Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development

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

Tag: mentor

Specific Ways to Build a Portfolio of Mentors

Specific Ways to Build a Portfolio of Mentors

In a previous post, I advocated the need to go beyond seeking the help from one individual.

It is up to you to Build a Portfolio of Mentors. It doesn’t happen to you; it’s what you do to make these mentorship work.

There are at least four types of mentors you can seek out.

1. Formal Mentors:

Seek out people that inspire you.

When I first reached out to Scott Miller, I didn’t think he would respond, let alone agreed to guide me in my development. Fast forward a decade later, he still is my someone that I turn to for guidance, even as we collaborate in our writings and teachings.

Another person I sought after at the tail end of my masters in 2005, was a highly perceptive and personable therapist, Juliana Toh who was teaching us systemic therapy. This was the ONE module that made all the difference to me. Near the end of the course, I asked Juliana if a few of us can connect with her for ongoing supervision. She agreed. And this set up another decade’s worth of consultation with her. Priceless. (One of the common practices she had that I adopted was for us to bring in taped-sessions).


2. Informal Mentors:

Seek out colleagues, friends, in and outside of your organisation to connect on a routine basis. 

Tell them that you’d like some guidance in some particular area of your work. Buy them lunch during your once a month meeting. 

Use these meetings as a check-in, a pit-stop, or even a form of accountability for the stuff that you are working on.


3. Seek Consultation as a Team:

While formal and informal mentors may not typically be a paid service (besides, I don’t think your friend should accept your money), another form of highly valuable professional guidance you can obtain is to seek consultation as a organisation.

This is typically more economical in cost. It is also beneficial if the agency wants to implement new changes in their organisation, and the leaders aim for everyone to be on board.

Consultations are much more powerful and effective, as compared with sending the team to a 1-2 day workshop. The reason is that ongoing routine consultations are aimed at a more SPECIFIC and SUSTAINING manner. Workshops typically ignite interest but fail to fan the flame.

So if you are a leading a team and them to a workshop, make sure you have a clear committed plan ahead on how to sustain the interest of implementing these new ideas.

I spend much of my time mentoring practitioners and consulting with agencies. Even though I offer a special extra value of connection in between, only a minority of people ask me questions between our consultations.

If you seek out a consultant, you shouldn’t feel afraid to bother them in between the formal consultations. That’s because most of the important challenges surface in-between!

In one agency, after an initial training they had with me, they had planned for the ongoing consultations to be once every three months. While they were trying to integrate the use of outcome measures into their daily clinical practice, several of the clinicians were struggling on how to introduce the measures. Thankfully, one of them emailed me on how to address this issue, as the next consult was 8 weeks away. And I provided them some tips and resources as they rolled out the implementation.


4. Instrumental Mentors:

Books and reading materials can be your “Instrumental Mentors,” if you approach this with a mindset of “Just-in-time” learning mentality.

Therapists complain that they do not have enough time to read, given their unending workload. “Just-in-time” learning can help to speed up the learning process but being highly focused and targeted with what you read. 

I’m currently enrolled in an online learning course with Scott H Young, called Rapid Learning. One of the things he advocated is to treat each thing that you are learning as a PROJECT. I think it’s a brilliant idea. It gives a handle, and projects can be broken down into parts with an overarching specific goal, along with a deadline, milestones and a week-by-week breakdown of how you plan to accomplish it. 

Here’s some examples: if you find yourself struggling with dealing with your client who has high self-criticism, you might persue reading materials from Leslie Greenberg’s work in emotion focused therapy. 

If you are working with a couple who are struggling with rekindling their sex life, you might turn to Ester Perel’s work.

If you are working with a family who is facing power struggles with their teenage daughter, you might turn to Salvador Minuchin’s work in structural family therapy.

The key to using Instrumental Mentors via a just-in-time learning approach is to develop your FOCUS.

Here’s how:

1. Block out 30mins to an hour per week within your work hours (yes, you heard me right. Keep it at work, because this form of deep work DIRECTLY addresses your clinical work);

2. Identity the ONE THING that you need to work on at this stage.

3. Read with a just-in-time learning mentality, which means you have to read with the SPECIFIC OBJECTIVE in mind (and avoid Facebook during this blocked out time, AT ALL COST).

4. Keep a learning log. I’m sure I’m not alone; all of us have experienced this thing called Professional Amnesia. That is, we learn something so important at one point in time, but we forget these perennial learning, and instead, get enamored by what’s new and shiny.

By keeping a learning log, you can (and should) revisit them. I’ve been using a free Simplenote to archive my weekly learnings over the past five years. Every so often, I’d open the app, look at a past learning title and test myself, if I can recall what I learned in the past. I’m often shocked at the experience of Professional Amnesia. “Did I write that?”

(I love simplenote. It’s by the creators of wordpress-the platform I use for my website. I’ve used several note taking apps. Evernote has a ton more features, and I use evernote more for web clippers. On the other hand, What I love most about Simplenote is the constrain. You can’t change the font or font size, you can muck around with the formatting, etc [unless you use markdown symbols]. And that’s really helpful to capture your learning ideas down quickly. PLUS, it’s super quick to retrieve your notes, especially if you tag them. I tag my weekly learning log as “TherapyLearnings”. It all syncs across platforms and devices seamlessly. All that… for free! 

This is also a good way to stave off our allure towards the timely things, and return to the time-less matters that count.

Don’t forget that the people who write those inspiring materials are also actual human beings. Reach out to them if they spark something in you. Email them, chat with them. Seek them out to be your formal mentors, or seek consultation with them as a team. The world is no longer divided into authors and readers. Every true author is an avid reader, and every reader is capable of becoming an author. So let’s connect.



1. “Show Your Work”: If you seek out a paid mentor/supervisor/consultant, make sure you do not just “talk about your work.” Instead, “show your work” with the use of audio/visual recordings, so that your mentor knows your work (eg segments of your therapy recordings + outcomes). What good is gossiping even with a good theory in mind?

2. Before and After: What’s crucial is what you do before and after a mentoring session.

Do the Prep work…

and then…

Do the reflection. 

Maximise the sessions and time you devote to the mentorship connection. It’s not just the hour or two that you spend that counts. It’s what you do for the prep, and what you do at the end to pull it all together, so that it sticks.




Anything worth building requires more than an individual.

Your development requires this team approach.



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.