We all experience loss, physical decline, illness, heartbreak, uncertainty and all the other dilemmas that come with being human. For therapists, there is a danger of becoming captured by the illusion of “having it all together” when it comes to coping with our own problems. We learn to keep our experience out of the conversation with clients, except in those rare instances when it can serve a therapeutic purpose for them. Sometimes, therapy is a very lonely profession because we become good at keeping ourselves out of the dialogue. The paradox is that while we are guarding against inappropriate self-disclosure, we are also taught to be acutely aware of our inner world and reactions to what clients are sharing with us. The importance of countertransference is ingrained in us through our training. So, there we sit in the big chair, highly aware of our reactions and how a client’s story is affecting us yet cautioned about expressing feelings or thoughts based on our own experiences. This can leave us with an accumulation of strong emotions and memories that we must hold and find a way to work through outside of the therapist-client relationship.
That’s one reason why it’s important to seek help for ourselves. In order to protect confidentiality, friends and family are not the ones we can go to for help when it comes to our need to talk, particularly if it is something triggered by our work with a client. One of the dilemmas of being a therapist over many years is that you get very good at listening. It can become a dilemma because others come to expect that from you. There are times when I realize that I need to talk about something I’m going through and I long for someone to ask, “how are you doing?”. We so often assume that our physicians are feeling healthy, that our dentists don’t have dentures, and that therapists don’t have problems. Clients and students often assume we have a perfect, wonderful life; conflict-free relationships, well-adjusted children, financial security and other aspects of a fully realized, happy existence. Because of the need to limit self-disclosure in our work, we inadvertently contribute to that fantasy. Our training to appear calm and our attention to effective communication skills and relationship building create an illusion of invulnerability to the challenges that everyone experiences. Don’t fall for that yourself. Be human. Ask for help. Take time to sit in the other chair and find someone to listen to you.