Therapy for Everyone?
When I had just begun my psychotherapy training, a friend told me that she had once started training as a counsellor. “But” she said, “they were insisting that everyone should be in counselling themselves during training. I couldn’t see the point. I had a perfectly happy childhood, and things in my current life and relationships felt fine. Why on earth did they assume that everyone needs therapy?” My friend felt dissatisfied with the system and decided to quit the training.
At that time, I didn’t know how to answer that. My friend was making a good point. As the saying goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’
In a way, she’s right. Of course not everyone needs therapy! If you feel you are flourishing and fulfilled, that’s brilliant. If you feel comfortable with who you are, have relationships in which you feel free to express yourself and give and receive love and support, then by all means keep doing whatever you’re doing – it’s clearly working!
It’s Different for Therapists!
My friend decided not to pursue a therapy training for herself, realising that she loved her existing work as an academic administrator. But here’s the thing. If you are someone who is in training to be a therapist or counsellor, I have come to believe this:
No matter how ‘sorted’ you are, and no matter how happy your childhood was, and however good your relationships are — you should still be in weekly therapy. I’d even go further, and say: You should consider being in therapy for a substantial length of time — several years, rather than just months.
The Crucial Thing that Every Therapist Should Know
The crucial thing that every therapist should know? It is that we therapists need to have a solid, living, meaningful and transformative experience of therapy ourselves.
Why? I think there are many reasons, but to me, the following eight are the main ones.
8 Reasons Why Therapists Need Their Own Therapy
1. To Know What’s Yours and What’s Not
It’s really important to be able to distinguish between your own ‘stuff’ and that of your client. Personal therapy helps you develop much more clarity about whose issue is whose, and then you can be of far greater service to your client.
2. To Feel What It’s Like to be the Client
To feel — really feel — what being the client can be like. To be a therapy client can take enormous courage: you may be brought face to face with your own vulnerability, dependency, neediness, fury, impotence… Once you have deeply experienced these in yourself, you will be far better able to empathise with and understand your clients when they struggle with these sorts of feelings.
3. To Grow Confidence From Within
When you have been in depth psychotherapy, and stayed in it as long as necessary, you ‘know what’s down there‘. This gives you a deep sense of confidence. You know what your own issues and sensitive areas are. You are not afraid of discovering something scary and unexpected in your mental basement, because you’ve been down there so many times, and your own therapist has accompanied you and helped you feel okay about all your ‘shadow’ parts. Correspondingly, you are in a good position to help your clients explore the places in themselves that feel unknown and alarming.Here's what can really give therapists and counsellors confidence... Click To Tweet
4. To Deepen Respect
When you’ve been in therapy over time and have allowed yourself to contact your most vulnerable, innermost layers of self, you develop attuned respect for the seemingly small things that can sometimes trigger a client’s upset. Because you’ve been there, you’ve learned to understand and compassionately recognise the ‘child’ parts in yourself. When the therapist is truly respectful of the client’s feelings, the client will pick this up on a deep level and is likely to become more available for change processes to occur. It also means that because the therapist knows that she too has parts of herself that can be irrational/ needy/ selfish/ whatever, she won’t be likely to think of herself as superior to the client.
5. To Help with Emotional Containment
A therapist who has done a great deal of personal work will have learned to ‘hold’ her own feelings in such a way that they don’t spill out and interfere with the client’s process — whilst at the same time not repressing them in herself. If a therapist simply represses her own feelings whilst with a client, the therapist will also be cutting off from similar feelings in the client – and will thus be unavailable to properly help her client manage those feelings.
