How to tell my therapist I want his job?
August 12, 2011 9:46 PM   Subscribe

How awkward will it be if I tell my therapist that I want to be a therapist?

I've worked through a series of odd jobs.... administrative, marketing coordinator, plenty of retail gigs. I know I want to devote myself to a solid career, but I've been slow in choosing one. I've been in therapy for a year now and for most of that time I've known I want to be a therapist. I'm afraid to tell anyone though, including my own therapist. I'm starting to get depressed at the lack of direction in my career. I'm 30 and really ready to commit. So I spend therapy sessions crying about my lack of career goals, when the real problem is that I'm afraid to make my real passion known. I spend much of my free time reading about psychology and therapy. I find it fascinating and as well I want to do something meaningful that will give back to others. I know this is my passion. How do I tell my therapist this?
posted by sunrisecoffee to Work & Money (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You're not telling your therapist that you want to put them out of a job. So I don't think there's much potential for awkwardness here.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:51 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

How would you not tell your therapist this? It's sort of a perfect chance to get a crash-course on what needs to happen next, what you should be studying, what classes you need to take. If you look at it from the positive side, your therapist is probably the first person you should be talking to!
posted by Gilbert at 9:54 PM on August 12, 2011

Can you say more about why you're afraid to reveal this? What do you think might happen if you do?
posted by prefpara at 9:56 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe your therapist will be flattered. After all, if you want to be a therapist chances are you have found your own therapy to be helpful/meaningful.
posted by bearette at 10:00 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I understand why you feel the therapist would mind this. I can't count how many nurses I've told I want to be a nurse. They all react with excitement. I'm sure your therapist would love to talk your ear off about becoming a therapist.
posted by biochemist at 10:01 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think I would be embarrassed. Maybe he would think I'm not suitable? And then there would be this elephant in the room so to speak......
posted by sunrisecoffee at 10:01 PM on August 12, 2011

I understand this. This is something I thought about a lot when I was early into therapy. I volunteered for a suicide hotline, in part because my therapist's work with me was really inspiring, and it took me forever to tell him, and I was really shy about it.

I also volunteered for the hotline when I was really depressed myself, and I was worried he'd try to talk me out of it, or think I was doing it out of some morbid or obsessive tendencies, or "secure your own face mask" something something. But I wanted to do it BECAUSE I felt so deep into those feelings that I wanted to help others who were in the same place, and I wanted to learn how to compartmentalize and practice detachment from my own situation and empathy with others, because that's just how I was dealing with my depression at that time.

It turned out to be pretty good to tell him about the hotline-- we'd talk sometimes about how what I did on the hotline was different from a therapy practice, and where the two activities intersected to help people. Anyway. I just want to tell you I understand your apprehension and worry about embarrassment. I think it might be tough, but you should just go forward and talk with your therapist about this. It's a very noble calling! Best of luck.
posted by sweetkid at 10:09 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was once in a very, very similar situation. The person I was trying to tell about my interest in their profession was absolutely delighted. Seriously, she was over the moon and really flattered and offered all kinds of help. I had worried for years about telling her, and it all turned out to be for nothing; people really do love to talk about what they do, especially to other people who are just as interested as they are.

Man, was I relieved. And I'll bet you anything your therapist will understand when you explain how you feel.
posted by corey flood at 10:16 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's understandable that you're concerned about whether he would think you're suitable for the profession, particularly because he knows all your secret worries and bad thoughts, etc. etc. etc.--but I also wonder if what's really going on is that you're harboring that thought about yourself. Why shouldn't he think you would be doing a great thing to pursue something you're very passionate about? What "elephant in the room" are you talking about?

