Victor Yalom on Psychotherapy and the Pursuit of Mastery

Victor Yalom on Psychotherapy and the Pursuit of Mastery

by Lawrence Rubin
Psychotherapy.net’s founder, entrepreneur, artist, and psychotherapist Victor Yalom shares insights learned and applied from working with the masters.

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Keeping Current

Lawrence Rubin: Dr. Yalom, you are the founder of Psychotherapy.net so by definition, an entrepreneur. But as your Editor, I also know you to be a self-taught tinkerer, craftsman, and artist, as well as a practicing psychotherapist. While I’d like to touch on each of these facets in our conversation, please tell us first what are you working on now?
Victor Yalom: Well, I am always working on many things at the same time. I don't know if that's due to an inability to focus on one thing or just that I have multiple interests and duties running this small enterprise of Psychotherapy.net. 

We're always thinking of ways to provide content in a form that is useful to therapists practicing in the field as well as adapting to current times
One of my focuses after 27 or so years of recording who I consider to be the greats in our field and making training videos, is finally stepping up to the plate and doing some recordings of my own work as a therapist. Just yesterday, I recorded a case consultation group that I led online. This should result in one or more online courses in which I will be teaching some core skills in therapy that I have learned from my mentors as well as from my clients. So, that's very exciting. 
 

In addition, we at Psychotherapy.net are always scouting out and finding experts to be featured in videos. We have a new video coming out on Emotionally Focused Therapy and another on online crisis counseling. We're always thinking of ways to provide content in a form that is useful to therapists practicing in the field as well as adapting to current times. We realize that while people have grown accustomed to receiving video content in shorter bursts, we haven't quite reduced ours to the 15-second clips of TikTok. However, we are producing, for example, a shorter series called Mastery in Minutes that are up to 30 minutes long where we're trying to present core ideas or skills to therapists.

LR: Now that you’ve made this transition from interviewing experts in the psychotherapy field to being videotaped while you personally do psychotherapy, do you see yourself at this stage in your therapeutic career as an expert?
VY:
doubt and uncertainty are inherent in our work
I do feel that after practicing for almost 40 years now, I've acquired some valuable skills that I think are important to pass on that are not commonly being taught by others. It's an evolution because I think like most therapists, even experienced ones, that there's so much ambiguity in our work that a lot of the time I feel like, gee, I'm not sure what I’m doing. Would X or Y expert think that I’ve studied enough to be doing this? What will other colleagues think? How will the establishment of experts, or those who are practicing evidence-based techniques or teaching them in universities view this?

So, those are some of my doubts. But then the other side is that doubt and uncertainty are inherent in our work. I don't think it's a realistic or even desirable idea that we should reach a state of certainty about our work, but perhaps more comfort with our doubts and our questioning, and our realization that therapy is an ambiguous and creative enterprise.  
LR: I hope that the younger therapists who read this interview will embrace this idea that certainty is elusive, and therapy works but sometimes for reasons that are simply outside of our understanding. I understand that you've also been doing work with foreign distributors so I'm wondering what that looks like and what are some of the challenges?
VY: To a great degree, we've been trying to take the valuable, rich library that we've created over the last 27 years and make it as widely available as possible. It started very slowly at first with VHS tapes and then DVDs, but once we got into streaming, it was a lot easier to get it out there widely and internationally.

a lot of businesses have pulled out from Russia, but it's not something I've struggled with too much because the therapists there want to learn
But obviously, not everyone speaks English, so we've partnered with some businesses and organizations overseas to translate our videos and make them available. We have distributors in China, Italy, Greece, Russia, and a couple other countries. Typically, they've simply translated our videos with subtitles, but the Russians have been dubbing them using voice actors as well and so it's pretty simple in that sense, but there are unique challenges.

Our Russian distributors, not surprisingly, are having incredible challenges given the war and the boycotts. We were speaking with them yesterday and they’re actually moving to Georgia, the country, not the state, and we're finding ways to advertise, get payments, have money transferred to Georgia, and then sent here. At least that's the plan.

