When Your Therapist is Just a Person

Office

Periodically, a psychotherapy client will ask me if I’ve ever been in therapy for myself. They are sometimes curious at my comfortable response of “Why, yes, of course”.  Some test the boundaries and would like to hear details of my own experience in the client’s chair – if only to distract from the discomfort created by any focus on their own pain.  I offer very little of my experience as a client.  The space and time for each of my clients is imperative to the outcome of their well-being.  Crowding their hour with my story is not likely to help them.  It’s natural, though, for them to wonder. It’s as if somehow my testimony serves as my expertise in helping with their issue.  However, a surgeon doesn’t need to have a history of his or her own heart transplant in order to help me with mine.  I was trained and mentored by wonderfully gifted clinicians who taught me well how to use self-disclosure only if it may benefit a client’s healing.  Any other use of that disclosure would be negligent.  While keeping my self completely “out of the room”, as purists in the field would insist be done, is unrealistic, I do take great strides in keeping that space (the therapy hour) as open and clear as possible for my clients.  Albeit, the world of technology has added the challenge of remaining completely anonymous as a whole person who sometimes is, just that, a person first and therapist second.

Coupled with my own love for writing and a choice to use it as a tool for maintaining psychological and spiritual balance, the dilemma for me and my colleagues who also write or blog is how to handle the tenderness of complete authenticity and the boundaries of trust and confidentiality.  Both my openness and the boundaries that legally and ethically bind me to do no harm to my clients are of equal importance.  There would never be a time I would write anything that discloses identifying information about a client.  However, the issue of them trusting that assurance, or trusting me fully once getting a glimpse into my own psyche, is more complicated and always deserves attention.  It’s possible the issue would never surface because I’m not sure any client or potential client would ever read my blogs. However, so precious is trust between two people, both personally and professionally, the risk of that trust being broken must be managed.  That’s why it deserves continual consideration.  Yet, as I respond to the suggestion of friends and colleagues to offer a more public version of myself through writing, I find myself considering how this might affect those who come to me and offer their trust in me as their story-keeper.

So, I am compelled to address these ideas openly – in part, to continue my quest for self-exploration and growth, and possibly to help someone else on their own journey. The short version of my thought process –

Yes, I’ve been to therapy as a client – in part, because my mentors insisted I trust my own profession enough to use it in maintaining my own psychological health.  I discovered the sacredness of that safe space to consider myself wholly and honestly.  On occasion, you may see a reference to my own experiences in “the other chair” if I am moved to make those disclosures a part of my growth.

As a mentor of young clinicians I strongly encourage the idea that, in order to be your best professional self for those who seek your help, you must ensure your personal self is along for that ride to health.  The two parts of you as therapist and person are never completely separated, ever.

If you are my client and reading this – know that your best interests are always in the forefront of my mind.  And if seeing my thoughts “out there” in the world brings you discomfort, you can always talk with me about it so that any compromise to your own growth as a person is eliminated.

It’s an interesting position to be in – person/therapist/person/therapist. Some days it scares me to hold the stories of others in that space. What if I misstep and cause, albeit unintentional, pain? Most days, I’m completely honored that my clients trust me with the most tender, vulnerable parts of themselves. Always, I’m in awe of the human spirit and it’s capacity to survive.  To that end, I hope to offer my best as both therapist and person.

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About L. Chris Cannida

I am a licensed professional counselor living and practicing in Tulsa, Oklahoma
This entry was posted in Counseling and Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When Your Therapist is Just a Person

  1. Jill B says:

    Your blog gives me great comfort. You are are a beautiful and thoughtful writer and person.

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