For a long time I believed that being a therapist had to be one of the easiest jobs in the world (given the effort-to-pay ratio), and I have had a lot of people agree with me on how simple sitting and listening to other people’s problems all day must be. Don’t they just have to nod sympathetically and throw in the “how-does-that-make-you-feel” line at regular intervals? The cartoonist in my head drew a picture of a stylish woman reclining in her judgment seat and thinking about how pathetic the sobbing client on her couch was. But this is another area that defines the field and separates the good from the bad, the excellent from the mediocre.
True therapists have a really tough job. Don’t get me wrong – they choose it. But all the same, the ones who really earn the title basically have to walk a tightrope in construction boots. I have never done it, but it must be difficult. A good therapist is self-aware and, if they are honest, they know their real motivation for becoming a therapist, which is often because they needed help, too, once upon a time. It is even common for them to still be in therapy by the time you get to them. There is a big difference between therapists who know what pain is and wants to pass on that gift of grace as opposed to the person who is clinically interested in psychology has never experienced more than a rained-out birthday party. Both are well meaning (as far as they know), but one can be a lot more helpful that the other.
Real therapists have to be boundary experts. Depending on their philosophy and training, they will develop a certain pattern with you. They will have to decide how to balance the talking ratio between the two of you, meaning that some will do more talking and some will do more listening. I have met with people who run the gamut. You as a client and individual are a variable, changeable from day to day, mood to mood. A therapist is not a psychic mind reader. He or she is a human being, just like you, and needs some clues. The good ones know how to “go with the flow” because they recognize the value of “the process.” I used to hate that term – I just wanted the end result with the painful part abbreviated – and I hated even more when it began to make sense.
A really good therapist can spot tears, sadness, and even subtle anger a mile away. Although it may be embarrassing, the ones that gave me the most confidence were those who said something and did not let me deny the feelings. I am the kind of client who knows she needs a haircut (badly) – heck, underneath it all she wants a haircut – but she fights and screams all the way to the barber’s chair because she is scared beyond measure.