How did you know you wanted to become a therapist?
It’s the everlasting question, the one my clients want to know, the one potential employers ask, and the one that all potential, budding graduate students ponder.
I’m lucky. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology, and I knew I wanted to become a therapist at some point in high school. Because of my razor-sharp focused, I started this career and braved this crazy and adventurous maze in my young twenties.
So, while I’m not an expert (is anyone?) or a seasoned veteran by any means, I think the journey in becoming a therapist is one that’s as chaotic as it is confusing as it is rewarding.
You’re Okay Acknowledging Your Weaknesses (On A Regular Basis)
Here’s the truth: any shard of ego and pride will quickly become dismantled in your therapy work. You’ll see it, your clients will see it, and it will enter your sessions with an insidious anxiety.
Not everyone likes to be humble, but becoming a therapist means that you will have to buckle down and really accept the never-ending quest of learning, evaluation, and working on yourself.
Many of us enter this field carrying grandiose ideas about helping and saving others. We want to rescue or fix or heal, but the paradox is that the main beauty of our work often involves our own introspection.
Becoming a therapist means becoming comfortable with your own blind spots and your own vulnerabilities. This work challenges everything you thought you knew to be “true” about yourself, the world, and others.
You may gain painful awareness for your own defenses and deficits. While there is nothing inherently wrong with you, these “flaws” likely contribute to your desire to enter this field, and you must be willing to work on them.
Whether that’s in your own therapy, support groups, or supervision, you need to be able to self-reflect. Honestly, rigorously, and continuously.
You’re Really, Really Okay with Being Flexible
To become a therapist and actually thrive as a therapist, you’ll need to take whatever amount of flexibility you have, times it by ten, and accept that that’s the level of flexibility you’ll need in this work.
This will challenge you. We like our ways and our routines and our structures; rigidity can feel comforting and familiar.
This will be tested. Time and time again. You can never exactly know the client walking into your office for a first session. It’s impossible to predict how each hour will unfold or what skills you must employ or which curveballs will arise.
In fact, there’s very little you can predict about your therapy work. And, you need to be okay (and even excited) about that.
Most people consider themselves relatively flexible, but you’ll be stretched to new dimensions you never knew your mind could reach.
You Have More Than Just Passion
Wanting to help others isn’t enough in any field, whether it be psychotherapy, social work, or social care assisting. In fact, just wanting to help may be the fastest route to burnout. You will work with people who don’t want to be helped. You will also work with people who don’t want to be helped in the ways you want to help them.
Becoming a therapist means employing organizational skills, strong judgment, leadership, critical thinking, and even some (gasp!) science and math capabilities.
Even if passion is the foundation where our field lies, it’s not enough to merely enjoy helping others. Passion waxes and wanes; clients test and challenge you; company policies frustrate you; day-to-day stressors distract your ability to focus and stay present.
Additionally, there will always be the miscellaneous tasks: the board requirements, note-taking, clinical assessments, treatment teams, referrals, supervision, treatment planning, meetings, utilization reviews, insurance claims, malpractice insurance, and continuing education units.
You’re Okay With Not Always Being “Nice”
As a certified, former people-pleaser, this was a huge eye-opener for me. After all, aren’t therapists the nice guys, the good cops, the ones who can provide emotional nurturing and unconditional support when nobody else can?
As it turns out, being overly nice can destroy your work and your relationships with your clients very quickly. It’s easy to be nice and validate (most of us are drawn to this field because we’ve been told we’re “really good at it”), but nice won’t get you very far if you’re needing to be transparent.
Becoming a therapist means learning how to understand people in different ways than they understand themselves. It requires interpret and confrontation of unconscious patterns, even if your client doesn’t necessarily want to know them. You will need to utilize strong emotional capacities and boundaries, and it may be challenging to set those expectations in your work.
Good therapists are nice, but great therapists are thought-provoking.
Clients may want more out of you than you can give. It will always be your job- not theirs- to practice assertiveness, direction, and clear communication. It will always be your job to model appropriate responses and regard.
As originally posted on Soul of Therapy