And with that, there's the potential ethical concern. Obviously, a lot of businesses have pulled out from Russia, but it's not something I've struggled with too much because the therapists there want to learn. They’re certainly not responsible for Putin's madness and butchery. I feel pretty clear that if we can find a way to continue to offer our videos to Russian therapists, that's a good thing.  
LR: That's interesting. I was going to ask you about possible ethical concerns and conflicts, but when you couch it in the context of therapists, whether in Russia or China still want to learn, you are providing a needed service. The therapeutic skills that these therapists will learn because of our association with them will help the citizens of these countries who have access to therapy. I don't know how widely accessible therapy is, however.
VY: Right. It reminds me several years ago, we had an inquiry from some Iranian therapists who wanted to publish our videos there. Let's just be upfront, in smaller countries like that, it’s not really about making significant profit. They’re relatively small markets. But it’s more just wanting what we’ve done to be viewed and used in training therapists. It turns out they were on the list of nations that the US does not look favorably upon. We finally figured out how to apply to the US State Department to get permission to have our videos translated and sold in Iran. But, after about a year and a half, we got a one-page letter that said, “Sorry, no!”
LR: It’s interesting with regard to Russia and Ukraine and the Middle East, that some of the contributors to our websites, some of the folks who write blogs and articles are doing so from those places about some of the challenges of delivering therapeutic services to people who are directly impacted by the war and related political tensions. So, I can see the benefit of partnerships with some of these entities. I also see the ethical concerns. Are there any other challenges when translating therapy into different languages considering that much that occurs in the therapy space is non-verbal? 
VY:
in Russia, they're using voice actors to dub our videos, apparently because that's quite common there as well as in other countries
As I said, in Russia, they're using voice actors to dub our videos, apparently because that's quite common there as well as in other countries. I was concerned about that. It’s so important and that's one of the reasons I started producing videos in the first place—to capture the non-content information, like body language, facial expression, tone of voice, inflection, and all that. I was concerned that a lot might be lost or missed. However, they've assured me that their actors are capable to a remarkable degree of mirroring that of the recording. Since I don’t speak Russian, I’ve got to take their word for it that they’ve done a good job. But they typically offer both, the option to listen to the dubbed version and/or subtitles.

Well, if it's a good translation, then it should work and that's not my area of expertise but just a little example. I recall looking at one of the transcripts initially done in China many years ago be one of our distributors. They were translating some discussion with my former teacher and mentor, James Bugental, who was referring to growing up in the Great Depression and the ways that impacted him in terms of his attitude towards money. It was quite a traumatic thing for that generation.

I came across the transcript, and I don't recall how I did it, because I don't speak Chinese, but somehow I became aware that they referred to the Great Depression, the historical event, as major depression, the psychiatric diagnosis. So, you have to have good translators. Language is very nuanced.

With our Chinese distributor, they're used to presenting videos in more of a weekly webinar format, so they've taken our videos and chopped them up into 30-minute segments that they offer once a week. They’ve wanted to add some live Q&A to some of our videos. For example, we have a popular course with my father, Irvin Yalom, “The Art of Psychotherapy,” and I've done some live Q&A even though I’m not him. I know the content well, so I’ve been able to answer some questions from the Chinese students that hopefully helps make it more understandable to them.  

How I Built This

LR: All meaningful ventures such as creating Psychotherapy.net have an origin story, so I think our readers would be interested to know yours.
VY:
I had the chance to study in-depth with James Bugental, who was a real master psychologist, psychotherapist, and teacher
After I completed my doctorate in psychology, I had the chance to study in-depth with James Bugental, who was a real master psychologist, psychotherapist, and teacher. I felt in many ways that my education or training as a psychotherapist really commenced with him. There was a group of us who learned from him in yearly five-day retreats, after which I formed a monthly consultation group with a smaller group. I call him a master because of his skill and dedication to the work and his thoughtfulness in teaching others.

As part of his work, he often demonstrated various aspects of psychotherapy, including doing demonstrations with us, either through role plays or with those of us who wished to be able to explore our own personal issues, particularly as they impacted our work as psychotherapists, which it always does, of course.

For several years, we kept saying “We needed to get this guy on tape” for the benefit of those around the world who haven’t had a chance to work with him personally. And at some point, I had the great realization that he wasn’t getting any younger. He was 80 years old, so a buddy and I recruited a couple of volunteer clients and secured the services of a videographer to record him doing two sessions with two clients.

Like many ventures, we didn’t really have a goal in mind at that early point
So, we created a videotape, VHS, which was an initial venture in crowdfunding. We actually snail mailed his mailing list of about 200 folks saying, “Would you be willing to purchase a copy of this videotape to help us in our production?” We raised a few thousand dollars, which got us maybe halfway there to the costs, chipped in some of our own money, and ended up producing a videotape.

