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Humans of MHT: An Interview with Dr. Vanessa Spooner

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Dr. Vanessa Spooner

In this installment of our series "Humans of MHT," Laura talks with Vanessa about holding contradictions within ourselves, growing up in Maine, and the power of group psychotherapy. 

Laura: Hello, my name is Laura MacRae-Serpa and I am a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at Michelle Harwell Therapy. I am here with Dr. Vanessa Spooner, who is a Clinician and Clinical Supervisor at MHT, and we are going to have the pleasure of doing the fourth interview in the Humans of MHT series. So, I also wanted to mention that Dr. Spooner is the President of GPALA, which is the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles - Hello Vanessa!

Vanessa: Hi Laura - How are you?

L: I'm good, thank you. Are you ready to talk about feelings and thoughts about humanness?

V: Let's get started.

L: Okay, I'm interested in knowing what humanness means to you?

V: So, I was thinking about this this morning, as I was getting ready to head into work and for me, I think being human is being a contradiction - that we are so many polarities and opposites and we are constantly experiencing the tension between different thoughts or different feelings. And I think that as humans sometimes we get into trouble when we try to condense ourselves into just one thing - just one way of being - just one way of thinking - just one way of relating to people.

I think sometimes people think that they shouldn't have conflicting feelings or they shouldn't have different ways of relating to people but I really think that the richness that comes from being human is really found in that - in that contradiction. And I think the more we are open to that and the more that we embrace it - the more alive we feel and the happier we are. I think it's a part of our experience. I think some people really enjoy it and other people might feel stressed or trapped by that feeling - that nothing is simple - our thoughts and feelings can change about things -but we also enjoy it and seek it out.

For example, if a movie didn't have some tension in it and you didn't know what was going to happen then you wouldn't feel really riveted by it or if you're reading a book and a character seems pretty one-dimensional then you're not that interested. And people usually enjoy things when there's some ambiguity and there's many different meanings that could come from it - like a painting or poem - things that are so rich because they can have a lot of contradictions in them or they have a lot of different narratives in them. I think for me thinking about humanness that essence really speaks to me - the contradiction - the dialectics of it in that way - that you can have two opposing things happening at the same time and they don't cancel each other out and they can co-exist - like they don't completely contradict each other in that way.

L: Nicely said. True. During our photo shoot, you held up a cutting board of Maine, and I'm curious to know what that object means to you when you're thinking about your humanness?

V: So, I chose the cutting board because it's probably the easiest way to represent that I'm from Maine, otherwise I would have had to show a a state map or something. I chose Maine to represent my humanness because it kind of embodies exactly what I'm talking about- this dialectical opposition that we all embody. For me, a lot of times I have people who are surprised that I'm from Maine living out in California. It’s like - how opposite can you be? - you're coming from the other side of the country. I'm also from a very small town in Maine and there's a part of me that loves being from Maine and there’s part of me that hates being from Maine.

I think I chose that to represent my humanness because we all have mixed feelings about our homes. Mixed feelings about where we come from. We can have a sense of pride of where we're from. We can have a sense of shame, depending on our backgrounds. If I could have it my way then I would live in Maine and work in California. There are so many parts of Maine that feel more like me. It's slower and quieter. You're in nature more, the pace of life is slower and it just seems simple but not in a bad way. like People aren't rushing around trying to do different things. They're a little bit more interested in being. But LA also has a lot of things too. LA has a very vibrant community. LA has way more diversity than you find in Maine - diversity of thought, diversity of ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, diversity of food and restaurants and things like that.

I find that I find myself kind of wondering where I might be in ten years and I honestly don't know. I don't know if I’ll be back in Maine or not but it reminds me of drawing than I did when I was a little kid. I think I was about six or seven and I drew this house that was in the woods on top of like a hill or mountain and I vividly remember making this drawing. I don’t know if I said anything to any of my family members but I know the story I told myself about the drawing was that I want to live in the country in this house in the middle of the woods and then I want to drive to the city and go to work. So, that was the ideal picture that I had in my head when I was a kid and I think I think I'm starting to ramble a little bit but that that's why I chose Maine to represent my humanness. I think there's a there's a tension in me from wanting to be kind of a rural country type girl from a small town and also wanting to be in LA - wanting to be in the intellectual community in Los Angeles as a therapist - so there's definitely the duality there. I think that represents my humanness well.

L: I will be interested to see where you are at in ten years as well after sharing that. See if you're here - maybe living out further and commuting or if you are actually back in Maine.

V: Well, we will see what happens.

L: How does your humanness come into the room with you as a therapist?

V: So, talking about duality - kind of oppositional forces - it almost sounds like I'm campaigning for a DBT therapy - dialectical behavioral therapy. I will say I'm not a DBT therapist but I think one of the reasons why DBT has helped so many people is because of exactly what I've been talking about- that we can have these conflicting ideas or different thoughts at the same time. They can coexist and we can start to understand from a outside perspective - our thoughts - how we feel about two contradictory things. I really like that viewpoint from DBT and I feel like that shows up a lot in my work with my clients - that it's okay to have opposing feelings. It's okay if feelings change. It's okay if your logic and your emotions don't agree with each other but how are you going to have a different dialogue with yourself? How are you going to come to terms with these contradictions and slowly over time make decisions that intuitively start to feel right? And to know that that's part of the process.

I think being human is being a contradiction - that we are so many polarities and opposites and we are constantly experiencing the tension between different thoughts or different feelings. And I think that as humans sometimes we get into trouble when we try to condense ourselves into just one thing - just one way of being - just one way of thinking - just one way of relating to people.

I think people feel like they're doing something wrong or they're stuck or something else isn't right if they're experiencing this tension. And like I was saying before about a movie, if you don't have tension, then the plot doesn't move along. So, if you don't have tension inside of you, then you don't have something to push against. I want clients to kind of embrace that tension and to know that it's not something they're going to overcome and then it's done. Like, if I go to therapy then I'll never have mixed feelings again. I'll always know what I want and it's done. It's not that you're overcoming once - each day you're overcoming this resistance to whatever it is that you might want to be doing. It's the conversation that you're having with yourself to kind of get yourself through to what you want.

