You know what the hardest part of being a therapist is? People always ask “how can you listen to people complain for hours on end?” thinking that is the hardest part of the job. It’s not.
Complainers have no intention of taking responsibility for themselves and bettering their situation, they just want pity. My clients don’t complain. They share issues they are struggling with, take responsibility for their part, and learn new ways of being. Then they grow, change and graduate. Guiding and cheering is certainly not the hardest part of my job.
The hard part is that they are all wonderful. It wasn’t always this way – I’ve worked with many a demographic over the years – but after ten years of private practice, I’ve developed quite an amazing clientele.
There is a saying among therapists, when describing a certain type of client – we will say something like, “She’s the kind of client I’d be friends with if I hadn’t met her here, you know what I mean?” – and this signifies that we feel a kinship with the client that would lend itself well to a friendship, and we must work extra hard to maintain appropriate therapeutic boundaries.
THAT is the hard part.
I have met so many wonderful people over the years, people who would enhance my personal life enormously. I’ve met women whom I am certain could be my best friends, and mothers who are so kind and generous with their own children that I want them to adopt me, and men who are so sensitive and open in sessions that their kind hearts just shine through… Kids too, really wonderful children I’d love to follow for the rest of their lives, because I am certain they will do amazing things, and I’d like to watch….
The more analytically trained therapists would NEVER admit to liking their clients (whom I believe they might call patients), it’s considered “counter-transference” and very bad form. I didn’t admit it for many years myself. One good thing about age is that I’m beginning to care less about what others think, and am trying to tell the truth faster in all things. So now I just flat out admit it – I like my clients! I want to be friends with many of them. I want to go shopping with them. I want to ask for help from them. I am far from traditional, and when I meet others with similar values and philosophies, I want to keep them!
I won’t do any of these things, of course. It’s bad protocol, it’s not allowed, and most importantly, it is not in the best interest of the client, who needs a solid ethical therapist with good boundaries, and a safe therapeutic environment, now and forever, a-men (and a-women).
I know therapists who have turned clients into friends (and sometimes more than friends), and it rarely ends well. While there are a few happy endings, they won’t be mine.
So I’ll keep the boundaries good and strong. Inside those boundaries, we will meet in the sacred “I-Thou” space of enormous intimacy, where all true healing occurs. Outside the boundaries, we won’t meet at all.
That’s the hardest part of the job.
(Originally posted March 18, 2009)