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This article has been reviewed for accuracy by John Cottrell, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Medical Disclaimer: The information and recommendations on our site do not constitute a medical consultation. See a certified medical professional for diagnosis.
Therapists have one of the most emotionally-draining jobs of listening to their clients share difficult and sometimes traumatic life experiences. On top of that, they may have personal issues to work through like most of us. Surely, they must need therapy themselves, right?
Many therapists also see therapists. Although it is not a requirement for a therapist to engage in therapy, it is highly recommended. Due to the profession’s nature, it puts them at higher risk of mental distress than the average person.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explore in detail the subject of therapists seeing other therapists to give you an idea of how many mental health practitioners have therapy. We’ll also take a look at the most common reasons some therapists choose to see other therapists, so be sure to read to the end.
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Do All Therapists Have Therapy?
Technically, all therapists have been on “the other chair” at some point in their lives because their training requires them to take personal counseling for a certain period. This mandatory personal counseling is meant to help aspiring psychotherapists with their personal and professional development by:
- Facilitating personal growth and increasing self-awareness
- Allowing trainees to discover any blind spots they may have
- Providing an opportunity for aspiring therapists to explore any unresolved issue from their past
- Instilling the ability to identify and separate their personal issues from their clients’ when they manifest in future therapeutic relationships
- Fostering the ability to remain present and focused on all clients
- Providing a chance for trainees to explore how their theoretical training affects or relates to them
- Providing a supportive space for trainees during the course
Now, if you’re wondering whether therapists seek counseling on other occasions apart from the mandatory sessions that are part of their professional training, the answer is yes. Whether by independent choice or mandate, many practicing therapists have spent some time on the client’s chair.
Therapists seeking therapy isn’t a new phenomenon, either. In a 1994 survey involving 800 psychologists, 84% of the participants admitted to having had psychotherapy at some point in their lives. Interestingly, only two psychologists found therapy unhelpful, and 63% of those who had discontinued therapy were considering resuming.
Why Therapists See Other Therapists
A therapist’s decision to see another therapist is entirely personal. While it’s not a requirement, it’s highly recommended because, like many of us, therapists also need counseling to tackle everyday challenges, especially those unique to their profession.
Some of the common reasons therapists see other therapists is to seek help with:
As people whose job is to help others figure out their lives, it’s easy to forget that therapists, too, have everyday challenges to tackle. Stressors like relationships, work, kids, and other issues we grapple with in our everyday lives are just as likely for mental health practitioners as for anyone else.
So, regardless of how composed your therapist may seem, they aren’t immune to anger, anxiety, grief, and depression, and neither do they have superior protection from tragedy.
When overwhelming emotions strike, some therapists use the self-regulation strategies they may have learned and practiced over the years to prevent personal baggage from interfering with their practice. Others seek treatment from fellow therapists to deal with their issues before they begin affecting their ability to form a healthy therapeutic bond with their clients.
A therapist’s profession is riddled with ethical dilemmas. The stress of dealing with potential conflicts involving clients is tremendous weight therapists often have to carry. Things like the obligation to report child abuse or handling dual relationships, for instance, can put therapists in situations where they have to choose between legal requirements and their client’s feelings.
Worse still, therapists may find themselves in a situation where they have to choose between two equally unpleasant outcomes. That’s why it’s not uncommon for therapists to seek clarity from other mental health practitioners when faced with impossible ethical dilemmas.
Their Clients’ Emotional Baggage
Confidentiality is crucial in therapy, even when treatment is administered through online platforms such as Blahtherapy and other similar websites. Since the limits of confidentiality bind therapists, they can’t share too much detail to vent some of the things they hear in therapy.
A therapist may tell their partner that they’ve had a bad day, comment vaguely on the day’s work, and probably state that they’re dealing with a badly traumatized patient, but that’s all they can say.
Clinical supervision may be helpful, but not every therapist has that option. This leaves most therapists with no friends or spouses to confide in like many other professionals can, meaning they have to shoulder the day’s heaviness all on their own even after they get home.
For such therapists, seeing other mental health professionals is often the only way to unpack some of the things they hear in their sessions. They can do that without the risk of an ethical violation because confidentiality requirements also bind the therapists they see.
Therapy is one of the loneliest professions for most therapists who operate solo in their private practices. Unlike professionals in many other jobs, such practitioners don’t even get the chance for a quick water-cooler conversation with a colleague. Even if they have an administrative assistant, they can’t share anything work-related due to confidentiality restrictions.
Such therapists are often left feeling isolated with all kinds of work-related thoughts and worries, which can sometimes be overwhelming. That’s why they may need someone to open up to in the form of a fellow therapist.
Separation of Work From Personal Life
In addition to being restricted from sharing most of the work-related stuff, therapists also can’t share the specifics of their personal lives with their clients.
They can’t let a client know when they have a terrible headache, an off day, or feeling grumpy. While most other jobs demand this kind of professionalism, therapists must have their guard on all the time because they need to maintain therapeutic neutrality.
While the value of neutrality in therapy cannot be understated, always being neutral is an unnatural stance to assume in many other conventional relationships. At the end of every day, a therapist has to switch back to having opinions and feelings towards what’s happening around them like everyone else.
Understandably, this takes some doing and may cause significant mental strain. Worse still, it can sometimes make it challenging for therapists to draw the line between their profession and personal life.
When this happens, they may find themselves acting in their professional role around friends, spouses, and family, causing a host of relationship problems. For therapists struggling with this adjustment, seeing other therapists can be helpful.
Handling Difficult Clients
Some patients face challenges that can cause interpersonal difficulties, but unlike in many other professions, a therapist can’t dismiss a client simply because their behavior is intolerable. There are strict regulations preventing therapists from abandoning a client, particularly after a therapeutic relationship has developed.
In such a predicament, a therapist has little to do other than tolerate a problematic client. Sometimes, they may be forced to do that for years before ethical transfer or termination criteria are met. This can cause stress for the therapist, prompting them to seek expert help from another therapist.
That’s it for today’s post. To summarize everything we’ve covered, here’s the key takeaway: besides the usual mandatory counseling that all therapists have to undergo during training, many established practitioners see other therapists to seek help in dealing with:
- Problematic clients
- Separation of work from personal life
- Ethical dilemmas
- Clients’ emotional baggage
- Other everyday challenges
John Cottrell, Ph.D., is a yoga instructor and certified yoga therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. He has been teaching yoga since 2000. John is originally from Oakland, California, earning his Master of Science and Ph.D. from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, California. His clinical practice led him to child and adolescent psychotherapy, drug and alcohol treatment, psychological and neuropsychological testing, and group/couples therapy. John continues his devotion to sharing health and well-being through his business, mbody. He offers private and group yoga classes, yoga therapy, workshops, retreats, written yoga articles, and a men’s yoga clothing line.
- TalkSpace: Why Therapists Need Therapy Too
- Quora: Do therapists also see therapists?
- Trailtalk: Do Therapists Go to Therapy?
- PsychCentral: Therapists Have Therapy Too
- Shirley Baxter Counseling: Counselling for Trainee/Student Counsellors
- Pyramid Healthcare Inc: Why Therapists Need Therapy
- Psychology Today: Therapy for Therapists