As the host of “Wisdom” on Sessions Health, Ian Felton is going to launch the series with answers to the questions he’ll be inviting therapists around the world to answer.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your practice. What’s your approach to therapy, etc.?
I have a private practice in Minneapolis with a few other therapists at a place called Core Psychotherapy. I work with adults in an urban area who work on a wide-range of concerns. I approach psychotherapy with an attitude I borrowed from painter Joan Miró. His mantra was that he wanted to murder painting. I approach psychotherapy the same way. By that I mean that I don’t want to calcify and get in stuck in a certain approach. I want to keep looking at the art of psychotherapy with a beginner’s mind and throw away things willingly that aren’t getting me to the heart of what’s effective.
If you could wave a magic wand, and give one thing to every psychotherapist to make them more effective, what would it be?
An expanded love and curiosity of the universe and everything in it.
What do you believe the purpose of psychotherapy is?
With a client-centered approach, the purpose of psychotherapy has to be the result of an interaction between the therapist’s intentions and the goals of the client. The psychotherapist can’t simply provide a service to the person seeing them for therapy that results in the person leaving therapy with a checklist having been checked-off. THe therapist can understand deeply what the person wants to be different in their life and help them to discover that. Sometimes what the person wants isn’t something that the therapist can provide. For example, if someone comes to therapy with the goal of eliminating anxiety or making his partner love him, then those goals aren’t going to work. This is where the interaction comes into play. If the therapist can quickly build trust and rapport, they have a chance at helping the client to think differently about what’s possible in therapy. For me, the purpose is to help people to be honest with themselves, create more psychological flexibility, have the skills to forge meaningful relationships, and to learn to embrace fully feeling rather than organizing life around avoiding what’s scary.
Based upon what you’ve learned in your career up until today, briefly, what would you tell the version of yourself who was just starting to practice psychotherapy?
I’m kind of terrified of saying anything to him. He wasn’t too rattled going in and my Daoist nature tells me not to interfere in things. I would hide in the hallway and think happy thoughts for him.
Would you share the most apt metaphor you can think of that describes being in the position of therapist during psychotherapy sessions?
Therapy is like two people on a raft going down the river. Neither is in charge of the river but they can influence which way the raft goes. The rapids in the river are the emotions that rise up during the session. The therapist might be trying to guide the person into those rapids while the other person is trying hard to paddle away from them. Over time, the person learns to ride their rapids and understand the river so they are able to go down it on their own.
How do you take care of yourself to prevent or remedy burn-out and compassion fatigue?
First, I try not to take on too many cases at once and give myself plenty of time off. I also make sure to maintain boundaries. This is both good for myself and the people I work with.
What do you find most difficult to do during a therapy session?
I hate interrupting people, but it’s necessary. It feels so impolite to me but if I don’t interrupt, I can’t point things out to people or interrupt their defenses which can take up all of the time if I’m not careful.
What are some tips you have for running a private practice?
Figure out a budget and then try to figure out how many sessions you have to have each year to hit your financial goals. Don’t wing it. Really sit down and be honest with yourself about how much time you’ll take off and consider cancellations, too.
What has brought you the most joy or meaning during your psychotherapy career?
I love working with young people on the verge of adulthood and seeing them forge their way in the world with a deeper sense of self and openness to the experiences the universe has to offer.
What do you believe are the biggest, or most common misconceptions about being a psychotherapist?
That we are some sort of enlightened beings or have life figured out. Or that we are always going around analyzing people or trying to see their inner conflicts at every opportunity. I’m like most people when I go to the store. I’m just trying to get my groceries.
What are your hopes for the future of psychotherapy? How would you like to see it change for the better?
I would like to see the ideas go away that apps or gig economy therapy services are going to give people what they need. There’s still no replacement for a deep, meaningful connection with a skilled therapist and I highly doubt that there ever will be.
You have one last, brief, opportunity to leave behind to other psychotherapists your most precious wisdom that can withstand the test of time, what do you write?
Don’t hide behind being the therapist. Let the people that come to see you know your humanity. Let yourself be affected by them. It’s actually impossible not to be changed by our work so you may as well try to shape that consciously and make it part of the experience of psychotherapy.