Like many ventures, we didn’t really have a goal in mind at that early point. It was not my plan to start a business. I just wanted to make a tape and ended up going to the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference, getting a booth there selling some of these and some other videotapes. One thing led to another after that. But that’s the short version.  
LR: If I were to magically transport myself to that Evolution of Psychotherapy conference and interview that guy in the corner with the booth and the VHS tapes and asked him, “Have any idea where this thing’s going?” or “Do you have your next master in mind?” what would he have said?
VY: It was very exciting because Jeff Zeig, who runs those conferences, was kind enough to send out a letter to other speakers telling them that Victor Yalom, the son of Irvin Yalom, was going to be selling some tapes, and if others had some to contact me. I ended up getting a small collection of videotapes, including some group tapes of my father, and pricing them much lower than they were otherwise available, at the price of a textbook or a professional book. Not some of the very high-cost textbooks that we see today. 
  

There was tremendous demand and excitement, so I realized I was onto something. Now recall this was 1995, right at the birth of the internet, so if you were a professor or a therapist wanting to get or see therapy in action, it was very hard to do. There was no YouTube. There were no online courses. And the few videos that were out there were hard to track down. 
 

I realized I had found an untapped need
At that point, I realized I had found an untapped need. I’m not a trained businessperson, but I did learn a bit over the years, like when folks are pitching business ideas now, one of the things they think about is what problem are they solving? In looking back, I was solving a problem that I had experienced in graduate school. Up to that time, I had hardly ever seen a therapist do therapy, and I thought, “This is crazy.” So, I clearly felt there was something there. 

LR: So, an unintended pioneer in a market that didn’t yet exist. A venturer without capital. Aside from the technological savvy that you had to acquire along the way, were there any major obstacles in accessing the masters or getting people to sign on to this “little engine that could?”
VY:
What was more surprising was that clients were and still are willing to be on camera and reveal personal things about themselves
I think I’ve been pretty fortunate. Perhaps my enthusiasm has carried me quite a long way, and honestly, sharing the last name of my father certainly opened some doors for me. I can’t say that was a great benefit in what I was doing at the time, which was doing private practice. Certainly, name recognition is nice—and has some downsides as well—but nobody refers patients to you just because you have a famous last name. But in terms of getting legendary clinicians to return a phone call or be willing to trust themselves with me to make a recording of them, I’m sure that helped.

What was more surprising was that clients were and still are willing to be on camera and reveal personal things about themselves for the benefit of having the opportunity to get some free treatment by famous therapists, as well as contribute to the training of our field. Of course, not all clients are willing to do so, but every time we’ve wanted to produce a video, we’ve been able to find clients who are willing to bare their souls to a wider audience. I’m always grateful for that, and also feel protective of them in terms of wanting to carefully screen them to make sure that they are comfortable with the types of things that might come up and be willing to edit out material that just felt too sensitive, even if they were willing to share.  
LR: That’s an interesting perspective because in Narrative Therapy, one of the goals is to help the client assert expertise over their own life, and one aspect of that expertise is giving clients the opportunity to teach other clients through written narratives or through videotaping. 

I hadn’t thought until you just mentioned it how much value, over and above whatever benefits accrue to the audience of these videos, the clients might reap in being with a master, and how putting themselves out there might give them an opportunity to share in some way beyond the isolated room of therapy, and even truly benefit others who might be reluctant. 

VY: I feel, although I don’t know this for a fact, that some of the clients with whom we’ve worked obtain a sense of advocacy from their participation, particularly when they are part of an underrepresented population, for example, a military veteran or an African American client. We recently published a video series on counseling African American men. You know because you were a part of that. 

I strongly suspect that part of the clients’ motivation in that series was, “I can help normalize this therapy process for African American men who have certain struggles often related to racism, and I want to encourage others who may have similar struggles as me to get therapy and to train therapists in how to better work with this population.” So, I suspect there’s some sense of advocacy and caring that therapists get the best training possible to treat folks that are similar to them in whatever characteristics. 

LR: Having well over 300 video titles, how has Psychotherapy.net kept pace with the expanding demographics that psychotherapists serve?
VY: Just to be clear, yes, we do have over 350 titles now, but we have not produced all of those ourselves—maybe a third of those. The rest we’ve found by going far and wide looking for videos that were out there but, in many cases, not widely available. 

