This Health and Healing Therapy series gives you the opportunity to get to know our therapists, what their clients struggle with, how they help, and who they are. Below you will learn about our Practice Director and Therapist Colleen Koncilja.
We believe that connection and comfort with your therapist is vital to growth and healing, so we hope that knowing more about us can put you to ease and assist you in making a decision about whether we are the right therapy practice for you. To do so, we have interviewed each of our therapists about themselves, their careers, and their thoughts around therapy.
Colleen Koncilja is in the spotlight sharing her beliefs about the importance of therapy, her approach to facilitating a session, and some of the most rewarding and difficult parts of being a therapist.
Why do you think it’s important for people to participate in therapy?
I think it’s important for people to have a safe space to talk about the things that are difficult to talk about. Often, people may not share certain things with friends and family because they fear being judged, criticized, misunderstood, or that they will get unhelpful advice. Sometimes there are things we feel hesitant to talk about and we fear embarrassment and shame.
In therapy, people don’t need to worry about being judged or criticized or told what to do. Rather, it’s a relationship that is supportive and accepting which allows people to be open and honest about some often very tough things.
I think therapy can help people build certain skills they were never taught or help them to hone in on some skills that are out of practice. Many people don’t know how to help themselves in situations of stress and anxiety because they were never taught or modeled effective ways to cope. That is one of the things I hope to teach people in therapy.
Sometimes people grow up in families where they were never taught how to work through feelings that are difficult to feel, how to communicate their needs or how to handle conflict effectively. They don’t know how because those behaviors were never modeled. So, my hope is that the therapy relationship and process is a place where people can learn new skills that will help them be able to have better relationships and the life that they want.
Therapy can be very helpful for people because they may be going through a stressful time, or some of the coping skills they’ve used successfully in the past aren’t working right now. Sometimes we need to learn to cope differently or learn how to handle a new situation in a different way.
Whether someone is struggling through grief and loss, a recent trauma, a life transition, or anxiety or depression – therapy can help people find the solutions they need to help them live their best life.
What does a therapy session with you look like?
Most sessions start off with the person checking in and letting me know how the past week has been for them. Some people who I meet with have specific things they want to talk about or work on, while other people are continuing to work through consistent and ongoing issues that are in forefront in their life. Some of our time together is spent on learning and developing new skills to use in your everyday life.
Those skills could be ones like working on relaxation, doing mindfulness skills, decision-making skills, actionable step planning, or examining the dissonance you have over a certain situation: on one hand you feel this way, and on another you feel that way, and working through that internal conflict.
Other times, the session may be a place to talk about things that are really overwhelming or painful to the person. This is an important part of therapy for many people because they may not be able to talk about the same feelings and thoughts with other people in their life.
So, each session can vary from person to person and from week to week. That is how therapy is individualized, and I try to assess what is most helpful and beneficial for the person I am working with in that particular session.
My style is pretty calm, real, and encouraging, and I tend to mix in some humor when appropriate as it can also be healing. I think it’s important for people to reflect back on their progress a lot, so we tend to do that regarding how much someone has grown, or about how something used to be more difficult than it is now, just to recognize the ability they have to make the changes that they want. Ultimately, every session is really different depending on who the person is or what they’re working through.
What is the best advice you’ve given in a therapy session?
There are common things I tend to encourage people to reflect on. I often help people examine their decisions, beliefs, choices, and behaviors by asking – “is that helpful, or is it harmful? How is that working for you?” I really focus on determining if their beliefs, reactions, and choices are improving their quality of life or somehow making it more difficult.
I also encourage the mentality that you need to teach people how to treat you and that others need to teach you how to treat them. I think this is important in relationships because none of us have a crystal ball or know how best to care for someone else, so we need to learn how to do so.
Additionally, I offer a lot of education and normalizing of the experiences that people go through. People often think they’re the only person certain things happened to or the only one who thinks, believes, reacts, or acts like that. It’s important that people realize they are ok and they are not alone, so I do a lot of education on common experiences we all have.
Oftentimes this is very relieving to people because they had always believed and often felt embarrassed and/or ashamed thinking they were the only person who thought, felt, feared, or experienced something. Normalizing the difficulties we all go through is very healing. Firmly knowing that there is nothing wrong with us, we aren’t the only ones, and we aren’t alone, is one of the most encouraging, helpful, and calming interventions I provide.
What is one of the hardest parts of being a therapist?
Probably the hardest part is seeing bad things happen to good people, along with the difficulty of not fully understanding why some people experience deep trauma, pain, devastation, and hardship in their lives. I always want the people I work with to feel better, to have hope, and to believe they will get through the difficulty they are experiencing.
Not having the understanding or answers as to why bad things happen, and then realizing how devastating that is for people and wanting to help while feeling limited in how much I can help can be difficult. I can’t change what people have experienced nor erase people’s pain, but I can help to ease it.
Being a therapist as long as I have, I think I’ve learned how to manage that over time. In the beginning, it was a lot harder than it is now. I focus on people’s inner strengths, on the hopefulness I have for them, and on knowing that often people can get through very difficult things and heal in a different way than they thought was possible.
So, I hold onto that hope and onto the belief in people’s resilience and strength to get to the other side of adversity. In addition, I focus on how I’ve seen through the years that even though painful things happen to people, sometimes out of those painful experiences there can be a lot of good as well.
What do you like the most about being a therapist?
I like being able to help people realize that they can change, that they’re not alone, and that they can learn how to handle tough situations differently in ways that are more helpful for themselves. I like being able to be a safe person for people, being able to encourage them to be their best self, and being able to see a lot of people who have gone through adversity work through that pain and trauma and get to the other side.
What are common challenges that your clients face? What is an area or are areas of specialty you have?
I have several specialties as I have done extensive postgraduate clinical training in many different areas. I work with a lot of people who experience anxiety, depression, chronic illness and/or pain, as well as with people who have relationship attachment difficulties, self-esteem issues, and have experienced trauma in their younger years. In addition, I work with people who have problem gambling issues as well as with their family members.
What do you want/is your hope for your clients?
I want them to work through whatever is holding them back, challenging them, or making life painful so that they can move forward, grow, heal, and thrive. I want them to see themselves as the unique person they are while growing in their acceptance, care, and love for themselves.
What do clients say about working with you?
I think they’d say that I’m easy to talk to, that I have a good sense of humor, and that I’m very accepting, non-judgmental, trustworthy, and not easily shaken. I think a lot of them would say that I “get them,” that I can put their experience into words which helps them feel understood. Other clients would say that I help them feel less alone and more accepted. Overall, many would say I know what I’m doing, how to help, and that they receive the help and support they were looking for.