Astrology Secrets Revealed by ERIC FRANCIS

Choosing a Therapist

February 11, 2005


Hi Eric:

You have often mentioned therapy in your column: what is a good way of choosing a therapist? How should I find the therapist that is right for me?



Inward Journey



Dear Inward Journey,

I am an avid advocate of therapy, this is true, and in this column I've taken every opportunity to recommend that people who need help get that help. I say this knowing that there all kinds of self-defeating stigmas associated with the notion of 'help', and inherent in the idea of seeking professional assistance is the other notion that you can't handle something on your own, such as your own life. Yet in fact, none of us can handle our lives alone; we are all dependent on one another for happiness and survival.


There are also a lot of mysteries associated with therapy: what happens in that secret room? Why is it secret? Is it just manipulation? Are people really helped, or do they just think they are? Why does it cost money? And so on.


Since therapy is personal, let's keep it personal. My first encounter with long-term therapy process began in 1992. Like most people, I showed up in serious distress. My French girlfriend Sabine had just left me, there was a dioxin disaster unfolding in my town which I was covering around the clock, my business was going bankrupt and I was in some severe emotional crisis, not to mention physically extremely run down. I was not happy, and this meant I was vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, we can easily get hurt -- so we need to be careful, if we can.


Yet, when the chips are down, nobody comes strolling into a therapist's office on a sunny Saturday afternoon, shoes polished, walking stick in hand, feeling on top of the world. We show up because we need help, and usually we need that help right now. The urgency is often pressed because we delay so long, and some kind of crisis explodes and we feel we have no choice. These are actually good moments. As an astrologer who's worked with clients for 10 years, I can tell you that people in crisis are easier to work with because they are more open and honest with themselves. It's that simple.


Joseph Trusso, the therapist I selected, worked out of a home office in Woodstock, New York. He still does. I had no idea of his background the day I appeared, but when I asked, he provided me with a copy of his CV to go over. I was recommended to him by the guy my girlfriend was sleeping with, John Godsey, something of a full-on Woodstock legend. I trusted John's opinion because he seemed to understand me, I needed help, and I sought that help out. Joe met a few of my minimum qualifications. For one thing he didn't have a Ph.D. There are some brilliant therapists with doctorates out there -- but at that point in my life, I wanted someone who had as little academic training as possible; that was my preference. At the time Joe was also an educational consultant, and his hobbies are gem cutting and piano. I wanted someone who was well-rounded and who had as few ideas as possible about the right way to live.


In the first session, Joe impressed me as real, down to Earth and compassionate. What you would call a solid human being. He was intelligent in an introverted way -- deep down Taurus, with an Aquarius Moon (I was not an astrologer at the time, I had not the vaguest interest; but we both have the same Moon placement -- as did my second therapist and, not coincidentally, my father). I also knew the word 'trusso' was Italian for a kind of inheritance. I definitely inherited something profound from Joe.


Joe had a no-bullshit air about him, which was a natural characteristic. I later learned this was also a carefully developed quality of his therapeutic tradition (the Gestalt movement, where being direct is a virtue), and also of the time in which he came of age as a teacher and professional (the 70s, when as a matter of basic ethics, people made a sincere effort to be themselves and help others do the same).


He also had a humane feeling that came across a number of ways. I was quite the financially stressed out writer at the time, and he was willing to work with me for a reduced fee. In the first session, he sat and listened to me go on about my problems and my life story for 90 minutes. In the end, we talked about one thing in that session: the power of good-bye.


"Goodness be with you," he said it means.


And, after saying that particular good bye to Sabine, about three sessions later, I was back with her on an Amtrak to Flagstaff, Arizona, then to San Francisco for the first time, having decided that my life was more important than my journalism, and leaving the dioxin disaster behind (I would come back to that, soon enough). San Francisco is a good place to figure out you're alive, and so is the Grand Canyon.


When I returned six weeks later, we continued our work, which went on until the day of the total solar eclipse in August 1999. Somehow, I managed to take off the entire first spring and summer, and spent the time with Sabine in a cabin up on the mountain in New Paltz, in an unusual relationship with another woman named Michelle. All the while, I faithfully went to therapy, learning to think about, speak about and reflect carefully on what I was experiencing learning. I learned that the things I wanted out of life were not so strange; that many had come before me; that many of my questions had been thought through by others, and that those ideas could help me; and that there was a way to think about myself that was entirely positive.


Over the years I had many reflections on just what I was doing in therapy, and at that phase, I was being oriented to the process of living consciously, and learning that I had the power to make decisions. At other times, it seemed more like being mentored. At other times, it was basic mental health triage. Therapy is a process that teaches us life is a process, and slowly we get into a more conscious rhythm. Then one day, we discover we have fewer problems, and the ones we do have are manageable.


