therapy

Meet Savannah!

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Hi there! 

I’m so excited to join the GT Therapy team and I’m eager to share more with you about my journey as a therapist. I grew up in the delightfully small town of Tomball, TX, a rural suburb of Houston. Ever since my days as a “peer mediator” in elementary school, I knew that I wanted to be a therapist. I loved helping other classmates sort out their problems (and getting to miss class probably didn’t hurt). My heart has always had a special place for kiddos and families. When I was in high school I babysat and taught ballet to three year olds, and in college I worked at a preschool and nannied. 

I studied social work at the University of Texas as an undergrad, which sparked my passion for mental health and social justice. From there I went straight into graduate school for social work at UT, eager to continue honing my skills as a clinician and advocate. After graduating with my Masters of Science in Social Work, I worked in various jobs within the non profit world, supporting and training foster parents, facilitating group and individual counseling to survivors of domestic and sexual assault, offering family counseling and play therapy for children, and working as a school based therapist in middle and high schools across the Austin area. I’ve lived in Austin for quite a while now, and there’s no place I’d rather be. I love spending time outside with my dog Boone, catching up with friends over a meal, and when at all possible- not taking life too seriously.

I am so thankful for a career where I get to connect with people, hear their unique stories, and offer them genuine empathy. Getting to see my clients grow in self compassion, laugh with me (or sometimes at me), communicate more effectively, or mend a broken relationship makes my so heart happy. I’m continually inspired by the people that choose to take the brave step toward healing and seek out therapy, and am so thankful for each of the clients I have the privilege of working with. If you want to take the next step toward healing, please reach out, as I’d be honored to walk with you on your journey. 

Meet Austin!

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Hello!

My name is Austin. Thank you for pulling up this post and letting me introduce myself to you.  I’ll start by how I got here. I was born in Chicago and grew up in Chicago, LA, Dallas, France, and a couple of countries in central Africa.  I went back to Illinois for college and majored in Psychology and Philosophy. I also spent 6 months of my senior year in Rwanda working with a local organization that promotes reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of the 1994 genocide.  My psychology studies and experience in Rwanda strengthened my desire for a career in mental health. After college, I moved to Austin for love, following my now wife as she started a PhD program at UT. I have spent the last 6 years working for various nonprofits around central Texas and getting my MA in Professional Counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy from Texas State.

I love to travel but spend most of my vacations enjoying time with family.  I almost always prefer listening to other people to talking myself. In my free time I am usually reading or playing a game of some sort.  Following many years of throwing out the dry, brown remains of plants that didn’t make it, I have kept two different plants alive in pots for more than a year and counting.  I play video games but have only ever owned Nintendo game consoles because for me the main purpose of owning a video game console is to play games with friends. I have a puppy who embodies the mixing and melding that makes Austin (the city) so wonderfully weird.  

Probably as a result of moving around so much as a kid, I love variety and chances to learn new things.  In the last several years I have worked with everyone from kids who were going in and out of the mental hospital to kids and families grieving the death of a family member to people of all ages who have experienced trauma to kids and teens and adults who are feeling anxious or depressed to couples at every stage of a relationship. I don’t love the variety of pain that people experience. What I do love is being able to hold a safe space for people, provide some tools, and watch the strength and courage and compassion and growth and humor and ingenuity that shows up.

Thank you for taking the time to get to know me better.  If you want to know more about me, you can read my bio and get in touch at the link below!

Meet Natalia!

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Hi there, welcome!!

I want to take this opportunity to talk to YOU directly and share a bit more of who I am. People often have mixed ideas about who comes to mind when they think of a therapist. In all honesty, growing up I did not think of a young, female in this profession. That’s not what was portrayed in movies or who I learned about in school, and also why I was nervous about delving into this career. AND yet... here I am, several licenses and years of counseling experience later. I am beyond grateful I showed up to be able to get to this point. I absolutely love this work and believe that I was meant for it!

One of the quotes that forever rings in my ears, is Georgia O’Keefe saying, “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

This holds true to being a client in therapy as well. I’ve been lucky enough to be in both positions, and I totally get it. It takes a huge amount of courage to sit with a complete stranger and begin to share. I’m inspired when I see clients continue to show up and put in the work with me. Especially witnessing clients show up in other areas of their lives, maybe in a way that they had not, prior to therapy. I believe on some level, that everyone who ends up in my office was meant to be there as well.


To rewind a bit, I’m the epitome of unexpected blends. I’m a born and raised Texan, who also flies to Poland to visit my family, as often as I can get away with. I’m the only first-generation American in my family, and that comes with it a whole unique identity. I’m also a proud Aggie living in a city of burnt orange pride and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Part of the fun of living in this weird, diverse city is opportunity to connect with people of a variety of backgrounds and upbringings. As someone who self-identifies as quirky, I enjoy how Austin owns being weird.

My career journey has led me to work with teens in a residential juvenile detention facility, university crisis hotlines, hospitals, and in various outpatient settings. This is also where my passion for working with teens and families truly took shape. Although I value the range of clients that I get the honor of working with. Mental health requires a strong support system and to be one piece of that support, regardless of setting, is extremely rewarding.

Outside of work, I may be out on hiking adventures with my pup, traveling or trying out a new coffee shop. I also devote a significant portion of my free time to serving the community through volunteer work. I’ve been involved with Junior League of Austin for the past two years, as well as a volunteer therapist with Camp Phoenix.

Just as I myself have a lived narrative, I also bear witness to my clients’ stories. Some soft, loud, bold, beautiful, painful and each unique. I get to hold space for these stories and sit with brave story tellers. If you are living a plotline you are not content with, please reach out for counseling support. You deserve to live a life that you are genuinely excited about.

When Therapists Stumble - Finding the Opportunity in Disconnection

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How many of us have been in the middle of a session with a client when, all of the sudden, the air in the room changes and we realize that things have taken an unexpected turn? Perhaps we’ve tried to guide the conversation in a direction that the client did not want to go or maybe that uncomfortable counter-transference has crept into the room. Our palms are sweaty, the blood is rushing to our faces, and we can feel our voice start to shake a bit. Regardless of what prompted it, the reality is that a rift occurred within the therapeutic relationship, and now you’re feeling the ‘yuck’. What do we do when this inevitable phenomenon happens?

Whew, just in writing that I can feel my anxiety increasing as I don’t know that there are many things more uncomfortable that can occur during a session; I’m confident, though, that I’m not the only therapist that has experienced this. For me, it’s helpful to ground myself first and foremost – I grab my little fidget spinner, take a quick look out the window, or do a few strokes on my beard to get myself back into the room. The first few times that I experienced this, I would immediately think that I had done or said something that caused the flow of the conversation to change. Perhaps I did; maybe I did push things in the wrong direction or it’s possible that I had verbally or non-verbally responded to the client’s last statement that was perceived as invalidating. I’ve learned, though, that making the situation about me plays in opposition to the point of each and every session. Therapy sessions are not about me, they’re about the client and the relationship that forms between myself and the client. Part of my job as a clinician is to model healthy relationships and healthy communication. With this in mind, the rift that occurred didn’t involve just me; it involved the both of us.

Now comes the hard part – bringing this ‘yuck’ out into the open. Of course, every situation is different so, naturally, every response will be different. Regardless of this context of the situation, I always try to remain authentic and honest. I may say something along the lines of, “well that flopped”, “something shifted; did you notice that too?”, “I think I need a minute to get my thoughts together”, or “I think we’re both having some feelings about this right now, would it be okay if we talk about that?” If I had done something that caused the rift, I’ll own it, and if the shift occurred on the client’s side, I’ll provide them with an opportunity to talk about it. I’ve learned that there is no rule book for navigating through these situations. Experience seems to be the only thing that fosters more comfort in sitting with the uncomfortable. I can’t help but think back to my grad school days and hear my first field instructor saying, “We’ve got to find comfort in sitting with the discomfort.”

If any of you have been following my previous blogs, you’ve likely picked up on the fact that authentic and genuine communication is one of my core values and key pillars in therapy. In bringing this ‘rift’ out into the open and providing a safe space to discuss this relational break, I try to model effective communication to the client. Not only is it helpful for the two of us to find a resolve to the situation, my hope is that the client will be able to utilize and take that experience outside of my office walls and apply it to personal relationships. There’s also tremendous value in utilizing the uncomfortable situation in a positive manner for the both of us. The modeling of conflict resolution is tremendously important for a client: by demonstrating my ability to appropriately and effectively talk through the ‘yuck,’ I am able to teach my client healthy ways of resolving relational rifts.

