Do you (or someone you know) have a therapist? If so, how is this therapist perceive by you or the person you know? Sadly, many therapists are perceived by clients as “arrived” and capable of navigating life without error. Most people believe that therapists are trained professionals who know exactly what is needed to “cure” the problem the client is seeking help for. While part of this is true, clients fail to realize that the therapist may have first hand experience with trauma, a divorce, family drama, or other common challenges we face.
This article will discuss 5 ways we can adjust our perspective when thinking of mental health therapists/professionals.
One of my teen clients made a very interesting point this week when he stated “therapy is a job.” He and I both laughed in agreement and then discussed what makes therapy “a job.” Interestingly, he did not mention the things I thought he would such as trying to work on personal baggage, becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings, or striving to successfully end therapy. Instead, he mentioned the stress involved in seeing your therapist at the grocery store, learning about parts of a therapist’s personal life, or trying to assimilate the idea of a therapist suffering from anxiety or depression with the social and educational power a therapist achieves through education. Believe it or not, therapists are sometimes viewed by clients as “human Gods” and unfortunately, that perception may never go away.
As a result, I engaged this client in exploring a few ideas that may encourage him to view me a bit more realistically. Some of the things we discussed about a therapist is that:
- They are human: Some clients have a difficult time seeing their therapist cry or become frustrated by something happening in the world (e.g., human trafficking, a recent public tragedy, or social injustice). For most clients, a therapist is supposed to be the strong one, the wise one, the person who never feels anything (or at least appear that way). In fact, some clients may believe that a therapist has “arrived” emotionally and should teach others how to handle their feelings. While this may be partially true, no human being will “arrive” emotionally at a place where nothing bothers them. Sadly, some people believe that therapists have it all figured out and may have a difficult time accepting when a therapist admits feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about something. It’s important to remember we’re all humans.
- They often want to reduce public encounters as much as you do: Would you feel uncomfortable seeing your therapist in a public setting such as a clothing store, grocery store, auto mechanic shop, the mall, your child’s school, your medical doctor’s office, or some other public setting? How would you respond? Some people respond by hiding or finding a place to blend in with other people, act like they don’t see the therapist at all, or push themselves to be cordial. Some therapists discuss these possibilities with clients during the 1st or 2nd session and ways to cope. Other therapists may create a “plan” for public encounters which may include: not acknowledging each other or initiating contact, allowing the client to initiate contact at all times, or acting as if the therapeutic relationship does not exist (at least in public).
- Therapists are aware that life isn’t easy: I learned very quickly as a developing young adult that life is life and it is hard. No one is immune from the pressures and pains of life, even a therapist. We must be mindful that therapists struggle with their own challenges and that some days are more difficult than others. I remember having an admirable medical practitioner at the age of 15. She was from Bogota Columbia and traveled the world studying medicine. After years of looking up to her and admiring everything about her, I was informed she had resigned. Shocked, I called the office just to confirm that what I had heard was true. I was told, with my doctor’s approval, the reason for her resignation was that her mother was struggling with cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease and may not live. This was difficult for me to fathom because I hadn’t considered the reality that she too was a human and had challenges she had to face.
- Good therapists aren’t always ready to talk about difficult subjects: A good and skilled therapist will be ready for whatever may need to be discussed in the office or therapy room. A relationship between a client and his or her therapist should include open communication, authenticity, and patience. If you struggle with seeing your therapist in public, using the restroom in their office, running into them in the parking lot, seeing them say goodbye to other clients,etc., consider bringing these things up in therapy. I once had a client tell me that he felt uncomfortable entertaining the thought that I would one day have children and be married. As a single graduate student studying counseling psychology a few years ago I encountered 5 clients who saw me as the “baby” or the “freshman therapist.” Although I was certainly a “baby” to counseling at that time, that did not mean I couldn’t have a life (and life experiences) outside of the career title. But for many of my young clients, I was just a therapist (with no personal life) and that was it.
- They most likely have personal experience: It can sometimes be hard to believe that your very own therapist may also have a history of depression or anxiety, struggle with an oppositional child or abusive spouse, or has a friend or family member who may be struggling with life. It is important to remind yourself that not all therapists have learned what they know from higher education or being trained by seasoned professionals. Some therapists have been where you are or have experienced barriers or struggled with the things you or someone you know are. Take advantage of this personal knowledge. Ask questions if you know your therapist well and you both have built trust.
How do you see your therapist? Do you know how to maintain a realistic view of who they are?
As always, I wish you well.