Rising Through Resilience: Dianne Galasso of Cobb Psychotherapy On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Acceptance and Being Realistic — Resilient people are able to look at situations and circumstances in realistic ways. When tragedy or trauma happens, be as mindful as you can to see the situation as it is. I had to rebuild my home, but we were alive. Generalizing or catastrophizing a situation creates a false reality that can have paralyzing effects preventing you from being able to take steps to move forward.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dianne Galasso, LMSW.

Dianne Galasso, LMSW, CGCS, is a licensed psychotherapist providing individual psychotherapy treatment for children through late adulthood at Cobb Psychotherapy in New York. Dianne has worked in a hospital setting as a manager for more than 30 years, provided psychotherapy at an Office of Mental Health clinic, and is a certified grief-counseling specialist. Dianne earned her master’s degree from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Services and her undergraduate degree in psychology from the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you and your readers. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY with my parents and two older brothers. We came from a working-class family, which I credit with helping me learn the value of hard work and the importance of family connection. I had an active childhood participating in group sports and organizations like the Girl Scouts. (Yes, I was the kid selling those cookies to the neighbors.) Growing up a chubby child, though, I experienced bullying and shaming. Thinking about this now, those experiences were probably the start of my resiliency journey. However, I kept my focus on school and used humor to make friends and get through the tough times.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaway’ you learned from that?

As a therapist, I started working with an 11-year-old boy, Peter, whose name I have changed to maintain confidentiality. Peter needed help with his aggressive behavior in school and at home. He was being suspended from school on a weekly basis. Another clinician from the practice who had worked with Peter in the past said to me, “Good luck with him. He’s probably going to be in jail someday.” Her statement hit me to the core, and, to be honest, it frightened me a little, too.

The first few sessions with Peter were tough. He would not sit down, constantly pacing and fidgeting. He tried to pull down the window blinds, and he picked up a chair and came charging toward me, chair legs first, to “tame” me. I cried after every session with him. And yet, I knew walking away was not the answer. I had to talk myself up before each session with him.

One session in particular, he was yelling and using profanity. I told him, “We do not talk like that in this room,” and asked him to lower the volume of his voice so we could talk. He yelled louder. Again, in my calmest voice, I said, “Peter, I need you to lower the volume.”

When the session was over, Peter looked at me and said, “Can you not tell my parents I was cursing?” I looked at him and continued to walk him to the waiting room. When we met his parents, Peter looked at me with wide eyes, waiting to see what I would do. I turned to his mother and said, “Okay, see you next week.” Peter looked at me, gave me a fist bump, and said, “Yeah, next week….with lower volume.”

After that, we had some honest discussions about what was making him so angry. We wound up doing great work together.

There was a message in Peter’s anger, and I was determined to help him give it the voice it needed so he could be heard. The takeaway for me is that there are messages in behaviors — not just in children, but all people. As a therapist, I am learning to listen to behaviors without labeling or judging them, giving them a space to be heard.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are two things I believe stand out at Cobb. The first is the value and effort we put into finding the right therapist for the client. The Cobb team works diligently to match our clients to a therapist that would be best suited to help. Secondly, Cobb is a therapist-centered practice, which means the clinicians are supported and encouraged to maintain self-care routines, are offered extensive supervision to ensure the safety of our clients, and are provided extensive training and development opportunities allowing us to stay up-to-date on the most effective interventions to help support our clients in the best way possible.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There were so many people along my journey that have contributed to me being where I am today. I worked for an amazing leader, Dr. Kelly Reilly. Dr. Reilly is the type of leader (and person!) who helps people become their best selves. For years, I had talked about wanting to finish school, but it seemed like a daunting task with working full-time, taking care of my elderly mother, and the many other responsibilities I had. Dr. Reilly encouraged me to apply and from the application process to graduation day, she was my biggest supporter. I know if it were not for her guidance and push, I would not be where I am. She saw the potential in me, helped me “stretch” (as she liked to call it), and stood behind me the whole way. So, when I think of a person who I’m grateful for, and who has also changed the trajectory of my life, hands down, Dr. Reilly is on top of the list!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

