This Therapist’s Life: Out of the Office with Lisa Brookes Kift

I am a therapist and this is the first in my series about others like me.  My name is Lisa Brookes Kift and I was one of the first therapists online, part of an earlier group who began to challenge long held beliefs about how people in our our profession should be conducting themselves.

Therapists Behind a Veil 

It wasn’t long ago that many doing psychotherapy believed that therapists should be a “blank slate” and never reveal personal information.  Marketing their practices would have been considered unethical and generally uncouth.  These days the landscape for therapists and their clients has changed.  My work is about helping people find happiness whether individually and/or in their relationships.  Allowing a trickle of my humanity into the room (when appropriate) fosters an authentic experience that can allow this to occur.

Therapists Out Front and Center

In the last ten years, most of us have created an online presence including websites and photos.  Many of us write to share our views on how change occurs and some even offer educational tools for the general public via the internet.  There is a vast continuum of how we are “out there” but the point is we are.  And this serves our potential clients in that more than ever, they are able to learn a bit about us before taking a seat on our coach.

It’s About the Relationship First

In my private practice and as reflected in my style, I have always felt that showing some of my human side can be important in the development of the relationship needed to progress together.  Personal disclosure is done very carefully and dependent on the client(s).  I consider whether this might serve them or be a distraction.  After all, the paid sessions are about them, not me.

For me, the relationship is not a “one up” style dynamic.  It is collaborative and I serve as a guide.  Reminding people that we are human levels the playing field, can normalize a client’s experience and help them feel less alone.

“This Therapist’s Life”

My goal in this series being kicked off is 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.

We begin with me.

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Who am I?

I am a mother to a 3rd grade boy.  I am a wife to a good man.  I am a therapist with a private practice in Larkspur (Marin County, RiverCA) working with individuals and couples.  I love both types of work and the balance is a good fit for me. I have been a baseball and soccer coach for my son.  Travel, being outdoors and with the people I care about are some of my favorite things to do.  I have an introverted side as well so having alone time means a lot to me too.  I’ve done my own therapy and the experience not only altered my path in a very positive way but was catalyst to me seeking this profession.  I wanted to help others as I’d been helped.

What do I enjoy about my work?

I love guiding people to remove the obstacles that block their inner peace and healthy, loving relationships.  Seeing people leave my office and take responsibility for changing themselves, being different in the world and then observing the benefits is very rewarding.  I also enjoy the writing aspect of my work.  For years I’ve written about topics related to emotional and relationship health.  I have a few ebooks I’ve sold all over the world, a marriage workbook and premarital workbook.  I currently write for a local woman’s magazine, North Bay Woman.  This satisfies the creative side of me, the little girl who wanted to be a writer (well, a photojournalist and I do love taking pictures too). It’s rewarding to be able to weave these things together.  I am fortunate to do work that I am passionate about.

What is challenging?

The most difficult part is seeing people suffer and struggle to get unstuck.  No matter how much resilience I see in them, it doesn’t matter until they can see it themselves.  Clients who come and expect I will “fix” them and don’t actively participate in the process are challenging for me.   But I also understand that trauma histories can block a person’s belief that they have any power to change.

What is one of my greatest experiences in therapy?

I love seeing clients make life changing shifts.  I see it in their faces, their eyes, their lightness and overall body language.  They operate differently in the world and/or together as a couple.  Observing hope and optimism being restored is beautiful.

Do I have any regrets in my work?  In hindsight, what would I have done differently?

Many years ago, when I was an intern, I worked with a high conflict couple who were teetering on the edge of divorce.  I made the mistake of allowing them both to see me individually simultaneously.  This was a learning experience for me but I felt badly because this situation ended with one of them being hurt by my choice when the other left the marriage and continued to see me while involved with his next relationship.  In life, as we are learning to master trades or professions, mistakes are part of that process for most of us.  What I would do differently now is refer the couple out for their own separate individual therapists.  I do believe there are conditions where it’s ok to see them both a few times here and there but definitely only for the more stable couples where neither one is contemplating an exit but committed and merely wanting to avoid future problems. These couples are more common than when I started, which is great.

What would you want your clients or potential clients to understand about the work you do?

I’d want them to know that this a team effort.  I can provide my education, clinical skill and experience to help guide them but they must continue the work in their own lives, outside of the four walls of my office.

Are there ways my work positively impacts my personal life?

I know how to be a good friend.  I know the importance of keeping communication lines open in my marriage and friendships. But I’m not perfect.  Sometimes my own personal history taints what I should know, at least temporarily.  But I usually find my way back if I get off track.

Are there ways my work has been a challenge to my personal life?

Sometimes I think people are afraid I’m going to “psychoanalyze” them at every step because I’m a therapist.  Some are fascinated and want to learn more and others appear to keep their “safe” distance.  My husband has observed this too so I’m not making this up. My theory is that the ones who stay further back are chewing on their own stuff and might fear I will see through them with my x-ray vision.  Ok, that was a joke.  I would hope that people understand I’m not a therapist 24-7.  I might just want to hang out like they do…tell a funny story and have a beer.

How would the people close to me describe me as related to my work?

They would probably say I’m more on the intense and sensitive side than many.  They know I like to get into topics, to go deep.  Some can hang with me down there, others don’t know what to do with that as it’s just not how they think.  My friends also know I’m a good person to bounce things off of as I will put a lot of thought into what they bring to me.

What is something others might find funny to know about me?

When out at restaurants I feel deeply uncomfortable if my back is not to a wall.  You’d think I had a past life as a cowboy in the wild, wild West when they sat with their backs to the wall at bars, etc – to be ready to fight off any combatants who might saunter in.  I have no idea why this is.  But it’s visceral for me.  I don’t feel scared but just really uncomfortable and distracted.  Everyone close to me knows about it and generally acquiesces to this oddity.  Well, now you know too.

GiantsWhat are some things I would do if I had more time?

I would take a hip hop dance class, join a local recreational volleyball team and take Spanish lessons to move from my intermediate-advanced level to fluency.  Would be fun to go to more Giants games too.

Why do I do the work of therapy?  What does it mean to me?

I had a prior profession, working in the movie industry in Los Angeles in my 20’s.  Though glamorous in the beginning and interesting to say the least, it was not a fit.  Becoming a therapist was one of the best decisions of my life.  Doing the personal work I’ve done over many years, trudging through my own painful history and coming out the other side a changed person helps me to be a better therapist.  My son asked me the other day if there was another job I’d do if I could do anything I wanted.  Without hesitation, I said, “Nope.”

I am exactly where I want to be.

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Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT has a private practice working with individuals and couples in Larkspur, Marin County, CA.  Learn more at MarinTherapyAndCounseling.com.

See more “This Therapist’s Life” interviews:

This Therapist’s Life:  Out of the Office with Esther Boykin