Interview with therapist Stephanie Huls

Stephanie Huls therapist interview

Follow Stephanie at @reflectioncounselling and visit reflectioncounselling.ca.

What do you do?
I’m a therapist. I focus on general counselling and trauma counselling.

How long have you been a therapist for?
I’ve been in the field since 2006 or 2007, and I went rogue in private practice in 2016. 

What inspired you to pursue this path?
People actually ask that a lot and I really struggle with that because I think people expect this one-defining a-ha moment, which I did not have. For me, I was always pretty in tune to other people growing up, so even as a child I could notice who was having a hard time, who might need additional support, so I always had my eye out for that.

I think my parents contributed to that as well – just having an awareness of what our lives look like and other people’s lives don’t necessarily look like that, connecting to other people’s experiences. So I think that was just kind of ingrained and nurtured by my parents. Overtime it just seemed like a natural thing to move into the helping profession. Narrowing it down, more specifically, was a bit more challenging, but I was pretty clear along the way that I wanted to help people.

What was the biggest hurdle in attaining your goals? 
I would say the biggest hurdle to become a private practitioner was self-doubt and fear. I don’t think anything really got in my way in terms of getting into the field of social work. I was really clear on that. I took a couple of detours a couple points along the way to fine tune it, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

I found the hurdle to transition to private practice was more challenging. Partially fear – it’s scary to run your own business – but also a moral dilemma. I got into social work because I wanted to help people who didn’t have a lot of resources, but you kind of become one of the people who don’t have many resources because things are pretty financially tight in the non-profit sector. It was also challenging because there was some red tape that prevented me from doing the kind of work that I thought would be the most beneficial to clients. The moral dilemma was charging clients for something that I thought should be accessible and valuable, but I realized that burnout was really high in the non-profit sector – so I was never harming clients, but I could tell I wasn’t really doing the best by them. Moving into private practice, I still try to honour that social work part of myself – I’ve got a portion of my caseload that is pro bono to still honour that part of me that wants to support the community that has fewer resources, but that I’m well rested and taken care of, so that I’m also providing better work.

What do you enjoy most about your work? 
It’s a little cliché, but really it’s such an honour and privilege to watch people make changes. It’s a really unique position to witness such courage that’s ongoing and very intentional because therapy is hard. I always tell my clients that therapy is hard and I don’t ask them to do what I’m not willing to do. I’ve done my own therapy in the past and still do because there’s always something we could be doing differently, so I know what it’s like to sit on that side of the room – be on the couch, so to speak – and be vulnerable, open up, share things you might have never thought you’d ever say out loud, and trust that somebody can hold it and walk you through that path. Sometimes it just blows my mind that people are willing to do that and I’m touched that they are willing to do that with me, and take these risks and pursue a life that feels a little bit better for them.

What do you find most challenging about your work?
Balance. I try pretty hard to make sure that I practice what I preach, so I talk to clients about self-care, prioritizing their well-being, finding the off button. I can’t ask people to do stuff that I’m not willing to do, so making sure that I’m honouring the work that I do, but that I’m honouring myself as well. There’s always work to be done, but maybe I take a break and take a walk in the sunshine, and just taking care of myself in the way I encourage others to do.

If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be? 
I know my mom would love it if I owned a cafe [laughs]. I love baking, and so it’s kind of a bartender or hairdresser [thing. She says,] “If you had a cafe, people could still talk to you about stuff”, and I would feed them because I force food on people a lot.

I don’t know actually. Perhaps something related to sustainability and the environment. I don’t know what that would look like, but I try to integrate that into my life as much as I can. I have my highs and lows with that, but it’s something else I feel passionate about.

Name one hobby you have that’s not related to your work. 
I actually try to make sure that most of my hobbies are not related to my work. I stay away from heavy TV shows – I tend to gravitate towards comedy, or documentaries, things like that. Nature is a big one, which I know technically is not a hobby, but spending time in nature, often on my own. I love doing it with friends, but there’s something pretty unique being in the woods, being by the water and just one-on-one connecting with nature and just having some stillness.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning? 
Hit the snooze button. I’m not a morning person – many people in my life will attest to. Probably social media that I’m trying to wean myself of, but it does actually wake me up. I’m trying to find something that acknowledges that I’m a slow mover in the morning, but I really don’t like that screen time.

And last thing you do at night? 
Get my cat on the foot of the bed, if he’s not there already. But probably right before that, I love a good skincare routine. It’s just a nice self-care strategy, nothing fancy but taking the time to take care of my skin, wipe off the day and tuck into bed all fresh and clean.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your work.
I want to say 10, because I truly do enjoy my work. However, I am human and some days are harder than others. So I’ll give it a 9.5.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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