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Do mental health therapists typically seek therapy
February 6, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm asking for one of my sons. He's looking into the psychology program in college and thinks it would be interesting. He was wondering if therapists/psychologists typically seek therapy for themselves after or before practice. He was wondering if it would cause him to burn out or need help to deal with clients. I'd like to add he's thinking of adolescent kids and young adults. He was tossing that up with another career in the health field and I have no idea how to answer this for him. We've looked online and the answers seem to be all over the place, with mostly yes, they do seek therapy - but is it because of the work or because of other issues?
posted by lasamana to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Both? My therapist certainly mentioned that she talked about therapy practice in her individual therapy, but I'm sure she talked about her life outside of work, too. As far as I know her program required the students to receive as well as give therapy.
posted by ldthomps at 11:22 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


My limited understanding is that therapists undergo therapy so they don't end up projecting their own issues onto their patients. Therapists have daddy/mommy issues like anyone else.
posted by GuyZero at 11:33 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


My last therapist told me on many occasions that, in her discipline, practitioners are also required to go through therapy. That said, I saw a gestalt therapist, which isn't the same thing as CBT, psychiatry, or something like social work or family counseling where you're dealing with tough situations and may need therapy, yourself, to process that. My understanding is that they go through gestalt therapy in order to understand what the process is like from the patient's perspective.

My guess is that the answer to this question will be different depending on what type of therapy the therapist practices.

FWIW I don't think your son should base his interest in majoring in psychology on the answer to this question. I know lots of former psych majors who aren't therapists. The decision to become a therapist is a totally separate question from whether one should study psychology at school. Let him take Psych 101 and see whether he's really interested in it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:37 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Therapists are stress and trauma sponges, and some will be better than others at squeezing that out. All good therapists have therapists IMO, though the arrangement can differ. The analysts I know remain in analysis for their whole lives, as far as I can tell. With other schools of practice, one can be in weekly therapy; may have gone through a course of therapy and have occasional check-ins with a therapist; or may have gone through therapy and have a professional they can turn to at critical times.

I would be wary of a therapist who had no mental health resources on tap, and indeed there are "therapists' therapists" who only have practising patients.

Your son might enjoy the relationship depicted in In Treatment.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:40 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Therapists learn how to be therapists from three sources: their own therapy, their supervisor, and from working with their patients. The first of these is important not only so that one can avoid reacting poorly to innocent patients, but also so that one learns what it feels like to be in therapy, what works and what doesn't, and how another therapist handles the normal presentation of patient problems in therapy. I have never met a therapist who either didn't benefit from their own therapy, or who would have benefited from it. So, the answer is that this is something that is part of training. It is helpful if some occurs before and some during actual work with patients.

Therapists can need to discuss things that happen during their own work sometimes. Clinical supervision is the best way to deal with difficult cases, while personal therapy is something that some therapists pursue if they find a particular problem recurrently cropping up for them. There is certainly burnout in the job, as well as something called "vicarious trauma" related to hearing horrible stories all the time, but most therapists are not in therapy for those reasons.
posted by OmieWise at 11:41 AM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Most counseling psychology graduate programs require students to receive therapy, and it is generally considered an appropriate professional practice to continue on some kind of basis for the duration of their career. There's a lot of reasons:

- Experience. Would you hire a plumber who didn't use sinks?
- Confidentiality. You can't go home and tell your spouse about your patients or much (if anything) about your relationship with your patients. People need valves.
- Occupational hazards. Transference, prejudices, your own baggage - those things happen to you, and it's not your patients' problem. You need a space to deal with that.
- Mentorship/feedback. In some environments, this will come as a natural part of the management process, but nobody should work in a vacuum.
- CYA. Anyone working with a vulnerable/protected population will probably be expected to self-report on multiple levels and maintain a therapeutic relationship of their own.

Also, one shouldn't become a therapist if they think therapy is an undesirable/bad/scary/distasteful process. There are plenty of related disciplines where that kind of attitude is apparently fine, though, so it doesn't mean he can't train in some aspects of the field.

But yes, burnout is a tremendous threat and you really need to have fantastic boundaries and a stiff backbone (these are things that are helped by therapy, too). I ultimately backed off from pursuing a counseling degree because I knew I'd never be able to take a vacation without either feeling horrible about it or being on the phone the entire time. (So I went into IT and the punchline there pretty much writes itself.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:45 AM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nthing that yes, therapists (not all, but in my honest experience, "good ones") are in therapy, for all the reasons other commenters have mentioned. OmieWise's answer is right on, and fits with what I know of psychoanalysts/talk therapists who hold themselves to high standards.

The fact that your son worries he might burn out or need help to deal with clients is a good sign, imho. It shows empathy. In other words, the kind of person who knows that client/analysand stories will indeed affect them, is just the sort of person who could make a good analyst.
posted by fraula at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


This varies a lot state by state actually, in part because of licensing requirements. In places like California, you have to practice hundreds and hundreds of hours to be certified, and you must be supervised by a therapist to become one. So you are in therapy the entire time, essentially, but it's often a practice-based therapy. Which is really no different than exploring other relationships. It's still all about boundaries and reactions and what have you.