I'm a therapist. (I also have a therapist, and he knows I'm a therapist, and he has talked me down from the "OMG I AM A TERRIBLE THERAPIST" ledge more than once, each time with a friendly and caring laugh at my obsessive striving for perfection in a line of work where there is no perfection.) I've had a handful of clients who started asking me about what it's like to be a therapist and then throwing it out there that they're maybe kinda sorta interested in becoming one, and I have been very flattered every time, and have felt so good about our work because they have found their therapy experience meaningful enough to actually think that they'd like to help others in the same way. What a compliment!
posted by so_gracefully at 10:18 PM on August 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Talk to him about it and talk about your hesitation to bring it up, your embarrassment and your fears about being thought unsuitable. This is what your therapist is for. It's all grist for the mill.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:19 PM on August 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

If I may take a stab at why you might be embarrassed-- you think that because you are in therapy that you are not 'stable' enough to have the insight and rationality to be therapist because otherwise you'd 'therapize' yourself and be OK right ZOMG??!?!? Wrong.

After having gone through a handful of therapists in my life and having gone to grad school for Social Work (80% of my cohort are therapists) I can tell you with no reservation that therapists are as 'screwed up' as the rest of us. We're all human, we all have problems, and sometimes we need people to help us with those. Becoming a therapist, either via the psych or social work route, means learning a certain skill-set, like any other profession. And this skill-set centers around objectivity, reflection, and patient-therapist relationships.
If it's something you are really interested in, by all means pursue it! It likely works toward your advantage that you have experience and understanding of that kind of relationship.
posted by greta simone at 10:23 PM on August 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think I would be embarrassed. Maybe he would think I'm not suitable? And then there would be this elephant in the room so to speak......

Any therapist worth his or her salt knows that this is where the real work is.
posted by R2WeTwo at 11:58 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

actually, part of the training to become a therapist is to undergo therapy're already part-way there!
posted by sexyrobot at 12:36 AM on August 13, 2011

One tends to idealize one's therapist, so to say you want to do it too is to say you're perfect. Actually, therapists aren't perfect. If they were they wouldn't be able to relate to people who have problems. In order to be a therapist, you need to become comfortable with all your feelings. In particular, those you experience when telling your therapist that you want to become one. You're not supposed to LIKE the feelings, just be able to face them and discuss them.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:20 AM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

sunrisecoffee: "How awkward will it be if I tell my therapist that I want to be a therapist?"

I mean really, this is why people go into therapy. No, not because they want to be therapists. It's because in the closeness of that therapeutic relationship, with a person you trust pretty intimately, who you are by god paying to be able to tell them everything in your whole life -- with all that going on, many people still cannot or will not tell someone close to them the truth. It's too painful. People are too afraid to be vulnerable in close human relationships so they'll lie, either lies of commission or omission, not a lie about stealing a cookie but the other kind of lie, not being in integrity in this relationship. That's what's important right now, not that you want to be a therapist or not but why you've refused to tell the therapist.

I'm surprised that some of the bright psych people here haven't dropped in and written about transference. I don't know enough about it to articulate it well, I do know that in those close therapeutic relationships, people get assigned to all sorts of roles that aren't at all accurate. It looks -- to me, just another kid on the bus -- it looks to me as though you've set this therapist up as an authority figure, rather than as an ally. Have you laid your issues with your mother on this person, or your father, or your ex-wife or ex-husband or god only knows who. I don't know. I do know this -- if you were to ask me (and you sortof did, right?) if you were to ask me, I'd absolutely suggest that you parade in there and spit it out, lay it on the table, and no, not just the part about wanting to be a therapist (which seems to me to be a much smaller bit of this whole thing) not just about wanting to be a therapist but also about how you've agonized over telling them, and have been lying (ommission) to them, crying in the session you're paying for -- and hey, crying in therapy, no problem, but cry about what's going on -- crying but not copping to what's really going on.

If you're not willing to tell your therapist everything, you're selling the work short, and you are absolutely not benefiting near as much as you otherwise would. That's just a fact of life. It's how it is.