It reminds me of this book called The War on Art. The author Steven Pressfield talks about resistance against creativity and he gives it a capital R and I like that because he's naming it. He's talking about how when you're trying to be a creative person, you need to have discipline and understand that resistance is always going to be there. You're not going to create just because you feel like creating-that happens sometimes but not most of the time. So, with my clients in therapy, I want them to kind of have the same feeling - that this resistance, this tension isn't going anywhere but if they are making peace with it inside of themselves then things don't have to be so stressful. There is going to be tension, there is still going to be friction but they're having an experience of themselves. They're not too critical of themselves. They're not shutting down differing points of view or different feelings inside of themselves. They're not limiting themselves to just relating to either other people, or the world, or themselves and just one standard or constricted way. So, I guess that's in a nutshell that’s how I see humanness in the room.

L: What are your thoughts on humanness in the group process or in group therapy? Do you see some similar tension - dynamics?

V: I think group therapy is humanness times a thousand. What I mean by that is that group therapy is inherently full of contradictions and opposition. Every time somebody talks in group, somebody else can't talk and there's always this tension…How much space do I take up in the group? What things are okay and not okay to say? What different types of relationships am I having in the group? I might be relating to someone as a sibling. I might be regulating someone else as a parent. I might want to relate to someone else in the group like a lover but I might be scared of showing that side of myself.

So, group, I think, is wonderful because you get all of these different points of view and there's no one truth to put in quotes- there isn't.  I could say something in a therapy group whether I'm a client in the group or the therapist and everybody in the group could have a different reaction, and all of those reactions are valid in their own way, and all of those reactions could also be reflected upon and shifted in a certain way. So, I love group for that reason. I think being a group therapist you show your humanness a little bit more because just like a parent, you're not going to relate to everyone in the group in the same way. Whereas, if you're in individual therapy, your individual clients don't know - they don't know how you were in the room with the person before them or the person after them. They just know the dyad - the relationship that the two of you have.  But when you're in a therapy group, you're kind of in the hot seat in a good way because everything that you say you have an audience. You have six or seven or eight people who are watching you and then they're also watching you interact with the other group members so, you're going to be you're going to be full of contradictions in that way.

It’s okay if feelings change. It’s okay if your logic and your emotions don’t agree with each other but how are you going to have a different dialogue with yourself? How are you going to come to terms with these contradictions and slowly over time make decisions that intuitively start to feel right?

I think the more I receive training in group therapy, the more I realize how comfortable I have to be with my humaneness in that way. I'm not going to be the same every week. The group is not going to be the same every week and that doesn't mean that anyone's doing anything wrong. It just means that it's a tension that we need to be aware of. I think another tension that comes up a lot in group, that doesn't quite come up in the same way individual therapy is the tension between wanting to be separate and the tension between wanting to be a part of. If you have a group, some group members are going to be very eager in the beginning to be like yes, we're a group and this is how we relate to each other. I understand you. Your story is similar to mine and we're forming into something that's a collective. Throughout the group, there will be periods of time when people don't want that and they want to separate. They're experiencing the tension of what if I don't want to be a part of this group? What if I lose a part of myself if I'm in this group? So maybe I don't talk, maybe I get mad at someone, maybe I don't show up one week… and I think that tension is very much present in our everyday lives and our communities and our relationships. How much we want to be connected? How much we want to be separate? You can definitely go there in individual therapy but I think it just comes up in a richer way in group therapy. You're really seeing it happened in the room whereas in individual therapy, it's the dyad and the client might be worried about getting too close to you. But I think it's a slightly different interpersonal experience when you're talking about the collective - when you're talking about a group instead of the dyad.

L: Thank you for your thoughts and sharing your humaneness and your experience. It's been wonderful listening to you and chatting with you.

V: Great, thank you so much for coming on today.

L: Bye Vanessa.

V: Bye.

Vanessa Spooner, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in helping adults work through anxiety, depression, grief, and eating disorders. Dr. Spooner also has extensive training and experience in group therapy and is currently president of the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles (GPALA)

Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.

Authentic Encounters: An Interview with Dr. Gil Spielberg

Authentic Encounters: An Interview with Dr. Gil Spielberg

Vanessa Spooner: Alright, good morning Gil Spielberg!

Gil Spielberg: Good morning Vanessa.

VS: So, my name is Vanessa Spooner and I am interviewing Gil for this month’s Michelle Harwell Therapy Newsletter. So to warm us up a little bit Gil can you just give us a quick two-minute background on yourself, your practice, your approach to your work as a therapist?

GS: That’s in two minutes?

VS: Maybe three minutes?

GS: How about two hours? In two hours I could do that.

VS: [laughs]

GS: Let's see. I have a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, then I have my analytic training from the Institute for the Study of Subjectivity in New York. That was my individual analytic training. My group analytic training was from the Center for Group Studies, also in New York. And I have taught group therapy in a variety of places over the past 30 years. Currently my practice is group-oriented, but not exclusively, I see individuals, some individuals both in group and individually, some patients just in psychoanalysis, either once a week or more often, and couples. And then I also do supervision at a place called Beit T’Shuvah, which is a Jewish rehab center and in terms of authenticity that is a wonderful example of a place to be.

VS: And so Gil, you touched on what we are going to be talking about today, which is authenticity. What comes to mind for you when you are thinking about Beit T’Shuvah and authenticity?

GS: Well, the thing about Beit T’Shuvah that I really like is that it is the goal of the staff and for those patients who are really willing to engage is to live more authentic lives. Because for addicts in particular, there was a lot of hiding – from themselves and from others – a great deal of deception. So for those people who come in and are allowing themselves to fully engage in the program, they are learning to figure out how to present themselves honestly to themselves and to the world. But the part of this that is particularly meaningful to me is that the staff mirrors that. So the staff also tries to communicate authentically with one another and with the patients. You don’t have much of a sense of hierarchy; you have more of a sense of people trying to find ways of creatively and constructively relating to one another. Which means it becomes a more complicated institution at times, but much more fulfilling for all who sort of enjoy that kind of environment and can tolerate it.

VS: And is that where you come in, when things get more complicated, when you are providing supervision?

GS: I provide supervision in a couple of ways. In sort of the basic aspect of teaching people the craft of psychotherapy, helping them locate where they want to be in terms of their theory and who they are. And then for the organization itself, as well as the individuals, I help them sort of navigate trying to find themselves therapeutically and cooperating in a very complex emotional environment.

VS: And does that guidance you provide them kind of mirror how you are as a leader in your therapy groups?

