The other day I was speaking with a friend who was going through some pretty heavy feelings and experiencing a very distressing depressed mood. After describing what was going on for her, she looked at me and said something to the affect of, “It must be nice to know how to handle this all.” I almost laughed! I was currently going through some of my own stuff, unbeknownst to her. In reality, I was providing empathy rather than sympathy; meaning, I knew and felt what she was going through. Having training in psychology does not make me impervious to depression or anxiety. I wanted to be there for her in that moment and reassure her that in fact, I do not know how to handle this all.
Therapists, just like bankers, bartenders, and teachers are still human. Doctors are still at risk for getting physically ill, just like we are at risk for experiencing a wide range of mental health issues. Some days, having the skills, knowledge, and training to help my clients manage their own depression is not enough to manage my own. I am not immune to struggling, and that is a lesson I had to learn for myself. I can imagine that it can be scary to know that the person who is helping you is not invincible, and I know personally that it is often easy to look up to your counselor as somewhat of a savior. I actually fell into this mindset when I was at the doctor’s last month trying to get over a bad cold. After weeks of sneezing, coughing, a negative COVID test, and fatigue; I was desperate to get a prescription to help me feel better. Going into the appointment, I was working under the assumption that my GP was a superhero who was going to fix everything and make me feel 100% better. When all my bloodwork came back normal and my I passed my physical with flying colors, I was left to go home with nothing but samples of an over the counter antihistamine. The moral of this story is that my doctor is just human, not a God, and she did what she could to help me.
One of the things that therapists do is identify patterns in behavior. One thing that is very hard to do on your own when you are depressed is to identify those maladaptive patterns and work to change them. It’s hard to think straight when your vision is so blurred with past trauma, sadness, and anxiety. Having said that, it is impossible for therapists to treat themselves. Meaning, even though I have a master’s degree in counseling, I am unable to counsel myself in an effective way when I am struggling. My profession does not save me from feeling the same negative things that you may feel.
So, long story short is that, YES! Your therapist does get sad. We experience heartbreak, death, trauma, depression, and anxiety, just like you. The good news is that these experiences shape us in a unique way that can help you. By knowing how hopelessness, anxiety, and fear feel like, we can sit with you and sit with those feelings knowing how badly it hurts. Your pain and suffering are unique to you, but our experiences with pain and suffering can help us empathize more effectively. My goal is to use my empathy to make you feel less lonely and more supported.
If you are a therapist or work in a helping profession, I highly recommend seeing a therapist to identify your own behavioral patterns and to ensure that you are doing what you can to help your clients. I know it has helped me on my journey as a mental health professional. Set up an appointment with Symmetry Counseling for therapy in Chicago by following this link or calling 312-578-9990.