Therapist Spotlight: Julia Lawrence, LMSW

Blog Post Headers 2 (1).png

Meet Julia Lawrence, a licensed social worker at A Good Place:

 

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

 

I’m not someone who always knew what I wanted to do. My first few professional experiences were in politics. I was the Director of Operations for a New York City Councilman. This was an amazing experience, but change moves very slowly in politics. I found myself wondering how I might be able to see change in a more tangible form. Social work involves a mix of clinical classes and classes about policy, so it seemed like a good fit. At the end of your first year of social work school, you choose either a macro or clinical track - I chose to go clinical and I haven’t looked back!

 

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

 

I think it is important to balance optimism with pragmatism in order to set people up for success. I help show people some of the realistic areas in their life to make change, while helping them to practice acceptance in the areas where change is not possible. Seeing small successes helps motivate people to continue to then make positive changes in their lives.

 

 

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

 

I really like working with people who are faced with critical decisions in their lives—their job, their family. So many times people are preoccupied with the idea that they have to make the right decision. They need to find the perfect soul mate, the perfect career. I am a firm believer there is no such thing as a “right decision.” It is ok to not know what you want and to take it a step at a time. I also enjoy working with people with anxiety disorders or those having trouble in interpersonal relationships, as well as with parents.

 

What makes you unique as a therapist?

 

I believe the way I work allows people to see concrete change in their lives relatively quickly. I teach people that they can’t control the thoughts that come into their heads; however, they can control how much they latch onto those thoughts, and what behaviors those thoughts lead to.

 

I also try to hold an unconditional and positive regard for clients, so that if people have done something they are not proud of they can feel safe to share it with me and know they will not be judged.

 

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

 

I work primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral and Solution Focused approach. While insight into your past is great, change in the present is better. I want people to see the change in their lives now.

 

I also work from a relational perspective, in that the way we show up in therapy reflects the way we show up in the world. If someone laughs when they are uncomfortable or gets very defensive, there’s a good chance that’s how they show up in their other relationships. The therapeutic relationship is a great place to practice tweaking those relational behaviors we may not be thrilled about.

 

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

 

A big piece of my day is spending time with my dog Winston. When I come home and see him it helps me to be more present. He is never fixated on what went wrong with the day, or what is going to happen in the future. Even on days I may not feel motivated to practice self-care, he needs to be walked and get his energy out and I know that I will never feel worse after taking him to the dog park. I spend most of the day talking to others, so at the end of the day it’s also nice to take time to be alone, just reading or watching TV.

 

Do you have a favorite quote?

 

Maya Angelou said “We find our path by walking it.” I like it because it speaks to the idea that we don’t have to have all the answers now.

 

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

 

It’s a bit of a cliché, but—you can’t change other people. You can only change the way you interact with others. A lot of people get stuck on the idea that if their boss only cared more about the project, or their significant other only cared more about the cleanliness of the apartment all their problems would go away. You can ask for change, but you can’t necessarily make that person value it in the same way.

 

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

 

When you see a client have a “light bulb” moment or say something like, “I never thought about it that way before, but that makes sense.” I find it most gratifying when clients are able to feel like they come to conclusions on their own. Sure, I could tell someone that they are falling into the same patterns in multiple romantic relationships, but I find they’re more likely to make a change if they’re the one who vocalizes the pattern or connection. 

 

What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist?

 

I floundered around quite a bit in thinking about what I wanted to do for work. This has made me more empathetic as to how difficult big decisions can be for other people, and that it is ok to make a decision you’re not 100% certain about. In addition, my experience seeking my own therapy and having it be so helpful in guiding me in my confusion and decision-making process has made me a better therapist.

 

What is most important to you as a person?

 

Empathy and kindness are crucial to me. I also value being a lifelong learner. Just because you finished school does not mean you are done learning. The moment you think you know everything, you’re in trouble!

 

What is your take on a current social issue?

 

I consider myself very pro-gun control. It is very upsetting to me the way a school shooting stays in the news for two days and then it seems everybody forgets about it because it is so common. I do not believe anybody needs an assault rifle for personal use. Sometimes this feels like a particularly hopeless issue but my background in politics helped me realize now matter how dismal things seem it is always important to keep talking about these things.

 

What are some of your passion projects or interests?

