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Women Are Healers

Women Are Healers

...What has most shaped me as a woman is the way my relationships with other women have healed me.

As I scroll through the catalogue of my experiences both as a woman and as a recipient of love and friendship from other women, I am reminded of how many descriptors women embody. We are creative, resourceful, wise, wild, deep. And we wear so many hats. We have thriving careers, bear children, foster friendships, build businesses, care for the home — yes, sometimes overextending ourselves to show up for and love others. But what has most shaped me as a woman is the way my relationships with other women have healed me. The turning toward me in times of distress and offering care and compassion. The deep listening. The calming “coos” and soft body language. The gentle patience while I find the answers for myself.

Women are healers. I know that to be true deep in my bones. And I believe women are the antidote to the overly masculinized culture that has forced a broken, patriarchal system on us all.

I think of the places I work - MHT and Alive and Well Women – both with powerful women at the helm who use their strengths to lift others. These women are willing to collaborate and dialogue with their employees rather than prescribe solutions. They do not manage with absolute control or over-emphasize productivity, but instead empower employees to find balance in work life and soul life. They have cultivated cultures that nourish development and health.

It is not to say that men can’t also lead in this way, but I believe it is a mode of leadership that is perhaps archetypally connected to the feminine. Our history of men in the seats of power and the attendant systemic oppression of women seems to bear testament to this. However, the impact of women in my life and this powerful changing of the tide that I have been fortunate to witness in my young adult years has taught me to embrace the strength of my femininity and has given me hope for a different way.

Women are HEALERS.


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Lauren Joy Furutani, MA, LMFT, helps individuals and families of all ethnic and faith backgrounds maneuver through the unexpected turns in life.

Women are Witness

Women are Witness

Witnessing is a powerful act to bring into the world. Whether it is vocal and public or even, as I see it, private and silent, witnessing to the experience of others is a way of shining a light on what has been unseen and calling to account those responsible.

Witnessing is a powerful act to bring into the world. Whether it is vocal and public or even, as I see it, private and silent, witnessing to the experience of others is a way of shining a light on what has been unseen and calling to account those responsible. When we as women witness each other’s experiences, we stand up to the violence and aggression that women and girls experience the world over. We honor the suffering that we see by holding it in mind with compassion and demanding justice for those who have been wronged.

I see witnessing as a role of sorts, one that we can step into whenever there is cause and one in which we can be certain that our individual mind, heart, and voice has meaning and significance. If we were to look down on the earth from above, imagine that everyone who witnesses to the abuses and misuses of power here was one tiny speck of light in a sea of dark. Tiny or not, you would see them. And even if each speck were unaware of the others around it, still, the more people witnessing to the wrongs of the world, the more light there would be.

For victims of trafficking, there is mostly no justice, mostly no recourse, mostly no rescue. The cruel economics of this particular chain of supply and demand make the problem seem intractable. Even so, I take refuge in the thought that no one can take away our witness. I am encouraged by all the voices around me this December raising awareness of this issue and calling for action. Will you join us? This month, wear a dress or a tie every day to bear witness.


Give! Visit our Dressember page and make a donation. It's that simple and no sum is too small. Truly.

Follow! Be sure to follow us on Instagram and our blog throughout the month of December. We will be documenting our fierce fashion choices but our deepest intention is to empower and educate.

Share!  Help us spread the word. You can do this by sharing our social media posts or links to our Dressember fundraising campaign page.

Monica Green, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, PSY 27391, specializing in depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and psychological aspects of chronic health conditions.

In Love and In Good Humor

In Love and In Good Humor

It wasn’t until the 1680s that the word humor began to refer to something amusing or comic. I learned of this by venturing down an Internet rabbit hole

When we say that we’re looking for a love interest with a sense of humor, I think we’re wondering: Can this person roll with the punches of life? Can they respect their own eccentricities and will they accept and love my eccentricities?

When I realized that humor was the theme marking the conclusion of our Humans of MHT interview series, I was delighted by the linguistic serendipity - humor and humanness. I assumed that the two words were etymologically linked. However, when I did a cursory Google search, I found evidence to the contrary. Humor comes from the Latin words “humere” (to be moist) and “humor” (liquid, moistness). Human, on the other hand, is borrowed from the Latin words “homo” (man, human) and “humanus” (of or belonging to man, human, humane). 

