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.