Holly lives with her husband and daughter in the San Francisco bay area where she’s a practicing marriage and family therapist. She’s got a blog called Bonding Time, and it’s featured on psychcentral.com, a mental health website with one and a half million visitors per month. So hello Holly, and welcome to Colorado I guess this morning.
Holly Brown: Yes, hi. Thank you.
David Brower: How’s the bay area today?
Holly Brown: It’s cold but beautiful. It’s crystal clear, but it’s cold for us. It’s in the 50’s today.
David Brower: There you go. Yeah, we had 72 yesterday and it’s 31 and snowing today. So there you go. So let’s talk a little bit about what you do, practicing marriage and family therapist. What does that mean for us life folks?
Holly Brown: So it means that my work is focused on relationships. So whether it’s an individual or a couple or a family in the room, I’m generally thinking about the quality of their relationships and how to help them connect more to the people in their lives.
David Brower: And you’ve got a ton of different therapies, if you will, or different topics I guess is a better term on your Bonding Time blog. You have a lot of exposure to people with that, right?
Holly Brown: Yes, I sort of see my blog as being … I’m more of a generalist in that I know that some of the blogs on psych central will be exclusively about a particular topic like bipolar or … you know, it’ll be about one thing primarily and I found that I had a lot of trouble sticking with one topic and posting regularly. So I wanted to just mostly think in terms of attachment issues which is kind of the core of what I do, which is looking at the emotional bonds that we have with our family, with our friends, lovers. So I kind of draw from a wide number. I kind of cast a wide net in terms of the topics.
David Brower: Okay.
Holly Brown: So within that.
David Brower: And when you’re talking about emotional bonds, that’s families, that’s friends, it’s kids, it’s parents. It’s all kinds of different things isn’t it?
Holly Brown: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, attachment theory looks at from childhood, like the quality of the emotional bond with the parents and the babies. So it starts from birth really in terms of their ability to get their emotional needs met and their physical needs. You know, ’cause babies have to cry to get every need met. So kind of the emotional responsiveness and the emotional engagement with caregivers is critical. So they find through research that when you receive the kind of parenting, the kind of caregiving where you can count on most of your needs being met most of the time, that tends to be considered a secure bond. It means that you feel like you can count on your parent and you’ll grow up feeling like you can count on people in the world. So for people who didn’t have that kind of experience, often their other relationships have to be kind of corrective experiences.
So their relationships have to be a way to learn that, “no, I really can trust people.” And so that’s one of the things that I focus on in my work is how to create those kind of connections between … Often couples is one of the main things that … One of my main modalities, and so often looking at how to create that kind of connection between spouses.
David Brower: Wow, that’s amazing. I’ll tell you, my wife is a public health nurse and so she goes door to door and takes care of newborn babies and moms on Medicaid. So she provides a lot of resources for them, but that’s one of the things that she always talks about is the ability to engage physically and emotionally with those young babies.
Holly Brown: Yeah, it’s really important. I mean, I think that mirroring, they say, is very important for kids to kind of see themselves in the eyes of their parents. You know? It’s important for them to feel that they’re worthwhile and they’re developing that sense of themselves from just incredibly young. So that’s wonderful work that your wife does.
David Brower: It’s amazing, and I on the other hand come from the other side of the spectrum that you mentioned where … Only child, father was gone the majority of the time, didn’t have really a lot of that bonding experience. So it took me a couple of relationships and a lot of hard work really to kind of love myself, like myself, trust myself so that I could do the same with other folks. Is that something that you run into a lot?
Holly Brown: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly the kind of work I do, and the beautiful thing is that it can be done. You know? It’s like you can sort of miss out on certain experiences and then sort of find a way to fill in the gaps for yourself as you go through life. That’s one of my favorite parts of being a therapist, is people being able to do what you just described, being able to kind of … There’s trial and error involved.
David Brower: Yeah, right.
Holly Brown: But then you find yourself. You find the relationship and you sort of find yourself through the relationship.
David Brower: One of the things I did and I don’t know if this makes any sense or not, but it certainly did for me at the time … As I was growing up and getting older, I always found myself wanting to do things for other people rather than myself. I was kind of putting myself low on the totem pole and then for my 50th birthday, I decided to make a list of 50 things to do for myself and give myself a year to do that. I did everything but the very first thing I put on the list which was a tattoo, so that’s kind of funny.
Well, eventually I did. Eventually I ended up getting two tattoos because they were both for very personal and emotional reasons. With one, my best friend passed away from cancer and so before she passed, there was six of us in her circle that got a benevolence tattoo in her honor. And then when my son went to Afghanistan, he and I got tattoos before he left. So I think I was just waiting for the right tattoos.
Holly Brown: Right, for the thing you wanted to be permanent.
David Brower: Yeah, yeah, but it was amazing to me how focusing on myself for the first time in a long time and finding really beneficial ways to reach out and build that confidence and trust in my own self so I could do that with others.
