Therapy with Shelby
From your perspective, what is therapy?
Therapy is an opportunity to have a safe space that we can build in our lives where we can be seen, heard, and validated by a warm, empathetic, non-judgemental third-party. By speaking freely, we gift ourselves the time and space to examine our thought and behavior patterns, experience tough and exciting moments, and heal the parts of us that hurt the most. This ultimately allows us to function more freely, with more passion and attention in our daily lives and relationships, bringing us more overall satisfaction in our lives.
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.
-One client discussed feeling as if they were making career decisions out of fear of failure rather than what used to be a deep passion for their acting career. They also described embarrassment accompanying this fear because they had not “succeeded as much as other artists.” My response: “I hear that it’s easy for you to compare yourself to others, as it would be for most people in the acting world. I’d love to use your acting strengths to talk to your fear and embarrassment. If your fear and embarrassment could speak, what would they say? How would you respond?”
-Another client discussed the difficult feelings of abandonment they experienced from their father during their childhood due to his substance use. They reflected that because they were afraid people would leave them, they were having difficulties building and maintaining deep personal relationships in their adult life. While they were discussing this, they touched their chest area and stated, “ah, I can feel myself tensing up while I talk about this.” My response: “Let’s take a pause. I understand that these are difficult memories to hold onto and sometimes our body manifests our emotional pain into physical pain. Let’s take three deep breaths together on my 4 count, placing your hand on the part of your chest that needs to heal. As we breathe in, focus on breathing into your chest, expanding it and filling it with space and air. When you breathe out, empty all of your air, and focus on the togetherness and grounding of your body.”
-A heterosexual couple came into therapy explaining that “we can’t seem to solve any of our conflicts. We are fighting all of the time.” The woman stated that she wants him to take responsibility for “checking out” and often overextends herself to “fix the problem,” whereas the man stated that he feels attacked and criticized and doesn’t engage in any conflict resolution. My response: “I can hear the hurt in both of your voices as you describe this to me. It sounds like the way both of you engage in conflict resolution isn’t quite matching up. When Becca goes towards the problem, that might make you feel under attack, Jordan, and thus you protect yourself by withdrawal. When Jordan withdrawals, it may make Becca anxious and want to push more. I would like to invite the parts of both of you that love each other in the room. If they could speak to each other, what would they say they are feeling in these moments?”
Are there any philosophies or values that inform your work that I should know about?
I deeply value the person-centered approach to therapy. By this I mean that people are the experts of their own lives and possess all of the ability and motivation to change within themselves, which can be accessed with help from therapy and exercising this potential in their everyday lives within their relationships. I also believe that we find the most security when we can fully accept all the different parts of ourselves, and thus I strive to take a multicultural/social justice/systemic view of a person to further understand how they operate in all the different spheres of their lives and how these contexts influence their identity.
How much do you share about yourself during our time together and why?
I share my feelings or experiences when I think it will benefit and further our work together. I believe that a therapist is also a whole person with their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences that have led them to sit in the accompanied chair. I can see that a simple “Speaking from experience” or “I know that feeling well” can increase rapport and decrease alienation for clients, especially if they hold judgements towards themselves as if they are the “only ones” to feel disappointed/lonely/anxious/frustrated, etc.
How participatory are you during sessions?
I would say there is a 60/40 client/therapist split in my therapy sessions, and this depends based on the client. I like to provide enough space for the client to feel they’ve shared their story, and I primarily listen, reflect, empathize, help to identify feelings and unhelpful patterns, and challenge to pause and go deeper into a feeling. I’m not afraid to use silence to also provide the space for clients to reflect and hear what they say in session, so they can begin to build self-awareness.
Do you assign homework, activities, or readings for me to do between sessions? Why or why not?
I usually ask the client if they’ve had a therapist assign them homework in the past and if so, what parts or types they found helpful. If they have not, I keep the option open, but don’t initially start with assigning homework, stating that sometimes that puts too much pressure on the client.
Types of homework and when and when not to do it is all co-created between the client and I. I’ve had clients who take well to reading, so I may suggest articles or books for them to browse through. I’ve had clients who are writers and take well to journalling and keeping track of behaviors. For clients who experience somatic symptoms, I may suggest they take a donation yoga class, download a meditation app or attend a meditation class, or refer them to an acupuncturist if they request.
How will our relationship be different than relationships I have with friends/loved ones?
