Seeking out the best way to help others navigate a broken world.
I am probably what you would consider an atypical therapist. I don’t focus on the theory that would work best with the problem at hand. I don’t play calming music and decorate my office with Zen gardens. Most of the time, I consider “good” therapy to be a process of problem-solving, with a strong focus on how we are all pretty much messed up.
This is not what they teach you in school.
In reality, great therapy is empathy in motion, with no hidden agenda. For decades, I have helped hundreds of children, families, and parents become the best version of themselves. I have witnessed their arguments, their broken pieces, and listened to family secrets. I have seen people with unthinkable trauma and abuse turn their lives around and find meaning again. I have watched people lose hope and give up. I have been entrusted with scars, rage, and shame.
Real life is dirty.
One of the best professors I had in college explained to me that a career in clinical therapy is akin to having other peoples’ dirty water splash you all day long. You don’t realize until you get home that you’re covered in the filth of broken hearts, fear, and humiliating secrets. By the time you cut through the layers of others’ grease, it becomes too exhausting to start scrubbing your own. This is why so many therapists give up, quit, and go into therapy themselves.
Have you ever wondered why most therapists don’t have anyone to refer their family and friends to when problems arise? I will let you in on a trade secret – it’s because we know that even your therapists are damaged.
When you spend your life helping other people mend their broken pieces, you can become extremely fragile. Their fears can become your fears. Their wounds bleed onto you. Many clinicians leave the field after realizing they are becoming slowly incapacitated by pouring their energy into others. The mental health field, as a whole, has tried to stress the importance of self-care for therapists. Unfortunately, it has done so in a very evidenced-based, research-oriented manner. While I depend heavily on research and best practice, sometimes it takes away the human side of what we do.
Therapists and other helping professionals are highly trained to march out the latest designer intervention, dress it up in fancy Sunday clothes, and earn a certificate of achievement in it immediately. We do a great job of continuing to educate ourselves while sacrificing the base of our profession. In the name of science, many therapists tend to lose the personal connection that first drew them to the field. This is often the first step to disillusionment, and disillusionment is the first step to a therapist’s demise. As helping professionals, it is vital to our well being that we recognize our human frailty.
Helping professionals are people, too.
Therapists, just like doctors or any other service individuals, are first and foremost humans. They make mistakes. They have problems of their own. Life goes on. Any individual who goes into a field that serves others is placing their own well being at enormous risk.
This is especially significant in the mental health field. Doctors can easily share stories all day long about their own surgeries or heart problems. Therapists, on the other hand, rarely spill their shameful secrets of depression, anger, and bad decisions. Therapists are actually taught to avoid self-disclosure in session – which is a positive way to maintain boundaries with clients. It becomes a problem when this practice spills into the rest of their life. A therapist who becomes unaware (or in denial) of their own struggles has taken the first step toward a cliff. As a society, we often support the false belief that therapists should be perfect. As humans, we have to recognize that we are all hurting in some way.
This is a broken world.
Throughout the threads of life that I have been exposed to as a therapist, one thing has been glaringly clear: we live in a broken world. Life can be very hard, and we can be very fragile. As a therapist, I listen without judgment. As a person, I beat myself up daily and second guess every decision I have ever made. As a therapist, I know what research shows the best way is to handle every “disorder.” As a person, I know that in the moment, I do the absolute best I can with what is available to me. As a therapist, I am staunchly neutral and unconditionally positive to help clients reach their goals, not mine. As a person, my heart hurts to know so many of us are fragmented and cracked. As a therapist, I am called to support forward movement. As a person, I am called to forgive.
What my awakening looks like.
I have somehow emerged from my therapist cocoon of self-driven productivity into an awakening. I have been given the opportunity to bridge the clinical therapy world with tangible methods of helping others through my writing. My experience as a therapist has taught me to see the fragility around me and most importantly, to laugh at myself continuously. My heart drives me to give others hope, through sharing knowledge and experience in a way that makes our very serious flaws seem manageable.
The authentic way to help others is to be yourself. Share your labors, celebrate your delights. Learn to plant the shame, hurt, and horrible mistakes so they can blossom into victory and resilience. By focusing on our communal shattered pieces, instead of pointing fingers, we begin to find healing and peace. The reality is that everyone struggles and everyone triumphs. My mission is to use my experience, professional and personal, to be a lighthouse of hope to those who are blinded by their own darkness.
Jamie Cannon lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She is a licensed therapist and owner/writer at Anxiety Be Still.