Teresa Solomita is a psychoanalyst with a private practice in New York, helping individuals and couples who are struggling in their personal and professional relationships. Prior to this she worked as a computer programmer for a major pharmaceutical company. Although she liked some of the work, her heart was not in the job and she yearned for something different.
Her transition to becoming a therapist took many years, and for a while involved pursuing her studies while holding down a full-time job. Her clarity of vision and of purpose were remarkable. In this interview, Teresa discusses how she persevered and stuck with her career dreams.
After I graduated from college I studied computer programming and was a computer programmer for a while. Then I eventually became a business analyst consultant where I mostly worked at a major pharmaceutical company merging their financial system. I enjoyed programming when I was younger, but later I realized it was about office politics, and I wasn’t very passionate about the work. I was passionate about designing systems, because I thought it was really interesting, like solving a puzzle, but I didn’t really care about things like major pharmaceutical companies merging. I started taking classes at a psychoanalytic institute when my son was a couple of years old and I did that for many years before I decided to make the change.
What prompted you to take the courses?
I was a business major at college, because I really didn’t know what to do. I studied business because that’s what all the adults around me told me to do. And then I started taking a philosophy course. My best friend was a philosophy major, and we talked into the night about psychology and I thought I want to be a psychologist. But I didn’t have the courage, didn’t feel I could do it and I didn’t have the money to do more schooling at the time.
Many years later, something happened in my own life that led me to seek therapy and I just happened to go to a psychoanalyst. At that time, I didn’t even know that there were lots of kinds of therapies. I was immediately fascinated by the process. And then several years later I decided that was what I wanted to do.
And then you looked at ways of how to get into the profession?
I was going to quit my job and go to social work school, but I was the main breadwinner of my family, so it would be insane. However, my analyst told me about the institute he had graduated from, so I took one course there and was pretty much hooked. So I took another one and so on, but the process took me many years.
I was going to work in a corporate office and then sometimes I would leave work early to go take class and eventually I was seeing patients in the institute. But it was too scary for me to quit my job. I was in my forties and had been supporting myself since I was 18, and was worried about not being the main breadwinner.
It was 11 years before I eventually quit my job and I did so to get a master’s degree. I spent two years doing that and then for five years post masters, I worked in a clinic until I quit that job to go into private practice.
That is an incredible amount of dedication to persevere over the years and not give up on your dream. What sustained you through it all?
I think it was because my day job just gave me money, and I am a very passionate person. I felt like I was empty. I’d go to parties and didn’t feel I was telling people who I was. This is New York City where you’re defined by your career, and it’s a terrible place for that reason. I’d go to parties and say I’m a computer business analyst and the conversation ended because I had nothing more to add to that.
Anyway, I had a very supportive husband, and that helped a lot, and what kept me going was that the work I wanted to do was my soul. One Christmas night we were driving home and we had a car accident: someone hit us from behind and we went across three lanes of traffic. Somehow the weeds stopped us, and I looked at my husband and my child and saw that we were all OK and my very next thought was I am going to become a psychoanalyst. I knew then that that is what I had to do.
And now that you are a psychoanalyst, has the work lived up to your expectations? Is it fulfilling?
Oh, it’s incredibly fulfilling. I have good days and bad like in any job, and as someone in private practice I go to a lot of talks and I connect with my colleagues in lots of different ways. I just got back from Russia where I had a realy intense experience teaching group to other therapists with a translator. So I have all these intense experiences and I continue to grow every day. That is what’s so wonderful about this, because you’ll never know everything. Everybody that comes to you brings you something you haven’t learned yet, because everyone is unique. So I am just constantly learning.
Then there are the connections I have with some of my clients. It is really amazing when I see them grow and change, but the sad part is that when they grow they leave me. However, that’s great for them. It is just an incredible experience to see someone get out of a bad marriage and get into a new relationship that works for them.
You mentioned that you are constantly learning; is there a formal process of continuing education?
Yes, definitely. I go to talks and conferences. I take training very often and am involved in a couple’s institute where we do training and have peer groups and supervision groups. There’s no end to the amount of support you need in this field and anyone who’s doing this work and doesn’t have support, I wouldn’t trust them, because it is very stressful.
Does your support come from a mentor as well as by being part of a network of professionals?
I do have an individual supervisor who I see and I also have a peer supervision group. And I have a supervision group that’s run by an analyst.
How does all of this help you?
The individual person helps when you get stuck with a case or are trying to separate what’s coming from the patient and what’s coming from you. What I mean by that is you’re really trying to help the patient handle their thoughts and feelings, but sometimes your own thoughts and feelings get in the way. So you have to really get help to separate what’s your own experience and what’s theirs.
And then with the group supervision, sometimes you present a case and sometimes you listen to a case. When you are listening to someone else’s case you might see parallels with your cases. You are going to learn by what the group tells that person as far as helping them with their case. You also get to be in a position of supervising someone else, and that’s really helpful. You get to learn in all those roles.
When you look back at your transition, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I guess if I’d had more faith in myself and less ambivalence about leaving behind my corporate job, maybe I would’ve done it sooner. But, having said that, I do things in my own time.
Is it fair to say that you have found your passion in work?
I would say I’m on the journey. I have a lot of support and I love what I do. While I was transitioning, I always worried about money and how much I would need to support myself for when I wasn’t in a corporate job. Now, I think I am much freer in my life.