How I got through the death of a sibling with Rebecca Sidoti | POP 738

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A photo of Rebecca Sidoti is captured. Rebecca Sidoti is the owner of Mind by Design Counseling in New Jersey and she specializes in anxiety, trauma, OCD and phobias. Kate Pieper is featured on Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

What happens to a person’s development when they experience intense grief as a teenager? Has your relationship with grief changed as you have aged? How is healing grief like healing a broken bone?

In the third podcast episode of the How I Got Through It series, Joe Sanok speaks about the death of a sibling with Rebecca Sidoti.

Podcast Sponsor: Heard

An image of the Practice of the Practice podcast sponsor, Heard, is captured. Heard offers affordable bookkeeping services, personalized financial reporting, and tax assistance.

As a therapist, you’re probably too preoccupied with your caseload to want to think about bookkeeping or tax filing. Heard can help you out with that. Heard is a bookkeeping and tax platform built specifically for therapists in private practice that helps you track and improve your practice’s financial health. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned clinician or are in the first year of your practice, Heard will help you to identify areas for growth and streamline best financial practices for your business.

When you sign up with Heard, you’ll work directly with financial specialists to track your income and expenses, file taxes online, and grow your business. You’ll also receive financial insights such as profit and loss statements and personalized monthly reports. You can say goodbye to poring over spreadsheets and guessing your tax deductions or quarterly payments; focus on your clients, and Heard will take care of the rest.

Plans begin at $149 per month and can easily be tailored to fit your business’ financial needs. Sign up now at

Meet Rebecca Sidoti

An image of Rebecca Sidoti is captured. She is the owner of Mind by Design Counseling in New Jersey and she specializes in anxiety, trauma, OCD and phobias. She is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.Rebecca Sidoti is the owner of Mind by Design Counseling in New Jersey and she specializes in anxiety, trauma, OCD, and phobias. Though she fully believes in the power of traditional therapies, she also provides Virtual Reality Therapy as a tool in session to help progress in exposure therapy, trauma-focused work, and distress tolerance.

Rebecca uses evidenced-based approaches, but her first and foremost is the “no-nonsense counseling” approach, which cuts out the rigid, too-clinical feel that therapy sometimes has and welcomes the raw human interaction.

Visit Mind By Design Counseling and connect on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

In this Podcast:

  • Grief as a stranger
  • Trauma as a teenager
  • Developing the view of grief over time
  • Rebecca’s advice to her younger self

Grief as a stranger

[The loss of my brother] felt like a stranger, like grief is just a stranger that’s now part of you and it’s something that you become familiar to … it [didn’t] feel so different after a while. (Rebecca Sidoti)

The old expression of “time heals everything” may ring true to the idea that over time you become accustomed to what happened, and you learn tools and ways to deal with it, rather than it healing fully.

Trauma as a teenager

Navigating the normal world as a teenager is already a nuanced business because there is so much change and new things to learn about yourself and the world you thought you lived in.

When you are exposed to a deep trauma as a teenager, it can have a deep impact on how you develop as a person.

I think recognizing the vulnerability of being alive was what sparked so much anxiety but also a lot of passion to figure out how we [can] help each other. (Rebecca Sidoti)

Developing the view of grief over time

Many people who experience intense grief or trauma strive to feel “normal” again, like how they felt before the event happened.

Grief, in the beginning, is very unfamiliar … it’s this stranger that’s there, and it’s abrupt. (Rebecca Sidoti)

Rebecca describes intense grief as a broken leg. There are periods of shock, intense pain, and variations of short-term to long-term healing.

Even once the leg is healed, there will be sudden spikes of pain. Grief will come in waves, like the pain, and the length between the waves will even out.

