My Approach to Helping
My love of counseling stems from the belief that everyone is worthy of the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. I don't believe we are here to suffer. I strive to help clients experiencing hopelessness, meaninglessness, and loneliness find purpose, connection, and belonging. The collaborative and egalitarian relationship I have with my clients promotes their innate courage and resilience, facilitating problem solving in a manner congruent to their values and beliefs.
I started my journey as a counselor after years of waiting tables, realizing I had a gift for working with people, and had always been concerned with the human condition. I also wanted to work with people who felt stigmatized or underserved by our healthcare systems. I worked for six years as a substance use counselor, specializing in opiate use disorders and women's issues. My clients’ struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, and relationships inspired me enter the field of mental health, where I work to eliminate the shame and self-stigmatization associated with these problems, opening a space for personal liberation.
My counseling approach is inspired by existentialism, feminism, social justice, eastern philosophy, and cognitive science. In other words, I focus on how you can find meaning, interpersonal connection, and freedom in you life, while recognizing the context you experience them in is unique to you and your identity. I believe that freedom of self-expression is one of the greatest gifts life has to offer. I enjoy helping people explore areas in their lives they can assert more freedom, and ways they can remove obstacles to achieving it.
How Psychotherapy Can Help
Problems like depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, and loss all have prescribed best practices for treatment and specific implications for care, but what is it about the relationship with a therapist that is so important for these treatments to be executed effectively? In other words, why can't we all just get better by reading self-help books or taking good advice?
Sometimes there are no concrete answers or solutions to human problems. Sometimes society is the problem, and there is nothing we can do to fix it to our satisfaction. However, our instinct tells us talking to another person might help. Most of us know we need support when facing a problem or challenge, but why therapy? While training to become a therapist, I took for granted that therapy worked, but didn't gain solid insight as to why until I started practicing as a counselor. I learned that people value aspects of therapy they are missing out on in their personal lives. And in our times, people are missing out on in-person human connection, acceptance, compassion, and care.
One of my first clients asked me, "So how does counseling work, anyway?" I was embarrassed I never thought to formulate a prepared answer to that question. As a therapist, I am granted the unbelievable gift of witnessing change and relief of suffering, but it is difficult to articulate how exactly therapy helps that happen. There is plenty of literature concerning why and how certain counseling approaches work, but most people just want to know, in succinct laymen's terms, how they are going to feel better. I started asking clients who had previously been in therapy, or were transitioning out of therapy with me, what had been helpful to them and why. Their responses were overwhelmingly similar.
The most common answer I received from clients was, "You really listened to me." I know listening in and of itself doesn't seem like a life-changing intervention, but good counselors are trained to listen in a way that your friends are not. In fact, I listen differently when I am with a friend than when I am with a client. When I am with a friend I am listening for things I can relate to, share my opinion or judgment about, or side with or against. As a counselor, I am listening to understand the true nature of your struggle, to really see the problem as you are experiencing it. I may be able to relate to what you say, or an experience you have had, but most times, my opinion or experience of your problem is irrelevant. To help, I need to know how you experience your problem, and how it is causing suffering in your life.
Although counselors do much more than listen to be effective, I am consistently amazed by how many people start to feel better through the experience of being heard without judgment. Our partners, coworkers, or families may listen to our problems, but they are often too biased or preoccupied really hear what we are saying and respond in a way that is helpful. Most couples fight not because they have communication problems, but because they have listening problems. Our partner cuts us off before they really hear what we are saying, and a co-worker might jump in with reassuring words just to move the conversation along. When counselors listen, they are picking up on the subtle nuances of your story, noticing when your voice cracks or carries off, when you quickly change the subject, or when you are trying to convey (or avoid) an emotion you can't name. A good counselor is listening not only to understand the way you see and feel things, but why you see and feel things they way you do. Only then can the counselor can approach the problem through your perspective with your values in mind.
Listening to and connecting with each other has become a lost art. What can we really tell about another person's internal experience by looking at their social media or reading their texts and emails? This year I realized nearly all my clients, though in counseling for different reasons, were all struggling with a lack of interpersonal connection in their lives. I found this to be especially true in young adults who had never lived without Internet. They didn't know what was missing in their lives, but they knew something wasn't right. I found most of my clients wished they had more opportunities to be with others, face to face, but didn't know how to make it happen. And even if they did, they had anxiety about what to do next - how to actually form a relationship in-person.
One of the most unacknowledged benefits of counseling is that it helps people learn how to interact with others and improve their relationships. Being in a professional relationship with a counselor helps with the development of healthy boundaries, self-esteem, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and comfort with vulnerability. One of my former clients realized his romantic relationships had failed because he had never been able to be as honest and vulnerable with his partners as he was in counseling. He realized vulnerability wasn't a weakness, but an essential component of a trusting relationship.
Vulnerability has been given a bad name in our society. We often appreciate it in others, but see it as a sign of fallibility in ourselves. Nonetheless, it is essential to the creation and maintenance of our relationships. And while professional boundaries are essential to the counseling relationship, but the best counselors become counselors because they genuinely care about the people they serve and are willing to be vulnerable alongside them. Another common response I got from clients when asked why therapy helped was, "I could tell you cared about me." Counselors do care about their clients, even if they are getting paid to see them. Personally, I have cried with clients, hugged them when asked, and thought about them long after we said our goodbyes. When a counselor cares about you, you start to care about and love yourself, which is essential to your relationships with others.
The need for therapy increases as we become disconnected from each other. In the Seattle community where I live and work, therapists are in high demand, and many people struggle to find a counselor with availability. The current demand for therapy indicates that as a society we are not listening to each other, talking to each other, or caring about each other. Therapy is no longer only reserved for those struggling with chronic mental health diagnoses; it is for anyone and everyone who needs to rediscover themselves through connection with another. You've probably heard a thousand times that humans are social creatures. Counseling provides a pathway for us to return to our social roots and re-learn how to listen, care about, and connect with each other, which in turn, makes our problems and relationships so much easier to manage.