GS: Not entirely. Partly. It does to the extent that I am always trying to use myself and my experience to help me understand what’s going on. And to figure out what other people want and need from the situation. But in my therapy groups I am much more aware of how to make use of something like transference than I am in a consulting situation, where that is not sort of a guiding task. I have a different task, so I use myself differently.

VS: I could imagine that with transference it can feel a little tricky, because on the one hand it is a very authentic experience between you and someone else, but at the same time there are pieces of it that are repetitive from someone’s past, and so it might be a little less authentic in the present. What do you think about that?

GS: Well, some of this goes back to Freud who would say that within transference the relationship is never fully authentic, because the patient is not really seeing you fully, they are seeing someone else. They may be presenting themselves as honestly as they can, but the relationship is not fully authentic, because they are not totally in the present. And for me, since I’m not fully presenting all of my thoughts and feelings and trying to be transparent as possible, I’m not fully authentic. I’m using my authentic experience, but I may not be presenting it.

VS: So the way that you present it is more filtered, depending on the person.

Gil Spielberg 1

GS: More…filtered is probably correct, but it is more…um…what is a better word?

VS: Like selective?

GS: Yeah, maybe selective is a better word, if I can think of a better word I’ll tell you better. But we can go with that for now.

VS: So what’s the big deal with authenticity? Why is it so important?

GS: That’s a great question. It actually didn’t start out being important. You know, originally when the field was much more medicalized, which was in the beginning of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, authenticity was nowhere on the map. What was on the map were symptoms and neuroses. I don’t think it was until the Humanists like Carl Rogers came on the scene where they began to change the point of view of psychotherapy to not just relieve symptoms, but to live a different kind of life. And at that point, what was emphasized was the patient becoming more of themselves, sort of getting rid of the shackles of what they were supposed to be. And the therapists presenting more of him or herself. Carl Rogers I think one of his first papers was The Necessary Sufficient Conditions for Psychotherapy (or for Change), I can’t get the exact title of it. One of the things that he talked about was that the therapist needs to present, be genuine, have positive regard and be respectful. But that was new to the field to begin to understand what the therapist had to do as well. So that way the therapist was modeling for the patient to live and talk and relate authentically. And I think within psychoanalysis Heinz Kohut took that over when he talked about having relationships that work true to the self. When he put the sense of self, a vigorous and vital self, in the center of what needs to happen in psychoanalysis. When he did that and moved that into the center, what he did was also to say to privilege living authentically with one’s self and with one’s important relationships. And that had been picked up by the Relationalists and some of the other Intersubjectivists within Self Psychology, who now stress relating more authentically with the patient and with the patient relating more authentically with them. Now in order to relate authentically, a person has to be congruent with their speech, body and mind. And then from there, as a platform, he or she can engage in an authentic relationship.

VS: Can you say a little more about what being congruent looks like?

GS: It’s not just what it looks like, it’s what is feels like.

VS: What it feels like.

GS: The person is…what they are feeling and thinking inside is available fully to them and eventually they can present that transparently to another and that is sort of their contribution to an authentic relationship.  So their feelings can be sensed by themselves or another, their thoughts reflect their feelings, and their body reflects their thoughts and feelings. They’re all sort of working together, they’re in congruence with one another. I think that they are people you may have noticed who, who may have a feeling, even a strong feeling, but you can’t tell what they are feeling, they can hardly tell what they’re feeling. And their body may be in some kind state of tension, but it doesn’t come through easily in what they’re saying. So they are confusing to talk to, and it is not clear what really they are experiencing. So that would be a state of incongruence.

VS: I have definitely experienced that where someone is either confusing, or they wind up, at least to me, like feeling very flat. And I am not sure where the flatness is coming from and what is underneath the flatness.

GS: How do you tend to handle it?

VS: If it’s someone that I’ve been working with for a while, I will definitely try to pay attention to their body and see if there are any signs there that kind of help. If it’s someone that I haven’t been working with for a while, I might try to change the subject or notice when there are any little periods where I notice like a little bit of spark, a little bit of feeling that comes through and I might try to center in on that a little more. But definitely in the beginning it is more of a mystery and I’m noticing it and I’m trying to figure out what to make of it.

GS: Well I tell you, to the extent you can treat it as a mystery and have sort of interest and curiosity, that’s terrific. I think some people get involved in breaking through that defense and it’s too overwhelming for the patient and you lose the experience of being just curious about who that person is and how they got to be that way. And curiosity is such a main part of what we do, maybe one of the most important traits. You can probably get away with a lot of mistakes if you are truly curious and the patient senses it. But that’s another topic.

VS: Well I do feel like that relates back to authenticity in terms of we’re kind of curious about others and if we don’t feel a sense of authenticity from them, then we don’t feel like we can actually get to know them.

GS: Well you get to know the part of them that is defending against it, defending against some other parts of them. You’re still getting to know them, you’re just getting to know more about how they have protect themselves than what they could experience if they weren’t as emotionally protected. But if they can sense your authentic curiosity, that goes a long way.

VS: Does that go a long way in terms of why you think we need authenticity or why we crave it?

GS: I think authenticity has the potential to be extraordinarily nourishing in relationships. It is a way of the self being nourished by the interactions with another. Even if your circumstances don’t change, the fact that you’re having an interaction with someone who you are feeling nourished and they are feeling nourished by you, that is going to change your present experience and your mood and some aspect of the self over time. So it is REALLY important. The sense of curiosity is sort of the foundational attitude that one really needs to have to do this work well. And if you really embody that, people will sense it from you and it is really beckoning for them to be more open with you and themselves. I’m not even sure I’m answering these questions correctly.

VS: You’re not sure if you’re authentically answering them? [laughs]

GS: No, no, I’m sure I’m authentically answering them, I just have no idea if this is really what you are asking for.

VS: You’re doing great. How do you notice the difference between how this authenticity feeds the self in individual versus your groups?

GS: Well in group my goal is to set a culture where people can have as many authentic relationships as they can tolerate and even take risks to do something a little bit uncomfortable. Now sometimes I’ll model an authentic relationship with someone in that I will be fully transparent. Sometimes my interventions are more towards the culture of the group to help the group to step into more authentic and transparent relationships with themselves and others. Sometimes I will point out what is getting in the way. So, it all depends on how I use myself. But basically it is to set the culture of the group, that will help people find themselves and find more authentic relationships with others in the group. Because that is where the growth is, or what is termed in psychoanalysis these days as the leading edge of risk and growth.

