Therapist Spotlight: Fernando Quigua, LMSW

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Meet Fernando Quigua, a therapist at A Good Place:


What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I’m not entirely sure.  For one, I lost a good friend to suicide. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder while studying at Oxford.  We had lived in different countries for a few years, so I didn't see it coming.  The emails between us were fewer and fewer, and I was actually hurt that he withdrew. It wasn't until after his memorial service that I learned of his diagnosis and what he privately went through.  So I may or may not have turned to psychological literature for answers. I don’t know.  But following his death, I began reading the works of the first depth psychologists, particularly those of Carl Jung. This lit a fire in me. At the time, I was pursuing a Master's in International Affairs at Columbia, so by day I went through the motions.  But by night, I couldn't read enough psychology, particularly where psychology intersected with spirituality and soul, and later, with social justice. Around this time, I had a wave of spiritual experiences as well, so these psychologies of the imagination really appealed to me. Practicing psychotherapy seemed like a calling.


What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

I'm not one for chit-chat.  For me, it's talking to people about what matters to them. Going into the depths with people, fostering conditions for people to speak from the depths of their heart. People surprise themselves when they allow themselves to say and think what they feel.  Sometimes it's powerful, and sometimes it's not as frightening as it first seemed.  That and the dreams.  I love helping people work with their dreams.  I could work all day with the dreams, and good thing, because I do.


What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist?
My personal challenges are the challenges that keep challenging, so I'm not sure I've overcome any personal challenges.  And certainly none that compare to the people who've really put their lives on the line for justice and dignity, for truth and beauty, for ecology and liberation.  Society doesn't make it easy for someone to lead a life committed to these values.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I'm most passionate about the creative imagination.  The courage of my clients to seek help.  The genius of their dreams and their associations.  The workings of the psyche. The often uncanny arc of a therapy session, that if one gets out of the way and steers occasionally by curiosity and instinct, one can learn astounding things about oneself and the world. 

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

Anxiety.  These days people are anxious.  Look around, the world is burning down and speeding up.  And, there's such intense pressure now for people to be productive and positive.  Well, I think people are positively anxious.  And, rightfully so. The next step is to get to talking, to figure out why--or the who, what, when, and how.  And then, to say things, perhaps things you’re not supposed to say. Or to articulate feelings just beyond the reach of words. That has a way of dispelling anxiety and empowering people to take the next step, be it to save to their marriage or to leave their marriage, to switch careers, join a political cause, even better, start a political cause.  Maybe it’s as simple as putting your phone down, or turning off the TV. But perhaps what's most important is developing the capacity and practice of listening to yourself, of caring for yourself, which is to say, to relate to your soul with compassion.... maybe so that you can listen and respond to others with a similar compassion.

And again, I like working the images of dreams, visions, and reverie. Entering a dream in a therapy session, I find, it’s like entering zero-gravity.  It’s as if the objects in the room and the furniture start to float a little.  I think it's fun, to lose yourself in a mode of imagining. That can be an important space to be in, your dreams, because they may seem “internal,” or "just in your head," but really, the dream is a place that extends far beyond that, and far beyond you.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I'm not sure what makes me unique as a therapist. I'm not a 'fixer' or a 'problem solver.’  I'm not an 'interpreter' slinging my favorite concepts around. I try not to impose even my desire for the client to 'get better.' I'm not a 'healer.'  If anything, I just try to get out of the way. I use curiosity as an invitation. I open a space for people to trust and to speak their truth, and then I let their psychological process play out; I let their psyche manifest itself through speech and images. Something happens, something mysterious unfurls, so I respect it with a kind of reverent attention. I witness what's happening, what the client is saying, what the client is not saying, and what's going on with me, i.e., what kind of crazy thoughts am I having, what do I find curious, what do I find stultifying, etc.?  All of this entails an aesthetic attunement to the situation as well as a reverence, but an irreverence, too.  Maybe I drop more f-bombs than other therapists, depending on whom I'm with.  

I work with a combination of emotional investment and poetic detachment, an eye and an ear for the forms and flow and the qualities of the relationship experience.


How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

I take a deep interest.  I'm passionate about my client's experience. "I meet them where they're at," as is said.  And I sometimes see the poetry in their lives.


Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?
I spend time with my restorative community, most broadly defined.  This means I avoid social media and I talk with my friends. I talk to strangers.  I like to walk a lot.  I go to the woods--New York City's version anyway. I dance, not as much as I would like.  I write prose-poetry.  And as Freud once said, "Time spent with cats is never wasted."  


Cats and plants are really ‘in’ these days, for a reason.  You have to work harder to be attuned with cats.  Dogs are very social animals, very sensitive to cues, and they tend to be people-pleasers.  People tend to be cat-pleasers, some of us anyway, and there's value in that. To arrive on the plane of cat-consciousness, to connect with such strange and beautiful creatures can be very rewarding.


What are some of your favorite movies/books?


Ciro Guerra's The Embrace of the Serpent was the most powerful film I've seen in years. Alejandro Jodorowski's recent films, Endless Poetry and The Dance of Reality, based on his experiences as a young Jewish boy and as an artist in Chile, were also compelling.

My favorite authors over the past few years have been Robert Walser and Roberto Bolaño. The work of Robert Walser and of Wayne Koestenbaum, in particular, gave me the most unexpected and giddy courage to write.


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


Whatever it is that's important to them. That's one, and it stands by itself. But I'd also say, whatever it is that turns them on.  Whatever it is that leads them to ecstasy--and agony--and the places where their values conflict.  For example, you may want to build sailboats when you grow up but your dad wants you to be a lawyer. Or you may want to kiss boys instead of girls, or girls and instead of boys, but your father wants you to kiss lawyers. But what if by ‘father’ we mean here a metaphor, one whose reality and power exceeds that of your actual father??  You see, it’s all very complicated, and so it’s better to leave it to the experts.


What's most important to you?

I'm not sure there's a word for it.  Some combination of truth and beauty, dignity, love, and psycho-political orientation. That, and the need for humor, for joking around. I worked with a teenager, long ago, who once told me, "I live for comedy."  Amen.


What is your take on a current social issue?

I am concerned about cultural and psychological conditions of democracy; I think ‘gaslighting’ is a social issue. There’s big money in gaslighting. I’m concerned with how big money and self-interest have infiltrated social justice causes.  If the revolution is merchandised, I’m pretty sure it’s not a revolution.


Do you have any passion projects or interests?

I like to write.  And there's a dissertation I could be writing.  Very top secret, but vaguely about the knowledge value of our dreams and visionary states.  The political import of the poetry in our lives….or the poetic import of our political lives. Or something like that. It’s cooking.


Which Type of Meditation is Right for You?

In part I of this series we covered some false yet commonly held beliefs about meditation. You may recall I also challenged readers to take part in the practice by committing to meditation for 5 minutes 3 times a week. Were you able to incorporate meditation into your routine? If so, take a few moments now to reflect on how well it worked for you. What did you like about it and what frustrated you? Do you still have questions? Hopefully this post will answer some of them!

As we discovered in our earlier post, choosing a meditation practice can be overwhelming; there are so many different varieties! So, how do we know which is the right one for us? Let’s explore this today as we examine how versatile mediation can be when it comes to addressing various forms of psychological distress.

If you’re struggling with…

Depression, try practicing gratitude and loving-kindness

Symptoms of depression like sadness, crying spells, and feelings of emptiness can leave us feeling helpless. We may also have recurring negative thoughts about others and ourselves. Often it can be hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. For these difficult times, I recommend two types of guided meditations: gratitude-focused and loving-kindness.

The practice of gratitude centered mediations is an optimistic and soothing process. Most gratitude meditations invite us to list several things or people we are thankful for, and many will ask us to engage in visualization so we can engrain the positive feelings associated with them into our psyche. These meditations may ask us to consider seemingly small concepts, such as the notion of having a roof over our heads or air to breathe. The goal is to raise our awareness about just how amazing life is. The shift in thinking that happens during a gratitude meditation can be instrumental in countering negative thoughts and feelings of low self-worth.

