Spotlight: Michael Lembaris, Psy. D.

Hometown: Rochester, NY

What was your pathway toward entering the mental health field?
My answer to this question keeps changing.  At first I would say something about my father as the studious philosophy major and my mother as the tender-hearted social worker.  I would paint a simulacrum of myself as a byproduct of the two.  “I chose to study psychology,” I would say, “because this is just how my mind seems to work.”  To this explanation I was to later add my (older) brother.  His energetic and adventurous lifestyle was-- at some points-- all I wanted for myself too.  Efforts toward emulation of him sent me crisscrossing the country both in search of, and in flight from, something or things.  I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Geneseo in 2004, and, in search of a way to apply my limited education in the field, became aware of the existence of “wilderness therapy” companies out west.  This seemed the perfect opportunity to combine my interest in the word of psychology on the one hand, and the world of adventure on the other.  I did this work in Utah, Costa Rica, and Oregon from 2005 to 2008.  

At that point, infected with the idealism of my mid-twenties and a certain grandiosity, I came to link psychology with environmentalism and progressive social change.  There was little I could do with only a bachelor’s in psychology, and so I turned more seriously toward graduate training.  Alliant International University in San Diego seemed to offer all that I was looking for in a school.  It was APA accredited and, in particular, it housed the Center for Integrative Psychology (CIP).  CIP described itself as a bastion of progressive psychological thought, and positioned itself against some of the more virulent, if mainstream, thought strands in the field.  They also stood for the ideals of environmentalism, social responsibility, and for the conscious integration of spiritual and moral values into our social and academic practices.  To my still grandiose mind and ready-to-fight fists, things couldn’t get much better than this.  I spent most of my graduate training arguing and fighting hard against what I perceived as undue restrictiveness imposed on the field of psychology by unclear and biased thinking.  I preached how these silent monstrosities threatened the field’s potential to effect deep and positive changes in the world.

Long story short I joined the Psy.D. program at Alliant in San Diego and graduated at the end of 2014.  I knew that I needed and wanted more in depth training, and that people seemed more turned off than on by my polemics also suggested that I was missing something important.  At this point I turned to our local Analytic Center.  Now, after a year in once, then twice, and now three times per week psychotherapy/analysis with a training analyst I’m beginning to believe that I really don’t know why I entered the mental health field at all!  Perhaps I needed a way to integrate both of my parents into who I would eventually become.  Perhaps while my brother was driven outward in search of adventure, I was more naturally driven inward.  Perhaps it’s been more about my search for myself and a way to feel okay, safe, and well-contained.  Now, as this internal feeling state coalesces more and more, and as opposed to grandiose ideas of “fixing things” in the world, I find myself ever more appreciative to be involved in a profession aimed at beneficence and non-maleficence, one in which the potential for learning and growth is unlimited, and one that I find so intellectually and emotionally engaging.

And what drew you to psychoanalysis/psychoanalytic psychotherapy? 
If you can’t tell, I tend toward the intellectual and to be somewhat narcissistic, so it just seemed like a good fit :-)

All joking aside though, I have a deep drive for knowledge and I want to be as good as possible at what I do.  We all know that human interactions are incredibly complex, but unfortunately typical training programs tend to over simplify or even ignore entire aspects of this realm.  My graduate program certainly prioritized theoretical eclecticism/relativism on the one hand, and what has been described as scientism on the other, over intellectual rigor.  In other words, the program as a whole was unwilling or unable to make the kinds of theoretical and technical distinctions that would enable a qualitative appraisal of various schools of thought relative to their implicit value orientations and subjective rightness in diverse, worldly applications.  The result was an idealization of pseudo-knowledge gleaned from quantitative methodologies, and a subtle derogation of the deeper realms of meaning upon which human subjectivity rests.  It is therefore possible, though far from inevitable, that students graduate without their feet ever touching ground.  (In other words, I learned a thing or two from my studies with CIP, and believe those to be veritable truths apart from the unconscious uses I once put them to).

I think the most fascinating thing about psychoanalysis is the way that your personal analysis opens you to vast inner awareness, while the didactic teachings give your intellectual mind a map to guide others to this same depth. Then supervision strengthens and solidifies this capacity.  This statement, though, lacks the essence of the thing. So far, to me, the essence seems to be a holding/guiding (from the perspective of the analyst) and a melding/separating (from the perspective of the patient) entanglement of subjectivity that’s ripe with vitality.  I feel privileged to be a part of this process on a daily basis, and I love the way it pushes me to be a better, more moral, more conscientious, and more loving person. 

