As I kickstarted my career change from the tech world to mental health counseling, I've had to adjust to a new therapy culture. Here's 3 realizations from my first 6 months on the other side.
1.Therapists see a dark side of humanity
My favorite part, hands down, has been working with clients directly on mental health challenges in weekly outpatient therapy. As I gain experience in the links between trauma & achievement, I've witnessed some heartbreaking stories.
Parents say the darndest things. Domestic violence and incest are more common than you think. There are so many Complex Trauma survivors are among us. Sometimes, I can't fall asleep for hours, as I contemplate how cruel people can be to their kids. So many lives have been trampled on, traumatizing bodies, minds, and relationships for decades of painful times.
2 of the most valuable things therapists can offer clients are support and hope. People's resilience and post-traumatic growth is so impressive, despite profound violations of trust and safety, often by people closest to them. Recovery from trauma is so rewarding to help, especially as clients gradually make sense of their experiences and reclaim their identities, self-worth, and preferences.
2. Codependents’ dream job
The social work field was started by privileged white women, and grounded the roots of the "white savior" complex. For anyone who finds themselves pulled into solving other people's problems, therapy may be the dream job for you; I say that jokingly!
Our clinical trainings emphasize empowering clients to come to their own conclusions, so restraining the tendency to tell clients what to do is all part of the therapist's work. It's important to recognize clients as autonomous experts with control over their own lives. Although therapists may express aspirations for their clients in Supervision, it's a delicate dance not to push clients to our agendas, but rather collaboratively guide their own discoveries.
People don't like being told what to do, and often naturally push back to unsolicited advice. As the field recognizes this more and more, Motivational Interviewing's approach to evoking clients' own reasons and plans for changes has spread rapidly across medical and therapy practices.
3. Therapists aren’t perfect
When you're having a tough day in corporate or start-up America, you can go hide in a booth with your headphones, or work from home. When you're fighting with your partner, overwhelmed with work, or feeling unhealthy as a therapist, there's this additional sense of fear over whether that disqualifies you from being able to help your clients. I've heard many therapists share this pressure of having your ish together, maybe to model good examples for clients and feel more confident in our own capacities.
And yet, therapists have issues too. Therapy clinics are full of office politics too.
Therapists' empathy levels also vary greatly, despite their degree or committment to helping people. Empathy levels predict client outcomes, and can even negatively effect therapy goals (Moyer, 2013). For example, clients with alcoholism were found to drink more after consulting therapists with low empathy. Therapists aren't perfect, and yet our limitations can negatively impact our clients. Who knew empathy was such a valuable and expendable resource?
The use of self as a therapist goes beyond anything I imagined too. Our experiences with the client often mirror their other relationships. Working through these kinks with therapists allows these bumps to heal for clients in the rest of their relationships. It's also oftentimes therapists' experiences working through their own imperfections that bolsters their compassion for clients facing similar challenges.
Despite how challenging the mental health field can be, I've found it to be incredibly rewarding and meaningful so far.
Thanks for reading! Have other questions on life as a new therapist-in-training? Let's Talk About Anything - [email protected]
Moyers, T. B., & Miller, W. R. (2013). Is low therapist empathy toxic? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 878–884. doi:10.1037/a0030274