Loving-kindness meditations provide a comforting antidote to the harsh self-criticism that accompanies depression. These meditations help us take a break from our inner critics and emphasize acceptance of ourselves, wherever and however we are in our lives. The practice usually involves reciting an internal mantra where we imagine ourselves as happy, healthy, and safe. We are invited to notice how the act of visualizing these changes makes us feel in our bodies. We can mentally extending warm feelings and wishes to family, friends, strangers, or even the whole world! A primary goal of each of these kinds of meditation is to regain the sense of connectedness that is often lost as a result of depression.  

If you’re struggling with…

Low self-esteem, try  affirmations

Everyone has struggled with negative thoughts or feelings about themselves at some point or another. Sometimes the thoughts are fleeting or situational and other times they can be chronic and recurring. They may be targeted towards our bodies, career achievements, or relationship status. In other cases, past negative situations or early childhood traumas have instilled faulty belief systems in us that cause us to feel inferior or unworthy.

Meditations with affirmations seek to promote the rooting of healthy,  strong, and positive messages in our subconscious to counteract our internalized bullies. Affirmations can be expressed silently or out loud,  but it’s recommended that we complete them with a firm and upright posture to further promote feelings of self-confidence. The affirmations may vary or might be repeated depending on the meditation we choose. Through affirmations, we can learn and pay attention to particular phrases that trigger the positive mindset we wish to possess.  

If you’re struggling with…

Anxiety, opt for a body scan or breathing exercises

The anxiety,  physical discomfort, and high levels of emotional distress that accompany anxiety can make us feel unwelcome in our own bodies. Often our thoughts focus on situations outside of our control and trigger a sense of dread. By engaging in body scan exercises,  we give our minds a break. We focus our care and attention on the often neglected physical self by inviting ourselves to check in with one muscle group at a time. We search our bodies for any signs of tension, tightness, or other unwelcome sensations. By giving ourselves permission to focus on our physical self, we can distract our psychological self from anxious thoughts and feelings.

Breath-focused exercises achieves the same goal when it comes to focusing on something outside of our thoughts. These exercises also provide an added benefit by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for bringing the body back to equilibrium after a perceived threat or state of distress. Breathing deeply and consistently sends the message “I am alright, I am safe” to your body, which is often just what we need when we find ourselves in the throes of an anxious episode. Breathing exercises vary widely and may include counting breath, holding the breath between the inhale and exhale, or placing one hand on your belly while your breathe.

If you’re struggling with…

Stress, let visualization be your guide, or check into yourself and your surroundings with mindfulness

I don’t believe anyone is a stranger to stress. Whether it’s a fast-approaching deadline at work or an unexpected life event, stress can permeate our minds and bodies. Stress can cloud your judgment and impair your ability to think clearly, leaving you more susceptible to negative coping patterns.

With mindfulness, we tap into the imaginative part of our mind and create visions or images, which affect the primary visual cortex in the same way it would if these visions were actually happening. In this way, visualization can be a healing retreat from the havoc that stress wreaks on our psyche. Common visualization meditations may involve imagining a beam of white light radiating from our chests, or standing beneath a waterfall as it washes our stressful thoughts away.

As I touched on in the previous post, mindfulness is also an excellent way to put stress in its place. Mindfulness is a great antidote to stress  when it comes in the form of ruminating thoughts or nagging physical symptoms. Mindfulness invites us to focus on the present moment and engage in something other than our worries. I like to practice what I call the 5-5-5 awareness; 5 minutes spent engaging the 5 senses, 5 times a day.

You can make this practice fun by being more specific about your sensory experiences. Try focusing on vision by picking a different color to focus on each time, like trying to identify all of the red objects in a room. Augment the practice by adding soothing music or taking note of any interesting noises around you.

If you’re struggling with

…sleep, try progressive muscle relaxation

Sleep is so vital to our health and yet it can be so elusive. It is as though the moment we tell ourselves we need to relax, our bodies and minds become even more hyperactive. Sleep becomes difficult when we are preoccupied with what already happened during the day or with what the next day holds for us.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to put both our bodies and our minds at ease. You can opt for a guided recording that takes you through the exercise or simply narrate yourself; starting with your feet, tense your muscles as tight as they can go for 6-7 seconds and then release and let them relax. Complete this for each major muscle group, moving up your body through your calves, thighs, abdominal, hands, forearms, shoulders, neck, and face. The goal is to make your body feel heavier and ready for a restful sleep. Your mind will also feel calmer after focusing on your muscles for several minutes. Make sure you are breathing in and out as you relax your muscles. As a reminder, for restful sleep it’s also best to limit the use of electronics right before bed, so put away those iPhones at least two hours before you go to sleep

