I’m here today with some little tidbits about the therapy process for beginners to therapy and experienced therapy-goers.
Many folks attend the therapy process as participants and are unaware of what it’s like in my shoes, so I have some words from the other side of the couch that I hope you’ll find insightful and heartening.
I fucking love my job!
First and foremost: I’d like to ask you, how awesome would it be if your job was catching up with and supporting people close to you who you really give a damn about? Pretty great, right? I feel like I have the best damn job on the planet.
People have a conception about my job that it’s quite hard, and the truth is of course it has struggles just like any other interest or career, but I feel like I found a good spot. And that’s great. My reason for beginning with this point is: many clients feel that they present an undue burden to clinicians, I’ve noticed. Apologies about asking for additional support, or bringing a tough story to therapy, or prefacing stories with “TMI” — and I want to say, it’s my pleasure to hold space for you in therapy.
When people come in and apologetically say, “I’m not doing so great,” I reply, “Well, you’ve come to the right spot. Let’s figure it out.” I’ve heard it all pretty much, and hearing stories of tough life situations and trauma don’t make me think of a person differently: it just makes me want to know how to care for, process with, and support the person more. It makes me feel so damn fulfilled to hold space for folks and support if possible.
People ask about the hard bits of my job, and I’ll say for me, personally thus far, the hard bits (in no particular order) are: you meet really cool people and because of ethical boundaries you can’t be homies (but that’s fine, of course, boundaries are awesome), my face gets exhausted from smiling and laughing so fucking much (the therapist repetitive stress injury), since covid looking at screens has been quite rough on the eyes (phone calls appreciated when possible), & I wish there was more walking around in the job and less sitting, that sort of stuff. In my experience, sure there’s hard sessions, hard days, but not often hard weeks or months, and I greatly appreciate that.
Seeing small reminders of you make me happy.
Look, we’re two humans who know each other. I love learning stuff about my folks, and storing it away for further use, whether it’s a quirk about you or an inside joke, a roastable fact, or an important piece of your history.
I think about an inside joke I have with one person where I tease them about being a millennial when they’re adamant about being firmly on the cusp, or I see king of queens and think of someone I’ve known for years where it’s their favorite show, or I go to local music show and wonder if such-and-such former emo kid would enjoy hearing it.
And I’ll think, perhaps more somberly, Oh, so-and-so’s surgery was today, I wonder how they’re doing, or I wonder if they scheduled that appointment yet, or heard back about that job interview/homebuying application/first date.
Whatever it is, I’m a person who’s firmly thrilled to know you. And even though it’s gross that I’m a 3-dimensional human, like when you see a teacher at a grocery store and then have to remember they don’t just fucking sleep under their desk in the classroom and have a whole-ass life which might include a ridiculous pair of overalls and a nose ring and a cart full of Oreos, it’s legit. I feel grateful to be on your team, to know your story, and to learn quirks about you that make you a whole portrait of a person with a past, a present, and a future.
Rest assured, when you walk across my mind, I think Dang, what a cool person, hope they’re doing well!
I want the best for you.
When you contract with a therapist, their duty becomes helping you in your health and wellness journey. This can involve processing feelings, providing psychoeducation, making sense of your history, reframing thought processes and increasing insight, helping you with self-acceptance, providing affirmation and catharsis, offering referrals and suggestions for further care, you name it. Different therapists have different styles about how they go about this or what techniques or frames of reference they use, own as modalities of therapy or their therapeutic orientation.
My frame of reference is very humanistic and feminist, meaning I engage in client-centered self-acceptance work, encourage more understanding and connection with self, and engage in power-sharing, ceding power to clients to ensure they are the experts in their own stories and understanding. Other clinicians have different toolkits and that’s awesome. Sometimes we work together and accomplish things. Sometimes I need to offer a referral for you to get the best results for your investment in yourself and your treatment. Regardless, your health and wellness is front and center, and if we hit a scope of practice issue, me wanting the best for you means offering referrals to care that would be a better fit: this is not a rejection or a breakup, but rather, I intend it to be a knowledgeable helping hand, so we don’t spin our wheels while you use your precious time and resources. It’s my duty to provide you with resources, insight, and referrals.
Often it’s my duty to be present in someone through a season of their life. You can be rest assured that after your departure, from time to time I do reflect back and wonder how you’re doing. I like hearing folks’ success stories, even if it’s after your graduation from treatment together.
Sometimes we won’t find the why, and that’s fine.
