Jeff Guenther on Sep 29, 2019
I love being a therapist. I don’t think I would feel satisfied working outside the mental health industry. It’s one of those things where I really wonder why anyone in the world wouldn’t want a job where they are analyzing the psyche all day. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to know why we behave, think and feel in all these bizarre and unique ways? Don’t you know you can get a job where you just sit in a chair and hear amazing and vulnerable stories all day long? It’s the same feeling I have about Oasis’s 1994 classic album “What’s the Story Morning Glory.” We all know that was the number one album of the 90’s, right??? How can anyone think differently?
In this week’s episode of Say More About That, I talk to one of my best therapist buds about our favorite and least favorite parts of being a therapist, how we handle it when we can’t connect with a client, how being relationship counselors effect our personal relationships and more. Click play below to listen or check it out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Also, I don’t want to list the cliche’s of why it’s great to be a therapist. We all know that we hear good stories, have special relationships and feel honored that people are being so vulnerable. All good stuff. Instead I wanted to list my favorite things that other therapists might not value, notice or could possibly see as a negative.
Who doesn’t want a job where they can put on loungy clothes (what we call “ther-wear” in the biz) and sit in a big comfy chair and just hang out all day? Everything from my chunky cardigan down to my wool lined shoes is 100% comfortable. I lean back in my very nice chair and sometimes kick my feet up on the coffee table. I have a warm mug of coffee or tea and turn on the dim lights in my office. Between sessions I’ll get up and walk around. Or I won’t. I’ll just do whatever feels comfy. It’s amazing.
My personality was made to be confrontational. I love to challenge people. I love to push people’s boundaries. I’ve lost friends because of it and I’ve pissed off family members way too many times to count. (Sorry family, but it’s probably you’re fault I’m like this!) So what could be better than for people to literally pay me to challenge how they think and behave. I get to call them out (or should I say call them in) and tell them how they can be better people. And to top it all off they thank me, take the feedback seriously, and then come back next week for more. It’s wonderful.
First of all, my life is not very dumb. It’s actually very good and I love it. Most of the time. But sometimes it is very dumb and annoying and things don’t go right and I get sad or mad. And it’s during those times that I love to go to work and just listen to my clients talk about their lives. When a client comes in and starts gabbing about their week, I am 100% distracted from whatever crap is bothering me that day. And then at the end of my work day I can feel good about being there for people and my sad or mad feeling has probably dissipated a bit. Being a therapist is the perfect antidote for a shitty day.
My sister is a stand up comic in LA and she has to deal with shitty audiences all the time. Either her audience is too drunk, not drunk enough, has no sense of humor, is rude or just doesn’t show up. She has no idea who is going to be sitting in front of her. But I do. I know exactly who’s sitting in front of me and I know what makes them laugh, cry, feel at peace and everything in between. And they are hyper focused on what I’m going to stay. They aren’t booing me off stage or throwing tomatoes. They are patiently waiting for my words of wisdom and they keep coming back for more.
(Yes I know the above paragraph makes me sound kinda like a narcissist. I also know that my clients are not “my audience” and therapists should not view them that way. I’m just trying to convey that I enjoy how intrigued they can be and how they typically get a lot out of the show (me).)
I imagine this feeling isn’t unique to me and every therapist loves to experience it. But it’s probably my favorite thing. Sometimes clients come in and they feel really stuck or down or ashamed and they just can’t shake it. They might be struggling with something that’s been bothering them all day or something that’s been haunting them for years. And then they decide to be brave and vulnerable and tell me about it. And every so often, all I have to say is something really sincere like, “I understand”, or “You’re going to be okay” or “I don’t judge you” and then their problem magically lifts and they feel 100% better. You can see them feel lighter and more relaxed and you know you’ve lifted a very heavy burden. I feel so special and magical when this happens. It’s the greatest.
Even though I think being a therapist is the number one best job ever and everyone should be one, there are some uniquely horrible things about being a shrink. I think most therapists can agree that the business side of things (dealing with money, insurance companies, writing up notes, marketing, continuing education, etc.) are just horribly boring and not enjoyable. But there are a few unique things that I specifically can’t stand about the job.
My memory is not top notch. Which can make it hard to be a therapist. I have to take detailed notes sometimes. But no matter how accurate my notes are, I just have the worst memory when it comes to recalling names. And it’s always my worst fear that I’ll forget an important name. And clients talk about sooooo many people! How are we supposed to keep track of all these names??? I have messed up a handful of times and misremembered names of important people in my client’s life and then I feel like a failure of a therapist.
Sometimes I feel like if I have to hear about one more shitty parent that’s done something horrible I’m just going to lose it. I stopped working with kids and families a long time ago because I just couldn’t stand working with parents that were doing real damage to their children. But if you’re a therapist there is no escaping hearing about damaging things that parents have done in the past and continue to do in the present. When I hear about bad things parents have done, I get filled with rage and feel helpless and powerless to do anything about it. I know I have to work on this issue and I’ll be working on it forever. The best way to soothe myself is to realize that I actually can do something about it by being a good therapist to my clients. But still, it’s like, c’mon parents, give me a break!!
If you’ve read my blogs or listened to my podcast, you might know that hearing gory stories about surgeries, injuries and anything with blood makes me want to pass out and faint. My body just can’t take it. But every now and then, it’s important for a client to process a gory story and then I have to do my very best not to black out. It can be touch and go sometimes but I typically power through. I just hate when I have to do it. I also feel like such a baby.
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Theater mask illustration by Lona Muoi
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.