Do I Want a Therapist Like Me? - Written by Adrienne O'Neal

Do I Want a Therapist Like Me?

Teaching graduate students and supervising therapist interns means I hear lots of questions regarding ‘what-if’ and ‘have you ever’ situations. Recently it’s been about whether you need to have experienced what your client(s) is going through in order to be able to help them reach counseling goals.

Most therapists would probably say no, you don’t need to have those same experiences to help, empathize, or treat counseling issues. But in some instances, it might help. Certainly to have felt what it’s like to lose a loved one, the family pet, or go through a heart-wrenching breakup would help identify with clients. Therapists know that therapists don’t always navigate through life’s problems perfectly, we “don’t practice what we preach.” Thank goodness we are trained to recognize this.

Therapists are less likely to have shared the experience of intense trauma, be a victim of a violent crime, or combat trauma but should all be educated, trained, and skillful in working with these issues. Over the years there have been very few clients asking “have you ever,” usually it was couples asking if I was married or someone curious about religious beliefs.

What can clients expect to hear when they ask about their therapist’s age, religion, or marital status? I was told by a wise sage of a supervisor that EVERYTHING is a counseling issue. That meant the response was something like “I’m happy to answer but can you tell me more about your question and if it is important to you to know…” The response will let us know whether they might want someone to pray with them, they feel their therapist is young and inexperienced, or other things which would be good to address early in therapy.

Clients describe feeling ashamed for not being able to protect the family during a home invasion, feeling envious of those without a terminal illness, or fearful of coming out. Therapists can commiserate, be supportive and understanding without having experienced the same feelings or situations.

Written by:

Adrienne O’Neal

MS, MFT, Co-owner of Red Rock Counseling