Therapist Feature: Chelsea Irwin, LMSW

We are excited to welcome Chelsea Irwin to the team! Learn more about Chelsea below:

What initially inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

At around 8 years old, I saw my first therapist depicted in a cartoon.  It was the classic caricature of a man sitting with a clipboard and glasses, and a patient lying on a couch. I found myself fascinated by the fact that there were people who made a living by helping everyday people navigate their inner most worlds. From this early age, I found myself insatiably curious about other people’s stories and in sharing my own. In college, after my first big heartbreak, I saw my first therapist and experienced the first-hand transformative effects of therapy.  It was pretty clear then, that at some point, I would pursue therapy as a career.  I continued to study and remain curious about ways to maximize my own and other people’s potential. This curiosity and desire to impart the gifts of therapy to others is what fuels my work today.    

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about?

I feel most passionate in my work, when clients are able to bravely confront what scares them most, and emerge more confident, self-assured, and present in their lives and relationships. Many clients arrive to their first session feeling alienated and unique in their suffering.  I’ve found that therapy increases a sense of connectedness for people; and when they experience this in their lives as a result of the work we do, I imagine this ripple effect. My hope is that in helping people connect to themselves and others, that one person at a time, I’m helping to increase the connectedness of our society.   

What are your specialities and what drew you to them? 

I developed an interest in working with people who have experienced trauma in one of my positions as a therapist in an outpatient clinic.  I’ve found that many people, whether they have explicitly experienced trauma or not, respond well to some key themes in a trauma-informed approach. A key theme is the fact that many people have experienced an adverse event that changed the way their bodies respond to stress. In my therapy, I emphasize learning to acknowledge the body’s response, thanking the body for its attempt to handle the stress, and re-writing the narrative that all this is happening through some personal fault or shortcoming.  Finding new and creative ways to adapt this process to each unique client is what makes work interesting and worthwhile.  

Furthering the narrative aspects of a trauma-informed practice, I also specialize in identity-affirmative therapy (these include all the ways someone identifies themselves whether through the lens of sexuality, race, cultural heritage, beliefs, and more). What is the story we tell ourselves about who we are? Which parts of it is helpful? How much of it is true? As someone at the intersection of many different identities myself, I enjoy helping others navigate these internal and external complexities.  

What makes you unique as a therapist?

As I navigate my own personal and professional journeys, I am humbled and challenged to walk through life and therapy sessions with a deep sense of connectedness to our shared humanity.  Through this lens, I am able to tune in deeply with my clients - to tune in to what is said, what is unsaid, to their strengths as well as their suffering. This translates to listening carefully and intently as my clients share heartbreaking details of their lives, while also listening carefully and able to call attention to those times when my clients attempt to cheat themselves out of being their best selves. 

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

I have a mixed bag of experience to pull from, and I think each client relationship calls for a unique mix of each.  I would say, I’m “relational” first and foremost. Yalom said, in his book The Gift of Therapy, that “Therapy should not be theory driven but relationship-driven.” For me, an environment of trust and safety are the foundation of the most effective work.  In my experience, if therapist and client are able to create symbiosis, talk freely, and work through differences, a few great things happen: 1) many of these relational skills are carried out in other relationships in clients’ lives 2) patterns can be more easily detected, and 3) the relationship provides a safe space for the client to try new and different things without fear of judgment. My approach is also Psychodynamic, which means that I believe many of the patterns we use to relate to others were learned at some point in the past. I also have training as a Life Coach, which allows me to help clients with more concrete goals, such as extinguishing a habit, or overcoming obstacles like navigating a career change.  

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

Warm baths and laughter, especially standup comedy

What is your favorite...

Quote: “I’ve had many worries in my life, most of which never happened” - Mark Twain

Book: Almost anything by Brene Brown or James Baldwin

Movie: Childhood favorite, Hook - I can still probably recite all the words

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

Curiosity is better than certainty.  As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found that clinging to certainty, perfection, and the “right” answers has contributed to much of the disappointment and emotional pain I, and many other people, have experienced in their lives. Taking just a milli-second to curiously examine an obstacle as “interesting” instead of judging it as burdensome can make a huge difference. 

Chelsea Irwin is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. To schedule an appointment with her or learn more about how therapy can support you in reaching your goals, contact Cobb Psychotherapy.