Being raised on the East Coast, where feelings are stuffed down and people do not share, I wiggle in my seat when Brad Reedy drops incredibly personal information about his own professional and personal growth and development. I look around the room full of professionals to see if others are as uncomfortable as I am. Then about 10 minutes later, I settle in and attempt to hear him and think about my own therapeutic work. This examination without censor is why I wanted to interview Brad.
AKoT: How has your work with families and students shifted since you did your own therapeutic work?
BR: I have always believed you can be a really good therapist if you are well read, a student of your craft and keep an open mind. But I don’t think you can be a great therapist unless you do your work (go to your own therapy). Carl Jung said it this way, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of others.” Sitting on the client couch is entirely different than sitting in the therapist’s chair. Having that experience will teach you more than any book.
Embracing my own therapeutic journey has given me greater compassion towards others and myself. This compassion translates into less advice-giving and more empathy. I freely share that I have been in therapy, with the same therapist for more than 17 years, because I want my clients to see that I respect therapy, that I know it’s good for all of us. The healing begins when they feel safe enough with me to explore and share their most shameful secrets. I want them to know we are in this together. Besides, why should I be ashamed or secretive about going to therapy?
Unfortunately, doing my own work was not a luxury I chose merely to become a better therapist. I was compelled by my own issues, struggles and the struggles of loved ones to seek clarity through therapy — and for that I am grateful. My issues required me to grapple with the unexplored parts of myself.
So being a therapist is not sharing my wisdom with the less fortunate but to become a witness to my clients’ journey in discovering their truth. Having experienced the healing grace of a compassionate therapist where my “horrible rotten self” was welcomed, I am honored to be able to provide that for my clients. My therapist didn’t attack my defenses, she honored them and understood me. I want to be there for my clients in that same way. If I get frustrated, discouraged or impatient with them, it is my limitation that is being activated. It is not about them. The clearer I am about myself, the more I can see them — all of them.
AKoT: What are the key aspects to your own changes?
BR: The biggest change for me as a therapist is away from the expert-therapist position. When I started as a therapist, I was educated and clever. I wanted to help and heal and was well armed with techniques and theory. I am an expert, but my expertise is not on knowing others’ truths but on providing a context where a client can discover their own truth. As my relationship with myself has evolved, so has my relationship with my clients (that is the parallel process).
In Al-Anon they have a saying, “What you think about me is none of my business.” This means I have less judgment towards my loved ones. I am less afraid. I tend to tell the truth more often. And when I slip up, I can be more compassionate with myself. I understand that my anger with others is a sign of my poor self-care. I know that when I get angry or frustrated with others, I have lost contact with them. I have developed more courage to admit I am an idiot at times and to say I am sorry. I apologize more to my wife, my children, my employees and my clients.
AKoT: Why is Evoke focusing on workshops? Who are your hoping to work with in them? How are they different than a family experience?
BR: Our workshops are the extension of our early ideas with family work that we offer to all those who enroll at Evoke. We wanted to offer small, intensive programs for parents and families so that they could do even deeper work. When parents owns and admits their limitations and makes their own recovery their project, it takes the pressure off the identified patient. This shift removes much of the shame and stigma. It also changes the parents and how they see the child.
In my book The Journey of the Heroic Parent, I explain how “what do I do?” is the wrong question. The right question is “Who am I?” From there, parents can more clearly understand the child and clarify their relationship to their shared problems. Parenting education and programming doesn’t change children… it changes parents. And that change will have a remarkable impact on children.
The first chapter begins with the story of my own struggles and my attendance at a therapeutic intensive. It was an especially dark time in my life and led to me discovering a new version of myself. I wasn’t suicidal, but living was hard during that time. When sharing my wish that I wasn’t alive, my therapist responded, “All of you doesn’t need to die, just part of you does.” From that day to now, I have seen my work as killing the parts of myself that keep me stuck so that new parts can emerge.
AKoT: Many wilderness therapy programs do integrated health – beyond yoga, health food, mindfulness, sleep. What has changed at Evoke? Why is this important at Evoke?
BR: We don’t believe in compartmentalizing health. We see the connection between body, mind and spirit. We have always seen the benefits of nature and exercise and improved diet as a part of whole health, but when we formed Evoke, we wanted to routinize and systematize it to insure that our clients (as well as our employees) are benefitting from whole health activities.
We encourage and support employees to access exercise and yoga classes. We provide stipends for therapy and exercise to employees. To support the philosophy throughout Evoke, we have all Evoke owner/partners be clients in therapeutic intensives, and therapists are provided resources so they can attend as well.
AKoT: What do you think you want to change the most about how Evoke operates?
BR: We intend to continue evolving. I have always said, we need to continue to ask ourselves tough questions and be honest with the answers. We need to never arrive. We need to courageously explore the practices in wilderness therapy and the private pay industry. Employee and client health must never be compromised. Comprehensive family work, commitment to research, exploring new ideas of treatment, being a green and conscientious company, and organizational health are non negotiable.
Leadership that embodies the kind of work we ask our clients to do should always be a hallmark of our company.