Therapy with Mike
From your perspective, what is therapy?
Therapy is a process by which you learn about yourself, heal painful wounds, and hopefully grow into a happier, more satisfied person. Talking with a non-judgmental outside observer who makes you feel listened-to and understood helps you to safely look inward, begin to get acquainted with your innermost emotions, and hopefully start to connect the dots between your past experiences and involuntary patterns in your life today. This new level of self awareness can empower you to move beyond your old traumas and potentially shift the entire trajectory of your life.
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.
A recent client complained of crippling anxiety whenever he enters a new social situation. Eventually he revealed residual feelings of shame and humiliation as a result of extremely critical parents. My response: “I can definitely understand why a new social situation would feel threatening, since you have been programmed from a young age to expect criticism at every turn. That must be exhausting and frustrating. I wonder if you can think of any situations where you feel safe from criticism, and you are able to relax for a minute. Can we find any reasons why those situations might feel different?”
Another client complained of extreme stress over the success or failure of her startup company. After some work, she shared feelings of cultural pressure from her South Asian immigrant mother and a profound sense of abandonment as a result of her father’s departure from the family when she was only 2 years old. My response: “It seems like you have internalized a deep feeling of needing to protect your mother from any more disappointment by being everything she needs you to be. Plus, you probably feel like anything short of huge success means you will be abandoned by people you care about. No wonder you are so anxious, who wouldn’t be with that kind of pressure? Maybe we can think about ways to experiment with addressing your own needs, and see that it may not cause others to either fall apart or leave you.”
Are there any philosophies or values that inform your work that I should know about?
The work I do is primarily “psychodynamic” therapy, which is traditional talk therapy designed to help you explore the full range of your emotions, including ones you may not even be aware of. Hopefully this helps you get a better understanding of how your behavior and mood are affected by unresolved issues and unconscious feelings.
I also like to work “relationally,” because the relationship that develops between us in the room is the best tool we have to do our emotional detective work.
Lastly, I am always thinking from a trauma-informed perspective, as I feel that most of us are unknowingly carrying the effects of some kind of neglect or abuse around with us in our bodies.
How much do you share about yourself during our time together and why?
I try to stay sensitive to how much you want or don’t want to know about me and only offer personal information if I feel it will contribute to you having a healing experience. Often, I do share feelings that come up for me in the moment, because I feel that genuine emotional responses and give-and-take is essential for building a trusting relationship.
How participatory are you during sessions?
I am very active in sessions and am always looking to build a supportive, challenging, and interactive relationship.
Do you assign homework, activities, or readings for me to do between sessions? Why or why not?
I try to avoid anything feeling like homework, but if something comes to mind that might be helpful to what we are working on, I might recommend a book or article or a movie. Once in a while, I might suggest journaling or documenting your dreams, but only if we feel we can learn something from it, and it makes sense with your style.
How will our relationship be different than relationships I have with friends/loved ones?
The therapy relationship is unique in that I don’t have any emotional skin in your game. It’s a rare situation where you get an outside party with an unbiased viewpoint who is nonetheless very interested in listening to you. A successful therapy experience should feel connected, caring, and trusting, like a friend or loved one would be. But ideally at different times I will take on the characteristics of lots of other relationships in your life, which is great because that allows us to examine what’s really happening in your interactions with the people around you.
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?
Absolutely! Good therapy is meant to help you heal and grow. The idea should be to get you out of treatment as soon as possible. Any therapist that makes you feel like you should stay past the point where you feel you are being helped is unethical. If you feel better, you have learned things you wanted to learn, and feel you have the necessary tools to take into the future, we will mutually come to the conclusion that you are ready to go forth and thrive.
Where did you work before going into private practice?
I had a long career as a musician and music producer before entering the mental health field. Before working in private practice, I worked in the clinic at the Washington Square Institute for Psychotherapy and Mental Health.
Have you received any particular training beyond your post-Bachelor’s training?
I have a Masters of Social Work degree from the NYU Silver School of Social Work. I trained as an intern in the psychoanalytic training program at Washington Square Institute.
What led you to become a mental healthcare practitioner?
I was burned out and exhausted by the roller coaster of the music business, and I realized that what I had always enjoyed about music was connecting with people in a deep way. This work gives me another opportunity to do just that.
What is the best part of the work for you?
I love the creative aspect of this work: reading and reacting to someone’s subconscious, deciding where to take the session in the moment. Weirdly, it can sometimes feel just very similar to playing music with someone. I also enjoy what it feels like to help someone and make a positive difference in the world.
What is unique about the work you do, or how have you found your work to be different than your colleagues’?
I think I am able to create a trusting relationship with people pretty quickly through empathy, humor, and honesty, and I use that relationship to safely hold them while they are doing some very vulnerable, very taxing work. I like to work relationally, meaning that we can learn a lot about how you get your needs met and interact with others from what happens between us in the therapy room.
How do you approach diversity in the room or working with clients who may come from a different background than you?
I make sure I remain humble and curious about people’s backgrounds and stories and invite people to talk about any differences that may or may not be apparent and how those differences might impact our work.
How can you tell if I am benefiting from working with you?
I may observe a positive change in your apparent symptoms or behavior, but I also try to check in as often as possible to make sure I hear it from your own mouth that you feel you are benefitting.
How can you tell if I am feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard?
If someone has stopped progressing toward their goals, and nothing has changed in a while, or they are having a hard time keeping their appointments, they might be feeling unheard or misunderstood, which means I need to check in to find out what about the work is causing that feeling and how we can change it.
How long should I commit to being in therapy, at least in the beginning?
It really depends on you, but I usually don’t feel like we can really get into the good stuff without at least 3 months or so of work. It all depends on what you need, though. Some people feel better quickly, others want to change long-standing issues that could take years to talk about.
How should I prepare for my first session with you?
No preparation is necessary!
Do I need to bring anything with me?
Nothing at all!