Our Journeys as Therapists: a Talk with Cece Sykes
In this episode focused on our journeys as therapists and counselors, we welcome back Cece Sykes. Cece has over 40 years of experience of clinical work with individuals, couples and families, specializing in recovery from trauma and addictive processes. She is a Senior Trainer of Internal Family Systems (IFS) and travels internationally teaching, lecturing and consulting. Cece also developed workshop retreat as part of an ongoing worldwide project to explore the personal narratives of therapists and the impact on their work.
Our Journeys as Therapists: a Talk with Cece Sykes
Today on IFS Talks, we are welcoming back Cece Sykes. Cece has over 40 years of clinical experience working with individuals, couples, and families. Specializing in recovery from trauma and addictive processes. She is a senior Internal Family Systems trainer and travels internationally teaching, lecturing, and consulting. Cece has also developed a workshop retreat as part of an ongoing project to explore the personal narratives of therapists.
Tisha: Cece, thank you so much for being here with us today and joining us again on IFS Talks.
Cece Sykes: Thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to it, actually. Great to be with you guys.
Anibal: Welcome again, Cece. How have you been during these hard times, these pandemic days? It's been one year since we recorded our very first episode for this podcast. It was August 2019, before this pandemic started. How are you?
Cece Sykes: Wow, boy, so much has changed, hasn't it?
Cece Sykes: As you guys know, the state is still struggling to get a handle on this. I live in Chicago, in the city. And the city of Chicago in the state of Illinois, where I live, have very progressive governments and we have been very safe and taken care of for a long time, as have many places around the country and others are a little bit more unpredictable, but our federal government, obviously, is very unpredictable and it creates a lot of instability.
What I always say in my consultation groups, "We're not a page ahead, us therapists with our clients." So, our clients who are suffering with senses of isolation or unpredictability or anxiety, you know? We have the same. I can certainly notice that I can get parts that get anxious about the future and anxious about what I don't know. I always have a big reunion with my family in the summer and we just didn't do it this year because there's just too many of those, about 40.
Anibal: Wow, large family.
Cece Sykes: I have four brothers and a sister, and nieces and nephews, and then some babies coming. We add up to over 40 people now. We would never get together like that and aren't getting together. Things that resource us, that are traditions, many families are not able to pursue all the things. Summer is a time for that. We all thought summer would be better and it isn't. Those kinds of things are losses. So, we're all navigating losses all the time. Losses of resource, losses of the things that…The second thing that I'm navigating as a trainer, is keeping trainings online and trying to create connection and safety in a Zoom format, which works a little better than we thought, which is good, but the responsibility for creating that feels like it's on me and then on a staff, and that's a different level of responsibility than just walking into the room and sitting down. It has made things more challenging.
The second piece that's happening in our country is the upheaval around social justice issues, which is very important, very necessary. I'm very happy it's on the front burner of our country. I hope it stays there, and it's in part of our training. Helping people express and have safety around their strong feelings, around injustice with their own personal journeys around that, and how we can hold that as a community, and doing that on top of the pandemic, on top of being online, I think, for me, and other trainers, especially when I feel…I take my responsibility seriously as in running a training and I feel it weighs on me to have all that happen. And then at the same time, teach in this different format. It's been a lot and it feels like things just take more time.
Anibal: Cece, you used to do these workshops and retreats for therapists, focusing in therapist's lives that you call Heart Lessons of the Journey: A Workshop Retreat for Therapists and Counsellors. You say, and I'm quoting you, "Life, as a therapist is interesting, challenging, and deeply rewarding. We listen to narratives, we get you into emotions and offer support and guidance. Our own deep feeling and storyline remained firmly in the background, yet life is evolving for us too."
Anibal: Cece, what do you mean life is evolving for us too? Why this interesting therapists and counselors journey?
Cece Sykes: What I would say Aníbal, is that I have thought about this for maybe, I don't know, a number of decades really, but when I was in my thirties, my children were young, I found out more about my mother's childhood and her history. Her childhood was impacted by sexual abuse in her family, incest.
Cece Sykes: And I never knew that, but at the time I found that out, what I was doing for a living, was being a therapist, working with sexual abuse cases in the family.
