Interviewer: Hi Sharon, thank you so much for letting me interview you. It’s wonderful to know there is support for highly sensitive people in the Orange County, CA area. I hope this can help spread awareness, as well as let people know their unique circumstances are real, and that there are people who understand or want to understand.
Interviewer Question 1: What does it mean to be a highly sensitive person (HSP)? Are there different ways of being highly sensitive?
Sharon Chan LMFT: According to Elaine Aron-Research Psychologist- and her book, “The Highly Sensitive Person”(2006), she describes that the HSP trait is identified in about 15-20% of the population. Aron goes on to describe the trait as an innate, personality trait that it is NOT a disorder. The trademark trait of the HSP is that they take in a lot of information from their environment. Aron describes this as depth processing. A HSP will take in information which can include: sounds, smells, visuals, emotions, touch, etc at a more in-depth level than a non HSP. Another trait that has been noted of the HSP is empathy or stronger emotional reactivity to others emotions and moods. The mirror neurons in a HSP is found to be more active and so they may “feel” another’s emotional state more acutely, quickly, and absorb more than a non HSP. Another key trait is overstimulation for the HSP. Understandably so if a HSP is taking in their environment in depth, they are probably more prone to be overstimulated more quickly and more frequently than a non HSP.
Interviewer Question 2: How can being highly sensitive affect individuals in their daily lives?
Sharon Chan LMFT: Being HSP can have it’s rewards and challenges. I like to describe it as a blessing and a curse or a double edge sword. As Aron describes in her book the HSP can be very attuned to their environment and process things deeply and elaborately. This can be a beautiful gift and a place of richness and connection for the HSP and those that connect to the HSP. Many HSP’s go into the helping profession and usually this can be a benefit to those around the HSP because the HSP is known to pick up on other’s needs quickly. Yet, the challenge is because of the overstimulation that a HSP faces on a daily occurance, this could mean faster burn out and needing more time and space for refueling their own energy and resources.
Interviewer Question 3: How is therapy with a HSP different? What can you offer a sensitive person that other therapists might not be able to?
Sharon Chan LMFT: I think each client will need need a different type of therapist which can also vary from season to season. There are things I can not provide that another therapist might be able to. I like to think that my HSP trait allows me the capacity to connect with other people’s experiences on a deep level. In my approach, I put a lot of effort into really listening to where the client is coming from, their inner world, their experiences, and what makes them who they are. Many of my clients have voiced to me that they feel safe and have gained a space to find and develop their voice. I like to believe that my HSP trait has helped to shape that space for my clients.
Interviewer Question 4: What is a favorite intervention that you find useful when feeling overwhelmed as a sensitive person?
Sharon Chan LMFT: Every person will be different. Each season will lend itself to different interventions, coping skills, and relaxation skills. I work with each individual to find their own oasis, and coping skills which include: grounding, visualization, breathing, and finding life giving activities outside of session. Boundaries and self assertion are also an important part of protecting the HSP’s trait so that it can be nourished and operate at its optimal level.
Interviewer Question 5: Do you have any tips for the HSP?
Sharon Chan LMFT: I want to let you know if you identify with being a HSP that you are not alone. Being a HSP does not mean that there is something wrong with you. Being a HSP comes with beautiful gifts and a HSP has the capacity to experience life in so many colors. There is hope for the challenges that come with the HSP self and the challenges don’t have to define your entire journey. We can navigate it together.
Interviewer Question 6: What if my child or loved one is HSP and I am not?
Sharon Chan LMFT: First off, I want to acknowledge that if you are asking this question, I can already see that you are trying to understand your HSP loved one. That step alone can mean a lot to the HSP and to your journey with them. Many people (parents, friends, family members, teachers) don’t know how to understand or guide the HSP because of the different behaviors and bigger emotional reactions. You are not alone in that. That doesn’t make you a bad ___________(parent, spouse,etc) or a less than person it just means that the HSP might need more or less of certain things than your typical person. Let’s learn how to support your loved one together.
Interviewer Question 7: Where are you practicing therapy and how can people contact you? I am currently practicing in Orange County (Tustin) and Pasadena. I am currently on the listing of Knowledge of Highly Sensitive Therapists in Tustin. I also identify myself as highly sensitive person/therapist.
Do you want to learn more about this trait? Go here to take Elaine Aron's Highly Sensitive Person Test
Sharon also created a video on Why telling the highly sensitive person to "stop thinking about," might not work. This video is found here.
Information taken from Elaine Aron's book, "The Highly Sensitive Person"(2006).