"A person walks into my office and I see that they are in pain. It doesn't matter to me who they are."
Not caring who a client is or what they do is a key component of psychotherapist Barry Michels' success. For the past 25 years, he's been regarded as Hollywood's "open secret" and his unconventional methods have helped many writers and producers create the best work of their careers. Michels and his partner, Phil Stutz, are sharing their methods in a new book called The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity so you can benefit from their solution-oriented approach to therapy even if you aren't an A-list celebrity or can't afford their $365 hourly fee.
Even though Michels grew up in Los Angeles, he never dreamed of returning to Hollywood to work. Instead, the Harvard graduate always thought he would be a lawyer, practicing in northern California or on the east coast. But after spending a few years with a law firm, he realized he didn't enjoy what he was doing. "It was really boring," Michels admitted to Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. So he quit and took up busking in Europe while he figured out what he really wanted to do. That's when he realized his favourite moments at the law office had nothing to do with the law. Instead, he loved listening to his co-workers' problems. "I thought, 'well, I could make a living at that.'" So that's what he set out to do.
After studying at the University of Southern California, Michels met Phil Stutz and the two opened up an unconventional Los Angeles practice together. Michels was interested in having his therapy be active and solution-oriented. He wanted to help people right away. "When I became a psychotherapist, I realized that all the theories that i learned really had nothing to do with what a patient wanted from me when they came into the room," he said. "When they came into the room, they wanted relief. They're in pain and there's a sense of urgency there."
With that in mind, Michels focuses his practice on two things: encouraging "flow" in one's work and embracing your "shadow." Flow is all about letting go of your ego and insecurities and just letting the creative juices flow. "The best writing, the best performances, the best music has this feel of flow to it," he explained. "Flow is the feeling that something is coming through you, but it's not really coming from you, it's like it's coming from someplace else. The someplace else it's coming from is your unconscious." In order to achieve that flow, you need to embrace your flaws and let go of your insecurities. And in order to do that, you need to embrace your shadow.
The shadow is a concept Michels and Stutz borrowed from famed psychotherapist Carl Jung. Your shadow is "an accumulation of everything that ambarrasses you or you are ashamed of inside yourself." Most people try to hide their shadows from others, which prevents them from letting their true selves show through and prevents them from doing their best work. Instead of hiding your shadow, you should accept it and embrace it. "Be friends with it," Michels said. "Bring him completely out of hiding so that you stop caring what the other person thinks of you. Then you can start expressing yourself freely."
Michels truly believes his methods work, and he has clients with Academy Awards to prove it. He wants to offer his clients immediate solutions and hope for a better future. After all, "most people do not go to a stranger and unburden themselves completely unless they've tried everything they can think of," he said. In order to keep them focused on the future, "they have to be given hope."