I’ll say it. Being a Therapist. Is. Hard.
Therapists tend to focus on the positive so talking about how truly hard our profession is can feel wrong.
There’s so much talk of it being an amazing job that sometimes the hard bits become invisible or unspeakable.
You might not even risk talking about it for fear of being called negative or a complainer. Or worse told “to check your privilege.”
Then there’s the sunk cost investment of many years at university, student debts, and tying your identity to the role. From this perspective, it might serve you better not to get caught up in how hard being a therapist is.
I’m taking the blinkers of denial off and looking closely at what it is about being a therapist. That is. So. Hard.
For all the good things, like the privilege it is to help our clients live with more freedom and happiness, there are real downsides.
One of the biggest downsides is the reality of the toxic systems that therapists and clients must engage with.
Some therapists try to escape this by entering private practice. They soon find there’s a different set of systems that get in the way of their client’s therapy.
When I was training, I didn’t understand how many barriers to accessing treatment and care there were. It came as a shock that delivering these exciting therapies would come with limitations. Limitations like “we can only offer your client 6 sessions.” or “the client is too complex for this service because they dissociate.”
Therapy can feel like a drop in the ocean
Therapists also become deeply aware of how our society both harms people and has little interest in changing the factors that create poor mental health. Factors such as the oppression of children and women, racism and intergenerational poverty are very entrenched.
Most people can distance themselves from these themes, but as a therapist, it is constantly confronting you and that can be depressing. I did not know that at times the therapy I was offering was going to be like a drop in the ocean when coming up against these societal issues.
Holding so much pain and trauma
Another is the burden of listening and knowing so many stories of pain and trauma. Simultaneously, you are living your own life with your own wounds, past and present. Past wounds have a way of being kicked up by the work. This is a cost that is part of the privilege of this trusted position.
Over exposure to trauma material, is something that non-therapists generally don’t experience. Even if they read or consume television with trauma themes for entertainment, it wouldn’t be 5-8 hours per day. Another important difference, viewing doesn’t come with the responsibility for empathy, for witnessing the wounds, for supporting change and healing.
The impact of 50 minutes of sustained attention
Also, the act of 50 minutes of total engaged focus without losing attention is something that many other professionals don’t have to deal with. There’s no pausing and looking out the window, ducking to the water cooler or having a toilet break when you need to or just want to move around a bit. It can make the job very tiring, because it’s just not normal to focus on others so intently for so many hours in a day.
At the end of that day of intensive engagement, the confidentiality ethic prevents you from downloading what happened today to friends and partners. It’s hard to have casual after work chats. And so the stress can build in our nervous systems. It feels isolating.
The perception that your job is easy
Then there is dealing with the perception that your job is easy because you “just talk to people all day long”. The complexity of the theme finding, theory matching, problem-solving and intervention selecting whilst also attuning and delivering in a way that the client can tolerate, is difficult to understand unless you are a therapist. Some clients may be aware of this if they try to work out how their therapist weaves their magic. Some of us are so fluid in our skills that even our clients don’t get a sense of the mental and emotional gymnastics therapists are performing in sessions.
Being a therapist is hard
Because of all of the above and some other stuff, being a therapist is hard. And it’s no wonder you may be thinking can I really keep doing this, 20-30 clients a week, next year, in 5 years? And then what about when I’m 50 or 60?
For me, the tipping point came when I realised that seeing 25 clients a week for the next 30 years wasn’t going to work for me. I knew it was too much sitting. Too much emotional holding. And way too much trauma material.
From that moment, I’ve been thinking, what else? I’ve worked on diversifying my business and creating alternative income streams. I’ve had a specific focus on creating income streams that don’t rely on my physical presence.
I can’t do this for 30 more years
Maybe you here reading this article looking around and thinking “I don’t know how I’m going to do this for that long” or “That’s not going to work for me”.
Know that it is possible to still be a therapist and have your something else, something better, something different.
All you need to do is start. Start looking for what your “what else?” will be.
I’ll be very honest that building reliable alternative income streams is not an overnight endeavor.
But when we are looking at 30 years of something that’s not going to work or be healthy for us, then the time and the investment involved in planning, developing, and implementing alternative income streams is worth it.
If you’re ready for your “what else?” reach out to me for coaching here .
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