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Meet the Therapist - Hannah Smith

On this episode, Hannah Smith, LCPC, sits down with Katie and Jake to share a lot of metaphors about the challenges clients face in and out of therapeutic sessions and the power of uncertainty.

Click here to learn more about Hannah's experience and connect with her for a consultation.

B'well Counseling serves Baltimore and the surrounding areas. Clinicians offer in-person counseling in our Towson office, with telehealth and hybrid services available. Feel free to explore our website, or learn more about our therapists and philosophy on our YouTube channel.


Katie Cashin, LCPC: Okay, we are back. And we are really excited, as with all of our conversations so far. We're really excited today to be chatting with Hannah Smith, LCPC, who is another one of our wonderful therapists here at B’well. Hannah, welcome and good morning. How are you doing today?

Hannah Smith, LCPC: I am doing well. Good morning to you guys. Thank you for taking the time. I'm so excited to get into it with y'all.

Katie: Of course, and I completely didn't mean to skip over the wonderful, the brilliant co-host we have here. Jake, would you like to say hi?

Jake Jackson-Wolf, LCPC: Good morning, Hannah.

Hannah: Good morning, Jake.

Katie: I love, we're already capturing the fun, the playful energy we, before we started recording, we're saying in full transparency we're like three theater kids in a Zoom room here, and I think that's gonna... I'm just excited to see where that takes us today. Hannah, let's get started. Tell us a little bit about your client Venn diagram.

Hannah: Yes, yes. So what I notice is in my work, the two different ends of it noticing, of course, like more clients coming in with more acute, maybe life transitions, things that maybe they're anticipating, expecting, or they're right in it and feeling a way. And then, of course, the other end of the spectrum. Maybe something a little bit more, externally things feel the same on the outside, but maybe the gears are grinding inside, and that might be a little bit more long term. So two very different ends of the spectrum, but in the middle I noticed, as obvious as it sounds that stuckness that I think resonates for so many of us. So that stuckness is really kind of like a... I always think of like a finger trap, right? And no matter what end of the spectrum you're on, there's things that are pulling on us, whether that's external or internal, and the more you pull the more stuck you are, right? So I say that all the time to every single client ever. So that's like my favorite way of thinking about it. Very visual. So, no matter what the noise is, is dynamic or different as it is that tends to show up, and what I do with my clients in that stuckness, in that work, is to notice the relationship with it, and the distress tolerance of that stuckness and noticing, okay, how are we dealing with that? Change will come right, Jake, and I always say, Jake, it's like my total fangirl for this, where change is going to happen, no matter what right? It's everything designed in us and around us is going to happen. How can we find intentional choice in that change and better ourselves in that, and notice our emotions in that stuckness, and how it's putting a filter on the information that we're receiving during that time, and what we want to do with that, how we want to respond to those filters and interactions.

Jake: Let me, fangirl for a second. Sorry. The reason I love that so much is because I see so many people coming in saying, I need to make a change. I want to make a change. There's going to be a change, and they feel so much responsibility for that like, I need to make things change, and what you blow my mind with every time that you say that is sort of… the change doesn't care whether or not you participate in it. It's going to happen. And how do you find those places of intervention instead of feeling this responsibility for everything which feels so... what's the right word for this like? I feel so unburdened every time you say that like. Oh, right! I don't have to do everything. I can find the places where there's gonna be some, a lot more efficiency kind of, and if I put my energy here or here or here, instead of taking responsibility for the whole process.

Hannah: There was a... this is somewhat tangential, but I'm just gonna throw it in there. There was, I think it was on Oprah in like the nineties, there was some episode, and they were talking about change, and specifically in grief. But exactly what you're saying, Jake, there was this phrase that got thrown out there. I can't remember who said it, but they're saying like, you can do all the back flips and twist yourself into knots all you want, and try and push things down, or get really active about it. But they said, grief or change, whatever it is you're going through kind of just goes like this, and it just sits back, and it just waits until you're done. And then it'll happen. I'm like, oh, yes, that is. It's it kind of releases that pressure valve and that authoritarian voice that we can often come in with, which is understandable.