I read somewhere, years ago (Scott Peck? Not sure where I read it.) read about The Truth Game, wherein you and your therapist really work at keeping integrity going during the session, and one way of doing that is to tell the hardest truth if there are two or more truths that you could tell. In other words, what don't you want to talk about now? Okay, good, that's what we're going to talk about. It's brutal sometimes, difficult to keep facing directly into the wind, not something you'd do every minute of every session, you'd go berserk. It's just a tool, is all; if you're floundering, and bs'ing yourself and your therapist by not telling the truth and you catch yourself at it, you can stop right then and play The Truth Game, spit out what you don't want to say.

I use it with the guys I mentor; it's probably not the most popular bit of my schtick but it's useful and keeps things focused. And I bring it into any new therapeutic relationships, tell the therapist about it and implement it. A tool, is all.

Long answer -- sorry. I just don't think that the important bit -- right now -- is to be a therapist or not, but rather to discuss, with your therapist, why you've been holding these cards so close, and not letting them see; they can't help you if they can't see you.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:21 AM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think I would be embarrassed.

Honey, if you can't deal with being embarrassed in front of YOUR OWN THERAPIST, you are not engaging in the therapeutic process. Please consider this from the viewpoint of your own future practice. What would you tell a patient?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:32 AM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's quite likely that your therapist had therapy before becoming a therapist, unless they come from some medical background. So they might well have had the conversation with their therapist.
posted by Not Supplied at 3:43 AM on August 13, 2011

They might think 'score!' Cuz if you are going to be a therapist, you will likely continue seeing a therapist. I imagine that clients quitting are a thorn in the side of some therapists.
posted by ian1977 at 5:51 AM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: When I told my therapist I was interested in becoming a therapist, I think she was kind of flattered even though it really had nothing to do with her. A lot of the work in being a therapist is paperwork and not dealing with clients and there are many ways and means to counseling positions. You may find yourself fascinated by psychology and leading down a completely different path than being a therapist or you might want to become a social worker or what have you. You have got to start exploring what is out there and what clicks with you. My therapist was helpful in informing me what direction she took and her experience but it doesn't seem to be my path at the moment, I'm still figuring things out while I go to school.
It seems to be a question of whether you feel you can trust your therapist. If you feel your therapist is judging you, then you are never going to feel comfortable being open with this person. And if there is some reason this person would think you were not suited for it, it would do to know why and to work these issues through if you really do know this is something you want to do.
So far, in school, I have met one person who I think would be an abominable therapist, but she is starting this year in a masters for school counseling, so guidance counselor, not really going into psychodynamic therapy or anything. Phew!
If you are into psychology, there is a very wide field of study I'm still exploring and there is a lot to read and learn before you figure out what your direction is. So the sooner you start getting into it the better, because you will not get to know if this is really it until you are in it.
Confront your fear about telling the therapist by just telling the therapist and seeing how they react. What is the worst thing that could happen? This is a trained therapist, not someone who is going to attack you for expressing yourself. It could really be a breakthrough with your therapist because you would have to trust them enough to reveal part of your true self. Therapy helps you understand yourself, which will inform you as a therapist.
Finding out what about psychology really interests you or figuring out why you want to help people is an important step for yourself, whether you go on to become a therapist or not. If this is really what you want to do, then nothing will stop you.
The longer you wait, the older you are when you're finally done. This stray advice someone had is what clinched it for me, got my ass back in school after all this time and made me very goal oriented.
What are you waiting for?
posted by provoliminal at 9:53 AM on August 13, 2011

Do you want to be a therapist, or do you want to be just like your (idealized) therapist? If the latter, I can see why you're balky about copping to this.

However - wanting to be exactly-wackly like someone you idolize is not a bad starting point. Initial expectations about anything tend to be melodramatic.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:26 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your great answers. I tink I will go ahead and tell him tomorrow. What's the worst that would happen? I'm getting so frustrated keepping this to myself. I have legitimate reasons for wanting this I don't think it's that i idealize my therapist. I don't think he would think that either. Maybe I'll feel better not keeping the secret any more. Thanks everyone....
posted by sunrisecoffee at 6:34 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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