About Dr. Polk

IMG_1926Dr Andrea Polk

As an undergraduate, Dr. Andrea Polk attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to study linguistics, hoping to understand the psychology of why we say and speak as we do.  This led to her deep interest in clinical psychology and commitment to work with people.  Her interest in substance abuse treatment led her to pursue a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, but  an internship  in a college psychological service revived her fascination with  clinical work .She remained at the college for over 25 years, providing individual therapy to a generation of college students, coordinating the Clinical Training Program, and leading  psychoeducational groups in stress reduction, depression, relationships,  nonviolent communication, addictions and eating disorders, as well as other issues and topics.

Over the years, Dr. Polk has worked with every possible cultural, ethnic, and racial group, and has had the opportunity to treat every “diagnostic” category, every possible issue, in individual, couples’ counseling, and groups. The opportunity to provide relatively brief psychotherapy to students ranging in age from 18 to 80 (the average student is about 28) – taught her formulate very quickly in that first, all important intake hour.  This invaluable experience has enabled her to think quickly and accurately on many levels at once, allowing for a rapid collaboration on identifying goals, appropriate approaches, and establishing realistic timelines for improvement.

Dr. Polk also served as coordinator of a 30 plus group psychotherapy practice in Silicon Valley in the late 80’S and early nineties. The opportunity to work with the high stress world of the “startups”, (as well as employees from such companies as Silicon Graphics, Apple, Sun/Microsystems, and Cadence Design,) was a view into the world of intense pressure, skewed work life balance providing a perspective on the pitfalls of high achievement and the price paid for failing to have a balanced life.  Relationships and health issue were given a back seat.  It was not uncommon for patients to ask for therapy appointments at 11p/m!  Despite material and professional achievement, this rather brutal life style exacted a high price.  The level of self-criticism, the illusion of the possibility of achieving perfection, the failure to grasp the importance not only of work-life balance but of maintaining relationships, difficulties with co-workers, and an inability to find pleasure in anything, or even to validate oneself.  Silicon Valley is actually not that unique; this kind of corporate culture is all too common in the United States. We takes fewer vacation days than other nationalities and then wonder why we become ill from stress related diseases – heart problems, diabetes, compromised immune systems.

This practice experience brought together Dr. Polk’s interest in stress reduction, chronic illness, disability issues, and led to a fiercely dedicated belief in the importance of balancing our work life with our spiritual life.  Many people are now recognizing how addicted a society we are:  we must always distract ourselves; avoid being “present” quiet, or going emotionally inward.  As a culture, we focus on productivity and base our self-worth on what we accomplish.  Our lives become tigers we can’t dismount. No matter how outwardly successful, there is often a high price to pay:   emptiness, emotional numbness and detachment, broken and disappointing relationships, or an inability to communicate effectively with our spouses.  Eventually the inevitable happens:  our immune system is compromised, and stress causes us to become ill, depressed, anxious, neurologically and cognitively damaged.  We may then turn to self-medication.  The vogue for medicinal marijuana is one example. There is solid evidence that such approaches as mindfulness and positive psychology can bring relief from a relentless lifestyle. Through mindful counseling we can learn to validate our accomplishments, treat ourselves as uncritically as possible, stop chasing the illusionary dream of perfection, and find true peace in life through an authentic friendship with ourselves.