At the last parenting class, one of the participants said something to me like, “But you’re supposed to have it all together!” She was joking but kinda not because if you’re standing around giving classes and being all expert-like on parenting, it’s reasonable for people to assume that you have it all together.
But therapists are people and so we are as screwed up as anyone because being screwed up is part of the human condition.
Did you ever read The World According to Garp? (Or see the movie but if you only saw the movie, please go read the book because it is excellent.) When T. S. Garp takes his children to the beach he warns them about the undertow but Walt, his youngest, mishears and thinks he is warning them about the under toad. Later in the novel, the under toad finds them and tragedy hits their family. (No spoilers here! Read the book! It’s so good!)
And that is the thing about life, it is full of under toads. Some of them are small and petty (a flat tire, a 2-year old tantruming with exhaustion, a burnt casserole) and some of them are very big and scary. Therapists, just as much as anyone, have under toads and so we are constantly learning and running into walls and backing up from walls and trying again because we are people and no person escapes the under toad.
I think what makes therapists different is that we’ve made careers out of the work of growth and transformation and meaning-making. We are voyeurs; we watch our own lives and we watch other people’s lives, trying to understand them.
It’s true that sometimes we know stuff that you might not know because part of being a therapist is being committed to reading and consulting and going to a lot of trainings. We read the research so you don’t have to, just like the tree guy learns about pruning so you can be busy doing the things you need to do.
But I learn as much from my clients as they do from me because you know a lot of stuff, too, and you know way more than I ever will about you and your experiences and your family. Therapists learn to listen so that we can help you know the stuff that you know. A therapist can help you better understand and accept yourself. It’s a bit like having someone come “do your colors” because you don’t know whether or not you look good in that particular shade of yellow even though you see your own shining face in the mirror every single day.
People joke that counselors get into counseling because we’re screwed up and this is true. But then, like I said, we’re all screwed up because being screwed up is part of the human condition. Therapists are generally more interested in ruminating on the screwed up nature of being alive. Many of us were kids who got told we worried too much or thought too hard about things and so we were very happy to find out that over-thinking is a plus in the counseling field.
So that’s what makes us different, not that we have it all together (because I haven’t met a person yet who does) but that we like to listen to people talk about their problems. We like to help them deal with the challenge in front of them as well as build skills for the challenges ahead of them.
Nobody’s perfect and that includes your therapist.