As a therapist, I believe that many people tend to think that we are not human - that we somehow have it all together. In fact, that’s anything further from the truth. After the last 18 years of being in the mental health field, I can honestly say that when I was asked as a child what my dream job was, I stumbled into a passion and a journey that has challenged me both professionally and personally in more ways than one.
The tough part about being a therapist is that we are trying to find our way throughout this world, one step forward at a time. As a therapist, I have my moments of going a little faster than I should when picking up my son and running late, not always wanting to eat the best foods and sometimes just putting off my morning Peloton ride, “just because I didn’t feel like it”. The truth is, the last few years have not been easy – after all the education and reading and knowledge, sometimes as a therapist, we have to rely on the genuine connection of just being present for another human being who is also trying to set goals, be a better individual and focus on what’s in front of us.
Here are some harsh realities from a therapist’s perspective - things perhaps we don’t say and want you to know or if you were ever curious:
1. We have our own safe space and yes, therapists need their own therapist:
I had someone a few weeks ago ask me how I was able to hold space for so many people and be able to deal with my own issues. The answer was simple: we have our own safe space. My personal safe space is the gym. It’s saved my life over the last few years, been a huge part of my own personal recovery and gives me a sense of balance and control. Therapists need a safe space - in fact, it’s part of the resume, job description and just for overall sanity and survival. Our safe space is sometimes seeing our own therapist, not to process your stuff, but our own. We experience trauma, we have mommy/daddy issues, and we, too, are cleaning our own emotional closet of divorces, break ups and the world that we are living in. In order to provide a safe space for clients, we, too, need somewhere to process, feel and emotionally find our way.
2. We aren’t perfect partners or parents - so gently take us off the pedestal:
Let’s face it, we all have our moments in which our emotions get the best of us. Therapists are no different - if you think that we always “talk about our feelings”, or “tell me how that makes you feel” outside of sessions, that’s not the case. The reality is that when we are outside of sessions, we argue with our spouse, we yell at our kids, we tend to sometimes forget to drink however many ounces of water per day, and if you really want me to be honest, sometimes we really suck at self-care. We endlessly respond to emails and at times overbook ourselves. Therapists are not easy people to date or be married to - we argue, we get upset, we yell - so know that we are human too, and don’t always use the books and the coping strategies that we may suggest to our clients. But, what I will tell you is that as a therapist, we have boundaries - most of my friends may even tell you, I might give good feedback, but I’m not their therapist and I never will be (even if we take their insurance).
3. We experience hurt and pain when our clients do, and know that we genuinely care about you as your therapist:
The dichotomy between holding space for someone in therapy and allowing them to process their emotions and feeling and experiencing empathy is one unique aspect of the therapy process. When clients come into session and experience a break up, a divorce or death of a loved one, we don’t simply disconnect and not feel. The reality is, that most therapists will tell you, that’s the hardest part of our job - setting the personal and professional boundary. I remember having a client who experienced the loss of a child and being a new parent at the time, weeping in my office, unable to ever understand life without my child. During the session, I realized that the time that we spent was more for her to have a place to just experience raw emotion, rather than fixing or guiding. That night I remember moving in almost a daze unable to grasp how I could ever feel that loss myself, but in some ways grateful that she had allowed me to be there for her and through action just provide a sense of comfort.
4. We really appreciate when you keep us accountable and tell us what is working (& what’s not):
My professional rule of thumb has always been to my clients, that I will never tell them what to do - now, if you have ever met me, personally and professionally, I’m not the person who will just nod and not say anything - however, as a therapist, we want you to tell us if it’s not a good fit. We want to hear if you’re needing more accountability. We want you to tell us when you’re feeling that perhaps we’re doing a little more of the nodding and agreeing rather than challenging you to be your best self. With any service, if you’re not happy - the provider doesn’t know unless you tell them. Therapy isn’t about talking, or listening - it’s about accountability. Sometimes that looks like recognizing your own needs and taking the chance to start making some changes (big or small). If you’re not happy - tell us. Sometimes it’s what we need to hear in order to make the process better, or perhaps end the chapter that we’re editing for you, and connect you to someone who can help.
5. We are not therapists or in this business for the money:
When I was in my undergraduate program, I remember one of the professors saying “if you’re becoming a therapist for the money, just know that you better invest in a comfortable chair because we don’t retire early like everyone else”. Truer words were never spoken - therapists are not millionaires. Some of you may have read Brene Brown books, or have seen therapists or life coaches on Oprah’s Master Class, but those of us who are meeting with people throughout the day and just trying to make this world a better place are not millionaires. In fact, we still drive the same car, live on a budget and we’re not making a lot of money to invest in a vacation home. Just know that as a therapist, our goal isn’t to hit the jackpot, we’re truly one of the few industries (or at least most of us) that have a desire to help. Some of us might write a book one day, but therapists are probably the most undervalued individuals in the world (that’s just my personal opinion).
6. We genuinely love what we do, and we love you too:
I had a therapist in my practice, several years ago, tell me that a client of his had shared, “you’d be someone I could see myself grabbing a drink with or just a good friend”. Trust me, we enjoy our clients and the privilege of being able to walk through life with them. Sometimes we even enjoy the good parts of the stories about life, when children are born, when break ups save a client from another toxic relationship, or when life just is really good. We are happy when you’re achieving your goals and taking names and when you’re in a good place. Due to our professional ethics and boundaries, we may not always be able to tell you how much we care - but we do. There might even be some of you that we’d probably enjoy a happy hour or a lunch with you, but that’s not within our ethical code. Just know that there’s a really good chance that your therapist might genuinely enjoy your company throughout sessions and finds your humor actually funny. Remember, we hold our boundaries pretty firm, but we’re human too.
At the end of the day, we’re all human and finding our way through this very complicated ball of wax that we call life. Throughout the challenges and accomplishments, we all need someone who is willing to be present and it’s a privilege to be able to have that as a part of my own personal and professional path.