I made a conscious effort starting several years ago to produce videos with both therapists and clients of more diversity
One case always stands to mind. I made a video with Natalie Rogers, art therapist and daughter of Carl Rogers. At the end of the production, we were filming in her house, and she brought out a shoebox full of old VHS tapes and DVDs for me to look through. She entrusted me to take them home, and I reviewed them. Some were home recordings with poor video or audio quality. But I came across one excellent interview of him, professional quality, and finally tracked down that this was produced in Ireland by RTE, I believe it stands for Radio Television of Ireland. Lo and behold, they had the original master in the vault and managed to work out a deal so we could distribute it, so I recorded a new introduction with Natalie. That’s a little aside just to state that we haven’t produced all the videos we offer. 
 

But we have a legacy of titles. And I realized some time ago that we were, not surprisingly, overrepresented with master therapists. Let’s take out the term master therapists, but with White male therapists and Caucasian clients. So I made a conscious effort starting several years ago to produce videos with both therapists and clients of more diversity. So, we’ve been doing that, but I have a lot of catch-up to do. 

LR: In this era of YouTube and TikTok, the consuming public seems to crave products that pack their punch in shorter bursts. Do you see that as an obstacle to your goal at Psychotherapy.net of portraying therapists doing the real and often laborious work of therapy?
VY: It’s a balancing act, indeed. Several years ago, we did a focus group with some of our customers to try to better understand their needs, and that was certainly one of them. Therapists told us they may have a 30-minute gap in their schedule, or they may have a cancellation, and your typical videos of one or two hours in length, often showing full sessions of therapy, didn’t fit that particular need. So, we launched a collection of videos called “Mastery in Minutes” that are 30 minutes or less. They are at times new productions, at other times excerpts of our longer videos with some additional introduction or discussion. 

So, we try to meet both needs. We do try to offer shorter videos, and our longer videos are broken up into chapters. We have some very long courses that might be 6 to 10 hours, but they’re broken up into shorter chapters. 
 

One of our productions I'm most proud of, Emotionally Focused Therapy Step by Step, is the most ambitious project we’ve ever done
One of our productions I'm most proud of, Emotionally Focused Therapy Step by Step, is the most ambitious project we’ve ever done and frankly, I think that anyone has done. We filmed over 100 hours of EFT sessions with six couples and four different therapists over a year and a half, edited that down to about eight hours of sessions and a few hours of discussion and commentary. I have to give my wife, Marie-Hélène Yalom, our Senior Director of Strategy and Product Development, a lot of credit. While she’s not a therapist, she’s learned a lot about EFT and painstakingly edited this down with Rebecca Jorgensen, the main therapist featured in this project. 
 

Obviously, we don’t expect someone to sit down and watch that all at once. So it’s broken down as the title implies, step by step, into many small skill sets, and EFT, for people who know, is broken down into steps and stages. So, you can watch our longer videos in shorter chunks and skip from chapter to chapter. 

LR: It sounds like a real challenge to balance the demand to satisfy the customer but remain faithful to the practice of psychotherapy. From an insider’s perspective, I think you’ve done a nice job of that balance, but I’m a bit biased. 
VY: Yeah, it’s a tension that exists in our field and in many aspects of society, people want short-term fixes, quick fixes. People want short-term therapy. Some therapists promise that. Some approaches promise that, but whether they’re able to fulfill that promise? That’s debatable. I think at times you can convey some powerful ideas in a short amount of time. But to master them, like anything, takes—
LR: Hours….
VY: Dedication. Practice. Maybe some luck, or the right circumstances with the right clients who are ready to make some changes. Other times it’s painstaking, and you may work with a client for years and not see a lot of changes but nonetheless, they may benefit greatly from having support.
LR: How have you evolved in your approach to interviewing the masters over the last several decades?
VY:
I’m able to be myself more and reveal more of myself in all aspects of my life. I believe that shows up in doing interviews
I think it parallels my development as a human being, which is not an unusual progression in that I feel more comfortable in my skin, have more confidence that I have something to offer, and have come to accept parts of myself that I felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of not as only part of who I am, but that I like and feel proud of. So, I’m able to be myself more and reveal more of myself in all aspects of my life. I believe that shows up in doing interviews. That hopefully shows up in how I do therapy, how I relate to my friends and loved ones.

