Expert Profile - Larry Thompson
MSW, LCSW, Integrative Psychotherapist
Larry Thompson’s Bio:
Larry Thompson, LCSW, was trained at New York University’s School of Social Work and earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work. His theoretical orientation is in the use of self & Zen psychology and psychodynamic-object relations theories of psychology. He was formerly the Director of Children’s Mobile Response in Ocean County and Team Leader for the Monmouth County PACT team.
Larry holds post-graduate certificates in Child/Adolescent Mental Health and Parent Education from Rutgers University. Larry incorporates his training in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Analytic Therapy with natural and holistic approaches in work with adolescents, individuals, and families.
Larry’s passion for integrating a total wellness approach continues to carry over into his professional and personal life. He has completed a post-graduate certificate through Drexel in Complementary and Integrative Therapies, so as to offer his clients additional options for their wellness recovery, as well as iRest yoga Nidra meditation through the Integrative Restoration Institute.
What life events or challenges that you’ve experienced (could be minor, could be major) – whether you’ve experienced them directly or via someone close to you, have had any type of impact on your desire to pursue a career in psychology?
I tell my clients and staff, that I am a therapist for a reason, and I continue to need it. The most direct way to answer this would be to say that out of a possible 10 on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale, I score a 7. Growing up in a family of origin that was a legacy of intergenerational trauma, addiction, severe mental health vulnerabilities, poverty, domestic violence, abandonment, divorce, and unprepared high conflict blended family-ness, was “the mud”, the deconstruction that nurtured the calling to the work of psychotherapy. Thich Nhat Hahn taught simply “No Mud, No Lotus Flower”, so yes there was a lot of mud in my life. I do remember at an early age having this voice, this part of me, possibly my truest part of me, whispering to me “all this pain has to be for a reason, there has to be something that can come out of this….” It was there from the beginning, isn’t it always, if one can only hear it.
And as Tara Brach, Ph.D. continues, and then there is the radical acceptance, of “and this too!”, so of course, the journey to the deeper work in this profession didn’t start and stop in childhood and adolescence. Entering into A.A at 15 years old to find fellowship and a healthier family in support of recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs furthered the understanding that healing does happen. It provided me with the foundation of mindfulness and the realization that healing happens best in relationships, with others, with oneself, with a connection to that which is greater. So at an early age, I had an awakening, and I made myself a deal. I would either make it into the NFL, as football had become a holding force in my life, or I would become a psychotherapist. Well, it is clear what ended up happening.
At 25 years old, having not been selected to play football in the NFL after college, working in the field at a psychiatric hospital in Summit, New Jersey I was offered two books that would change my life. One was The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, and the second was Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hahn. I can remember the faces that gave them to me, but their names have faded in the antiquity of my mind. The impact of these books has shaped me in ways that are hard to articulate. They came into my life at a point of major transition. I was engaged to a beautiful person, I was engaged in doing the “right thing”, doing what is “supposed to happen” kind of things. Yet at that hospital, I discovered that I really didn’t have it all figured out. Those books have accompanied me out of that life of the expected and into this life of the unexpected. This is the time when in my life when I started to discover the practice of mindfulness meditation that has illuminated everything in my life.
That unexpectedness lead me to being 27 years old and had a moment that is totally unexplainable. Working then, part-time at the psychiatric hospital and full-time selling high-end fitness equipment to the affluent and to businesses in Bergen County, New Jersey, I was at another crossroads in my life. The money in sales was substantial, I was successful and was offered a promotion to further my sales career, but there was that calling again, the ache and uneasy of the pull towards something still unformed but certain. Working with the adolescents in that inpatient facility was meaningful, selling felt meaningless. And then Catherine said to me only one sentence, amazing what one sentence can do, the right words from the right person at the right time can change the life that is possible for you. I had asked her what to do, we were going to be engaged and wed, so wouldn’t it make more sense to make the money… she said, “Larry you need to follow your dream, because someday when your son asks if he should follow his dream you will want to say yes….” She spent the next few years paying my way through graduate school, as I was working at behavioral health centers and hospitals and going to school. In 2001 at 31 years old I graduated from New York University with my MSW, holding our son John.