I encourage my clients to seek and develop positive support systems in their lives. However, therapy differs from these connections because a therapist is an unbiased, non-judgemental professional who is trained to find the patterns that may impact relationships, help build coping skills for strong emotions, and develop new ways of thinking.
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?
In the beginning, I like to collaborate with my clients to discuss and set any goals they’d like to achieve in therapy. When the client feels as if they have accomplished these goals, we may discuss how they might continue the work outside of therapy if they want to terminate sessions. We could also discuss deeper areas of exploration that the accomplishment of these goals have brought up to continue with therapy on a less frequent basis, perhaps switching from weekly to biweekly sessions. Whatever the client chooses, I always assure that they can start therapy again at any time.
Where did you work before going into private practice?
I’ve dedicated most of my work before private practice to community mental health with a focus on substance use and trauma. I’ve worked in substance use recovery houses, personalized recovery oriented services (PROS) programs, and a one week summer camp for children and adolescents who had a parent or sibling die. I’ve also spent time working with non-profit agencies for veterans and families of fallen soldiers, as well as providing resources for Native American communities, in particular women who have experienced domestic abuse.
What led you to become a mental healthcare practitioner?
I began my studies in psychology with a primary focus on substance use to learn more about patterns that I saw occurring in my family life and to understand more about why people may use substances. Once I understood, I wanted to help people find their healing, which was also influenced by successes of family members and the new life they gained. It instilled in me my belief that everyone has the capacity to live their best version of their lives at any point in time.
What is the best part of the work for you?
The best part of the work for me is being a witness to others’ growth and embracing the love they build for themselves and the forgiveness they build towards others.
What is unique about the work you do, or how have you found your work to be different than your colleagues’?
I find that my work is unique compared to my colleagues due to my diverse background of tools that I can pull from to provide different options for my clients, especially if we’ve hit a plateau in therapy. I like to use drama therapy for the client to address their issues directly or have a conversation with a different version of themselves. I like writing and journaling for deeper client insight. I also incorporate breathing and yoga mantras and meditations for centering and grounding. I also feel that I bring my sense of humor into the room and that sharing laughs is just as valuable to healing as sharing a space for tears.
How do you approach diversity in the room or working with clients who may come from a different background than you?
I work from a non-judgemental view to promote safety. I value all areas of a client’s life (sexuality, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc.) and explore how these parts of their identity have influenced who they find themselves to be in the present and how they may interact with the reasons they’re seeking therapy.
How can you tell if I am benefiting from working with you?
You’re benefiting from the work we do together when you notice a positive change in your relationships with other people and yourself. You notice you’re more loving to yourself, and that translates into your body feeling less tense and you feeling more confident to self-soothe, which makes you more confident to problem solve in your daily life.
How can you tell if I am feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard?
I notice when clients are feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard usually in closed body language. As someone who pays attention to non-verbal cues, I can sense this physical protection they may be building that may be accompanied by short answers, or frank words of “no, that’s not what I mean.” In these moments, I allow us both to step back and assess what’s happening for both of us in the session. I may say, “I notice we both feel a little out of sync today. What might you need from me, the space, or yourself, to create safety again?”
How long should I commit to being in therapy, at least in the beginning?
If we find we work well together, I suggest gifting yourself with 4-6 months of therapy. This is usually when clients start to feel less intense stress with their initial problems and may have begun to develop some insight and coping skills. At this time clients may want to take a break from therapy or to come less often. It may also be a turning point when the initial stress has lightened and clients now want to dive deeper into understanding their story. Some clients also prefer long-term therapy with no set end point for weekly self-care.
How should I prepare for my first session with you?
There is no need to prepare anything formal before our first session. During our first session, we will review consent and payment policies, and will begin getting to know your story and reason that you’re currently seeking therapy. If you would like to take time before our session to think about these reasons, that may help ease nerves and provide you with a solid foundation for our first meeting.
Do I need to bring anything with me?
No, just yourself!
Do I need to be mindful of anything in particular while commuting to your office?
After our phone consultation, I will provide you instructions of how to buzz into our building and office suite. Other than that, it’s New York City MTA - have patience and allow yourself ample time!
“I've worked with Shelby for about two years and it has changed the way I approach my work with my clients and myself. Her constant encouragement and guidance through my early years as a clinician have been invaluable to me. Her ability to connect and support individuals from different backgrounds to assist them reach their highest potential is remarkable and something I strive for everyday. Shelby's warmth and welcoming spirit has made her so successful in building and facilitating the growth in the therapeutic alliance with her clients.”
(Pallavi Ankolekar, LMSW)