I think authenticity has the potential to be extraordinarily nourishing in relationships. It is a way of the self being nourished by the interactions with another.

VS: And maybe in group there is more opportunity for risk and growth since there are more people involved versus individual.

GS: I can’t say there is more opportunity; it sort of depends on what people need. Some people really need the individual experience for various reasons and that is where at different points in their life they will find the maximum benefit. Although my other sense is that most everybody at some point can make great use of a good group experience. The other thing about group though that is most interesting is that you have a lot of personalities and characters in group who are not primarily there to listen well to you and respond to what you as a patient developmentally need. They are there to over time find themselves and so that is very different. As a patient in group you are going to rub up against people that are very similar that you fit with really well and those you don’t fit with really well. And you can learn from both. And that is the magic of group. No one is there primarily there to meet your needs. So right away that is a harsh reality. One that becomes ultimately very very growth-full. Most people pick their therapist because they feel in some way akin or comfortable and the therapist will go out of his or her way to make sure the patient feel comfortable, which is fine, but that means the kind of relationships that they can have is somewhat limited because they have this basic comfort between them. And aspects of each other that might be very problematic let’s say in the patient’s life might not be triggered. It is very hard to have a sibling kind of transference with the therapist. And sibling experiences are very, very important to people’s lives. They’re more important than we tend to give them credit for. And those are much more easily accessible in group.

VS: Can you say a little bit more about why sibling relationships or transferences are so important?

GS: They are underemphasized. We emphasize in the literature the relationship to the parents. And that’s fine. And especially in the early years that’s important. But if you ask people about their lives, invariably what comes up are people’s relationships to their siblings. And if they got along, if they were good mentors and friends to each other, where they fit in the family. Siblings are important and they determine a lot about how we relate to our peers. So the group is a much more natural place to have those kinds of relationships. And in addition, you will find aspects of a parent that you really liked or disliked that may not have been available to you in the individual relationship. And people have all kinds of experiences that come not only from their family, but being in school with friends that are very impactful in their lives and they are likely to find that in group much more easily than individual. Individual they can remember them and in group of course they get to re-experience them.

VS: And it sounds like that re-experiencing can be filled with a lot of growth, but it can also be filled with a lot of discomfort at times.

GS: It is filled with a lot of discomfort, so a good deal of what you do in individual therapy, and especially group, is find ways to help the group tolerate the discomfort. That is very, very important. Because when groups or patients cannot tolerate much discomfort, there’s not going to be a great deal of growth. And one of the larger sources of discomfort is how they feels towards one another when they are in the midst of aspects of their prior experiences that have been difficult. It’s one thing to talk about one’s relationships to a sibling or parent and sort of talk about it in absentia and it’s quite another thing to talk about that as it’s being played out here and now in the room and understanding what you as the patient bring to that experience, how you help to train someone else to be a part of your early drama.

VS: Your job as the leader then is to find a balance between making it tolerable enough for the group to hold those feelings, while at the same time trying to increase the authenticity in the room so that these things can be talked about and felt more.

GS: I think that’s a very good way of putting it. I’m going to help the group figure out how to make that tolerable. I don’t make it tolerable for them, I help the group engage in the process where we can over time find a way to make it tolerable or not.

VS: What happens if it is not tolerable?

GS: Well if it’s not tolerable and it’s not being talked about, people will either begin to shut down and you will have a group that has come to a halt, sometimes called a status quo resistance, or you will find that people will begin to act out a lot of aggression behaviorally: lateness, absences, people wanting to leave the group. Sometimes the leader picks this up because they are uncomfortable in the group – they begin to dislike coming to the group, they are not enjoying themselves, they are finding desires to get rid of the group or get rid of people in the group. And that is one pathway, that through the leader’s willingness to be authentically attached to themselves, they begin to realize that there’s something happening in the group that really needs to be attended to.

VS: And in those types of situations…

GS: By the way, I’m glad you’re following me because I’m just sort of free associating. So I’m glad you’re following.

VS: Oh yeah, I am right here with you. So in those instances in group where you might be feeling some of those feelings, is that something that you are sharing with the group or is that something that you are just using as a way to make a “group as a whole” interpretation?

GS: It sort of depends on the group, where they are at developmentally, what I think their relationships are like, what they can tolerate. Let's see if I can think of a good example that would be great. Let’s see if I have an example [pauses]. I don’t have one at the moment, but maybe I will think of one.

VS: That’s fine. But yeah it sounds like depending on what the group can tolerate developmentally you may be sharing more of your authenticity in terms of how you’re feeling or you might limit it a little bit more so that they can tolerate it and process it.

GS: Something like that. So I had a group where there were a number of people who were quite disruptive in the group, so I remember one time coming in and saying: “I found myself coming in to this group with a lot of tension today. Who’s tension am I picking up?” So I remember using it once that way. I can remember some other time thinking about how much competition there was in the room so I sort of primed myself based upon my own sort of fantasies that were coming to me, I was thinking a lot about being a kid and playing baseball and how competitive that was. I came into the room and someone in the group who I thought was most triggered by the degree of competition and I asked him if they thought there was any competition in the group that we weren’t talking about. So sometimes that will happen.

VS: So it sounds like you use your feelings as a way to try to hone in on someone in the group or to have the group kind of wonder about where these feelings might lie in the group, whether it is in the group-as-a-whole, or particularly resonating with one of the members.

GS: Exactly. Beautifully said. I think I will interview you. Good job!

VS: We can swap roles next time. [laughs]. One final question: How has your definition of authenticity changed over the years? Whether it is through various trainings or just through your own view of the world, how have you noticed it changing?

GS: Well, I will put it in two ways, in terms of my sense of authenticity and what I am looking for with patients. In terms of my sense, my original training was more classically analytic so there was absolutely no emphasis on the therapist/analyst being authentic to the patient at all. That radically shifted, I actually trained at times with Carl Rogers and in Gestalt therapy. So that really changed things around for me and I began to appreciate how important the therapist’s authenticity was. Then by the time I got back into analytic training the field had changed and it was now being valued to a very different degree. So that has allowed me to have a lot more presence and enjoyment in my work. It really wasn’t enjoyable keeping so much of me apart, it was sort of deadening for me. At the same time, I find it more enlivening and not scary in the way that it would have been 20 or 25 years ago to have those authentic moments and spontaneous moments with people. Both in group and individually. But those moments in group are sort of a life blood of what happens in group. It’s inherently a less predictable place. And it needs to be. Once it gets predictable, it’s sort of game over.