 

I love cooking! I love trying new recipes and experimenting or cooking a few things I know will always be great. I picked this up from my dad who was always cooking something delicious. My dad and I always cook Thanksgiving dinner together for a huge group and it’s by far my favorite holiday since it’s just about family and food. Some days I feel like I just want to get take-out (and sometimes I do!) and I always feel better eating something I know I created.

 

I also find being outdoors to be extremely therapeutic and love to go to the beach or hike with my dog whenever I get the chance. Taking a moment to notice how beautiful the world is helps me feel more present, and in turn more grounded.

Your Quarter Life Crisis Part II: Decisions, Decisions

7.png

In my last post, I spoke about what makes young adulthood so difficult, and how hard it is to meet societal expectations as to what one is supposed to accomplish by this age. One reason we get so caught up by what we “should” be doing is because of how painful it is to sit with the unknown. What will happen if I end this long-term relationship? What will happen if I commit to this relationship- will I be settling? Will moving cities to work at a new job be worth leaving my friends behind? Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to know the outcome of any given choice. Sometimes, we just have to live with the choice to see how it turns out. When it comes to decision making we are often told to “go with our gut.” But what if there is no gut reaction? That is a normal response too! It is normal to make a decision and still have some doubt.

 

When I decided to go to social work school I got into schools in different parts of the country. People told me to go to whichever school gave me the best “feeling” but there were a lot of factors besides my gut to consider. I had my friends, my partner, finances, and a whole slew of other factors to consider. By recognizing there would be both good and bad components of any school I attended, I was able to learn to accept this uncertainty and really embrace my choice to move to a new city, even when I missed New York. While it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of choices, there is no such thing as the “right decision.” The goal is not to alleviate all doubt, but rather, to learn to tolerate feelings of uncertainty. Having some degree of doubt, like cold feet before a wedding or first day jitters at a new job, does not mean that our decision was the wrong one.

 

Embracing Uncertainty:

 

One of my friends regularly goes rock climbing, and she recently convinced me to come along. At first, I didn’t want to because I was scared of not knowing how it would be: would I embarrass myself? Would people judge me? Would I judge myself? I went anyway because I knew that no matter what I was attached to equipment that would keep me safe. Therefore, while being unable to get to the top of a particular wall was frustrating, it was tolerable. When I did make it to the top, it was the fact I wasn’t sure if I could do it that made it all the more rewarding.

 

This got me thinking that the same can be true of making bigger difficult decisions. Not knowing how a new relationship or job will go can be very exciting; however, if you only focus on the idea things have to go a certain way, uncertainty will feel intolerable. But if you remember that no matter the outcome, you have the equipment (in this case, your resilience or support system) to keep yourself safe, uncertainty can become a thrilling motivator instead of something holding you back.

 

Ruminating vs. Reflecting:

 

It is normal to think a lot about difficult decisions. It may seem counterintuitive to hear a therapist tell you to reflect less, but there’s a fine line between reflecting and rumination. We aren’t going to be happy with all of our decisions and it is normal to have regrets. Sometimes we think that by continuously analyzing our mistakes, we are doing some sort of positive reflection that will ensure we don’t make those same errors again. That is great in theory, but when reflection morphs into rumination, we end up in Quarter Life Crisis territory!

 

Reflection leads to constructive solutions, whereas rumination involves not just thinking about the negatives experiences, but continuously reliving corresponding emotions. Whether it be quitting a job or an awkward interaction on the subway, continuously replaying the situation ensures that you not only obsess about these moments of weakness, but also that you are likely to internalize that you are a weak person.

 

Don’t start ruminating on your rumination just yet. Some degree of reflection is necessary; however, when you are fighting a mistake that you can’t undo or change, you are now in rumination land.  To figure out whether your thoughts are healthy ask yourself:  Are you figuring out ways to avoid bad experiences in the future, or just reliving negative ones? Are you allowing negative self-talk to lead you to compare yourself to others? When you notice that you are engaging in negative thinking patterns it’s always good to ask: How are these thoughts serving me? If they’re just making you feel down on yourself, you deserve to let those thoughts go.

 

 

Practicing Acceptance: 

 

A major component of navigating this tricky stage of life means practicing acceptance. If you find yourself saying things like “I can’t take this,” or “How could this happen to me?” these might be signs you’re fighting against the reality of your life as it is now. Sometimes we have to work with what we have in the present moment and recognize that our emotions are not permanent. This may feel like someone is telling you to be passive or ignore an aspect of your life you don’t like; however, practicing acceptance works more readily to dial down your stress level. Once you are calmer, you’ll be better able to think about things from a more rational, logical perspective.

