“People in New York are often so busy that their inner lives operate on autopilot, largely unaware of their thoughts, feelings, and desires.”
What was your path to becoming a therapist? What inspired you to choose this profession?
From a young age, I was obsessed with patterns, hidden systems, and mysteries. For example, how did some people repeatedly bounce back after facing enormous traumas or hardships, while others struggled to cope with seemingly minor stressors? It was no surprise, therefore, that I went on to study psychology and criminology--both fields that attempt uncover and organize how people engage with the world. Of course, the more I learned, the more it became clear that our narratives are complexly intertwined with our upbringing, culture, and sociopolitical environment. Now, as a professor at Columbia University, my research focuses on how negative life experiences impact stress and well-being, and how this may be magnified for people from historically disempowered groups; I’ve published well over 50 articles and chapters on this topic, as well as a book. In therapy, I help clients recognize the maladaptive patterns and harmful hidden systems that may be holding them back, and we work together to co-create a happier and healthier way of being in the world.
What would you want someone to know about working with you?
Taking the first step toward wellness and reaching out to a therapist is inherently vulnerable and brave; we will move at a pace that feels safe and respectful of your needs. In our first sessions, we’ll work to establish realistic goals for treatment while simultaneously unpacking the life experiences and unique history that brought you to therapy. Therapy can offer a mirror to clients--indeed, people in New York are often so busy that their inner lives operate on autopilot, largely unaware of their thoughts, feelings, and desires. In that way, the path toward wellness is one of observing, slowing down, and waking up. Together, we alter well-worn emotional grooves and break patterns of behavior that are no longer working for you.
If you could pick a book or quote that has influenced your approach to therapy, what it be and why?
To say that I love reading would be an understatement--books are constantly informing my perspective and challenging how I move through the world. One collection of essays that I read recently (How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee) contained a simple quote that has stuck with me for months: “in repetition is forgetting.” Essentially, it refers to the idea that that we repeatedly, deliberately engage in patterns that are painful to us because we wish for them to work out differently. Eventually, these harmful ruts become so unconscious and automatic that we don’t even remember why or how we’ve fallen into them. There’s something truly beautiful and human about this process as it speaks to the hidden, inherent hopefulness of so many behaviors that, at first glance, might be deemed irrational or maladaptive. We repeat because we yearn for change--carrying that with us should provide a lesson in empathy.
How long do I have to be in therapy?
When working with clients, there are several factors that I take into account when developing a treatment plan, and each of these factors may inform the length of therapy. Some of my clients may come in to address very specific concerns (i.e., fear of spiders) and in these cases, treatment may be targeted and shorter term. Others may need support to adjust or cope with a stressor (i.e., loss of a loved one; adjustment to a new city or job) and in these situations, treatment may continue until you are successfully equipped to manage the stressor on your own. Finally, some people view therapy as a routine wellness practice that they would like to participate in regularly--parallel to meditating or working out--regardless of other life circumstances. I am happy to work with clients who fall into any of these categories, and will tailor our time together to meet your specific needs.
What “techniques” do you use in your sessions?
Through my work as the Director of Clinical Training for a psychology PhD program (and as someone who has taught courses on “Theories of Counseling” for over a decade) I am well-versed in each of the dominant types of psychotherapy. From supervising therapists-in-training, I’ve grown to appreciate that skillful clinical work requires providers to be nimble and flexible with their approaches. Depending on the issue you bring to therapy, I may guide you through insight-oriented work, assessments, role plays, in vivo behavioral change strategies, creative practices, or narrative techniques. One consistency across cases is my expectation that clients do prescribed “homework” outside of our session, too. Healing practices work best when extended beyond the confines of a weekly 50 minute session.
“In therapy, I help clients recognize the maladaptive patterns and harmful hidden systems that may be holding them back, and we work together to co-create a happier and healthier way of being in the world.”
Melanie practices at Alma