My Identity as a Psychotherapist
For me, my individual professional identity as a psychotherapist includes personal work values, skills and knowledge, growth as a person, success and improvement at work, and imagination and innovation (Gazzola & Smith, 2007). In addition, I would like to add spirituality, and positive self-regard for oneself and others.
In addition to the aforementioned, I will also show how my trauma and the healing of trauma (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), along with thirty years of therapy, my Australian culture, ethnicity, my life experience and graduate school learning, grounded me as a “wounded healer” and ultimately determined my choice in becoming a psychotherapist (Comas-Díaz, 2005). My burgeoning spirituality as a Catholic, then Buddhist and now Hindu (with a guru) has profoundly influenced my need to be of service to others.
I suffered eighteen long, torturous years of severe sexual, physical, spiritual and emotional abuse at the hands of my mother, father, grandfather and others (human trafficking and cult abuse.) I suppressed all the feelings and memories, developed self-destructive behaviors, as well as twenty-one addictions ranging from alcoholism to over-eating. In order to deal with the addictive behavior, I attended eight Twelve-Step Programs and “one day at a time” have overcome twenty-one additions. I also had severe emotional, mental and spiritual issues as the result of the abuse, including PTSD, DID, MDD and other disabilities. For these issues, I knew intuitively to seek help through therapeutic and spiritual counseling.
This has been my spiritual journey going through the many “Dark Nights of the Soul” a poem by the mystic St. John of the Cross, 16th who describes a spiritual crisis in the journey toward union with the Divine. This journey took me to the depths of despair, heartache and loneliness to eventually have a deep love for the Divine and to be “of love and service to others” as my guru, Sathya Sai Baba aptly states. This has been a long process until I finally was able to forgive the people concerned, but definitely, not the act. This has freed me and in so doing I am now no longer the victim – but an empowered individual and am able to empower clients and others because of my experience.
My PTSD and DID were addressed primarily by trauma therapists. This entailed the use of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Depth Hypnosis which helped me to relive the horrendous memories and “feel the feelings.” This type of treatment also involved discussions of how to work with my dissociation. I am now able to support and work with those who have PTSD, DID, MDD and other disorders and be totally present to them. My trauma therapists modeled self-love, acceptance and empathy and I learned a great deal from them in how to be a loving, present therapist. I am now able to model this to clients and others.
I have been practicing the art of being still and meditation for 25 years now. Because of the trauma and the many addictions I had, I learned to very busy and suppress all feelings of anger, grief and loss. Over the years, I have opened my heart and am now in a place of being still, quiet and loving. During meditation I feel as though I am in the very sacred presence of the Divine. Indeed, it has brought me to tears many times. I could not have dealt with the healing of the memories had I not had such a deep dependence on the Divine, otherwise I would have killed myself.
I needed to let go of my negative thoughts, beliefs and behavior. This negativity controlled my entire way of being in this world, and my beliefs colored how I saw this world. Through prayer, meditation, therapy and 12 step programs, I have gradually let go of these patterns and am now more loving and kind. I wanted to give up many times and was so sick of the “process,” however I preserved. I now understand the long process of healing, forgiveness and “not giving up” particularly in working with other trauma survivors.
Because of my years of trauma and abuse, I was able to dissociate and then use my imagination and creativity in exploring other ways of coping and being present to the spiritual world. I now recognize dissociation in clients and am creatively guided in the two groups I run – Creative Express previously Self-Empowerment.
My graduate training, and training to be a depth hypnosis practitioner as well as my professors and in particular, Winnicott, who wrote in his famous paper “The Theory of the Parent and Infant Relationship: “that the analyst is prepared to wait till the patient becomes able to present the environmental factors that allow of their interpretation as projections” among other hypotheses including “the good enough mother”, has influenced me profoundly.
In addition, Jung as a therapist and mystic, particularly in his paper “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious” (1960) states:
“While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.”
I do believe that aspect of the unconscious mind manifests inherited, universal themes which run through all human life. The contents of the collective unconscious are archetypes, primordial images that reflect basic patterns common to us all, and which have existed universally since the dawn of time.
Furthermore, in Jung’s book (1939) the author describes in detail the process of individuation, or that psychological process through which the human being becomes an individual. The role of the conflict between conscious and unconscious forces and the symbols whereby the deeper levels of the unconscious manifest themselves are discussed. I believe I have been in the process of individuation and studying Jung has helped me to better understand my own process of healing and that of others.
Indeed, growing up as an Australian in a diversified culture, meant acceptance of immigration and cultural diversity as well as knowing who I was – a sense of self, a sense of growing collectively and individually, wanting to help others and friendliness to all. I was raised at an early age to volunteer as a child, teen and adult (amidst the pain and suffering), to be kind and loving and of service to others.
Furthermore, the article (Cardemil & Battler, 2003) suggests:
“having open discussions with clients regarding issues of race and ethnicity is one way to actively include a multicultural element into psychotherapy, as well as to strengthen the therapeutic alliance and promote better treatment outcome.”
