How I Became a Badass Therapist
There is a scene from the the 1993 classic movie, Cool Runnings, where one of the characters, the self-conscious Junior, is uplifted by his brawny teammate, Yul Brenner. They look in the mirror and repeat the words, “I see pride. I see power. I see a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody!” Junior’s confidence builds and builds until he runs out and punches the jerky Russian opponent. Of course, this is a bit of an exaggeration and it did not end well, but there is certainly something to this, and I can attest to that.
Let me start from the beginning.
For many years, I lived in a constant state of anxiety. I had a diagnosis of panic disorder and social anxiety, as well as chronic daily migraine syndrome.
I was stuck in what felt like a prison of my mind, looping thoughts of hopelessness and self-condemnation. After I graduated from college, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. As I tried my hand at many different and unfulfilling things, I felt empty and inadequate, and the migraines worsened.
I married my college sweetheart, a great man who never saw me as a patient or weak. I had an enmeshed family with few boundaries, everyone with their hearts in the right places as they tried to fix me. I was 25, and completely crippled by my fear and pain. Something had to change. So, we decided to pack up our lives and move from Philadelphia to sunny southern California with the hope of starting a new, pain-free, less anxiety-filled existence.
Within the first month in of being in California, I procured an internship at a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Malibu.
I liked the idea of helping others get through a dark period of their lives at the same time as I was getting over mine. Most days, I went to work feeling small and insignificant. I hunched my shoulders, crossed my arms, and did the grunt work with my head down. I did not feel worthy of this unpaid position, and others certainly took advantage of my inability to advocate for myself or say “no.”
The best part about my time there had to do with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), John, who ran groups three times per week. I would observe and take notes in these groups. He was a BADASS, and unlike any therapist I had ever come across. He had tons of tattoos, cursed a lot, drove a Ducati on PCH, and wore hipster jeans and t-shirts. He treated me differently than anyone else, and took the time to get to know me and my story.
What struck me the most about John was that he knew his shit. He used his own language to make Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other interventions and psych theories palatable. He used his own concepts that made practical sense and felt less clinical. He saw past my “pseudo-self” as he called it: my Banana Republic slacks and glasses, my shyness, and perfectionist attitude. After each session, we would meet and discuss the clients, and he would give me some insight into the field of Marriage and Family Therapy.
Before long, I was co-facilitating groups and individual sessions with clients. I was even being paid! I found myself spending hours of my free time inventing new group activities, practicing note-taking, and researching theories like CBT and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). My migraine pain and anxiety began to diminish; I was green and eager to learn everything I could about family systems. I applied what I’d learned from working with clients to my own life. Eventually though, I felt I needed more of a true foundation than I could teach myself. I applied and was accepted to the masters program where John had gone many years prior, and I was willing to drive over 30 miles each way in LA traffic to attend classes.
The first couple of months of the graduate program were unbelievably interesting. I loved learning theories and techniques and practicing them during role plays. No one prepared me though, for the amount we would be forced to dissect and interpret from our own family experiences. I guess this is why we were forced to have our own therapists throughout the process.
In my second semester, we had to read an article about power-posing. We did not spend much time on it, but I was intrigued. I had learned about the concept of “fake it till you make it” in the courses about Adlerian Therapy and Neuroplasticity. It was a concept that has been proven to work. Power-posing was a bit of a newer concept, but it had made a notable impression in the field. Essentially, this is what Junior and Yul Brenner were doing right before they started a bar brawl.
Power-posing involves standing in front of a mirror and putting your body in various powerful open positions to engender higher levels of confidence. Conversely, positions like crossed arms and slumped shoulders are not powerful positions and can keep a person in a self-conscious, defeated frame of mind. Repeating positive affirmations while doing power-posing actually tricks your brain into believing these affirmations, and perception is everything.
Whatever I believe, objectively true or not, is my truth.
This is the basic premise of CBT, where core beliefs and values influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If I have a belief that I am powerful and strong, then I will think, feel, and act accordingly.
I began to feel empowered. I was in the driver’s seat, ready to unleash my inner badass.
Over the next year and a half of my masters program, I practiced these power poses and affirmations every time I could. I would look at myself, and regardless of the mood I was in, flex my non-existent muscles like a bodybuilder, pull my shoulders back, take a wide, open stance and repeat out loud, “I am a badass. I am a badass. I. Am. A. BADASS.” I was ready for my day.
Sometimes I would throw some other affirmations into the mix like, “I am worthy, I am smart, I am enough.” However, to me, a BADASS is all of those things combined. It was everything that I wanted. It was what John was. It is who I am.
This is me.
Dana Maloney is a disruptive therapist, life coach, and founder of Good Enough Therapist. She is on a mission is to disrupt the traditional therapy model by making it less sterile, less stigmatized, more affordable and more accessible. She is based in Venice, CA.