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How Well Do You Know Your Therapist?

When I found out my clinical psychologist barracked for the Fremantle Dockers, I could not have been more surprised than if she’d pushed up the arm of her shirt to reveal a Southern Cross tattoo.  In Australia AFL Aussie Rules football and the Southern Cross is as Australian to us as baseball and the Stars and Stripes is to Americans.

So just how well do we know our therapists?  Not very well at all, I think we’d be surprised if we got to know them well, after all isn’t it the not-knowing mystique about them that is so alluring?  The only reason I know she loves football and sits on a cold concrete bench in the middle of winter braving the elements and waving a purple, red and green scarf is because I once saw a sticker on the back of her car.  She did tell me that she also has active facebook and twitter accounts.

I had imagined her more as an arty-farty literati museum and art gallery type (aren’t all psychologists) and not a footy and facebook fan.  It is cognitively dissonant to think of her screaming for her team whilst updating her status rather than reading esoteric poetry with glasses perched on the end of her nose and a crocheted rug over her lap in front of a roaring fire.  Or standing up holding an artists palette in front of a canvas and painting an award winning piece of abstract art, or perhaps reading Hemingway or Dickens (and actually enjoying them), or stitching a complicated intricately patterned tapestry, or better still, writing long wordy articles for peer reviewed psychology journals and avidly writing the self-help book she has been planning to ever since I met her (which is now 15 years and counting – and no book in sight). 

I also imagined her relationships with her family to be just perfect and I assumed everyone who knows her thinks she is just as wise and wonderful as I do.  It was a rude awakening when she told me there were people out there who would laugh themselves silly at what I just said.  She tells me she falls out with her kids occasionally and sometimes gets the hump with family members who press her buttons.  She is a family member first and a therapist second.  Never confuse the professional therapist you see in their office with the person who lives in a real family.  Having a Masters Psychology degree does not make you the perfect housemate.

Seeing our therapists as real people with real outside world problems is difficult because we, as clients, only see one dimension of their personality.  When we start to see our therapist as an imperfect person rather than the perfect fantasy mother that is when we can truly start to separate and understand that their family is not so unlike our own and that sport and art are not incompatible after all.  We are all a mixture of eclectic parts and we are not our professions; and thank goodness for that.

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How Well Do You Know Your Therapist?

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2011). How Well Do You Know Your Therapist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Aug 2011
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