Some advice for a new therapist

Dec 20, 2012 by

sproutNot long ago, my supervisee asked me for some parting words of wisdom.

We were wrapping up our work together, and she wanted a sort of top 10 tips list as she ventures into post-graduate life.

I talk and write about this stuff all the time.  Yet this list was still tough to come by.  How to narrow it down?  How to come up with pithy yet helpful statements about this amazing profession?

Well, I took a stab at it.

If I really had to get things down to the basics, here’s what I would suggest:

1.)    Read (or re-read) Yalom’s book The Gift of Therapy.  When in doubt, defer to the experts.  This book is all about new therapists, how the profession is evolving, and ways to have a meaningful, healing relationship with your clients.  It’s one of my favorites.

2.)    Ask for help.  The most experienced and expert clinicians consult.  Consultation and supervision should be a lifelong practice.  The moment you think you have all the answers is the moment when you need to get really worried about the direction you’re taking.

3.)    Be real.  I think new therapists are sometimes scared to be spontaneous.  They don’t want to do or say the wrong thing, so they may sit on reactions or feelings they have, unsure about when or how to bring them into the room.  If you’ve been thinking the same thing or had a similar “sense” or reaction to a client in three different sessions, consider bringing it into the room.  (And maybe also wonder why you haven’t done it yet.)

4.)    Let your clients matter to you.  They won’t care about your interventions or theories half as much as they’ll care about whether or not you care about them.  (I won’t lie, Yalom says this in his book.  But it’s so true, it’s worth saying twice.)

5.)    Practice what you preach.  I firmly believe that our practices are as healthy as we are.  If you don’t take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to give fully to your clients.  Independent of the impact on your work, it’s important to live a nourished life.  That’s something you deserve to enjoy.

6.)    The client heals himself.  One of my biggest challenges as a beginning therapist was learning how to get out of the way.  I was so eager to engage in the work, to prove what I knew, to be helpful, that I think I sometimes crowded the client out a little bit.  Never forget how much power and strength each person has inside of them.  You are there to help along the way—but much of the work rests with the client.

7.)    Say sorry.  Own your mistakes.  You are modeling something valuable on two levels for your client when you do this:  how to accept healthy responsibility, and that you care for them enough to put that relationship ahead of your ego.  A heartfelt apology is hugely therapeutic.

I began seeing clients in my graduate program back in 2005.  So, in many ways I’m still new to the profession.  And I know there are many therapists with more wisdom to share.  I wonder:  what would their lists look like?

Whether you’re a student, a counseling intern, a beginning therapist or a seasoned counselor, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

What lessons, above all others, do we need to hold in mind as therapists?

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