Both Sides of the Couch
What makes therapy difficult for so many people is this idea that you have to share some of your deepest and darkest secrets to a complete stranger. As someone who has sat both in the chair as the therapist and on the couch as the patient, I can tell you that I sincerely empathize with the notion that therapy is hard and scary. Even now, I am so deeply moved by the stories and struggles I hear from my patients, while at the same understand that when I am on the other side, being open with someone can be absolutely terrifying. I am from the school that in order to be a truly empathic therapist, you have to sit on the other side and understand what it feels like. This notion is not a totally foreign one; psychoanalytic training requires their trainees and students to go through years of therapy before they can graduate and call themselves psychoanalysis. In all honesty, most mental health professionals have gone to counseling or therapy during sometime in their life, and honestly I believe this a very good thing for the patient and the therapist.
Being a good therapist is much more than understanding psychological theory, getting good grades in graduate school, and passing board or licensing exams. Research continually shows that one’s degree or where they went to school has little influence on successful treatment. The most common variable is the relationship that is formed between the therapist and the patient. Once a strong therapeutic relationship is formed, that is when true healing can occur. That is when you feel safe enough to disclose what happened to you as a child or that you are struggling in your marriage or you feel that your anxiety inhibiting you from your friend group. Do not get me wrong, the interventions and lens in which your therapist works from does matter when it comes to reducing your negative thoughts, examining defense mechanisms, or reducing your symptomology.
People only authentically know what they have personally experienced and anyone who has gone to therapy knows how daunting and nerve wracking it can be. Even today, I still get nervous picking up the phone or e-mailing a therapist to begin treatment (perhaps it has become more difficult because I feel like an imposter not being able to solve my own problems as a psychologist). But experiencing this, makes me realize how hard it is to initiate mental health services for those who are struggling. It is vulnerable to reach out for help, but without vulnerability their cannot be growth. That is what a really good therapist understands when it comes to successful treatment. That if you have been on the on the couch, you realize how vulnerable it can be.