Friday, August 31, 2012
Confessions of a Young Therapist
I have been working with clients for about 15 months, and I have been doing so as a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) for about 6 months. I am daily reminded how little I know and how much more there is to learn, and I wish I could learn it now, or yesterday.
Some days I actually feel like I might be good at this in a few years, with enough continuing education and openness to allowing my clients to be my best and most crucial supervisors (not literally, of course). I have seriously learned more from my clients than I ever learned in school.
And then there are days when I feel like an imposter, a fraud, and that any minute now someone is going to figure out my secret and make me stop seeing clients.
Because of the work I do, many of my clients are incredibly acute. The sense of being a fraud is even stronger when my clients are experiencing structural dissociation, or derealization, or wondering if not being alive may be a better option than another day of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
So as I prepared for my next client between sessions today (generally, this amounts to deep breathing and releasing the "energy" of the previous session), I suddenly wondered what right I had to sit in the "therapist" chair and pretend I have the slightest idea what it feels like to be the survivor of such incredibly wounding incest, rape, and/or molestation.
As much as I know that the real benefits of therapy are in the relational realm, in the intersubjective connection between client and therapist - the research repeatedly demonstrates that technique and knowledge are always secondary to the relationship - I still have that voice in my head that whispers, "Dude, you're a wicked fraud. Better quit now before you get caught."
[Yes, my inner voice sounds like Jeff Spicoli some days.]
It's always easy for me to see this in my clients - the sense of being a fraud, never good enough, always wondering when rejection or condemnation will begin - because I know that voice all too well in my own life.
Perhaps, as we discussed last night in our psychoanalytic study group, part of the reason I became a therapist is to better understand and heal those wounded parts of myself. I think it is often true of psychotherapists, as it is of shamans, that we are the wounded healers. And it is our wounds - my wounds - that allow me to feel such empathy and compassion for my clients, and allow me to connect, even for a few moments, in some small way with their lived experience.
When I was the client, through the end of my 20s and much of my 30s, it was those times when I felt my therapist really got where I was coming from that I began to heal. And when she could see through my defenses and connect with my pain, I would cry so deeply, so abjectly, that I was not even aware of the emotions. All I knew was that for maybe the first time in my life, someone else understood me, and cared about me.
If I can offer that feeling for my clients someday, maybe I will get past that voice in my head that tells me I am fraud . . . my father's voice.