Being a therapist is a challenge. Everyone who has practiced in the field to one degree or another knows that. However, it happens all to often that we get caught up in what we do, that we forget what we are doing. The following five areas are basic, yet so easily forgotten by those of us who engage people in therapy each day.
This Isn't About You.
Believe it or not there is a person sitting across from you who came here for a reason. They are there if you look hard. Maybe a little nervous or depressed. You can see them, and their reason likely had nothing to do with finding out how intelligent you are. They probably have no idea how many people you have "cured." Don't get me wrong, it does help to know what you're talking about. As the therapist though, it's important to remember that this person sought you out because of their own issues. They have a story to tell, and need the venue to tell it. We should be able to listen, process, and feedback without worrying about how "psychological" we sound.
This could easily hop on board with the first part, but then we would only have 4 guidelines. So here it is. We have to be listening a whole lot more than we are talking. People get advice everywhere. From in-laws, friends, strangers, and co-workers. The difference the therapist has to make can only come from actively listening to a person before providing feedback. Active listening comes from more than just hearing words come out of someone's mouth. It comes from processing, attempting to understand, and find meaning in it.
The Degrees on the Wall
Our fancy letters mean lot more to us than they do to clients or patients. Whether it's a PhD, LMHC, MA, LCSW, these indicators of our advancement in the field are hung with pride to impress both colleagues and patients. I have found over years of practice that people generally don't care. Not only that, they tend to not know the differences in practice levels. Education and degrees levels are important for certain reasons, but good patient service isn't necessarily one of them.
People are People
I split my time between a private practice and a community clinic. This opens me up to a variety of people with a large span of issues and functionality. Among all the differences, one thing remains constant. These are all individuals with unique problems and experiences. It is important to remember to treat them that way. Whether it is the lawyer dealing with varying levels of anxiety or the impoverished schizophrenic who is living in subsidized housing, both are deserving of my respect and time.
You Are The Most Important Thing To Offer
I was once told that it isn't the tools I may teach or the skills I have that my client will remember, it is me. This holds true. Most people will leave that office and remember the relationship. They will remember that they had an encounter with someone who cared, even if it was for an hour.
These tools exist outside of what we may learn in Psych 101 or Advanced Diagnostic Skills. I would challenge that they are equally important. Fifteen years ago, when I interviewed for my first job I was told "all one needs is some empathy and a desire to see people better, experience and school will teach you the rest."