For me, resiliency is being able to accept a circumstance that you find yourself in, no matter how big or scary, and being able to go through it empowered. Flexibility and adaptability in the midst of the challenge will help with acceptance and building the stamina to endure what is ahead. I have always been a believer in the saying, “Every problem has a solution,” but problem-solving takes planning and learning to prioritize tasks, as well as breaking them into manageable to-dos to keep from getting overwhelmed. Understanding what is essential and prioritizing needs helps to keep tasks moving forward. These are important traits, but we have to also remember to be mindful of the emotional, physical, and psychological toll on us. Resiliency is also not forgetting we are human!

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

Courage is a component of being and becoming resilient; they run side-by-side, complementing and fueling each other. It takes a measure of courage to lean into the unknown. Having courage in the midst of adversity could become a confidence booster helping to build that resiliency muscle. However, it is also important to keep in mind when you are in the midst of challenges, you might get exhausted. It is important not to confuse feeling exhausted with a lack of courage. Resting is also very courageous.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My mother is by far the most resilient person I know. She was born a preemie twin at only 2 pounds during a time when the medical field was not as advanced to provide the care needed for her and her sister to thrive. My mother survived, but her sister did not; from birth she had fight in her! My mother was diagnosed with polio as a child and my grandparents prayed and credited their faith with my mother’s healing. Through the years, she had suffered heart attacks, had severe spinal stenosis, joint replacements, survived the loss of her husband and son, and she almost died in a house fire. After every situation and circumstance, she rose up stronger; she adapted to every situation put in front of her! Her doctors called her a bulldog, but she was my rock. She was small in stature, only 4’ 4”, but she was tall in the fight!

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I shared my desire to become a therapist with a close family member who went on to tell me I was out of school for too long (I was out of school for 14 years) and that because I struggled at times with anxiety, I would never make a good therapist. To be honest, I was discouraged and started to think maybe they were right. Maybe I was too old, and maybe dealing with anxiety would hinder my work. I shared this with my boss at the time, Dr. Reilly, and she encouraged me to just try. I was afraid to apply to schools for psychology, so I only applied to one school. It was such a long shot in my mind, so imagine my surprise when I was accepted into the program. After completion of my first year, I was chosen to be one of the two students to receive the CUNY Chancellor’s Leadership Award given to a student who shows leadership qualities and academic excellence. I finished my degree in psychology and then went right into a master’s program, graduating in spite of a house fire, being homeless for seven months, and being in a pandemic. It took me six years, but now I am a psychotherapist and living what I am supposed to be doing. No one has ever told me something was impossible again!

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I really thought I had gone through my fair share of crises and hardships in my life. At the age of 27, my fiancé died of a sudden heart attack, at 29 my father collapsed in front of me and died of an aortic aneurysm. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and in 2016 I held my brother’s hand as he took his last breath succumbing to kidney cancer. Truthfully, I was tired of being told, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I was strong enough for my liking.

The year 2018 came with a new level of challenge. Two floors of my house were damaged from a home fire from a gas stove. The fire destroyed both my mother and my apartments, leaving us homeless for about seven months. Four days after the fire, my mother had a heart attack and had to have emergency surgery, leaving her in an ICU fighting for her life while I lived out of my car, slept on friends’ couches, and tried to make sense of what was happening in my life. My life was upside down.I was in grad school at the time, and I was so worried that I wouldn’t graduate. This was a major mental setback. I had worked so hard, overcome so much, and now it was all going to end like this?

It took me a bit, but with support from friends, my faith, my resiliency, I got back on my feet. I was working a full-time job, started a brand new internship, was taking classes on weekends, living out of my car, managing my mother’s health care, and having to deal with insurance companies, fire deputies, building inspectors, plumbers, and contractors — oh my! I am exhausted just writing this.

