Therapists often fear manualized treatments in psychotherapy. If the therapy process is boiled down to a script, the fear goes, the actual therapist becomes interchangeable with anyone else following the same script. Taken to its logical end, if therapy is just a set of manualized techniques, we could easily be replaced by robots.
The overwhelming majority of therapists are women. So are most clients. Men are often reluctant to attend therapy voluntarily. As we discussed in the last episode, even well-intentioned therapists and counselors can make men feel unwelcome simply by how they frame men’s presence in the room. Sometimes, changing how you work to better respond to men’s needs and expectations of therapy can make the process a lot more effective.
My first six months of seeing clients while in graduate school felt pretty crazy, though at the time I didn’t realize how crazy. When we are on a significant growth trajectory and learning curve, it’s challenging to see through the fog of all the factors involved in adjusting to becoming a therapist. It seems whenever we are in an important and difficult phase of life — potentially transformational — it’s hard to see what growth is actually occurring.
Looking back on those first six months of clinical work has taught me some valuable lessons. When I was seeing my first clients, I wish I had known how to intentionally let go of the pressure I felt to make something happen or employ technique.
Language fascinates me. As therapists, we use language to reframe situations, craft metaphors, and ultimately instill feelings of hope. We recognize how powerful this tool is, so we carefully select our words when in sessions with clients. If only we did the same outside of sessions.
I love speaking with associates, trainees, and students at various events and settings. I’ve heard about the highs and lows of the journey to licensure, the successes and struggles, the hopeful and (seemingly) hopeless situations. One of the statements that always gets to me is “I’m just a(n) ___” (student, trainee, associate).
“Just.” As in “simply,” “only,” “no more than.” Imagine how quickly you would point out the use of this word to a client, drawing their attention to the potential consequences of viewing themselves in a negative light. Unfortunately, we’re not always good at catching ourselves when we do this.
It is advised early on in our schooling to practice self-care as a means to prevent and combat burnout. Preventative self-care is usually along the lines of making sure you are staying healthy. This can mean eating right, working out, or finding something you enjoy in every day, like listening to music or reading before bed. Ideally when you are burned out, self-care would include taking a day or two off to recharge, maybe going on a weekend getaway, or getting a massage.
Realistically, for many therapists that isn’t possible. As Ben discussed here last week, far too much discussion of self-care ignores the practical and financial reality of being an early-career therapist. This recent Counseling Today cover story is a great example of talking about burnout in ways that put responsibility for it on counselors’ and therapists’ own shoulders, without mentioning several of the systemic reasons why mental health professionals early in their careers actually get burned out.