Because of my growing up in a diversified culture and travelling the world and living in different countries, I am able to have these discussions with clients coming from a place of curiosity and love.
Indeed, my life experience and healing from trauma has given me a sense of acceptance, tolerance and love of others. As Scott Peck in his renowned book, The Road Less Traveled (1998) states:
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
Indeed, my own private practice and supervision as a depth hypnosis practitioner and counsellor particularly in working with severe trauma, grief and loss (4 years), as well as my practicum and supervision at Caminar New Ventures and Redwood House (severe mental illness for 9 months) has served me well in becoming more compassionate and loving. Furthermore, working as a teacher/counsellor at Hope House (8 years) for multi-addicted, newly clean and sober women has provided many opportunities for me to grow as a person and professional. To name a few opportunities, working on my own counter-transference with addiction, my ability to be present to those clients, being compassionate with clients with the grief and loss process and being present to severe trauma, healing and severe mental illness has helped me to grow as a therapist.
Based on my being “eclectic and integrative” as a therapist, I believe my best work comes from borrowing different approaches (client-centered, Jung, Winnicott, positive therapy, spiritual, compassion focused therapy, somatic therapy and depth hypnosis) has enabled a growing expertise in these approaches. However, I meditate prior to each session so I allow my intuition to come through and allow the Divine to work through me. More often than not, the words come not from me but from the Divine.
Another perspective I have utilized comes from the beautiful paper written by Hart (1985) where he states:
“Becoming a psychotherapist involves more than acquiring skills and knowledge. It involves a change in the way the psychotherapist trainee sees himself……… Proponents of most psychotherapeutic modalities acknowledge that a clinician’s fundamental clinical tool is himself. Trainees in psychotherapy must bring together their personal identity and, the role of psychotherapist and must resolve this struggle between—“personal self” and the therapist self by splitting or by integration.”
I believe I have “ the feeling of being a psychotherapist” as “opposed to the feeling of playing the role of psychotherapist” and I feel like a therapist in my day-to-day life in that I have integrated myself. On a conscious level, I am natural and authentic when doing therapy or having interactions with others and on an unconscious level I have an air of confidence rather than falseness about my work as a therapist or approaching life from a psychologically-minded, whole person.
“The journey of the soul” through the trauma and abuse, and the subsequent healing and recovery has led me to a place of complete surrender and love. A place I never knew existed. So much so, I have written a book for survivors, caregivers and clinicians addressing the issues of PTSD, addiction and mental illness in healing from trauma and abuse (to be published) and am currently writing a second book for survivors of human trafficking and cult abuse. I founded a nonprofit ten years ago solely for the healing of women and men trauma survivors based on my own healing from trauma and abuse.
In addition, I have a long-term goal of a holistic trauma center around the world, and I have two websites for survivors, caregivers and clinicians for the education and prevention of trauma. In the future, I plan to set up a television program for the education and prevention of trauma, as well as a monthly seminar series for the support of therapists.
In conclusion, and in reading much of the literature (see attached), I do believe that becoming a psychotherapist involves a process of identity transformation in which trainees bring together who they are as people with the role of psychotherapist. The more complete our understanding of this developmental process can be, the better position we will be in to facilitate the teaching and learning of psychotherapy.
Alves, S., N. Gaxxola (2011). Professional Identity: A Qualitative Inquiry of Experience Counsellors.Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Vol. 45 No. 3 189–207.
Cardemil, C.L., Battle, C.L. (2003) Guess who’s coming to therapy? Getting comfortable with conversations about race and ethnicity in psychotherapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 34(3), 278-286
Bell, P., Stevens, R. Satwicz, T. (2002). Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Comas-Diaz, L. (2005). Why I (Really) Became a Psychotherapist. Clinical Psychology Vol. 61, Issue No. 8. 973-981.
Dark Night of the Soul: The Mystical Poem of Saint John of the Cross. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21Rwj9sPBTc
Dryden, W., Spurling, L., (2014) On Becoming a Psychotherapist. Routledge Mental ealHealth Health Class Edition.
Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2010). Compassion Focused Therapy. London: Routledge.
Good Therapy.org Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/4-characteristics-that-shape-therapists-identity-0418164
Jung, C. (1865-1961. The Concept of the Collective Unconscious.
Jung, C. G. (1939). The integration of the personality. Oxford, England: Farrar & Rinehart
Hart, Anton H. (1985) Becoming a Psychotherapist: Issues of Identity Transformation. Dept. of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA.
Peck, S. (1978). The Road Less Traveled Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. Touchstone Book / Simon & Schuster (1979)
Rooleen. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonspeakers.com/images/pdfs/mapesjames.imaginationcreativityinnovation.07.15.13.pdf
Watkins, C.E. (2012) Journal of Psychotherapy Integration American Psychological Association. Vol. 22, No. 3, 187–205
Winnicott, D. (1960) The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41, 85