Specifically, in interviews, I feel more confidence that I know a lot about therapy. I have to be a jack of all trades to know a little bit about different techniques and approaches as I’m producing videos of various types. I don’t have the academic background like you do, and don’t keep up as much with the research, but I feel I know enough to ask questions and engage in dialogues that I hope are informative to our viewers and entertaining to watch in the sense of seeing the discussions and the therapy sessions, which are typically featured in our videos as being alive and representing the best of humanity.  
LR: One of the qualities of your interviewing style, which I assume filters into your therapeutic style as well, and perhaps into your personal style, is that you don’t seem afraid to ask hard questions. You’re clearly willing to put someone on the spot in search of the most real they will allow you to have access to.

And that, to me, suggests a certain degree of confidence, and also an unwillingness to accept what’s offered as expertise without proof of that expertise. So, that’s just sort of a side comment for those of who will venture into this interview, which will probably take more than five minutes to read. I think it’s as important to watch your style of interviewing these masters, and the way you hold them accountable for their presumed expertise, rather than just fawning over these masters.  

The Art and Artistry of Psychotherapy

LR: Most of your audience “knows” you through the interviews you’ve done with master therapists and through the cartoons you create for the site, but they likely don’t know that you also work in paint, metal, and wood. I’m wondering how this continual drive to express your creativity has manifested in your own identity and practice as a therapist?
VY: Interestingly enough, I didn’t grow up doing things I considered artistic, certainly not in the visual arts. This all started at a workshop with my mentor, James Bugental. I have a hard time sitting still and listening, so I would draw. I was drawing little stick figure cartoons, one of which eventually evolved into a cartoon. It was a stick figure of a cactus laying on a sofa saying, “Well, I didn’t come from what you would call a touchy-feely family.” 

My drawings were literally stick figures. And when I created the website, I had an idea to put a few cartoons up there, so I hired some people who knew how to draw and took these ideas and made cartoons out of them. And then at some point, an ex-girlfriend of mine said, “Well, you have a very primitive drawing style, you should draw them yourself.” So, I started drawing my own cartoons, and that led me to taking a painting class, and as you mentioned, I now do metal sculptures. But this all started maybe 20 years ago when I was about 40. So, I credit Psychotherapy.net with helping me to discover some activities that bring me a great deal of pleasure. 
 

increasingly view therapy as a creative enterprise
In terms of your question about how that may impact my therapy or show up in my therapy, I increasingly view therapy as a creative enterprise. I grew up in an academic family. My parents are writers. I’m taking another little aside here, but I always had an interest in or fascination with the business world but was very much an outsider, and back then, you know, when I graduated from college, you couldn’t start a business as you can today. If you wanted to work in the business world, you worked in a Fortune 500 company. I tried and I was fired. I failed miserably. 
 

And in the process of creating Psychotherapy.net, which was just a side hobby for many years while I was in full-time practice, I came to realize that building and growing a business is the ultimate creative enterprise. I had an idea to make a videotape, I took that idea and created something from it, and then that evolved to something else, which evolved into something else. 
 

And now here, you and I are having this interview on a technology that didn’t exist when I started this, so getting finally to your question about psychotherapy; it’s an extremely creative enterprise, just like this conversation. A client comes in and says something and you react, you have internal reactions, and then somehow words come out of your mouth and you say something, and it goes from there. 
 

You don’t know what’s going to happen with what you do with them and what’s going to happen with their life. You try to adapt what you do and what you say in a way that’s going to be helpful. Certainly, there are certain approaches that give you more structure or guidance, and those can be critiqued as overly manualized or cookie-cutter, but ultimately, in my opinion, if you’re going to do work that’s at all meaningful and helpful, you need to find a way to enter their world and to do so in a creative and imaginative way. 

LR: And that goes back to what you were saying before in terms of your own personal evolution, becoming more comfortable with who you are in your own skin, warts and all. I think therapists are most effective when they are most genuine and when they’re most vulnerable, and they invite themselves into a co-creative experience with their client. That’s evident in watching you work, at least in the interviews.

You have taken what I consider a heroic step, as you recently transitioned from the man behind the camera to the man in front of it. You did part one of an experiential teletherapeutic interview with an Italian woman. I wonder what it took for you to put the director’s hat down and step in front of the camera and, in a sense, expose yourself to your audience in a new way?  
VY: I feel very fortunate that I had a chance to study with quite talented therapists like James Bugental and, of course, learn a tremendous amount from my father, and then in the process of creating other videos work with and get to know Sue Johnson and Peter Levine and Otto Kernberg and Reid Wilson, and many others. Some I had more contact with and thus learned more from, and others less. 

