We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Tessandore and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
“Run at the dog.” It’s not exactly a quote, but it’s my distilled version of a story told by Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and author, in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. The tale is about her teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche:
“He told a story about traveling with his attendants to a monastery he’d never seen before. As they neared the gates, he saw a large guard dog with huge teeth and red eyes. It was growling ferociously and struggling to get free from the chain that held it. The dog seemed desperate to attack them. As Rinpoche got closer, he could see its bluish tongue and spittle spraying from its mouth. They walked past the dog, keeping their distance, and entered the gate. Suddenly the chain broke and the dog rushed at them. The attendants screamed and froze in terror. Rinpoche turned and ran as fast as he could—straight at the dog. The dog was so surprised that he put his tail between his legs and ran away.”
I read that more than 20 years ago, when I was deeply grieving the loss of my dad. Some losses in life are too profound to be easily ameliorated. During those times, the only way out is through. You can’t go around it or run away from it. Going right to the heart of the hurt, the pain, or the challenge directly in front of you is where you’ll find your way back to yourself. When there’s nothing else to be done, run at the dog. It’s my privilege now, as a therapist, to sit with women on the cusp of making this same decision. While you might not realize it, or frame it in this way, a decision to come to therapy is a decision to have a companion in that scary, painful place. You don’t have to run at the dog alone – I’ll go too, and we’ll face it together.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Choosing to build my practice only around women has become the unexpected joy of my life! It’s shaped my perspective in ways I didn’t anticipate. Prior to this chapter in my life, I would have said I identified as a person first and a woman second. I didn’t fully understand feminism, which I realize now was a privileged position from which to view the world. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was standing on the accomplishments of women who had fought and literally given their lives throughout history to be recognized as equal to men – as if men were unquestioningly the standard from which women deviate. Now, proudly at the top of list of the many parts of my identity, is Woman.
Our identities inform our choices and opportunities. Despite our many unique qualities and experiences, the fact that my clients and I all identify as women gives me a lens through which to understand their lives. In fact, I’ve made it my job to read about, think about, and focus on how our gender shapes our lives.
One unusual practice area for me – informed by this focus – is my work with the other woman, who is alternately seen as either victim of, or more commonly, the very cause of infidelity. For as long as there have been love relationships there have been people in the role of the other woman. But while there are countless books available for healing as a couple after infidelity, or recovering from being cheated on, the resources for the other woman scarce. So much so that I receive calls from all over the country from women who are navigating this kind of relationship.
Outside of my client work, I’m starting to collect interviews with women who have been, or are, the other woman. Those voices are missing from the cultural conversation and they deserve to be heard. My intention is to publish a book to offer as a resource to women in this role, and also as a contribution to the mental health literature on the topic.
I have deep and equal empathy for women who have been cheated on, and for women whose boyfriends are primarily committed to someone else. The other woman has seen something valuable or desirable in the person they’re involved with, as has that person’s primary partner. Both women share the pain of the choices the man in their life has made. My focus is on supporting women, on these and many other topics.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’m so grateful to my mom and my daughter for their unwavering support of my path into private practice. I think they earned the same degrees I did, just vicariously by proof-reding every single paper I turned in throughout undergrad and grad school.
My close friends have also sustained me through years of working full-time while navigating my education and the launch and growth of my business. They’ve been the voice of calm reason when I worried my plan was not going to come together, and my cheerleaders for every tiny success.
Maybe most importantly, I’m fortunate to have grown up in a loving and safe environment, with parents who modeled healthy communication, respect, humor, love of learning and adventure, and caring toward me and toward each other. I’ve found throughout my life and in my practice, how terribly uncommon that can be. Knowing it exists gives me a deep belief in the potential of my clients to co-create healthy relationships in their own lives.