Katie: Totally, especially if you're a resourceful, creative, intelligent person who has been taught that these skills and strengths help you impact your world and help you move towards what you want and help you... And then it's what I hear and what you're saying is something like grief or the changes that are out of our hands are like someone coming up to us and being like, yeah, but not here, like those skills don't apply in the same way here. And it's like what... it's a really like... yeah, that intentional leaning back.

Jake: Hannah, I want to get a little bit more specific about… I'm picturing your Venn diagram picturing these ends of the spectrum. What's happening in people's lives that are bringing them in to see you?

Hannah: Yeah, I am noticing this place of… that I keep coming back around to is connectivity. Particularly, you know, coming from a pandemic and what's happening there, communication skills, mood processing, all of that. And again landing in that stuckness of like, what is happening? Where am I? How am I responding to this? They're noticing something different, and maybe whether it's a lacking connectivity or just maybe a shift in it, and how to adjust to that. And I pull in mood again, and how that affects us so much when we're designed for connectivity, looking for places of connectivity, but also having to kind of in conjunction work with our mood that might not match up with our need for connectivity at that same time. So how we talk to those two different parts, how they talk to each other, how we talk to them! That's definitely a spot. Connectivity feels like this really big theme that most, if not all. I'm gonna say, all, all my clients kind of come back around to in some way. Yeah, yeah.

Katie: I'm holding that like in the context of what our world has gone through since 2020. what connectivity means right now, what connection means right now, all the things that have interrupted that connection with each other. and how that happens internally. Cool, so some of us turned off the reaction. Some of us didn't. And just... you say it so eloquently. You kind of fit that into a minute and a half or less, and that just seems like it. It could feel it could fill months and months and years of sessions. and something that feels like we all need to be aware of as therapists.

This is a... this is kind of a big question. You know, casual, casual for a Wednesday morning. But can you tell us about your why in this work? What is your why, Hannah?

Hannah: Yes, yes. This work allows me to get more and more comfortable with an experience that I think we're all what we all definitely are designed to be at least a little uncomfortable with, and I think that experiences uncertainty. So when I can sit with someone and lean towards something that's difficult, hard, and we sit next to each other and do that in that process like that feeds and nurtures my relationship with uncertainty. And of course I get to witness this incredible thing with my clients where they get to nurture their own and it just feels like such a privilege. Uncertainty, of course, I always think, is such a human hardwired thing to be fearful of but it's like I get to watch in real time. People take a really human fear and empower themselves and turn it into like a skill and. It's like, oh my gosh, you just you morphed and shapeshifted this thing and now you're gonna continue to do that and then maybe get a little bit scared again, and then do that again in a different, cool, exciting, maybe messy way as they move forward, so it just feels like the greatest privilege.

Jake: I didn't have on my bingo card. You know, I love uncertainty. Like you said, it's so... If I walk down the street and ask a hundred people, "How do you feel about uncertainty?" they don't like that. But there's something about this work that feels, for you at least, like it draws you in. It gets you curious and your wheels turning.

Any therapist that says this work doesn't affect their own relationship to these concepts is lying to you. I love the way you've pulled that together how just witnessing and being a part of that with people nurtures that in you.

Can we get a window into, like, if I'm standing outside the really big windows behind the couch in the office that you’re in here, if I was like peeking in, because there’s curtains now because we rectified that issue, what would we see? What does a session look like with you?

Hannah: Yeah, I always think of that when I look at them because I face the windows. I'm like, "Who's out there? Is anyone going to creep in?" But actually, it's been pretty good. First and foremost, I like to just recap a little and pull back to where we left off, right? Kind of standard. However, I do cut through that. It’s like, okay, we were last talking about X, Y, and Z. If we have a plan to keep going there, great, love that! But I’m going to cut through that and say, what would really actually be helpful today? Kind of addressing, like, it's been X amount of time since we’ve seen each other. Interruptions happen, things happen, so we can just put all of that somewhere else if we need to, or dive right into it.

From there, it's so dependent, right? Wherever we go, it's going to, of course, depend on what the client needs that day. I’m very person-centered in that way. 100%, I trust the client that this is what they need to be talking about. Sometimes it’s like, "Well, did you think about this?" and trying to force something else into the room and pull it in. I don’t love that, so it’s very guided by the client.

