Sunday, April 08, 2012

First "major paper" for graduate school - DONE! CHECK!

Thereis a powerful craving inside me to follow my authentic passion in life and pursueheart-centered work. I want to engage inwork that I love, which expresses my natural gifts, brings my creativity andintuition alive, and provides both flexibility and prosperity. I need work thatcenters around and fosters self-growth for myself and others. I find human beings fascinating, and love toexplore the tender and infinite complexities of the human experience. I yearn to know people deeply and to support theirspiritual journey. From my perspective, everythingI seek in a fulfilling career is available in the field of psychotherapy, becominga counselor answers that deep calling within me.
I was encouraged by the core message of ourclass textbook which, in essence,points to the importance of celebrating our strengths. (Egan, 2010, p.146) I believe that in the workplace we are allhappiest doing what comes naturally to us. I’ve spent a lot of time in my past discoveringand naming my strengths: creative, self-reflective,resilient, spiritually aware, intuitive, and a natural leader. One of the exciting things about becoming atherapist is that although there are an endless variety of techniques, stylesand methodologies that can be applied, it really comes down to me simply beingme. Clients will come into my office justto talk with me. They will pay for mypresence and I get to do what I naturally do anyway – ask deep questions,follow the thread of their journey, step into their world – and together we willexplore and create a new way of being.
Throughoutmy life people have said to me, “you’re so creative,” but for me this goesbeyond the artistic ways I typically express myself. Everything is part of a greater creativeprocess, and the more I interact, moveand evolve with life, the morealive, effective and happy I feel. Asthe great musician Louis Armstrong once said, “What we play is life,” and it isthis ultimate sort of play that brings inspiration and aliveness into thetherapy session. And given that noclient or situation will ever be identical, Bohart (1999) says we must respondto the present moment using our intuition and creativity. He states, this is a process of working with an inspiration, intuition andflashes of insight that [are] generated from felt (tacit) knowledge.” He includes a reflectionfrom Carl Rogers who describes this creative experience as communingwith the unknown, a slightly altered state of consciousness which provideshealing. I observed this fluid process whileobserving Annamarie work with students in class. She had an absence of rigidity and a presenceof inspiration, and I resonate with her style. I am so thrilled to have chosen this new career that will encourage theexpression of my intuition and creativity.
Anothercareer goal that is close to my heart is to be in a profession that nurtures mypersonal growth as well as the growth of others. I love exploring our dreamsand subconscious, our hopes and desires, and everything that goes on inside ourbodies (sensations, feelings, breath patterns, etc.). After almost twenty years in a traditional head-centeredbusiness career, I was unprepared for how great it felt to be authentically anddeeply interested in the work of this class. I have finally experienced what it feels to do the kind of work of theheart that is truly “me.” I am so eagerto continue through this program, progress on this career path, and learnperspectives and tools that will help me better understand and support people.
Lifestyleis also very important to me, and I am setting up my life in such a way that Ican dictate my own schedule and maintain a healthy balance in life. I want to live more slowly than we do intoday’s technology-addicted culture, and I think the industrial model of humanproductivity needs to go! We are notmade to sit in front of computers for eight hours a day. I am excited about this new career path, asit makes possible both the flexibility and prosperity that I seek for myself. The variety of ways that I can put this degreeinto action is fabulous - in private practice, leading groups, businesscoaching, writing and teaching. I lovethat I can make a difference in my community by doing pro-bono work or designingprograms for different populations (like working with teenage girls to developtheir self-confidence). It really works wellfor me to be my own boss. I thrive whenI’m able to design my own work, control my own calendar, and make a living througha variety of creative outlets.
Can I be a therapist?
I absolutely know that I can be atherapist. I appreciate the many ways one can do this job and how eachtherapist can create their own unique style. And because I have seen a number of talentedtherapists, I have a strong understanding of what the occupation looks like inaction, and know how I will be able to use my strengths to be a great therapist.
