Clinicians on the Couch: 10 Questions with Play Therapist Clair Mellenthin
Every month we turn the tables and ask therapists to give us a glimpse into their professional and personal lives. They share everything from what it’s like to conduct therapy to how they cope with stress. They also reveal the biggest myths about therapy, what they wish their clients knew, their best advice for leading a meaningful life, and much, much more.
This month we’re pleased to talk with Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, the Clinical Director at Wasatch Family Therapy in Utah. Mellenthin provides therapy to children, teens and their families.
She also is a sought-after supervisor, training graduate students and interns in play therapy, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California MSW program. She is the President of the Utah Association For Play Therapy.
Mellenthin frequently presents professional play therapy and family therapy trainings and appears on local and national TV and radio as an expert on children and family issues.
Learn more about Clair Mellenthin at her website.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
I think the biggest surprise for me is personally, how much joy I would find in this profession. I love my job! It is such a blessing to truly be passionate about what you do day in and day out. I have also been surprised at how many different professional hats being a therapist has allowed for me — a professor, a national speaker, an author, a media consultant, and a much better wife and mom!
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
I currently am reading Supervision Can Be Playful by Athena Drewes and Jodi Ann Mullen. I wish I would have read this 10 years ago! It has really changed the way I am approaching clinical supervision. Another book that I am loving is Love Sense by Sue Johnson. She explains love and attachment in such an easy to read/understand manner!
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
I think the biggest myth about therapy is that you have to be “crazy” to need it. The truth is, all of us are human and each of us goes through a very personal journey in life that is full of both joy and pain.
I think also for young and old therapists, the belief and myth that somehow just because you have chosen this profession should mean that you are exempt from this part of life. We have to buy what we sell! It makes our profession so much stronger and healthier if each therapist would be willing to do their own work in addition to providing a safe place of healing to their clients!
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
In my clientele, the majority of which is children, the biggest obstacle I see in my practice is the underlying message to “fix my kid” without being willing to look at the whole system that plays a part in what needs to be “fixed.”
I also think that the fear of the unknown and what changes — both positive and negative — may bring is also a very scary experience for most clients and their parents. Unfortunately, these clients get labeled as “resistant” and “defensive,” when really, they are just fearful. Change is scary.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
I think that the most challenging part about being a therapist is remembering the importance of self-care and making sure that you have a good support system in place where you can debrief, process, and ask questions of other professionals.
I also think that at times, it is difficult to separate work and the emotional workload you carry at work from other parts of your personal life. This is where it is so crucial that all of us engaged in this profession practice what we preach and make self-care a priority.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I love watching a genuine smile take over a face that has been in the depths of sorrow for too many days. I love being a part of someone’s process of healing and feeling like I helped to make a difference for good in some small way.
I love being witness to the power of resiliency each of us have. We are so much stronger than we give ourselves permission to recognize! I also love that each day is a brand new day and I never, ever have the same day twice!
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
My advice would be to be true to yourself. If you can look at yourself in the mirror every morning when you wake up and each night when you go to sleep and be proud of the person you are seeing, that is when you know you are doing the right thing in life. It isn’t always easy but choosing to love yourself is so important.
I also would advise to make a decision that each day you will choose to do something to uplift another person, some small act of kindness and step outside of your shoes for a few minutes to focus on another. You won’t believe how good this starts to feel!
8. If you had your schooling and career choice to do all over again, would you choose the same professional path? If not, what would you do differently and why?
Yes. I have loved this journey of my life. I love being a social worker and the flexibility that this career leads to my life. I never imagined I would wear so many hats and be involved in such a diversity of opportunities professionally.
I am grateful for my graduate training and all that it encompassed. I think the only thing I would add if I could go back in time was some business classes. This is something lacking in so many professions but especially in the world of mental health!
In another life, however, I plan to be a neuroscientist! The brain fascinates me! Daniel Seigal and Bessel Van Der Kolk are my heros!
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or their parents knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
That mental illness isn’t their fault. They didn’t cause this to happen to their children, even if there is a genetic predisposition to a certain disorder. So many parents hold so much guilt, shame, and grief inside believing that they caused their child to suffer from a mental illness.
I also hope that with the stigma of mental illness decreasing, that they don’t have to wait until the last resort to seek out services for their family and child. I also wish parents knew that therapy can be fun! I love the power of play therapy and that even while working through difficult and painful issues, therapy can be joyful and playful.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
I play with my kids on a daily basis. Honestly, laughing with my family is my cure all. I am lucky to have a husband who is hilarious and is always making me laugh with some wise crack or goofy joke.
I also love weeding. There is something so gratifying about looking at a patch of dirt that is completely taken over by weeds one minute and 30 minutes later is clean and weed-free. I love hiking in the mountains close by my house as well.