Tell us about your educational experience thus far at SDPC: Particular courses, experiences, teachers, supervisors/consultants that have been most formative? 
It’s impossible to isolate just one person or aspect…I just started classes in the candidate program. Right now we’re taking “The Child’s Mind within the Adult: Implications for Technique” with Dr. Bruns, and “Overview of Psychoanalytic Technique” with Drs. Hassler and Weiss.  Both of these seminars are off to a wonderful start and I’m finding valuable insights in each week’s readings and discussions.  My cohort is becoming more and more important to me, and we seem to be bonding and congealing very nicely as a group.  It feels important and emotionally supportive/integrating to be surrounded by others who themselves are undergoing psychoanalysis.  Of course my personal analysis has been incredibly influential in even this short period of time (the past year), and this has certainly been the experience that has changed and strengthened my clinical work (not to mention my personal and professional relationships) to the greatest degree.  

Finally, though not part of the program specifically, my experiences with individual community members have been pivotal throughout the process.  In my fourth year at Alliant I took a case consultation class with Dr. Boles.  He was able to tolerate, contain, and even direct my intellectually youthful tergiversations and symbolically violent thrashing abouts with grace and empathy.  I took him informally as a mentor at that point, and followed his lead toward the training.  In my fifth year I had a similar experience with Dr. Tobias in case consultation class.  Also at this time I was meeting weekly with Dr. Hall who was my mentor in the fellowship program.  Through these meetings I grew closer to an understanding of psychoanalysis and the meaning of the unconscious.  I hounded Dr. Blaess for a psych assistant position for upwards of a year and, in what was to be a formative and fortuitous encounter, he directed me to Dr. Dipp who agreed to formally mentor and supervise me.  My experiences with Dr. Dipp were the most proximal cause of my entering the program.  I still remember when, as I struggled to see how to work with one particular patient, he calmly wondered out loud whether work of my own may be helpful. I entered analysis shortly thereafter ;-)).  Dr. Dipp’s supervision has left and continues to form a discernable impact not only on the way that I work with patients, but in the way that I see and understand our work over all.  I am now also working as a psych assistant to Dr. Blaess, and this increased exposure to another well-established analyst is proving invaluable.  There is just so much to learn from everyone.

This is not an exhaustive list but gives the appropriate impression.  Everyone I have come into contact with through the psychoanalytic center has in some way helped to convince me that this training is what I want, and this community is where I want to be. 

How has your training in psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy affected 
a) your practice b) your professional development? c) Other areas of life?

a)    I’m just beginning to build my practice.  The training and the people associated have been the major catalysts for its growth.  Every aspect of how I attend to it and work with patients has been shaped by my experiences at the Center and in my own psychoanalysis.  In particular and in clinical terms, I am much more capable of recognizing defenses and I’m beginning to learn how to receive and work with these in ways that increasingly lead to their thematization and eventual circumvention/reorganization.  This, of course, implies at least a rudimentary use of hypothesized unconscious processes to (1) explain and understand conscious symptoms, and (2) provide the therapy with structure and direction.  I’m also much more capable of following and sitting with powerful affects, of gauging the closeness of the therapeutic relationship, of appropriately attuning without merging or preemptively distancing, and of utilizing my counter-transference reactions as a sources of rich clinical information.

b)    In terms of professional development, the first and most powerful thing that comes to mind is my own capacity to be in relationship with colleagues.  Intrapsychic difficulties of my own interfered with this throughout my graduate training.  As a result I struggled to build and maintain connections with those around me.  Throughout my post-doc experience with CRF in community mental health, however, and as a direct result of my own analytic work, my capacity for these types of connections has dramatically increased and continues to improve.  In addition, being in the candidate program has given me a new professional identity as I emerge from graduate school and enter the world of professional practice. 

c)    Where to even begin?  Maybe it’s enough to say that I’m a lot happier.  

How else have you applied your analytic knowledge?
I’m only just accruing this knowledge, but I have some ideas for the future.  I still find the big picture implications for restricted structures of conscious fascinating, and would especially like to engage myself in critical psychological theorizing and research.  I will, of course, do so with more awareness than was possible before my own analysis.  I also fantasize about contributing to making psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thinking more accessible to disenfranchised populations, and believe that there must be a way to show their relative cost effectiveness in the long run. 

Tell us about your practice and who you are most interested in working with.
I am still a psych assistant right now but should be licensed in the next couple of months.  I work with adolescents and adults, and hope to begin working with children soon as well.  Because I am not yet independently on any insurance panels, patients with PPO insurances are the safest referrals.  I also offer a sliding scale.  Really, at this point, I’ll work with most anyone. 

Where is your practice, and how can potential patients contact you?
Right now and for the next couple of months I am working as a psych assistant to Dr. Dipp out of his office in Little Italy, as well as with Dr. Blaess out of his offices in Hillcrest. By November 1st I will have a stable office of my own at 5th and Olive in Hillcrest.  My contact information follows:

Phone: 619-887-4068