Have you ever had a question on which you needed straight-shooting, professional advice? Dr. Darcy Sterling, a licensed clinical social worker based in the SoHo section of New York City, dishes up just that on a regular basis through her blog, YouTube channel, and her work with her wife, Stephanie Sterling, at Alternatives Counseling.
As a writer for Psychology Today and as a columnist for GO Magazine (which profiled Darcy and Stephanie’s wedding in 2009), Dr. Darcy has increasingly been tapped by media for commentary, such as for E! Entertainment’s When Women Kill. While certainly media-savvy, Darcy also has the credentials to back up her observations, having received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University in 1996, and a Ph.D. from New York University in 2006.
Her style is direct and focused, both with media and clients alike, and Dr. Darcy graciously recently took time to chat with me about her tell-it-like-it-is “straight talk” and issues she sees within the LGBT community.
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Kergan Edwards-Stout: I’m so glad we’re finally able to talk! I’ve been looking forward to this.
Dr. Darcy: Me too!
Kergan: I’m really curious about you and your approach to therapy. First, though, tell me a bit about yourself.
Darcy: I’m a Jersey girl! (laughing) I’m from Roseland, New Jersey, which is about 45 minutes from New York. When you grow up just outside the city, you tend to think that you’re a New Yorker. But once you’re here, living the life, you realize just how “off” you were! When I was younger, I didn’t have to strap my day’s belongings to me, and take subways and cabs, through all kinds of weather… It is a very different world than what I’d thought!
Kergan: What made you decide to make the move into the city?
Darcy: Both my graduate and post-graduate work was here, and I knew it was where I’d end up. Before I moved to New York, I was married–to a man. We were together over 13 years, but eventually we parted ways, and afterward, I knew I’d never date a man again. I’d always known I was bicurious, but hadn’t explored it until my 30s. So I moved to New York and started dating Steph. Moving to New York was empowering in many ways.
Kergan: How did you meet Stephanie?
Darcy: We met at NYU and became best friends, which for lesbians is essentially foreplay. (laughing) We moved into together, and were married in 2009.
Darcy: We now share the practice and, just like the clients we see, are trying to manage this twisting journey we call life!
Kergan: What drew you to the field of psychotherapy?
Darcy: Anyone who’s drawn to this field comes to it because of their own wounds. We all have something we need to work through; family situations where things just weren’t “right.” Most therapists come into the field wanting to help others navigate experiences, such as they themselves had, but somewhat easier.
Kergan: So, having gone through your own experiences, you’re able to better relate to your client?
Darcy: Exactly. I draw on the training I had in school, but relating to my clients is a very innate process. I understand their feelings, emotions, and suffering. My wife said to me recently, “You are able to find commonality with each of your clients. You’re not looking for what makes you different; you’re looking for what makes you similar.” And she’s absolutely right.
Kergan: What is your therapeutic philosophy?
Darcy: I’m trained in positive psychology, which I apply daily. When I meet someone new, I’m looking to find what is working for them in their lives. Typically, our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. What that means is that our weaknesses are usually our strengths, dialed up too high, in the wrong environment. If we can learn to dial them down, it can be beneficial.
Kergan: Explain what you mean by that…
Darcy: I’ll use myself as an example. With my clients, I’m very outspoken, and that style works in a therapeutic setting. At home, however, that style wouldn’t be welcome or appreciated by my wife. We are all works in progress, and building on successes helps clients feel empowered. Often, a client walks in the door to a therapist, preparing to be judged and expecting to be categorized. It is both a humbling and intimidating experience. Underscoring weaknesses only serves to handicap people. I’d rather help them find what is working and apply those attributes to other areas that may not be working as well. Building and creating, helping them realize their dreams, is the most rewarding aspect of psychotherapy for me.
Kergan: What are the major issues you’re seeing in the LGBT community?
Darcy: By and large, the issues LGBT people face are the same as everyone else: relationships, family, finding connections with others. But being marginalized, being a minority, can create other specific issues. In the final analysis, however, it is not about money, fame, career… it is the measure of the quality of our relationships which fulfill us. And most have no clue as to how to create better relationships. To me, learning effective communication skills would’ve been so much more helpful than learning algebra!
