Why I’m a Therapist

When people find out I’m a therapist, they usually assume I chose my profession because I want to help others. While I derive a deep sense of satisfaction from doing just that, I mostly chose to become a therapist because it was the only line of work I could envision that would support me and a family, while at the same time holding my interest for a lifetime. Human beings are deeply intriguing to me, at least once (if) you get past the veneer, and I can’t imagine a more fascinating job. During my last vacation, I thought more deeply about the work I do and the ways it satisfies me. I came to some new insights about myself and how I feel about my clients which didn’t entirely surprise me, but that shed some new light on the way the practice of psychotherapy “feeds” me. I believe many therapists feel the same way.

For the most part, I find social conversation and even many friendships to be a less-than-satisfying experience. If you’ve read my post on narcissistic behavior, you already know how I feel: most people regard parties and the making of a new acquaintance as another opportunity for self-display, to talk about their own amazing experiences, success stories, etc., to elicit admiration from other people and make themselves feel good. Because I’m deeply curious about other people, I’m often eager to hear those stories; but when the narcissistic self-absorption feels too intense, I get tired. It also feels very lonely when the other person shows absolutely no interest in getting to know anything about me.

Among my closer acquaintances, too, people seem to look at me as if I don’t need much in the way of support or interest from others. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t “invite” idealization; I talk freely about the difficulties I’ve gone through, and although my children are high achievers (the sort of kids whose accomplishments parents like to brag about — and I do), I also take pains to discuss our difficulties and keep it “real”. Somehow none of this makes much of a difference in the way people apparently view me. When I talk about myself, the sort of questions I always ask of other people rarely come back to me. I’m not the sort of person who can continue talking on and on about himself; when others don’t express interest in hearing more by asking a question, I change the subject.

In other words, I often feel lonely as far as my social life goes. (It doesn’t help that my very best friends live far away, most of them on the West Coast.) Most people don’t like to discuss politics or ideas in a way that satisfies me, so we usually end up trading stories. To a degree, that’s fine — keeping abreast of the minutiae of my friends’ lives is quite satisfying, but only up to a point. When it doesn’t go deeper, when I feel a lack of interest from others in my own personal details, when attempts to steer the conversation in a different direction go nowhere, I sometimes feel frustrated. It doesn’t help that I often “hear things” in what other people are saying; I can’t suddenly turn off the therapist side of my mind, so in the middle of social conversations, I notice the sort of emotional dynamics or psychological issues that, in a session with a client, I might address. Of course I never do that with my friends. Well, almost never. There have been a few times …

In session with clients, I don’t ever feel that way. Setting aside the initial greetings — How are you? Fine, thanks. — we never make small talk. It’s never superficial, and if it seems that way, I’ll often make an interpretation — about the way a client wants to keep me at an emotional distance, for example, or how he seems completely cut off from any real feeling this week, in contrast to our last session. Virtually every exchange feels meaningful. Intensely emotional exchanges, and even hurtful ones, feel meaningful to me; maybe I’m weird that way, but at least it’s not superficial. My experience growing up with a narcissistic mother — developing a hyperactive sort of empathy as a survival mechanism — undoubtedly influenced my choice of profession, but that doesn’t make it entirely pathological. To connect with other human beings and feel deeply with them — this provides a major source of satisfaction in my life.

While ostensibly, we don’t talk about me and my own stories, feelings, issues, etc., on another level, my ability to understand my clients comes from recognizing their struggles within myself and my own past or present conflicts; in that sense, so much of what I say to my clients is personal. It’s about them and it’s about me. I know how you feel because I have felt that way, too. To wax philosophic for a moment: to me, the meaning of the word meaning is to be found in the discovery that you are not alone, that others have perceived or felt the same thing as you. Yours is not a solipsistic experience that leaves you isolated, but one that links you to other people and their experience. For me, I can’t imagine a more personally meaningful endeavor than the work I do.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I look to my clients to fill an emptiness in my life. Here in North Carolina, I have my writer’s group — deeply satisfying relationships of many years — as well as my piano teacher, a few important friends as well as my family. I’m also looking forward to my summer in Colorado, when many of my dearest friends come to visit and we’ll have wonderful evenings on the deck with good food, wine and deep conversation. But in addition to all that, working with my clients and entering into their worlds fills an important place in my life, even more important than I had thought. In the end, connecting to their emotional experience keeps me more firmly rooted in my own feelings, deepening the sense of personal and interpersonal meaning that defines “me”.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. But that’s the thing I don’t get. If this is the core of you, why can’t you have that with your friends? Shouldn’t your friends be the ones with whom you share this? Why with your patients? Why be people’s therapist, when you can be their friend. The thing is you can’t put a psychotherapist-patient framework on friendship, a $100/hr once a week routine on life. Will the patient continue to be your friend when they stop paying you? Do they only continue to be your friend because they pay you? The friendship is there despite of, not because of, the framework. If they open up because they feel safe because you are an “unjudgemental” therapist, there is no risk in them sharing these parts of themselves with you. It is an artificial situation. No risk, no gain. It makes it less for them, and it makes it less for you. The authority of the psychotherapist role and the situation makes it easier either for you to call them out on bad behavior and for them to talk about themselves. And that’s exactly it.
    It’s a relationship based on authority.
    Which makes it artificial.
    Which makes it easy.
    Which takes away the risk.
    And if there’s no risk,
    where’s the gain?

    1. I don’t think I can explain it any better than I have. I disagree with most of what you say and see virtually no place where we might agree.

      1. I didn’t get the impression that he wanted to be friends with his clients. In fact he stated that hd didn’t want to give the impression that he used his clients to fill an emptiness in his own life. He feels (from how I interpreted it) that interactions he has with people out and about can feel unfulfilling and one-sided with some folks exhibiting a not-uncommon self-centeredness. I think most of us can relate. Ultimately he derives satisfaction from his work because there is no room for small-talk…only for the stuff that matters…the real meat and potatoes of life. That seems cool to me…

    2. “Why be people’s therapist, when you can be their friend.”

      At least in psychodynamic-oriented therapy, the therapist’s job is not to be your friend, at least not in the traditional sense.

      “If they open up because they feel safe because you are an “unjudgemental” therapist, there is no risk in them sharing these parts of themselves with you.”

      This is just patently incorrect. My therapist is the most non-judgmental person I’ve ever known, and opening up to him still feels awful and frightening to me.

      “Which makes it easy.”

      Therapy is easy? Any therapy worth its salt is not easy. In fact, it’s hell much of the time.

