I’ve written in numerous blog posts as well as my books that in order to be a truly great therapist, you need to practice what you preach. In my couples counseling books I encourage the reader at various points to “try out” the exercises and skills in their own relationship. Some readers have gotten angry and offended by these suggestions, however I stand by my opinion. I also stand by my statement that above all else a therapist should be a role model. Does this mean that a therapist must be perfect? Of course not! I would not be so disillusioned as to think that I’m anywhere near perfect or expect it in other people. However I do think that we should all be actively engaged on a journey of personal growth and otherwise striving for excellence.
In the early days of counseling, training was focused on ridding the would-be counselor of their own issues. The counselor would undergo their own therapy for two years with a master therapist and very little was taught in regards to clinical skills. Since then the model has flipped. Now the focus is on turning us into technicians with little mention of our own mental health needs. I’m not saying either model is correct, but we as therapists do need to focus on our own health. As Carl Jung would say, we need to own our shadow.
If you want to become a Master Therapist, it starts with you. In my book, “Tricks of the Trade”, I tell the therapist that you must be a role model to your client. I also instruct that if this feels hypocritical, than you should work on those things within yourself that feel hypocritical so that you can be more genuine. It’s not about pretending to have it all together, it’s about actually doing it. And why wouldn’t we strive for this in our life, anyway? Again, I’m not saying that you can’t have flaws, or obviously I would be excluded from the profession as well. What I’m trying to say is that if we truly want to be great therapists, it starts with our own consciousness and the way we treat others. This includes when we are outside of the office.
What does this mean exactly? We need to strive to cleanse our own consciousness of these negative thoughts: Egoism, jealousy, entitlement, materialism, grudges, and impatience. Instead we want to replace them with: Kindness, inspiration, mercy, charity, compassion, and patience. When actively working to achieve these things, you will find that your effectiveness as a therapist greatly improves. I realize that this is easier said than done, but I do have some activities that should help you in your task:
- Compliment a stranger at least once a day: Have you ever received a compliment from a stranger before? When it happens it feel good because you know it’s genuine. This person doesn’t know you and has no agenda. They just wanted you to know that that outfit really compliments you. You could be that person for someone else. You could be the stranger that gives that life-affirming statement that helps someone whose having a bad day keep going.
- Genuinely celebrate others successes and mourn their losses: Society tends to do the opposite of this which is to become angry/critical when others succeed and celebrate when they fail. I think that’s a really awful thing. Instead of trying to hold others back, let’s be happy for them instead. Maybe then if you ever find yourself in need of a little encouragement others will be there for you.
- When faced with a decision, ask yourself “Which is the kinder choice?”: We should all be striving to be kinder to people. This can be a small decision like whether you should let another driver into your lane or a bigger decision like how to respond to someone who stole the copy off of your website. What’s the kinder option? Go with kindness. You may regret the other person’s response to your kindness, but you will never regret your decision to be a kind person.
- Genuinely wish happiness on every person you encounter: Eventually you realize that everyone is just trying to get through life with as little pain as possible. Why not try to make it a habit to genuinely wish happiness upon every person you meet?
- Be of service when the opportunity presents itself: I’m not saying to be a therapist outside of work. Just try to be as reliable and helpful a person as possible. This could be as simple as recommending an eligible therapist to a caller who’s insurance you don’t take. It may also mean helping out a friend or neighbor with a project. If you have the ability to help someone, I feel that we have a responsibility to do so.