Have you ever wondered if your therapist has or has ever had his or her own therapist? If you were to ask, do you think he or she would tell you?
It takes a good deal of time for a therapist to develop his or her own style of conducting therapy. It is a genuine reflection of both who therapists are personally, with appropriate boundaries, merged with professional approach, preferences and expression. Erring on the side of caution, most novice therapists maintain fairly rigid boundaries. Experience brings out more of the therapist’s natural tendencies and in time, a functional balance is realized.
I have come to be known as a therapist with a more casual, easygoing interpersonal style. Unpretentious by nature, an acquaintance once described me as a “daisy among roses.” Later on, they went on to say “You’re a daisy among roses and a daisy among weeds.”
Please do not mistake casual style with indifference to the content or motivation for therapy. Despite being more informal in form of delivery, I am passionate about the content, methods and dynamics of psychotherapy. For instance, I am a stickler about therapists receiving regular supervision. Although not required once licensed, I am a staunch believer that every therapist, whether licensed and practicing one year or 30 years, absolutely needs solid clinical supervision.
Also, I think all therapists ought to have gone through counseling of their own with some minimum time commitment. I wouldn’t want to meet with a therapist who hasn’t. I have received my own therapy at several points in my life. One particular period of about 18 months was solely for the purpose of undergoing therapy in preparation to become a professional counselor. I may not know what it is like to be in recovery from drug addiction or have grown up experiencing sexual abuse, but I know something of what it is like to sit in the “other chair.” I know the risk, the fear, the need for trust, the desire for and aversion to mental challenge, the anger and the pain.
I imagine my experiences as a counselee, my inborn temperament, my early life experiences and personality development led to my inclination to favor somewhat of a more relaxed therapy style vs. the traditional formal approach. So, would I answer the above question if asked by a client? It should come as no surprise at this point that, yes, I would answer. I know many therapists who wouldn’t. Incidentally, in my experience, most clients don’t ask. A seasoned therapist usually learns how to effectively shift the boundaries depending on the client.
All of these factors which contributed to the therapist I have become helped to cushion the blow (pun intended, you’ll understand soon) on the day I leaned back in my office chair during a session, bypassing the expected familiar “catch” after the usual partial recline, and falling all the way back with my feet flying over my head, stopped only by the wall behind me (err, the one which had been behind me 10 seconds earlier).
After quickly jumping up and realizing that I was OK, my first thought was how glad I was I had not worn a dress or skirt that day. My second thought was how glad I was that the client I was with was a female. My third thought was how glad I was that it was this particular client. My fourth thought was — well, I didn’t have a fourth thought. By that point, both the client and I were in tears and hysterics laughing. Assured that I was OK, we both broke out into spontaneous, side-splitting, gasping-for-air belly laughing which lasted about 20-25 minutes. Several times, we managed to begin to settle down only to start again when one of us could no longer contain it.
When the session was over, the client turned to me before leaving and told me it was one of the best sessions she has had. The next time we saw each other, she indicated that her mood was better for the rest of that day and well beyond. When I asked her why she thought that was, she speculated about several reasons: less focus on her concerns and woes, the pure healing effect of laughter, seeing her therapist handle an undignified situation with dignity, seeing her therapist be able to laugh at herself and not flee from potential humiliation. Perhaps it was all of those, I suggested.
To me, this unplanned incident with my client and its immediate and lasting impact is richly symbolic of the significant depth, multiple layers and paradoxical nature of both the therapy process and the continuously evolving relationship between client and therapist: the idea that simple humor may meet the need when technique cannot; that a therapist’s humanity may amount to a great deal more than years of training and expertise; that modeling healthy behavior when opportunity presents itself can be a more powerful tool than teaching or prescribing behavior.
Additionally, it serves to remind both the counselee and the counselor of a crucial truth: psychotherapy is provided by a therapist with a view from a broken chair. It’s a view broken by personal weakness or sickness or grief or heartbreak; broken by conflict or pride or exhaustion or confusion. If not broken, then it’s at least limp, unsteady, worn or otherwise damaged. Limp from life’s storms, unsteady from lack of balance, worn from exhaustion and damaged by the demands and disappointments of past and current life circumstances. I contend that regardless of whether you realize it, your therapist is providing you with psychotherapy from the view from their broken chair. Regarding the perspective of the seeking, hurting and vulnerable client, there is no better view from which to guide and grow.
Daisy photo available from Shutterstock