Dr. Tina Tessina
Dr. Tina B. Tessina is a licensed psychotherapist in Long Beach, California who specializes in counseling individuals and couples through relationships. Dr. Tessina has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Lindenwood University and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Pacific Western University.
She has more than 30 years of experience as a relationship counseling therapist and is an accomplished author with more than 13 books in 17 languages, including The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again, Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and The Commuter Marriage. She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an e-mail newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog”.
Dr. Tessina is also the CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for LoveForever.com, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she is “Dr. Romance” with columns at ThirdAge.com, Divorce360.com, and she is a frequent guest on television and radio shows.
How did you get interested in psychology? Was there a seminal moment that set you on this path or did it just happen gradually or naturally?
I lost my dad when I was 18, but didn't really process the emotions at that time. Then, at 27, I went to therapy because of marital problems, and eventually got a divorce. When all the accumulated grief of those things began to come out, I went much deeper into therapy, and began to learn about my emotional terrain. But, on some level, I think I became a psychotherapist mostly because of my mother -- she suffered from undiagnosed depression, and I wanted a way to heal her, which never happened. In the process of all this, I discovered that I had a gift, and since then, psychotherapy has been "my job on Earth" as Dr. Bernie Seigel describes a true vocation.
There are so many paths within psychology, so why did you decide on psychotherapy and marriage counseling specifically?
It was where my gift lay. I have always had an ability to help people see each other's point of view, even before I was a psychotherapist. Marriage counseling involves a lot of that. I have been counseling couples and individuals about love and life for over 35 years. I love helping people find love and happiness, correct what’s not working in their relationships and their families, and help them create the love they want. My clients get excellent results, their lives and relationships improve, and that makes me happy.
Take us through your career path after school? Did you start out working for yourself as a counselor or were there other jobs in between?
I had been an accountant for 15 years before becoming a licensed psychotherapist, so I wasn't a youngster. I did my (then unpaid) 3,000 intern hours mostly at my mentor's (Denton L. Roberts, M.Div, LMFT) nonprofit drop-in counseling center. From there, after I got licensed, I signed up as a private practitioner at several counseling centers, which kept closing underneath me (usually, I had to find a new place, and notify my clients we were moving, on very short notice.) and I supervised the counseling staff (interns) at the Hollywood/Sunset Free Clinic. When I met my second husband, who lived 30 miles away, I moved down here and opened my own private practice, which has worked extremely well for me since 1982. We're also still happily married.
- I'm licensed as a psychotherapist or Marriage, Family Therapist by the State of California license #13629
- I have a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from The Lindenwood Colleges, College IV.
- I have a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Pacific Western University.
- I am a diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association
- Member of The California Association of Marriage Family Counselors
- Board member of The American Society of Journalists and Authors
- I am certified to supervise counseling interns.
Is most of the therapy and counseling you provide related to marriage and couples?
My counseling practice is about half singles, half couples, and half gay couples and individuals and half straight couples and individuals. I practice Integral Psychology, using training in Gestalt, Cognitive-Behavioral, Rational-Emotive, Jungian, Depth Psychology, Rogerian and other therapies according to the needs and perspective of the client. I don't have a set number of sessions. Clients have gotten their needs met in one session, or taken several years, depending on the nature of the problem. Addiction recovery and PTSD usually take the longest. Clients usually come in every week or every other week for the first couple months, then taper off sessions as needed. The client is in control of how often they come in. Former clients frequently come back when something happens, like the death of a loved one, a new relationship or some other big life change.
What specifically do you help with when it comes to counseling?
I do individual and couple counseling. Working with people requires handling all the issues that can create problems, including addiction, emotional immaturity, family dysfunction, money issues, sex problems, parenting problems and life issues like grief and illness. In recent times, issues like Internet addiction, online porn, and internet dating have come up. In all the years I have been in business, I have had to learn how to help individuals and couples deal with many new issues, and solve whatever problems they are facing. I have helped parents learn to manage chronically or fatally ill, or mentally unstable children, and find government and NGO services for them. Many marriages fall apart because of the stresses of difficult issues like this, so it comes under my purview. I also know when to refer a person or a couple to other experts or medical professionals.
What are some of the ways you try to help people improve?
