Good Example Of “Of Course.” Essay
Interview With a Therapist
I met Marguerite, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor in New Mexico, at a friend’s house one day. She was travelling around for a while visiting friends, and I thought, “What a perfect opportunity!” So I asked her if she would have time to do a short interview with me and she readily agreed. We met at a café and had a very informative and fun time together.
“Hello,” I said, taking her hand. “I am so pleased to meet you again. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today. May I use your real name for this interview, or would you prefer that I not do that?”
The elegant older woman before me thought for a moment and then replied, “Why don’t you call me by my first name? I protect my clients absolutely; confidentiality is of critical importance. Call me Marguerite, or Margi with a hard “g”.” She smiled broadly. I thought that she looked very wise and strong and capable. She was in her sixties, I thought.
I next asked her what had intrigued her about the field of counseling in the very beginning. Again, she thought for a moment and replied that it was partly that she had grown up in a disturbed household herself. Her mother was severely Bi-Polar II, she said, and she thought that she entered the field partly as a way to learn to help people like her mother, but also as a way to help herself. She commented that, “Most of my fellow students, including me, were real wing-nuts when we entered our psychology program. We had a lot of work to do on ourselves while we were learning to help others,” and she laughed a tinkly laugh. She went on to say that she had always had a fascination with trying to help others in the world, in whatever way she could, and that counseling seemed the perfect career for that. I told her that I shared her feelings, as a student, and that I hoped that I would learn to be of service too. She said, “Oh, you will!”
Then I asked about her education for this field, and she said that she held a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, and had gone back to school in her early thirties to get her M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Antioch University, at a campus in San Francisco which has now closed, but was always affiliated with Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I asked about licensing procedures, and said that she had done 3000 hours of supervised practicum with several PhDs in Berkeley, CA, but with the intention of moving to New Mexico to start a practice in Santa Fe when her practicum was completed. “I sure made a lot of blunders during my supervision years,” she laughed. “It was a slow learning curve.”
In New Mexico, there were not yet any licensing laws at the Master’s degree level, so she rented an office, hung up a shingle, printed up some business cards, and went to work. She was also by then a Licensed Master Clinical Hypnotherapist, something that she incorporated into her work all the way through her years. She said that she used hypnosis primarily to do age-regression work with clients who were survivors of abuse and other difficult things, and that the trance work that they did together was usually very deep.
Four or five years after she began her practice, licensing laws were introduced to New Mexico. She easily qualified because she had the requisite number of supervised hours, and everyone in New Mexico who had those, an M.A. in psychology, and had been in practice for some years was grandfathered into licensing without needing to take an exam. She became a Licensed Professional Counselor in New Mexico. I kind of envied her in not having to take an exam!
I then asked her what modalities she had studied and preferred, and she said, “Oh, so much!” She said that she loved continuing education and had used it to branch out into areas that she had not studied in grad school. She has a strong background in Jungian Psychology, Behavior Modification Therapy, Ericksonian approaches, Brief or “Solution-focused” therapy, and, of course, hypnosis. I was impressed. I asked Marguerite if she had a preferred modality of practice now, and she said that she had gone over to Brief Therapy almost entirely, because she found that it produced such quick results, and is focused on the here and now.
“I had plenty of years mucking around in peoples’ dismal childhoods,” she commented. “I wanted to work now in a way that was forward-focused and not backwards focused.” Changing the topic a bit, I asked her then if she had any advice for counseling students. She replied, “Don’t believe everything you read, hear, and see. And are taught! There are limitless boundaries to the human psyche and imagination, so don’t get too caught up in trying to classify people by the books.” That made a lot of sense to me, as over-classification seems a danger, and easy to do, especially with the DSM-V as the Bible for the field. I asked her how she avoided doing that, and she said that she almost never consulted the DSM-V anymore.
I then asked her if she could tell me about a typical day of counseling, and she laughed again. “There is no ‘typical’ day!” she replied. “They are all different!” But then she said that she was kind of atypical anyway because she saw a maximum of four clients a day, four days a week, with each session lasting an hour and a half or even a little more. So she saw a maximum of sixteen clients a week.
“Wow,” I said, “That’s sure not what I am expecting!” We both laughed, and I envied her again. She explained that she had enough other income that she wasn’t dependent on her therapy income to live, so she tried to set it up so she would not get burned out at work. And working for an hour and a half, she explained, allowed her and her client to get deeply into the subject at hand. She said it was also great for doing hypnosis, because she could put the client into a one-hour trance and they would still have time to talk about it. “Want to hear a story?” she asked me then.
“I once had a client who had Multiple Personality Disorder, DID I guess they call it now. She was a great hypnosis client, and would go into really deep trances very quickly. So one time I put her into a deep trance, and when the time came, I couldn’t get her out of it! I tried everything, including clapping my hands. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I noticed that my office-mate had left a drum in the corner. I grabbed it and started drumming for all I was worth. I threw in some Navajo chants I knew and encouraged her to chant with me. Finally she came out of the trance, right around the time that my next client arrived. Thank God this client was being picked up by someone else, because no way she could have driven herself home!” She laughed again and I laughed with her, wondering if I would ever have any kind of counseling experience even remotely like that. She was definitely a Southwestern therapist, with a generous dose of old hippie in her too. Well, whatever works, I figured, as I thought about what kind of cold, sterile, clinical setting I might end up in myself.
