When the dam wall breaks: therapists have needs too.

Most people know I love being a therapist. I’m passionate about therapy especially my two loves: schema therapy and EMDR. I’m equally passionate about therapists valuing their work and building careers they enjoy and want to stay in.

But lately I’ve realised there are some major downsides, and that is as therapists we don’t tend to focus on ourselves.

We don’t take care of our own needs or even know what they are.

Sometimes, probably often, we come into this profession because it allows us to continue the pattern we learned in childhood, to focus on the needs of others. We are comfortable in the role of giving without expecting anything back.

Sometimes we do this work to avoid looking at our own stuff.

Safe in the role of helper, our stuff is seemingly absent through detachment and other focus. It can seem comparatively not as bad as some of our clients.

I know from personal experiences the above only works for so long. Maybe like in my case for a long time. And then the dam wall breaks. Because we all have needs, no matter how used we are to not having them met.

Prior to my dam wall breaking, I was very good at being a therapist but I couldn’t identify my needs at all and therefore couldn’t get my needs met. This isn’t my inner critic. I was so detached from my needs that I didn’t know what they were and thought I was less needy than other people. This was largely due to the prolonged religious indoctrination that shaped every part of my family life as a child and taught me to always focus on others and deny my feelings. The configuration of my family of origin exacerbated this. It wasn’t my fault.

The dam wall breaking taught me that I have needs. I am just as needy as everyone else.

We all are. And that’s ok.

One of the signs I had trauma and unmet needs was chronic tension that regularly caused headaches and facial pain, a neck that froze and took years of physio to correct. As the dam wall got closer to breaking, I experienced pain daily and it was unusual to go a day without using pain relief. Just like my clients, trauma lives in my body. In my recovery, I have used the body as a resource together with therapy and medication. I rarely have to use paracetamol these days.

If you recognise some of the above in yourself, please work to address those patterns. Just like me, it isn’t your fault.

You are more than a therapist, more than a helper. You’re allowed to have needs and you need to know what they are to be healthy. Not just now, but always.

When the dam wall breaks it isn’t pretty. It feels insurmountable. If you can start working on allowing yourself to have needs before the damn wall breaks it’s worth doing.

You can still be an excellent and passionate therapist. By allowing yourself to have needs and to meet them, get the added bonus of enjoying life and living it more fully.

If you want to know how to start tackling these patterns and build a career where your needs matter too, my course How to be an Authentic, Confident & Thriving Therapist is a perfect place to begin. Only $197.

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