Definitely can expect some jokes, a lot of humor, we laugh. And visuals, I always say, "Bear with me," my clients laugh at me sometimes because I’m like, we’re going to take a quick trip inside my brain. We’re going to imagine this looking this way. We talk about our "bubble," right, or a boardroom meeting of all of our different parts talking to each other, different visuals that can create access points to these internal selves.

Those are the moments where I’m like, okay, here’s where we’re going. If we can try and harness this, maybe it could look like X. Definitely that. And I always bookend the ends of my sessions with, if there’s anything that we missed, tell me. Tell me in a couple of words, let's write it down, we can go there next time. Or maybe we didn’t, and that’s great too.

Jake: Ending with a little yogic recess.

Hannah: Yes, exactly. Or sometimes I’ll just be like, "Okay, do we want to yell anything at the sky? Do we have any book recommendations? A movie you saw that you were just like, oh, by the way, this was so great, okay, bye." Making space for that too, just the blah, right? Sometimes that we can use as punctuation for the end of our meetings.

Katie: An intentional closing in some way. I think that’s really valuable. What you’re talking about, and I really am thinking of this as like, I’m feeling myself in this session. Both cutting through to what’s present today for the client, what feels valuable, is that is different than forcing in anything that isn’t... that isn’t like, I’m going to cut through, and we’re going to dive into the deepest trauma or the thing I see as the issue or the most painful point. But there’s a cutting through, it sounds like, to the present.

Then there's this intentional closing that isn’t about, we start with small talk, we end with small talk, but really is about, how do we close this time together? How do we close? If this is a connection point, how do we want to mark that? Client, how do you want to mark that? It sounds like you are very present, but that doesn’t mean... that’s not the same as agenda-driven, or that isn’t the same as you lead, client follows, you know?

Hannah: Yeah, and knowing too, clients do so much work in the space we share with them, and in the closing time that we have together, sometimes that can feel a little bit abrupt. But creating that relationship and witnessing and allowing space for that relationship is like, okay, now knowing that you are going to walk out of that door and enter the world, right? What feels relevant or resonant to say here right now, knowing that’s now going to happen? Just something to nurture the relationship with that present and responding to needs. Again, that kind of needs to come from... at least I subscribe, it needs to come from the client, and I just ask questions and make observations around those needs so they can respond to those.

Jake: Yeah. One of the things I see a lot when people are looking for referrals or looking for a therapist that does such and such is, I'll see this line a lot: "I want somebody that will call me on my shit." Right? And I think there's one way of viewing that that's a little bit blunt, where it's somebody that is kind of directive and there's a lot of utility in this. What I'm hearing from you is sort of like a side door into that, where it's not, "I'm gonna tell you how it is." It's, "I'm gonna trust you to show up with what you need to show up with today." There might be some spaces where I notice in me like, "Hmm, there's something here, something to push in on." You're telling me you're not ready for it, and that feels like a much more nuanced way of still holding that this is what's going on, what I think might be going on, but I'm not beating you over the head with it.

Hannah: Yeah. It's a delicate balance, right? A very, very fine line. And I think that humor is really functional on that too, right? When we can laugh together, we're joining. I come back around to connectivity, right? We're joining, we're agreeing on something together. Sometimes that's a painful point, and we can laugh about that, or a system that a client might be engaging in that's not super intentional or consensual. It's like, "Oh, ha! I did that thing again," and it's like, "Ha! Ha!" And we laugh because it's this access point to kind of holding the feet to the fire in a way.

It makes me think of your question before, of why people come into therapy. I was talking with two of my clients recently about this: first taking the pressure valve and releasing it in the space a little bit to know that we don't have to show up with that authoritarian voice. I wonder why it is showing up, but releasing that pressure valve and then holding feet to the fire. The more direct way that I go about that is more techniques of what you take out of session, and how a client might surprise themselves in what they take away from it, whether it's like meditation. They're like, "I actually tried the meditation. It was actually pretty nice," and things like that. So, holding feet to the fire in that way where it's like, "Oh, you surprised yourself, and this is different. You're engaging in that. What do you think that means? What could that be?"

So it's exactly what you're saying. It's not necessarily flogging of the systems and behaviors. It's, "That can change how you're changing. How do you want to engage with that?"

