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I’m tired. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and, ______ally or any other way that it is humanly possible to be tired. In being a therapist, we experience inevitable unwanted separation and isolation, which I find relatable. The isolation, in my opinion, is two-fold. First, as therapists or therapists-in-training, we encounter people in a way that most people don’t. The only other profession I can think of that would be able to relate to this are clergy. For someone to come to you with and in their most vulnerable and painful traumas is consuming. Let me explain what I mean. The therapeutic alliance is one of the most significant things about therapy, which means the relationship between a therapist and client. In therapy, a person is sharing intimate details; naturally, if a therapist is empathizing and listening, this leads to a connection that creates a relationship. That relationship is one of the most significant factors of how effective therapy is. Of course, practice therapeutic boundaries as well, but it’s draining when it’s many people. Someone may say, “so what? Dentists and doctors see people while they’re in pain as well.” There’s a difference. Physical pain is different than an aching soul. Physical pain is tangible and less complicated to heal. Emotional and mental pain is so different, being intertwined in our way of being. Thinking about the many times I’ve jammed my fingers playing basketball doesn’t bring back that pain. But a person recalling their physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can. And it takes a lot to sit with people while they’re experiencing the same pain and anguish that they did when the trauma happened. If someone who was not a therapist asked me how my day at work was, they wouldn’t understand in comparison to someone working in mental health.
Second, isolation comes from the expectations of our family and friends. People suppose that to be a therapist, you should have a particular “personality” or do certain things. I can’t tell you how often I have been told comments by family and friends that promote a sense of being an imposter. One, being a therapist, is a profession, not a personality. I can be a heck of a therapist and still hold space to be my “own” person, and I can be imperfect just like you are. Two, you’re not my client, and I will not and should not treat you like one. Yes, a lot of what we learn helps us in our relationships, but expecting our profession and personal life to be the same is unfair. Another part of this is the expectations that therapists have from their loved ones. The expectation is that we should be empathetic 100% of the time with them and that anything short of it makes us fake.
If you’re a family or friend, the main point is to show appreciation to that therapist or therapist-in-training and realize that our profession is unique. Please recognize we are there for people all the time, and we need you to take the initiative to be there for us.