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 their 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.