Lisa Mitchell

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3 cool truths about effective therapists

Jul 6, 2016 | 2 comments



Here’s an email conversation I had with my assistant……

Tara:  There were irritating clicks again on the recording of your teaching call.  It’s pretty bad, did anyone complain?

Me:  Again?!!  That’s so awful.  We have to fix it. And, no, no one even mentioned it.  Isn’t that weird?

Tara:  Actually, your students are the nicest bunch I’ve ever worked with.  They are pleasant and appreciative and really easy to help.

Me: I absolutely love working with therapists for that very reason!  (In my thoughts, “Therapists are such beautiful people, I’m so fortunate to get to work with them.”)

Tara works with many different kinds of people, so her feedback is the bomb!

Not only are we pleasant and appreciative and really easy to help.  There some other super important things that make us such great helpers.

Here are 3 cool truths about effective therapists

1. Therapists are insatiable learners.

We are seekers and we strive to continually add to our tool box of skills in order to be effective with our clients.  Bill Doherty, (Psychotherapy Networker, May/June 2013) talks about the particular kind of learning that is necessary for us to keep getting better.  He says of the most admirable therapists, “They continually change and develop while holding onto the core of who they are as therapists. They’re interested in new models and new evidence, but not in serially reinventing themselves with each new fad.”

Continuing education has to hold our interest. We are hungry for education about important concepts, but we won’t be swayed to forget about what makes us unique as a therapist.  We love training.  We love to learn new approaches.  This is how we refresh ourselves and our work. Read More… »

Do you rush your clients? Do they rush you?

Jun 29, 2016 | 9 comments

do you rush your clientsIn his book, Art and Soul (Charles Thomas, 2004), art therapist, Bruce Moon recounts the story of a twenty something year old client named Carly. Newly out of residential treatment, she tells him of her emptiness and how she’d like to feel again. They have an initial session in which Carly draws a picture of a box surrounded by mist. Bruce guides her in a dialogue with the image she drew which puts Carly in touch with feelings she doesn’t want to feel. She abruptly tells Bruce that she doesn’t think he can help and leaves.

Months later she calls Bruce and tells him she’s ready to work with him. In that next session and many sessions after, they work together on building a canvas. They start with framing wood frame and cut the proper angles to make squared corners. They stretch the canvas and staple it just so. Carly gets impatient. She asks, “Can’t we just go buy a canvas and get started painting?” Bruce tells her that she could, but not in her work with him.

He goes on to explain, “If you buy a prestretched, pregessoed canvas, you’re cutting yourself off from the process. You might as well buy a pre-painted, sofa-sized painting.” Carly likes this and laughs.

This is a poignant story on many levels.

What stands out for me is the wonderful shared experience that Carly and Bruce had together. She was able to be in the relationship without being judged and simultaneously be guided and encouraged to master something with her own hands. She was encouraged to take her time, to allow herself the grace of building something important from the ground up, and all the while, Bruce was patient and engaged. Over time, Carly was able to explore more of herself and her feelings through the experience of making art. But it is not lost on me that the therapeutic relationship and the relationship that Carly forged between herself and her art was the foundation for this exploration.

Building a canvas from scratch is quite an endeavor. Carly thought it was a waste of time at first. Bruce knew better. He didn’t want her to skip any steps. He wanted to build from the ground up—both painting-wise and relationship-wise.
Indeed—this is altogether wise—from no matter what angle you look.

And yet, how many times do we as therapist forget this foundational approach?

How often do you skip the building of the canvas and get right to the painting? There may even be times when you skip the painting altogether, never quite connecting with your client, and, instead, just tell them what to go do? Read More… »

Are you alive in your therapeutic relationships?

Jun 22, 2016 | 1 comment

are you alive(1)

Here’s a little exercise to try.

Think of a client with whom you’ve recently worked. Think of the last session you had with this client. How is treatment going? What sticks in your mind about this particular client? What might you and your client work on in the next session? Give your brain a moment to think on this.

Now consider this:

While doing the exercise above, how often did you appear in your thoughts? Did you see yourself or did you just see your client?

It is very common that we therapists become so focused on our clients that we forget to look to our own experience in session as a vital element in understanding our clients. In the process—we tend to erase ourselves.

Our thoughts and images (in and out of session) tend to obliterate our very essence of being by over-focusing on our client and their issues at hand. Even when we are looking at countertransference or utilizing our own emotional responses in session, we are doing so in service of understanding the client. Therapeutic use of self is important, but when it is the only way we see ourselves in session, we rob ourselves and our clients from important experiences.

We can become robotic in our delivery. We can feel like imposters. We can tend to offer generic interventions that don’t inspire our clients. Worst of all, we can feel disappointed in our work because we aren’t showing up in a vibrant and alive way.

Artists know that they cannot afford to erase themselves. They have to maintain a continual connection with themselves in order to create successfully. The painter may lose track of time, but doesn’t erase their personhood and become the painting. A musician might not be able to pinpoint the exact moment that flow began in a piece, but they know it is there because they don’t erase awareness of themselves in the music.

When we as therapists and artists learn to be more alive in our relationships, we no longer erase ourselves and we become someone with whom our clients can truly connect.

Here’s a different approach to the same exercise: Read More… »

Technical mastery isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Jun 16, 2016 | 1 comment

dance of mastery

On the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance,  the competition to win Best Dancer is fierce.  The talent and experience that each of the dancers bring to their art is extraordinary.

