Ask A Therapist: Your Questions Answered!
Updated: Apr 11
For this post, I decided to do something a little different and super fun. Through my social media accounts, I asked you to anonymously submit questions you'd like a therapist to answer! Some of these questions were mental health related, and others were questions you were curious about regarding my life. I'll be answering a few of them in this post, and my hope is that you not only get to know me a bit better, but that you're also able to use what's applicable in your life to create more self-awareness, intentionality, and create space for your own inner healing.
How can I be a "good" therapy client?
Normally, I see clients once a week for an average of 50-60 minutes. In comparison to the life you live throughout your week, I only participate in a very, very small percentage of your life. Doing the work outside of therapy sessions is crucial to your overall success. I don't really view clients as being "good" or "bad" clients, but if you're asking what can set you up for the most success in therapy, it's absolutely doing the work outside of sessions. This can look like doing homework if your therapist has assigned homework, reading books related to mental health or what you're going through, learning to meditate, implementing routines and habits that are positive in your life, etc. Taking what you learn in therapy and applying/practicing that in your every day life is a total game changer solely because you experience change.
Some people aren't ready to do the work outside of sessions or have no idea where to start. Going to therapy was their first and only step for right now, and that's completely okay! We're here to meet you where you are. I truthfully don't have expectations for my clients because each person is coming to therapy with their own unique, individual experience.
What's one thing you want your clients to know?
I'm not running the session. (I can't help but laugh when I type this out!) I think a lot of people start therapy with the assumption that their therapist takes total control of the sessions and has things mapped out for what to talk about. In reality, this is your time that you're paying for. You get to dictate where the session goes, what you talk about, and what you'd like to work on. If there's silence in your sessions, that's not a bad thing. A lot of times, therapists use silence as a tool to give you space to process. If clients feel like they have nothing to talk about, that's completely fine! I usually always have questions to ask them about specific things we've previously discussed in sessions or questions to help probe them to explore if there's anything occurring under the surface they'd like to explore. But ultimately, you run the show in your therapy sessions, because these sessions are yours.
How do I support someone who lost a spouse to suicide when it's a family member I'm grieving, too?
This is hard and heavy. First, I'm so sorry for your loss. Grief is such a complicated emotion, but there's no way out of grief. We can only walk through it. When supporting someone who had a more intimate relationship to the deceased, but you're also still grieving the loss of that person, it can be really helpful to find other safe people you can share stories, memories, and your grief with. There's also a chance that the person grieving the loss of their spouse may actually feel the most supported when others are grieving with them, too. Talking to a therapist can also be a safe outlet for you to grieve. Regardless, the important part is that you give yourself space to grieve, too. Sometimes, the most supportive thing we can do for others in times of grief is grieve with them. Hold space for them. Allow your emotions to exist and be felt. We can't heal in isolation.
If you had to narrow down to just one thing that's the foundation of a healthy marriage, what is it?
Communication, communication, communication. The majority of clients who are coming for couples counseling, all of their issues have a common denominator: lack of communication. Our parents have modeled to us how to communicate to each other, so if we have parents who had poor communication towards each other, or they use derogatory language, don't discuss how things make them feel, gossip about their partner to their children, or use verbal abuse, we tend to model those behaviors in our adult relationships toward our partners. One of the main areas I work on with all my couples is learning how to communicate emotions effectively to their partner; communicating in ways that are kind, respectful, and honest. Healthy communication can be such a difficult thing to learn because unhealthy communication is so engrained in those who grew up with parents who modeled unhealthy communication, but it IS possible!
How does someone deal with stressors like money, jobs, childhood trauma, etc. without drugs/nicotine/alcohol?
Life is HARD, right? And it can be super challenging to not turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms when we're faced with all the challenges life brings. It can be helpful to pay attention to what your body's telling you when you start to turn to a coping mechanism that isn't healthy for your body. Is your body telling you you're stressed? Overwhelmed? Feeling rejected or abandoned? Sad? Triggered? Taking a moment to pause and ask yourself "what is my body telling me that I'm feeling the need to turn to _____ right now?" Whatever the answer is, the remedy is almost always connection. Connection with your partner, connection with your friends, or connection with yourself.