Even if you’re not struggling with any of these specific issues we covered today, the meditations listed are all wonderful ways to connect with yourself. If a particular type of meditation resonated with you, give it a try to see if it helps you! You may also find apps such as Calm, Headspace, “Stop, Breathe and Think”, or Insight Timer useful as you build your mediation practice.  Check back for my next post where I’ll provide a review of these apps in more detail complete with a list of pros and cons to help guide you in your ongoing meditation journey!

Kara Lissy LCSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!

Debunking the Myths of Meditation, Part 1

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“I can’t find the time.”

“I can’t sit still for that long.”

“I just can’t turn my mind off.”

“Silence drives me crazy”

These are just a few of the responses I hear when I recommend practicing meditation as a coping skill.  Anyone can benefit from meditation, because as human beings we are hardwired for anxiety.  And anxiety is the trait that alerts us when there is a threat to our equilibrium. And let’s face it - with busy jobs, stressful family situations,  illnesses, and ever-mounting bills, it’s very easy to feel threatened!

Mindfulness is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm in recent years. It’s  been widely praised by the psychotherapy community for its ability to promote psychological awareness. Mindfulness help us recognize the emotions, thoughts, and feelings we bring into everyday situations and encounters with others. And mindfulness is just one technique in a wide  panorama of meditation techniques I’ll touch on in this series.

When I promote meditation I often cite some of the widespread research indicating its various health benefits. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes meditation may reduce blood pressure, ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help control pain. In recent years the reputation of meditation appears to have also been bolstered by technology; with apps such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer all offering a respite from the chaotic hustle and bustle of modern life. Despite increased mainstream access to meditation,, I find many people still harbor a resistance towards it; they are reticent to begin  the practice! Below are some commonly held beliefs about meditation that I’ll seek to demystify.


Myth #1: Meditation requires a long period of dedicated time in your day.

For a beginner in meditation, the stereotypical image of someone sitting cross-legged on a mat with their palms facing upward and eyes closed for an hour may certainly seem daunting, especially for those with little time to spare.  But you need not hold yourself to this standard; the truth is that even just 5 minutes of meditation can help you feel better. Removing the pressure of meditating for an extended period of time also provides you with flexibility to practice almost anywhere.. With 5 minutes to spare, even the break room in your office or the train on your morning commute can become a calm resting place for you to turn inward. In my experience, 5-10 minutes of breath-focused meditation lowered my heart rate, helped me organize my thoughts, and decreased my anxiety. Not convinced? Try this 7 minute guided meditation  called “Relaxing Your Mind” by Lama Yeshe Rabgye. It helps bring focus to your breath and away from whatever is stressing you out. Not only is it easy, it’s incredibly grounding!


Myth #2: Successful meditation requires you to have a completely blank mind.

For many, the word ‘meditation’ seems to be synonymous with a clear mind, completely devoid of any thought or emotion. To completely turn off the mind sounds impossible and unrealistic, doesn’t it? The goal of mindfulness is to engage with the present moment while acknowledging that thoughts and feelings do come up during meditation. Mindfulness seeks to promote nonjudgmental acceptance of these physiological and psychological experiences without having strong emotional reactions to them, like trying to shoo them away.

Imagine that during your meditation session you think  of a task you must accomplish later at work. Mindfulness does not demand that you banish the thought and instead think of nothing; rather, it invites you with curiosity to say to yourself “I am having this thought; I accept this thought; I do not have to engage with it; it is what it is.” After, you can gently bring yourself back to the present moment and focus on something else, such as something in your environment or your breath. You might also experience emotions as sensations in your body, such as an anxious feeling in your stomach; in this case, the practice of mindfulness encourages you to sit with the feeling without trying to change it or label it positive or negative.  In this way, you are made aware of your uncomfortable internal experiences rather than ignoring them and thus become better equipped to tolerate and cope with them.

Myth #3: Meditation requires you to be completely still.

