How and/or why did you become a therapist?
Although my childhood desire was to be a dancer, I was also intrigued by the dynamics and subtle communication between people early on. My father was only too happy that I was interested in something “practical” when I chose to study psychology.
I think my interest in working with other people really stems from my own commitment to my personal development. I once heard a fellow therapist refer to herself as her “favorite patient” and I would agree with that sentiment! As I become acquainted with my own internal world, I have more and more of a felt sense and road map of other people. As I develop more of a capacity to be with myself, I develop more of a capacity to be with other people. A major part of my growth of course has come through my own participation in therapy.
What are the most rewarding aspects of being a therapist?
I feel that I am myself when I am doing my work. It is an expression of me, and that is incredibly fulfilling. There’s always room for creativity, learning about myself and others, expansion, and challenge. I get to impact others in a way that feels genuine to who I am.
What’s unique or special in your background or approach to interpersonal relationships?
As a therapist, my favorite way to work with interpersonal relationships is in a group therapy setting. Group therapy is not always on people’s radars for treatment options, but let me tell you that it is a powerful approach to working on relationships. A therapy group is a small group of people who meet together regularly with the shared goal of therapeutic change in their relationships. This includes the relationship to self as well as other people.
What’s so fascinating about this type of group is that it inevitably replicates real life struggles that occur outside of the therapy room. For example, struggles with boundary setting, feeling isolated, feeling unheard or unsure about using one’s voice, reluctance to address conflict, suppressing or exploding in anger, and social anxiety all appear in the room. Although this may be challenging and bring up all kinds of feelings, it is exactly what we hope will happen. We want this to happen because it gives us the opportunity to intervene in a therapeutic way. The result can be resolution of some repetitive and impeding patterns in people’s relational lives.
Part of how this works is that there is so much interpersonal learning that occurs in the group. Group members learn about parts of themselves by observing those parts in other people. Another wonderful aspect of the group experience is that people grow by learning how they are able to give something of value to other people. They get better acquainted with their gifts and capability to influence other people.
What are your favorite or most interesting interpersonal relationship tips/advice?
Relationships are the arena in which we learn about ourselves and the world. As complicated and frustrating as it can be to work through our relationships, it is so crucial to keep plodding ahead. Even the most painful relationships can have something of value to teach us about ourselves and about life. We learn to define ourselves and clarify what we want in our lives from our experience with other people. When we’re complete with certain lessons, I find we move onto new types of relationships in our lives. As imperfect as relationships are, they are so necessary for our growth.
What are some things about therapy that you want to increase public awareness about?
I want to emphasize that therapy is relational in nature, whether in an individual, couples or group format. People heal in relationships that are therapeutic. These relationships need not be perfect; in fact, they shouldn’t be perfect. There should be room for wobbles and foibles so there can be just enough friction that results in growth. If you find a therapist who is a good fit for you and you can engage in the relationship, the gains over time can be invaluable.
Lavanya Shankar, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Austin, Texas. She specializes in relationships, grief and loss, and trauma. She sees individuals, couples, and groups, and supervises therapists in training. As a seasoned therapist with advanced group psychotherapy training, she particularly enjoys working with patients in group psychotherapy. You can learn more about Dr. Lavanya Shankar at www.lbsinghamphd.com.