Dear Therapist, It’s okay to let things be imperfect.
We live in a world that is constantly telling us that we need to be perfect. For therapists, that might be having the perfect office, coming up with the perfect response in session or having the perfect job. We start comparing ourselves to colleagues and feel like we can never measure up. This pressure can lead to anxiety and a constant feeling of needing to control everything in our lives.
However, what if we let go of the need for perfection? What if we embraced imperfection instead? I get that this seems unsettling, even scary, but it can also be freeing.
By imperfect, I don’t mean sloppy or unprofessional. I mean being okay with making mistakes, not having all the answers and not being perfect all the time. We can still strive for excellence in our work and care deeply about our clients, but we can also give ourselves grace when we fall short.
One of the beauties of imperfection is that it allows us to be human.
Our clients see us as people who make mistakes, get anxious and have imperfect lives – just like they do. This can create a stronger connection and more trust. It also models for our clients that it’s okay to be imperfect.
It’s important to remember that imperfections are what make us unique and special. I know you remind your clients of this! You return the gift and beauty of humanity to them every time you embrace them just as they are.
If everything were perfect, life would be quite boring! Instead of striving for perfection, it's important to relax and allow for imperfections. Imperfections can add character and charm. Think of a handmade quilt. Quilts are often made with fabric scraps, so no two are exactly alike. There may be irregularities in the stitching and pattern, and all these imperfect qualities make them even more cherished and loved.
Therapists can easily get caught up with not wanting to make mistakes or missteps. What happens when you second guess yourself in session? You tend to pop out of the present moment with your client and go into your head. (We're trained to recognize when our clients do this but less so for ourselves!)
This second guessing usually happens when you want to get it just right and be that perfect therapist. But worrying about what you just said or what you will say next causes you to break attunement with the client. And even that's okay! Because you can always come back to the present moment. Then you model that, showing them how to reconnect and re-attune.
Simply reflect back what you heard your client say and how you’re feeling in the moment. You can ask them to help you understand what they're experiencing. This lets them know even if you're a little lost or confused in their story, you're actually just like them – imperfect and trying your best.
When you let go of the need to be perfect, you can relax and be yourself. This will help reduce your anxiety and allow you to be more present with your clients.
Every therapist experiences anxiety and self-doubt at times. It’s normal to feel like you’re not doing enough or that you could be doing better.
I remember when I first started out and I had to sublet someone else's office. Well, actually, I was subletting their waiting room, because their main office was set up for little kids and I was seeing adults! I worried about what my clients would think, but they just came and did therapy and it wasn't an issue. I learned early on that having the perfect office was not as important as having a solid therapeutic relationship and approach.
By learning to accept imperfections, we can free ourselves from the unrealistic expectations that perfection places on us and learn to live more fully in the present moment.
So, imperfect therapist, go out there and be imperfect! Especially in our world of complex relationships and mental health, being imperfect creates a stronger sense of connection and trust with your clients. Let things be messy and complicated. It’s all part of the human experience.
An imperfect therapist
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