Interview with The People's Therapist and Author Will Meyerhofer
About Will Meyerhofer: Will Meyerhofer is the author of Way Worse than Being a Dentist: the Lawyer's Quest for Meaning. He has also written a book introducing and elaborating upon the central concepts of psychotherapy, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy.” Will writes regularly for AboveTheLaw.com, and maintains a blog about life, the law, and psychotherapy at www.thepeoplestherapist.com. He attended Harvard College, the NYU School of Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work. From 1997-1999, Will worked as a corporate associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, a major Wall Street law firm. Since 2005 he's been a psychotherapist with a private practice in TriBeCa in downtown Manhattan, with a somewhat inadvertent speciality in working with lawyers and folks in finance (including remotely with folks all over the world). After taking a break to write a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space (titled “Bad Therapist: A Romance”) Will put his queer shoulder back to the wheel and published a follow-up to "Way Worse Than Being a Dentist" creatively titled "STILL Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Sequel." For more information about Will and his practice, please visit www.aquietroom.com.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] When and why did you originally start a blog about the intersections between psychotherapy, law, and life in general?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] Right after I wrote my first book ("Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy") my literary agent was giving me a hard time about having a "platform" – i.e., some sort of fanbase. If I were a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, she said, I could get a book published – or if I had a radio show – but I was an ordinary, mild-mannered New York City therapist and so effectively a nobody. The fastest way to become a somebody was a blog, so – viola! The name, "The People's Therapist" came from that agent, too. I told her I slid my fee, so I could see rich and poor alike, and she said, "You're a communist - we should call you the People's therapist!" And the name stuck. Writing about law came a little later, after I was contacted by AboveTheLaw, the popular legal website, for an interview. They thought it was interesting that I was a former biglaw associate who went on to become a psychotherapist, and it was a decent basis for a profile piece. But once we started talking, the interview began taking on monumental proportions – we just went on and on, until the interviewer proposed I write up a piece of my own about my experiences. At first, I actually turned their proposition down. But then I took a stab at it, and before I knew it I'd written column after column – enough for a book, which wound up with the goofy (but apt) title "Way Worse Than Being a Dentist." Last year I put out a sequel ("Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist"), a second entire book based on pieces about law and lawyers and psychotherapy. I guess I had a lot to say. Of course, after the first few pieces were published on AboveTheLaw I was flooded with requests from lawyers to see me as a therapist, so I got pulled into their world again, but from a fresh perspective (as their therapist, rather than just a colleague), and that gave me a lot more to write about. And since I was a biglaw attorney myself at one time, at a major Wall Street firm, it's personal. As one of my clients told me, "Dude, you bleed on the page." That's probably true – this stuff matters to me.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] What do you hope to achieve by maintaining The People’s Therapist?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] There's a political angle – I'm really an activist with regard to the abusive treatment of young lawyers by law firms and law schools. I've written about the burden of school loans, and the terrible hours lawyers are forced to work – those sorts of issues. And I write from the perspective of a former attorney who is a therapist, so I can discuss the psychic toll all these issues take on the real people out there whom we refer to as "lawyers." I also write the occasional general interest piece, stuff about relationships and personal interactions and all those regular therapist topics. The blog is a nice forum for me to get my thoughts and opinions out there – and, incredibly, it's had something like two million views since I started it. I receive letters, and of course there are links available to my books, so the blog is also a way to introduce readers to my written voice, and if they want to keep reading, the books are there, too. Heck, they can even make an appointment to come see me as a therapist, if they want. Lots of folks tell me they looked me up after reading a blog post or one of my books.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] We highlighted “Blue’s Clues…and You” as an example of what we loved about your blog: a thoughtful, relatable piece linking childhood and adulthood, repetition and novelty, and of course, law and therapy. Can you comment on what inspired you to write it?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] That was one of those pieces that arose in response to something I read somewhere. Like all my lawyer pieces, the initial inspiration was a conversation with a lawyer client, someone talking about her own experiences, trying to decide whether she wanted fresh challenges or the feeling of safety and competence that comes from familiarity with one's area of specialization in law. I brought up the Blue's Clues studies in our conversation – I can't even remember where I'd read about them – and how young children face that same issue, struggling between absorbing new material and establishing competence with familiar material. Somehow or other, at some point with these things, I just feel a "click" and I know there's a piece forming in my mind, and I rush to get my ideas down and then hack away at them for a few weeks and eventually it turns into a post. I'm always working on a few pieces at a time – there are pieces of them that never seem to gel into posts. Some of the pieces I post are actually a year or two old – they just took that long to feel ready.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] You have a rather unique educational background as both a lawyer and a therapist. What initially inspired you to make the career change from an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell to a psychotherapist with a private practice?