Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development

At the Bleeding Edge of Development, Reaping Benefit for Our Clients.

Tag: clinical practice (page 1 of 2)

Develop Your Own Wealth of Learnings

Developing Your Own Wealth of Learnings-4


In a previous post, I talked about the iterative cycle that we can take in our professional development (click HERE to revisit it, and download the free infographic).


Here’s something that I’ve recently revisited that struck a chord:

“The theorists can only build his theories about what the practitioner was doing yesterday.

Tomorrow the practitioner will be doing something different because of these theories.”

~Gregory Bateson, 1951/68.


Most good theories that we develop in our practice derives after the fact, not before.

Continue reading

Terrible Gifts in Therapy

Terrible Gifts in Therapy

“Pray for one humiliation a day,” says Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr. “And watch your inner reaction to it.” [1]


This is not some Catholic self-flagellating, guilt inducing exercise. Rather, if we see with fresh eyes, every moment of difficulty that we face in a session with you client, presents a gift to you.

These moments are terrible gifts, if we open yourself to deep learning—this sense of moving aside the Ego, and leaning forward towards healing for your client, and for you.

It is terrible because we will feel uncomfortable. The Ego will be bruised, our sense of self will be shaken.

But it is a gift because it has the powerful potential to help us move out of our comfort zone and into our learning zone.[2]


Every difficult moment in therapy is a gift, only if you open yourself to this moment.


But these difficult moments depend entirely on our response. If we reacted from the Ego, a difficult moment is a curse. If we responded humanely to our client and to ourselves, a difficult moment will bless you.

After all, some burdens are a blessing, and some blessings are a burden.

The next time you are faced with a difficult moment in therapy, do not ask, “Why is this horrible situation happening to me?” Instead, go deeper and ask yourself, “What is this difficult moment teaching me?”

Then do the following:

1. Slow: Make haste slowly; slow down your speech (your heart will follow);

2. Ego: Move the ego aside;

3. Lean in: Move towards your client. And stay right there with the other.

That’s how we grow.


p/s: I love to hear in the comments below what sorts of challenges you face in your clinical practice.

Best regards,





[1] Listen to the podcast On Being: Krista Tippett interviews Fr Richard Rohr . Here’s the segment about “one good humiliation a day.”

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] “I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it,” which sounds so uncomfortable. There’s nothing in me that wants to pray for one good humiliation a day.

FR. ROHR: No, and there isn’t in me either. I just said that to that group of millennials two weeks ago. Some years ago, I started recognizing that I was getting an awful lot of adulation and praise and some people treating me far more importantly than I deserved. And I realized I was growing used to it, that the ego just loves all of this admiration and projection. And a lot of it was projection. And I didn’t want fame and well-knownness and guru status to totally destroy me, and so for me, this became a necessity, that I had to watch how do I react to not getting my way, to people not agreeing with me, to people not admiring me — and there’s plenty of them — and that I actually needed that. And so I do, I still, I ask God for one good humiliation a day, and I usually get it, one hate letter or whatever it might be. [laughs] And then what I have to do, Krista, is I have to watch my reaction to it. And I’ve got to be honest with you, my inner reaction — I’m not proud to tell you — is defensive, is, “That’s not true. You don’t understand me.” I can just see how well-defended my ego is. And of course, even your critics — and I have plenty of them — at least 10 to 20 percent of what they’re saying is usually true.
[2] Chow, D. (2017). The practice and the practical: Pushing your clinical performance to the next level. Prescott, David S [Ed]; Maeschalck, Cynthia L [Ed]; Miller, Scott D [Ed] (2017) Feedback-informed treatment in clinical practice: Reaching for excellence (pp 323-355) x, 368 pp Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association; US, 323-355.

Photo by Ben White

What are the Perennial Pillars for Psychotherapists?

For songwriters, the perennial pillar is song craft. It is not technical mastery.

A songwriter knows that technical agility at an instrument is not going help him create a better song. It’s easier to identify and work at improving techniques. It’s much harder to improve on their ability to engage with listeners through their songs.

