Dear Therapist: It’s okay to define yourself more broadly.
We can easily get so pigeonholed into our therapist identities because of the intensity of the work we do and the specificity of the issues we address. We’re tasked with being so focused and present in our sessions, that often it becomes like a muscle memory reflex: when you’re with a person, therapist mode kicks in. Sometimes it seems like we’re just one living and breathing response to moods, behaviors and thoughts.
Most of us encourage our clients to adopt a wider range of responses as part of therapy. We suggest things like taking opposite action, challenging thoughts or trying on new perspectives. I sometimes ask my clients “to make something up” when they say they “don’t know,” as a way to stretch themselves and open up to more creative solutions. We can even offer our clients broader somatic experiences through movement, postural reframes and other forms of embodied expression.
And yet, we therapists often stay confined in our chairs, our offices and our roles even while encouraging others to expand. But our internal worlds and identities are much richer and more complex, and inform our values, goals and interests. We don’t occupy just one role or status in our lives. We wear many hats and juggle an endless list of responsibilities. We’re also moms, dads, siblings, spouses, and friends. We might be business owners, volunteers, artists, athletes, musicians, foodies, or any other cultural or social identity and iteration that defines us.
When we show up more fully, we’re validating our shared human experience. We become relatable when we eat tacos, gush over our pets and get honest about our good and bad days. This is a reminder to not shrink yourself. Instead, dear therapist, it’s okay to define yourself more broadly.
Let’s embrace our vast inner and outer worlds. It will make us better therapists as we expand our range of being along with our clients.
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