Cece Sykes: I was a trained family therapist and had written a chapter in another article on denial and working with incest in the family, and this was impacting my…you know, and here this is. It's a powerful story as my mom ended up telling me about this. She had never talked about it before, never said it out loud.
Tisha: She had never talked about it with anyone?
Cece Sykes: With anyone.
Cece Sykes: I said at one point in the conversation, I said, "Mom, have you told dad?" She goes, "Your father?" I said, "Yes." She goes, "Why would I tell him?"
Anibal: Hard stories to tell.
Cece Sykes: I said, "Well, mom, I don't want to be the only one who knows." "Oh, well, all right. I'll tell him, but I don't know what he's going to say." [laughs]
Cece Sykes: It speaks to the power, of course. I'm making a joke. I adore my mother. She was a piece of work. She was tough, but she told me that, it was like a shapeshifting about 1,000 pieces of a puzzle that were floating around in my mind about my mom, about who she was, about how she was when she raised us, all came together. It all made sense.
Cece Sykes: And there's a piece that connects to some of my own history and childhood as well. So I thought, “This is an accident? That of all the professions in the world, I happen to become a family therapist. And then in family therapy, this is an accident? That what I'm focusing on, is sexual abuse in the family?” At that time, I was working at an agency. We were a private agency that worked with the government to provide psychotherapy to families who have been reported for physical and sexual abuse of their children.
So, it can’t hit closer to home, and yet it was not something that I knew. She'd never talked about it, it had never been spoken. So, she and I continued conversations around that that were very rewarding and meaningful to me. [music]
Cece Sykes: At the same time, it created a thought in my mind that I never let go of. I thought, "Am I the only therapist that has a story? How unconsciously and out of my awareness do I pursue healing these issues when this wound is in my own family?" So, I've thought about that for many, many years. The second piece about it is as a trainer - and I've been…I participated in my own training with IFS in '98 and then I've been on staff for leading trainings for 20 years - I do hear therapists’ stories. I mean, that's therapists work on their own stuff in the training. So, I know we have powerful stories and just powerful stories to tell.
So, I finally decided I want to do a workshop around them and start making space for therapists to talk about their own stories, whatever they happen to be, and bringing our own attention to some of the places inside us that we maybe know. Everybody knows I was this role in my family. We all did genograms when we were in graduate school. But what do I not exactly know about how I came to be in the field or as I like to say, with great reverence, "I spend half my week alone in a room with miserable people." [laughs]
Tisha: And it's my destiny. [chuckles]
Cece Sykes: And I like it.
Cece Sykes: I really think to shine that spotlight a little bit on how we're here. What is it within us that gives us the gift or the ability for that? How do we sustain that gift and expand it? And then the third piece about it is we have a life. We choose partners, our partnerships work and they don't work. We get married, people die, people become ill. We have children, we don't have children, we adopt children, we combine families. We work through our relationships with our family of origin, our siblings, our parents, our extended family.
We have friendships. We navigate all of life's illness, unpredictability, financial stress. So, we're working on our own lives, also, and we learn things from going through the wounds, the hurts, the confusion, the pain of life. What do we do with that and how are we processing that? How does that impact us when we're sitting in the room? Am I the same person as I was 35 years ago or have I hopefully changed a little bit? Except, I am who I am, but have I maybe grown a little, and in what way? How does that impact our works?
Cece Sykes: I think also the journey of being a therapist, what's the journey like? They have that story about the London cab drivers. They're famous, and they have those beautiful black cabs that you can get in and you feel like you're in a limo and the London streets are a thousand years old and they know them all. And their brain, their visual spatial in their brain is very overdeveloped, not overdeveloped, extensively developed from having the streets of London in their head for all those years.
What's the brain look like for a psychotherapist? [chuckles] What's it's like to sit in these rooms and hear such intimate stories and to bear witness to trauma and also to be in a position of guiding, healing process? It's a very intimate world. I say that lightly, but I really mean how are we impacted? These are all I think, questions that I have entertained throughout the years and so this workshop is to give us all some space to talk about them.
