Seasons in Therapy: Take Heart, Shrinks!

Cow abducted by aliensHave you ever had a time your career in practice where a good portion of your client load just disappeared? No, I do not mean that they were abducted by aliens or just happened to all get caught in the Imperial tractor beam at the same time. I mean, they seemed to all come to the conclusion–simultaneously–that the time had come to end therapy? Well, at the risk of sounding like a therapist who is incompetent but unaware of it, this is an experience I’ve had.

It’s easy at a time like that to lose perspective entirely and wonder why you had the nerve to step into this profession to begin with. It’s all too tempting to doubt your own abilities and to go scrambling for the next continuing education opportunity, or to concern yourself with the impact this will have on your bank account.

Slow down.  I have a few words of encouragement to offer you.

First of all, we should never forget that we do what we do–primarily–to help others.  If you didn’t become a therapist with this at the forefront of your mind, perhaps you should consider sales.  I know that sounds a bit aggressive, but really, we cannot look at people as income.  This is true even though we do this professionally.  That’s what makes being a therapist by profession unique: on the one hand, this is your vocation, the way you make money.  On the other, until you can put aside all of the financial aspects of this career when dealing with clients, you will not be able to do therapy with them.  There cannot be another concern other than doing this work and helping that person.

This is really no different than the challenge facing artists: how to set aside all other items that can preoccupy the mind, such as the worth or creative value of the work being developed, the potential for fame and critical acclaim, wanting to be the famous artist, etc., in order to do the art, do what you’ve been blessed with the talent to do.  Many people in the creative arts can attest to the fact that only when they buckled down and just painted paintings, just made music, just wrote the novel, did they do something genuine that was then able to resonate with others.

The same is true of therapy.

Second, you have to try to evaluate why a particular client chooses to end therapy at a specific time.  Sometimes, the concern is purely financial. Other times, it is because you did not manage together to build the type of relationship that is necessary for good therapy.  And sometimes it just isn’t the right fit, or the client feels he or she is getting nowhere.

But, there is another type of situation, one that any therapist should consider to be a triumph and a gift.  That is when a client turns to  the therapist and says, “I think I’m OK.  I think it’s really up to me now.”  The life cycle of the therapy will end, perhaps, but then again, this was a client who came in however long ago thinking that he or she was not OK and not capable of facing his or her problems.  Sometimes this happens before the sun rises again in the client’s life, before the house is reorganized and refurbished, and you don’t get to see the client in his or her full glory.  He or she is simply leaving with gratitude and the hopeful assertion that he or she is able to fly again.  If this is why your client is leaving, please tune in and appreciate the great honor you are being given.  You did it!

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