I have heard people talk about therapists before and say that they only want to speak to a therapist who has their lives completely together. I have recently spoken to a therapist who was told that by sharing their own mental health journey they would put people off ever going to see them because they might be see as “broken”. Even more worrying I have heard therapists themselves say that they would never seek their own therapy, suggesting that it would be seen as a sign of frailty. One counsellor also said to me once that they have never been in therapy themselves and they didn’t see any reason in their own life why they would need to.
All of this is quite frankly worrying to me.
Lets break each of these down and examine them a bit closer:
1.I can’t deal with my own stuff as a client would only want to speak to a therapist that has their lives together.
This is something that I have heard and I do understand it to a point. The idea that someone possible want to come and see me as a therapist if they know that I have been going through my own mental health issues can seem obvious. Surly i need to show a non frail, non broken persona. Yet there is a distinct difference between having experienced mental health issues and expressing, comparing or even seeking help from a client. It’s important when working with anyone in a helping capacity that we are there for them and their needs. So the only safe place to do that is in therapy. Let’s not kid ourselves about our own humanity. Mental Health is simply the health of our mind and as such we all experience it.
This links with clients being put off by knowing their own therapist has had their own struggles: Ethically we have to look after ourselves first and foremost, as the level of our own self care has a direct impact on our ability to support others.
What I am not saying is that we talk about our own therapy openly with clients but that we can benefit with using our experiences to develop our own empathy for others. We are not robots. We feel, we grow, we struggle.
2. Therapists who never seek their own therapy: If this is done knowingly even if as a helper you are aware of your needs I simply think this puts you in a very vulnerable position. There could be a 1000 reasons someone may feel this perhaps it’s pride or fear that is stopping them. However, how do we as people who work to improve the mental health of others expect people to reflect on their own struggles and work to put them right if we are not able to look closely at our own lives. I would suggest that we should be even more carful of how we look after ourselves.
3. A sign of frailty: If you sat with someone who was seeking help the question I would ask you is this: “Is this what you see when you see a client?” Week because they have chosen to be vulnerable? This judgement that one can make is an unhelpful starting point for a relationship to develop from. If this is also how we were to see the purpose of therapy to assess someones frailty, rather than build them up then we have, I believe, missed the point.
4. Never been in therapy as a therapist: Firstly I would hope that learning institutions would insist on students to be in their own therapy, if nothing else than to know the feeling of a therapeutic relationship. Counsellors should have regular sessions with another counsellor who will be their clinical supervisor, supporting the counsellor through the process of reflecting on their clients and the effect of their work on them as an individual.
However, counselling for a counsellor is not about the clients but about you as a person. Life simply gets in the way. Life is messy and life can be hard at times so being open to the process of knowing what the relationship feels like and dealing with life bumps, no matter how easy or hard to process is so important.
5. Finally when someone says they have No reason to be in therapy, I wouldn’t for one second sit here and say that they are lying to themselves, I can possibly do that. However what I am learning about myself is that sometimes we are blind to what is going on on our own lives and need to take a look. Like an annual MOT on our car what could possibly be the problem with taking time out to explore our own mental health once in a while.
Now why have I written about this..? Well, as far as my own journey this year, that i wrote about yesterday, I found that I was kidding myself. If you were to have asked me last easter if I was looking after myself, I would have said yes. I think I would have pointed to my exercise, eating and multiple other things that I thought were doing the right thing but I wasn’t. I had convinced myself, like anyone might, that I was doing what was best for me but missing the point entirely.
After Easter I stepped back took a look and started to be more real with myself. That’s when I started therapy myself. I found a counsellor who worked in a different style to me. This was important as I couldn’t second guess where he was going with our conversations. He uses a language I’m not familiar with and so, at times, has caught me off guard. Ultimately though he has helped me break down some lies I have told myself and opened my mind in new ways to a deeper level of self care.
Will I get things wrong? Probably. Will I slip back into old habits? Undoubtably. Yet like anyone I see, my journey is that of self improvement and learning about myself. I have mental blind spots and I’m working on them.
I think this is important for future clients to know. I wouldn’t share the details as that is inappropriate but I know that I will come out a better person, someone who is more kind to themselves and, I think, a better counsellor for it. I’m Human. I’m here to help.