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] I've written about my passage from lawyer to therapist a lot. Essentially, I went to law school for all the wrong reasons (alas, like a lot of lawyers.) I wanted prestige and money – and (mostly) to get my mother off my back. So it was a bit of a disaster. I did really well in law school and went to one of the top firms in the country, but then found myself utterly miserable. The firm gave me a gentle push to leave after two years – I was clearly unhappy and so they told me to be somewhere else in 6 months or so. People always assume I went right on to become a psychotherapist, but in reality I worked at BarnesandNoble.com, the online book retailer, for several years, as a marketing executive. It was only after 9/11 happened, and the dot coms started to collapse that I realized I wanted to go back to school and pursue being a therapist. It wasn't all that mysterious - my mother is a therapist, and my father was a psychiatrist, and my older brother is a therapist. My brother talked me into doing therapy, and then group therapy, and I started reading books on the subject and taking courses at an institute and eventually I realized I was fascinated with the field. In fact, if my mother hadn't sent me to a psychiatrist as a teenager to "cure" my homosexuality, I probably would have become a therapist right out of college, but that negative experience put me off the field for years. It took my brother (who is a wonderful therapist himself) to convince me that times had changed, and that it really was okay to be gay and a therapist and that therapy could be a healing, supportive, positive experience for everyone.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] How have your legal studies and experience influenced your mindset and practice as a therapist? Have any unexpected connections between the two emerged over time?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] At this point something like 75% of my clients are lawyers, and some of the others who aren't lawyers are finance types who work with lawyers in a corporate environment, so being a former Wall Street lawyer mostly gives me a huge advantage in terms of sharing common ground (unusual common ground for a therapist) with the people I work with as clients. I understand what lawyers do, and I know the firms and their various cultures and I "get" the whole world of law and finance because I've been there, too. It gets to the point where I've actually worked as a lawyer with some of the folks my clients are talking about – we've literally worked with the same law partners. And yes, I see a lot of clients from my old firm. It saves a lot of time to be someone from their world. They respect me, too, in the sense that I've got a sort of credibility that counts with lawyers, as a graduate of Harvard and NYU Law and a former attorney at Sullivan & Cromwell. I'm one of them – and it matters, because most psychotherapists are decidedly not folks who "get" the realities of that world.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] What advice do you have for prospective psychotherapy students, as well as prospective law students?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] First and foremost, don't get the degree until you have to – until you are absolutely sure this career is what you want to do with your life, and that you will hop out of bed every morning looking forward to your day as a psychotherapist or a lawyer. Because that's how you should choose a career, not because it's prestigious or well-paid, but because it will honestly and truly make you happy, scratch your itch, put a smile on your face. That's why people succeed at professions – because they enjoy them. At this point I look at academic degrees as very expensive, time-consuming and rather dull licensing procedures. You are, in effect, buying a license to do the job you want to do. It's expensive and takes a few years, and it can be boring as heck, but you need to get past this hurdle to do the job you know you'll love. That's the only reason to go to grad school and get one of these expensive degrees. No one needs ornamental degrees gathering dust on their wall – that's a waste of precious time.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] How does your blogging inform or influence your private practice, and vice versa?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] I'm always amazed at the responses I get to my posts. Sometimes I learn something new and actually alter the posts in response to new information. As a therapist who works with lawyers from all over the country and the world (I work remotely with dozens of clients via Skype and other video chat technologies) I have my ear to the ground, or my finger on the pulse or whatever the metaphor is...basically, I hear a lot of stuff, and that means I have a lot to write about. And then, each time I write, I hear back from more folks out there in the legal sphere and learn yet more about what's going on out there and where things seem to be heading. It's an ongoing conversation, and a damned interesting one.
[OnlineCounselingPrograms.com] Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[Will Meyerhofer, JD LCSW-R] One of my frustrations lately has been that I'm buried in requests for "informational interviews." I would encourage anyone interested in becoming a therapist to do exactly what people do to me - reach out with questions and ask to come talk to me. The issue is that I've only got so many hours in a day (or a week) and sometimes I get multiple requests in a given week. At this point I try to answer specific questions via email, and, if people really want to come and meet me and have a longer conversation, I ask them to book a session (just like a client) on a sliding scale and come in and I'll talk their ear off. In the old days, I'd just meet folks for lunch, but I haven't really got the time anymore, which is sort of a shame, but there it is. But I will try my best to answer whatever questions you have and give you an honest idea what it's like to do what I do and how I got there and how they might get there, too.
A final thought: I get a lot of requests from lawyers who want to become "a therapist for lawyers, like you." I have to remind them that I never intended my career to take this path – it just sort of happened. When I received my MSW, I headed off to a hospital and my first clients were actually gay men living with HIV, mostly gay men of color. I worked with that population for years, and then started my private practice and worked with them and a lot of their friends, whom they referred my way. And then the practice grew in lots of interesting directions – at one point, I was treating a bunch of female runway models – they liked that I was gay, so there was no sexual tension between us, and they kept referring more runway models. But the whole "therapist for lawyers" thing came later, and was a complete surprise. My point is that I never "marketed to lawyers" – in fact, it never occurred to me to market to lawyers. They came to me based on my writing, which struck me as odd, since I was writing mostly negative stuff about my own experiences in law. So if you write me (as many folks do) asking for help with "marketing to lawyers" as a therapist, I'm really not your man. I'd say just be true to yourself and do a good job, and things will take care of themselves.
Thank you for your time Will. Learn more about the The People's Therapist on our Top Therapy Blogs list.
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