Rebecca’s advice to her younger self

It is okay to be afraid and to still do it. Do not let fear stop you from doing what is good for you, and what you need to do.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Useful Links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] Before we dive into this episode, just a trigger warning for the audience; we do have some language that may not be appropriate for all audience in this episode. As well we talk about the death of a child and a sibling so just wanted to give you that before we dive in. This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 738. Well, today on the show we have Rebecca Sidoti and I’m so excited to have Rebecca on this show. We are talking about “How I Got Through It,” which really is a series as much for myself as it is for you, the listener just wanting to learn from people who have been through difficult things. One thing that Rebecca said in her application and the setup for this is this is how I learned to be with it. I think that’s such a important reframe for herself to say like how has she learned to be with it? So Rebecca and I are going to have a conversation, Rebecca welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. I’m really glad that you’re here today. [REBECCA SIDOTI] Hi Joe. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. [JOE] Yes. The response from this series has been really amazing. I think a lot of people have been just through so many difficult things and oftentimes we don’t have a forum to talk about it. Like I’ve said on the other episodes of this show that really, this isn’t about having tough things that have happened and wrap it up in a bow, but to really say like what are the tools that have just worked for us to get through tough things. So where should we start your story? [REBECCA] Let’s start at the beginning, start right from the beginning. [JOE] All right. Take us through your, well, actually before we dive into the story, tell us who you are and then we’ll dive into your story. So who are you? Tell us about your practice and what your life looks like right now. [REBECCA] Sure. So my name’s Rebecca Sidoti. I’m a licensed clinical social worker here in New Jersey. I own Mind by Design Counseling. I specialize in the treatment of OCD, anxiety and trauma and that’ll probably come up a bit more while we’re talking about this. There’s a reason that I was so interested in having this conversation with you today was because part of my therapeutic approach is a lot of just authenticity, a raw human interaction. It has helped to, I think, make a comfortable environment with my clients, but also even for myself that there’s no hiding things. So, yes that’s where I’m at now, in New Jersey. I don’t know if I said that. [JOE] What’s your life look like outside of the counseling world? [REBECCA] What does my life look? Well, I mean, pretty normal, I guess, pretty routine. I’m a potter, so I do a lot of art on the side. That’s my coping, it’s my escape, it’s my processing. It’s my mindfulness. That’s where I go. I don’t know if you could see, I have my cat, my fat cat is here. She’s walking around the back. That’s Pickles [JOE] Pickles, the cat that’s great. My mom was a potter and she would be like, I got to go throw some clay. When she’d be mad, she’d go over and throw some clay so I get the pottery world for sure. [REBECCA] Oh, that’s awesome. Okay, so you’re familiar with it. [JOE] My dad actually made a joke that if she dies first, everyone at her funeral’s going to get a piece of pottery because there’s just so much in our house. [REBECCA] Well, that’s great. Yes, we tend to just create more then we need but it’s okay. [JOE] Well, let’s dive into your story. What’s happened in your life? You shared in the application your family had some disruptions, so maybe take the audience through some of that story. [REBECCA] Yes, absolutely. I had a really wonderful life and so it’s hard when we talk about just like these incidences of loss or trauma and things like that. When I think it’s also really important that we look at the whole picture I think part of like that healing process is what we’re surrounded by and what could be a trauma that just totally throws us off our orbit could maybe be helped by that good support system. So when you had asked how’d you get through it, it’s like everything just becomes part of our makeup, our mosaic in a way. So I don’t think I ever got through this loss of my brother. It was something that felt like, it was like a stranger, grief is just a stranger. That’s now part of you and it’s something you become familiar to. It’s not as abrupt or as it doesn’t feel so different after a while and that expression time heals everything. I don’t know if it’s time, as much as it’s just knowing what’s happening, like getting familiar with the feelings, the new structure of your life when you have losses. It’s not just about missing a person. It’s also about like what all these other changes. [JOE] How old were you when you lost your brother? What was the situation that happened? [REBECCA] So I was 15 years old and he was 12 years old, so he was pretty young. There was an accident and he was hit by a car. So it’s one of those things where it’s just not expected. It’s every day making the same walk to the store for candy 4.00 O’clock every day and these things just happen. That, I think also being 15 really shakes up your world. You’re already like existential crisis at all times, anyway and now you’ve got to really think of like the default in the world around you and how sensitive and vulnerable everything is. That’s where I think recognizing just the vulnerability of being alive was what sparked so much anxiety, but also a lot of passion to figure out how do we help each other because this was