Living with Fear as a Therapist
When I started a consultation group for art therapists in private practice, one of the group members asked if there would be any posted guidelines for our group.
Her question struck fear in my heart.
I had not planned guidelines. I had not thought of that.
It brought up fear of not doing something the “right” way. Or worse, doing something wrong, without even knowing it.
Within the therapy profession, there are ethical codes and standards for professional behavior. I follow them.
This is part of being in a regulated profession - it’s regulated. It’s regulated because someone else’s mental wellbeing is trusted to our care.
It doesn’t always feel like that though. Sometimes it feels like a weight of responsibility.
My worst fear is that a client will die by suicide and I will be found negligent.
My fear also comes up when making a report (to child services or the police). I want to make sure I’m doing everything that I need to and doing it “right.” I fear I’ll do it improperly without even knowing it.
I also hold another form of fear that originates from when I was an adolescent. I was deeply hurt by and impacted by words said to me by a counselor. I don’t want to scar anyone like that.
In critical moments, I want to say the “right” thing.
Even in writing essays about therapy work, I get scared. I fear I will inadvertently break a rule I’m unaware of. Will I reveal something in my practice that is wrong?
My list of previous or present fears could go on and on.
These fears are not unique to me.
I’ve heard other therapists share them over and over.
I believe they’re a shared cultural phenomena within the therapy profession due to a fault-proof therapist mindset.
A fault-proof therapist mindset is rooted in doing things “right” and as perfectly as possible. This mindset incorrectly assumes there must be black/white answers, right/wrong actions, and clear solutions.
That is not the reality of our profession.
There are inherent risks, complex situations, multi-layered experiences, and constantly changing variables.
We also cannot control the outcomes of therapy because it involves other people.
When I succumb to a fault-proof mindset, fear consumes me. It’s typically a sign that I’m trying to control what cannot be controlled.
The irony (in a very Daoist way) is that the more I let go of control and fear, the better I actually do as a therapist. I’m more present, grounded, and in tune with my intuition. I’m more aware and connected to the person sitting with me.
I’m also a happier, more confident human. I share my ideas and thoughts freely, uplifting the field (a concept I talk about in We need your Counter-Culture Viewpoints).
Ultimately, not letting fear consume me comes down to a daily practice. It means developing awareness of when it is present and choosing a different path.
And being okay with repeating that process as many times as needed.
I provide consultation for therapists who want to create private practices
that honor their needs and who they are.