Eben Lasker believes everyone should have someone to talk to—someone who will sit down with them and truly listen. As Commonwealth’s School Counselor, that’s just what he does.
For Dr. Lasker, his practice supports general health and well-being, not just acute problem-solving, and he meets with students whenever they want or need a trained ear, whether it’s a one-time chat or on a recurring basis. He also runs the school’s Peer Advocate program, training upperclassmen to effectively listen to their fellow students.
Keep reading to learn more about Dr. Lasker’s approach to student support and why he loves talking with Commonwealth students in particular. Plus, find out who his favorite philosophers are, which book he keeps coming back to, and the pointed discovery he made at a Florida thrift store…
Q: Why don't you just start from the top and tell us about what you do at Commonwealth?
Dr. Lasker: There are three basic parts to what I do:
First, where I spend the bulk of my time, is meeting with students one-on-one and talking about whatever they want to talk about, whether it's school specific or something with their friends or at home. That looks a lot like my other job, which is being a psychologist in private practice, helping people think through and navigate whatever they’re experiencing in the moment.
I also run Commonwealth’s Peer Advocate Program, which I started when I came here six years ago. Juniors and seniors go through a six-week training of basic listening and interviewing skills with me to serve as Peer Advocates. They offer a different kind of support, where if a student is not comfortable reaching out to a teacher, they can connect with a trained peer—not that the peers are dispensing psychological advice or problem solving, necessarily. But they can listen and share their own experience.
Finally, I regularly meet with school administrators (including Assistant Head of School Rebecca Jackman, Dean of Students Dr. Josh Eagle, and Coordinator of Academic Support Don Conolly) to discuss whatever is going on in our community or globally, as well as the general social-emotional health at school.
Q: Do students need to be “in a bad place” to work with you?
No, of course not. I'm happy to talk to anyone who knocks on my (now virtual) door. I don't actually think my practice and therapy in general is necessarily about having a “problem” to solve; it can be just as much about general health. So I'm really open to see anyone, anytime. And I love talking to Commonwealth students in particular. In grad school, I was not at all interested in being a school counselor, but Commonwealth is a unique school with unique kids.
Q: How can students connect with you?
Just email me; that's the simplest and the most straightforward way. Students can ask their faculty advisor, too.
Q: What are the limits of confidentiality in your meetings with students?
It's largely the same as in private practice: if someone is putting themselves in danger, putting someone else in danger, or reporting any abusive behavior, then, obviously, safety trumps confidentiality.
I try to tell students about the firm limits of confidentiality and then also acknowledge the gray areas. If I’m concerned about something, we’ll talk about why it may be necessary to bring other people into the conversation; hopefully, that’s something we can work through together.
It’s all predicated on being in a safe space and a space unlike others where talking is facilitated. That's my first priority: to have the students feel really protected in that knowledge.
Q: What’s the difference between being a school counselor and working in private practice?
In the way that I'm listening and talking to people, very little is different. The main difference is that in private practice, there’s a direct relationship with the patient; at school, I work within the context of the whole community. So there may be situations where I have to consider the needs and the health of the school in addition to the individual.
I try to be upfront with students about those conflicts. It is an important distinction to make: a school psychologist is in a different position than a private practice psychologist. But I can always refer students to someone outside of school if that’s the right next step.
Q: What’s the difference between your work and Dr. Eagle’s (our Dean of Students)?
We have similar backgrounds and training—I actually recruited Dr. Eagle to Commonwealth. But we're different people with different styles of practice. Dr. Eagle also has an administrative role as Dean of Students, so he’s involved in disciplinary matters.
Q: What do you wish students knew about your work and role at the school?
My deep wish is that every student feels like they have options—that if they want to talk, they know there's some space or person they can turn to, whether it's me or Dr. Eagle, or a Peer Advocate, or maybe a referral outside of school.
I take listening to and hearing people really seriously. Part of that comes from my own conviction that suffering is one thing, but suffering alone is another. I can't necessarily prevent suffering, but I can bear witness. And sometimes that can help transform how someone is feeling or thinking.
I also want people to know that the conversations you can have in therapy can be life enhancing. They can be creative. They can be interesting. They can open up new vantage points and expand the possible choices available to you. And even when they can't, sometimes just being able to think about things in different ways makes them more bearable.
So, those are the two sides of how I approach my practice: one is a commitment to caretaking through listening and the other is commitment to the productive and generative possibilities of these conversations. I always want to share that with students.
Q: What attracted you to counseling in the first place?
I went to St. John's College, which is kind of weird in that it doesn’t have a traditional curriculum (it’s a Great Books school). I didn't have a psychology major or anything like that. But I loved literature and philosophy, and so I thought, I'll do something with books in New York City after I graduate. And it was a total disaster.
Then my own experiences in therapy and my interest in literature led me to thinking, Oh, therapy is a little bit like literature in that you're trying to articulate experiences in transformational and meaningful ways. So I went back to school and earned a master’s and doctorate in psychology. I went on to work for Veterans Affairs, the New England Conservatory, and the Brookline Community Mental Health Center before coming to Commonwealth.
I would actually like to teach a psychology class at Commonwealth at some point—but I would want to use literature because I feel like it has so much more to say about psychology than any textbook.
Q: A literature-based psychology class sounds perfect for Commonwealth! What’s your favorite book?
Probably A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. It's really beautiful—a devastating read on one level, a fairy tale on another. After surviving a hurricane, these kids sail back to England but get captured by pirates. It sort of feels like a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, but it’s more brutal and real. There’s this unbelievable way in which the childhood ability to imagine and absorb things never really gets punctured.
Q: Who are your favorite philosophers?
I love philosophy but I'm not really a philosopher; I can get by in a cocktail party conversation. I’ve read a fair amount of Ludwig Wittgenstein—not the Tractatus or anything that's really hard, but the philosophical investigations, which are a lot more accessible. They were helpful to my thinking. The German romantic philosophers I also find interesting.
Q: What do you do outside of work?
Hang out with my daughter, Ada. She's two-and-three-quarters, and she's pretty awesome.
I'm also currently in psychoanalytic training at the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis. So that's a long endeavor, with seminars, lectures, observation sessions. But it’s also just a collegial network. I’m really involved in the psychoanalytic community in Boston.
I also have weird hobbies. Back in the day when we could have flea markets and garage sales, I was kind of a scavenger for lots of different things: rugs and textiles, Danish modern furniture, Japanese woodblock prints, and most recently collecting and rehabbing woodworking tools. Woodworking is a big hobby of mine too.
Q: What was your best scavenging find?
I've had a lot of really good ones, but probably the best came during a brief sojourn in Florida. I went into a Goodwill because I had just moved into an apartment and I wanted some posters for the wall. I found this old portfolio of what seemed like art posters for $35. But there was an original Roy Lichtenstein lithograph in it (“Finger Pointing,” 1973), and this etching by a famous Cleveland artist from the 1800s. It was unbelievable, just this trove of artwork I found.
Q: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Dr. Lasker! Anything you’d like to add?
No, that's it. Thanks so much. That was fun. I get to geek out and talk about what I like.