I started on this path of becoming a therapist hoping that I would help people and build a meaningful career along the way.
I had this idyllic image in my head: calmly sitting in a cozy office, sipping coffee in the morning before my first clients, and adeptly helping them with the stuff of life that’s difficult and meaningful.
Fast forward to my first-year practicing and the reality was starkly different: sitting in a cold office with fluorescent bulbs, avoiding coffee because I already felt far too nervous and jittery, and fumbling my way through sessions that left me feeling unhelpful, incompetent, and a fraud.
This is not what I wanted.
Session after session I was only feeling more fearful and less hopeful about my career choice. What was I thinking? How could I have that much unearned confidence that I would actually help these people with their plethora of complex and systemic problems?
I felt disillusioned. I felt stupid. I felt scared.
Now, 4 years into being a therapist, I look back at what was happening to and in me with a slightly different perspective.
Yes, it was an incredibly difficult part of the journey. But it was also an invaluable time for my growth as a therapist and my growth as a person. It was the “it gets worse before it gets better”.
Why does it have to get worse before it gets better? I’ve found it’s only when we’re confronted with the shadow side of our defense mechanisms that we can start to let go of them. For me, I needed to confront the fact that my identity was propping up by my ability to help others.
This very part of my identity propelled me into the helping field, but it also meant I was helping from a place of fear rather than inner strength and stability.
So, when my full-time job became helping people, when my very livelihood depended on it, the stakes ratcheted up to a 10. And I was forced to confront how vulnerable I am when I don’t feel helpful. I’ve always been vulnerable. I just thought I could always mask it.
When things got difficult, I felt in chaos and crises. Were all the decisions I made to get here wrong? Was I stupid to think I’d want to spend my life in this career? Everything felt upside down.
But I stuck with it. I got help. I let others in on what was going on inside of me.
And slowly over time I’m experiencing myself capable of handling the fear. For every session I do not feel helpful, I have proof that I can tolerate the distress that follows. That I won’t be buried underneath it all.
And that feels like strength. It feels like growing stability.
I’m even drinking coffee in the morning now.