    3. The therapeutic relationship is certainly a unique one. Of course it is based on the therapist focusing on the needs of the patient, providing some sort of service. However, paying a therapist does not strip him of his humanity, his gut instincts to intervene at times, or his ability to empathize. A good therapist will be authentic, and the patient will sense it. Nor does payment remove the ‘threat’ or sense of risk that leads to reward that you talk about. On the contrary, there can be a heightened sense of risk and fear on the part of the patient of losing the genuine respect, empathy, understanding and approval of their therapist, which does lead to a sense of reward when these things are maintained.

    4. You have never had therapy.

      The therapist is not a “friend”.
      It is not a relationship based on authority.

      A therapist is a guide, or a teacher.
      Helping you help yourself.
      Teaching new tools to use, new moves to try.
      They do not dictate, or command.
      They try to help you find your own way.
      They have training, experience, objectivity
      and confidentiality.
      Confidentiality makes it safe to trust, not authority.
      Good therapists are not your friends, but rather
      shamens, to help you heal your own psyche,
      your shared time known only between you two
      and the gods.

  2. It’s really nice and reassuring to think clients also affect therapists in a positive way. Sometimes it feels a therapist is endlessly giving, but maybe they also gain from the relationship, beyond financially. I can see how being authentic and connecting is good for everyone. Thanks for writing about that.

  3. Most people don’t want to go to indepth into deeply emotional subjects, the journey. They’ll go there only so far. I can understand how you can with your patients, who for the most part are seeking your support as part of their commitment to that journey, achieve that experience, that connection, that shared journey, since it’s a professional and personal commitment for you as well. Shared common ground. I’ve had deep, emotional conversation with a total stranger with whom in a random moment we’ve both discovered we had that commitment to the journey in common than with many of my friends who due to their own lives or stages in lives or circumstances or denial or a thousand reasons simply don’t have the interest. I think even non-professionals, just people who’ve had to learn, and journey through for recovery, often end up being listeners with friends because we’re not afraid of hearing hard truths, we don’t judge, we empathize with difficult emotions. And most people who have been through such challenges and come out sort of the other side are perceived as strong by their friends, so they tend to not think they need to be listened to. I imagine this is multiplied by 1000 with a therapist in his or her friendships. I found your post very moving and honest.

  4. I see what you are saying. As a physician myself, I find the relationships that I have with patients, meaningful friendships outside of the patient-physician realm, and connections with my family all are complementary to one another. Those relationships, at their best, help me feel an enlargement of the self (a phrase that I first heard from you- thank you, Joe- and which resonates with me).

  5. Lisa, It’s a real relationship, it just doesn’t have a model outside of the therapy room with which it entirely fits. There is a ton to gain from the relationship, and there is also risk on both ends. It helps me as a patient face my own losses when I realize I never had this beautiful relationship with my own parent. It is a wonderful thing to feel over the moon about someone who cares deeply about me – I never was able to feel love for my own parents and now I’ve been given that chance with my therapist. The gain is all there, and it’s 100% real. The risk is that I have to face every day the realization that I never had it from my own parents – very saddening.

    Dr. Burgo – thank you for another insightful post. It takes so much to make sense of my personal recovery; reading these posts are helpful.

  6. And on the flip side of Lisa’s note, I completely get where you’re coming from. I am a form of a therapist (archetypal counselor) largely because my clients talk to me about their problems and innermost feelings during the discovery process, and I find I have a difficult time getting that from my own friends and family. I, too, have no problem talking about my experiences but it doesn’t seem to be reciprocal. You make complete sense to me with what you’ve shared here. A wise person once said that in the helping of others, we inevitably help ourselves as well. I think we learn from those who we listen to and interact on a very deep level (and not to omit those with whom we interact on a more superficial level — we still find significance there, too), and that depth of quality is extremely meaningful. It’s hard for me to do simple chit-chat and talk about the weather and leave it at that. [As an aside, Colorado comes up for me a lot as I look for places to retire; any recommendations on cities/areas in the state?]

    1. I think Boulder has a lot to offer (if you can afford it). They have some very tight development laws, which keeps the real estate inventory low and prices high. But with the university and a lot of forward-thinking companies there, it has a fairly rich environment for a small city. It’s also about an hour away from a major international airport (Denver) which lets you get just about anywhere you want with ease.

  7. I think even with the closest friend you can’t go as deep as you go with your therapist. Which makes it so different and special. You go to places you didn’t know they exist within you.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Dorota. Although, l still have a long way to go in opening up. I can’t seem to let my defenses down and can be so self-conscious its hard to be completely honest.

  8. Thanks for writing this Joe. I had such a curiousity about it.

    What I’m happiest reading about is that you have a rich fulfilling life outside your practice, which does not take away from the importance you give your work.

  9. thank you for sharing this Joseph…
    from the perspective of the other chair, i am grateful for the therapist who is seeking to connect with their clients in an authentic, meaningful way… my therapist’s real life & friendships are a mystery to me, yet i feel that over the years we have developed a ‘relationship’ that is a very important one for ‘me’, perhaps due to this empathy and interest you have described…

  10. Joseph, your words amazingly resonate with my soul. Let me express my gratitude.

    Lisa, yes, some of my clients become my friends after the end of therapy. They clearly distinguish between companionship and serious job that runs during the therapy session. It’s just two different forms of communication – one can’t replace another. And, of course, they understand that if someone will work for free, he just die from starvation. In fact, they can also give me their professional services and don’t stop to be my friends at the same time…

  11. I just wanted to add my thanks to everyone who commented yesterday and today. The post felt pretty vulnerable to me and I’m glad to have your support. I didn’t reply to each of the comments but I was grateful for all of them.

    1. Joseph, I am a psychotherapist and your words sang to me as if they were from my own heart yet articulated by another. Thank you……

  12. Beautiful post, Joe.

    Two thoughts:

    Just how many DEEP friendships can a person maintain in one life? It was so much easier to make that kind of connection as a young person when all I had to do was get up in time for class. Perhaps your acquaintances have other relationships that sustain them in the ways you discuss – as do you.

    Also, as a fairly “evolved” person (at least, I think so), I think my willingness to be open about the tough things in life is scary for some people. (At least, I think that is what I’m perceiving – a subtle folding of the psychological arms over the chest.) It makes sense to me that if person is hesitant about his own journey, he might be uncomfortable around an old road warrior. (Whew – the metaphors are getting a little thick here!) Once again, I remind myself that most people are doing the best they can with life as they’ve found it.

