Jeffrey Kottler on Being a Therapist

Jeffrey Kottler on Being a Therapist

by Rebecca Aponte and Victor Yalom
Prolific writer, professor and psychologist Jeffrey Kottler imparts his wisdom and a healthy dose of humor, curiosity and unflinching honesty about the therapist's actual experience in the room with cilents.


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The Therapist's Experience

Rebecca Aponte: In your book, On Being a Therapist, you talk about some of the challenges and personal fulfillment that come from being a therapist, as well as the need of therapists to embrace the ambiguity of human experiences and the process of the therapy itself. What did you mean by all that?
Jeffrey Kottler: I don't know.
RA: That's a great answer!
JK: I've just always been fascinated with the therapist's experience of doing therapy—what that feels like, how it changes us, how it penetrates us. I see the job, or the profession, or the calling, as just being this amazing gift for those of us that are privileged enough to do this work, because of these gems and things that we learn. And I know there are people who do therapy differently than this, but it's just a very weird, strange enterprise, therapy. I mean, trying to describe to your own children what you do is bizarre.

I don't really have a lot of faith that we understand how therapy works.
I don't really have a lot of faith that we understand how therapy works. One thing we're clear about is that therapy does work, but there are just so many competing explanations for that. With that said, what the client brings to us in a session is so overwhelming and so full of content and feeling that we can't hold it. So we have to find ways to live with that—to live with all this uncertainty, and all this mystery, and all this ambiguity. At the same time, our clients are demanding answers and solutions, preferably in this session—if necessary they'll come back a second time, but that's about it. Part of the job of inducting someone into the role of being a good client is teaching them a little bit of patience, and teaching them how to work the process. But all the while we're saying this to our clients, we're talking to ourselves, too, about how to live with the ambiguity of our own lives, trying to make sense of what it is that we do and what we're on this planet to do.

I find it more than a little hysterical, more than a little amusing, the different perceptions that therapists and clients have about their sessions. A couple of my Ph.D. students have done qualitative interviews where they interview the therapist and interview the client, and it's as if there were different people in the room, or different sessions. That's the thing that's so crazy: that we can't even tell when we did a good job. The session is over and we're flying high, and the client never comes back again! What's that about? We delude ourselves: "Oh, they must be cured. It was so good they didn't need to come back!" I remember Albert Ellis told me that in the interview for Bad Therapy: "When they don't come back, it's just because they don't need it anymore; they're cured." Well, good on you that you can delude yourself with that.

Victor Yalom: Do you have any idea what draws you to the experience of being a therapist?
Jeffrey Kottler: I'm interested in the taboo, in the forbidden, in the things that we don't talk about, related to therapy. When I was learning to be a therapist, there were just so many questions I had about things that I was too afraid to even ask because I didn't want people to find out how stupid I was, or to realize that I don't belong in this club. "If people find out what I'm really like, I'm going to get kicked out! I'd better keep this stuff to myself." I would sit in classrooms, and then in case conferences and workshops, and want to scream questions, like: "Do you really think that's what therapy's about?" Or, "What you're saying doesn't make any sense!" I think I read in a book review or something that someone once called me the conscience of the profession, and I'm very flattered by that. But I prefer to think of it more as the role of the little boy in The Emperor's New Clothes: not to expose, but rather to uncover the unsaid. And for me, the unsaid is the experience—not the perverse, but the wonderful, amazing joy that's involved in this journey that we're privileged to be on with people, if not as guides, then as companions on this journey.

