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Therapists in Therapy

BlogsMary Aguilar, MSW, LCSW

therapists in therapy

Never trust a therapist who has not engaged in therapy themselves.

My own journey in therapy has taught me valuable lessons and insights personally and professionally.  Years ago, I saw my first therapist when I was looking for some resolve to past trauma.  The therapist I saw was helpful in some ways and had limitations in others.  Seeing a therapist for the first time helped demystify the experience and destigmatize the process.  I regularly reference and discuss my own therapy experiences with fellow therapists and non-therapists alike to ensure we, as a society and as mental health professionals, normalize this process of caring for ourselves. This therapist helped me simply put a name to my issue.  I was struggling through relationships and life with one overarching theme.  Once I could put a name to it and understand the issue, I was able to get informed, develop insight, and move towards recovery.  I mentioned there were limitations as well.  The therapist I saw used a solution focused approach, meaning they explored present issues and functioning only. This approach can be helpful with the right person with the fitting needs.  For me, it did not quite meet the depth of my needs.  While the therapist normalized my reaction to past trauma, they would not explore it with me. 

Years later in another round of therapy, I found myself wanting to dig deep to resolve past trauma.  I also wanted to be the best therapist I could be for others. This meant that I needed to explore all issues that could affect my own reactions and effectiveness with my own clients.  This time, equipped with my own practice of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, I sought an EMDR therapist. Here, I found the type of “digging deep” that I needed and wanted.  This therapist quickly targeted core life and early childhood experiences that related to my behavior, self-talk, and daily emotions.  This time I was working on the right issues. Though admittedly, I sometimes didn’t want to go to session to do the hard work.  Truly engaging in deep therapeutic work requires an openness and vulnerability that is sometimes emotionally and physically taxing.  Other times, it is energizing and exciting.  Overall, the experience was invaluable despite the hard work.  I flexed my vulnerability muscle while working hard to heal past hurts and realize my full potential that we all have as human beings for love, connection and worth. 

What does this mean for those of you who are engaged in therapy or are considering seeing a therapist?  Therapy is just therapy.  It does not mean we are “broken” or “less than.”  Healing our minds and bodies so that we may live our best life just makes sense.  Opening ourselves up for new insights and healing takes courage, and we are worth it. 

You are also in charge of your own therapeutic process.  Research your therapist and ask questions about their expertise and approach to ensure it will meet your needs.  All therapists and clients are not a perfect fit.  Sometimes our therapists do not have the knowledge, training, or approach to best meet our needs.  Sometimes our therapist’s own issues prevent them from fully addressing ours.  But many times, our therapist is a gift, granting us empathy, acknowledgment, warmth, understanding, and healing.  Find a therapist who makes you feel heard and is completely present in your space.  Accept nothing less. 

Good therapists recognize the need for therapy themselves.  We are human too.  Being human means we also come with baggage.  Therapy helps us ensure that we do not project our own baggage onto our clients.  We must work to ensure we can be present and attune to our clients’ needs and experiences.  Besides, how hypocritical would it be for me, as a therapist, to not believe in the therapeutic process and engage in it myself? 

May peace and healing find you in your own therapy journey.


Empathy is Badass

     By Kris Wise, MSW, LCSW

Ditch the cig There was a spotlight shining on each person. Well, maybe not, but the air felt so clear everyone seemed illuminated. The march had just ended and the crowd stayed rather than dispersing to other events. While paused I heard music and recognized it as John Lennon’s, “Imagine”. Across multiple lanes of traffic were protestors. They carried a book, a sign, and a mega phone. The title of the book, the message on the sign, and words spoke into the device didn’t matter. This collective power in action, could not be phased by negativity.

While this scene unfolded she noticed a person in the crowd who had become emotional.  “Don’t you feel hope?”, someone said.  She began to cry; all she could feel was their pain.

Empathy by definition seems simple enough. Merriam Webster classically defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”  Being empathetic, practicing empathy, and experiencing the world beyond your life is complex.

Empathy is a key component to emotional intelligence. Three types of empathy have been identified: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate empathy. Cognitive is a focal point of understanding one’s thoughts and emotions in only a rational sense. Emotional is literally feeling what the other is feeling. Compassionate is taking action to help someone or a cause.  When we are empathetic we hear one another, polarized sides become closer, and we impact social issues.

Allies are empathetic. I knew from life experience she flowed between the three types of empathy. I had benefited and lived a safer, richer life because she has always been my Ally. My sister is badass.

