We have all seen the typical TV or movie version of what society stereotypes as a “therapist.” He or she sits quietly, while the client spills his/her heart out, only to receive the occasional “I see” or “How does that make you feel?” in response to deeply vulnerable feelings. Well if you’ve ever been in therapy, you know firsthand that therapists come in all sorts of varieties, with an abundance of different approaches and personalities. Here are 5 things that are true for your real-life therapist:
- We have feelings too. It’s true…therapists have all of the same amazing (and sometimes pesky) emotions that you do. We have good days, bad days and even “what was the point of this day?” days. We know what it’s like to feel guilty about something we did (or didn’t) do; We know that anxious feeling that accompanies having to await a certain outcome; And we also know what it feels to have a broken heart that at the time feels unrepairable. Even if the circumstances differ, the majority of the time we can access a memory where we felt comparable emotions. Sharing similar human experiences is part of what makes good therapists so good.
- We value the relationship with clients. If you think that your therapist is only meeting with you in order to meet a billing quota you’re either in need of a new therapist (and pronto!) or sadly mistaken. My hope is for the latter. Chances are that if you have a therapist that you like, he/she probably likes you too. Even research suggests that one of the most powerful tools that a therapist can utilize is the relationship with the client. Your happiness and success mean something to a good therapist.
- We are not experts. No matter how many diplomas and certificates your therapist has hanging on the wall, they don’t know everything. In fact, a talented therapist will ask you what you think before he/she even considers telling you what he/she thinks. YOU are the expert. YOU know your life better than anyone else and especially know more than someone you may see for 55 minutes a week. While I keep hoping that framed pieces of paper will give me all of the answers, it hasn’t happened. So, the next time you’re sitting on your therapist’s couch, be honest about your opinions. They matter.
- We make mistakes. Therapists are perfectly imperfect. We have plenty of “oopsie doopsies” and more than enough “I wish I hadn’t done that” moments. It’s that super glorious (and at times incredibly annoying) being “human” thing referenced in #1. No one has a perfect life…not even your mental health specialist that you seek out for guidance and support. We occasionally say things that we wish we could take back and sometimes we struggle with expressing emotions. Like the rest of the world, we are works in progress. Luckily for you (and for us!) not being perfect makes for a pretty darn good therapist. We understand that one’s worth isn’t tied up in getting an “A+” on life’s report card.
- We value (and even go to) therapy. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all either participated in this scene (guilty!) or at least witnessed it: A friend is engaging in pretty unsavory behavior and we say to ourselves “Good golly! He/She needs therapy! IN THE WORST WAY!” People sometimes assume that you have to be in desperate need before heading to therapy…that the craziest folks end up on the dreaded couch. Well, guess what? This is so not true. Many therapists have either sought out therapy in the past or are actively engaged in therapy. In fact, many mental health related graduate programs require students to attend therapy throughout their graduate training. Understanding the client’s therapy experience is more easily achieved when the therapist has personally experienced therapy. Plus, therapy is helpful (yes, I can own my bias!)! There is even research to suggest that people with high levels of emotional intelligence seek help when needed. People that go to therapy are willing to be an active participant in their own happiness. If that doesn’t make someone a rockstar, I’m not sure what does!
So, the next time you’re pouring your heart out to your therapist, remember this: We’re human and we’ve been there ourselves. We care about you, value your expertise and most importantly we recognize the privilege of being part of your journey!