What is the real reason we become counselors, psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists? While being in the mental health profession equates belonging to the famed cliché of wanting to "help people," is there typically a deeper meaning that draws us in? Do we really want to help ourselves?
I am sure at some point during your career, you have been asked this question to no avail to which you most likely rolled your eyes and wished that the world wasn't drunk on stereotypes (or maybe that was just me?). Nevertheless, I am also sure you have subsequently stopped and contemplated the latent reasons you chose this profession and whether or not you were conscious of them. Have you been surprised by the answers?
The other day I was having one of these exact conversations with a friend that knows me far more than I realized. He asked "Isn't it interesting that you find it hard to speak of personal pain and be vulnerable in the face of others when your role as a counselor is to teach others to do just that? I wonder if other counselors feel the same way." This time I did not feel the need to dispel his words nor roll my eyes; I knew the answer. I told him that many people in the health profession have dealt with personal struggles as well as victories that have lead them to study the science behind human perseverance (both body and mind) and that many unconsciously choose their careers based on psychological connections or attachments. I also told him that despite popular belief not everyone in this field has come in with a set agenda or personal issue to which they can identify with their clients, but that the most successful professionals (in my opinion) have chosen this career out of love and an insatiable curiosity--a dire need for understanding.
All this talk got me thinking about our beloved Freud: "Love and work are the cornerstones of one's humanness,” right? I certainly believe so! Controversy aside, Freud's wisdom remains incomparable to most, but did psychoanalysis’ founding father have the answers to his own melancholy? Did his work allow him to confront his own convictions? Through his words, letters, and disciples, we learn that he too was stricken with despair, neuroses and psychological ailments. While he taught us the importance of catharsis, his stubborn demeanor and unwavering opinions often lead him to share his personal feelings with a mere few and he often found himself exhausted or held by the peril of his drug of choice. In his dying days, only his daughter and caretaker, Anna, was alongside him to witness his ultimate vulnerability. If only those moments would have been witnessed and documented in more detail for our image of him to be clarified and further humanized, we would realize that our wise teacher was just like us in many ways and in fact was ultimately trying to remind us that: “no psychoanalyst goes further than his own complexes and internal resistances permit.” In a way, (whether we admit it or not) this must be true for all of us.
So, friend, does that answer your question?
Stephanie Dargoltz is a bilingual counselor who works at a private practice in South Florida with children, adolescents, and adults. Her interests include Sport Psychology/Counseling and plans to pursue these careers in the near future.