    Thanks for this, Joe, as usual.

    1. Well, you’re right, of course — you can’t have that many close friends in life. I guess I have less and less interest in the other kind of relationship the older I get. You’re also right about how a lot of people are afraid of going too deep. If I’m talking about something they haven’t yet dealt with (or are in denial about), it can be fairly threatening.

  13. Thank you Joseph – for sharing your humanistic side with it’s rich tapestry of needs and desires. Its encouraging to hear another’s struggle to take social relationships to a deeper level-

  14. Joe, your post reminds me of some of the same things that Irv Yalom says about the client therapist relationship. I find that since I spend my day in these intimate and meaningful relationships I have little tolerance for light meaningless conversation and feel bored, tired or angry. It seems that most of us in this profession grew up with a narcissistic parent that we had listen to, care for and put their needs first in one way or another. We are a profession of somewhat wounded individuals who are recovering as well.

    I find this profession deeply enjoyable because of the variations of the stories and I draw strength from clients when they gain insight and start behaving in more adaptive ways. They give me strength sometimes to challenge myself.

    I really enjoy your blogs and appreciate your vulnerability and honesty. Thank you!

  15. This post along with all the other ones I have read is just another reason why I have chosen to subscribe to your blog. I admire your courage to be vulnerable and let people see that you are real and this is probably an indication of how successful you must be as a therapist. Some of the comments you received were quite insightful,especially Zoe’s, but some clearly show how in this day and age there are still so many out there who simply don’t get what we do. This is why I think your blog is so important as a means of educating people so that someday they wake up to the realization that help is available and there are great therapists like you in the world.

    1. Thank you so much. I’m hoping that the video series on psychotherapy will help, too — a very personal, non-technical account of what actually happens in therapy. I think many people don’t understand.

  16. What an amazing post! To have the opportunity to explore the terrain of the human psyche really is fascinating. I would imagine that it is sometimes challenging to find the right balance of nurturing the empathy that in some way understands everything that is human, and keeping the right distance that pathology doesn’t suck you in. There are other ways to know that – I think writers try to simulate those moments in novels, particularly those with an existential bent – but in today’s world it’s true that self-display (and the insecurity that engenders it) is often the norm, even among friends. The first commenter who talked about authority has identified a type of ineffective and wrong-headedness that can be associated with therapists (and teachers, and preachers, etc.) but no-one who had that tendency of obsessive control or domination could have written this post. What you’re talking about is the richness and texture of that kind of discourse. Yes, there might be the occasional dear friend who is self-aware enough or courageous enough to talk that way – but this gives you a certain kind of randomness where you’ve not necessarily become close through affiliation. Well said, and thank you for the read. I really enjoyed this.

  17. Joseph and Xavier. You are right. The ordinary lay-person doesn’t understand (maybe not even heard of) psychotherapy and what the process entails. I agree too Xavier that people in general need educating about mental health and mental illness, and the fact that there are good therapists available. It is unfortunate that for many who desperately need such therapy that it is beyond their means.

    I sincerely do hope that the majority of therapists did NOT grwo up in a dysfunctional family environment. Reading the articles and posts one might be even forgiven (I hope) for thinking that such a background and/or being wounded might be a pre-requisite for being a good therapist. Does it mean that the therapist who had a good and reasonably happy home and family life as a child is not likely to be a good therapist.

    I do enjoy deep conversation, issues of the day, existential stuff, but equally I can enjoy light conversation. After all, life is not all doom and gloom. There has to be balance.

    Another thing. One doesn’t have to come from an emotionally battered childhood to become an insightful adult, who is able to hear and detect what is not being said in a given conversation or monologue. IMO it is a gift or a talent.

    What Julie says resonates too with me. The willingness to be open about certain tough and less palatable aspects of life. I have a much older cousin and she nearly becomes catatonic when I produce an unpalatable idea for discussion. She is a dear soul, so kind, but belongs to a generation who would never bring out for discussion the life issues that I know full well she has.

    I echo what Sundra says in that your post is moving and honest. And your life seems and enviable one, Joseph. A profession you love, your family, dear friends, good times in a beautiful setting.

    All the best

    1. Maybe it’s not necessary to come from a dysfunctional family to be a good therapist, but I know that it’s my personal background that makes it possible for me to work with and understand borderlines, etc. My clients who are also therapists feel the same way. I have one client who would probably have been diagnosed with Asperger’s when I started seeing her many years ago; I have a very strong connection to this woman, but it has taken me a long time to truly understand her catastrophic early experience and the way her autistic defenses function, in part because I had no place within myself and my own experience that resonated with hers. Eventually, I came to understand in a powerful way that makes her feel deeply understood, but it took a long time. I suppose that surviving dysfunction yourself just saves you time with your clients if you’ve already been through what they experienced, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

  18. Friendships and therapeutic relationships….

    I would respectfully — very respectfully, this is an amazing post — submit that….

    No time-limited, commodified (money for services), non-mutual relationship can ever, in my humble opinion, come close to the I-Thou relationship that one has with a really, really close friend. And I would say that this is both from the perspective of the patient and the perspective of the therapist. (Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist, but my significant other is, as well as my mother and one of my siblings. So I have a little boat-wake-style experience.)

    I have two closest friends. We’ve been closest friends for more than quarter of a century. I know everything there is to know about them, but structurally and intimately, and they know the same about me. My closest friends and I have spent countless hours in conversation about the deepest, most frightening reasons of our souls. We’ve examined and talked out our fears, our dreams, our sexual fantasies, our lifelong fantasies — so much stuff that isn’t fit for acquaintances that it isn’t funny. We’ve partied together, we’ve had ruptures and repairs, we’ve flown thousands of miles to show our commitment to each other in a concrete way. We’ve faced life and death firsthand together. Nothing in our relationship has anything to do with money. We call each other on each other’s crap, and trust each other. We’ve seen each other operate in the real world; our relationship is not based on self-reporting.

    In Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen,” maybe the finest book ever about friendship — and where one of the characters goes on to study to be a clinical psychologist! — the point is made that the Jewish Talmud teaches us to find a teacher and a friend. I would consider the therapist-patient experience far more like teacher-student, or director-actor, or consultant-business, than like friend-friend. It is there, it is special for a time, and then it is over, as it should be, with the patient going on in real life and the therapist moving on to new patients.

    I can’t imagine feeling closer to psychotherapy clients, or a psychotherapist, than to a really, really close friend.

    Fabulous post, Dr. Burgo. Very courageous and vulnerable on your part. Your patients are fortunate to have you.

