Advice for New Therapists… and Longtime Ones.

A week ago, my longtime friend Stan Smith MSW asked me to do some talks at USC.  The students were fantastic- they were really attentive, experienced, knew a lot of stuff, and so cool for me to see- were really into being of service in a climate that often doesn’t support our efforts.

The talks were focused on the idea of “legitimate suffering”, mostly.  It’s an idea stolen from Carl Jung, an idea near and dear to my heart for a bunch of reasons.  As I always do, we spent some time addressing questions that came up from students about doing The Work.

In both classes, the question came up, “What advice do you have for someone new in the field?”  This question mirrors too what a lot of our clients come in with.  I think the underlying theme of this for both mental health professionals and clients is, what do we do to give/get help?

It can be a complicated question, on both sides of the office/clinics etc.  As relates to depression, abuse, loss, addiction, anxiety, self esteem, relationships… whatever, if we intend to serve people suffering with it, we have a responsibility to an organized body of material that we think can be helpful.  My experience is that if it is used, it’s often helpful, when it’s not used, it is not.  Rarely is it simply not helpful at all.  The biggest mistake in my view, is simply not having a philosophy and principles for such things.  They should be agreeable both for client and caregiver, and of equal importance- they should be practical, empirical… things we can point at, that someone can do to improve the quality of their life, relationships, and decrease suffering from the things it is in our purview to treat.

We get some practical information as clinicians, some ideas framed by some “theoretical orientation” (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, psychodynamics, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Jungian Psychoanalysis, etc).  Often though, it reaches what some patients need, but usually in the context of that orientation specifically.  It’s not to say that this information can’t be generalized, but it misses some of the fundamental aspects of what I think I’m being asked by a new clinician when they ask me what advice I have for someone new in the field.  This is talked about even less with “seasoned” or experienced clinicians.

More specifically, I think I’m being asked things like;

“How do I develop my style?”

“How do I provide great service?”

“How do I avoid burnout?”

“What can I do to develop my skills in an ongoing way?”

“How do I set and problem-solve boundary issues with clients?”

“What should I do to pass my licensing exams?”

“How do I set fees/schedules/obtain clients/deal with insurance companies/etc?”

“What can I do to get a job, and to stay busy in this as a career, when the economy is bad, insurance companies are difficult, agencies and hospitals are few, and there’s little funding available?”

“How do I deal with difficulties with specific clients, or colleagues?”

And etc.

As these are big questions to be tackled, and there’s certainly more, it’s better served to answer them in a book (or in school, but that happens little).  Sadly, there’s really only two practical guides for therapists that specifically address these kinds of considerations.  Finally getting to the point, here’s a truncated list of ideas that we discussed in these classes that I think might be helpful in some of these areas.

1.  Make sure you’ve endeavored to work through your own stuff. We’re already notorious for “going into the field to figure out ourselves and our own families”.  Get therapy.  Go to support groups or twelve step meetings.  Write, and share it with other people.  Have a meditative practice…

2. Focus on putting yourself out of a job, and the rest is easier- surviving, avoiding problems like job loss or getting referrals or whatever.  High quality patient care is the best way to do anything, as far as I’m concerned.

3.  Spend time mulling over what a high quality of attention is, and use that everywhere in your life.  Kids don’t just equate love and attention, they also feel the quality of that attention.  Same with our partners, and clients.  In our world, it’s one of our most-taxed commodities, and one of the greatest sources of creating or perpetuating problems.  It might be argued then, that it’s one of our most viable means of solutions.

4.  Read Sheldon Kopp- particularly “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!” and “Back To One”. The former has the subtitle, “The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients”.  Would argue as much as it’s great for them, it’s better for us.  The latter is one of the two books I know about that are a practical guide for clinicians.  In it, he talks about a lot of the questions above- even how he deals with running into a patient in an elevator.

5.  Have principles you live your life by, and share ’em with clients.  One of the things I tell my clients the first day is, I have a responsibility to try to be the healthiest person in their life.  For me, that comes from principles.  On a totally unrelated note, since many ask, this is also part of the source of the pet name “April 30th” for my practice.  It helps as an anchor to remind me of what those principles are.  It’s also a great means of putting me out of a job- if my clients leave with principles, they have methods of problem-solving, so that they don’t need to stay with me to solve them as they come up.  At least, until they get good at using those methods.

