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Andrew E. Colsky
Featured Therapist Interview
Andrew E. Colsky, JD, LLM, LPC, LMHC
Andrew E Colsky runs the Center for Professional Counseling, PLC, in Arlington, Virginia. He can be contacted at [email protected] and (571) 527-8197.
My name is Andrew E Colsky, (he/him) and I am honored to be an ABCT featured therapist. I am the owner of Center for Professional Counseling, PLC, a mental health practice exclusively offering telehealth in the states of Florida and Virginia. In my practice I treat obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and trauma.
I serve clients of all ages, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, nationalities, races, and cultures. If an individual, couple or family is in need of mental health support, they are welcome in my practice. While I do not participate in-network with insurance providers, I do offer affordable treatment options through my tiered level of providers including LPC, Residents in Counseling, and Graduate Intern counselors.
I developed my interest in treating obsessive compulsive disorder when I had to educate myself in order to treat one of my clients. I found OCD to be very interesting because there is so much about it that we do not know. While we may not fully understand its origins, we do have effective treatments. Before I was a mental health counselor I was an attorney. I left the practice of law because it seemed that everything that I was working on was negative. When I work with OCD patients today as a mental health counselor, it is rewarding to help a client move from a situation where they are under enormous stress to a place where they feel free to live a comfortable life again. In an effort to give back to the community, I offer a free OCD support group for those with OCD or their loved ones. Anyone may sign up at www.stopmyocd.com.
I am also a lifelong entrepreneur. When I learned that one of the primary treatments for OCD was exposure therapy, I immediately recognized several limitations. I wanted to know how I could provide the most effective exposures for clients whether they were in my office or joining me through teletherapy. I quickly realized that there was a need for the introduction of virtual reality into exposure therapy. As a result, I started a new company, VRETnow, where I am developing a platform that will offer therapists the opportunity to conduct extremely low-cost virtual reality exposures with all of their clients.
I am excited to be a member of ABCT because of the connections I can make and the resources available to help me become a better therapist. Please feel free to send me a connection request through LinkedIn. www.linkedincom/in/andrewecolsky
What are your personal strengths as a practitioner?
I believe that my most important strength is my insatiable appetite to learn. In my practice I only use evidence-based interventions. It is important to me that I understand the root cause of each client’s problem before I can develop a therapeutic plan. This means that I am constantly having to read books, attend continuing education programs, and have some deep discussions with other therapists through Special Interest Groups or consultation groups.
I sometimes liken my role in therapy to Sherlock Holmes in that I feel it is necessary to ask a lot of questions and try to understand what has occurred in the client’s life that has led them to seek therapy. Next, I evaluate whether I believe that their issue is an error in thought, which would tell me that their frontal cortex may be involved, or whether their actions might be the result of trauma, which would tell me that my focus would be on the amygdala. Of course, there are many other potential issues, such as OCD, which we are still unclear where that resides in our brains, or other learned behaviors that are in need of adjustment.
What tips can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
First and foremost I would validate for them that they can do it. I realize it can be scary to start a new practice from scratch because of the fears that you may not get enough clients or that you may not know what to do in every case. It is important that you believe in yourself and then do what is necessary to achieve your goals.
The next piece of advice I have is to speak to people. In these days of easy access to texting and emails, it is almost certain that when I train a new intern, their preferred method of communication with other therapists and potential clients is email. I have a strict rule in my practice that if we have a telephone number for somebody, we must call them and speak to them individually. The difference in communication between an email and a telephone call is tremendous. The telephone call allows for give-and-take where the parties on either side of the conversation get to learn more about each other and feel a personal connection.
Third, I highly encourage networking. This means setting up a LinkedIn account, joining professional organizations like ABCT, participating in Special Interest Groups, joining a consultation group, and being active in the community. I have found it personally helpful to write newsletter articles or deliver educational webinars for different professional organizations. I even run a free OCD support group where I learn just as much as I am able to give to others.
How do you remind your patients of their strengths during the therapy process?
When I started working with clients, it quickly struck me that a great majority of people live with negative self-talk. For example, clients would be able to list for me the progression they have made in their employment yet, if they didn’t get a particular promotion, they would share how they were incompetent and are never able to achieve anything. They automatically dismiss all of the prior promotions they have received over the years. They are masters in applying the same negative self-talk to other parts of their life.
