How to Become a Psychotherapist: 5 Natural Steps by ACAP Dean of Students, Lisa Piemont

Many of us first begin to imagine ourselves becoming a psychotherapist while discussing our life and our difficulties with our own therapist. Receiving the benefits of therapy, we think, “I would like to offer this kind of help to others.” Or, we have a wish to understand the “secrets” of how to help others in a meaningful way. Looking up to our therapist and feeling grateful, it seems he or she has powers we could only dream of. Any yet…the therapist is simply human, right? We might ask, “Can’t I, too, learn to listen and speak in ways that benefit others?” The first and second answers to the question, “How can I become a therapist?” are already clear.

First, we need to have our own therapy so that we can be objective when listening to others.

Second, we need to understand that all it takes to become a therapist is a willingness to be fully human, to experience all of our thoughts and emotions with equanimity during sessions with our patients and everywhere else, too.

The third step in becoming a psychotherapist is learning skillful methods. The growing edge of learning to become a therapist is the development of skills and the practicing of various methods of using our own humanity to benefit others whose in-born nature may be blocked, over-expressed, or misdirected.

The fourth step is that we must cultivate patience. Patience is not only a virtue, it is an essential quality in the practice of psychotherapy. We must not pressure anyone to move faster, learn more, or feel better in any way before they become naturally ready for change. Patience rests in our understanding that no matter how much a person is suffering, often they seem to choose more suffering over change.

Change is very difficult. It requires extensive exploration and continuous support. Change requires us to accept that remaining the same is an option. It is interesting that the permission to remain the same is often the very thing people need to receive in order to overcome fear and make the changes that improve their lives. We can think about change as an organic process as well. We plant the seeds of growth by offering the space, time and attention of the therapy session. For a while, it seems like nothing is happening. But by “watering” the situation weekly with our attention and keeping the emotional temperature of the experience optimal, it is possible to see the shoots of growth emerge from the soil of the therapeutic relationship. This occurs because we have combined the elements – time, space and attention — that promote growth and help people change the patterns in their lives that cause suffering. The fifth step in becoming a psychotherapist is to join a community of like-minded souls. Others who share this life path will support and challenge you and become resources as you near your goal and eventually take your seat as a human primed to benefit others emotionally and psychologically, no matter their condition and because you have worked on yours.

At ACAP, at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis (BGSP –, and at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (CMPS –, there are many opportunities to explore the pathways to becoming a psychotherapist, to feel supported, and to understand the dynamics of human potential. Join us now and begin to fulfill your dream of becoming a psychotherapist today.

Good Luck: My Journey from Early Childhood Educator to Modern Psychoanalyst by ACAP Student Susan Saunders

I have always felt very lucky in certain ways as an adult. I graduated from college with a degree in Early Childhood Education. In college I had studied a little psychology about children: we read Piaget and I carried out a few of his simple experiments with some children. It was fascinating! Now: fast forward to my very first professional teaching job at a small private nursery school in Manhattan. I was straight out of college and had no idea what to do with a group of 10 or so 4 year olds. I was filled with apprehension and I had many questions.

I was lucky that the school in which I happened to land a teaching job studied children and worked to resolve their intellectual and emotional resistances to learning and to cooperation. I had the good fortune to begin my teaching career in a school that applied modern psychoanalytic concepts to teaching children. The director and her husband were students of modern psychoanalysis. The teachers and the directors met in a weekly group for over an hour each week, talking and learning to understand the children. We talked about the children’s resistances and learned some modern psychoanalytic techniques to help them mature. Even more importantly, however, we learned about our own resistances to working effectively with the children. The children evoked many feelings in us as we worked with them. One of the methods we use in modern psychoanalysis is to learn to experience the feelings the children brought up in us, and then to study how the feelings informed our interactions with the children. This kind of emotional study helps to determine where these feelings are originating. I learned to ask myself, “Is what I am feeling really something that the child is feeling? Are my feelings being triggered by the child and also bringing up my own issues? Are these feelings a combination of both the children’s feelings and my own past experiences and feelings?” I quickly realized how valuable it was to learn about contagious feelings in working with children! Once I learned to establish what I was feeling and why, I learned to use my feelings to resolve a resistance in a child, facilitating the child’s progress to the next maturational level of development.

