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Before I became a therapist, there were a lot of things I didn’t know. Here are 3 things that I wish I had known before embarking on this career:
1. The importance of self-care. As a therapist, you will constantly be giving to others and helping them through their problems. It’s important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself as well, both physically and emotionally. Otherwise, you’ll quickly become exhausted and won’t be able to help anyone. This means being mindful of your own emotional limits and emotional capacity to be able to be effective in your work with clients and in your personal life and relationships.
2. That sometimes (actually, a lot of the time), people don’t want to or are not ready to change. No matter how much you want to help someone, they have to ultimately want to change themselves in order for therapy to be successful. This can be frustrating, is an opportunity for radical acceptance, and it’s important to remember that everyone has their own timeline and pace for growth.
3. How difficult it can be to “turn off” at the end of the day . When your job is talking about people’s deep personal issues and trauma all day long, it can be hard to just shut it off when your workday is over. You might find yourself lost in thought about cases, feeling intense empathy towards a client’s life experience, or dreaming about solutions to problems even when you’re not at work. It takes practice to create effective emotional boundaries to separate work from life outside of work, but try your best to set some boundaries so you can create your own life worth living and maintain work-life balance to help prevent burnout and compassion fatigue!
Here are a few more lessons I have learned in my work as a Trauma and DBT Therapist:
You will need to be patient with clients
Working with clients, particularly those dealing with complex trauma, is all about being patient. It’s important to remember that progress doesn’t happen overnight–it’s a complex, multi-faceted process that looks different for each and every person. I don’t always like to look at it in terms of ‘milestones’ because it can be overwhelming; sometimes they’re just tiny baby steps and you have to recognize them when they come. The best way to do that is by involving the client in the process, so their progress is their own, because progress is relative and unique to each individual.
You will learn a lot about yourself during your training
Graduate school, practicum, and internships are a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and your passions in helping others. Not just skills, but also your capabilities, strengths and weaknesses too. By having to adapt to different challenges during training, you can really hone in and understand your own ways of working better and what populations of clients you most enjoy working with.
You may also have moments of real clarity or come up with solutions that surprise you – even if it turns out they don’t always work out! Whatever the outcome, don’t underestimate how much you will learn about yourself during your training; it can be a truly eye-opening and rewarding experience.
Be your authentic self with your clients
Meeting clients where they are means meeting them with compassion and understanding. Being yourself with your clients is a way of doing that – as only you can bring your unique energy and perspectives to the session. This doesn’t mean that you ignore boundaries, quite the opposite – it means meeting them with genuine warmth and connectedness which in turn can foster a meaningful relationship in which you will model effective emotional boundaries.
It’s a special opportunity to provide quality care by allowing yourself to be present, authentic, and open-hearted with another human being. We all have our own lived experiences, so why not combine those experiences (with effective use of self-disclosure) as we build on our knowledge together? Your genuineness allows room for exploration without judgment or fear – authentic connection begins when we are comfortable in our own skin and invite others along our journey through life.
You will make mistakes and you will learn from them
We have all been there- that imposter syndrome or feeling of embarrassment when you make a mistake. But don’t worry, we all make mistakes! Mistakes are part of growing and learning, and the most important thing is to recognize the lesson and move forward. Take a deep breath, practice radical acceptance, accept where you are and then make those changes if needed. Learn from these situations, seek consultation with supervisors and/or colleagues and continue to grow in your clinical work!
Your clients will teach you as much as you teach them
As a trauma therapist, I’ve been on the receiving end of many teachings from my clients. Working with them reflects healing in the mirror: meaning that I have learned about myself and my own experiences in the process of helping others.
It’s not easy being a therapist. Just like anything else in life, it takes time, effort and patience to be successful. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. And your clients will teach you as much as you teach them. The most important thing is to be your authentic self with your clients and to provide them with a safe space to learn new skills to heal from the past. If you can do that, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great therapist.