Tisha: Cece, I remember having a conversation with you, I think we were on a bus to the airport. Just hearing about these workshops that you do and hearing your passion and enthusiasm for them was really inspiring. I'm curious how the first workshop went, what it was like for you and for the therapists that participated?
Cece Sykes: I'd done a few short workshops, but the first thing I did of a retreat, shall we say, for three days, was actually with a group that is a teleconference group. I've run teleconferences for many years and this is a group though, that it happened over time, that these same seven women from all parts of the US have been on the phone together once a month on Mondays for two hours for five years, but we had never met. I had met most of them, but not all of them and they had not met each other.
So, I thought, "Well, let's try this." We all came together, met together for three days and that was my first time. In a sense, we were not strangers to one another in any way and yet there was much about each other's personal stories that we didn't know, because what do we talk about? We talk about our parts and what's coming up regarding a client, but do we know each other's histories and our stories and our family of origin experience? We don't.
It was very, very powerful, very bonding, and very fascinating. Also, we were able, in this very direct way, to bear witness to events, losses, mental illness, premature death, losses of sibling. Just powerful stories that people have experienced in their lives and just to bear witness with one another, and but to bear witness also with the wisdom, if you will, and awareness of being a human relations expert, [chuckles] which is what we do. And so, bringing that to the table, but at the same time just being with our humanity and everybody have powerful stories to tell. So, it was very evocative and binding. There's a part of me that says I should just do this all the time.
Anibal: And so, they were listening to their stories, therapists' stories?
Cece Sykes: Yes. What I've noticed in myself and in them is there is a little bit of a craving, I think…
Tisha: It feels like we need it.
Cece Sykes: to tell our story. What is it like to always be the listener? It's not like we don't talk about ourselves and our love lives, we do. But to have a real set time where we're the focus and our own journey is the focus of the heart lessons. What's happening in our hearts and in our lives. This is interesting. Then to really say, "And then this is what I chose to do for living." It’s important, I think.
Anibal: Cece, they say we heal with our clients, but we also suffer and get trauma or re-trauma from them, right?
Cece Sykes: Yes.
Anibal: How can we bring more healing than suffering and re-trauma to our journeys as therapists?
Cece Sykes: That is such a good question Aníbal. When you asked that question, I'm thinking of a line that Mike Elkin has said, which I think is absolutely hilarious, maybe you know what it is. I wish I could do his voice just right because he has such a delivery. "Therapists are the only one who need 40 hours of therapy a week."
Anibal: We need more therapy, more and more.
Anibal: Totally agree with him.
Cece Sykes: I love that line of his. I love his perspective on things, the way he has a unique perspective.
Anibal: We need more therapy, but also, we spend so much time sitting with our clients and I feel sometimes that there are sessions that are healing to me and sessions that are traumatizing me. I don't know if you have this experience also.
Cece Sykes: Absolutely.
Cece Sykes: I started out my work, working with families where there was physical and sexual abuse. It's really intense to be witness to the parts of us that can be violent and exploitative and deny it or not want to be with it. So, there's so much that goes in witnessing it which is helping someone find the safety to accept their own parts, they engage in certain behavior. This is why I've worked with firefighters always because I've always been exposed to it because the challenge of how can you work with a part that you don't accept? You can't.
How can you develop a way to accept it? What happens to us around that is another question. So, I guess the shortest answer, and this is really a clinical answer, not a personal answer, I don't know my personal answer yet, I'm letting it work around back there, is when I feel like I can be useful and I feel like there's something I can do. When I know how I want to be and feel useful for someone, then I feel that I am of value.
And I do think to hold on to hope. I feel the gift of working with, we called them in the '80s, survivors of trauma. The term isn't used as frequently now. We just say trauma, experienced trauma. Laura Davis and Ellen Bass who wrote The Courage to Heal about…just a Bible really for working and recovering from sexual abuse. I feel that that community named themselves survivors as people who can flourish and move beyond. And that's inspiring to me and it creates a sense of hope and possibility.
