Christine Gutierrez Part Two: On Spilling to Strangers

Psychotherapist - Christine Gutierrez

Christine Gutierrez Part Two: On Spilling to Strangers

This is part two of an interview with psychotherapist Christine Gutierrez. In part one, Christine explains what brought her to therapy, her transition into the public domain, and how her Latina identity has shaped her practice. Here we talk more about her work as a therapist, and how weird it can feel to bare your mind to a complete stranger.

HL: What are some of the most common issues that you’ve encountered?

CR: I work with women on self-esteem, and a lot of women who have gone through trauma. So any kind of abuse—mental, emotional, physical, sexual. Also self-trauma—how mean we are to ourselves as women, how condescending in our own minds.

HL: What would you tell the readers who are thinking, “Maybe I could benefit from therapy,” but they have these negative ideas about what that means.

CR: There’s a strong stigma around therapy. It’s a—let’s be honest, a very emotionally invasive process. You’re basically meeting a stranger to reveal your soul.

HL: [laughs] Right. It’s the most counterintuitive, seemingly unnatural thing.

CR: I’m going to go to someone that I have no emotional bond with or connection or safety and reveal my soul to them and everything wrong with me. It’s like you’re naked. It’s scary!

I go to therapy. I think every therapist, every person, should go. It never makes it easier just because I’m a therapist. Every time I work with someone new, it’s hard at first. Even if it’s not  an emotional situation where you’re revealing your psyche to someone, it’s still nerve-racking to meet new people and expose yourself. It’s totally normal to be nervous. If you weren’t a little bit nervous, that would probably be weird.

HL: [laughs]

CR: You go to a doctor when you’re sick—well, this is the doctor of the soul. Having an unbiased opinion, having someone that you do not know to take a view into your life that’s trained to analyze patterns and see into your life, to help you explore—I see it as an archaeologist digging up the bones of your past, and really diving in with you, putting a flashlight through the darkness. Maybe you’ve had to repress trauma or memories, or you’ve learned to be resilient but you haven’t really healed; you just see it in, I’m in a bad relationship, I can’t make money, I feel stuck, I’m anxious. That’s where therapy comes in.

No one expects you to go in and say everything. That’s part of the magic of therapy is how you begin to build trust with your therapist. You get to be responsible for hiring your therapist. Don’t feel that because a doctor or anyone in your life knows more that you don’t have the right to feel it click. Go, be curious, find people that feel comfortable, that make you feel sane, that make you feel heard, that you feel can honestly help you. And listen to your gut.

HL: Sometimes it’s easier to open up to a complete stranger because there’s this sort of detachment or a sense of anonymity. There’s less fear of what the impact of revealing this part of myself will be because I don’t have to have a future with this person.

CR: Absolutely. It’s a safe space for you to be you without having to worry about someone’s feelings because your therapist is trained to literally just be there for you. How often do we get the opportunity to just be that selfish—to just talk about ourselves, to explore? We don’t. And if you’re talking about Latino families specifically, there’s a very high value on giving. You know, women coming second. I am gonna put my feelings to the side because it’s for the family. So it can be uncomfortable receiving.

What happens [in therapy] is a microcosm [of your larger life]. You create this little world with your therapist, you work on your issues, your relationship with your therapist, and then you take those tools, that building, that trust, that safety with this person that’s kind of trained to be, let’s say, the archetype of the healthy person—loving, compassionate, nonjudgmental. You take on those qualities and go, Wow, this feels really good.

What are my blueprints on what [emotional] health is? If I grew up in a household where people were yelling when they wanted to communicate, I have no idea. So many of us don’t even know. We don’t know what healthy looks like.

HL: Thanks, Christine. We hope our readers will look at therapy differently after reading this, and consider trying it out. 

Anna Cherry is a writer and editor in New York City. She tweets at @unacereza.

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