Josh Jonas: An Introduction to Psychotherapy at the Village Institute

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Josh Jonas is a native of Huntington in Long Island, New York. He currently is Assistant Director at The Village Institute for Psychotherapy in Manhattan, NY, where he also practices as a psychotherapist.  In our interview below, he addresses some fundamental paradigms within psychotherapy and concerns for those considering seeking a practitioner.

What is the background and history of the Institute?
Fred Woolverton is the director and founded the Institute in 1996. As the Associate Director, I see my patients here, and there is a course for therapists that I teach, and I supervise other therapists here as well. I also try to be the voice on behalf of the Institute, let people know what we’re about, and make therapy something that is cool. There can be this idea of the guy with the pipe and patches on his jacket who just sits there and says nothing except, “Tell me about your mom.” When that is the association with therapy, it makes sense someone would say, not for me.

Does the Institute specialize in certain issues?
Fred has a very strong background in addiction and has a book called “Unhooked” that he co-authored with Susan Shapiro. So we do see a lot of people who battle with some sort of addiction. Trauma is another issue that we tend to see a lot here. At the same time, therapy can be this thing that is just part of a healthy lifestyle, and can be for people living very full lives, who want even fuller lives.

When we go to the gym, no one says, “Why? Are you fat?” It’s just a thing we do. But when someone goes to therapy people might go, “Why? What’s wrong?” Something does not necessarily have to be wrong. It could just be to live deeper, fuller, more interesting lives, and have the whole palette to paint from.

So there might be stereotypes about therapy that may not be accurate?
Sometimes, the way it’s portrayed in the media definitely contributes to how people think about it. It’s why I love “The Sopranos.” It didn’t make it embarrassing and it was made to be an important thing. I definitely think as time has gone on, that stereotype has gone away, especially here in New York.

We all know that everybody suffers at some point, but when we suffer, shame comes along. Because of that, you have to be okay with not being okay to go to therapy. Tiger Woods has a swing coach. Very elite people have professional help. We all get help and feedback, and that can be a part of therapy without being shameful.

How do couples or group therapy work differently from one-on-one sessions?
Whatever shame there is about therapy, there is exponentially more of it with couples therapy. In general, people are afraid to go to couples therapy because to them, that means there’s something really wrong with the relationship. Which is too bad, because often time couples don’t get in here until the relationship is really on life support.

It’s like admitting defeat.
We take the car into the shop for a tune-up. The relationship is the same way. Every once in a while, things get off-kilter, so let’s look under the hood and see how things are operating.  A relationship is a thing unto itself. It’s like driving stick when you’ve been driving automatic your entire life. You have to learn and there is no shame in that. Unfortunately, this is especially tough for men. More often than not, women don’t have a problem with this, but guys struggle with not knowing how to do something.

It’s the weakness/failure thing that’s crippling to us.
Absolutely. Part of the reason couples therapy can be so painful for men is that often times, the most painful thing in the world for a woman is different from the most painful thing in the world for a man. So in a relationship, the most painful thing for a woman is often feeling disconnected from her partner and completely alone. The most painful thing for a man is feeling like he’s failing his partner.

This is why in couples therapy, women often say, “Yes!” And the guy says, “No way.” As soon as they begin, let’s say the guy says, “I’m really scared to be here.” The woman gets what’s going on and begins to understand what’s happening in her partner. Therefore, she begins to feel closer and less alone. For the guy, it’s not so quick. The guy just feels like a failure and none of these revelations will help him feel less like a failure.

So this is a hump that men often have to travel through.
Yes. The things we think are powerful or failures, and the things that are actually powerful or failures, can be very different. We might think we’re looking powerful when we’re just looking like children, and when we think we’re failures, we’re actually showing great strength. So that’s the thing guys really have to learn.

How might group therapy function?
I love group therapy. It’s really one of those things where you have to be there. If you walk into a room and there are 10 people in there, you can feel the difference in energy. Everything is amplified.

