The Therapist - Getting Help

Douglas Holwerda, American trained and licensed mental health counsellor, answers your questions and offers advice


Dear Douglas,

I am Vietnamese, a 28-year-old female. I know many foreigners who help me improve my English. Recently, in a small group, a foreigner friend was talking about what their therapist said in their last meeting. I was very surprised that she is seeing a psychologist because she seems very normal. I have read your advice in Word and wonder even more about psychology and what you do to help people. Who can come to see you and what is the reason? How do you help them?

— Curious


Dear Curious,

Wow… you are asking great questions and I will try to explain. For me my interest in psychology began when I was a teacher. I saw many students and I was always curious why students behaved the way they did. Some students had confidence and were successful, both socially and academically. Many students had some problems… being motivated, getting along with people, controlling their emotions and feeling confident in themselves. As a teacher, I always tried to understand my students and often asked them to write essays or come to talk to me about what their experiences were like. I had many experiences where a student told me something that was bothering them and it seemed to help then feel better. Ultimately, it made me change my career so that I could learn how to listen to and understand the problems that people face and how to help them.

I went back to school to earn a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. In this programme I learned about how to create a safe place so people could feel comfortable to talk, even when it is about some painful part of their life. I also learned about psycho-pathologies, which are the many different ways that people can have emotional or mental problems. There are some serious problems that are common all over the world, like schizophrenia and personality disorders. There is treatment and medication for people who have these things, but they are permanent and can never be completely free from those mental illnesses. Sometimes I help to diagnose these things, but those illnesses are best treated by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Most of the people who come to me have conditions that are temporary and treatable. We could say that they are normal problems that anyone could have at some time in their life. Often they are related to stress and create some kind of emotional pain. Depression and anxiety are the most common. So it is my job to listen carefully to understand what a person is going through, keeping an awareness of how to best help them make the changes in their lives in order to feel better… having less emotional pain and feeling better about themselves. Some people come to me to talk because they are interested in personal growth. They are doing fine, are not in emotional pain and want to seek higher goals to make life meaningful and to discover how they can touch their own ability and creative expression. That idea is that self-awareness is the key to self fulfillment.

I hope that is helpful… and as always… be well!

— Douglas


Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

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Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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