Therapist Q & A: Heather Wilder

For most of us, the idea of going into a therapy room and sitting across from someone who is a complete blank slate is slightly terrifying (okay, maybe more than slightly). Even if we know a bit about their professional background, we often have no idea about who they are and how who they are influences what our experience in therapy will be like. During this month that Life in Balance is featuring posts on the experience of therapy, we will also be sharing a bit about the therapists at the practice beyond what our resumes show.  

Meet Heather Wilder, Psy.D.

Heather is the one of the co-founders of Wilder Therapy. She is a dedicated ally to clients in heathertheir journey. She is firm believer in the healing power of unconditional support and gentle nudging toward growth. And if you hear power tools in the office, it’s probably her. You can learn more about her professional background at our website

Why do you do this work?

I do this work because I believe in the resiliency of the human spirit. I believe that when someone finds a place where they are supported, treated with kindness, and truly seen, they can heal from almost anything. Often, when people come to therapy, they have lost hope or they no longer expect that life will turn out okay for them. Sometimes, they don’t even know why they are in therapy, because they don’t really think it will help, but they don’t know what else to try. They have exhausted their ideas for how life can feel better, or different, but some part of them is still fighting for a way out of the worry, or the pain, or the memories, or the symptoms. I have been to that kind of place and what I found was a person who sat there blankly, staring back at me with no response for things that my soul screamed at in outrage. I found ways though my pain, in spite of that blank face, and I learned things from that experience that I know are invaluable to the work that I do today. For that reason, I am strangely, but forever, grateful for that emotionless, unimpacted face.

  How would you describe your style as a therapist?

Though my clients may never know too many details about my life, they will know a great deal about who I am. I am present in the room and I see people for who they are, who they were, and who they want to be. I respond as genuinely as I can to people’s stories and try to be as emotionally available as I can be in the moment. Though grad school taught me to be polished and serious and “professional,” I routinely trade those qualities for being unapologetically myself. I believe I can help, even when the situation is complicated, and I provide hope. When necessary, I will hold that hope for my clients until they can feel it too, until they can believe in themselves too, until they can see in themselves what I see in them. As for what I do in the room, that varies greatly depending on where people are, what they need, and what fits best for them.

 How do you think people end up in psychological distress and how do you think they make their way out of it?

I do not believe that we are defined the things that have happened to us, even though those things help shape who we are and they certainly help shape our perceptions of who we are. I think we are the result of our biology and temperament, combined with our environment (both protective and detrimental factors), our opportunities (or lack thereof) and also the events in our life. I believe that we all do our best to survive and cope with the events and challenges in our life. Some of those coping strategies worked great in the moment but often do not work so well when our circumstances change, which creates additional distress. I think people make their way out of distress by having a safe environment where they are believed and supported because that allows them to be vulnerable and really look at themselves, the people in their life, and the things that have and are happening to them. 

 What do you wish clients knew about therapy?

Therapy is hard. Sometimes it is funny and rewarding. Good therapy is helpful but most people will dread it sometimes. Some days, you will not want to dive in and that is okay. Therapy does not have to only be digging up everything by the roots. Sometimes, we can celebrate a good moment instead, we can talk about things that you are passionate about. That is STILL therapy because we need to balance digging things up, with happier things, so that you have some reserves for the harder days. Also, if you have a pattern that has existed for 40 years, it will not change overnight. That does not mean that you are not serious, or that you are not doing it right, or that therapy isn’t working. It means that good therapy is a journey and we learn as much, if not more, by what does not work. So, if you are in therapy that feels awful because the content is hard, don’t be afraid to ask for a day where things are lighter. If your therapist cannot give you that or if therapy is hard because you feel judged or uncomfortable, don’t give up but do consider whether that therapist is a good match for what you need. A good therapist, even one who is a bad fit, will understand if you have to move on.

 What do you wish they knew about you (as a therapist)?

This is probably the hardest question for me to answer. I think that difficulty is because, by it’s very nature, therapy is a one way relationship as far as information goes. But, let’s start obvious. I’m pierced and sometimes I wear jeans, with my tattoos showing. I would prefer to never wear shoes, but I do wear them at work except when no clients are there. Less obvious, I have had a life that you probably would have a difficult time believing if I told you about it. I think that has helped in this job tremendously because I will believe you when you tell me about your life. Those of you who have worked with me may know that my work and the people I get to know touch my life very deeply and profoundly. I learn things from each of you and hold your stories and successes and achievements in my heart. You have each changed me and you continue to change me. I am better for having known each of you. You make me a better person and you show me new ways to look at the world. For each person I get to know, I have a new way of understanding the next person I know. You are all the reason that I do this job and you help me grow and change so that I can be better at what I do.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job?