One of the ways in which I used my new-found understanding of these concepts was to meet with the children in a group each morning. We sat in a semi-circle on the floor and we sang (I played the guitar). Then they each took a turn to talk. I encouraged them to talk about whatever they wished. Their talking was also encouraged throughout the day. By the end of the year, the children in my group developed an ability to put all their feelings into words rather than into action. They developed the capacity to learn to talk about and to resolve many of their conflicts and difficulties with one another. Some of the children who were less mature in their ability to verbalize were eventually able to talk in a more mature fashion, decreasing destructive acting out. It was gratifying to see this growth in the children. Here is one example of how I used my modern psychoanalytic training. A four year-old boy who was shy and introverted in the beginning of the school year became very angry at times, acting out physically by hitting other children. He was limited in his ability to know what he was feeling and to put his feelings into words. I worked on setting limits on his behavior, simultaneously supporting him by telling him that it was okay to be angry, but he wasn’t allowed to hit. I helped him to verbalize all of his feelings, especially anger. Eventually with lots of repetition of these directives, he was able to improve his self-control and his ability to verbalize thoughts and feelings, becoming happier with himself. This progress led to an increasing ability to make friends, and to fully cooperate in the group.

Because I began my professional career at this unique school, I developed an interest in further studies in modern psychoanalysis. I began studying at the Center for Modern Psychoanalysis (, and eventually in New Jersey at The Academy for Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis ( As I studied psychoanalysis, my ability to work with children improved. Ultimately I decided to go back to graduate school full-time in order to get my degree and to continue my studies to become a psychoanalyst. I was lucky to start out my professional career in such a supportive and thoughtful community that embraced a philosophy that has helped me to continue to grow personally and professionally throughout my life.

The Narcissistic Repetition Compulsion: Thoughts on a Greek Tragedy and it’s Cure by Dean of Research, Demetria De Lia.

I, myself, in the transports

Of mystic verses, as in study

Of history and science, have found nothing

so strong as Compulsion,

Nor any means to combat her.  

Euripides Alcestis, lines 962-965.


One of the (many) things most interesting to me about Greek myths, often lacking in other literary genres, is the genealogy of families, genograms that symbolically suggest that the repetition compulsion is transgenerational. Laius tried to kill his infant son Oedipus, and Oedipus killed Laius, and on and on it goes. Our patients, like characters in Greek tragedies, not only repeat the trauma of their own lives, but also the inherited traumas, conscious or not, of their parents and ancestors.

I wonder why this transgenerational induction to repeat is so powerful. Freud told us that the repetition compulsion is part of the death instinct, and so it appears, that the repetition compulsion is connected to that other death instinct derivative, narcissism. Narcissism in a most basic definition is the wish that everyone thinks and feels exactly as we do, and this is the power of the narcissistic transference. When a child is induced to repeat the parent’s trauma, the unspoken message is “be like me, live like me, feel like me, act like me and suffer like me.” Misery loves company. But the child has no way of defending himself against the powerful gods that live with him and within him. In Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, D.H. Lawrence writes that a nonverbal induction is like “a lovely, suave, fluid creative electricity that flows in a circuit between nerve centers in mother and child.” Electricity flows silently as does the death instinct. What does the child suffer if he consciously rejects the parent’s implicit demands? He may feel that he has killed someone he loves, and now suffers the guilt, like Oedipus, of being a murderer (oh, those myths just won’t leave me alone). Preoedipal murderers don’t feel guilt but the oedipal type accept responsibility for their impulses.

Preoedipal murder brings to mind Narcissus who turned Echo into stone and then killed himself. The narcissistic parent who induces her child to repeat the family’s trauma isolates the child from a new experience in living that could involve making attachments to a different way of life. The child’s individuation is experienced by the parent as an abandonment, and because the parent is narcissistic (preoedipal), abandonment feels like death. The death instinct destroys connection to anything life affirming as the parent sacrifices the child’s progress to ensure that the family repetition is inherited by the next generation. In this way the narcissistic parent commits symbolic murder and incest (also a death instinct derivative), inducing the child to be a narcissistic twin, to reproduce the parent’s pain, to live in isolation of the broader world, and to align herself with the repetition compulsion of their shared inheritance.

