When the Psychotherapist is Just a Person

Periodically, a psychotherapy client will ask me if I’ve ever been to a therapist myself. Sometimes they seem surprised at my comfortable response of “Why, yes, of course”. I’m sure some would like to hear details of my own experience in the client’s chair – if only to distract from the discomfort created by any focus on their own psychological pain. I offer very little of my experience as a client. Honoring my own confidentiality is a form of self-care and I’m acutely aware that the space and time for each of my clients is sacred to the outcome of their own well-being. I was trained and mentored by wonderfully gifted clinicians who taught me well how to utilize self-disclosure only if it may benefit a client’s work and serve to reduce their emotional suffering. Any other use of that disclosure I would see as negligent. Although to me, keeping my self completely “out of the room”, as purists in the field would insist, is something I consider unrealistic, I do take great strides in keeping that space (the therapy hour) as open and clear for my client’s concerns as I possibly can. Enter the world of technology and the challenge of remaining completely anonymous as a whole person who sometimes is, just that, a person first and therapist second.

Coupled with my own insatiable love for writing and a surely hardwired need to use it as one of my own tools for maintaining psychological and spiritual balance, the dilemma for me and my colleagues who also write or blog is how to handle the tenderness of complete authenticity and the boundaries of trust and confidentiality. Both my openness and the boundaries that legally and ethically bind me to do no harm to my clients are of equal importance. There would never be a time I would write anything that discloses identifying information about a client. However, the issue of them trusting that assurance, or trusting me fully once getting a glimpse into my own psyche, is more complicated and always deserves attention. It’s possible the issue would never surface because I’m not sure any client or potential client would ever read my blogs. However, so precious is trust between two people, both personally and professionally, the risk of that trust being broken may serve as a source for irreparable emotional pain. That’s why it deserves continual consideration. Yet, as I respond to the suggestion of friends and colleagues to offer a public version of writing, I find myself considering how this may affect those who come to me and offer their trust in me as their story-keeper.

So, I find myself compelled to address these ideas in this forum – in part, to continue my quest for self-exploration and growth, and possibly to help someone else with their own consideration. The short version of my thought process –

Yes, I’ve been to therapy as a client – in part, because my mentors insisted I trust my own profession enough to utilize it in maintaining emotional and psychological health. And – I discovered the sacredness of that ‘safe space’ to consider myself wholly and honestly. On occasion, you may see a reference to my own experiences in “the other chair” if I am moved to make those memories a part of my growth on any given day.

As a mentor of young clinicians I strongly encourage the idea that, in order to be your best professional self for those who seek your help, you must ensure your personal self is along for that ride to psychological health. The two parts of you as therapist and person are never completely separated, ever.

If you are a client and reading this – know that your best interests are always in the forefront of my mind. And if seeing my thoughts “out there” in the world brings you discomfort, you can always talk with me about it so that any compromise to your own growth as a person is minimized.

It’s an interesting position to be in – person/therapist/person/therapist. Some days it scares me to hold the stories of others in that space. What if I misstep and cause, albeit unintentional, pain? Most days, I’m completely honored that my clients trust me with the most tender, vulnerable parts of themselves. Always, I’m in awe of the human spirit and it’s capacity to survive.

About chris cannida

I am a psychotherapist, trainer, and consultant hoping to help others find a peaceful and meaningful sense of self, while improving the quality of their lives. My background includes extensive work with post 9/11 active duty service members and veterans. All writings on this site are currently dedicated to the mission of helping our military community remain mission-ready and resilient.
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