At the time of this writing, in 2017, we commemorate three critically acclaimed albums.  


Perrenial Albums

If there are any three records you’d need to hear in your lifetime, it’s these.


Half a century ago, The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. 30 years ago, U2 brought us the follow-up album from The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree. And 20 year ago, Radiohead released Ok Computer. Modern music has never been the same since.

Sgt Pepper would never have had the chance to grow if the Beatles did not take the time away from touring.

The Irish boys from U2 narrowed the focus based on the American landscape in the making of Joshua Tree. Because they made that decision, the album reflected their evolving social consciousness of their time. The album become a timeless piece of art.

Radiohead’s Ok Computer, was spawned from the band’s disillusionment with a relentless touring schedule, resulting in their lives becoming a tour-bus race at the speed of light from one concert venue to the next. They had enough. A break was needed. 

(As an aside: It is significant to note that none of these records were the artists’ first albums.)

Consider three lessons we can draw from these landmark albums:


1. Take the Risk and Push Your Limits,

2. Get a Guide, and

3. Study the Process, Not the Outcome.


Continue reading

Our Real Work

Our Real Work

“…In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” ~Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, p.32


What is our real work?

It’s easy to think that the role of a psychotherapist is to treat a person or help our clients change. Indeed, that may be the outcome we hope for. But it’s not the work that we need to put in.

Our real work is not to treat a person. We conflate the outcome we desire with the work that we need to put in, in order to get that outcome.

Our real work is more like a gardener than a builder. 

A builder builds, and when that’s done, the work is done. A gardener lays the ground work, and waits for the seeds to grow. A builder’s work is finite. A gardener’s work is never done. She continues to tend to the plants, nurtures and prunes its branches.


Like a gardener, a therapist real work is in the pre-work. 

It’s what we do outside of the therapy hour,

in order to get better at what we do in the ritual of therapy.

Continue reading

Stop Talking, and Start Performing.

Stop Talking, and Start Performing


What if one of the ways of transforming our practice in psychotherapy is to stop calling it talk therapy, but to see it as a performance ritual?

What if we stop talking, and start performing?1 

I suspect that if we step beyond therapy models,  and see our work as a therapeutic and healing endeavor, we can begin to embrace it is a performance ritual. 

In gist, here’s how most therapy goes: Once we create a space and a climate of safety, we dive into the sea of one’s human suffering, and hopefully, in the act of the two or more humans coming together weaving a “believable myth”2 (be it addressing cognitive distortions,  self-critical markers, past traumas, etc.), growth and change can happen.

The act of two persons working as “of one mind”3 , should not be relegated to a manual’s precription or one (or even two) dogmas. Neither should it be left to “make things up” as we go. Here’s why: 


The moment we start to see therapy as a performance, we can break it down into component parts.


Here are some examples:

1. How do you prepare for a session?4

2. How do you begin a session/subsequent session? 

3. How do you establish an effective focus with your client?

4. How do you deepen the emotional experiencing?

5. How do you close a session with an impact?

…Etc. (See a related post on Figure Out the “What” Before the “How”)

To those who see therapy as an art form, we can begin to learn to set the stage to enliven the possiblity of deep human interaction, and weave a structure to what seems un-structured to the naive eye. (Even music and theatre improvisers follow a set of rules in their seemingly free-form jams5). 

To those who see therapy as more of a science-based pursuit, we can afford to develop some hypothesis for fruitful and – God forbid – playful creation. We can learn to be more responsive6 and utilise7 what each person bring of themselves into the therapy room. 

Afterall, there is a creative art form in science, and there is a methodical science in art.

Once we see things in component parts, things get more complicated than they seem. Ask a person to rate how well they know about how a toilet flush works, and enquire again after you ask the same person to list out, in detailed step-by-step fashion of how the whole ceramic bowl and flushing systems work, their self-assessment ratings are more than likely to dip.

That said, by breaking things down into its component parts, it allows a devoted practitioner to develop a focused deliberate practice plan to improve at that particular area8.


What have your identified to work on, that has a leverage on improving your outcomes?