So, I think if I'm holding that sense and I think people have impressed me over and over again with their resilience and ability to heal. I think it's to hold open that sense of hope and possibility and feeling like there's things I can do that can be useful. I think in that space, I don't have to sink. Now, having said that, there are some people stories, and I'm sure it's happened to every therapist, that just find their way inside our psyche, inside our inner experience, that are so disturbing, so painful.
Cece Sykes: I think that that takes work. So, when I have a client like that, I might have to go get consultation. What I do is not hold that experience alone. I have someone that I talk to, this is what they told me. Can you help me hold this so I'm not holding this alone? This is so disturbing. This is so painful. What happened to them was so sick or so painful or so degraded. I have to have someone help me so that I'm not in isolation. I think isolation is a risk and therapists work alone. When we have isolation, we are at risk. We have to know when we're feeling at risk. I think the short answer solution is not hold it in isolation, whether you have a group or a therapist or consultant of your own, and to really honor our heart with that.
Cece Sykes: Having said that, the other piece that happens with clinicians, and I see it all the time when I'm consulting, is that we have to find the space of being present, but not being too involved, but yet not being too distant. If we're at arms-length, then our parts are helping us not feel, and we're not really present, but if we're too close and we're getting very involved, "Oh, he said that to you? What did you say?" Like we'd almost…a girl finding it. I would say sometimes just like getting very involved and getting very protective of what happened, protective of their relationships, that shouldn't happen to you, trying to be helpful. I think that that, what hooking us into that kind of relationship where we end up feeling…That's the difference for me between compassion and empathy.
Cece Sykes: And we're going to get burned out if we're in empathy, because empathy means that we're, well, as I'm defining it, I don't know that this is the definition, but the contrast I'm making is compassion is “I feel for you and I believe you can heal. I'm here to help us together, help you heal.” Empathy is, "Oh, no." It's sort of that sense of they've been victimized. People have them victimized, but I don't want them to be identified by that feeling. If I participate and sink into how bad it was, then I'm not in compassion. I can't be strong enough to help them hold the hope that it can get better for them. Does that make sense?
Anibal: Totally, yes.
Tisha: Right. It's like your parts are holding some of their pain and so they don't have it all to heal themselves.
Cece Sykes: I think it reduces what's available to us as tools, if you will, because we're so busy trying to help them. "Well, did you say this, or did you go here?" Or we're so struck by the pain of their lives that we can't feel into that there is… sense of possibility that something could change.
Tisha: I imagine that your workshops and being able to share our personal narratives as therapists creates another possibility for not having to hold it all.
Cece Sykes: That's right.
Tisha: A unique group experience and a real true acknowledgment of what it is that we're doing when we're one-on-one.
Cece Sykes: Right, Tisha, because the other thing about it is we've all gone to therapy. [chuckles] I hope to God we have. [laughs]
Cece Sykes: But anyway, the idea of sharing it in a group with others that are in our profession, I think is a very powerful experience also, because I think group in and of itself is important. Part art of that healing journey is to tell your story. So, I think that somewhere that's in my psyche too, is the healing and the learning that you get when you listen to yourself tell your story. Whatever that means to you and whatever it means in that moment.
So, I think being in a group and being in a place where…a safe group of acceptance. I might say for therapists, also a sense of being with people who were born witness to many, many things. There's some heft with that. That's a real strong cushion. And I think that that's also a gift of sharing that in a setting with others, not just one-on-one. One-on-one is completely important, but this is an extra thing. I always say groups for healing are so de-shaming. They're so normalizing.
Anibal: You are saying, Cece, that somehow, we can have hyper responsible parts and other therapist parts that can get in the way and disturb the work and also burnout therapists?
Cece Sykes: Yes.
Anibal: And also, you talked about isolation. You are saying that having meaningful connections, social support, and eventually career development are the good ways to keep us away from burnout and exhaustion?
Cece Sykes: Yes, because I think that the tendency of people who are attracted to a field like this is to have a huge sense of well of compassion. And some of the stories I hear, so many people of us who are in this field, have very early memories of people in our lives that we were helping and who needed help. So, we may have learned to be in this position at four or five, or very early times, very formative times.