    1. I don’t know that we actually disagree. I never used the word “friendship” in connection with my clients and I don’t think of them as friends. But it is strange to me that some of my clients of long-standing “know” me better than many of my friends, in the sense that they understand my emotional values and what matters most to me on a deeper level because we’ve been through something powerful together. I also feel that I’m often able to be more completely candid with my clients than with friends. My clients “authorize” me to tell them very painful things, to be entirely truthful even if it hurts; I don’t feel that my friends or family give me the same permission, nor should they. It’s not how we conduct those relationships — we keep observations to ourselves, we decide what the other person will and will not be able to hear, etc. The therapist-client relationship involves a unique type of closeness that differs from other kinds, and it’s not a substitute for them.

      1. Thank you for responding so quickly!

        I think I should have made the first line of my comment, “Closeness and CLOSENESS.” That would have been way clearer.

        I’ve been in fairly long-term therapy before, and with one exception, in retrospect, respect and appreciate all the therapists a lot. I learned a lot, too, even from the one therapist I found sub-part. But the closeness never came close to that with my true friends, nor should it.

        Therapy is geared for and focused on one part of the dyad, and a commodity (like all work is) on the other side. That can be a prescription for an excellent and mutually satisfying working relationship. But it doesn’t come close (no pun intended) to the possibilities for mutual I-Thou intimacy and experience of a close, long-lasting, friendship.

        I never felt like I “knew” my therapists in the sense of what they were like outside of their interactions with me, focused on me. We never teamed up for an outside project (nor should we have!). I knew them as therapists in the laboratory of their offices — more or less effective, more or less insightful, more or less connected to me in the fifty-minute hour.

        That was how it was, and I’m fine with it. I’d go again if I needed to, with alacrity.

        1. TPG you are so fortunate to have made such amazing connections with your two friends. I think many people don’t have that. I know I don’t. My therapists knows more about me than any other person – he knows more about me than I do about myself I’m sure! And I wouldn’t want a friend to know it all… way too exposing! I have a handful of very close friends but not like what you are describing.

          Also, I feel I do know my therapist in the sense that I know how he is as a person – I may not know intimate details about his life but I know how he interacts and communicates, his sense of humour, his compassion, the little bits of his life he does share. I’m not sure I could replicate this relationship with a person who was not my therapist and don’t think I would want to – in contrast if I did have friends like you have I would have thought there’d be no need for a therapist.

    2. TPG…you are so lucky to have such friends in your life! You must feel very blessed. I can’t imagine anything that would beat that kind of friendship, I totally agree with you.

      But I would wager that Dr. Burgo’s clients don’t all have that sort of support system, so perhaps his therapeutic relationship affords them an approximation of a close friendship, albeit a one-sided one since therapists don’t generally share personal details with clients.

      I guess I would be really suspect of a therapist who didn’t feel he personally gained something worthwhile and substantial from his relationship with clients. We are emotional sponges, us humans, and therapists by their very intuitive nature are perhaps moreso. It makes me smile that I know that my therapist thinks about me, however briefly, during her week…that my energy makes a small ripple in her energy. I think that it is beautiful for a therapist to appreciate the depth and uniqueness of his or her relationship with clients, and to see how it affects him on a different level than would a family or friend relationship.

      As for the mention of paying for the relationship…yeah, it’s not ideal, but they have to eat, it’s their livelihood.

      I will never be able to talk to friends with the level of candor you have described with your friends…I wish I could! (Trying not to sound too jealous!)But at least I can feel a human closeness when in my therapist’s office..she pisses me off a lot, just like a real friend might (?), but I care about her and I actually don’t doubt that she cares about me, she has genuine warmth and empathy, in the same way that I feel about patients in my rotations at school. Maybe it’s the connection in the moment that matters, not the label of the experience.

      1. Very thoughtful comments, Zoe.

        I wonder whether one of the first orders of anyone’s therapy should be for the therapist to help the patient’s friend-making skills, so that the patient can make a really, really close friend if the patient hasn’t one already. Life is a lot better with a close friend. Money can’t buy them.

        BTW, I talked in great depth and some frequency with my closest friends about my therapy as it was in progress, as they have done with me about theirs.

  19. I relate to your experiences when socializing with others. I don’t find many people that are able to go deep. I do meet many people who are quick to bring the conversation back to them, their kid, their experience. I also find that a lot of these people are extraverted, although I don’t think of them as people persons, more like me persons. These types of people seem to also be the heavy alcohol users. I’ve been reading about introversion vs. extraversion lately and it seems that I share a lot of characteristics with introverts, although I crave connection. I just don’t crave meaningless relationships, small talk, mutual ego stroking. I’m glad to know that other people feel the same way. I don’t feel like such an oddball, when I used to feel very outside of things.

    1. Those people you describe sound like “everyday narcissists” to me — craving the spotlight, getting attention and possibly admiration — rather than seeking to know someone else and be truly known in return.

  20. I think a lot of sensitive people would feel the same way about the superficiality of many human interactions and relationships, but would look for a different solution than becoming a therapist! People of a communist/ marxist inclination would see that superficiality as an inevitable consequence of capitalist society, I tend to agree, and therefore look for politico-social solutions instead of therapeutic ones.

    I found your post heartfelt because it expresses a need in you. As a survivor of severe abuse, I get on better often with the people I help in my work (I am a refugee lawyer), than with colleagues and many friends who very, very often find me too intense or lacking in small talk. I know many other survivors who feel this way: it is interesting and rewarding to share the pain of the human experience and the joy with other people in conversation but they have to have some understanding of the depths.

    I truly believe the kind of relationship you describe is not limited to (good) therapeutic relationships and can be cultivated in every day life and I wonder if that is something you have tried.

    1. What you say makes sense to me — that someone could find the same kind of meaning I do in something equally profound and personal but in a different arena. There’s nothing superficial about providing legal assistance to refugees; their struggles to escape from pain and suffering on a socio-political level must be as profound as those of my clients struggling to escape from their own emotional prisons.

      I agree that what I describe isn’t limited to therapeutic relationships. One of the parts I love best about summer is that my closest friends come to visit in Colorado and we “get down to it” right away. Very little chit-chat, lots of heartfelt talk.

  21. Dear Joseph
    I could relate to your experiences and I felt happy for you that you found such personal joy in your work (not just meaning).

