I've noticed a few common thoughts and perceptions among clients about what it means to see a therapist, many of whom are skeptical of seeking counseling or trusting another with their personal stories. It is not my goal to speak for all therapists, but speak a little truth to the myths I have encountered about therapists in my five years of practice.
1. A therapist’s life is always perfect.
address our own life events or problematic relationships. Nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes—therapists aren’t exempt and everyone could use an objective view sometimes.
2. Therapists always know what to say.
Sometimes it seems like there are a hundred times a day where I cannot find the words to say—after a client shares their traumatic history or a recent flashback, when I am questioning how much a client can handle emotionally, or heck, when I have to make stupid small talk about the Nebraska weather before hunkering down into the “real” talk. In those moments my most powerful tool is empathic listening. Hearing their full stories and validating that what they have experienced is real and their emotions are worthy.
Many of you who know me personally know that I am a talker. I always have been—I can go a million miles a minute since the age of 3. But that also leads me to put my foot in my mouth, sometimes multiple times a day! What can I say, it’s a gift I’ve been blessed with. Luckily, I have also been blessed with clients who are understanding and forgiving when I speak out of place at times. Many therapists can tap into their vulnerabilities, where if we own our flaws (mine being my impulsive mouth) and ask for forgiveness, our clients will usually give us a little grace so trust can be regained. It also shows our clients how to be vulnerable and repair their mishaps themselves.
3. Therapists always have the answers.
Easy answer: we don’t. We may know tools or techniques that have worked for other clients in similar situations, but we know each person’s experience is unique. What works for one person may not work for another, so my practice as a therapist is mostly “trial and error.” We try something and wait to see if it works or reduces my clients’ distress. If it doesn’t, we go back to the drawing board and try again for another solution.
Also, we all hate know-it-alls. Most therapists do their best to relate to their clients rather than talk down to them. Sure, we may know how to best help you, but sometimes if our clients work with us collaboratively to figure out their own solutions, they work better. They can own it and that can make all the difference in the outcome of therapy.
4. Therapists always have to be serious.
delving into deep emotions in session, but we all need to let off a little steam before heading back into the real world.
5. Therapists want your money.
insights, and having a person to help them solve the puzzle of life with. Most therapists I know have a deep, intrinsic desire to help others. Professionally, I would rather work for free with a thousand clients who want to be there and who are accepting of help than to work with someone who resented having to spend their time with me. Most therapists I know have pro-bono clients or have passed up a co-pay when a client is struggling financially because we want to help. Plain and simple. However, I’m sure you can appreciate that we all have bills and our time/expertise is worth something, preferably money over gum or homemade goods (both of which I have been offered and declined for payment). Just kidding, I definitely accepted the food along with payment, and to this day it is still the best peanut brittle I have ever eaten.
6. Therapists are judging you.
Our careers are built on compassion. We aim to understand your history and your trauma with an open mind and heart. We understand that you are not the only person involved in your trauma history and we feel for you. Can we get caught up in first impressions sometimes? Sure, we’re human. But we do our best to look past that because it is our job and our desire to help others on an emotional level. I have been able to relate to clients who are vastly different than me on almost every level—politically, spiritually, emotionally, lifestyle, etc.—and many times these clients have challenged me to grow emotionally and become more open myself.
7. Therapists can always help.
everything negative they thought they knew about themselves. Maybe. We can only work so hard for our clients and maintain our own sanity at the same time. We have to be met in the middle by our clients; there has to be a want, a desire to change in some capacity. There has to be a want, a desire to maintain this relationship and learn to trust in some capacity.
8. Therapists are therapists 24/7.
Every day when I leave my office, I imagine leaving my clients there too. I get in my car and take a deep breath before driving home because my husband needs a wife, my daughter needs a mom, and my friends need a friend in return. I take off my “therapist hat” and leave it in my office because my job can be emotionally exhausting at times and I need a break. My neighbors don’t see me as a therapist (I swear too much for that), my family doesn’t see me as a therapist (I talk too much for that), and my husband doesn’t see me as a therapist (I bet he’d rather find one who hasn’t birthed his children and doesn’t nag him about the trash, if he were to ever need one). Just like any other person needs a break from their job, therapists do to. That is probably why chefs often make themselves quick meals after a late shift, landscapers rarely put their lawn first, and elementary teachers like to unwind with an entire bottle of wine surrounded by adults on Friday nights (from what my teacher friends have told me!).
So, there you have it. A little insight into what being a therapist is actually like. I hope this is helpful for those of you considering counseling or are questioning the process. Drop me a line or a comment if I missed anything or if there is another myth to set straight! It’s late on a Wednesday and I’ve been distracted by this Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon episode so I am sure I missed something!