A Therapist’s Special ‘Thank You’ to the People We Serve

Mature adult with short silver hair sits at desk working on laptop and smiling while talking on phoneBeing a therapist is not easy. Contrary to what many believe, it’s not just “sitting and listening” to people all day. Yes, therapists are listening, but a competent therapist is listening for buried themes and unspoken messages. Your therapist is working to identify your strengths and how they can be used to move you toward your goals. Your therapist is making decisions about pacing and challenging you, all the while silently asking themselves, “Is this person ready for the next step?” and, “Is this the best approach for this particular individual right now?” Your therapist is constantly considering whether the interventions being used will be effective in helping you. Your therapist is working to remain present with you and ensure you feel heard while deliberating where to go next.

Another challenge of being a therapist is that we don’t always get to witness the results of our work. Some issues and problems take time to resolve, and that resolution can come after the therapy work ends with an individual. I can think of several occasions when someone I worked with told me it was after their work with their previous therapist ended that they were able to apply the insights they gained in therapy. In the absence of feedback, therapists have to trust that the individuals we serve are continuing their work after therapy terminates.

Although being a therapist is hard work, it is not a thankless job. In fact, there are many reasons to thank the individuals we serve. Every day, we get to work with individuals who are smart, caring, and considerate. We get to sit with individuals who challenge themselves and the people in their lives to grow and be their best selves. We get to share in moments of laughter and joy. We are rewarded with expressions of gratitude and appreciation.

As the year comes to an end, I would like to take a few moments to thank all the wonderful individuals, couples, families, and groups who make being a therapist so rewarding.

Thank you for helping us help others.

Time and again, individuals come to therapy with insights that apply to the experiences of other individuals in therapy. When one person survives a particular traumatic experience or learns life lessons from a mistake, it strengthens our faith that other individuals in therapy can do the same. Not only do you help us to trust in the change process, we learn from you. So often, individuals we work with offer ideas and solutions that we, as therapists, may never have considered.

Thank you for giving us ideas and answers that help us serve the next person we work with.

Thank you for pushing us to be better therapists.

Ideally, we enjoy the work we do and want to be the strongest helpers for you that we can be. To better serve you, many therapists obtain additional or ongoing professional development training that is relevant to the work they specialize in. For example, if an individual comes in with trauma, your therapist may pursue specific training and seek consultation to improve their trauma competence. If you are of a specific faith, your therapist might investigate your religion or attend a service to better understand your beliefs and help to connect your spirituality to your needs.

Thank you for helping to refine our therapy approaches, for pushing us to expand our skill sets, and for moving us to know more about your world.

Thank you for the privilege of trusting us with your story and allowing us to help you to step into your voice.

Thank you for challenging us to be agents of change.

My personal belief (which happens to be a shared value of the American Psychological Association and other major mental health organizations) is that creating true change for the individuals we serve cannot be accomplished solely in the therapy room. To help facilitate true change, systemic change needs to occur in the environments in which we reside and work. How can a therapist holistically work with Muslim individuals without seeing the context of their lives in light of Islamophobia? Can a therapist work with sexual assault survivors without paying attention to how they might be triggered by the victim-blaming and -shaming that is prevalent in our present culture? In these cases, and many others affected by our sociopolitical climate and systemic oppression, therapists are called to advocate for the well-being of those they serve, and not just inside the therapy room. Therapists have a responsibility to be agents of change in their larger communities.

Thank you for holding us accountable to act within our sphere of influence to challenge daily acts of oppression. Thank you for helping to inform how we spend our money, vote, and participate within our communities. Thank you for pushing us to educate and train others to be culturally competent and social justice agents of change.

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” So many people have been silenced into submission, depression, anxiety, and fear. So many have been made to feel as if they—or what they have gone through—is unimportant, unworthy, and that they are deserving of pain and ridicule. Working with individuals in therapy, I have seen how silence and shame devastate self-esteem and confidence. Through having the opportunity to tell their stories, individuals in therapy may challenge the stories that have been told about them or made up for them, and may begin to script their own narratives. What a joy and a blessing to be able to sit with these individuals, bear witness to their stories, and watch them move from agony and defeat to a place of acceptance and empowerment.

Thank you for the privilege of trusting us with your story and allowing us to help you to step into your voice.

Reference:

American Psychological Association. (2003). Guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change for psychologists. American Psychologist, 58, 377-402.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kimber Shelton, PhD, therapist in Duncanville, Texas

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

  • 3 comments
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  • Jen

    Jen

    December 22nd, 2017 at 4:36 PM

    I wholeheartedly appreciate all the hard work that therapists do!

  • Sally

    Sally

    December 27th, 2017 at 11:37 AM

    Well said Kimber!
    I’m a therapist too and this resonates with me. The work we do is life changing and the people we serve bring so much back to us professionally and personally.

  • Dr. Sara

    Dr. Sara

    December 27th, 2017 at 12:55 PM

    Hear hear!
    This is a VERY rewarding line of work even in face of challenges

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