5 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Therapist

Therapy is hard work.

If you are actively committed toward self-exploration, change, shifting perspective, or gaining a deeper understanding into your life – your relationships, your children, your career – you are in for some frustrating, exhausting, mind-blowingly difficult, and hopefully rewarding times.


This holds true for the client as well as the therapist.

As a therapist, albeit a fresh one, I have been witness to people’s most vulnerable and heartwrenching moments. The ability for an individual to be so vulnerable – to a complete stranger – is an act of braveness. We define bravery as being ready to endure pain. Personally, that’s a good definition as any for the process of therapy.

Now, pain (psychological or physical – as intense emotional states can manifest physiologically) isn’t always necessary in a therapeutic environment. Therapy can even be fun and light-hearted. More often than not, however, at least at some points during the journey, delving into some pretty deep and complex cognitions, belief systems, and history is necessary to process and ultimately move beyond.

Therapy has oft been waved away as an unnecessary luxury. Who has time to waste talking about their lives when there are mouths to feed, deals to make, empires to be built? Therapy isn’t for me; it’s relegated for rich and bored housewives who have nothing else with which to occupy their time.

These damaging stereotypes fail to realize the real and potentially debilitating effects of a mental illness. How can you get up in the morning when you feel like you would be better off dead? How can you maintain a healthy relationship when trust has been constantly ripped away from you? How can you keep a job when just the thought of being around other people sends you into a panic attack so strong you feel like your heart is going to explode?

These are just a few of the effects of living with something like depression or anxiety. They are very real conditions with very real repercussions. You can absolutely get better, but it takes effort. That hard work we mentioned.

Talking about life is not a luxury. It is a necessity. The wisest men and women in history have been philosophers, who pondered the phenomonological, ontological, and noological aspects of life. Acquiring a deeper understanding, at the metaphysical level, of who we are as humans – social beings, isolated beings – is all part of growth. Of change. Of bettering individuals, communities, and at a grander level, our global functioning.

I have learned all of these things during only my first year of being a mental health professional. I had no idea how much I DIDN’T know before entering this field. At one point in my life, that awareness would have terrified me.

Today, it excites me. I am excited to continue learning, growing, being.

Below are 5 lessons I have learned in the past year. I hope they influence, even at an infinitesimal level, how someone views the concept of therapy, within the larger context of life.

It’s Impossible to be a “Blank Slate”

Some older schools of thought outlined that therapists should be “blank slates” with their clients. Basically, this means that therapists are supposed to erase their entire personal histories and become a completely objective presence in the room. This is pretty much impossible. Our life experiences define who we are – our value systems, perceptions, and worldviews.

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Separating myself from my experiences would not make me a good therapist. My experiences have made me an empathetic person. They have shaped my character and personality. They allow me to joke with my patients, to connect at a deeply human level. Our experiences and memories are all we have to keep when all the materials can be taken away at a moment’s notice.

I have learned that paying attention to what gets triggered in therapy when a client is telling a particular story keeps me aware of my own issues.  I can then set them aside in the moment and honor the issues my client is bringing into the room. They can even help me relate to clients as a way to build authentic rapport. Self-awareness is the key to protecting both the therapist and the client.

Silence is a Powerful Healer

When you think about talk therapy, you think about talking. Natural association. You don’t automatically imagine sitting in an office with a therapist and being silent.

Our society also tends to think of silence as awkward. Think about any interaction you’ve had with someone. At one point or another, the conversation lulls, and you find yourselves silent. For most people, the inclination is to fill the silence immediately. We cannot allow the silence to linger for too long without becoming uncomfortable.

I have been a definite proponent of filling those silence gaps. They did feel awkward, in my personal interactions, and particularly in therapy. I felt pressured to say something “wise.” Ask another question. Change the subject.

I quickly learned the significant power of silence. My clients often felt uncomfortable in silence because I was uncomfortable in silence. I questioned the awkward feeling. Why do we feel so uncomfortable when the conversation dies?

I discovered the intimacy of silence. Its vulnerability. Its ability to heal. The fear of silence. When we can no longer talk about or around an issue, we are left with the issue. We have nowhere to run or hide. I have witnessed the most amazing self-discoveries, epiphanies, breakdowns, and breakthroughs.

Many of them followed silence.

Humans are Resilient

Therapy is hard. I’ll keep repeating that. One reason for the difficulty is having to process through life’s more traumatic aspects: grief, abuse, loneliness, despair, suicidal thoughts, etc.

One of the most rewarding lessons I’ve learned in my brief time as a mental health clinician is that humans are resilient. Astoundingly so.


Day in and day out, individuals walk into our clinic. Individuals who have experienced some of life’s most traumatic ordeals. These same individuals continue to walk in, have hope, and work on getting better. The resilience that lies therein is inspirational. There are so many opportunities throughout the day, in the span of even one hour, for people to throw up their hands and give up. It would be so much easier to blame their troubles on someone or something else, and continue to engage in their maladaptive ways of functioning.

I have seen the exact opposite. My clients know how easy it can be. They have had moments where they have given up and they ultimately found no contentment. They do not want that kind of life. They want their lives to stand for something, even if circumstances do not change. The meaning they attribute to their struggle, to the hope they allow to linger, and to their active role in change has improved their symptoms and quality of life.

I Shouldn’t Have All the Answers

Once upon a time, I thought I was supposed to know everything as a therapist. I thought I had to have every answer to every question, ready at a moment’s notice.

Then I actually became a therapist and realized how impractical and unrealistic those thoughts were.

I am not the expert in the room. I am more of a consultant, helping to guide people. I want to figure things out together. My client’s voice is just as important, if not more, than my own.

The Negative Impact of Stigma

We have made significant strides in how we view mental illness. But it isn’t enough. Many of my clients are ashamed and embarrassed of being depressed or anxious because of how society views mental health disorders. They believe they should “just get over it.”

Our mental health system is fractured. We need more services and more professionals working in collaboration to distribute the most appropriate care for our patients.

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The more educated we are, the more powerful we are. Learn about mental health and then spread the word. Advocate on behalf of the profession and the clients which we serve. Join organizations that hold more political sway. Call insurance companies and write your state representatives. Tell your stories. Let your voices be heard. The more information we share on the matter, the easier it will be to walk out of the shadows and toward the light.

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