7 Ways Personal Therapy Can Transform Your Practice

Feb 23, 2015 by

therapy officeI discovered the inside of a therapist’s office for the first time when I was 13 years old.

Eighth grade was a rough year for me.

I was in a school with a lot of really smart, high-achieving folks. I was struggling to find my own footing socially and academically.

Also, it was middle school.

I don’t think this is often cited as a favorite time in people’s lives—the awkward, somewhat anxious bridge between childhood and young adulthood.

Or maybe I’m just speaking from my own experience, here. (And that’s a key point of this post—see point #2 in the list below.)

I found my therapist’s office a quiet haven.

And my eyes were opened to a profession that I had never before known existed.

I remember how my eyes drifted over the shelves and shelves of books she had in her office.

The thoughtful curios and trinkets placed just so that I could gaze at while I talked.

It was a safe place. I looked forward to that Tuesday hour.

And I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I want to do this when I grow up.”

And so I did.

My big bias

anchorWithout fail, I’ve gone back into therapy throughout life—

for support weathering transitions,

unknotting some of the most knotted and confusing parts of life,

and having support and anchor as I navigated turbulent and dark waters.

So, I realize I have a big bias here.

It’s no secret that many therapists get into the profession because of some pain that happened in their own lives.

But I realize not everyone has a story like mine. Indeed, some practicing counselors have never participated in therapy of their own.

This post isn’t meant to call anyone out—everyone has a different path to take on this journey. I’m not here to tell you all counselors should do their own therapy.  I just want to tell you a bit about how helpful my own therapy has been for me as I’ve learned more and more about this craft.

Whether you’ve participated in your own therapy—for a couple of sessions, or for years and years—

or if you’ve never tried it,

–if you’re a practicing therapist,

take a moment to consider how it has been or could be helpful to you.

Physician, heal thyself

pillsI’ve put together a short list of ideas about why therapy can be particularly beneficial for therapists.

1.) Your practice grows as you do. Your practice mirrors you. It is an embodiment of your strengths and frailties, your hopes and fears.  If you are undertaking the courageous act of launching your own practice, having your own therapy can make the difference between making calmer, more reasoned business decisions and getting blown about by the winds of fear and anxiety.

Personal growth is always good for business.

2.) Countertransference, insight, and projection. Therapy helps you identify your blind spots. It helps you sort through your stuff so you’re less likely to get drawn into boundary breaches or stuck spots with clients. And it offers safe space to explore those challenges when they do emerge in your work.

Supervision is a great space to sort these some of these pieces through, too, though that work will be more focused on your cases and less focused on you.

3.) Digesting the week’s meal. Each time we sit down in conversation with a client, we are sharing a meal with them. Some days, this meal may be very heavy indeed. Personal therapy offers an opportunity to process and digest the work we do day in and day out.  In other professions, you can kvetch about work at happy hour. That simply isn’t an option for therapists.

Therapy can be a crucial form of self-care, one that keeps the instrument of your craft in good working order throughout your career.

4.) Learning by example. If you are working with a therapist who has a healthy sense of self, you are likely to absorb and internalize these values over time.  Some of my strongest, healthiest business policies have been learned through the act of practicing what I preach: valuing the therapy hour by showing up on time, week after week, and paying out of pocket to see a therapist of my choice.

Attending therapy provides crucial learning to me about the value of what I do, making it easier to turn around and implement healthy policies in my own practice.

5.) Compassion and humility. Sitting on the couch each week puts us in touch with the courage it takes to be a client. Even though I think some the best and most skillful therapists are ones that are willing to be open and in touch with their own vulnerability in session, it isn’t the same as the vulnerability that clients face in session week after week.

Practicing what we preach requires humility and fosters compassion for our clients and ourselves.

6.) Your mental health matters. While the archetype of the wounded healer certainly doesn’t fit all therapists, it is an archetype for a reason. Before you can be of much help to others, you must first help yourself.

Tending to your own wounds and struggles is a part of responsible practice.

7.) Yourself as a walking billboard. Attending therapy enables us to really feel, from the inside, what the healing work of therapy can be like. And that felt sense—the knowing of how therapy can transform a life—is one of the biggest testimonials you can offer in your practice. A therapist who can speak compellingly and honestly about the power of therapy in consultation with clients, who believes in what they do, is more likely to succeed in practice—because people can feel that stuff.

Bringing your best self into the therapy room is a benefit for everyone!

All of these point back to practicing what you preach—engaging in self-care, being willing to be vulnerable, taking your own medicine because you believe in it.

Really, it’s all about integrity. And people pick up on that sort of thing.

So, if you’ve never tried therapy before, ask yourself Why not?

and maybe Could now be a good time to start?

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