Probably flipping houses, or maybe owning/running a Metaphysical store, or I’d be an apprentice for Bob (my favorite plumber), or maybe I’d sell my paintings and weird crafty things that I like to make. Who knows, really. But I do know that I would miss this job.

 

 

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Wilder Therapist Q & A: Jami Wilder

For most of us, the idea of going into a therapy room and sitting across from someone who is a complete blank slate is slightly terrifying (okay, maybe more than slightly). Even if we know a bit about their professional background, we often have no idea about who they are and how who they are influences what our experience in therapy will be like. During this month that Life in Balance is featuring posts on the experience of therapy, we will also be sharing a bit about the therapists at the practice beyond what our resumes show.  

Meet Jami Wilder, Psy.D.jami w

Jami is the one of the co-founders of Wilder Therapy. She is a fierce advocate for clients and is committed to making a safe and affirming place for all people to seek support, especially those that have been treated as “other” in medical and mental health environments. And these days, she is also most likely to whip out some nerdy diagram of the brain or the nervous system. You can learn more about her professional background at our website

  1. Why do you do this work?

When I think about this question, I think it falls in two parts for me. First, why did I get into this work? And second, what keeps me doing it day after day, year after year?

I started on the path to becoming a psychologist the way so many of us do. I experienced my own moments when life knocked me to my knees and I had to find a way to stand up again and keep moving forward. During one of those pivotal moments, most of the people around me were knocked to their knees as well. I was struck by the ways in which we all got through it; how each person summoned resilience in their own way, sometimes calling upon things that others might not understand. We all were trying to survive what happened the best way we could. We all were trying to make meaning of this terrible event.

In an effort to understand what I was witnessing, I started reading and talking with people about resilience and meaning-making. I started volunteering at an organization (Fernside Center for Grieving Children) trying to give back to others.  And I think I was coping and getting back up through learning and serving others, which then led to graduate school.

Why do I still do this work? I think words fall short in capturing the why.

In some ways, I am still drawn to the journeys we take to make meaning in our lives and the resilience that it takes to keep going in the wake of trauma. And I am always a believer in giving back to and living a life in service to others. But it’s so much more than that to me now. My work resonates on an emotional level now in a way that I don’t think it could have in the beginning. Every day, I get to sit with incredible souls who are doing their best to survive and tap into their own resilience. I get to see the strength of humanity that emerges in places that seem so very dark, sometimes long before the people that I work with see it for themselves. This work is the embodiment of hope finding its way to the surface. And that’s a pretty decent way to spend the day.

  1. How would you describe your style as a therapist?

I almost feel like this question would best be answered by my clients. I can tell you what my theoretical orientation is. I can tell you what I believe about things. I’m not sure how good of a judge I am of the style of my work. But since it was asked, I will take a stab at it. I know that I am not very formal. There will never be a time when someone walks into my office and finds me hiding behind a computer screen or notepad (I do take some notes on the first session, but that’s the only time). To me, the most important thing in therapy is the relationship in the room. It is the foundation of everything from making sure we are working in the same direction for your goals to creating a safe place to be authentic. I take that seriously. When someone is struggling with the hard work of therapy, sometimes the relationship may be the only thing that a person has to hold onto. Because of how important that is, an important part of my style is to create an experience that feels as comfortable as it can. I hope it feels a little like coming to visit an old friend – who will listen without judgment, ask lots of questions to get you thinking about what is best for you, sit with you through the tears without running way, and laugh out loud when you need to have a good laugh.

  1. How do you think people end up in psychological distress and how do you think they make their way out of it?

We each do our best to survive whatever environment we are part of. Distress can come from experiences of oppression, discrimination, marginalization, and rigid expectations around the roles we play based on our gender (perceived or self identified), sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, and ability status. It can come from complicated family dynamics and interpersonal wounds. It can come from our internal struggles that were shaped by the environment around us.

Occasionally, the things we do to survive our environments are not as effective as they once were. They may be creating distress in our present life. For instance, if you survived a hostile or abusive environment as a child by dissociating or checking out, it may have been one of the things that kept you alive and safe. Then you grow up and move into a new environment that is safe to be present in. But your brain keeps reaching for the dissociation tool to solve emotional problems, so you might notice that relationships in adulthood feel challenging. That old tool may not fit and you may want to find new ways to be present. Therapy can serve as a place to consider other tools or enhance those that we already have.

Psychological healing is a process unique to the individual. Your path will be very different from another’s path. Although, the path might be unique, most good therapy and most paths out of distress require opportunities for establishing safety in life, opportunities to build trust, support from others, support for your autonomy, opportunities to recognize and build resilience, and empowerment to grow.

