Therapy with Rachel Friendly, PhD

Rachel Friendly is a Psychologist offering telehealth services to clients located the states of CA, MA, VA, and DC. She focuses on identity exploration and relationship improvement, using a relational therapy approach to address patterns that impact relationships. Dr. Friendly often works with individuals navigating gender-related topics in general and with the transgender and nonbinary communities in particular, and she is committed to providing an inclusive and culturally-responsive space for clients to explore such topics.

We asked Dr. Friendly more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.

Dr. Friendly’s background and personal life

How did you decide to become a therapist?

I came by my calling to be a psychologist honestly: my grandmother, a formidable woman and an amazing mentor of mine got her Ed.D. in psychology when her children were teenagers, at a time when women were not going back to school, and certainly not to get doctorate degrees! I inherited her passion for healing work—and her love for chocolate (she used to say, "life is uncertain, so eat dessert first")!

What was your previous work before going into private practice?

Before starting my private practice, I spent 13 years in university counseling centers, first as a staff psychologist, and later, as a training director for graduate students training to be psychologists. I honestly thought that I would be a counseling center clinician my whole career, but life and family changes opened up an opportunity to try something new, and I went for it! I loved working on a college campus, and I absolutely loved my role as training director.

As much as I love working with my private practice clients, I do miss training young clinicians too. But it has also been really exciting to shift into the private practice world, where I have more time and resources for each client, and can make sure my clients and I are well suited to do the best possible work together.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time, I love to sing, dance, or really to just be creative. I also love spending time with my 6-year-old, my partner, and our giant sweetheart of a dog, as well as other friends and family, especially over good food!

Dr. Friendly’s specialties and therapy philosophies

What guiding principles inform your work?

I approach my work with empathy and compassion, striving to create a warm, safe space in which to do the often difficult work of therapy. I understand that, above all, change is hard! I believe relationships are at the root of most of our suffering, which means that the single most important tool that my clients and I have in our work together is OUR relationship.

I also strongly believe that, to be effective, therapy must acknowledge the impact of systems of power and oppression on the struggles we all face. I value my clients as equals in the therapy process—I bring therapeutic expertise, but they are the experts on their experiences.

What clientele do you work with most frequently?

My practice focuses on supporting people who have historically felt silenced by our society, including queer and gender expansive communities as well as women and communities of color. I help folks to find their voices, take back their power, and develop healthy relationships with themselves and others so that they can build the most meaningful life possible. I love to watch my clients come into their own as they begin to set healthy boundaries and develop self-compassion and increased confidence. It is such a privilege to be a small part of that journey with them!

Can you tell us more about your work with clients of gender identity exploration?

I love gender identity work. From the time we are born, we are all put into boxes based on what our gender appears to be, and these boxes are shaped by the culture and society around us during our upbringing and socialization. But often, these boxes do not fit at all, and when that happens, life can feel excruciating.

Whether it is because a client's gender does not match the one they were assigned at birth, because they don't connect with the gender roles that came with that assignment, or because the gender roles they have always accepted are not healthy (e.g., women who are expected to put everyone else first, smile and be "nice," or keep quiet when they are angry, etc.), therapy can help clients to more deeply explore the impact of gender on their lived experience, get in touch with their authentic self, and begin to live their truth out loud.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in supporting the queer/LGBTQ+ community?

As with gender work, queer identity is a passion of mine. As a queer woman who came out extremely late in life, I am committed to providing safe, supportive spaces for my clients to explore the full breadth of their identities, including figuring out what they want their coming out process to look like, supporting them through that process, or, for clients who are already out, exploring what role they want their queer identity to play in their lives and relationships.

As with all my clients, my focus is on self-compassion and self-respect, setting healthy boundaries, and understanding the impact of systems of power and oppression on all of our wellbeing.

We can all benefit from better understanding our styles and patterns in relation to others. This exploration can help us to decide which patterns work well for us and which ones we may want to leave behind. Therapy is the perfect place to do this work because the relationship between me (the therapist) and my clients is a microcosm of their relationships out in the world.

We use our relationship in the therapy room to examine how these patterns emerge and I can provide real time feedback about the impacts of these patterns. Clients can explore new ways of relating in a safe space, with me, before experimenting with the people in their lives outside of the therapy room.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

It is so humbling to bear witness to my clients' self discoveries and watch the subtle shifts in how they relate to themselves and how they present themselves to the world. Often it's small but important moments that stick with me. Working with my gender expansive clients, the moment when a client decides they want me to use a chosen name or pronouns for the first time or tells me they have felt safe and confident enough to come out to a part of their community is always a celebration.