    Your post made me realize how many people around me actually deeply feel and share their emotions and if that is in part the issue. Do you think that somehow it has become unacceptable to deeply feel and express emotions? Some of the most powerful experiences I have had have involved no words but just a resonanace of feelings in the moment. Do you feel that is why the therapeutic relationship feels so rewarding to both parties?

    1. Yes, I think that may be a big part of it. And you’re right — our culture doesn’t encourage the expression of strong emotion … unless you’re on a TV reality show or Dr. Phil! We also receive many social messages about the “correct” ways to feel — compassion, love, acceptance, etc. — but little guidance on what to do with all those “ugly” feelings we all have. And so we hide them under the appropriate veneer.

  22. So much of what has been discussed here just resonates with me and is really hitting close to home. I feel that I can’t reach out to others. We are told “You can choose to be happy” and other platitudes, because most people cannot acknowledge the pain that another person may be experiencing. I feel like I cannot be myself, and I don’t want to be a “drain” on anyone, even if what I present to the world is mostly “happy”. Our society has little tolerance for depth and for the darker aspects of our existence, and this has left me feeling very, very lonely.

    Which brings me to this question: What if the only meaningful relationship one has (other than the relationship with oneself) happens to be the relationship one has with his or her therapist? Assuming that one has deliberately chosen a life of solitude for many of the reasons discussed above.

    1. I think that a meaningful relationship with a therapist is a very good thing but not a substitute for friendship. As gratifying as it may be on many levels, it’s also limited. It’s important to find people who you can be intimate with, though as another site visitor commented, none of us has many real friends in life.

  23. Very interesting perspective! I love exploring how minds work and I think that’s a small part of why I’m a therapist. I actually had a strong desire to help people so I started off in social work and got my lcsw a few years after that. Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts!

  24. I very much identifyin myself most the traits you stated which led u to choose your profession. Having done my own therapy for going on 4 yrs, I’ve taken on to the whole field of study with much interest but can’t help but feel that I sort of missed a calling … I happen to be in a very left brain field of tax accounting & find that line of work only ‘feeds’ me by paying the bills. I’ve often thot tho that it would be nice to have friends who get it & are interested to connect at a deeper level.I wonder if friendships in the context of your colleauges are more meaningful compared to other professions as a whole? One more question if you would pls expand on – Your comment – growing up with a narcissistic mother —developing a hyperactive sort of empathy as a survival mechanism — how does that work? Could this also happen in the context of a long term marriage to a narcissist? i.e. developing such defence mechanism …

    1. First question: my experience of relationships within my profession hasn’t been terribly satisfying. When I was in practice in Los Angeles, my colleagues often seemed very guarded, and if you were still struggling with psychological difficulties — like everyone does — then it could be taken as evidence that your personal analysis had “failed” or been inadequate. That being said, three of my closest friends in the world are people who trained at my institute. I guess it’s the same everywhere: you find the few people you can truly relate to and befriend them.

      Because my mother was an emotionally volatile and angry person, I had to be on guard, pay close attention to her moods in order to take care of myself. She also made me feel as if I needed to take care of her. The development of empathy helped me to survive, first of all, but often made me more focused on her states of mind than my own. I think the same thing could happen in a long-term marriage to a narcissist, but I’d also think something had to come before: why did the person “choose” to marry a narcissist in the first place?

  25. Still reading with interest. “Our culture”, “our culture”. I wonder what exactly that means. There are a myriad of different people within a “culture”, and surprise, surprise, a very great number actually do think outside the box. And I think compassion, love and acceptance are not to be sniffed at. Expressing emotion is good, feeling deeply is good, telling others you just don’t feel that great is good, or even attempting that “meaningful conversation”. But I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who are liable to bite your head off if you ask them a civil question. If you are sad (is that one of the “ugly” emotions?) then tell me so, and why. I believe everyone is sad from time to time.
    If you are angry, same thing. If you are envious, same thing. Tell me you envy me because I have that nice dress (or other object) and I am capabale of giving you the dress (or other object).

    I have listened to a lot of people who would be better off talking to a therapist and I have told them so (I have neither the training nor the skills), but I have made an attempt to understand.
    It is hardly fair to bunch together those of us who have had and have a reasonably contented and even life (with the ups and downs I might add!) as not being “deep” or as being addicted to small talk and chit-chat. Nothing further from the truth. Contentment, believe me, is quite a deep feeling!

    TPG, I totally agree with you about your friends and friendship. And then of course, friendship is a two-way street. It is IMO most unfair to seek a friend who will be a surrogate therapist, who will conversationally delve into your soul, without doing the same for that friend.
    In the non-self-absorbed world all manner of conversation is valid IMHO.


  26. Yes, sort of agree with the friendship … but my point was that the pool of people in your circle from which you developed closest ties with (your three closest ones for instance) have the capacity & do so, the things one learns in your profession or rather thru the process of therapy, self- reflect, live more consciously, know defences & try to minimize them, at least in most relationships, less self absorbed, develop more empathy, individuate in a “healthy” way & many others…. Where else does one learn this??? At least to this level – As to the why ??? Oh who can ever answer that, combination of being young, unconscious, “religious” up bringing & all that goes with it … Had I known then what I know now??? would I have made the choice? I think this level of education (psychotherapy for the “well”) is a benefit for everyone, I for one put it up there with a college education for my kids… Even a start on that track …

    1. I agree. I spent more money on my analysis than I did on my formal education and it was worth every penny. And I suppose it’s no accident that of my closest friends, three are analysts and one has spent as long as I did in treatment.

  27. Thanks for your elucidation of your experience as a therapist. I wish more of the therapists I’ve seen had your commitment to patience and understanding–so I wouldn’t’ve had to see so many!

    But your post, and several comments, also raise questions about possibilities for friendship. Your description–“My clients “authorize” me to tell them very painful things, to be entirely truthful even if it hurts; I don’t feel that my friends or family give me the same permission, nor should they. It’s not how we conduct those relationships — we keep observations to ourselves, we decide what the other person will and will not be able to hear, etc.”–spells out certain limits on interaction.

    TPG’s “We call each other on each other’s crap, and trust each other” demonstrates
    a different approach to interaction between people, which is more appealing to me as I look to connect with people in a more meaningful way. To be specific, I don’t understand why you say–of being truthful in your relationships–“nor should they.”

    1. I think what I wrote is misleading. What I meant is that my friends don’t want me to interpret their unconscious communications. It’s one thing to “call each other on each other’s crap”; quite another to tell someone what they’re unconsciously saying but don’t realize. “Hearing” the unconscious part is a skill I developed from my training and years as a therapist; we’re talking about something different from being honest and forthright in a friendship. That I do.

