The Hero’s Journey: Jim Garner, PhD, LICSW - Handel Behavioral Health
Mental Health Blog

The Hero’s Journey: Jim Garner, PhD, LICSW

June 29, 2023

Headshot of clinician with blue background and green shapes suggestive of leaves. The clinician is wearing a stylized neon patterned shirt, which has been altered in Photoshop.

Amy Mauro

“There’s a hero inside of everyone.”

Jim Gardner, PhD LICSW considers therapy the process of unfolding the self, in order to recognize the heroism within oneself. Jim believes that our lives unfold in cycles of change, and there exists radical transformation within each of us. 

An established level of trust is built within his practice, in order for clients to comfortably and enjoyably share the many stories that bring them to the session. 

Alongside his 40 years of experience in the mental health field, Jim brings his own life lessons to his practice. He’s discovered a fuller version of himself in the many struggles that he’s endured, from caring for his aging parents and a partner, to moving through loss and the stages of grief, to maintaining his sobriety.  

Jim will be a mentor figure for those looking to deepen their understanding of self, leave behind the patterns of thought and behavior that no longer serve their life, and step into their heroism. 

We sat down with Jim for an exit interview, before he embarks on a new journey, teaching English to students in Budapest, Hungary.

What brought you into the field of mental health counseling?

My mother suffered from severe postpartum depression after having my youngest brother, Billy.

In 1967, nobody knew what postpartum depression was. She could be very cold, and unavailable. We’d sit in the kitchen and play cards together, like two friends. She was a beautiful woman, with a face like Donna Reed. Part of me felt betrayed by her, and another part of me worried that I’d suffer from depression, too. So, my introspection of joy and suffering started at a young age. 

I’ve always been attracted to men. Growing up in an Irish Catholic family forced me to push those feelings aside. I experimented with dating girls through high school, mostly out of the pressure to fit in.

I married my high school sweetheart, who saw my attraction to men as a passing phase. I experimented with my sexuality through my twenties. I was young and having fun but I wasn’t nearly my full self. My first psychiatrist wrote a letter stating that I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder to get me out of the army. I fell very in love with psychotherapy, and decided to apply to graduate school. 

After receiving my MSW from Smith College in 1982, I worked at an outpatient community mental health work clinic in South Boston- I stayed there for nearly 30 years. In the beginning, I was very closeted and afraid to show up as my authentic self. Supporting people from a similar Irish Catholic background, with drastically different life experiences, pushed me out of my shell. I realized that I, too, was a work in progress. 

I’ll always remind my clients that we’re works in progress. Stop trying to be perfect, we’re human beings, here to do the work of what it means to be human. 

After my mother passed away, I took a break from the field. I married my partner, who suffered from a lot of chronic physical pain. He taught me to empathize with clients who also suffer from chronic pain and physical disabilities. 

I started at HBH shortly after my partner passed away. I’ve never experienced a loss so painful, but found the inner strength to extend myself to my clients. 

I realize now that the hardships I’ve faced have made me a fuller version of myself.

How would you describe your therapeutic style and approach?

I like to take an eclectic approach. I’m very humanistic and psychodynamic in my approach. I use a lot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness Therapy, and Internal Family Systems. Our work together happens in the here and now, there’s no rule book to follow. 

I tell my clients to think of me as a fellow traveler, walking alongside them through their acres of experiences: the good, the bad, the present, the old, and the new. 

I’ve heard hundreds of stories, and I’d have to say, the human race is in good shape. 

People often ask me, Isn’t it depressing to listen to other people’s problems all day? 

Well, screw that! Therapy is not just about listening to people’s problems, it’s about tuning into the whole person. It’s inspiring to hear how people cope with their everyday realities. It’s a privilege to step into people’s lives, and support them through their journey. I really believe that there’s a hero inside of everyone. For me, working as a therapist is like drinking eight cups of espresso, it’s very inspiring. 

I ground my practice in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help people become aware of how they talk to themselves. Often, the messages we internalize and continue to tell ourselves are critical and exist in the past. We can apply CBT to our everyday lives to become aware of our inner critic, through observing our thoughts, challenging our thoughts, and replacing them with thoughts that empower us.

What self mantras do you follow?

As Wayne Dyer said, “I choose to experience joy.”

Throughout my life, I’ve learned to use my mind as a vehicle toward self-awareness and self-acceptance. I’m observing what emotions come up throughout the day, and I’m training myself to observe my reactions to those emotions. Life will continue to throw its ups and downs at you; the power is within you to choose how you’re going to react. 

Therapy isn’t intended to “fix” you or throw wisdom at you. The therapist will offer their insight, and provide you with tools to meet life’s challenges, but ultimately, you’ll learn to recognize and unlock your own wisdom. You’ll realize that you have all the answers you need to be your own therapist, and follow your own path.

What’s your favorite part of being a therapist?

There’s an unparalleled feeling of warmth when you bond with another person. You feel how important you are to them, and how important they are to you. That’s the feeling I’m most aware of. 

I’m going to be teaching English in downtown Budapest, Hungary. I’ve always been a lover of languages, cultures, and global cities. I majored in Russian in undergrad, and traveled through East Germany with a pen pal after college. Her fiancé, a Hungarian man, gave me this rock n’ roll album and I fell in love with the Hungarian language. I’ve been taking Hungarian language classes online for the past two and a half years to get ready for this last life experience.

Do you have any life advice for twenty-something year olds?

Enjoy the ride, it goes by fast. 

I think the majority of young people feel rushed to get their life together, without slowing down and enjoying the process. I’d tell people to find moments of joy in their everyday lives. Whether it’s taking yourself out for a cup of coffee, or spending time outside with your dog, build small structures of joy into your everyday life. Listen to your intuition and go after what you want. 

I truly believe that we can create our own realities within reason, so put energy into what you want, and it will come back to you.

Scheduling an appointment with Jim

Jim is dedicated to establishing a safe and supportive relationship with each of his clients. He offers counseling for adults online and in our Franklin office. 

If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with Jim, please contact us today at (413) 343-4357.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

James Gardner Headshot

Jim is an LICSW with a Ph.D. from the Smith College in clinical social work. He not only focuses on an individual’s mental health, but considers the role of the social environment that affects an individual. After receiving his MSW in 1982, he served at the D St. clinic in South Boston for 28 years. And as a person in recovery for over 10 years he is personally acquainted with the struggles related to maintenance of sobriety. More About Author →