Why did they pick this field? Why do they conduct therapy?
Being a therapist is hard work. It’s emotionally exhausting. It’s challenging. It involves helping clients detach from deeply entrenched, damaging patterns of behavior and thought.
It involves helping clients manage serious psychiatric illnesses. It usually requires donning different hats, everything from marketer to billing specialist to secretary.
For many the initial motivation to pursue a career in psychology was personal.
Clinical psychologist and women’s mental health expert Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, happened to be taking a psychology class when her youngest sister, age 8, died from cancer.
“Everything I learned seemed to help me heal. I wanted to help others do the same.” She also wanted to fix her family. Today, however, Hibbert’s reasons have evolved.
I went on to graduate school, and, in my final year, we had a class where we each had to present our “life’s story” in a 2-hour class. At the end of the class, the teacher asked questions and gave feedback.
I’d already experienced so much heartache and loss — my sister’s death, the subsequent complete change of my family, my mom’s cancer, family mental illness, postpartum depression — all of which I presented to my class.
When I was done, the teacher asked, “You know why you really went into this field, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve learned the real reason over the years: To fix my family. But,” I continued, “I know now that I can’t fix them. Now, I just want to understand them, and myself.” He liked that answer, and so did I.
I do what I do not just because I love helping others; I do what I do because it helps me grow.
Deborah Serani, PsyD, became a psychologist after witnessing firsthand the power of psychotherapy. Serani, author of two books on depression, personally survived the disorder and was inspired to help others.
I went through a life-threatening depression and was saved by psychotherapy when I was a teenager. It changed my life so much that I just had to learn more about it. It became not only my degree in college and my career path – it became a life calling.
I love being able to help people in pain or distress feel better. I feel privileged to get to know them, their history, their strengths and weaknesses and help them appreciate their own uniqueness. There is nothing more beautiful than witnessing a person find their strength and change their life.
For Joyce Marter, LCPC, the decision to become a therapist also was personal, though she didn’t realize it at first. She credits this work with giving her “both a language and a lens through which to understand myself, my clients and the world around me.”
“When I started my graduate program, I felt like I had come ‘home.’ I found a community of people who valued processing life experiences on a deeper level, which I find immensely satisfying, rewarding and sanity-promoting,” said Marter, also owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance.
After his mother passed away when he was 10 years old, clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, saw a therapist. That’s when he became fascinated with the profession.
“A few years later I realized I had a huge curiosity about people and what makes them tick, a sincere pull to help those in pain, and a knack for taking conversations to a deeper level. Following a seemingly eternal stint in school and training, that odd career of sitting and talking became how I spent my days (and paid my student loans).”
Howes does what he does because of the interesting nature of his work and the opportunity to help support clients in their healing.
Of course all those years in school taught me there’s much more than talking and listening. Theory, technique, diagnosis, treatment planning, the power of the frame, the boundaries, rules, and roles — these just made the work even more interesting.
But the best part is watching how all these elements combine together to bring growth and healing to people — all while sitting in a comfortable chair, talking with people about the most important issues in their life.
Psychologist John Duffy, Ph.D, always knew he wanted to help people. After taking several psychology courses, he realized exactly how.
But he didn’t continue with psychology — not at first. “[M]y parents did not see a strong future in this field at the time, so I majored instead in accounting, and worked at a large accounting firm for years. But becoming a therapist always stuck, and I returned to grad school at 30,” said Duffy, also author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.
Today, like Serani and the other clinicians interviewed, Duffy sees his work as an honor. “[T]here is not much I love in life more than coming away from a session feeling I had helped someone connect better to themselves, or with someone else, or helped them to alleviate some long-standing inner turmoil. To me, being a therapist is an enormous privilege, and among the most important work we can do.”