There’s a saying I’ve heard therapists use when others questions how therapists can treat disorders they've never personally experienced, “Veterinarians are trained to help animals and they’re not animals.”
Another one I’ve heard is, “Brain surgeons can operate on brain tumors, even if the surgeon has never had a brain tumor.”
These are true statements. I think they apply to therapists who have never had a personal experience with a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and the like.
Where I think a therapist’s personal experience does matter is if a therapist has experiences, internal beliefs, or mental health disorders that they haven’t faced or are unaware that they need to face. In those instances, I believe a therapist will not be as effective in helping a client who faces similar challenges.
For example, a therapist who had a difficult upbringing with a narcissistic mother and has not explored the impact of this on her life through therapy, will have a difficult time helping a client who is struggling with a narcissistic mother.
This is one of the reasons that new therapists are required to have supervision. Our supervisors help us to see our blind spots and encourage us to work on ourselves.
It is also why I am a huge advocate of therapists having their own therapists (you can read about all of the reasons I think it is essential here).
Another example is one from my own personal experience. When I chose to raise my therapy fee (you can read more about that here), I had to face a lot of internal questions that came up. How could I do this and hold true to my values? Was I “bad” for wanting more money? Was I “wrong” for honoring my financial needs over being affordable to every client? The ground was clearly ripe for me to do important internal work.
My own therapist was not able to walk me through this internal work. I was seeing a seasoned therapist at the time who charged $70/hr. She was not against me raising my fee, but she also directly told me she would never do what I did. This brought up a great deal of shame in me (yet another topic that would be great to discuss in therapy), so I was extremely nervous to bring up the internal issues in relation to my fee raise. Normally, she was fantastic at asking insightful questions and picking up on hidden limiting beliefs, but she wasn’t able to do that in relation to money.
I sought the help of another therapist who was familiar with this terrain (she had raised her fees twice that year alone) and we really dove deep into all of the personal issues that came up for me. This was a time of incredible growth for me. While it was painful to face the beliefs that it brought up, it became a gift because I could see things that were holding me back and choose a new path.
I’m also now a far better therapist for my clients. Many of my clients are entrepreneurs and have their own internal struggles with money. I love diving deep with them and am comfortable discussing money and all of the issues it can bring up.
We as therapists need to keep looking at the uncomfortable spots that arise in our lives. We need to seek therapy and other healing modalities. It will help us and help us to be better therapists.
And if you are someone looking for a therapist, when you do a consultation with a potential therapist, ask for what you want. For example, when I wanted to address my money issues in therapy, I looked for a therapist who charged a fee similar to mine. When we did a consultation call, I told her directly what I needed, “I need someone who has done their own internal work around money and can help me explore this.”
It’s ok to both acknowledge our needs and our limitations.
Thank you for reading. If you're interested in therapy, you can learn more here.