Clinical Psychologist Dr Leslie Carr speaks about the virtues of therapy and its potential to help us live the lives we are truly meant to be living.
Our human need for support is fundamental. As social creatures, we go through life creating networks of friends and relatives we come to depend on. Whilst their love and wisdom is invaluable, sometimes we find ourselves looking for answers they can’t provide. This is where therapy can be a useful to tool to offer insight, and open the door to emotional wellness. Without sugar-coating or sidestepping, sharing an uncensored version of your life to a devoted ear can be incredibly liberating. In a one-to-one conversation marked by curiosity, respect and understanding, each therapy session is dedicated unravelling your doubts and guiding you towards a better version of yourself. This process encourages you to become more aware of your behavioural patterns, enact change and increase your enjoyment of life. Just as we take care of our bodies, a vital element of self-care involves devoting focused time and energy to exploring and understanding our thoughts and feelings.
Dr Leslie Carr is a clinical psychologist who is passionate about helping people heal their pasts, move forward and live the lives that they’re truly meant to be living. We spoke to her about common misconceptions people have about therapy and the ways it can help us heal and grow.
Dr Leslie Carr
Plenty of people who are very psychologically healthy reach out to me all the time. They just want to dig a little deeper and get in touch with what they want out of life.
TBE: What are the common misconceptions people have about visiting a therapist?
Carr: The really common one is that something has to be really wrong with you to warrant therapy. It can be helpful for anyone who is curious about exploring their emotional lives, the connection between thoughts and feelings, and their relationships. Plenty of people who are very psychologically healthy reach out to me all the time. They just want to dig a little deeper and get in touch with what they want out of life.
Also, I think for a lot of people, it seems really scary. When people become accustomed to stuffing their feelings, and ignoring what’s uncomfortable, there’s this idea that when they go into therapy they’ll have to face it all. And, that’s terrifying. We don’t always feel comfortable sharing our thoughts and feelings with the people we see every day, it feels too complicated. A lot of people are surprised how relieving speaking to a therapist can be. It’s actually a huge relief to say the things that need to be spoken out loud.
TBE: Why is it important that we learn to work with our emotions?
Carr: There really are few things in life as important as self-knowledge. The better people know themselves, the more they’re capable of accomplishing in the world. I think emotions have gotten a bad rap, they’re tremendous sources of information. I mean, emotions are not necessarily a negative thing, there are a lot of emotional states that propel people towards success. I think some of the most successful people in our world are the people are connected to their emotional lives. Could Martin Luther King do what he did if he hadn’t been connected to his deep passion, his rage for change?
TBE: How can emotions impact our mental health? Do you find that the head and heart are very much intertwined?
Carr: Very much so. Our thoughts and feelings are deeply intertwined, and I think this is an area of life that is often misunderstood. Oftentimes, these two things feel disconnected or disjointed because some of the thoughts we’re thinking are kind of unconscious, so we’re having an emotional experience and we don’t understand why. On the whole, human beings are not terrifically rational creatures. People sometimes think they’re being rational when they’re not, and other times, people feel like they’re being emotional, when they’re just having an emotional response to something.
Part of where therapy can be extremely useful for people is by helping them understand how their thoughts are informing their feelings. If they’re experiencing a flood of uncontrollable emotion that they don’t understand, I start by unpacking where that emotional experience is coming from. When I treat people who are having panic attacks, I’ve found that if you do a deep dive into it, you can often find its trigger. One thing that makes psychotherapy a deep and complex art, is that it’s really idiosyncratic. Understanding our emotional lives is a like learning to speak a foreign language. You have to learn on an individual basis, what a specific person’s triggers are, so understand why they’re having a specific emotional response.
TBE : How does our environment impact our mental health?
Carr: The fabric of our emotional lives is deeply connected with our relationships. Humans are a very social species. We learn about how to be human from the people who raise us and, we carry those relationship styles into our adult lives. For so many people, when something goes wrong it circles back to the relationships we cultivate. And equally, when our emotional lives are balanced, it traces back to positive relationships. In epigenetics, for instance, we have learned that a lot of the genes in our coding are things that are turned on and off with behaviour. Genes for aggression can get turned off as structures of the brain change, and as the result of lived experience – that’s everything from smoking to the quality of your relationships.
TBE: Do you find that therapy can be used a way to ameliorate problems with our relationships?
Carr: 100%. It’a really complex topic. If you look at all the things that contribute to change in therapy, it’s the human relationship that’s built between two people when they’re doing the work that really contributes to someone’s growth. Any good therapist is able to use the relationship between therapist and client, to help them figure out what’s not working in their other relationships. And in really good therapy, we take what’s happening in the room, and we use it to improve our relationships outside the room.
TBE: You focus mainly on female therapy, how is therapy beneficial for women and what are the common issues women struggle with?
Carr: The message you often get is, ‘oh my god, women are sooo emotional’ – who’s to say that’s wrong? I do think women tend to be more in touch with their emotional responses, I don’t entirely think that it’s true that we are more emotional per se. I think oftentimes, we are having more complex experiences than men are, and that’s not inferior, it’s deeply rich and deeply rewarding. I think therapy can be especially helpful for women because our emotional lives tend to be more complex. Women are still fighting for a basic sense of parity in the world. We’re still fighting for our equality in so many ways. And I think the richness and complexity of our emotional lives, is actually usually in direct proportion to the power that has been denied us over the course of millennia. Psychotherapy can be really empowering. When we know who we are and what we want, we’re empowered to go out into the world and create it.
Dr Leslie Carr is a licensed clinical psychologist (PSY 25306) who works as both a therapist and a coach. She offers sessions in person in San Francisco, as well as via Skype, phone, and FaceTime. Leslie received her BA in psychology from Connecticut College, a small liberal arts college in New London, CT, and she received her masters and her doctorate in psychology from The California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco. Over the course of her academic career, Leslie has had a lot of varied experiences, including working on locked, in-patient units of a psychiatric hospital and working for an institute that studied the psychology of serial killers – but today she’s mostly focused on what helps people thrive.