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.