We ask health and wellness professionals the same six questions we always ask. This week, TWO DOULAS talks to psychotherapist Mel Berish.
Mel Berish has been working in private practice as a psychotherapist in Westmount, Quebec for the past five years. As a Psychoanalytic Candidate with the Canadian Institute of Psychoanalysis, she offers psychoanalysis at a reduced rate. Part of this training involved a year-long infant-mother observation course, which has been immensely helpful in informing her work with new or expectant parents. In addition to psychotherapeutic work, Berish teaches students of a three-year post-master’s training program in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy at the Argyle Institute of Human Relations.
How would you describe your job in just one sentence?
I work closely with individuals to explore and come to truly understand their inner world, with the goal of expanding self-awareness, their sense of personal agency and freedom, and freeing them of crippling patterns and/or internal distress.
What made you want to be a psychotherapist?
Though I didn’t know exactly in what capacity, I always knew that I wanted to work with people. When I was travelling in my early twenties I decided to train to be a psychotherapist. In my travels I encountered many people who I liked very much, felt drawn to, and intrigued by. As I became closer with the people I met, I learnt that we shared similar feelings, struggles and joys, but that with our varied cultural backgrounds, we sometimes thought and related in very different ways. I remember being curious and fascinated, and wanting to understand more about my friends and myself. This was when I knew that I wanted not only to work with people, but with their inner worlds. Understanding is a constant journey, and a gift, and being able to discover and share our inner worlds with others is an equally precious gift that I hope to offer to those who seek out my services.
How can new or expectant parents benefit from your services?
In my practice, I have helped individuals through a process of grieving over not being able to conceive, or not having conceived by a certain age, struggling through miscarriages, celebrating a successful pregnancy, and then, beginning to live out the lifelong adventure of parenting. Influences on the experience of parenting include external factors (supportive partner, social network, maternity leave benefits, etc.) and internal factors (inner beliefs about the relationship between mothers, fathers and babies). New or expectant parents can benefit from my services primarily by coming to understand, work through, and transform some of these inner factors, although with much attention to the ways in which external factors and internal factors mutually influence one another. New parenthood brings up a complex range of feelings. Because of the common sentimentality surrounding parenthood in our society, new parents, in my experience, often feel they have to dismiss some of the more difficult or unpleasant feelings they have about parenting. In psychotherapy with me, a new parent will find a space in which they can both celebrate, and explore more difficult aspects of the parenting experience related perhaps to their own childhood traumas, being taken for granted, exhaustion, differences in parenting style from their partner, guilt, anger, and anxiety.
What happens at your first meeting with a new or expectant parent?
In a first meeting with a new or expectant parent, as with anyone who seeks my services, I generally have two main goals in mind. The first is to learn about the person in front of me – what they are currently living, and what it is like to be them, why they have sought my services, how they imagine I can help. Though I will have questions to ask or clarifications to make, I will primarily be giving the person in my office space to express themselves, allowing them to lead me to what feels most important. I will follow at times, and perhaps guide at other times if it seems to me that something is especially important, or has been too quickly passed over. Secondly, and not unrelated, a first session is the beginning of what will hopefully become a positive therapeutic relationship. I will be working, together with them, to build a working alliance, which studies repeatedly show is one of the main factors in successful therapies, and will ideally form the foundation of our work together.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about your field?
There are numerous misconceptions about psychotherapy, and I always welcome hearing them from those who give me a chance to clarify and explain. It is also important to remember that there are many different psychotherapists and psychotherapies out there, and people will have a different experience depending on the type of assistance they seek.
One important misconception I have heard, however, is that if you go to therapy, it means that you’re “crazy.” We all reach points in our lives when our capacities to cope are overwhelmed, feel stuck, or when the current internal and external resources that we have available to us limit the ways in which we can grow. We might live an experience that traumatizes us, challenges an internal belief, or confronts us with the ineffectiveness of a pattern of behavior that has become habitual and may have been adaptive in earlier life situations. Therapy is an opportunity to work though these difficulties and to facilitate growth. The therapist and client do this, ideally, in a context which is neither too passive (another misconception about psychotherapy), nor to filled with advice or attempts to “fix” (an opposing but equally prevalent misconception about therapy). In this space, the therapist can communicate this understanding, and work collaboratively with you, to help you gain insight into underlying thoughts, feelings, phantasies, beliefs, of which you might not be aware, with the aim of helping you change crippling patterns or manage overwhelming affects.
What do you love most about working with new and expectant parents?
Becoming a new parent is a life-changing event! In my practice, I have seen the ways in which the journey towards becoming a parent always brings up in those I am working with many different thoughts and feelings. New and expectant parents are in a time of major growth and experience a reshuffling of their external lives and routines as well as internal world. Parents tend to experience a shift in their sense of identity, often a new understanding of their relationships to their own parents (who may or may not still be alive), siblings, and a shift in their relationship with their partner/spouse. What I love so much about working with new and expectant parents is the richness of this time of their life, and the immense opportunity for personal growth and reworking of their understanding of their own development.