VS: Is that what you were mentioning before when you were talking about the status quo?

GS: Yeah. That’s one of the things. Yes. When the group becomes predictable and routinized, it is a level of communication, you have a system that no longer has any perturbations in it. It is never shaken up and therefore everyone is not shaking themselves up and not shaking others up. So it is a shark dying, not moving in the water. The authentic encounters in group are what keeps it going and the ability of the therapist to tolerate all the intense feeling that occur within the authentic encounter is what is more anxiety provoking in people, but what is ultimately the most fun and the most enlivening. Over time I have been able to tolerate more of that, so my groups have more of that. And that part is terrific.

VS: And it sounds like then the patients are able to experience, if they are able to, a wider range of authenticity if you are able to tolerate a wider range.

GS: Exactly. So there’s often as much laughter as there are tears in my group. Because that’s the range of human experience.

VS: I think that is a wonderful note to end on, people in group being able to share as many laughs as good cries. I think sometimes people think that therapy is always supposed to be this painful daunting emotionally wrenching thing and that’s not as authentic.

GS: No, it’s not.

VS: There’s a wider range of experiences and you really encourage your group members to delve into that if they are ready.

GS: Absolutely.

VS: Wonderful. Well thank you Gil for being available this morning for the interview. We’re very excited to kind of mull over these thoughts that you have provided us about authenticity, especially as we are thinking about the new year and how we all at Michelle Harwell Therapy want to help our clients to become more authentic as they are beginning a new year and maybe a new chapter for themselves.

GS: Well you know, it gave me the opportunity to do more thinking more about it. I myself am in a consultation group with people around the country. So I ran this past my group, and that was a great experience and we all had an interesting time talking about it. So actually I have enjoyed the process.

VS: Wonderful. That’s wonderful to hear. 

Gil Spielberg, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who maintains a private practice in Los Angeles, California. His specialty is group therapy, a form of therapy in which a small number of people meet together under the guidance of a therapist to help themselves and one another by developing, exploring, and examining interpersonal relationships within the group.

Vanessa Spooner, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in helping adults work through anxiety, depression, grief, and eating disorders. Dr. Spooner also has extensive training and experience in group therapy and is currently president of the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles (GPALA)

The "rules" of Poetry

The "rules" of Poetry





     I still remember my first time studying poetry. It was third grade, Mrs. Hornback’s class. Because who forgets a teacher named Mrs. Hornback, right? We learned about couplets and meters and rhyme and the ways in which these literary devices create symmetry and meaning that plain old sentences have to work a lot harder to accomplish.





     This was how I was taught poetry. Each line perfectly coordinating with another waiting for it within the poem, knowing that if it did not, something was certainly awry. Imagine my surprise when I was introduced to poets like Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, and Bradley Hathway, to name a few. Artists that do not adhere to the structure within which I allowed poetry to exist. Authors who honor the complexity and simplicity of language by allowing words to hang on the ledge of a page all on their own; They are the reason I love poetry. 

Authors who honor the complexity and simplicity of language by allowing words to hang on the ledge of a page all on their own; They are the reason I love poetry.

     Don’t get me wrong; I believe the masters of rhyme and rhythm deserve equal amounts of respect. There is something for me, however, locked within the feeling of being captivated by a single word. An ellipsis that allows me to fill in the blank however I so choose. And in a world with a lot of forms and “sign here’s”, I really appreciate that space.  

Cresson Haugland MS, MFT Intern has worked in both the community mental health and private practice settings and has extensive experience working with families in transition, couples, adolescents, and individuals. 

Poetic Play

Poetic Play

     There is something poetic about children’s play. Like a poems’ meter and line breaks, play also has rhythmic measures and choice pauses.  Both can be emotionally charged and offer the opportunity to peer through another’s lens. They require few words to make us think, and often help us learn and reflect on everyday things. In poetry as in play, words may be symbols and contain hidden messages. Both require mindful engagement to read between the lines. Poetry like play can be enjoyed alone or with a group and be short and humorous, flowing and long lasting, or anything in between.       

In the same way that poetry allows us to share and be touched by the human experience, play allows children to imagine, create, connect and rise about their daily selves.

Poetry offers the opportunity to switch off automatic pilot and be jolted by something profound, meaningful and beautiful. In the same way that poetry allows us to share and be touched by the human experience, play allows children to imagine, create, connect and rise above their daily selves.


-Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.

All Imagery from this post are by the author and illustrator Shel Silverstein.


Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

As a therapist, I am used to connecting with the experience of the other through words. Listening, empathizing, exploring, connecting. It is a humbling and honoring experience to be let into the psyche of another through their story. The beauty of words is that they do not have to be spoken to land with another person.  Brandon Jordan Brown utilizes the artistic expression of words to not only connect with the other but to help them connect to themselves. Here he reminds us of the beauty of poetry and how it can be used to draw us closer to the human experience. -Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern

JM: Why is art/creativity important?

BJB: There is something about when you interact with forces you to slow down….It pulls you in inward and it pulls you outward...And I think that if you are open to it- and you have to be really open to it- it forces you to confront things that you don't want to or to celebrate things that we forget are worth celebrating. That’s the weird thing about it. Every element or every response that art evokes almost has an equal and opposite response.  It is capable of either/or, both/and, almost simultaneously…I can tell you as someone who practices it, it is terrifying. It makes you feel very vulnerable and brings up all your fears. But I’m sure we will get into that more with upcoming questions.

JM: You’re right, we definitely will. Let’s get vulnerable.

...Poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: Why did you choose poetry as your art form?

BJB: ...What is so compelling about poetry that I am learning...that it is almost like experiential theology or human-centered in a way that religion can be afraid to be….I think that poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.

JM: We have been talking a lot about vulnerability at MHT...the impact that it has on our relationships, work, day to day life, etc.  Do you see vulnerability playing a part in your poetry?

BJB: 100%. In a scary way. Almost to where I have written poems and sent them out and had...doesn’t Brene Brown call them vulnerability hangovers?... I haven’t figured out how to balance that. Poetry is a craft. It is different than a diary in that it takes revision and editing to create this piece of art.  So when it does connect it has the biggest chance for success.