The idea of stillness can understandably be a huge deterrent from meditation, especially if you are a restless, always-on-the-go kind of person. Toss out the preconceived notion that you aren’t allowed to move,  because there are many ways to engage your body while still practicing mindfulness and meditation. For instance, with progressive muscle relaxation, you are guided through a gradual tensing up and releasing of each major muscle group in your body, from your feet all the way up to your face. Another way to get your move on while being mindful is through a walking meditation; this practice actually invites you to focus on your body and environment as a means of staying grounded in the present moment. Check out this example of walking meditation from mindful.org.

Myth #4: Meditation is a silent practice.  

The thought of sitting alone in silence can be less than appealing for many people.  especially if you are prone to racing or ruminating thoughts. While meditating in silence can be soothing for some, those of us who prefer to have something to listen to have plenty of options. There are apps such as Insight Timer and Calm, which play soothing repetitive sounds like chimes, raindrops, or ocean waves. Alternatively, you may opt for an app that has guided meditations leading you through breathing exercises, guiding you through repeating mantras or internal affirmations, or encouraging the use of visualization. There is a spectrum of meditators,  ranging from those who like a lot of guidance to those who prefer minimal talking in the background. Whichever you prefer, you are still doing what’s most important: getting in touch with YOU!

Like other forms of self-care, exercise, or even psychotherapy, meditation is not a quick fix. It is a skill that takes practice and a habit that requires consistent work to see results. Keeping this in mind, over the next week I’d like to challenge you to begin integrating meditation into your life. Try practicing at least 5 minutes three times a week. You can use the suggested meditations found in this post, check out some other examples on mindful.org, or give it a go on your own using only  your breath and a timer! If none of these work, don’t be discouraged. You might find our next post helpful, “Which meditation is right for you?”

Good luck and namaste.

Kara Lissy, LCSW is a therapist at A Good Place Therapy. If you are interested in working with her or another therapist on the team, please complete this scheduling form to get a quote and submit a scheduling request.

References

Goldstein, E. (2014, June 27). No time for meditation? Try this on-the-go walking meditation. [Web log post]. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://www.mindful.org/no-time-for-mindfulness-try-this-on-the-go-walking-meditation/

Lama Yeshe Rabgye. Relaxing your mind. On Insight Timer [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://insighttimer.com/lamayesherabgye/guided-meditations/relaxing-your-mind

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (April 2016). Meditation: In Depth. [Web log post]. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm#hed6


Kara Lissy LCSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!

Therapist Spotlight: Douglas Brown, LMSW, CASAC-T

Meet Douglas Brown, LMSW, CASAC-T, of  A Good Place Therapy.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I had been working in digital technology media marketing for 15 years. At the end a project I would often say to myself that I didn’t really want to do this anymore but it was always too convenient to just take on more work project. Then I had a bit of career trauma. I had an amazing position at an amazing agency but my job was eliminated—along with 75 other peoples— and I took it as a sign and a time to make a serious career change.

I always enjoyed the management part of my job, the mentoring and coaching. I did an inventory of all the things that I liked or ever wanted to do. Then I thought about the three most influential people in my life and they were all therapists. As I investigated it became more and more obvious that this was the right choice for me, and I really know now. I am lucky to have a lot of resources in my life, including the recovery community, and wanted to share those with others. My choice was about finding something more in the world, giving back, and helping people to do the things they once thought they couldn’t do. It sounds a little cliché, but it really is a big part of it for me.

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

How fascinating people are as human beings. How both very complex and very simple we can be. The paradox of people and what we do and how we act, the things we tolerate and the things we don’t. The closeness of trauma and bravery, courage and fear, thinking and feeling – they all add up. I like having to be very present and focused with one person for 45 minutes at a time. Amazing things can happen, not every time and not every session but when that connection is made it is pretty incredible.

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

The death of my mom almost 10 years ago to Leukemia. She went through the 28-day chemo process and the cancer went away, and then four months later it came back and was rapid. She was gone in less than a week. The process of grieving and dealing with that made me a different person. It made me realize there is a lot of loss in life, almost on a continual and constant basis. We don’t recognize it enough and don’t address it; then it becomes really complicated. I have an instant connection and empathy for someone experiencing loss because I know really what it is like.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about?

