The Heart of a Therapist | Alexa Moody

Full disclosure, I am not a counselor, therapist, or doctor, and as such I am not qualified to make any sort of diagnoses or provide any type of therapy.

That being said, I did go to college for human services and case management, which involves a great deal of talking to people. I did learn how to make preliminary diagnoses based on the Diagnostic Service Manual (DSM), I learned how to talk in such a way to encourage people to open up and steer conversations to better outcomes, and I learned in a very fundamental way how counselors and therapists work.

Today, I want to talk about the heart of a counselor. I want to break down some of the mysteries of those who work in this profession, and give you a glimpse of inside the counselor/therapist mind.

I vividly remember my very first day in Human Services 101. Ruby Porr, the head of the human services department, my personal academic advisor, and the instructor for this class walked into the classroom, looked at us, and said “If any of you are here with the hopes to earn a big paycheck, leave now. This is not the career that will get you rich, this is the career where you help people.”

That’s true, and I’m not sure if people realize it. Counselors, therapists, social workers, human service workers, case managers, and all the career helpers don’t get paid the big bucks. There is a shortage of these types of professionals, meaning that most actually carry the weight intended for two, three, or four people (sometimes more), there is a high rate of burnout, there is often little to no appreciation, and schooling is long, difficult, and expensive. So why on earth would anyone choose this career?

9 times out of 10, it’s because they have needed help themselves.

I think we tend to look at counselors and therapists and the like as these distant, judgmental, cold people who listen to our stories and jot down notes for an hour until it’s time to rinse, wash, and repeat next week. We tend to forget that these are people, people who have chosen this career because they really believe they can help you, oftentimes because they were you.

I find it interesting that a lot of people are afraid to open up to their therapists. They’re afraid to say something offensive, or to be real. No one expects a healthy person to go to a doctor, so why would a therapist be surprised when you reveal you really don’t have it all together, or you’re having trouble coping? Therapists expect you to be upset, illogical, emotional, and raw. It is with that reality that they can meet you exactly where you are, and help to move you forward.

There’s also the understanding and expectation that just like any other human relationship, sometimes people just don’t click. Maybe its personality differences, or small pet peeves, or political stances, or what have you. The point is that sometimes it’ll happen that, for no real reason, you just don’t click with someone. Therapists expect this and there is nothing to be afraid of if you feel like you’re not jiving well. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I just don’t feel like we click, could I try a different counselor?” – I promise no one will be offended!

The whole point of therapy is to be patient-centered. This means that whatever will work best for the patient is the priority of the matter, whether that is finding a new counselor that clicks with you or being open and raw in the safety of a session.

Another piece to remember that, just like any human, therapists can make mistakes. I’ve heard of stories of individuals who tried counseling once or twice and then wrote it off because of mistakes made by the professional. I am not advocating to go to a therapist that acts unprofessional or makes the same mistake over and over again – but I am suggesting a little grace. In that same note, please communicate with your therapist if you’re unhappy about something. Again, a mental health professional literally has chosen a career because they want to help, and if they’re doing something unhelpful, I promise you they really want to know.

People become doctors because they care about comforting and healing the sick. People become teachers because they are passionate about teaching, equipping, and shaping the next generation. People become therapists because they genuinely, sincerely, want to help, but they can’t help if you feel like you don’t click, feel like you can’t be open and honest, or feel like you can’t communicate.

Want to learn more about how to talk to a counselor? Check out these related articles:

Five Tips on How to Talk about Yourself in Therapy

6 Awkward Things You Must Tell Your Therapist

When You Come to Therapy With ‘Nothing to Talk About’

Finding a Therapist Who Can Help You Heal

25 Signs of a Bad Therapist