Saturday, August 22, 2009

Physician Heal Thyself

In the past year I have read a lot of material on the subject of psychotherapy and psychology and all things pertaining to said topic. And I've done this because well I started seeing a therapist for the first time ever in my forty something years of living just last summer and is usually the case with me I have to get my hands on as much information as I can so I can know what the hell is going on and blah, blah, blah. Some people would accuse me of having 'control issues' and to that I would say that if wanting (ok needing) to educate myself about something as personally relevant as being in therapy means having control issues well then a control freak I am. If needing control is wrong then I don't want to be right.

Anyway, enough about me. Here's the thing. In my travels through the psychotherapy/psychology literature which includes blogs and discussion groups and books, etc. I have come to realize that a lot and by a lot I mean A LOT of people become therapists because they have been in therapy and (presumably) had a good experience. I'm cool with that. But what I'm also noticing is that many of these same people who become therapists after being in therapy (and frequently still are in therapy) have and continue to have significant psychological problems, issues, maladies, choose your word. And I read this stuff and while I think it wonderful that people are brave enough to acknowledge their need for help and do their best to get that help via the therapy process I then think to myself "hmm, would I want this person to be my therapist? Would I want someone who is so clearly still working through their own 'stuff' treating me?". And the short answer is "nope".

Now let me just make one thing very clear, in no way do I discount the validity of someone who has had in the past significant psychological and/or emotional (I think they sort of go together no?) issues becoming a therapist. Quite the contrary actually. I am a firm believer in personal experience being exceptionally relevant in the helping professions. For example I honestly think that somebody who has never experienced depression can never understand the difficulty involved in dealing with depression and one thing I have come to appreciate is that there are many areas in which the understanding expressed by my therapist is paramount to me. Sometimes just plain acceptance is enough but at other times it is clear that she understands what I am saying and I can tell that it is not just at an intellectual level. I'm not necessarily suggesting that it is experiential on her part – I do not know. But it is obvious by her responses that she gets it. And that matters.

But here's the thing: at times I need her to be stronger than me – and I would interject here that I do not think that there are a whole lot of people out there who are in fact stronger than me - or at least I need to know that she can take me, that she can withstand the sometimes intense emotions that I am feeling without being repelled or afraid or just plain nervous. And I honestly doubt that if she is in the throes of her own deep depression or substance abuse issues or whatever that she will be able to handle my stuff. I think it is safe to say that if I found out that she was in the throes of her own deep stuff that I would have to leave her. I would hate it because frankly I have become rather fond of her but I know that I would have to leave her.

I guess this falls under the heading of "Physician Heal Thyself" and I would add "Before Thy Attempts to Heal Others".

And I wonder, am I wrong?


  1. Hi jss.
    I hve indeed had the 'misfortune' to stumble on your blog except I think it is anything but misfortune.
    This post made me think because, having started in therapy myself in recent months, I understand EXACTLY your horror at the idea of seeing someone who is not 'ok' in themselves.
    Jss... I get it. I get just what you've said and I think I understand why too...
    I've not had the hideous experience of growin up with an alcoholic. I imagine it to be a frightening, and perhaps even disgusting, thing to have to bear. What I do know and can identify with though, is growing up in a very dysfunctional atmosphere... Growing up with unpredictability and turmoil and devestation caused by a loved one's 'disease'/ addiction (in my case, my middle sis) and watching the effects.
    You reminded me very much of myself whn you said that you'd be hard pushed to find a stronger person... and that is why you need your T to be able to be stronger... to handle you... Perhaps you can identify jss, with the thought that we who have had to be so strong, have had to hold it together and just 'deal with it', we are to all appearances, the strongest people in the world. Always there for others right? Appear to be so grounded and so 'in control'...
    Bear with me, it's late here and I'm making a hell of a rubbish job of explaining what I mean...
    I think that perhaps it is because WE are so good at being there for others whilst falling apart inside / struggling that we can't bear the idea of the T doing the same....
    Does that make sense? It's just a thought that struck me when i read your post.
    I would leave mine too.
    I already checked with her that she is fine and not in therapy. Have you asked yours?
    Sorry this is such an almighty ramble.

    Oh... and, are you wrong?
    I think you should talk to her about how you feel though.
    (Note: This is a case of do as I say not necessarily as I do!!!!)

    Best wishes

  2. Hi Wonderingsoul and welcome. My first comment ever. Your plaque is in the mail.

    Your suggestion may very well be true - at least in part because I can certainly agree that I could absolutely not bear the idea of my therapist falling apart as you put it. And she doesn't have to be perfect she just needs to have a good handle on her own stuff and have the intestinal fortitude of six very large lions. Is that too much to ask?

    My therapist keeps herself in 'maintenance' therapy and she attends regular supervision so I'm fortunate there and I'm realizing that both of those things are very important to me.

    Thanks for your comment and you weren't rambling and it wasn't rubbish at all. I was a little leery about posting this in the first place. Afraid somebody might actually find it, read it and take offense but my question is sincere. One of the things that I've found over the past year is that I really had (at the beginning) no idea what I wanted/needed in a therapist and I'm finding that those things are sort of a dynamic work in process. As I change, learn, etc. what I require from my therapist changes with me.

  3. Hey jss.
    Love the idea of a plaque (not not tooth variety you understand).
    Thanks for looking me up too. I was touched by your comment. Too kind given that most of my posts are likely to be miserable as hell and more introspective than I would ever dare to be in the presence if actual living, moving beings!
    I chuckled at the idea that you require your T to have the fortitude of six large lions - VERY large lions... I'm guessing you have a lot of crap to throw in her direction and you just want her to be able to handle it without disintergrating into a small shivering puddle!?
    I very much identify with your fear that someone will actually find your post! It is terrifying to be 'known' in one sense...
    Puzzled at your concern that you will cause such offense though. I noticed this is very important to you as it is a main point in your introduction.
    Wondering why you feel as though you might offend? I haven't read anything remotely offensive here (for the record).
    Thanks for visiting me.
    Take care of yourself. I look forward to hearing more of your journey.
    Always good to find a like minded soul.

  4. Hmm, my therapist disintegrating into a small, shivering puddle would be problematic. I'd definitely have to rethink the whole thing. I'd also like to think that I don't have too much crap to throw her way. I've made it this far without tossing myself off a bridge.

    I have found that people are easily offended and can get pretty nasty sometimes. Especially when it comes to religion and spirituality which are topics that I like to write about and discuss. Sometimes when people sense their core beliefs being challenged they get stuffy. I am merely pointing out that this is my blog, that I welcome challenging discussion and I would prefer that any discussion be kept polite. In the end if somebody chooses to be offended there's not much I can do other than deep-six their comments.