UK Counselling Services

What is it like to be a professional therapist?

What is it like to be a professional therapist? Well, it would be easy to spout off some sort of gung ho statement like: “It’s a rewarding challenge”, or “It’s an honourable burden of profound responsibility”, or some other Dr Phil rubbish – but I don’t want to do that. Despite this desire to not sound like a TV therapist or Televangelist, there is a degree of truth in those answers (as well as a healthy heap of TV sound-bite!!!). In this week’s blog, I’m going to write from a very personal perspective about what it is like for me, personally, to be able to assist people in the way I do as a career choice.

Having expressed the desire above to try not to sound like Dr Phil, I am more or less forced to state with complete truth and candour that being trusted by another human with their inner selves in my role as professional therapist is an honour. It really is. In this role I have the privilege of spending time with individuals who allow me to see them in ways that more often than not, no other living person ever has. Crucially, this honour is not simply given to me automatically – it is earned. It is earned by ensuring the environment we are meeting in is safe, private and comfortable. It is earned through my efforts to be as genuine as I can possibly be at all times with each person I sit with. It is earned because those I work with can tell that I have not just flown into the room 5 minutes before they arrived and put on my “therapist’s hat”, but am instead calm, settled and prepared for our meeting. It is earned because those I assist can sense that I will honour and respect the inner self they reveal to me and that they will be believed in whatever they tell me. Most importantly, it is earned because my clients recognise that they will not be judged, nor morally maligned and/or guided. Those I help know that having revealed themselves to me, all my efforts will then be directed towards finding out why their inner selves are hurting and what we can do together to heal it.

Sometimes inner selves revealed in therapy are not easy look at. Certainly, there are times when an individual’s history of abuse or traumatic experiences would be easy to flinch away from. For inexperienced counsellors, inner selves that are replete with pain can be hard to look at fully because of the way a client’s experience triggers off something in that counsellor – and the counsellor does not want to feel that way.  At other times inner selves are revealed that are difficult to see because not all people are nice and fluffy inside, and not all people live a life of honour and valour. In these cases, inner selves can be difficult to look at for inexperienced counsellors because it can be difficult to not judge the behaviour of that individual. For me personally however, no matter what is revealed, several years of training coupled with 25 years of clinical practice mean I do not flinch away from whatever I am being given the honour of being allowed to see. I just don’t – no matter what.

Part of the value of the length of time counselling training takes is that most of the entire first year (and parts of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th) is spent looking inward. This is also true for any further Post Grad Diplomas a therapist may achieve following their first degree. A significant portion of any professional therapist training is spent looking inward so as to better enable us to separate our feelings about any given issue or experience from what is being revealed by our clients. Quite specifically, this is so we are able to remain fully present with our clients – regardless of what they may be sharing with us. Another aspect of training (though this probably comes more with experience than through academic work) is the knowledge that generally speaking the various aspects of an inner self that is being revealed to us is something that the individual revealing it wishes to change. When considered in this way, the professional therapist can look at pretty much any inner self with a sense of hope – regardless of how difficult that self may be to look at, or how painful it may be to the individual we’re assisting.

All this translates into a description of what it is like to be a professional therapist being that ultimately my role is to be fully present, genuine, trustworthy and empathic so that any given individual can show me whichever aspect of themselves that they may wish to. Having trusted me enough to do this, my job is to then work together with them to identify the ways in which they would like to change and feel or be different. This is then followed by the creation of hope that they will be able to achieve this, at least to some degree. That done, together we then work to turn that hope into a reality – this being the responsibility of both of us together.

The conversion of the hope for change into an actual tangible difference in a person’s life is not always fully successful.  All professional therapists have to admit to ourselves that we are not magical creatures who can heal all to approach us. That said, change and healing happen far more often than not, and it is certainly the case that at least some movement occurs for pretty much every client who enters a therapeutic endeavour with me. This brings us back to the opening paragraph in this blog and the expression of my desire to not sound like a TV therapist. With a certain amount of embarrassment (having slagged off Dr Phil), I can but tip my hat to him and his soundbite writers because, well, it turns out that being a professional therapist is both a rewarding challenge and an honourable burden of profound responsibility. Sorry for doubting you Dr Phil.