The moment we “stop talking, and start performing,” we invite a different way of seeing our work. We can then invite a host of repetitore that can lit up a fire of engagement in this thing we can psychotherapy. 

As musician Frank Zappa says, “The mind is a like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”


Daryl Chow, PhD




1. I came around to this term by interviews with Michael Port and Amy Port on the Art of Charm podcasts. Michael Port elaborates further in his book, Steal the Show.

2. Jerome Frank’s (1993) book, Persuasion and Healing is a seminal read.

3.  Doug Flemons book is titled “Of One Mind.” Though it is primarily about hypnosis, I think it’s a highly relevant read for engaging with someone in therapy.

4.  See a brilliant recent 2017 book by Daniel McGinn, Psyched Up

5. I highly recommend Patricia Madison’s Improv Wisdom. For those who are interested in the world of music improvisation, Derek Bailey’s Improvisation is a must-read)

6. see Ben Stilles’s work on Responsivity. E.g., Stiles, W. B., Honos-Webb, L., & Surko, M. (1998). Responsiveness in psychotherapy. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 5(4), 439-458. 

7. Utilisation is at the heart of Milton Erickson’s work.

8. Here’s a recent chapter I wrote for a recently released edited book. The practice and the practical: Pushing your clinical effectiveness to the next level. In D. Prescott, C. Maeschalck, & S. D. Miller (Eds.), Reaching for Excellence: Feedback-Informed Treatment in Practice: APA. There a chalk full of diverse chapters in this book.

(Please note that the links in the note section are amazon affliate links. That means I get a tiny percentage of the books’ sales.)

Signs That Therapists are Barking Up the Wrong Tree in Our Professional Development 


Signs That Therapists are Barking Up the Wrong Tree in Our Professional Development

Sometimes you climb the ladder to the top,
only to discover that you’ve placed it against the wrong wall.

~ Joseph Campbell


I’m going to re-look at some deeply held truths  we were taught to believe about professional development in the field of psychotherapy.

Actually, if these truths are closely examined, they are perpetuated lies.


What’s worse than falsehood is a distorted truth.


This is not an attempt to put up a straw man about our field. Rather, I hope we can

a) Stop digging ourselves into a deeper hole, and

b) Get ourselves out of the entrenchment.

Before you read on, answer the following question:

Do you consider yourself a person who is open to challenging your own assumptions

If you are, read on. If not, the following list is going to cause you some discomfort.

Here it goes:

In no particular order, here are signs that we are barking up the wrong tree in our professional development:

Continue reading

How Do You Get Better At Eliciting Feedback?



…But what questions should we ask?

In the previous post, we addressed the issue of how to receive feedback.

In this post, we take a step back and address how we can elicit feedback.

But before we dive right in, ask yourself:

Do you really want to know? I used to find myself hesitant to ask for feedback when I know someone was amiss in the session. I’ve learned from my colleagues that this is common. What I learned is to point it out anyway, “You know Tim, I noticed that I might have missed something essential to you today. Am I mistaken? Can you help me figure out what that is, or what we could have explored further on?”

How we convey a sense of openness to the other person’s point of view will determine the type of feedback we get.

When we ask, ”Is everything ok today?” will skew towards a vocal-tic response, “Yeah. All good.”

Where we point the lens, it becomes the foreground. Discuss in advance what you are looking out for. While it may sound counterintuitive at first, take some time to process the following:

High session ratings of engagement by your client is not predictive of good outcomes (e.g., Owen, Miller, Seidel, Chow, 2016). In contrast, highly effective therapists seem to be able to elicit low engagement scores in early sessions. High alliance scores in the first session tells us nothing. The client could be truly happy with the session, or she might not feel safe to tell you how badly you missed her point today.


















Do you know the average alliance formation trajectory among your clients? Which of the above fits your pattern?

We’ve also found in our initial Supershrinks study (Chow, 2014; Chow et al 2015. Stay tuned. We are on to some replication studies. More on that next time) that as compared to the average cohort, highly effective therapists are more likely to report being surprised by client feedback. That is, the top performers are more likely to report being surprised by client’s feedback that their counterparts. It does seem to suggest that the highly effective therapists are more willing to be corrected. They have a sense of openness to receive and consider client’s viewpoints, even if it may be contradictory to the therapist existing expectations.

