A Fellow Traveler: My Philosophy and Approach as a Couples Therapist
It can be overwhelming to choose to see a therapist or counselor. There is much to consider and all the questions that come with that decision and then there’s the project of finding precisely the right fit. Many people expect therapists to be like the blank, quiet, anonymous psychoanalysts on television shows, who sit there and ask “How does that make you feel?” while scribbling into a notebook you never get to see. Many people have experienced that two- dimensional therapy experience and it’s no surprise that it didn’t work well for them, Learning that therapists can be open, conversational people who bring their own life experiences to the discussion can be a shock for some—like seeing your high school teacher outside of school for the first time.
I’ve had that experience because I also see a therapist, even while I continue to be a practicing therapist myself! My journey has been one of self-discovery and continuous learning where I become increasingly familiar with the various aspects of therapy through my training, my experiences with my own therapists, and my personal relationships. I aim to bring that into our space whenever I am working with my clients.
The idea that working with a therapist is cold, anonymous, and hierarchical is one of the myths that prevent many people from feeling comfortable with seeking therapy. When a couple is working with me, I am also working to let them know that I am bringing my whole self to the relationship in the room. They deserve to know that they are sitting with someone who has not only studied but also experienced many of the challenges that come with building authentic, healthy relationships. When I am working with others, I am going to talk about what I notice and what I feel as someone who is present in the moment.
I AIM TO PRACTICE WHAT I TEACH WITH MY CLIENTS.
When I bring up the concepts that I use—clean complaint, healthy dissent, rupture and repair—I also seek to apply these methods of connection in the moment. I work to make it explicit that I am engaging with my own lessons and modeling them intentionally and healthily.
If I notice that a client and I are playing out the same dynamic as the relationship they are discussing, I will bring that up and see if we want to lean in and discuss the feelings that are coming up. Actively engaging with what is occurring in the room is an important expression of relationship that shouldn’t be ignored or treated as secondary. This is an important lesson I had to learn personally through my own training as a therapist, where my ability to learn and engage with the skills of the profession required that I actually engage with my own feelings and internalized lessons. (And thank goodness for meditation and learning to be with all my feelings.)
MY JOURNEY HAS INVOLVED THE PEELING BACK OF LAYER UPON LAYER OF OLD HABITS AND LEARNING HOW TO DO RELATIONSHIP WELL.
Before I met my husband, I was in a lot of relationships where I wasn’t emotionally honest: I wasn’t willing or able to be truly vulnerable. The emotional healing that I underwent in my relationship with my current partner helped me uncover a new understanding of what it meant to be healthy and self-actualizing. It was a counter to the patriarchal, isolating, self-steeling kind of stance that I had internalized through my upbringing.
My time in graduate school at Naropa University furthered this journey. I’d grown up in Colorado my entire adult life and I was deeply attracted to this school’s Buddhist approach based on experiential learning. I had no idea when I first joined how much I would have to heal through my own personal, internalized wounds and emerge as a more whole, healthy, compassionate person.
I’VE LEARNED THAT LIVING IN ALIGNMENT WITH WHO YOU ARE TAKES A LONG TIME.
My journey taught me that I had to do a lot of unlearning to become an actualized person who could embrace being in relationship with others. I learned that many of the defensive reflexes I had developed were not sustainable or effective actions for relating.
The great poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen once said, “Act the way you’d like to be, and soon you’ll be the way you act.” In many ways, this is the core of my approach. I don’t believe in claiming to have a drawn-up rulebook that explains everything about the particularities of every relationship. I believe in drawing on the lessons of my own life and continually developing the concepts that allow us to engage in meaningful, transformative actions in our relationship.
I know that it takes ups and downs to become a ful,l healthy, mature adult. It’s not a linear process, or an ever-progressing upward spiral. There is no one straightforward path to being a full person, and working to transcend the individual ego through the potential relations we have with others takes time, practice, and patience.
I’ve learned so many new things about myself over the years, not all of them pleasant, but I’ve also discovered how to practice the activities that align with who I wish to be and become, and how to be truer to myself. Some of these practices are as simple as recharging via cleaning up, watching water boil, or turning on a podcast. And sometimes it means cutting ties with people who I feel I cant be my true self with. I’ve learned to find connection when I feel things are crumbling by connecting with a weekly, self-facilitated womens’ council, and enjoying the presence of self-informed, healthy women in a space where I can bring my whole self. I’ve learned to appreciate how self-informed my work is, and to let being in the moment with my clients continue to transform and hone my practice.
It is always a privilege to learn that my approach and philosophy resonate with others, and I cherish the opportunity to engage with questions, feedback, and concerns. My life’s work has been to “hold space” for other people, and that includes holding space for your own inquiries into my practice, and to give them as much respect and attention as I can skillfully provide. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with me on my Contact and Connect page should you have anything you’d like to discuss about my philosophy and work.