We Feel like Frauds

VY: What are some of the questions you have asked or explored in your writing that other people might think of as taboo?
JK: Like, that much of the time we feel like frauds. That we can't do the things that we ask our clients to do. That we lie. That we can't walk the talk. That we don't understand what we're doing and why it works. That our own issues are constantly coming up. Oh, a really good one: that we're not listening to our clients half the time—half the time we're in the room we're somewhere else, while we're nodding our heads and pretending to listen.
VY: And preaching mindfulness.
JK: Preaching mindfulness when we're planning what we're going to make for dinner. And I don't mean to make fun of that. I don't think human beings can stay present. I've been doing this survey for 20 years when I do workshops, asking, "What percentage of the time would you estimate that you are present with your clients on the average, keeping in mind that there are some clients who are so riveting that we really are there almost all the time?" And I've gotten answers between 20 and 70 percent, but the average really is about 50 percent, and I think that's pretty darn good!
RA: That sounds about right.
JK: I think that's a high exaggeration. But I monitor this in myself and I'm kind of amused by it. I'm amused by it right now—as I'm talking to you, I'm somewhere else. I have to go onstage in an hour and there's a part of me that's still planning what I'm going to do in an hour at that stage, all while I'm saying this. And I don't want us to be ashamed of that. I just want to talk about it, because I need to talk about it. In the early part of my career, I was never fortunate enough to be in a very supportive working environment where I could trust my supervisor or my colleagues. They felt competitive; it felt like it just wasn't safe. So because I had to hold onto this in the early part of my career, maybe that's why I had to write.Aponte: It's interesting to use the metaphor of the emperor's new clothes, because there is a nakedness in the way that you write—this insecurity about what kind of a job you're doing, and what kind an impact you're having, if you're having any impact at all.

Yesterday, I was doing a workshop on relationships in a therapist's life, and I was talking about the work I do in Nepal with young girls at risk to be sold into sex slavery; we give out scholarships to keep them in school. It costs a hundred dollars to keep one little girl out of sex slavery, to keep her in school for a year. So it's redefined how I think about money. I was using an example of how my belt broke two days ago, so I went to the mall to look for a replacement belt and saw this amazing alligator belt—$400. And I thought, "That's four girls! That's four girls' lives. So if I could find a belt for $60, then I can..." Even though I don't take the $350 and give it to the girls, I still think that way.

So anyway, someone came up to me after the workshop and she said, "God, it must be so hard to be you, to be so hard on yourself all the time, if that's how you really think about money! You must be in anguish." I had forgotten to mention the other side: that, maybe because I was a cognitive therapist early in life, I don't do guilt. I am really just a peaceful, calm person almost all the time. And I hardly worry about anything that I can't control or do something about. So I forgot to mention that other thing! The way that woman perceived me is that I must be very troubled to talk about this, and think about this morbid stuff all the time, and I must be so hard on myself—all the stuff I write about fear of failure and perfectionism and all that.

There are two themes that live within me. One is that I really am never good enough. After every performance, including this interview, I think about what I could have said, what I should have said, what I wished I'd said. "I can't believe I didn't say that; oh, I forgot that." And then the other part is total and complete forgiveness within five minutes, like, "Okay, on to the next thing. What can I learn from that interview that's going to help me to do that better and be more responsive next time?" So those are the two. And this woman yesterday helped me by asking that question, because I haven't really talked about that—the two, the yin and the yang, both of them living together.
RA: It sounds like the relationship that you have with that part of yourself recognizes that as part of your driving force to constantly get better. And that was the whole point of your book, Bad Therapy: that we can learn this way. It sounds to me like that's the way that you learn, and that's the way that you continue to grow—rather than controlling that inner critic, it's really more like embracing it.
JK: And honoring it, and really feeling grateful for it. I don't learn very much about therapy anymore, reading books or whatever. But I learn so much watching people who are just good at anything they do. I've been reading Gladwell's new book about what leads to success—and it's ten thousand hours of experience. Gladwell's point in The Outliers is that people who are extraordinary in their fields just work harder at it than anyone else. They work at it so hard that it looks easy. And I embrace that idea.
VY: So how do therapists work hard at being better therapists?
The single best thing that predicts excellence in what we do is how we respond to our consumers.
The single best thing that predicts excellence in what we do is how we respond to our consumers. My consumers are mostly students and readers because I don't do that much therapy anymore. But I want to be a much better teacher that I am. I think I'm really, really good, but not nearly as good as I want to be. And I think that's why, after almost 35 years of teaching, I'm still so incredibly excited about what I'm doing.