First, I listen. It’s important to know what the client views as the problem, and not to make a judgment only from the therapist’s point of view. Then, I do a combination of teaching, coaching, depth psychotherapy and homework and reading assignments, according to what the client needs. When I work with couples, I regard the relationship as my client, and not either partner. My job is to find out what the relationship needs to be healthy. I observe the couple interacting, then teach them how their interaction is helping or harming the relationship. I often ask clients to read several of the over 100 articles that are available for free at http://tinatessina.com/monthly_column.html
I have a large bag of tools, from which I draw whatever my client or clients need at the time. My therapy is very client-centered, in that I focus on what the client wants to achieve and how the client perceives the issues. If I believe the perception is inaccurate in a harmful way, I guide the client through Socratic-type questions, and Eriksonian techniques to a different understanding. If I think a client is harming or endangering himself or others (even emotionally) I can be very direct, and I’m not afraid to tell them what to do or not to do.
You have written a lot of books. What was the motivation behind writing the books? How hard was it to write the first book? How hard is it to continue to churn out original content?
I never dreamed of being a writer. I'm afraid it just happened to me. There may be some standard process other writers follow to get published, but for me it was accidental. Publishing was a very different business in 1980, when my first book was published. Small publishers thrived, and an unknown had a chance.
Boy, was I unknown: In 1975, divorced, bereft, and despairing, I took the psychotherapy training that became the basis for restructuring my life, and met Riley K. Smith, who became a lifelong friend, colleague and co-author. We both joined in a cooperative living situation with seven others. We wanted consensus, not majority vote, so Riley and I developed a way to solve problems cooperatively and reach consensus. This led to teaching a class at Los Angeles Community College, called “How to be a Couple and Still be Free.” Hundreds of people showed up for those classes. We had to get bigger rooms. We needed a workbook, but every relationship book on the market in 1975 recommended sacrifice (compromise), and not cooperation. So, we cobbled together a primitive, typed manual.
Then Riley ran into Al Saunders, whose bookstore he had frequented. “I own Newcastle publishing company,” said Al. "I publish New Age and self-help books.” Riley replied “I’m writing a sort of self-help book,” and our first book was born. Today, I’m the author of 13 self-help books in 17 languages.
I write a book when I find my self repeating the same thing over and over to a number of clients, who all need the same information and transformative exercises. Each of my books draws on the knowledge gained in my years of clinical work with individuals and couples. As I discovered a body of information needed by my clients, a book forms. My books are the concrete result of experiences in helping people overcome resistance, fears and emotional wounds. On my blog, I answer real questions people ask me via email (identifying information changed.) My email newsletter is short articles based on issues arising in counseling.
Aside from the books, what are some of the other ways you have received acclaim and recognition?
I also write an e-newsletter, "Happiness Tips from Tina". People can contact me via my website www.tinatessina.com
I answer reporter querys on ProfNet and HARO, and am quoted in many articles every month. In May 2012, for example, I was quoted in 13 publications, and had my own articles published on the Internet on SelfGrowth.com, YourTango.com, DivineCaroline.com, Yahoo.com, and BlogHer.com. I tweet @tinatessina, and have a Facebook Fan Page. I also have “Dr.Romance Happiness Tips” videos on YouTube, www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL388C7AE4CEFC17A0&feature=plcp
and this week I’m taping videos to be on YourTango.com
Do psychotherapists who work for themselves need to understand how to market themselves?
Absolutely. I get about 3 client inquiries a week just from the Internet. A lot of my business comes from referrals from satisfied clients, who send in their friends, co-workers and family members. I also get referrals from medical doctors and divorce lawyers.
Do they need business-savvy?
Yes. Most of the counselors who began at the same time I did in my city are no longer in private practice, because they didn’t understand the business and promotion side. My background as an accountant has been incredibly valuable to my success.
How do you balance a personal life with all of the work you do for other people? Is it difficult to keep your work life from seeping into your personal life?
I have a very loving marriage, and my husband and I just marked our 30th Anniversary. I make sure I set aside time for myself, for my husband, and for friends. There’s a learning curve to understanding how to set boundaries and keep your life in balance. I practice what I preach. I schedule personal, couple and friend time just as I schedule work time. I would not survive without my calendar!
What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your job?
The biggest challenge is always getting the client to become aware of themselves. We are all so good at rationalizing and selective attention, that it’s not easy to realize when we need to accept our limitations or lack of awareness. But change, even in a relationship, always has to begin with you. Couples often come in wanting me to change their partners, or tell them they’re wrong. The truth is, the only person you can change is yourself, and if you change, your partner will also have to change in response.
The greatest reward is:
I love watching the stress melt out of people’s faces and bodies. When clients realize that their seemingly impossible problems are solvable, and understand the difference between what they can change and what they can’t, they begin to relax, let go of tension they may have had since childhood, and start to build lives and relationships that are really satisfying. Life becomes a lot easier, and they are happier. One of my clients once said to me “I thought I was having a bad day, then I realized it was a lot better than my best day last year.” That kind of success is very rewarding.
