Want To Hear Something Scary? Most Therapists Get Worse at Therapy Over Time

One of the advantages of working where I do is that I get to be surrounded by brilliant therapists all day long. One of my bosses recommended the book Peak to me recently. This book is both awesome and scary. 

Peak is written by people who have spent their entire careers researching what makes people exceptional at what they do. From violinists to athletes to doctors, they have studied and experimented with what helps people become truly excellent at their craft. These are the researchers from whom Malcolm Gladwell got his data that it takes “10,000 hours,” to become an expert (which was actually an inaccurate way to represent their data).  

The awesome part of their research is that they found that natural giftedness doesn’t account for much success, and actually may not even be that real of a thing. The writers don’t believe there are such things as prodigies, just people who started deliberately practicing things from a very young age (more on this in a bit). So we all have the potential to get much, much better at almost anything we want to. Yay! 

The scary part of the book is learning that so few people are actually getting better at what they do. They studied doctors, therapists, and other paraprofessionals and found that while we see ourselves as improving over time, we are in fact getting slightly worse at what we do over time. This means that a therapist would tell you, “I am definitely a better therapist now than I was 10 years ago, and certainly better than I was 20 years ago.” And that therapist would be wrong. 

What they found was people who are simply practicing behavior repeatedly, without much supervision or feedback, don’t improve their skills and get slightly worse at what they do over time. People who practice with supervision and feedback, and try to think of some strategies to practice better, improve their skills a little bit. But people who use deliberate practice are the ones who become truly great and continue to improve over time.

I don’t want to hear this. I’m exhausted! I want them to tell me that since I worked my butt off to get to where I am, I can just coast a little and enjoy the cushy plateau of being more educated than I used to be, and I’ll be a good therapist.

But here’s the thing, if a radiologist was reading this book (and this book really lays out some depressing facts about how poorly radiologists are doing at their job) I would want that doctor to say, “holy crap, this is frightening, I better go apply some deliberate practice and get much better at my skills!”

So I’ve recommitted to taping my tough sessions, and also am seeing a Deliberate Practice supervisor to help me learn how to deliberately practice therapy. It takes time and money, and honestly a mindset shift I was struggling with. It takes SO MUCH training to do what we do well, and we spend a LOT of time and money getting to a place where we’re certified EFT therapists. I had to do some work on my mindset to realize that I will need to be watching and practicing my work … forever. 

It helps me to think of this through the frame of elite athletes. Elite athletes are constantly evaluating their form and technique, and practicing boring and routine drills that help them improve overall. So, don’t think of it as an exhausting waste of time and money, think of it as the joy of improvement over your career-span! 

If you want to know some concrete ways my DP supervisor is having me practice as a couples therapist, let me know in the comments below!