A therapist on the other side of the therapist’s chair.

Tania Riosvelasco
4 min readJul 15, 2019

This is what we are taught is important to experience during our training as Marriage & Family Therapists. It provides us with the knowledge of knowing how our clients might feel: bringing into light pieces of information that throughout the course of therapy, will be put together, to alleviate whatever set of symptoms or problems they are struggling with.

Diligently, I sought out therapy for myself and dug into issues related to anxiety that I didn’t know were so deeply embedded. It was truly helpful, and my therapist taught me that compassionate and intentional listening, as well as validation, are powerful tools in any therapist’s “magic box” [among other skills]. I also did couple’s therapy. However, the only type of therapy I didn’t sought out was family therapy. Our graduate program did not encourage or recommend us to seek out it either. Looking back, I wonder how much more understanding I would have started with when I had my first client family - if I had already experienced what it felt like to be on the other side of the therapy room with my own.

My family has experienced its fair share of challenging events, and now lies spread out across three countries and two continents. In the past years, I’ve had to redefined more than once the meaning that “family” carries for me.

How do parents stay involved in their adult children’s lives? How does unconditional love look like? How do we bridge distance and time differences in order to connect and stay emotionally connected?

How do I define myself in the midst of a family that did not end being what it had initially started as?

There have been points in time where I had minimal contact with my mom, and too much contact with my dad. Too little contact with my twin sister but a shared apartment with my younger one. Too much emotional distance with my extended family because their own set emotional struggles was too overwhelming to be a part of.

And then, since moving abroad, my life has taken a series of unexpected turns that have left me unable to connect in a deeper level with some of my family members. There are some things that cannot be truly understood unless you experience them, like a miscarriage, and postpartum depression and anxiety; separation and divorce; living in a country where the language, the culture, the way things are done, will forever feel not yours.

I wonder how family therapy would have helped me? Would have helped my family in understanding each other better? I wonder how much each one of us would have said, in a space where fear would have been kept at bay, allowing for safety to express our deepest emotions?

I still wonder if it would be helpful. My sisters and I, sitting in a room with my older parents, looking a therapist and waiting to be taken into the safety of opening up. What would be said? What would be shared? Most importantly, what would be healed?

I’m sitting now next to my mother, flying to a one week long trip to Ireland. She’s knitting her thoughts away, the place where I know she finds comfort and mental clarity. I wonder how she does this, knitting this complicated pattern and turning it into a beautiful scarf. She smiled and laughed when I asked this, her eyes shining bright. This mom that I’m in awe of, has not been the mom that my memories have stored. I haven’t wanted to look deeper into the hows and whys and reasons why my memories and feelings led me distant from her. But she patiently waited, she journeyed further into her own self, she discovered her own freedom and independence, and built a life for herself where she feels safe and comforted.

She has made it a goal to come visit me and my children once every two years. This is the second time that she makes this transatlantic trip, and half of her time here is already gone. I noticed this time around that there are still underlying triggers in our relationship, that make our communication stressful at times. But we are both older, and wiser in our ways. At least I like to think so. The therapist in me, nudges me to take deeper breaths, to set up boundaries when needed, and to let it go when it’s most helpful. And most importantly, to laugh about the things that my mother says.

Today I told her that her brain was driving me crazy. She laughed. That big smile shining through. I wish we had had the opportunity sooner of enjoying ourselves like we are now.

There’s no point regretting what could have been. I’m choosing to be mindful and present for what is. A family that despite it’s brokenness, continues to move forward, as united as it can be. Maybe therapy would still be a good option for all of us.

“How do you do it?” she asked looking at my fingers typing away.

I smiled at her, and she smiled back.



Tania Riosvelasco

Marriage & Family Therapist | Mom | Mexican roots & heart | Stories about mental health and relationships| tania.riosvelasco.com