You dreamed of being a mental health professional. You trained. You worked hard. You may even still be paying off your student debts.
Maybe now you’re employed in your dream setting. You’re in your own private practice or working for an organization or department with a client group that excites you to work with.
The only problem is you forgot to bring yourself with you.
What are you talking about Nadene? Of course I’m there, you might be thinking. I’m sitting in the room, I’m listening and responding and doing therapeutic exercises and activities.
I do hear stories about mental health professionals just handing out workbooks and leaflets to flyers rather than fully engaging. Or reading from scripts, manuals or doing their work behind a computer screen or desk. But that’s only a minority of clinicians.
I’m not talking about being physically present or even emotionally present. I’m talking about bringing your own authentic style and offering to the room.
When I read Irvin Yalom’s becoming us there was a section that stood out to me. He reflected an interaction with a client in which the client disclosed he could tell when Irvin was offering something for therapeutic benefit (the client needs this so I will say x) and when he was offering something truly authentic.
It took Irvin’s client a long time of working together to tell him this. And I thank Irvin for sharing it in his writings because I think many mental health professionals become so focused on getting techniques right they forget that their authentic human presence is also something that matters to clients. That responding genuinely is something different to responding from a considered therapeutic point of view. It’s important tp clients to know that we are real people. Because when we can be real with them, they can know that our care is real.
I experience this myself by being able to laugh and have fun during experiential exercises or just a moment which is mutually amusing. Some of my clients have seen my real tears in my eyes when they tell me about heartbreaking losses. Some might say I should hold all that back, but in my experience those moments are helpful for clients.
When I began my psychology training back in the 90s ome schools of thought promoted revealing nothing og yourself to cleints. This was meant to ensure the space remained blank for the clint to express themselves without feeling like they had to take care of your interest and feelings. Clients interest in you outside of the therapy expressed through questions such as “do you have children?” an ordinary question in almost any other social context were suggested to responded to as “why is it important for you to know that about me?” without giving an answer.
Of course its not suitable to share details of your life with all client groups, and it is still wise to have boundaries around your personal information.
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