Why I relate to you and Self-disclosure

Sometimes people ask me if I've gone through what they've gone through. "You seem to get it."

I sort of do, usually, but flip it back, of course.

"Uh, my actual experience doesn’t matter much, this is about your life."

Fact is that I can personally relate often enough, having been on the planet quite awhile. I "get" the things that trigger emotions. And I'm more than okay with my own rich, emotional life, my own wide range of emotions.

But therapy's for the patient, so my stuff generally stays with me, except to admit to having that range. Emotion is so real, it let's us know we're alive.

Therapists are trained to self-disclose, however, under rare circumstances, circumstances in which sharing can be considered supremely therapeutic. I’ve got a few stories that I use in those “circumstances” and will pitch some on this blog some day. One in particular's about affection, and how we all loosened up on that one in my family.

Anyway, shrinks hold that patients should see what they want to see in us, which may have nothing to do with reality. That’s called transference, seeing things in people that really coming from inside ourselves. Some therapists spend years with patients sorting that stuff out. Family therapists talk about transference, too, just not so much. Well, I don't.

But I digress.

Even though the therapy’s not about me, really, I can’t help but wonder, when we look each other in the eyes, when we’re together and we’re both tearful (I blink back on command) how much my patients just do seem to know me , better maybe even, then some of my friends and family.

They get that look that says: We know one another, I can so freaking trust you.

Therapy is VERY intimate.

Is that why therapy docs go into it?

Maybe some, not me. In 6th grade the teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up.

I said a psychiatrist. She raised an eyebrow. Wow. That teacher just looked at me like, IS THAT EVER COOL OR WHAT?

She was probably thinking: This kid has issues.

There’s some research out there that people who go into the mental health professions are either care-takers or they’re looking for the answers without having to admit that they need therapy.

I was in therapy in my late adolescent years (don’t wait that long, peeps) and it was exactly what I needed. And I went again at some psychotic place in my adulthood and have absolutely no idea what that was about. No lie. (I wasn’t really psychotic, okay, you can relax.)

Then in this training that we social workers and PhD’s have to go through to actually be safely entrusted to shoulder your woes, there was still more self-reflection and supervision and talk of:

PERSONAL INTERFACE THAT WILL SCREW UP YOUR PATIENTS. Just writing that makes me anxious. My pulse still goes up. How much interface is too much? What if I had/have a LOT of issues?!?!

It is something a doc really does have to have under control and it really is important. Yeah, mine are, by the way. Un. der. con. trol.

But maybe it’s true that for some of us, having lived life, having suffered through a few traumas, having married, birthed and raised children, having had to become aware of our own personal anxiety, depression, addictions, obsessions and faults, having lived has made us better therapists. Living has toned up our capacity for empathy.

Yet being able to see beyond our lives, looking at yours as distinctly different, special, unique, NOTHING LIKE ours yet somehow still so marvelously human and pure and meaningful, this is what makes us good docs.

We appreciate you for being you and only you. And all we care about, when you're sitting across from us is you.

But you knew that, I think. I sure hope so.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Mimi said…
AAhhh, so we meet the Therapydoc after all.
Exactly what getting naked is all about - scary, a little embarrassing but exhilarating. (Don't ask how I know this)
Shana Tova, Therapydoc.
Marla said…
If the therapist interjects a personal experience into discussion about my issue, I will take it as just that... not something professional but as a friend would do.
Does the therapist want to be my friend? Than by all means, share your story (or pieces of it) when it is in context. But don't be surprised if I then take what you say no more seriously than I would what a friend says to me.
Cham said…
Interesting that this post comes after the one that serves as self disclosure about yourself! Anyway all this stuff you are talking about here is what I have spent some times this past week doing in class...countertransference, self disclosure, focusing on the client. I think I am making the right decision here going into this...I think I will like it:-) Shana Tova
Therapy Doc said…
Yer gonna' love it, Cham.

And Mimi? I am not happy.
Margo said…
Such an interesting post. But I feel obligated to tell your readers that your addiction? Is caffeine. Also, I thought you wanted to be an artist when you grew up?
Therapy Doc said…
Very true about the caffeine addiction. Started about 15 and never looked back, but seriously, it's only 3 cups half calf in the morning and one at tea-time (4pm) or whenever I start to get sleepy at work. IS THAT SO BAD?

In college I lived in a dorm with some very good artists. They convinced me that I could certainly be one, too (such liars).

I got A's in design but flunked drawing and called my mom who told me I had good people skills and should go into social work.

What was she thinking, right?

What is REALLY interesting is that in the gap between 6th grade (wanting to become a psychiatrist) all the way to my last year at the U of I, I completely forgot about my calling. Never even considered it.

I like to say that developmental stages are so exclusive, so unique that they are like living in different worlds.
wendy said…
I wish I had read this before I "broke up" with my therapist. 4 years, very traumatic stuff, incest, son's suicide, psychotic episodes, learning trust. But he disclosed ALOT of stuff about himself. Then one night, having a raging episode, I called to cancel our next apppointment and he asked if I was suicidal - I said no and then he started raging about calling the police, involutary commitment, firing words at me faster than I could answer - who the hell was this. I stammered that if that was his stand, then I was terminating therapy. The next day, I called to appologize and was called by an other therapist in the practice to patiently explain to me that once you terminate therapy, there is a no-contact rule!!! Fortunately, my new therapist isn't so interested in herself and is more interested in helping me with my issues.
therapydoc said…
Wendy, what a nightmare! Thanks for sharing.