No close historical relation after all. 

But it didn’t matter. I was newly delighted by dangling carrots — and it was all about humor as a word for state of mind or mood, not as a reference to something funny. I had stumbled upon an article about humorism - a system of medicine, adopted by ancient Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers, that attributes particular mental states to an excess or deficiency of four distinct bodily fluids in a person, known as humors. In this system, both mental and physical health are dependent on a balance of four primary humors: bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood, and therefore, a person could have a melancholic, bilious, phlegmatic or sanguine temperament. My initial thought was: Huh — there’s something very apropos about this connection because any comedian worth their salt has a zinger about our most embarrassing human secretions.


As I dug deeper, I read that language evolved from speaking of temperament (He’s in ill-humor/She’s in good humor) to “humoring” someone’s mood or whim, and then finally referring to something that could alter someone’s mood by making them laugh. In the 17th century, humor then became synonymous with “imbalance" and "eccentricity of character.” I had an aha moment -- that was the key between humor and humanness! No need for these threads to be linked by the same root word. They were already inextricably tied together in my understanding of a lasting partnership, but I didn't have the turn of phrase to more fully articulate it until my eyes landed on eccentricity of character. What clicked was....When I think about someone’s humanness, I reflect on their particularities, foibles, oddities, or difference. The prickly bits and the rough edges are the most human. In relationship, it is the ability to negotiate eccentricities rather than strive for sameness or perfect complementarity that I believe provides sturdiness to weather the storms of life together.

According to eHarmony, “Almost every person has ‘sense of humor’ high on the list of things they want in a partner.” That rings emotionally true — that’s certainly what my people in my personal life value in their significant others. And it’s something that I cherish in my partner. This conviction was also declared in Lauren Ziel's interview with comedy producer Andi Porter, in which Porter stated “I would have a sack of potatoes as a partner as long as they had a great sense of humor.”  When we say that we’re looking for a love interest with a sense of humor, I think we’re wondering: Can this person roll with the punches of life? Can they respect their own eccentricities and will they accept and love my eccentricities? And for me, specifically, can they humor my searching for things equally inane and profound online? 

Taz MorganMA, is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 

The Laugh Machine

The Laugh Machine

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human.

I remember my mother telling me a story about her younger sister growing up. Her sister was tying various strings to an old bottle and attaching a bunch of different objects to the other end of each string. When asked what she was doing, she explained that she was making a laugh machine. While the family was at first incredulous, simply watching her twirl her odd contraption had them all in stitches in the end. Why? It was so ridiculous! There was an irony in the fact that her prediction came true from those unlikely beginnings. My mother was still giggling 50-some years later.

What makes humor such an important part of our humanity? Fundamentally, all humor centers around truth. In slapstick, we highlight the ridiculous aspects of daily life. In a roast, we exaggerate selected features of a person to create a comic caricature. Wit often shows us a wry perspective on a situation. Sarcasm presents a critical truth mercilessly, Gallows humor transcends what is most grim in our human experience to point out irony or the absurd. Freudian humor, as Taz reminds us, carries the truth of our unconscious desires.

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human. Its playfulness pulls on a younger part of us. And isn’t it always children that overcome divisions that adults can’t seem to get around, simply by not seeing them in the first place? When we laugh together, we’re in touch with a part of us that can meet others in a place of youthful glee.

Personally, I love the way my kindergarten-age daughter laughs uproariously and uncontrollably when I crack a string of jokes about the inescapable truths of our digestive tracts. She can’t stop. She’s utterly helpless in the waves of laughter shaking her small body. Part of her will never outgrow her love of earthy humor. When she’s 16, perhaps we’ll find it awkward and difficult to connect in the tried and true fashion of adolescence. I’m sure I’ll be googling fart jokes and letting them rip.

Monica Green, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, PSY27391, specializing in depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and psychological aspects of chronic health conditions. She enjoys terrible puns. 

What Does It Mean?

What Does It Mean?

What does it mean to be human?

There are so many ways to answer. Perhaps it has something to do with the ability humans have to create, to be relational, or to have a longing for significance, even eternity.

