Sylvia Sandler, M.A., MFTi
Dear LA-CAMFT colleagues:
Lately I have been thinking about how the topic of existentialism impacts therapists. I believe that part of being a good therapist includes conducting an existential inventory, one in which we trace our journey, think about why we considered being a therapist in the first place, what we hoped to get out of this work, and reflect upon whether or not the meaning and purpose in the work we do has changed. Sometimes we can lose track of what makes the work we do meaningful. While answering these questions are not always easy, it is essential that we re-examine ourselves to honor what we do, challenge ourselves to do better, be courageous enough to be vulnerable with our colleagues to help ensure that we are personally and professionally fulfilled and be of service to our clients. For me, it has been a long journey. It has not been a smooth path to licensing, as I took a 15 year hiatus from the field to raise a family. Many of you as well have had your own journeys and challenges. Some of you may have been in the field long term, and I suspect that the meaning of the work has transformed or deepened over time.
The very first time I realized I wanted to pursue a career in counseling was after developing a meaningful professional connection with a highly seasoned and empathic counselor working at the UCLA Career Placement Center. Our first appointment was an intake. The intake involved collecting personal history, identifying areas of strength, exploring occupational themes, and taking the Strong Interest Inventory®. After scoring the test, we scheduled a follow up meeting to go over my results. What struck me most about this gentleman was his bedside manner. Way before I knew of Carl Rogers’ Humanistic approach, this gentleman made me feel understood by masterfully validating my life experiences up to that point through summarization and active reflective listening. His ability to provide in Rogerian terms unconditional positive regard was so impactful that even before reviewing possible occupations for me to consider, I affirmed, “I want to do what you do.” As it turns out, the occupations I scored highest in were in the counseling field! Although my journey to become a counselor was delayed, I was nonetheless on track to become a therapist.
A few months after graduating UCLA, I started a job at FORTUNE Magazine Ad Sales. With a keen sense of observation, my boss suggested that I sign up for a Dale Carnegie Human Relations Course to sharpen my enterprising skills. At the end of the course, I was approached to become a co-facilitator for a new Dale Carnegie Human Relations Course that was forming in the coming weeks. Through these experiences, I learned that what I liked best was to listen to others. I loved giving people the chance to tell their story and to ask follow up questions so that they could gain greater self-awareness. Soon after, I enrolled at Phillips Graduate Institute as an evening student and began my master’s training in Marriage and Family Therapy.
Fast forward to present day, I am grateful for my current opportunity to work in a community mental health setting whereby collaboration with colleagues no matter where they are in the licensing process is highly valued. My prior position at an Intensive Outpatient Program for drug and alcohol addiction taught me the importance of gratitude and reinforced my faith and trust in the power of change. What I have come to appreciate in my own journey as a therapist is that I, too, am modeling the same bedside manner once demonstrated by my counselor from UCLA which inspired me to want to become a therapist in the first place. Going through this has helped me to not lose sight of what is so rewarding about being a therapist and what I value most about the therapeutic process. As a result of my own inquiry I believe I will be able to prevent burnout and dissatisfaction with career choice. By finding meaning in the work that we do we realize we all have a story to tell, and we are all deserving of compassion, understanding and validation as we courageously wrestle with our struggles. I invite you to explore your own existential journey as a therapist and examine the meaningfulness and purposefulness in the work that you do. It is my hope that such inquiry will lead to greater understanding of oneself and that you will find this task both satisfying and essential.
Sylvia J. Sandler, M.A., is the current editor of Voices for LA-CAMFT, and holds a subsequent registration as a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF#90381. Sylvia is bi-lingual and fully proficient in reading and writing in the Spanish language. Sylvia is gaining hours for licensing at The Ness Counseling Center and previously worked at Chabad Treatment Center Outpatient. You may reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.