Back to a typical day. She told me that she did not start her day until 10 or 11 am, because she tended to work into the evenings, and on Saturdays too, to provide services to people who worked full-time and could not get away for a daytime session. “I stop in the gorgeous courtyard of this building and give blessings for the beauty of the flowers. If I’m early, I’ll sit there for a while. Then I go up to my soothing office and open the windows and tidy up if it needs it. Then my first client arrives and the day starts rolling. What can I tell you? Usually I have half an hour between clients and at least an hour for lunch. Between clients, I go back down to the courtyard and sit among the flowers to clear myself for the next person.”
I told her that that was going to be my next question. She added that sometimes there was what felt like bad energy in her office, and so she would open the windows and door fully and open the windows in the hall to clear out that energy. If she herself was feeling distressed, she would have a healthy snack of some kind. I made a mental note: windows and healthy snack. Sometimes she would make a quick call to a friend to change the energy.
Then I backtracked to asking her if there was anything that she wished she had known as a beginning student. She thought for a moment and said that, first, she wished she had known what she had advised me: not to believe everything that she saw, read, and heard. She thought some more and then added, “You know, not everyone can be healed or fixed, or even helped. If you start to take on a God-like role, you may come to believe that it is your duty to fix it all. But it isn’t. You can’t. I wish I had had a more realistic take on that at the very beginning. Also, some sessions are duds, and you will make mistakes. They aren’t all spectacular. That’s just the nature of the game.” Wow, what a good thing to hear and learn. I think most of us might start out feeling like it is our role to heal all the wounds of the world, so it was great to be reminded that we can’t. Also a good reminder that we would go on making mistakes, no matter how experienced we became.
We were beginning to run out of time, so I asked Marguerite my last question, in case I didn’t have time for the others. I asked her if she had ever regretted going into the counseling field. She thought for a long time, then said she did not. She said that at times it had been extremely difficult for her, because, “There was always one client I carried around with me all day and night. I often had at least one client who was vaguely—or more--suicidal, and they all had my phone numbers, and they used them—so I would get calls sometimes at 2 a.m. from clients in great distress, and sometimes I had to get them into the hospital right then. And a lot of the client experience that surfaced in my office was extremely painful.” Then she brightened and added that in all her years, she had never lost a client, and that a lot of her therapist friends had. I grew somber, thinking of the potential horror of losing a client to suicide, and determined that it would not happen in my lifetime. But what do I know? I won’t be able to control other peoples’ choices.
There was just enough time left for me to ask Marguerite about funny things that had happened in her office. She whooped with laughter, then calmed down. “Oh, there were many, many,” she replied. “Most of them would take too long to tell. I guess the funniest thing that I myself did was one day when a client I had been seeing for many years came in complaining, as usual. She was particularly obnoxious and self-absorbed that day, so finally I said, ‘Cheryl, stop whining and shut up!’ Then I sat back and waited for the Therapy Police to come and arrest me,” and she laughed heartily again. I gulped, since I couldn’t imagine ever saying such an insulting thing to a client—but who knows what you will do under pressure? “It worked too,” she added. “She shut up and stopped whining!” Then she added, “I’m afraid I’m out of time. I’m due for lunch soon. (ENTER YOUR NAME), I wish you the greatest success. This can be one of the most gratifying, discouraging, joyful, tragic, nerve-wracking, and satisfying jobs on earth. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. I wish you a long and rewarding career. Just don’t get to thinking that you are God!”
I thanked Marguerite profusely and left her so she could make her lunch date. I was left with a lot of material to think over and digest. She was obviously from a different generation than I, had trained in a different way than I am being trained, went through different licensing requirements than I will have to, and had a slightly offbeat take on things. But I realized that I had been totally comfortable in her presence, and that I felt great at the end of our interview. Some of her magic had worn off on me.
One new concept to me was that of working only part-time and spending an hour and a half with each of only four clients a day. I’ve never expected that I would be able to do anything like that in my own career, but maybe someday, in private practice? I guess I hadn’t really thought much about having truly suicidal clients either, and that was sobering. Her reminder not to categorize people too much was very helpful, and also that there were no “typical” days. In a way, it was as much the way she was as what she said that I found most interesting. There was a lightness and brightness and confidence about Marguerite, along with her modesty and humility, that really inspired me. I reminded myself that cheerfulness would be an essential quality to display and feel when I am working myself as a counselor.
Hutchinson, David. The Essential Counselor: Process, Skills and Techniques. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2014.
Langer, Stephen. “Solution Focused Brief Therapy: What is it and What’s the Evidence.” Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center. Olympia, WA. NWBTTC.com.
The questions I prepared for my interview with Marguerite, LPC:
May I use your real name, or would you prefer that I not?
What intrigued you about the field in the first place?
What education did you have for licensing for this career?
What was the licensing procedure that you had to follow?
What modalities of therapy do you practice, or have you practiced? Do you have a particular favorite?
Can you tell me about an average day in your practice, and some of the details?
Has there ever been a time when you thought you had maybe chosen the wrong career?
Is there anything that you wish you had known as a student before embarking on this field?
Do you have any particular advice for a student of counseling?
How do you de-stress between sessions?
Can you think of your: funniest, and most difficult moments in therapy?
Are you glad, overall, that you have spent twenty-five years of your life as a counselor?