What is the reason you want(ed) to be a Counselor/Psychotherapist?
In my ten years of teaching counseling graduate students, there were some common themes in response to the question(s) about why they wanted to be a counselor/psychotherapist. In no particular order the responses were typically as follows:
- People come to me with their problems. Everyone talks to me.
- I’ve always wanted to help people.
- Therapy helped me so I wanted to learn how to be a therapist.
- Variations of the themes “my family was messed up” and “I want to prevent other people from going through what I went through.”
Therapy is about the Clients
I can’t say that these are bad reasons to become a counselor. However, they are self centering reasons. These reasons allude to some self awareness and are in some ways partially beneficial to the profession. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that a focus on the self as motivation for the work, requires both a tremendous amount of self critique and self restraint. After all, therapy is not about the therapist. It is about the client.
Curiosity as a Form of Deep Interest not Voyeurism
The origins of a therapist are better rooted in curiosity; specifically a deep abiding interest or curiosity about human beings. The origins of a therapist ideally include a desire to understand who others are and how they came to be. While the self plays a dominant role in therapists’ identity (so that the counselor can differentiate between themselves and others), the therapist and their desire to be helpful or to be sought out or to change lives should not be at the center of therapy. After all, an element of the desire to help others is about the feeling and benefit one gains from being useful or helpful. Naturally, this is a welcomed side effect of being a therapist; however it is not the reason to do the work. Some of those common therapist origin story themes is about saving others. It’s about “fixing” others. There is a lot of unlearning and dismantling that must happen for that new therapist – whether they are entering the field at the age 24 or 54 – and what they must do in order to become effective and truly client centered as opposed to therapist centered.
Therapy isn’t Magic
Therapy, while beneficial, is not magic. What does that therapist who simply wants to help others do when they figure out that being a therapist is not primarily about giving advice and making recommendations and assigning homework? It is not generally fast and change is often incremental. It requires patience, it requires connecting with all types of clients. Some clients will be people that you “get” and understand effortlessly and others will be far more difficult with whom to connect because they are either highly defended or because of the therapist’s own defenses.
Be Whole Unto Yourself
Give me the curious person who wants to do their own current therapy to understand themselves. The person who is not looking for validation from their clients. The one who has enough ego strength and humility to receive feedback. Give me the counselor who has the courage to not know the answer and not view it as a shortcoming. At the same time they should have the fortitude to be stable and promote emotional and psychological safety for their clients.
Remove the Ego
Helping people is and should be a by product of being an empathetic human being. It is and should be a minimum requirement and not a primary descriptor of why one wants to be a therapist. I’m far more interested in whether or not you can support people in being responsible for themselves. Can you remove your ego and not tell your story to clients as if it is the reason they showed up? Yes some clients pick therapists based on some commonalities; whether it be gender, race, religion, trauma, addiction, etc…that is their prerogative. I am not suggesting that therapists should hide who they are; it is critical though that they are open to feedback from colleagues, supervisors and clients. The space of not knowing, when structured by clear being…gives clients a space to show up as their true self. Not the self who is yearning to be pleasing to the therapist, but the self that is engaging in the work of uncovering their worthiness and wholeness.
Copyright © 2019 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.