Nearly half of U.S. households are home to at least one person who has sought mental health treatment. If you’re that person, chances are you’ve wondered about your therapist’s life outside of your allotted appointment time slot. It’s less likely you’ve considered that they may have an allotted appointment time slot themselves.
Considering the emotional stress associated with their jobs and the fact that it’s often part of their training, it might not come as a surprise that therapists go to therapy. Oh, and there’s also the fact that therapists are human beings who are not impermeable to the same painful emotions the rest of us experience.
But how does it feel to sit through a therapy session when you know the ins and outs of the process? How do you stop yourself from interjecting your own expertise? And how on earth does a therapist pick a therapist?
HuffPost spoke to five therapists — who have all had therapists of their own at some point — to find out. Here’s what you should know.
As a therapist in therapy, it’s hard to resist “backseat driving.”
Psychotherapist and author Lori Gottlieb literally wrote the book on this topic. Her memoir “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone” recounts her experience seeking therapy during a period of crisis in her life. She acknowledged that one challenge of being a therapist in therapy is to just be a person in the room, to resist the urge to “backseat drive.” But as she explained to HuffPost, it’s up to that person to trust someone else’s process.
“There are certain things where you know more, it’s like a doctor going to the doctor,” she said. “So I think in a lot of ways, once you get through your initial resistance to the process of having someone really see you and be vulnerable, I think you go deeper quicker, because you dispense with all the things other people maybe spend more time on.”
Going to therapy helps therapists become better at their job.
For many of the therapists we spoke to, seeking therapy and understanding what it’s like to be on that side of the room has played an integral part in their ability to help their own patients.
“To provide therapy in a way that doesn’t trigger any of the therapist’s own emotional issues ― because everyone has them ― therapists must do their own introspective work that is part of the therapeutic process,” Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and author of the book “Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve” explained of his own experience during training.
New York-based therapist and social worker Bari Schwarz, who has been in therapy herself for 15 years, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I do not think I’d be half the therapist I am today had I not spent the time working on myself first,” she said. “Without knowing myself, I would not have been able to hone in on the facets of the mental health profession where I find myself the most helpful. It has helped me to find both my personal and professional strengths.”
Picking a therapist is tough for therapists, too.
The million-dollar (per hour) question on everyone’s mind is ― how does a therapist even go about picking a therapist? The process can be daunting, to say the least, and it turns out it’s not so different for a therapist.
“It’s hard to do, but I think the juice is worth the squeeze,” said Meg Gitlin, a psychotherapist and the voice behind therapy insight Instagram City Therapist. “It’s important to understand that the most important predictor of therapeutic outcome is the fit between therapist and client. If they’re a good therapist, they will want you to feel like you’re seeing the right person for you.”
Referrals from friends and colleagues seem to be the agreed-upon best way to go about finding someone ― and taking the time to speak with multiple people to find the right person before making a decision is paramount if you want to stick with it and have it be worthwhile.
“If therapy is not working for you, it’s likely because you aren’t connected with your therapist,” said Mark Aoyogi, director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver. “At this point, many people stop going and assume it doesn’t work for them. This would be similar to getting a bad haircut and believe that ‘hair styling isn’t for me.’ In either case, you should do the same thing: find a therapist … who works better for you.”
You Should See Someone is a HuffPost Life series that will teach you everything you need to know about doing therapy. We’re giving you informative, no-B.S. stories on seeking mental health help: how to do it, what to expect, and why it matters. Because taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. Find all of our coverage here and share your stories on social with the hashtag #DoingTherapy.