 

One way to practice acceptance is with a quick, easy exercise. Take a slow breath, try to relax any tension in your muscles, and check for an “open” body posture: shoulders back, chin up, spine straight. Continue to breath slowly and fully. As you inhale, say to yourself “everything is” and as you exhale, “as it should be.”

 

 

Above all, Be Kind to Yourself:

 

It can be tough not to question your choices when your great Aunt asks “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” or “What on earth are you going to do with a degree in writing?”

Still, try not to take it too personally. Your inability to provide adequate small talk at Thanksgiving is not representative of the big picture. This time of life is hard enough without letting the opinions of others feed your inner critic. At any age, we are all works in progress. As Maya Angelou wisely put it, “We find our path by walking it.”

Therapist Spotlight: Laura Goldstein, LMSW

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I was previously a teacher and over time, I decided that even though I really enjoyed teaching, I also saw the value of working one on one with individuals and families. I feel fortunate to work with every age group, from toddlers to seniors, which has really helped me gain a sense of perspective in my work.
I like to meet clients where they are and work with them to make positive changes in their lives to reach their goals. As a therapist, it’s essential to provide a safe, supportive environment for clients where we can work through challenges together. When we have a good environment,  it allows us to develop a meaningful rapport, which the most rewarding part.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about?

Providing people the support they need to make positive changes and improve the quality of their life. I enjoy watching them achieve their goals. I believe it is essential to highlight a client’s strengths and champion the progress they make.  I’m very passionate about taking a customized approach and using techniques that work best for each individual client. It’s also a source of pride that I always make myself available to clients when we are not in session together. I always respond to emails and find extra session times to meet during the week if a crisis arises so I can help clients feel supported beyond our session time.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

As a former educator, I worked with children of all ages as well as adults and seniors. It gave me a global view of life. I can see how experiences that occur during childhood contribute to the adults we become. I also see how certain patterns continue throughout a person's’ lifespan but can manifest in different ways. My experience helps me to give the client a point of view on where they have come from, and also assist them in determining where they want to go.
How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

My therapeutic approach is geared towards Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and strength-based methods. I help to identify what the strengths are within an individual and capitalize on those. We look at how they can use those attributes to work towards the goals they want to reach or the changes they would like to make. Building a supportive rapport is essential. The client and I need to work as a team to attain their goals. We are in this process together every step of the way. 

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

Self-care is extremely important because even if it is just a typical day, we experience stressors. It is important to find some time in your day to unwind, whether through breathing exercises, grabbing coffee with a friend or family member, or doing other little things for yourself like going to yoga or the gym. It revitalizes you, allows you to feel more positive, and improves your quality of life. 

I personally practice self-care through spending time with family, friends, and exercise. I also love to travel and explore different neighborhoods, take spin classes or to go bike riding. I also enjoy Broadway, concerts, and comedy shows. I love to laugh! 

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know?

I think it is really important to reach out for help when you feel you need support to get through a difficult time — whether it be a loss of someone close to you, family conflicts, relationship strife, or other life events. It is important to take that brave first step to make changes and improve your quality of life.

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?


Seeing a client make progress! Whether they share something positive that has taken place or they make changes based on the work we did together. When you feel you have made a difference and really supported someone during a difficult time, it is incredibly satisfying. I also love hearing feedback from clients like, “What would Laura do or say in this situation?” Or, “I always feel better after I see you!”  I love when clients share news about the positive changes happening in their lives. The relationship between a client and therapist is a unique one. It takes trust and building a strong rapport, which is invaluable.

What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist?

I have experienced loss in different times of my life and have learned more about myself through those experiences. They have made me who I am and taught me about personal perseverance and how to move forward and let go of the past.  My personal challenges have allowed me to provide more empathy, support, and a deeper understanding to my clients.

What is most important to you?

The relationships that I have in my life, my family and my friends, are what I most treasure. I always want people to be happy and live the best quality of life possible.

What are some of your passion projects or interests?


I enjoy volunteering at a local food bank that does emergency food distribution for the homeless in New York City. I feel passionately that having access to food is a basic and essential right to all.  It is a big issue in NYC. 

I also love experiencing different cultures, hearing different languages, trying new food, and listening to new music. I love to travel and explore, take bike rides, try new restaurants, or go to a show or a movie.

