- Dr. Janet Grinstead
Therapist Need Therapy
Therapists have hard jobs. They hear about difficult, sometimes traumatic experiences each day, as their clients share their issues. They too occasionally have personal problems and things they would like to work through. You might wonder, however: Do therapists just know how to handle their issues, based on their training? It’s often said that everyone can benefit from therapy, but what about therapists? Just because they’re trained, doesn’t mean therapists don’t sometimes need help themselves. In fact, the nature of their job places them at higher risk for emotional distress. In short, therapists often need just as much — if not more — support than the average person.
Common Problems Therapists Face
Therapists face a lot of challenges, many unique to their profession. These are some of the most typical problems that therapists face:
Relationship stress, problems with kids, and work burdens are all just as likely for therapists as for everyone else. Therapists are not immune to anger, anxiety, or worry, and they carry no special protection against tragedy.
The stress of handling potential conflicts with clients (dual relationships or duty to report child abuse, for example) is a huge weight that therapists to carry. Therapy sometimes puts therapists in the position of having to choose between two unpleasant outcomes, or sometimes between their clients’ feelings and the law’s requirements.
Other People’s Emotional Burdens
Because therapy is confidential, a therapist can’t share too many specifics to unload the stuff they hear in therapy. They can tell a partner they’ve had a rough day, give a vague comment, maybe state they’re helping someone with a terrible trauma, but that’s it. Clinical supervision can help, but not all therapists receive such supervision. Simply put, therapists can’t confide in spouses or friends the way people in many other jobs can, so the heaviness of the day lingers even after a therapist goes home.
Because of these confidentiality restrictions, therapists frequently keep work-related stress to themselves. They can feel increasingly isolated with troubling thoughts or worries. In addition, many therapists work alone in private practices, so they don’t even have the benefit of a brief water-cooler check-in with a coworker. Therapy can be a lonely job.
Separation of Personal Life from Work
Just as a therapist can’t share their clients’ confidential information, they also cannot share their own personal lives with clients. This means they can’t tell clients if they’re having an off day, suffering a headache, or feeling grumpy. Most jobs require such professionalism, of course, but therapists have to be on guard constantly. They must remain neutral throughout their day. This neutrality is unnatural in most other relationships, and understandably leads to strain.
Some clients have challenges that cause severe interpersonal difficulties, but unlike other jobs, such as customer service, therapists can’t just refuse to serve someone whose behavior seems out of line. Especially once the relationship is established, there are strict guidelines to prevent clients being abandoned. This means stressful relationships with difficult people can go on for a long time, sometimes years, before they meet criteria for ethical termination or transfer.
Benefits of Therapy for Therapists
Given these challenges, it’s easy to see why therapists might also want to seek therapy. Although it might seem they should be able to manage on their own because of their training, everyone can benefit from a neutral, supportive third party. Here’s how therapy can help even the professional:
Support from a colleague who understands
The demands of a therapist’s job are unique and the nature of the work tends to be isolating. Working with a professional who fully understands the particular challenges of the job is a great opportunity for support and comfort.
Sometimes therapists spend so much time thinking about other people’s problems that they lack the mental energy or motivation to examine their own. Simply put, it feels too much like work. Having someone neutral can help therapists maintain good insight and self-care.
Opportunity to deal with personal problems
Because therapists have to stay so buttoned up at work, therapy gives them a dedicated time and space to manage their own issues, just like their clients get from them. Sometimes, just setting aside the time to do so, can make all the difference. Therapy is a remarkably rewarding job, but the aspects that make it so rewarding can also make it incredibly draining. Therapists sometimes need therapy, too, and there should be no shame in that.