JM: When it does connect with you?

BJB: When it connects with other people. You want to figure out a way to break open language and find a fresh way to describe something so that a person will feel like they are seeing or feeling it in a new way.  And so, it is hard to figure out the balance of being raw and vulnerable in making art and still to be healthy. I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  

There will be things I write and think “Oh that is too honest”...a moment of pure openness.  And I think there are moments when I feel really ready for that. Brave and able and courageous. Confident enough in myself that even if someone says “Wow, that is really intense” I could reply with just “Yeah, life is intense man. Deal with it.”  And in other times I think that if someone were to say that to me I would crawl behind the couch and not be able to write for a while...Maybe the biggest fear is showing people your wounds. That is really when it opens something up is when you say “this is where it hurts.”

JM: You know, that’s actually something that came up in the last interview. Debbie Edgar talked about this level where you have to find safe people to open up with. Sometimes we choose poorly where a person shows you that “oh, okay I should not have shared so much.” But this is a different form of that because it is not so simple as you just having a raw conversation with a person that you have deemed safe-you are opening yourself up to a lot of people, not knowing who will be a safe recipient and who will not.

BJB:  Yeah exactly. And not that you have to be published or be out there to be serious- but, for me, that is a goal that I have- to put my work into the world…The whole goal is for it to be ingested by others and for them to interact with it.  So when I am feeling healthy, I feel like I am in the role of challenging people to think things through and wrestle with them. To shake and wake them up and open up the space for those kinds of conversations. But when I am not feeling safe, for whatever reason, I can feel that moment that Debbie was talking about of that “oh no.”

My Father's Father's Bones by Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: How do you find that poetry connects you to yourself?

BJB: What I have found in being from the South- growing up where and how I did- there is a strong literary tradition that has a certain flavor to it...that I resonate with.  

... It is almost like that person is leading you to a doorway and opening it up and maybe even standing there with you. Helping to open up a space inside of yourself. I think that we all have blindspots. That is one of the things about writing poetry- you sit down and you write to figure out what you actually think. You don’t necessarily sit down with an idea and a plan of “here is point A and here is point B and this is how I am going to write it.”  But it could be a story or a phrase or a character or a scene and you just sit down and as you start writing it feels mysterious how you even get to the end. It is like walking down a trail and just figuring out where it leads. You may have a scrap of paper or a fragment of a map but you just kind of guess and go somewhere. It brings about a lot of trust in yourself.

JM: How do you find that it connects you to others?

BJB: Writing and being an artist can be really lonely...It is not like I am in a band and can show up to practice and just be one part, it is all on me. So for it to be put out into the world and published it gives you faith that it matters.  

The trick is that people have to be willing to slow down. It is almost as if you have to develop a discipline to sit with things. You have to make yourself slow down to be able to appreciate beautiful things....It’s must easier to watch 6 episodes of a show on Netflix than it is to sit with a book and slowly savor a poem and engage your mind and imagination. It is like prayer or meditation that you have to practice. Both of those things I am also not good at. I really admire people who aren’t even artist but have that “thing” in them to be able to quickly go there because they so easily remember that art is so life-giving and can be what they need. Whatever you’re feeling there is a poem for that or a song for that. It connects us back with our experience and with the experience of the person who made it.

JM: What ways, if any, does psychology or therapy play a part in your poetry?

BJB: I am actively engaged in therapy. My poetry comes up a lot even in talking in therapy. Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing. It is a way to explore how we make meaning of what is happening all around us- inside of us, outside of us...To sum it up, I think that they both teach us how to be human. And that maybe that's not a bad place to start….Us as real people with bodies that fail us. I’m interested in art that approaches our shortcomings and in therapy we have to do the same. You have to walk towards failure and learn how to smile at it. I think you could write a whole book on that subject. You should write that.

Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: You’re the writer, man.

BJB: Okay, we should write it then.

JM: Alright deal. Let’s do it. Okay, who are some of your favorites and why?

BJB: Easy. The best living poet is a guy named Maurice Manning...He writes a lot about his rural upbringing, his childhood. For me, I have such a love and fondness for where I came from but also have to look back at how it made me and kind of sort through it. It’s like sorting through an entire world- and he does a good job at that. At holding up his memories and the pieces of his life in this fantastic Kentucky place and having such compassion for it.

Brandon Jordan Brown, LA based Poet

Another guy is Phillip Levine who just recently died last year.  He was a US Poet Laureate and was from Detroit. He is from working class, hard living, blue collar Detroit. And again, he had a love for a place and a people and was able to reckon with hardships and face pain head on.

JM: Do you have a mantra to get you into your creative space or to move you out of a block?

BJB: I just put a note on my computer that just says “Be Brave.”...I think when you take the risk and you are in a good state of mind it feels worth it.  When you have that person that memorizes a poem of yours or a piece of yours lands with someone and you think, “oh man i'm glad i said it because it helped someone.”

JM: What is your favorite word?

BJB: “Maybe.” I think as a writer and as an artist it opens up a lot of space.

Brandon Jordan Brown is a former PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry, was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been published or is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio; Day One; decomP; Rufous City Review; Cultural Weekly and more. Brandon reviews poetry for Invisible City and lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his first book. You can find him at

Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern, has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma. 

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

      I was fortunate to have parents who saw value in unstructured play. I was encouraged to spend my free time as, a worm surgeon, astronaut or potion maker. I had my father’s entrepreneurial spirit so, my unstructured playtime brewed many business ventures. For example, I was determined to invent weed killer when I was seven years old. I transformed into a scientist mixing concoctions of aftershave, perfume, toothpaste and other random bathroom supplies in old ice cream buckets. I fermented the mixtures under my bed and waited patiently for my weed poison to develop. I poured buckets of mixtures over unsuspecting weeds in the garden only to discover them growing stronger week after week. Failure? Heck no, I had invented plant food! When bathroom supplies ran low, I painted rocks from that same garden to look like ladybugs and sold them to my neighbors as paperweights. I eventually decided to expand from sole proprietorship to partnership with my friend across the street. Due to limited customers, we needed to switch up products and services often. Paperweights turned to lemonade and car washes in the summer months. During down times, we stayed busy negotiating business roles and rules. If I was bossy, then I was met with a kick in the shins or another swift reminder that playing successfully with others required relationship not dictatorship. I learned quickly that planning and creating was powerful when it was a shared process.