Holly Brown: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and then I think that probably the more you have that, the stronger your bond is with other people too. So it’s all this positive feedback loop that can happen.
David Brower: Absolutely. So when you deal with families, deal with individuals, how do you do that? Do they reach out to you? Do you have resources where you find them? How do you find your clientele for lack of a better term?
Holly Brown: Yeah, so I’m in private practice. So people find me, so I have a listing on psychology today and have my website. Yeah, so people reach out and then we do sort of an initial phone consultation just to make sure that they’re in the wheelhouse of what I do. If they are, then they come in and then we start getting to know each other. I start getting to know their particular set of problems as they see them and then I’m also looking at kind of a way to see them that’s different, because I feel like if you just totally took people’s narrative, then they wouldn’t grow by seeing you. You know? Like if you just sat there going, “yeah, that sounds about right,” you know, then they wouldn’t really go very far.
David Brower: Yeah.
Holly Brown: So I think it’s sort of figuring out what part of their story to build on and where to create new ones, ’cause I’m a big believer in the idea that we’re shaping ourselves all the time with the stories that we tell. So that’s part of also being an author. I think that’s where there’s some intersection in the two parts of my professional life with writing and with therapy, is there’s an interest in stories and the ways that we’re always creating. We’re sort of creating ourselves and our lives.
David Brower: Yeah, absolutely. When you write, do you have several books out now, or what do you have out there?
Holly Brown: I do. So my third one just came out in January, last month.
David Brower: And it is? Tell us about it.
Holly Brown: It’s called This is Not Over and it’s the story of two women, two very different women who meet after one stays in the other’s vacation rental, so an Airbnb, you know BRBO type rental.
David Brower: Okay.
Holly Brown: And so the homeowner, Miranda, accuses the other woman Dawn of having left behind stained sheets and she says that she’s gonna hold part of her security deposit for that. There’s sort of this war of words that begins because Dawn is a person who, as you learn during the course of the book, has a history where feeling like she’s been called dirty is just about the worst thing that she feels you can call her. So she takes it in a deeply personal sense, and there’s kind of this war that goes on between these women and in large part, I see it as being about an almost extended road rage, which is where you’re trying to avoid the things you’re really angry about by being angry at a safe target.
David Brower: Right.
Holly Brown: As the book goes on, it’s really … They’re not each other’s safe target because it keeps escalating from there, but I was interested in the psychological dynamic of how someone that you don’t know very well can push your buttons. I think we’ve all had experiences where we get really triggered by a person that we don’t know well. We’re coming up with, “I wish I’d said this,” or “I really …” you know? “She oughta know this.” We want to really prove our point.
David Brower: Right.
Holly Brown: I think it often has to do with projection, not really dealing with the other things that are going on in our lives and wanting to project them onto this other person. Then there’s also a social media element to the book where they see images of each other’s lives that spark a lot of envy because Dawn is young and beautiful, but doesn’t have much money and isn’t very settled in her life. And Miranda is older and wealthier by being married to a wealthy man. So they kind of see in each other the idea of what they think they want, you know? That Miranda would like a do-over and to be young and beautiful, and that Dawn would like to be in a more established place in her life. So I’m kind of playing with the idea that social media and what we think we know about people exacerbates a lot of the feud that’s going on between these particular women.
David Brower: Boy, no question. That’s fascinating. How did you draw those characters out? From different experiences with your clients or you just have a very vivid imagination? What was your draw to put these two women together?
Holly Brown: Well I think I started with the situation, which was based on a situation that happened to me where I had stayed in a rental with my family. I had a three year old at the time and I received an email from my host saying that I had left a child sized gray stain on the sheets. I was really indignant. I had a lot of righteous outrage. I don’t have a filthy child. I wouldn’t have done that. You know? And you must have made that up. We sort of fired back a number of emails and we were both really getting into it. We both really were outraged with each other and clearly wanted the other person to acknowledge that we were right. So then we dropped it, but I think that what interested me about that was why we were in it when we were in it, you know?
Why? My husband would say, “why are you writing back to this woman?” And I’d say, “oh, because I gotta tell her this.” He would say, “well why do you have to tell her this?” I’d say, “I don’t know.” So it’s kind of stepping away and then thinking what kind of characters would keep going and keep going to the next level? What characters could keep triggering each other in sort of this funny lock and key with their pathology, why they keep pushing each other’s buttons in this very specific way, and what they represent for each other. So I had that situation and then I sort of just brainstormed the psychology of these two women and the histories of them, and how they would fit together. That was probably the most … The imagining at the beginning where I flesh out the psychologies of my characters in one of my favorite parts of the writing process. So I just kind of was thinking of what two women would inhabit these roles and these lives and keep going further.
David Brower: Wow, what a fun story. It’s like the last one that speaks wins, but wait. I’m not the last one.
Holly Brown: You can never be the last one, yes.