Yalom, to get back to your question about what therapists can do, I have friends that have been practicing for decades that see anywhere from 25 to 50 clients a week, basically following the same theoretical orientation they've always used. They report to me that they still very much enjoy their work, and still feel enlivened by it, and I have to tell you that I don't understand that. I believe that they believe it—I think I believe that—but a part of me says it's impossible.

But maybe that's a statement about my own needs for change. I reinvent myself at least every five years because—here's my neurosis right out here—I get so bored with myself. I'm tired of my own stories. I get tired of doing things. I've taught the group therapy course well over a hundred times, and the reason I like teaching group therapy is that it is always different, it is never the same. You can change one person in the group and it's different. That means I'm always challenged and always stimulated.

I think therapists get lazy. I think we've got our favorite stories, we've got our favorite techniques and metaphors that have been tested in the trenches for years. They produce predictable outcomes, so we just go on cruise control: "Oh, here's another one of those." And it works. But I just get bored with myself if I don't feel like I'm learning something new or I'm out on the edge, on a learning edge to get better. But that is more than a little exhausting.
RA: Where do you source your change from? Do you feel that you change in response to what your consumers—students or clients or readers—are wanting from you?
JK: I change everything I can that's within my power to change. For a while I used to change jobs. That was somewhat self-destructive because I had a family and a young son at the time, and my wife and son would always come with me. We lived in Peru and Iceland and Australia, and we lived in five different universities in the United States. I was moving every five years just because I was hungry for something new. And while I don't believe in regret, there's a part of me that feels a little wistful about what it would have been like to be in one place for long enough that I would actually see my students around town as they became professionals. This might be my seventh university or something like that. It's my last one; I'm at an age now where I know this is where I am. And I love that feeling, too. I've changed my theoretical orientation, or at least it's evolved, every two years. I'm amused that when a client comes back to see me after five years, they think I do therapy the same way, and I don't anymore.
VY: Who's the judge of that? You think you don't...
JK: I'm pretty sure I don't. Because they expect certain things of me and I sometimes have to explain, "Oh, by the way, I don't do that anymore. I approach it this way. I still remember how to do it if that's what you want, but I've got some new stuff here that's kinda cool; maybe you'll like this too."
VY: Of course. But so much about therapy is the relationship. Although you may feel you've changed, do they experience you differently as a person?
JK: Actually, another one of the cool things about aging, at least in the literature I'm aware of in men—but I'll just talk about me—is, as I've aged, I think I've become even more transparent, more authentic, and more willing to take interpersonal risks with clients in session to help them feel safe. I was a therapist when I was 21—and I look young now, but I am going to be 58. But boy, did I look young then.
RA: 21—that's quite young!
JK: Yeah, it was quite young. So, early in my life, I had to devise ways to get respectability so people would take me seriously. And even when I was in my 30's, I looked like I was in my 20's. I looked in the mirror recently, and I think I'm old now: I have gray hair! I think people look at me as old. Actually, I know they do, because my students now look at me as their father, which is a little depressing. But I like that I've finally reached a point where I look like what a therapist is supposed to look like.

Maybe Doubt isn't such a Bad Thing

VY: Do you think it's really important that therapists are honest with themselves about their doubts, about themselves and their work, the variety of their desires?
JK: No, I don't think it's good for all therapists to open up that can of worms if that's not some place where they want to be or some place they want to go, or maybe that's just not their experience. I meet and know therapists that say they don't have doubts. I envy that—I think. No, see, that's a lie! I don't envy that. See, that's one of the lies I mean: I catch myself saying things like that that I don't really believe, but they're the kinds of things I'm supposed to say.
I don't envy therapists who don't have doubts; I mistrust them
I don't envy therapists who don't have doubts; I mistrust them—maybe because it's so far from my experience, and because I think that doubting and questioning lead me to be more of an explorer of things

So I don't think I believe that's the case with all therapists. But the ones who come to my workshops or my classes came there for a reason, so there's a level of informed consent. If someone comes to a workshop or picks up a book that has a title like Clients Who Changed Me or Bad Therapy or whatever, then they're saying, "Okay, I'm open to this." But one of the beautiful things about our work is that there are just so many ways to do this that fit different personalities and different styles.