I imagined, created and shared. I learned that failure ultimately leads to success and that success is sweeter when it’s shared with others.

     Reflecting back on that year, I recognize my unstructured playtime facilitated resiliency through skill building, relationships and a sense of community. I hypothesized, tested and persevered. I imagined, created and shared. I learned that failure ultimately leads to success and that success is sweeter when it’s shared with others. As a parent and clinician, I am not aware of a single structured activity for children providing lessons so powerful. Although many structured activities do indeed hold value, unstructured play facilitates endless opportunities for children to exercise relationships, ideas and choices. For many children, homework and multiple structured activities leave little time for unstructured play. As parents, we are bombarded with “optimal choices” for our children's time. In a society where structured activities are marketed with promises of providing children with an edge, I think it is important to pause and consider what we might be edging out. 

Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.


Skiing Between the Trees

Skiing Between the Trees

     Approximately 25 days ago I had the unfortunate experience of skiing knee first into a tree. Did I say approximately? I meant exactly. How do I know the number of days, you ask? Because not a single one has gone by that I have not physically felt the ramifications of this accident nor has the voice in my head whispering her cruel messages of self-doubt and humiliation given me a respite.

To admit that I need to slow down, however, in some way conveys that I am not, in fact, invincible. And I would really like for you to go on thinking that I am.

     That’s life though, isn’t it? Right when we feel as though we have found our groove and know how to masterfully navigate the path we find ourselves on, we hit a tree; or a rock, patch of ice, branch, mogul, etc. Roadblocks come in all forms, really. It is in these moments that I am especially terrible at taking the advice I so frequently share with my clients, “Slow down, take care of yourself, listen to the messages your body is sending to you.” It sounds so nice, right?

     To admit that I need to slow down, however, in some way conveys that I am not, in fact, invincible. And I would really like for you to go on thinking that I am. 

     For so long I believed that my self-worth and productivity had a symbiotic relationship. The advancement of one was inevitably linked to the progress of the other. But then I hit my first patch of figurative ice, fell flat on my butt, and learned that I was incapable of over-producing my way back onto the slopes alone. You better believe I put up a hell of a fight trying to ram those skis back on though. Eventually I got there, but only after accepting the hand of another skier that happened to cross my path.

     Inviting someone into the journey of getting back on your feet after a significant wipe out can be altogether terrifying. It requires vulnerability and a willingness to let yourself be seen from a fairly unattractive angle. But from that vantage point also comes the grace of a new perspective. One that may remind you that we are beautiful because, not in spite of, our scars, and that we just might be able to avoid a few of those trees if we pause for long enough to look up and marvel at what is right in front of us. 

Cresson Haugland MS, MFT Intern has worked in both the community mental health and private practice settings and has extensive experience working with families in transition, couples, adolescents, and individuals. 

Courage in the Face of Failure

Courage in the Face of Failure

All of us at MHT are meditating on the intertwining themes of failure, vulnerability, and courage. These topics are important in how we interact with our clients, each other, and most specifically our loved ones.

Deborah Edgar MFT was a natural fit to help us shed more light on these topics as she has spent time researching the topic of courage. She was my first supervisor back when I was a student in graduate school. She helped me learn how to, in the midst of being a beginner, having a consistent fear of failure, to maintain the courage to be vulnerable and sit in the depths of pain with my clients. - Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern at Michelle Harwell Therapy

Why courage?

First I will start with my definition of courage:

Courage is heart strength to actively venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, difficulty, and the unknown for the sake of something hoped for and/or believed in with no guarantee of that something coming to pass.

Can I unpack this? It might help…

“Courage is heart strength”: Courage comes from the word “coeur” in French, meaning heart. So it’s more a question of heart than of mind. It denotes passion, coming from our whole being, not just our mind.

  1. “To actively venture, etc…”: It is not enough to imagine yourself acting courageously, or to experience courage vicariously through a film, or video game. Courage is an active embodied on the ground virtue.

  2. “For the sake of something hoped for and/or believed in”: What helps us be courageous is hope and belief: for example, the hope that if I jump into the water I will save a drowning child; and belief that saving a life is a good thing

  3. I hope I will save a child and I believe that saving a life is good, but there is “no guarantee” that these will actually happen. Courage is courage because of the unknown outcome

So, why courage?

I was so enamored by my patients’ willingness to face such deep darkness. In trauma there is a lot of dissociation (which means disconnecting from one’s own experience) and I wondered, what is it that gives someone the courage to come to therapy, then to- even after dissociating or fragmenting in the process- come again to work yet again towards wholeness. What is that and where does it come from? There are so many reasons to stop coming­ to therapy- because it is too much, too devastating-  so what gives someone the courage to stay on the path towards healing or to growth­? Especially someone who has experienced severe trauma and who has not experienced a lot of healthy relationship.

The perennial question is “to be or not to be”­ which is of course a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet­.  That question comes up again and again.­ Do I want to be or not to be? It leads one up to an edge where a person may think “I don’t know if I want to be anymore.­ This is too painful.” I wanted to know what gives them the courage to be. So *laughs* I became curious about that­ that small question­ of the universe.  

What is something that gets in the way of courage?

Hopelessness and a feeling of ineffectiveness: the feeling that whatever I am doing doesn't work. I may start with the courage to try something out but then it doesn't work and I feel ineffective.

Dissociative processes that attack without the patient wanting them to- attacking the links or meaning that are being made in therapy.

Lack of healthy community, relationships that offer true witness  

What comes to mind is what I said earlier about courage: Courage comes from the word heart- so it's having heart. So that which breaks your heart, that which deflates you, that which stops your process- that is what brings you hopelessness.  It is what ultimately will discourage you. I think what those things are, are going to be different for each person.  You know, that same old issue that comes up for each individual. The “I thought I had done so much work in this area and then here it is again- great” that can feel so deflating- feeling like “I have been working this hard and it is doing nothing! Agh”  

Can you tell us about a time you failed?

Me? Personally? Never………...just kidding

My vulnerability in my own clinical work is being what some people call the "omnipotent caregiver." So “I’m always there for you.” Which has a positive side but it can also nurture a false promise. That is, I actually can’t be there all the time.

