As a practicing clinical psychologist, I’ve asked myself the question for over two decades: “Who the f*ck am I to be a healer?”
I imagine that I’m not the only one involved in the healing arts who has asked this soul searching question and struggled with ego, shadow and the imposter syndrome. Can anybody relate?
Even using that term, the healing arts seems pretentious and full of it. Really. Who the f*ck am I to be able to heal anyone? Thank God, I figured out early I’m not the one doing the healing, any more than a physician heals a broken bone. Takes some of the pressure off for sure.
And yet, I’ve got to admit, it takes a certain amount of self-importance, narcissism, arrogance and chutzpah to even want to enter a field where the goal is to help people have better lives physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
Anyone who has created anything, been an innovator or wanted to change society has had to have a strong personality. Look at Freud. He was tough, he was full of himself and he couldn’t tolerate any dissent in the ranks. But he really couldn’t afford to tolerate it. He was bringing forth something new and society was, and unfortunately still seems to be, against anything new. We won’t even get into the anti-Semitism and discrimination Freud faced. Or the cocaine.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Freud or any of the founding geniuses of the psychotherapy field. Just saying. And more than 100 years later, psychotherapy, although well established, is still stigmatized, if not openly shunned in most cultures. Even though licensed and regulated, it’s still not well respected by most. Can I get an amen from my fellow healers on that? Aren’t we all just looking for a little respect and appreciation?
On the good days I can tell myself that I have attended years and years of post graduate education, earned a Doctorate in Psychology, and put in about 4,500 hours of working with clients/patients under the supervision of experienced, licensed clinicians prior to beginning my own private practice. Not to mention the countless thousands of hours working with clients and supervising trainees and their clients since then.
And to be even more rigorously honest, I’m a pretty out-of-the-box psychologist. I’m a strict theorist with incredibly tight boundaries, yet I also practice interventions that might make some of my straighter colleagues cringe. Just writing articles like this one—exposing myself and my inner-thoughts—would make me persona non grata in certain professional circles (thank God most of the elephant journal readers are more open-minded).
I think that one of my favorite out-of-the-box interventions was years ago with a couple who were having trust issues as well as sexual problems (they tend to go hand in hand).
She had just become licensed as a massage therapist and his biggest fear was that she would start giving clients “happy endings” as part of the massage.
Now, a boring, typical, safe psychotherapist would probably have had them dialogue about the trust issues, the fears and the childhood issues that might have helped to create those issues as well as what would be necessary to build trust. Lots and lots of words.
Me, what did I do? I channeled some of the old school family therapists and had him book a massage session with his girlfriend, have her bring over her massage table, give him a massage and then, negotiate the happy ending with her.
Made perfect sense to me, sometimes action has to precede understanding. They acted out his worst fear and got to have a positive outcome from it. Win-win!
And it actually worked as planned. Yet who the fuck was I to give them such a nontraditional therapy? Would nine out of 10 couples counselors agree on this one? And do I even care if they agree? That’s why they pay me the big bucks, to get the results that the other therapists don’t get.
I like flaws and feel more comfortable around people who have them. I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.
~ Augusten Burroughs
I have many flaws. I’m self-involved more often than not. I am narcissistic at times. I’m certainly arrogant (I don’t mind arrogance in people, as long as they can back it up) and I am sometimes self-righteous.
And I’m direct, cynical, sarcastic, inconsiderate and rarely edit a word that comes out of my mouth (been accused of having Tourettes by some colleagues). I’m politically incorrect and don’t particularly care.
I’m pretty quick-witted, observant and entertaining, though my humor is often at the expense of others. Oh, and I like to use profanity, in my personal life and in my professional life, though to be honest, I do a lot of work with men, so perhaps it’s acceptable in that context.
I’m using more than my fair share of profanity in this article, though it is to make a point about my inner struggle, so bear with me (or don’t and get the f*ck out of my article—just kidding).
Hardly the poster child for successful psychotherapy, I’ve been in therapy for a good twenty years of my life. And yet I’m not totally convinced that it’s helped me at all sometimes.
I’ve never dealt with my authority figure issues, I’m counter-dependent and break rules every chance I get. Except for the rules around my professional ethics, which I’m impressively rigid with.
I’ve been married a few times and had many successful endings to many relationships, some of which have been healing, some of which have been incredibly painful and all of which have taught me great lessons. And yet I’m also a couples counselor and relationship coach. Who the fuck am I to help couples?
