Ryan Howes is a licensed clinical psychologist who created National Psychotherapy Day; here is a link to his website:
Q: What made you interested in psychotherapy?
A: I went to therapy as a 10 year-old after my mother died. It was one bright spot of hope and clarity in an otherwise devastating time. I found myself intrigued by the idea that some people made a living by sitting and talking with others about the most important areas of their life. That’s a career?? In high school and college I found I was having these deep talks with people all the time and loved it, so it was natural to pursue therapy as a profession. The power of a healthy, positive relationship never ceases to amaze me. But I sit down too much. I need to be the founder of treadmill therapy.
Q: What kind of training have you had?
A: I was a youth worker for a while, I sold books at a Barnes and Noble, I worked in psychiatric hospitals and community therapy clinics, and I went through a six year PhD program. I learned plenty about disorders and treatments in my clinical work, but I learned a ton about patience and grace under pressure from my time selling books. Psychiatric patients have a lot of severe problems, but bookstore customers are annoying. “I heard about with this one book about this guy, do you have it in stock?” Now I’m in private practice in Pasadena, California (www.ryanhowes.net), I write for Psychology Today, I teach, I form holidays, and dabble in a few other things. But no more bookstores. Get a Kindle and leave booksellers alone.
Q: What are some popular theories in Christian psychotherapy?
A: I double majored in psychology and religious studies in college, and my favorite course was Psychology of Religion, where they explored how and why we form beliefs as we do. I was fascinated, especially about the studies looking at the interaction of shrooms and religious experience. I didn’t continue that research in graduate school, but I did learn to respect a person’s religious background as an important facet of their cultural and moral makeup. Christian psychotherapy takes the religious and cultural experience of the client into account, particularly where issues of love, forgiveness, commitment, and life after death are on the table. Which is a lot of the time.
Q: What did you to at eHarmony?
A: A few years ago, the eHarmony call center was getting a lot phone calls from people in emotional distress looking for free advice. eHarmony was the world’s biggest matchmaker, for gods sake, of course they could offer free advice about depression and loneliness. As a psychologist and writer, they asked me to put together a handbook to help their team tackle these questions in a helpful way that wouldn’t turn eH customer service into the Internet Dear Abby. As far as I know, it turned out alright. But don’t blame me for your horrible eHarmony dates and failed marriage, I had nothing to do with that.
Q: How did you go about creating National Psychotherapy Day?
A: One day on the radio I heard it was National Pencil Eraser Day. Then a local restaurant advertised Banana Split Day. Everything has a day, why not psychotherapy? In fact, therapy needs a day more than many of these other superfluous days: therapy is a proven effective form of treatment for many mild to severe mental issues, it has few side effects, it’s cheap relative to lost jobs and relationships, and yet the number of people coming to therapy dwindles every year. People need to know there’s an alternative to pills and suffering in silence. It’s a revolutionary idea: talk about your issues with someone who cares and has tools to help. We need to fight the stigma surrounding therapy so more people will seek the treatment that can help them. I gathered together a few graduate students, picked a date (September 25th), and declared a day. Now we wear turquoise to show our support and socially network like crazy. They say it’s going to be named a national holiday soon. And we all know we can trust they.
Q: What is the criteria for being on the American Board of Professional Psychology?
A: Most MD’s are board certified in their chosen specialty, but only about 5% of psychologists seek certification. They say a license assures the public a psychologist has competence in the field, but board certification is about excellence in their chosen specialty. I had to submit written and video samples of therapy sessions and then endure a three-hour oral examination that scrutinized every facet of my work in order to prove myself. All this so I can join a club no one has heard of and spend an extra annoying second writing four more initials behind my name. But in all honesty, it was kind of a fun experience. Or maybe I’m a masochist.
Q: Do you believe psychology is more philosophy or science?
A: Psychology is a science, the study of human mental processes and behaviors. Psychotherapy is the artful application of that science. But it’s all based on philosophical principles stating that we do exist, we have free will, we are the product of our genes and environment, and we have some power to willfully change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Some of the time, at least.
Q: To what theories in psychotherapy do you ascribe?
A: In Psychologese, I’d describe myself as a relational psychodynamic existentialist. In English, I’d translate to say I believe we are influenced by early life experiences, we all seek to find meaning and purpose in our life, and relationships are key to discovering that meaning and purpose. Practically speaking that means that the therapy room is both the lecture and the laboratory, that we explore what makes the client tick as well as talk about how these findings show up in the room between the two of us. In plainer English – the two of us are on a quest to understand who the client is and why. It’s a fascinating job. A job that would be better if I didn’t sit all day.
Q: Could you treat an atheist? (how would you go about this?)
A: Of course. I do all the time. Being a therapist who is Christian doesn’t mean I only see Christians or I try to convert non-Christians. No way, it just means I have a bit of insight into the Christian culture and worldview of some of my clients. My theories and techniques are the same regardless of the client’s religious background, and I treat everyone with the same dignity and respect. In fact, I stopped advertising myself as a Christian therapist years ago because perspective clients kept coming to me hoping I’d give them the fellow Christian discount. Nope. I’ll occasionally slide my fee in cases of financial hardship, but not because we’re on the same theological team. On second thought, I’ll give you 10% off if you’re a Pearl Jam fan. Just name 10 songs.
Q: What make doing your job in LA unique?
A: Very little Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seriously, LA is unique in that therapy is accepted here at a much higher rate than most of the world, but there is still a noticeable stigma. My bland Pasadena office building houses over 100 therapists, but people rarely make eye contact in the elevator. Of course they’re here to attend therapy, everyone is either a therapist or a client in this building, but still the shoe gazing and slinking down the hall prevails. Lots of Los Angelinos have their own therapist, personal trainer, and dog walker, but they don’t talk about going to therapy. Let’s get over the stigma and admit we go to therapy. It helps.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)