Counsellors Are People Too

Saying that “counsellors are people too” may seem like the height of ridiculousness, especially if you take my statement literally. Yet I think that there’s some strange ideas that still abound about the vocation, some admittedly well deserved from a historical point of view. And because of these ideas, I thought it would be fun, and possibly useful, to do a little debunking.

Yet my reason for exploring this topic is also pragmatic: if in addition to the clinical benefit you receive from therapy, you connect with your counsellor on a human level, odds are that counselling will be a more positive experience for you.

Counsellor Stereotypes

A quick image search on Google of the word “therapist” reveals a preponderance of chaise lounges and older men with glasses (often depicted in cartoons) with therapist and “patient” typically facing away from one another.  There are also officious looking therapists in suits sitting behind large desks, looking like powerful business people.

There are some gentler pictures too.  I don’t want to give the impression that society remains stuck in such viewpoints or that therapists knowingly perpetuate them.  And I imagine that there are some therapists who wear suits, sit behind desks, face away from their cients and are bearded with round glasses.  Power to them.  It’s just that many of us aren’t like that anymore.

Counsellor Myths

Therapy has long been shrouded in secrecy – counsellors over the years not making it clear what actually goes on in therapy. I write a lot about various facets of of this topic as I have a passion for dispelling myth and reducing mystique when it comes to counselling.

And still, there are an abundance of therapist myths circulating.  Let’s look at a few:

Therapists Are Perfect – I laugh whenever I think of this one and I truly hope that this one is on the way out!  Some people believe that therapists have perfect lives with perfect relationships and even perfect children.  That therapists never get angry, freak out or act immaturely.  Somehow they have evolved to the extent that life events, both good and bad, are taken in stride, greeted with perfect equanimity.

Sometimes therapists will advertise that they have overcome adversity and now, as evolved professionals, they can help you with your problems.  While indeed the therapist may have overcome many obstacles, growth is an ongoing process.  Be wary of anyone who tells you that they have crossed the finish line!

Therapists Are Obsessed With Judgement and Analysis – A Freudian image comes to mind, the (often male) therapist peering down his glasses, saying “interesting” or wanting to know the “hidden meaning” in most of what you say. The person you move away from at a dinner party.

Not to say that there is not a place for psychoanalysis; if you are interested in this approach, there are a handful of psyhoanalysts in Vancouver. And I will also note that if insight and analysis is front and centre in the therapy, this needn’t be done from a judgemental point of view.  Feeling respected, even if your views diverge from your therapist’s, is paramount in counselling.

Therapists Are Here to Solve Your Problems – Unfortunately many of us inadvertently, but willingly, give over our power to the therapist when we say “fix me.”  As frustrating as it may feel not to have rapid answers to your problems, asking the therapist for such answers robs you of the opportunity to develop your own insights, move through therapy at your own pace and take responsibility for your gains.

No matter what your specific goals, the ultimate outcome of therapy is to be able to call on yourself to help yourself and if the counsellor is always fixing, you may chronically struggle to find your own strength.

Therapists Lack Feelings – The belief that counsellors are detached, neutral and do not feel emotion is common.  Therapists, like anyone else, feel a wide range of emotions, although they do not necessarily act on them in a counselling session.  Part of the neutrality that is often talked about, is the effort that therapists make to get their own feelings out of the way and help clients in whatever ways are most beneficial to each (unique) client.

Therapists Exist in a Universe all to Their Own – Sometimes it’s hard to think of counsellors having lives outside of the office!  I recognize that this may sound bizarre but clients may be genuinely shocked if they see their therapist in public and on top of that feel discombobulated with such a sighting! Typicallly, in such cases, if your therapist sees you in public they will not approach you in order to preserve your confidentiality, not because they are being snobby or “other worldly.”

Therapists Are Objects – just another instrument in your counselling toolbox.  This point is a subtle one.  There can be a type of dehumanization, or objectification of the therapist if clients relate to the counsellor as “a means to an end.”  There could be several things going on here; either the client does not respect the therapist or the client sees the therapist as a powerful force essential to the client’s personal growth. The latter is, as I referenced above, a type of giving away of personal power.  The former could be related to poor performance on the counsellor’s part or part of a pattern of struggle, often longstanding, around interpersonal relationships.

Therapists Don’t Relate – This is a variation on the “counsellors are perfect” myth. Sometimes there is the perception that counsellors are evolved human beings who have not encountered personal hardship, although there are a growing number of clients who now seek therapists whom they can relate to, therapists who have endured things like relationship break-up, grief/loss, parenting issues, anxiety and more.

The fact is that many times your therapist may be relating to you – you just may not know it!  Counsellors should only share selected personal information about themselves if there is a clear clinical benefit to clients in doing so.  And, therapist over-disclosure or domination of the session with personal stories is most certainly a bad sign!

Therapists Don’t Need Therapy – Hopefully I dispelled this in my previous article, Counselling the Counsellor. Life is fraught with ups and downs and it’s normal to need help navigating them, no matter who you are.

A Final Thought

Maybe it’s a little egotistical that I’ve spent so much time talking about counsellors’ humanity. “What’s in it for me?” you may ask.  Lots, I hope.  If you choose a therapist with experience, skill and a generous scoop of humanity thrown in, chances are that it will be that human to human connection that will keep you returning until your work is done.