Jake: I'm getting this picture of, instead of somebody saying, "I'm deathly afraid of swimming," and you saying, "Well, I'm throwing you in the pool," you're like jumping down, sitting on the side of the pool with your feet in the water, like, "Come here."

Hannah: Yeah, that's a good way of putting it.

Katie: I'm completely surprised at this point that between the three of us we aren't still on the first question, on our seventeenth metaphor or image. I was gonna say, I love this. We all have part of our native language is metaphor.

Hannah, we've gone a little bit towards what the session looks like, that being client-led. What's bringing clients in to see you, what you're learning and what you're noticing. To look through the other window, to look through the other lens, what is it that's bringing you into work every day at this point?

Hannah: Even on days where I think, like, yeah, I’m one person and I have distractions in my own life where that can feel like they're kind of leaning over toward the wheel and trying to drive the car of my life. There's something in that I found every time I drop into sessions. And I know, Katie, we've talked about this before where it's, I don't know if I've found something else in my life that's as orienting as having sessions with clients, even on days that are distracting and loud and noisy. And I go back to the idea of witnessing again and how incredible the work is that the clients are doing, and kind of wanting that to be a little bit contagious, right? Sometimes our clients are showing up in such wonderful and, most of the time, really just honest ways with themselves and me coming into work today, it's almost like reaching out and touching them. It's like, "Oh, yes," it does feel contagious at a certain point. And even on those days, it's like, how could I not want to come into work when they are showing up in such an incredible way, despite the noise, despite all the things, and saying, "No, I'm here to do something better for myself." And that's enough kind of sparkly, glittery inspiration for me to wanna witness that. I don't want to miss it if that makes sense.

Katie: Yeah, I think we have our new… B’well Counseling: Contagious. Good word.

Hannah: A contagion.

Katie: That's it, though. That's it. You really captured what that feeling is.

Jake: I guess I'll launch into our last question, which is, what are the challenges that you have or are facing as a therapist?

Hannah: The biggest thing that I think I run into over and over and over again is when a client comes in and does so much incredible work for themselves, and then they have to walk out the door and engage with systems that are intentionally designed to undermine so much of the work that we do in our time together. Loving these headshakes. Yeah.

And I want to scream at the sky a lot of the time. You can bet that next week, clients come right in, right? I don't have to tell y'all. They come right in, and they say, "No, I didn't get to complete this goal because this bullshit got in the way. And this is what happened." It's infuriating sometimes.

We're just one person, right? We can't wave a magic wand or have crystal balls about these systems and how they're gonna affect and inform our experiences. But we know that they are. Despite that, my clients and I have a lot of conversations about safe choices and what we can do, knowing that these systems are in effect, to make a safe choice for ourselves. Sometimes that's just sitting in the room and talking about how terrible these systems are. Sometimes it's the only safe choice that we have.

Katie: So important.

Jake: You’re solution?, Look, we went really—

Hannah: Oh, I can—

Jake: Probably different emotional responses to that.

Katie: You’re looking for a solution?

Jake: I'm like, yeah, so you've— Correct, Hannah. How have you solved this problem?

Hannah: It is solved. And that is it. Schedule your session with me today.

Jake: Individual results may vary.

Katie: Yeah. That, though, seems to be so much of what you've named here, Hannah. I don't know. I hope you all still feel this way sometimes as a way of normalizing that I still feel this way with the clients we work with. It can feel like getting to work with so many clients over the years, it can feel at times like, "Oh, we need a massive skill set. We need to be able to cover all this ground with people." And what this conversation is a true affirmation of is, there are some basic pillars here. There's distress tolerance, there's change, there's acceptance, and this big piece of acknowledgment of doing individual work in a systemic and structural context. And I think, Hannah, what you're sharing is as real as possible. But sometimes there are places where you can work with clients on the choice they have within those systems and structures. And there are places where it sounds like you just need to open up space for the shittiness of that reality.

Hannah: Yeah, I always think of, well, pulling back to what we're talking about in the beginning, there's that metaphor that—I didn't make up this time—I heard it somewhere else. Of the sunglasses and how our mood kind of can distort the information that can come through, right? Depending on what sunglasses you're wearing, what color are they?

