In the months ahead, we’ll introduce you to a variety of therapy professionals who have shared their wisdom and expertise on GoodTherapy.org. A longtime and integral member of the GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert panel and regular contributor to our popular Dear GoodTherapy.org column, Lynn Somerstein seemed a fitting choice to lead off our new “Meet the Topic Experts” feature.
Lynn, who selected object relations as her area of focus as a Topic Expert, specializes in attachment, depression, and anxiety in her New York, N.Y.-based practice. We asked her a handful of questions designed to help you, the reader, fellow therapist, and/or potential client, to get to know her better.
1. Why did you choose counseling as a profession?
Like many therapists, I grew up in a noisy, crazy, chaotic family—everybody needed help, and no one had the courage to find it. Sometimes the solutions seemed clear to me, and I did what I could, but I was a kid, and dealing with my family’s multiple problems felt like washing all the windows in a New York City skyscraper single-handed. I got through my childhood by dancing, painting, and playing the piano, but I always wished somebody would magically turn up and save us.
My family’s worldview was very negative—the family cheer was: “Hooray for me and the hell with everyone else.” I didn’t feel I could live in that kind of world; somehow, I was born with a different attitude.
One of my first jobs was as a caseworker for family services, where I experienced the joy of being able to help others and was a lot more successful at bringing people together than I had been in my childhood home. I’ve been in private practice for a long time now, and nothing compares to the satisfaction I experience as a therapist.
2. Why object relations?
The name “object relations” is not the greatest; it should be “people relations”—then everyone would know what it means. By chance, my main mentors, Leila Lerner and Art Robbins, have an object relations perspective, and I got a lot of my training with them, but mostly object relations makes sense to me—when my babies were first born, I felt them reach out to me as I to them. They were related beings from the very beginning. That’s what “object relations” means.
3. If you had to pick another area to specialize in, what would it be and why?
I am very tempted by body work—I have studied yoga for many years and am a registered yoga teacher, or RYT. I incorporate my knowledge of the body in my therapy work.
4. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I love seeing people find their path, and get going on it!
5. How do you maintain balance between your work and personal life? What are your self-care strategies?
As I mentioned before, I’m deeply involved with yoga. I do a full vinyasa class at least three times a week, and I meditate every morning, usually preceded by a shorter home yoga practice. I am very lucky—my personal life is full, with loving family and friends. Reading, writing, working with images, and nurturing my plants are all very much part of my life. I bake bread, cook, and listen to music. I love to walk, and I’m lucky to live in New York City, where most everything I do is within walking distance. My office, apartment, and the yoga studio are all close together—maybe 15-minute walks from one to the other. I think of it as my golden triangle.
6. What would you say to other therapists who specialize in object relations?
I would say that their best teachers are other people, especially friends, spouses, parents, and kids. Spend time with them and listen. Work with a good supervisor and join a study group with other therapists, where you can make deep, long-lasting relationships and support one another.
7. If you had to choose another profession, what would it be? Why?
I might choose to be a veterinarian. I love animals, and always share my home with a rescue cat or two.
8. Are there any famous or notable people, inside or outside the realm of psychology, who inspire you? If so, who and why?
My first inspirations were my two grandmothers. They weren’t famous to anyone but me and their families. They were independent women who had their own businesses and made a pretty good living, and they were both playful and loved kids. My paternal grandmother, Gussie Newell, was very involved in local politics and started a community organization dedicated to helping women and their families. My mother’s mother, Anna Thomas, loved animals, plants, and cooking. Their interests live on in me.
Swami Radha, who coincidentally looks a lot like my Grandma Gussie, embodies determination and radiates joy; her soft/strong soul encourages me. She is the founder of the Yasodhara Ashram in Canada.
In psychology, I’m most attached to the works of D.W. Winnicott, Marion Milner, and Naomi Ruth Lowinsky. Winnicott started out as a pediatrician, Marion Milner was a child psychologist and a painter, and Ruth Lowinsky is a Jungian analyst and poet. Reading their works deepens my own creativity and analytic abilities.
You didn’t ask what I’m listening to, but I’ll answer anyway. Project Trio and Chavela Vargas show up a lot on my play list right now, along with A Meeting by the River, by Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. The music of these three is quite different, from chamber music, jazz, and hip-hop to Mexican rancheras, and finally Hindustani classical music, but they all embody deep emotional resonance and expression.
9. What do you believe is the biggest misconception about therapy or therapists?
Some people think that once you start therapy it never stops—therapy takes time, but it does not last forever, nor should it. A therapist’s success is measured by the people who have been helped, say thank you, and leave treatment when they are ready.
10. What would you most want a potential client reading this to know about your approach to therapy?
The client is the leader in how far, how fast, and how deep we will go together, so I most want potential clients reading this to know how important it is to speak their minds. Speaking up can be very difficult if you’ve had a traumatic background—it was for me—but you can learn, and I make it as easy as I can. I like people to remember that even if therapy can feel painful, it isn’t always. Sometimes we can have a good laugh together.