I go to a lot of programs where experts stand up with total and complete certainty and they say, "This is truth, this is the way it is." And it might often be prefaced with the statement, "The data supports blah blah blah." Or they'll say, "The empirical evidence supports blah blah blah and it follows that..." Because you say, "That's The Data, The Evidence; therefore, there it is," then it ends the conversation. What makes it especially funny is that then you go into the next room and the next conference, and someone says, "The evidence supports..." and then the exact opposite of what you just heard.

RA: So how do therapists bring that ambiguity into the room, or bring their own doubts into the room? Because I imagine that's part of what makes them human.
JK: You know, I don't bring it into the room. When I and a couple of colleagues about fifteen years ago were looking at all the research on therapeutic relationships—and this was in a book called The Heart of Healing: Relationships in Therapy—I remember what we considered groundbreaking at the time was that there is no "Therapeutic Relationship." The best therapeutic relationship is one that's individually designed and tailored for each client, not for the therapist's convenience. My fantasy is imagining my clients in the waiting room comparing notes about what my therapy is like, and they think they're seeing different therapists. And they are, because I'm not the same with any. If I'm seeing a working-class man who's skeptical of therapy, works in construction and is not sophisticated about the emotional work, we would work in a very different, concrete, specific, goal-focused, male-respectful way.
RA: So it sounds like you actually do bring the ambiguity into the room, but maybe not in a way that your clients would tell. You might bring it by responding differently to each client.
JK: For some clients, I think the source of their anxiety or their depression or their helplessness is that their lives feel out of control because there is too much ambiguity in their lives. So the whole idea of doing a personalized assessment for a client is, if you have too much ambiguity in your life then you need more structure and an illusion of certainty.
VY: So, for you, being comfortable and exploring your own ambiguity feels right, but it's not something you're going to share with your client if it's not helpful to them.
JK: That meets my needs, not the client's needs. I have preferences, as all therapists do, about the kinds of clients I like to work with. My perfect client is me—someone like me, that's got my unresolved issues, so that I get to do my work.
If I had my way, I'd prefer to do a Yalom-esque, existentially based, search-for-meaning long-term relationship, probably with a professional male. If I had my druthers, that's my YAVIS client, my perfect client who would come in. But I get a couple of those in a lifetime.
If I had my way, I'd prefer to do a Yalom-esque, existentially based, search-for-meaning long-term relationship, probably with a professional male. If I had my druthers, that's my YAVIS client, my perfect client who would come in. But I get a couple of those in a lifetime.

And, with managed care and all the other kinds of things, if I have a client who comes in and says, "I have one session with you, this is all we have," I'll do brief therapy like the best of them. I will rise to the challenge, because that's what the client needs. But I can't say I like that as much as I would if I could do relational-oriented work with someone that wants to do some deeper explorations into what gives their life, and all lives, greater meaning. I get off on that, because that's my journey.

I suppose what I teach my students is that it's fine to pick a theory, any theory, doesn't matter which theory—pick a theory to start with or, pick a theory that your supervisor likes because you've got to make your supervisor happy—and then over time you're going to have your own theory, your own way of understanding what this work is about. And that's the growth edge that we were talking about earlier.

I feel sorry for therapists that come to workshops like this to get their CEUs. I see that because I do so many of those workshops. And I can see people sitting in the audience that have this huge sign on their forehead: "I am only here for my CEUs. Entertain me, damn it, because I don't want to be here, and you're not going to teach me anything I don't know, anyway." I might agree with that last statement, and I will entertain them, but I think that's a bit sad that they really think they've got it already.

