Do therapists go to therapy?
I remember my first time sitting with a therapist.
It my first semester in grad school and I recall raising my hand in class to ask an important question: “Do therapists seek therapy themselves?” And the answer I got was profound.
My professor smiled and said, “Yes, and some of the greatest therapists do their best work because they go to therapy.”
I was shocked.
For some reason, my classmates didn’t seemed too surprised with that answer, but I was. I thought if a therapist is seeking help, how is it they have the allowance to assist their clients that see them? This was quite the head scratcher for me.
So, in the usual case where I find myself having not been sold on an idea (e.g., what my professor said), I decided to seek therapy myself. Before I get to the story of my first session, there is something very important you need to know.
First, at this point in time, I’ve never experienced therapy and second, I didn’t think it was necessary for my growth because I didn’t feel I had any “problematic” disruptions in my life at that time. I felt things were going very well.
I found the number to a counseling center we had on campus at my university and made the call. I cannot tell you how nervous I was. I thought, “Oh man, they’re gonna ask for my name. They’re going to know that I’m a training therapist seeking help when I know I should know how to help myself. I don’t think I can do this. There’s just too much at stake.”
But, in the midst of negative thought, the administrative assistant answered and gave me the option to use my first name and just the first letter of my last name for anonymity. This person also made me feel very welcome as their conversation was warm and welcoming. I felt relieved, and we made the appointment.
It was my second week of grad school and I approached the counseling center. I checked in at the front counter and sat in the waiting room thinking what am I even going to talk to the therapist about? I didn’t feel it was necessary to see this person at all. But, I had to see if my professor was right. I had to see if seeking help would sharpen my therapeutic skills. I want to be great in my work so my clients know they are in competent hands.
The therapist called me in and asked me to sit anywhere in the room. She then asked, “Welcome Jacob, what is it that I can help you with?” I was honest and said, “I’m not so sure. I’m in this counseling psychology program and they said that some of the greatest therapists seek counseling themselves.” She smiled.
At this point I thought, “There’s no way she will continue services with me because I literally gave her nothing to work with because there’s no problem at all.” Well, as it turns out, I was wrong. So very wrong.
After leaving the most honest meeting I’ve ever had in my entire life, knowing I was going in out of curiosity, I thought to myself: “I wish I would have started this process years ago.” I felt that I learned newer things about myself just in 50 minutes than in the previous 24 years of my life. I wish I were kidding, but after leaving that appointment, it was as if the heaviest burdens that were actually weighting me down, were lifted off my chest.
I felt free as if I was breathing for the first time.
It was at this point I dedicated time to sit down with my therapist to continue this journey of living more authentically, and other things I am very proud of.
I say this story to point out that many therapists do seek therapy, and for many reasons, not just for the reason I gave. As therapists, we are trained to listen with all of our senses. We hear powerful storytelling on a daily basis and much of that has the potential to carry over into our own lives because we are innately social beings. So we need an outlet as well.
Therapists also seek therapy so they are in tip top shape mentally before sitting down with you. This is pertinent because we are trained to compartmentalize what we hear often. This means we learn to separate our experiences from your experiences. Sure, every now and then the wires will cross but that’s a part of this beautiful process of being human.
I’m grateful my professor answered that question because who knows where I’d be in my very own life process if I hadn’t been curious. From what I could gather in my professional opinion thus far, the majority of therapists I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside with do attend their own therapy.
Lastly, I’d like you to think about this for a moment.
Imagine sitting down with your therapist, and let’s say he or she attends therapy themselves. How amazing and powerful is it to know that the person you seek assistance from isn’t prideful enough to not seek help when needed? They are doing exactly what you are doing, seeking extra help. They set aside the time to better themselves so he or she may be well rested and ready when you see them.
Your therapist has more than likely been or is currently sitting in the seat you sit in every week. They experience the same human feelings you do and work through life’s obstacles just like you.
Jacob Kountz is the founder of Kern Wellness Counseling, a mental health blog, in Bakersfield, CA. His works have been featured on USA Today, Thrive Works, Fatherly, Martha Stewart Weddings, Thrive Global, and is a Charlotte Counseling & Wellness contributor. His blog has also been ranked as one of the top 60 Mental Health Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2018. Currently, he is a full-time graduate student and a Clinic Manager of a mental health training clinic at a local CSU where he provides therapy for individual adults, adolescents, and children, couples and families. He aspires to one day open a private practice in Bakersfield, CA so he may continue to serve his local population.