A Conversation W/ A Therapist

Interview by Jefferson Ellison, done in partnership w/ AVLtoday.

Therapy is somewhat of a buzz term these days. We quote our therapist to shut up our friends, we call our therapist to bitch about our therapist and suggest our therapist to every broken man who rejects us prematurely. But for that one person who isn't convinced yet, I thought it'd be interesting to take a new approach. Rather than asking someone to be told why they need to talk to a therapist, I decided to talk to the therapist myself. Sarah Jenkins is a brilliant mental health professional from the Asheville area with a passion for helping others and an ability to connect. As the child of a therapist, I'm partial to a woman with emotional intelligence and the ability to hold space for me but I'm also in awe of their capacity. What makes a therapist so special is that they listen to you like a friend but they provide you with critical thinking and objectivity as if your life was a theory in a class they've mastered. So how do they do it? and why? What kind of therapy do you do? My training is in Modern Psychoanalysis. That means anything and everything that comes to mind can be spoken about, held, and explored. I also have training in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Sex Therapy. You could say I'm interested in a psychodynamic, relational approach to therapy that's grounded in somatic trauma treatment.

How is it different from other forms of therapy? I'm interested in exploring the present as a vehicle for the past--how we get caught in unconsciously and consciously repeating patterns over and over again across our lifespan. Although I have a great toolbox for skill-building and behavioral shifting, I like to work on a deeper, insight-oriented level with my clients.

What is your background? I attended Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, MA where I earned my MSW. I completed my internships in Houston, TX and Boston, MA. During my time in Texas, I worked as an individual, family, and group therapist at a residential treatment center for court-adjudicated youth. In Boston, I worked as an outpatient therapist working with adults at a psychiatry clinic through Harvard Medical School.

How long have you been in therapy? I have been in therapy for most of my adult life!

Obviously, you think therapy is a good idea. But why is it important for everyone to go? Or is it not? That's a complex question. I think that therapy can offer an opportunity to unravel tightly knotted parts of our lives and reweave those fibers into something new. When our lives have been overshadowed by traumatic experiences, paralyzing emotions, or high conflict relationships, therapy can give us a chance to create a new relationship to ourselves and the people around us. However, healing is not a monolith. There are many therapeutic experiences that are nothing like therapy.

Do you have your own therapist? I do.

Do you find it hard to be counseled? Or is it easier for you because you can follow their train of thought? Yes and no. I think therapy is vulnerable for all of us, and vulnerability is a type of risk.

The saying goes “your therapist isn’t your best friend, and your best friend isn’t your therapist? But why not? What are the ethical issues with “knowing” your therapist? In a therapeutic relationship, two people create a shared "frame" together in which to understand their work. This means that we both have an agreement about how certain things are going to be--we will meet at this time every week, for this many minutes, in this place, etc. All sorts of things and ideas go into the frame. That kind of frame has the opportunity to create a flexible and relational safety in a way that is very different from a friendship or family relationship. Confidentiality is a big piece of that.

In times of Covid, are you currently online sessions? Is that strange? I am exclusively offering online sessions. Doing therapy virtually brings its own gifts and difficulties.

Understanding that you do trauma counseling. Do you find it dangerous for someone to lean too deeply into their trauma that it becomes a part of their narrative - is the goal to “move on” or to “accept”? I believe that one of the most important parts of long-term healing after trauma is being able to decide for yourself what your narrative is--whether than entails "moving on" or "accepting" or leaning in or leaning away.

How do you approach therapy? Are you a listener or a teacher? As a therapist! Which means all sorts of things! It's like entering into someone else's orbit for an hour or two a week--sometimes you're a distant planet, rotating slowly. Sometimes you're a very close planet being pulled in a tight circle. As a therapist, I work to track, to listen, to speak, to follow.

A lot of people think that millennials are overly sensitive and that we are overly counseled. Is there validity to that idea? I'm more curious about what voices are the loudest in that conversation--who has the power to say that someone else is too sensitive and why? Is that sensitivity threatening to the status quo? What's destabilizing about the idea of a generation being "overly counseled"?

How can people get in touch with you? I am currently accepting new clients and can be reached through my Psychology Today profile: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/sarah-blair-jenkins-asheville-nc/760392 website: https://www.sarahblairjenkins.com/