I'm Gayle Gonzalez-Johnson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private therapy practice in Cary, North Carolina. I received my Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from NC State University, and went on to earn a Master's Degree in Social Work from UNC-Chapel Hill. My credentials include both state licensure (LCSW) and national certification (ACSW). After seeing clients through Triangle Family Services in Raleigh for five years, I opened a private practice in 1996. I regularly appeared as a guest on WRAL-TV Channel 5 News over a 7-year period offering parenting advice and expert opinions on various mental health issues.
I love the work that I do, and treating my clients in a caring, compassionate, and competent manner is my specialty!
A Letter to My Clients
My Reflections Upon Turning 50 - March 2011
I have learned so much from so many people.
From my clients I have learned
what a breathtakingly beautiful and
heartbreakingly painful world we live in.
I am forever grateful to each of you
for entrusting to me your burdens, your woes
your secrets, your fears
and also your joys, accomplishments
successes and triumphs.
I am especially indebted to you for allowing
me to witness - through you - the nobility of
the human spirit on its journey of growth.
You are the fighters,
the courageous ones - the ones
who yearn so earnestly for progress that
you make it happen.
I deeply cherish each of you and hold you
in the highest esteem.
I wouldn't for a minute change the career I
chose and I thank each of you
for helping me grow,
for teaching me so many valuable
life lessons I cherish,
and for your inspiring example.
Through My Eyes
by Gayle Gonzalez-Johnson
You asked about my work. I LOVE talking about my work with people who care to hear. I feel really, REALLY lucky to be able to work in this field. I can't imagine doing anything else - truth is I don't have any other skills TO DO anything else, not well at least! I was at Triangle Family Services for nearly 5 years but I've now been in private practice as a psychotherapist for 18 years, since a year after I left Triangle Family Services. Crazy but many days I come home from the office so energized by what I just went through with my clients - many days it can feel like doing "cutting edge" work around supporting people through the life changes they long to make. To watch a person strive to change right before your very eyes and to offer them something that supports or encourages that change or shines a light on a path that was not previously visible is so deeply gratifying and exciting. It's an amazing process to both witness and also participate IN from the therapist seat. In the last few years I have really dedicated myself to being as "present" as I possibly can be to the experience in the room (often - that is - a client's suffering) - the more pure listening, without judgment, I can bring to the healing process, the fuller and more complete the healing appears to be! Wow - like I said - it inspires ME to do this work - can't imagine doing anything else! And I feel incredibly blessed.
While my role is to "serve" (in the best sense of the word) each client I meet and work with, I have been so lucky over so many years to meet many fascinating people and learn their life stories and truly learn so much from them. I feel like I have traveled to places I never have visited, learned lessons from experiences I have never gone through and witnessed trauma and tragedy of a magnitude I could have never personally survived. Yet, I can sit with pain. I can "hold" another emotionally and not have to make their experience anything but what it is. I can be a mirror empowering someone to see with new eyes. I can empathize from a deep place inside me and offer presence and centering to one who has temporarily journeyed off-course. And, astoundingly enough, most of the time, with most clients, I experience a deep human connection - hard to describe this experience in any way other than a kind of "falling in love" with the essence of another human soul. It is life-giving work.
In the Service of Life
by Rachel Naomi Remen
The role of the therapist in the very best sense of the word is to "serve" the progress
or growth of the client on their journey. Rachel Naomi Remen beautifully describes
this profound process in her piece entitled, "In the Service of Life". I include it here because it conveys a sense of how I approach my work as a therapist.
In recent years the question "How can I help?" has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not "How can I help?" But "How can I serve?"
Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. If I'm attentive to what is going on inside of me when I'm helping, I find that I'm always helping someone who is not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness. When I help I am very aware of my own strength. But we don't serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.
Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person that I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.
Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokeness requires me to act. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.
There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. This is Mother Teresa's basic message. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.
If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe. A fixer has the illusion of being casual. A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown. Fixing and helping are very personal; they are very particular, concrete and specific. We fix and help many different things in our lifetimes, but when we serve we are always serving the same thing. Everyone who has ever served through the history of time serves the same thing. We are servers of the wholeness and mystery in life. I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego and service is the work of the soul. They may look similar if you're watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different too.
Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery, which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing, and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. From the perspective of service, we are all connected. All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.
Lastly, fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. Serving is the basis of true healing.