Your Therapist’s History Influenced Their Way Toward Psychology (But, So What?)
It’s the therapist cliché: guy or gal grows up, has nutty or abusive parents, is bullied in school or perhaps, struggles with drugs or alcohol. In short, they have a tough go of it and find their way toward psychology.
And you know what? The cliché is true. Ok–maybe it’s not true for every therapist. I can’t find a study, but surely, a therapist’s own struggles draw them toward psychotherapy most of the time. A version of this old story is true for me (I’ll let my colleagues speak for themselves).
But, so what?
Why Is My Therapist’s History Any of My Business?
Another therapy cliché, of course, is that therapists don’t talk about themselves, preferring instead to smile, nod and maybe follow-up by asking, “And how do you feel about that?” when questioned about their personal lives. While often true, more contemporary therapists aren’t afraid to be open about who they are and where they come from.
The guiding question here is whether or not a therapist sharing his or her own history of struggle is in the service of the therapy. Often it is and sometimes, it makes all the difference. The therapist’s choice to share their struggle can build hope. It lets patients know that they are on this therapy path with someone who has come a long way themselves.
Struggling And Suffering Build Empathy
Being understood is powerful and essential to thriving as an emotional being. No two people have the same experience, but sometimes, it helps to know someone else has experienced pain and can empathize. It’s important to qualify that everyone’s pain is his or her own and needs to be understood as such. But, pain can feel so lonely, so hard to make sense of, and so filled with questioning whether it’s real or whether what happened is really “that bad.”
Even if a therapist doesn’t explicitly share their history with a patient in session, their emotional or family history still affects how they relate to their patients. The question of whether a therapist’s own story is shared is almost irrelevant. Much of the time when a patient feels deeply cared for or understood by their therapist but doesn’t ever know exactly why, it’s because their therapist has experienced his or her own pain. The patient simply feels cared for, which is the whole point. Therapy is not about the therapist’s pain–it’s about yours.