However, what strikes me as significant is the one area that the judges tend to emphasize in their feedback.  They focus on the dancer’s ability to connect with their partners and/or the audience.  The judges are responding to the dancer’s way of being.  That is—their ability to convey their essence while executing their moves.

A dancer who has skill displays technical mastery on the stage.  Their lines are impeccable, their jumps are high, and even the most challenging sequences look effortless.  Watching a dancer with technical skill is thrilling.  But, the judges on the show stress the harsh truth that technical mastery won’t carry the dancer through to the next round.  They must be able to bring more.  They must BE more on the stage.

A dancer who can truly show up, who can embody a presence that feels real, who is both relatable as a human and remarkable as a dancer—that dancer is a winner. We watch and are awestruck and whisked into an other-worldly experience.  We are inspired as we watch and our passion is sparked.

When we are with our clients, we dance, too.  

We dance a graceful improvisational dance that bends and stretches between technique and relationship.  We know that our ability to be effective hinges on the fact that the two—technique and therapeutic relationship—are inextricably bound.

We also know what supports it all.  The very foundation upon which everything is built—the very reason why a therapeutic relationship can even occur– is our own way of being.

As an artist/therapist, how much space do you allow yourself in session?

Feb 7, 2014 | 39 comments

Use of Self is an much space do you allow yourself, as an artist, to occupy in session?

Use of Self is an art.

With our exquisite instrument

We decipher the blips,

We decode the pangs,

We un-riddle the wordless.

Are you a highly tuned receptor–

calibrated to sense even the slightest change in your client’s emotional temperature?

Are you a humble vessel

designed to unconditionally receive and contain even the most extremes of human condition?

Maybe you are a world class translator–

trained to precisely interpret your reactions as client projection, transference, attachment patterns?

But really,

In session,

How much space do you occupy?

How much room do you take without having to show up in service of your client?

Or is it just safer to melt into the background?

Extraordinary things can happen when you allow yourself to occupy some space.

When you reach across the divide not as a receptor or a vessel or a translator;

When  you show up as you and declare yourself–unmasked

Things shift and special moments bring tingles that linger for years.

Like I said,

Use of Self is an Art.


The current Artfix group was chewing on this topic during our call this week and I decided to bring it to the larger blog community for fodder. 

As a way of getting you into this musing, I’ve prepared a small audio that walks you through an art process:

How Occupying Space can shift the dynamic between you and your client. 

Just let me know in the reply box you are interested in the exercise and I will send you the link!

are you ever NOT a therapist

Jan 23, 2014 | 11 comments

 There’s a scene, in Private Practice (that night time TV drama about a group of young wellness professionals and their incestuous group practice) where the psychiatrist, Violet, tries to join a mommy’s group.  She brings her lonely, newly- stay-at-home-mom self and 2 year old son to the group hoping to make friends with like minded moms.  As she arrives, one mom is swigging her glass of chardonnay while another mom minimizes her son’s biting incident at kindergarten.  Violet instantly begins to assess the son for trauma and other developmental abnormalities while shooting disapproving glances at the wine guzzling mom.  Needless to say, they don’t like her.  She doesn’t fit.  And they quickly convey their own disapproval of Violet’s non-mommy type behavior. Read More… »

Seeds of Gratitude Inspiration and Giveaway

Nov 27, 2013 | 10 comments


seeds of gratitude

I’m giving away one seed of gratitude from Generous Nature Pottery!

This week I have a special Thanksgiving invitation for you. 

This invitation is so important to me that I’m actually going to give away a prize for your participation. 

 I think it is a regular occurrence, that we as therapists end our work with clients saying and/or thinking, “It’s been a privilege working with you.”  Clients express gratitude for our help, we feel good about the work we’ve done.  It’s all part of the job……

And, then when we step back, reflect, and  really aim to express gratitude…when we start to acknowledge that  clients have profound effects on us...that our lives have been altered because of our relationships with them.  What can we find?  It is a virtual treasure trove.

So, today, I’m inviting you to reflect on the gifts that you’ve received from your clients.  Read More… »

behind the scenes

Feb 17, 2012 | 1 comment


Fox 40 Segment click here to view.

I was admitted through the alarm armed, rod iron covered door in response to the phone call that I was instructed to make upon my arrival.  It was 6:45 am.  I had already been up for 2 hours because of the driving and the getting dressed.

I expected to be greeted and escorted and sort of “guested”.  But, this was the first truth of ‘Behind the Scenes’.  There’s no one available for that sort of fluff.  At the TV station, they were ALL busy.  Bustling here and there, manning computers with multiple monitors, being enclosed in the TV World that is broadcast for viewers. Read More… »

in between sessions

Nov 14, 2011 | 0 comments

P1040409Those in between moments of solitude, when you’ve said goodbye to one client and the next is yet to arrive, mark teeny opportunities to re-tune, re-center, re-vitalize.  They are very personal for me.  I think what I do with those minutes can make or break a day.

When you think about it, we are all secreting away these moments.  They are private, closed-door occurrences.  They are our very own personal rituals that take place (or not) when we are off the clock so we can privately regroup and maintain our effectiveness throughout the day.

I think taking a glimpse of what we do in this private time is fascinating.  I guess it’s kind of like viewing neighbors through well lit windows while taking an evening walk.  We see them in an intimate context and get to reflect on our own non-public lives. Read More… »

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