I think these answers have their merits and limits, but something I deeply believe is that to be human means to have incredible value -- and beyond that -- to be worth having that value recognized by another.

To acknowledge someone’s humanness is a weighty thing. It means I must act when that person is in need. It means I can no longer settle for simplistic, pat answers about their motivations. And it means I must respect their point of view and open myself up to being influenced by it. As soon as we recognize the humanity of another, we must recognize all that their humanity demands of us.

Extending this, when we recognize our own humanity, we must change the way we relate to ourselves. We often focus on the role we should fulfill or the impact we ought to have on the world around us. But this can lead to a valuing of self only to the extent that we are meeting those purposes. Our humanity means we have a value that goes beyond the function we serve. It’s a reason why listening to a piece of music, experiencing nature, or taking time for rest or joy is worthwhile.

Image credit:  Trina Spiller Design

Image credit: Trina Spiller Design

Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging.

Want Not, Waste Not: An Interview on Envy and Desire with Dr. Marcia Reynolds

Want Not, Waste Not: An Interview on Envy and Desire with Dr. Marcia Reynolds

You get what you get and you don't get upset. I actually said this to my daughter once in a state of frustration. Few things make me feel like a sellout more then serving up well worn cliches to kids that don’t reflect the emotional rhythms of the real world. Truth is, in life you often get what you get, but you also often get upset. A simple dash-cam in any of our cars would prove this reality. LA traffic is the ultimate equalizer of expectation and reality.

So how do we negotiate the frustration that emerges between our expectations and reality, how do we contend with our perceived wants and what stands in the way? Specifically, when it feels like someone else possesses the thing we desire?

If you want to be a little more conversant with both potential and frustration, how to translate envy into an understanding of longing and action, check out our interview with Marcia Reynolds, author of Out Smart Your Brain and Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
— JK Rowling

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.

Clothed in Authenticity

Clothed in Authenticity

Authenticity. For some reason, this word made me think of clothing. Maybe it's because I'm from Washington state, and I find myself breathe a little deeper when I land back in the Seattle airport and see all of my frumpy-looking kin. Clothes are a big deal, here in Los Angeles. And while I at first poo-pooed this, it's actually caused me to reflect on the value that clothing choices can have.

Clothing can be used as a mask, something we hide behind. It can be used as a dream, something we use to believe in ourselves a little more (“Dress for the job you want!”). It can be used to communicate something to others or ourselves.

I think this is especially clear in adolescence. In adolescence, we sometimes use clothing to “try on” different parts of ourselves in different seasons. Perhaps this year, I'm going to try on my ability to take social causes seriously. Or perhaps, I'm going to try on the dark feelings I have – reveal my ability to feel the sorrow and heaviness of being on this earth. Or maybe clothing isn't much of a conscious decision for me at all this year, and that's a way I can try on a part of me as well.

I asked Ron Ben, Art Director, about this, and he comments, “I have always believed that clothes reflect your emotions or where you're at in life. Some people don't care what they wear, some people care greatly, but if you take a look at both you can see where they are in their life.”

So, thanks, LA. You've taught me that clothes go a little more than skin deep.  

Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

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)

A Place to Dwell: An Interview with Annie Choi, Owner of Found Coffee

A Place to Dwell: An Interview with Annie Choi, Owner of Found Coffee

Annie Choi, Founder and Owner of Found Coffee in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. 

Annie Choi, Founder and Owner of Found Coffee in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. 

Lauren: I’m with Annie Choi from Found Coffee here at Michelle Harwell Therapy....Well, Annie it’s so good to meet you.

Annie: So lovely to meet you, too

Lauren: So we’re talking a lot about the idea of home here at MHT and we’re wanting to know how you came to find a home at Found. So, to get started, maybe you can just tell me a little bit about what drew you to pursue 3rd Wave Coffee and eventually establishing Found?

Annie: Actually that’s a really great question because I was in the process of switching careers - I was working in entertainment and I was working post-production. And so for me, something that’s really important is storytelling. And so I thought “OK I’m going to tell stories in TV.” And when I was working in post-production, I was actually behind a screen for 12 hours a day with headphones, so it ended up being very isolating and lonely. And I’ve always wanted to open a coffee shop - going to coffee shops and coffee shop-hopping has been a hobby for me.  So, when I entered coffee, the first two weeks of being in coffee I felt like my lifelong friends.

I think it’s because just being in the service industry, too, people are welcoming and they know about customer service. And so for Found I wanted definitely to create a space where people were comfortable.  And I think also the church for a really long time has been a place where people have been able to find community.  And I think LA has changed and I go to church, but I feel like as I was working in coffee, I found a lot of regulars found community in the coffee shop. And so I wanted to create that kind of vibe and that kind of atmosphere at my own coffee shop.  And I think Eagle Rock is the perfect place for it because everyone here is so supportive of small businesses and I have SO many regulars. And I think the regulars are the heartbeat of my coffee shop, they allow me to pay my guys, they come every day, we know their kids, we know their dogs, so I think in that sense for Found I wanted home for a lot of people. And a cup of coffee is very comforting.  And I think that too creates a sense of home and a sense of familiarity. And so I was really excited to do that and it’s kind of evolved to be that for a lot of people, especially in this kind of community.

Lauren: Beautiful - how you’ve been able to transfer that desire for community into your passion for coffee. Can you tell me about the first cup of coffee you really enjoyed?  Where was it? Who was with you?

Annie: So, I didn’t actually start drinking real coffee for a while, until I was in college. I can’t tell you when I had my first cup of coffee but I can tell you my best cup of coffee.  When I was switching careers, during my gap year, I went to Costa Rica on my own and went to a coffee plantation and I had the best cup of coffee in my life. The beans were grown there. And I like to put sugar and milk in my coffee sometimes, and the sugar was grown there, they had a sugar plantation, it was crystalized there, too, the milk was milked from the cows on the farm...So it was just this natural, everything organic, wonderful cup of coffee that I had gotten from the source. And I realized how much work went into it and so that’s definitely - it was just - it was so incredible. 

Lauren: Yeah and I feel like that ties into community, too.  It’s not just an isolated cup of coffee.  There are people who harvested the beans, there’s folks who milked the cows...

Annie: The family who owned the farm...yeah they put a lot of hard work into it.

Lauren: In this day and age, and especially in Los Angeles, 3rd wave coffee shops have become a place for people to meet, artisan coffee is a common topic of conversation, it’s even a listed interest in many instagram bios…what is about coffee specifically that you feel draws people together in Los Angeles?

Annie: Well, I think 3rd wave coffee just started to explode in the last 5 years. Thankfully, there have been coffee shops for ages and ages, but I think specialty coffee, because there is such craft and care that goes into the product -   a lot of specialty coffee shops are independent, mom and pop shops - because of that I feel that a lot of people in LA, especially, know what is a good product.  They also want good product and quality.  In 3rd wave coffee there’s just so much effort that goes behind it.  I don’t know if anyone has explained to you what 3rd wave coffee is, but this is what I tell my guys whenever I interview them.  First wave is instant coffee, mass commodity delivered to your home, immediately available.  Second wave is the fast-food culture of coffee.  3rd wave is where you’re actually caring about the origin of the bean, everything is hand crafted by the cup. And so there’s a lot more care that goes behind it. And I think because of this artisanal food movement, there’s so much love that goes behind it, there’s a lot of passion.  People are drawn to that.  Because they know it’s been made with love. 

Also, I think with Found, especially, - I was instilled with this knowledge when I was working in my first coffee job - my old boss told me, “You can’t teach personality.” And I think customer service is a big part of my shop in the sense that all my staff, they’re very kind people.  They’re very warm.  Thankfully I have control over who I can staff.  I think people are drawn to that too.  With other shops, I hear this a lot, “I hate it when in 3rd wave coffee shops, the baristas are so snobby.” Whereas for me I don’t like to say that we’re “coffee snobs,” we’re “coffee enthusiasts.” With my guys I stress to them that they be friendly.  In the interview process I see if they have a good heart.  With the bigger chains, it’s harder to handpick people that are good-hearted because they have so much volume and they just need people to work.  Whereas for me, I’m definitely smaller and I get to choose. And I’ve told my guys too it’s really important for them to develop relationships with the regulars.  To know their first names, you always get their name. 

Lauren: It’s not just the product they’re getting, but there’s a human behind the coffee and what the human is showing is love behind the coffee. There’s passion.

