With World Mental Health Day this month, we caught up with our psychotherapist and mental health counselor Deede Amhowitz, MA, MFT. Deede’s known for being warm, nurturing, and deeply insightful—and we’re excited to have her help unraveling some of the mystery surrounding therapy.
Hi Deede. Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re excited to share some of your approach and hopefully help some people decide if therapy is right for them. So let’s start with the basics. We often call you a psychotherapist, but how do you describe yourself?
Deede: I’m a Masters-level Clinical Psychologist as well as a Couples and Family Therapist. So that means I do individual therapy, couples counseling, family therapy… I also really love group therapy and lead at least one group at any one time here.
I’ve heard you referred to as a humanistic psychologist as well…
Deede: Yep. I’ve also described myself as a mental health counselor, a substance abuse counselor… There’s a lot of overlap between some of these. In terms of the humanistic angle, the school I went to in Michigan was The Center for Humanistic Studies. The founder was the fairly well-known psychologist Clark Moustakas who believed in very client-centered work.
And what does client-centered work entail?
Deede: That means being gentle with clients, letting them lead… as opposed to me going into a session with my own agenda or pushing them quicker than they’re ready to go. Following what a client’s capable of doing and meeting them where they’re at.
That sounds perfect. So what led you to be a therapist to begin with?
Deede: It’s kind of funny… my parents got divorced when I was around 9 or 10 years old, and we went to therapy a couple of times. I was just so fascinated by it. And then my brother got into some trouble when he was around 13, and he was put in a residential home. We had to do family meetings, and I remember listening to the therapist and thinking, “I love this. I want to do what they do.” And then in high school I took a psychology class and absolutely loved it. By the end of high school, I knew I either wanted to be a therapist or an actress but my acting wasn’t very good.
We think you made a good call.
Deede: Thank you. I’d be a starving actress, I’m sure! Another really formative piece to all this came in grad school. I started interning at a substance abuse clinic and thought to myself “Hmm… I don’t know anything about this but I do have experience with it.” To share a little more about me, my dad and his whole side of his family were alcoholics. My dad was also a drug addict. So I really understand that role when clients come in. Not the role of the addict, but the other side—being dependent on an addict and growing up to be the adult child of one.
Do you think you’ve been able to connect deeper with clients because of your background?
Deede: Yeah, definitely. Having that experience and having done a lot of healing around it, I feel better connected and more understanding on both sides—whether you’re the alcoholic or you’re the family member of an alcoholic. It helps clients feel more understood and that they can identify with me and I can identify with them. It brings a little extra bit of an emotional connection sometimes.
Aside from addiction, what are some of the biggest reasons people come to see you?
Deede: A lot of times they’re either struggling with work or struggling in a relationship or with family. Those are some of the things that I see trigger people the most. Sometimes there might be anxiety or depression driving these struggles, or there might be some trauma that’s getting triggered. They come in to have someone listen to them but it’s a lot more than that. I help them manage those symptoms and kind of get back into their daily lives and learn how to thrive there. Whether that means having a better relationship, standing up and asserting themselves better, communicating better with their team at work… All that good stuff.
Perfect. What do you like most about the work that you do?
Deede: I like that people get a chance to come in and feel heard and feel validated and understood because those are things that sometimes we don’t necessarily feel when we’re growing up, and I think that can lead to confidence or self-esteem issues. I like to be a support person for the client, and I really love teaching them skills to feel more empowered. I also teach skills to manage when they’re feeling depressed or anxious or when their trauma’s getting triggered.
Meet Deede and the rest of our team in person at our upcoming Open House on Thursday, November 1st, from 6-8pm at our office in Centennial, CO—6081 S. Quebec Street, Suite 100. Read more details and RSVP here if you use Facebook, or visit here to read our blog about the Open House!
Skills seem to be a big part of some of your work. Can you talk a little more about that?
Deede: Absolutely. I love to teach skills to help empower people to deal with life outside of the center. When people are in my office with me it can be a little protective bubble. But they have to go out to their lives and do just as well there. My goal is to give them the tools they need to manage their lives successfully.
How would you actually define that success with a client?
Deede: I would say success is when they’re doing the work that helps to decrease their symptoms, and they feel better equipped to handle what they need to. They’re going out and using some of the skills we’ve developed, having some of the conversations they need to have… and hopefully feeling comfortable about doing all these things out there in the world. Sometimes success means something has been changing for the better. Perhaps they’re healing whatever they’re going through, or just feeling more comfortable in their daily lives. It really depends on the person and what their specific challenges and goals are.
I almost don’t want to ask this, but is there a certain timeline for how long therapy should take? Or does it just depend on the person or the family?
Deede: Well, of course it depends on the person and what’s brought them in to see us, but it also depends on how much of the work outside of my office they’re willing to do. And how much work it takes for them to feel like they can manage things. So at first they might come in once a week or even a couple of times a week in the beginning, and we’ll probably do that for a few months. But when they start to feel a little bit better, they might drop down to once every two weeks, and some people stay for anywhere from six months to even a year. One thing to remember is they’re really deciding too here. I always tell clients that we’re a team. They get to decide what’s best for them.