Janet Metcalfe and colleagues suggest that individuals are more likely to correct errors made with initial high confidence than those made with low-confidence, so long as the corrective feedback is given (Barbie & Metcalfe, 2012; Butterfield & Metcalfe, 2001; Butterfield & Metcalfe, 2006; Metcalfe & Finn, 2011). Although it may seem intuitive that deeply held beliefs are more entrenched and are the hardest to change, experimental studies have indicated that individuals are more likely to overwrite their responses and correct their beliefs (Butterfield & Metcalfe, 2001; Butterfield & Metcalfe, 2006), and are more likely to retain the correct answer compared to knowing the correct answer at the outset (Barbie & Metcalfe, 2012).

What? That’s a mouthful. Put it this way. Stand tall, and stand corrected.

Here’s some key points to remember when trying to elicit feedback from your clients at the end of a session:

1. Prime the Recall:

Give a good rationale WHY your client’s feedback about the session is crucial to you;

2. State What This is Not:

For example, “This is not an evaluation tool…You know how we are asked to do feedback surveys at restaurants? This is exactly what it’s not! Simply because those types of feedback, do not effect a change that will impact you. Your meal isn’t going to change because of your feedback. Here in the session, your feedback is important to me as it can help me tailor to fit you specifically…”

3. Juxtapose Open and Close Ended Questions:

Conventional wisdom argue to use open ended question. “What was the session for you?” Most of the time, this is too vague for clients. Instead, ask the specifics. “As you recall out what we talked about, and the exercise we did before we wrapped up, What was helpful to you?” After they share with you a response, follow it up with, “What was not helpful to you?” “…I know it’s tough to give feedback… we don’t normally tell others what we think, but your point of view is very important to me. I won’t take it personally, but I will take it very seriously…. cos’ sometimes, I just can’t see what I can’t see.”

4. Be Specific:

If you want specific feedback, be specific with your questions. “You know Kelvin, I got a feeling that I’ve pushed you too far today, especially when we were attending the issue about your fears. Am i mistaken?”

“What should I do more of?”


“What should I do less of?”

5.  The Small of Things:

Say this, “You know as it’s hard to give someone feedback, I just want you to know that even if you think it’s a small or minor issue, please, I would love to hear about it.”

Cite examples: “You know, I once had a client who told me that I was too careful with her, and she wanted me to just be blatant with her. Do you feel that way too?”

As a form of closure, you can ask, “If there’s just one thing, what stands out for you today that you’d like to remember from our session?” Write that down, and begin to form ideas to bridge this into the next session.

Don’t forget to take a gamble on your own to make a prediction of how your client rates the session, before you see their ratings on the alliance measure. (see an older post that I talked about this practice, called Rate & Predict exercise)

All systems balances itself with a feedback loop. It’s up to us to elicit the specifics, and then follow through be an open and warm receiver. It’s abit like receiving presents during this Christmas. Be thankful.

At the time of this writing, I wish each of you a happy new year.


Daryl Chow, PhD

30th of Dec 2016


How Do You Get Better at Receiving Feedback?



“How was your meal sir?”

“Fine, thanks.” I lied.

Five minutes into the meal, the waitress comes back to me. She’s wondering why I haven’t touched my pasta one bit since she last enquired.

“Erm, your meal going ok?”

“Yes, it’s fine.” I feel for the leading question. I smiled, and returned to my conversation with my two friends.

The truth is, the pasta was so salty that I couldn’t continue without numbing my mouth. But I couldn’t be bothered. I was planning to wash it down with a cup of coffee later, and continue my conversation.

This time, she’s bold. She stepped into the fire and asked me again, “Sir, is everything ok?”

I thought to myself, man, she’s persistent. I gotta hand it to her. Maybe I should just tell her.