terrible. [JOE] So when you were in the midst of it, I mean, like you’re dealing with your own grief and then your parent or parents were also, what was that like to see how your parents or parent, I don’t know, your family makeup, how that processing happened. [REBECCA] I’m glad that you said that because sibling loss is a little different in that grieving process, you have like two types, you have these two different sections of grief, it feels like, and one is your own grief and loss because when we have siblings, we just think like, that’s that person that’s going to be there in the same stages of life or relatively similar stages of life. We’re going to go through it together. So you have that loss, but then you see your parents and anybody that I’ve known or worked with that has sibling loss, that is a harder grief to carry than our own, because the pain that they experience is, you know is greater than yours. You know they’re still trying to keep it together. I grew up with two parents and they had to take care of me and my older brother still and get us to school and get us to our games or our appointments and whatever. It’s like, they still had to be present in that way when we, in a way got the privilege to grieve. They couldn’t pause to grieve. [JOE] I mean, I don’t know if this is true, but it seems like there would also be the grief of losing your parents, pre the death of your brother. I mean, as parents you have a certain posture towards life, but then it’s like, I couldn’t imagine the loss of a child, how that would then affect just how you enter into the world. [REBECCA] I mean, when you’re young, you see your parents as like untouchable, like they got it all figured out. I had this perspective of they have the answers because they gave me a great life, a lot of security and stability and predictability. So in my mind when something bad could happen to them now, all of a sudden, it shakes that foundation too, of like, we don’t have control. Even the two people who have controlled everything and made everything okay, they can’t, and they were at a loss and they did their very best to grieve in a healthy way, very open family. I mean, some people might be like, it’s weird, how much laughter was happening. We ended up going to a family counseling session, which was just like, not our family’s style but speaking with this therapist she, I don’t, maybe she was new or something, but she seemed so uncomfortable or anxious. So I like looked at my brother and he looked at me and then he giggled. Then my mom elbows me and, we’re trying to go to this family grief counseling, and now I’m giggling, and now my mom’s giggling, my dad’s like, shut up? We had just break out and laughter and she looked mortified. [JOE] She had no idea what to do with it. [REBECCA] She’s like, you guys are coming for this traumatic loss and you’re laughing. But it was just this, like the attention had been so high and this awkwardness broke it and we were like, oh and some laughter there. [JOE] So as a family, how did you move through that grief and maybe also as an individual, how’d you move? I don’t want to say through, like into that grief or how, how did you experience that grief either as a family or individually? [REBECCA] I mean, in every family system where everybody plays this different role. Whereas my mom has this more nurturing side my dad has a more analytical side. My older brother was 16 or 17 at the time so he was like in his own autonomy and so I guess there was a lot of art. I went right to art immediately, a lot of writing. I love that you’re writing your book too, because I think when we’re just telling the story and we’re going through the narrative and retelling and retelling it’s not only cathartic, it’s helping us make sense of what’s happening and how to move forward or just make sense of what’s happening. Sometimes not even move forward, it’s just to get it out there. So a lot of my coping was through art and writing and then I was in counseling and had some wild counseling experiences that were super strange and ignited like my recognition that maybe we needed a little some shifts in the field of mental health. [JOE] Like, what, I have to ask the follow up question, like what? [REBECCA] There’s one and it’s something my family and I still laugh about today. My mom had brought me to a counselor. I was having nightmares and anxiety. I was having basically a trauma response at this point. Like it was a couple months after my brother had passed away. I couldn’t really sleep. I couldn’t eat. I was having panic attacks and I didn’t really know what any of that was. So my mom was like, this is anxiety. Let’s go to this counselor. She brings me and I walked into the office and there was like butterflies hanging from the ceiling. There was like all these rocks and crystals and I’m like, whoa, this is crazy. I’m 16 years old. So I’m like, oh, alright, whatever. I sat down and she was very kind. She asked me what was going on and I told her, I said, I have, it’s basically what I describe as like flashbacks and nightmares where a therapist would typically be able to see that as a marker of let’s go, let’s talk about maybe some trauma exposure. Whereas she took this other angle and she said, maybe you’re an indigo child. I was like, what is an indigo child? She was like, oh, that’s children who speak to the dead. I just started laughing. I had brought nothing up about religion, culture, spirituality, like that, not what I was coming there for. I was laughing and I was trying to be respectful. When I left, I came out of the office and I was covering my face and my mom thought I was crying. So she ran out and she’s like, oh, what’s the matter and I couldn’t stop laughing. Then she realized, and I told her, and she was like, she, “So did she help you with how to calm down through a panic attack?” I was like, “No, she thinks I can speak to the dead.” [JOE] Oh my [REBECCA] That was one. [JOE] Wow. I’m surprised you just didn’t go back to therapy after that. I mean, not that you should not go back to therapy, but it seems like if you’re not a family that’s gone to therapy and your first family counseling, you guys are laughing and the therapist doesn’t know what to do and then round two is like indigo child, I can see how that might be like, is this field, even something I want to be a part of? [REBECCA] Well, at that point, I was like, this field needs help. If this is what is happening in mental health, I have this, I have these good supports at home where I have this buffer that I can laugh and say, let’s try again. I have the privilege of healthcare and all these things, but that’s not the case for so many people. It takes a lot to get into that therapy room for many people. If they have that experience, that first initial experience could be like you said, like some people will just decide, I’m not going back. That’s a shame. They’re robbed of an opportunity for growth [HEARD] As a therapist, you’re probably too preoccupied with your caseload to want to think about bookkeeping or tax filing. Heard can help you out with that. Heard is a bookkeeping and tax platform built specifically for therapists in private practice that helps you track and improve your practice’s financial health. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned clinician or in the first year of your practice, Heard will help you to identify areas for growth and streamline best financial practices for your business. When you sign up with Heard, you’ll work directly with financial specialists to track your income and expenses, file taxes online and grow your business. You’ll also receive financial insights, such as profit and loss statements and personalized monthly reports. You can say goodbye to pouring over spreadsheets and guessing your tax deductions or quarterly payments, focus on your clients Heard will take care of the rest. Plans begin at $149 per month and can easily be tailored to fit your business’ financial needs. Sign up now at Again, that’s [JOE SANOK] Before we got recording, I forgot exactly how you said it, but you were talking about how grief, it’s not something necessarily you get through, but, and I don’t think you said that you learned to live with it, but it was, you used an analogy of how it sits with you. How do you view grief now because before we got recording, you were talking about how it can just become this single thing that you focus on, or it can be a little more broad? How do you view grief? How did that change over time? What helped you as you entered into adulthood from having this terrible thing happen as a young person? How did that become something where you weren’t just stuck in that? [REBECCA] Well, I mean, I ended up finding a really good doctor actually, that I was seeing. So there was that support through providing a narrative to the doctor and working through it and survivors guilt and all of that. But as far as just that, what that day to day looks like, and I think that’s a lot of the time too, what clients come in and say what might will my day look like? How will I feel better? It’s not just like the skills for when we’re having anxiety or intense grief. It’s really just feeling normal again. So, yes, like we were saying beforehand, grief in the beginning is really unfamiliar. It’s like, it’s this stranger. It just is like all of a sudden there. It’s abrupt. Like an analogy I use with my clients when they’re dealing with grief is it’s like a broken leg. When you initially break your leg, it’s this very intense pain. It’s very, there’s a shock to the system. Our system can numb where we’re like in that hypo aroused state. Then we start that healing process. The healing process is very painful and it’s a lot, you have to tend to it and you have to take care of it. That longer healing is now that those early stages of grief, the shock and things like that are as intense, then when our, the same as when our leg is healed, there will be spikes in pain, or we have to alter what we can do. Maybe our abilities changed and we have to start to respond to it but the other thing too is like, we don’t think about our leg. It’s just there. The only time we think about it is when there’s pain or something triggers pain. Some people say my bone that I broke when I was a kid, now it rains and my bone hurts. Grief is the same. We’re going to have those anniversaries or things that trigger our grief, and then we have to tend to it and move on. We don’t really think about it too much. We just know it’s there. [JOE] Now, when you are tending to your grief or when you see those things come back, what is that self-soothing that you found are tools that have been helpful for you personally? [REBECCA] I think when I was in graduate school and I was able to get even a better understanding of trauma and the brain and anxiety and the brain, that was soothing for me because it was like, that makes so much sense. It makes so much sense as to why these panic attacks were happening in the way that they were. So there was like, some of the psychoeducation really helped me and I have found that that helps clients too, especially clients with like OCD or intrusive thoughts or panic attacks where they’re like feeling caught off guard by their symptoms and to normalize that and be like, yes, this is what’s actually happening. Here’s your brain. Your brain is doing these things. So when I learned that, I found it helpful, which is also why when I’m in session I provide that information and give a little bit of that education to the clients so they know what’s really