6. To Broaden What Your Client Can Work On
A therapist who has learned to really sit with the depths of her own distress and suffering, is well resourced for being in touch with any sorrow, grief and trauma that her client might need to bring. And a therapist who has felt the joy of deep in-the-moment connection with her own therapist, may be better able to look out for opportunities to foster those peak relational experiences with her client.This'll help you be the best therapist you can be... Click To Tweet
7. To Minimise Blind Spots
We’ve all got our ‘blind spots’ – areas and themes that we tend to overlook, for all sorts of reasons. Over time, being in therapy helps us to notice and attend to our blind spots. But if the therapist is unaware of her own blind spots, then when these coincide with those of her client, she won’t be able to help the client. Both will stay in the dark, and the difficulties that brought the client to therapy in the first place may persist.
8. To Stop Envy Getting in the Way
It’s important to be in a position where you can really give to your clients, without being caught up in feeling unhelpfully envious towards them for receiving your care and attention. Your clients deserve for you to have done your own work, and to have properly received enough care and attention from your own therapist. When you experience in your own therapy the feeling that you have really gotten your fill of something deeply valuable, you are in a much better position to offer to your clients what they need. Of course, some moments of envy, here and there, is normal — envy can be a perfectly acceptable emotion if it can be looked at, understood and moved on from. But if your envy towards a client hinders your ability to really let them blossom and shine, then this is a big problem and will interfere with the work.
Of course, there are always going to be exceptions to every rule. I have another counsellor friend who was already a wonderfully skilled and empathic clinician for several years before she embarked upon her own therapy. And I’ve definitely met the occasional therapist and counsellor who’s had quite a bit of personal therapy, but who still has substantial blind-spots and emotional blocks. (My guess is that they probably need to find a different therapist who can work with them in a different way).
But on the whole, I’m convinced that therapists and counsellors are likely to benefit hugely from experiencing in-depth psychotherapy for themselves (and fortunately, many training programmes require it).
So, if you’re a therapist or counsellor (or you’re in training), and haven’t been in therapy yourself — I urge you to give it a go! A wonderfully rich, fulfilling and (yes) challenging experience awaits you…A rich, fulfilling and challenging experience for therapists... Click To Tweet
‘I have been the client — worried about the imaginary person who waits in the therapist’s chair, who might want to insert their beliefs and opinions into your raw and fragile brain. [As your therapist] I promise not to do this. I will always respect you and the feelings and thoughts that you bring into the room.’ – Rachel Carlson, LPC
How to Find a Therapist When You Are a Therapist Yourself
If you’re a therapist who’s looking for a therapist of your own, you might wonder who to turn to. If you’re well established in your community, and you already know all the local therapists personally and professionally, it can be hard to find someone who you don’t already have connections with. In this instance, you have four choices, which I’ll outline below. And do consider seeing someone outside of your own therapy modality. Working with someone who works experientially (and is not just insight-oriented or support-oriented) can open up whole new avenues of exploration and possibility. You might try AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, ISTDP, Hakomi, Coherence Therapy, Gestalt, Integrative Arts Psychotherapy, or Internal Family Systems, for example. Or find a therapist who works with Attachment.
Option 1: Look harder!
Are you sure you know all the therapists around? You might do what Lori Gottlieb describes doing in her book, and do a lot of research. You might be surprised to find there’s someone good who you were unaware of.
Option 2: Work with someone you know, and be very boundaried.
This has to be delicately gauged by both of you, and you both need to be up for regular frank discussions about what it means for your therapeutic relationship and process. There are times when this can work well, as long as the therapist is skilful.
Option 3: Be willing to travel.
Many therapists travel quite a long way each week so that they can have personal therapy with someone who is outside of their social and professional network. This will add extra expense and time, but depending on the situation it can be well worth it.
Option 4: Work online.
If you open up to the possibility of seeing a therapist online, you suddenly have lots of choices, so it’s easier to find a someone who’s a really good fit. Online therapy may be something you’ve never considered, but it can be surprisingly effective. I think online therapy has more chance of working well when the therapist uses certain specific techniques for working experientially and relationally; a good example of this is AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy). I’m experienced in working online with British clients, including those who are therapists themselves. You can contact me at espcameron[at]protonmail.com to arrange a free 15-minute phone consultation so that we can consider whether I may be the right therapist for you.