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Luke Interviews Jacob Hafkin

December 14, 2018

Jacob talks about the importance of therapy, different types of therapy that are available, and his background in private practice.

Luke:                So, welcome. My name is Luke Mattey. Welcome to the Sandstone Care Podcast series. I have with me today Jacob Hafkin.

Jacob:              Happy to be here.

Luke:                Thanks so much for joining us today, Jacob. So what I’d like to do is have Jacob talk a little bit about his background, what brought him into the field and talk a little bit about your private practice. And then potentially leave the viewers with a nice tool that they can practice at home. So welcome, Jacob. Thank you so much.

Jacob:              Thank you thank. Happy to be here.

Luke:                For coming in, thank you so much. So if you don’t mind, just kinda introducing yourself and then giving our viewers a little bit of your background and how you decided to get into the field.

Jacob:              Sure. So, my name is Jacob. I grew up in the Washington, DC area. I grew up camping and mountain biking and playing outside. Both of my parents are clinical psychologists, so from a young age I answered the question, “How does that make you feel?” But my issue was always with sit down face-to-face talk therapy. To me, I work exclusively with adolescent males, middle school on up to guys in their late 20s, early 30s. And funnily enough, they say you don’t really leave your adolescence as a male until your mid 30s, so I guess-

Luke:                I can relate-

Jacob:              We’re adults now? Something along those lines.

Luke:                Right. Right.

Jacob:              So, I believe in therapy and I believe that sitting down and talking to someone is incredibly important. And then I also think for a lot of middle schoolers, a lot of teenagers, a lot of young adults, therapy isn’t made for you to sit down. You know, if I sit down and I talk to a guy and I say, “Tell me how this makes you feel?” My guys get really defensive. So what I do a lot of times is I take my young men out into the woods. Sometimes we have horrible weather in DC, so anything from playing a game of Uno or Monopoly Deal to going hiking or stand up paddle boarding, or climbing Sugarloaf mountain or doing the Billy goat trail. I think therapy is important, right?

Luke:                Absolutely.

Jacob:              I think therapy is important and I think that is you set a standard where you’re gonna have fun, you’re gonna laugh, but you’re gonna also deal with serious things, then usually we can help our guys a little bit further along the way.

Luke:                That’s great, Jacob. Thank you so much for sharing that with me and with everybody out there. So you talked a little bit about your wilderness experience as well and coming from a family of therapists, maybe you can talk a little about your practice currently here in DC area and the Bethesda area, and kinda who you’re working with and what you’re doing right now.

Jacob:              So, I’ve been involved in the therapeutic field from a young age. I studied psychology at University of Colorado and then after that I went to Patagonia and studied with the National Outdoor Leadership school and studying mountaineering and back packing and sea kayaking. And while I was there, I actually met a young man who had been to a wilderness therapy program, and he told me about this program. And to me, it was like light bulbs and fireworks went off. This is what I wanna do with my life! This is what I wanna do with my life. I moved back. I moved to Asheville. I had an interview mountain biking, you know my soon-to-manager took me mountian biking. We raced up the top of the hill and when we finished we were both gasping. He goes, “You’re hired.” So, I was a wilderness therapy field instructor for a number of years. I served in the Peace Corps and then I decided, rather than being on the front line I wanted to kinda be more involved in the therapeutic process.

Jacob:              Went to University of North Carolina, got my masters in social work. And I’ve always intended to work in wilderness therapy or therapeutic boarding school. I had a wonderful opportunity, I worked with Cherokee Creek boys school in Westminster, South Carolina. But eventually it was time to come home, and I think that one of the most important tenants that I believe in is, I believe that sometimes we must bloom where we’re planted. So, so many of my teenagers, so many of the young men I work with are angry. They’re upset. DC’s hard. It’s really hard to live in DC. And it’s not the mountains, it’s not Asheville. It’s not Bolder, Colorado. You know?

Luke:                Right. Right.

Jacob:              I mean I know Sandstone is over in Bolder as well, right?

Luke:                Absolutely.

Jacob:              We don’t have that same privilege of being surrounded by awe inspiring beauty like what we got here. But we have a lot of really special things in DC. Whether it’s the Billy goat trail or climbing Old Rag or going stand up paddle boarding on Black Rock Regional Park. There’s a lot of great opportunities for me to take the things I learned as a wilderness therapy field instructor, as a therapist at a therapeutic boarding school, and recreate them here. You know, I know Sandstone works with a lot of young men who are returning from wilderness or returning from a therapeutic boarding school, as do I. For a lot of these guys this is the first time they’ve ever been successful. They were out of the home and they were successful for the first time, and now I’m getting these guys back. You’re getting these guys back and what we do is we recreate those experiences. If you were happy in the woods, if you knew that it made sense. Our guys with ADHD, for me being in the woods made sense. I’m a little chaotic, right? You know, stuff will be everywhere. In the moods, my gear is either in my tent, in my bag or on my person. Right? And the same tenants apply back home is, how do we set up a system to create organization for ourself?

Luke:                That’s great.

Jacob:              It’s funny, but Captain Jack Sparrow has this line where he says, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is how you respond to the problem.”

Luke:                Oh, I like that.

Jacob:              Right? So let’s take an example with a young man whose parents won’t give him a late curfew.

Luke:                Okay.

Jacob:              He wants to stay out ’till 12:30. Come on mom and dad. 12:30. Nothing good happens before 11:30, so you’re only giving me an hour. And they say no. So the problem is that his parents won’t give him a late curfew.

Luke:                Right. Right.

Jacob:              But are you gonna respond to that issue? Right? We’ve got the young man who says, “Forget you, mom and dad.” And stays out, right? The problem is not the problem. The problem is how Johnny, let’s call him Johnny.

Luke:                I like Johnny.

Jacob:              Johnny’s a good name. It’s a strong name. How Johnny responded to that issue. You know, so where I come in and where I believe Sandstone comes in is, I work with Johnny to help him understand that there are times in life in which you don’t get to make choices. How do you respond to those issues, right? And then also, I know that Sandstone does a lot of work with families. I think the family work is an incredibly important part of this. So, let’s take that same tenant. The problem is not the problem. The problem is how you respond to the problem. So, is the problem that Johnny came late? Or how are you going to respond to that issue?

Luke:                Got it.

Jacob:              Right? Because if you just say, “Gosh, I wish you wouldn’t do that.” Wring your hands or something like that. Then Johnny’s probably gonna do it again.

Luke:                Right. Right.

Jacob:              You know? Sorry, Johnny. You don’t wanna follow the rules, that’s not your thing. I get it. So, I work with parents to help set up natural and logical consequences to incur positive behavioral change.

Luke:                That’s well said. Well said.

Jacob:              Yeah.

Luke:                Thank you, and I appreciate you sharing all that with us Jacob.

Jacob:              A little ramble there.

Luke:                No, no. It was great, and I like how you talked about how you react to the problems is very important. Also, the family integration into the therapy mindset is great. So, we wanna offer help to both our clients and the families as well. So, that’s awesome. We’re right in line there.

Luke:                So, thank you for telling me a little bit about your practice. What also I thought you might be able to do is maybe briefly share something about your practice that’s maybe a little unique. Maybe that some of our viewers at home could kinda take away and practice. We had talked about a triangle at one point in time and I’m not sure if that’s something you wanna share?

Jacob:              Sure.

Luke:                But maybe just briefly, a take away that our viewers could work on.

Jacob:              Okay. So, I think what I like to think is unique about myself is the idea of laughter.

Luke:                Laughter is great.

Jacob:              I think that I don’t want to approach therapy in the button up, suit and tie, very quiet, “Tell me how that makes you feel.” I wanna laugh. I wanna joke. I think that humor, they say humor’s the best medicine. I know it’s Hallmark-y, but there’s some truth. And I think you can both laugh as well as heal. So, I want my young men to view me as a mentor, as maybe a role model, maybe a big brother. But someone who can bridge the gap between parents and kids. And you know, we talked about the triangle. So cognitive behavioral therapy talks about the cognitive behavioral triangle, right? So thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Each one of those influences the other one, and I believe as a therapist or as a parent or as an adolescent, you can pick one of those as an entryway to change your circumstances, if you will. Right? So, I’m feeling upset and depressed and today. Right? If I’m feeling upset and depressed, then I can look at, “What am I thinking about?” And I can change my thought pattern. Or I can change my behaviors, as a way to change the way I’m feeling.

Jacob:              There’s a saying that, “It’s easier to actually your way into feeling, then feel your way into acting.” So if I’m feeling depressed, I don’t want to go an exercise. Be outside. We just talked about nature, right?

Luke:                Right. Right.

Jacob:              There’s another of saying it, right? Fake it ’till you make it.

Luke:                There you go.

Jacob:              Right?

Luke:                I’ve heard that one.

Jacob:              So here we are saying that, I know you don’t want to do anything, but perhaps this is a situation where choosing to get outta the house, choosing to go for a walk down the street on a very small scale. Or train to do something like climb a mountain in Shenandoah, or something along those lines. That you can actually push yourself. We have a number of different entryways into changing our circumstances. We can change our thought pattern. We can change our behaviors. Or we can work on changing our feelings. You’re not just stuck on one of those. Is that helpful?

Luke:                Yeah. That was helpful for me. I don’t know about you guys out there. But I really appreciate you sharing that with everybody. So, I’m gonna actually wrap up now. So Jacob, I just wanna say thank you so much again for coming in and talking about your experience in the outdoors in the wilderness.

Jacob:              Thank you for having me.

Luke:                Yeah. Absolutely. Talking about the triangle. It’s good for me, but before we sign off just let the viewers know how they can get more information on your practice as well.

Jacob:              Okay. So, you can find me on the trails. C and O canal is my usual go-to. Billy goat trail section B, ’cause I can bring my dog on it.

Luke:                Awesome.

Jacob:              But if you don’t wanna just wait for me to show up on the trails, my email address or my website is jacobhafkinlcsw.com or at gmail.com. My office is in Bethesda right next to BCC high school. Easy walk from the Bethesda metro, so I’m accessible to the suburb. I’m accessible to the city folk and I’d love to hear from you.

Luke:                That’s awesome. Well thank you so much everybody out there for watching, and once again thank you Jacob for your time.

Jacob:              Thank you for having me.

Luke:                My pleasure. Thank you, sir.

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