The kind of therapist I want to be

…is basically the one I’ve had to be for myself. I still hope that one day I will find a therapist who’s really insightful and helpful. I haven’t given up, and it’s my understanding that most therapists see therapists on their own, too.

Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of really bad therapists over the years. While that has at many times spooked me out of spending the money on trying to find a new one, it hasn’t caused me to lose hope in the profession.

Rather, it has given me a really good guide for what kind of therapist I don’t want to become.

Top of my list: I don’t want to become like the wacky “tapping” lady I saw. She used EFT or “tapping” on certain points of the body to deal with anxiety and unwanted thoughts. That may work for some people, but that plus inner child work were the basis of her treatment modalities and they definitely did not work for me.

I went to her probably longer than any other therapist and I can’t give any more details because she’d be easily identifiable on Google to anyone who knows where I’m from.

She taught me that I don’t ever, ever want an office for my practice in a spare bedroom in my house. It wasn’t cool on “Growing Pains” (RIP Alan Thicke, you old sexist) and it’s downright creepy in real life. I don’t want to be waiting on my therapist’s personal living room sofa for appointments.

I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently it was hugely inappropriate that she saw both me and my son as separate patients. It was a definite conflict of interest. (He also has complaints about how unhelpful she was and just now is considering maybe going to therapy again.)

She taught me that therapy is not about me as the counselor. My clients don’t want to hear about my life. It’s inappropriate if I tell them too much about myself and my personal struggles. Even though I haven’t even started grad school yet, I’m pretty sure talking about yourself excessively is against the rules.

She and every other therapist I’ve ever seen taught me that therapy has to be goal-focused. I don’t want to just come every week and talk about my childhood traumas. I don’t want to try to visualize my inner child to heal her. I want action-oriented solutions.

I don’t want to foist my own opinions of what’s right onto my clients, like many therapists have done to me. Even the therapists whose prescriptions were technically correct–like the one I saw when my youngest was a baby, who said I needed to get out of the house more and have regular date nights with my husband–just doled out suggestions without finding out the obstacles I faced in implementing them.

Sure, I wanted more date nights with my husband, and I lived within a couple miles of my parents and in-laws. And yet the only time I could get them to babysit was for our anniversary and our birthdays. The therapist recommended a weekend away from the kids a couple times a year, and she was lucky that she had parents who wanted to babysit that much. My situation was not the same as hers.

I couldn’t afford a sitter because I wasn’t working, which was also because I couldn’t afford a sitter. So her suggestion wasn’t far off the mark in terms of what would make my life better (namely doing more for myself and being less exclusively kid-focused.) I just needed help coming up with other ideas to make it happen and I wouldn’t develop self-advocacy skills for at least ten more years.

I want to be able to recognize when my clients lack self-advocacy skills and work on that.

If couples come to me, I’m not going to dismiss them right off the bat. Early in our marriage, we sought marriage counseling. The therapist told us we were fine because we were still friends and weren’t screaming at each other.

We didn’t know how wrong she was at the time, but she was way off. If she had taken more time to build trust, maybe my husband would have eventually gotten in touch with his issues. Maybe she would have eventually explained to me how much my flippant and sarcastic remarks to my husband were viewed as deeply disrespectful and that damaged his trust in me.

I want therapy to focus on the client’s goals, not on my goals for them. Maybe I can guide their goals if they’re unfocused but for the most part, that’s their job. It’s lucky that one of my defining traits is asking people what they think.

I don’t want to spend the first 12 sessions with a therapist talking about my childhood. What a waste of time and money. I think that should come out more organically over time as a relationship is built. Of course, if I learn otherwise in training or my client wants to focus on childhood, that can be different. It just seems like such wasted time to do it all up front and for so many sessions.

I also don’t think it’s my place to tell clients(if ever, but especially not within the first couple months of therapy) if they should leave their spouses. I had one therapist tell me early on that I should leave my husband. I had another therapist who told me that, for religious reasons, I shouldn’t ever leave my husband no matter what.

It’s not my place to decide if someone should leave their marriage (though I would very strongly encourage them to get to safety if they were being abused.) The fact that I’ve been married almost 25 years doesn’t sway me into thinking every marriage should be saved.

However, there are also two sides to every marriage. If one spouse comes in to complain about the other, I’m not going to take it as the gospel truth in itself.

I want to teach people techniques that work, like DBT and CBT. True, because those modalities are more duration limited, it may not keep clients coming to me forever. But I hope they’ll want to because I can be their sounding board.

In short, I want to help my clients learn how to cope with life. That’s sometimes going to look very different than how I’d cope and that’s okay. What matters is that they have a plan and find techniques that work for them so they can stick with it. I just want to guide them until they find it.

It’s their job to heal themselves, but I want to give them tools to do it. And belief in themselves that it’s possible.

I don’t think anyone is beyond help if they want it. The reality of being a therapist may prove that I’m super naive about that. But for now, I just want to help people learn how to cope and to feel better about themselves, to feel empowered. I never felt that with my previous therapists and that’s what I want to do differently as a therapist myself.

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