You’ve decided to start therapy and you’re feeling a little nervous. Who is this random person to whom you’re supposed to spill your guts? Between the closed doors, tight lips, and vows of confidentiality, therapists can sometimes seem quite mysterious. But really, we’re just human beings with relationships, feelings, and – yes – problems.
At the risk of losing my therapist club card, I’m here to let you in on a few things you might have wondered about the person across from the couch.
1. Yes, she thinks about you when she’s not working.
I find that my patients wander in and out of my mind a lot, whether it’s hearing about a treatment approach that I think could be useful in our work together or hearing a song that they mentioned a boyfriend once sang to them. Some therapists talk about “turning it off” when they lock up at night, and to some degree we do. We really are not “analyzing” everything that stranger says over cocktail wieners at our neighbor’s retirement party. But to think that we could know another so intimately and not find ourselves thinking (and yes, worrying) about them when we’re off-duty would be naive.
2. Sometimes, she wants to tell you to stop being crazy.
I once knew a therapist who had a stamp that printed the word “CRAZY!” in bright red ink. He actually never used it with patients (thankfully!), but he kept it on his desk, sitting there as a reminder that at times we all do things that fall in that category. All therapists have at one point or another wanted to tell (or shout at) a patient that they were about to do something totally stupid or were completely overreacting. A good therapist considers why that might be the case and helps the person reflect on their own behavior or thought processes.
3. She has her own set of “issues.”
As much as some might make you want to believe that it’s to the contrary, therapists are just as flawed as the non-therapist world. In fact, the majority of therapists I know are or, at the very least, have been in therapy. And I don’t know about you, but I think it’s much better that way. It’s impossible to escape life without a few bumps and bruises. I’d rather my therapist be aware that she needs support like the rest of us and be working through her “stuff” in her own therapy rather than on me. (If your therapist starts unloading his problems on you, head for the door!)
4. She might want to be friends with you.
It’s not unusual to have the desire to want to hang out with your therapist outside of your sessions. I mean, you’ve decided this person is trustworthy and likable enough to share your deepest fears. Why wouldn’t you want to grab coffee and watch The Voice with her? The truth is, we feel the same way sometimes. However, a good therapist likes her patients enough to want to spend time with them, but also clearly respects the boundaries of the relationship. Remember, the relationship is about you and your needs, not hers.
5. She cares about you.
The therapeutic relationship is an interesting one. It’s incredibly intimate and it involves the exchange of money. Strange, right? My patients sometimes ask if I care about them - truly care about them – given that they pay for therapy. The answer is unequivocally yes. I absolutely care about them. If I didn’t, I would not only become complacent about my work (and thus ineffective), but I would definitely have gone into the wrong field. Therapists aren’t automatons who listen to someone’s woes without being affected. A good therapist, in my opinion, feels your experiences deeply and is able to separate himself enough to help you work through them.
Are there things you’ve wondered about your therapist?