Shame is commonly associated with unhealthy coping mechanisms; it's common for people to hide them or feel immense shame after participating in it. Give yourself grace. Therapy can be a great tool to start creating a safe space for connection. If therapy isn't something you're able to afford, having a friend or two who are safe and help you connect back to yourself is also incredibly healing.
Did you have an imaginary friend?
I did! Her name was Alayna, and we'd play on my childhood swing set together all the time. I have 2 sisters, and we always played outside together as kids, but Alayna was a welcomed addition by my sisters, even if they thought it was weird sometimes. (LOL)
What's your biggest regret?
I've been sitting on this question a bit, and I'm having a hard time thinking of something I really regret in my life. I think it would be that I wasn't true to myself sooner. But even then, there's such goodness in the journey! I hid behind religion subconsciously for a really long time, and now that I've been on a deconstruction journey and allowed myself to listen to my body, I feel more connected to who I am and who I was created to be. I've also experienced less anxiety than ever before, so that's been interesting to observe within myself.
Where are you from? Where are your parents from?
I'm originally from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, born and raised. When I got married, we lived in a lot of different states, so it almost feels like I'm from a hodgepodge of places, which has been really beautiful. My parents are also from the same place! My mom grew up in a different county not far away.
What's in your Spotify top songs?
I'm usually only listening to music when I'm working out, so I've got a lot of NF, KB, Marianas Trench, and Hamilton in my top songs ("Wait for It" in the Hamilton soundtrack is an absolute JAM and will have you hitting personal records in no time, don't judge me.)
What's the worst advice you've ever received?
The worst advice I've received is pretty common in Christian circles, and it's that I'm nothing apart from Jesus Christ. These types of beliefs make people feel like without Jesus, they have nothing to offer, they're worthless, they're depraved, and their sin is their identity. But with Jesus, all of that disappears. While I understand the good intentions behind the statement, this causes the believer to view others who don't believe in Jesus as worthless, depraved, and sinners, and it also removes accountability from people who make bad decisions that affect others and believe that Jesus forgives them so they're absolved from any consequences. Are we sinners, or are we just complex humans experiencing humanity? Did Jesus die for my sins, or did he die because he was opposing the most powerful political regime?
I still follow Jesus, but my journey looks a lot different now. I view my relationship with Jesus and who I am as two things that work together but also are separate. Who I am as a therapist doesn't have anything to do with Jesus, but how I love people is inspired by how Jesus loved others. I am still good, complex, wonderful, and worthy, with or without Christ, because my inherent humanity has value.
How can I better cope with change in the workplace? People leaving and being hired, managers changing, processes changing; it's overwhelming at times.
Change can be so challenging! I definitely don't deal well with change, but I've realized that my resistance to change has a lot to do with my childhood trauma. Change and transitions are a natural part of life in every aspect of life. What would it look like for you to lean into that change a bit? Have you explored why you're resistant to it? Stay curious. Ask yourself questions. Observe how your body responds to change without judgement. Through all the change, create one thing in your workplace that remains the same for you. I love a solid routine, and when that routine gets disrupted, I feel triggered. We can't control everything, but if there's one small thing we can create that's routine in our lives, it can help keep us grounded when life around us starts to change.
What's the meaning of life?
Ah, the age old existential question. The meaning of life will be different for everyone, which is maybe why not having a direct answer drives some people nuts. For me, I've found the meaning of life to be a constant journey of self-awareness, healing, and loving myself and others like Jesus loved.
Is it normal to be attached to an item like a childhood blanket? I notice that when my anxiety flares, I have to have my blankie. I'm almost 30 years old.
Yes! It's completely normal to feel attached to a childhood item that's brought us comfort and security, and that blankie probably holds a lot of meaning for you. When times become challenging or we're going through big changes, having that childhood item can make us feel safe. We naturally want to lean towards things that make us feel good, and if your childhood blankie makes you feel good when your anxiety flares, go for it!
Thank you so much for participating in the very first "Ask a Therapist" blog edition! I had a blast answering your questions, and I hope you found this helpful as you continue to heal and move forward on your journey. If you're interested in scheduling a session with me or one of our therapists, you can learn more about us here.