Animportant part of being a therapist is the ability to make room for thedarkness, shadows, and pain that are so universal to the human experience. “Understanding the darker side of humannature without losing one’s balance, sense of humor, and deep-rooted optimism…is part of wisdom,” says Egan. (p. 275) I have compassion and space forsuffering, and think it is critical to acknowledge the pain that comes fromtrauma and heartache. I have sat with myown sadness and grief, and am neither afraid of others’ dark feelings nor thetime it may take to move through them. It is my honor to bear witness with another as they un-wrap their story. I understand the need as a therapist tocontinue looking for my own blind spots and manage my own wounded-healer. In one session with Claire, I rattled off astring of childhood traumas which pointed to a particular pattern of mine, andthe shock on her face was sweet but not overwhelming. It was enough to say to me, “I am so sorrythose horrible things happened to you, and you are strong to havesurvived.” While it likely triggeredsomething in her, her response was a perfect balance of empathy and admirationfor my experience. She was able tomirror how I felt inside, and that moment we shared was precious.
Clairealso demonstrated the maturity a therapist must possess in order to create trustand a safe space for their client. Byusing good listening skills, respecting the client and conveying empathy, thetherapist can help clients tell their stories, talk productively about the pastand move toward to a better future. Iknow from personal experience how imperative these skills are in relationship,and believe I have a talent for creating and nurturing that deep communicationand connection. I saw some great relationship-buildingon the first day of class, in a room full of naturally empathetic counselors-in-training. We quickly created trust by listening toeach other’s deeply personal introductions in silence. No one interrupted, commented or askedquestions, as a way of respecting each other’s stories. This allowed for progressively more open andvulnerable disclosure. Annamarie wasalso sheltering and facilitating the space, honoring the gravity of the storiesand balancing the building emotions in the room.
Itwas interesting to watch Claire’s style and how she created the therapeuticspace. She was rather quick to statethat we would need time to get to know each other, which I interpreted to mean thatwe wouldn’t get anything done in our sessions for a long time. That wasn’t very encouraging as a new client,and it undermined my enthusiasm for working with her. However, over time, Claire gained my trust byremembering pieces of my story and bringing them back into subsequent sessions. She demonstrated how carefully she waslistening by pulling out certain words that had energy behind them, and asked memore about the feelings she sensed underneath. For example, I had commented about not believing I could have everythingI wanted in a job. In response, she asked,“Do you think you deserve that?” It wasa great question and I thought she was very insightful for picking out thatword, “deserve,” but she noted that actually I was the one who said itfirst. Her attentiveness made me feelheard and understood, and allowed me to open further in our ongoing worktogether. These sessions demonstratedwhat Egan describes as the progression of the “working alliance” betweentherapist and client, which helps clients both continue telling their stories andmove into action. (p.37)
Anotheraspect that will help me become a great therapist is my action-oriented nature. No matter what, if I am stuck in a constrictingpattern or situation, I eventually discover some new perception, realization oraction that can cause a breakthrough. Thispredisposition to taking action came through as “Leadership” in my SiGi careerassessment. When I am struggling, I consistentlyfollow my instincts and take the actions necessary to restore joy in my life. Egan writes, “Mature people areself-managers; they know themselves, are in control of themselves and getthings done through self-awareness, self-control, personal agency. (p. 13) Thisis not to say I rush the process, more that when strategy and action are calledfor I find the courage to do the necessary work to move forward. The obstacles I have faced in my life have helpedme to learn how to set achievable goals, create realistic action steps and movethrough barriers, and therefore I know that as a therapist I can motivate andinspire others to do the same for themselves. Egan says, “Helpers do not empowerclients. Rather they help clientsdiscover, acquire, develop, and use the power they have at the service ofconstructive life change – that is, they help clients identify, develop and useresources that will make them more effective agents of change.” (p.55)
Isaw two sides of this kind of orientation to action approach during practicesessions in class, during a five-minute exercise with another student as my“therapist,” and when Annamarie counseled a student “client” in front of theroom. When I was the client, my student therapistlaunched straight into advice and possible actions I could take (regarding myissue), but missed asking questions about feelings. It was too soon to get into action, and she overlookedthe emotions that were likely at the root of my problem. Egan writes about using empathic questionsabout feelings as a “mild social-influence process, to stimulate movement inthe helping process” and the helper as “one who becomes good at the methods andskills but also uses these to help clients manage problem situations and spotand develop life-enhancing opportunities.” (p. 83) When the student played the client ofAnnamarie, she started with a problem that she wanted to take action on, butAnnamarie explored the client’s feelings first. This led the client to places far beyond the present problem - into herpast and ultimately what lay underneath the problem itself. In the end the client came to an action planthat was vastly different from her original idea.
