Maybe you’re considering whether to see a peer therapist. And despite knowing some of the drawbacks, maybe you decide you want someone who shares some experience or characteristic with you. Maybe it’s the rigor of your education or career. Maybe it’s someone of your race. Maybe it’s your history of abuse. Others want someone of their religious orientation. These desires are valid. In some ways it would be great to have someone who has walked in our shoes, but its not as obvious an advantage as one might think. Sometimes people who have overcome a hardship are less empathetic than others who haven’t. Also by finding a therapist who has a shared demographic or experience we may miss a therapist with whom we share something more intangible, but more powerful.
But sometimes there is a different kind of resonance. I remember a client.
She had requested a therapist of her race, her religion and her age, all of which were different than mine. She then decided to do group therapy with our agency. And she did one group after another. She had done several before mine. But something clicked for her and she said she was ready for individual therapy if I would be her therapist. So we did that. And it worked. I was not her peer in any of the fundamental issues we were working on. But we had a deep resonance that made peer issues seem unimportant. I felt that I really understood her and she felt understood, and seen, and respected. And she changed. Real change, felt better. And she made a very real impact on me too.
But here’s the thing. There is no one just like you. There is no other person with your race, body type, education, family background, cultural and socioeconomic influences and even if there was, this person would not be you. Do you have siblings? Or know someone who does? Then you’ve seen this in action.
It’s perfectly normal and reasonable to want someone who really gets where you’re coming from, in a visceral, personal way. And sometimes there is no replacement for someone with a shared experience. But we can’t always find a peer, and many people who share our backgrounds or experiences may be more judgmental of our reactions to things. There is another, intangible sort of connection that’s very difficult to measure but you know when you have it, if you can trust that it’s there. Both can heal.