Chicago Therapist: Bill Farrand
What attracted you to the field of counseling?
While working as an executive at a major financial institution in Chicago, I realized that my strength as a manager was my empathetic approach in coaching my employees to improve their performance and work towards success in their careers. This often involved providing practical feedback and potential solutions to non-work issues that may have been impacting their ability to reach their goals.
When it came time for me to make a transition from that work, I was able to reflect that my interest was working with people, not in increasing the corporation’s bottom line, so returning to school get my training as a counselor was a perfect fit.
What do you consider your specialties?
I have worked with people dealing with a range of issues. And I feel particularly effective in helping those who are having challenges because of anxiety, stress, relationships issues and life transitions. In additions, I have worked extensively with male survivors of childhood sex abuse and people living with HIV/AIDS.
I consider myself an integrative therapist and my approach is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and mindfulness to reduce initial distress. If there are underlying issues that were caused by past experiences, we may then shift into a more psychodynamic model, working to uncover how those experiences may be influencing the clients current patterns of behavior and together we work to make changes that can help to remove the obstacles that the client feels are preventing them from reaching their goals and full potential.
What did you do prior to being a therapist?
Well…that is quite a list! I got my bachelor’s degree in theatre and spent ten years in both Chicago and New York pursing that career, which meant mostly I was a waiter. Those experiences gave me a lot of insight into human behavior as well as how to establish connections with people. When I decided to switch careers, I started as a temp at a mortgage-servicing call-center, which allowed me to both improve my non-existent typing skills and to apply the “soft skills” I had learned in my previous work. I was recognized for these skills and was soon made a supervisor to help my co-workers be more effective in their customer interactions.
Fast -forward six years and I was a Vice President at a multinational bank managing a department of one hundred employees. When I felt I had done all I had wanted in that particular career, I reflected heavily upon what I felt to be my true calling and headed back to school. While doing so, I began working in non-profit, HIV social services where I became the Director of Programs and eventually the Executive Director.
As soon as it became practical for me to step away from that type of work, I did and here we are. I think that one thing that makes me an effective therapist is having myself such a broad and rich range of life experiences.
What do you see as one of the gifts of counseling?
Great question and I think it would have to be the reality that lasting change is possible. Any pattern of behavior, feelings of hopelessness or despair, or unhappy circumstance, can be improved with the support and the skills of good therapist. One of the gifts to me is the privilege of taking the journey with my clients and witnessing their personal victories.
Who might benefit from counseling?
If we look at our evolution as human beings, we were shaped by close-knit social structures which provided ongoing support. When a person, a couple, or a
family had an issue, counsel was sought from trusted confidants, which were embedded in the social structure, such as elders and shamans. In the context of human history it is only in the last few hundred years that we have moved into increasingly smaller systems of inter-dependency.
In the U.S. in particular, we are very focused on self-sufficiency and independence—and there is nothing wrong with that—I just have observed that most people are not wired to function at their best in that way all of the time. The role of the therapist can be the modern equivalent of that role.
So, the shorter answer is really, anyone who is having difficulty in making a change or confronting a challenge –whether those challenges are of a nature that can be improved in the short-term, or more deeply rooted and require more extended exploration—and who is willing to make the investment in themselves.
What’s your favorite self-improvement activity to give to clients?
I really like giving people tools that help them take more control over disruptive thoughts and feelings. I explain to them the concept of a positive feedback loop– in which the effects of a small disturbance on a system such as a negative thought include an increase in the unwanted or disruptive thought or feeling. That is, A produces more of B, which in turn produces more of A. If we can, even for a moment, halt that process, effectively hitting a “reset” button, if can reduce the disruption, allowing us to think more clearly and act with purpose.
One way to do this is through mindfulness, and one of the easiest to teach and do is “Five Things”. This involves the person mentally listing five things they can see, five things they can hear, and five things from their remaining senses. Then they need to list four new things in each of those categories, then three, etc. Usually by the time the client gets to the “threes” they will become aware that during those moments, they were not focused on the disturbance, and that the feelings around the issue have subsided enough that they can begin to focus more calmly and clearly.
There are many mindfulness exercises that can do the same thing, but this one is especially useful because it can be done anytime and anywhere, and doesn’t require deep breathing, which might make them self-conscious. They can make this happen without anyone else knowing they are doing it and can even be done while having a difficult confrontation or interaction.