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How a Simple Question From a Therapy Client Made Me Worry I'm Not Doing My Job

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“Do therapists cry?”

I was recently asked this question by a client during a session, and I found it to seem odd upon hearing it. My initial response (internally) was “Well, of course, we do! We cry all the time! We are not superheroes!” However, my client was coming from a sincere place of curiosity and intrigue and I admire those strengths in the individuals who sit across from me. With that being said, I let my client know therapists do indeed cry, because we are all human and not immune to experiencing the full range of human emotion, despite having to wear our “therapist hat” from 8 to 5.

It was not the question my client asked which appeared odd, but it was the thoughts which ensued even hours after my session.

“Are we seen as some kind of superhuman who can control emotions?”

“What does my client really think therapists are like?”

“What perceptions do my clients have of emotions?”

“What expectations have I set forth in my office for my client to feel I may not cry?”

“How do I effectively join with my client, share their emotional pain and guide them through what could be one of the darkest moments of their life?”

It was these thoughts, and more, which caused my mind to continue to ponder my client’s question. Further, the questions above came down to one: “What message do I send my clients when I am wearing my ‘therapist hat?’”

In complete transparency, what others think of me matters — I would argue to say it matters to all of us. When I am in my chair, as a therapist, I care about what my clients think of me. However, it is not in the way you may be envisioning. When I am with a client, I care about whether or not I am making them comfortable; if I am making them feel safe; if I am letting them know I care for them and how they feel. This is what is important to me as a therapist. I want my clients to know I care for them. I trust them to be open with me. I want them to feel safe and comfortable to fully embrace the healing which we will embark on our journey together.

When a client asks me “Do therapists cry?” I often feel as though I am maybe not doing the things mentioned above. This does not come from a place of insecurity, but from a place of genuine concern to ensure I am aiding in the healing process and not causing it to reach an unnecessary roadblock. As a therapist, I want my clients to know I am willing to walk with them wherever their path to healing may go. I want them to know it is OK for them to cry and express true emotions, and I will be there with them.

I do not want my clients to view me as someone who doesn’t cry. I want them to view me as a “professional friend” who will join them with every emotion they are going to experience on the journey to healing. I want them to view me as a role model, through a healing professional relationship, on how to express emotions within a healthy capacity. I want my clients to know they can heal internal wounds and wounds from the world around them. I want my clients to know they possess this strength and they always have. It is my job to guide them in the direction to find their strength.

I also want my clients to know I do cry. I cry in session and sometimes I cry outside of session. Not because I am hurting; not because I am stressed or overwhelmed, although this is a cause of tears from time to time; I am human. I cry because I care so deeply about their struggles. I cry because the emotion of empathy — in many regards — is my superpower, but it can be everyone’s. I cry because to sit with my clients in the yuck and muck — a place they may have only sat by themselves until now — is a powerful and emotional experience I am not immune to.

So, my dear friends, I do cry and that is OK. I am human; I am empathic; I am strong; I am willing to sit through the storm. Once more, I am inspired by these strengths and qualities I see sitting across from me every day. I hope you also see that within yourselves.

Follow this journey on Confessions of a Social Worker

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia

Originally published: August 2, 2017
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