6.  Survive school. It’s a place to learn, not get straight A’s.  There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, except for the fact that many of us with self esteem/perfectionism problems of our own, this can become a terrible handicap.  School, in my opinion, is designed to expose us to what legislative and regulatory bodies see as the most fundamental body of material we, and they, have a responsibility to, that insures we provide service safely and ethically.  It therefore almost can’t be a place where we really learn how to put ourselves out of a job.  That, in part, is why I think our ongoing efforts are called a “practice”.  Doing school in a way that is unhealthy (feeds perfectionism, supports us trying to fix a flagging self esteem, etc) makes us less useful long-term.

7.  Remember why you got into the field in the first place.  This one elegant idea can get us out of a lot of emotional, ethical, and practical scrapes.  On a related note, I’ve seen some of us get so fearful of our ability to stay busy that we forget and/or compromise this idea, to the detriment of not only our clients, but in maintaining a base of people to care for.  If we operate in the spirit of helpfulness, my experience has been that we can more effectively stay in jobs and clients to take care of- more than any “marketing strategy”.

8.  Have a life outside of The Work. This is also a responsibility to our clients, I’d argue.  Nature seems to reward diversity in most every environment.  This is true too, in being a mental health provider.  It keeps us culturally aware, maintains our own health in different areas of our lives, and asks us to use skills we try to teach clients.  Hobbies, activities, intellectual curiosities, responsibilities, and of course relationships- but more on those below.

9.  Accept that the licensing exam is unlikely to make sense, in light of what you intended for the field. Referring back to #6, my experience with MSWs, PhDs, PsyDs, MAs/MSs and etc, few of us felt like the licensing exams really asked us to know what we thought we should when we took them.  This was true too, of my licensure as a Psychiatric Technician (all the way back in 1988 or so).  They help regulatory bodies insure that we are safe to work, and little else.

10.  Have relationships, first by working on how to be worthy of them, and make them matter.  So often, I have people ask me how I’ve not just survived, but been passionate about doing The Work since 1984.  That is a deep question, and really goes to how I deal with all of my feelings about all my life… hence, too big for a blog.  Having relationships though, is a huge part of that.  We all want love, fun, humor, depth, responsibility and etc, but my experience is that we often focus on getting these things more than we do being these things.  Being these things I think makes us more likely to have them in a way that has quality, and certainly, enables us to live more gracefully with living a life where we often have to wade through human suffering.  This does more to prevent “burnout” than any amount of exercise, hobbies, and etc (though I of course think these things are important too.

As per usual, this is a really truncated list, and certainly doesn’t address all of the relevant dynamics of these considerations.  They do though, reflect a lot of what I wish I had as a basic framework to operate from when going through a lot of getting to mental health, and working in it since 1984.  Sure gives me some parts of another book I feel a responsibility to work on…

Why Being a Therapist Is Better than Being a __________, at Least for Me.

When I was a kid and started thinking about what I was going to do as a “career”, I always knew I’d be a therapist or musician (as it turned out, was lucky enough to do both).  The reason is in part, growing up, I didn’t watch the usual TV shows- I was watching “The Twilight Zone”, “Kung Fu”, “Star Trek” (the original version), “M*A*S*H”.  What so intrigued me about the likes of Rod Serling, Kwai Chang Caine, James Tiberius Kirk and Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce was that they seemed to think there was “more” to the world, saw things others didn’t, and had deep passion.

In their wake, I tried to be “good” at lots of things.  Some of this came from feeling a deep sense of “not being enough”, and what still feels to me an unavoidable passion to do things That Matter.  The former almost killed me (as Sheldon Kopp said, “Why be perfect when you can be good enough?”), but the latter stays with me to this day… thankfully.

My first inpatient job while working on my Psychiatric Technician licensure (completed in 1988), I remember thinking how cool it was that all I needed to do my job was a black Bic medium point ball point pen, and my personhood.  In subsequent years, have come to a number of other awarenesses that have meant much to me.

It seems to me that it’s become a luxury for many of us to simply do what we would like to do, if we were to have our choice.  Many of us fall into what we do and begin to love it, maybe we do what our parents did, or simply honored a family business.  Lots of us do what we think we ought, or simply take on what feels best to serve and provide for our families.

All these are of course noble pursuits, but on the coattails of Rod Serling, Kwai Chang and Hawkeye, I have always felt compelled toward human service.  Famously, Lloyd Dobler (played by John Cusack in the film “Say Anything”) said, “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”  Some of this points to why I’ve resisted other careers (and, Lloyd and I also turned to martial arts… a totally different story).