True love heals, it pulls out one better self and changes you if you allow it, to see the world in a more loving way. At 38 years old, with our 8-year-old son, my love- Catherine continued on, undefeated from breast cancer. In yoga or Vedic philosophy, it is called “dropping the body”, I love that formulation, she just dropped the body and continued, as the body could no longer hold her. “No Death, No Fear”, Thich Nhat Hahn’s book and words as a guide once again, and of course Carol Davis, LCSW as my pathfinder to not get lost. Working with traumatic loss, bereavement and grief are now additional tender heartfelt places I sit with others who are getting their bearings in the territory we all will journey.
Saying “Yes” to love is always an act of faith and courage, as you never know really what you are saying yes to and where it will take you. Perhaps even more courageous after loving and loss. A few years after Catherine’s continuation day, love came knocking again, on my beloved Judy. Judy brought yoga into my life and Justin her son, and so much more. Having practiced family therapy, it’s funny how subtle the ego works to blind one, we did not expect the challenge and struggle that blendedness was going to be. Me bringing John and Judy bringing Justin, and then 3 more children manifested! Judy and I started dreaming of what furthering integrated mental health could look like, and what training therapists to see the whole person, mind, and body could offer the individual seeking rescue from trauma, addiction, anxiety, and depression. Still, this experience of blendedness involved suffering, and suffering drove me to what else, more training! So now working with blended families is another place I often meditate with others who are seeking to understand all the complexities and tendernesses. If blended families were easy, Disney would not have so many fairy tales with evil stepmothers!
I remember when my son spoke to me of his truth, early in his adolescence, he found the voice to say to me that he is gay. The immediate flash of fear and worry, how harsh and dangerous the ignorance of our society and how violent. Earlier that same year two gay men were brutally attacked in south Philadelphia for just loving who they love. The light that is my son, ignited another mission within me, to support families and individuals in removing the separateness that misunderstanding creates. Parents make up lives for their children in their minds that the child never asked for, and then get conflicted and confused when the child has their own voice and own path. “Your children are not your children, they are life’s longing for itself…”, Kahlil Gibran.
In 2015, at the Psychotherapy Networker Conference held annually in Washington, DC, Jon Kabat Zinn, Ph.D. was the keynote speaker. Jon had already impacted my life as the innovator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the foundational work in the application of integrated mental health. Expecting him to speak to how mindfulness is really mind training, he spoke about something totally unexpected. Jon came out on stage, in front of thousands of psychotherapists, and said, “I look out at this crowd and see too many faces that look just like me… our profession is not inclusive, it does not represent all persons…” Jon ignited another light inside me, that integrated mental health is not just about integrating eastern and western ways of healing, it is about integrating care for all persons- in all the beautiful diversity of humanness, in all the beautiful colors that are the fabric of humanity.
These are some of the events, some of the trailheads that lead me to a greater understanding of what my life was going to be and has become so far. Beyond these events are the people who facilitated, and sanctioned me into this life of integrated mental health and psychotherapy and meditation, and wholeness. Carol Davis, LCSW, Thich Nhat Hahn, Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D., Pema Chodron, Tim Olmstead, Tara Brach, my grandfather John Calvin Thompson, Football Coaches- Coach Carol, Coach Davis, George Atwood, Ph.D., Kahlil Gibran, Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Richard Miller Ph.D., Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., Amy Weintraub, RYT, Jon Kabat Zinn Ph.D., Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., Catherine Thompson, Judy Thompson C-IAYT RYT Ms, my son John Thompson, my partner Seth Arkush MBA, LCSW, and so many clients whose names I cannot provide here. Those relationships are the belongingness that is everything, the ones that affirm one place within ones self and ones place in the family of things. Tim Olmstead taught me this phrase from his teacher in the Tibetan lineage of Buddhist philosophy and psychology, “We are the collection of the kindnesses of others”. I love that formulation; nothing is truer to my experience. I have been very welled love, and so many have been so tenderly kind to me. I asked the priest who committed Catherine’s ashes to the waters off Cape May Point, New Jersey, “how did I deserve to be so loved?” he answered me that some questions you have to live through. I am still living that question.
How did those events impact you emotionally/morally? How, if at all did those events impact the way you view how our current system teaches us to treat patients with mental health challenges?