“Actually, since you asked me for the third time. I have to say,  Frankly, I don’t think I’m a fussy eater, but the pasta is so salty I can’t eat anymore of it.”

In a million years, I couldn’t have guessed her reply. She came up with a one-liner. In fact, it was just two letters.

“Oh,” she said.

Bypassing the awkward silence, she stepped one foot back, and inched away. We couldn’t believe what just happened. I’m a hopeful guy. I waited to see if she might return with  a replacement, indulge me in a tiramisu  cake to sweeten my tooth from the numbing sensation in my mouth, or maybe even waive the cost of that half eaten dish.

None of that happened.

If you ask for feedback, you got to learn to receive it. Period.

Another time, at a phone centre in Singapore, this customer service personnel blatantly said to me, “Bro, everything’s good (with the service) right?”

“Erm,” I said.

“Hey, don’t mind, please give me a good feedback rating here (pointing to the form) please.”

For once I manned up, and said no. It just doesn’t make sense. He was asking for my help, not my feedback. He wasn’t very please with me thereafter.


Feedback is tough. In the process of writing their book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, authors Doug Stone and Bruce Patton realised that most people found it the most difficult giving and receiving critical feedback.

We expect our clients to give us just their honest feedback about the session, and we expect ourselves to enter into potential landmines with open arms. What we really need to learn is the fundamentals of being a good feedback elicitor and receiver, with all the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with it.

Look at your personal library.  Do you own a book that teaches you to be a good receiver of feedback?  I recommend you check out Stone and Patton’s 2014 book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” It’s not a psychotherapy book. In fact, I think therapists should do their best to read outside of the jargon-laden therapy world to widen your lens and speak a common language.

I once heard a therapist say to a client who was mad at her for making her feeling interrogated with a barrage of questions, “Thank you so much for your feedback. It must take so much courage to say what you said.” On the surface, it sounds ok to say that. It’s polite. It’s what we are taught to say.

Lets face it. Is it easy to take negative feedback from you client? No. Is is pleasant? Hell no. Then I think we should be honest and simple say that. “You know, I must admit, this is hard to take in. I’m trying to digest what you are saying… because this is important… What you are saying is that I’ve interrogated you, bombing you with questions after questions. It’s hard for me to admit… but you are right. Instead of helping you,  I’ve made you feel like a criminal, when you have don’t nothing wrong…. I’m sorry. I’ve let you down today. Again, it’s tough to hear this, but thanks for telling me.”

Supervisors can also highly benefit from digging deep into learning about how to elicit and receive feedback. It’s easy to take for granted the collegial bond, and expect supervisees to vocalise their concerns when the need arises. I argue, that because of the relationship, it can be even harder in a supervisory context than in a therapy.

The authors of Thanks for the Feedback points out three key triggers that can set us off when we receive critical feedback:

  1. Truth Triggers: When something we deny or disagree with. It makes us feel indignant;
  2. Relationship Triggers: Think about how your dad can say something that makes you explode, but when your trusted coach say the exact same thing you take it as good advice. Who matters more than the What, and
  3. Identity Triggers: This gets personal. It shakes the core of you. “We feel overwhelmed, threatened, ashamed, or off balance” by the feedback. (Has that happened to you before? I’m no stranger to this. It hurts.)

Stone and Patton offers some suggestions of dealing with such triggers. For truth triggers, they suggest learning to separate appreciation, coaching, and learning to see your blindspots. For Relationship triggers, they suggest separating the We from What. Finally, for identity trigger, they suggest learning to challenge our pre-existing assumptions and cultivating a growth (vs. fixed) mindset (ala Carol Dweck’s philosophy). (See their book for further elaboration)

That’s all well and good. I think what matters most is not just having these content knowledge, but we need to learn how to explicitly receive and respond to critical feedback.

To whet your appetite, check out Doug Stone’s interview about the book on The Art of Manliness podcast (Ladies, I assure you that you’d find is not an exclusive gender bias podcast). Around the last 10mins of the interview with Brett Mckay, listen to an example Doug gives about men’s lack of attention to women.)

