The value that we place on the relationships with our consumers is also our greatest strength within our professional relationships with each other. I recently met Steven Brownlow, Ph.D. through LinkedIn. Through numerous interactions, we discovered that we have similar philosophies and he agreed to let me interview him about some of his most valuable learning within the counseling field.
Dr. Brownlow created ADEPT Psychology, http://adeptpsychology.com/, out of his own personal quest to become a better healer. Through his study, he realized that to become a better healer, we must heal ourselves first. We must also help others in our profession do the same. Some of the tenets of ADEPT Psychology are summarized below, and this is what Dr. Brownlow wanted to share with other counseling professionals.
Becoming Powerful Healers
The motto of ADEPT Psychology is “Helping Sensitive Therapists Become Powerful Healers.” Dr. Brownlow believes that therapists must be healed in order to help others more fully. If therapists do not do their own work, get comfortable with their own depths (of guilt, shame, sadness, etc.), and sit with their own emotional pain, they will not feel comfortable taking their own clients to these painful places.
As a counselor and clinical supervisor, this made me think of my own work with clinical supervision. I have noticed counselors, at times, that missed physical cues of emotion, such as the gurgly sound in someone’s throat that signals discomfort, a change of topic when a tough discussion arises, or even incongruence between what someone says and what they do (e.g., a client who smiles while talking about something painful). Dr. Brownlow assists therapists to recognize cues like these both in themselves and within their consumers.
So what if what we learned about emotions is not true?
Dr. Brownlow said during the beginning of our interview, “What if what we have learned about emotions is not true. We think that emotions are linear. We think they are based on our thinking. We think emotions are similar and they are not. Some emotions are defenses. We think all anger is the same and it isn’t. Lots of anger is defensive, and some of it is habitual. Guilt and shame can be useful emotions, but sometimes they are used as chronic defenses. Defensiveness is powerful.”
He went on to share that in the old days emotions were considered bad. After Darwin, we started thinking that emotions are adaptive. Neither is always true. Some emotions are adaptive, while others are defensive. Some painful emotions are avoided and never processed fully. To become better healers, we must explore poorly processed emotions, helping our consumers accept their pain and putting it into perspective. If we can do this in ourselves, we are better able to identify the emotion in others and sit with it. That is our challenge as therapists.
Dr. Brownlow’s premise is that if we can get emotional defenses out of the way, we can see what is behind them and deal with the unprocessed emotions. He acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to get at core issues, but necessary for healing. Consumers need to experience what they are feeling and our role as therapists is to create a safe environment, process the emotion fully, and help them put it all into perspective.
I don’t believe as a society, we have acknowledged emotions, especially the difficult ones, in the way that we could. This raised further questions: Are we as human beings accepting of the difficult emotions we all experience? Sadness, pain, trauma, loss are all significant issues. The human experience is imperfect, beautiful and emotional. However, do we allow ourselves and each other to fully feel these in the moment? Think about a time that you were in pain. Can you sit through these feelings or is there a sense of wanting to “fix it,” “move on,” or “change the topic?” Move these questions to the counseling profession and then the inquiry becomes, “Could we do a better job training our counselors to address emotions to then assist clients to do the same?”
Meaning and Purpose are Important to Develop
According to Dr. Brownlow, “The only way to really regulate emotions effectively is by developing positive affect. Joy, hope, and a few other positive emotions regulate negative emotions well, but personal meaning works much better. The advantage is that unlike joy, meaning is there even when the world seems like it’s going against you.”
Positive affect helps us develop meaning and purpose. When people are depressed, meaning making can be difficult. There’s a sense of low motivation, lethargy and hopelessness. Just getting out of bed may be the most a person can do. Once someone has begun to explore their life’s meaning, they might realize their depression is temporary or find possibilities in even the most difficult circumstances. Their depressive states might become fewer. If a sense of purpose is not in place, finding hope, courage, and ways to keep going on will be more difficult. I liken this to a quote I saw from Dr. Brene’ Brown recently. She said, “You can’t get to courage without vulnerability.” It seems similar to say, “You can’t get to healing without meaning.”
I think most therapists agree that it is our job is to build stable positive affect to help our consumers, to develop trust, courage, and hope, and to assist them to accept their hurt and pain. In having our own sense of purpose and meaning, we are going to be better equipped to assist our consumers to do the same.
ADEPT Supervision Model
Take all of these tenets and then we can talk about the nuts and bolts of clinical supervision and Dr. Brownlow’s focus of the “helper helping the helper.” With clinical supervision, personal issues for supervisees come up. Being aware of the emotional issues to work through them in supervision may be outside the realm of comfort for some. Historically, supervisory relationships come with boundaries around the therapeutic work. Dr. Brownlow is saying that they should go hand-in-hand and we would be better served as a profession if we could get down to the pain and healing with each other. He has developed a model of supervision that includes the following, not necessarily conducted in this order:
- Setting a foundation: Show therapists what to look for emotionally with self and then with clients. How do emotions play out for you?
- Transformation: This includes the personal work with the therapist. What keeps you stuck?
- Application with Consumers: Training around technique and knowing what to look for. Getting clear about yourself and your practice.
- Integration: Integration of self-learning and therapeutic application. How do you bring it all together and use it?
What do you think?
We all need to acknowledge feelings. We must work to not avoid them or deny them. We must do our own work and be aware of our own perception of feelings. Then we will be better equipped as clinicians to assist others to do the work. This model incorporates both therapy and supervision in a realm of the helper helping the helper. What do you think?
Written by, Suzanne Apelskog, MS, LMHC, LPC, DCC. I am in private practice and am the owner of Life’s Learning. I offer online telehealth counseling(serving Washington and Maryland state residents), trainings to Counselors (e.g., Sandpkay Therapy and Changes with DSM-5) and advocate for learning on numerous levels.
Information on Dr. Brownlow:
Steven Brownlow is a clinical psychologist who resides in Georgetown, Texas. He has over 30 years of varied experience helping difficult client populations, including convicted adolescent felons, mentally ill inpatients, long-term addicts, disordered families, and neural rehabilitation patients. He once served as the Training Director of an accredited doctoral internship site. He developed ADEPT Psychology to improve the overall functioning of the planet.
If you visit http://adeptpsychology.com, you can learn more about ADEPT Psychology and get a copy of Dr. Brownlow’s Cheat Sheet, which shows 5 different types of emotions (feelings, defensive emotions, bypassed pain, habitual emotional behavior, and reactive feelings), how they differ, what they mean, and how to recognize and respond to each type. You can also email Dr. Brownlow directly: email@example.com.