  1. What do you wish clients knew about therapy?

The first thing that came to mind for me is that it’s not all gut-wrenching, “pull the hurt out by the roots” work. You are more than the thing that led you to make the call to see a therapist. Good therapy should be more than that. It is about honoring you as a whole person. So, sometimes, therapy might even be fun. I am a big believer in the healing power of humor. Sometimes, the work is hard and emotionally draining. And sometimes, we offset that by having a laugh, by talking about things you love, by exploring the things that inspire you. We learn to push the emotional “gas pedal” when we need – and to push the emotional “brake” when we need.

  1. What do you wish they knew about you?

That I’m human too. Though I hope most of my clients already know that. I am a work in progress. Just as we all are. I know what it’s like to be struggling for a way out of distress and to be in the “process of becoming.” I also wish they knew that my journey is influenced by their presence in my life. I am grateful for being with them on their journeys.

  1. What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job?

Well, I started out in journalism. Part of me will always long to be chasing a story and giving a voice to those who are not in power. Though these days, I would probably be more likely to work at a nonprofit focused on improving food insecurity or other areas of inequality.

 

Theoretical WHAT THE?

Theoretical Orientation & Why you need to know your therapist’s

By Dr. Jami Wilder

Okay, let’s just own it right up front – THEORETICAL ORIENTATION is a nerdy term that sounds a lot like the title of the most boring lecture in the world’s most boring class. Seriously, just typing it for this post is making it hard to keep my eyes open.

But it is actually very important to how therapy goes. In some ways, it is the foundation of how your therapist sees you, how they help with the distress that you are going through and how they think people work their way through distress.

So, What the Hell Is It?

The short explanation is that theoretical orientation is how your therapist explains psychological distress and how they believe it is resolved. It is the philosophical belief system that influences what that person says to you, how they treat you and interacts with you. It influences the suggestions we offer, the ways we explain things and what we focus on attention on in session.

How Does A Therapist Know What Their Orientation is?

To be honest, the groundwork of a theoretical orientation begins long before someone actually becomes a therapist. Our individual life stories help shape the way we view people. The identities we hold and the ways those intersect influence it. So for example, as a gay woman who grew up poor, my worldview was deeply shaped by the impact of experiences of oppression, discrimination and lack of access to adequate resources. Because of this, I often talk with clients about how those issues and moments of social powerlessness impact psychological distress.

Throughout our training, most therapists are introduced to many different theories. The theories start to give definition and language to explain what we experienced before we started reading that Intro to Psychology book. As we begin practicing, those theories are given real-world context and that experience starts illuminating patterns that fit with or, sometimes challenge, the way we see things.

Over time, most therapists have a way to explain their philosophical foundation and how it impacts their clients.

How Do I Know What My Therapist’s Orientation is?

Definitely, ask. A good therapist will be happy to talk with you about it in as much detail as you want. If you have a nerdy therapist like me, you may get a really excited explanation (Seriously, I have a flow chart to explain mine, if you are really interested).  

Some general labels that you might encounter may be:

Should I Be Looking for A Particular Answer from My Therapist?

As with most things in psychology, there is no one right answer. First, very few practicing therapists have one pure way of seeing things. Most of us blend a bit of multiple theories. And even two therapists who have the exact same theoretical orientation will practice somewhat differently. Second, you have to find the right fit for you. No matter label your therapist applies, the therapeutic relationship has to feel good to and for you.

What to know more about how theory influence therapy? Ask your questions below in the comment section.

 Jami Wilder, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Rhode Island and co-founder of Wilder Therapy and Wellness. She is also a firm believer in blending nerdy theory with practical strategies. 

Guest Post: What I Wish I Knew

** Shared with permission by Jess Cinquegrana **

Hi Jami –

I saw your fb post about what you wish you knew before you started therapy.  So here is Fun therapymy response (because this is way more interesting than my assignment for class that’s due tomorrow), and my response is a bit long-winded for fb:)

I wish I knew that therapy was a fluid process.  When I first started therapy years ago, I thought there were specific “rules” to follow, and that the therapist had all the control.

For example, when topics came up that I wasn’t ready for, or I felt the therapist was pushing too far, too fast – I ghosted my therapist.  I didn’t realize that I had the right to say if something was/wasn’t working for me.  This also applied if I didn’t feel the therapist was a right fit for me.  Ghosted!  So because of lack of awareness, and the fear of communicating these feelings, I missed out on opportunities for effective therapy early on.

The next thing is the fear of being judged by your therapist.  Seriously, who wants to pay hard earned money to be judged by a therapist when you can get that for free on the streets?!  It is not easy going into therapy and sharing your most raw emotions (ugly crying included), and experiences, when you don’t know how the therapist is going to respond or what they will think about you as a person.

