Michael Rumbach is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Durham, North Carolina specializing in trauma, PTSD, life transitions, mood disorders, and grief/loss. Michael’s previous work experience at the Durham Crisis Response Center and at an animal-assisted treatment agency equip him with a plethora of experience to help clients from a variety of backgrounds. In addition, Michael utilizes an integrative mix of evidence-based approaches—including ACT and DBT, among others—to help clients move toward their therapeutic goals.
We asked Michael more about his work with clients and his guiding philosophies on therapy.
Michael’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
I took a very indirect route, as I have done many things in my life. But what galvanized me to become a therapist was ultimately a combination of my own struggles, the struggles of my daughter who is on the autism spectrum, and my general desire to help others.
What was your previous work before going into private practice?
I worked with an agency that specializes in animal-assisted interventions. It is something I hope to integrate into my practice eventually, but for now, telehealth is my main avenue.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I read, listen to music, play video games, binge-watch shows, and try to spend time with my teenage daughter (when she lets me).
Michael’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
So far, I find being earnest, open, and genuine have been the most significant aspects of providing help to others. Knowing that the person talking to you has at least a good idea about the struggles one is going through helps alleviate the feelings of isolation and helplessness that often comes with those struggles.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
I don't really turn anyone away. My only limiting factor is quantity, as I can only manage so many sessions in a day. I do find that I am drawn to working with clients in crisis or with those who are struggling with past trauma. These events can make one feel like they have no agency, and I have felt that too often in my life. So, I do what I can to help people try to regain what agency they can, or at least gain perspective.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in treating trauma?
I've come to believe that just about everyone has had some traumatic experience in their life—or at least a serious crisis. Though these experiences are subjective, it does not change or diminish what each person goes through. I have found that often the most helpful first thing to work on with clients is helping them realize they are not isolated and that others have had similar experiences. Knowing that one is not alone in an experience can help keep perspective.
Can you tell us more about your specialties in anxiety and depression?
Anxiety and depression seldom come separate from each other and everyone experiences them both at times—whether in their chronic, acute, or episodic forms. Like trauma, knowing that you are not alone in your concerns allows for the development of perspective, better judgement, and improved decision making. I try to not help clients solve their problem(s), but rather help them learn how to cope with them independently.
Can you tell us about your work with clients navigating major life transitions?
There are moments in life that are difficult. Often, we ignore contextual factors in our lives, making judgements on ourselves that are not only unfair but unreasonable. By drawing attention to the context and deconstructing it to better understand whether it is something that needs to be considered, can provide a healthier perspective which then leads to more effective decisions and actions.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
When that session occurs where a client says that they feel at least some vestige of hope or optimism, I feel incredibly rewarded because often those are the things most necessary to evoke change.
Therapy sessions with Michael
What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?
The first session is a combination of getting into your history and an explanation of the process. Really, it is to lay the groundwork for the working relationship. The sooner the client and I can connect, the sooner change and evolution can begin.
After that, it is first about assessing what has worked and drawing awareness to what hasn't then replacing those with new ideas that are likely to be more effective. My goal is to get the client to be self-sufficient as soon as reasonably possible.
How long do clients typically see you for?
If I'm still seeing a person weekly for more than 6 months, then I feel I'm not doing things right, or that I may not be the right person for them. Therapists are like shoes. A size 9 Reebok does not fit the same way as a size 9 Nike, but this doesn't mean one is better than the other, just different.
If things go well and the person has become more self-reliant, then I feel I should only see them monthly or even quarterly, just to check in.
Are there any books you often recommend to clients?
A go to book I often mention often is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. The first half can be difficult, and admittedly triggering for some, but the second half gets into some very beneficial concepts that people can use.
Also, I often recommend Viktor Frankl's, Man's Search For Meaning.
Do you assign “homework” between sessions?
In the beginning I do—mostly strengths and values assessments or a couple handouts to help clients understand some concepts and develop tools that should be helpful. After a while, the only real "homework" I give is encouraging continued self-reflection. I will present other exercises and such if needed.
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
I ensure progress by gently and conscientiously pushing you to care for yourself. I feel that a good therapeutic relationship should be long-term, but not a source of dependance. If I am still seeing you every week for more than 6 months because of the same presenting issue, than I don't feel like I've helped you. Things will come up that may need more intensive intervention, but these should be periodic, not every week for years.
How do I know that it’s time to start seeking therapy?
You'll know as soon as you think that thought. If you are entertaining the idea of therapy then you should pursue it. Or, at the very least, meet with a couple therapists to get an idea about it.
I honestly feel we all should have a therapist accessible. Even during the best of times, having an objective but caring and compassionate support can be highly beneficial.
How can I prepare for our first session?
I've thought about this and have concluded that the client is already doing the only thing necessary: willing to talk and address whatever it is that they are trying to cope with. Like most things, if the person is not ready or willing to hear someone's message, it won't matter how helpful that message can be. It won't be heard. Advice unsolicited often goes unheard.
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
This will be a discussion between the two of us. If we've been working together for a significant amount of time, then there is likely a feeling of trust between us. Our conversation will rely on that trust and faith that things are where they need to be.
On a more visceral level, if you've come in for a couple sessions with a lot of "things are great" and "nothing to report" responses, then we can discuss reducing session frequency. I would rather see someone less when possible for their own sake; frequency can always be increased again if needed.
Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?
Friends and family are a great, and very important, support system. However, there are multiple factors that come with this. Emotional investment under the best of circumstances can cloud one's ability to provide the objectivity that may be required. There is an inherent bias in a closer relationship.
All the experiences that go into that relationship (baggage, basically) not only skews the messages they send, but also how one receives it. Your mother, brother, sister, father, friends, etc., may have the best of intentions, but it does not necessarily mean they are giving you the best advice you need to cope with whatever situation you're in.
What advice would you share with therapy seekers?
It's easy to say "be your best advocate," but this is a very difficult thing to do for many. Treat finding a therapist like making a major purchase. Be prepared to meet several before deciding, unless you meet one and there is an obvious resonance you pick up on. Each therapist not only has different modalities, but different interpretations of those modalities that can make the difference between effective and ineffective treatment.
Visit Michael’s profile to read more about him and book an initial call!