“This Therapist’s Life” is an interview series intended to demystify therapists to the public while giving permission to therapists to speak from the heart about the joys and challenges of what we do, in and out of the office.
Introducing, Jennine Estes.
Who is Jennine Estes?
I am a therapist, a trapeze artist, an adventure junkie, and a kid at heart. While running a full-time therapy practice during the day, I hang upside down on a trapeze bar at night. I spend a lot of time connecting with friends and family during my down times. I created a campaign called #BeingLOVEDIs and I connect with people around the world on what it means to be loved. I am a certified Emotionally Focused Therapist working directly with couples on improving their relationships.
What do you enjoy about your work?
I love getting to be with people in a way that not many people get to experience. It is nearly impossible to grow without getting vulnerable first so there is something magical and gratifying about providing a safe, trusting place for vulnerability. I love being able to help my clients get to their goals and make changes in their relationships. Most of all, the connection with my clients is my favorite part of my work. I really have the best clients in the world!
What is challenging?
Some of the challenges in a private practice is having high-conflict couples or doubting my own skills. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great challenge. But at times there can be challenges where clients may need more support than just the couples work. It is important for me to encourage clients to seek out individual counseling or to get a psychiatric assessment when they need it. I have seen great strides in relationships that hit a wall in couples therapy when both will also go to individual therapy as well.
What is one of your greatest experiences in therapy?
I find this question difficult to answer because of all of the many experiences I’ve had with clients. I find them all to be unique yet impactful. One experience that stands out is when I had a homeless couple contact me because they wanted to do couples counseling. My fee is $150 per hour, but I gave them counseling for $5, which was still pretty steep for them. They both had substance addiction and worked on getting clean and sober. They worked on improving communication as a couple and began cleaning up their lives. From time to time, they still give me updates of all the good things happening in their lives. Seeing how hard this couple was willing to work on their marriage to scrape up five dollars to go to counseling, to see how badly they wanted their marriage to work and to earn their family some stability… it still takes my breath away.
Do you have any regrets in your work? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
As an MFT intern, I did not have a lot of guidance in treatment and theoretical models. Knowing what I have learned through supervision, extended training, and experience, I would love to share my current skills with the earlier me. Something I would definitely have done differently is to have sought out an Emotion Focused Therapy certified therapist. This model has been so effective for me as a practitioner that I wish I had experienced it earlier as an individual so that I could use these skills sooner. Occasionally I recall a couple that I worked with and think about how I would approach things a little differently, but nothing overwhelming or specific. I have always done the best that I could with what I have and I continue to give my all in session.
What would you like your clients or potential clients to understand about the work you do?
I work primarily from the Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) model which is a research-based method influenced by attachment therapy. The goal is to give words and space to the emotional experience and identify negative cycles. With couples specifically, there is the added layer of two people going through a negative cycle and often becoming insecure then triggering each other into fear. Once a negative cycle has been identified, we can figure out what needs to happen to interrupt that cycle, whether it is a thought pattern or communication habits. The most important piece to all of this is vulnerability. Once someone can listen and really hear what their partner is going through, they can begin to make progress. In addition to EFT, I utilize other psychotherapy techniques. A popular one among my clients is bibliotherapy – I provide book suggestions as well as articles and worksheets to help them understand their experience and work through the related emotions.
Are there ways your work positively impacts your personal life?
Therapy has had me stand up for what I want, need, and believe in. I had to learn how to speak up and learn how to set boundaries both personally and professionally. Once I began the Emotion Focused Therapy training, my understanding of what a secure relationship was shifted. I began understanding what was happening for me emotionally and how to reach to my partner in a clearer way.
Are there ways your work has been a challenge to your personal life?
I would say the hardest thing is simply balancing work and home life. When you are in private practice, you wear a lot of hats as a therapist, business owner, employer, etc., so it takes a lot of discipline to set boundaries and “clock out” so I can also just be myself.
How would the people close to you describe you as related to your work?
Most commonly, I am described as genuine, passionate, and caring. And maybe a little obsessed! I love to think of new ideas not only for my clients, but also for my business so my brain is going all the time.
Is there something others might find funny to know about you?
People are sometimes surprised to learn that for fun I play on a trapeze bar and love to perform. I absolutely love to do duo trapeze – basically anything circus-related.
What are some things you would do if you had more time?
Well, I would do trapeze daily if I had the time. And it seems like there is never enough time to visit with friends and family. I really like to hang with my people!
Why do you do the work of therapy? What does it mean to you?
A common word used in therapy, especially attachment-based methods like Emotion Focused Therapy, is “repair.” And I think that is a perfect word to define why I do what I do. All of us have breaks and fractures in our relationships and ourselves. It comes with the territory of being human. The work that I do, whether with couples or individuals or families, is about repair, specifically repairing connection. Connection is another thing that makes us uniquely human and strong, supportive bonds help us build resilience when hard, scary things happen.
Jennine Estes is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, California. She runs a full-time private practice (Estes Therapy) along with an active blog (Relationships in the Raw), a social media campaign (BeingLOVEDIs), and resources for other private practice therapists. She is passionate about helping couples and individuals find validation for their emotions and learn how to better connect with on another and themselves. As a love enthusiast, she takes her BeingLOVEDIs campaign with her when she travels internationally to connect with others.
See previous “This Therapist’s Life” interviews: