Being a clinical psychologist isn’t always easy, and becoming one certainly took a lot– a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention gallons of coffee, thousands of hours of study and practice, most of my twenties, and all of my sanity. But I love it, and here’s why:
1. I get to have incredibly in-depth conversations with interesting, psychologically minded people about the most crucial and vulnerable parts of their lives. However, this can also be something of a double-edged sword. Any one of my sessions could easily be the most emotionally intense conversation that that client has had all week– and I’m having that conversation twenty times per week. This can be weirdly stimulating but disorienting at the same time for any therapist who isn’t careful about self-care.
2. I get to make a real difference in people’s lives. It’s so incredibly rewarding to see people make major changes in their lives as a result of the inner work we have done together, and these changes can take many forms– ending a toxic relationship; beginning a new relationship; redefining one’s relationship with a family member; scheduling much-needed surgery; positioning oneself for athletic or professional success; and the list goes on. Through my work, I’ve learned a lot about many different types of problems and predicaments that I would never have known anything about.
3. I have lots of opportunities to hang out with other psychotherapists. Psychotherapists, if I do say so myself, are a pretty cool bunch of people. They tend to rank highly in emotional intelligence, general intelligence, meta-cognition, and overall sophistication, and they’re good at picking up on nuances and fine distinctions and making highly specific and relevant replies to what you are saying. Overall, they make very good conversation partners.
4. I get to interact with a very diverse clientele. I’ve seen people from nearly all walks of life, occupations, ethnicities, and parts of the world (every inhabited continent except Australia). This may be particularly true in my case because I accept insurance, which I enjoy doing because I get to see so many people that I might not get to see otherwise. Some of my patients, outwardly at least, have almost nothing in common except me as their therapist.
5. Psychotherapy can be a very meta-philosophical profession if you want it to be. As part of our training, we study lots of different schools of psychotherapy, and some of these schools of thought rest on radically different philosophical assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge itself. So, a psychotherapist can also end up being something of a philosopher and epistemologist. Not a bad side-hustle!
6. I get to be different things to different people. In relation to a more senior client, I may be the youthful and invigorating grandson he never had. To a younger client, perhaps I’m the fatherly advisor he’s been yearning for. And perhaps to yet another, I’m the lover that lets her discover what a validating romantic relationship is supposed to feel like. Again, this can be a double-edged sword, as transference and counter-transference can be some pretty intense stuff, and as every child learns, it can be risky to “play with fire.” Also, the chameleon-like nature of life as a psychotherapist can be disorienting if you’re not careful (or even if you are careful), so you run some risk of forgetting who you actually are.
7. Psychotherapy is a profession that values authenticity– in fact, it’s arguably the whole point! Some professions demand that you subordinate your authentic self to the “corporate agenda,” but in psychotherapy, the whole point is to help your clients become their most authentic selves, and the best thing that you can do in furtherance of this goal is to be your authentic self. It’s pretty cool when your professional demands and your personal values are so aligned!
So, to conclude, if you’re thinking about becoming a psychotherapist, consider whether the things I’ve described appeal to you, and whether the double-edged swords are things you’re willing to live with. Conversely, if you’re looking for a therapist, consider whether a given candidate seems to have a well-articulated vision of how they view the art (or science?) of psychotherapy, and whether their logic and style of writing make sense to you. Somewhat counterintuitively, whether you actually agree with what they say may be less important, but we’ll get to that in another post.