      1. Good point about offering “interpretations,” as far as it goes. That said, my friends and I will definitely talk about things that we see in each other that may be hidden to ourselves, without it necessarily being a specific topic of conversation.

        I wish I were a therapist so I could do this experiment: I’d ask my clients whether they had at least one really, really, really close friend.

        I bet there is a direct inverse correlation between the answer to this question and the likelihood of a person being in the client’s chair. That is, people with at least one soul-friend (not a spouse, necessarily, but soul-friend) are much less likely to have to be psychotherapy clients.

        Readers, agree?

        1. I don’t agree that people who have had and continue to have deep personal friendships don’t end up as psychotherapy clients.

          Some of us have strong personal friendships where we have explored each others depths. Some of us did not have such dysfunctional families either and have nurturing familial relationships too.

          My 20+ year friendships and some intense recent ones provide for a rich life. And we’ve done intense work together, from entheogens to yoga retreats to caring for each other during illnesses.

          Doing work on myself with psychotherapy is another path. Psychotherapy offers important work that should not be the focus and burden of my family or friends. It’s the third party that can sometimes see the clearest. It’s the therapist who can provide an intensive, weekly process. Even playing whatever role I need to continue to self actualize.

      2. Thanks for clarifying–and opening up questions about a link between “crap” and unconscious communication…

  28. Wow thank you for stepping up and making yourself so vulnerable. In addition to resonating with your points I am also staggered by your courage to put yourself out there so honestly. Despite feeling pretty confident I would not be able to cope with full on comments from people. You do so with grace.

    ‘Find the others’ T. Leary

  29. Thank you – being a analytically orientated Gestalt Therapist with friends scattered across Northern Europe this text (and the many insightfull comments) really helps a lot.

  30. I have to say your insight, knowledge and open honesty are refreshing and inspiring…I read many sites concerning these type of subjects in the hope of finding a realistic hope to manage my own toxic shame issues and almost all offer little other than ‘pat’ answers which results is disappointment and inevitable isolation…buut heyho I continue to work hard at it….. its always a risk posting things as everyone is so different and bound to challenge your views but i really admire your integrity and I have felt ‘understood’ for the first time in 30 years…fantastic work thanks

    1. Thanks, Steve. Especially when I make myself vulnerable in this way, it’s nice to be appreciated.

  31. Thank you so much for your inspirational work. Your distinct way of communication makes my mind see more clearly. In my own personal history I can relate to, in fact, all your topics, in a way that makes great sense. During the ongoing trial concerning the terror-case sent directly through the media, your insights are valuable. It is strangely relevant.

    I live in Oslo, and have my Master in Special Education. I was also fortunate to join a class with Edward Ziegler at Yale during my stay in New Haven between 1991-1993. He was a great inspirator to me. I do some counselling, mainly at highschool-level, and I also paint and write.

    I plan a trip to New York and New Haven the coming September, to visit friends both places. If you by any chance will be in that area, by that time, I would love to meet. May be we can exchange valuable insights.

    Best regards,
    Tone Bergan

    1. I think I will be in London then, taking my son off to school, so I sadly can’t meet with you. I’m glad but also curious to hear that my work is relevant to what you’re going through in your country. It seems such an awful ordeal, a national trauma.

  32. Thank you for your generous answer. May be some time we`ll meet around the next corner, in Norway. I have close contact with a forum in Oslo, which invites scholars within a wide range of topics, for dialogue and deeper understanding. It would be highly relevant to invite you to lecture, and participate. I am thinking about both your quality work within psychotherapy on net, as well as your deep insight in the darker sides of the mind, and how it manifests in society. I personally think that the terror-attack in Oslo is a golden opportunity to gain general understanding of the consequences of neglect, within the family, as well as within the larger society. I would love to exchange more with you, on these subjects. If it is of any interest, I can translate information of the forum, in which I used to be a board-member. We have had english-speaking lecturers several times in the past.
    All the best from Tone

    1. Tone, thanks so much. Your comment got me to thinking whether it might be of interest to write something about “empathizing with insanity” … something like that. It’s easy, and natural, for us to think of Anders Breivik as so completely “other”, so completely different from ourselves that he might as well belong to a different species. I’d like to try writing something that would find the commonalities between our everyday emotional experiences (and defenses) and Mr. Breivik’s delusions, in an effort to make him seem a little less “other”, to empathize (but not necessarily sympathize) with his experience..

  33. I totally like your thoughts, and aims. This is exactly my point. I think of this horrendous “event” as a golden opportunity to analyze the dynamics of the “masses” against the individual, playing out the Judas-role, and us projecting the negative towards the “victim”. It is as if we, in the most unbelievable way, are given the utmost example possible, worldwide. The norwegian author, Olav Duun, has given us a novel, dealing with the dark forces in play, within group-dynamics, which is called: “Man and the monster-forces”, freely translated. Both Hamsun, and Ibsen, portraits the same, of course, in a different way. Topics like “dropouts” in high-school, neglect on behalf of both family and the society, the missing general inter-commonly understanding of responsability towards all children of the community, as described so clearly by my professor, dr.emeritus Edvard Befring, UIO, and least, but not last, the unbelievable arrogance of the psychiatric profession in power. I look forward to your thoughts in writing.
    All the best, Tone.

  34. Thank you for sharing yourself this way. I’m drawn to you for your professional character, and I believe your personal expression as well. And, undeniably, some sort of proxy for feelings about my own therapist. When I see him tomorrow, I think maybe I can make myself a little bit more vulnerable, because of the way you have opened yourself up here. Wish I could know you in a different context; I’m firmly in patient territory, unfortunately. Some of the things you say about your interactions with people help validate how I feel about my own interactions, and give me some vocabulary to express my interpersonal experiences. It’s nice to think there are some at least partial kindred spirits out there, and even nicer to think they may extend across doctor-patient lines.

  35. What an amazing post which greatly expands my understanding of the emotional experience on the side of the therapist. I have been in therapy for 2 years now. As my therapist has said, I have gone very deep, something many people do not do in therapy or life with others. Here is my issue. I have shared my soul deeper, by far, than any other relationship in my life. It is incredibly fulfilling. However, this deep intimacy has led a tremendous desire to know more about my therapist’s life. I guess I feel quite empty sometimes because she can’t deeply give of herself, emotionally.
    I wish we could move from patient to friends but she has hard/fast rule, once a therapist, always a therapist. I think part of my issue is needing confirmation from her of how much she deeply cares about me. Will I need to end therapy soon with her if I can’t get her to be extremely open and vulnerable of much she deeply cares for me and how it fulfills her in her own life? I am quite astute and feel we have a very deep connection and she has admitted that.
    Be sure to know this is “appropriate” intimate connection on my part …. simply one of those rare girlfriend soul connections women love. Please provide your comments on what situations you might be able to create a friendship and end the patient relationship? I can understand this needs to be a rare exception but if I know as fully as possible the reasons therapists won’t move to this, except in the rarest situations, I might be able to continue the
    patient relationship and and not feel frustrated by it’s limitations. Thank you.

