Clinicians on the Couch: 10 Questions with Therapist Joyce Marter
Every month we feature a different clinician, who gives us a snippet into their work and life. They reveal everything from what they love about being a therapist to the biggest challenge for both their clients and themselves to how they personally cope with stress.
This month we had the pleasure of chatting with Joyce Marter, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and owner of Urban Balance, an insurance-friendly counseling practice with over 40 therapists and five locations in Chicagoland.
Marter received her Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and was awarded Distinguished Alumni of the Year in 2008. In 2010 she was selected by Crain’s Chicago Business for the “40 Under 40” list.
Marter currently serves as the Vice President of the Board of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association and an Editorial Advisor for “Wellness Times.” She has been consulted as a psychological expert on television, radio and in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News.
Learn more about Joyce Marter at her website.
1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?
The thing that has surprised me the most about being a therapist is the blessing of reaping tremendous wisdom from my clients and their life experiences. Over the past 18 years, I have had the honor to get to know hundreds of clients from diverse backgrounds. Through our relationships, I have gleaned some powerful insights that have profoundly enriched my life as well as enabled me to be of greater service to others.
Furthermore, it has surprised me that my life’s work as a therapist and my own psychological journey personally are really two sides of the same coin– each side being integral and dependent on the other. In order to be the best therapist I can be and effectively help others, I am continually dedicated to my own journey towards healing, consciousness, wellness and self-actualization.
2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?
Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is the most enlightening book I have read in the past five years. Tolle says we all have a “pain body”–the culmination of negative feelings from issues and experience that have caused us suffering.
He says we must not identify with our pain body or judge ourselves for it, but instead observe it from a neutral place as a collection of experiences that are going to help us grow psychologically and spiritually. He talks about the importance of detaching from our ego and focusing on our essence, or the inner being within that silently observes our lives.
He emphasizes the power of developing awareness of the present moment (rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future,) as a way of increasing consciousness and our connection to others. I believe we all could benefit from contemplating Tolle’s work and often recommend that clients check out Oprah’s series, “Are You Ready to be Awakened?” which makes Tolle’s brilliant work more digestible and manageable.
3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
One of the greatest myths about therapy is that the focus is on pathology and on the early life experiences. I have heard people describe the difference between therapy and coaching is that therapy focuses on problems and the past and coaching focusing on solutions and the future. I couldn’t disagree more.
Understanding the past and any negative issues we have experienced is only one aspect of therapy. It is an important step to reflect on our family-of-origin and early life histories as a way to honor the past, gain insight as to how it may have shaped and molded us, and increase awareness of themes or patterns we are unconsciously recreating.
However, therapy also helps clients accept and let go of the past as well as practice mindfulness techniques that help them stay anchored in the present moment. Furthermore, cognitive-behavioral techniques help clients think more positively and to consciously create intentions for the future, increasing the likelihood of attaining goals and achieving success personally and professionally.
Finally, therapists regularly mirror back client’s strengths to them as a way for them to psychologically integrate these concepts into a positive sense of self.
4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
The processes of letting go and practicing detachment. I am referring to letting go of old belief systems, old relationship and life patterns that are no longer working, of the need to be right, of that which you can not control, etc. We all unconsciously cling to what is familiar and it can be difficult to let go of even the most self-sabotaging behaviors.
Detachment is a very powerful tool to aid in letting go. Detachment is the process of unplugging from a situation, from our egos or from our inner critic. It is the ability to zoom out and observe ourselves and our situations from a neutral place. It doesn’t mean we are not present or do not care–we can be detached with love and respond to others and to situations from a place that is not ego-driven, defensive or reactive. It took me years to even grasp the concept of detachment and it’s a life skill I am dedicated to continue to practice and develop.
5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
The most challenging part about being a therapist is that your tool is yourself. If you are not well, you cannot do good work. Therefore, this work requires you to continually reflect on yourself through personal therapy, clinically consultation, continued learning, spiritual practices and other growth experiences. For these reasons, therapist burnout or compassion fatigue is common and self-care must be practiced regularly and without exception.
6. What do you love about being a therapist?
I find the work emotionally, relationally, intellectually and spiritually rewarding. I have come to believe that the foundation of therapy is truly knowing and loving your clients. I believe that all the theories and the techniques are just the bells and whistles–it is through the therapeutic relationship and experience that clients heal and grow and move forward in a positive direction. The honor of being able to truly know and love clients is a gift that flows back to me, bringing more love and light into my life.
7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Be true to yourself and live a life that is congruent with who you really are–your authentic self.
Understand that love is the commodity of life and the more that you give (to yourself as well as others,) the more you will reap.
Many people believe that if they get their external life in order (career, relationships, appearance, money, house, etc.) they will achieve happiness and wellness. I believe if you focus on the internal (your emotional and spiritual life), your external life will fall into place because you will create a life that is congruent with your authentic or highest self.
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, absolutely without a doubt. This field has given me a language and a lens through which to understand life and the world around me in a much deeper and more meaningful way. I also appreciate the many different services I am able to provide with my degree, such as counseling, teaching, writing, public speaking, etc. I feel the possibilities for personal and professional growth in this field are endless.
9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
It is normal to have issues, the issues are part of the lesson of life–they bring about tremendous blessings in terms of opportunities for growth. In fact, I believe the people who have overcome mental illness and other extremely challenging life experiences often have more consciousness and psychological awareness than those who have not. Our psychological issues are how we are, not who we are. We are all exactly as we should be.
10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?
It is often our unrealistic expectations or belief systems that cause stress, so if we can change our thinking we can decrease our stress. I participate in my own psychotherapy and find that to be incredibly helpful in reducing my stress by helping me understand my feelings are normal responses to life events and that I can “surf” the waves of feelings, rather than being engulfed by them.
I personally embrace the belief that we are all works in progress and nobody is perfect, which allows me to cut myself some slack and detach from some of the expectations that cause stress.
Also, I try not to expend energy on that which I cannot control and to practice acceptance (“all is as it is and as it should be”) as a way to avoid spinning my wheels and reducing stress.
I believe we store feelings as waves of energy in the body, so I regularly exercise, stretch and participate in massage therapy to release tension I am holding in my body. Finally, laughter is a critical stress buster. Not taking yourself or life too seriously can make any situation more manageable.
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