Many of us serve ourselves, but are still unsatisfied.  We work at jobs we are unhappy about, sometimes with people we are unhappy with, sometimes for things we don’t really need.  In some cases, these pursuits relieve others of resources that might be used otherwise- resources like money of course, time, and all too infrequently mentioned… our attention.  Some of these efforts are unsustainable, and environmentally unsound.

Not as if therapy, counseling, psychiatry and etc don’t have their defects that are creating some problems.  Overdiagnosis, starting with interventions like medication when arguably not called for and/or lesser interventions haven’t been endeavored, pathologizing and symptomatizing everything (often even the most understandable and euthymic kinds of feelings/emotional experience), passivity on the part of the clinician and more create big and often lifelong difficulties as well.

It’s hard though for me not to see a poor relationship with ourselves, others, our sense of worth, depression, addictions (and “codependency”), anxieties and fears, and maybe a couple more as being the soul (and result) of much human suffering.  That also creates in my view, the suffering of other creatures.  In the shadow of this, helping us through these concerns, and providing a framework for others to operate on in a like way are at this point, the most useful thing I can think of doing.  At least a thing that I’m good at.  ;-p  That’s a quip about my “musicianship”.

It is of great import to me that I have a small footprint on the planet.  Deeply concerned about where humans are going mentally, emotionally, physically and “spiritually”, I can scarcely think of a way to be more useful.  Therapy is a practical way of putting philosophy into use.

Something that matters to me a lot in light of some of the above is that it’s a great way to create something that can be easily passed on by others.  An organized, simple (but unfortunately not terribly easy…) and principled way of behaving in the world that can be shared can create great change of course.  Doing clinical supervision, teaching, giving tools to parents, or simply doing work with people who are in a place to impact others are my favorite areas of focus, and seem to be the most practical way of passing on what we’re capable of.

In the digital age, I don’t even have to use my pen or paper as often.  I get to impact people deeply, and most of what it takes is just me being as healthy a person as possible, and my time/being deeply present.  It’s also something I should be capable of doing for a long time.  I get to share and experience different people, cultures.  Many types of work are possible- use of humor, sharing resources, sharing experiences, teaching, problem-solving, processing, consulting and more.

Gratefully, all these years later, I could scarcely think of doing anything else, and still feel deeply committed to The Work.  The “how’s” and “why’s” of avoiding what some call “burnout” are an entirely different thing to write about.  Point is though, I’m so, so lucky I get to do something that I still feel so deeply passionate about, and doesn’t violate any of Lloyd’s principles.

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Clinical Supervision: A New Intern!

One of the better ways I think I can be of use to the community is by training other therapists and interns.  Have now hired and am doing clinical supervision with a new Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, Sarah Wood, MS, MFTI (#66300).

Am really happy about getting to do this.  With the Partners in Recovery program for interns sunsetting at the end of the last school semester, there’s been less opportunity to get to work with folk that way.  Am double excited about getting to do so with Sarah, because she’s already great at what she does, and really has a taste for The Work.

She comes on the recommendation of one of our last interns, Melissa Lamoureux, who was also at Partners in Recovery.  Sarah did her graduate work at the amazing program at Cal State Fullerton.  She’s done a lot of great work in the community already, specializing in therapy with children, trauma services for all ages, eating disorders/other addictions and more.

I feel like it’s a stroke of luck to get to work with her, am happy to get to recommend her services.  Please go by her website and learn more about Sarah at sarahwoodtherapy.com.  Welcome Sarah!

7400 Hours, Psychology, Clinical Supervision

About three years ago, my friend and colleague Judy McGehee LMFT (Partners in Recovery) began a supervision program for Marriage and Family Therapist interns (people that have completed their coursework for Masters degrees) and trainees (those who are about to complete Masters degree coursework).  Borne solely out of a desire to be helpful, and pass on the ability to provide effective human service, for fun and for free, Judy took on supervising 8 or so trainees and interns.  We were joined also by a visiting therapist, Ted Aaseland, Psy.D.  A little over two years ago I joined her in this endeavor, as I care deeply about passing on how to do “The Work”.

Over the course of those years, those interns provided services to the Glendora School District and elsewhere to children and adolescents for free.  Some of these turned into outpatient clients, individuals and families, also for free.  There were also public speaking engagements for adults and adolescents, professionals and non-professionals.  After all was said and done, over 7400 hours of free therapy (not including the speaking/community education efforts) were provided, all for free.

Interestingly and tragically, there are several stories that run in parallel with this one.  Before I get there though, it would be instructive to tell you a little about this process, both from the perspective of the licensed folk/interns/trainees, and from the folk we hope we were helpful to.

