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Your Therapist's Therapist

Clients usually hope that their therapists know a lot of stuff. Stuff about how your brain works, stuff about how to change things that hurt you, stuff about how to communicate. And your therapist does know these things.  But it might not be what makes them a good therapist.

The things that make me a good therapist are the things I learned when I wasn’t being a therapist. I know what it feels like to have someone truly See you and Hear you, maybe for the first time. I also know that being invited to share the secrets of your heart can feel like being invited to jump into a bottomless chasm that may or may not be haunted. I know that it is both validating and daunting to know that when your therapist asks you how you are, they’re really listening. And THAT I learned from being a client.

Through all the training and education I’ve had over the years, the things I use most often with my clients are the things I discovered when I’ve been in their chair.

So often in my work, I meet people who sit on my couch for the first time, and blanch at the prospect of opening up to someone. I get that. I get that you might not be able to dive in to your biggest struggles right away; I’m a stranger and you’ve been guarding these secrets closely. I welcome this part of your process, and I invite you to tell me if you don’t feel comfortable with me yet.  In therapy, we love to walk just outside your comfort zone to challenge you to new ways of thinking, but we know that you’re the only one who really knows where that comfort zone begins and ends.

I get that this work is exhausting, and that some days, you just don’t want to do it. It’s hard work to have to drag your mind away from persistent thoughts of doom and gloom, or to break free from an eating disorder.  It takes a lot of effort and work to change your patterns and behaviors so that you can ultimately feel healthier and happier. Some days, it just feels easier to give in and give up, and I completely understand that. Your frustration that you have to work a little harder for happiness is welcome in this room, and I’ve felt that.

I get that you might be annoyed with me sometimes. The nature of our work is fraught with emotions and tension, and sometimes I might slip up, or ask you to go somewhere that you just don't want to go. I invite you to confront me in these moments, and I think these conversations can be really healthy experiences that challenges us to grow.

I understand that sometimes you want to know things about me, and that it’s a little weird to crack your soul open to someone you don’t know much about. It’s fine to be curious, and often times I wish I could share more with you! I know that the more our time stays entirely focused on you, the more impactful your work will be. I get that you might be worried about what I think about you. You’re always welcome to ask because I am always ready to remind my clients of how much I respect them and appreciate their trust in me.

No matter how many textbooks I read, how many seminars I attend, the most enlightening knowledge I’ve acquired about being a therapist has been the knowledge that I received while I was being a client. Therapy is about people; therapist people and client people and all the people in between. We’re in it with you.

And we get it.

Flowing Through Life: The Fluid Wisdom of Shanna Willner

Busy Therapy Austin counselor Shanna Wilner took a moment out of her day to share a piece of herself with me, and I'm so thrilled to share her voice of peace with the therapy-verse. Take a minute and check in with one of TA's masters of mindfulness!

What's  one of your FAVORITE moments in the therapeutic process?

Therapy feels to me like the beautiful book, The Universe in a Single Atom.  Every experience, thought, or feeling that’s been had is a contender to show-up in a session.  For me, this concept appears when a client is expressing a deep pain, a bad memory, a daunting fear, and then one of us will say something unintentionally funny and out of nowhere, we start laughing.   It’s the fast unfettered laughter that comes with emotional freedom. 

Shanna before class at a favorite local yoga studio, prepping to get her zen on!

 I love it.  You never know when it will happen, and it happens more often than one might guess.  That shared moment of pain followed by genuine humor makes me feel connected to something vital.   

What's your go to self-care routine?

The big things:  I actively work to get good sleep and I meditate before bed to wind down from the day.  Next, I am deeply committed to positive self-talk; I am respectful to myself, I encourage myself to take it easy and rest, I make jokes but I don’t make fun.  Finally, I am recently focused on a frequent grocery shop so I have good food in my house and I feel more intentional with my finances.  Without any of these pieces, things get ugly, fast. 

 The little things:  I keep almonds and water in my purse.  When I get tense, I look at funny animal pictures on Reddit for 5 minutes (the Aww section on  When I don’t have time for a lot of exercise, I get a little bit here and there by taking a walk around the block, doing a wall-sit, or stretching between clients.   If I’m mopey, I put on Pandora and have a 5 or 10 minute dance party.  Literally.  I close the door and have a solo dance party, and I feel great afterwards.   I think healing and self-care are incremental, so I weave together a lot of small behaviors.  For me, it works.  Doing small things also prevents me from getting overwhelmed. 

If you could be one animal for a day, what would you be?

If I could be one animal for a day, it would be a blue whale.  I picture this enormous creature flowing through a cool, colorful universe with total ease, as if there was no other way to live but in peace.  I don’t know if its true, but that’s how I picture it. 

I also just think they’re cool.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to live on the planet, bigger than the biggest dinosaur.   The heartbeat of the blue whale can be detected from two miles away and a human can fit in its arteries.  Blue whales produce very low frequency sounds at 20Hz, meaning that slow and low, that is their tempo.  They freely take up huge areas of space within the vast depth below, while all the air above the surface is also at their access.  They're like oceanic road-trippers, cruising around the deep blue.   They come up to the surface, then take a deep dive.   

This is how I feel on my best days; flowing through my life with my body, big heart, and mind all aligned in peace, so at ease with my existence that I don’t need to question, just be. 


To read more about Shanna, and request an appointment with her, head over to our Bio section, and check out her wonderful knowledge of breathing practices, meditation and compassion within the therapy process.