If we have an opportunity to build relationship with those parts, we can certainly blend with them. We want to bring awareness to that specifically I think, is one of the risks that we would have that I think lead to burnout. And in that place of self-sacrificing, we might do things like not take proper breaks, take too many clients, and not handle our finances with our clients as well, not get proper resourcing in support and supervision, not taking that kind of time for ourselves. So, those parts of us might have started having to sacrifice their lives for others very, very young. We're not as aware. We aren't as unblended and unblend is awareness, right?
Cece Sykes: We're not as aware as we think we are about all that [chuckles] about all that.
Tisha: And so that's something that really comes out as a common thread I bet, in these workshops.
Cece Sykes: It does.
Anibal: Cece, here are some common therapist parts that you know well - and I have them all too - that tend to interfere. And I want you to comment on some of them. The striving or agenda parts, the approval-seeking, the pessimistic, the caregiving, fixer, the angry part, the hurt parts, and the evaluating or judgmental part. I have them all.
Cece Sykes: Right. We all do because we're all human. In fact, it's so interesting that you just did that list, Aníbal, because I was just doing weekend five, which is about the therapist parts, just a couple weeks ago. Again, I was doing it for the first time online. What I do when I'm in-person is I have the group participate in having me list therapist managers, therapist firefighters, and therapist exiles. I figured out a way to do this in a group, unmute everyone and we did it together online and it worked out okay. I wasn't sure. But one of the pieces of feedback we got after that was how normalizing it felt to have all of those things and every one thing that you just listed on about was on there. Have everybody listed and how normalizing to hear, "Oh, oh, oh," to hear that listed and to know that others could identify it, so de-shaming.
Anibal: De-shaming, yes.
Cece Sykes: It's safe to identify that and that we have it. Just the naming of it is powerful, Aníbal. There's a phrase of being attached to outcome. So striving, caregiving, even anger can come up around when we have a part that thinks the outcome of our client's lives or their therapy, then we're attached to what that would look like or that we're attached to something happening and it's not happening fast enough.
So, we get into self-criticism, which may become some judgment of them. It's a tricky business to say, "What is my agenda then?" And so, to make sure we over and over again work with our parts to redefine our agenda to being present to what is and building self to part relationships, if you're using the IFS model, helps our parts not be attached to what it should look like.
We might have an opinion about this relationship isn't good enough for them, or this is not working for them or we're having reactions to some of their relationships with their brother or their family of origin. They're too good or they're too nicer. When our clients are making decisions that are hard for us or parts of us, we get into striving, judgment, we can feel angry. Because these are real relationships, and yet it's not our space to get our needs taken care of.
So, where do we go with what's happening with us and that's, of course, our consultation and peer consultation, whatever we can have to do available to us to create for ourselves is important. And I think it relates to a sense of responsibility that many therapists had for helping people in their family when they were young. So, unless we really examine that, we start to feel that we are responsible for the outcome of our clients. We are responsible for doing our best, our very, very best every hour and to learning. There's a lot of things we're responsible for. But to know the difference of what we're not responsible for, I think is also important.
Anibal: Cece, do you feel IFS is well-equipped to help therapists and counselors to take good care of themselves?
Cece Sykes: I think it is, Aníbal because we can have…The whole idea of IFS, there's so much of an emphasis in IFS on working with their own parts. Let's just say psychoanalysts, they were in analysis as part of their training program. It's not new to the field of psychotherapy that an analyst or someone in the role of therapist would want and need to pursue awareness of their own journey.
The idea of that, I think, has been in our field from the beginning. People engage in it more or less directly. We don't require for instance, in IFS, if someone have an IFS therapist. Many people, I don't know the numbers of how many people do. I feel like many, many people do, the large majority, but just the idea of inviting people to be in psychotherapy and be in IFS psychotherapy, if you're an IFS person. If you're not an IFS person, to be in psychotherapy, to learn more about your own family system, for instance, if you're more body-centered, to be able to track and work with how your own body parts show up in your body, your own experiences show up in your body. These sustained exploration of our own worlds, is, I think, really important, whatever our practice is. And I think IFS helps us get quite specific about learning the burdens our parts are holding.
