How To Change As a Therapist - Also Cute Goats

I was just listening to a podcast the other day where therapist and practice builder John Clarke interviews Sean “Peppy” Meyer about his business. Sean is not a therapist – he’s a goat owner and farmer. John Clarke purposefully brings people on his podcast to talk about marketing who work in various fields, not just counseling, and listening to this podcast really helped me see how valuable this is. You should listen to this interview – it makes you feel like you can fly and makes you want some baby goats.

Sean hit a certain level of fame creating Goat Monthly, a monthly snail-mail postcard where he takes professional photos of his adorable goats dressed up in clothes. From his website and his words, you can tell that these goats are his family. He talks about how marketing is a process of failure – and you have to embrace that you are just going to fail all the time, over and over, as you continue to grow. One day, you’ll find something that gives you some success and recognition, but even that can be a temporary plateau.

But what was even more valuable to me in listening to Sean talk was what he had to say about authenticity. Sean really believes in doing your work from your authentic self. And he talked about the difficulty and push back he has received from this. As I was listening, I was really surprised to hear he even had push back on being authentic as a farmer. I would have thought no one would have a problem with an authentic farmer – since as a therapist, I sometimes wonder if we’re allowed to have a self at all.

I want to be clear, that I’m not talking about self-disclosure in the therapy room. I’m talking about the outside of the room stuff – like how public we are in our communities for social justice, our dog’s instagram page, or how we change and grow as a therapist which can mean moving or no longer taking insurance.

I recently took my state’s Jurisprudence exam, which is basically an ethics exam you have to take anytime you renew or apply for your license. The exam is heavy in self-as-therapist ethics, and the questions make me start sweating in my chair. Here’s an example question:

Mary Sue is a therapist in Oregon. She has a public instagram account where she documents her journey to health following her divorce. She also is a local presenter on divorce and frequently uses personal examples in her speeches.

Is Mary Sue:

a)    A bad therapist?
b)    A harmful therapist?
c)     A serial killer?
d)    All of the above.

 

Ok, I’m exaggerating a LITTLE. But really, the questions and answers are stringent about the message that as a therapist, you are supposed to be a Tabula Rasa – a blank slate. Which is difficult when it comes to marketing, or if you change niches, or if you just are more of an extroverted personality.

Recently, I made the difficult decision to leave my current group practice and move to a practice that focuses mostly on couples. This has meant a lot of change for my current clients, and even for the couples; my hours are changing and it’s a new location. I so understand that I am introducing change in their lives, and deeply feel for them because that can be difficult. I also know that as a therapist, part of what I give to my clients is a secure base. I’m sure you see this so often, as well. Part of the magic and value of a therapist is that if clients didn’t have stable parent figures, we become a version of a stable attachment figure for them.

I love this and value this, and I also sometimes wonder if this is overall a healthy thing. Because we are people, too. Most of the time, we never bring our personal lives into the therapy room, which is as it should be. But we’re human. Therapists are going to take maternity leave, change their schedules, change their niches, change their locations, have periods of anxiety and depression and need breaks from work, or not be able to see certain clients depending on what just happened in their personal lives (can you imagine finding out your partner cheated on you on Thursday and going into speak with an affair partner client on Friday?). If we have no public selves, sometimes we can get away with changing behind the scenes. But if we market, and have a website, or our changes are unavoidably visible, our clients will experience some different parts of us or some changing parts.

I don’t have the solution to this uncomfortable feeling of never wanting to cause discomfort for my clients, and also needing to be a human. But I wanted to put it out here in case you sometimes struggle with this, too, and need to feel less alone in it today. And listen to the podcast, it made me feel better about pursuing the path that I feel called to follow.