Integrative Therapy: Replacing "Or" with "And"

VY: When you're training students and trying to in some way mold the next generation of therapists...
JK: Or grow, instead of mold.
VY: Sure. What do you do to help make it safe for them to explore, to be aware of their own inner world as therapists?
JK: All the things that I'm doing with you right now—that is,transparency and the most brutal honesty that I'm capable of. And modeling for them, as much as I can, that I'm not afraid, and I'm going to show you the parts of myself that I think are least likable. And what do you notice happening when I show you that? My hypothesis is that you like me more—that the more I show you the parts of myself I don't like, the more you respect me and the more you like me. Isn't that interesting?
VY: What you're advocating is still counter to, I think, the basic framework that we have as therapists.
JK: Is it?
VY: You know, people talk about countertransference, but it's still almost as if, well, you've got to resolve your countertransference.
JK: I believe in countertransference; I believe in projective identification. I believe that those are phenomena that exist. I'd been classically trained in a strong psychodynamic background, a strong cognitive-behavior background, a strong person-centered background. I went through all of those stages and a dozen others in my career. So I honor all of those concepts. I think they exist; they exist within me; I recognize them with me. But it's not either/or, it's and:
the feelings that we have for our clients or our students are both real and projections, not one or the other.
the feelings that we have for our clients or our students are both real and projections, not one or the other.
VY: Sure. I like what you're saying. I think there's still a bias in our profession that we work these things through quickly to become "mature" therapists.
JK: I sure don't believe that. But what I love that's happening: it feels like there are other people that are, if not joining me, going way ahead of me in this regard. The whole constructivist movement, narrative therapy movement, and feminist therapy movement, and relational cultural therapy are now all about honoring the egalitarian relationship between therapist and client: therapist not as expert, but as partner, as collaborator.

Therapy was dominated by men and male-oriented thinking for the first century. But now, because my students are mostly immigrants and minority students in Southern California, a lot of the traditional white-man theories don't really fit their client populations. Most of my students are immigrants who work in their own communities. You can't do cognitive-behavior therapy or existential therapy, or person-centered, or Ericksonian, or any of these mainstream therapies—you can't do them as they were designed when you're doing it in Vietnamese or Mandarin or Spanish.
VY: Why not?
JK: Well, I guess you can. My point is there's a tremendous cherishing and honoring of difference, and the idea that you adapt what we do as therapists, not just for that individual client but for the cultural context of their experience, the community in which they live and function. So it feels like there's much more respect for the therapist's experience.

For my next book on creativity, which I'm writing with Jon Carlson, we interviewed a number of therapists, but a couple that stand out are Laura Brown, a feminist therapist, and Judy Jordan, who's a relational cultural therapist. And they both use the four-letter word when they describe their relationship, that is, love: that therapy is about love. And
I believe that it's a non-possessive, non-exploitative kind of love that our clients feel for us and that we feel for them.
I believe that it's a non-possessive, non-exploitative kind of love that our clients feel for us and that we feel for them.