I believe it is important that every therapist have compassion for their clients. When we truly understand what is happening in the client’s life then we can help them to remember and accept all the positive attributes they have. It’s not about sugarcoating everything or suggesting that life will always be happy. I directly acknowledge when certain situations are difficult or make someone feel bad. I also help them put that into perspective because I believe when they are in a bad place they lack perspective. Simply being honest and realistic with the intent of helping the client come to their own understanding can go a long way in addressing the issue of negative self-talk.
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
Absolutely. For purposes of my own learning and development as well as development of my practice, I believe it is essential to be involved with various professional activities. As I mentioned earlier, I belong to Special Interest Groups, consultation groups, and professional organizations. And when I say that “I belong,” I mean that I am active in those groups.
In addition to belonging to other professional groups, I also make it a point to offer information and opportunities to others. I am always training a cadre of intern counselors and supporting Resident counselors in their training. I also offer opportunities to the community that I serve. Since my practice focuses heavily on OCD, I use social media and a free OCD Support Group as avenues to provide information to people with OCD.
Currently I am writing a book designed to teach other therapists about the use of virtual reality exposure therapy in the treatment of OCD.
Who was your mentor?
I had a lot of mentors who helped me get to where I am today. My supervisors during my internship and residency offered a lot to help me develop a successful counseling approach. It is important to listen to your supervisors and take what they say to heart rather than arguing with them to prove why you were right in something that you did.
I am also a serial entrepreneur. In that regard, I have worked with a lot of other entrepreneurs and learned from them. I worked with mentors from the free Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) program and I have worked regularly with the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program at George Washington University to help me bring new ideas to market.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I love learning and solving previously unsolved problems. This is how I began the development of my new venture, VRETnow, a program to bring virtual reality exposure therapy for OCD to therapists around the world. I really enjoy pushing the envelope and trying to make positive change.
Outside of my VRETnow project, I love travel. I try to visit someplace new every year. In this last year it was Portugal and London. In 2023 it may be a discovery of parts of the Middle East. If I just need to do something for fun locally, you will typically find me outdoors hiking or exploring.
What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?
Primarily I treat clients with OCD so I use ERP, a type of CBT every day in my professional capacity. It is incredibly rewarding to see a client who first presents with severe obsessions and compulsions that are making them miserable and to work with them using ERP so that in a relatively short time, they can master their OCD and become comfortable and fully functioning again. I think that OCD is one of the practice areas that allows a client to achieve substantial improvement in a relatively short time.
Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 3 to 5 years?
I believe that we are in exciting times. The fact that there has been a wide-scale embrace of teletherapy means that clients who did not previously have access to a variety of mental health practitioners can now gain easy access to treatment. Additionally, in my OCD practice, I find it more productive when a client can speak with me from their home where many of their obsessions may exist.
I am also very excited about the growing list of technologies that are being incorporated into therapy. For example, virtual reality is continuing to be used in both mental and physical health interventions. From there, we are seeing the introduction of augmented reality and artificial intelligence in the mental health field. These are not being used to replace therapists but to enhance the effectiveness of treatments that therapists can provide.
How do you use the local or social media to educate your community on the benefits of CBT?
It is important to be able to share information with individuals who are experiencing mental health issues. The more that we can normalize these issues, the less they become stigmatized. As a result, I use Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube regularly to educate the public about OCD. I am also considering starting a podcast within this next year.
I was recently awarded a grant from the Virginia Counselors Association to educate counselors in the state about OCD. I believe that the more that you can put a message out in an easily understandable format, the better recognition you will receive. By training counselors about OCD, my goal is to help them recognize when they might be dealing with a client who has OCD and educate them about the proper treatment approaches available.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
I joined ABCT in 2022.
How has ABCT help you professionally?
Within my first few days of membership, I posted a message on one of the forums on the ABCT website seeking others who may be interested in working with me on my virtual reality project. A very brief while afterwards, I received an inquiry from an individual who has become a partner with me in this endeavor. This person has brought me a wealth of knowledge and happened to be working on her own project which meshed very nicely with mine. I would not have been able to easily find this person without using the ABCT forum.
What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
Honestly, everything that ABCT offers is valuable to me. I try to take advantage of all the services provided by any organization to which I belong.