Updated: Oct 10
Hello. My name is Anthony Tamborello. I recently joined the Houston Therapy team in early September, and this is my first blog post here. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and talk a little about my thoughts on meeting new clients. You will see on some of the introductory pages on the Houston Therapy website that many therapists here emphasize the importance of creating an understanding, non-judgmental environment. I’d like to give my thoughts on why I think that’s important.
This year after putting forth years of slow, steady work, I finally was able to finish up my dissertation. This is the large research project that psychologists earning a doctoral degree must complete to graduate. In the years leading up to starting my PhD, and in the first few of it, I had been an avid runner. The number of miles I would do in a week could add up to the commute of a person working a few miles from home. As my responsibilities to school and home ramped up, the number of miles I ran dropped to the point that I went weeks and months between runs. This year as I could see my project beginning to wrap up, I made a conscious decision to find time during the day to get back out and run.
A couple Saturdays ago the weather was finally starting to cool down and there were a lot more people out than I had seen in a while. It got me thinking about my journey and that of all the other people out there that day. Had they gone through periods where they had to stop? Were they just getting started? Were they hard on themselves when they missed a run or missed out on a goal they had set?
Really, these are the questions I have when I meet a new client. Where are they coming from? Where are they hoping to go? How do they feel about themselves in this journey? It’s this last question that I want to address here. So many clients come in feeling that they should be further along, more successful, happier, “over” the things that have been bothering them.
When I think of my own running, I know, in retrospect, it was going to be difficult for me to focus both on school and exercise. I know that the exercise had to take a back seat, but I didn’t feel good about this decision. There were factors in my life that lead to this decision. Others might have been able to balance both, but I’m not others. Judging myself based on their capabilities is neither helpful nor fair.
The same is true for people seeking out therapy, whether for the first time or coming back. There are often things from early development, adolescence, early adulthood, etc. that contribute to one’s current state of mind. One client I had years ago felt tremendous shame over having not recovered from abuses they had suffered as a child. It turned out they were still in regular contact with one of their abusers, and this was making recovery extremely difficult and complicated.
The things in most people’s lives that impact them aren’t always so obvious, but they are there, nonetheless. Often the feeling of shame that accompanies anxiety or depression has come from some abusive source, and “tough love” can just be a repetition of that abuse. Telling someone that they are overweight and to work harder does very little to help if they’ve heard that their whole lives. No one is buoyed by those acidic waters. Better to stay in. This is why I try to help people notice when they are too hard on themselves. They are often repeating the abuse they’ve already suffered. No runner on the path, or potential runner at home for that matter, is served by being told they SHOULD be doing better. They’re doing presently what they can. With gentle help they may do more if that turns out to be what they need.