Dignity for Daine

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Photo by Helena Lopes on

Kris Wise MSW, LCSW

You were beautiful. You were brave. I’m sorry your family disowned you. I’m sorry they could not understand that loving you as their child and finding solace in their beliefs is not mutually exclusive. I’m sorry they left you there and refused to claim your body. Their attempt to deny you dignity will not be successful.

I’m proud of you. I’m proud you spoke your truth. I’m proud you lived authentically.

We never met, but I imagine you probably had a pretty great laugh. The images I see of you in the media shows you making a peace sign. Peace to you, Daine Grey.

If you are a parent struggling with your personal or religious beliefs because they differ from the scientific evidence related to sexuality or gender identity, please get help. Your child is your child. No parent is without disappointment, disagreement, or foreign to the experience that their child isn’t exactly the way they envisioned they would be. Children will enter careers you don’t like, vote different than you, marry someone you don’t think is good enough, and some of them will be gay or transgender. You can survive it without causing them unrepairable emotional or physical harm. You can even still love them.

If you are someone struggling because of the emotional or physical pain related to how you are being treated, tell someone. There is help, and people that will help you.

The San Francisco community has again proven why they are the “City of Love”. The San Francisco LGBTQ+ community has raised funds to hold a funeral and bury Daine Grey, a 22-year-old student at City College of San Francisco. Reports detail that Daine’s family failed to respond to the San Francisco Coroner and after 10 days the community could claim his body.

Our family of origin has proven to be the most significant of ties. No length of time, intensity of hurt, or abuse can remove the drive for approval, love, and acceptance from those who brought us into this life. Jane Howard said “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” Create your tribe, be someone’s family, and know that we all need someone.

Thank you for being you, and for being you perfectly.

You can support Daine at GoFundMe page


A Secret Weapon to Deepen Relationships and Attract People

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on

Mary Aguilar, MSW, LCSW

I remember reading an article years ago…  The author talked about how, when he attends weddings, he walks away from the weekend nuptials as the guy everyone likes, and the one everyone remembers.  He was the guy whom, at the end of the celebrations, people were saying, “Wow, I met Fred. What a nice guy. He’s really great.”  I remember reading the intro and the title to the article, before actually reading it, and thinking, “I already know how he does it… Active listening.” I started reading, and I was right! I had been teaching and practicing active listening for years in my profession as a counselor in Fort Wayne, and I knew of it’s power. The sweet, plain, boring, overlooked skill of listening to understand – active listening.

I think active listening is difficult to use, because it requires us to be so selfless. We must shift all our comfortable, egocentric energy onto being deeply attentive to someone else. It’s tiring. And difficult.  And to be frank, I’d much rather be on the receiving end of the equation.

However, it’s power is undeniable. Gifting someone with your deep, undivided, curious, nonjudgmental attention creates powerful bonds, where the receiver feels understood, heard, cared for, loved.

If you’re up for trying it out, here a few skills to practice!

·         Eye contact – Deep, intense eye contact is one of the simplest and easiest ways to communicate that you see someone, and you are giving your undivided attention. Put your phone down, put it away, face it down, turn off notifications. Now, this doesn’t require a staring contest! Just allow the other person to know, clearly, that you are paying attention to nothing else.

·         Lean In – Show your interest with your body language. Lean toward them. Face toward them. Cross your leg toward them. Lean forward in your chair. Communicate with your body that you are present.

·         Allow Silence & Talk less – Silence is uncomfortable. We want to fill it. We want to fill the void with our own thoughts and experiences.  Resist the urge.  Often, the person speaking needs a moment to stop, think, process, and collect their thoughts. Often, when we allow long moments of silence, the speaker re-engages the conversation with even deeper, more honest and vulnerable thoughts that were on their mind.

·         Don’t Fix It – We also love to fill the silence with our own brilliant ideas on how to fix the speaker’s dilemma, how to improve on their situation, or ways we also dealt with a similar experience successfully. Unsolicited advice is just that, unsolicited.  I have often heard Dave Ramsey quote his Grandmother in saying “Those convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still.”  Advice does not work. It is not helpful. It does not convey you are listening.