Doug rightly points out,

“One of the most difficult conversations people have is to give and receive negative feedback “

Maybe someone should have taught the waitress on how to follow-through after asking for feedback. She missed a huge opportunity. I don’t blame her. She had the courage but not the skills yet.

Ask, and be ready to receive.

Stay tuned for the next post on the why the difference between performance feedback and learning feedback matters to your development.


Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

Guess who’s the king of feedback?



Scenius vs. Genius



Who Are These Chefs hanging out with Brian Eno?

Not only does his brilliance shine in his collaborations,  he’s also good at coming up with words.

Heard of the term “ambient music“? He came up with it.

Heard of the word “Scenius”? Probably not. He came up with it.

Genius is individual, scenius is communal

Brian Eno, highly acclaimed ambient musician and producer of such major artists as Talking Heads, David Bowie, and U2, coined this term to debunk the notion of genius.. He explains,

 “I was (previously) encouraged to believe that there were a few great figures like Picasso and Kandinsky, Rembrandt and Giotto and so on who sort-of appeared out of nowhere and produced artistic revolution. As I looked at art more and more, I discovered that that wasn’t really a true picture. What really happened was that there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving lots and lots of people – some of them artists, some of them collectors, some of them curators, thinkers, theorists, people who were fashionable and knew what the hip things were – all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent (emphasis mine). And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work…I thought that originally those few individuals who’d survived in history – in the sort-of ’Great Man’ theory of history – they were called ’geniuses’. But what I thought was interesting was the fact that they all came out of a scene that was very fertile and very intelligent.” (Eno, 2009)

Eno’s point is to help us look beyond ourselves as standalones, but rather as individuals within context that can facilitate creativity and growth.


U2, with the man behind some of their best albums.

Transporting from music to therapy, while solitary deliberate practice  is necessary, it isn’t sufficient. If the voluminous amount of self-help books published each year is a reflection of our appetite, we are certainly persuaded that we got to “make it on our own.”  The pursuit of excellence is not a solo endeavor. As such, the development of a psychotherapist is not an individual enterprise.

Here’s How:

1. Surround yourself with people who inspires and brings life to you. Seek them out;

2. Open yourself to the scrutiny of watching your therapy session recordings. Do likewise with your colleagues;

3. Seek out therapists (maybe even non-therapists) whom you admire. Talk to them. Find out what inspires them, and what sort of sweat, blood and tears they go through to get good at their craft. Don’t just scrutinise their outputs (i.e., performance). Zoom in on their inputs (i.e., practice routines, systems, what they read, what they work on, how they work on it).

I am a better version of me when I’m surrounded by a community of folks who add life to life. These people don’t have to think like you, share the same ideas, or may not even be likable by others. If we all think alike, no one thinks at all.

We can’t change those who are around us, but we can change who are around us.

Seek out to be part of an ecology of talent – a scenius community that fosters excellence. No therapist is an island.

So I would like to know how do you become part of  such a forward moving community? How do you get to surround yourself with people who draw out the best in you?


Daryl Chow, Ph.D.


Further Readings:

1. Check out one of my favorite thinkers of our times, Kevin Kelly’s take on Brian Eno’s notion of on Scenius. If you want to step out of the world of therapy and take a glimpse of what the future hold, listen to this guy. He’s one of the pioneers of the internet. I highly recommend his latest book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

2. If you are trying to break out of your comfort zone and put your work out these in the work, check out Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered . He also wrote about the idea of Scenius in this book, &

3. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert PerformanceDeeply embedded in  this seminal edited handbook , there a good chapter on this topic of the role of social encouragement in the development of expertise. Much of the ideas on deliberate practice in various fields are illuminated in this handbook as well.


Why We Need This One Person For Us To Get Better


I play what we can play, not me. I never play what I can play. I’m always playing way over and above what I can play.”

~ Miles Davis

When this guy was in the room, I played better.

We first met Randolf Arriola when I was  about 17 years old. My bandmates and I saved up enough money to go into a recording studio (recall that this was in the late 1990’s when home recording equipment was not yet readily available) to attempt to demo some of our songs. Back then, Randolf was working as an assistant sound engineer with Freddy, who owns this suave  studio*. Frankly, we weren’t so sure we could afford recording there.

