Introduction to Defining Moments For Therapists (Lynn Somerstein)

This is the introduction to Defining Moments For Therapists, written by co-editor Lynn Somerstein.

Psychotherapy is about change.  Clients come to therapy seeking change and a better life, and, in the process, the therapist changes too. The book Defining Moments shows how therapists transform and grow in response to their private life experiences and to the relationship they and their clients develop together. Therapy is a relational two-way street; there are many stops along the way, and not always what we expect.

A couple of years ago I was telling Serge how my roles as psychoanalyst and yoga teacher, which I had deliberately held separate, began to integrate. One day I saw that the best way to get through to a particular person was with a body-oriented technique, a yoga asana, and I asked her to stand in mountain pose. This is an everyday yoga asana, but it is not standard psychotherapy practice, so I thought a long time before I made the suggestion. I was also a little worried that the psychoanalytic police, the cops who live in my head, would tell me that a “real” psychoanalyst would never do such a thing. I felt pretty daring at the time, but in truth, therapists are always trying to figure out the best ways to help people.

Sometimes what we think works best is different than what we are trained to do, and even feels like a transgression, but my professional reorganization was central to my being and reflected my life’s values. I was on firm ground too, a graduate of two esteemed institutes, one for yoga, and one for psychoanalysis.

Serge and I began talking about the integrative approach to psychotherapy, which holds that each of the many kinds of therapy hold their own truth and reflect a part of our glorious human diversity; he suggested gathering all kinds of experiences in which therapists face events that lead to the redefinition of identity and process. The goal of a project began to emerge — we would capture the therapist’s evolving sense of self.  Serge suggested asking interested colleagues to contribute chapters to the book that came to be called Defining Moments. These chapters include examples of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, body therapy, art therapy, and pre and perinatal psychology, among others.

The results are moving, haunting sometimes. Every person wrote about something different, from perinatal experience to dying, and in between child abuse, rape, and murder. The therapists were often afraid that they might have transgressed; at least they went beyond the usual boundaries, some working with lucid dreaming, others touching the client, one person giving a gift. Another therapist used the musical themes that went through her head as clues to her client’s needs. One therapist describes wanting more in her own life. A particularly touching chapter shows the chemistry between the therapist and her client.

If you’ve been curious about some of the things therapists experience doing treatment and how they got to be therapists in the first place, here’s your chance to find out.

Lynn Somerstein