 

I feel reasonably confident that I have some things to offer myself and some important things I’ve learned that I don’t think are widely taught
And over the years, like I think any maturing therapist, I have been able to integrate and internalize that into my own style of working to the point where I feel reasonably confident that I have some things to offer myself and some important things I’ve learned that I don’t think are widely taught. 

LR: Such as?
VY: Two things come to mind. From Bugental, some specific techniques to help clients more vibrantly explore their internal world, their subjective experience in an alive and present way versus just talking about themselves. In particular, he taught some specific techniques as well as an underlying philosophy, and numerous ways to deepen that exploration. He suggested that therapists often encounter what he referred to as resistance, which can be a confusing term. Another way of thinking of it is that we get stuck in our ways, whether you call them defense mechanisms or just modes of coping or ways of being.

As we know as therapists, it’s hard for clients to really change the way they adapt to situations even when they aren’t helpful. So, we can help clients explore themselves, but often they reach a wall or there are restrictions in their ability to explore freely, and those could be that they intellectualize, that they shut down, that they focus excessively on pleasing you and the people around them and have a hard time accessing their own experiences and needs. So, in the process of getting them to do this internal searching, as he called it, you hit these roadblocks. He taught ways to help identify and loosen up those roadblocks; that might be a way of putting it. So those are some things that he taught me that feel very vital and powerful, and I don’t think are widely known.

with the advent of online therapy, it's been much easier to make recordings of not just one session, but longer-term therapy
And my father writes a lot about working interpersonally in the here and now between client and therapist in a way that I haven’t seen discussed much in other forms of therapy. How do you use the here and now of the therapeutic relationship? How do you work with that in a way that’s beneficial to the client?

So those are a few ideas that I feel are important and I don’t see discussed or represented in most of the types of therapies that are generally taught. Now, there are exceptions to that, but I feel compelled to teach them. And I’ve been mulling over this for several years now. And finally, with the advent of online therapy, it's been much easier to make recordings of not just one session, but longer-term therapy. I’ve just completed the course of seeing a client for 18 sessions, which we recorded, and I’m at the beginning stages of producing a course that will include excerpts of these sessions, and hopefully of some other colleagues as well, to teach some of these ideas.   
LR: You’ve mentioned James Bugental numerous times as being historically and personally influential in your own life’s work. So, I want to ask you, Victor Yalom—perhaps you haven’t thought in these terms before, but do you see yourself as an influencer?
VY:
I’m proud of what we’ve created with Psychotherapy.net, and I think we’ve done something useful and I’m certainly part of that
IOver the years running Psychotherapy.net, we’d get phone calls and emails, and sometimes when I’d answer the phone, I would get comments like, “Oh, I can’t believe I’m talking to Dr. Yalom,” and I always assumed they were confusing me with my father.
LR:  would never do that. [Note: LR actually did this when first applying for the Editorship]. 
VY: And many times they were. But since you asked, I can’t resist responding from time to time to customer emails. I find it helpful to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening there. And occasionally I do get people who know me from the videos I’ve made. Our videos are widely used in universities in the US and around the world, so it’s fair to say that I’m proud of what we’ve created with Psychotherapy.net, and I think we’ve done something useful and I’m certainly part of that.

The Long View

LR: As someone who has had a front seat to the evolution of the field of psychotherapy over three decades, how do you think the field has changed on your watch? Or more specifically, what tensions in the field have you noticed?
VY: It’s really hard to say. I remember when I just started grad school, Nick Cummings, who started the California School of Professional Psychology, and hence the whole professional psychology school movement (we have an interview of him on our site), gave us a rousing lecture about how private practice is dead. This was in the late 80s, and that hasn’t come to pass. 

In terms of approaches, CBT and other so-called evidence-based approaches are being taught much more widely. I have concerns about that. I think that yes, we want to do therapy that’s effective, and yet we seem to have traded on the idea that evidence-based treatment somehow defies this entire other line of valid research showing that the most important elements of change are the therapeutic relationship and client factors. 
 

The research consistently shows that one approach is not better than another approach
The research consistently shows that one approach is not better than another approach. And that may be just a research limitation—there are so many complexities and variables involved. But it’s clearly easier to research treatment methods than relationship variables, and there’s more funding available to research certain types, so there may be more data showing that those approaches are effective, but that does not mean that other approaches are less effective. 
 