I've been doing qualitative research my whole life, and I had to do it in the dark because it was never respected as legitimate research. Now qualitative research is one of the preferred methods. When I first started doing this, everyone was doing grounded theory, which is ex-quantitative researchers doing qualitative research but being uncomfortable with it, so they do all this coding. Most of my students are doing narrative analysis now, which involves preserving the stories, the lived experiences, the phenomenology of the people they're talking with—being able to do a thematic analysis of it, not the same way that therapists do, but in a parallel process. "What is the meaning of this?" And, "What are the intersections between the lives of these different people I've spoken to?" The last study one of my students has done is with therapists who had clients who committed suicide and who were marginalized afterwards—could never speak about it, could never talk about it.
VY: The therapists?
JK: The therapists. And what's so forbidden about this is that therapists are not allowed to grieve or express their own loss of a client.
RA: It sounds like you get really energized by the exploration of the tremendous variability of human life.
JK: I get excited when I learn something I don't already know; that really gets me going. I like working with therapists and working with students—and for that matter, working with clients—who bring something in that I've never thought about before, never encountered before. It's my fault because I get lazy. Someone comes in and they say, "I'm depressed because I don't have a job," and I think, in a lazy way, "Oh yeah, you're another one of these."
VY: You're 58 and you've written about 75 books, so laziness is the last attribute I would think to describe you.
JK: I meant laziness in my therapy, where I put someone into a category instead of honoring the uniqueness of what they're bringing. Every client really is unique. This kicks in that perfectionistic stuff again—the voice: "Kottler, it's you! You're the problem, not what your clients are bringing you. And if you stop looking at them as being similar, they wouldn't be similar." Then that forgiveness voice says, "Yeah, but you do the best you can. You're busy; you're writing five more books. So give yourself a break."
VY: What it seems you were speaking to is the fundamental trait of curiosity about others and about yourself, which I think is a great trait in a therapist: to be genuinely curious.
JK: Maybe about some kinds of therapists, but I'm imagining people reading this that don't think that way, and I want to honor their experience too.
That's another one of the things that's so great about being a therapist: you can be a therapist so many different ways.
That's another one of the things that's so great about being a therapist: you can be a therapist so many different ways. And it's much harder work for me to do this, but I like helping each therapist develop their individual style rather than trying to be like me or someone else. But it's much easier to teach people, "This is the way." There are some really good habits and skills and knowledge-base kinds of things that everybody must learn and get down before we let you loose to start doing this with other people. Everybody has to start with all these generic skills, and the basic research and theory in a field; developing your own voice is something that happens years later.
VY: It is. I think, unfortunately, people get professionalized and homogenized in graduate school and have to unlearn a lot in order to find their own voice ten, fifteen years later.
RA: Yeah. I'm wondering whether you've found that there's a way to circumvent this. Are you helping students to find their own voice, or to maintain their voice, earlier in their training?
JK: Yeah—back to something we talked about earlier—by modeling the doubts and uncertainties.
RA: Right.
JK: And that's a huge feature of what I write about and teach: "Why would you want to be like me? You might say I'm ahead of you in some areas, but I'm still questioning, still trying to make sense. That's what I want to model that you do, because we never become this finished product." That's another one of the taboos we mentioned earlier. We never—I'm saying we—
I will never get to the point where I think I know what I'm doing.
I will never get to the point where I think I know what I'm doing. And for students to hear me say that out loud, they just eat that up.
RA: It's liberating.
JK: Yeah! And—now I have to remember the second part of that, the second thread that that person told me earlier—and I'm not bothered by that. I don't worry about it, I don't feel ashamed of it, I don't think about it. It's really good to be me. It's really good to be calm and accepting about the things I don't know and understand.

The Secret to Writing: Just Do It

VY: When you're working with a client, there must be some times when you feel like you know more, and sometimes you know less.
JK: Yes, of course. And with teaching it's like that as well. But—back to that theme about being bored with myself, bored with my stories—I've repeated some of them in this interview that I've written about in books. And I feel badly about that, because I don't like to repeat myself. And when you've written 75 books, how much experience could a person have to put in 75 books? It's really hard work to go out and find new experiences for the next interview or the next book. And I feel bad about that. Audiences and readers are very forgiving. They say, "Oh, but it was such a good story, it bears repeating." That's so kind, but I hated when my teachers would repeat a story that we already heard before.
VY: I imagine people frequently ask you how you have written 75 books. You probably have some standard answers for that, but could you come up with a new answer?
JK: Here's the new answer, because I've been thinking about this: it's really, really easy. Because people ask me all the time, "How can I write one book, or how do I become a writer?" It's easy: write!
VY: For you it's easy.
JK: No, it's easy for anyone! If you write, then you're a writer. It's like, I don't decide in the morning when I wake up that I'm going to brush my teeth. I just brush my teeth; it's something that I do. Live, breathe, keep good dental hygiene. So I don't decide I'm going to write everyday. I just write everyday. It's part of who I am, and it's so intrinsically satisfying. I love it so much because it's part of my curiosity. I write about things to try to make sense of the world, and I just love it. There's sex, there's skiing, there's surfing, there's being with my family, and there's writing. And that's what I love. So it's not work. I don't ever have to make time for it. It's just there. It's just what I do. And I'm a really good writer because I've found my voice. People tell me all the time I write just like I speak. So I don't have to rewrite anything that I write. It comes out beautifully in a first draft; when I see editors, they don't have anything to do with my stuff.

