But wait…why should I talk to a therapist instead of a friend or family member about my mental health issues?

When I put myself into other people’s shoes that have not been spending their entire career in the field of psychotherapy I realize the answer to this question might not be obvious. I am biased because this is how I make a living, but at the same time I also got into this business because I believe in the practice, not because I am trying to get rich. It’s not the best way to get rich anyway, I can definitely attest to that, but it’s a good life because it’s a very meaningful service.

One of the major differences between a conversation with a therapist and a conversation with your friend (assuming your friend is not doing therapy with you…) is that a therapist who is doing his or her job will be making 100% of the session about you and you alone. He or she may have different methods, theories, or approaches of how he or she helps, but one thing we all have in common is that we make the time about YOU. If that’s not the case and you are in therapy, I suggest you get out now! Listening is an art, a science, and a feeling. You can feel when the conversation is about you or about the other. Sometimes therapy includes teaching, coaching, cheerleading, encouraging, nurturing, confronting, or compassionate silence, but getting what you need is what therapy is all about.

 Another major difference is confidentiality. When you talk with your therapist there is guaranteed confidentiality (exceptions are all related to safety: yours and other’s). This means that you can work on issues with your therapist openly in session, spill your guts so to speak, without the possibility that this information drifts into other areas of your life. What a beautiful thing to have privacy in this way.

And one more very important difference between a therapist and a caring friend or family member is that a therapist has specific reasons for offering a specific treatment plan. This is where “therapy school” is most beneficial; we spend years studying theories and interventions so that when someone comes along we can identify specifically where that person might be ready to go next. Our friends don’t typically have this theory in their mind and be able to guide you in this way. But if you have a friend who is doing this for you, congratulations! Your friend is a great therapist!

Our friends are very therapeutic, but sometimes there are problems that are just too big and too full of hurt, shame, sadness, and guilt to feel comfortable sharing with even a close friend. These are times when seeing a therapist is a good idea and he or she can help you address those deeper issues. When you have a place to address those deeper issues this will allow for times with your friends to feel fun, easy, relaxing, enjoyable, and connecting. Everyone’s friendships are different and some friendships are all about deep meaningful sharing, but for the most part friends want you to share the “mic time” and be available. Going to a therapist will help you address deeper issues to allow you to be available for your friends.

For those of you who have had therapy, feel free to add more to this topic.  Another question that folks could address in the comments section is: “How do I know when my issue is beyond what my friends and family should hear?” and “What responses should I be looking for from others that suggest I might want to see a therapist?”

How to make the most of your therapy sessions part 2 coming soon…

How to make the most of your therapy sessions – Part 1

Effective psychotherapy requires a great deal of emotional, mental, and physical commitment so making the most of each session is important. You hired a therapist to guide you through the process and most clients see reduced symptoms when they are doing their part as well. The following suggestions can help you make the most out of your time with more or any therapist.

1.     Make it all about you!

Therapy is your time so talk about you, your experience, your past, your present, and your future. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that its important to talk about others in your life, take other’s perspective to better understand a pattern and learn more adaptive ways to get what you want from relationships. However, this can sometimes blend into a “gossip” or venting session and when it feels this way, the therapy may be less effective because the truth is that for the vast majority of situations it will be much more effective to change your response rather try or wait for others to change for you.

2.     Co-create your treatment plan

At the beginning, be open and honest about what your mental health issue(s) is(are). The best way to make progress in therapy is to collaborate with your therapist about your goals, have him/her help you identify realistic expectations about the types of changes to look for, how long it will take to get there, and how to sustain that change. Make your goals concrete and look for evidence to know that things are generally going in the right direction. Keep in mind that often things will get harder before they better. Ask your therapist to check in on your goals regularly to make sure that progress is being made, if not, why not, and make sure to make adjustments if needed.

3.     The most effective change happens with weekly sessions

For the majority of mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, the most effective therapeutic change occurs by coming to therapy on a weekly basis. This allows you and your therapist to review your week and then spend time in session practicing new skills, making connections that have perpetuated issues, and learning new ways to go about your week to reduce your symptoms and increase your happiness. It’s important maintain a weekly session until your therapist determines that it’s okay to spread sessions out and practice the skills more independently.

A strong, healthy, enjoyable life is possible for everyone and doing your own personal work is completely worth it!