Breakdowns within relationships are a normal and expected thing to happen; therapeutic relationships are not immune to this. We, as therapists, have the ability and obligation to use these uncomfortable experiences as teachable moments. Moments to show our clients that we care enough about them that we will hold their discomfort while we talk through and resolve the uncomfortable, yet expected, ‘yuck.’

 

ProTip: Being a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field

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My February 2018 blog, “Should I Work with a Male Therapist?”, seemed to spawn a lot of conversation and provoke a great deal of interest from other therapists. The biggest question that I’ve been asked is - “How do you do it... How do you convince parents/females/other therapists that it is beneficial to work with a male therapist?” I could sure reach back to my grad school days and fill this blog with stats, quotes, and empirical evidence outlining the benefits of working with a male therapist, but I’ll save you all the doldrums of reading a research paper. Today, I’m just going to be me and share my story and experience as a male therapist working in a female-dominated field.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the concept of convincing others to work with you.  As therapists, we all ‘sell ourselves’ to a certain extent regardless of the age/identified gender/or presenting problem. How do I do this? Well, plain and simple, I remain myself – not someone that I think the client/parent wants to see, but just me.  I meet clients where they are and model authenticity and honesty. After all, isn’t this one of the core tenets of what we’re supporting our clients to do? Rather than trying to convince clients of working with me, I assist them in recognizing the potential benefits of working with a male therapist. In remaining objective with the client &/or parent, I’m able to remove my blinders and biases so to genuinely hear any possible concerns or trepidation. I’ve found that I’m able to have genuine and rich conversations surrounding the individual’s/parent’s initial thoughts on working with a guy. I refrain from attempting to convince of anything, rather I present the facts as well as my professional experiences and successes as a male therapist.

Much of my work with clients, regardless of their ages, focuses on authenticity – letting your real and true-self shine through.  I embrace this same mentality for myself. I’m just me and I’ve come to embrace that my authentic-self is my best-self. This is the individual that I bring into each and every session and I like to believe that it is through this display of authenticity that I’m able to connect with all individuals regardless of age or gender identity.  As therapists, we all navigate through our journey in becoming licensed professionals by launching into our own world of self-reflection. With this, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy looking back at my own reflection and learning to appreciate and love the person that was staring back at me. Sure, the journey wasn’t always glamorous and I had some pretty significant “yuck” that I had to work through on my own, but I made it through.  This, I believe above all else, is what has made me the professional that I am today and who individuals trust to support them as they work through their own life struggles.

Now, let’s get to the million-dollar question “how do you convince others that it’s okay to work with a male therapist?”  Before I launch into that, let’s take a step back and look at our own beliefs and biases. What are your own thoughts/beliefs in working with or referring a client to a male therapist?  Do your beliefs change at all depending on the identified gender of the client? How about the age of the client? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, there’s some internal belief exploration to do.  Yes, I possessed my own thoughts and biases regarding male therapists and internalized my own anxieties in working with adult and adolescent female identifying clients. The identification of these anxieties was paramount for me in finding success as a male therapist.  I began asking myself questions: “What is it about working with a 13-year old girl that provokes stress for me when I’m at complete ease in working with a 13-year old boy? Why am I feeling trepidation when speaking to a parent of a high school daughter but feel utter confidence in speaking about their son?”  I could dedicate an entire post just to these emotional disconnects, but for the sake of today’s post, I want to draw back to the concept of authenticity. As long as I’m remaining true to my authentic-self, my support and compassion does not waiver depending upon the identified gender or age of the individual that is sitting on my couch.

As I highlighted in my initial post, there are numerous benefits in working with a male therapist.  Here are a few of the take-aways from that post – male therapists can:

  • provide individuals with a safe man to speak with

  • model healthy boundaries and dynamics with a guy

  • display that males do have the capacity and ability to appropriately and effectively show emotion express feelings

  • dispel concepts of hegemonic/toxic masculinity

This all begins, though, with the therapist’s self-reflection and self-awareness.  Just as I’ve come to embrace my authenticity, I encourage each of you to embrace yours.  We ask our clients to bring their true-selves into each session therefore it’s only expected that we bring ours.

