I met Dr. Ann Becker-Schutte the way so many of us meet new friends these days- on social media. We connected over Twitter, and her sensibilities and sensitivities really resonated with me. Sure enough, we share common interests and ideas. As a psychologist, Ann works collaboratively with her clients so that they can create healthy balanced lives. I’m wild about that language and so many of Ann’s ideas, and so I am happy to share a Q&A with her here. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, I wholeheartedly believe that counseling is one of the best personal investments one can make in her own life. Wise, sensitive psychologists like Ann so clearly illustrate why it can be such a difference maker: counseling provides clarity in a safe, supportive setting. If you want to learn more about Ann and her practice (she’s based in Kansas City), visit her web-site or her blog.
You are in a field that many of my readers and students are interested in. Could you talk about your journey to your area of specialty including what experiences led you to pursue this work and why you think it’s so important?
The first time I thought I wanted to be a counselor was in second grade–I had moved to a much larger school, and I had a rough transition. My new school had a school counselor, and anyone who wanted could ask to have “Lunch with Leslie.” It made such a huge difference to me to have someone treat my concerns as valid. That was the first time I recognized the power of affirmative, empathic listening. I considered a wide range of other careers (teacher, marine biologist, librarian), but I was always drawn back to psychology.
Graduate school was an interesting challenge for me, because I was training to be a psychologist, but I hadn’t realized how broad the term “psychologist” was. Did I want to teach? Did I want to do research? Did I want to serve in a large institutional setting? I recognized pretty quickly that clinical work–actually connecting with others to help them negotiate a difficult or painful situation–was where my heart lay.
Through a long series of clinical experiences, and some of the painful stuff that life holds for all of us, I came to my current specialty. My primary focus is to help folks who are experiencing loss or change. First, I want to give them space where they can fully explore the emotional ramifications of their experience–in their own words, on their own terms, in their own timeline. Second, I want to help them develop tools so that they are able to improve their overall self-care moving forward, so that future challenges may feel less overwhelming.
I think that this work is incredibly important because we live in an “Oh, I’m sorry for your loss, now hurry up and move on,” kind of society. There are very few spaces for individuals to experience pain without feeling judged or rushed. I believe that there is almost a sacred responsibility in restoring permission for feelings and experiences.
You asked me a great question that I want to ask you. What piece of advice or insight do you find yourself giving the most often?
The piece of wisdom that I find myself sharing most often is that self-care is truly the foundation for being able to care for others. So many of my clients come in with the belief that there is no space in their lives for self-care. They haven’t found time, or they feel “selfish” taking that time away from other responsibilities. I love the image of our selves as a pitcher full of energy and caring. It is wonderful to pour energy and caring out to nourish others. But the pitcher isn’t bottomless–if we’re not regularly adding energy and caring for ourselves, we will eventually run dry and be unable to care for those around us.
Some issues we discuss on a regular basis on this blog are self-awareness and community engagement. Given that, what do you most appreciate about yourself?
The thing that I have come to appreciate most about myself is my willingness to get back up and keep trying. I have many interests (and I have been known to get lost in a book or two or twenty), and I have a partner, and I have small kids–so I have lots of areas in my life where I am not meeting my own expectations. I have learned to treat these failures or distractions with kindness and compassion. It is amazing how much more effective self-compassion is than shame or self-hatred at getting me back on track.
What is a community issue you particular care about and why are you compelled to be engaged in the issue?
I am passionate about increasing our awareness of and sensitivity to complicated losses such as suicide, perinatal loss, & infertility. I have found that many people are affected by complicated loss, but that there is very little public awareness or support for these issues. I feel compelled to speak up about this issue because of both my own experiences and those of my clients. Someone who is coping with complicated loss may be temporarily unable to function at work or in important relationships. I believe that better understanding of these losses could help prevent permanent damage.
What do you wish all women knew?
I wish that all women knew that they are strong and beautiful and talented in unique ways. I wish that all women knew that we need to lift ourselves and one another up, rather than tearing ourselves down. I wish that all women knew that pain is unavoidable, but we can make choices so that it is temporary. Finally, I wish that all women knew that it is strong to ask for help.