By Awbrey Michelle Willett
For Jason Holley, MA, LPCC self-care is the beginning of all good therapy. Jason is a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Fe, prior to this he worked for the Life Healing Center of Santa Fe, where he helped to found its internationally-recognized sexual addiction treatment program. Jason has a multifaceted career and has been practicing astrology for over 25 years. He actively mentors and supervises therapists in making use of the lens of archetypal astrology in the context of therapeutic and healing work. He is a faculty member of the School of Evolutionary Astrology, designing transformational education for various programs across North America, and teaching at Southwestern College. Jason currently teaches courses in Addiction Assessment and Treatment for the counseling program where I had the good fortune of meeting him as one of his students and experiencing his powerful relational style. My felt sense when with him is one of embodied enlightenment. Put simply he inspires me by being himself. When asked what self-care was, Jason pondered, “I don’t even think of it as a thing…it’s much more integrated. It’s a constant. It also means that at the bottom of the day my needs are more important than my clients.” Jason takes the unique stance of a relational therapist, “in the room” as he puts it.
Jason is in fact guided by his own needs and suggests we invite ourselves into the experience of having feelings with the client. “When we don’t feel what we actually feel with a client, like anger or hatred, it’s a real form of self-abandonment. There are times when you hate them, it’s appropriate to hate people: explore the feelings that one is telling oneself are not therapeutic, weather they are or not is another question. But there is a whole domain of experience that is habitually pushed aside because it is not consistent with this notion of who I think I am supposed to be, and that is an incredible psychic energy drain.” According to the research, “empathic exchange is the primary conduit for the transmission of traumatic stress from client to therapist” (Craig, 2010). How we work with our empathy, or lack thereof, is therefore very important to both the outcomes of therapy and to maintaining our wellness. “Personal therapy during training and throughout therapists’ professional careers can enhance counselors’ ability to focus on the needs and welfare of their clients. Therapists probably cannot take clients any further than they have taken themselves. Therefore, ongoing self-exploration is critical” (Corey, G., Corey, C., Corey, M.S., Callanan, 2015, p. 65). Jason recommends we do it for ourselves, not for our clients. Part of self-care then for Jason is seeking personal development and lots of consultation. “This is not anything goes which is why it’s hard to know how to articulate this in the therapy community. People who know me know I am rock solid. People can still trust that I won’t be letting people down all the time.” I believe that this is partially because he is also rock solid in his self-care.
When I asked Jason about a dilemma he experienced between his own self-care and caring for clients he gave an example that questions the traditional role of the therapist. From his perspective, “we are not just the mother and father to our clients, we are their lovers, their friends, their siblings, adventure mates, their playmates, their teachers, their students.” Jason was metaphorically, and literally, struggling with where he should sit in therapy. “I ended my relationship of ten years and there were whole aspects of self that rushed in and said, ‘hey you forgot about us!’ I got really, really, completely, utterly, totally so much, bored…then the thing that began to happen is that the therapy chair I sit in began to fall apart.” Through emotional honesty he recognized, “if I sit in that chair for 20 more years I will be burned out!” Upon reflection he thought, “I (was) really tired of this because I (was) sort of role locked. I am very good at a kind of work that is Saturn and Moon. I will tell you what I mean by that. Saturn is the containing, the structuring, the holding, you know you are going to be the person who holds the space. The client will regress on the couch and you will sit here. The Moon is very much about emotional attunement and without that you don’t really have anything. Essentially these are mother father archetypes and certainly they promote attachment and healthy regulation; I mean they are essential therapeutic stances that we all need to be able to take. And they are probably what all therapy thinks it’s for. The Moon and Saturn are sort of essential.” But Jason was no longer sitting in that chair so to speak in his own life, the chair where the Moon and Saturn had sat for so long. He was changing and wanted to know, “how shall the other gods appear in therapy and can they?”
Corey, G., Corey, C., Corey, M.S., Callanan, P. (2015). Issues and ethics in the helping professions. Australia: Cengage Learning
Craig, C. D. (2010). Compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and burnout in a national sample of trauma treatments therapists. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 23(3), 319-339.