What Your Therapist Really Thinks About You
Many clients over the course of my work with them have wondered about how I see them and the work we do. Some have asked me directly and others have skirted around it while fishing for information. Today, I will share how I feel.
My longstanding philosophy is that the process of therapy is like accompanying someone across a bridge from darkness to light. The emotional trolls under the bridge cannot threaten you because you are walking alongside someone who is there to help you stay safe. I have always said that accompanying someone from the darkness they face into the light they aspire to is the greatest privilege of a therapist’s life. I stand by that with every fiber of my being.
When therapists train, we are often encouraged to figure out what our therapeutic orientation is so that we know how to conceptualise the concerns that bring clients into therapy so as to understand the client in their context. We spend a lot of time doing this. However, the overarching message from all those senior practitioners who train us is that your orientation does not matter that much as it is the strength of the relationship between you and your client that makes the difference between whether or not the person will benefit from therapy. As a highly relational person my entire life, this made perfect sense to me. It is the reason that I bring my very “self” into the therapy room. The detachment that people think therapists maintain from their clients is really the stuff of fiction rather than reality.
Clients often wonder if their therapists think about them outside of session. The short answer is, yes. When we see something that may benefit you, we make a mental note of it to share with you later. This can literally be anything. I have used songs, YouTube videos, articles, social media memes, and posts and stories from people I know or admire. I know that your whole life actually exists outside my therapy room, (physical or virtual), and that these small reminders may serve to reinforce what we talked about with far more relevance than the hour you spend with me. When you recommend a book, movie or podcast to me, I take the time to engage with it because it gives me a context for how you see the world.
Another question I have been asked is whether we are shocked by the things you tell us. Truthfully, sometimes we are but more often than not, we aren’t. When it does come up, that shock is usually coming from a place of awe that you survived everything that has happened to you up until you came to sit in that room with us. It makes us tap even deeper into our empathy for you rather than the judgement that should never enter the room. What we don’t want you to do is try to “caretake” your therapist. That hour we share every week is really all about YOU. You can tell us whatever you need to as trust me, we can handle it.
We genuinely care about you. It would be unethical for us to work with you if we didn’t. Therapy is based on the idea of giving the client “unconditional positive regard”. This means that we refrain from judging you even when we disagree with your actions or thoughts. We care so much in fact, that when you graduate from therapy, we do feel a sense of loss because the relationship between therapists and clients is genuine. We also want the best for you even though we know that we cannot follow up with you to see how you are just for the hell of it. I still wonder about my very first client and if that person did the things we talked about and how they turned out.
Therapists are people too. We don’t forget our clients and we have ways of remembering you. When I was at practicum, my supervisor told me that in those moments when I experience self-doubt, I could call to mind the clients who told me I helped them. Each one of us has our own private ways of remembering you long after you have moved on from our care. The therapeutic relationship is a real relationship. You are never “just another client”.
To all the amazing human beings whom I am privileged to call my clients both current and former, thank you. Thank you for trusting me enough to share the most intimate and difficult things with me. Thank you for allowing me to see the world through your eyes. Your capacity to heal inspires me every single day. You are the reason I have hope that people can make the world a better place.