Today’s post is focused on my experience as a male therapist and how I’ve navigated through any hurdles or potential obstacles that I’ve encountered.  Branching out to a broader level, I’ve also had to be mindful of the systems surrounding me and how these structures impact my success. I’ve purposefully left this area out of today’s blog as I feel that it warrants its own post so be on the look out for a future edition of this topic and my adventures.  The new year just may bring about some new trainings/workshops/webinars on Succeeding as a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field.

Meet Katelyn!

Hello and Welcome!!

I am so excited to be a part of the GT Therapy Group! I wanted to share a little bit of who I am, where I come from, and how I can help you through your journey. My name is Katelyn Williams and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Board Certified Counselor (NCC). I usually have a little trouble explaining where I am from (mostly because my family moved several times when I was a kid), but I was born in Yakima, Washington, and I claim San Antonio as my “childhood home” for all intents and purposes😊 I have lived in Austin for over 10 years, and love getting to enjoy the live music and natural beauty this city has to offer!

As a teenager, I thought I was destined for Hollywood, but after an internship at a Modeling and Casting Agency, I realized that I had a desire to help people, that went beyond getting them a temporary job. I wanted a lasting effect that gave people the skills they needed to be successful, across their lifespan. I had spent so much time focusing on the outward display of emotion from actors, but wanted to understand the inner workings of people and their feelings.

So after turning down a full time position in the entertainment business, I attended Texas State University and majored in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. After learning about Texas State’s CACREP counseling program, I knew I wanted to stick around to complete my MA in Professional Counseling. With my Master’s Degree in hand, and with the guidance of my professors and advisors in Texas State’s Professional Counseling Program, I decided to accept a job in School Counseling, and work with some of our most vulnerable populations: kids and teens.

While working as a school counselor, I had the opportunity to interact with children and teens across all SES backgrounds, tackling problems that ranged from abuse to anxiety to social issues to academic struggles. I truly love to work with this unique population and I am excited to continue help them process their experiences and better understand who they are as individuals. I want to empower tweens and teens, with the skills to combat anxiety and fear, and to handle life transitions with grace and confidence.

Through my work in education, I realized that the mental health concerns affecting our kids and teens is impacted greatly by the family and community that surrounds them. When couples were struggling, that struggle trickled down to their children. In order to be more effective when working with couples, I decided to pursue training from the Gottman Institute, one of the forerunners in Marriage and Couples Therapy. The Gottmans use empirical data to support their system and skills, and I have personally witnessed the benefits that these skills can bring to a relationship (yes, even some of the most broken relationships)! The goal of couples therapy is to increase healthy communication, and to identify your strengths as a couple, while renewing your commitment to tackle issues in a constructive way, that allows your relationship to progress to a place that both parties feel secure and committed.

As a therapist at GT Therapy Group, I am excited to work with both couples who are wanting to strengthen their relationship, and with tweens/teens/young adults who are struggling to find their place in this world! I look forward to meeting you, and supporting you through your growth, transition, and/or transformation!

Meet Alyssa!

Hi Friends, I’m Alyssa! (and that cute lil’ pup is my baby, Benny) I am so incredibly happy you are here!

I know that the idea of beginning your journey with a new therapist and sharing your story can be exciting, intimidating, uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking and ALL of the other emotions. Let me share with you about myself, and I am hopeful that knowing a bit more about me can help ease some of your scaries.

Originally from Chicago, born and raised, I moved to Austin just over a year ago with my fiance (also a Chicago native) to embark on the adventurous journey of exploring a new city of which we knew little to nothing about. Not unlike beginning a relationship with a new therapist, I felt excited, anxious, uncertain, scared … the list goes on. Despite my many doubts including: leaving my family, friends, a job I loved, and a city I knew with my eyes closed (“what am I doing?!”), it did not take long for me to fall in love with Austin and all of the opportunity this city has to offer! Within the past year I have managed co-raise a doodle pup...well - we’re still working on that, obtain my yoga teaching certificate, complete my social work licensure, and buy a house with my now fiance (all seemingly intimidating, foreign, and impossible at the beginning have become proud challenges I have worked hard to accomplish). I share this with you as it relates to coming to therapy: what started out as a bit scary and unpredictable transformed into one of the greatest blessings I could have hoped for. I am hopeful that YOU have the opportunity to overcome and accomplish life’s many challenges and I would love to support you along the way!

