“Why wait until your emotional pain becomes unbearable or leads to destructive dynamics in your relationships?”
What’s your approach to therapy?
My approach is based on the premise that we all develop strategies for dealing with the inevitable pains and challenges of life. While these may work for periods of time - like in childhood or early adulthood - circumstances change and the strategies begin to fail us. Therapy can be a space to become more aware of what is no longer working for us as well as a place to try to do things differently. In my experience, gaining insights into oneself through therapy can be powerful and rewarding, but may not be enough for long-term change. This is why my approach also involves working towards having new experiences in relating to others, which often starts in the therapy room. The relationship between therapist and client becomes this little laboratory that allows us to figure this all out, how to change things up, and how to access healthier and more fulfilling ways of living.
How has your research influenced your practice?
Ideally, therapy is a place where people can safely have their full range of feelings with someone else. It can often be too overwhelming to feel certain emotions on one’s own. Having a supportive therapist present can be a necessary part of processing painful emotions related to one’s life and history such as trauma, questions about identity, or issues relating to taboo topics like sex. As a doctoral student, I was inspired by my work with refugees to take a closer look at the experiences of displaced people. In addition to specific findings about social dislocation, my research suggests that we all need a place to have and experience our feelings with others. It’s when we are alone with our feelings that we really suffer. My research also suggests that therapy is an important place to explore what’s not working with our relationships so we can ultimately experience a relational “home” outside the therapy room and address the barriers that keep us from being more connected to others in our life.
What’s your view on collaborating with other clinicians?
I’m a big fan of collaboration and think it’s a vital part of being an effective and present therapist. I often tell my clients, “You can’t see the back of your own head,” and the same is true of therapists. I draw on feedback from other practitioners, often through my own supervision, to keep me on my toes and enhance my perspective. I also often collaborate with clinicians of different disciplines, like psychiatrists and alternative medicine providers. It can be tricky and sometimes we might be on different pages about the correct approach, but to me these moments are the most fruitful because they challenge me to think critically and openly.
What are the biggest barriers today for people seeking mental health care?
There is a real crisis in accessing mental healthcare today. Finding a therapist can be a draining and discouraging process. Do they provide the type of treatment I am looking for at the right price and have availability at a time that works for me? Do our personalities align and do I feel comfortable with them? Even for people who are clear they want to go to therapy it can seem/be impossible to find and access good therapy.
Other factors such as stigma can play a role in keeping people ambivalent about starting therapy until they are feeling desperate. Men in particular seem to have a hard time listening to their own emotional signals that they need help, which is likely a result of the way that our culture teaches young boys to ignore their emotions. Men often won’t come in for help for emotional pain or loneliness because they feel like they should just tough it out on their own and our culture continues to reinforce this belief. This is problematic not only for these men, but for the people in their lives and leads to a perpetuation of this cultural system. Why wait until your emotional pain becomes unbearable or leads to destructive dynamics in your relationships? I’ve developed a specialty in working with men with erectile dysfunction and/or lowered sexual interest and I think this is related to the fact that many men only recognize that they have emotional difficulties when their body speaks for them. These clients often find that their sexual difficulties are a symptom of an underlying relational, lifestyle, or mood problem and once we work towards accessing and resolving these emotional problems, their sexual difficulties either go away or are better managed.
“The relationship between therapist and client becomes this little laboratory that allows us to figure this all out, how to change things up, and how to access healthier and more fulfilling ways of living.”