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Is The Therapist Ever A Patient?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There is a tendency on the part of psychotherapy patients or clients to believe that the therapist has no problems and is an ideal of a mentally healthy life. The fact that the patient knows little of the therapist’s personal life only deepens this belief. Is this true? Is the therapist always an example of mental stability and health? If it turns out that the therapist has problems and even is a therapy patient, is he qualified to be practicing therapy on others?

Unfortunately, during the training to become a psychologist or social worker there is no requirement that has to do with being in psychotherapy. However, many post graduate programs that train in psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy do make such a requirement. Generally speaking, those trained in cognitive behavior therapy are not so required. In my opinion, it make sense that all therapists be required to be in therapy. Why?

First, all psychotherapists, regardless of training and license, have problems and life issues just the same as everyone else. They divorce, have children who can sometimes be difficult, and have other types of daily problems and issues. More than that, there is nothing that precludes a therapist from suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, major depression or other disorders. In addition to these diagnostic areas, therapists are not immune from having anyone of a number of anxiety disorders including phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder (ocd) and etc.

The advantage of having therapists enter psychotherapy is to have them deal with their own life issues whatever they might be and, as a result, be more empathic with their patients. In other words, having been in therapy, the therapist knows what it means to be a patient and what it’s like to go through treatment. In fact, the therapist has a further a further advantage of he has an emotional problem such as depression because it helps him identify with what his patients are going through. This can only strengthen the relation between therapist and patient because the therapist is able to identify with what it’s like to be a patient.

Psychotherapy is not like going to the medical doctor for the treatment of a medical condition. While it’s true that the MD should foster a good relationship with his patient, this is even more true in therapy. For example, it’s important that the therapist understand the emotions and behavioral problems of his client. As part of that, it’s also important the boundaries be respected so that the patient can feel safe and protected during the session. That is why the fact that the therapist has his own problems can be such an advantage during the treatment process.

A recent piece of research involved doing a survey of psychologists who had been to therapy. Their reasons for being in therapy ranged from gaining self understanding all the way to marital problems, depression and other issues. When asked if the treatment was beneficial the overwhelming majority answered positively. Some of these practitioners continued in therapy while others said they would return when necessary. Large numbers reported strongly believing that therapists should be in therapy at least as part of their training.

In conclusing, if your therapist goes to therapy it’s a good thing for everyone.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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