Marilyn Dawson-McCarthy, LSCSW

The seeds for my becoming a therapist were sown early in childhood, thanks to the unique elements in myself and in my relationship to family members. I became very attuned to my family’s joys and pain. I developed my innate capacity for empathy, something that would prove to be invaluable to my future life as a therapist. I was born in Kansas City, then we moved throughout the United States following my father’s career. I returned to Kansas City as a young adult where I have resided ever since.

Ours was a musical family, and I learned to play violin. Playing still gives me joy. Now I am a member of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra, playing in the second violin section. I graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in Art History. As I younger person I did not know I was heading towards becoming a therapist. Yet I know now that these experiences have greatly enhanced my sensitivity and emotional awareness, enriching my psychotherapeutic connection with others.

During my time at UCLA as a graduate student in Art History, I realized that was not my calling. I began working in the areas of social justice and community action work.

I challenged hierarchies, the status quo, and took many risks in order to live by my newly evolving value system. I participated in social change activities and lived an alternative life style with a group of friends committed to similar aims. We have remained close to each other through the years as we have evolved into successful professionals.

A gradual awakening began during this phase. I developed a conviction that, in my view, the most difficult battles we wage in life are not with the outside world, but are within ourselves. My interests evolved away from social change to what has become a lifelong pursuit: understanding the inner workings of the human psyche and humans’ relationships with one another. To begin my profession as a psychotherapist I earned my M.S.W. from the University of Kansas.

Throughout my career I have been driven to learn more and more. I was always acutely aware of people I hadn’t helped and what I didn’t know. I learned many psychotherapeutic techniques. They were useful, but I found that each technique failed to deliver the lasting benefits that I felt people wanted. I still value and use these therapeutic strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psycho-education, Gestalt Therapy, Family Systems Theory.

Yet I kept searching for ways to be more effective. I became immersed in the treatment of addictions, designed and ran inpatient and outpatient chemical dependency programs. I lectured nationally and published on the topic of relapse. This field was simultaneously fulfilling and disappointing. I found I could help people begin their recovery, yet I, along with many practitioners in the field, was at a loss in helping them achieve the long-term well being that they wanted.

After eight years of work in the addiction field, two experiences unfolded. I opened my own private practice (which I have maintained for two decades) and I was introduced to psychoanalytic training. It is this training that has allowed me to develop the deep emotional and intellectual knowledge that continually nourishes my work as a therapist.

I began and completed my first psychoanalytic program through The National Institute of the Psychotherapies, based in New York City. The faculty in this program are the leaders in American psychoanalysis today.

I began to learn and develop what I consider the three essential bodies of knowledge of a therapist: 1) a theory of the mind and how it works in relationship with other people, 2) a theory of human development, and 3) a set of “technical” skills (ways of being with people and how to help them overcome their difficulties changing).

I presented papers nationally and internationally. I became a founder and co-director of the local psychoanalytic program, the Kansas City Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis, in which I designed a training program and was one of the many instructors.

I ran a weekly supervision group at the Veterans Administration residency program for psychologists for several years.

Still hungry for more knowledge, I decided to begin the more “classical” training in psychoanalysis in the institute that was evolving as a branch of Menninger-affiliated, Topeka Psychoanalytic Institute. This is currently named The Greater Kansas City and Topeka Psychoanalytic Institute. I graduated from this second training, having learned more traditional Freudian-based psychoanalysis.

Most of all I learned that I can never stop learning. The most incredible aspect of my work is that there is always more to understand, more aspects of myself that I can develop as a person and as a therapist.

My career has given me an opportunity work with a very broad spectrum of emotional and relationship disorders. I have developed specialty skills in relationship difficulties, chemical dependency and misuse, mood disorders.

My work with Eric Kulick has been one in which we learn from each other. Eric’s unique understanding of the psychology of people’s inner lives allows him to use psychopharmacology with extraordinary effectiveness. Our partnership in this area is crucial to the work I do. I have learned so much from Eric’s broad knowledge of literature, medicine and psychoanalysis. Best of all is our collaboration in formulating new understandings of human behavior and psychotherapeutic technique. It is through our collaboration that we are developing Pragmatic Psychoanalysis.

My work has been unfolding since my earliest childhood, and I have learned to listen to the music of the unconscious, developed the art of psychotherapy. I enjoy my connections with my clients and patients, helping them to untangle webs of self-defeating behavior, leading them towards healthier and richer lives. Marilyn Dawson-McCarthy