PEOPLE-FAMILY | What I’ve Learned: Rebeka Pinaima, psychologist and marriage counselor
New perspective: Rebeka Pinaima wants to change what it means to see a psychologist and marriage counselor. (Courtesy of Rebeka Pinaima) (Archive/Courtesy of Rebeka Pinaima)
What I’ve Learned is a column that presents candid interviews with policymakers, artists, activists, and businesspeople on facing challenges and making a difference.
In a world soaked with pseudo-healing and self-help, you would think everyone would seek out someone like Rebeka Pinaima.
But they don’t.
Because the reality is, people do not want to put in the work.
Seeing a psychologist and self-diagnosing yourself on Instagram are two different things: the former is for those who want to face their fears, and the latter is for people who are not searching for a solution, so much as a distraction.
Knowing who we are is hard; it’s scary.
Rebeka Pinaima is out to break the taboos around seeing a psychologist, or even worse, a marriage counselor.
But be warned, Rebeka is not some quick-fix, fame-seeking celebrity.
If you just need someone to blame, it is probably best not to waste her time.
But if you want to put in the work, and hold yourself accountable, Rebeka might help you find some real answers.
I know what you’re thinking…and yes, I’m a psychologist who sees a psychologist.
I always wanted to feel understood.
As a psychologist, I think people just want to be understood.
And once they feel understood we can talk about what they want to do next. If you come to me, I won’t be able to solve all your problems, but I can help you feel understood.
That is my ultimate message.
I’ve wanted to be a psychologist since I was 12 years old.
At 6, I was a problematic child.
I was difficult.
I was acting out.
I felt like no one got me.
Then at 8, I was having problems adjusting to life in Indonesia.
I moved from Toronto to Jakarta.
My dad was going to school, first in California and then in Canada.
We moved abroad when I was 1.
But we moved back, and I had zero bahasa Indonesia.
I thought I was Canadian.
Then we come home, and I find out I am Batak.
You know how little kids say, “When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut?”
At six, I said, “I want to grow up and be somebody who gets me.”
And since middle school I knew I liked the idea of relationships, so I knew I wanted to be a marriage counselor.
I started wearing glasses because of Harry Potter.
I was reading at 10 p.m. under the blanket.
So many pages. So many books.
But in the end, I got to look like Harry Potter, so I was proud.
I’ve learned to overcome self-judgment and not carry the emotional baggage from family.
I thought I couldn’t process these things, but I can.
Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been entangled in culture.
And I accept these things.
I let them sit in the palm of my hand and just be. Dreams: Rebeka says that she has always dreamt of being a marriage counselor.
(Courtesy of Rebeka Pinaima) (Archive/Courtesy of Rebeka Pinaima) Society gives you unsolicited advice.
In middle school my friends used to call me a freak.
I didn’t feel like I fit in.
People come to me and say, “Fix me”, but what I do is understand.
Before we create a to-do list we need to take our time, and I need to understand you.
I take notes. All the time. I can always refer back to my notes and a client’s goals.
And I can refer back to what they said about where they are and where they want to be. I always ask about people’s “Why…?”. Why are you here…?
Why is there a gap between what you are saying and where you want to be…?
Sometimes people just don’t want to have any discomfort.
The client needs to invest in themselves.
I want them to think with me.
I can’t put words in their mouth.
It’s important to me that clients can be independent.
Their thinking needs to happen when I am not there. If they are still telling themselves, “But my therapist said…”, it means we’re still halfway there.
I believe people can change. People can change because they didn’t realize something, and then their mindset changes and now they realize something new, and from that there’s opportunity for change.
I’m not a life coach. I’m not a motivational speaker.
Sometimes the client wants to blame me. Sometimes they need a pep talk and they don’t want to do the work.
It’s my job to point out to them, if they want to, that they are returning to their old habits again and again.
My approach is not One-Size-Fits-All. Psychology is art and science living as one.
Part of it is research and data, it applies to everyone. But then beyond the validity of the research, there is the art, which means that how much it works for you and other people will always differ; that’s the art. I use the same Gottman Institute framework for my marriage counseling approach, but how I conduct it is different from one couple to another.
Hurt people hurt people, sure. But people are both good and bad.
Sometimes they are good and bad at the same time. Good or bad isn’t something that you can simply label someone.
I always want to see behind it…good or bad…evil…I need to understand in what ways and in what layers people are good or bad.
Some people just want me to tell them what to do. Maybe they can’t see what is in front of them.
That’s why I give people homework. People don’t spend enough time with themselves.
They want to be with a therapist getting things off their chest. They don’t want to spend time with themselves.
But if they can bring themselves to do the homework—be with themselves and reflect—then they can have their own “A-ha” moment.
A lot of my work is dealing with buckets and empty bowls. People tell me a lot. I have a lot of clients. But I have to come to each client with an empty bucket.
This is why I need my own time to process what is in the bucket. And I have to take time between clients.
I have to take care of myself too. People tend to lie about putting in the work. I’m not a mind reader.
But I listen to understand. I ask questions. It’s not about reading people, but I want to make sure I understand what they think and feel.
Most marriages fail because people quit trying. Even though I believe in soulmates,
I don’t believe people can be 100-percent compatible all the time. Somehow.
My version of soulmate is that you consciously feel that you want to take this leap of faith to work together with someone who you choose actively.
But you have to know who you are. Your destiny is not written in the palm of your hand. You have to put in the work. You have to choose to actively.
I’m a romantic. I wouldn’t be doing couple’s therapy if I wasn’t.
Maybe when I was 20 I believed the whole “
You complete me” thing, from Jerry Maguire. But now I’ve learned that it’s not like 50-50, and you complete me.
Now I see it’s 100 me, 100 you and we collaborate.
Truth is always the best route. Unconditional love doesn’t mean telling someone what they want to hear.
Unconditional love, to me, means no matter how much you disagree you’re not going to quit, you’re not going to leave. You stay in love.
The Jakarta Post
Tue, February 28, 2023
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