My approach to therapy is warm, empathic, and understanding. You are the expert on your life and I will have the pleasure of accompanying you on your journey while offering support, validation, and guidance throughout.

My passion to work with adolescents and families started long ago in my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (GO BLUE!) as I became deeply interested in healing and psychology. I continued on to graduate school at Loyola University Chicago to pursue my Masters in Social Work with the enthusiasm to support adolescents and their families to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. I have had wonderful opportunities to work with kiddos and their families both in Chicago and Austin in several settings from inpatient treatment, outpatient programs, and within therapeutic groups. I look forward to bringing my experience to our relationship and learning even more from each unique individual - we are all unicorns with something different to offer the world!

During my free time, I am often spending my days outside enjoying the Austin sun (something I was certainly unable to do in the Midwest), kayaking on Lady Bird Lake, practicing yoga, listening to live music, and spending time with my new Austin family and friends (Benny, too!).

I so appreciate you taking the time to read my story, I look forward to hearing about yours! :)

LifeTip: Who Has Your Power?

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Many of the folks that come into counseling, tell me that they’re feeling sad, depressed, anxious, defeated, or have lost their self-confidence and want to know why.  “Am I crazy?  Have I lost it? Am I too broken to be fixed?”  No, no, and NO!  There has been a theft and the thing that’s been stolen is power.

We all come into this world with our own power; something that is ours and only ours.  This power is a valuable resource and something that everyone wants more of.  As we grow up, we’re taught how to add and multiply, recite the pledge of allegiance, ride a bike, and tie our shoes, but we’re never taught the lesson of how to protect our power.  Being a visual person, I like to think of power as a stick (wand, sword, lightsaber, you choose the form…) that we each hold.  Every day, someone is vying for that stick, trying to break off pieces to add to their own.  Often, we are unaware that the theft is even happening.  Phrases like:  “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never be good enough for that”, “You’re wasting your time”, “Hopefully you’ll grow out of your ugly phase”, etc., all take a chunk out of our power stick.  Without the tools to fight this, we’re eventually left with a tiny little nub of a stick leaving us feeling defeated, self-conscious, depressed, and expecting failure out of life.  But this doesn’t have to continue.  We can take back our power stick and start to expect success – more importantly, we can begin to truly love who we are and recognize the phenomenal power that we possess.

So now what?  Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks, Justin, you’ve been able to point out that I’m feeling pretty low, but what in the heck do I do now?”  Let me first ask you to sit there and truly embrace the feelings that you’re experiencing.  Put a name to it.  What color is it?  Where in your body are you feeling it?  Is your stomach in knots?  Is your heart beating fast?  Are you feeling hot in the face?  Recognize those feelings and say to yourself, “enough is enough!”  This is your body, your mind, and your power.  It’s time for you to take that power back!!

Society teaches us the importance of being kind to others and treat others with compassion and love, but we rarely hear about the importance of loving ourselves.  If anything, we learn that loving ourselves equates to selfishness and self-centeredness.  I want you to hear me say that this is wrong!!!  You are worthy.  You are special.  You do deserve to be loved.  You do deserve respect.  You are strong.  You are powerful.  The time is now to rebuild that power stick and fall back in love with yourself.

Navigating through these feelings and emotions can be tricky and feel super uncomfortable.  The discomfort can often cause us to shut back up that door to our authenticity room thereby protecting us from having any more power taken away.  This is where therapy comes in.  Your therapist’s goal is to support you as you rebuild your power stick and re-ignite that internal fire.  Yes, you can do this.  Even though you may feel defeated as the world has tried to put out your flame, you do have the power to stoke back up that fire and let that light shine bright!

Your new journey is waiting.  Let’s get on the road and take back that power that was once stolen!