happening? And — [JOE] Yes, I think that word normalized that you used, I think that that psychoeducation can be like, yes, of course you feel this way. Who wouldn’t feel this way in this situation? [REBECCA] For sure. That helps with lessening the stigma around mental health too. Us as therapists, we also have to hold ourselves to that standard where it’s, I have to be able to accept that I have my own mental health flaws, that I have anxiety, that I’ve dealt with these things, and that there’s not a stigma, doesn’t make me less of a person. I have to own that too, so that my clients can feel normal and own their intrusive thoughts or their strange behaviors that they’re unsure of. [JOE] Now, are there other habits or tools that you use when you feel, whether it’s the anxiety, panic attacks, grief popping back up that for you, you found helpful? [REBECCA] I lean into my feelings. I spent a long time trying to get away from them and like, and maybe it was because at the time it was overwhelming or I didn’t have the tools, but I spent most of the rest of my high school and early college years are trying to not be in my feelings. That’s where anxiety thrives, is when we’re running away, when we’re afraid. Now I just, I lean into it. If I feel grief or sorrow or sadness or anger or excitement or whatever it is, I just go with what that is. Big piece of it is like accepting where I’m at. I preach it to my clients and I try to do it the best I can with myself too, is if I’m having a rough day or, April’s a difficult month for me, so I know April, I’m going to be maybe like a little bit more fatigued or irritable. And then I just have to say, okay, well, I’m going to have these needs, what can I do to meet them instead of saying, oh, why am I not as productive as I want to be or why am I, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m just going to accept it and respond to the need that’s there as best as I can, set a boundary, if I can. [JOE] How did that shift happen from wanting to avoid your feelings, to embracing it and not having a bunch of shoulds for yourself and allowing them to unfold? Like, were there moments that you chose to do that more? Were there teachings you heard or books you read that helped you make that shift from avoiding feelings to embracing them? [REBECCA] I think there, it was probably a combination of things. It’s exhausting to try to not be in your feeling. So I think one was just being like, so tired of trying to not feel what I was feeling or hide it or be this person I wasn’t. So that was just exhausting. But I did read a book. Can I curse on here? [JOE] Sure. [REBECCA] Okay, it’s called Unfuck Your Brain. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. She’s written quite a few, like Unfuck Your Marriage, Unfuck Your Sex Life and all these other things. One was Unfuck Your Brain, one was Unfuck Your Anxiety. That was really something I enjoyed reading because of the way she wrote. It was very real. It was very authentic and it was reflective of how I try to be with even my clients. I’m going to use a very human interaction in combination with evidence-based practice to make this cohesive. So, but that was a book I really liked and I think honestly it was getting exhausted from running away from my feelings. [JOE] If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were younger at, you can pick the age, what advice or tips or thoughts would you give your younger self? [REBECCA] That’s a good question. I think I would just try to remind myself that even when things feel really scary, it’s okay to be afraid and keep doing, keep moving forward. Doing something even though it’s scary is okay. [JOE] That’s great advice for all of us. I can’t think of a better place to to end Rebecca. This has been amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your story and what’s worked for you to learn through it. This is awesome. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast. [REBECCA] Thanks, Joe. I really appreciate it and I I look forward to your book. I do. [JOE] If people want to connect with you, if they want to learn about your practice, what’s the best place for them to connect with you? [REBECCA] Sure, they can check out my website, it’s They can go on my Instagram, which is O.Hello Anxiety or Facebook, Google, Mind By Design. [JOE] Awesome. We’ll put all those links in the show notes. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast. [REBECCA] Thanks, Joe. [JOE] Wow. This series is so helpful for me personally, just that idea of being gentle with ourselves, letting things unfold, stepping into your emotions. I know for myself, oftentimes when I’m working, I’m just so busy and in it, and then I’m daddy duty and then friend duty. Just even to say I’m feeling tired, like, what can I do? Do I need to change things? Do I need to allow that to unfold differently? Such great advice from Rebecca as to how she got through it or is getting through it. Yes, I’m really looking forward to this series of learning from other people and what they’ve been through and how they got through it. We couldn’t do this series, which I think is a really important series, or any of this podcast without our sponsors. As a therapist, you’re probably too preoccupied with your caseload to want to think about bookkeeping or tax filing. Heard can help you out with that. When you sign up with Heard, you’ll work directly with a financial specialist to track your income and expenses, file taxes online, grow your business and all of that. Plans begin at $149 per month and can easily be tailored to fit your business and financial needs. You can sign up now over at Again, that’s Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day. I’ll talk to you soon. Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.