Will start with the experience of the trainees/interns/licensed folk.  Most universities require several hundred hours of internship/clinical experience for graduation.  The processing of these hours is supervised by a licensed therapist (who can be a supervisor, as regulated by the Board of Behavioral Sciences), and the student must pay for this process.  Most universities, in an uncomfortable wrenching of common sense, either don’t have someone to organize/and or set up/maintain these supervision placements, or they’re simply not updated for various reasons.  The student/trainee however, is still required to do this.  To add insult to injury, the trainee when in supervision, if they can find an agency, is rarely given a real experience of being supervised at their work.  It seems flabbergasting to consider this, yet it’s tragically true.

Similarly, interns (therapists just out of school) have to complete over 3000 hours of work with patients/clients, just to sit for the two licensing exams.  They have six years to complete this process, requiring continuing education to reset their chance to sit for the exams.  That means that they have to see clients, and that those hours also have to be supervised.  Related to both this issue and Judy’s (Ted’s, and mine) efforts, we were completely unable to get other clinicians to volunteer for either of these processes (for trainees or interns)- not even a couple of hours a month, let alone the minimal 2-4 hours a week.  In light of the complaints of most people we know not feeling like they received quality supervision, this is no small issue.

The second body of material that is really important here is the students and families.  There were of course the predictable experiences with clients who struggled with behavioral problems, substance use/addiction, depression, stress, bullying, pregnancy, self esteem, eating disorders, anxiety and the like.  It was also really common to have active suicidality, reports of abuse, the precursors of “thought disorders” (schizophrenia, and the like), violence, abandonment, PTSD, mood disorders (bipolar disorder and related problems) and more.  There was psychoeducation, crisis intervention, abuse reporting, ensuring of safety, documentation, creation and use of materials, referrals to resources, interfacing with administrators/Department of Children and Family Services/other clinicians/teachers/families and more, interviewing, showing up for IEP/planning meetings and more, and oh yeah… individual and family therapy.

The interns (and will give a little credit to us as well) braved all of these issues and more.  All for free.  Seven thousand, four hundred hours of it, and the attendant signing off of supervision hours.

We met weekly for all this time, as individuals and as a group, to meet the requirements for the relevant university, and for the Board of Behavioral Sciences.  We met in between to take care of paperwork.  To problem-solve.  To handle questions.  We met for lunches, at each others’ homes, in restaurants, in parking lots.  We celebrated birthdays, mourned losses, processed issues, checked one anothers’ heads.  There was a lot of happiness, crying, efforts to glean resource support to continue the work, discovery.

There’s certainly more to be said, and obviously, more work to be done.  Though this cycle of supervision is over, we still have a lot of passion and ideas for what might be next.  The whole point of writing this though, is simply to honor the work of Michael Cardenas, Eryka Gayoso, Elva Cortez, Jessica Wilson, Jeffrey Craig, Melissa Lamoureux MS, Ted Aaselund Psy.D, and most of all, Judy McGehee LMFT.  Thanks so much for making all this matter, and letting me participate.

One Less Supervisee.

Yes!  As of today, I have one less supervisee… Brendan Thyne passed the second section of his licensing exam!  He has always been a fantastic therapist, and this is a great thing to happen for everyone, patients and colleagues alike.  Brendan Thyne, LMFT.  Nicely done Bren… you rock, and can’t say enough about who you are and the work you do.

Recognition for Partners in Recovery

Last Monday (9-26-11), Judy McGehee MFT, Melissa Lamoureux MS, Erika Gayoso MA, Ted Aaselund PsyD, Michael Cardenas, Jeffrey Craig, Jessica Wilson, Elvia Cortes MA and myself were recognized by the board of the Glendora Unified School District at their monthly meeting.  Formally, the agency is called “Partners in Recovery”, a nonprofit organization of clinicians providing services in Glendora and surrounding communities.

Judy, and I have been providing clinical supervision (a necessary component for grads and soon-to-be grads to get their “hours of experience” to sit for licensure as therapists or social workers) for the above mentioned interns and trainees.  Trainees are obtaining hours to graduate with their Masters degrees, interns are working on their hours (3000 hours of service over 104 weeks) to sit for the licensing examination with the Board of Behavioral Sciences.  In turn, the supervisees (the ones above and others from previous years) have provided thousands of hours of free services to the Glendora Unified School district, from elementary thru high school.  The supervisees from Partners have been assisting with issues of depression, abuse, family discord, eating disorders, suicide, addiction, grief and loss, bullying, self esteem, anxiety problems and more.

