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4 Things Your Therapist Might Not Want You to Know

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1. Therapists are tired.

Everyone is tired. The pandemic and world confusion has been hard on every single person everywhere. This is well-known, indisputable, and not going to change anytime soon. Still, healthcare providers are perceived as being available and ready-to-serve – whether that’s a necessary illusion or certain fact – largely because life does go on. In the meantime, mental health issues have risen exponentially as therapists soldier in line ready to catch the fallout.

Most therapists do not think twice about this. It is their job. They are professionals. They are, nevertheless, also tired and overworked. Their bodies ache from awkward teletherapy posture, their eyes are fatigued from staring into a screen hour after hour. Many are weary from practicing therapy in a way that can feel artificial, or less than, or not quite up to their standards of care. Their brains feel drained from overthinking, over worrying and overcompensating for their own personal anxieties and worries. The current state of the world is affecting everyone yet it feels a bit indulgent, if not whiny, to complain if you come from a place of social privilege and comfort. Still, if we do not make room to heal the healers, we will worsen this already tenuous situation. Therapists who are worried about the way they feel are obliged to seek out supervision or mentoring for mandatory support. And they know this. It is their job to take care of themselves, not yours.

2. Therapists are tremendously dedicated.

Despite the exhaustion, and somewhat paradoxically, individuals who are committed to this work can be oddly energized by struggling. As awful as that sounds, many therapist confess that the distress of others is what compelled them to get into this work, so they can make a difference, so they can ease the suffering. For some, it feels like a “calling” and for others, it may be an area in which they feel particularly skilled. In fact, many therapists identify their work with words such as “passion” and “mission.” The commitment to this profession and to each client typically runs deep and in many cases, is very personal. The investment of time, energy, and self is vast and often extends beyond what is in their best interest. Ironically, being drawn to suffering may protect many of us from classic burnout, which can seriously compromise the work and energy of those who find this work less satisfying or personally rewarding. Therapists need to take a hard look inside what drives them and how the work feels right now. If they attached intention to this work during extraordinary times, that purpose may very well safeguard them.

3. Therapists try hard to present their best selves.

When the world crashes in and around itself, we try desperately to pretend it isn’t affecting us. We work hard to keep ourselves grounded so we can ground you. To keep ourselves focused so we can hold tight to your anxieties and fear without losing grip. Some days, that’s harder than others — if we are sick, or sleep-deprived, or anxious. Or if we are distracted by our own families, our children, our partners, our lives. We do our best not to let you know that. We think that’s important so you feel safe and cared for.

Therapists today find themselves in uncharted professional space. Virtual sessions and global crises have blurred boundaries. There is a trend on social media to reinforce this conflation by emphasizing and demonstrating how human and vulnerable therapists are by exposing strong emotions and opinions.  While the sentiment is genuine it will not benefit the therapeutic alliance. While transparency and authenticity are essential qualities for excellent therapy — so are appropriate boundaries, expertise, and exclusive focus on the needs of the client. To be clear this is not to say that our humanness and vulnerability should not be brought into therapy. It means it needs to be done skillfully and mindfully, which is not always how it is being portrayed on social media. Expressing humanness with suitable boundaries indeed enhances the therapeutic connection.

4. Therapists are committed to you and this process.

In these unprecedented times of incomparable stress, clients need to trust that when they meet with their therapist, they can expected undivided, 100% attention. Nothing else should enter that space. Therapists who are well-trained understand this sacred space and how to preserve it and know what steps to take to protect this process. We have learned how to sit with all the hard emotions, without bias, without judgment, we are able to be with whatever shows up without our own agenda. We are able to sit with each moment of chaos, each unexpected challenge, and stay calm in our heart. It is our job to protect you and take care of ourselves in the background. As frontline workers during a massive mental health crisis, our primary and sole focus is on helping you feel better.

Getty image by bernardbodo

Originally published: November 3, 2022
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