues. My spiritual experiences and training allow me to address transpersonal issues when these are central for clients. I am mindful of the cost of psychotherapy and try my best to work efficiently. All of these orientations combine into what’s called an “integrative approach” to psychotherapy, tailoring treatment to the specific and sometimes multifaceted needs of my clients.

To schedule a first appointment please select this link. Although experienced with emergencies, that is not my practice focus. As an outpatient therapist I work with people who can reliably cope, are not at risk or in crisis, do not have thoughts of self-harm, and are seeking to grow.

Footnotes

1. Lama Kunzang Rinpoche, personal communication, July 30, 2007, Mahamudra Retreat at The Hermitage, Denman Island, B.C., Canada.

2. I once did a retreat with a yogi who is probably spiritually liberated and found that he is constantly learning and working to serve others. I have encountered other advanced spiritual people who approach their journey as the evolutionary process that doesn’t end and extends beyond a single lifetime.