I wish I knew in the beginning that this fear is normal, but if you hang in there, you can establish that trust.  It will be worth it because the right therapist doesn’t judge you, but helps you to understand why you do the things you do because, well – they went to school for this!

I wish I knew that therapy can actually be fun.  Using humor in my sessions helps – especially when it comes to dealing with big emotions or awkward topics.  I was always afraid to use humor because I feared I wouldn’t be taken seriously by my therapist.  I’ve learned that being yourself makes connecting with your therapist much easier.

I also wish I knew beforehand that therapy is a LOT of work, it’s more than just paying a copay, spilling your guts, and leaving the office “cured” and getting on with your day.

Good therapy doesn’t “cure” you, it colors you and molds your perspective of your inner self, your experiences, and how you interact with the world around you. I’ve learned that I’m not broke, I don’t need to be fixed, I need help understanding my unique perspective of my interactions and experiences around me.

That’s all I got – now on to homework.

Best,

Jess

P.S. – Thanks for being an awesome therapist.  What you ladies do for the community is inspiring and I hope to someday make a similar impact in my field.  Keep on kicking ass at what you do!

September 2018: All About Therapy

By Dr. Jami Wilder

I have to admit that when I sat down to write this post, I found myself at a loss for words. Well, maybe that’s not the most accurate way to put it. I think I was overwhelmed by an abundance of words that literally shut my brain down.

How to capture what psychotherapy is – what the experience is like, what purpose it serves, what changes it can bring to someone’s when it is good and the devastation it can bring when it is bad, etc.  It feels like a Herculean task.

It’s a task that I do think is vital. Most people enter therapy as clients with a bunch of concerns and worries about the experience. For most of us, Crisis management photoparticularly those who do it for the first time, worries and concerns can be barriers to even getting in the door more than once. Some of us have barriers that are rooted in cultural and societal norms and experiences. Others of us have had harmful or discriminatory experiences when accessing medical or psychological care in the past.

Not to mention that the foundation of the therapeutic relationship is built on a very one-sided relationship experience. Clients come in and share deeply personal parts of their lives. While we therapists sit in a place of privileged anonymity if we choose. Fear of judgment and worries about unspoken criticism are among the many things that can emerge in the one-sided silence that can exist in the room.

It takes tremendous courage to walk into therapy as the client.

To show respect for that courage, I think therapist need to be willing to talk about the realities of the therapeutic experience.

On the best days, the way I would talk about the experience of therapy borders on poetic and philosophical and often touches upon the human search for meaning. On days when I haven’t been great with my own self care, or the needs of my kiddo kept me up late, or the coffee hasn’t kicked in, I’m likely to give a less eloquent description. That’s the difficulty of trying to capture the intangibles – our ability to hold something that has no form changes based on our internal experience of the moment.  

Like any therapist, I have a collection of metaphors and descriptors on hand to capture pieces of it:

·       “When it’s at it’s best, therapy and the therapeutic relationship offer a safe place to unpack the old stuff and look at it in relation to who you are today.”

·       “We each do our best to survive whatever environment we are part of. Occasionally, the things we do to survive are not as effective as they once were and we may need to consider other tools or enhance those that we already have. Therapy gives you the space to do that.”

·       “It’s like going on a long road trip. Eventually you need to stop for a break to look at where you’ve been and where you are headed. To make sure you are going in the right direction. Therapy is a little like the roadside stop for life. You take a break from the trip, evaluate where you’ve been and where you are going. Make changes if needed. But hopefully we have better bathrooms.”

·       “It’s the only relationship that we form in life with the expressed goal that one day you will have what you need and the relationship will end (or become less necessary).”inner peace photo

In truth, describing the experience of therapy is a challenge, which is why we are dedicating a month at Life in Balance to talk about it. All month long, we will be posting original content, videos and resources by others, and information about how we practice. While we can’t cover everything that goes into the therapeutic experience, we hope to provide enough that if you are considering therapy for the first time or if you are a veteran of the process, you will have a better idea of what it’s like.

Jami Wilder, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Rhode Island and co-founder of Wilder Therapy and Wellness

Picking Up the Ball We Dropped

Sometimes, life get a little too full. And we have definitely had a bit too much to hold in recent years. Wilder Therapy has been in a state of organized chaos and change in the last couple years with additions to the staff and saying good-bye to a couple staff members as well. While we were busy trying to keep all the proverbial balls in the air, we totally dropped one – this blog.

The WTW Blog is making a comeback. After being on hiatus for a bit, we are returning to regular topical posting in September. The theme for our September blog is All About Therapy. All month long, look for posts about posts related to the experience of therapy.

So, what kind of things do you want to read about therapy? What do you wish you knew before starting therapy or (if you haven’t been to therapy yet) what do you need to know to decide if it’s for you? Comment below!