Therapists are born with the capacity to become confident but have only that possibility when they begin seeing patients as a part of their training. The trainees watch videos of their work, listen to changes in their voice, and observe their own body language, as well as a client’s movements, subtle changes of expression, and tone of voice. These budding psychologists receive guidance regarding when to speak, when to remain quiet, and whether a topic is ripe for attention or still too tender to touch.
Any and all of these considerations play a part in how the treatment process moves forward, if indeed it progresses at all.
Learning your craft is painstaking and painful. Your supervisors describe every weakness and strength. They should. The best of them challenge you to make yourself into what you must become to serve your clients. Your human flaws are dissected and examined. Left untreated, the new professional will inflict them onto and into the people he promised to care for.
It isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be easy. But it helps you become the best you can be, someone who is worthy of trust and an individual who accumulates wisdom if it is in you to learn what the human soul consists of — the light and the dark of it.
If you are as conscientious as you should be, you will take your failures and successes home at the start of your career. Yes, a counselor must learn to keep a therapeutic distance and protect himself from complete identification with the client’s suffering. Your best work cannot cause your own emotional collapse, but you must not be indifferent.
The whole enterprise of psychotherapy is a tightrope walk.
There are no shortcuts; if you are doing your job, you must keep up with the literature in your field of expertise. You are expected to be an expert, but that requires you to grow as the body of knowledge in your area grows. No one will pay you for this; no one will applaud this. It is your responsibility.
Funny, but one of the best comments on excellence in any field comes from a famous baseball pitcher, Vernon Law:
Some people are so busy
learning the tricks of the trade
that they never learn the trade.
I recently discussed that trade with Wynne Leon and Dr. Victoria Atkinson for their podcast, Sharing the Heart of the Matter:
Episode 20: The Art of the Interview with Dr. Gerald Stein on Anchor.
During our conversation, we talked about some of the things I learned and how I came to learn them during sessions with my clients, interviewing members of the Chicago Symphony for its Oral History Project, and working as an expert witness. I also described my understanding of the human tendency to render simplistic judgments of others. Finally, Wynne Leon and Dr. Atkinson asked me about matters of the heart involving a psychiatrist I knew, Dr. Jerry Katz, and my father.
Those matters of the heart fit the focus of Sharing the Heart of the Matter.
I hope you will listen: Episode 20: The Art of the Interview with Dr. Gerald Stein on Anchor.
The photo of A Session with a Psychotherapist is the work of Mike Renlund. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.