So I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not involved in policy making or in formal training programs. But I am concerned about the narrowness or limitations that seem to be taught in many of the clinical graduate programs that students are being trained in. 
 

There are obvious other big changes in the field, the most striking of which is the move to online therapy that accelerated with the onset of COVID. And that’s never going to go back to fully in-person, though it’ll be a hybrid model. I think in many ways, it’s a good thing. It’s going to increase accessibility. It’s going to increase availability. 
 

I continue to do a group that moved online. While I was reluctant to do so initially, it allowed people who have moved or are on vacation or in another town to continue to be in the group. So, it’s better in that way, but you do lose the vitality of the in-person group experience. 
 

We all know of these other changes, app-based therapy, chat therapy, different pricing models, etc. There are problems with many of them, the reimbursement rates for therapists are quite low. Does chat have a useful place in therapy? The good thing, I think, is that it’s loosened up this historic and restrictive idea that therapy should be once a week in the office for 50 minutes, which came out of the idea that people have to get in their cars every day and drive to the office. Well, you know, I was guilty of that as well, in having our staff work primarily in the office. Suddenly we realized, as with all our assumptions, that doesn’t need to be the case. 
 

Therapy, like most every other business, has moved online and is doing just fine. So, in terms of therapy, what’s the best way to do it? Can it be fully online? Can you, when possible, combine online with in-person sessions? Should it be every week for 50 minutes? Should it be some more fluid model? I mean, for clients in crisis, why not meet for 90 minutes or two hours, and why not be able to have email or text during the week? Then you have to come up with different pricing models for reimbursement. But surely, we’re not going to go back to once a week in the office for 50 minutes, and I think that’s a good thing. 

LR: Traditional models have to be challenged and evaluated on a regular basis, or else they just become vestigial.

As we near the end of our time together and this journey you’ve taken us on, I can’t help but to reflect on the passage of time since I was in graduate school and what I have witnessed. And maybe it’s just a function of my getting older, but are therapists getting younger? It seems that therapists are getting younger and younger each day.  
VY: It’s incredible.
LR: They’re getting master’s degrees at 22 years old and within a year, and at the cost of sounding jaded and cynical, they have business cards advertising that they specialize in working with children, adults, and the elderly.
VY: I don’t know if people even have business cards anymore.
LR: Right. We have websites. It just seems that the entire field, both therapists and clients, if not society, is so much more restless, so much more impatient, and as you said before, hungry for quick change. Everybody’s an expert. There are a thousand books out there, 18 ways to this and 17 ways to that. How will Psychotherapy.net survive that seemingly insatiable hunger for more, faster, shorter, and sexier? What will be the secret to your survival? 
VY:
as many of the masters die off or have died already, we try to find clinicians who are doing good work and try to capture that work on camera
I’m not worried about that. I think we just have to keep producing relevant, good content, and
as many of the masters die off or have died already, we try to find clinicians who are doing good work and try to capture that work on camera. That’s what differentiates us from most of the competition out there. 

Most of the online training seems to be done primarily by talking heads, lectures, webinars, and it just seems crazy to me that this is the way training has traditionally been done in our field, reading books, talking about therapy. In every other field, and I’ve said this over and over and over again, whether you’re a plumber, a dancer, a lawyer, or an architect, you learn by watching others do their work. I mean, you have to study and know the basics, but you learn by watching other masters doing their work, your bosses. 
 

You’re in court. You’re in second seat in a trial, and then your bosses are watching you do the work and giving you feedback, giving you coaching. Hopefully, constructive feedback. So, that’s kind of the essence of what we do, which is to show excerpts of therapy in action and explain why we’re doing it. Now, certainly, we’ll adapt. We’d like to do some live events, live webinars, and do these interviews. I don’t know what we’ll be doing, exactly. People talk about gamification and interactive video. I haven’t seen much of that yet, at least in our field, that’s useful. So, I’m not worried about that. 
 

I think the great thing about our field is that life experience helps
In terms of your thing about therapists getting younger, well, obviously, there’s partly a tongue-in-cheek thing going on there, because we’re getting older. I still have this little thing going back to Transactional Analysis, kind of a one-down stance where I still feel like I’m the kid in the room. I’m often surprised, I may be emailing people, I get on a Zoom call, and “Hey! You look so young.” I’m still kind of assuming that I’m going to be the youngest. 
 

