In January 2017 New York city woke up to a play titled “The Talking Cure.” The play entailed the life of a Manhattan therapist tackling the demons of his patients and his own. Full disclosure: the play was written by psychotherapist Sean Grover as a validation of the challenges of his listening profession. I am at a school in New Jersey, where Sean is conducting a workshop on the tricky terrain of parenting. After the talk I wait patiently as he signs his parenting book, “When Kids Call The Shots —How to seize control from your darling bully and enjoy being a parent again.”
Sean Grover is a psychotherapist, speaker, and author with 25 years of experience working with adults and children. He leads over 300 group therapy sessions in a year, was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Huffington Post etc and his blog Psychology Today has gathered over 2 million reads. Talking with the handsome, bespectacled man I get the feeling that he is a giver and believes in his life work to unravel the web of human relations spun by anger, ego, insecurity, and narcissism. He works on himself in order to work on his clients. In Sean’s words “When your relationship with your kid is out of whack. “hope” doesn’t cut it. ” However, in the same breath, he reassuringly ends with a “I know—–I’ve been there.” He tells me that by helping others he is also helping himself to grow.
Beginnings: Clarity from Chaos
Belonging to a family of five siblings Sean grew up working on the docks at Long Island in his father’s boat building business. When he was thirteen years old the fishermen began to come to him with their problems. They talked, he listened. But it was only until he was thirty-one that he became a psychotherapist. In between, he did theater, comedy clubs, counseled HIV patients and meandered the alleys of his mind for fruitful work. His mentor Dr. Lois Ormont advised him to do myriad activities like traveling, soaking up art and culture to fill the well within before becoming a psychotherapist.
Meanwhile, life kept happening and chipping at Sean – his father’s frustration with Sean’s abandonment of the family business for his “listening” profession, getting married and having two daughters who brought his ego and insecurities to the fore. In his words ” Struggling with personal demons empowers you with greater empathy and the crucial ability to identify with others in pain.” Finally, it was the path of embracing Buddhism, despite his Catholic background that led him to his life work. Purifying and understanding ” his internal world” paved the way for greater clarity in the external world.
For kid’s healthy social and emotional developments
1. Find tension outlets through physical activities
2. Build self-esteem through talents or hobbies
3. Set structure limits and boundaries to foster healthy habits
4. Seek out great teachers, models and mentors to inspire your kids
5. Use learning diagnostics for learning disabilities
The matrix of relations
Sean insists that every family has its own culture and the relationship between parent and child is always paramount. Laughingly he admits that he was a bullied parent too. Parenting challenges with his eldest daughter when she was six forced him to rethink and ask “what’s missing ” in a kid’s life that makes them behave in unwanted ways. For him it was the arrival of his second child that created insecurity in his firstborn ——for us it could be anything……understanding the underlying cause of what’s missing paves the way for us to be present and connected with our kids. I ask Sean how does one create a village in the prevailing culture of nuclear families. He believes it’s essential to seek out an engaging and supportive community for kids and suggests three vital groups for each child: school friends, cousins / extended family and neighbors. He feels most adults, teachers and after school programs provide a positive community to plug into.
Sean conducts group therapy for people struggling to make sense of their relationships. Group is a powerful process that brings into play how an individual interacts with others. It also brings to light the unconscious ways people may sabotage relationships or choose unhealthy ones. For example, Sean often finds that loneliness is an act of self –preservation and believes in the power of group dynamics to free up restricted feelings by expanding self-expression. He tells me the goal of therapy is not about changing people. It’s about helping people to reconnect with their true selves. It’s about healing injuries, building trust and crafting healthier relationships and living more fully in the present. Therapy is kind of parenting that enables people to become healthier, stronger and empowered.
Discovering a wonderful world
Sean relates that investing in self-care and being grateful is how he finds wonder and awe in this world. He tells me that psychotherapists, in particular, need to invest in self-care much more than the average person. For him, it entails his Buddhist practice of chanting in the morning and evening, yoga (for stretching his body and bending his will) swimming (to help him plow through waves of resistance from his patients) and walking (to shake off the soot of daily irritations). He practices what he preaches to his clients and says doing cardio for thirty minutes three times a week cuts stress by 70%. Being active is the first step towards getting his clients to move away from the core of self-neglect.
Sean considers it special to share a space with someone seeking to get back on the road and is present and listening. One of his patients has developed breast cancer and is not going to recover. What’s worse, her husband left her. Being there to witness her experiences (they both cried) he gently leads her to suffer joyfully to come into a space of grace where acceptance and surrender merge. Thus Sean’s work is not about eliminating uncomfortable feelings but expanding his patient’s capacity to feel. He suggests when we honor sadness we develop empathy and become reflective.
Reminiscing, he narrates how a couple of years ago challenges with one of his daughters threatened the fabric of their family life. He felt the angst of being a father, and not the first time in his life questioned the experience of his profession. And as always his internal world guided him, this time to begin a gratitude journal. Resenting the process but believing in the inner voice he embarked on a journey of discovering joy in suffering, ————like living a life that is good even when it is bad. Of course, the family crested the challenge. Like his mentor, he wants to continue working into his nineties and help people walk the path of grace and gratitude, the bedrock of a fulfilled life.