Counseling Advice: Therapy for Therapists
There is a saying I heard in graduate school from one of my classmates that I often think about and reflect on as a therapist. One day, my classmate turned to me and stated, “All therapist are wounded healers”. This statement has always stuck with me because I relate to it, think it is powerful, and most importantly because I believe it to be true. I believe we all come to the helping profession through our own powerful journeys and strong desires to help others. I personally came to be a therapist because I wanted to give back. I had been so positively impacted in my life by therapy, that by the age of eleven, I knew when I grew up that I was going to be a marriage and family therapist. Though we all come to the profession from different avenues, I do believe it is our own struggles and healing that have led us here.
For me, being a therapist is an honor and a privilege. It is an honor to be able to guide clients through their healing process. It is a privilege to be able to walk and join with the client into a space of vulnerability and openness. It is of utmost importance that we come into that space with non-judgment and compassion for another human being as they disclose some of their most intimate feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Therapy is in many ways a one sided relationship that encompasses and creates a power difference between the client and the therapist. There are expectations of the therapist to create; maintain, and hold this special space so that clients can express themselves freely, grow, change; to find the guidance they need. The unequal power that exists is germane to the professional therapeutic relationship. The relationship is supposed to be all about the client, not the therapist. Essentially, the therapist is being paid to be there for the client, not the other way around. However, it is very naive to think that therapists are not affected and impacted by the client’s they support in the therapy room. Therapists are directly affected both personally and professionally as well as both positively and negatively by the client’s they serve. Therapeutic terms like transference and countertransference often surface in the therapeutic relationships we engage in. How then do we as therapists get our own needs met when we operate in a career that is very one sided and unequal in power? How do we deal with and address our needs as we operate in an environment where we are continually impacted by the clients we serve both on a personal and professional level? When, where, and how is it that we get our needs met?
Many graduate programs require a certain amount of individual therapy in order for students to obtain their degrees. As interns and trainee’s we get one on one and group supervision where we are able to discuss and process our cases. As licensed professionals, we often consult and engage in peer consultation groups. However, if therapists are in fact wounded healers, where are we able to address our wounds and our needs? I ask these questions because the more I grow as a therapist, the more I become aware that it is crucial that we have our own therapeutic support. I find it essential that as a therapist, I have a therapist. I feel it is important that we do our own inner work as therapists. I believe it is important that we practice what we recommend to others and that we hold ourselves accountable to the wellness standards that we ask of our client’s.
Are we better therapists when we are getting our own needs met or when we are neglecting them? I think many therapists would say that they are better able to be there for their clients when they are taking good care of themselves. There are many ways to take care of oneself and promote wellness in our lives. However, the more I grow professionally, the more essential I find it to have my own therapeutic support. I strongly encourage all therapists to reflect on what type of support they need to maintain their personal well-being and ability to support their clients as an effective therapist.