The learning and the process itself. I have a tremendous amount of faith that if I am present and available enough in a session…through that process of being there and being available and giving people a place to talk it is a tremendously powerful thing. If you do that over time and enough, people can let go of stuff and leave it in the room or “with me.” I hope to give them the place where they can construct what happens. I have seen it a few times and it is like “Whoa!.” I have so much passion to learn and invest and try and trust that process is going to work. It is almost magical sometimes. There will be healing and help and progress and change – I truly believe that, and it takes a lot to let go and to build an environment where that’s possible.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

Substance abuse, misuse, addiction and anxiety/depression are the main ones. I am fascinated by addiction as a whole. There is a ton of neuroscience about it and the 12 steps path is powerful for some and the many things we have tried and haven’t tried to resolve that void in ourselves. I have personal and professional experience with recovery and it has been pretty powerful in my life. Others include grief & loss, men’s issues, mindfulness and couples.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I think being an older male, heterosexual therapist makes me unique. I hold that close and dear as many of my clients are men ages 25-40. I really honor the fact that they show up. To have two guys showing up and talking in a room about anything personal is really remarkable. For me, a big part of my work is being able to model and reflect that value and to show them you can be successful in being yourself and whatever you want to accomplish. I think it also helps that I am a father, not that I play a fatherly role but sometimes I am able to give them a kick in the butt and say “Dude, man up.” Most of the time it is pretty calm and mellow in the room and we are able to talk like “I want to run this by you, we can talk about it,” etc.

Also, I don’t talk about it much in therapy, but I have been continuously sober for 29 years. It can be intimidating for people just starting recovery as we stick to the “one day at a time” but sometimes it helps people to see that I understand possibility and find hope.

Another thing, I have lived in New York City for more than 20 years. Most people don’t live here that long. They are transient. Having that exposure and experience in the city itself helps to bring a full perspective to the work. I was here for the 9/11, The Blackout, Hurricane Sandy and I empathize with the hard, fast, crazy pace of life that is the city.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

It is a mix of strength-based social work and a psychodynamic approach. Many people come to me with a problem and want a solution. They point out the stressors of day to day, and the social work part of my work helps get to resources they need to get through that stress. But I also want to get into what is underneath all that, to the patterns and the messages. The psychodynamic part goes to root cause, especially for addiction and anxiety. Getting there can be tough, but once we get there we can heal and make progress. I think the true solution is a balance of both.

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

I run…a lot. I call it my mental health medicine. It helps me to work through things and other times helps to focus on the external versus the internal. I will look at the scenery, focus on my breathing, my body, etc. I also work hard to separate “therapist Douglas” from not-therapist Douglas. I try not to therapy my children, my wife, or my friends. I like to read and music is a big part of my life. I have played guitar for a while. I also like to find quiet time somehow, someway. Sometimes that is just lying in my bed at home, listening to an album. And with running, I get the package of massage treatments, acupuncture, and physical therapy. I also really like ice cream.

What is your favorite book?

I recently re-read 100 Years of Solitude. It is unbelievable. There is a transformative sense in the magical realism and how, in this chaos of events and individual lives, all things are possible. It also has a with a huge dose of romanticism which tickles a certain part of me. A great read and a nice distraction right now in these times.

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

It is going to be ok. Take your time but don’t stop. Just slow down.

Also, at another level—being honest matters. It is certainly evident in today’s world. We need to be more honest with ourselves and other people. I think that one act opens us up and frees up space for other things. I am a real believer that being a good, true person makes a difference. You shouldn’t try to hide yourself or be something different and I love the quote from Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

What's most important to you?

Honesty, family, my children, integrity, just being true and honest and thoughtful caring about something outside of yourself, giving back—whatever that means to you.

What is your take on a current social issue?

The one that really gets me is this return to the drug war. It has been proven the whole war on drugs idea doesn’t work other than to shame or isolate certain populations. We were making progress and that has completely stopped. I am also very interested and a little fearful of voter rights and accessibility. I help to volunteer at election time and try to find ways to help. Certain classes and groups of people are marginalized and don’t know it, or they are being disregarded or interfered and that, to me, threatens the core of our way of life. It is all very politicized and complicated.

 

Therapist Spotlight: Julia Lawrence, LMSW

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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

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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?

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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

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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