The First Step

Each of the posts on this site addresses a psychological conflict or emotional fact I’ve come to regard as central to the human experience.  I try to illustrate these issues with examples from my own psychotherapy practice or personal life.  At the end of each post, the section Finding Your Own Way contains some suggestions for how to use these ideas to further your journey of personal growth.

If you’ve had some therapy before, begin by accepting that the issues you dealt with are more than likely still active in one way or another.  My own therapist told me on many occasions that we can never get rid of any part of our psyche; we can only hope to grow and develop other aspects of ourselves to cope with the problem areas.  As you wander through this site, begin with the same assumption:  you can’t unload any of your baggage along the journey, but enlarging self-awareness and growing new emotional capacities will make the load much easier to carry.

Unlike most other self-help resources, this site aims to help you confront feelings and conflicts outside of awareness, not to conquer a familiar issue.  I’m less interested in teaching techniques for how to manage anxiety, say, than to show how disowned emotions can lead to panic attacks, and to help visitors move closer to those feelings — as any good therapist would do.  In order to make use of this site, you’ll have to do most of the work, of course, just as you’d have to do if you were in face-to-face psychotherapy.  I often remind my clients of the obvious:  “I’m here with you for 50 minutes each week; the rest of the time you’re on your own.”  The challenges contained in these posts are be integrated into your daily life and into your ongoing practice of self-reflection.  Find the ones that resonate with your experience and see how far they can take you along the road.

Choosing a Therapist with a Psychodynamic Perspective

If you value my approach but feel that going it alone isn’t for you at the moment, here are some guidelines for choosing a therapist who might have a compatible orientation.  I’ll begin with some general suggestions about how to interview any mental health professional; I’ll conclude with specific suggestions for finding one who’ll offer you insights and guidance similar to those provided on this site.

First of all, remember that you are the customer and you have the right to ask as many questions as you like about the potential therapist’s background and credentials.  What degrees does he have and where did he earn them?  What professional licenses does she hold?  Is she a marriage and family therapist, a psychologist, a social worker, a psychiatrist (which means holding a medical degree)?  You can ask about internships, where they received their on-the-job training, and how many years they’ve been practicing.  If you’re in pain and hungry for help, it’s difficult to remember that you need to make an informed decision, the best you can make, and not simply sign on for treatment because one of your friends recommended her own therapist, or your physician referred you to his colleague. The answers themselves may not mean a lot to you (one university versus another, for example) but the process of interviewing the potential therapist can give you a lot of insight.  You might find she’s an authoritarian type who feels irritated by being questioned; maybe he seems insecure about his background and lacks the kind of confidence and experience you need. Beware the charismatic therapist who exudes the over-confident aura of knowing everything.

Most states have laws requiring mental health professionals to provide you with a statement of their policies about issues like cancellation, privacy, vacations, etc., but there are other areas where you might want information.  Here are questions you could ask:  What are your areas expertise?  Have you worked with many clients suffering from [name your pressing issue]?  What are your views on length of treatment and frequency of sessions?

Questions you should NOT ask:  Are you married?  Do you have kids?  Are you gay?  How old are you?  The therapist is entitled to his or her privacy and that information is none of your business unless he or she chooses to disclose it.  (You may notice that I speak frankly about my internal dynamics but am careful to keep the details of my personal life private.) I’d also beware of the therapist who discloses TOO much personal information.  This may indicate poor boundaries.  The therapy is about you, after all, and your therapist is NOT your social friend, however you may feel about one another.

Also feel free to schedule more than one evaluation appointment.  You don’t have to make up your mind after one session, nor do you have to interview only one person at a time.  As I said, you are the customer and you should approach this decision in a way that will give you as much information as possible.

As for finding a therapist with a specific orientation, that’s a greater challenge.  The mental health profession at present is dominated by cognitive behavioral theories and psychopharmacology.  I’m not saying anything against those orientations, but if you want treatment akin to my approach, your search may be difficult.  In addition to holding licenses as a clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist, I was trained as a psychoanalyst; as part of my training, I had to go through years of treatment myself.  Most people think of psychoanalysis as an outdated modality that began and ended with Sigmund Freud, but in fact, it has grown enormously and continues to evolve.  Specifically, I was trained in an area of pschoanalytic thought known as “object relations”. If you find someone who describes him- or herself as having “an object relations orientation,” you may have gotten lucky.  Psychodynamic psychotherapy, depth psychology, transference-based therapy, insight-oriented therapy — these are some terms that also apply to the kind of work I do.

The most important element in making your choice is how the therapist makes you feel.  If he makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, totally accepted for who you are, I’d look elsewhere. If she intimidates you, seems controlling or has poor boundaries, I’d likewise move onto the next candidate.  In my first session with my own therapist, he made some observations about me that made me extremely uncomfortable and seemed undeniably true.  Feeling at ease isn’t the best indicator; feeling understood is what matters. The distinction here is between sympathy and empathy.  What you’re looking for is a person who can speak the truth to you, however uncomfortable it might make you feel, not someone who expresses a great deal of sympathy but doesn’t startle you with unexpected insights.

I don’t do Internet or phone therapy, but if you’d like to ask for specific advice about consulting a professional, please feel free to contact me:  AfterPsy@gmail.com.

I hope this help!