My Loved One Experiences Anxiety, Why Can’t They Get Over It?

Anxiety can feel as though you are being chased by a lion. Although this analogy may seem extreme to those who don't deal with an anxiety disorder, it's one that makes sense to someone who encounters anxiety on nearly an everyday basis. Sufferers of anxiety know the feeling of fear, experience hypervigilance to everyday situations, have an excess energy or even a depletion of energy due to the exhaustion of panic and feel that there is imminent danger nearby even though there may not be an actual threat around them.

Having the understanding of friends and family to support you through your anxiety can make all the difference in the world, but it isn't always easy to have empathy when you haven't experienced anxiety firsthand or been taught a bit about it. It is very natural and common for those closely connected to individuals with an anxiety disorder to believe a number of things such as, “I support them, I love them, and it doesn’t seem to be enough,” “It cannot possibly be that bad,” “They have a good life, this doesn’t make sense,” or “Why can’t they just get over it?” These are some typical thoughts to have, but are not helpful for someone who is struggling with anxiety to hear.

When someone is going through anxiety, their body is reacting as though there is danger close by and their stress response is activated. This means they experience acceleration of their lungs and heart, so the blood will rush to their extremities to be prepared to run from danger or “brace” themselves from it. It can also mean they cannot utilize critical thinking or logical thinking because their energy is currently in use to save them from a perceived danger. They can also experience tunnel vision, loss of hearing, and shaking, among other physiological responses. So, truly, they are reacting as though they are being chased by a lion. And yes, they know they aren’t being chased by a lion, which can make these feelings worse because they do not make sense to them.


So, what can you do? Ask them what they need. They may tell you they need to be alone because they are overstimulated and that is okay. Tell them where you will be if they need you. They may say that they need you, but do not know how they need you. You can sit with them and wait until they are ready to talk to you. But probably the most common response is, “I don’t know.” During these times, you can use your judgement, but giving advice may be the least helpful since they cannot truly hear you and any advice given may be minimizing their experience. Once they have calmed down, rested, and time has passed, ask if you can talk about what they need or want you to do in these situations. Ask them what is helpful and not helpful. It could be a trial and error situation, but the fact that you acknowledge what they are going through is real will make all the difference. And as always, if it is debilitating for them or they/you believe they need more help than what you can give, have a gentle discussion with them about finding a professional who can help the both of you.

First Session Feels

As a therapist, there’s something exciting about a first session! Have you ever felt that way? Ready and eager to meet someone new, learn about their story and see how you connect? Or maybe nervous and unsure, questioning your ability to meet the client where he or she is, wondering whether you will be able to help. The stakes can feel high when there’s the added pressure of building your practice and you want every client that walks in your door to stay forever! Perhaps you’ve felt this whirl in the pit of your stomach when you were early in your career, or after making a move to a new city and establishing fresh roots, or even if you’ve been in the game for quite a while and still wrestling with the uncertainty and unknowability that comes with being in private practice. There seems, at times, so much to “cover” in the first session. History. Policies. Confidentiality. Goals. Oh yeah, and rapport building. It’s sort of an art in and of itself, don’t you think?

As we’ve been developing our Improv for Therapists workshop, we’ve done quite a bit of research on the topic (we’re just as new to this as you are, we promise!) and found a lot of qualities in improv that we value as therapists. Improv asks us for openness, flexibility, attunement and self-compassion. This honest blog post about whether or not to pursue improv reflects on real-life doubt, worry and facing the risk of jumping in and meeting your feelings, all of them, with compassion and thoughtfulness.

So what does this have to do with the first session? Well, when you have that first face to face encounter with someone, it really is all improv. You are getting to know them. They are getting to know you. And you are finding the balance of how to introduce all the necessary “first session things” with the grace of connection and heart. Openness. Flexibility. During this first session you figure out the pace and rhythm of this new relationship. When do you lean in and ask more questions? When do you step back (but not out) and allow patience for more to be said on another day? Attunement. All the while you check in with yourself and back to the feelings that stir within you. Self-compassion. You are human, and each first session is an opportunity to connect with another human, while staying gently mindful of yourself and all of your first session feels, and to meet them all with openness, flexibility, attunement and compassion.