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Featured Therapist Interview
Licensed psychologist Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Gillihan has written and lectured nationally and internationally on cognitive behavioral therapy and the role of the brain in psychiatric conditions. He wrote Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery with Janet Singer as well as Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks, a workbook for managing depression and anxiety. Dr. Gillihan has a clinical practice in Haverford, Pennsylvania, where he specializes in CBT and mindfulness-based interventions for OCD, anxiety, depression, and related conditions. Find out more about his practice at sethgillihan.com.
Congratulations on being selected as an ABCT Featured Therapist.
First, we would like to know a little about your practice.
What “tips” can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
The most important thing is to develop strong relationships with other practitioners in your area. Take time to introduce yourself, meet people for coffee, take them out to lunch. I can’t overstate how helpful it’s been to be part of a community network over the past 5 years, both on a personal and a professional level.
How do you remind your patients of their strengths during the therapy process?
In the first visit I always ask the person about a person’s strengths. Obviously our challenges don’t define who we are, and yet when we’re really struggling it’s easy to forget about the good things we bring to the world. Those strengths will be a crucial part of the recovery process. It’s also important to highlight the impressive ways a person is coping with things, which can also be so easy to lose sight of. I see that someone sitting in my office is not a sign of weakness but of strength.
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
Every week I supervise psychiatry residents at the University of Pennsylvania. Most of them are pretty new to CBT, so it’s an opportunity to introduce them to the approach. I also enjoy giving talks in the community, at continuing education events, and at conferences about various topics related to CBT.
We would also like to know a little about you personally.
Who was your mentor?
I was fortunate to have several excellent clinical mentors. Dr. Rob DeRubeis taught me what I know about CBT for depression. He was an ideal supervisor, skilled at encouraging each therapist to deliver CBT “in their own voice.”
I learned exposure-based therapies from Dr. Edna Foa when I was on the faculty at Penn-ERP for OCD, Prolonged Exposure for PTSD, among others. Working with Dr. Foa taught me a lot about the principles behind exposure, and how to tailor treatment to the individual’s fears. While I was there I also worked with Dr. Elyssa Kushner, who introduced me to mindfulness- and acceptance-based approaches, which really rounded out my therapy approach.
Finally, I worked with Dr. Michael Perlis, a pioneer in CBT for insomnia, so I could treat the sleep problems I was running into so often in my practice. The basics of that treatment are so important and so widely needed I feel like they should be taught in school alongside history and chemistry! They’ve certainly helped my sleep!
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I love spending time with my wife and three kids, and traveling when we’re able to. I cycle, though not as often as I used to. I enjoy yoga, working out, going for walks, reading, gardening, and cooking.
We are also interested in some of your views of CBT.
What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?
As someone who’s benefited from CBT countless times, I find the best part of it is being able to take it with you long after therapy is over. The techniques we use are just good skills for living: recognizing what our minds are telling us, understanding what drives our behavior, and making changes that lead to feeling better. So I love being a part of something that can be helpful to anyone at any point in life.
How do you use the local or social media to educate your community on the benefits of CBT?
I’m pretty active on Twitter and Facebook, and I created a group page on Facebook to accompany my self-directed CBT workbook for anxiety and depression (Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks). It’s a place where people can share ideas, struggles, research findings, and inspiration. I enjoy being interviewed about my work and about topics that might be helpful to listeners. I also blog regularly on sethgillihan.com, Psychology Today, and as a guest blogger on various sites.
Finally, we would like to know your opinions about ABCT.
How has ABCT helped you professionally?
ABCT has become my professional home, especially after I left full-time academia. It’s a place where I can still connect with a community of professionals who combine clinical skill with an evidence base. Members are very supportive of one another and happy to share their experience and referral suggestions.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!