Following a cross country move like ours, the early months are spent establishing care with a new constellation of providers. I set up appointments in order of the indispensability of the service, beginning with a pediatrician for my daughter and working down the list: gynecologist, ophthalmologist, orthopedicologist, hair dresser (full transparency: I found the hairdresser first.) Finally, it was time to select a therapist. I’m happy and well. I see no contradiction between that and seeing a therapist. I think of it like going to gym, you wouldn’t stop exercising because you’re healthy, would you? Likewise, I reason, you don’t stop studying your mind and patterns of behavior because you’re in a good place.
I pulled up Psychology Today for their directory of therapists, put in my zip code and a litany of therapists appeared, each with a little promotional blurbs about how this one provides “a safe space, free of judgement” as well as “positive change” to his clients. The blurbs are largely indistinguishable from one another except the ones that deviate in an unfavorable way (i.e. the therapist that announces he doesn’t want clients, “coming to [him] to complain!”)
I decide to inspect the photographs instead, I’m looking for some clue to understand more about each person, and therefore the therapeutic experience they will provide. A number of therapists use a cell phone photograph for their profile picture. The photographs are muddy and pixelated, a few were clearly originally photographs of them and some other, now cropped out person, largely although not wholly, absent. What does this communicate about the therapist? What clues does it give me, not only about their level of professionalism, but also about their ability to see themselves clearly? If their level of self-awareness in the two dimensional realm of the blurb (the most basic format of self-presentation) is this limited, what expectations can I have for these individuals to have the kind of self-knowledge to engage in the potentially dicey interpersonal complexities of a therapeutic relationship? I’m not hopeful.
As a positive example I give you my lovely client Asha, who came to me seeking a new headshot. She’s a psychologist (although, unfortunately for me, not a therapist.) She’s an incredibly warm, intelligent, funny person who I suspect would contribute enormously to any workspace. Although I know it’s self congratulatory to write, I’m so proud that you can see that in the photographs.
During our phone consultation she said, “do you know why I choose to contact you instead all of the other photographers on YELP?” I didn’t, and I was curious. “Because you’re the only photographer with brown people in your photographs!” I’m so pleased I was able to capture the same glimmer of warmth, frankness and wit I heard in her voice at that moment.