Therapists in Therapy: Madness or Just What the Doctor Ordered?

male therapist meeting with female therapistWould 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, Person Centered / Rogerian Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • greta

    October 7th, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    Why not?
    I mean, if they advocate this for me, then why not for themselves?
    I would much rather know that I had someone who is trying to take care of themselves over someone burning the candle at both ends.
    That would be the person I would be afraid of handling my own mental health.

  • adrian

    October 8th, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    If I am in therapy myself then why am I going to judge because someone else is in therapy?

  • Fay

    October 8th, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    We all need a little help every now then. No matter what status you carry. We are allowed to have “bad” days too. Sometimes we go through situations which maybe part of our life lessons to be able to help others. Also who is looking after the “carer”? So yes I agree, its dedication to others as well as to your self.

  • Clarissa

    October 8th, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Why should I be surprised?

    Can you imagine all of the crazy and intense stuff that therapists have to hear about day in and day out? If I had to listen to this all day long I am so sure that I would need some counselijg too.

    It is a huge heavy burden to know that people are depending on me for treatment and advice, especially when someone is seriously ill and the decisions that I make could have a huge degree of impact on their iverall quality of life. I think that if I had that kind of power in my hands that would be just a little overwhelming and that I might need just a little help dealing with that every now and then.

  • Chris

    October 8th, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    As a therapist, I would have to say that being in my own therapy is one of the best things I could have done to be able to truly be with and care for my clients. Thanks for this article!

  • Jenn

    October 9th, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    If you are a therapist you would obviously have to believe in the validity of the parctice, no? So why not delve into your own problems and issues with someone who could help you work out your own past? In the end this is not going to make you weak, but will only make you a stronger therapist for your own patients and I think in the end even give you more common ground with those patients, a greater awareness of what they could be experiencing which in turn will allow you to offer them sounder treatment than maybe you would have been able to before. I see nothing wrong with this at all and I am sure that others in therapy are open minded enough to feel the same.

  • Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    October 24th, 2013 at 8:44 PM

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments on this. I’m so glad to hear how open-minded everyone is about this. Chris, I could possibly agree with you more!

  • Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    October 24th, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    Oops, that should have been: Chris, I could not possibly agree with you more. :)

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