The repetition compulsion in my own family is a very long story. My grandmother, her invalid mother and three brothers were forced to leave their village in the mountains of Turkey. Only my grandmother survived the journey on foot, boiling edible plants to sustain her. Finally arriving in America, she was a stranger in a strange land, not speaking the language, suffering what I would now call PTSD. My Mother grew up as a parentified child, and this repetition was passed down to the next generation. In our family, children at a young age were expected to take care of their parents. This role reversal had many pathological outcomes.

What choice does the child have? Kill your desires or kill theirs, repeat the familiar pattern, sacrificing your own wish to walk in a different path or abandon the parents and suffer the guilt trip. The child looks at the mirror of his narcissistic mother’s face and sees only her reflection, not his own; here is the birth of narcissistic rage in the child, and on and on it goes.. In the freedom of the psychoanalytic experience, the psychoanalyst gives the child a reflection of her own image and the patient finds an adult who is there to take care of her! What a novel idea! What a liberating experience !

Can there be a greater blessing than when the cords

Of care are snapt, and the mind lets slip its burden- when

spent with toil in far-off places, we come to our home

sanctuary and find rest on the long-dreamed of couch?

Catullus, 56 BC

Immigration Experiences from Our Community by ACAP Student Rosemary McGee

Immigration is a topic of the times, often in the news and being discussed by Congress and by the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle. President Obama announced amnesty for parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents and is helping many young immigrants or Dreamers who came to the US as children, stay in this country with his Dream Act legislation. What we don’t often hear about are the personal experiences of immigrants, how they learn to fit in to a new culture and the losses they suffer by leaving their native land, family and friends.

ACAP is doing something about it. On Friday, October 30, ACAP hosted Our Immigrant Experiences, a panel and open group discussion about the issues immigrants face – the first of a series. Over thirty people attended, representing five of the 7 continents and 18 different countries, including: Russia, Lebanon, Iraq, Ecuador, Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Israel, Taiwan, Syria, Armenia, Brazil, South Africa, Macedonia, and 7 states in the US.

The evening began with a warm welcome from Eva Silver who invited brief introductions from around the room. Next, each of the four panelists told their personal immigration history: Branislav Mancevski from Macedonia, Lisa Thomas from South Africa, Huda Shanawani from Syria, and Fr. Arakel from Armenia. Their stories resonated with the group and people started identifying with what was said and sharing their own experiences. Common themes included: loneliness and loss, cultural differences, American born children feeling embarrassed by their parent’s accents and parents being embarrassed to speak English poorly. People expressed the desire to become an American yet the pull to retain the culture and rituals of one’s homeland and how the ambivalence made them feel like they didn’t belong anywhere. It was said that “assimilation is accepting your new environment but not forgetting who you are,” which includes teaching your children their native language.

Some stories were full of humor such as the woman, whose father traveled a lot so she had lived in many places, who said, “I eat Lebanese food so I must be Lebanese,” and Ms. Thomas, having lived in a number of places in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, then coming to the US as a child said, “I didn’t even realize I was an immigrant!” Both of them got a laugh from everyone.

Other stories were heartfelt invoking empathy around the room, such as Monica from Ecuador caring for her ailing mother at home without enough help because that is what their culture demands; or Mrs. Shanawani’s elderly mother returning home to Syria leaving her family in the US because her longing was too intense. Fr. Arakel described how his wife came to America having been a physician in her home country and lost the right to practice medicine. Giving up traditions, food and music and longing for friends and family back home were expressed again and again. Carmen from Cuba thought she could never go home to Cuba not even for a visit, but now she is hopeful it may one day become a reality.

The session ended at 8:30 pm but the conversations continued for another half hour. The next Immigrant Experiences discussion in this series will be held Sunday, December 6th from 2-3:30. These gatherings are free and everyone is welcome, since in America, we or our parents or grandparents are all immigrants from somewhere.