Fast forward a few weeks, we abandoned recording at Freddy’s studio. In gist, he made us sound horrible. He said with some confidence, “I can make you sound like Collective Soul.”  We said, “What?”  We collectively didn’t want to sound like them. It was not what we had in mind. We were smothered by bands like the Verve, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Not Collective Soul.

Instead, we bailed out of the formal recording studio and we ended up at Randolf’s tiny room where he lived with his parents in a two-bed room apartment. His bedroom could fit a single bed, a 16 channel mixing, some rack mount stuff, a handful of guitars, and a PC with a monitor. That’s it.

As for the humans, we could fit about 3 to 4 other people in there. Randolf would be sitting on a stool designated for him to face the screen, while the rest of us took turns to sit beside him to review the tracks that we were recording. Forgot about “rockin’ in a free world” and head banging recklessly. There was literally no room for that. With all the equipment around us, we were sardines in a tin can.

We stuck with Randolf for years to come thereafter. He ended up not only becoming our sound engineer and co-producer, he also became our mentor, collaborator, and session guitarist. He was our Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois is to U2, all packed into one person. I mean, this was guy knew every detail about music, from the gears, song craft, repairing instruments, modifying stomp boxes, producing, sound engineer… He was his own company.

The truth is, when he was around us, he raised the bar of our performance. I mean, we were by no means U2 (or collective soul for that matter). The point is that we ended up playing better than we can. (Check out Randolf performing with us at the Esplanade in Singapore 6 years ago).

I believe this came from Randolf’s deep devotion to the craft. And he has this uncanny ability to be so specific about what we can do to push our songs, ourselves, individually and collectively to the next level.

We spent so many nights talking about music, listening to music and riffing about it. I was introduced to a plethora of wide range of music from my bandmates and Randolf.  He personified music. I learned so much about the psychology behind music from him, and how to simplify from the BS and get to the heart of things.

He was critical, but not criticising. He pushed us, but never made us feel small.

Instead, he made us feel like the hero on our hero’s journey.

Combined with some home-brewed 4 and 8 track records we made on our own and Randolf’s tiny home studio recordings, we released an album together. (We were not in the top of the charts,  nor were we expecting to. We just loved music making. In fact, after some time the album got so painful a process that we just wanted to get it out of the way!). In no small ways, it was a  life lesson still embedded in me more than a decade later.

I picked up two key takeaways from my musical journey: 

1. Seek out a few people who can guide me in specific areas,

2.  Stay close to someone who is better than you.

Randolf is a freakin’ brilliant musician in his own right. Watch him do his magic with real-time live looping.

Here’s Randolf featured in TedX:

This speaks to  our work as therapists.

We need a good coach. We need someone who we can help us raise the bar of our performance, and help us become better versions of ourselves (not a copy of the supervisor/coach).

This made me seek out clinicians who are better than me. People who can teach me and guide me. Early on,  I decided that I’m going to be a perpetual student. No shame.

Who do you seek out to raise the bar in your development as a therapist? Do you get specific directives on what you can work on that can leverage on your effectiveness, and not just some theory talk or  vague “case consultation”?

Stay tuned for more on this topic of clinical supervision and coaching. (Or simply signup on the right sidebar for to receive hassle-free updates in your inbox from Frontiers)

You might also be interested in these past posts:

The Scandal of Clinical Supervision: Here’s the Shocker (Part 1 of 2)

The Scandal of Clinical Supervision: How to Resolve It (Part 2 of 2)

Clinical Practice vs. Deliberate Practice: Why Your Years of Experience Doesn’t Get You Better

p/s: My mentor Scott Miller wrote recently on this common topic as well.

*Note: In order to protect his privacy, Freddy is not his real name. Freddy was after all kind enough to entertain a bunch of kids like us in his recording studio.

Love to hear your more from you about who this person who guided you in your personal &/or  professional life.

Til then,

 Daryl Chow, Ph.D.


Older posts