Anotherattribute that I believe will make me a good therapist is that I’m veryself-aware. This gives me confidence, asself-awareness is one of the key factors of being an effective therapist, particularlywith managing the therapist’s own unresolved conflicts and countertransference:
Throughbehaviors like self-insight and self-integration, the therapist’s struggle togain self-understanding and work on his or her own psychological health,including boundary issues with patients, are fundamental to managing andeffectively using one’s internal reactions. One aspect of countertransference management,self-integration, underscores the importance of the therapist resolving his orher major conflicts, which, in turn, points to the potential value of personaltherapy and clinical supervision for the psychotherapists. (Hayes, Gelso, andHummel 2011)

Asan adult, I have spent a lot of time on my personal healing work. Through therapy, personal growth workshops andother healing modalities, I understand so much more about my past, my purposeand my personality. I can’t imagineanything more valuable than to have spent years on the client side of the chair,experiencing therapy first hand, and understanding personally what it feelslike to progress through the therapeutic process. I have learned to be more mindful of my internalworld, practice observing my reactions in the present moment, and manage theseresponses as an objective witness (instead of acting out or spinning out). For example, during the first day of classintroductions I found the trauma-sharing to be very intense and it triggeredvisceral memories of my own past. I wasable to stay conscious of what was happening inside of me, practice deepbreathing, and hold my attention on the other. By doing this I was able to stay in my heart and feel my emotionswithout losing myself in the others’ experience. On the other hand, “Trainees who wereincreasing efforts to manage self-awareness were related to decreased traineeinvolvement and lower client ratings of the therapeutic alliance” (Fauth andWilliams 2005). Taking intoconsideration this research that shows how excessive in-session self-awarenessmay actually hinder the therapeutic process, I understand that this is a skillthat will need to honed. I look forward in my ongoing training to strike abalance between the potentially helpful (like when managing countertransferenceand projection) and hindering aspects of self-awareness.
Whatis my level of confidence to be a therapist?
Considering my interests and strengths, Ihave a high level of confidence in my ability to be a therapist. Since the profession is about growing, adjustingand stretching oneself, I can begin as a new therapist exactly as I am. The room for growth is vast, and our workbookshowed just how delicate and nuanced each client session can be. The SiGi Career Assessment also supported myconfidence to pursue this training and career, showing that my interests,values (leadership, variety and contribution to society), personality (social,enterprising and artistic) and skills (working with people, communicating,organizing information and quick thinking) are all a good match for thisprofession.
Do I have hesitations or fears?
While I don’thave any hesitations, I do fear the potential stress associated with theprofession. As a highly sensitiveperson, I am constantly picking up information from my environment and need toregulate the stimulation I experience. Ihave learned to monitor my physical and emotional state, and have goodboundaries for self-care, but I wonder if the stimulation from client’s storiesor their need for my full attention will be overwhelming. Therapist burnout or “compassion fatigue” isa well-known aspect of working in this field, including increasedstress-related health problems from surges of adrenaline that come from highstimulation (Aggs and Bambling 2010). Despitethese concerns, my own experience with self-care and wellness has demonstrated thatI can create a nourishing lifestyle to counter-balance these kinds of workhazards. Valenteand Marotta (2005) wrote about practices for psychotherapists to build alifestyle that is “nurturing rather than depleting,” using the practice of yogaas a way to bring awareness not only to what their bodies were feeling andcommunicating but also their thoughts, emotions, and patterns of cognition. I am very interested in strengthening andpromoting better self-care and well-being, for myself and for my clients. In addition to the basics of exercise andnutrition, I want to help people to counter their adrenaline-fueled lifestylethrough relaxation techniques, meditation and prayer (as useful).
