Interview with Dr. Esslin Terrighena, a Chartered Psychologist, Registered Psychotherapist & Corporate Training Facilitator. She is one of our expert speakers.
Legal Beagle: How did you get interested in the mental health field?
Dr. Esslin: Untreated poor mental health has long-lasting negative impact not just on the individual, but also on their families, friends, work, and society as a whole. Witnessing such effects on family systems over multiple generations, I developed a keen interest in human mind and behaviour. Being able to support people through their struggles and help them achieve balanced wellbeing is very rewarding in itself. Even more importantly though: Every single person has something valuable and wonderful to contribute to the world, which mental health issues often block. Being able to guide people to unlocking their full potential and watching them shine from the inside out is what makes this work so special.
Legal Beagle: Describe a typical day.
Dr. Esslin: I like to keep busy with various projects and every day is a little different. Be it preparing for clients, providing therapy consultations, setting up mental health workshops, writing a new article, or running an animal rescue as a side project – there is always something to do. Regardless of what the day will bring, it almost always starts with coffee on the couch surrounded by dogs and cats, looking out over the old tree in the swamp, and listening to a half hour course on something fun or interesting.
Legal Beagle: How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
Dr. Esslin: I love to grab opportunities when they arise and follow my heart. I jumped from my B.Sc. Psychology in London straight into a PhD in neuropsychology in Hong Kong, because it sounded exciting. My Masters in Counselling only came afterward, eager to put all that theory into practice. My extensive backpacking across six continents has also shown me the beauty of humanity and instilled a deep sense of connection and empathic understanding.
Legal Beagle: Did you have any mentors in your career and how have they influenced you?
Dr. Esslin: I have had wonderful mentors over the years, all of whom would deserve to be acknowledged here. However, let me make special mention of one of my first significant childhood mentors: I started meditating young and saved up to attend a workshop when I was 12 years old. Over the course of that weekend, my meditation teacher managed to instill the core belief in me that I could be capable of doing absolutely anything. This is what I continue to fall back on today, in my career but also in all aspects of my life: Feel the fear, do it anyway.
Legal Beagle: What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Dr. Esslin: You do not need to know everything; you just need to know who knows what you do not. In other words, surround yourself with people who have the skills and knowledge that you do not have. Have the courage to trust the people around you, and nurture and invest in your relationships. You will build a strong, reliable network of people who complement each other and move forward together to achieve greatness.
Legal Beagle: What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken in your career?
Dr. Esslin: That’s a hard question to answer. Every step we take is both simultaneously opportunity and risk. I generally see things as opportunities with risks rather than risks with opportunities. That has helped to make decisions and go for what excites me and feels right, rather than dwell on anxiety. Over time, this builds immense confidence in being able to face challenges, climb steep learning curves, and tolerate when things don’t go as planned. It also contributes to seeing life as a journey, a story you write, rather than being overly focused on what the end goal may be.
Legal Beagle: What are the key skills and experience required for a career like yours?
Dr. Esslin: As with many careers, there is a range of skills required in the mental health field. To me, there are two key ones that stand out: The willingness to reflect & the willingness to empathize. All else can be learned and you discover which area in mental health you are passionate about as you go along and get more and more specialized.
Much of being a mental health professional is reflecting on yourself, your triggers, expectations, beliefs and feelings, and identifying what you bring into the room when you are with a client. You also reflect on your clients, really get to know who they are, what drives them; understand their vulnerabilities, strengths and goals, and help them to discover potential blindspots that are keeping them from achieving their goals. Reflection takes time and can be confrontational, emotional, but also rewarding and insightful.
Empathy is a key moderator of how you are able to work with your clients. It’s crucial to be able to understand someone else’s point of view and how they got there, especially when it does not align with your set of beliefs and values. Always connecting back to our shared humanity can help to enhance this empathic stance. Of course, empathy needs to be carefully balanced with boundaries, to ensure you can also disengage from a client’s world without being emotionally burned out.
Legal Beagle: Of all your accomplishments, which are you most proud of?
Dr. Esslin: There was that one time my dog picked up a rotten chicken wing off the street and dropped it when I told her to…
Legal Beagle: If you were to start your career journey again what would you do differently?
Dr. Esslin: I have experienced the frustration of trying to build a client base and networking and advertising in all the wrong places. Knowing what I know now, I would focus more on building my network from early on in a more structured and informed way. I would definitely spend more time on trying to identify the right people to collaborate with and overlapping fields in which we can work together in an integrative way to benefit the client.
Legal Beagle: If you weren’t doing this what would have been your alternate career choice?
Dr. Esslin: I would probably have opted for becoming a veterinarian, if inserting needles and slicing open skin hadn’t made me keel over backwards during my first internship.