Hearing from a client who was socialized as female that she was able to say "no" as a complete sentence, without explaining herself, or to set and hold a healthy boundary is aways something to be honored as well. I love to celebrate these moments with clients and to see their pride in their progress - it's what makes the hardest of days worthwhile.

Therapy sessions with Dr. Friendly

What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?

The first step in working with me is a free, brief consultation call in which we can start to see whether or not we might be a good fit to work together. If we do decide to move forward, our first session is an opportunity for us to start to get to know one another better. It is not like other sessions, in that I will be asking a lot more questions and providing a lot more structure than I usually do.

We will talk about what's bringing you to therapy, any previous experiences you have had with therapy (and what's worked and what hasn't), and what your day-to-day experience of your life is like, including some questions that I ask everybody about safety. I will ask about family and relationship history to get a sense of who the important players in your life and upbringing have been. We will talk about what you are hoping to get out of therapy and how we might know if we are done. And of course, I will answer any questions you have about the process, about working with me, and about what you can expect.

Ongoing sessions are much less structured than our initial meeting. I generally open sessions by just checking in about the week, and then you get to choose where we focus our time and energy from there. Therapy with me is a collaborative process: I am not going to sit back and nod without sharing my thoughts, but neither am I going to give you advice or tell you what to do. Ultimately, you are the expert on your life - and the one who has to live it!

How long do clients typically see you for?

I have experience doing extremely short term therapy during my time in counseling centers (anywhere from 1 crisis session to 8-12 sessions of ongoing work), but most of my private practice clients are seeking something a little more long term. Right now, I have clients I have seen fewer than 10 times and clients I have seen over 30 times on my caseload, but in general, it tends to lean in the longer term direction. Longer term work allows clients to dig more deeply into the therapy process, and it also allows for a deeper relationship between my clients and me, which in turn provides more opportunities for me to be helpful with that process.

Are there any books you often recommend to clients?

I often recommend Dr. Brene Brown's books—she is totally amazing, and her work on shame, vulnerability, and other emotions really applies to almost everyone.

I also recommend:

Do you assign “homework” between sessions?

I do not generally assign "homework," but I may make suggestions about things to try to help you to reach your goals. Whether you try them or not is, of course, entirely up to you. But I will say that if the only work you do each week is in the 45-minutes while you meet with me, it will be hard to see change. Of course, I am happy to provide accountability in situations in which it is helpful, but you are the driver of your life.

How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?

I try to check in fairly regularly about how things are feeling between us, what might be feeling good, and if there is anything that isn't. I also check in about how we are doing towards achieving your goals. I don't want to wait until the end of our time together to find out there was a way I could have been more helpful, so I genuinely want feedback on an ongoing basis. I will also provide feedback in session if I see a change, and this provides us an opportunity to check in about how things are feeling on your end as well.

How do I know that it’s time to start seeking therapy?

If you have been feeling like your life is on repeat - like you keep ending up in the same situations, the same unhealthy relationships, the same emotional traps - it might be a good time to consider therapy. Therapy can help you unpack some of the patterns that may be holding you back from living your best, most meaningful, most joyful life.

How can I prepare for our first session?

There is nothing specific you need to do to prepare for therapy -- just bring an open mind and a willingness to self-reflect!

How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?

When many or most of your goals for therapy have been met, it is likely time to reduce session frequency or end therapy. This is something I always discuss with clients in our first session together, so that I know what their expectations of treatment might be.

Alternatively, if we are not making progress and it seems like I might not be the best person to help you meet your goals, I may make a recommendation to end our work and refer you to another therapist or another kind of therapy. This is one reason why I do a free consultation call, however, as generally by the end of that call, or at the latest, by the end of our first session together, it becomes obvious whether we are going to be a good fit.

Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?

Friends, partners, and loved ones are incredible resources - they are our support system and safety net, and their role in our lives cannot be overstated. BUT: they are IN our lives and impacted directly by our actions. Most of them are also not trained mental health professionals, and even the ones that are will have difficulty remaining neutral when someone they love is hurting.

A therapist has the benefit of years (but really, YEARS!) of training, and is also removed from your life and your circle of relationships. While no one is truly objective or unbiased (we are all humans!), we have the benefit of not being directly inside of your situation, which allows us to see things from a more holistic perspective. This can help clients to gain some distance from their problems too, which often helps get us closer to addressing them.

What advice would you share with therapy seekers?

If you're wondering whether therapy would be helpful, give it a shot. We all deserve at least an hour a week to focus on ourselves, our needs, and our dreams. If you have tried therapy before and it wasn't right for you, don't give up! There are so many therapy modalities, and thousands of therapists practicing them, and each of us is unique -- you may just not have found YOUR therapist yet.

Visit Dr. Friendly’s profile to watch her introductory video, read more about her, and book an initial call!