The program has been running since 2009 with Judy at the helm, and will continue at least through this year.  Judy, Ted, and the interns/trainees are all highly skilled clinicians.  It is a fantastic way for people to get services that might not have otherwise.  Nicely done everybody.

New Office Space

Have to start here with some gratitude. As many of you know, The Work is really a mission of sorts for me- trying to put myself out of a job so to speak. So many have been so kind and encouraging about my work. Clients, colleagues, friends. It’s really important to me to have a clearsighted and organized way of being a partner with people in eliminating suffering, having principles… preferably both.

Left doing inpatient full time in April, in favor of doing private practice full time. The folk above (and more) have responded by sending a lot of folk my way to do service with/for. As a result, my longtime office space with Brendan Thyne MA, and his dad Rick Thyne MFT (Patrick Thyne and Associates) became too small (time wise) to accommodate my clients.

Noting this because getting a new space wasn’t just a task- it is a loss in a lot of ways. Brendan and Rick are relatives (of choice and affiliation)- and fantastic therapists. The space across the street from Pasadena City Hall has been beautiful, and I really enjoy the surroundings. Between losing the familial contact and the space, is a big deal.

That said though, have found a fantastic space to do The Work in. Am hoping that it will bring an energy and space that can be filled with whatever it is that people need. Want to send some appreciation specifically for Yvonne, my dad, Judy McGehee LMFT, Erika Gayoso/Michael Cardenas/Ted Aaselund and Elvia Cortes. Also appreciation to Jeff Boxer Esq, David Wolf, Ed Wilson PhD, Sue Stauffer, Barbara Waldman PhD, Barbara O’Connor MFT, Tricia Hill, of course Lali and Sadie. A special note for my clients though- you all continue to humble me deeply, and have been fantastic supporters of my work.

Here’s a pic of the new space- near the end of the 110, the 134/210. New address is 547 S. Marengo Ave, Pasadena, 91101:

Clinical Supervision/Partners in Recovery

Quick note from Partners in Recovery about the work we’ve been doing. They can now be found on Facebook:

“Petar Sardelich, MFT, MAC, LPT, has joined Judy McGehee, MFT in supervising La Verne University Trainees, and Interns, in the Glendora Schools Internship Program. Since September 2009, interns, therapists and trainees have been offering 40 hours per week of probono mental health counseling and education in the community. This includes Whitcomb High School, Glendora High, Sandburg and Goodard Jr. High. Community and Parent nights have educated participants about drug and alcohol abuse, building communication between parents and teens, and in March, 2011, information regarding bullying and helping individuals in combatting this behavior. PIR is a non-profit organization where volunteer therapists and board members provide mental health services and referrals in the community.”

Partners in Recovery website:
Judy McGeehee/Partners in Recovery

Love and Service.

Thanks for dropping by my blog page.  As the introduction notes, I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Psychiatric Technician, and Masters level Addictions Counselor in Pasadena, California.  Though I’ve been doing some private practice for many years in addition to the twenty-six I’ve been doing inpatient work, I’ve now gone out on my own, to do just private practice.
            Providing treatment is my life’s work.  Having not just survived, but also (somewhat) gracefully dealt with some suffering of my own, I have been given not just some answers- but with those answers, also responsibility to others.  Holding on to those responsibilities is not only bad for other people, it would be unhealthy for me too.  So, very early, I started being of service.
            Having worked inpatient for so many years, I’ve been lucky (and saddened) to take care of most every type of human suffering possible.  Most of my work has been with adults and adolescents.  Depression, loss, grief, addiction, trauma, abuse, stress, mental illness (for lack of a more graceful term), relationships, desires (and need) for personal growth or “life coaching”, chronic pain, medical illnesses, family problems, couples problems and more have all been tragically present and have arguably increased over the years I’ve provided service.  There is much work to be done about all of these things and more.  It seems now that the most effective way to care for these problems is for me to see individuals, families, and couples privately.
            It was suggested by someone I consider wise that I find a way to make myself available to people when they are not able to be around me.  Aside from writing a book, providing materials from talks I do in the community, I am starting a blog.  There is much work to be done, and many answers are possible that can improve the quality of all our lives, if we’re willing to live by some principles and do some work.  My hope is that I can take you along with me as I do so, by way of communicating here.
            And so to it.

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Available Tuesday through Saturday

626-676-0541
Hours vary, depending on the day.
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