In my early days as a new therapist, one of my biggest fears was that I was going to mess my clients up (ugh, I hate that word “client.”). Even though I had labored very hard at facing and working through my own issues, I was certain that there must be many (many!!) other issues of which I was not even aware… and that my inability to reach personal Nirvana would somehow cause irrevocable psychological damage to all of my clients, er… peeps.
The fact is my lack of confidence in my own abilities was a bigger factor in therapeutic success than any undiscovered personal issue I had - or even still have. The fact that I acknowledged past issues and was willing to look at any remaining ones should have indicated (to me) a significant amount of personal insight, willingness for growth, and ability to help others- in short, the makings of a “good” therapist.
But, my worried little perfectionistic self did not get it. (I did tell you about my compulsive need to be “good,” didn’t I?) So, I tip-toed around issues. I let my peeps set the pace even when I knew they could handle a push. I was more ‘warm-fuzzy’ and less ‘feet to the fire.’ I was nice.
And, nice isn’t always the most helpful. Truth is, I was afraid to not be nice. I wanted my peeps to like me. Ouch! That stings a bit even now. But the moment I realized how backwards my thinking was, I was able to say “It’s not about me!” Only then, could I give my peeps permission to not like me, to be angry at me, to cuss me out, or to throw things at me. Hate me if it helps you! I’m just a vessel.
I even started telling new peeps something like “I promise you, at some point you will be mad at me. It is my job to challenge you - and that might piss you off. It’s okay… let’s see your anger!” And, things like “I don’t have magic fairy dust. I can’t fix all your problems because I don’t have all the answers. But I’m willing to discover the answers with you. I’m here for you, but I can’t do it for you.” BAM!
Not only did I have to let go of that need to be liked, I had to let it sink in that I have something valuable to offer. (Yeah, me!) No, I don’t have all of the answers. And, I’m not supposed to. I do, however, have education, excellent supervision / training, and a whole lot of life experience under my belt. I have compassion, an outsider perspective, therapeutic insight, and the creative ability to ask compelling questions at strategic moments. I’m also pretty good at making analogies and at creating interesting homework assignments that test a theory, prove a point, or otherwise facilitate growth.
When I finally “got” all of this, my confidence soared, my sessions were far more productive, and my peeps reported higher success. And, I love what I do even more now. Bonus!
To any new therapists who are struggling with confidence, let me tell you: Believe in yourself! Our job is not to be walking encyclopedias of perfect living. Our job is to come alongside our peeps as they wrestle with their own choices, decisions, hurts, failures and pain.
This process is not only the challenge, but is also the reward- for them and for us. Enjoy the journey. Over time, it starts to look a little like magic.
Photo credit: http://autumn-sunshine.net
The Motley Ms.
Hi! My name is Melinda. I'm a saved-by-grace-er, lifelong learner, INFJ, health & fitness trynabe, Mom, #vanlifer, mental health vlogger, and Director & Clinical Supervisor at a Child & Family Therapy Practice in Northern California.
The Motley Ms
The Therapist's Therapy Blog