    1. I think your therapist never stops being your therapist. In part, it’s because of the transference, and I have some doubts that this is the “rare girlfriend soul connection” you believe it to be. I don’t know whether your therapist works in the transference, but if I were her, I’d be exploring these idealized fantasies of friendship. From your description — the fact that she tells you she has a deep connection with you, as well — it sounds to me as if she does not work in the transference and is colluding with this fantasy while at the same time keeping you at a distance. Mixed messages.

  36. I have found people who talk about the ‘deep stuff’ in the acting/improv world. I don’t even know much about the ‘civilian’ life of many theater friends, but when we talk and do improv the content is similar to the stuff of therapy.
    I don’t know what I’d do without it.
    Once I was having lunch with a few people I’d just met and the conversation was superficial.
    I felt disconnected and wished I were with my improv friends. Suddenly I had an intuition about my therapist-I thought, this is why Daniel’s a therapist, because this is the way most people converse, (unless you’re intimate friends.)
    Daniel is not a person who would be comfortable for long in most superficial social situations (that’s my guess-he doesn’t share this kind of thing.)
    He’s too sensitive, deep and intuitive.
    Anyway, Dr. Burgo’s post is exactly the way I was imagining my therapist.
    It was very interesting for me to read because of that, and it’s also thrilling to have a therapist be so freakin’ transparent. It’s really cool to see inside.

    1. I find what you say about doing improv to be fascinating, and I can understand why it feels so meaningful. I have a question for you, though. I have another friend, formally an actor, who often talks about the incredible intimacy that developed between his colleagues when they were rehearsing for and then mounting a show, how tight-knit they became during the run, as if they were a family. It felt very close and meaningful to him … and yet, he’s no longer in touch with any of them. This is many years later. So is it real intimacy?

  37. I take weekly classes, year ’round, and have been for 3 years.
    So I have made real friends.
    It took a while of continous class-taking to achieve that.
    I hear improv is competitive and not inducive to bonding in other cities, but it’s not competitive here in San Francisco.
    Improv requires us to strip naked and make stuff up in front of people (my classmates.)
    The vulnerability and fear that I see in my classmates eyes makes me care about them and willing to get naked and vulnerable, too.
    I would never have the courage to perform in front of people if not for the mutual nakedness.
    Just tonight I had a class where we did a solo as an exercise.
    That’s particularly frightening for me; one way I deal with my fear of performance is focusing on my partner.
    Last class half the class did their solo.
    As usual, I saw their fear and need for our (the audience, which is the rest of the class) acceptance.
    After watching this, I knew I had to do my solo.
    If they’re willing to face their fear, I will, too.
    I did it tonight, I was very nervous, but I did it.
    My teacher told me I have a beautiful vulnerability.
    As someone who’s been hiding from people all my life due to shame, my experiences in improv are like a rebirth.
    Tonight I told a man who has been in my last 3 classes that it is very hard for me to do a solo.
    He asked why.
    I said because of shame.
    He looked me in the eyes and said, “That’s ridiculous. You? Something happened, something must have happened. You’re funny, tell great stories, you look people in the eye, listen and you know how to really connect with people.”
    That’s ironic, because I isolated myself from people until improv.
    I only took the plunge and signed up for a class because the pain of isolation became unbearable
    I didn’t tell him that I was molested by my father, and I have no idea if that man will become my friend, but it was another priceless moment for me-I have a lot of them in improv.
    I was at a party and saw a woman I didn’t know, but her face seemed as familiar as my own.
    I felt happy when I looked at her, like I loved her; it was a bizarre feeling.
    We talked for a minute and realized that a year ago we had been in the same improv class.
    I think improv drastically condenses the whole ‘getting to know you’ process.
    No one cares about your autobiographical details or what you do for a living.
    They know you and you know them without any of that stuff.  I see the child in everyone.
    Some classmates have become actual friends, for the ones who haven’t I feel a profound graitude and warmth for getting naked with me.
    There’s a bond even if we don’t keep in touch.

    1. Hey Sarah do you have more information on Improv like a website. I am curious about this topic. Thank you!

  38. So touched by your honesty. I so relate to not being able to do small talk. I’m also interested in getting to ‘know’the people. And yes a lot of the time it is one sided. I’m very fortunate that I have some close friends. Unfortunately, as we moved around the world, most of them live in different countries. The funny thing is that when we meet (sometimes months or even years) we just pick it up from there. No chit chat though.
    I think that having had a narcistic mother, I indeed developed a intuitive side and ‘pick up’ on peoples feelings. The problem is that you rearly get the confirmation. The problem is I don’t know how to ‘shake’ them off. I worked as a volunteer with young refugees, but had to stop as I don’t seem to be able to let go of their stories .It has become so scary that I dread meeting other people and prefer to meet my friends or spent time on my own ( but don’t feel lonely). Being a therapist and dealing with all the suffering from your patients, how do you deal with it?

    1. For whatever reason, I’ve always had a good ability to let go of my clients’ emotions at the end of the day. I fully enter into their feelings but don’t take them on, so to speak, as if they’re my responsibility. I’ve also been clear from the beginning that I can only help people during the time when we’re actually working together; anything else is just pointless worry.

  39. I’ve been in therapy for a year, looking for help re: SI and ED. It’s just been this past week that I’ve fully appreciated the vulnerability of a T. I respect and grok (Heinlein) the boundaries that are necessary for therapy to take place and the boundaries that need to be in place for the therapist (the other human being in the room). Divorcing myself from the need to be needed and cherished in order to be heard…tough. In some respects, recognizing that I’m not the only one who lives a life where needs are commonplace or not, all of that makes me feel more normal. It totally sucks that every single one of us is vulnerable. Mask, cape and tights, who wouldn’t love to have a superhero at their avail.

