When you seek out a therapist, do you usually ask what their life experience has been?
I know that I’ve rarely been asked that. Usually, if anything, potential clients ask me about my credentials and areas of expertise (which you can find on my website). Transparency about the therapy process is absolutely important for both client and therapist to develop good rapport, and for therapy to become a safe place for the client. And so, my goal is always to be transparent about what the therapy journey looks like. But if I’m asked about my personal life, I hesitate for a moment. My first thought is to inquire how would this information help my client. Why do they feel the need to know this? Is there a benefit to sharing that information?
On my graduate program, I was taught that maintaining strict boundaries between therapist and client was not only important but absolutely necessary. Therapy is about the client, their problems, and their goals. Not about the therapist. Reality, however, is not that black-or-white. Sometimes we [therapists] do need to share some information with our clients… to strengthen our connection with them, to lower their defenses and clarify their doubt — for them to truly feel our empathy and understanding. Only then, I feel safe in sharing something along the lines of: I know that what you are going through is absolutely hard. I really know.
There’s something about my tone of voice that helps convey my message:
“I hear you, I can fully understand your feelings, I know it’s painful.
I really know.”
But sometimes, when I’m sitting across from a person that is so deeply inside their pain, these words are not enough. That’s when I wish that the boundaries in the therapist-client relationship could be bend a little bit. Because certain life experiences have shaped who I am today, and in some sort of magical, twisted, and ironic way, they have made me a stronger and better therapist — better able to understand my clients, their pain, and their journeys.
One of those life experiences was falling deep into the throes of depression and anxiety after becoming a mom. Perinatal depression and anxiety.
I remember feeling so isolated, and lost, in that well of sorrow and fear. I would wake up crying, and then crying myself to sleep, and then waking up in the middle of the night with such intense anxiety that I needed to cry some more. At the time, it felt like an impossibility that life will ever be weightless again.
Thankfully, I found a way out. I found help, and support, and I advocated for my Self. Even when it took all of my energy — I stepped forward. But depression and anxiety are persistent — once your brain knows them, they take every opportunity to settle back in, and this can be truly exhausting.
So here I am, a therapist, that at times, feels unable to shake off the heaviness of that weight. I also struggle with the feeling of guilt that follows. Even though I have the tools and the knowledge to pull myself out, sometimes it’s not enough. And that’s absolutely ok. I know this feeling is not permanent. I know that a good talk with a loved one and after a good night’s rest, I will feel a little [or hopefully much] lighter tomorrow. I know that my brain will eventually let go of that constant stream of negative thoughts. I know.
My hope is that if you are sitting across from me on my therapy room, and you are in pain, you can feel the full expanse of my empathy for you. Because I truly know what pain feels like, and thankfully, I know what it feels like to be pain-free as well. And my goal is to help you on your journey throughout your struggles, and into a place of safety and comfort — in that you are able to feel weightless again.
In the meantime, today, I am telling myself that’s it’s indeed ok. I know that tomorrow will be different.