An Interview With Clinical Counselor Charlene Pyskoty

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Charlene Pyskoty is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Albuquerque, New Mexico; here is a link to her website:


Q: What made you interested in becoming a therapist?

A: My dad was a Chicago cop. He was a bad-ass dude, and also one of the most spiritual people I’ve ever known. He taught me how to meditate when I was 5 years old. He was very interested in psychology, and we would talk about psychology, spirituality, and philosophy. I became interested in the human condition at an early age. I think my father wanted to teach me as much as he could, as fast as he could. He died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 14 years old.

My life took a few twists and turns – I earned a Master’s degree in Sociology and then one in Public Health before I got my Counseling degree – but I always knew that I would become a therapist.

Along the way, I had careers in research (both academic and market research); writing and editing; and working in marketing and advertising. With a passion (and skill set) for exploration, data gathering, hypothesis testing, a love for the English language, and a passion for helping people succeed in ways that make them more of who they are meant to be, becoming a therapist was the perfect career choice.

There is a saying that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I feel that way about my life and my career – truly blessed. I love the time I spend with my clients (it’s the paperwork and dealing with insurance companies that is the “work” part of my job).

Q: What are some of the requirements of obtaining an LPCC?

A: To become a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, I first earned a Bachelor’s degree (Psychology) and then a Master’s degree in Counseling from an accredited Counselor Education program. This is basically a two-year, full-time program which includes one year of an (unpaid) internship. I did my internship at a community mental health agency in Chicago, which was a great experience! I then had to pass the first national exam to receive my first level of licensure.

To obtain my second (and final) level of licensure – which allows me to practice independently – I had to work under supervision for two more years and then pass the National Mental Health Counselor Examination which is administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors.

I keep my license current by taking 40 credit hours of continuing education every two years. Of course, each step in the licensing process requires paying fees.

In addition to the Master’s in Counseling program, I went on to earn a certification in Jungian Psychotherapy (through a two-year clinical training program) at the C.G. Jung Institute in Chicago.

Q: What is your therapeutic process?

A: Let me start out by saying that it seems like the most important things I’ve learned about doing therapy, I learned from working with my horses.

My therapeutic process is to get to know my client and then develop a “treatment plan,” in which the client and I work together to articulate the problems, goals, and the strengths and resources of the client to help reach those goals. Then we use whatever comes up as material to work toward the goals.

While I am good at deeply listening to what a person is trying to communicate, I am also a talker. I don’t just nod my head and say, “Uh-huh,” and “Time’s up.” Because of my research background, I am always exploring with the client and asking questions. I also use humor in my sessions, which one of my clients pointed out as “knowing laughter” – finding the lightness in our shared human condition.

My overall philosophy of working with people is also how I work with horses. I had fostered a little mare from the local horse rescue. Because of some past trauma she had suffered, which left her with an injured ankle, she was a tough case; no one could get near her. My intention was to socialize her and make her people-friendly enough to be a good adoption prospect.

I worked with her very slowly and gently, and she responded by becoming trusting of people. One day I asked a cowboy friend of mine what he thought really made the difference for her. He summed it up in a way that just brought tears to my eyes. He said, “You never saw her as a problem to be fixed. You only cared about her and loved her, and that’s what made the difference.”

I think that is the essence of my therapeutic process. I don’t see people as problems to be fixed. I just care deeply about them and use whatever resources I have, in terms of my knowledge, skills, and compassionate understanding of how hard we humans struggle sometimes, to help them get to where they want to go in their lives.

Q: You have a WordPress site that contains some of your poetry. How does writing poetry help you in your work?

A: I once asked a very wise mentor (and therapist whom I respect deeply) for the single-most important thing to do to become a really great therapist. He said: “Work your process.” Writing poetry – or anything of a self-reflective nature – helps me dig deep and work my own process. Writing helps me get down below the surface details and petty annoyances of my life to, what I call, “the thing under the thing.” The thing under the thing is the deep wound or insecurity that has been triggered by some external event. By digging deep and working my process in this way, I not only develop a greater capacity for compassion and forgiveness of myself, but also for everyone around me.

Life can be hard, and we all deal with so much pain and struggle sometimes. Writing it out helps me get down to the place where all of humanity is connected, not only in the pain and struggle, but even more so in the strength and resilience we have to grow, learn, and move on, albeit with layers of scar tissue around our hearts and souls.

Q: What are some of the more challenging issues you have faced as a therapist?

A: I work with approximately ages 12 and up. My most challenging cases are perhaps teens who are in a dysfunctional family system, who are not getting their emotional needs met, and they are struggling – with school, with peers, and, of course, their own emotions. These kids are so powerless in their family system that they do whatever they can to feel some sense of control in their own lives. Often, this takes the form of some sort of self-destructive behavior (eg., cutting themselves, eating disorders, drugs, or engaging in any number of risky behaviors).

My job is to help these kids develop healthy and effective coping strategies. It is also to help them see their families more realistically and to grieve the emotional support they are unable to get. In many of these families, the parents are incapable of providing for the kids’ emotional needs and making them feel loved and valued. It is my job to help the kids learn to do that for themselves, and to pick healthy people who will support and cherish them in their future relationships.