Historically, all psychologists were trained by psychologists, through... the practice of psychology. If you are a Freudian of basically any stripe, as well, you are DEFINITELY in supervisory therapy with someone more "senior."

If you're doing therapy, why wouldn't you learn more constantly by having a similar therapeutic relationship? It seems completely reasonable; it seems unreasonable not to be.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


May depend on the program. When I was in undergrad, it was mandatory as part of my Psychology program, but I was on the abnormal/clinical track.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Therapists are stress and trauma sponges, and some will be better than others at squeezing that out. All good therapists have therapists IMO, though the arrangement can differ. The analysts I know remain in analysis for their whole lives, as far as I can tell.

This is incorrect, by the way. Good therapists are not stress and trauma sponges, although they deal with patient stress and trauma all the time. It would be untenable to actually experience all the stress and trauma of patients, and doing so indicates that there may be other technical issues at play (eg, projective identification). Training psychoanalysts go through a course of analysis, which is quite long and intensive (say 4x/wk for 6 years), but are not in analysis their whole lives.

I'm a therapist, and I know many many therapists, and the majority are not in active treatment themselves unless they are dealing with the type of problems that anyone might seek therapy for. This includes work stress, as it does for everyone, but most therapists I know are more concerned about the difficulties of raising a family and running a small business.

This varies a lot state by state actually, in part because of licensing requirements. In places like California, you have to practice hundreds and hundreds of hours to be certified, and you must be supervised by a therapist to become one. So you are in therapy the entire time, essentially, but it's often a practice-based therapy.

Most (all?) states require supervised practice time. This does not equate, however, to "practice-based therapy," even though there are transferential issue involved as there is in therapy. There are also transferential issues involved in teaching, but teaching is not "classroom-based therapy." Supervision should not be confused with therapy by either party involved, and "training analysis" is a personal analysis, not a supervisory analysis.
posted by OmieWise at 12:02 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is widely believed that it's helpful to sit in the client seat before the professional seat. It's also a great place to learn about jobs in mental health.

With all due respect to Sara, there is very little mental health in an undergrad psych major, let alone an intro class. You do developmental, perception, sometimes neuro and lots of other areas of psychology. Finally, you get to abnormal, but even that is just studying the disorders, not really how to treat them. Many schools have a clinical psych class, but again, just an overview of all the types of treatment and treatment settings.

Seeing a local therapist can also be helpful in learning about the local community, and what jobs are available as well as experiences your son could have to make his decision. The helping fields love volunteers.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 12:05 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


With all due respect to Sara, there is very little mental health in an undergrad psych major, let alone an intro class.

I think you misread that part of my answer. I wasn't saying that he should take Psych 101 to see what becoming a therapist is like, but to see if he's really interested in studying psychology. Because studying psychology will come first, before deciding whether a mental health career is something he's interested in.
posted by Sara C. at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


My psych 101 professor told me that many people with mental health issues go into the profession precisely because they are also consumers.

It's not exactly the same, but I have taken prayer counseling courses that as a component require you to undergo prayer counseling in the process.

I would think in either case, it would be useful.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:37 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know my therapist is part of a support group specifically for therapists.
posted by E3 at 1:22 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once heard in a tangent during a TED talk (Brene Brown, I think?) that there are therapists who specialize in working with therapists and counselors as clients. The explanation was that people who are normally the therapist often know really well how to avoid subjects that they ought to be talking about, because they've seen the avoiding/downplaying/subject-changing/etc. techniques used by so many clients. So it takes somebody who is even more on the lookout than normal to make sure that a therapist doesn't skirt the tough issues.
posted by vytae at 1:40 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


My psychiatrist mentioned, possibly by accident, that he has regular appointments with other psychiatrists and therapists as his patients, and also has sessions with his own therapist. He said it was very helpful, and possibly necessary, to do that in order to properly care for patients. Despite training to the contrary, it can be very easy for a mental health professional to get overwhelmed or just off-center, and having a regular check-in helps stay on track. Having a therapist with an undiagnosed and untreated condition can be very damaging.

He also mentioned that he has "collegial" sessions where they discuss patients' problems and treatment strategies.

But he works in a teaching hospital, so perhaps he just buys into the collaborative process more than normal.
posted by gjc at 5:56 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know many therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists and all of them HAD to go to therapy as part of their degrees. Including Mrs. Fry

Most still go, at least occasionally because they absorb a ton of trauma and hurt in their job and need to process it. Secondary Trauma is the phrase I often hear.

The ones who work with children doubly so.
posted by French Fry at 7:16 AM on February 7, 2013


I know many therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists and all of them HAD to go to therapy as part of their degrees. Including Mrs. Fry

I'd love to know the names of some of those programs, because I know many therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists and not a single one of them HAD to go to therapy as part of their graduate degrees. I would be tempted to say that it is not a requirement for 99.9% of graduate programs in these disciplines. I know of one graduate program in Mass. that requires degree-seekers to obtain therapy. (It is good practice, just not a requirement.)

On the other hand, advanced study courses, or certificate courses, in particular types of therapy may have this as a requirement. Training in psychoanalysis, for instance, requires an analysis. But this is not the same thing at all. In almost all cases what qualifies an analyst for state licensure is the degree they got that did not require therapy.
posted by OmieWise at 7:32 AM on February 7, 2013


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