And then are some clients longer-term?
Deede: Yes, some might return depending on something new happening they’d like help with. Or maybe they stay on longer by switching from individual therapy to group. But there’s also clients I’ve seen pretty consistently for five or six years here. And they want to make that kind of commitment—it comes from them—because they feel better when they’re here.
Is there anything that these longer-term clients have in common?
Deede: It depends. They might have some significant trauma in the past that needs more time. But I also find that people might stay longer if they don’t have a good relationship with their family. Families are supposed to be your support people, but sometimes families are abusive and clients start to view people like myself or their therapy group as a different kind of family. They need that connection. I always tell clients that we’re humans—we’re very relational beings and we need to be with people. So if they have a very dysfunctional family, then they’ll typically lean more on their therapeutic family. Not everyone has the same support network, so not everyone needs the same things from their therapist or their group.
Wow, I was hesitating to ask you that question but that’s really great. It makes sense that different clients have different support networks outside the center. Are there any concerns that prevent clients from coming in to therapy in the first place?
Deede: Oh yes. There are a lot of different reasons that might keep them from in. One of the biggest is they just might not be ready yet. The idea of coming into therapy gives people an expectation or a fear they’re going to be exposed. They’re going to have to share what’s going on with them. And so many of us are used to masking what’s going on. We don’t want anyone to know that something’s broken or defective or not okay in our lives. Coming in and actually saying out loud that this is what we’re struggling with shows a lot of vulnerability and some people are really afraid of that. They can also be afraid of being judged, even if they know on some level I’m obviously not here to judge them.
Fear of change can be another factor. But one of the sayings we use is “If nothing ever changes, then nothing ever changes.” At a certain point we have to get to work and start making the changes we want to have in our lives.
So patients have to be ready to a certain extent, but resistance is also common once they come in, right?
Deede: Absolutely. Sometimes people know they’re resistant and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there’s almost like a wall of denial… and they’ve had it for so long they don’t even realize they have resistance.
What do you do in those cases?
Deede: I try to meet them where they’re at. There are some clients where I can say “Okay, you’re showing some denial about that. What’s going on? Can we look at this? Can we talk about it?” Other’s aren’t ready to go there, so I have to approach more slowly and let them lead. It’s a balancing act. I want clients to make great progress, but I also want to make sure they’re comfortable. I think I’ve learned over the years at what speed I can I go with each client.
Is it ever confrontational? Or do you avoid that?
Deede: It can definitely seem confrontational when we’re working on change. You have to be gentle though, because nobody likes to have someone say “Oh, you’re doing this and that wrong. You shouldn’t do it.” So I try to be really, really gentle when I’m talking about something that’s difficult for them to hear or receive. Or at least as gentle as that individual client might need.
I would imagine that threshold is really different for everyone. So before we finish, can you tell us a little about your current group therapy?
Deede: Absolutely. On Monday nights I do a skills group, and it’s a seventeen week cycle of once-a-week group therapy with different skills every week. We usually start off with CBT, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, then move on to things like communication, boundaries, assertiveness, co-dependency, and DBT. DBT is dialectical behavioral therapy, and that involves things like emotional regulation. After we have those skills in place, I do a group called Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. We spend a couple weeks in that area, looking at what went on when we were younger, how that might have given us some characteristics we have today and how to deal with it. And then at the end of the cycle we usually cover relapse prevention.
Do they have to sign up at a specific time or is it on a rolling basis?
Deede: It’s rolling, so everyone is welcome to start at any time. Even if they start in the middle or at the end they’ll still get the full skills group experience because we’ll eventually loop back to the beginning.
Great. So last question… What would you say to someone who’s thinking about coming in to see you, but might not be sure if you or even therapy in general is right for them?
Deede: I would encourage them to come in for a session and experience it. I tell people it’s a little more like buying a car or a house than they might think—they should shop around a little and try out a few different therapists. They might find a match right away, or it might take some time to find who you’re most comfortable with. If I’m not the best fit for you, that’s okay. We have other therapists right here at the center, and we make recommendations outside the center as well. Every client’s different, and every therapist is different, so it’s okay to search a little and find the best match.
Deede Amhowitz, MA, MFT is an individual, couples, and group therapist passionate about helping others reach their full potential in a warm and accepting space. She has years of experience assisting clients with anxiety and depression as well as marital and family issues. Deede partners with her clients to overcome their struggles while fostering healthy coping skills and personal growth. Her approach includes lending various therapeutic techniques (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) to develop a treatment strategy that best fits each client’s unique needs. Deede received her Masters in clinical and humanistic psychology from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology in 2005. Additionally, she earned her post graduate degree in couples and family therapy from Oakland University in Michigan in 2008. Deede has also attended numerous training conferences with Dr. David Burns, Dr. Marsha Linehan, John Bradshaw and other masters in the field of psychology and recovery.
Have any questions about Deede’s therapy for adults, couples, families, and groups? Call our front desk at (720)738-8531 to learn more or schedule your first appointment with her.