Is there something about your job, your profession, your industry that you would like to see changed in the future?
I would like to see the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (the licensing body) and fellow therapists become more Internet- savvy. There aren’t sensible guidelines about email contact with clients, Skype and phone counseling, etc.
You have been doing this for many years now, how has the profession and the industry evolved over the years?
Oh, Gosh– from weekend marathons and hot-tub therapy at Esalen to a very well-established business model. Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir,and Erich Fromm were all still working and developing Humanistic Psychology when I was getting licensed, and I learned from them personally.
Many modalities and theories have been developed upon what they began. I learned recovery counseling, couples counseling, and many other techniques through the years of my practice. Today, I practice what Ken Wilbur calls Integral Psychology, using training in Gestalt, Cognitive-Behavioral, Rational-Emotive, Jungian, Depth Psychology, Rogerian and other therapies according to the needs and perspective of the client.
How has people’s understanding of the service you provide evolved as well?
When I was a child, psychotherapy was not available to the average person except perhaps in mental hospitals. The very rich had Freudian or Jungian psychoanalysis. Today, information about what therapy is, how it works, personal experiences and referral sources abound. Anyone can access it, even for free in many places. When I first began my practice, most of my clients came in reluctantly and quite anxiously, because they didn’t know what to expect. Today, most of them know what to expect, what to ask for, and what they want to accomplish.
What sort of advice would you give to young people who are interested in following your career path?
Understand that your own psycho/emotional development plays a big part in how effective you are as a therapist. I highly recommend that anyone who wants to be a psychotherapist get counseling as a client. Delve deeply into your subconscious, because if you don’t understand your own hidden self, you won’t be able to empathize effectively with your clients. You need to know what the healing/awareness/insight experience feels like in order to guide your clients through it. Don’t ever stop being educated (my license requires 36 CEU credits every two years, which is a good thing.) Learn as many therapy modalities as you can – different clients need different tools.
Are their certain skills they should have?
Besides the therapy skills, if you’re going to be in private practice, take some business courses, so you’ll know how to keep your books and run your practice profitably. Learn how to promote yourself online. That’s where the clients will look for you. Learn to be self-managing and self-starting. Learn how to be a good boss, because you’re the only boss you have. Learn about how insurance reimbursement works, and what the laws of your state are, and also the HIPAA privacy rules. You also need to understand record-keeping.
Certain aspects of the job they should investigate?
There are many ways to use psychotherapy skills. Look around, and figure out what your options are, and know yourself well enough to know what’s a good match for you. Have a crystal-clear understanding of ethics, because in private practice, no one is watchdogging over you. You have to maintain your own standards. Be aware that working with other psychotherapists can put your license in jeopardy, even if you’re doing nothing wrong. If they don’t have good ethics, their misdeeds can taint your reputation.
Dr. Romance on How to Avoid Burnout:
It s necessary to take extremely good care of yourself as the therapist.
- Make sure you are effective with clients. Clients who get better are very motivating. It' s more important to help clients heal old trauma then to adhere to a theoretical base.
- Work from your heart trust yourself and your intuition. If you guess wrong, just accept it and go on. In the end, you have to do therapy your own way. Theories and studies are helpful, but not if they hamper your own style.
- Identify your preferences, do your best to maximize what you like and minimize what you don t like. If you don't like paperwork, get computer programs or secretarial help. If you don't like working with depression, either don't see those clients, or get more training so you ll know how to handle it. If you like working with women, children, couples, etc. focus on that in your practice building.
- Have a support team of colleagues with whom you can share your therapy experiences as peers.
- Learn to set solid boundaries. Learn how to say no to intrusive clients, how to keep them in appropriate parts of your life, and not let them take over your free time.
- Limit your hours to what works for you. Design your own style of working, and make sure your place of work is comfortable to you.
- Trust that you will get the right clients for your style. Be clear what your own style is, and don't worry if it doesn't work for some clients refer them to someone else. Different clients need different therapy styles.
- Learn from therapists you respect and admire, with whom you feel comfortable. If you don't respect a theory or practice style, don't use it. If you can modify a theory or practice style to suit you, do it.
- It's impossible to be effective as a therapist if you haven't been in the client s chair. You need to delve deeply into your own subconscious, so that you ll understand your weaknesses and your strengths, and won't be blindsided by dark side issues when they are triggered.