My very first twelve-step meeting was a combination of relief and terror. I knew I needed help, but my inner voice was telling me that I could do it on my own, just like I had always done. Instead, I listened intently as I sat in the well-worn chairs of this dusty Pasadena church, and soon I understood that I could learn to ask for help. In other words, it was time for me to seek consultation from my fellows in program and eventually a power greater than myself, whatever that would turn out to be.
As a seasoned private practitioner, newer therapists often ask me the keys to building a practice, and I share three basic ingredients:
- Find the best therapist you can afford.
- Join a consultation group with like-minded clinicians.
- Immerse yourself in advanced trainings that will be fun and meaningful.
In summary, therapy is often about consulting with a person you respect. Consultation groups help you stay on your growing edge as you ask for perspectives from those you learn to trust. Advanced trainings are a way to keep the beginner’s mind sharp, and each of these are forms of seeking consultation.
Let’s turn the wheels of time back to 1993. I had just celebrated my 29th birthday and it was two years after completing my MSW at UCLA—in other words I was wet behind the ears. In 1992 I was invited into the world of private practice as an associate at a dynamic group practice called West Coast Counseling Center. On some level, I knew that I was a bit over my head but with tight supervision and two talented therapists who believed in me, I managed to stay afloat and eventually thrive.
In 1988 I moved to Los Angeles with the intention of being closer to my West Coast family including my Aunt Ruth, a private practice psychologist in Encino. For years she had been attending a monthly consultation group with her mentor Burt, and she suggested I talk to him about joining their group. Because Ruth had always been an extraordinary role model of mine, I felt honored and a bit intimidated to be offered a space in Burt’s group, but he believed in me in a way that I didn’t believe in myself at the time—one of the hallmarks of a quality consultant. I stayed in the group for eight formative years absorbing as much as possible from a psychoanalytically-informed therapist who also incorporated decades of multi-layered work.
Fast forward to my Somatic Experiencing (SE) training from 2007 to 2010, and during that time I participated in several consultation groups. The SE training can be esoteric at times, but I was determined to understand how to apply it to my clinical work. The first group was experiential where we practiced SE on one another, and it was led by a seasoned practitioner who I knew prior to my training so I had a pre-existing trust and admiration for the creativity of his work. The second one was a peer consultation group which was also valuable in a different way as we examined our cases through the lens of SE. Both groups turned out to be vulnerable, intimate and inspiring.
More recently, I have been a devoted member of a Group Therapy Book Club for the past ten years. Although it has morphed mostly into a support group since the pandemic, there has always been a valuable element of consultation. My love and gratitude for this remarkable group is enormous and has truly been a touchstone personally and professionally.
Several years ago it became evident to me that it was time to give back what I had been given so I started a consultation group in my practice with my associates and past associates. The experience was clinically-stimulating and memorable, and I felt so grateful to be witness to the emotional risks and deep introspection that took shape there.
So why am I sharing this now? I have come to believe that quality consultation is part of my professional mandate. It keeps me on my growing edge. It reminds me what I do and do not know. It allows me to integrate other clinical perspectives, and it creates a sense of camaraderie and community. In addition to my so-called book club, I currently meet with my consultant almost every week which keeps me humble and open-hearted.
Now I am now thrilled to launch a brand-new consultation group in early 2023, and here is a glimpse into my vision for this consultation group experience:
- Ongoing meetings every other Thursday from 11:30am-12:45pm.
- Maximum of 8 group members.
- 6-month initial commitment.
- Group fee is $100 per session.
- A space to share challenges and clinical dilemmas with the intention of learning about oneself and helping others learn about themselves.
- A case consultation group – not an academic group and no articles to read.
- The wisdom of the group members is just as important as my 30+ years of clinical experience.
- My clinical background comes from a traditional “talk therapy” approach and I have infused somatic therapy for the past 15 years.
- I will be setting up individual preparatory sessions to see if the group is a good match for prospective group members.
At a time when so many of us may feel like the lone ranger alone in our offices, I look forward to creating a space for collaboration and community. If you have any questions or know anyone who may benefit, feel free to send them my way.