Psycho-Therapist Donna Burstyn Interviewed

On Echo in the Sense, hosted by Christine Palma on KXLU 89.9 FM, psycho-therapist Donna Burstyn talked about her craft.

Christine: “What kind of people seek therapy?”

Donna: “Many kinds of people. Some healthy people seek therapy. People who are interested in growth and healing. People who have repeated patterns that get them in the same place they are unhappy with. Some people come to therapy because they are in crisis or they’re suffering from loss, which could be a relationship, a divorce, loss of a child, loss of a parent. It could be feeling lost. They don’t know what’s next for them. They’re trying to open up possibilities. They feel stuck… Some people come for writers block.

“Therapy is a place where people can be heard and accepted unconditionally and be with someone who reflects back to them what they’re hearing and helps them interpret what’s going on in their life. People make better choices as they become more conscious. You have a facilitator for your own inner voice. It’s the client who chooses the journey, not the therapist.”

“Many times people believe that they have to be in a crisis to go to therapy. But no. When people are not in crisis, that is a wonderful time to do therapy. In crisis, we do crisis-management. We try to stop the bleeding. It’s rare to do depth work when someone is in crisis. For someone who wants to do therapeutic work to last a lifetime, not being in a crisis is the best time to do this.”

“There are many different types of therapists. There are therapists who are solely listening therapists. There are therapists such as myself who listen and give back feedback, not right and wrong feedback, just things they’re hearing. There are therapists who are more directive. There are therapists who do a lot of dream work or the mind-body connection.

“When you are seeking a therapist, ask for the therapist’s orientation. Some people get frustrated having a therapist who only listens. This is a more analytic therapist, the only psycho-therapy model, Freudian, Jungian. One lays on the couch and the therapist has the answers. The therapist listens. By virtue of speaking, the healing is created.

“In my world of therapy, it’s about the relationship that gets created in the room that creates the healing. I can do cognitive-behavioral therapy with someone. That’s about thoughts and behaviors. You learn to interrupt your thoughts so you don’t do certain behaviors. There’s homework. It’s more management oriented. Insurance companies like it because it is often shorter. Versus depth therapy. Object-relations. Interpersonal. Psycho-dynamic. That’s more dynamic, more reflective. For me, it is more interesting.

“Carl Rogers was the one who created that unconditional positive regard. That’s what I try to practice in my office.

“I have been to therapists who are completely silent. It’s very difficult. That’s more of a psycho-analytic model. Some therapists have you fill out questionaires to find out where it hurts, much like with physical doctors.

“I ask people why they’re here. Why now? What’s going on in your life recently? Tell me about your family of origin. Are you employed? I get general background information. What they feel are some of the issues they would like to get help with. What is on their goal list?

“Towards the end of the session, I’ll say, how are you feeling right now? Sometimes they will say, ‘It is important for you to know…’

“Often as people are leaving the door, they will tell you the most important thing. And then they’re out. ‘And by the way, I was raped. I’ll see you next week.’

“People share as much as they want to share and usually I’ll take my cues from them.”

“More people are coming in because they’ve seen in themselves a long period of depression or anxiety. They recognize that they have an apathy towards life. That they used to see colors more brightly and foods tasted better and they looked forward to getting up and they don’t any more. They’re lethargic. Their appetite patterns, and sleep patterns and relationship patterns have changed and they don’t know why. Sometimes people will come in and say, ‘I think this has to do with…’ And that’s where we start.

“Often when people come in and say these are my symptoms, it is often the tip of the iceberg. I find that these symptoms have been there before. We as humans tend to recreate over and over our reality. We need to be right even though it doesn’t work. We tend to define life and ourselves in a certain way and create new faces around us to play the same parts and we end up in the same place.

“When people get tired of that, or they recognize that life could be better, sometimes they’ll seek therapy and say, I don’t know what I don’t know. And that’s where we’ll start.”

“Therapy isn’t always an adjunct to medication. I am very pro medication. I’ve seen miracles. I’ve seen people rise from the dead with medication. Some people are adamant that they won’t go on medication. For some illnesses, therapy doesn’t work without a mood stabilizer. If I’m speaking to the schizophrenic or the manic depressive, the therapy doesn’t work without medication.

“Usually you feel it. I’ve been doing psycho-therapy for 15 years. Often in the beginning of what people say, one can sense, not just in the words, but in the body language, and the non-spoken, the person’s level of wellness. There’s something that feels very different about a person with an adjustment disorder to a current problem versus someone who’s clinically ill, manic, or suicidal and has been there many times before.”

“Life transitions. That’s what life is. It’s a transition. It’s dynamic. If we want it to flow, we have to open up channels that have stopped the flow before. If you’re willing to come to therapy and to experience some discomfort, you may get the bigger picture, one of greater clarity and health and flexibility.”

Christine: What does therapy offer that run of the mill family and friends don’t offer?

Donna: “Often run of the mill friends want to please you. They want to make you feel good. They want to make it all better for you. And you can end up in the same place a year from now because nothing’s changed.

“With a therapist, I don’t think we’re invested in making one feel a certain way. We’re invested in you finding the clarity to do the things that are best for you. That’s different from having a cheerleading squad.

“There are many times in therapy when someone leaves the room feeling worse than when they came in. And then they’ll come in the following week and say, ‘I had this pivotal ah ha moment.’

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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