David Brower: And triggers are fascinating to me, because what you think is a trigger oftentimes really is not. There might be two, three, four, five, six triggers behind that that are really the initiator, right?
Holly Brown: Right, they’re sort of … Freud was talking about the iceberg, right? 90% of it will be underwater and sort of this little tip which is the conscious part, and then the rest is all of your subconscious.
David Brower: Right.
Holly Brown: I think that’s true. I mean, I think that there’s a lot of reactions that we’re having that are primal. It takes a lot of introspection and investigation to figure out why did that matter to me in that way? Because by rights, that shouldn’t matter to me at all. By rights, it’s this woman … She took some money from me and it’s offensive, and I don’t agree with it, but why am I still going?
David Brower: Yeah.
Holly Brown: I think that my characters are trying to figure out why they’re still going, but they can’t stop going, which I think is interesting to me in terms of my clients also. A lot of times you get people to a place of great self-awareness, but it doesn’t actually change the behavior. They still … It’s almost compulsive. They feel they have to keep going and that’s the subconscious. How to get into that and how to make real change in something that’s largely driven by the subconscious is really fascinating.
David Brower: Wow, that sounds like … I’m fascinated by that book already. I’m gonna pick it up ’cause it really sounds good. Do you have any audiobooks, or are they just traditional books?
Holly Brown: There is an audiobook, yes.
David Brower: For This is Not Over?
Holly Brown: Yeah, it was fun when they … My publisher sent me some voice samples of people so that I could say which one sounded most like Miranda and which one sounded the most like Dawn. It was funny how just having lived with them in my head, how some voice is very distinct. I’m like, “that’s not Dawn!” And I’m sure that the reader … That would be Dawn if that was the voice of the audio, but to me, I had a voice in my head. It was fun trying to figure out who came closest.
David Brower: I’m gonna download that. I do read a lot of audiobooks. In fact my profession is I’m a voice actor, so I do audiobooks. So I’m really intrigued by that story and I’ll be downloading it when we get done here today. What a great book.
Holly Brown: Now I want to interview you ’cause I find voice acting to be a really fascinating profession, actually. It’s something I want to use in a book I write some day.
David Brower: All right.
Holly Brown: I’m really interested in that profession.
David Brower: I’d be wide open to that. It’d be fun.
Holly Brown: Great, I can pick your brain sometime.
David Brower: Absolutely. My goal in life is to never have a real job ever again. So voice acting survives that for me. And you’ve got some other books that are Stay Gone, A Necessary End, Don’t Try to Find Me. The titles alone sound fascinating. We don’t need to go into a whole lot of detail about them, but just cursory wise, again I’m sure there’s interesting personalities in those stories.
Holly Brown: Yes, building the psychology of my characters is really important to me. I think also coming from my other professional life, that feels especially important. Sometimes I’ll read psychological thrillers that feel too light on the psychology to me, in terms of the characters don’t feel vivid enough. You know, in terms of the uniqueness of their psychology. So yes, I think my other books … I think that’s a strength. I like to think that’s a strength.
David Brower: Good for you. So if people want to reach out to you, I assume … As much as I hate to assume, I assume your practice is more face to face, but is there a way for people to communicate with you and maybe share some of their issues and concerns?
Holly Brown: Yes, so my practice is face to face. I know some people do Skype therapy and that type of thing. I feel like I rely so much on body language and the nonverbal cues that I’m concerned I would miss too much. So I don’t do any Skype therapy, but if people are in the San Francisco bay area, then yes I would. I’m accepting new clients. I would love to try to see if we’re a fit and to work with them. In terms of reaching out, they’re free to send emails but I’m not gonna answer any involved questions about people’s experiences based on an email. But yeah, people can always respond to … They can comment on the blog or they can just send an email with a little more general stuff or if they want to talk about the book. If it’s an actual clinic question, it’s not really responsible for me to get into … “Well, what did happen in your childhood?”
David Brower: I know, right? Exactly.
Holly Brown: But yeah, vaguer kind of inquiries or emails would be great, and then they can do that through my website, which is hollybrownbooks.com.
David Brower: And then your Bonding Time blog is easy to reach, too. Is that on your website, too, I imagine?
Holly Brown: Yes, so there’s … I have two different websites. So I have Holly Brown books, which is for the novels, and then I have hollybrownmft.com. So that’s Holly Brown and then MFT — as in marriage family therapist — .com, and then that has a link also to my blog and also has my direct email. The blog is on psych central and as you mentioned, it’s called Bonding Time.
David Brower: Wow, that’s terrific. What a great resource for a lot of people who aren’t in the bay area. Of course, if you happen to be in the bay area, then you need to give Holly a connect and see if you’re a good fit. I’m fascinated by what you do and how you do it. This has been an extremely quick 20 minutes, which is always good for me because it means we actually had a nice conversation.
Holly Brown: I agree, it was really great talking with you.
David Brower: Holly, thank you so much and I’m gonna go download your book here in just a few minutes. So thank you.
Holly Brown: Thank you.