But I think the great thing about our field is that life experience helps. Yes, you’re more in touch with young students, or have been as a professor for many years, but it’s a great profession for people to go into as a second career. If you start doing this when you’re 30 or 40 or 50, what a gift that you know something about life, having worked in other fields, having children, having a family, having suffered losses that invariably occur. So, you do what you can with the resources you have, and hopefully those grow over time. 

LR: Kicking and screaming in some cases. I think that’s it for me for now, Victor. Do you have any last thoughts or questions you want to ask me or reflections on how our time together went for you?
VY: It’s been a pleasure working with you over the last several years, Larry. In terms of this conversation, what I’ve tried to do is to respond in the moment to thoughts or feelings that come up as we’ve been talking.

I’ve done a number of these interviews, we’ve been on podcasts, and I just realized it’s easy to start telling the same stories over and over again. It’s an interesting phenomenon. And if you think about therapy, it’s easy for clients to do that. They tell a story about the losses they’ve had or the disappointments they’ve had, and it’s important for them to convey that to you. But as Frieda Reichmann has allegedly said, “Patients need an experience, not an explanation.”

It’s strange and honorable, and at times a captivating and rewarding profession to be able to sit with clients and enter their world
I don’t know if I’ve said anything new. Hopefully, I’ve conveyed some ideas that someone will find interesting. As I reflect on our conversation, the one thing that stands out is when you asked me about my own evolution and I talked about becoming more comfortable with myself and things that I was uncomfortable with, and I used the words “ashamed of.” That felt like one moment where I said something I don’t think I’ve said before.

I’m sure it’s true for all of us. We have things about ourselves that we don’t feel good about or feel ashamed of or feel vulnerable around. And it’s also true that those, in general, for me, are much more contained and more in the past, and I’m grateful for that.

As I say that, it makes me think about the work of a therapist and the work we do with clients to really cherish and embrace the idea that everyone has this unique world inside of them, and sometimes that world is extremely painful and chaotic. Sometimes that world is just chugging along and doing okay, and sometimes that world is expansive and exciting. It’s strange and honorable, and at times a captivating and rewarding profession to be able to sit with clients and enter their world and see what help we can be to them in navigating their life’s journey.  
LR: From my perspective, and as I prepared for this interview, I was acutely aware that our relationships these past five years have evolved. And as I became more comfortable in my space in our relationship, I’ve come to feel more confident, not just in my role as Psychotherapy.net’s Editor, but also in my own skin. I think every good relationship, whether it’s therapeutic or not, is a growth opportunity, whether it’s inside of a therapy room or not.

And I wasn’t looking for this interview to be a growth opportunity per se. I wanted to offer you something interesting; how do I ask interesting questions when you’ve been asked so many similar questions before? There was a part of me that wanted to ask interesting enough questions to interest you, to please you. I wanted, and perhaps still do want, to be interesting, relevant. Perhaps even more so after having retired from the university. I wanted to honor what you’ve done, and I wanted to also provoke you when I could without unnecessarily doing so. I wanted to create, I guess, as in therapy, a safe space where sharing could happen.

This was different from some of the other interviews that I’ve seen conducted with you. I sensed an even greater level of vulnerability, especially in that comment you made about shame, and I was very impressed with your willingness to share that. So, before we sign up as the first two members of the mutual admiration society, I’ll say goodbye and thank you again for welcoming us into your space.  
VY: Well, thank you very much, Larry. It’s been a wonderful and enriching conversation. 


© Psychotherapy.net, 2022
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Victor Yalom Victor Yalom, PhD is the founder and resident cartoonist of Psychotherapy.net. 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 running Psychotherapy.net with his wife, Marie-Helene Yalom. He has produced over 100 training 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 sfpsychologist.com.

Lawrence Rubin Lawrence 'Larry' Rubin, PhD, LMHC, ABPP, RPT-S is a Florida-based Psychologist, Mental Health Counselor and Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, who directs the Counseling programs at St. Thomas University and is on the clinical faculty of Capella University. He specializes in the assessment and treatment of children, teens, and their families. Larry is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Play and has published several popular books including Handbook of Medical Play Therapy and Child Life: Interventions in Clinical and Medical Settings, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning Skills: A Popular Culture Casebook Approach, and Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals.

CE credits: 1

Learning Objectives:

  • describe the evolution of Psychotherapy.net
  • explain the relationship between creativity and psychotherapy
  • explain the relationship between creativity and psychotherapy list some of the changes and tensions in the field of psychotherapy

Articles are not approved by Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) for CE. See complete list of CE approvals here