Therapists often need, benefit from therapy themselves

Q: You are a behavioral health consultant and counselor. You appear to be very learned when it comes to explaining answers to human trials and tribulations. I noted in (a previous) column that you have used the services of a therapist. My question is why would you, of all people, need the services/advice of a therapist?

You have very good explanations for people with problems; you explain subjects in a way people can truly understand. This may appear to be a personal question that I am not allowed to ask, but I will still ask. I am in no way questioning your abilities. I hope you don’t ever doubt your own ability to help others; thus the question for a reason to see a therapist. — A.R., Las Vegas

A: I keep thinking of a ’60s/early ’70s comedian named David Steinberg. While no longer pursuing stand-up, David continues to write and direct great television comedy. He always will be my hero because his “satirical sermons” on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” were the capper on the show getting canceled.

I respect anyone who forces people to live out the logical consequences of really absurd ideas; in this case, the idea that canceling a variety show would make the world a better, safer place for ignoring social ills such as racism, rioting, war and bad politics disguised as faithful religion. Scapegoating is one of those sins that instantly and ironically indicts and punishes itself. But I digress …

David’s signature bit was “The Existentialist Psychiatrist.” Put simply, David plays the role of a psychiatrist who is, well, stark raving mad. What makes it funny, of course, is the idea that someone who is crazy would be in the role of attending to your mental health.

Ask around on a college campus. Where do you find the highest concentration of odd, eccentric, nutty students? Why, the psych department, of course! (OK, the theater department is a close second.)

I went to college torn between police science and following my father into chiropractic. Then I took Psych 101, and promptly changed my major. I’m not much exaggerating when I tell you that, looking back, I think I limped into that program to try to figure out what the hell happened to me. And I wasn’t alone.

A.R., I entered depth therapy in February 1990. I was there for three years and eight months. (I had a lot to talk about.) Then, during a recent time of loss and transition, I went back.

I have known my therapist for close to 20 years. I think of her with the metaphor of a gypsy witch. An alchemist. She tells me the truth. She invites me to tell myself the truth. It’s not so much that she’s smarter than me, just relentlessly, implacably, immutably there. I often remind her of the rules: She’s not allowed to grow old, move or die. “Got it,” she says.

The ground between us will always be holy.

No, I didn’t enter therapy because I doubt my ability to help others. I don’t help everyone. And certainly I help some more than others. But overall, my chosen profession is a very useful use of me in the world. That’s a good feeling.

I entered therapy because I needed therapy. I needed therapy for the same reason anybody needs therapy: Self-examination requires a trusted, skillful relationship, because no matter how faithfully we examine ourselves, there remains one part of us we cannot see. Namely, the part doing the examination.

A.R., I entered therapy because I walk my talk. If I’m willing to take your money to be your advocate in the work of self-examination, then you should rightly expect me to be about that work myself. It should bother you if you meet a therapist who is too cool for therapy.

My younger sister is a psychologist. Her graduate program required students to enter therapy. Paid for by the student, no less. It didn’t matter if the student had a sublime childhood, was asymptomatic or had no presenting issue, let alone a crisis. Why?

Competent therapists make a commitment to their own therapy, their own continuing development, their own mental health, if for no other reason than not wanting to hurt their patients around issues such as transference and countertransference. That’s counselor talk for what happens when therapists confuse what’s going on with a patient and what’s going on with the therapist.

A.R, you should run away screaming from any therapist who hasn’t been to therapy.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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