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November 14, 2016

Hi, I’m a Therapist & I’m not Perfect.

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You have probably heard the stereotype of all therapists being “more screwed up” than their clients.

But, who reading here has experienced the exact opposite?

Some of the people I have come across assume that all therapists are perfect and can do no wrong. When I have told a few non-therapists what I do, the reactions were funny.

Here’s what I have heard from people who don’t work in the mental health field:

“Maybe you’re too sensitive to be a therapist.” (Newsflash: Some therapists are highly sensitive people. Please read about Elaine Aron, who is a psychologist and a highly sensitive person.)

“Why can’t you just treat yourself?” (Surgeons don’t do surgery on themselves. I don’t expect therapists to objectively counsel themselves either.)

“Therapists are supposed to shrug things off. Getting upset is so out of character for a therapist.” (Um, therapists can get upset on the job. That’s what clinical supervision is for.)

“I thought all therapists are logical and detached, like those old men that you see on TV.” (Nope. A lot of therapists are female these days. Some therapists have a warm and nurturing counseling style.)

“Therapists should know everything.” (I don’t know any human being who knows everything.) 

Since I’ve worked in the field for several years now, I have gotten to know my co-workers on a more personal level. Getting to know yourself and your co-workers outside of how they act in sessions with clients make me realize that these stereotypes are just that…stereotypes.

When we therapists don’t fit the public stereotypes, we may be met with skepticism and questioning. They are stereotypes that may have some truth to them, but it doesn’t apply to every therapist. After all, it would be boring if all therapists were the same. If all therapists were the same, it would be difficult for clients to not be able to pick and choose which therapist’s individual personality suits them the best.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand why people think that therapists must fit some cookie-cutter description. After all, being trained in helping people and studying human behavior may lead others to assume that we are excellent at solving our own problems. When we act as someone who is able to listen and guide people to their own answers all day, it’s hard for others to believe that you also are a human being who may need to vent to someone at times.

Unfortunately, my professors didn’t teach me how to live a life full of unicorns and flawlessness. Attending regular clinical trainings hasn’t focused on what I need to do to improve or change myself. Instead, I was taught how to refine clinical skills to help clients effectively. I was also taught the importance of self-care and reflection, which again helps us be there for our clients.

You may be asking me, “How can I trust someone to help me if they have their own problems?”

Do you need to be free of imperfections or live a flawless life to help someone in pain?

Not necessarily. Doctors and nurses get sick, yet they still heal people everyday.

As a supervisor once told me, “Check your BS at the door. You know you’re truly empathizing with a client, when you’re so attentive to their problems that you forget about yours during the session.” On top of that, she bluntly told me how some of the bad therapists are ironically the ones who don’t seek their own therapy. It made sense to me, because a therapist seeking their own counseling is a form of self-care. Having your own therapy means that you have a safe place to express your concerns and problems. When you already have a secure place to unload, there’s no need to bring your baggage with you to work.

Whatever my boss said years ago was a nugget of wisdom that has proven to be valuable to me. Therapists do what they do because they focus on you. The one hour that you’re paying for is about your problems, and having an empathetic person truly listen to you.

Without my emotions, my clients wouldn’t be able to feel connected with me. Clients like to know that you’re someone real and authentic. There’s so much healing power when you share your story to someone who is non-judgmental and considerate about what you have to say.

If you ever find yourself surprised to find out that someone is a therapist, remember that their imperfections don’t make them any less competent. These stereotypes prevent us from living authentically. You may also never know just how much of a difference an “imperfect” therapist is making in their clients’ lives.

 

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Author: Rupali Grover

Image: Video Still 

Editor: Travis May

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Rupali Grover