Do you remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the great and powerful OZ is actually a mortal human being?
Well, today I am going to pull back the curtain on what it is like for me to be a therapist who also happens to be a human being as well. I’m going to explore the intersection of my own humanity while at time guiding others to do the same.
And honestly, I am a little nervous about this. I feel exposed and vulnerable. I want you to like me, or consider working with me or send a friend you know my way for help. Maybe you will read this and decide I’m crazy or not fit to have a license.
But maybe you will read it and relate. Or breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you are not the only one who has these feelings and thoughts, even if you are not a therapist.
One thing I know for sure is that offering you my humanity will help me soften into mine and perhaps gift you the chance to relate to yours differently.
Here we go…
1) Sometimes, I am at a complete loss for words in session.
I literally don’t know what to say. Often, it’s that I don’t want to say the “wrong” thing. Other times its because a person’s pain is so great in that moment that there are no words. And I can put huge pressure on myself to come up with a zinger of a response because people are paying me money, and what if I say nothing and they think I’m a terrible therapist? What if I say nothing and I think I’m terrible therapist? And so I breathe. And (try to) remember that it’s not my job to fix people or impress them by saying the perfect thing. It’s my job hold the space so lovingly that just maybe they come up with the words for themselves. And that their words are probably far greater than anything I may have created for them.
2) Sometimes, I don’t know what to do.
This happened for me very recently. There was a conflict between two members of my women’s group that was escalating. And I had no idea in that moment how to handle it. None. And frankly, what I ended up doing was not ( in my mind) particularly helpful or what the situation called for. In fact, one of the women decided to take a break from her therapy with me after that group. It may or may not have had anything to do with how I handled things that night, but there it is. So then I (try to ) remember that there are ruptures in even the best of relationships, and I can offer repair as a gift, whether the other person accepts it or not.
3) Sometimes, clients push my buttons.
One time, I was working with a client who kept questioning me at every turn. Why would I ask him to do this and how would that help? It tapped into this part of me that can question my competence and doubt my experience and inner wisdom. So I got pissed. At him. Out loud. I did not want him to know about my internal questioning so I went to the opposite extreme and came out swinging. In my own reaction, I missed seeing that his inquiries were more about his own fears that therapy would not work for him when he really wanted it to. So then I (try to) remember that I am human and I make mistakes and I am not immune to my own history. That’s (part of) the reason I have my own therapist.
4)Sometimes, I reveal parts of me with a client
They teach you in grad school that a therapist must maintain strict boundaries and not self-disclose any personal information about themselves to their clients. I completely understand the need for this. I am very clear that we are there for the clients process and not mine. And, I will say that there are times that I do share a piece of my story with someone if I believe it will serve them. In doing this, I (try to) remember that how I can most help the client is if they trust me and believe I truly “get them”. And you know what? Mostly I do because I have been where they are. Sometimes the greatest lifeline is to know that you are not the only one and there is hope.
5) Sometimes, I want to shout “NOOOOOOO” when I see a client heading down a road that may not be in their best interest.
I remember one particular client from several years ago who had worked her ass off to get away from a very toxic relationship in her life. Then one day she announced in session that she was going let this person back into her life. Honestly, I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to run the other way as fast as she could and never look back.
And I did not. I kept my mouth shut and helped her explore what was causing her change of heart and how she might be impacted by this decision. When I have my “OH HELL NO” moments like these, I ( try to ) remember that I have absolutely no idea what the client needs to experience or learn in order to grow and evolve in a way that is right for them. I think back about my own journey and how it took every fucking bit of pain and misery for me to be truly willing to change. So I give the same grace to my clients that was so freely and lovingly given to me.
6) Sometimes, I get very fierce and strong with clients who decide to leave therapy before their work is “done”
Of course, the work is never really done. But there are times that clients decide to terminate therapy long before they get to the good stuff. Long before they have dug deep enough to show up differently for themselves. I get it. Truly. You can’t be really ready until you are.
And yet, I feel sadness well up in me every single time this happens. I feel sad that, for the time being, they have decided to put themselves on hold. I don’t want them to give up on themselves in this way yet. I want to say “Stay. I believe in you. I see the possibilities in you that you can’t quite touch yet. I know you can have a totally different experience of yourself and you life. Don’t stop. Not yet. Just hang on. The miracle is right around the corner”
And I don’t. I keep my mouth shut and ( try to) remember that therapy is a way, not THE way to bring about change. I tell them that I trust them to make their own decisions about what is right for them, and that I am here if they’d like to return. Some do. Some don’t. Some people do find other paths to healing and others remain where they are. And either way it’s right and true for that person at that time.
7) Most of the time, my clients touch me very deeply.
When they do, I usually choose to share that with them. I tear up when they offer me their heartfelt thanks. I celebrate with them over a victory. I tell them about the beauty I see in them when they can’t see it for themselves just yet. I think about them in between sessions and wonder how they are doing. If they have stopped seeing me, I want to know what has transpired in their lives in the interim. When clients decide to terminate therapy, I feel sadness. I miss them and our relationship. I get attached to them just as they do to me. That’s just how it works when you when you offer your heart to someone week after week. And I would not be doing my job well if I did not offer some part of myself in the relationship. We grow in connection, and you can’t connect with a cardboard cut out of a person.
So there you have it, my friends. That’s a small snapshot of what it’s like for me as a therapist having my own human experiences in relation to my clients. And I would not trade any of it for the world.