Over the years, I’ve been asked many times how I handle being a therapist and if I find it hard not to take my work home.
The truth is, I don’t take my clients problems home. There are two main reasons for this. Both of which are beautiful lessons we can learn to make our lives lighter. The first is that it’s not really about them, and the second is that the problem is temporary.
If it hurts, it’s not about them
If something my clients says causes strong emotions or impacts me in some way, I know and trust that it’s coming from me. Often we mistake our emotions as being caused by the other person. We blame and point fingers, when the reality is your emotions can never come from someone else.
Your emotions are always about you, not them. The other person is simply the trigger for something that already exists inside of you. They are a gift, showing us where there is still work to be done.
When a client triggers a strong emotional reaction I look inside to see what part of me is in need of healing. Often this requires me to seek my own guidance or therapy, usually in the form of clinical supervision, which is the professional requirement for therapist mentorship to debrief on client load.
When we keep the focus on our own healing we don’t get so swept away and bogged down by the pain of another. We keep our boundaries firm and from that place we are actually more effective at offering guidance and support. This is similar to the airplane theory: you must place the oxygen on your own face before you can effectively assist others.
The problem is temporary
Almost every client that sits across from me holds tight to the delusion that their problems are solid. Yet I always know something they do not: their problem is temporary. This keeps me positive and afloat as I constantly reflect on the truth: that one day, they will look back on this very time and be grateful.
Though they can’t see it while they’re stuck in the darkness, they will one day find themselves standing somewhere, feeling so happy with what they are currently doing. They’ll look back and reflect over the tough time and realise that the difficulty was a stepping stone that led them right to where they are.
They didn’t just pass through the troubled time, they didn’t just make it, rather the hardship was a direct contributing factor to where they are now. They are stronger because of it, and more equipped. The problem was actually a solid building block that laid down the foundation they stand so stable upon.
When the above work together magic happens. You see, the key to healing is that we take a lesson from the difficulty instead of sweeping it under the rug, pretending it doesn’t exist, drowning it out or blaming someone else for it. This is taking responsibility (knowing it’s always about me).
When we take responsibility for every one of our temporary problems (because they are always temporary) we learn the lessons that lead to massive growth and transforms hardship into building blocks instead of a demolition crew.
Understanding this process is exactly why I don’t take home what a client tell’s me. I don’t get depressed by my clients depression, because I am seeing clearly that there is a point in the future where my client will be thriving and grateful. I keep that image in my mind and heart as we work together, holding that faith and positivity as a beacon of light to guide us both.
How to do it
Problems can seem permanent, especially when they last years, yet it is important to remember that everything eventually passes. Even though it may be hard to look to the future when we feel stuck, the trick is to get curious about that inevitable future point.
What is happening now is only one chapter in our life story. Like all good stories there is a part where we are lost, afraid and struggling. Then we learn the lesson and return home a better version of ourselves because of what we learned and overcame. Then we find a happy ending. The point in the future has all of the blessings.
Asking questions about this point in time can be extremely uplifting and supportive. We ask, what will it be like then? What will I have learned? This is called reframing, taking a negative view of the world, ourselves or life and offering an alternate positive view.
You can access a future view by asking the following questions:
How will I be better for having had this problem?
What is in this situation for me?
What lessons are here?
What could the future hold because of this?
What skills will I have gained once I am on the other side of this situation?
To reframe our victimhood (it’s about them) it helps to consider a difficult person or situation as the bringer of a gift. When we consider a difficulty this way it takes us out of blame and into taking responsibility for our selves (it’s about me). This brings us healing and happiness.
I like to tell my clients to play the hand they have been dealt, instead of complaining about it. I remind them that life is like a school, and every single experience is part of the curriculum. Whether or not they are paying attention in class is up to them.
Right now you can ask yourself, what are you not paying attention to, the learning of which will set you free?
You can also remind yourself as often as you can; No one else is doing anything to you and your emotions are your responsibility.
This is how I stay enthusiastic, awake and thriving as a therapist. I don’t take on my clients problems because I don’t see them as problems, I see them as gorgeous building blocks that are creating the best future version of you.