Is being a parent a prerequisite for being a therapist?

therapistClients can be very curious about the person seated across the room from them, and I think that’s only natural.  After all, we know so much about them, and they know so little about us, it’s understandable that they would want to even things out a little.  Usually the client asks, I answer (given that it’s appropriate of course), the client say “oh, OK”, and that’s the end of it.  One question that’s much more loaded is what I call the “parent question”.

Do you have kids?  No?  What makes you think you’re qualified to give me advice then?

For the record, I don’t have kids.  Nor do I have any plans to.  This is because I made a deliberate choice to focus on my career.  I had wanted a child for a long time prior to this decision.  My reason for wanting a child was because I wanted to make a positive impact on the world.  When the time had come to start trying to get pregnant, I realized how much it would affect my work.  I would have to cut back to at least part time.  By having the child I would be making a positive contribution to society, yes, but it would only be to that one person.  By working full time, I could positively affect many people’s lives.  It seemed that the best thing for society was for me to just focus on my work as a therapist.  And I have.  And although I don’t have a family of my own, I’ve restored many families and individuals.  I have no guilt about being childless.

The problem is that many of my clients don’t see it that way.  When they discover I don’t have children, I get looked upon with suspicion.  I have even been told outright that I have no business being a therapist if I’m not a parent because being a parent provides certain things such as: “perspective”, wisdom, clarity, maturity, morals, and values.  Sometimes the client continues to have me as their therapist, and sometimes they leave in search of a childed therapist.  It would seem that for many clients, being a parent should be a prerequisite to be a therapist.

I’m not the only therapist dealing with this.  Many of the therapists I have known and worked with have complained that clients don’t seem to take them seriously once they find out they don’t have kids.  It’s a catch 22.  Clients want a therapist that has kids, but they also want a therapist that is always available, flexible in scheduling, able to work late nights or weekends, and never has to cancel.  Although I think most people think that being a therapist is a parent-friendly profession, it’s really not if you think about it.  The whole “make your own hours” thing is a myth.  Your clients have more control over your schedule than you do, and few clients are willing to come in for an appointment during “mother’s hours”.

Many of the therapists I know are deliberately childless.  Those that do have children tend to drop out of the profession.  Now, there are therapists out there that are parents, of course, but they either have a very understanding and supportive partner, or have to struggle a lot in order to balance children and a career. Many of them didn’t turn to this profession until their children were older.  The fact of the matter is, If I had children, I would basically never see them.  After I was done seeing my last client, they would already be in bed.

I think most people want a therapist that they feel is like them, and I feel that is understandable and okay.  I totally get why people would want that.  They want their therapist to “get” them, and most people assume that the only way a person can truly get you is if they themselves have had similar experiences.  However, if this logic was true, people wouldn’t need therapists.  They could just ask their friends for advice and that would be enough.  The thing that therapists have that friends don’t is expertise.  The therapist has knowledge and know-how that has been earned through vigorous and challenging training along with years of experience working with similar clients.

I believe that it is this expertise that makes us qualified to be therapists.  I’m sure that being a parent helps in some ways.  I’m also sure it hurts in some ways as well.  Remember, as a therapist, you have a certain expertise regardless if your a parent or not.

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My name is Marina Williams and I am a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Jamaica Plain, MA. This website is my professional website devoted to my activities as a therapist. If you are interested in finding out more about my private practice, please visit my other website


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