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.