And working and living, existing in these systemic structures, combining that with our moods, how we receive them, in what way we're receiving them. Sometimes it does feel impossible. And kind of objective, right? Looking at the big system itself, but also knowing that you are human, you are a person, and you have all the things and all the lenses that are going to come with you. And that's not a character deficit. That's again being human. So yeah, I appreciate these pillars that you named, Katie. That feels really solid in the way that you say that. Hmm.

Jake: This is what one of the terms that we throw around a lot in our sort of mission, values, is non-pathologizing. And I think that that's so much more than saying that big old purple book of diagnoses isn't the end all be all? It's really about saying so much of what people show up with so much of the distress that people experience is the result of systems that were designed to create that. Moving from "There's something wrong with me" to "I’m responding to something that's wrong” feels like a language shift, but it can be so empowering to people to recognize, “Oh, I'm not broken. That thing's broken.”

Katie: It feels very clear. I mean, Jake and I get to know this because we get to work with you, Hannah. But this conversation also affirms that when folks start working with you, maybe they've had therapy previously, especially with what you're saying about the sunglasses. I think there's some therapists who use that as an intervention, understandably, to be like, let's get some better sunglasses, and when folks come in to work with you, you're like, It's not about fixing your sunglasses. It's about understanding that of course you have 10 different pairs of sunglasses. That's not a problem. This just really affirms that when folks get to work with you, they're probably getting to do different work than they've been able to do before, and we're so grateful for that. And this conversation has been so meaningful. Thank you so much for being open to talk with us, but to like be you with us.

Hannah: That's warm and fuzzy. Thank you. All that's so sweet. It's always such a pleasure. You guys are so easy and B’well's… everybody who works with B’well is just so nice. I'm like, “Everyone who works at B’well…” but no, for real everyone. It's great.

Jake: I don't mean to be cheesy real quick before we do the how do you find, Hannah? If you want to.

Katie: You don't mean to be?

Jake: Okay, I mean to be cheesy. What I feel so good about every day that I walk into our space is and every conversation like this that we've had. The people that are in our group come up and I can remember, you know, coming out of the pandemic, some of those first things that we would all get together for… remember in our old space, Katie and I kind of like caught each other for a moment, and I went, “Our people are great.” And then I think I had a conversation with Jackie a few weeks later. Where she comes to me, she goes, “Our people are great.” And then another conversation it just keeps coming up is like, there is this genuineness of. We're all kinda different, right? There's not like one thing that you can point to and say the therapist at B’well are X, but there's this synergy and dynamism and corporate…

Katie: Speaky, speak, speak.

Jake: It’s this way that we all have managed to exist in these really cool relationships. That our clients are incredible people. The people that are here are also really incredible people, and that's such a fun thing to be able to say about work, cause I know so many of us haven't always been able to say that.

Hannah: Isn't it wild that, like safety can just run a thread through the whole experience in every facet like safety and exhale, and all that like. It's cool. We’re good, all of that. It runs through every facet of be. Well, I haven't. I haven't had that experience before. I don't think it's very common. I don't think a lot of people have had that, but we got it.

Katie: Thank you for being a part of that. It just thank you. This is so lovely, and this is absolutely what is inspiring these conversations. I don't think we'd feel energy behind this if we didn't feel this energy within our group. And with folks like you, Hannah, consenting and being open to show up and have a conversation that isn't just like, tell us, your bio, what are your credentials? What's your what are the presenting issues in your caseload? How do you fix people? Your willingness to kind of get creative with us here. We're so appreciative. And yeah, to give people your info. We're gonna have it on the little card that we always have it on after these videos. But they can find you at hannah@bwellcounseling, the longest email address ever. They can find you at our website, they can get in touch with you there. And you are currently accepting new clients and seeing people via telehealth, correct.

Hannah: Correct, correct.

Katie: Awesome. So we hope people will reach out because you are just a gift, and until next time thanks everyone for joining for watching and listening.

Hannah: Thank you.

B'well Counseling Services offers therapy in Towson and surrounding areas. Clinicians offer both in-person, telehealth, or hybrid sessions. Click here to learn more about our philosophy and clinicians.

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