 

To find out more about working with Laura, please visit the contact page to get in touch with us here.

Are You Having a Quarter Life Crisis?

6.png

If you’re a 28 year old who describes yourself to others as feeling purposeless and confused, you may have some older relatives or friends dismissively tell you that your 20’s and 30’s should be the best years of your life! But what if these years feel like some of your hardest yet? I’m talking about the relatively new concept of the Quarter Life Crisis. For some it brings to mind the image of a whiny, entitled millennial, but societal and structural factors have made it harder than ever to deal with the pressure and decisions that go along with being in your 20’s and 30’s. Feeling unsure, stuck, and lonely in your 20’s and 30’s is fairly typical. The good news is you don’t have to have all the answers right now! You are capable of not only accepting, but also enjoying the journey this age brings, even if you’re not quite sure where you are going. 

Why do I feel this way now?

There’s a reason the Quarter Life Crisis concept is new. In previous generations there simply weren’t as many choices, so there was less room for doubt. People rarely dated outside their circle of acquaintances, and weren’t left to wonder if they should not have settled for their college boyfriend because there might be someone better on Tinder. Gender roles were more fixed. Once couples were formed it was clear that they would have children, and which parent would take care of them. It’s great we are moving away from these rigid expectations, but it leads to lots of questions: Do I even want a partner? Do I want more than one? Do I want kids? If I do, who will take care of them? Who’s in charge of the finances? No wonder we aren’t sure what to do! Therapist, writer, and all around wise woman Esther Perel writes about these topics frequently. She makes a great point that while these choices used to be handed down by family and power structures, now these social norms are negotiable.

Because so many options exist, I find my clients often describe themselves as “feeling stuck.” In order to get unstuck, it helps to step back and examine your life. This means assessing your strengths, abilities, and resources. Next comes the harder part: you must evaluate your limitations, the problems you face and what in your life is unsatisfying. In order to do this kind of reflection without sinking into despair, it’s important to try to minimize the degree to which you compare yourself to others, and to avoid extreme thinking.

Social media and comparisons

If I scroll through my social media on any given day I see many examples of “milestone markers” such as acceptance letters from graduate school, new business cards, engagement photos, and birth announcements. While meeting these milestones may be worthy goals, the timeline can cause anxiety. You’re not alone in those feelings, but by re-examining your perception of having to accomplish things by a certain age, you may start to feel better.

If you ask five different 28-year-olds about their romantic relationships, careers, friendships, and finances, you are likely to get five significantly different answers. If you’re not engaged and expected you would be by 28, you might be hyper aware of the engagement rings on your Instagram feed. What might not be obvious is that while you envy the girl with the fiancé, she might be looking at your post of a group of friends, lamenting about how hard it has been for her to make friends as an adult. Similarly, if you’re struggling with jealousy about your friends’ careers, you might not have considered that someone with that full time salaried position that you covet might be jealous of you and your social media posts that reflect the great relationship you have with your family. Social media makes it very easy to focus on our own deficits.

Antidote #1: Try Gratitude

A wonderful antidote to jealousy and comparison is gratitude. I often tell clients to remind themselves that most people don’t take pictures when they are feeling unhappy. Your social media feed is a carefully curated section of moments people post that show their best selves. A quick gratitude exercise for users of social media: next time you find yourself frustrated looking at everyone else’s “perfect” life, I encourage you to look at your own. There are probably some pretty happy moments you have shared too. Try to go back to one of these moments and cultivate a sense of gratitude. In addition, it can be helpful to make a list of three things you are grateful for each day in a gratitude journal. Don’t just think about it, write it down! They can be as important as your partner or best friend, or as small as the cute dog you saw on the street. The little things count! Then when you have a day where it feels like everyone else is doing better than you, thumb through your journal and remember all the little things that make your days special.

Antidote #2: Avoiding extreme thinking 

As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, I try to help clients avoid thinking in extremes. One pattern people fall into is black and white thinking. Therefore, when I hear a client say, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” or “My life is a total mess!” I encourage them to question this sentiment. Most people can come up at least one or two parts of their life that they feel good about. Another cognitive error is mislabeling. For example, just because you have the thought “I’m a failure” doesn’t mean that it’s a fact. Recognizing that you get to choose which thoughts you latch onto can help can help prevent you from getting into crisis mode, where it becomes easy to head towards a downward rumination spiral.