My experiences working in psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric emergency rooms, community mental health clinics, working in psychiatric outreach programs, and crisis response teams informed my understanding that stigma and the traditional western medicine approaches continue to separate and confuse what is possible in effective and efficient treatment and recovery. My experiences in my own recovery, my own reunion to myself, created through mindfulness meditation, illuminated an awareness that it may take meditation and medication, “pills and skills” and that there is no one way to healing and the return to balance. My personal recovery journey and the privilege to have been in the presence of some of the greatest teachers in mind-body approaches and Buddhist and Vedic philosophy of our time informs me that healing happens in a relationship between people, not between the healer and the ones seeking help. My understanding of the 4 unlimited attitudes in contrast to the current mental health system presents this most clearly; Loving Kindness, Joy, Compassion, and Equanimity.
Can practitioners in a practice be lovingly kind to each other and the clients?
Can practitioners in a practice have fun, and enjoy each other?
Can practitioners in a practice not make the work harder and look and listen to the clients deeply to understand their reality to reduce suffering?
Can everyone engage in the work see each person’s personhood as equal, as equally deserving of respect and compassion, and love?
To my mind, one of the greatest areas of suffering in the current system is a lack of awareness that trauma-informed care starts with how the organizations care for those who are doing the caring. The current system does not honor relationships and the collaborative nature of healing.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative psychotherapy, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
I am not sure if it was an official decision per se. Practicing mindfulness-based meditation prior to the start of my private practice in 2001, grew out of just how I did what I did. My initial formal encounter with the application of mindfulness in the clinical hour came out of my training under Marsha Linehan Ph.D.’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy approach- also in 2001, infusing CBT with mindfulness and acceptance. Richard Seigel, Ph.D., informs that the first level of mindfulness intervention in the practice is when the clinician practicing mindfulness inherently impacts the clinical care. The second level of impact is then introducing mindfulness-based practices to those clients who expressed interest or who were open to expanding their recovery skills. It was clear to me that in a relationally deprived, faster bigger now 21st century the need to drop in to be still to really encounter oneself and to live intentionally was the natural opposite nature of this technological and cultural shift. It is clear to me that the easy quicker bigger fix of big pharma has made mental health treatment a commodity. One where the experts are taking down those poor souls who needed rescuing instead of developing a collaborative relationship based on curiosity and respect.
Judy came into my life 11 years ago bringing yoga and that launched the application of more mind-body integrated approaches into my work. Judy invited me to the work of Amy Weintraub’s Life Force Yoga and Richard Miller’s Ph.D.’s iRest Yoga Nidra, both of which I have sat with and am currently iRest Yoga Nidra level 1 trained.
We started searching and recruiting clinicians that have both a clinical license and are also Registered Yoga Teachers. We found there to be way too few. So, our dream to build them has become a reality with Judy obtaining her master’s in science in yoga, (along with her C-IAYT, 500 RYTE, and iRest Yoga Nidra Level 2, Reiki Master), and now providing a 200hr trauma-informed yoga teacher training program to mental health practitioners under Sakala School of Integrative Studies.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
Therapy to my mind is “out loud meditation”- a phrase I learned from Johnathan Foust, I love that formulation. Paying attention to the present moment with the client with an attitude of affection and curiosity. In sessions, we may engage in some form of mind-body drop-in practice to support present-moment awareness and embodied presence. Many of my clients find the teaching of mindfulness-based meditation helpful, the Emotional Freedom Technique is helpful, Tonglen Meditation is helpful, breath work, and of course, iRest Yoga Meditation is helpful. I still employ a lot of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Internal Family Systems, Richard Schwartz Ph.D.’s work. But, mostly I believe that it is the relationship, an authentic relationship that is focused on bringing misunderstanding into the world of understanding. It is not what is bothering that is the problem, it is not understanding what is bothering that drives suffering. “Misunderstanding is the source of all suffering”, Thich Nhat Hahn. Once you understand something, someone, or your self, you can care for it and carry it more compassionately.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Individuals, couples, and families when provided an orientation to our integrated mental health model often comment that they did not know that such a place and such care could exist. Doctors and other practitioners often at first are very cautious and somewhat skeptical about how the model can work collaboratively. It has been an unexplainable phenomenon that we have 5 prescribers of medication who have embraced working in an integrated mental health practice alongside yoga therapists, sand play therapists, art therapists, equine and eco therapists, as well as psychotherapists. To my mind, it appears that there is a feeling that a change has come.