As a psychotherapist, you already know that “you are the tool.” And like any tool, it is important to stay sharp. I like to think about therapy for therapists in the same way I think about knives in the kitchen: a sharp one makes the work easier and safer, while a dull one makes the work harder and more dangerous.
There are many reasons why therapy for therapists is so important. First, if you are a therapist who has not yet been in your own therapy (yes, a surprising number of graduate programs do not require their students to be in therapy), there is no time like the present to start. As well-trained as you may be, as good as you may be at your work, as much as your clients may love you, having had the experience of being a client is necessary and important. We are asking people to be courageous and vulnerable and we need to know for ourselves what that feels like. And unless you have done your own work, the work you will be able to do will always be limited.
Second, maybe you are a therapist who has had therapy but it has been a while. Or maybe your last therapist had an approach that was just fine back then, but your interests have changed or you feel like you just didn’t get as far or as deeply into the work as you would have liked. I have had the privilege of working with many therapists whose own approach is very different from mine, but who specifically wanted to work with someone with a different approach and perspective. Therapists who have done this report that it has been helpful not only personally with respect to knowing themselves better and from a new vantage point, but also professionally with respect to broadening their thinking about their own clients and approach to therapy.
Third, you don’t need another therapist to tell you how difficult and isolating this work can sometimes feel–you already know this. We hear about a lot of things from our clients and many of the things we hear are quite difficult. Being in our own therapy offers a safe and confidential place to talk about the many stressors we encounter in our work. It can help us to look at how our own experiences, belief systems, blocks, and unresolved issues might be getting in our way. It can help uncover whatever might be going on in our unconscious that stops us from doing our best work. It gives us an important and protected space to not have to try to get it right, to be able to let down our guard. We are not always our own best observer. As Thomas Ogden says when discussing the ideas of psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, “It requires two minds to think one’s most disturbing thoughts.” (Ogden, T., Bion’s Four Principles of Mental Functioning. 2008. Fort Da 148: 11-35)
Finally, seeing a therapist yourself is a terrific way to observe–up close and Very personal–another therapist at work. Sure, you are in a consultation group or two and you have had plenty of supervision, but hearing your colleagues and supervisors talk about cases is much different from the direct experience of sitting across from another therapist as the client. It offers a unique opportunity to be able to be inside the mind of the client (you!) and hear how a therapist responds. Even if you have been in therapy before, returning to therapy from time to time over the course of your career can offer new insights. Each therapist is different and you will learn different things from working with different therapists. With so many therapists now working online, this is a great time to find someone you might want to work with without the hassle of commuting to their office.
Questions about psychotherapy or about my approach to psychotherapy? Please see my website at www.marlacass.com and contact me at my San Francisco psychotherapy office: 415-218-2442 (phone link works from smartphones only) or at email@example.com.