What’s a Generalist?!
A song. A metro map. A Celtic knot. What in the world do these have in common?
There’s a well-known spiritual song called Dem Bones. You’ve probably heard bits of it; Shin bone connected to the knee bone. Knee bone connected to the thighbone and on and on. It’s all connected.
London’s underground subway system, the tube, is a tangle and jumble of many colored lines. It looks messy, tangled, and interwoven.
While living in Ireland, I was surrounded by beautiful Celtic knot designs on everything from gravestones to pottery. I had a beautiful illustration of one in my office and it was my first logo when I began private practice. I loved the interwoven, never-ending connections that loop over and under one another forever.
What do these have to do with therapy? They are all interwoven. They’re connected. Take away one part and you lose the context, it doesn’t make as much sense. I see clients in the same way Ð without the full picture I have no context of their lives. It’s hard for me to understand someone’s anxiety, without also understanding his or her family. I can’t disconnect a parenting relationship from the parents’ relationship.
This is why I am A Generalist. I work with a variety of issues through a variety of modalities.
Therapists sometimes choose to specialize in one particular area. Anxiety. Relationships. Parenting. There are many thoughtful therapists who do this beautifully. Terry Real and Lisa Merlo Booth are extraordinary couples therapists. Jennifer Kolari and Alison Shafer address parenting with warmth and wisdom. Sherry Dale is a sensitive, skilled Infertility counselor. It’s great to have a network of specialists I can refer people to who prefer to work that way.
There have been periods in my career over the past 20 years when I did specialize; in child & adolescent psychiatry at a hospital in Montreal; in chronic and persistent mental health struggles at a community based service in Montreal. I dealt with trauma, illness, & grief over my days working in surgery & oncology at a wonderful hospital in Ireland. I worked in pediatrics at a hospital in London, England. As a Family Professional in Collaborative Law, I helped families separate with as much grace and dignity as they could muster. These experiences have been the building blocks for a robust practice where I help people manage and make sense of their struggles.
As a generalist, I believe that our lives aren’t segmented into tidy, neat packages. Marriages impact parenting. Family history impacts self-awareness. Careers impact anxiety. Our lives are a rich tapestry & I enjoy working with the full picture.
There have been times in my career that I’ve considered specializing. I enjoy working with teenage girls.
Working with couples facing infertility is deeply moving. Seeing women through transitions fills me up. But when it comes down to it, I don’t ever want to get burnt out or bored of a particular client group. Working with a variety of issues ensures that I stay energized and interested. Building relationships that span different life stages keeps me fresh and engaged.
Ultimately, my niche is relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself. I appreciate knowing my client’s full story and supporting them through the various emotional roller coasters they’re bound to encounter throughout their life. I hold on to their stories so they don’t need to launch into the retelling with each new issue that requires help.
Here’s a typical story:
I began working with 18 year old Fiona when she was struggling to adjust to the excitement and fears of university life away from home. Years later she returned to my practice for help dealing with a friend’s suicide. Two years on, it was her mother’s scary bout with breast CA, that left her reeling and in need of strategies. Then there was a stretch where I didn’t hear from Fiona for years except for postcards and brief e-mails from travels and updates that all was well. A decade after our first session, Fiona returned to work on communication challenges in her marriage. Eventually I helped to keep the couple connected during the loss and frustration of fertility issues.
I held Fiona’s story. She didn’t need to explain how her crippling anxiety as a teen reminded her of her fear around her mother’s cancer. I knew all the leading characters. Most importantly, I knew Fiona Ð when to be gentle, when to encourage her to take risks, and when to make self-care a priority. The rapport and trust we developed allowed Fiona to drift in and out of therapy on an as-needed basis, without beginning from square one with a variety of specialists with each new challenge.
Ultimately, great therapy comes down to the goodness of fit between you and the professional you’re opening up to. Selecting the person you choose to tell your most intimate thoughts and feelings with is an important choice; take your time to find the right one.