Therapy with Melissa
From your perspective, what is therapy?
I believe that therapy is one of the best personal investments. It leads to better self understanding and greater overall happiness.
Deciding to enter into therapy is the first step towards implementing change. I feel that change is always within one’s control, and therapy is a choice that you can make for yourself when feeling less than satisfied with whatever your reality may be.
While it’s such an individualized process, to me, therapy is a place to be honest and open in order to grow into the best possible version of oneself. I believe we are all looking for connection and happiness, the path is different for each of us; my goal as a therapist is to foster understanding towards cultivating the life that makes you your best and happiest self.
Please share 2-3 anonymized examples of how the work can play out and/or look in the room so that I can form a visual or narrative of what to expect.
The work plays out differently for each client, typically an individual will explain why they are looking towards therapy now. We sit down together, I ask what brought them to therapy, what are their personal goals they’d like to work towards. Learning about the path that has brought someone in is vital in understanding their frame of mind and how to help them best.
Below is just one example of how therapy might play out:
A client is feeling frustrated because she's 29 and feels like she should be at different phases of her life, both professionally and personally. She is feeling as though she's a failure. She imagined being on the path to starting a marriage and family and felt sure that she would have made partner at her law firm. Instead, she's struggling to meet her hours and is dating someone casually.
I would first start with removing the word "should" from her vocabulary. By softening the expectations placed on her, by both herself and others, there is less pressure overall. Instead of looking at what has not yet happened, I would help this client understand the work that has gone into getting to where she is (undergraduate education, law school, clerking...)—so many years of studying and training! This is a tremendous amount of time and effort, which is something to be proud of.
I would encourage the client to look at her past relationships not as failures, but as successes, in the sense that she walked away from unions that did not bring her happiness. I would urge her to have an open and honest conversation with the casual relationship she found herself in, be assertive and explain what she's looking for in a mate.
We would find concrete tools to help work towards the goals of becoming partner at work and finding the right individual to build a life with. Being specific in what she's looking for and open to new experiences is where the work will begin.
Ultimately, it would be my goal to help steer this client towards taking some control over the entities of her life that are causing her stress and helping her realize that there is so much within her control, and she has accomplished a great amount in her 29 years.
Are there any philosophies or values that inform your work that I should know about?
I tend to subscribe to cognitive behavioral therapy approaches, understanding how our environment and actions impact our mind and vice versa.
I have studied meditation and Buddhism, and Palliative Care/Spirituality.
How much do you share about yourself during our time together and why?
I share what I feel would be necessary in order to build our therapeutic relationship, of course, this is not about me. I tend to believe that a healthy rapport is built by realizing we’re both humans, however, I do not overshare as to maintain professional and therapeutic boundaries.
How participatory are you during sessions?
There is no standard participation, each client is different. I work with what you bring to me, and if I need to talk more to engage and elicit more information to build rapport, that will be my style.
I am directive and ask questions to help mold our work together.
Do you assign homework, activities, or readings for me to do between sessions? Why or why not?
Again, this depends on each client and their interests. I do like assigning homework, if I feel it will be effective, but I promise it wouldn’t be exhaustive. It would be more along the lines of several minutes a day, to help integrate positive growth.
I have many readings, podcasts, app suggestions, journal articles and books that have been extremely helpful, and if a client is open to that I’d be happy to recommend.
How will our relationship be different than relationships I have with friends/loved ones?
It will be very different. I’m not a friend or loved one—If I was, I wouldn’t be able to look objectively at any presenting problem in a healthy way. Realizing that this is a professional, working relationship gives your therapeutic process the respect it deserves.
Is there ever a time when you would encourage me to leave or graduate? Or how do I know when it’s time to end or move on, or time to stay and explore more?
At the start of therapy I will ask for some goals, and continue to assess how we are doing. Should the goals be met, I would absolutely encourage a break from therapy.
Where did you work before going into private practice?
I’ve had a private practice for the past five years. Additionally, I continue to work with patients waiting for heart transplants at Weill Cornell Medical Center, which I have been doing for nearly ten years now.
Have you received any particular training beyond your post-Bachelor’s training?
I have trained at the Albert Ellis Institute (in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) and at Ackerman Institute (in Family Therapy). I’ve also taken classes at Kripalu on meditation, spirituality and positive psychology. Some of my most important training has been in my personal yoga and meditation practice, which has helped with my work in influencing how we can change our thoughts and feelings, and subsequently our behaviors.
What led you to become a mental healthcare practitioner?
I always wanted to have work that provided purpose and meaning, and could help others. I believe we can all learn from the therapeutic process; looking at our past behaviors and how they may impact our future, recognizing what your own personal triggers are, and being able to reorient oneself to move through life within a positive framework. Helping others in such a way is incredibly gratifying and why I was always drawn towards this work. I realized that I could never find real fulfillment professionally if I was not working towards the goal of helping others.
I have always found myself the "therapist" within my social circle, and upon finishing undergrad I decided to get my MSW to work towards formalizing this role. Now over a decade later, with my LCSW, I feel grateful to have made the choice to start working within this field—it has brought wonderful colleagues into my life, and a great sense of joy in helping others.
What is the best part of the work for you?
Seeing change unfold in clients is incredibly inspiring. I hope to continually learn and grow as a therapist from all of the incredible stories I have been honored to bear witness to. I have a deep sense of gratitude in truly feeling as though I’ve helped someone. At the end of the day, you can feel the day was a productive one.
What is unique about the work you do, or how have you found your work to be different than your colleagues’?
My approach is one of empathy, honesty and compassion. I believe individuals have this to varying degrees, and I find that being warm (which is in my nature) has always served me well, and subsequently others I have been helping.
How do you approach diversity in the room or working with clients who may come from a different background than you?
I approach diversity with the idea that we all know what it feels like to suffer, to hurt, to love, to laugh—so while our backgrounds can be drastically different, from race to socioeconomics, what is shared is understood by all—that it ultimately connects us to one another.
I like to think I'm a humanist, so diversity is hopefully not a barrier; we're all human.
How can you tell if I am benefiting from working with you?
I can tell a client is benefiting if they give direct feedback, continue to book sessions and can recognize they’re feeling some positive change.
How can you tell if I am feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard?
I find I’m intuitive enough to realize when a client is feeling misunderstood. Unpacking that and getting more granular with what they’re trying to communicate and how I can best understand would be the first step towards remedying such issues.
How long should I commit to being in therapy, at least in the beginning?
Therapy is so individualized. Some people feel better after a handful of sessions, others may need 3-6 months or more. Committing to whatever serves you is my advice.
How should I prepare for my first session with you?
Reflect on what is bringing you into therapy now, what that driving force for change is and how we can work on that together.
Do I need to bring anything with me?
Some clients like to bring a notebook or pen/paper. Otherwise, nothing special is necessary for a first appointment.
Do I need to be mindful of anything in particular while commuting to your office?
Nothing in particular.
“During the time I spent working alongside Melissa I was able to gain insight into who Melissa is professionally and personally. It has been to my great advantage to get to know her in these ways. As both a professional and as a friend, Melissa strives to be a genuine and authentic person. She has great capacity for empathy, warmth and confidentiality. She is a person who is fiercely loyal and she offers all of these qualities to all those she encounters.”
“It's amazing how much our sessions benefited me and how much better I felt after speaking with you. Thanks again for always offering such sound perspective...you really are the best! You have given me confidence, and I owe a lot of it to you...for reminding me of the kind of person I am and not letting other people dictate that!”