The Fear of Being a Therapist

I don’t know what else to call it. So I am calling it “The Fear of Being a Therapist.” I’m finding that a number of beginning counselors and those who have been practicing for years hold a variety of fears that are crippling and overwhelming.

These are the fears I hear about from beginning counselors and a few that I hear from my experienced clinicians:

  • The deep seated fear that they are not equipped or should not dare to be in a role of trying to help others because they themselves are “messed up” or inadequate in some way.
    • The fear of not knowing enough.
    • The fear of not being good enough.
    • The fear of not being successful.
    • The fear that no one will want to be their therapy client.
    • The fear of not being able to make a living.
    • The fear of being judged by others.
    • Fears about possibly not being able to transfer skills to another setting.
    • Fears of going out on one’s own.
    • Fears about “messing up” and “getting it” wrong.

Many are afraid to leave “bad”  jobs where they are unappreciated and underpaid. For many clinicians, new and more experienced, it is coupled with the belief in the toxic ideology that one has to “pay their dues.”

  • “When I get my license I won’t have to put up with this anymore.”
  • “I can’t leave because this place gave me my first job.”
  • “When I’ve paid my dues they will see my worth, know my loyalty and offer me that promotion.”

Psychotherapy is a field of practice that forces practitioners to be introspective and think about who they are – including good and bad traits. Those who are not introspective approach “the work”  like a task, a job…rather than as a career that requires the personal cultivation of character, warmth, curiosity and integrity.

Becoming a therapist then is pretty daunting. Therapists are human beings who have the same problems and stress just like everyone else. My biggest concern is that deep down some therapists believe that they should not have these problems and thus have anxiety about their audacity to sit and be with and listen to others in the midst of their fears, flaws, trauma, hurts and pains. It is for these reasons that therapy for therapists is highly recommended.

These fears can show up as perfectionist tendencies, behaviors and expectations of others. Which then leads to an attempt to control themselves and as much as they can around them (including other people) in an effort to create a climate free from anxiety and fear.

The counseling supervisor is not only overseeing cases. The supervisor is ushering the supervisee to the aspects of self that must be understood and accepted. The supervisor is not the therapist to their supervisee. However, as a result of supervision, the supervisees should have topics to bring into their own therapy.

As I shared with some supervisees this week…”Sometimes we’re going to mess up, but that doesn’t mean that we’re messed up.”

It’s natural to be a little self conscious in the beginning. When I lead counseling internship seminars for 10 years, I would coax beginning counselor interns into being present with clients and being open to the work by reminding them that “it’s not about you…it’s about the client.”  They are there because they want help. Even clients who are forced into treatment by courts etc., are there because of something going on with them…it has nothing to do with you. In fact, you are not the one on the hot seat. Don’t make them have to take care of you or reassure you. Be present for them.

As for career development, advancement and opportunity…fear is natural. As the late Susan Jeffers said and wrote, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”  Don’t let fear paralyze and keep you from living the life you want to live. When people talk with me about fear…I speak to the aspect of them that is capable of tremendous courage. Focus on fear and it grows.

Copyright © 2017 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

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