If you read my bio, you know that I’m a clinician. I specifically am trained in marriage couple & family therapy as well as sex therapy. A good therapist understands the value of therapy and likely either has their own therapist or has been in therapy themselves at some point. If you can’t process what’s going on with yourself and how your stuff shows up in a room, then you shouldn’t be trying to help someone else process theirs. That’s just my opinion but… where is the lie?
I’ve been in therapy before. I’ve gone individually, I’ve gone within the context of my marriage and most recently, we’ve gone for grief & loss support after the birth and transition of our twins. To be honest, not every experience we’ve had has been helpful however, there was usually some nugget of goodness we received from our interactions with the three different people we saw. If nothing else, we got a space to vent to an impartial source and that in and of itself, can be helpful. Listen… it’s HARD to be a therapist in therapy! It’s difficult (sometimes) to let your guard down enough to allow the sessions to flow organically; to let interventions take place without calling them out in some ‘GOTCHA’ moment with the clinician; to let the therapy take the course that particular clinician chooses to go rather than where you would go if you were in their chair. It’s also hard not to be super critical and analytical about their practice because as therapists ourselves, we’re used to watching videos, role playing and showing our own sessions in supervision with a critical eye to improve our skills as well as that of our colleagues.
So throughout my life, I’ve learned a few things about being a therapist in therapy. Like ta hear it, here it go!
You’ve gotta take off the hat
Let’s be honest, if you’re a therapist you probably also are that type of friend and family member. The one people confide in, the one people come to for help, the one people like to bounce ideas off of or “pick your brain”, the one who stops the fights at family functions, the one who’s always trying to mediate, the one who’s always got the, “how are you getting in your own way?” question. Guess what? That mess is EXHAUSTING and it will quickly lead you down the path to burnout-city and before you know it, you’ll be saying dueces to everybody. It’s hard but as a therapist, you have to learn when to take off that hat and allow someone else to semi-take the wheel sometimes. This is the case for any issue you present to therapy with but in this instance, I’m specifically focusing on grief work. It can be really easy to try and avoid feelings of grief by intellectualizing everything or making ourselves busy. It’s something I have to fight in therapy. It doesn’t help that our therapist sometimes talks to us like her peers instead of like her clients (e.g. “what I usually do with my clients…” Psstt… we ARE your clients!).
In this setting, we aren’t peers
Piggybacking (ugh I can’t believe I used that. My blackademics and other fellow academics know how much this is used in class settings so you get that participation credit!) on the last item, you have to remember you are not peers with the person you’re seeing. You may be the same age or in the same age range, you may have the same degree (I’m an MFT so I tend to like to see other MFT’s because of the type of training we have to go through), you may have even read some of their work but you are NOT peers here. You are the client and they are the therapist. It’s not helpful to bust it up about peer stuff when you’re paying for session. You can talk about that bomb conference you just went to/want to go to with someone else. Don’t allow that to happen. Reclaim your time!
So my therapist is at the next table…
Depending on your location, therapists circles can be really, REALLY small. Especially black therapist and especially if you have a specialty area that is uncommon. Y’all may be traveling in the same circles, to the same conferences, to the same local networking events, etc. so you have to be mindful of this possibility. Usually you don’t have to panic too much because: confidentiality but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less awkward. It really does help you empathize with your clients who have run into you at Target or a club and not known whether to say hi or avoid you like the plague. Sometimes it’s hard to get into the nitty-gritty of grief work (or any emotional work) when you have the very real knowledge that peer & regular supervision occurs and someone else who may be in your circle also, is hearing all your business. *Don’t panic, non-therapist folx. We don’t (and shouldn’t) use full names in supervision to help maintain confidentiality.*
Everybody isn’t a good therapist
This probably seems obvious but when you know what a good therapist does in session and you run into some of the nonsense out here in these streets, LAWD it’s upsetting. This one therapist we saw totally missed the point of something my partner and I were at a crossroad about and she said, “so you were upset about cookies?!” Ma’am… smdh… Imma need you to read subtext, pull themes, and ask questions about process, not content. We only saw her once and it was a wrap. Cookie-gate made continuing with her a hell naw. Again, this is a really great opportunity to have empathy for your clients who may have been to 10 different therapists before you and found none of them helpful. Therapy shopping is hard, time consuming and tedious but oh so necessary for that good fit.
You check out the office for tips
I think I’m addicted to HGTV. Chip & JoJo are my favorite couple EVER! At any given time you can turn on one of the TV’s in my house and find it on HGTV. Occasionally it may be on Ancient Aliens because I’m kind of obsessed with Ancient Astronaut theories but I digress. I find myself looking around therapy offices to see what I like and don’t like, what I’d like to reimagine in my own office space, whether I feel like it’s welcoming for clients, etc. Again, I’m assessing rather than just being a client in the space. Sometimes it’s difficult to shift and just “be here now!” as my partner says.
Ok so you’re not really stealing because therapeutic techniques are meant to be used when appropriate. But what I found for myself, particularly in the grief counseling we’re currently in, is that I’m taking some of the therapists’ “what I do with some of my clients…” and figuring out how I can apply ‘x’ intervention with my own clients. I mean, each one reach one so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing BUT am I focused on my own session then? Am I doing said intervention to help with my own healing? Again, therapists in therapy isn’t a moment for peer supervision. It’s your time to get what you need to help you move forward emotionally & mentally, not professionally.
Tell me it’s ok to take off the hat
This actually hasn’t happened to me and I’m not sure why. I think it would be great to have a therapist say, “I understand that you’re a therapist too but you don’t have to be a therapist in here.” I think that would really ease my mind and make me feel more like they’re handling it. It’s similar to acknowledging for a very overachieving boss client that you respect that role AND, they don’t have to have it all together in session. It’s giving permission in a way that as a therapist, you’re not always given permission to not know how to handle something. The loss of our twins was hella traumatic for both of us and as therapists (my partner is also), we knew what to do intellectually. We signed up for an in person support group and attended 2 weeks after birth, we scheduled couples counseling for grief & loss, we came up with a clear ritual for our girls, we found ways to make some meaning and use the loss as a catalyst for some other ventures, we talked to each other about it, we cried when we needed to, we were angry when we felt it, we left space for one another to feel their feels, I wrote in my journal, we wrote letters to our girls, we checked in with each other regularly, I enrolled in a healing grief training course, I took time off when I needed it… we still do most of these things. Those are all things I would suggest or recommend to a client. Guess what? All those things I think provided a backdrop of safety BUT this grief tho?! Geesh it is palpable and gritty and sludgy and stinky and paralyzing and crazy-making and completely dismantling. All the suggestions & practical interventions in the world don’t make up for someone really helping us do the work in session, of healing.
I wasn’t originally sure who I was writing this blog post for but I think I’m writing it for other therapists. It’s nice to know what you’re client’s do for a living and it is helpful to get an understanding of where they are cognitively so you can tailor your work to best fit them. Once you know though, it’s important, I think, to table that information and continue to respect that they are your client. They’re coming to you for help and the last thing I need as an angel mom in this grieving process is for you to talk to me about what you did with your other clients.