In addition, I recommend trying to break down your desires into goals that are tangible. Saying “I need to get my life together” is a tall order. Whereas “I want to get a new job that is more intellectually stimulating” is more manageable, and you might be able to brainstorm specific steps that will get you there. Expecting to be “over” a break-up in a few weeks might be unrealistic, but having a few consecutive days where you don’t stalk your ex on the internet can be done.

Nevertheless, even when you’re able to sit back and feel grateful or think a bit more rationally, that doesn’t make the need to make these big decisions go away. Up next in Part 2 of this series: How to tackle these pesky big decisions that we all face.  

Julia Lawerence LMSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!

Therapist Spotlight: Sonya Veytsman

Blog+Post+Headers+2(3).png

Meet Sonya Veytsman, a therapist with A Good Place

Why did you decide to become a therapist?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have known that I wanted my work to make a direct and positive impact on the mental health and well being of others. 

Part of my motivation stems from personal experience. Growing up, I watched several of my family members grapple with chronic physical and mental health issues. I was too young to understand the impact of these struggles at the time, but the more I learned, the more I realized that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others to find hope, even in the darkest times.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about?

Grounding our work together in compassion, mindfulness, gratitude, and finding physical or creative outlets that will enable stress reduction and healing. I firmly believe that we all possess the answers we need. My goal is to empower clients to develop the tools that will unlock these answers, and change their lives for the better in the process. 

What makes you unique as a therapist?

My personal experience with trauma and my ability to tune in to the distinct needs of the diverse populations that I work with. I’ve experienced the power of an engaged, empathetic listener first hand, which is one of the reasons why I’m passionate about providing a safe and supportive space. Previous clients have said that I have a very “can-do” attitude and that they feel more connected and understood after our sessions together than they have in other therapeutic settings. 

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach -- each of us comes in with our own unique story. My clients and I work together to assess what outcomes and issues are most important and what strategies and tools are the best fit. I am unconditionally patient, supportive, empathetic and warm, and I draw from a combination of evidence-based treatment methodologies, including cognitive-behavioral therapies, mindfulness, motivational interviewing, and psychodynamic, strengths-based, solutions-focused tactics that reduce symptoms and increase well-being.

I am able to conduct sessions in both English and Russian and have experience utilizing  culturally competent and sensitive frameworks with diverse populations.

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

Knowing that I can be an agent for change for another person. It’s a privilege to be part of someone’s trajectory from beginning to end. I enjoy watching clients progress, seeing them overcome challenges, hearing them say they are “doing better” and their relationships have changed, etc. Therapy is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. 


Why is self-care important?

Rapid evolution of technology and its inclusion in every aspect of our lives makes it easier for us to dissociate from ourselves, each other, and our needs in any given moment. When we forget to nurture ourselves, we don’t function as well and it’s harder to achieve our goals.

Self care is essential - we need to step back from the daily grind and listen to what our minds and bodies are telling us. Finding moments of stillness to reflect on how we’re feeling, what we need, and what forces or people may be standing in the way of our progress is what enables us to adapt and evolve.

How do you practice self-care?

I’m a huge proponent of practicing what I preach, so I ground myself in mindfulness and gratitude whenever I need to refocus my energy on my hopes and goals. Ballroom dance has been my go-to stress outlet since I was young -- I find that physical and creative exercises are a powerful way to reorient oneself in the present. Our external experiences often mirror the beliefs we have about ourselves and our lives. This can be very limiting. Self care is about making time to listen to the body, stay active, get more sleep, connect with family and friends, eat healthy/well, read a book, etc. By honoring our own needs, we create our best selves. 

What is most important to you?

I enjoy giving support to others, because I know what it is to need help and find someone who can give it to you. I feel fortunate that I’m able to connect with others through kindness as part of my work.  

What are your passion projects?

Dance is a big one. I love it because there’s always an opportunity for me to improve my skills, develop a better understanding of my body, and strengthen my relationship with my dance partner. Ballroom is all about living in the moment - feeling and responding the energy of music and expressing oneself through movement. It has remarkable healing properties for me. Plus it’s fun!

I also love reading, especially non-fiction. I find spirituality fascinating, and find myself drawn to texts and research about how our values and belief systems enrich and impact our lives.

Learn more about Sonya here: https://www.agoodplacetherapy.com/meet-the-team#sonya-veytsman