Clients usually hope that their therapists know a lot of stuff. Stuff about how your brain works, stuff about how to change things that hurt you, stuff about how to communicate. And your therapist does know these things. But it might not be what makes them a good therapist.
The things that make me a good therapist are the things I learned when I wasn’t being a therapist. I know what it feels like to have someone truly See you and Hear you, maybe for the first time. I also know that being invited to share the secrets of your heart can feel like being invited to jump into a bottomless chasm that may or may not be haunted. I know that it is both validating and daunting to know that when your therapist asks you how you are, they’re really listening. And THAT I learned from being a client.
Through all the training and education I’ve had over the years, the things I use most often with my clients are the things I discovered when I’ve been in their chair.
So often in my work, I meet people who sit on my couch for the first time, and blanch at the prospect of opening up to someone. I get that. I get that you might not be able to dive in to your biggest struggles right away; I’m a stranger and you’ve been guarding these secrets closely. I welcome this part of your process, and I invite you to tell me if you don’t feel comfortable with me yet. In therapy, we love to walk just outside your comfort zone to challenge you to new ways of thinking, but we know that you’re the only one who really knows where that comfort zone begins and ends.
I get that this work is exhausting, and that some days, you just don’t want to do it. It’s hard work to have to drag your mind away from persistent thoughts of doom and gloom, or to break free from an eating disorder. It takes a lot of effort and work to change your patterns and behaviors so that you can ultimately feel healthier and happier. Some days, it just feels easier to give in and give up, and I completely understand that. Your frustration that you have to work a little harder for happiness is welcome in this room, and I’ve felt that.
I get that you might be annoyed with me sometimes. The nature of our work is fraught with emotions and tension, and sometimes I might slip up, or ask you to go somewhere that you just don't want to go. I invite you to confront me in these moments, and I think these conversations can be really healthy experiences that challenges us to grow.
I understand that sometimes you want to know things about me, and that it’s a little weird to crack your soul open to someone you don’t know much about. It’s fine to be curious, and often times I wish I could share more with you! I know that the more our time stays entirely focused on you, the more impactful your work will be. I get that you might be worried about what I think about you. You’re always welcome to ask because I am always ready to remind my clients of how much I respect them and appreciate their trust in me.
No matter how many textbooks I read, how many seminars I attend, the most enlightening knowledge I’ve acquired about being a therapist has been the knowledge that I received while I was being a client. Therapy is about people; therapist people and client people and all the people in between. We’re in it with you.
And we get it.