Therapist Spotlight: Zana Van Der Smissen

Therapist Spotlight: Zana Van Der Smissen, MA, LPC (she/her). Photo of smiling woman with long wavy hair.

Zana (she/her) is a psychotherapist at Wildflower. Her training experience includes working with clients who are going through life transitions, social withdrawal, identity issues, relationship issues, and exploring sexuality. Having worked in an intensive outpatient clinic, she has experience with clients struggling with eating disorders, mood disorders, extensive trauma, and body image issues in both individual and group therapy settings. Read Zana’s full bio here.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a psychotherapist?

Like many therapists out there, I was inspired to pursue a career as a psychotherapist when I started to attend my own therapy. From a young age, I always knew I wanted to help people but didn’t know in what capacity that would look like. I noticed that talking through emotions was something I really enjoyed and I found this curiosity to dive deeper into the “hard stuff” with my friends so I decided to add on a few more psychology classes in college. During my time in college, I noticed my anxiety increasing and it started to become overwhelming. Through the bond that I built with my therapist, I felt empowered, strong and more capable of handling my anxieties moving forward. With that in mind, I wanted to be able to make others feel how I felt in that moment and I have been chasing that feeling ever since.

As a psychotherapist, what part of your job is most satisfying?

Therapy is a difficult and frustrating journey to take because there is a lot of work that goes into it. Clinicians in the field will say that 5% of the work that is done happens in the therapy space while 95% is done outside of it, in the world. For me, I think when the client can start noticing a difference in themselves out in the world or even clients putting in that work to come every week to sessions, that means a lot. It means a lot because I know that most people aren’t ready to dive deeper into their past or break the cycle of their behaviors because it’s scary to do that. So for the client to trust me in that process and stay committed, that is the best feeling to experience.


How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

My therapeutic approach is very eclectic. I don’t think that one modality or type of therapy can cover everyone’s needs and wants within the therapy space. As a result, I have included CBT, DBT and ACT skills into my sessions to build up a client’s toolkit while using a strengths-based and collaborative approach to ensure that the client and I are continuously feeling open and comfortable with one another. So, with that in mind, I believe the therapy space is a place to exercise advocacy and be transparent with feedback as a client. Tell your therapist what you like, what has been helpful in the past, what you don’t like and any tools or techniques that you are interested in!

Why do you believe that psychotherapy can help?

Psychotherapy can be helpful for a huge variety of reasons! What stands out to me of how it has been helpful is the opportunity it gives to discuss topics that we can’t discuss in any other spaces. Whether that means exploring emotions, venting about a bad work day or discussing trauma from the past, we don’t have many spaces in this world where it feels safe to be vulnerable so I think that can be very powerful for clients. Additionally, in my opinion, there are several tools and mental skills that we don’t necessarily learn while growing up. We are expected to “know” how to deal with anxiety and stress because we “have” to. The therapy room can be an authentic space to say, “I don’t know what I am doing and I am here for some help in navigating that”. It’s a place where we can be honest in saying that nobody knows all the answers so let’s try to collaborate on what could be helpful moving forward!

What are some of your specialties and what drew you to them?

Mind-body connection has always been important to me. From the first session, I question what the client’s relationship looks like with exercise, sleep, food, and substances because when we are talking about mental health struggles, we should be talking about how we are treating our bodies as well. This interest translated into my internship in graduate school where I was co-facilitating Intensive outpatient groups and providing outpatient therapy for teens, young adults and adults who were diagnosed with an Eating Disorder. This experience in combination with my experience in private practice has allowed me to see a variety of clients and explore what has been helpful in making the necessary steps for the client to feel better physically and mentally.

Additionally, I specialize in working with individuals around anxiety, depression, life transitions, relationship dynamics, motivation and exploring identity. Some clinical interests that I am currently working on include couples therapy and sex therapy!

What is one thing about psychotherapy you wish everyone knew?

Great question and very hard to condense into one thing! So I decided to give you 3 bullet points on things about psychotherapy I wish everyone knew:

  1. Awareness is great but if you are not wanting to put in the work to change, you will stay in the same cycle of behaviors. Utilize that awareness as a stepping stone to start questioning what is getting in the way of implementing changes?
  2. A therapist is also a human being. We may have gone to graduate school in this field but we are no experts. There are times we might not know either but know that we are here to be the best supports we can be in guiding you.
  3. There is no “quick fix”. As I said previously in this article, psychotherapy is hard work. Most of the work we are bringing into the sessions is the tip of the iceberg that allows us to start to uncover other parts of ourselves that we might want to explore. With that in mind, know that therapy is all about baby steps and know that it is absolutely normal to be “tired” of going to therapy and it’s okay to take a break if it’s feeling like too much.

What is your motto or personal mantra?

“Pick and choose your battles”. As I listen to clients, I hear a lot around “pushing” ourselves to do something because society told us to or feel like we “should” be doing that. It makes me question, why? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? So I have come to this motto where if an emotion or situation is feeling too much, you can choose to step away and distract rather than dive right into it. I remind myself that I am a human that experiences a full spectrum of emotions and sometimes I will want to choose to be reflective and explore and sometimes I will want to choose to distract or treat myself with some self-compassion.

What are your favorite self-care activities?

I think that self-care is constantly changing for me depending on the weather, the people I am around, the season and how much money is in my bank account. As of right now, I am really enjoying going to the movies, grabbing a hot chai tea or hot chocolate, taking long walks with some ABBA music playing and hunting for the best Christmas presents for my family and friends.

In other seasons, I rely on going on a bike ride, exploring new restaurants, going to the beach, baking, watching the latest tv shows/ netflix documentaries and hanging out with my favorite people.

Want to schedule a session with Zana? Contact our intake team and schedule a free 15-minute consultation! Schedule a Session