C is for Counseling, or How I Got into this New Gig


CTurns out that April is Counseling Awareness Month. Isn’t this just a serendipitous turn of events? I’m writing a blog a day, A to Z about my adventures as a graduate student in Mental Health Counseling and the American Counseling Association is making it a special month. Pretty sure I can’t take credit, but still . . . (maybe tomorrow I’ll tackle Delusional and Diagnosis).

I have a long history with counseling. I started seeing a psychologist in 1992 and have been in therapy of some sort consistently since then. For a long time, I thought of myself as having a serious character defect. I was young. I didn’t really understand how counseling worked, or could work. I had only a vague notion of Freud and his couch and Woody Allen’s neuroses.

Prozac and SSRIs hit the market about the time I began therapy* and not long after my psychologist diagnosed me with depression, she and my general practitioner agreed I would do well to try the new wonder-drug, Prozac. And, honestly, I looked forward to some relief. At 29, in 1992, I was a fairly new mom of an adopted bi-racial daughter, in a relationship with a woman 13 years my senior. I had just sold the bookstore I started, owned, and operated for three years, and I had moved back home full-time after living 90 miles away for most of each week. To complicate things, my fundamentalist Christian parents were only just beginning to adjust to my, er, lifestyle (as we called it then) and its unconventionality.

There’s more, but that’s enough. You get the idea. I was a stress monster. The crinkling of a tissue set my teeth on edge. The noise of someone actually blowing their nose sent me over the edge. The first time I swallowed one of those little green and white pills, I felt like I was taking communion. I crossed myself and sent up a prayer.rumi

After four weeks of taking that precious little capsule every morning, I no longer cared who sneezed or how loud. Irritation rolled off my back. The grey veil that separated me from the rest of the world lifted, and I started seeing in color again. Cliché, I know, but accurate. Everything sparkled. I got a good job as the bookstore manager at the local technical college with a great boss as well as health and retirement benefits. Did the little pill have anything to do with my new job? I believe happier, less-stressed, less-depressed people tend to have more self-confidence and do better in job interviews, so yes. But I digress.

I felt good, and I loved talking to my therapist. I loved paying someone to listen to me. I loved the 50 minutes of uninterrupted attention. I could do this for a living, I thought. I’d love to listen to people’s stories, to help them make sense of their feelings, to help them gain the confidence to reach for their high dreams. I had no idea that someone who went to counseling could actually ever become a counselor. I thought my diagnosis and being on meds precluded me ever being in the field.

I had never heard of Jung’s Wounded Healer. I was an English major who, stupidly and stubbornly, avoided all social science classes. The books cost too much. The classes met on Fridays. What can I say?

I wanted to get off the meds, though, yet every time I quit taking them, things in my life would head south, and the psychologist would exhort me to stay on the meds. I got stuck in a loop and never really got to the issues that were causing me to become depressed. I’d just start popping the pills again, and things would improve. Etc.

franklquoteI spent about twenty years with the psychologist before I found a new therapist, and the woman I chose to see was an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor). I didn’t know what the difference was when I made the switch, I was just seeking someone a little more flexible and spiritual, a little less dogmatic and not so pharmacologically oriented. Turns out the switch worked very well for me then. I made several changes in my life at the same time: I got a new job, I relocated, I started taking writing classes and running, and found new community with both activities.

The psychologist got me up and out of the depression and quite literally saved my life on many occasions. And the LMHC has helped me move forward from there, developing self-confidence, practicing mindfulness, introducing me to non-Western philosophies. I have learned so much about myself, about why I am the way I am, and how I can move forward.

I’ll never be done working on myself, but it turns out, I can become a counselor anyway, not in spite of my past, but because of it. Jung believed that disease of the soul could be the best possible form of training for a healer. And as Victor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” By these measures, I am perfect for this job.

*for a more in-depth—but still inadequate—explanation of the differences among therapy, counseling, psychotherapy, and psychology see this previous blog

J is for Jung

jungGood Morning! I have a busy day ahead, so I thought that instead of writing something completely fresh, I would share with you the short paper I wrote on Carl Jung last quarter. Our assignment each week was to write a couple of paragraphs on the personality theorist of the week. We were to choose our favorite concept that theorist espoused and explicate it a bit and then we were to find an outside source that explains that concept and write a bit more about it.

My favorite Jung concept is transference. I’ve always wondered about how this concept works–and given the intimate nature of counseling or therapy, I’ve always suspected that transference is completely normal. How can a person not develop strong feelings towards someone with whom they share such intimate life details?

I found two articles in Psychology Today that I thought did a fantastic job of slicing through this tricky concept. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did. Here’s my paper (Feist is the author of the text we read):

Favorite Jung Concept: Transference

Once concept that Feist touches on but doesn’t delve too far into with either Jung or Freud is the idea of transference. We first encounter the concept of transference with Freud, who believed that the “transference situation is vital to psychoanalysis” (Feist, p. 51). According to Freud, “transference refers to the strong sexual or aggressive feelings, positive or negative, that patients develop toward their analyst during the course of treatment.” Freud maintains that the therapist does nothing to earn the patient’s feelings; the patient was simply putting on the therapist the feelings the patient had toward his or her parents.  Like Freud, Jung believed that transference is a “powerful ally to the therapeutic process” (Feist, p. 51), but unlike Freud, he attributed transference, both positive and negative, as a natural outcome of the patients’ intimate revelations. It followed, Jung believed, that a patient would have strong feelings toward his or her therapist after revealing such personal information (Feist, 132). Jung encouraged his patients to see him as a savior or a god, according to Feist, as he guided them on their paths to wholeness and self-acceptance. Given that Jung had affairs with two of his patients, Sabina Spielrein and Toni Wolff, we can conclude that Jung might have seen himself as a bit more than merely a facilitator or guide on his patients’ journeys and did not do his own work to understand or overcome the pull of countertransference.

Outside Sources on Transference

While Feist doesn’t have much to say about transference with either Freud or Jung, quick research reveals a wealth of information. An article by Stephen A. Diamond in Psychology Today, http://bit.ly/1f0sfVh, takes a closer look at both Jung and Freud on this issue as well as at the concept of transference from a patient’s perspective. In a letter to Jung, Freud called psychoanalysis a love cure, and Diamond does a nice job of untangling how this “love cure” can work in therapy without crossing any moral or ethical boundaries. Therapy clients, Diamond asserts, come to therapy seeking to heal an unresolved “love wound,” looking for “acceptance or physical affection they never received from their [parents].” Therapists can heal this wound, not by entering in to an erotic relationship with clients, but by making “deliberate and proscribed use of love’s potent power to help patients heal . . . from being inappropriately loved.” Diamond acknowledges the difficulty inherent in providing the therapy patient with “a loving, supportive, caring, empathic, and non-judgmental” relationship that can truly help a client heal. Diamond also points out the importance of not denying the client’s strong feels when they do come up in a session, but to “honor and reflect” on the feelings without acting on them. For a client who has experienced trauma, large or small, around love, the therapist’s offering of a platonic love, according to Diamond, gives the patient an opportunity to respond “in kind . . . [t]o open up to love” with all of its risks and potential pitfalls. Handled properly, transference is, says Diamond, “the royal road into the very core of the love wound complex.”