Psychologists are not really supposed to speak about their clients. We take confidentiality very seriously to the point where we will not talk about our day at work with our loved ones or satisfy our friends’ curiosity when they ask us to tell them about the “freaky things” people tell us in sessions.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned actual clients of mine here on this blog except for maybe during this post in which I shared a very cute story a client had brought to therapy.
But just because I can’t and won’t tell you about individual clients, doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about what my clients mean to me. I am therefore dedicating this Gratitude Wednesday to my clients, both past and present.
I am under no illusion about my role as a psychologist. I do not think that I am somehow more charitable or more willing to help because I have chosen this profession. Sure, all psychologists and therapists want to help people, but I do not believe in pure altruism. At the very least, I know that my reasons for doing this work are not altruistic.
The journey of trust
I say this because I gain much from my work as a therapist. I consider it a great privilege first and foremost to be given the opportunity to witness and encounter so many people’s lives firsthand. When clients enter my room, they are choosing to impart very delicate and private information with me, a perfect stranger. I do not for one minute let myself forget what a hugely bold and brave move that is on their behalf. Instead of taking it for granted that they should automatically trust me, I like to remember that trust is something that grows over time and that each meeting is like another step in that direction. I am truly grateful to my clients for being willing to join me as we take that journey together.
Hearing other people’s stories
I have always loved hearing people tell stories. My favourite stories are human stories. I will pick a romantic comedy over an action film any day because I love to engage in human drama, human issues. My job is therefore an awesome fit because I get to hear people’s stories for a living. This is also why I started this blog. I want you to share your stories with me. I love hearing about what other people think and feel about various topics.
Diversity teaches us about what is different and shared
As a therapist, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to come into contact with so many different people. Since becoming a therapist, I have seen such a diverse array of clients – old, young, rich, poor, black, white, people from different nationalities, different cultures, and different religions. I am so grateful to each and every client for sharing their stories with me. I have learned so much through exposure to difference but also through the understanding of how much is shared.
Intimacy like no other
My gratitude goes out to my clients for allowing me in, allowing me to share in the most intimate details of their lives, their minds and their hearts. The intimacy and closeness that exists between therapist and client is very special and unique. There is a very real connection, albeit a professional one. Sometimes I am like a parent, the client a child. Sometimes I am a friend, a confidant, a priest, or even a (symbolic) punching bag. Each session we engage in a very real experience of human closeness. This is hugely powerful and meaningful. It is therefore not surprising that therapists also develop attachments to clients. We learn to ‘love’ our clients. We spend hours being fully available to our clients, fully engaged with the material our clients bring each week, fully prepared to assist in the processing and understanding of complex cognitions and feelings. This kind of psychological energy is intense and can sometimes feel extremely draining but it is also extremely invigorating and reinforcing because it is real. In fact it is hard to find anything quite this real anywhere else in our modern world.
Nearly all that I have mentioned above can and is experienced in the first meeting between therapist and client. But above all else, I get the greatest thrills from truly being beneficial to my clients. I like to think that therapy is very much a team effort. I could be the most fantastic therapist in the world, but if my clients don’t show up for sessions and ‘do the work’ then all my expertise won’t do them much good. Therapy is a partnership, it’s a relationship. Unfortunately, as we know, relationships are hard! Sometimes its easy and it feels nice but sometimes it’s not so nice and it feels horrible and scary and overwhelming. Therapy is difficult and it takes a lot of commitment and determination to see it through. For many, the confrontational nature of therapeutic work will be too much for them. People don’t want to look at their shit. But for those who are prepared to put the work in, and who start to understand that “the only way out is through”, the rewards are invaluable. There is nothing that gives me as much pleasure as when I witness someone having an “ah ha” moment in therapy or seeing someone having “a break through” before my very eyes. Sometimes I would like to shriek with delight when a client starts to shift a long-engrained pattern. For others, catharsis comes from the moments of deepest despair and grief. It is a strange thing to say but I sometimes feel a great sense of relief when my clients break down in tears or express pure anger. I am always grateful for these moments of expressed emotion. Because that is my job. It’s a weird job, really. But it’s the best job. And I don’t know what else in the world I would rather do?