    1. Justin,

      Becoming a therapist means getting an advanced degree to begin with, either a master’s in psychology, family therapy or social work. That would be the minimum degree requirement but many people go on to get a doctorate. Then there are licensure requirements that vary from state to state but involve getting training under supervision in a controlled setting. Then you have to sit for a licensing exam. But to begin your journey, look for qualifying programs at colleges or universities in your area.

  40. Dr Burgo, I appear to be two years late in replying this post – hope that’s ok – but i only recently discovered your website. It’s an excellent resource for you and others, btw.

    I found myself empathising and aligning myself with much of your post. I have a narcissistic mother, maybe father too…worst thing about that, well, i guess the lack of emotional connection. Interesting that you say that your personal empathy possibly developed out of a, kind of, radical need to reach out and understand the narcissistic parent. Modestly i mention that i’m empathic too – so what you say there does makes sense.

    Interesting to hear about your friends and acquaintances too; the way you prefer them to at least show some interest in you, through questions. And you’ve got a keen awareness of people only interested in presenting an image, either to themselves or others. I have a similar preference and recognition. Although, i’ve found that some narcissists are particularly good at asking questions, just so as to appear to be asking questions, but in actual fact the questions are hollow – they’re just breathed into the air, without any intention that they should reach the heart of person they questioning. And i’ve also noticed that there are always people who like this superficiality – in other words, people just not that sensitive and don’t care if they’re being listened to or not. This is life i guess.

    It’s especially interesting to hear about your life, and how i can relate to it, because i’m often left wondering if i will ever be mentally healthy. Anxiety, fear, depression still lives with me and i’m 38. I recently decided that i would like to do an MA in psychotherapy and counselling but, perhaps naturally, i wonder if i will be a suitable therapist when i still have so much fear of people. I’d like to ask, how did you even believe that you might be able to practice as a psychotherapist if, like me, you were unwell? Maybe you didn’t believe right away, and it was something that developed as you were receiving psychoanalysis (i’m reading your defence mechanisms book). For another topic, perhaps, but i’ve had some psychoanalytic sessions – the anxiety involved with it was too much for me. Plus i found it hard to know if he was the right therapist for me, when the approach was, perhaps, in part to make me feel bad and dislike him – i’m not an expert.

    Thanks for reading. I’ll leave it there. It’s 12.46am here in the UK.

    1. You’re right — I made the decision to become a therapist after five or so years in analysis. By that point, I had grown enough to believe that I could do the work, plus my analyst encouraged me. My advice would be to go back and give treatment another try if you’re serious about becoming a therapist.

      1. Thanks. I may have to make do with the mandatory therapy during the course – my finances being as they are. I wonder if they’d allow me to go to my previous psychoanalytic therapist. I wasn’t keen on the long pauses – they seemed like a bit of a waste of time, and quite torturous – but he was clearly affecting me.

  41. Dear Dr. Burgo,

    I, like the previous poster, am also considering becoming a psychotherapist. I have been in treatment for 2.5 years and in a way it’s been the perfect “training ground” for me to enter this field. (I’m a recent college grad considering a few options for grad school while holding an interim job, so the option of obtaining clinical training is very real next step).

    I have always been a sensitive, creative, insightful, empathetic, intuitive, connection-oriented individual – great material for a therapist anyway – and then just the “right amount” of depression came along to “nudge” me into therapy, where a whole world was opened up to me of what this thing was all about. Like most people, before entering therapy I didn’t really know what it would be like. Getting through my stuff was (is!) hard, but I also feel somewhat lucky to have experienced the emotional turbulence that lead to the almost magical-mystical experience of therapy and continued growth and understanding. I found just the right therapist after trying a few on for size (as you say, so many folks out there are dry and guarded) but there seems to be a whole breed that really do it right, in a very real way – that’s what I was looking for and what I could also become.

    So… perfect storm. I can totally pick this career.

    BUT. I can’t get over one problem, which is what I want your opinion on.

    I’ve heard too many individuals, like yourself, say that they chose to become therapists because it was the only “real career” that involved the depth, connection, and soulfulness that they desired of life. That scares me and makes me sort of sad. It makes me wonder if the implications for the patients, then, is that the only solution for integrating all this knowledge and awareness into your “real life” is to become a therapist yourself. How else, short of attempting to make it as an artist or a humanities professor, do you maintain an “open channel to the unconscious” in your everyday existence? For people who are truly spiritual/intuitive/compassionate/etc, this occupation seems to be one of the only places where we can fit into the world and make a living. So, it makes me wonder how therapists then expect their patients to figure it out in the world. Some people just need a little hand-holding to get back onto their lives, but what about the ones – like me – who REALLY take to the field of analysis, and who truly resonate with it. If I become a therapist, what will I tell the other “me’s” out there when they conclude that they need to quit their jobs as teachers or lawyers or managers and become therapists?? (Which I have heard of people doing.)

    It’s a fine solution, and I bet I can make peace proceeding in that direction, but I also feel like… it’s somehow divorced from things. All these insights and nuggets and wisdom and soul-understanding and amazing stuff – it’s (a) confined to the office and (b) thus pathologized, even with the most open, accepting, understanding therapists. How do we use these traits in the world? How can we bring them OUT of the office? I remember what James Hillman wrote in Re-Visioning Psychology: “the consulting room has become the cell of revolution.” Revolution for what, for where? There is much truth to be discovered in analysis, and that’s awesome. But I still feel like it’s a Catch-22 for those who take those truths to heart. The ONLY place you can have those truths becomes the consulting room, and then the revolution that Hillman speaks about doesn’t go anywhere. In a different world, perhaps we’d be artists, prophets, spirituals, oracles. In this one… therapists? Is that really my only option?

    I like theorizing and discussing, but I also like doing. I have historically been involved in community organizing, leadership, arts – things that bring people together. But in adult life (as opposed to the social/school environments that have characterized my experience thus far) there is less “bringing people together”, there is just people shuttling off to their jobs in the corporate world – everyone has to fend for themselves. So that’s why a career as a therapist would be a place for me – I’d fend for myself too. But it still just seems so fringe.

    How do I take all these tools I have been given, through my own analysis, and craft a life that formulates solutions instead of perpetuating a problem – ie, pathologizing and marginalizing the kind of insight that I feel must be TAKEN somewhere.

    Thanks in advance for your time.

    1. All I can say is, I don’t experience it that way. Being a therapist and the understanding I have developed inform the way I behave in the world and how I relate to other people, not just my clients. I also think that most people in therapy don’t choose to become therapists themselves but still find the insights gained to be enormously useful for improving their lives and personal relationships. You may just have a calling.

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