And I think it is a failure on a bunch of levels. It is a failure towards myself and taking care of myself. It is a failure in terms of grandiosity- as if I can fix everything. A kind of “never fear, I am here!” It’s quite narcissistic.

It is a failure most importantly towards patients because they actually need a human being and don't need someone who nurtures an illusion that there is someone out there that can fulfill all their needs. We need community, all different kinds of people to fulfill different kinds of needs. And sometimes our needs don’t get met, and that’s perfectly okay. So, they actually need my vulnerability, not my grandiosity, because it’s real.

I feel vulnerable in admitting this, but there you have it...

How do you call upon courage in the midst of failure?

Courage in the sense of what I was talking about just now would be to, in the midst of the “oh no,” to not play into the role of being the omnipotent caregiver. To instead play into the vulnerability and not play into being "the goddess of love."

How I understand that failure now is that it comes from a place of childhood narcissism and omnipotence... and I am sure that I am not alone in that...but my courage is actually giving up on that and allowing myself to be vulnerable finally. That the world is big enough to hold me and that I don't have to hold myself and all others- that is the direction that I continue to move towards. That is the courage to be vulnerable. And to trust that vulnerability is actually better for me, others, and my patients overall. It’s really a move towards freedom.

How do courage and vulnerability intersect for you? Or do they?

This is where my definition of courage comes into play. What gives me courage is the belief that when I am vulnerable I experience more love- not less, more hope- not less, more life- not less. So that even if in vulnerability I feel angry or I feel desperate or I have more of my feelings, that these actually bring me more into relationship with others.

Now, I believe that and I still need to risk that, because there is no guarantee that all of that would still come to pass. That is not a given. We all know people that we have taken that risk with and it has blown up in our face. And so there is something very real at play. It is not just “oh I just need to have courage and then everything is going to work out for me.”  No, the very point of courage is that we are fragile, we are vulnerable, we don’t know, and yet I believe that, overall, that is what fulfills our humanity. So I might have to develop wisdom when to risk in that way, but to even have a chance at that kind of experience I need to risk. Not being that omnipotent caregiver, for example, but being my vulnerable good bad self. It’s much safer actually to hide behind being the omnipotent caregiver.

Tell us about a joyful moment in your life that came from you being courageous.

You know, after many failed relationships the courage that it took to enter into my own therapy. That is where I probably first experienced the joy of being me- in a vulnerable way and not in that omnipotent and grandiose way. It was a joy to discover that at the way bottom of me was a sort of beautiful human being...beautiful in the sense of having wounds, having gifts, having flaws- the whole package.  Really being aware of my failings and my gifts. But it took week in and week out of opening myself up to someone.

Do you have a mantra to boost your courage?

I have so many jokes running through my head. *laughs* Like, “Go get ‘em tiger!”

I have to say that this is a hard question for me because I feel like my mantras are more fluid. There isn't one thing, but I can tell you a few things that do give me courage

Different people in history who reflect something of who I would want to be. Sometimes having those visuals when I need courage help to remind me of who I want to be.

Words from a song, book, or movie that come out at me. I will write them down and put it on a post it note on my computer to remind me to be courageous.

One example that comes to mind is a time when a quote from the Lord of the Rings kept coming back to me when I needed it.  It was a scene where Gandalf tells one of the hobbits that he is with, “Hope. There's always hope.” And when I heard that at that point in my life, it somehow galvanized me.  Also, for me, reading the overall story of the Gospel that embodies a flesh and blood love that goes into the mess and though may be afraid at times, gets hurts, stays in, that suffers and, somehow mysteriously, resurrection comes from that. That is the ultimate narrative that gives me courage.

What are you most interested in right now/ what are you reading right now?

Well, as I am writing my dissertation, these are the kinds of interests that galvanize my thoughts. But a specific work would be The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton.  And when I’m not entrenched in this I’m reading Tennis Magazine or The New Yorker.

Deborah Edgar, MFT, The UnSelfish Journey

Deborah Edgar, MFT, The UnSelfish Journey

What is your favorite word?

Sesquipedalian… which is someone who uses big words. *laughs*

What are you grateful for today?  

Janie. *Our Michelle Harwell Therapy MFT, Intern/Interviewer blushes*

And other than Janie, my brother is in town for 24 hours and we get to have dinner. I'm grateful that he reached out and we can share a meal together.


Deborah Edgar LMFT, is a psychotherapist based in Pasadena. She works with adults and families who have experienced extreme trauma. She is currently completing her PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute. You can find her at

Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma.


Pay No Attention to the (Wo)Man Behind the Curtain

Pay No Attention to the (Wo)Man Behind the Curtain

They say a blog is born every seven seconds. Actually, I just made that up…but it sounds about right. I have hesitated for years in creating a blog for that very reason.  The thought goes something like, "with all the voices out there, do we really need yet another blog cluttering the interwebs?" Honestly though, that just sounds like fear talking. I think underlying my question is a deeper, more personal one which is, will my voice matter? Will the thoughts and viewpoints expressed here be heard, considered, respected? And maybe therein lies the value of this blog.

As therapists we often sit behind the proverbial green curtain, like the all powerful Oz, we listen, take in, then interpret and advise but rarely do our clients get to peek behind the curtain and gain a glimpse of our own humanity.

As therapists we often sit behind the proverbial green curtain, like the all powerful Oz, we listen, take in, then interpret and advise but rarely do our clients get to peek behind the curtain and gain a glimpse of our own humanity.

The truth is any therapist worth their weight is deeply aware that they are engaged in the same human struggle you are. In fact, the good ones know that this is what gives them the depth to understand you and sit with you in your struggle for as long as it takes.

Now I’m not saying you’re going to get the juicy details of the inner workings of me or my team's lives, you wish! Trust me it’s not that juicy…What I think we can offer is entry into the human experience; what we see, what moves us, impacts us and causes us to wrestle.

So I would like to introduce to the world the birth of a blog, our little blog. A place where this small group of women therapists can share our minds and engage with you in a dialogue about the human experience.

-Michelle Harwell, LMFT

Michelle Harwell, MS, LMFT is an expert trainer, respected speaker, and licensed therapist in trauma and attachment. She is noted for her specialization in areas of development, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, and her ability to communicate complex topics with clarity and humor. Michelle is currently completing her PhD in Psychoanalysis from The Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She received her BA in English Literature from University of Oklahoma, MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.