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5 Things You May Not Know About Your Therapist

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, MA 

Some people may find the idea of therapy a bit unsettling if they have never actually tried it. The idea that the client is expected to tell their life story to a complete stranger might make a person uncomfortable to say the least. Despite this initial awkwardness, many people will still seek out the help of a mental health counselor in hopes that they can provide support, encouragement, and advice as they navigate the inevitable difficulties of life. While the client in the therapeutic relationship often finds themselves disclosing the more intimate details of their past and present, the therapist sitting across from them tends to be more illusive. If you have found yourself wondering about the “person behind the professional,” the one who seemingly maintains their composure no matter what curve ball you throw at them, read on for five things you may not know about your therapist:

Many of us have navigated our own mental health issues or traumatic experiences 

While it may seem counter-intuitive, many of us (therapists, that is) have chosen this career because we have battled our own psychological demons. We, too, have suffered grave losses, been brought to our knees by illness, and fought valiantly against our depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues. More often than not, it is these experiences that galvanize us into helping others navigate theirs.   

We are taught that it is unprofessional to talk about ourselves or our own experiences in session

Many therapists disagree on when – if ever – self-disclosure should be used; however, the overarching idea that the therapist share personal details about themselves is typically frowned upon. This might feel a bit unfair given how vulnerable the client makes themselves; however, it allows us to keep the focus on the client and their needs without possibly falling into a self-pity/attention seeking trap. If we can help it, we want to avoid bringing our own beliefs, feelings, wants, and needs into your session. 

We not only value therapy, we go to therapy! 

I am often told by clients, family members, and friends that they do not know how I am able to do what I do for a living. For many, the idea that someone is capable of listening to and processing the emotions of 20+ clients a week is insurmountable and the reality is, it can be. We are not robots, we are human beings with our own struggles. Combine this with the often difficult experiences of our clients and it can be a recipe for burnout without proper self-care. Enter: therapy. It is incredibly cathartic to talk about both our professional and personal experiences. 

There are different kinds of therapists who specialize in different areas and use different theories to guide their practice 

Finding the right therapist to meet your specific needs can feel a bit like dating. It may take several attempts before you find what you are looking for. If you are looking for a therapist who will act solely as a sounding board, listening intently and offering encouragement, a person-centered therapist may be your best option. Person-centered therapists are less goal oriented, with more hands off and more “talk” on. If you are interested in finding concrete solutions to current problems, a cognitive behavioral therapist, acceptance and commitment therapist, or a dialectical behavior therapist might be more your speed. CBT, ACT, and DBT tend to be more targeted, empowering the client to learn and implement techniques and skills in their everyday life. This goal oriented approach has been well-researched and can be incredibly effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety to name a few; however, it does require active effort on the part of the client. 

We are human! 

Just like our clients, we also get nervous, we feel awkward, we have self-esteem issues, and we make mistakes. We are humans first and professionals second. We may say the wrong thing, we may fumble our words, we may even cry with you. Just because we may appear to have it all together does not mean that we do!

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