Tisha: Would you have some advice for people who are just beginning to hear your ideas around our own personal exploration of, what's developed ourselves into being therapists. Would you have any advice for people to begin to get in touch with their personal narrative? How to start to explore what’s made you a therapist, and can you do that on your own? Should people start groups?
Cece: I think it's not a process that's easily done in isolation. I do think that a lot can be learned in psychotherapeutic relationship. Just being open, staying open, I think IFS keeps inviting us to keep staying open on our journeys, but continue to stay open that I am impacted. And I do have parts of me and I am impacted by my clients' struggles, just to be honest with ourselves. We might think we're not supposed to be, and we're not supposed to be angry, we're not supposed to judge them. We're not supposed to wish they'd break up with their guy [laughs]. To be honest with ourselves that we are being impacted, is really important.
Then, to have our resources to go to, with that impact, whether it's peer consultation, a friend. When I first started my private practice a few decades ago, my friends and I were starting at the same time. We were trying to learn how to set a fee and what's a proper fee, and we decided a proper fee, and then we set a fee. Then, we made a rule because we kept lowering our fees. Then, she says, “Then, I lower my fee and then my client comes in the next weekend, and they just told me how they spent the weekend in Las Vegas. They could have gone to therapy for a year with what they blew in Last Vegas and I just lowered their fee.” [laughs]
Anibal: No social justice.
Cece: [laughs] That’s right. No social justice at all, Anibal.
So, we decided that we would not lower our fee until we had called each other first. If someone asked to have their fee lowered, we'd say, “Well, I'll consider that and I'll get back to you.” We practiced saying that because we are all in our own small businesses in private practice. We set the fee for our service. To properly value our service, and at the same time, be available to people, this is not an easy thing to do.
I don't think there's anything easy about that.
So, to have support around where your issues are and where you're going to be sensitive to clients and to know that and to get support around that, I think is really important. People graduate and then they go right into private practice. If you would ask my opinion, I'd say, "I'm against it 100%."
I think people need to operate in a group setting and a larger group practice where they're getting very regular, institutionalized, if you will, supervision before they wander into….instead of put up their shingle and sit alone, as I say, alone in a room with miserable people. It takes an enormous amount of wisdom and presence and judgment and integrity. It's not that people who graduate don't have it but it's just to really appreciate the emotional impact of this work and it is really an important aspect of being a good therapist, is to appreciate that I'm being impacted every day.
Anibal: So, precisely, we are all exposed to so much relational violence, neglect and abuse, directly and none directly through media but mostly in our consulting rooms, as you say. So, we all carry a lot of violence, fatigue, right? What protects you from exhaustion in the past and in the present?
Cece: Well, first, I think I have gotten exhausted. I may have said this in our first podcast, I don't remember, but there was a point I have to about 10 years, 12 years, 12, 14 somewhere in there, where I was emotionally exhausted, I was exhausted for my clients. I had stuff going on in my marriage, it was exhausting me. I was basically - to use an old-fashioned word that still applies - I was codependent with basically everyone I knew. Everyone I knew. I was trying to help and fix everyone I knew. Everyone I loved, I was trying to fix them.
So, I had a lot of those kinds of parts and that was very exhausting. I have gotten exhausted. And I think that's part of my journey too, is to recognize the importance of all that and was working with a lot of abuse cases. So, I said, I'm going to take some time off. My girls were little, four or five or something. And I said, I'm going to take some time and just be home with them and see what happens.
What I thought would be six months was actually a few years. I was so happy to just do my own work, and have my family be the only family. My family and extended family or family of origin be the only family in my head for a while. I want to say first, that we might get exhausted and that's okay because that just means it's time for us to do some work. And even if we're not free to quit our job…at that time I was married, I had a husband and I was free to do that at that time, even if we need to continue to work but in whatever way we can, to make it a priority to say, “I have to do my work. I have no choice right now. I'm not doing well.”
So many therapists can have such a hard time. I think I had to be hit over the head with about five things at once to be able to say, “I'm not doing well.” I thought it'd be the short break because I didn't know how well I wasn't doing and how much I needed to take care of myself.
So, I think, first, accept that we are impacted, and we might need to take time in some kind of way and or make our own healing be a very, very big priority. I think that that's first to say, maybe we can't prevent fatigue, maybe we'll have it. In fact, it’d be a great question to ask people. “Have you ever had that? How many therapists have had those times in their career or their lives?”