It sounds like a lot of work, but fortunately, these kids tend to be really smart, sensitive, and insightful. They are hard workers who can see that their parents have problems but can also see that the way out is to take care of themselves and improve their own lives.

As an aside, I really like working with kids who cut themselves. They are a bright bunch and respond well to therapy. One “intervention” that I’ve come up with is to give cutters a golf ball. So many of the suggestions for cutters are soft – take a bubble bath, drink a cup of herbal tea. These are some pretty hard-core kids who use pain to ground themselves. Squeezing or stepping on a golf ball provides a good kind of pain. They can control it, it doesn’t hurt them, and there may even be some acupressure benefits. (By the way, I don’t golf, so I rely on the generosity of my friends to supply me with their used golf balls!)

Q: To what theories in therapy do you ascribe?

A: I take a real mind-body approach. While I am well-grounded in psychological theory and therapeutic best practices, I also draw heavily from the fields of meditation, body-centered therapies and practices (eg., yoga, tai chi), and neuroendocrinology. Lately I have been loving the work of Peter Levine, who talks about processing trauma through the body.

While my standard therapy toolkit consists of a lot of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and solution-focused, strength-based techniques, I leave the door wide open to pull in anything that works. Sometimes that might be creative therapies (using art, music, dance, etc.). Sometimes I recommend an evaluation for medications – sometimes a person is just dealt a bad set of brain chemicals, and since the brain is an organ in the body (which sometimes doesn’t function optimally), a medical assessment may be in order.

At the risk of being called a therapy heretic, I don’t think all problems are psychological problems. We are physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual beings. We have to make sure that all aspects are balanced and in line with who we truly are.

Finally, although I love Jungian psychology, I don’t use it with every client.  I am not dogmatic about it. In fact, I am more along the lines of Carl Jung himself, who said, “I am glad that I am Jung, and not a Jungian.”

Q: What is your opinion of reality shows that focus on psychological disorders?

A: I must admit, I don’t watch a lot of television, and I especially eschew shows with a lot of “drama.” Because I am a therapist, I listen to people’s stories all day, not for the drama but with a compassionate, listening heart. I don’t find reality shows about psychological disorders entertaining.

That said, General Hospital and The Bachelor are my brain candy; I’m addicted to them. I would love to be the therapist for The Bachelor!

While I have limited familiarity with reality shows, I can say that therapy is a process of “experimentation.” I give a lot of homework to my clients so that they can experiment with change between sessions. We then review – using a strengths-based, solution-focused orientation – what worked, what didn’t, and why. By working with a client’s natural strengths, we effect lasting change. I don’t believe that is typically possible in a one-hour television show.

Q: Have you noticed a difference in the types of things people in a big city are treated for versus the types of things that bring them to therapy in a rural area?

A: Hmmmm, interesting question. There are definitely more similarities than differences between people. The majority of people seek help for depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.

One major difference that I have noticed is that I see more death-related cases in New Mexico than I did in Chicago. Whether accidental or intentional (by suicide or murder), I see more people dealing with grief and loss of a loved one. I also work with men and women who have spent time in the military and who have been exposed to death and suffering that most of us can’t even imagine.

Here in NM, I see a lot more young people than in Chicago. Most of my clients are in their early 30s or younger. One rather curious difference I’ve noticed: In Chicago, it was usually the woman who called to set up marital therapy; here it is usually the man!

One aspect of rural therapy that I’d like to highlight is that the therapies are more varied and are able to incorporate more of the environment. Equine therapy (working with horses) is a ready option out here. There are wilderness adventures and vision quests. Therapists use aspects of the native culture to facilitate healing. I think it’s wonderful to be able to draw upon the land and the rich history as a part of the treatment plan.

Finally, due to the necessity of great distance and few health providers, telemedicine is being seriously researched and utilized here. “Distance counseling,” using internet-based technology, is a direction in which therapy going. It needs rigorous research to determine its effectiveness and ethical/legal implications.

Q: What are some theories in therapy that you do not agree with?

A: I don’t agree with any theory that thinks it’s the only, right, or best approach! I think therapy is like the story of the three blind men and the elephant. Each man has his hand on a piece of the elephant – and each man is right. Depending upon which part you have your hand on, the elephant feels like a big hose, a tree trunk, or a whip. Everyone is partially right, but without the larger perspective, everyone is also wrong. I would not adhere to any one theory to the exclusion of others.

Q: If you could be treated by Freud or Jung, who would you pick and why?

A: Hmmmmm….perhaps the more interesting question would be which one would I rather treat!

While I think it would be fascinating to lie on the couch and be analyzed by Freud, the father of my profession, I would have to pick Carl Jung. First off, he was one jazzy guy! He was multi-faceted in his thinking and doing – totally open to new experiences. I would love to be able to play thought games with him – exploring my dreams and projections for hidden symbolic meanings, archetypes, and hints toward the healing of my deepest wounds.

Jung didn’t pathologize a person or see them as a diagnosis, but rather, he looked at what was calling out in the person to be expressed and integrated into their personality. He talked about the Shadow, which is not something to be driven deeper into hiding, but brought out into the light and worked with as a strength. He was all about balance and becoming more of who we are meant to be.

Finally, I think there is no better way of understanding the therapist-client relationship than by being a client oneself. I would love to be in therapy with this master, to know how it feels and to learn what I can do to be a really great therapist myself.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)


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