Therapy with Vanessa

  1. From your perspective, what is therapy?

Therapy is a safe and trusting relationship that promotes exploration, growth, and healing.

2. Are there any philosophies or values that inform your work that I should know about?

I am a humanist, which means I believe in the inherent worth and agency of each individual. In therapy this means I focus on the whole you, not just what isn’t working. And it means that I help you gain awareness through mindfulness to make changes you want to make; I don’t have some secret “psychotherapist” agenda, it’s really about what you want to do.

3. 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.

In an initial session recently, a client was sharing with me about what had brought them into therapy. At one point, the client described a particular family member as  “... a person I’m trying to please.” I highlighted this statement for the client, and suggested that this statement could be pivotal in our work together, as the client would probably have difficulty getting out of their depression if they continued to focus on pleasing others before themselves. (“People-pleasing” is a frequent theme in my work with clients). The client shared that this reflection felt like a “light bulb” moment, which felt nice for both of us, and clarified our continuing work together!

In another session, several months into therapy, a client expressed ruminating about a fight they had had with their roommate. They shared about how they wished it had transpired differently and that they were replaying it in their head. During the session, I explored different ways to help one’s self pause, identify their thoughts, and use self compassionate self talk to redirect. We role played together this process to help build familiarity around taking control of self talk, and the tone/nature of that voice.

Thirdly, in a session recently, I felt the client wasn’t sure what to talk about, and was feeling anxious about not knowing what to talk about. He had also spoken earlier about successfully managing his anxiety in a number of difficult and triggering situations. I asked, “Given what you shared with me today, do you feeling like we have met your goals for therapy?” A rather excited look came on his face. He shared he was so glad I had brought that up as he was unsure what else he was supposed to talk about that day. We proceeded to spend another 25 minutes reviewing and celebrating the progress he had made in therapy and exploring what ending treatment could look like.

4. How much do you share about yourself during our time together and why?

When appropriate, I share about myself and my experiences. Appropriate is a broad and subjective term, but my rule of thumb is to ask myself before I share - “Would it help my client if I share this with them?” - and if it could, then I share. It also depends on how long I’ve been working with a client and how comfortable the client is with me.

Also, self-disclosure can be about significant, sensitive things, or it can be about more mundane, everyday things. For example, I might share with a client that I watched a particular TV show and I think the client might enjoy it - or vice versa.

5. How participatory are you during sessions?

I would say I’m very involved in the therapy experience. To me, therapy is a relationship, which includes a healthy back and forth. However, some sessions I may be more quiet if that is what is needed. I don’t just talk for the sake of talking (that would probably be off-putting and awkward), but I am a very active participatory in the therapy process.

6. Do you assign homework, activities, or readings for me to do between sessions? Why or why not?

I do believe that insight and growth requires more than 45 minutes a week in session. However, I rarely use the word “homework”. For me, readings or activities (such as journaling, meditation, exercise, etc) are things I suggest to enhance the process.

7. How can you tell if I am feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard?

That is partly about training, and partly about intuition. The most basic function I serve as a therapist is to make sure I am really listening to people; this allows me to notice when someone might be uncomfortable or frustrated. Many times when people feel unseen or unheard they can repeat themselves or shut down. If that happens, I try to gently explore that so you don’t leave feeling disconnected. When someone is stuck, that can come out as frustration and/or avoidance, and again, I would hope to gently explore that to help find alternative ways to work together.

8. Is there ever a time when you would encourage me to leave or graduate therapy? How might I know when it’s time to end or move on, or time to stay and explore more?

From the outset of treatment we will explore the goals you have. As you meet those goals, new goals may arise. However once you have met your goals we will discuss ending treatment. That process can take as long as needed to ensure maintenance of your attained goals and safety in termination. You may also end treatment once your goals are met, and down the road want to return to address new goals. All of that is an open and exploratory conversation between you and your therapist.

9. How will our relationship be different than relationships I have with friends/loved ones?

Therapists are trained and have experience in being able to identify patterns and see how present day behaviors have roots in the past. Therapists should also be more objective than perhaps a friend or family member can be, which may result in the therapist being more transparent than what a friend or family member may feel comfortable being. (For example, if you were to tell a friend about a fight you got into with your romantic partner, the friend may feel obligated to “take your side” or you may (un)consciously want them to take your side. Whereas a therapist isn’t interested in “sides” but rather the therapist is interested in you exploring the fight to see how it relates to the work you are doing in therapy).

10. How do you approach diversity in the room or working with clients who may come from a different background than you?

I try to own, discuss, and explore how differences and similarities may be impacting the work we are doing. I feel excited and invigorated by speaking about culture, race, gender, sexuality and so on, as it relates to worldview, experience of the world, and healing through the therapeutic process.

11. Where did you work before going into private practice?

Prior to private practice, I worked in outpatient mental health and substance abuse clinics for roughly 6 years. That was followed by 2 years in a group private practice.

12. Have you received any particular training beyond your post-Bachelor’s degree?

As someone who ascribes to an eclectic therapeutic framework I enjoy going to workshops and lectures to learn various different techniques or frameworks of thinking that could enhance our work. However I don’t have any additional certification beyond my licensure as a Clinical Social Worker.  

I am extensively trained in techniques called: Motivational Interviewing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), attachment based psychodynamic therapy, and more.

13. What led you to become a mental healthcare practitioner?

Mental health and substance abuse has affected my family of origin. Seeing and experiencing suffering made me attuned to others’ needs (and my own) and wanting to be a part of others’ healing experience.

14. What is the best part of the work for you?

Tears :) When someone feels safe enough to cry with you, healing is happening! And obviously seeing people grow and change in ways that benefit them!

15. What is unique about the work you do?

Comparison is a big trigger for me, so instead of saying what makes me different, I’ll tell you what I love about the way I work. I love the relational aspect of therapy - building a trusting and authentic relationship were we can address hard and icky stuff. Authenticity feels electric to me (in a good way!) - and that’s what I strive for in the therapeutic room.

16. How long should I commit to being in therapy, at least in the beginning?

If you feel that we have a positive connection and could work well together, I suggest an initial commitment of 6 months to a year.

17. How should I prepare for my first session with you?

You can think about your goals for therapy. However, don’t worry about getting everything out in the first session. Building a relationship takes time!

Colleague testimonial:

Not all therapists are created equal! Vanessa is truly one of a kind in the way she relates to you with her sense of humor and warmth. I know that she puts me at ease with her compassionate and genuine manner and I always feel supported even as she challenges me to live my best life. I cannot recommend her enough! (Sherry Atanasio, LCSW)

Client testimonial:

“Vanessa eased every apprehension I had about starting therapy. She was patient, warm, and non-judgmental in every session. She helped me work through my anxiety, and once it was managed, guided me through a self-discovery that opened up a new way of looking at my life and relationships close to me. I felt that Vanessa not only listened to me, but that she *heard* me, which was incredibly validating as I explored this new perspective on my life. She also helped me navigate through a major life transition, which I may not have been brave enough to undertake without her! She truly had a long-lasting impact on my life, and I have grown immensely because of her.”


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