I never had a good foundation; I needed glasses. Up through junior high school, my dumb parents never got my eyes tested. I memorized the eye chart in school because I was embarrassed. But the whole world was foggy. I could never see anything. I used to sit right in front of the television to watch cartoons. My dumb parents didn't say, "Duh, this kid can't see. Why do you think he's right in front?" So I could never see the board in school. What that means is I never learned grammar. So I don't have the basics, but I think I learned to write because I just love to write, and I do it everyday.
VY: Well, you have a natural ability. Some musicians can hear a tune and play it on the piano; most people can't do that. They have to learn the music.
JK: I don't know. You say it's a natural ability. I think I worked my ass off to be able to do this. I think I just flat-out worked harder than anyone else I know to do this. And I still work harder than anyone else I know to do this.

And, by the way, let me just put this qualifying thing: I save so much time in my life for play. I will not do a workshop or a presentation in a place unless there's fun associated with it, or it's someplace I want to go or want to be. I find time for myself. I read a novel a week.
VY: How much do you sleep a night?
JK: That's the thing: I don't sleep very well. But that's bladder-related. And my wife is the same age, so we kid each other that we only need a single bed because one of us is up... including last night. Last night I got up at three and that was it.

I think we're going to have to end here.
RA: Any last comments?
JK: I think the bladder one was a great last comment.
VY: I don't think we could top that one. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.
JK: This was fun. You got a good interview out of me because it was fun, dynamic and interactive. And I said some new things, so that's good.
RA: Good, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved. Published April 2009.
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Jeffrey Kottler

Jeffrey A. Kottler, PhD is Professor of the Department of Counseling at California State University, Fullerton. He has worked as a teacher, counselor, therapist, and researcher in a variety of settings including hospitals, mental health centers, schools, crisis centers, clinics, universities, corporations, and private practice. Dr. Kottler has been a Fulbright Scholar in Iceland and Peru, as well as having lectured extensively around the world. He is also President and Co-Founder of the Empower Nepali Girls Foundation which provides educational scholarships for lower caste girls in rural Nepal who would otherwise be unable to attend school.

Dr. Kottler has authored 80 books in psychology, education, and counseling. His books are directed towards a number of different audiences: 1) for practicing therapists and counselors about the inner world of helping others; 2) for teachers and educators about the human dimensions of helping; and 3) for students in education and helping professions. Kottler is also known for his provocative books about contemporary issues and human struggles, such as the forbidden world of what people do when they're alone, the phenomenon of crying and what it means in people's lives, the inner world of murder and the reasons why people are vicariously attracted to violence.

Some of Dr. Kottler's books for therapists include: On Being a Therapist, The Imperfect Therapist: Learning From Failure in Therapeutic Practice, Compassionate Therapy: Working With Difficult Clients, and The Assassin and the Therapist: An exploration of Truth in Psychotherapy and in Life.

Rebecca Aponte Rebecca Aponte was the Operations Manager for from 2008-2012. She then left California for graduate school, earning a PhD in Psychology from Colorado State University - an experience that only deepened her appreciation for the experience she was exposed to during her time with Rebecca now works for the California Department of State Hospitals.
Victor Yalom Victor Yalom, PhD is the founder and resident cartoonist of He maintained a busy private practice in San Francisco for over 25 years, but now sees only a few clients, devoting the bulk of his time to creating new training videos for He has produced over 100 videos, conducted workshops in existential-humanistic and group therapy in the US, Mexico, and China, and currently leads consultation groups for therapists.  More info on Victor and his artwork and sculpture at

CE credits: 1.5

Learning Objectives:

  • Critique common assumptions therapists have regarding taboo subjects
  • Describe Kottler's perspective on inhibiting their professional development
  • Explain how Kottler's personality shaped his professional identity

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