Jeff Guenther on Jul 08, 2018
I don’t embarrass easily. I feel like it’s a super power of mine. I like to talk about taboo subjects. I like it when things get weird and awkward. I’m the one who takes the conversation into inappropriate places with friends. I enjoy pushing boundaries. And the same goes with my clients. Albeit, when I’m a therapist I’m typically more professional when I steer the conversation into awkward territory. And of course, I only do so when it’s therapeutically appropriate. But even when I’m sitting in my office, I think it’s pretty hard for me to feel embarrassed. However, there are four times that stick out in my career where I was visibly embarrassed in session and the client noticed. These are those time.
I was only 27 at the time so I was still a baby therapist. But I had a few years under my belt already and a full caseload to boot. I had also been dating a nice girl named Stacey for a couple of years by then. Stacey and I met at a show and instantly hit it off. We became attached at the hip and had a really fun honeymoon period. The relationship eventually turned dramatic and came with a lot of ups and downs. Stacey and I would get exhausted with each other a lot. Whenever that would happen we would each let out an exasperated “Staceeeeeeeeey!” or an “Ugh, Jefffffffff!” It sorta became our thing. It was equal parts cute and really annoying. Well, it was probably more annoying than cute.
I also had a client at the time that I had been seeing for over a year. I enjoyed it when she came in, but recently she had been more challenging. In a nutshell she wasn’t letting me influence her. No matter how I came at the issue or how much I talked about it in supervision, I just couldn’t create any movement. And then, finally, one day, she came in and all of a sudden it seemed like everything I said the last couple months finally started resonating with her. The issue was about confronting her parents and she was talking about what she plans to say and how she hopes it’ll go and different ways to address the problem and on and on. I was super excited to be hearing all of this and to finally get some movement on the issue. But after her 15 minute monologue on all the thinking and planning she’s done, she ended it by saying, “And I wish you would have urged me to think about these things sooner because I had to come up with all of this on my own!” I was thrown and instinctively responded with, “What?? Staceeeeeeey!” Then my face turned bright red. It’s a very awkward conversation when you have to explain to your client that you just called them the name of the person you’re dating.
I’m not exactly sure why I started sweating during this session, but I have a guess. I see couples. I enjoy seeing couples. I don’t ever want to have too many couples though. Things can start getting overwhelming if I have too many. I only see new couples that have been together for three years or less. I like them because there is typically a lot of love that’s still there and they get into fun fights. And they are usually younger and I like to work with the younger crowd.
But somehow, for some reason, I let an older couple sneak in. They came in for an initial consult and were telling me about the 30 years they have been together and how they feel like the marriage has been “dead” for fifteen of those years and they haven’t had sex for five years and on and on. Something about their incredibly long-term relationship issues started making me queazy. The uneasy feeling created anxiety which turned into sweat. My forehead was sweating. My armpits were sweating. The back of my neck felt drenched. All the sweat started dripping down my face. I looked like a crazy person. They stopped talking and asked if I was okay. I said no and that I was suffering from food poisoning and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I splashed water on my face and cooled down. I wish I could have stayed there until the session was over. I was hoping that I’d come back into my office and they’d be gone. But they weren’t. I sat down and felt incredibly embarrassed. The session only lasted a few minutes longer. But they were painful minutes to get through. They left and decided to keep shopping around for therapists. I was happy to hear that!
I have a horrible memory. It’s laughably bad. I forget names instantly. I’m pretty sure I suffer from face blindness. And you could tell me the same story five times and it’ll feel like I was hearing it for the first time each time. My crappy memory comes in handy for binging my favorite shows over and over again. But it’s a real handicap as a therapist. And because of this, I have to take notes right after a session ends or else I may have a hard time recalling anything the client said. It’s very annoying. But my fear of not remembering something in session is so great that it motivates me to diligently write notes after each client.
However, one time when Stacey was acting like a complete turd and really getting under my skin, I simply forgot to write up notes on my first client of the day. The next week, before that client came in, I was flipping through my notes wondering what the hell we had talked about. With the notes nowhere to be found, I decided that the previous week’s material would come back to me when my client started talking. That didn’t happen and in fact they were referencing things from last week’s session the whole time. It got to the point where I had to admit that I had forgotten what we talked about because they were asking clarifying questions about the homework I had given them. I felt like the worst therapist ever. I feel like there are two basic things every therapists should do. You should always remember what was talked about last week and you should never run out of tissues. I lost some therapist cred that day and it took me a while to get it back.
I feel like this one was entrapment. It was a set up! You might already know that I am a fan and believer of the metaphysical “laws of attraction.” I even wrote an article on how to fill up your caseload by using the power of positive thinking. The majority of my clients don’t know about my woo woo thinking. It just doesn’t come up very often in session. However, one day, a client came in and asked if I knew about the book The Secret. While I’m not a super fan of that particular book, I do understand what the author is getting at and I know all the ins and outs on how to use your thoughts to manifest your desires. I asked the client why they wanted to know and they truly seemed intrigued. So for some odd reason, I went off on a ten minute explanation of what it’s all about and how to use it to get what you want in life.
What I didn’t realize is that the client just wanted to know what it was all about. They didn’t want to know that I was a full on believer. After I finished what I was saying the client said, “You believe in that shit?” They said it in such a way that made me feel like they have now questioned everything I have said in the past. Like all my credibility was on the line. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. But at that moment I felt incredibly embarrassed that I had overshared way too much. Ugh. The look on my client’s face was the worst part. Such disappointment in me.
I’m sure I’ll experience more embarrassing moments as a therapist. In the end I learned from all of them. But I’d much rather learn things while not feeling totally incompetent or stupid in the processes.
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.