·         Listen for the Emotions – I saved the best for last, and the most difficult. I have found that the best trick to really maintain attention and listen with curiosity and nonjudgment for the speaker’s experience is to focus on the emotions they are feeling. Most of the time, they will not state their emotions. However, listen for them, guess, anticipate. And when there’s finally an opening for you to speak, reflect their emotions in a statement. Try saying “Wow, you must have felt so scared (enter other emotion word: excited, humiliated, terrified, proud, sad).”

Most of the skills described require no speaking at all! Our nonverbal communication is powerful and can easily communicate our care by itself. Enjoy practicing as I part with a final story.

One of my most vivid experiences with my best friend, was an evening when I had her over for dinner nearly 10 years ago. I spent time talking about a very deep hurt I had experienced.  What I remember about that evening is feeling absolutely stunned by the care she conveyed to me.  She sat quietly, not talking much.  She’s always comfortable with silence. It’s one of things I love about her – we can be silent together. I never felt judged in the conversation for my own wrongdoings. Instead, she conveyed her wish that she could have been present for me through the hurtful time in my life. And the most powerful thing she did that night was name the emotion I didn’t even know I was feeling – shame.  To this day, that conversation with her has helped me heal from the hurt simply through my understanding that I was feeling shame and it was shame that I needed to release in order to achieve healing.  I’m not sure she understands the gift she gave me by listening so carefully that evening, but I certainly remember it clearly.

The Science of Sexuality

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Photo by Marta Branco on

The Science of Sexuality: What you never learned in school.

Kris Wise MSW, LCSW

Growing up I knew not one “out” LGBTQ+ adult or same sex couple. Looking back, I can see them living quietly, hiding parts of their life from people who loved them. They were beautiful, broke gender stereotypes, and were brilliant sparks of light. The predominant culture in the United States is that of heteronormativity and this reflects northeast Indiana. Meaning that heterosexuals make up the majority of the population and social norms, laws, and systems have been created and are predominantly viewed through this lens. Reflecting back, I see their light, how they managed their lives, and how much pain they carried.  When you change your lens you can see them, and as a therapist serving the LGBTQ+ community I know it is important for young people to see adult versions reflective of their sexuality and gender identity.

Sexuality is part of being human. Sexual orientation refers to the emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction towards women, men, or all sexes. Orientation exists along a continuum. The Kinsey Scale is widely used in research and in sexuality education. This scale allows for identification of sexual behavior, sexual fantasy and self-identity to collectively make up a person’s sexual orientation.

Science has excelled and bringing new knowledge of the brain and human biology. New knowledge offers the opportunity for understanding how unique each one of us are. Studies in neuroscience and human genetics reveals human sexualities are a product of our genes, sex hormones and brain systems. Evidence clearly explains it is nature not nurture. Determined similar to other personal traits and is not a choice.

What does it all mean?

Don’t allow others to limit who you are by labels or definitions. The terminology we use in our community is a way to convey aspects about ourselves. Unfortunately, every tool can be a weapon, so be kind and open to those who may misunderstand. Define yourself and use wording you are comfortable with to communicate your uniqueness. Be patient as it took time to convince people the earth isn’t flat, and I suppose it will take time to convince them of this science. Yes, it appears as though there are more LGBTQ+ individuals in our world, but as our families and communities become safer places to live openly, discuss, and publically identify or ‘come out’, there is undoubtedly an increase in those living their authentic lives visibly.

How does this impact us?

Celebrate your uniqueness as no one is just like you. Health education should include human sexuality. Gay affirmative psychotherapy (talk therapy) should be utilized for LGBTQ+ people working towards authenticity, self-acceptance, and empowerment. This means love is love and wherever it is found it should be celebrated. We cannot allow politics to separate how we live and love. Hate, persecution, and intolerance drive valleys of distance between our souls. The farther apart we are the harder it is to see our similarities. Be you and be you perfectly.

What is next?

The LGBTQ+ youth of today are faced with the same inaccurate messages of ‘its jut a phase’, and other emotionally damaging responses. Depending on where you live there are differing life experiences. Some youth are embraced and empowered, while others face bullying at school and abuse at home.

We must not forget the progress that has occurred since Marsha P. Johnson had enough. There is marriage equality, states with legal protections, and more safe spaces than Harvey Milk could have imagined. As a therapist and as a person I know the importance of recognizing progress. We must continue to care for and cherish every aspect of the community in order to gain further understanding of our lives, experiences, and differences. The next generation should not have to wait for their lives to get better. There is a child waiting to hear your words of kindness, as their life depends on it. Love yourself so that you can love others.

Thank you for being you, and being you perfectly.


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