Dr. Kathleen Smith is licensed professional counselor. A graduate of George Washington University and Harvard University, she also works as a freelance writer on the topics of mental health, anxiety, and relationships.
Denise came to counseling after her father had died of a heart attack at the age of 84. She had been on a cruise to Alaska when he died, and she felt guilty for leaving her 76-year-old mother and younger sister to plan the funeral. A few months later, Denise was flying back every other weekend to Denver to clean out her father’s belongings and check in on her mother. She complained that her sister rarely stopped by to help, even though she only lived half an hour from their childhood home.
Denise always thought her mother would be the first to go in the family. She had diabetes and had experienced a heart attack several years before. Her father had been in great shape and was a regular at the gym. He was actively involved in a local church and was president of the local American Legion. He also took on most of the household responsibilities—he loved to cook and paid all the bills. Denise was surprised to learn how little her mother knew about their finances—she couldn’t even tell them where to locate important papers in the house. “She can barely make scrambled eggs. She eats TV dinners and I can’t get her to leave the house more than once a week.”
Pseudo-self is “pretend” self. People pretend to be more or less important than they really are, stronger or weaker than they really are, more or less attractive than they really are. A group can “pump up” an individual’s level of functioning to the point that he can do things he had been unable to do on his own. This higher level of functioning, however, is totally dependent on the group’s continuing support. – Family Evaluation, Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Michael Kerr
This week I went to see the movie Eighth Grade. The film follows Kayla, a modern 8th grader who publishes a series of positive, self-help videos on YouTube that display a pretend, opposite version of Kayla’s actual quiet, uncertain, and anxious self. Many reviewers have remarked that the film is an insightful commentary on how social media, the perfect selfie, and the lure of Internet fame have shaped today’s youth.
But as I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think the exact opposite. . .
“Erin” came to counseling with all the signs of depression. She was unhappy with her career, her health and her family. Her mother was distressed, her father was distant and her disabled brother was sick.
Erin spent a lot of energy calming and directing her family, and she complained about how little her family supported her in return. She increasingly relied on sugar to calm herself down, and she struggled to end this dependence.
Erin’s anxiety was high, and as a newbie counselor, I struggled to operate outside of it. She cried through many of our meetings, and she grew increasingly critical of our work together.
Not long ago, a close friend of mine was struggling with a huge life decision: Should she marry her long-term partner, or was it time to part ways? “Be my therapist!” she begged me at one point, when the two of us were hanging out with a group of friends. I tried to deflect, but she kept requesting my advice, like it was a party trick. Over the course of the night, I watched as our other friends offered their own opinions on her partner, only sharing my thoughts when we finally got a moment alone.
Read the rest of my essay from New York magazine here.
In the United States, 1 in 6 adults has a prescription for a psychiatric drug. That ratio only increases among individuals who walk into counselors’ offices, leaving many counselors feeling that they must perform a special type of tightrope act to talk about medications with their clients. Given that licensed professional counselors don’t possess prescription privileges, some counselors feel that they lack the training to carry on such discussions. Other counselors fear letting their own beliefs and biases show. Regardless of the reason, some counselors are quick to refer clients back to their doctors or psychiatrists rather than engaging clients in a thorough conversation about medication management themselves.
When Karena Heyward and Jessica Lloyd-Hazlett were enrolled in graduate school together at the College of William & Mary, they agreed to split the cost of a hotel room while attending the American Counseling Association’s annual conference. The two counselors didn’t know each other very well, but over the course of the weekend they found themselves engaging in long, authentic conversations about their lives. Returning home, they reflected on the topic of vulnerability, and the two began to build a friendship based on helping each other through difficult moments in the counseling profession and life in general.