Some folks come into therapy with a burning question of WHY: Why am I this way, why is this so hard for me, why can’t I just be the person I want to be, why did this happen to me. And so on.
While these questions are entirely valid, many times they represent a desire far beyond just finding an “answer;” they can represent finding a way to forgive oneself, finding validation and affirmation in one’s being or choices, determining a way forward toward a goal, a desire to feel “normal” and not othered, understanding one’s own behavior, motivations, and inner workings, ways to navigate deep feelings like guilt and shame, and much more.
While getting a solid “why” answer might feel helpful, sometimes exploration cannot be so neatly sewn up: an answer might not exist, be indeterminate, or provide no catharsis.
In that case, in our work together we might supplement the why with a how instead: How can I live with this, how can I learn to accept myself, how can I create the life I really want.
So, in doing so, maybe we won’t find the why, of Why do I have this sexual kink since I can remember, why did that person who was supposed to love me choose to hurt me so much, why am I such a fuckup, but we can work toward creating a life that feels authentic, safe, and desired.
Tl;dr here is — You’re not a failure if you can’t find all the answers. Sometimes therapy goes in a straight line through the problem to the solution, and sometimes we go around and take a leisurely stroll to find the solution. Whatever the case, it’s generally your clinician’s pleasure to join you on this healing journey — we’re experts in working around non-cookie-cutter solutions.
Make it all about you, you you.
Sometimes folks are like, sorry we’re talking about me so much. And to that I say, I love it! Therapy is a weird space where you’re processing and talking about your stuff, and I’m right there with you. I don’t think of you as selfish for taking up space — it’s my pleasure to direct the spotlight on you (gently, not blindingly) and examine your moves, together.
I get the urge that clients sometimes have about sharing space is a reflection of the social contract held in society: you talk some, I talk some, we both share some. Therapy space is a bit different and takes some getting used to where you learn to take up space and I make space. It’s pretty lovely.
For me, it’s gotten to the point where I feel a bit flustered if someone asks me about myself in real life. I get hit with a polite How was your weekend? And I’m like, How WAS my weekend?? I’d totally forgotten, because I’d become so accustomed to making space rather than taking space. So, you can totally ask your therapist this, just be prepared for a non-prepared answer as we may have to recall life as though it was yesterday’s breakfast: ancient history.
You are not a burden.
I get it, what’s the joke: the millennial second date is sharing your mutual trauma. Ha, ha. And then you learn about “trauma dumping” and how that’s a bad thing, taboo, a burden, something you shouldn’t do. OK, got it. Well, let me tell you, that that rule does not apply to a therapy relationship: this is the place for you to do that, to process stuff, increase your insight, decrease its power over you, so when you go into the world, you can function in a way that’s more in line with how you want to be.
You are not a burden in a therapy room. You sharing “tough stuff” is part of the process. Hearing the nitty gritty helps me to learn about you, learn about where you learned certain ideas or maladaptive behaviors, and work through it. You saying stuff is helpful for this reason as well as to increase your own feelings of self-acceptance and validation when you self-disclose and your therapist doesn’t go running to the hills.
It is your therapist’s job to hear tough things, and also our job to take care of ourselves inside and outside of the work environment to ensure that hard stuff can roll off our backs and we can be adept at holding space for hard trauma work. Please believe that if I do feel work is taking an undue burden on myself or causing me hurt in some way, it is my job to set boundaries so that I can still be a healthy human and a skilled worker, and that will be communicated.
When people hit me with a, “I was struggling last week but I was scared to reach out,” I try to offer comfort and an openness to figuring out how to rectify it together. The reality is, if I can offer help, I will. If I have an open spot, I’ll put you in it if you reach out. Of course I can’t answer a phone call at 3am, or schedule an appointment when I’m on vacation or without service, or make time appear out of nowhere in a jammed work week. I’m only human, and boundaries matter, of course. But if you’re curious, ask. It’s my job to manage the boundaries and my schedule.
I love celebrating your successes!
If I’m here for the hard times, I’m also here for the good.
You are not prideful for sharing a victory. I want to hear it. Let’s celebrate this shit.
Had a great first date? Got the job? Passed that exam? Had sex without pain? Didn’t blow up at your parents? Went a day without dissociating? Won an award? Graduated? Got married? Received a life-changing inheritance? Survived that surgery? Looked hot as fuck?
Fuck, man, I am so happy for you. I love hearing it. Great work. This is what it’s all about.