“I don’t see my clients as having ‘problems,’ I see the changes my client wants to make and how we’re going to make those changes together.”
What was your path to becoming a mental health practitioner?
I have always felt a strong desire to help people, and that desire is what first brought me to social work. After I earned my Master’s degree from NYU in 2007, I immediately started working with adolescents and young adults that were expressing very serious, high-risk behavior: severe anxiety, depression, non-suicidal self-injury, and substance abuse. I wanted to learn even more about how to make the most positive impact, so I went back to NYU for further training, earning Post Master's Certificates in Advanced Clinical Practice, Substance Abuse, and Adolescence. After 10 years of clinical work, I was finding a disconnect between research and practice. I was finding so many good interventions were being developed and studied that unfortunately weren’t getting into providers’ hands, and I saw a real need there. This observation led to my research question: how can I bridge the gap between practice and research? In seeking an answer to this question I returned to NYU again to pursue my PhD.
How does being an active professor influence your clinical work with clients?
Everything I do as a teacher and a clinician is interdependent on the other. I conduct practice-informed research, and I provide research-informed therapy. As an educator, it’s incredibly powerful to be able to talk about my clinical work with students and help teach the next generation of social workers. But I’m also learning along with them, keeping up to date on the latest interventions and bringing this education back into my clinical work.
I also provide clinical supervision with early career social workers. As an early career social work, one does not always have the best opportunity to bring up the interpersonal concerns they’re having with their assigned supervisors, but they always want to make sure they’re doing the best by their clients. Together, we go over the art and the science of what we do: you have to have true empathy and connectedness to arrive at that wonderful “aha” moment with your clients, where the work leaves the textbook and really comes alive.
What would you say to someone thinking about seeking mental health care for the first time?
In general, mental health should be treated like any other form of health care. If you fall and injure your knee, and a Band-Aid isn’t enough, you go see a doctor. The same thinking applies to your emotional health. If you have an emotional fall, and you put a temporary Band-Aid on it, sometimes it won’t be enough to cope. That’s what we’re going to take care of in therapy. We’re going to take that Band-Aid off, and it’s going to hurt. We’re going to clean it free of emotional debris, and it’s going to be a process that we’ll do together – but then it’s going to heal. There might be a scar, but scar tissue is stronger than skin. And your resiliency through this will help you tremendously through other parts of your life.
What does a first session with you look like?
I work very much in the here and now. I want to understand my client’s real concern of the moment, learning through engagement and empathy. I don’t see my clients as having “problems,” I see the changes my client wants to make and how we’re going to make those changes together. After all, that’s what we’re meeting for—to make a change—and I always take a genuinely collaborative approach to treatment. We’re going to figure out what’s going on, and we’re going to make a plan to get to where we want to go – and we’re going to get through it together.
“In general, mental health should be treated like any other kind of health care. If you fall and injure your knee, and a Band-Aid isn’t enough to cope, you go see a doctor. The same thinking applies to your emotional health.”