Monday, April 29, 2013

Rich Gallagher, LMFT

Some people's midlife crises involve sports cars or beautiful women. Mine involved deciding, in my 50s, to become a practicing psychotherapist.

Today I am proud to announce getting my New York State clinical license in marriage and family therapy.  As long as I behave myself and pay my renewal fees, I am now officially a therapist for the rest of my life. (Until now, I have been practicing under a supervised "learner's permit" that expires for good this year.) This marks the end of a long journey, and I couldn't be happier.

For me, this was always the path not taken, and one that called to me even as I pursued a seemingly more practical career (and my family's tradition) in technology. I even had a dual major in psychology as a Cornell engineering student in the 1970s, and was genuinely torn whether to become an engineer or a therapist. It was a heady time when people started to explore human potential and inner space, when I thought psychotherapists were the coolest people in the world. And I still do.

When I first started down this road in 2005, volunteering as a crisisline counselor, this was my dirty little secret - a Walter Mitty life I didn't tell most people about. When I started graduate school in 2007, videotaping my first counseling assignment, I felt like a rookie football player walking into an NFL locker room for the first time. And by the time I started my clinical practicum in 2009 - by which time I was seeing clients two days a week, as I do now - my secret was finally out.

So how do I feel after finishing graduate school and close to four years of supervised practice? First of all, I enjoy doing this as much as I thought I would. Ever since I was a young child wanting to become a Catholic priest when I grew up, my real goal in life was to help people be happier - not just write software and feed the cats and pay the mortgage. So for me this is an affirmation of life, as I transition to retirement in a few short years.

People often tell me, "I couldn't do counseling. Who wants to listen to other people's problems all day?" While it does have its moments, my experience is generally the opposite. Good therapy is a process of happymaking, and most people leave feeling better than when they came in. At least with me, a surprising amount of laughter takes place in session, even in some very serious situations. Even though this is very secular work, it often feels like we are creating a sacred space for people to be heard and understood, learn new skills, and make positive and fundamental life changes.

This work helps me too. It has introduced me to a larger community of therapists that has been incredibly generous of spirit with me, including three clinical supervisors (for my practicum in NY, my internship in PA, and my postgraduate clinical work) who have been the best and kindest mentors I could ever ask for. It dovetails nicely with my "day job" writing and speaking about communications skills. It opens up a whole new world of fascinating conferences and workshops. And yes, the things I have learned working with others benefit my own mental health and wellness.

From here, I hope to keep learning and growing. I already have a bucket list of things to explore further, ranging from my current specialty of treating anxiety disorders (my colleagues joke that I've become the "anxiety guy" at my current clinic) to going on retreat and exploring the nexus between psychotherapy and spirituality (another interest from my wannabe-priest days). Above all, I hope to keep doing well by my current and future clients, because that is what this is really all about. My sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me on this journey.