7 Essential Lessons I’ve Learned as a Psychotherapist
One of the wonderful surprises of being a therapist all these years is how big the gift of being of service can be. I have the privilege of knowing people intimately and supporting them in opening their hearts and uncovering happiness. When I sit with that, it gives me an immense sense of purpose. Herein lies life’s beautiful paradox: The more love you give away, the more love you have. The ripple effects give me immense joy.
Through this experience I’ve realized at times it’s important to relay back what I’ve learned.
1. Essential Books to Have at Your Bedside
Aside from Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (debut: January, 2015) – wink! – I’m a big fan of books that keep it simple. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who writes simply and elegantly and I am a fan of many of his works. Taming the Tiger Within and The Miracle of Mindfulness are some of my favorites.
2. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That there’s an end goal.
I don’t mean that people need to be in therapy for an indefinite time, but there’s a faulty notion of achieving some end state. This focus makes therapy more difficult as the mind is cluttered with an expectation instead of focusing on learning. Even if insurance only covers 10 sessions and wants a definitive end goal, we have to always keep in mind that therapy is a vehicle for learning and while we can begin to master certain ways of being, growing and learning about ourselves in life never ends.
3. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Translating what happens in session into their daily life.
There are magical moments of insight that can happen in a therapy session. A feeling that something has really shifted mentally, physically at times and even spiritually. But when we get back in our daily environments we slip back into old patterns and the insights are mere whispers that we often can’t hear. A big part of the work in psychotherapy is about bringing intention to reconnect with the insights and practices from therapy into the other 167 hours of the week.
Finding ways to create reminders that work and stick to is an invaluable tool. The best reminders come in the form of relationships.
4. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?
A couple things come to mind. The first is that at times I care so much about my clients that I take them home with me and that may affect my life outside of the office. But I’ve gotten better over time of not doing that as much and when it does, there’s still a lot of meaning in it. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who’s also a psychologist and can relate.
The second is challenging myself to stay present in the face of uncertainty within a session. There are times when I’m not sure where things are going or what “to do.” It’s important to remember that there’s richness in uncertainty, to be able to “be with” cultivates courage, self-trust and creative potential. When you bring it into the relationship between therapist and client, it builds trust between the two. This is the same in any relationship – trust is the foundation for change.
5. What is the best approach to mental illness?
The best way to enter it is to see it as a learning process, not something to achieve. This drops our anxieties over imperfections and frees up energy to open up to the choice and wonders in life we’re not seeing.
6. Important advice to live by.
Find a way to be of service, there’s no greater gift.
Find what is meaningful to you in life and take steps to make those actionable. The more you do this, the more connected you’ll feel and that is the foundation for feeling good in life.
7. My go-to coping skills for stress.
I have a daily mindfulness practice, play with my kids, rigorous walks, eat healthy, try and get good sleep when my kids allow it, a weekly gratitude roundtable with family and practice practice practice self-compassion.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Goldstein, E. (2014). 7 Essential Lessons I’ve Learned as a Psychotherapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2014/08/7-essential-lessons-ive-learned-as-a-psychotherapist/