Hopefully we have a pretty secure self-image of how we do in counseling sessions. Every workday we practice how to be the best counselor we can be. But sometimes that can backfire, and being the counselor can seem more attractive than being a normal person. The counselor, after all, seems to have all the answers. The counselor can hide what’s inside because it’s not “about them”. The counselor is confident, competent and self-assured. They always have something optimistic to say. They wrap up life in neat little 50-minute segments and tie them with a bow.
The therapy persona is who we are professionally, but I am no less “me” in the office than I am outside of it. That’s not necessarily a problem: I think it’s best for therapy when a counselor brings themselves into their work. The temptation, though, can be to stay there. If we’re not careful, we can buy into the projection of the “ideal” therapist we have in our head. What if we’re not, though? What if we’re just more people with problems?
Many of us went into counseling because we had problems, or because someone close to us did. There’s a lot of power in choosing to use an unfortunate life circumstance to fuel your desire to help others. And it’s not necessarily an unhealthy power. But who you are without the level of control that comes with being a counselor is okay too. You have to realize – and embrace – that being a counselor does not mean you are “done” with problems.
I always tell my clients that being a counselor makes me more accountable to myself: after all, I can’t tell them that exercise is a great mood-booster and refuse to walk around the block when I’m feeling down. Even though I’m the only one who would see that, I would know I was a hypocrite. But sometimes being a therapist makes you expect more of yourself. I give in to anxiety over a particular project, I fight with my husband, I avoid confrontation – and I completely degrade myself for it.
That’s when the questions can come in. “What if it’s all a big front?” My mind whispers to itself. “What if you’re a fraud? You act like you have it all together, but you’re a big joke!” It can make you doubt what you stand for. “You’re all about encouragement and positivity. But I guess that’s a lie, because you’re feeling pretty pessimistic right about now!”
No. I’m not going to accept that. I believe counseling works. I believe everyone has the power to improve their own lives. But no one is perfect. Not even the counselor. And we shouldn’t have to be. After all, if we didn’t screw up, we could so easily elevate ourselves above our clients to the point we are no longer useful to anyone. We could give up on people who have flaws. Messing up evens the playing field. And it helps us project the right message to our clients: we’re not going for perfect, because no one can achieve that. We’re going for improvement, contentment, and personal satisfaction.
I’m pretty happy with that.
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.