Does my life need to be that together to help people and be a healer? Does walking the talk mean that I’m complete right now and fully healed?
I hope not, and I don’t know anybody in that great a shape. Maybe some allegedly ascended masters and a number of dead people. Yes, dead people don’t make any new mistakes, but in general they don’t make for the best healers either, do they?
Back to me. Even with my many flaws, I still manage to be compassionate, empathic, energy sensitive and somewhat psychic or at least highly adept at reading the micro-cues that my clients present to me. I’m also highly trained, as detailed earlier and continue to expand and enhance my training and capabilities.
The truth is, I don’t have the slightest self-doubt about my skill set. I’m a really incredible psychologist, psychotherapist and healer.
I’m just puzzled sometimes that I truly am. How the hell did that happen?
In fact, I’m quite often the psychotherapist or couple’s counselor that people come to after they’ve worked with one or more professionals and haven’t gotten the results they want.
It stuns me, amazes me, floors me, yet people seek me out, come to my office, come to my websites and find improvement in their lives because they choose to work with me.
I truly do help people and find it incredibly rewarding. I am gifted and blessed to have been guided into this profession, into this calling.
How is this possible though? How the hell did this come to pass, given the other side of who I am and who I’m not.
Often I’ll self-reflect and decide that I’m not really that great a person. Can anybody relate to that? And if I look for the shit, I’ll certainly find it, including:
I’m often unkind, impatient, unsympathetic, even cruel and thoughtless. My personal relationships have been nothing to write home about, yet I’m a couples counselor who’s not only taught graduate school in marriage and family therapy, I run a training track in couples counseling.
Who the fuck am I then? I am a man who has learned to separate the teacher from the teaching.
I don’t expect my teachers to be gods, I don’t even expect or need them to walk the talk. That part would be nice, but more nice to my ego and sensibility than nice to whether they can teach me what I need to learn.
And of course, we all teach what we need to learn, which is probably why I’m such a great couples counselor. I’ve made most of the mistakes possible in relationships and most likely will make many more. Perhaps I’m just too ignorant or too stubborn to give up on love and connection.
When I’m with a client, I have a great capacity to block out everything but them. They become the most important, the most interesting component of my life at that moment in time. Nothing else exists.
And I empty myself during the session. My ego goes bye-bye and I’m open to whatever wisdom needs to come through my soul, my brain, my mouth. And while I am reluctant to be too airy fairy, it’s entirely possible that I’m channeling higher wisdom, either from a lifetime of study and experience stored in my unconscious and/or from a much higher source.
When practicing the art of healing, I am in a flow state. And on the good days, nothing feels any better than that, nothing can come close. I am living my purpose, expressing myself as fully as I able to.
The perception of wholeness is the consciousness that heals.
~ Ernest Holmes
I hold a sacred space for wholeness and healing in my work. I do take it quite seriously. At the same time, I laugh all the time and probably make fun of my clients and their serious attachment to their issues.
It’s not meant out of disrespect, only as a communication that life is too sacred to take so seriously. If enlightenment isn’t about lightening up then what’s the point?
The truth is, I am also an incredible teacher and mentor to students and interns entering this healing field. I hold a space for them to eventually walk through and become healers in their own right.
And to hopefully teach them to ask the same question, “Who the f*ck am I to presume to be a healer?” And the karmic circle closes and reopens and continues.
So how do I reconcile the split, the difference between who I think I am, what parts of myself reveal themselves in my personal life and what parts reveal themselves in my professional life?
How do I live with the “impostor syndrome” that tries to invade my psyche? That can’t make sense of my nonlinear humanness and my gifts and my shadow?
I live with it, by living with it. I live with it by not taking it too seriously. I live with it by patting the monkey mind on the head and by simply doing the keep on trucking thing. I live with it by knowing that the part of me that’s too stubborn to give up on love and life is also too stubborn to give up on my clients and their right to love and life.
Most importantly, I live with it by continuing to live an examined life and that comes with continuing to ask the tough questions of myself. The toughest question of all, I will keep on asking: “Who the f*ck am I—with all my flaws—to be a healer?”
It’s this question that reminds me to be kind to myself while honoring my gifts. I am easy to shoot as a messenger. But my message to clients, well, that is a different matter.
Many of the readers here at elephant journal are in the healing arts, whether therapists, counselors, coaches, energy workers, yogis, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists, trainers. I hope that I’ve touched an area that you can relate to and might also struggle with. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Dr. Adam Sheck, Healer-At-Large
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger