Psychotherapy or psychobabble (Getting to the bottom of what makes a good therapist.
Interview with Lisa Lee, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
Not all psychotherapists are good at what they do, and those in need often times have no idea how to choose a psychotherapist who can really help them. So I decided to interview a friend of mine who is a psychotherapist and in my opinion a good one, in hopes that she may give us some insights into the industry and some tips for those seeking to find someone reputable. Also I find her story compelling and inspirational.
Q – At what age did you know you wanted to be a psychotherapist and why?
A – I began considering becoming a therapist at the age of 15, after having seen 16 therapists over the course of a year of being in the ‘system’, none of which were personally, academically, or professionally experienced enough to allow a feeling of safety and security to develop in me, so that I could begin the long and painful process of working through my childhood abuse issues. I was a child of the ‘system’ who so desperately wanted to talk about the abuses I had endured by my parents; the parents who had adopted me at 5 months old. Every single therapist that was assigned to my case appeared to be going through the motions of merely doing a job. They didn’t seem to care about the depth of pain and terror I had experienced, and most seemed to not be able to relate at this level at all. Hence, born of overwhelming frustration and devastating despair, I seriously considered becoming a therapist that was able and willing to work with teenagers and their families.
Q – Can you tell us a little about the path to becoming the therapist that you are today? Was it difficult? Did you enjoy the process? How long? How you managed it financially?
A – Well, at the beginning of my third year of college I was fortunate to have begun a long term relationship with a partner who maintained a steady income, so I did not have to struggle as much financially during my academic, personal, and professional development. Although, I still needed to maintain full time employment while going to school full time, combined with maintaining a household. My process of self-growth and professional development required my having to conceptually ‘braid’ together my personal past and present, academic learning, and professional trials and tribulations, in order to complete my inner work of gaining insights and implementing the necessary personal changes into myself for my professional development. This was extremely difficult, in that I needed to struggle through my childhood abuse issues and resulting triggers, cognitively understand what was happening with my feelings and thoughts both past and present, filter all of this through the academic learning, implement the professional structures and parameters specific to my profession, then finally hone down all of this information, both emotional and cognitive, into what the client needed at the time. As you can imagine, my first year of traineeship/internship was extraordinarily intense and overwhelming, having to go through all of these steps in order to develop fully professionally. I would say it took the first 10 months of doing actual therapy to honestly feel as though I was making a difference rather than doing harm. I absolutely loved going through this growth process of becoming a seasoned intern. Not only did it sharpen my skills as an up and coming therapist, it strengthened my core self, as well as my ability to see where I needed to improve myself both clinically and professionally.
Q – What are your specialties, and why did you choose them?
A – My specialties include work with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender) community, childhood abuse and trauma survivors, and adolescents and their families. All of these specialties were chosen based upon my personal experiences, and the insights acquired resulting from my personal growth in each of these areas of my life. My experiences with childhood abuses from the ages of 4 through 14 included physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and emotional neglect. The personal growth I have accomplished through doing my ‘inner work’ in therapy, having found a couple of decent therapists in the Los Angeles area, was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done or survived. Although in doing so, had it not been for my willingness to get through this process, hoping that I would one day be on the other side of the endless pain, I was motivated by my determination to trudge forward toward that end. Of course, having been raised as a teenager in a conservative suburb at the north end of Los Angeles county, not only was the childhood abuse not discovered until one of my siblings informed the middle school counselor, but being an LGBT adolescent made my world much harder to adapt to and emotionally survive in. The homophobic and sexist discriminatory and hateful comments, slurs, and bullying, from both peers and teachers, was ongoing for LGBT students from middle school through high school.
Q – What in your opinion makes a therapist good?
A – In my opinion, from personal as well as professional experiences, a good therapist continually asks themselves and at times their clients, how they can improve their skills. They must have a certain level and depth of life experience in order to be able to relate and empathize with their clients’ painful and/or anxious experiences, and they MUST have worked through these experiences enough to have developed personal insights, and have implemented the changes needed in their own lives accordingly. This is called doing the ‘inner work’. Without the majority of this process being completed, in my humble opinion, a therapist isn’t a ‘good’ therapist, they are merely mediocre. A good therapist must also know and be able to establish their own personal limits or boundaries with themselves and with their clients. If, for example, a pedophile requested therapy from me, having been sexually abused as a child, I would be unable to provide therapeutic services to them due to my bias and emotional reactions resulting from my own past experiences. Lastly, but by no means least, a good therapist must be able to maintain boundaries with themselves regarding personal disclosures. These should occur rarely throughout a therapist’s career and should solely be used strictly for the client’s benefit and process, not for the therapist’s need to talk about their own lives with their clients. For example, if a LGBT teen came to see me and stated they didn’t trust that I knew how they might feel about the homophobia and discrimination they were experiencing at school, I would share a sentence or two regarding my own experiences of such, hopefully allowing for the client to feel more comfortable talking about their feelings in this situation.
Q – What should someone seeking therapy ask and or/look for when interviewing a potential therapist?
A – If I were seeking a therapist, I would be looking for one who has been licensed for a minimum of 5 years. For my specific needs, according to my past traumas, I would need a therapist that has worked ‘in the trenches’, meaning doing therapy for foster children and families or high risk/probation adolescents. They would need to be familiar with the behaviors and symptoms resulting from experiencing multiple abuses in childhood, as well as have an understanding and empathize with the depth of the emotional scarring involved with each type of child abuse. Since I am advanced in my own work, they would need to be interactively involved in my treatment, asking many questions to attain a full understanding of my place in my process, as well as maintain the approach that I am in the lead regarding the issues I choose as such. Lastly, they need to be diligent in neutrally informing me of their observation of my process.
Q – And lastly, can you leave us with a little inspiration for those looking for help navigating the difficult path that leads to healing, and also for those that are thinking about doing what you do?
A – Essentially, I see the purpose of therapy as simply learning more about one’s self. When this occurs over time we are able to make safer and healthier choices for our lives, resulting in a hopefully more satisfying and maybe even happier existence overall. Let’s face it… you are the only one who has to live in your body, your mind, your soul, and your heart. You are therefore the only person who can make it a better place to be!
Tags: Dani Heart, good, healing, internship, issues, learning, Lisa Lee, psychology, Psychotherapy, therapist, therapy, up and coming, whole, work