A GoodTherapy.org member since August 2012, Erika Myers has been a steady contributor to The Good Therapy Blog in recent months, sharing her wisdom about parenting amid divorce, for example, and advocating for a “benign neglect” approach to parenting that allows for children to learn and grow—rather than be rescued—from the harmless challenges they encounter.
The fourth member of our fast-growing Topic Expert panel to be featured in our ongoing “Meet the Topic Experts” column, Erika works out of her office in Asheville, North Carolina, where she focuses on family therapy and transitions. Clients who visit her office aren’t the only ones benefiting from her insight, however. Through our Dear GoodTherapy.org column, in which readers submit questions to trusted therapist members, she has sensitively addressed concerns such as sibling favoritism and guilt stemming from parents who stayed together solely for their child’s benefit.
We asked Erika 10 questions designed to help readers, fellow therapists, and potential clients get to know her better, both as a person and as a therapy professional.
1. Excluding your education and license, what makes you uniquely qualified to be a therapist?
I think I came to therapy fairly naturally. Growing up, I was the person people would come to for advice and support. I think in addition to being a good listener, I am a pretty accepting person, so I offer a space that is free from judgement which I think is so essential in therapy. I’m good at putting things together—someone might share stories that seem unrelated, but I often help them find the deeper connections—the undercurrents in which the essence of their issues seem to be.
2. Why family therapy?
Nothing is more important, personal, and complicated than family. Our families shape us, sustain us, and often frustrate us. We get locked into patterns of relationships in our families that impact the way we develop friendships, romantic partnerships, and even professional relationships. We carry our families, in one way or another, with us throughout our lives, and understanding those connections and being intentional about the way we create our families can have a major impact in all areas of our lives.
3. If you had to choose another specialty, what would it be and why?
Anxiety. I think most of us feel anxiety at varying levels on a regular basis. Anxiety can be such a powerful motivating and positive force, but when it is overwhelming, it can block us from doing what we want to do and being who we want to be. I love working with people on letting go of the messages of judgment that so often accompany anxiety, and moving toward a place of self-acceptance.
4. What is the best thing about being a therapist?
It is such an honor to be invited into the lives of the people I work with. I am reminded on a daily basis of the amazing resiliency of the human spirit, and am inspired to look closely at my own life and make the changes I need to grow and maintain my own well-being.
5. What is the worst thing about being a therapist?
Not being able to share. It’s so hard to come home and say, “I had an amazing day at work” and not be able to talk about why it was amazing, or hard, or inspiring, or exhausting. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of what we do, but it can make being a therapist a bit isolating.
6. How do you decompress after an emotionally trying day? Any self-care strategies you’d like to share?
One of my favorite strategies is soaking in a nice, hot bath. As the mother of a very active toddler, however, I don’t always get the chance to take advantage of a lot of downtime right after work, so I try to shift my focus to my son and really engage with him. I try to practice some mindfulness techniques to really appreciate what he and I are doing in the moment, whether it is making dinner or reading books at bedtime. Also, chocolate. A square or two of good dark chocolate can sometimes be a nice pick-me-up after a really trying day.
7. Are there common things that people get out of therapy, regardless of the particular problem that brought them to treatment?
I think there is something so powerful about being able to tell your stories to someone who not only doesn’t judge you, but also is not connected to anyone else in your world. Therapy can be a haven, a safe place to say out loud the things that scare us, embarrass us, worry us—and that alone can make a real difference. My hope would be that all people would be able to experience validation, clarity, and empowerment through therapy, regardless of their reasons they seek treatment.
8. Who or what inspires you?
My clients often inspire me. The courage they show in sharing their stories, seeking help, and truly wanting to change is amazing. My son is probably my biggest inspiration, though. He makes me so much more intentional about the things I say and do and the choices I make, since I know he is watching and learning and imitating what he sees and hears. He makes me think about the person I want to be and actually work toward being that person.
9. How does what people think you do compare to what you actually do?
One of the most typical questions I get from people, “Isn’t it depressing to listen to people’s problems all day?” highlights a major misconception about the work I do. I think what people don’t know is that while helping clients grapple with issues can be hard, it is incredibly fulfilling and actually quite inspiring. I get to hold the hope for people who are not able to access it. I get to see them work through their pain and come through stronger. Part of my training as a therapist involved learning how to join with people in pain, but not take their pain on myself. This allows me to work with people who are going through some really hard times without getting lost in there with them—instead, I get to help guide them out.
10. What would you most want a potential client reading this to know about your approach to therapy?
Sometimes clients come in and ask what I’m going to do to “fix” them. I’m not in the fixing business—mainly because I don’t see my clients as broken. They might be stuck. They might have things that are not working for them. They might be in pain, but they don’t need to be fixed. My role is not to tell them what to do, but to help them come to their own conclusions and find the solutions that work for them. I do that by listening to their stories, asking questions that might push them to dig deeper, and helping them challenge ideas that might not be working for them.