I also fear the pressure I may put onmyself as a novice therapist. In mysessions with Claire, I was stunned to see how much self-doubt I bring to mywork performance. I tend to have highexpectations of myself, and even when I am new at something and know there is no“right” way to do anything, I still feel like I’m falling short. While initially I thought I did great jobduring our five-minute practice session in class, when I read the groupfeedback my inner self-critic went wild questioning how I could have donethings differently. It turns out that I’mnot alone - women in their career tend to have chronic low perception ofself-efficacy (Coogan and Chen 2007). Itis also common that graduate students can become caught up in the mechanics andtechnology of the techniques they are learning, often getting lost in theshadow side of listening: clich├ęs,distracting questions, advice, parroting and sympathy. (Egan, 2007, p. 184) The upside is that my drive to be better atwhatever I do may help me become a better therapist, if I focus on polishing theadvanced techniques I learn and creatively tailoring counseling methods to suitthe needs of each individual client.
Finally, because I can be feisty and seethe value of taking action and creating change, I am curious about how I willhandle clients who aren’t willing to take these risks in their own life. Overall, I think this aspect of my style willbe beneficial, perhaps even a unique gift, though I recognize the need topractice patience with clients and give them permission to be where they areright now.
The difference between a social andtherapeutic relationship
Myawareness of friendship vs. therapeutic relationship has been heightened duringthis entire course, as I have been observing my (and other’s) interactions withpeople. Callaghan, Naugle, and Follette(1996) wrote about these differences, in particular how a friendship often beginsbased on something shared (like interests or mutual friends), and continueswith the condition ofbeing comfortable with each other and not requiring the other to be different. Alternatively, the relationship between thetherapist and client is something built over time, not by shared interests butthrough the development of trust, relating and caring. The role of the therapist goes beyond emotionalsupport, and challenges a client’s need to change, which can cause a level of discomfortnot common in friendship. Often in placeof this challenge to change, friends will offer their advice, opinions or evenjudgment. In a therapeutic session, thebest practice for therapists is to not offer direct advice, but give consistentunconditional acceptance of the client’s present experience.
Anotherdifference is that in therapy the attention is solelyfocused on the client. While “monologue”therapy is not effective, the unbroken attention of another human being can bedeeply healing and also revealing for the client. The attention on the client can bring things tolight, like the discomfort of receiving care and attention, behaviors whichmask their feelings, or the role they took in their family of origin. There may also be periods of silence insteadof the kind of turn-taking that happens in friendship, where friends tend tofill any “awkward silence.” One of the mostpotent pieces of advice I will take away from this class is Annamarie’s pointto only ask questions about feelings, not content. In friendships, we are often listening only forthe content.
Lastly,the more flexible boundaries of friendship are very different than the strict boundariesnecessary for the therapeutic relationship (do no harm, limit self-disclosure, no sexual relations with clients),and the therapist must know how to maintain these. I’ve become masterful with my own personal andprofessional boundaries, and use the simple practice of respecting (andexpressing) “yes” or “no”. I have nodoubt that I will be able to set good boundaries with clients, as well as helpthem see any resistance or lack of boundaries for themselves.
Summary
Through this course, working with thetextbook and workbook, therapy sessions and class observations, more than everI am keenly aware this is the right career path for me. I’m naturally introspective and good atworking deeply with people. I ampassionate about self-expression for myself and others, and love to supportpeople’s journeys. I am genuinelyinterested in the mechanics of human beings, what is deeply true for them asindividuals and what keeps them from reaching their goals. My natural inclination is to expand and grow,and the more I do this in my own life, the more I can help others do the same. I look forward to the ongoing work of holdingspace for my clients, fostering mature relationships with them, beingself-aware and present in sessions, and challenging and supporting them to makethe changes they desire for themselves.

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Hayes, JeffreyA.; Gelso, Charles J.; Hummel, Ann M. (2011); Managingcountertransference. Psychotherapy, Vol 48(1), p. 88-97.

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Valente, Vincent;Marotta, Antonio (2005); The impact of yoga onthe professional and personal life of the psychotherapist. ContemporaryFamily Therapy: An International Journal,Vol 27(1), 65-80.

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