Updated: May 9, 2019
When I tell people I’m a therapist, I get some interesting responses. It is made clear very quickly that they have certain opinions or beliefs about what therapists do or are and what they feel therapy is about. This was always a fun experiment when dating. I wondered if engineers or insurance underwriters would get similar comments or questions. (Although I suppose there are quips for all kinds of careers).
To clarify some of the myths with my opinion of what therapists are or are not, let’s look at the following:
Myth 1: Therapists are perfect people.
In my opinion: Therapists are far from perfect and if they are trying to get you to think they know it all, or have it all figured out, then I would caution going to that therapist. I always say I do no want to be a paragon. As well-known existential psychiatrist Irwin Yalom said in his famous book The Gift of Therapy: “Everyone—and that includes therapists as well as patients—is destined to experience not only the exhilaration of life, but also its inevitable darkness: disillusionment, aging, illness, isolation, loss, meaninglessness, painful choices, and death". He goes on to say: “I prefer to think of my patients and myself as fellow travelers, a term that abolishes distinctions between “them” (the afflicted) and “us” (the healers)”. Marie Forleo calls it “a guide on the side”. I may have more skills, insight or wisdom to share but we all have our journey. A therapist wants to support you on yours.
Myth 2: Therapists don’t need therapy.
In my opinion: This is a trap many therapists fall into and is closely linked to myth one. As a trauma therapist and someone on a life-long journey for insight, I am a major proponent of therapists being in therapy. Sadly, many graduate programs don’t even require their students to have therapy while they are learning to be therapists. How can we know what it feels like for our clients to be vulnerable and share their dark secrets with us if we haven’t done the same? As a therapist, being in therapy can be a great form of self-care. We have clients sharing some tough stuff with us week after week. So therapists need a rigorous amount of self -care and often that means someone to support us too. That doesn’t mean we need to disclose that to our clients or that therapy is forever but if I were interviewing a therapist as a client I would ask if they have ever done their own work.
Myth 3: Therapists are just screwed up and crazy people who got into the field to resolve their own issues.
In my opinion: Alas, there are people who are in this field who have not done their own work, may have a narcissistic “healer” complex, or simply are poorly trained. As in any field there are people who are really good at their job and others who should find other work. I’ve experienced bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad religious leaders, bad massage therapists, bad waitstaff, bad hairdressers, etc. That is why we should always trust our gut, ask the questions we want to ask, get referrals and do our research when selecting anyone we choose to do business with. On the other hand, many therapists got into the field after doing work on their own issues and it was specifically because of their own experiences that they have developed compassion, empathy, wisdom, ways of coping and a desire to support others in their pain.
Myth 4: You’re analyzing me and judging me
In my opinion: Depending on the type of therapy (referred to as treatment modality), analysis is probably not what your therapist is doing and they definitely should not be judging you. Do we get frustrated sometimes? Yes. But that’s because we can often see where you are stuck and we know that person isn’t good for you or that job is sucking the life out of you or your children are taking advantage of you and we want you to be happy and unstuck. But therapists should also be patient and know that everyone arrives to their truth in their own time. Experienced therapists also know what characteristics the clients in their wheelhouse possess which makes for better relationships between us. Ultimately, we look forward to seeing you, we care about you, we want you to succeed and we miss you when you terminate (even though we know this is inevitable).
Myth 5: Therapists are only out for my money and don’t want me to get better so I can support their income.
In my opinion: Back to how there are good and bad workers out there. I can’t imagine a therapist ever thinking this way but I suppose some doctors and lawyers might, maybe the siding guy too. So I guess it’s possible but also highly unethical and probably rare. We are held to firm ethics and boundaries in our field and if you ever feel like you are just a ‘cash cow’ and not making progress in therapy…run! In fact, a good therapist should be monitoring your progress, revisiting your goals for treatment now and then and reflecting on any growth you have made. Some clients are more goal-oriented and some just need an ear and a sounding board but you always have the right to terminate at any time, even if we think you shouldn’t. That said, we are also making a living and are small business owners and have to manage the financial side of things from working within insurance parameters to paying our liability and health insurance, to continuing our education, paying for consultation, advertising, etc. So yes, we do have expenses and families to support just like everyone else. A client leaving our practice though only opens a slot for someone new because there are many who believe in what we do and want the help.
I hope this dispels some myths and reassures a little. I work with many therapists who are passionate about educating, inspiring and leading others to relief and peace. Again, like Yalom said, we are fellow journeyers. We value relationships and what connection can do to heal the soul and we are grateful for the time you let us be on the path with you.