Would you be surprised if you learned that your therapist had his or her own psychotherapist? Might you even be a bit unsettled by this discovery? How, you might wonder, can your therapist help you if he or she needs help?
Should you, for some reason, come to learn that your therapist is in his or her own therapy, here are three reasons to be comforted rather than disturbed:
- One of the best ways to learn how to be a therapist and to continue to grow as a therapist is to participate in your own therapy. Empathy—the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another, to really and truly see the world through someone else’s eyes—is a critical ingredient of psychotherapy. What better way for your therapist to understand how much courage it takes to disclose deeply personal and painful experiences than by doing it? By participating in their own therapy, therapists are also learning firsthand what good, quality therapy looks and feels like from a more experienced, seasoned therapist. Think of it this way: You certainly wouldn’t trust a teacher to teach you something if he or she had never studied the material that was being taught. Likewise, therapists must have experienced the process of psychotherapy, firsthand, if they are to be successful in their work with clients.
- Therapists who participate in their own therapy have afforded themselves the invaluable opportunity to thoroughly explore, understand and resolve the issues, pain, and traumas in their past. As a result, they are unlikely to get their own unresolved issues mixed up with yours. Therapists who have not done their own work in therapy might encounter clients with problems similar to their own and unknowingly use their clients to work through their own experiences. For example, a therapist who has unresolved feelings surrounding a past infidelity in his or her own relationship and is also working with a client struggling with infidelity might not be able to remain objective. It is easy to see how the therapist might over-identify with the client, assuming that they share the same feelings and experiences surrounding infidelity. This might cause the therapist to miss the very personal, unique experience of this particular client. Worse yet, the client whose experience does not align exactly with the therapist’s might come to believe that his or her feelings are aberrant or inappropriate in some way. Clearly, this kind of behavior can be quite harmful to clients, whose problems may go unheard while the therapist focuses on himself or herself.
- Therapists will no doubt have issues that arise in their personal lives that will create challenges for them at times. After all, therapists are just regular human beings—they experience births, deaths, marriages, divorces, financial setbacks, and all manner of other life events that can create turbulence and turmoil. While therapists do not necessarily need to be in therapy for the entirety of their professional lives, they do need to know when they need to return to therapy. Therapists who have done their own work in therapy will have heightened self-awareness and knowledge of their triggers and therefore be better able to recognize times when they need to seek help to heal themselves and avoid harming clients.
So, if you somehow discover that your therapist has been in, or is in, his or her own therapy, take comfort in the fact you have a therapist who is dedicated to self-care and therefore will be all the more able to successfully partner with you as you work toward your goals.
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