Annie: It’s the connection.

Lauren: Beautiful. Well, when I was hearing you talk, I was thinking it sounds like coffee is sort of a means to an end - coffee is the means, and the the end being community, human connection or - home.

Annie: I like the way you put that, it’s actually right on the ball.

Lauren: We’ve been reading a psychoanalyst called Robert Stolorow, here at MHT and in his works, he writes about the importance of finding a relational home.  He shares about, and I’m liberally paraphrasing here, how mismatched or shattered pieces of our story need to discover a home within relationship - with friends, families, coworkers, communities.  How do you feel Found coffee represents a kind of home for mismatched pieces in that way?

Annie: Hm. Well, maybe not mismatched pieces, but the vast array and types of people that you meet in a coffee shop are so different. I think being a coffee shop owner, I get to meet these people, and their stories all add to mine. I love hearing people’s stories and where they’re from and I think behind it all is that everyone struggles, everyone struggles well, everyone has joys, too.  And so I tell this to my staff, “if you have a rude customer, give them the benefit of the doubt in the beginning.  You don’t know their story, you don’t know if they’re having a bad day.” 

The type of people, the network of people I meet, they are the mismatched pieces, and the connection between them all is that they are human.  I am so thankful because I get to meet so many different types of people. Something I like to do, on a personal note, is to connect people to each other. So, for instance, we had a guy who was a recruiter at an entertainment studio and I know that my friend has been wanting to animate forever and so I connected the two.  And I asked, “Can I do an intro?” And they both were like, “Yeah!” 

And then also on the other hand, too, I think coffee shops are a really special place where people who are on the shyer side, I get to bring them out.  We have a little bar area and it’s three seats, it’s very close to the barista making the drinks. When I first opened, a girl, I could tell was into coffee, but she didn’t want to talk.  And as she came every other day for weeks I got to know her, I slowly got her to talk, and then I realized she wanted to intern at Found.  So I interviewed her and she is one of my best now.  I told her on the first day, “You need to learn how to need to talk! It’s ok to talk.”  And she said, “I know, I know. I’m a little shy.“ And I said, “That’s ok. We’ll find a way for your passion to come through, too.”

Lauren: There are people who have their own unique stories as customers. They feel care in the product, or they feel the care in customer service, they’re understood, there’s a patience there.  We’re all human.

When I think about coffee itself, it draws to mind aspects similar to community - it is warm, comforting; it perks you up when you’re having trouble getting through your day; it is rich and flavorful - even to the last drop.  What do you consider on a daily basis (from coffee composition to design of your space to interactions with people) that helps Found Coffee consistently feel like home for your customers?

Annie: When people ask me why I call Found Coffee "Found," I have two main reasons, and then a third one.  First one is that a lot of things in my shop are Found.  They are vintage, upcycled.  They have been loved, and they will be loved again.  Secondly, I want community to be found, it’sa very big thing for me.  In the beginning I had one communal table, now I have two.  I’m really eager for people to meet each other and not to be a Laptop City.  I love introducing regulars to each other, because then they know the person in their own neighborhood. It’s really great! The third reason why I called Found Coffee “Found” was because I really found who I was in the last 5-6 years, and one of those parts is I found myself in coffee.  And I think with all these elements, the communal tables especially, that’s a big part in just providing a space and a place where people are able to find each other in community.  It allows for people who haven’t seen each other in a long time to meet.  And I think also with the design of the shop, it’s not 30 single tables.  I also like to keep it very bright.  You see some coffee shops, they’re darker, they’re a little more somber.  For me, even the espresso machine is yellow!  I think the reason is, you know a lot of Subway restaurants are painted yellow, the walls yellow because it invites people.  For me, I took that into consideration for the machine, the main workhorse of my shop, so people feel welcomed, feel invited.  And then yeah, it’s just a place where I hope people feel comforted in that everything is close, you don’t feel like you’re stepping on each others’ toes, but also, you have people are nearby. 

Lauren: There’s so much there.  There’s a sense of closeness with the people you are with, there’s also space to be who you are, and there’s also space to connect. There’s intentional space to connect, where you turn to your right and there’s a person that you can connect with.