Stay tuned for more tips about how to make the most of your therapy sessions~


Noticing the Conditions

One of the great felt experiences that continues to stay with me over a year after my last seven day meditation retreat is what it feels like to lower the chatter in my mind. We are conditioned to live a certain way. We experience conditioning everyday whether we like it or not. There is a price to pay when we do not follow certain social norms. This is a form of conditioning. I'm not here to preach dogma, I'm just saying that I noticed that when I was on retreat there was a subtle, but fundamental lifting of that conditioning for most of the retreat and the freedom I experienced is something that continues to become accessible when I am able to sit for 40 minutes or more. This is a huge blessing in my opinion. Not only am I able to rest my body, I am able to rest my heart, and mind. When this settled feeling becomes the forefront of my experience, humor becomes the first, most genuine, and easiest reaction to life's minor annoyances. And compassion is easily accessed for those around me. The flow of life is no longer a fight. This is what I hope to experience all the time, but alas, I am still a young student, always a student of course of the practice. What better reason to practice mindfulness is there? There are perhaps more and better reasons, but for me this is plenty, and yet suffering continues to be a highly observable and reported phenomenon in the human experience. It is said in "Being Nobody, Going Nowhere" By Ayya Khema that suffering is something to appreciate because if we did not suffer then we would not be able to achieve enlightenment. We would have no reason to practice mindfulness and wake up to the true nature of human experience. For this I suppose I appreciate suffering, but for now I am still taking her word for it. Ayya Khema also quotes the Buddha who suggests not to take anyone's word for it. Never believe me, see it for yourself. And so, I continue to practice and experiment for myself and as the Buddha suggested, you should not believe me either. Try it for yourself and see if you experience this as well. It may be worth it. For instructions and suggestions read Ayya Khema's book, it's a great one for beginners like me:)

What is trauma and how does EMDR help?

The topic of Trauma in the human experience has become an incredibly popular discussion among fellow clinicians and the amount of content available to learn about the topic can seem overwhelming. A few months ago I attended the weekend trainings at JFK University in Berkeley to get trained in a technique (and now also considered a therapy) to treat trauma called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, aka EMDR. I found the training incredibly profound, enlightening, and exciting. Here is a link to the website of the founder of the technique, Francine Shapiro, Ph. D: http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/

Her website can provide you with more detailed information and perhaps answer questions you may have about trauma and EMDR. She also has an excellent book with the same title: EMDR: The Breakthrough "Eye Movement" Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma.

The brain science that has come out to describe trauma and it's effect on memory, stress, our perceptions, our attachment style, and our ability to navigate in the world as a successful adult shows that many who suffer from trauma may be able to process that trauma with the help of EMDR. In many cases, EMDR can help clients gain an adult perspective in a relatively short amount of sessions about topics and issues that they may struggle with for years. To know that this form of therapy is available and not give it a try seems tragic. I encourage folks from all walks of life to find out if this form of therapy is something that might help you. Whether you do EMDR with me or with another clinician, don't wait any longer to give it a try.

Do you live far from Oakland? Feel free to call with requests for EMDR clinicians in your area. I may be able to recommend someone near you. 

A Well Rounded Internship

After I passed the MFT licensing exams in July 2015, an MFT intern friend of mine who had just graduated asked me, “How can I be sure to have a well-rounded experience so that when I am licensed I feel knowledgeable about the mental health system?” The result of that conversation seemed to be very valuable to my friend so I thought I would write down my responses for the possibility that others might benefit.


Vary the setting and population where you intern:

My recommendation for MFT interns is to stay open minded about where you get your hours of clinical experience. When I was earning clinical hours as an intern I worked at a non-profit grief counseling center, a summer behavior camp for children age 5 to 18 on the Autistic Spectrum (three summers in a row for continuity), an elementary school in an upper middle class neighborhood, a university counseling center, and an in-patient locked facility for adults who are severely mentally ill, where I still work part-time. All of these settings had their own unique benefits and challenges for learning effective helping skills. Now that I have completed my hours I am so glad that I had so many different experiences to pull from when the time came to pass the exams. Only two of my internships paid me for my time and from what I have heard from fellow interns this was typical. On average I have found that most internships do not pay, but they do provide supervision, physical space for seeing clients, and most trainings for free. When I had an internship that did not pay, I supplemented my income by working at Trader Joe’s part-time.


Stay long enough to get a sense of the population:

For each setting that I earned hours I stayed a minimum of a year (or a school year, which was about 10 months). This allowed me to build relationships with clients and clinicians at the setting, make an impact, and have a felt sense of what it would be like to have a career working with this population. Sometimes it takes three to six months to feel comfortable in a new placement; if it’s been three months and you still don’t feel like you understand the population or culture, don’t give up, stick with the placement for 10 months or so before moving on so that you can know for sure that you gave each setting your best effort. If one population is not a fit for you, that’s okay of course, but sometimes the most important lessons take time. Spending 10 months to a year at each setting also gives enough time for clients to open up to you about their real issues, so stick with it before dropping out after 4 to 6 months.


Make the most of supervision:

Each placement for MFT interns has a different culture and style for how supervision occurs; ask for what you need, but also try to look for the positive in each situation. Some settings have group supervision only, some have individual only, some have both, and sometimes your assigned supervisor seems so busy it’s hard to get any face time at all. If you feel the need to get extra supervision other than the one provided by your placement, search through you local association for a supervision group outside of your setting (get your placement supervisor’s permission before doing this of course). Similar to psychotherapy, you get more out of supervision when you put more into it so don’t rely solely on your supervisor to make your experience a valuable one.



The road to licensure is a marathon, not a sprint, so stay patient, be optimistic, and learn what specific self-care techniques work for you. I am very proud of all the settings where I was able to help different populations; I met incredible clinicians who continue to be part of my support network today. To those MFT interns just starting out, I hope this helps you and I hope your road to licensure is as inspiring as mine was!