Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Personal Quest: Transforming into a Counselor

Although I did not realize it then, working with people in this intimate way was going to become my life passion.  During my undergraduate years away at school I often found myself in a informal counseling role with those whom I interacted with.  Whether it was on the great lawn at school, in someone's apartment, or at some local venue, there I was, the guy talking to someone seriously, not about my life, but about theirs.  This was something I naturally enjoyed.  Being able to understand someone without having prior history about them felt surreal to me.  Offering insight to them, a perspective into their own world, felt as if I were giving them back to themselves.  This evoked a feeling in me that made me feel alive.

I would come to realize down the road that these important interactions would fundamentally shape the way I approached healing and therapy.  These experiences, among many others, is what led me to apply to graduate school.

During my graduate work I was blessed with the opportunity to work with "at-risk" youth as their counselor.  I was the intern therapist for a 1,000 hour internship.  I was a nervous wreck from the start.  From day one I was challenged by stories I did not come across on a typical day.  Many of these people have had an assortment of challenges by the age of 18 that many people never experience in their lifetime.  As doubt often makes its way into all of our lives during our greatest personal challenges I found myself questioning my ability to offer guidance and relate.  Yet here I was, trying to help them.

During this experience I profoundly realized two things.  Firstly, that all people hold within them a will to evolve and move past their troubles no matter where they come from or what they experience.  And secondly, I was still good at listening, offering insight, and helping people no matter their life experience.  It did not matter that I was working with people from inner city gangs although I was some "white guy" from a predominantly white suburb.  Both my clients and I realized that people are people no matter what and that life challenges and changes were aspects of life that united everyone.  During and after this internship I was convinced that working with people one on one was the career for me.

Yet, to my disappointment, I found that most work done in the field of psychology was very institutionalized and that the conduct of therapy was severely influenced by the demands of insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  I am not hear to declare that main stream psychology has not helped people.  It has.  But I feel that it has also left many people either more damaged then when they started or left them yearning for something more.  I feel that a lot of the time the institution of psychology and psychopharmacology has left many people dependent upon medications that, for the most part, suppress their emotional experience.

I understand the counter to this argument.  That psychotropic medication helps people get back into the work force so that they can support themselves.  Yet, I am talking about the overwhelming majority of cases where psychiatrists are incentivized to medically treat people with a cocktail of pills as a first line of treatment as opposed to helping people understand themselves so that they can help heal themselves and live a meaningful life.   To me, mental illness is a individual problem that has its roots in a social dilemma.  I see it that people do not need short term solutions, but they need encouragement, confidence, and mental strength to transform themselves so that they can influence the world around them in a positive way. *I would like to add that I know a handful of therapists who have helped people tremendously [and they typically feel the same way I do on this topic].

I admit I have a bias because I have had personal life experiences that support my view.  During a very hard time in my life, around the age of 18, I sought help from a psychiatrist.  I was dealing with the tragic death of four of my best friends as well as a family divorce.  I felt lost and was unsure of what to do.  So without much direction I entered the office of a psychiatrist.  I sat with this seemingly detached and uninterested man for 90 minuets telling him my life story.  When I left I handed him a check for $300 in exchange for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and depression, as well as a script for an SSRI [anti-anxiety/depression medication].

For the year that I was on this medication I became increasingly numb to life.  I distinctly remember the feeling of not even being able to feel my emotions.  I knew that I felt sad in my mind, but I could not feel it in my body.  Furthermore, I had a girlfriend I loved at the time, but I could not even feel this love in my body [I started the medication halfway through our relationship].  Yet, as my freshman year at college preceded I began to feel that I knew I was responsible for my own well-being and that if I were to seek help it was going to be from people who really wanted to help me help myself.  [I will disclose more about my own personal transformation in another post].  So I digress.

To me, the field of psychology was feeling more and more impersonal and less and less about empathic exchange.  During my graduate years I developed the notion that the institution felt to be more about keeping "patients" compliant with the norms prescribed by the institution which seemingly held a distinct boundary, often times patronizing, between the "patient" and the therapist.

I will not say that graduate school did not offer me anything, to the contrary it taught me so much about the therapeutic exchange and about the importance of proper delivery.  Graduate school taught me, to a great degree, about the unconscious and conscious processes of the human mind.  Importantly, it was a time of great introspection and self growth as many of my courses had an experiential undertone.  Nonetheless, I gained the sense that unless I had my own private practice that was uninfluenced by the insurance and pharmaceutical matrix I would not be offering the most I could to the world and to the people which whom I work with.  Because of personal experience as well as moral principle I sought my own path.

Now nearing my 3rd decade on this blue green planet I feel that my convictions and determination have led me into the right career.  As a coach and counselor I feel that I can help people learn how to help themselves.  I like to call this "giving people back to themselves."  I call it this because people, often times when in need of healing, are led to believe that the remedy lies outside of themselves.  Yet, what I teach people is how to get back in touch with the guide they have from within.  It is a form of preventative mental health.  It is similar to preventative health in regards to physical health.  For example, if we can learn how to take care of our bodies from the start we decrease our reliance on the medical institution and outside authority.  In this regard we take control of our own physical health as opposed to waiting for a problem to happen and then to seek help.  I help my clients do the same thing in regards to their own mental health.  Through our work together I teach you how to become your own coach and counselor [as this is something I have done for myself].

This is only part of the story of course.  I can go on for days, as too why and how I have transformed into a life coach, but that will be exhausting for the both of us.  Just like you, it has been life's challenges that have helped me evolve and become the person I am today.  If you are seeking greater clarity into your own life and path then I am here for you.  If you seeking help to understand and move past some of the most troubling aspects of your life then I am here for you.  It would be my honor and great pleasure to assists you in your own personal development.


  1. i remember one day in college we went for a walk at the resevior and i was moved to pick up a leaf and you told me i was beautiful. you noticed something in me that i didnt, and you made me aware of it in the moment. sometimes all it takes is something simple like that to make a person feel empowered, and you have a gift for knowing exactly what words to say and in what way. im so happy for you reading this entry, and so grateful for our friendship. you always have my support

  2. so i just want to honour those four, whose decisions and tragedy helped put you on such an awesome path. if you believe that souls choose their exits in order to affect the ones remaining, then you should also feel honoured, because part of what they did was for you. i think they would be proud of the direction you've gone.