Therapists Have Therapy Too

One thing that often surprises me is when a therapy user comments on how they admire the therapist because they must never get overwhelmed by the common issues or problems the rest of humanity experiences.

The times I’ve heard people tell me, “I wish I was like you, you are so calm and together.” As much as I appreciate the compliment, that isn’t always true.

I’ve been through psychotherapy before. As a trainee years and years ago, I was required to do at least a year of therapy. And although when I went into therapy I thought I didn’t have any issues to talk about and thought myself self-aware, I soon learned how easy it is fooling oneself.

I found that 18 months of therapy changed me and defined who I became for the rest of my life. Since then I’ve been a strong advocate for therapists having therapy and I always stand by the belief that I could never ask my clients to do something that I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself.

I’m very wary of therapists who have never had therapy and I’m suspicious of their motives for being a therapist without seeing the other side of the chair first. Personally, I think it’s essential for all therapists to have experienced what it feels like to be faced with a stranger while exploring difficult issues. To put oneself in a position to be vulnerable and explore truths about oneself that would be safer kept hidden and not revealed. I believe it’s valuable for a therapist to experience being human, flaws and all.

For me, if a therapist hasn’t been through that experience, I personally wouldn’t want them to be my therapist.

This brings me to why I’m writing this article. I think it’s important that people know that therapists also need help at times. I know for myself, I’ve recently been going through some difficult issues that I knew I couldn’t understand alone, and I started therapy to help me gain some new insight. I’ve always found therapy a great way of getting a different view of what I thought my problem was.

It’s also a great way to just talk and see what happens. Being guided to stay with feelings or to talk more about a certain issues helps illuminate areas that I hadn’t considered when thinking alone. Therapy is also great for getting to the heart of an issue, even if the conclusion was different to what I was expecting or wanting.

I also know that as much as I know about therapy, what motivates people and change, sometimes I think it’s healthy to throw my hands up in the air and say, “I need help. I can’t do this alone.”

Another thing to remember about therapy is that everybody uses it differently. There isn’t just one way to ‘do therapy.’ Some people want to work on specific problems, like myself. Others want to talk to somebody and not have a specific goal in mind because they are lost or stuck in life; and some people just like to go to talk as there is little room in their lives to talk about themselves elsewhere.

All of these options are fine. There is no right or wrong way ‘to do’ therapy.

In practice I’m a goal-focused therapist and I work with people to help them achieve specific goals. But I also recognize that that type of therapy doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, I’m working on my current issues not in a goal-focused way. I want to explore my feelings around that goal and experience my body and emotions before I can go back to working on my cognitive tasks. And that works for me at this point.

Again, there isn’t one right therapeutic approach which will suit everybody, and each therapist is different and will bring specific strengths and weaknesses to the therapy relationship. Also different approaches can help us at different times in our lives – one size will not fit all.

If you’re with a therapist or in therapy that doesn’t seem to work for you, you can always change. It’s like finding the right shoes. Some days you want the super-fast running shoes, other times the dog-chewed comfy slippers.

So next time you see your therapist and think that he or she has his or her life together, don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve ever had therapy. They may tell you, and they may not. But I am a firm believer in practicing what I preach because I know therapy is helpful and will always be a part of my life as either a therapist or therapy user.