Thoughts From the Couch – When therapists also need therapists

I believe that a therapist needs to be willing to do their own work when necessary and it was with this in mind that I recently decided to find myself a therapist. Over the past few months I have been dealing with clients as well as family and friends who have been deeply impacted by this unprecedented situation and decided that I too needed to take some time to look at how this period of time has challenged me personally. 

As a therapist myself, it was an interesting reminder how much courage it takes to reach out to a total stranger as psychotherapy is an intensely private matter. It doesn’t work for everyone; one has to be in the right place in one’s mind and be in a position to give the process due time and care. The personal style of therapists is often as important as their techniques and theories. I remember in my training, self disclosure was discouraged because it supposedly negated a potential source of information. But therapists self disclose the moment a client meets them whether on screen or in the flesh. The way the therapist speaks, dresses, whether they wear make up, the room they sit in, the absence or not of a wedding ring, these things all play a part in the choosing of your therapist. Finding the right therapist is like finding a needle in a haystack. Each of us is different and looking for that special soul that will allow us to heal, and grow can, at times, feel disappointing. We know when we find the person right for us.

On meeting my therapist for the first time, well into the session, he disclosed something of himself that was, a deciding moment for me. In his disclosure he reminded me that there is no essential difference between therapists and clients. We know when someone sees us and that feeling of coming home. The courage he showed by being authentic and dropping his mask stirred something deep within, beyond any well honed protective layers, which was a feeling of relief. I knew in that instance that I had found the Sherpa I wanted to guide me back to myself. This was the one with whom I was willing to explore throwing off my customary and self betraying masks and let all my feelings take their natural shape. 

I can’t remember any incidents when I have consciously or intentionally lied to a client as, for me, it corrupts the entire therapeutic process, which is devoted to uncovering the truth no matter what. Suddenly as a client myself, there emerged a difference. We all do it, we tell half truths, bend reality to suit our purposes, lie outright, withhold the truth, manipulate, want to be seen and at the same do everything we can to hide. Reminded of a quote by Andre Malraux, ‘man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides’, I wonder what it will take for me to allow all that is hidden to emerge.

Many years ago I remember coming cross the Satir Model of change designed by Virginia Satir (1916-1988), a technique used as a transformational tool to explore the self. The metaphor of an iceberg to represent human experiencing; the small tip represents visible behaviours, which is often what we focus on as we move through life. As I start the next stage of my therapeutic journey, I am starting to acknowledge the price of not taking the time to look beneath that piece floating above the water. In so many ways it looks effortless, but that so often leaves me feeling unseen and invisible.

Just as an iceberg only shows an eighth of itself above the water so do most of us present to the world the behaviours that we feel will be acceptable, make us loveable and as a result offer some sense of belonging. Under the water are often our coping strategies, feelings, feelings about feelings, perceptions, expectations, yearnings and self. By being willing to go beneath the surface and be as honest a client as I am a therapist I sit with the consequences of that honesty and see, from a client perspective, just how rare, and precious the intimacy that is starting to be kindled can be. In addition and perhaps more importantly with a deep relief, I am beginning to reconnect with that place that Virginia Satir often spoke about; “deep inside yourself where you keep the treasure that is called by your name.” I am excited at the thought that my clients may find the same when working with me.

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