The contractors who were recommended to me stole some insurance money, leaving me without financial means to finish paying for the repairs on the house, so I had to use the money I had saved for grad school. My mother was getting released from the rehab facility, and now I needed to find her and I both a place to live now. I was able to secure us a hotel room where we stayed for 3 months — through all of the holidays. We lived in a hotel for three months where I had to arrange for physical therapy, visiting nurses, and phlebotomists to come to the hotel to care for my mother. I honestly did not think I was going to survive this one, but I did. Prioritizing tasks, making sure I got as much rest as I could, relying on some friends, and a lot of prayer!

My mother and I moved back into the house in 2019, and we were so happy to be home. Unfortunately, in 2020, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and began treatment that fall. I was my mother’s caretaker while working two jobs and taking care of our home — another resiliency growing opportunity.

All of these circumstances have led me to where I am today. I can recognize my strength, but also the fragility of life. Life experiences have afforded me an opportunity to empathize in many ways with my clients, especially when it comes to loss and grief. I have allowed my hardships to be used to tenderize me…so this setback has been my greatest comeback.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Throughout my life I have always tried to be positive, having a theory that something good will come from the “ashes” (little did I know this pun would become a reality). Cultivating positivity is not about denying the difficult emotions, but it is about being able to recognize that even though the circumstances in front of you might be really hard and seem impossible, people really do have the skills (whether given or learned) to be resilient. My best example would be the house fire we experienced. This was a very devastating time for my mom and me, but I had to find something good to grab onto. I remember being so exhausted and my mom and I missing being in our home; I looked at her and said, “Well, we both wanted new kitchens!” We laughed, and laughter helps me through a lot. It’s not that I was denying the challenges; I was giving myself permission to see this loss in a different way.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Acceptance and Being Realistic — Resilient people are able to look at situations and circumstances in realistic ways. When tragedy or trauma happens, be as mindful as you can to see the situation as it is. I had to rebuild my home, but we were alive. Generalizing or catastrophizing a situation creates a false reality that can have paralyzing effects preventing you from being able to take steps to move forward.
  • Task Management — Being able to put tasks in order by what is most essential is helpful with managing challenges. Again, using the example of the fire, I knew I had to find a place for my mother and I to live. My mother’s safety was my first priority, and then I would deal with the insurance and buildings department before having a contractor come in to fix the home. Preparing a list of smaller sequential tasks makes things more manageable.
  • Know Your Limits — This was a difficult one for me, but I had to remember I was not superhuman and I needed rest. Learning when to stop is still a challenge that I work on, but it’s important to give yourself time to recover from mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Overworking or pushing your limits in the midst of a crisis will lead to burnout quickly.
  • Create a Safe Social Network — It is important to have people to confide in that are safe, supportive and caring. Having those safe people does not make the problems go away, but being able to share the burden and be vulnerable with your feelings is comforting and restorative in many ways.
  • Find Things to Be Grateful For in the Midst of the Challenge — Being overwhelmed with standing in the rubbish of your home is overwhelming, but I found ways to be thankful. My family got out alive, the fire was from a gas pipe that could have caused an explosion for a city block, and this horrific time taught me I was strong, and though exhausted, I was empowered!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The world we live in is so divisive and reactive right now. I would love to start a 30-second breathing movement. When we react, it causes division but responding to people or situations encourages connection. If we could teach responding skills starting with children, we could create a movement of raising individuals who recognize and value connection, see value in different views, accept the opinions of others so we do not make them enemies or people to be feared or hated

Our children are learning these reactive behaviors from the environment around them. Imagine if we would teach 30-second breathing before reacting in classrooms. In that 30 seconds of breathing, the reactive thoughts have a chance to de-escalate and give space for a more responsive and connective interaction.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

The British Royal Family has always fascinated me. I would love to have a conversation with Meghan Markle (even though Oprah beat me to it). The Duchess of Sussex did what is unheard of; she spoke her truth in spite of any backlash from the royal family. Coming from a biracial background and standing up to the hierarchy of power was courageous and inspiring. Most profoundly in my opinion was her openness about her mental health struggles and the shame and hopelessness she had to keep secret. The Duchess was relatable and impactful and in my opinion, and an amazing example of courage and resilience.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy and work with individuals who need support through any phase of life. Readers who are interested in working with me or one of our clinicians can call Cobb Psychotherapy reception at 718–260–6042.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor