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On being a therapist...

The past few weeks has probably been one of the more difficult times to be a therapist, no matter for whom one voted. The air is thick with intense emotions, and people are visibly deflated or inflated.

There has been a palpable shift in the world.

As a therapist, I am trained to avoid making a session about me, therefore I share very little about myself, usually only small surface-level bits for anecdotal purposes. Since November 9th, I've found it difficult at times to hold back my reactions, specifically when someone shares with me a hate crime that they've witnessed or had against them. My background in Feminist Therapy allows the therapist to be genuine and authentic; having emotions and showing I too am human and I feel isn't a bad thing or inappropriate. Where people get stuck and have trouble, though, is when their biased opinion comes out.

As a therapist, I monitor my opinion constantly within a session - I'm thinking, "What's my purpose in asking her/him this? Is this something I'm curious about or will it allow her/him deeper introspection?" I'm careful to not ask a question that is for my own benefit, it must always be to enhance the client's thoughtfulness. However, sometimes the conversation becomes just that, a conversation between two humans. Lately, the conversations are different than discussing fun video games or new songs, they're grounded in a reality of which many people have become fearful.

As a therapist, I do not share my political beliefs. I will, however, engage in a conversation about the political climate with a client accordingly. I focus on emotions and feelings versus opinions. I'm careful to not use political party names or politician's names, but with this election, let's be real: sometimes it's obvious what 'side' I'm on. As an ethical practitioner and a feminist therapist, as a woman, it is my clinical duty and human responsibility to promote the wellbeing of others, to embrace diversity and apparent differences, to empathize with and unconditionally appreciate every human being.

As a therapist, I do not need to have lived through whatever my client has lived through in order to offer support. We don't have to share the same beliefs for me to offer support, for me to empathize with them. People have opinions and beliefs and their perceived reality is just that, their perceived reality. I don't have to understand their [perceived] reality to appreciate them as a fellow human being; I do not have to understand their opinions.

The past few weeks have been jarring, shocking, hurtful, confusing, demoralizing, hopeful, eye-opening; I cannot pretend that this has not been a labile mashup of all of the above. I am processing like everyone else. On Wednesday November 9th, I allowed myself space to grieve, to feel, so go inward and close up and feel all the feels. I slept, and when I woke up I felt again a call to action: I will acknowledge my fellow humans, even those who have opposing beliefs; I do not have to agree with you or understand you to still offer you human decency. I respect all human life. I remember that we are all connected. 

As a therapist, I model ethical behavior and offer different perspectives. I refrain from bringing too much of myself (e.g., my opinions), into the room, but I am very much myself in those 45 minutes.

As a therapist, I ensure my office is a safe place for anyone to discuss their feelings openly without fear of being judged.

As a therapist, I model acceptance of differences, without condoning hatred or fear or violence or ignorance.

I will focus on each day as it comes, not the next four years or the first one-hundred days. 

I will continue to help and peacefully fight for what is right and what I believe to be ethically valid. I will do my best to discourage cruelty and promote kindness. I will offer ways to maintain good self-care during this difficult time, and I will listen with an open heart and an open mind...

...as a therapist, it's my job.

- S

On being a therapist...

What I'm about to say may shock you, and it may worry you, but here goes...your therapist is not the expert.

If you've ever been in therapy, you probably had some kind of an expectation going into it. Watch any TV show or movie and you'll see that the client in therapy is often looking to his/her therapist for guidance and a way to solve an issue. There's this idea that the therapist is the expert, that if we divulge all of our deepest darkest secrets to this one human, that the therapist will magically solve all of our issues - they have all of the answers! They know what's right and wrong! They will tell me how to live better so that I can find love and get my dream job and make lots of money and retire at age 40!

I realize that's dramatic, but not that far-fetched. In my career as a mental health therapist, I've experienced this a bit with clients - and I've been in the field for nearly ten years. I'd be lying if I said my ego didn't appreciate the idea that my clients look to me for guidance and support. My heart swells when my students tell me that they thought about what I would say in a certain scenario! I'm human.

However, realistically, I do not matter. I am in no way an expert on how my clients should live their lives. And how dare anyone try to impose their own beliefs on another! Who are we to presume that what's best for us is best for others?

It can be weird going and seeing a therapist for the first time, and people do have expectations in general; but with their therapist, it's the expectation of going into the office, sitting in the chair, venting about stressors, and *poof* - magic happens as soon as the therapist opens his/her mouth.

Obviously it's not that easy.

It's important to understand that you actually do the work in therapy - not your therapist.

I know! Controversial and provocative!! 

But it's true! As I've alluded to in the past, the therapist's job is to reflect, summarize, support, validate, normalize, and empower YOU to make decisions.

We are basically a human-weed-wacker, helping you chop off all of the unhelpful weeds that grow around and try to suffocate the beautiful tree, so that the tree can grow freely and feel the warm sun on it's bark and the appreciate the wind through it's leaves!! I digress... ;)

So please, the next time you seek counseling or go to your therapist's office, remember that your therapist is not the expert - you are. Know that everything, all of the answers, lie within you, and that you will get through whatever is going on. You've got this!

- S

On being a therapist...

In it's simplest form, therapy is just two humans having a conversation..png

If you've ever been a client of therapy, maybe you've wondered about the other life your therapist leads. I know when I was in therapy I was curious about my therapist! I mean, we're human, we're curious by nature. But I'm about to potentially break some news to you that, well, may not sound so great.

Your therapist does not necessarily want to see you in public. Your therapist does not want you to know about his or her personal life.

I know, it stings a little. But let's think about this for a second - therapy takes place within a safe, confidential environment. Whatever the client presents within a session is what the therapists holds to be true, and that's what the therapist works with throughout the time that the therapeutic relationship exists. This is a very specific and protected interaction which is based solely on those 50 minutes. 

No, your therapist is not going to Google you, or try to find your Instagram. 

My training, and I cannot speak for every therapist, states that this kind of behavior would be unethical and honestly, cause a conflict of interest. Realistically, clients don't tell their therapists everything about them, or at least everything right away. And that is ok! Therapy is a place where the client can feel safe and share freely without the fear of being judged - that's key!

Now, all of this isn't to say that your therapist doesn't care about you - of course they do! But in a different way. Therapists are trained to have appropriate, clear boundaries with their clients, as well as with the work itself. A therapist should try not to bring their work home with them, and should have something that provides meaning in their life outside of their work. It's all about a healthy balance, and avoiding taking on too much. You've heard the phrase, "you cannot help someone else until you've helped yourself" - the same rings true for therapists. We must maintain healthy mental and physical health so that we can efficiently help others. 

As for the therapist sharing personal information, this may occur naturally and appropriately in more of an anecdotal form. As my background draws from Feminist Theory, I tend to be more transparent with my students and will sometimes share personal details when I feel that it is relevant to the client. I'm very careful with what information I share, and ensure that there is a purpose behind each statement. This can help build rapport but it also allows the client to feel as though it is an equal playing field. For me, being a therapist does not mean that I know more than my client, or that I am better than my client. In it's simplest form, therapy is just two humans sitting and having a conversation. We are just catching up, and maybe every once in a while I can reflect something that invokes an increase in insight in my client.

So if you are in therapy, try to keep in mind that these boundaries are in place to protect you and your therapeutic experience. It is out of respect for you, the client, as well as the therapeutic process. 

- S