Second, if we are talking about prevention, I do think feeling confident that I can help someone is the most powerful relief that I have, that I'm being useful, that I can help them. That when I don't know what to do, I can go ask someone also. I think, being the therapist…Dick said the phrase, we’re hope merchants. I think that the idea that someone can get better no matter what, maybe I've always been sort of an optimistic person or I have optimistic parts, I don't know. I think so, but maybe that was also my role in my family. My role was to be cheerful and have no needs.
Anibal: Hard one.
Cece: [laughs] I was good at that.
Anibal: Yes. Amazing.
Cece: I have experienced people with such powerful stories, I have learned from my trauma survivors that the human spirit is so much more powerful than the wickedness that someone has experienced.
And I know that they taught me that. No matter what someone has experienced, I feel like there's always hope that they can move the ball forward. It can get better. Some people are going to get a little better and some people are going to get a lot better. I do believe that people have the capacity. In IFS the way we say it is that people have access to Self and it's in there no matter what, that Self is undamaged. So our goal is to help them have access to that.
In a larger sense I do think that is a spiritual question. You may or may not be religious. I was raised Catholic, progressive liberal Catholic that believed is social justice and all those kinds of things. But there are a lot of rules. I got a lot of joy from my Catholic church as a child. There was a lot of community in it, not so much when I was a teenager. I'm not in part of a church at this time but I do feel that my spiritual life also nourishes me to believe that there is resource. That there is grace. That we can access something beyond ourselves and so can my clients.
Cece: I had a client who used to ask me every week, "Am I too much for you? This is really awful. Am I to much for you?" And every survivor feels this way. Their life is too much for them in so many ways. I would say to her, "No," because I'm not the source. It's coming through me and if I'm overwhelmed then I'll go physically to a source but there's a greater resource out there that's helping us. That's my story but other people, I think we have to know.
The last thing I'll say about that is, someone I read, and I wish I could quote him. He said, that therapist, "You need a lot of stuff in your room, like beauty, like plants and like a pillow and objects that mean something to you. To be surrounded and comfortable in sort of meaningful ways." We need this when we're confronted with the evil and wickedness and exploitation.
Tisha: Thank you so much for that answer. Really powerful. Thank you. I appreciate that so much.
Anibal: Cece, you mentioned hope and spirituality, so the five P's of the therapist, aren’t they enough?
Cece: They're nice, aren't they?
Anibal: The patient and the presence and the perspective and the persistence and the playfulness, aren’t they enough?
Cece: Are they enough? Yes. Are they enough for us and for our clients? Are they enough in the room? Well, essential, I would say. But I think how we're resourcing ourselves is maybe the question that you guys, we keep coming back to in our conversation. Maybe that's the other key. And I think the risk is isolation and the antidote is not isolation, whatever that means for you and the safety, the safe place to be a mess. To be as messy as we really are.
Tisha: How do people access…I imagine that our listeners out there are going to be intrigued and interested in some of the work that you're doing with exploring these personal narratives. How do people access you in these workshops?
Cece: Well, I´m doing the, for the first time I was invited to do one, I say for people in Toronto because…Although we'll all be online, but most of the people are in the Toronto area. They've invited me to do an online, so I'm going to see how that goes. It will be different because you know you can tell what I feel, not having human contact would be important. Then I'm going to try to do one in person again here in the Chicago area, outside of Chicago in June.
Maybe the outcome of this conversation for me is that's the polarity in me between my commitment to IFS, but my commitment to also…I actually presented last year at the conference. That's my duality. I presented on addictive process which is very important to me and I presented on therapist stories. For me to find space to offer these is, maybe that needs to be more on my own front burner in a certain way. I feel devoted to my IFS, specifically IFS training, but I am going to be doing a level 3. And so, some of my thinking will enter into that there, in the level 3, but the answer is, "Let's see. Let's see what I do.”
Tisha: Let's hope.