Annie: Also a big thing for me is displaying local artists on my walls, allowing creativity from the community to be displayed.  They’re all local artists I’m really proud to say that.  For instance right now is a family.  The father took black and white photos, their 3 year-old girl drew on them and the mother is a weaver and she wove those pieces.  Even in the artwork, I hope to convey family. You know?

Lauren: That’s a huge part of home, it feels like family. There’s elements of that.

Annie: And I think also, our regulars see the same baristas every day.  And so, that is actually intentional, too.  So they don’t feel, for instance, out of place.  I’ve been very fortunate my current staff has been with me for a while.  They’ve actually maintained regular relationships with the locals so that’s really exciting to me, they ask how they are, I think some have friended each other on Facebook.

Lauren: There’s so much thought that went into designing this. You get an amazing product and a sense of connection in a city you so often get lost in. 

Annie: I think something God has gifted me in as an entrepreneur is I am able to create spaces that gather people.  And so I love, I used to hate when my worlds collided, but now I’m just like OK fine you guys have gotta meet each other, so I love that Found is a place where people can just come together.  Something else, is I used to be an event coordinator, and so because of that experience, too, I know what draws people in.  I don’t want my space to feel so cluttered where people feel uncomfortable but where it feels airy, it feels light.  It’s not too over-designed.  Keep it simple so people can do their thing.

Lauren: They can be themselves.  I’m even thinking about the brightly lit space at Found, you can actually see one another, you can actually be curious about the people around you.

Annie: Right, something that I really value is transparency, the reason why my bar is open is you get to see how your coffee is being made from the bar so if people have questions, I’m not gonna look down on you. I don’t know everything, but if you want to learn about coffee and how it’s made and what temperatures it’s at, etc, etc, we’re totally open to tell you, and also to talk about it with you.  So I think people see that, too.  They see that, “Oh, they’re not going to look down on me because I don’t know a lot about coffee.” So specialty coffee -  because it’s a bit more particular, a bit more crafted - it can seem daunting to people.  But I tell my guys, “Be open to it.  Talk to people - they want to learn.” You can tell when people are really eager to talk to baristas and we just engage them in conversation.  So it’s just about being transparent about what you do know and what you don’t know. 

Lauren: If someone is curious you’re responsive to them.  Well it’s been such a pleasure hearing more about your story.  Is there anything else you’d like to add about Found Coffee?

Annie: Yes, something that is really important to me is I don’t want Found to be a place where people feel awkward and excluded.  I am actually quite sensitive to that.  I want to be inclusive.  That’s a big part of community.  And I think community is not defined as a people who are all uniform, and the same.  I think coffee is really lovely because most people love coffee, and we have something to offer most everyone, even with tea, we have tea too.  I feel like it’s a simple meeting ground where people can engage and have a similar interest with people that are different from them.  Community is basically broken people or people who have different stories coming together.  That’s my community at Found and I am super thankful.  

Annie Choi is the founder and owner of Found Coffee in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. She is also the co-founder of FrankieLucy Bakeshop, a collaborative coffee and pastry shop that will soon open in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

Lauren Masopust, MS, MFT Intern has extensive experience working with young adults, adolescents, and couples, and specializes in areas of trauma, identity development, and multicultural issues.

Recognizing Relationships

Recognizing Relationships

Several years ago, I met another mother while playing at the park with my son. It was a chance meeting at the swings. We were pushing our toddlers and casually chatting as parents in the park often do, however, this interaction was different. In a matter of minutes, we connected on several topics and realized we had many things in common. We spoke and laughed as if we had been friends for years. It was a feeling of being known. To this day, she remains one of my closet friends.

When I reflect on my friendship, I can’t help but wonder who I’ve missed connecting with when I wasn’t present? We live in a social media driven, multitasking world where it can be challenging to put down our phones, ignore “to do lists” and just be. The North American culture is so focused on productivity that we don’t always see the cost of being too busy.  If we are not rested, balanced and grounded, then we are less available for connection. In the short term, that might mean missing opportunities to build a stronger sense of community or meeting a new friend. Over time, lack of recognition, validation and connectivity can erode the quality of our relationships.  In order to be recognized, we must be willing to be seen and be open to sharing time. Our attention is a limited resource and therefore valuable.  If we are mindful to invest it wisely then our relationships will profit. 

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