Being a therapist is challenging. You carry the burden of other people’s troubles. You extend yourself over and over, forging and deepening emotional connections that can help your clients heal. Clients often bring their uncensored selves to session, and you patiently respond to whatever that looks like. You thoughtfully document your sessions with clients and plan their treatment. And then, of course, you have a normal human life, with all its accompanying highs and lows, joys and griefs, delights and disappointments, moments of peace and frustration. At least sometimes, therapists need therapy. And there should be no shame in being a therapist in therapy.
Many mental health professionals sing the praises of their own work in therapy as clients. Here, many therapists and counselors find insight into their work, sharpen their abilities to navigate the ethical boundaries of their interactions with clients, or even learn new ways to help others. As a side perk, therapy can be an excellent tool for professional development. More importantly, being a therapist in therapy can nurture your mental, emotional, and behavioral health and help you provide better care to your clients.
Work-Related Reasons Therapists May Need Therapy
As a professional helper, you likely pour yourself out supporting other people often, but you aren’t limitless in your capacity. Therapist burnout is a well-established problem we’ve seen spread even more as the mental health ramifications of the current pandemic have worsened. In times of crisis, mental health professionals are often some of the first people to offer support, even while experiencing personal hardship. Processing all this, reconnecting with yourself and your needs, pausing to fill yourself up, and revisiting your boundaries are all excellent reasons to pursue therapy.
From time to time, you may find that working with clients through issues that are part of your story resurrects or exacerbates your own issues. This may present a challenge for your work with such clients. Additionally, you may experience vicarious trauma in your work or have a client complete suicide. By seeking therapy yourself to address your concerns, you can look out for your clients and take care of yourself.
Exploring Your Professional Identity
Whether you are new to the field or have been practicing for years, exploring your professional identity is an essential part of maturing in your career. As a therapist in therapy, you can work through the questions and values that matter to you in a meaningful way. By connecting your professional role to your personal identity, you can more fully and authentically bring your true self to sessions with clients while upholding appropriate boundaries. Working with a therapist as part of this process will help you better determine how to move forward in your career.
Support with Ethical Decisions
Ethical decision-making is a cornerstone of behavioral health care that helps providers determine boundaries and how to conduct themselves at work. When ethical questions come up in your career, it is not always obvious what you should do. Suppose you are experiencing countertransference — say, sexual attraction to or a crush on a client. you may feel paralyzed by considering how you should proceed. Engaging in therapy yourself can help you consider your options and make ethical choices. Therapists make excellent soundingboards.
You can learn a lot from your experience as a client seeking help and guidance from another therapist. Naturally, the therapist you’re seeing will have an approach to helping different from your own. New perspectives, skills, and interventions can help you on your personal and professional journey. Be wary, though, of overdoing this. It’s important for you to let yourself be the client.
Personal Reasons Therapists May Need Therapy
Personal Mental Health Concerns
Therapists aren’t immune from mental illness. Sometimes, your experience with your own mental health concerns makes you a stronger therapist. If you’re experiencing symptoms of mental health concerns, be kind to yourself and reach out for help. Anxiety and depression, grief and trauma, stagnation and stuckness, family emergencies and life changes – no matter what is going on, you are worthy of professional support and care as you walk through it.
A therapist in therapy isn’t someone who’s failed, but someone who deeply knows the power and value of the work.
A common misconception is that therapists have everything figured out and have no personal issues. You’re the experts! You spend your days helping other people navigate and address their mental health issues. But let’s take a step back for a moment and consider the fact that therapists and behavioral health professionals can experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders because you are people, too.
You may also be struggling with any number of personal matters. One of your strengths as a therapist is creating a nonjudgemental space where people can grow; you don’t have the luxury of that neutrality in your everyday life. Breakups, financial issues, parenting struggles, grief, relationship conflict, life transitions, and friend drama can all affect you, too. As you know well, therapy can be a vital space for healing when you’re navigating these types of issues.
Even for therapists, therapy can be a valuable asset for overall mental health and for growth as a person and a professional.
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