Cece: Yes, but I think it's…I'm glad. The other thing is when I first put it out there is that is anyone going to care? Is it just me? [chuckles] "See, that so interesting. You and your mother. That's really cool. Okay, let's move on." I didn't know. [laughs] But I'm finding that actually and I did one up in the UK last year and it was powerful. Two women who had each lost a mom to suicide found each other in the training. Just the most powerful moment. We were all so moved. Anyway, there was also another place to go with this.
Cece: Is it useful?
Tisha: We need it.
Cece: And I think it is.
Anibal: Cece, we are saying, I'm listening to you and I think you're saying that we may need more therapists and counselors or practitioners’ organizations and small or larger communities of therapists and counselors and practitioners for them not to stay or work isolated. That's what you are saying?
Cece: Right. I think, really, what can you do for yourself? You can find a few other therapists and develop a trusting space just to be together on a regular basis. I think there's so much healing in that. Yes, I think that's really healing. With the intention of talking about our own process. Setting that intention for ourselves.
Anibal: Cece, when should a therapist or counselor retire?
Cece: [laughs] Oh gosh. You know what?
Anibal: Or just take a break.
Cece: Yes. Take a break. Well, I'm shifting my own practice from private practice towards consultation. It's not towards retirement but it is making a shift. So, there is that way of thinking about what…try to think about something else, I am making that shift. I think, I heard it might be Mona Barbera, but I think she said, "Relationships," -she's talking about couples - "Relationships are still viable when you at least say you're interested in your partner."
Anibal: Yes. Well said.
Cece: I think as long as our work is interesting and nourishes us, I could…One of my dear friends we used to teach together 20 years ago. We were teaching together. She's 22 years older than me. We started teaching workshop for women. Women and our relationships with ourselves that we taught. It was through a university, but it was a three-day elective. We taught it for about five years together. We used to have lunch every Monday then. For 20 years we had lunch together every Monday.
Anyway, she saw clients until she is 84 years old. She just saw one or two a week after a while, she goes, "You know, I really don't like to play bridge."
Cece: I'm not saying we should keep slaving away, but we have to find our own answer for that. But I think paying attention…your question brings up in me, Anibal, is paying attention to our own needs. That is always, I think, the challenge for those of us in the service professions, to pay attention to “What do I need, what am I feeling? How tired am I? Am I taking enough vacation?” These are always important questions that I think we tend to not ask quite as…You know, since we're in charge of our own, I always say, "I'm so busy," but whose fault is that? I'm self-employed.
Cece: Who can I call? [laughs]
Anibal: That's when, take a break is difficult.
Cece: I better call someone about this. A lot of therapists get into that. "Wow, I haven't taken a vacation. Is this wrong?" Just really paying attention to that and allow our own needs is, I think…
Tisha: Your boss needs to provide paid vacation.
Cece: Are you ready for a vacation, Anibal?
Tisha: He is ready. [chuckles]
Anibal: I'm learning that we, having meaningful connections, good social support, and eventually career development, keep learning versus isolation and no development. It's maybe a good way to go, to avoid…
Cece: Yes, that's right. Thank you for summing that up that way. We were taught these things. Most of us in graduate…I mean I was taught, "Go get supervision. If you're going to go to private practice, always have a supervisor." I was taught that, but I don't know if everyone was taught that. I think that relieving yourself of that level of isolation is really important.
Anibal: Cece, thank you so much for sitting with us again and congratulations for the level 3 coming.
Cece: Thank you.
Anibal: New level 3 are coming through your good work. It was such a joy to be here with you and Tisha. I hope we can keep meeting and sharing this model, our work and our lives. Thank you so much.
Cece: Thank you, Anibal. Thank you, Tisha. Also, I'm finding people are really enjoying all your podcasts and I've listened to many of them and they're always fascinating. So, thank you guys. You're doing this by what you're doing. These podcasts are creating connection too. This is a powerful thing to do this for our community and people are really loving it. Thank you, guys, for giving us this gift, to being able to listen to each other.
Anabel: Thank you, Cece.
Tisha: Thank you, Cece. Thanks so much. We do have an incredible community here.
[01:03:53] [END OF AUDIO]
Recorded 24th August 2020
Transcript Edition: Carolina Abreu