Is it the patient or the practitioner that usually suggests group?
It’s both, although at the Institute, it’s usually recommended by the therapist because group is a lesser known animal. There’s a saying in baseball—there’s no substitute for live pitching. To me, group is live pitching. There are things we talk about in individual therapy that we viscerally experience in group. Then what’s cool is if you are in group with your individual therapist, they can inform one another.

If we go to therapy, how do we know if we are doing it the right?
In terms of meeting someone new, hopefully it’s like a blind date that goes well. You have all of these worries about what could go wrong, but if it’s a good date, hopefully they fly out the window the moment you sit down across from that person. The way those worries fly out the window is really the responsibility of the therapist. It’s their job to make you feel at ease and let you know your vulnerabilities are welcomed.

It’s the way I think about jazz. I don’t know much about it but I know what I like. As the patient,   you don’t have to know anything and you can’t really do it wrong. When taking a lie detector test, part of it is dependent on the skill of the person reading the polygraph. The only thing I can say about a first session is to be as courageous as you feel comfortable being. The only prerequisite I have is to show up. Even if you don’t feel like being here, that’s fine. Come in and tell me that.

Does the Institute specialize in a specific method of psychotherapy, like CBT?
Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton had the same acting teacher, but they’re very different, brilliant actors. That’s how I feel about the therapists here. There is unity in the way we work, but part of what’s great about the Institute is everyone is uniquely themselves. To me, what’s very important is when someone sits in a room with a therapist, they feel they’re in a room with a person. If you want to get into jargon, I’d say everybody here is trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy. We believe and put value in the unconscious, but we’re also very active as therapists.

Is this also something you consider when you match therapists with newcomers?
Absolutely.

How might therapy be handled differently when it’s with a minor?
It depends on how young we are talking. If you’re a minor, your parents are probably paying and they might be more involved. Then you have to think about where the person is developmentally and what they might need at that time. Sometimes what can be difficult with a minor is that a kid who is 15 or 16 is not going to want therapy.  And I get it. I was the weird guy who went to therapy at that age and loved it, but I’m the outlier. If they don’t want to go, then you really just want to be a person, and not a therapist. They have great B.S. detectors.

What is speed shrinking?
Speed shrinking is Susan Shapiro’s invention, and the more you know about Sue the more you know it’s totally something she would come up with. It’s exactly what it sounds like and it’s a very smart idea. It’s a hard thing to find a therapist and sometimes you can pay a lot of money, and wind up not liking the therapist. Then you have to do it all over again. Speed shrinking is basically having seven or eight therapists in a row, with people lined up like speed dating. I participated in the last one she organized, and I had a blast. We started off with five minutes per round, but there was such a turnout, we changed it to three minutes to get everybody in.  It served two purposes. Maybe people could get a nugget of wisdom they could take with them. Or, it’s a way to meet eight therapists in 90 minutes and you can then contact them if you like someone.

The Institute sometimes offers a sliding scale payment. What are the criteria for sliding scale?
It’s kind of simple. We work on the honor system. We let people know what the fee is, and if they just can’t do it, then we try to figure out a fee that does work for them. If we go with a lower-than-normal fee, then we have them fill out a form to let us know their financial situation. We just try to figure out a fee that’s fair.

So if money is a concern, that shouldn’t stop someone from inquiring about therapy.
Not at all. Part of what we’re proud to be able to do here is to see someone on a lower than normal fee.

As we wrap up, is there anything else you want to add on why the Institute is a place where people can seek help?
There are probably other practices that are bigger names than we are, but the neat thing is, often times we get patients who have been to therapy, didn’t dig it for whatever reason, and found their way to us. They didn’t have an experience that stuck, but then they stick around with us. We have very cool and unique people here who are also very knowledgeable clinicians. People feel very taken care of here, so we really are able to keep our doors open solely by word-of-mouth.

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