Has your therapist had therapy?

I've just read an article about a Psychotherapist's experience of being in therapy themselves and I felt the need to jot down some notes about Therapists in therapy : Read article here

I studied for 2 years on a Level 4 BACP Accredited Advanced Diploma in Integrative Counselling. Part of the course requirements was that every student must undertake at least 40 hours of their own personal therapy. So I found a local therapist, 'clicked' with her on our first meeting and embarked upon rummaging around all my old negative stuff that I'd been lugging around since early childhood.

For me, being in therapy for almost a year was completely liberating. I was able to examine where all my self-limiting rules and judgements originated and through hard work I changed and learned a new way of being in the world - one which involves feeling calm inside and where I'm able to deal with the stresses of life in a much more measured and rational way.

Being a Therapist who's had long-term therapy has 2 great advantages:

1) I know how it feels to be in my clients' shoes in therapy - I've sat in their place and been through my own process, which gives me a greater insight in to what they may be experiencing when they're in my office.

2) I don't bring my own stuff into the room - or at least, if some of my stuff ever creeps in, I'm able to recognise it, bracket it and stop it from polluting my client's private space.

So why is this so important? Because Therapists who have experienced their own effective therapy are able to withhold judgement of their clients and to be truly tuned into their clients' wavelength without their own stuff getting in the way. We have the ability to walk in our clients' unique footsteps and see the world how they see it - we can have true, uncluttered empathy. In addition, we can genuinely be ourselves with our clients, without putting on any masks to hide aspects of our personalities - we call this congruence. This is why you feel so comfortable talking to a Therapist you like - they're genuine and relaxed about themselves and anything you've got to tell them.

But if a Therapist hasn't rid themselves of all the unhelpful messages from their past through long term therapy, it can have disastrous consequences in the therapy room.

For example, imagine a Therapist who has experienced a particularly acrimonious divorce, but has never processed this in their own therapy. Now picture them trying to counsel a client who's currently experiencing their own nasty relationship break-up!

Could this Therapist ever be completely present for their client without thinking thoughts about their own unpleasant experiences? How could they possibly remain objective and non-judgemental in these circumstances? (often two of the most powerful ingredients for successful therapy).

You might assume that all Therapists have undergone the same training. Like any professional in the UK, don't they all have the same qualifications? Unfortunately not. Due to counselling currently being an unregulated industry, Therapists are not required to have the same high standard of training. In fact, by law, they're not required to have any qualification in order to counsel others, let alone their own personal therapy.

Shocking stuff? I think so.

But I also find it astonishing that although other professionals who work within mental health have standardised training, they are not required to undergo their own personal therapy. Therefore, they are likely to be dragging all their own issues, judgements and prejudices around with them as they deal with people with mental health problems.

Here's a list of mental health professions where long term personal therapy is not a requirement of their training:

  • Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHP)

  • CBT Practitioners

  • Community Mental Health Nurses

  • Psychiatrists

  • Psychiatric Nurses

  • Social Workers

  • Occupational Therapists

  • GPs

  • Health Visitors

  • Psychologists

Whether a trainee counsellor invests in their personal therapy and uses it to grow, change and feel differently is a another matter. I've met a fair number of counsellors with prejudices and judgements who clearly did not use their personal therapy effectively but as a box-ticking requirement of their course.

However, if , as a mental health worker, you truly believe in the power of personal therapy and genuinely want to help others in the best way you possibly can, why wouldn't you undergo therapy yourself and become the very best you can be?