Kergan: With people of my generation, I would imagine that most of our issues were around coming out, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the pressures of living in an intolerant world, etc. Today, with marriage equality expanding and younger people coming out at earlier ages, I’m wondering what issues you’re seeing. As new generations come up, are the issues changing?
Darcy: That is a great question. Coming out is a process, and where I meet people in their coming out process may be at a different stage than where a therapist might have seen someone coming out 15 years ago. Part of that may also be related to location. Clients I see who live in New York are typically further along in the coming out process than those I see in other areas, some of whom haven’t yet begun that process.
Kergan: Do you see differences in the issues gay men or lesbians face?
Darcy: Women are all about relationships. Oftentimes they come to me when a relationship is in trouble, hoping to save it, or after one has dissolved. They’ve dusted themselves off, realized they may own some responsibility for the ending of it, and want to make sure they don’t repeat the same patterns in the future. Whatever lessons we don’t learn, we get tested on, again and again.
Kergan: And what about the men?
Darcy: So many are frustrated with the stereotypes they see of gay men, and are just looking for an honest connection with a like-minded individual, which can seem difficult in the age of Grindr.
Kergan: Now that marriage equality is becoming a reality for many, and coming out somewhat easier, do you see any other issues on the horizon with which the LGBT community may grapple?
Darcy: Instead of focusing on potential challenges, I’d rather focus on dreams. I would love our community to begin campaigning around how parents raise their children. I’d like to see a movement where parents were encouraged to become curious about their children’s sexuality, without the expectation of their child being straight; where voicing their sexual orientation was as common and matter-of-fact as stating their career choice. But parents need to be taught how to do this – how to avoid feeding into limiting gender stereotypes. Parenting is a teachable skill… In our society, we require licenses to drive a car, a boat, etc., and yet anyone can have a child, no training required. We expect parents to have innate parenting skills, which is such a crazy concept.
Kergan: Aside from your work with the LGBT community, you also see a great deal of young, straight New Yorkers…
Darcy: Yes, easily half my practice are younger people, struggling to make sense of life in the big city.
Kergan: What issues are they dealing with?
Darcy: New York is very competitive and very expensive. Most of the people drawn to this island were the big fish in their small ponds at home, but then they come to New York, where everyone here is the best from their home town. That kind of pressure really wears on people.
Kergan: You also have clients all over the world–
Darcy: Yes, I see many clients via Skype. I like the idea that with these kinds of technology, where a person lives isn’t an impediment to getting great care. It gives clients the ability to connect with a quality therapist, regardless of where they live.
Kergan: And your YouTube channel and blog are one more way to connect with people.
Darcy: I thought it would be fun to have a Q&A forum for members of the LGBT community. My blog and YouTube channel are just extensions of my goal, which is to help people find their way forward in the world.
Kergan: We first met through an article I’d written–
Darcy: “Please Defriend Me.” Your article gave voice to many emotions I had been experiencing, leading up to the presidential election in November. For some time I was so fed up, I couldn’t even go on Facebook. I found some of the posts so insensitive, from both friends and family members, and your article was very relevant to what I was feeling. You hit a nerve, which is why I shared your article on my blog.
Kergan: That post generated a lot of controversy, both pro and con, and took on a life of its own. Given that it was so controversial, I wonder, as a therapist, how do you decide what to share, and what to keep private?
Darcy: I’m a passionate person, and that comes out through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Generally speaking, therapists are trained to self-disclose as little as humanly possible. Today, though, we live in an era where social media is everywhere. If we want to be connected to anybody, we have to be on social media. You can’t function as an entrepreneur and not embrace it. Given the fact that my personal style of therapy is to be direct, and I’m encouraging people to not be in the closet, or hide, or harbor secrets, I need to walk the walk, otherwise it’s as if I’m being shoved into a closet all over again.
Kergan: I would also imagine that there is a positive aspect to sharing yourself and your style publically, as you’re more likely to receive clients who are looking for someone specifically like you.
Darcy: Definitely. They know, walking in the door, exactly what they’re getting. I am not the therapist for everyone: some clients need a more gentle approach. I don’t have all the answers, but my approach is certainly heartfelt, and never mean-spirited. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and try myself to do the work that I ask my clients to do.