This is not a purely theoretical exercise. I accomplished what I did in therapy mainly not in the therapy room, but in the context of living a little more boldly, and seeing what came up in the process. I spent a lot of time in forests with the women in my life. (One time a Boy Scout troop found us.) It was an amazing summer, like a huge burden had been lifted off of me -- perhaps the burden of the ignorance of who I was and what I felt. When it was over, I dove into solving the environmental disaster at New Paltz with the strength to begin taking on corporations and big governments.


Joe's only advice was, "Make it work for you." Joe also proved to be a treasury of resources; that is one very important service that a good therapist provides. Early on, he mentioned an article called 'Jealousy and the Abyss'. I asked him for a copy; it changed my life. I offer it to you.


Mostly our sessions went like this: I would talk about what I was doing; he would listen. Then he would say something that would change my perspective a little, or get me to look at what I was actually saying, or to feel what I was feeling in my body while I was talking. Do this for a while, and it's possible to make some real progress. Slowly, I began to trust him deeply, and that trust paid off, as our work set me on a rather energetic and productive adventure in life, slowly leaving behind the baggage of my past.


Gradually, but truly, I began to replace the cynical and disapproving inner voices of my parents with someone consistent, clear and positive. This did not happen overnight. I had to adopt Joe as a kind of honorary parent and trust that he would do a better job providing an example than my biological parents. And all of this for $50 per week. Oh, $50 I was willing to spend before I paid the bills.


Now, what does all of this say about choosing a therapist? If you have some idea of what the process is, it's not so mysterious.


It helps to get lucky. I think that it's good to have a reference from someone, but you don't really need that. Newspapers, the Internet, health food store bulletin boards, are all points of contact. Then you choose someone based on intuition or something they write or say, and you show up and see how it feels. When you meet the person, feel free to boldly ask them what qualifies them to do the work they do. Ask them if they like it. Ask them anything you damn please. Listen to what they say.


Then notice how you feel. Is the person straightforward? Can you feel who they are? Do they seem to recognize you? Those are good signs. Bad signs are they seem condescending and don't respond when you ask them about it, they don't seem to like their work, they are scared of you, and so on. It's helpful to have an inherent sense of respect for the person from the beginning, something that is just there with no real reason for being there.


I had one of my best therapy experiences with someone in Seattle, whose name I got out of an ad in 'The Stranger' newspaper. Her name was Joan. I worked with her for about five sessions in early 2004, when I decided that one of my last remaining unaddressed issues was having been abandoned by my biological mother, something that was beginning to have an obvious and debilitating effect on my relationships with women. Joan specialized in this particular issue, according to her ad, though she was advertising for female clients. I called up, and discovered she also worked with men. I made an appointment and showed up. This was my first experience of a female therapist. She was a traditionally trained psychologist -- a resource I made good use of and deeply appreciated.


There was a good partition between her psychological training and her actual personality; they had not fused into one. Joan, too, was down to Earth, clear and loving. And very, very helpful because, like any good therapist, she could look through my struggle and relate to the healthy part of me directly.


If you're seeking therapy, the most important thing you can do is just choose someone, show up and see how it goes. You'll know in one or two sessions if the experience is going to work. Then, reassess in a couple of months -- looking mainly at your own life, not just the sessions.


When do you need therapy? I would say that if you have trouble getting through most days emotionally; or if you're unhappy more than half the time, it's a very good idea. However, when we are at turning points, therapy helps us live them more consciously.


Now as for money. Yes, therapy costs money. So you do the best you can, remembering that if you don't buy the things you don't need you'll have more cash for the things you do need. Therapy must be a priority if it's going to work. It can quickly become the purpose of your life, and it's a pretty good purpose to have.


If you can afford once a month, then go once a month. If you can afford weekly, go weekly. If you can afford less, go less. But definitely give it as good of a start as you can, and bring the money issue up right away, because that's a very wholesome use of therapy -- figuring out how to get your needs met. I don't recommend doing trades; it's good for creating bad boundaries. If you need free work, ask; some therapists have pro bono sessions available. However, if you prioritize the work, you will see you have the resources, and that the therapy helps you be more resourceful. And many have noticed that the lack of resources is usually just an excuse not to get the help you need.


One last point. Therapy work is different than astrology, that difference mainly being that astrology happens in one or two sessions while therapy is generally a weekly process. Most astrologers don't think they are qualified to work with people in the long-run; others don't want to. Therapists are prepared to work with people for a while.


The other difference is that the chart is generally used as an 'external' factor, denoting events and characteristics, and therapy is generally directed more inwardly as a discovery process (my feeling is that this is how astrology needs to work). However, for people who are in long-term process, knowing something about your chart can be very helpful; for those who do their chart a lot, dropping this filter and going right for the core, your soul, can be genuinely refreshing and clarifying.


People in the New York area who would like to get in touch with Joe Trusso can contact my office. We'll put you in touch.