Therapy with Susan
From your perspective, what is therapy?
Therapy is a unique and exhilarating way of learning more about yourself and your relationships. It is a process where therapist and client work together to create a safe, non-judgmental space for the patient to talk about any and all of his or her thoughts and feelings. Since therapy is completely confidential, the client knows that only the therapist is listening to them and knows what they say. This complete confidentiality allows the client to express themself safely, freely and spontaneously.
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.
When clients ask me how I work, the first thing I tell them is that I tailor my work to meet the needs of each patient. If a person comes in with a specific problem that they want to tackle, we will discuss strategies and options for solving that problem.
For example, a patient told me he realized he was feeling exhausted all the time. We saw that he had a full time job and made a point of seeing his good friends regularly. Recently, he engaged in an intimate relationship and that was figuring into his time as well. I told him that it sounded like he needed time for himself, which he said had always been important to him. After further discussion I suggested he take a couple of evenings a week just for himself and together we defined that as being completely alone without using his phone at all, and decompressing. He liked this idea and found it made all the difference in his week, no longer feeling so exhausted all the time. The client also realized he was trying to please everyone all the time: his clients, his friends and his boyfriend, and he realized this was really unnecessary. His fear that his friends might be annoyed with him if he said no and then stop seeing him was ungrounded in reality.
While working with another client who was attending a 12 step program, she told me that she wanted to dig into her past to understand what had made her drink so much. We saw that her drinking was an escape from some negative feelings she had been avoiding, and she was now starting to open up about what some of those feelings were: frustration, anger, insecurity and fear of abandonment rooted in a difficult childhood. This was her very first experience talking to anyone about this side of herself and it created a sense of relief and validation that, yes, some of her early childhood relationships were damaging to her. This helped her let go of the burden of blaming herself for all her shortcomings.
Are there any philosophies or values that inform your work that I should know about?
I work from a humanistic set of values, which, as the dictionary defines it, is “a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity.” Respect for each individual with regard to race, ethnicity and gender issues are important to me. And understanding each individual’s internal make-up goes along with these values.
I have a keen interest in helping people get to know what makes them tick and what brings them pain or pleasure. Labeling what creates a sense of wellbeing and working towards having more of that in one’s life is something I strive for in my work.
How much do you share about yourself during our time together and why?
I will share personal experiences, thoughts or feelings about books and films or other topics that I feel will be beneficial for the client. I will also share some association I am having about what the client is saying if I feel this will advance our relationship, trust, and the work in general.
I will also discuss with patients, when appropriate, how they feel about my sharing. If I find my sharing is getting in the way of the work, I will of course change this element of the work as we go. My goal is to create an atmosphere in which the client feels listened to, understood, and validated. These are key elements of our task and are interwoven into all aspects of the work.
How participatory are you during sessions?
My sessions are lively and completely interactive.
Do you assign homework, activities, or readings for me to do between sessions? Why or why not?
This is primarily dictated by the client. If a client asks me what he should do in between sessions, I will often pick out an important issue we have been working on and suggest the client think about that issue and monitor himself over the week as to when and how the issue occurs. If making notes or journaling seems helpful we will bring that into the work.
How will our relationship be different than relationships I have with friends/loved ones?
There are many things that we do not want to share with family and friends. This is something we all experience at times. In therapy there is no conflict in that regard. We do not feel we are burdening others nor do we fear judgement or conflicts of interest. We also know the therapy is strictly confidential and does not go beyond the therapy room. In addition, most people benefit and appreciate getting an objective assessment of their situation.
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?
Few people need life-long therapy. When you have solved the issues that have brought you to therapy, it is time to graduate. In some cases, new issues may arise as you are working through others. In these cases, one would work until one feels that enough work has been accomplished to leave therapy and move on. When one feels more at peace with oneself and others, that is often a sign that it’s time to end therapy. Of course the therapist will help with that transition.
Where did you work before going into private practice?
I worked in a clinic at the Post-Graduate Center for Mental Health where I saw patients from all walks of life. Eventually I taught and supervised there for many years.
I also taught and supervised at the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center and supervised at Washington Square Center for Mental Health.
Have you received any particular training beyond your post-Bachelor’s training?
I received an MSW from New York University’s Social Work School.
I then participated in a four year intensive Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis training program at the Postgraduate Center and a two year training program in Supervision of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, receiving certification in each of these programs.
I won an award for my writing on supervision and created a book called The Supervisory Alliance.
Before that, I received a PhD in Art History from the Cuny Graduate Center, after which I worked as an art critic at Artnews and Arts Magazine.
What led you to become a mental healthcare practitioner?
I was very much helped with therapy as a young adult and this resulted in tremendous changes in my life, both personally and professionally.
What is the best part of the work for you?
I enjoy being in the room with my client. Each experience is different. A dynamic of shared respect and understanding develops, allowing the client and I to make connections, often unexpectedly at times. Seeing patients move along in their inner and external lives is greatly rewarding.
What is unique about the work you do, or how have you found your work to be different than your colleagues’?
I believe that the individuality of the client combined with the individuality of the clinician makes each person’s experience a unique one.
How do you approach diversity in the room or working with clients who may come from a different background than you?
Sometimes I am able to directly talk with the client about how it feels to be working with a therapist of another ethnic background. When working with folks of different gender identities I’ve found that using comfortable language, whether the pronoun “they” whether they want to use the word “gay” or “”queer” or another is helpful. Patients feel free to correct me if they prefer a particular word. I feel that being supportive and attuned helps clients feel comfortable enough to bring up issues they may have around these often sensitive concerns.
How can you tell if I am benefiting from working with you?
You will know over time if you are benefitting. You might begin to see things from a new perspective or in a new light. You might find you are making some changes in your life. Or you might feel you are being understood in an entirely new way, different than ever before.
How can you tell if I am feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard?
You will know you are stuck when you no longer see things in a new light or are not feeling you are getting to understand yourself better. I will help you to see this and try to redirect or reframe the therapy so that you can continue to make progress with the therapy.
How long should I commit to being in therapy, at least in the beginning?
I would say you should commit to 3-6 months at the beginning. Some problems can be solved, and then it’s time to stop.
In other cases, it may take a good deal longer to change ingrained patterns that you are discovering have been getting in your way for some time.
How should I prepare for my first session with you?
No preparation is necessary. When you come to therapy you will be able to ask questions and discuss any ambivalence you have about the process.
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?
“Doing therapy with Susan has already changed my life very positively, in many ways, and I look forward to doing more therapy. She is always attuned to me, and to what I need most now, at this present point in my treatment. Because she understands so well what’s going on with me, when I express my thoughts and feelings to her, Susan always responds in a way that helps me understand myself better. By helping me achieve greater self-understanding, Susan helps me break with my self-destructive patterns of thought and behavior. This has already greatly freed me, allowing me to lead a much better and happier life. And, I confidently look forward to doing more work with Susan, and seeing things becoming better and better for me, and for the people I love.”