Remember when you were in graduate school taking the Ethics course, and your professor would go on and on about how important it is to seek a therapist yourself? You may have even been in a program that required you to see a therapist.
Well, I totally agree with them.
I’ve been to therapy a number of times, myself. (I even wrote about it some in my very first blog post, Buckle Up! My Mental Health Journey.) Overall, I truly believe that my experiences in therapy as a client (good, bad, and indifferent) have made me an even better therapist.
Let’s get into some of the reasons why it would be beneficial for you as a therapist to take a break from the big chair and sit on the couch from time to time.
It can heighten your empathy for your clients.
If you’ve always sat in “the therapist chair” and never on the couch, how are you to understand what it’s like for your clients who are so brave as to come into your office each week and spill their guts in hopes of living a happier life?
I am not of the mind that you must have gone through every obstacle your client has gone through in order to help them effectively — divorce, having children, financial problems, suicidality, etc. But I do believe that it gives you a little edge, more compassion, and understanding of where your client is at emotionally. Brownie points, essentially.
Often, I have had clients come in for their first session and present as apprehensive and guarded. And I see a little bit of my teenage, first-time-in-therapy self in them. I would say something like this:
“You seem to be a little nervous and hesitant about this therapy thing. You know, I remember feeling that same way the first time I went to therapy. Over time, I became more comfortable and had very positive experiences in therapy, but it took me some time to warm up, and that’s okay if it’s the same for you. Would you like to tell me about what some of your concerns may be?
And we all know how far genuineness, congruency, and appropriate self-disclosure can get you, right?
It can help to lessen the effects of vicarious trauma.
I’m sure you know all about vicarious trauma, but let’s refresh our brains a little. Vicarious trauma (VT) is generally defined as the negative effect of witnessing others’ traumatic experiences. No, VT is not just for combat veterans or children who witnessed domestic violence. Yes, listening to and helping your clients work through their traumas all day long can have a negative effect on you as well.
It is important to note how you are taking care of yourself to lessen the harmful effects of vicarious trauma. Seeking therapy as an outlet to work through how you are affected by others’ traumas can feel like a weight being lifted off your shoulders.
Let’s face it: you’re battling your own traumas and life struggles, and hearing about the traumas and life struggles of others on a daily basis. A healthy and therapeutic outlet is a must in order for your work to continue to be effective.
It can help to prevent burnout.
So you probably also remember from that Ethics course hearing about “burnout” at least 27 times per lecture, right? Well yeah. It’s real. Even if you’re not feeling the burnout just yet, it can be advantageous for you to seek therapy before it ever gets to the point of burnout. Novel concept, I know.
For all my therapists who see couples, we know that the statistics show that couples typically come to therapy when it’s too late and the relationship has suffered some irreversible damage. Don’t be like most couples. Seek therapy when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with your work.
I personally engage in “mental health checkups” and go to therapy every so often, even if I don’t have particular presenting concern that may cause some impairment. This way, whatever minor or personal issues I have can be put out rather than allowing them to fester and grow into the giant monster that is burnout, which causes harm unto clients.
Speaking of personal issues….
It can prevent countertransference provide space to work on “unfinished business”.
Shockingly enough, therapists are people too, and we have our own set of problems outside of the problems of our clients. And they probably won’t disappear on their own, no matter how much we ignore them!
Even a batch of brief therapy sessions might not “solve” a personal issue. It may be something is helpful for you in that moment, but say, 6-12 months down the line… What if that issue resurfaces? Our issues aren’t boxes to be checked off like, “Yep, went to therapy once for it. All done!” … But rather they may need to be revisited in therapy periodically for continued effecting coping.
It is our professional and ethical duty to remain mentally and emotionally sound to be of service to our clients, and to not allow our own “stuff” to get in the way of our work with clients.
It can help to normalize/destigmatize therapy.
I am the first person to tell another that I’ve been to therapy, and how helpful it was for me. I mean, that is the entire mission of this site. I am passionate about mental health and encouraging others to seek therapy in order to be the best versions of themselves.
From a client’s perspective, it’s almost like when you’re apartment hunting and the leasing agent actually lives on the property themselves. It’s like, “Oh alright. I know it’s safe and a good place to live if they actually live here themselves.”
Besides, who wants to buy a product or service from someone who doesn’t believe in using it or doesn’t regularly use it themselves?
So tell me, what is your stance on therapy for the therapist? Your experiences or perspective? Let me know!